Sunday, February 2, 2014

January Activities

I din't blog during the January Holiday, so will try to do some summarizing

Orientation at the Melanisian Institute learn, learn, learn

After Australia I spent 19 days at a cultural orientation for international missionaries that have come to work in PNG. The missionaries were Lutheran (7), Anglican(1), United - Methodists and Presbyterians (1) and Roman Catholic (14). We represented a total of 10 countries and 4 continents. Part of the joy of the orientation was spending time with each other, as well as what we learned. It was put on by the Melanisian Institute, which does research and publications regarding the churches and Melanisian culture (PNG is considered part of Melanisia.)

One of the things that was reinforced to me during the orientation is the wide variety of cultures that still exist in PNG. Because of the rugged terrain, villages just a few kilometers apart may have been separated by rugged mountains and have totally different languages and cultures. The islands were also settled by various waves of immigrants prehistorically, so that accentuates the variety of languages, cultural bases (such as matrilineal versus matrilineal) and genetics. While increased communication and travel is breaking this down some places, it is still quite strong. I remember that before I left the U.S. a friend that taught at a tribal college in North Dakota mentioned that I would likely be surprised how important the tribe is to people. His is right (though tribe is not the term used here).
A related concept is importance of the “wantok” system. “Wantok” is literally one who speaks your language, but means someone from your same area or “ples”. Your wantoks are very important and are much like an extended family. The advantage of this system is that you have a sense of belonging and a built in safety net. For example, if you move to the city and don’t have a job, a wantok will give you food and a place to stay. There are disadvantages also. For example, there is the perception that doctors and other professionals give better care to their wantoks. Also, successful people can be drained by all the wantoks asking for help.

These strong ties to your area make places like Senior Flierl very special. Here people live, study and play together from a wide variety of areas. We have to be respectful of each other’s traditions and ways. It makes me look at what is truly Christian versus what is part of my European/ American culture. Living together in community has a different focus than the seminary I attended. At Wartburg there was an emphasis on community, but also specific rules of behavior. For example, people who were kicked out of my seminary had violated specific rules. Here it is more often the violation of the peace of the community that is the greater problem. For example, when two students had a fist-fight, (in the evening after class), they had to apologize to their classmates as part of their restitution. Two other students were in danger of being expelled until they had a service of reconciliation.

Two other important issues stood out to me in my orientation. One was the ongoing problems of law and order. Many of the bigger places, like Lae and Port Moresby, have serious security issues. One of the underlying factors is police corruption. Another factor is that people are more focused on taking care of their wantoks than being concerned for the whole community. Another major issue is fear of sorcery. For example, when someone gets seriously ill, the question may be who caused the illness instead of what caused the illness. This has lead to people who are accused of sorcery being tortured or killed. How the church should respond to this is an ongoing debate. This is when those of us from the “western world” often are at a disadvantage. We generally reject the whole idea of demons and have trouble tying together Jesus’ handling of demons to current questions.

Australia - shop, shop, shop

I spent a week vacationing in Cairns, which is in the northern-eastern part of Australia and the closest city to Papua New Guinea. While Cairns is a nice city, with beautiful beaches, I didn't sight-see much. Having spent time on Tami Island, any place that had roads and cars seemed too developed. I did take a tour bus up to the Daintree Rain Forest. It looked a lot like PNG, but I appreciated the boardwalks and the excellent guide who could explain about a lot of the birds and insects. It was also beautiful to drive along the coast and see the beautiful rocky coasts and sandy beaches.

I normally don't consider myself much of a shopper. However, after 15 months outside of large stores, my inner shopper was awakened. Compared to PNG there was a wider selection, stores more easily accessed, and most things were cheaper. For example, I was able to check out prices on a external hard drive just walking from store to store within the mall. I ended up buying an extra suitcase for the clothes, toiletries, electronics and books that I bought. I also got some dental work done.

Cairns is one of the most intensively tourist cities I have spent time in. Many of the tourist were from Japan and Europe. So, almost every block of the shopping district had a money exchange shop and a place to book tours. I ended up talking quite a bit to shop owners as they were the only locals I ran into. There was some comfort level involved with it being full of people who looked like and sounded more like me, it also seemed a bit dull. So, I was glad I want and glad to come back to PNG

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