… And there goes another three month block during which so much has happened, and yet it seems like nothing is happening.
Way back, three months ago, we celebrated that we’d completed the work on the New Life Children’s Centre, inviting friends and supporters of City Mission to come and enjoy the day with us. This marked the completion of the main project I have worked on, since we first arrived in September of 2016. It was a long road, and one we are glad to have been able to follow all the way to the end. Now, the centre is operational, with Miriam at the helm, 12 children being cared for, and room for a whole lot more.
Meanwhile, other projects have come to a bit of a standstill, with the rain making it too perilous to work on the boundary fence, and with the local Lands Office proving less than cooperative in holding up their end of a business arrangement. That is, we’ve paid them for a service, but every time I have been to see them in the last four months, I was assured that it will happen next Monday, or tomorrow, or whatever date they think will get me out of their office for a little while.
A major frustration on this front stems from another source: since we arrived back in Lae, we have not had a reliable vehicle to use – and I am not speaking about only us personally, but about the plantation as a whole. Not being able to travel into town regularly means that I can only manage to be a mild pest, rather than a major annoyance which will only disappear if they do their work.
More locally, there are some land issues going on, with settlers living on our land (but outside our fence), or others simply using our land as thoroughfare to the main highway. Land issues are not a new thing in PNG, and probably not a new thing to any of our readers, so all I’ll say on the matter is that it still doesn’t make sense to me that there is an assumed right to use another’s property, and that to have people removed from your own property, you need to get a court order. One day, maybe, this will all make sense.
Then there are the young men in the program. Recently, there was some unrest among them, with a small group of very vocal young men stirring up the rest of them to become dissatisfied with the way things have been going at City Mission here in Lae. In the past, you see, young men coming out of our program had work opportunities, and this is something which, while never guaranteed, had been assumed was going to be the case for all the young men coming through the program. Unfortunately, the economy here is going from “pretty bad” to “really bad”, and looks like it might go all the way to “disaster” (or “bagarap olgeta” as they say here). As a result, the companies who may have taken boys in the past are not hiring – some are even laying off good, trained, highly competent staff, just to try make it through the slump. At least one major company appears to have lost that battle, and it seems highly plausible that more will follow.
The unrest even turned to violence, with one staff member being assaulted as he tried to catch a bus into town, and with another being the target of an attack with a bushknife (thank God it was unsuccessful!). Over the next few days, as staff worked to try and calm the situation down, it became apparent that the vocal group of dissenters had filled a lot of heads with misinformation, so when faced with a choice of staying in the program, and leaving peacefully, many young men were conflicted and took some days to arrive at a firm decision.
On the home front, we are in the middle of a week off schooling, which makes it two in a row, as holidays happen whenever we choose for homeschooling. The first week involved a trip to Ukarumpa, so that Isaac could visit the dentist there – a choice we now are not so sure of, as the little guy had a major cavity filled. With no anaesthetic. But a break is a break, and we got to spend some good time together as a family, with many, many, many walks to the local playground, a trip to find a zipline, and also meeting the Jagts from the Canadian Reformed Churches.
The second week began with Isaac’s seventh birthday, a day filled with excitement, merriment, and a whole lot of what I would describe as “noise”. Fun to be had for all ages, with sword fighting contests, fort storming, and princess rescuing (although I think that the horses may have been slightly more competitive than the knights in that case. Not mentioning any names, Aiden.)
Since that day of excitement, the rest of the week has consisted of more “what can I do, Mum?” than anything else. Who knows, maybe they’ll be glad to start up the maths lessons again. On the subject of lessons, four of the boys in the compound have been taking coding lessons, with the older two quickly grasping some basic Python, and being able to predict with decent accuracy what some basic programs will do when run. It’s cool to see the lights come on, and to see when they start to be able to use the things they’re learning. The other two, meanwhile, are using a program called Scratch, which is a neat little learning tool. Nik plans to come back to Australia a better programmer than two uncles over there, so it looks like he has his work cut out.
Nik and I also had the chance to walk into Wantun with Ryan and Matthew DeJonge. A long drive, and a longer hike on a Sunday morning, followed by food, two services, more food, a night in Pastor Tony’s house, more food, and then a long hike and drive back again, was much more relaxing and refreshing than it sounds when you put it on paper. Being able to sit and “story” with the congregation there is encouraging in a few ways, although I was always given a small stool to sit on because (roughly translated) my sitting down is not very good – long lanky legs which quickly complain if I choose to sit cross-legged marks me as an outsider in PNG just as much as my lighter skin does. And while sitting there in the middle of the beautiful Wantun Valley, it’s hard not to think that the majority of the problems I have to deal with in Lae, would disappear if I just moved to Wantun, albeit having to face a whole new set of problems, like figuring out a way to turn these thumbs green.
And, finally, I’ve also had the chance to speak at the Wednesday night services here at City Mission. The first time I spoke was roughly a year ago, when I tried to encourage the young men to become like the Bereans. Then this year, I’ve spoken twice, on the Love of God and how we can emulate it, and then on some practical questions to ask when you are reading the Bible (although aimed more at seeing if a proof text given, is really saying what the preacher/teacher/ any other says it is saying). It’s at these times that I realise how much further I still need to go on my Tok Pisin learning adventure, so I’m quite convinced that if anyone were to get anything out of what I am saying, it would definitely not be due to my own fluency or eloquence. After last night’s session, I was thinking it had gone pretty horribly, and I wasn’t too sure that anything was getting across. But then afterwards, a staff member commented that I should speak at more Wednesday services, leaving me wondering if he was being serious, or if he was just being nice.
Snakes in a Wall
There’s rarely a dull moment here at Suambu plantation, but just when you think you can relax, the maintenance crew finds a snake coiled up in the wall of the house they’re renovating.
A large group of young men gathers in the house, standing at the large doorway to catch a glimpse of the excitement. Some climb on top of cabinets and cooktops to peer over the not-quite-full-height wall into the room where it’s all happening.
Slowly, carefully, two of the men peel off a plywood sheet, until finally the sheet drops to the floor and a ~2m python triggers a screaming stampede for the door.
I’m told snake is tasty.