is a member of our Parish Community, and comes regularly to Mass
when she is home. At present she is in Bougainville, a
second stint as volunteer. Yet another who is willing to
give up so much for the Kingdom of God.
The clouds cover
the mountains that surround town as the rain closes in. It's cool
but very still and muggy... Stifling....
And it's quiet,
except for the chattering happening underneath the house I am
staying in - local women telling stories.
I am in Arawa.
Central Bougainville. Papua New Guinea and the coal face of much
of the conflict all those years ago.
The scars, both
physical and emotional are still gaping, red and raw...
The twisted metal
of buildings now covered in vines remains, single walls full of
bullet holes, buildings still stand that were the site of
horrendous tortures and killings, power lines still standing that
haven't been used for many years... Vacant blocks that were once
full of lively buildings with life and vibrant hopes for the
future. But it is green, and you can be mistaken in the
quiet of a Sunday afternoon in thinking that you were in a sleepy
outback town in Australia. I am staying with two Marist Sisters -
Sister Vicky from Australia - a great mate, and Sr Jenny from the
Solomon's, a younger sister who is full of chatter and energy.
They live in an old BCL house - where the mine workers used to
stay. This is a part of Arawa that remains today with buildings
still standing from the time of Panguna Mine.
Arawa is bigger than Buka and far more manageable without a car or bike - you can walk it. Buka is far more spread out and your dependent on public transportation - when its running. Yesterday we went to visit a NZ volunteer who cut Vicky's hair short, it took us 30 minutes to walk through town, past degraded buildings, but also past businesses that are operating today. A town that is trying to get ahead, with guest houses, training centres, a small hospital, small schools (including an International School) and local markets.
Arawa is divided
into sections - the local CSN Sisters who I worked with last year
live in Section 5 and 6. Sr Gorethy came yesterday and we walked
over to where she lives now, I saw the safe house they are
building, or renovating, it's a nice house and the carpentry work
that's being done on it is quality, although I hear slow... Susan
- Sr Lorraine's NZ volunteer, has been the driver of that project.
It will be an asset to Arawa, so long as they can run it well and
manage it. The incident of domestic violence here is very high. I
spent some hours with Gorethy, chatting with the local women as
she was 'teaching' them how to make scones - I am not entirely
sure of how much teaching was going on, but it was a good
opportunity for me to hear some the stories of the women from
central province. Their lives, their challenges, the affect of the
crisis but more importantly the affect of the mine - and the
continuing affect that the mine has on them and their lives, their
culture and their clans - and their children.
These women admit
to being a bit slow, a bit behind when it comes to progress, a bit
behind when it comes to sorting themselves out... And I sense that
there are great divisions within this community as well. But as I
said to them, not behind, it's all progress so long as your moving
forward, too much quick change is often destructive. If it's taken
this long for you to all come together to sort yourselves out and
organise the women, from within, this is an achievement. Change
from within is the strongest foundation for a sustainable future.
As I said, it's not about outsiders, like me, coming in and
telling you how to change and how to organise yourselves, it's
about you changing from within and outsiders coming and helping
with your change and transition.
In this culture,
storytelling is very strong, sitting under a tree or a house for
hours and hours telling stories. And this is what we did - I was
exhausted! The women talked of their poverty in their
culture - not of food, but of education. The divide between the
haves and the have nots is widening. There are a small group of
women who go out, go to the meetings, go to the trainings and
often they bring nothing back for their communities. The women I
was talking with were expressing their disappointment when the
women from their own communities go out and tell stories of how
organised their communities are, because this makes them look
good, so help is slow in coming - if at all - and the women left
at home struggle to understand how they can move forward and
improve the lives of their children.
These women also
live in Section 5 and 6 - this is important because this part of
Arawa is different. It's called Arawa village - those who are the
traditional landowners around Arawa come and live here, and its
run and organised as a village. Other sections have a more diverse
(I stay in section 11 - on our block are the Sisters, the
Education Office, The Bishops House, a community project and the
priests house) - with expats and outsiders who have come to work
here. The CSN Sisters are running youth programs in Section 5 and
6, I wonder how they are managing. This section has a different
feel, a smaller closed in community, you wander through back yards
to get to the next street, it's very green - Arawa is still
beautiful and you can see how magical it would have been in the
better times. Its small, manageable, the weather is far more
conducive to existence - the roads are sealed (although heavily
potholed these days) which keeps the dust at bay. You can
still see what life would have been life before the Crisis - and
life would have been good!
I find it
interesting though - the people are less friendly in this part of
the world. A little more surly - although that is slowly changing
from when I was here last. That said, walking down the street
passing a very black young man with dreadlocks and what looks like
a scowl - I pass him by, throw him a smile and a 'morning' and his
face lights up as he throws me a 'morning' back to me in response.
NOTHING in this world beats a Bougainvillian smile.
But the scars are
still deep - coming back people seem to have reverted to telling
stories of the crisis once again. I found this when I first
arrived here 3 years ago - the longer I spent here, the less
Crisis stories were forthcoming - the Sisters too... it's time to
talk again, tell the stories, remember the trauma - perhaps if we
remember it we won't repeat it... .Is this an indication that life
is still very unstable here and anything could happen at any time?
That I can't say, but with a new government still getting a grasp
on what needs to be done, a new Catholic Bishop working hard to
engage the grass roots level of society to help them to help
themselves, I wonder when the break is going to come. When the
leap forward is going to happen - WHETHER the leap forward will
I can only
For this country
is golden, these people smart and beautiful - the feel is still
volatile, but there are a lot of good people working hard to
create the opportunities that once existed. Will this happen
through mining? Only time will tell - but certainly from
what the village women were saying yesterday, this mine will not
open anytime soon... Over their dead bodies, and being traditional
landowners, these women hold that power.... They want to
strengthen their culture and their custom first before opening any
mine and bringing in more money - strengthen from within so the
culture will withstand the negative influences that external
influences can't help but bring...
It's a good
thought, but I wonder if in fact it is realistic.
I don't know what
the future holds for this small spot on the world map. But,
someday soon, with so many people wanting good things for
Bougainville, they have to get a break and move forward into a
I have been lucky
to spend a weekend, of walking and talking with friends and also
locals. I continue to feel lucky to get such an insight...
Although I know - its only the start!
I hope your all