Arawa:

Bec 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.

Celso

Arawa!!!!

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 ever happen!

I can only hope....

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 brighter future.

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 well...
Bec


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