We’ve been quite busy here in PNG.
Classes began two weeks ago. I teach Human Nature and Epistemology to the first year students and Metaphysics and Logic to a combined class of first and second year students. Rebecca spends half of each day working in the Bursar’s office . She is gradually being delegated more responsibilities by the rector. Last Friday, she handed out the pay to all the staff! We take turns during the evenings spending an hour helping students with their writing. Lastly, I am trying to start a Plotinus reading group! Thus, we have not had a lot of time for blog posts.
The students here are generally eager to learn but have rather weak academic and English skills. I have some fears that the weaker students may simply have no idea what I am talking about though, this is an apprehension that I had when teaching in the US as well! I have students sitting in on both my courses, such that in my Logic and Metaphysics course I have almost all the seminarians present! I’m not sure when the seminary last had a professionally trained philosophy instructor. Many of the instructors before me taught by handing out course notes put together back in the 90’s by a Capuchin priest who is now the bishop of Kimbe (in New Britain, PNG). I assembled readers for my students and slowly walk them through philosophy texts. We spent an entire day on one page of the Meno in my philosophy of human nature course and Plato’s Analogy of the Sun took two classes in my metaphysics course. However, I think that it is better for them to grasp a few key ideas and to wrestle with some famous text rather than to simply give them my summary of what the philosophers said.
Here are some accounts of adventures we’ve had.
On July 6th, we walked up a steep, grassy foothill just behind the nearby village. Two of the children from the Ding family that lives on campus came with us, ostensibly as guides. However, once we got the base of the hill, it became apparent that they were not quite sure where the path us was. However, a gaggle of middle-aged women passed us on the road and were excited to see us because they had been at the parish church when we were introduced. We managed to convey our intention to them and one of them, named Martha, volunteered to lead us up the hill. She, barefoot, handled the climb better than any of us! Interesting, the top of the hill was being cultivated as a garden. One can apparently walk into the nearby town of Banz, by walking alone the line of hills started by the one we climbed, so that will have to be a future outing.
On July 7th, we went to the nearby village of Kudjip where there is a Nazarene hospital, Bible college, nurse’s training school, and hydroelectric dam (to power it all). The expatriates there have a gathering the first Sunday of each month for all the nearby expats to have fellowship together. In honor of the 4th, there was a hearty potluck lunch, a singing of national anthems (American, PNG, Welsh, Australian, Canadian, Ecudorian, Indian, and a bit of the Samoan), and games. We met some American families who live and work at Kudjip; including a doctor (Jim) with six children who has lived in PNG for 23 years. We talked to his daughter Priscilla, who is a Sophomore in a college in Ohio. She was home in Kudjip for her summer break! We also met Welsh Bible translators that live nearby and some of the staff at a Protestant Christian leadership college that is just down the road from us. Annie and I played tag, tug of war, sack race, and volleyball. Alas, I have no pictures of me hopping in a sack while holding her.
On July 14th, we went for a walk in the valley behind the foothills that we had climbed the previous weekend. We borrowed Father Clement’s camera, so we actually have some pictures. There is a dirt road at the nearby village of Wara Kar that runs north into the mountains, following a small river named the Wara Kar. We followed this road for a while and then headed off east on a side road that we had seen from the hill. This road followed a small stream and then turned to the north and started taking us in the mountains. During this walk, we were rarely alone. There were local people walking up and down the roads, children playing in little village greens, women doing laundry, and men sitting about chewing betel nut (a red, mildly addictive stimulant). In this area of PNG, large settlements are uncommon; rather there are houses along the roads and little villages with greens, and perhaps a little Protestant church (Nazarene or Evangelical fellowship) and a small store selling basic dry goods. Coffee is grown extensively here, and our walk carried us through a large coffee plantation.
We would greet the people with the tok pisin word for good afternoon “Apinun!” (= ‘appy noon) and then tell them that we were from Fatima and Good Shepherd. Some people seemed to know this already, as many of the people are Catholic and walk to Fatima to go to mass. When the road started to climb the mountain, we met a middle-aged woman named Veronica who spoke a little English. She apparently knew about us from Church. She asked if we were going to go to the top of the mountain-“on-top”-and then turn around. We thought about doing this, but then Veronica turned down a trail that went west. I asked her if that trail went back to the Wara Kar so that we could make our hike a loop. She said yes. So we walked with her to her village, which was on a little foothill. She told us that she had nine children that lived all about the area.
However, upon reaching her village, we found out that Veronica’s yes was not quite accurate. What Veronica had in mind was having her daughter-in-law walk us back to the Wara Kar after we shook hands with the people of her village. Her daughter-in-law was a good sport and gamely led us down the other side of the hill, through a little and very muddy ravine, through a coffee plantation, over a sweet potato field, and then finally up the next hill to another village where there actually was a dirt road that lead to the road that follows the Wara Kar. The daughter-in-law (I think her name was Susan) called out endless times to people that we were from Fatima and were taking a walk back to Wara Kar. Again, people were generally very friendly and often came up to us to shake our hands and say hello. One woman told us in broken English that we should come visit her and that she and Rebecca could be best friends! Anastasia got tired out from our walk and was also tired of being in her carrier. Other than that, it was a good little adventure.
We heard both during that walk and later that many foreigners tend to stick to themselves and don’t walk about the people. PNG nationals in general like it when foreigners walk around and interact with them and show an interest in their culture and their land. One of the seminarians told me that being well-known will actually make us safer since people will take an interest in protecting us since we’ve shown an interest in them. However, the priests told us after our walks that in the future we should walk around with a local person, just in case there is some trouble. One of the priests even made an announcement in church asking if people will walk around with us, so we now have four potential tour guides – two of the gardeners at Good Shepherd, a lay man named Neil, and a native nun named Sr. Latina!
On Saturday, July 20, Dr. Jim from Kudjip and his family came over for afternoon tea, bringing two Australian volunteers with them. We showed them around Good Shepherd and talked about being in PNG. The hospital has a program to train native physicians to run health clinics in the bush, and we were told that most of their students come through Catholic Health Services. They were rather impressed by our library, basketball court, and grounds-keeping. Dr. Jim said he would be back sometime to see the health clinic. It was a somewhat short visit, but we hope that it is the start of a friendship between us and the Americans in Kudjip. We absent-mindedly forgot to take a picture! I should note that we later learned from the rector that Dr. Jim is a bit of a legend around here, since he is the surgeon called in whenever the local doctors need help.
Lastly, though we were not directly involved, there was some excitement last week when a group of local people closed the side road leading to Good Shepherd, Fatima, and the schools by dragging wood onto the entrance of the road and sitting on it! They were representing the local tribe which historically owned the land that is now leased by the Catholic Church from the national government. The holdings are rather considerable and include a large coffee plantation, pastures, and much farmland. I do not know the whole story of the land. The priests here say that it was originally wasteland – swampy and uncultivated – and that the Church purchased it (or leased it?) before independence, and then make it arable through extensive drainage projects. In the Highlands, however, land is considered the permanent possession of a tribe and may be used, but cannot be completely alienated from the tribe. Therefore even when land is leased, tribes often still demand compensation for its use and they may even seize it or simply refuse to renew a lease just in order to assert that it is really theirs. So the local tribe claims that it has never been properly compensated for the land and demanded 13 million kina from the government. They blocked the road in order to draw attention to their claim.
Though Good Shepherd continued to function, the health clinic and all the schools were closed. The argument that the compensation that the tribe receives is free education and health care for its people, as well as employment opportunities, was not well received. However, when a local politician told the tribe that if someone became sick and died due to the closing of the health clinic, then that person’s tribe could demand compensation (basically a weregild!) from the protesting tribe, the road block suddenly disappeared. Also, I was told that some leaders from the school went with tribal leaders to file a formal claim with the government office. Apparently another tribe also has a land compensation claim filed regarding Fatima (the name for the Catholic compound here), so the protesting tribe tried a more dramatic way to make their claim known. The rector told me that the Archbishop wanted to call in the police and bulldozers, but the rector thinks that talking it out slowly is the only way to make the situation better in the long run. So the siege of Fatima lasted only three days (we actually just bypassed the barricade and took a public vehicle into town one of those days—the people at the barricade waved to us and called “Apinun!”), but it could be back whenever the natives get restless . . .