I guess it’s more than time for an update from Bougainville. We are well and truly into our last six months and suddenly everything is becoming urgent. You might think that six months is quite a long time, but here it’s quite a different story.
The pressure is building on Barry every day to get the HIV/AIDS and conference centre completed before he goes. Nothing is straightforward or simple. It can take weeks for building materials to come by ship. The heavy rains in the last couple of months have meant that timber cannot be cut in the bush. The place has been wired for electricity but PNG Power must upgrade the power line and connect it to the building, a distance of about half a kilometre. It was ordered and arranged months ago and so far nothing has happened. Holes have been dug for septic tanks but they are either full of water or the rain has made the sides fall in, so more work there. The biggest thing though, is that the money that was promised has failed to eventuate. This is not unheard of in PNG, but the work has gone so far and so much money has already been spent that the work must go on somehow to completion. So Bishop Henk is frantically trying to find money from other sources and is also worried that Barry will not be able to complete the work before we go. This will be a big problem for him because no one else would be able to take over.
To add to the urgency of all this, on Thursday a family arrived from south Bougainville to be tested for HIV/AIDS. This may not seem anything special, but here, and for the AIDS team, it is a big move forward. For a start, there is a huge stigma attached to AIDS and not a lot of knowledge. For this family of a man and his expectant wife and a three or four year old child to be prepared to come all the way to the centre for testing is a very big thing. The trip would have cost at least K200 just to get here, not to mention the trauma they are going through worrying about their future. I must add here that people who come for testing are counselled both before the testing and immediately after the result is known, whether the result is positive or negative.
There is a huge stigma attached to AIDS and not a lot of knowledge.
Who would have believed it! Barry is the Project Manager for all these centres and probably knows more about the actual building, construction, plumbing etc. than any of the so-called tradesmen he employs. He didn’t realise he knew so much. Of course, in his daily work gear of shorts, daggy old Tshirt, thongs and battered Akubra, he doesn’t quite fit the image of a manager of anything. Come to think of it, I probably don’t look a whole lot better. Faded ¾ pants, shirt that may or may not be a bit crumpled (no iron), akubra style hat and of course, thongs. Don’t worry, we have good thongs for going to church in or wherever.
My work has become quite busy this year with some new staff at Callan. We have spent quite a lot of time visiting schools on Buka Island and conducting eye and ear screening programmes. This involves a bit of education on looking after eyes and ears, checking vision and hearing and also checking for ear damage such as perforations, infections, fungus etc. Many children have perforated eardrums from all the time they spend diving in the sea and very often infection as well. At this stage I am pretty important because I’m the only driver available, but hopefully, one of the teachers will have a licence soon.
My Bowen Therapy clinic is also becoming quite busy and I also have a waiting list of people to do the Bowen training. Suddenly people are realising that I won’t be here much longer and it’s now or never. I have just completed one course and another is to start next week. Men and women are on separate courses for cultural reasons. Hopefully, this will be overcome to some extent as people realise some of their own people can help them.
If I ever needed a promotion manager, one of the women here who is a member of the Bougainville Government would be it. She is a well educated Bougainvillean woman who has previously lived overseas and worked for the UN. She comes to me for treatment when her knee gets painful after she has been walking in the mountains visiting women in the villages. She tells everybody and is urging women from all over Bougainville to come for the courses. She is so energetic and not a young woman anymore, certainly by Bougainvillean standards, but she sees the need for more knowledge and expertise.
Not all the aid given is helpful and some of it is downright harmful.
The answer is – just about anything. The state of the roads, orders that don’t arrive, people saying yes when they really mean no because that’s part of their culture, the phone lines that don’t work more often than they do work, not getting the whole story because we haven’t asked enough questions and not knowing what questions should be asked, etc, etc.
It’s all part of our daily experiences and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. We can see how much needs to be done here and how much could be achieved, but we also see what some of the costs would be in regard to their way of life and their rich culture. Life here also highlights to us that we in the developed world don’t have all the answers, and that our way is not the only way. Not all the aid given is helpful and some of it is downright harmful.
So – the clock is ticking ever faster for us here, but we are also looking forward with great excitement to Troy and Ros’s wedding in Birmingham in October. Cold weather, warmer clothes and shoes are a bit of a concern though. On the other hand, there are good wines waiting to be drunk, cheeses (what a luxury) to be eaten, and shops with fully stocked shelves, room to move and good lighting.
Well, that’s it for now. Hope you have all had a wonderful Easter. We think of you so often and wonder what you are all doing. Please keep the emails coming, we do get them eventually (most times anyway).
Love to all,
Barry & Yvonne