I watch as a slow, subtle change occurs amongst my people and, for a moment during this period of time, there is oneness, an understanding that we are Papua New Guinea; this is our country, our heritage, our life.
Unlike most nations, we did not have to struggle for independence but were ushered into it by a world beyond the comprehension of the majority of our people. There was never really time to develop a sense of nationalism.
But this is slowly changing as we interact globally and are forced to forge our identity. This year I saw solidarity in my people when PNG was dragged through the quagmire of bad press from around the world.
The talk on the streets and in the PMVs was that this is a great country, we love our land and boohoo to you who think otherwise.
Despite this growing sense of nationalism I could not approach Independence with my usual sense of optimism this year.
Several political and social issues as well as personal had me despairing for my country, wondering if we could ever make progress and if real transformation of heart and mind could be achieved for a better more stable PNG.
This is a great country and the average person is trying to make a fair go of things, but deeply rooted cultural practices and a very lax work ethic is aborting progress before it has a chance to advance.
On the eve of Independence, a childhood friend of mine was accused of sorcery and murdered in Tabubil.
He was one of the few locals with a good education and doing something for himself rather than depending on the royalty payments. He had no enemies, was quiet, and minded his own business –an easy target for those looking for an excuse to further their own means.
Prior to that, the organisation that I work for was approached by a distraught older brother of a teenage boy who had died after being admitted to the Goroka Base Hospital. The deceased was referred by one of our health workers based in Tainoraba and came into town with his older brother and two cousins.
While he was hospitalised, his guardians had to look for somewhere cheap to stay and eat on their limited budget. They ended up for some nights at our compound; at other times in the settlements.
When the young man died they were at their wits end trying to find a way to take the body back to the village as it would be unthinkable to bury him in Goroka.
They could not go by PMV and didn’t have the money to hire a car. Even if they did it would take them to the nearest drop off point in Okapa and they would then have to walk a further two days along steep mountainous paths to get home.
In the end we chartered an MAF plane which would take them to an airstrip two hours walk from their village. Two weeks later they sent 21 coffee bags, a slaughtered pig, various garden produce and bush flowers for us to plant in our garden as thanks and payment.
There are no schools in this area. Boys and young men travel out to Goroka and elsewhere and live wherever they can to try to get an education. Females are not so fortunate and so the majority of the girls in the village will never get any form of basic formal education.
These and other situations which are all too familiar to the average Papua New Guinean had me pondering about the lack of care and concern that the average person has for their fellow countrymen.
Because these situations are too common, the average person has grown used to them and sometimes quite callous in their response because they themselves are embroiled in their own struggle to survive and prosper.
The Goroka Show was in full swing during the weekend leading up to Independence but I became bitter and thought that it was all well and good for us to get dressed in our traditional regalia and sing and dance our hearts out only to put it all away and head back into a reality so disturbing.
I decided that I would observe Independence at home and would not join in the general celebration.
On the Sunday, however, a friend approached me and asked that I go with her to the show. I didn’t want to at first but, as I came out of my house and saw the PNG flag hoisted on top of a mango tree, and as I watched people walking up and down my street painted in PNG and provincial colours, I couldn’t help but feel the familiar stirring within me. I decided to go.
Once inside, the sight, sound and smell hit me; proud people in dazzling colours and plumes singing, chanting, stomping and dancing. Each group was so regal, so mystical and all were performing under one flag.
There was a sense of love and embrace. We decided to see every group perform and it took a good three hours.
As I wandered from group to group I observed the people around me. Young and old from nearly every province was represented; ordinary people like me who just want a fair go and want to live in peace in this land that we love oh so wholeheartedly and call home. We smiled at each other, took pictures of each other and loved that we were PNG.
As I was leaving, a family decked out in PNG colours was slowly doing the rounds of the cultural groups. The children were filled with wide-eyed wonder at all that was going on, so secure in their parents love and protection.
When I asked to take their picture they were very obliging, posing with laughter and excitement.
Towards the further end of the field, Texas Allan came out to perform, drawing a huge crowd comprised mostly of young people hooting and singing wildly along with him enjoying the moment and having good fun.
My heart lifted, there is hope in this land; we are finding our feet.
Our cultural heritage has the good, the bad and the ugly. We are working at sorting this out; the bad and ugly seems so glaringly obvious and its stench so overpowering that the good seems to be non-existent, but it is there.
I have sensed it and although it may seem that I have lost it, I know I have only to look around and I will see it clearly, therefore I have hope and will continue in building this nation in whatever capacity I can.
I woke up early on Monday 16 September greeting my country’s 38th Independence Day with hope and love. God bless PNG.