An entry in The Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
I WAS sitting at home on my verandah sipping black sweet tea after an exhausting day doing so much of nothing really. It’s that way here in PNG. So much running about and so little to show for it.
It can be very frustrating doing not very much and one can easily get discouraged.
There is a collection of reasons why it is this way and there is no real culprit but a collection of them: from the bureaucratic system, outdated and completely irrelevant to today’s globalised world, to a lack of assertive leadership.
Or maybe the Westminster system is probably not suitable for a nation of 1,000 tribes and immense cultural complexity.
But this is not why I am writing this reflection, which is veering off on this tangent while I succumb to the temptation to rave and rant about the “system”.
Everyone who is frustrated by lack of progress, development and delivery of government programs does it, so I shall stop here.
I started to write because of a song I heard this day on the radio while sipping tea on my verandah and gazing at the setting sun and reflecting on this exhausting process of – in the course of my five-year term of office - trying to correct 40 years of going nowhere.
Quiet moments like this remind me of my departed mother. She bade farewell to this world 20 February 2009 but it seems like yesterday when I sat and sipped tea with her and we conversed about anything and everything.
She had a passion for doing what was right and she did what she felt she could to help people. You see, my mother was a nurse who worked in many of PNG’s hospitals in our struggling health system.
She saw much suffering and pain and saw lives lost unnecessarily in this raw country of many tribes and difficult terrain, which is striving to develop and become a united nation.
The song on the radio was sung by Linda Ronstadt, a brilliant singer with the voice of an angel. Her songs wrench at one’s heart, transmitting feelings of painful lost love and of a passionate woman’s struggle to find love and happiness.
Somehow I feel that my mother felt these emotions as she struggled to bring up her children as a single mother while dedicating her life to her country; juggling a yearning for happiness and companionship so elusive and near impossible to attain.
I watched the tired sun set as the song played on. Linda’s melodic expression of her emotions was vivid and explicit. A flock of birds flew off in one of those priceless scenes that bring magic and awe to life.
I fought back tears knowing that my mother would no longer experience this, her life cut short by an untimely exit from the world, her heart giving up finally after years of trying and giving so much of herself with very little rest and peace.
She had experienced a world of constant struggle to raise a family, give them quality of life and making the time necessary to develop her children into good citizens with the values required to do good.
I reflected on her contribution and that of many such mothers in Papua New Guinea who live in a violent and turbulent society in transition; a society having no choice but to accept progress and inevitable change.
Mothers migrating from the comfort zone of a known world to a new one full of unknowns; of immense opportunities but also serious threats with dire consequences.
Our mothers can do little about this wider world; they can only struggle against such challenges to raise good children.
It is up to us, these children, to reward their efforts by doing the best we can and continuing their honourable and selfless sacrifices to build a nation worth living in.
It is strange how music can conjure up the emotions that evoke such thoughts. The sound of a guitar and of melodies and song; the sight of a sun setting and birds flying away; and the simple act of sipping tea while observing a magical moment.
It is a mystery to me, but I am grateful for it. It makes all my efforts worthwhile: every bead of sweat, every tear, every wound physical or emotional, every unachieved objective, every hurdle.
As the song ended, I sipped the remaining tea as darkness arrived and I stood up ready to continue with life. I felt inspired.
I realised how much I love this country, my people and their determined march towards destiny. My dear departed mother may have gone ahead, but she was very much here.