An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Chamber of Mines & Petroleum
Award for Essays & Journalism
THIS banter is by no means cause for haemorrhage-inducing angst or furious questions fired to gauge my allegiance to country or love for olgeta man, meri, pik na dok.
It's an alternative to the bleaker lamentations of the societal dysfunctions that have infested our beloved nation. It’s not to be taken too seriously and not too lightly, but as with everything in life, enjoyed with outbursts of laughter.
First up, let’s be clear. I’m a self-confessed, patriotic Papua New Guinean ‘Tiger Mum’. Hear me roar!
I’m the kind of mother who cringes at parents whose Saturday morning ritual involves three (wasted) hours at the local rugby field instead of stealthily pacing the kitchen floors whilst barking out word-list drills for a six-year old Rambo to recite.
Insert ‘Rambo, after you finish your word-lists, sweep the house, scrub your school uniform and bring back (by foot) four bilums of purple kaukau from the market’ and I guarantee Papua New Guineans are nodding giddily with approval.
Amy Chua did a disservice to her personal fortune by failing to cite Papua New Guineans as vessels of competition. Champions of competitiveness, we are!
But there’s got to be boundaries. A need for a statute of limitations drummed into the heads of those with an inclination for the ‘dark side’. That end of the spectrum is over-populated with Papua New Guineans who’ve taken up permanent residence in meddling in fellow countrymen’s goals, ambitions and experience of success, pikinini and bubu alike.
The 'tall poppy syndrome' is a pejorative thrown at anyone who starts thinking they are better than you just because they experience success. God forbid you should bask in the elation of a win.
Ladies and gentlemen, 'Cloud Nine' is and will be for evermore intended as a figure of speech. It is a mythical as the koboni. To the victor who dares to put on airs of superiority, swift derision is guaranteed. Sort out the tall poppies and cut them down.
I’ve heard Australians taking a friendly jab in light-hearted conversation over a beer. A few pearlers of common-sense thrown in to get the wrong-doer thinking straight again. And usually rounded off with a slap on the back.
Knock ‘em down a few notches. Back to earth. Back to reality. Ego deflated. Mission accomplished.
I get the vibe that those tasked with lopping down the human feel genuinely apologetic. No one likes a spoiler. Damn the anti-success police! But going out on a limb, I’d like to throw it out there that generally, Papua New Guineans are the exception. You, the unsuspecting. Your neighbour, the undermining.
Papua New Guineans have a knack for being extremists. Fact. I'm tempted to say it's a genetic disposition. For example, relatives showing up at your gate right on cue for breakfast means the week's supply of sugar, milk and butter's about to vapourise before your narrowing eyes.
Invite people to a celebratory mumu and guests show up with accessories of shiny, tin-copper base cauldrons nestled neatly on their hip. Self-serve takes on a whole new dimension. The gift table sparsely littered with third-grade manufactured trinkets whilst party-goers methodically bulldoze the overpriced, heavily-taxed smorgasbord – food, plastic cutlery, flower arrangements and all!
Life enjoyed in moderation it seems is PNG’s holy grail. So should it really surprise us that when a tall poppy rears its daring head we react with zero tolerance? No. The Papua New Guineans mantra is ‘obliterate before they germinate!’
Goal-setting offends our countrymen. Success, a downright insult! “You? Start a business while I'm slaving away just to put K10 on Ezi-Pay!”
Individuality makes us squirm, vocalising our roadmap to success is a trade-off for the green-eye. That kind of talk just begs an invite from Uncle Tau (with chip on his shoulder) to call open season on ostracism, berating, belittling, rubbishing and other negative fodder, which is served to you on a floral hologrammed red, blue and white chipped, enamel tin plate.
Fickle servings of abus, taro and kumu are replaced with grotesque mounds of leftovers of your well-thought out ambitions. Creamed beyond recognition.
Constant talk of a society where aspiring entrepreneurs, athletes, paper-pushers, white coats and table maket vendors can flourish under the genuine encouragement of supporters seems to be as far-fetched as the land of Cloud Nine. Everybody’s so intent on becoming a chief throughout the process, not enough wanting to be Indians.
It really baffles why there is a multitude of organisations, all with the same vision, dotting the landscape like wild mushrooms. We’re on target to setting our own MDG goal of a 1:1 ratio of community organisations per capita.
But after years of silent observation and, more recently, first-hand experience, I’m convinced that one word eludes many Papua New Guineans. Collaboration - the willingness to cooperate with others. Papua New Guineans supporting Papua New Guineans. Inclusive support and healthy competition are far and few between.
I hear terms like 'neocolonialism', 'corruption' and 'exploitation by the foreigner' vehemently spat out as defences for a unravelling list of national development issues and obstacles to personal growth.
Hogwash! The only thing stopping Papua New Guineans from realising their ambitions is the Papua New Guinean who is consciously or actively getting in another’s way. The blocker. I’ve a few personal favourites.
There’s the pessimist who shoots down your ideas from the get-go; the type who has a problem for your every solution.
Then there’s the passive-aggressive somebody who has the insider tips, contacts. Heck, they could put in a good word for you or get you a meeting with the general manager, but they won’t. Have to hand it to them, they’ve established a lifelong career without opening a book.
And there are those who are already successful, running a fully-fledged 30-staff operation but who scream ‘monopoly’ at obstacles that thwart them from getting their finger into another pie. Never mind the underdog.
But the breed that really gets my goat are the phonies flying under the banners of ‘empowerment’ and with emotion-fuelled mission statements on tap declaring ‘partnerships with individuals’; automated robots ready to regurgitate their clichés as soon as funding opportunities loom.
But request assistance or cooperation of some sort and telephone calls and emails will remain unanswered. The silence is deafening. They are agents of social inaction.They should be banned.
In recent months I’ve picked up the pencil, let my fingers flutter over the keyboard and tried my hand at freelance writing. Hand on heart, and a heavy one at that, I have had more words of encouragement, constructive feedback and offers of collaboration from expatriates.
These are individuals who have no genetic tie to PNG yet are immersed in our society and culture with passion and enthusiasm.
Those that are bound by blood, well their reactions have been harsh. Let me re-word that. Brutal!
Criticism, unwarranted and baseless opinions and outright arrogance have flowed freely. It’s enough to make a grown woman cry. It did. And I’m only trying to write.
I shudder at the pre-empted repercussions for Papua New Guineans who envision a PNG with inter-province railway lines, rocket launch pads and Dubai-like hotel structures.
A part of me demands that motivational speakers throughout PNG flog affirmations that the road to success will only be achieved thorough silence. Spur on Papua New Guineans with a dream by declaring our unspoken ethos.
Rule 1: to achieve success in PNG don’t tell anyone your goals, dreams and ambitions. Tell them nothing. Except that you need a K10,000 loan.
I’ve an aversion for sentimentalism but in this instance I’ve taken a liking to James Keller’s aphorism that ‘a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle’.
What would pull at my heart strings, encouraging a stanza of kundu beating, is a nation of success-chasers who are confident that a whisper of their pursuit of goals won’t be destroyed by their countrymen.
The evolution of the blocker from simple nay-sayer to a bring who consciously chooses to embody the virtues of the candle and obliterate psychotic competition and germinate collaboration.
It may just inspire me to be brazen and publicise my other goal of switching my freelance writer hat for…. no, it’s probably too early for that.