As we seek contributions for the first ever collection of writing by Papua New Guinean women (see announcement above), DANIEL KUMBON writes of his relationship with wife Julie, offering a model for how the men of PNG should encourage women and girls to make the Walk to Equality....
I AM GLAD I took my wife Julie to the recent Brisbane Writers Festival to give her the exposure to other places many women in Papua New Guinea deserve.
But my main reason was to compensate Julie for the pain and hardship she suffered in three major operations at Wabag General Hospital, which I'll tell you about shortly.
In 2008, she saw me come back from Mexico and heard about my earlier travels to many other foreign lands like America, Australia, England, Hong Kong and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
This time I wanted her to accompany me to Australia to thank her for bearing our children, doing the domestic work and earning extra money for the upkeep of our large family by selling ice blocks, soft drinks, making gardens and raising pigs to supplement my meagre public service salary.
Many of our close family friends like Cr Paul Kurai, proprietor of K Star Construction Company, assisted us and my sponsors and colleagues appreciated me bringing my wife on the trip.
At the Paga Hill Development Company offices in Port Moresby, the CEO Gumm Fridricksson and company director Stanley Liria asked me where Julie was.
She was not one of the PNG writers and I had left her at Gerehu. But they gave me a bag which they had prepared for her with Julie’s name on it. It contained gifts and an equal amount of spending money that we – Francis Nii, Martyn Namorong and I - received. Julie was overwhelmed at such recognition and equal treatment.
Instead of appreciating our womenfolk for their efforts, some men unnecessarily suppress and subject their spouses to domestic violence while others are burned at the stake after being accused of sorcery.
When the ABC’s Pacific Beat interviewed me on the subject of sorcery while I was in Australia, I felt ashamed and uncomfortable to answer questions and discuss the plight of women in PNG.
We men don’t realise that such poor treatment of our womenfolk has become a national shame and the subject for international condemnation.
The perpetrators forget that a loving mother had once given them birth, cared for them, educated them, accumulated the wealth necessary to marry spouses for them to start their own families.
We come across at least three important groups of women in our lives – our mothers, our wives and our daughters. We should make it a priority to treat our spouses with care, respect and fairness as we would expect and wish our own offspring – daughters, aunties, cousins and nieces - to be treated.
Just imagine the nightmares and pains parents endure when they see or hear of their own daughters beaten by abusive partners or burned at the stake accused of practising sorcery. Where is sanity, fairness and respect for our women in this modern era?
At an apartment on the 13th floor of the Zara Tower in Sydney my friends, Martyn Namorong and Ben Jackson shook my hand and congratulated me for bringing Julie along to Australia. The two young men referred to us as their ‘parents’ and treated us with respect.
Namorong commented that he was impressed with Julie, especially given her limited educational background and no prior international exposure. She was so charming and dignified at official receptions and when we met local politicians and important guests on her first trip overseas.
Of course Namorong knows how women are treated badly in PNG and maybe it was the first time for him to see an average Papua New Guinean like myself bringing his wife on such a lengthy trip to Australia.
I did not tell him that I had to bring her to compensate for the pain and anxiety she had suffered on the operating table at Wabag General Hospital. She could have died each time and I had to show my gratitude for bearing me healthy children – one of them through caesarean section.
In traditional Enga society, good men used to compensate their wives for bearing and raising his children them by giving pigs and other wealth to her relatives and by making sweet potato gardens, looking after pigs, making bilums, aprons and purpur or grass skirts for them.
In 2013, I made the decision to take my wife to Australia after she underwent a successful operation when doctors removed a gallstone the size of a marble, which we still keep to this day.
That was not the only time the doctor’s knife had been used on Julie. Back in 2008, our last child was born through caesarean section. Before that, in 2007, a doctor found out at the prenatal clinic that the baby had formed in the fallopian tube and scans showed that it could burst any time.
So she was rushed into the operating theatre for an emergency operation to remove the foetus. But the doctor found to his absolute horror that the baby had some-how slipped back to its rightful place in the womb.
The doctor stood transfixed for a while not knowing what to do next. Somehow, that very instant, Julie regained consciousness from the anaesthetic and the doctor was able to speak to her thus as recited by Julie herself.
“Mama, bebi em igo bek stap long blium bilong en iet, na bai yumi mekim wanem?” [Mother, the baby is back in the womb, what can we do now?
“Em wanpela spesiol laip God I gipim mi na yumi noken rausim em. Tasol mi poret long taim bilong karim, nogut mi dai.” [That is one precious life God has given me and we must not terminate it. But I am afraid I might die when it comes to giving birth].
“Mama, noken wari. Mi wanpela katolik na mi no laik rausim dispel bebi. Na taim bilong karim, yu noken wari, mi bai stap long helpim yu.” [Mother, don’t worry. I am a Catholic and I am afraid to terminate this baby. When it’s time to deliver, I’ll be there to help.]
So, the baby girl was left in the womb and the incision was sewn.
Nine months later the good doctor safely delivered the healthy baby girl through caesarean section. I named her after my mother, Magdalene, who was one of the first village women to be baptised by Fr Jerry Theis SVD at Mariant Catholic Mission in Kandep in the 1960s.
All had gone well for Julie on the operating table and on her first overseas trip.
If she learned anything, it must be the obvious loving relationship that exists between ‘silver-haired’ Australian couples and the long lives they aim to live in a clean environment, eating healthy foods, avoid stressful situations and caring for each other.
She saw how 85 year old Professor Ken McKinnon helped his wife Sue in the kitchen to prepare the delicious meal and drinks we enjoyed for dinner that special night in Sydney.