Muumuu at Gabensis

Recently I drove with Bob to Gabensis Adventist School about 45 minutes from Lae. The scenery at this place is rather beautiful – green, lush forests, quiet hills, rushing rivers, tree lined road to school and a quaint church down a coloured flowered pathway, overlooking the hills. Hundreds of church workers, pastors, teachers and office workers from the Morobe Mission were there for a retreat conducted over a few days. They had all brought their tents and had set them up in the classrooms, beside the buildings or on the verandahs. They were being instructed, admonished, taught and generally encouraged to be good SDAs, follow all the doctrines and fundamentals and be ready 24/7 for the defensive or the charge.

The people were friendly and looked happy enough. They enjoyed the camaraderie and the close proximity of their tents. Their food was provided from a temporary kitchen and twice a day they lined up to receive their portion – lots of rice, root vegetables, some chicken or tinned fish and sliced paw paw and watermelon. The children ran freely, the young teachers jostled and joked with each other, the mothers attended to and rocked their babies. The ministers looked serious and determined. The singing, as always, was beautiful and the harmonies coming from the church was food for the soul.

The most surprising and shocking experience for me was the opening of the muumuu on Sabbath – the special Sabbath lunch. The banana leaves were stripped off the huge stone covered feast in the ground. Steam and smell belched forth and here was hundreds of dark grey taros and a whole cow! Bones and brown meat soon separated as the men pulled the meat and vegetables out and onto large tin bowls. They used rib bones of the cow as spatulas and serving spoons. The large leg bones were separated and given to the dogs. What a massive feed they would have! It was a horrific and sad sight and a very smelly experience. Soon the campers lined up with their dishes and plates to receive their share of meat and taro along with some watermelon and paw paw slices. This was their delightful Sabbath lunch! I wondered if there were any vegetarians there and what they would propose to eat. I wondered was there anybody who cared about animals, about their health, about the original diet. Was anybody trying to live a more healthful life?

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What to do about Refugees in my neighbourhood?

Reflections on the Refugee scenario here in PNG, June 18, 2016

We (Bob and I) have become involved with a few refugees emanating from the exit of refugees from Manus Island Refugee centre. They are men who have come to Lae, being posted here for work with businesses who are offering help to these people.

We became involved because of David Fedele, a journalist from Melbourne who first saw Bob’s name in the Melbourne Age and The Guardian. Somehow those newspapers found out the story of Bob caring for one refugee, Logman, who had turned up on the streets of Lae.

Bob came home one day from the office, which is right next door to our house on the compound in Lae, to find the backyard full of ‘street boys’ or ‘raskols’ as they are called here in PNG. They are boys who have run away, been lost or have nowhere to live because no one wants them. These boys actually live in the bushes behind the SDA church near our house. Those raskols had found Logman on the street near the police station. He did not look like them because he was from Iran so had a lighter skin and certainly had a different accent and manner. They told him he would die if he stayed on the street because strangers are not welcome on the streets of Lae. Besides, Lae has the reputation of being the most dangerous town in Papua New Guinea.

So, together with Jacob, our long-term street boy friend, they brought him to our yard where they waited for Bob, the only trusted friend they knew who might help them and hopefully, Logman. Bob listened to the story and although reluctant, he allowed Logman to live in the flat under our house. He hoped to share good news with him and offered him a job with the mission. He considered the possibility in the future of helping Logman go to a Christian school, get an education and a chance for a new life. But – Logman, was restless and didn’t stay long. He soon left and eventually found his way back to Manus Island where he is back in the centre for refugees where life is easier for him.

David Fedele read about this in two newspapers and immediately found his way to PNG with a visa to stay for 2 months, lived in the flat under our house and endeavoured to get to know Logman and other refugees around town. At the same time David met the street boys and invited them every day to our house where he and Sandrine, an ADRA employee’s wife from Ivory Coast, Africa, taught the boys English and simple mathematics. David gave them a meal each day and it was a good arrangement which was to last only a while. David eventually left and the classes came to an end.

But … we now employ the main street boy, Nickson, provide him with food and hopefully a future at a good school. He is faithful and we believe he has hope.

The other refugees we met, struggle still. They live in Lae in accommodation now provided by the Australian government. They have jobs but struggle to integrate into society. Especially so for our Sudanese friend, Mojeeb. Mojeeb is a tall handsome young man with a long sad history to relate, leaving Sudan and so wants to have an education and a good life. He cannot go outside his accommodation because the PNG people don’t relate or want to know about Africans. He has been attacked, robbed, shot at and threatened with a knife. He is afraid to venture outside. He has nowhere to cook food and has to rely on the restaurant at the Inn where he stays and for which the government pays. He would much rather they pay for an education for him.

And so right now – we are struggling to know just how to help this beautiful young man, so worthy of a future and a right to a decent life. He doesn’t know where to turn.