Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Islands Update

A view of the New Ireland coast from the village
where I stayed.
Well I’m about to leave Madang again and realized I haven’t even given an update on my last trip!

Overall, it was a good time. I love traveling and seeing new places. I was the guest of the Catholic bishop in Kimbe, who was able to provide some great conversation on topics as far-ranging as John Henry Newman, CS Lewis, Islam, and the current state of ecumenical dialogue in PNG and the world.

This is the "haus boi" that I stayed in. As you can
see, one side of it does not have a wall! This is what
I meant by sleeping in the village's "living room". The
stone fence around the haus boi seemed to be both
typical and distinctive to New Ireland, or at least I had
never seen this in Madang or the highlands.
In New Ireland I stayed with one of my students in the “haus boi” in his mother’s village, which was kind of like sleeping and eating in the village’s living room. There are so many things about PNG village life that warm my heart:

  •        People love to tell “stories” and expect that talking and sharing stories will be a normal and regular part of recreation.
  •        In a village setting, people are unfailingly generous and welcoming.
  •        Social relationships clearly possess a high and over-riding value. Time, gifts, and words are all directed towards showing all of one’s extended family the pre-eminent value that one attaches to them.
  •        There can be an openness or bluntness in conversations that consistently disarms me. People sometimes just seem more open on certain topics than I would expect of most westerners.
  • A painting in the Kavieng Cathedral
  •        People are always ready to make friends. Making friends means we give you food. I thought the other day that I may have friends in the States who I have never exchanged food with in any way. It may not be consciously thought out, but I think anyone from a Melanesian culture would really struggle with that.

Language and Intimacy

In addition to these I would add that I consistently find people to be very happy to find out that I grew up in PNG and speak pidgin. There must be something important about language for all people, but especially for Papua New Guineans. Just last night a local priest was over for dinner and told me about a waitskin who knew his people’s tokples (vernacular language). He noted that here in PNG to know someone’s tokples is to be accepted as one of them without any distinction.

As a native English speaker, this is very far removed from my relationship to my mother tongue. I feel no immediate affection for someone who speaks my language. In some place of PNG in particular, though, pidgin or English are spoken in more public contexts and one’s mother tongue is something almost intimate and familial. To know the language is like knowing a family’s inside jokes, nick names, and special terms. It is amazing how much people can sometimes respond to just a few words of their mother language. I think that a little bit, though by no means all, of this sense of immediate intimacy can come just from speaking pidgin rather than English with people. It can make me feel like I am accepted almost too quickly, but I also have to admit that I like it, and it feels good to just travel around making friends wherever I go.

Joy of the Gospel and Poverty

In addition to other reading projects, I nearly finished a book called “Happy Are You Poor” by Fr. Thomas Dubay. I have also been reading Evangelii Gaudium, (The Joy of the Gospel) which was put out by Pope Francis. I have been reading it quite slowly, trying to digest and meditate on what I read. I’ve read a fair number of Church documents before this one (encyclicals, or letters, from Popes, and documents from Councils and synods). They have a reputation for sounding fairly dry and committee-like, so given those expectations the Joy of the Gospel is a remarkably easy read that can make my heart sing sometimes. I highly recommend it and may post some reflections and highlights later on.

But reading these two books together has also sometimes made me feel like I’m being held down and having my stomach repeatedly punched. The book by Fr. Dubay is particularly hard-hitting. I have even begun to question whether the trip I just made to the islands can be reconciled with the Christ of the Gospels. People have many different ideas of what it means to live a Gospel poverty, but the truth is I didn’t even pause before buying an airplane ticket to ask whether this was a good use of God’s money. I weighed the goods of the trip versus other goods for me, but of course other people had more pressing needs than for me to travel, as good as it may be. Dubay makes the point that the saints look unreasonable to us, but they just act as if the things we give notional assent to were actually true.  They consistently acted as if people were ends and material things possessed merely instrumental value, for instance. They gave up even from their need, and they actually acted as if they were “nomads and strangers on the earth”. I don’t have a good conclusion to this paragraph other than to ask for your prayers!


On that note, I will be making another trip, which may at least be more justifiable. My dad will be coming in to Ukarumpa and Port Moresby for some meetings, so I will be PMV’ing up to the highlands tomorrow in order to meet him there. It should be good to see him and make some visits. By the time I come back our long “summer” break should be near over and we’ll be gearing up for a new school year.

Peace be with you all!
An empty parish church that used to be the Rabaul cathedral before
the 1994 volcanic eruption.