2013 2nd September the 2nd anniversary of my Dad's departure from this living earth, I found myself sitting on the floor; because it was cool and I was sweating like you can't believe; in this huge 3 bedroom, empty house in Kokopo PNG. My new home for 12 months reminded me of a typical Kiwi farm house, I was already missing home I wished I was with my family and that I had aircon. The challenges started in my first week with live and dead rodents, avoiding mozzies, cockroaches as big as the mice, geckos that poo everywhere, spiders that are bigger than my palm, ants, ants everywhere and my counterpart at the centre not available as he was away on business. That week was meant to be as I became a crazy ‘cat meri” - given TomTom the cat as his owner was leaving and needed a home for him.
We became a family TomTom and I. The rats, cockroaches and spiders disappeared and I wasn't as lonely. I got use to sweating, not having TV or aircon. My diet changed with wonderful fresh organic tropical fruits and vegetables that either came free or at pittance, I lacked in dairy and red meats and even had to give up my weekly alcohol consumption to once or twice a month. Other than the odd tropical sickness and malaria was healthy and feeling great. The bananas and pineapple were always a good source of natural medicine.
My first 6 months as a volunteer was about getting to know people, building those relationships. At the time I felt very unproductive and sat under trees with the meris and in glass rooms and clinics. Those months we had no power and the Finance Officer who I was advising did a runner. I eventually committed to doing her role until I found a replacement. A new Finance Officer and power meant I could start my goals, 6 months to go and it seemed like I had lots to do. What I found was sitting under those trees with the meris and in the classroom with the pikinini and going to the villages and just hanging out with the local people meant they got to know me and trust became apparent; those goals became easier to achieve. Donations and funding requested and won, processes setup, board meetings implemented and in action and future plans put forward and the best of all relationships made and secured for life.
I bonded with one of my colleagues she had this natural calmness about her always smiling no matter what horrible thing had be thrown at her she is a believer in her faith and herself, passionate about her work and a great advocate for her clients with disabilities.
I experienced a loss with my colleague and friend that I would never wish to experience myself as a parent of two wonderful children. Early February 2014 my friend didn't come to work, it wasn't like her not to come. I was a little concerned but she managed to phone, not an easy task in the remoteness of PNG. Her son was very sick, there is a lot of sickness in PNG it was normal people got sick survived or died that’s how it is. The weekend went by and that precious boy was transferred from the health clinic to the haus sik. The haus sik was on my route to and from work, I visited every morning and afternoon. The haus sik lacked in funding which contributed to power, water, doctors, equipment and medicines. The ward reminded me of a marae but it was dark and looked cold even though it was sweltering with humid heat. Family attending to their loved ones feeding and caring for them and some looking like they are on death's door. That first visit I had to focus on why I was there I had to be strong for my friend and her son, she was asleep on a woven mat on the concrete floor I didn't want to wake her. The man in the bed beside her was elderly with this extra stomach the size of a pregnant women, people groaning, as well as silence and crying with some smells unbearable, all my senses on high alert. I was scared for my friend and her son I made a phone call wanting to know what was going on and how sick he was, my fears were confirmed, meningitis that bad kind that people have died from in my own country of NZ. Oh, No!!! The days went by and I watch my friend’s son deteriorate she prayed and believed he would be going home soon. 4.30 pm Friday death was apparent as I remember the same labouring breath when my mum died. This was my last visit as that evening I received a phone call from my friend. She was crying my heart sank her precious son died.
My life took a turn when I met a Greek man through a PNG friend. My friend and I use to joke about our interaction with this Greek man and nick names were created Mysterious Greek God, The Dark Knight and Kiwi Goddess. I wanted discounted accommodation for band members for a fund raiser event we were holding, could the Mysterious Greek God provide this for us. What came out of that was a persistent Greek man with a cat and mouse chase, wooing me like a true gentleman and I running in the opposite direction. I certainly didn't come to PNG to fall in love with a man, only with the country. We talked, played, danced and laughed. Together we overcame PNG, Greek and Kiwi cultural misunderstandings and language barriers. Thanks to this new relationship I was introduced into a different network of people. This was hard work at times and did include a couple of hangovers but the ground work paid off and needed resources and funding for the resource centre came to fruition.
My volunteer time came to an end in December 2014 after extending by 3 months. I gained patience, understanding and courage; I provided knowledge and skills and resources. The basic Kiwi lifestyle wasn't important to me I had different values I didn't need power, TV, aircon or a vehicle. For a girl that ran away from heartache I found the opposite in the land and people of PNG. I fell in love with this land of the unexpected and I fell in love with a Mysterious Greek God.