Dear Papua New Guineans,
The Coronavirus threat is very humbling in the sense that it encourages us to recommit and rediscover not only what one holds very dear but reconnects us to that which seems unreachable but very valuable, a compassionate world.
For the past weeks in lockdown, the only stories that have been reaching our shores have been of conspiracies, contraction of and the ever increasing death toll due to Coronovirus, all that does is it increases our fear to the point of oblivion. But what meant the most to me is not all this, rather it is the humanity that people are showing in times like this.
Internationally, stories that do not reach us are of customers in shopping malls stepping aside for each other when there was only one item left on the shelf shows that they know the gravity of the threat that was upon them yet they only got what they really needed not more!
A friend saw on the news, restaurant owners and chefs in New York city turning their restaurants into soup kitchens providing for those in their neighborhood . . . and families who were in need of food were brought to tears with this unexpected KINDNESS!
Kindness? Seriously these people are famous for turning a blind eye when it comes to beggars on their streets but thanks to a virus, it put humanity right back into humans. And the most amazing thing is that this is not driven by administrative highly over budgeted plans of their governments but are the selfless act of individuals - individuals who did not wait in fear for the government to order them to do something but did so because they saw a need. As one restaurant owners said he would selflessly continue to give until he ran out of money.
In PNG, we've always been known to be at our very best when we are backed up against the wall. Take the Bougainville crisis that lasted a decade (1988 – 1998) where Bougainville was cut out from the rest of PNG with no services and goods going into Bougainville. That’s when they started tapping into their innate artistic abilities and started creating from scratch. Where they had no schools, they built schools for their children and reverted to using bush medicine. They started generating their own electricity and they made fuel that was used to run trucks
they reinvented themselves in a world that was firmly attached to the idea that development (electricity and fuel that runs our cars) can only be brought about by the extraction of non-renewable resources.
We’ve also heard stories or for some of us we’ve lived through the harrowing experience of being forcefully removed from our homes by the 1990s eruptions in Rabaul. But I can still hear my dad telling tales of kindness; like the night of the 1994 Tavurvur eruption as people were fleeing for their lives, these two brave men working for PTC now Telecom in a brand new Toyota double cab after ensuring their families safety had to go to and from Rabaul town to pick up stragglers who were fleeing town on foot despite the risk to their own lives.
I’ve also heard tales of a man who had to carry his ailing mother on his back and as he was contemplating which road to take, a tinted brand new vehicle drove up to him and offered to take them out of harm’s way. Not forgetting the fire servicemen who ensured we had more than enough to eat that we were forced to barter with the community surrounding Bitapaka War Cemetery and of course the clothes that were donated by the people of this very country.
So in a time like this we should not be cowering in fear rather we should be chewing our last betelnut together as a sign of sharing and as my dear friend has said our generosity of spirit will hopefully create a new virus of caring that becomes more contagious than the one making headlines right now.