I often find it quite jarring transitioning from a work trip back into ‘real’ life, my thoughts still with people in the countries where we work; it can take a day or so to feel present in my regular day to day.
This morning was something of a shocker however and I thought I’d share…
I was booked on the 6.30am hotel bus to the airport scheduled to leave Port Moresby and fly home to Sydney through Cairns. It’s been a really special work week as I’ve had the privilege of sitting with people in beautiful Alotau, Milne Bay Province, PNG, to hear their stories of how one of our water projects has made a real and lasting difference to their lives.
I drove with our team to a number of villages, schools and aid posts after visiting our project and got a feel for the needs. I talked with a pregnant woman drawing water from a filthy source and saw children with distressing skin diseases because they are unable to keep their bodies clean. I saw a girl lying in her father’s lap at the steps of a remote health clinic, with a machete wound to her leg. She was grey with shock and they didn’t have pain relief or other medicines to treat her with. I emptied my handbag of Panadol and Nurofen.
The absolute beauty of the place seemed out of place with the suffering. I wrote poetic, ideological paragraphs on Facebook in the evenings back at my guesthouse with occasional internet.
So it came as a surprise even to me when I turned into something of a princess this morning. I can’t fly on an empty stomach and I can’t stomach airline food. So last night I asked my wildly overpriced hotel in Moresby if they could please arrange some breakfast for me by 6.15am, I could then check out and be on that 6.30am bus.
6.15am came and went and no breakfast. I called and they mumbled something about something but said it would be there soon. It wasn’t. I checked out but even though I was booked on the shuttle, it left without me. I’m irritated. Blood pressure rising, at 6.50am I was sitting in the foyer eating my omelette having asked them to please order me a taxi which is, ahem, not something I’m really supposed to do as it’s safe to say that Port Moresby isn’t all that safe.
I go to drink the tea they have kindly provided for me in a takeaway cup but it seems the lid wasn’t the best fit as I spill it all over myself. I swear. I go and get cleaned up and return to find my taxi waiting. Its windscreen is smashed in and I kid you not, was held together by used chewing gum.
At this point I get the giggles. He says he still allowed to drive it. As we pass the dodgiest market in town where I have heard tales of all kinds of woe, I try to make myself smaller as the driver and I both put our windows up simultaneously. Thankfully a safe, sturdy minibus not unlike the one I was supposed to be on, drives past and provides a buffer as we speed by. I make it safely to the airport where G4S, the company paid handsomely by our taxes to patrol Manus Is until this week, are out in large numbers to ensure my bag of dirty washing doesn’t cause anyone grievous bodily harm and every inch of my luggage is openly scrutinised. Breathe.
I board the plane and a short flight later I am in Cairns, where they ask me to WALK to the domestic terminal a good 400 metres away, in the rain, without any covering to speak of. When I get to the part where I unload my computer for the 27th time this week, the guy says Excuse me Ma’am we need to give you a more thorough check and he zaps me and my dirty laundry with his laser gun, finally checking that there aren’t any explosives hidden in my Havianas, the ones that are on my feet!
Then when the smell of proper coffee lures me to a cafe, of course they won’t take cards under $10 and there’s no ATM to be found. Sigh.
It’s not till I get on the plane to Sydney that I slap myself. I remember my really quite recent week in the village.
Missions trips, Experience tours, Volun-Tourism – as noble and important as they are, are not actually about the people in the village. We think they are. I think the work I do both in my ‘day job’ and through a Girl & her world’ is valuable and life changing, and it is. But mostly it’s my life that is being changed.
Gratitude and perspective are choices we must make. That’s not to downplay the things we face even in our comfortable lives, they’re real, but there’s much to be learnt from those who choose joy in the midst of suffering and find ways to be grateful though they have nothing. That is true strength.
Below is the final offering of said poetic, ideological Facebook posts. I’m making fun of myself above but I was extremely impacted by my week and will keep reminding myself to choose not to be a Princess! Be the Change as the saying goes, and it starts with me…
Jane for team ‘a Girl & her world’
“Leaving Alotau today for the bright lights of Port Moresby. I get to go to a hotel with free wifi and hot showers.
It’s pouring here this morning and I’m thinking of all the women I’ve seen this past few days washing in the river who will probably leave their buckets out to catch some fresh water today. I’m wondering if the girl with the machete wound will heal ok in this humidity or if her wound will get infected. I’m thinking about my expensive malaria tablets that nobody has access to here. Remembering that I need to call someone in one of the villages but they don’t have electricity and so he won’t be able to charge his phone till next trip to town.
I speak to people who feel guilty about their privileged lives and are frozen with inaction. But it’s not wrong that we have access to clean water, medicine and power in our homes – it’s wrong that these people don’t”