As I sit on the plane travelling home I want to take a moment to reflect on this trip (I’ll do a proper recap later). Before I came here I really had no idea what to expect. In the weeks leading up to this trip I was nervous – there was so much that would be out of control and the information put out by the Australian government was alarmist at best, racist at worst. I had no way of anticipating how transformative this trip would be for me – how it would reach to the core of who I was (it sounds ridiculous but it's true).
My relationship with Jon and Catherine allowed me to gain the trust of the locals pretty quickly so I felt welcomed and accepted by the community in PNG from day one. As a result, I’ve been able to experience this place differently than those who come here unattached and I got to spend most of my time surrounded by Papua New Guineans.
I was overwhelmed by the generosity of the locals here. When seeing that I planned to work in the library over lunch, Jessica the librarian brought a can of Fanta back with her from lunch to share with me. If I arrived early at the archives, Jessie the guard would sit outside and wait with me or they would open the reading room so I could wait in there. When my phone suddenly died at the library, leaving me unable to call for my ride – Mary used her personal phone (at great expense I’m sure) to call Catherine; then the staff and guards stayed back with me past their finishing time to make sure I was safely conveyed to my ride.
It makes me really sad to think about the way Papua New Guinea is depicted in Australia especially by government agencies, as if it is a country full of only violence and unrest. I want to tell you a new narrative about Papua New Guinea – a story of a people who are compassionate and loyal. Of people who have been drawn together through the arbitrary borders marked out by colonial powers who came here to exploit the land and not to serve the people. I want to tell you the story of people who are trying to find a way to come together despite the fact they come from diverse cultures and speak many different languages (over 800 in fact).
Yes, there are still problems here. Yes, there are places where you need to exercise caution. Yet that is true for people travelling to any foreign country for the first time alone. But please don’t let that deter you from visiting PNG. If you visit, I challenge you to come open and willing to learn and I’m sure, like me, you’ll go away better for it.