Good Reading : November 2016
‘OK, so then how do you know if you’ve been cursed?’ One of my colleagues responded as if the answer was obvious and uninteresting. ‘You get eaten by the crocodile.’ Of course. How could I have missed it? So I pointed out that if you don’t know whether you’ve been cursed until a crocodile eats you, then you might as well consider crocodiles dangerous. They laughed. I thought about the logic. Assumption:You only get eaten by a crocodile if you are cursed. Observation: The German tourist was eaten by a crocodile. Conclusion: Therefore the German tourist must have been cursed. It’s logical, but it begs the question. So as we drove on I threw it back to them. ‘You know, your conclusion that crocodile attacks are caused by curses is based on your assumption that crocodile attacks are caused by curses.’ They understood what I was saying, and laughed, but their position remained unchanged. Because their world view works. The problem is that for some people in PNG the next logical steps are: Conclusion 2: Therefore someone from the other tribe must have cursed him; ergo, Conclusion 3: We need to kill someone from their tribe for payback. We continued to drive for hours through the dense rainforest of Papua, vehicle sliding through the mud, with roads and bridges sometimes completely washed away. I was overwhelmed by the raw power of nature, by places that didn’t ‘wear man’s smudge and share man’s smell.’ I wasn’t feeling as though my world view was superior because we don’t believe in curses. The people here had lived in harmony with crocodiles and their environment. My culture, without blinking, was bulldozing everything flat to cover the earth in asphalt and concrete, leaving crocodiles, other creatures and remnants of forests in little enclosures for posterity. And our world view continues to bulldoze and pour concrete as if it would cover the entire world. For the natural world, our culture has been the curse. I was living in Papua New Guinea in the year 2000 as part of my first overseas assignment in international development. My friend Keith had gone to Sudan and Kosovo and other hotspots to bring vital relief to desperate people. And my role? I had been sent here to close down all our sponsorship-funded programs. Great. What a contribution! It’s not that the projects weren’t making a difference. In Erima, part of the larger settlement area from where much of the Port Moresby violence emerges, a teacher wanted to talk to me after one of the meetings. She was maybe in her late 30s, working for very little pay in simple classrooms. She looked at me and began to cry. ‘You were the only ones to come out here and help us. Nobody else came.’ But our work wasn’t sufficiently effective by our standards; it wasn’t the best use of donor money. We needed other funding approaches, as child sponsorship in particular wasn’t working well here. So during my time there I decided to understand why, to deconstruct the reasons. BOOK BITE 2 GOOD READING NOVEMBER 2016 51 BEYOND THE VAPOUR TRAIL ‘Crocodiles will only attack you if you’ve been cursed.’ How could we eradicate the welfare overtones of handouts and benefactors and make each child in a community feel equally valued?
December 2016 - January 2017