Serial volunteer Graham Andrews flies back to Papua New Guinea for his latest Palms Australia placement in the Diocese of Wewak. Having completed two placements in PNG, what does one expect in the Land of the Unexpected?
Greetings from a hot and humid Wewak!
Yes, hot and humid but not unbearable. If I thought I would lose weight here in such a climate, well I had better stop eating so much! Not used to actually sitting down to 3 meals a day, with lots of bread and other food I had discarded in my self-imposed ‘diet’. When I was in Papua New Guinea (2003-2010) at Good Shepherd Seminary and people asked me what is the climate like there, I would answer “shorty pyjamas and two blankets.” Here I answer with “four showers a day.”
Sydney Airport departure lounge: Particular thoughts going through my mind. Thinking about who I was leaving behind. Thinking what I would miss. Thinking about what I was doing. Anyway, I thought well here I am and I am off to Wewak. But this time it was a bit tough to leave. After all this is my third Palms placement in PNG.
The plane trip to Port Moresby: I settled. I never complain about anything on the plane, as all I want is the plane to get me safely to where I want to go. Am not the best air traveller!
Port Moresby airport: I was met there by my friend Paul (a former seminarian from my 2003 placement) and his two sons Graham (yes, that is what PNG people do) and Greg. Another son, two-year old Martin, was at home. They told other kids they were going to the airport to see their “bubu” (grandfather!!).
Wewak airport: after stop over at Madang we arrived at Wewak airport and I was met by the bishop of Wewak, Józef Roszyński SVD. He was on his way back from a parish. The bishop is very short of priests so he tries to get to parishes where there is no priest. Many vacant parishes, he only has about 50% of the number of priests he needs. Familiar story?
The bishop said to ease my way in. That is what I started doing. That is also part of our Palms training. But still I am busy. I told the bishop that Palms told us, in the early stages, we had to look, listen, and keep your mouth shut! I have to find out about the place and have read many documents to know what has been going on.
I was taken on a bit of a tour of the mission by former seminarian Justin who I taught at Good Shepherd Seminary for 3 years (2003-5). Briefly shown the offices/areas of business. Much of the equipment is in a poor state. Our Printing Press produces books for schools, plus medical record books, receipt books etc. for the diocese and various community organisations. We have the 2-way radio for priests/church workers in remote areas in the province.
The diocese in the early days built a lot of houses for the workers families, besides the church, office buildings etc. But now so many things are old, rundown, some broken down. Usually builders were religious brothers, assisted by locals. There are lots of houses here in the mission area and they are occupied by most of the local diocese workers, including many school teachers, for reasonably small rents.
I have caught up with Palms man, Graham Lynch, who runs a “chook farm” on nearby Kairiru Island. First met him in 1994 after a retreat here in Wewak (I was in Goroka then) and went over to Kairiru Island for one night at that time. He extended an invitation to his place again. I will get there one day.
On Friday 15th January Bishop Józef took me with him to the silver jubilee of a local Rosary sister, Sophie, at St John the Baptist Church at Masoma, Mandi village. This church is a sub-parish/outstation of Boram Shalom parish and home of Sr Sophie. We got there at 9:20am and left at nearly 3pm. Mass was 2 hours. Then outside – speeches, allocated one hour, of course went longer. Refreshments followed. Very good. Meeting lots of new people.
Saturday: No TV for cricket, tennis……
Sunday, 17th January: went with bishop to a sub-parish (outstation) of a parish in the Wewak Deanery. Not too far away by PNG measurements! Confirmation of 32. These people had been waiting for 2 extra years for their confirmation. They were prepared and ready 2 years ago, so they very patiently waited until now as Bishop Tony Burgess became very ill, then passed away, then they waited for new Bishop. Those people responsible for the preparation did a brilliant job. Was a great celebration. The food afterwards was great too. Always a good feast here in PNG for special occasions! Some things there for us to learn – patience one of them!
Work: I am the “Diocesan Manager” – an administrative role. I oversee the administration staff and the various workshops and now helping to look after kitchen matters. This includes going to the Wewak town market for fresh fruit and vegies. Ah, magnificent tropical pawpaws!! I just missed the mango season but it will come again. Can’t wait!
I will be helping to look after the 2 storey diocesan house where I live (16 rooms and a common room on both floors, plus a small chapel). It was also similar to one thing I did at Kefamo in Goroka during my first Palms placement in 1992. Recently we had the bishop and a priest here from Aitape in the neighbouring province up north staying in the house while passing through. The Aitape bishop was on the Good Shepherd seminary board, and the Aitape priest was on the seminary staff, when I was at seminary. Was good to catch up.
Another thing: I am currently writing applications seeking grants for specific projects for the diocese. I was aware I would be doing this before I came.
And another thing: I am on the finance committee.
And another thing again: I have been asked to join the committee putting together some history of the diocese (as English editor!).
Saturday 24th January, morning: Went to Wewak town Saturday morning with 4 seminarians who I taught at Good Shepherd seminary. I bought a few items to make things a bit more “comfortable”!! Just little things, like an extra fan (no aircon here), an electric jug, a cheapie bedcover to protect sheets from any dust. Just have two sheets on the bed at night, no cover! Too hot and humid! Plus cushions, one for each hard chair, don’t want a sore backside, and a couple of small mats for here and there. Looked for simple Chux wipes, nowhere to be found. Oh how we take things for granted at home and complain if things are not available!
Saturday 24th January, afternoon: Got together with 4 seminarians and cooked a “celebration”/”back-together” meal. We very much enjoyed the meal, told stories, it was just like the old seminary days!! I had taught them all at the seminary. I was very happy to shout them fresh meat, chicken, rice, bread, cheese, many fresh veggies and fruits from the market plus ice-cream (a treat!) and drinks. Some nibbles of course while we cooked! Most enjoyable!
Another seminarian had earlier heard I was here at Wewak, and travelled a few hours from his village to come and see me just a few days after I arrived here. That was nice.
Saturday, 30th January & Sunday, 31st January: I was to spend some time over the weekend correcting a theology thesis for a seminarian from PNG who is now studying for the priesthood in the Philippines. But his work did not arrive. He is finishing his theology studies and I have been helping him for some time now. some days later …thesis arrived. It is now edited and submitted.
Sunday, 31st January: went with bishop to Passam parish, known as Emmaus. Did not take long, just 20 mins when you have a very fast driver. (hahaha…hope the bishop does not see this!!). No parish priest, so bishop looks after this parish. When I was going to Communion, a local man shook hands. I am not very good with faces most times, but this time I instantly recognised who he was and remembered his name! A former seminarian from Wewak who I taught for 2 years at Good Shepherd seminary [he then left the seminary end of 2006 to go to Teacher’s College]. Small world! Nowhere to hide!
Other bits and pieces: I was actually in the kitchen I was showing cooks here how to (earlier marinate), crumb chicken, and then cook it when news came that the mighty Eels won the Auckland Nines!! I was of course delighted. Then we had the chicken being very tasty! PNG Master Chef here I come! TV: Have not seen any TV since I arrived. So can survive without it after all. Wonder if I will be saying that when the Eels are playing and I can’t watch them! Each morning I am up by 6am at the latest, including weekends. I am OK but getting fatter again! Have just cut back a lot on the bread. We have a bread-house here in the mission!
Bishop Józef has been very good to me since I arrived. Knew him (as a priest) before I came here. He is very approachable. He is also very busy. He is not just about giving blessings!!