Archive for the month “November, 2015”

Only two more sleeps!

In the good old days when I was a school teacher, I regularly used to take kids on trips to Germany and other places further afield.  I sometimes think that this was the most valuable thing I did in my fifteen years of teaching.

In the weeks before leaving on such a trip, I would  be unable to get to the end of a corridor in school without some excited student reminding me how many ‘sleeps’ were left before departure day.

Well, we are now at the stage where we have only two more sleeps in our very comfortable little house at Divine Word University.


We are not actually leaving the country until early on Saturday morning, but we have decided to move out of our house on the campus on Thursday, so that we have time to get everything, that needs washing, washed and then we will be checking in to the Madang Resort for two nights of unapologetic luxury before we start our mammoth journey home.

More on that in the next blog posting.


For some, the game is already up.

In yesterday’s blog post I showed some pictures of idyllic Pacific islands around the coast of Papua New Guinea.  ‘Idyllic’  when you have the luxury of just taking pictures and moving on, but for some of these communities, the threat of rising sea levels through global warming is very real.

When your home is only a few feet above sea-level, every storm and every high tide becomes a dangerous and possibly fatal event. And sea levels are definitely rising.


There are even nation states in the Pacific who are having to plan for the day when their nations will no longer exist and their populations will have to be re-settled elsewhere.

One such nation is Kiribati, pronounced (keer – i –  bass), which is a country made up of 33 scattered coral atolls and which, pre-independence, was known as the Gilbert Islands.  (Gosh! That  takes me back to my stamp collecting days!  does anyone else recognize theses?)

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(Whatever happened to the stamp album I had as a kid?  I’ll bet my Mum threw it away when I grew up and left home.  Bet she didn’t even give my Gilbert and Ellis Island stamp a second thought! What a travesty!)

Anyway, as I was saying.  Kiribati is a country with a population of 105,000, give or take, and 52% of its population is under 25.  Its government recently bought thousands of hectares of land in Figi, so that there will be somewhere for its people to go when the ocean finally swallows their country.  Already, the biggest storms cause flooding inland, which ruins crops and poisons water sources.

Best estimates are that, assuming that sea levels keep rising, and there is no suggestion that they won’t, the country won’t exist in twenty five years’ time.  In the meantime the Kiribati government is making every effort to ensure that all of its young people get decent vocational training, so that they will have some skills to offer when they apply for asylum in New Zealand or wherever.  This may be the first country in the world that will have to abandon its territory to the sea.  In the Pacific region, it may well not be the last.

So let’s hope that these much-heralded climate change talks in Paris actually achieve something.  The fate of an awful lot of people may depend on them.




How the other half lives.

Some Pacific islands are very small.  Not the sort of place that you would want to be washed up on.


Others are a bit bigger, but still not somewhere you would choose to set up home.


And then there are the islands that are certainly big enough to sustain a few houses or even a small village, but the constant problem that you have, if you choose this Pacific idyll, is access to water.

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If you live on an island like this, you have to make sure that you capture every drop of water that the heavens can offer, which usually is not too big a problem.  People instal tanks to collect water off their roofs and in normal times, the heavens happily provide  enough water to sustain a simple lifestyle.

The trouble is that these are not normal times.  Up until a week or so ago, we had not seen rain in this area for about three months.  Thanks, el Nino. On the mainland, we were OK because we could keep our tanks filled from the town water supply.  On the islands around Madang, it was a different story.

Now let me introduce you to Sir Peter Barter.  Sir Peter is a significant person in these parts.  Earlier in his career, he served in the PNG Government as a Minister in three different roles, including as Minister of Health.  He has served PNG in numerous capacities since then, and I recommend Google if you would like to learn more.

Now in his seventies, he runs a tourism business that includes the best hotel in Madang, the Madang Resort.  (Linda and I have promised ourselves that we will spend our last couple of nights in PNG at the Resort, just as a treat! We think we deserve it and hang the expense!)

Part of his ‘offer’ to potential tourists, Sir Peter has a large luxury ocean-going cruiser called the Kalibobo Spirit, that is used for all-inclusive mini-cruises exploring some of the beautiful rivers around Papua New Guinea. Apparently, last Christmas, the entire boat was chartered by an well-known troupador and songster from the UK, known, by those in the ‘music business’ who understand these things, as Mick Jagger.

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Well, one of the problems that you have, if you own a luxury yacht, is that, from time to time, you have to take it out and give it a few hours’ exercise, and it was on one such occasion recently that Linda and I were invited to join Sir Peter, the captain, for a short cruise and Sunday lunch!  How cool was that?    (Much to her eternal chagrin, Linda was not able to take up the invitation as she was due to leave on Saturday for the island of New Britain to run a training seminar.  I had no such constraints and was happy to represent her on board.)

We set off from Madang and sailed past the islands pictured above.  At lunchtime, we moored off one of the bigger islands and lunch was prepared.  So far, so very good.

I then noticed that a number of canoes had started to make their way towards the Kalibobo Spirit!  My first thought was to wonder whether we were about to be boarded by pirates.  Why else would an increasing number of canoes of all shapes and sizes be heading for our luxury boat?

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Sir Peter was unperturbed.  He didn’t even react when our unexpected floating visitors started to clamber aboard the Kalibobo Spirit from a lower deck at the stern, (that’s what we sea-farers call the blunt end of a boat.)

Then I noticed one of our crew fixing up a hosepipe and it suddenly clicked.  We were not just giving the boat a run out, to keep its engines in good order.  We were supplying the village on this island with water.  They came aboard with ever possible kind of container.

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And still they came.

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Until, eventually, the Kalibobo Spirit’s water tanks were empty and some people had to simply go without.066064    069  Too late!  Sometimes we forget  just how hard some people’s lives can be.








Interesting Times

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Ok, Ok, we’re going!  No need to put on the front page!

A government of a country like PNG faces a real dilemma when it comes to the use of foreign advisers and consultants.

The country does not yet have all of the skills that it needs to run a modern industrial democracy.  It is, to some extent, reliant on foreign aid in many sectors, but foreign donors will always want their ‘pound of flesh’, not only in terms of the influence that aid buys them, but also in terms of the lucrative contracts that can be given to consultants from the donor country. PNG is short of many things, but highly paid foreign consultants is not one of them.

This problem is not particular to PNG.  I well remember when I was the OXFAM representative in Senegal some years ago, the British Government generously gave GBP 6,000,000 to Senegal for rural water supply.  When the project was all over and the accounts were presented, it turned out that GBP4,600,000 of the original grant had never left the shores of Great Britain.  What hadn’t disappeared in consultant’s fees had been spent  manufacturing the pumps and pipework in Sheffield.

Those who keep calling for foreign aid to be cut back might reflect on the above example, but also consider the influence and power over other countries’ decision-making that aid buys.

Australia had a problem with refugees making their way from various Asian hotspots in leaky boats to Australia.  Their strategy was to refuse landing rights to anyone trying to reach the country by sea.  The slogan was “Turn back the boats”, which they did.

So what happened to the thousands of refugees caught up in this drama?  They were imprisoned in Australian-run and administered camps in Papua New Guinea and in the small island state of Nauru.  Some of these people have been in these camps for over two years now with no trial and no prospect of ever being released.  And guess which are almost the only two countries that didn’t have their aid cut by 40% last year.  You’ve got it.  PNG and Nauru.

The idea is that the asylum seekers will eventually be re-settled in PNG and Nauru itself, although only a handful have been released so far.  The others are still waiting.

The last thing that PNG needs is more people looking for jobs.  Youth unemployment is a huge problem and one of the main causes of the insecurity in the country.  But aid dollars speak loudly, and Australia has effectively out-sourced its refugee problem to some of its aid recipients and the good citizens of Australia do not have to worry about unwanted arrivals.

So now the PNG government is trying to put the brake on the use of foreign advisers by government departments, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for foreign consultants to get visas to come into the country.  The expectation is that this will encourage Government departments and others to employ more well-educated local people to do this work and that more of the aid dollars will actually be spent in-country.

It’ll be interesting to see how it all works out.



Fearsome Flying Things

Things tend to grow quickly in this climate and some things  tend to grow quite big.  Observe what landed on the tree outside our house recently.P1040675

On closer examination, this was what it looked like and we were impressed!


But then its big brother arrived and landed on our neighbour.



Her little boy, Daniel, was really impressed!



We were just relieved that we were already inside when this one arrived.


Thank goodness for strong mosquito netting, I say.

They’re not bats, they’re…


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… in huge numbers

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…. roosting in the trees around the Divine Word campus

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… spooky, huh?

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And the nearer you get…

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…. the uglier they become.

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They are the famous Madang Flying Foxes.

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These unlovable creatures spend most of the year hanging, in their thousands, from a couple of huge trees on the campus.  At night they squawk and chatter  –  all night long!  Infuriating for anyone who has to sleep anywhere within earshot.

Occasionally they take a brief holiday in Queensland, across the water in Australia, much to the relief of the poor people whose accommodation is near their trees who can finally get some sleep.  Their eventual return is greeted with dismay!

From time to time, we see kids from the settlements coming onto the campus with their catapults, hunting for flying foxes.  I’ve only once seen a small boy triumphantly carrying one newly dispatched creature home, presumably for the cooking pot.  The wing-span, wing-tip to wing-tip, the poor deceased creature was longer than its assassin was tall.

I’ve never seen any of my colleagues, who live near the Fxxx-Fxxxs’ trees, chasing the catapult wielding urchins away, or even trying to dissuade them in any way from their murderous quests.

Funny that.


I have no idea.

There are one or two really strange features about Madang.  One is that, particularly in the vicinity of schools and near the public playing field, you often see football boots and training shoes hanging from the telephone wires.

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I have no idea why the kids do this, other than for the time-honoured reason “because they can.”

One recent visitor to Madang  told me that in places like New York, trainers hanging over telegraph wires can be a sign of one gang delineating its territory to other gangs, but I am not sure that this is the case in Madang.  I just find it difficult to believe that teenage gangs in this town are that well organised or territorial.

What I do know is that they are bloody good at throwing the shoes up and getting them to entwine themselves around the wires.  They’re everywhere!


Hasta la Vista, el Niño!

Two nights ago, we were violently woken  in the early hours of the morning by the loudest clap of thunder I have ever heard!  It sounded as if it was centred directly over our house and we feared that the building was going to cave in.

Then the rain started and was torrential.  It didn’t stop for about eight hours.  You could almost hear the grateful parched earth sucking up the water.  By the morning, the rain had stopped and you could have been forgiven for thinking that you had dreamt the whole thing.  No puddles, except on the paved roadways, no boggy areas, nothing.  The rain had just disappeared into the ground.

Two days later and the grass has turned from yellow straw to verdant lawn.  Isn’t nature amazing?

Good to know where we are going!

There are a lot of changes going on at Divine Word University at the moment.  The most momentous change is that the President of the University, Father Jan Czuba, who has led the organization for the past 16 years and basically built the university up to what it is today, has decided that the time has come to move on to other things and to hand the reins of the university on to someone else.

Rumours abound about who the successor will be – we expect a formal announcement this week – and even more rumours abound about what Father Jan will go on to do.  He has lived in Papua New Guinea for so long and is such a significant player in the fields of education and health in this country, that no-one expects him to get on a plane and return to his native Silesia.  Everyone is convinced that he will continue to make his contribution to the development of this country.

Before he goes, Father Jan has set in train a number of building projects around the campus, to help the university cope with future demands for places.  He has also been the prime mover in pushing the University towards offering on-line courses, his argument being that there are so many young people coming out of secondary education now that the tradition bricks-and-mortar solution will never be able to keep up with the demand, so on-line education offers an alternative route to tertiary education for those who are unable, or who cannot afford, to live on a physical campus to study for three or four years.

I will be featuring some of the major building projects in a future blog entry, but one of the more minor innovations was unveiled last week.  The various roads around the campus have been given street names and the names have been derived either from the university’s strap-line “An Authentic Model for National Unity”, or from the core values that the university aspires to live by.  Below are a few examples

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And guess where we live!

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Actually, I have to confess to an almost overwhelming desire to steal this sign and mount it on my wall.  My inner student coming to the fore again.  I just hope it doesn’t disappear before we leave, or everyone will think I have given way to my base, dishonest urges.

What happens now?

It’s Sunday afternoon.  What do I do on Sunday afternoon?  I usually write a blog entry and sort out photos to illustrate it.

But this afternoon I’ve just been sitting here thinking about what happened in Paris on Friday night and wondering where my blog fits into a world where such unimaginable atrocities can happen and where a bunch of fanatics can cause so much grief to so many thousands of people in the name of their ideology.

I try to think what was going on in the minds of the killers who, with suicide vests strapped to their bodies, cold-bloodedly sprayed machine gun bullets into restaurants and then went on the slaughter so many young people at a rock concert.  What were they thinking, what were they trying to achieve and what have they done?

My mind goes back to a February day in 2003 when Linda and I got on a train to London to add our voices to the other million or so people who marched through Central London to try to dissuade Tony Blair from taking Britain into President George W. Bush’s crusade in Iraq.  Like many of the people on that march, it was the first time I had tramped the streets to protest about anything and it was a powerful sensation to be surrounded by such solidarity. What difference did it make?  Absolutely none.

With a month of the march, and undeterred by being already embroiled in America’s war with the Taliban following 9.11, Britain obediently fell in line behind the United States, our armed forces mobilized, our jets started to fly and many people, mostly Iraqis, started to die.  Lots of American companies made lots of money and Saddam Hussein was toppled.

George W. stood on the deck of an American warship, dressed in a macho leather jacket, framed by a huge “Mission Accomplished” banner, and hailed a famous victory for the western democracies.

Tony Blair started his long road to perdition, as he tried to back away from his assertion that Saddam had ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that were targeted at the UK and were ready to be fired at the UK at 45 minutes notice.  No such weapons were ever found.  (If this had been the plot of a Hollywood movie, people would have been coming out of the cinemas saying “Yeah, like that would ever happen!”  But it did.)

Buoyed on the undoubted success of our military adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which countries were transformed, as if by magic, into flourishing liberal democracies, inhabited by happy, smiling, prosperous and grateful citizens, our jets were in the air again in 2011 to help sort out the civil war in Libya.  Oh and did I mention our contribution to Syria?

So last Friday evening a group of fanatics, filled with hatred for the West, a hatred fuelled either by the chaos that they have experienced themselves or by the radicalization of other people, brought the fight and the misery into the heart of Europe.  Their supporters will argue that there is no difference between gunning down innocent bystanders in a Paris street and using drones controlled from an American Air Force base somewhere in Wyoming to bomb residential areas in Syria and kill civilians.

After all the blood and treasure that has been expended since 9.11, we end up with the so-called Islamic State and the biggest refugee crisis that Europe has seen since World War II.  There has to be another way!

And what happens now?  Western democracies cannot not react to an assault like the one in Paris and all countries are vulnerable to the vicious madness that is ISIS. Almost inevitably, more of our democratic freedoms will be lost in the cause of increased security and the need for surveillance.

Many Muslims have come out to disown ISIS and its perverted ideology, and to say that what ISIS is doing has nothing to do with the teachings of Islam, but I wonder whether the more extreme elements of the European countries will want to see the distinction between ordinary, peaceable Muslims living in our societies and the deranged fanatics who hit Paris on Friday.

I fear that the times they are a-changing and, in my more sombre moments, I am not sure that they are changing for the better.

As for the blog, I am  not prepared to let the twisted minds that lay behind Friday’s atrocities change what I do, so I will continue to look for inconsequential stories and photos that might divert, amuse or entertain.

Just not today.

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