Book Review of Nanu Sina: My Words. A book of poems

nanu sina

Nanu Sina or My Words in the Musa Language of the Oro Province is the title of this book of poems by Carolyn Evari – a Writer, Blogger, Author, Mother and Wife living in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea.  The book is  published by local publisher, JDT Publishing.

The book contains Caroline’s reflection of life and living, growing up and coming of age.  The book of poems has 82 pages, containing 60 original pieces that are categorized into 4 sections; Conflicts, Relationships, Hope and Family. 

A copy of this book and others that she has written can be found on Amazon.com. Carolyn has also contributed to the 2017 My Walk to Equality: a first all-women’s Anthology from Papua New Guinea. In her story, Carolyn relates her struggles to make it in the city so faraway from her family back in the province. To me her story of overcoming life challenges forms the backdrop for her book of poems. This book of poems is a book of reflections and hope and faith that life only gets better, you just have to work on it.

In the first section, the author examines the broader life questions – concerns that challenge us to look for lasting solutions to address corruption, population growth, cultural extinction, life and living and death. These are issues that are facing PNG right now.

It is indeed a source of  conflict to be standing in front of opportunities and be required to make a choice. Unlike having the liberty to change your mind when choosing ice-cream flavors, some choices in life are made once and the decision last for a lifetime.

“One voice here and another there
Before you could speak one more pops up
Jumping, kicking, pushing and screaming
You have too many choices
When only one is important”
(Complication. Pg 14)

In the second section, the authors delves into relationship issues. Indeed poets are the braver writers among writers because, poems, by being short with less words, are laid bare and open to interpretation. At this juncture, I think some of the poems would have benefited from 1-2 liner containing brief background to guide readers. Despite that, only the brave poets share their intimate thoughts on life and living and everything that happens in between.  

“His hands whisper in the dark
A language of his emotions
A call of attention
Only her body understands.”
(A One-Night Stand. Pg 61)

The written word is indeed more powerful than the spoken word, because one cannot interrupt and argue with a book until the last line. This makes the written word a good place to start discussion on contentious issues that need solutions. For instance, the poem that resonates with  me is how women interpret advice from the patriarch. The self-blame expressed in this prose is regrettably accepted as normal by women in this culture. The victim mindset must not get passed to the next generation of girls.

“I get the blame
I get the shame
I am the reason
For all our problems“
(All Fingers at me. Pg 59)

We have an obligation to shape tomorrow  through the little human beings called children. Indeed, children are the hope for the future. These little helpless people give meaning to life, they allow adults to truly live.

“Suddenly and mysteriously
When my whole world seemed bare
The person I least thought of came to my rescue
It was not portion or spell that changed my whole life
They were words of life that brought forth a life
Words that healed my wound
And united a new life in my womb.”
(Words of life. Pg 68)

In the last section, the author celebrates family – the only safe haven in this harsh world.  Indeed, mother was and will be the only safe haven  in a world so fickle with their allegiance.

My Imbia [mother], my Nai’ye [best friend]
My Queen.
(Imbia. Pg 74)

All poets strive to pen relatable lines – words that articulate what is just a feeling.  When readers come across poems that resonate – it is  a delightful experience because the reader feels understood and acknowledged. Similarly, the greatest joy to a poet is that the reader has understood.

In the process of explaining life, poets are always rummaging their brains for that appropriate descriptor; once found, the word is inspected, tested, and then used to tell a story. Poets are indeed ardent students of the written word – condensing a story into few lines, but still create the feelings, evoke the mood and paint the mental imageries.

Get yourself a copy of this book, because there are gems strewn inside the pages. Be encouraged to write your own thoughts and reflections. Socrates’ says that the unexamined life is not worth living. It is in striving to understand ourselves do our lives have any meaning or value.  Poets are always striving for self-knowledge. Women (and men) who dabble in poetry seem to have a wide view to life for they are always on the quest, to examine and make sense of life.

In concluding, I share this poem from the book. Indeed, PNG needs Caroline’s dose of self-belief as we strive to make a difference wherever we are in the world.

SUCCESS
“Take the power to control your dream
Only you can make your dream a reality
Take the power to control your life
No one else can do it for you
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow till you find your dream
Do not limit yourself
So many dreams are waiting to be realized
Discussions are too important to leave to chance
Reach your peak
Your goal
And your prize
That is success.”

 

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Book Review:  ‘My Walk to Equality

walk to equality

Walk to Equality

The theme for  the 2017 International Women’s Day was “Be Bold for Change”. The launching of the anthology on that day was a bold step toward putting the spotlight on woman issues  in Papua New Guinea.

The anthology is a 280 paged book containing 84 entries from 40 women writers – both established and emerging writers. The stories, poems, and essays contain accounts by women who are striving to create a better and stronger PNG for women with their words immortalized in this anthology.

The women, with brutal honesty tell their story, they give their solutions and ask the pertinent questions to probe further thinking that will require honesty and humility in addressing.

Rashmii Amoah Bell, the editor of the anthology says in her essay, ‘Embracing the dark future to see PNG emerge into the light’,  that change can happen through literature. She advocates the use of writing as a tool, to explore new grounds – including taboo subjects – as a means for starting conversations and looking for solutions.

This is one way PNG women can create a better and stronger PNG, by just telling our stories. Our stories may be accepted or they may be rejected but the stories will exist as a beacon in our walk to equality. Through our stories we walk into the dark future to emerge into light.

A. Be bold because courage is contagious

Being bold in the face of challenges is one way women can create a better and stronger PNG because courage is contagious.

Caroline Evari relocates with her family from Port Moresby to Oro and after a while, she moves back to Port Moresby by herself.

She goes through a lot of struggles but despite that she comes out a victor.  She says, “your mind is your greatest enemy, not the people around you.  Reach for the stars and keep running until you have achieved your goal.”

On the walk to equality, we have to be bold and courageous, because there are eyes watching.

As women, we ask for permission to do a lot of things, but the first thing we need to do is to give ourselves the permission to be great.

In Madlyn Baida’s story, a village lass, she wanted to learn to read and write and get an education. She allowed herself to dream. Once she knew her dream, she saw opportunities when they came up. Her husband was her support and enabled to achieve her freedom.

Be good at what you do because that is the currency that will take women’s voice onto the table for negotiations

To create a better and stronger PNG, we need to get more women into decision making positions so that they may show favorable consideration to the women’s walk to equality.

There is an adage that says, ‘if you are good at what you do, you will serve before Kings’. Do something with your life.

Be good at something. It does not matter what you do or whether you are as young as Iriani Wanma, the author of the grasshopper story or middle aged or somewhere in between. If you are good you will be favored. And when you are recognized, make use of your position to address the plight of the sisterhood.

We already have many role models who have done just that. Women can always match the stride of the society.  Some of these prominent PNG women include Winifred Kamit, Finckewe Zurenuo, Jane Mogina, Betty Lovai and the late Judge Davani, whose tribute can be seen in the anthology.

I am as proud of the sisterhood at the Division of Education in Simbu as told by Roslyn Tony. Despite a lot of push-back from a paternalistic society, these women acted with integrity and transparency and were eventually accepted as leaders in their communities.

B.      We have to be responsible for the sisterhood

Even if women make up 50% of the population, we are still treated as a minority due to our positions in the community. We have a duty of care to stand up for our sisters.

“If only I could save you, you’d still have a heartbeat.”  This eerie phrase from Vanessa Gordon’s Drum beat is haunting. It is full of regret. We have to take action to help a sister and the children and the helpless.

To help our sisters we have to know our rights.  Dominica Are tells the story of how Pauline saved her life by walking away from a bad situation all because she know her rights. Not many women have that knowledge.

It is our duty to teach as well as mentor other woman to be the best.  Alurigo does that with the XOX: We are Champions group. It does not have to be on the national stage but at our own little spheres of influence.

We have to support any form of education. The most inspiring story I read was by Alphonse Huvi from West New Britain.  Her father was against her education and did not make resources available, but, through support from her auntie Oripa, she became a teacher and was eventually accepted by her father. We have a duty to support our girls to get an education.

C.        Too big a work for women alone – Patriarchy can help

Patriarchy can play a big role to helping women build a better and stronger PNG.

In the anthology, there are six stories that pay tribute to patriarchy for being the source of strength for these six women. This shows the important role of the male gender in helping women in our walk to equality.

Helen Anderson in her essay Mixed race meri Markham pays tribute to her male relatives for helping her fit into her society. While Emma Wapki pays tribute to her male relatives for being fair, loving and supportive

The fine story by Alurigo on Sir Dawanicura is an example of leaders leading by example. He has brought a family friendly atmosphere to the PNG Olympics Committee. Family is the basic building block of society if we do not lead with wisdom and flexibility in this changing times, we can contribute to the breakdown in family, which will lead to breakdown in society, and eventually breakdown in the nation.

D.      The society will not change until the family changes

Families are the cornerstone of societies.  We learn how to be function as members of society by learning from within our family circles. We build from strength to strength when we have a stable roots.  A stable family can be the base for creating a better and stronger PNG.

Florence Jonduo   talks about parenting children says that the children are innocent, they are brought up without their permission and that is why, adults we have moral and legal obligation to look after them.  And whatever we teach them when they are young, sets them up for life.

But sometimes children turn out wrong. Whose fault is that when we observe generations of young people who have no plans for life,  “the lost men” as Marlene Dee Gray Potoura  describes the situation. Marlene asks a pertinent questions,  “Are the lost men the fault of women?”

Rosyln Tony also asks some very hard questions about why things are falling apart in our society. If we honestly answer the questions, we may find that it will lead us to families and that is where we may come up with long-lasting and meaning full solutions for the problems we see in our society.

Conclusion

No woman or group of women can fully address those pertinent questions single-handed. We need the help of society through policies and laws.

As we look at shaping policies for the future, I hope we all take those important decisions from the perspective of young mothers.

Lapieh Landu in her poem Fear Unbearable writes about her fears for her baby as she contemplates the future.  If all people responsible for creating laws can make those laws from the position of new mothers, looking at her helpless infant, then we may take all the necessary steps to secure a better future for the generation yet to come.  For we are fighting a cause that is not for us but for the future generation.

Book Review: The Embarrassed Colonialist

embarrassed colonistI was intrigued by the title of this recent publication by Sean Dorney, a long time  journalist to Papua New Guinea (PNG). The 140 paged book, titled, The Embarrassed Colonialist was published in 2016 for the Lowy Institute of Australia by the Penguin Press.  The book is small and easy reading but the 8 chapters is packed with so much insight about the Australia-PNG relationship.

I was curious about the title.  Who was embarrassed for what? In PNG, there is already a feeling of shame and anger at being labelled a lot of names including  a failed state, a violent nation and even a hellhole.   Since the author is married into a PNG tribe, was he embarrassed at the way PNG has turned out – a 40 year old wayward man-child? Or was the author just being a mouthpiece for the collective view held by Australia – PNG’s former colonial master. Or was he expressing his own embarrassment about the deteriorating state of the PNG-Australia relationship forged at colonial days.

I had these questions running through my head, so when I received a copy at the Joint PNG and Lowy-Institute Bung Wantaim meeting at the Lamana Hotel, I tore into the book.

It was an interesting read for me. I was born after PNG independence and therefore had no memory of time and events before independence and the two decades thereafter. Therefore, this book put into perspective the Australia-PNG history.

The main emotion that ran through my veins was pride but when I eventually closed the  book, I was angry…. then sad …and then resolute that change for the better must take place in my lifetime.

Change has been very rapid for PNG since independence. The vortex of change has sucked PNG from isolated primitive tribes into the global village already made small by virtual reality.

The physical change has been enormous in the last 80 years but sadly the psyche of the Papua New Guinean individual is yet to assimilate the changes.

The continuous transition from a thousand cultures to the western culture is indeed  a growing pain for PNG. As rightly stated by the author, the symptoms of this transition are everywhere – corruption, poor development policies, law and order challenges and attitude problem. But PNG has made commendable progress in other fronts: economic development, the justice system, the free media, women empowerment, to name a few.

Indeed, the PNG challenges started at independence. At independence it was a big ask for thousand tribes to exist as one. In retrospect, the author observes that the Australians including the Kiaps packed up and left  too soon. But they left a legacy behind.

They left behind their colonial policies – policies that are outdated for the 21st century, policies that favor colonial power. Translated to this day: policies that favor those in power (i.e. modern day kiaps) and outsiders.  This is most obvious in the natural resource extraction policies.

Given this insight, it is indeed not ignorance, but self-serving and blatant indifference to PNG, when Australian projects and even in some case AID money is given to implement projects based on such old policies.

Australia also left behind a leadership vacuum.  The kiaps were a government unto themselves in the villages . But when they left, they transferred everything to a committee  of parliamentarians in Port Moresby. Without direction, people came up with their own definition of leadership – mixing the new and the old. This may have also contributed in the self-serving, undefinable  concept of the “Melanesian Way”.

I disagree that PNG is Australia’s illegitimate child as asserted by the author. The inhabitants of the island of New Guinea were nations running their own affairs until colonialism  unceremoniously dumped this land of a thousand nations onto Australia.

At the time, the island of New Guinea was made a territory of Australia, the white Australia had declared Independence less than 5 years prior. Australia was a very young nation of united colonies  when it was given the task of rearing a unruly and primitive nation of a thousand tribes.

Unlovely it may have been, the island had natural resources for exploitation. Australia had forsaken the caste system of their motherland and was embracing  capitalism – they needed a chicken that could lay golden eggs. Even before the World War II, Australians were prospecting for gold, timber, and oil in New Guinea. These prospectors were the ones that opened the New Guinea interior to the world.

Then World War II broke out.  The Japanese threatened the newly independent country, and Australia needed to win that battle away from their home front  in New Guinea.

As valuable as it were, PNG was reared at arms length. The evidence is in the many policies from the colonial days. Then again, in defense of Australia, PNG was their first born, and like new parents they were unsure how to bring it up.

What I still don’t understand is why in this day and time, Australia is still keeping PNG at arms length when compared to how they treat other Pacific Islanders? How else can we explain the unjustified challenges faced by Papua New Guineans in issues such as visa and the fruit picking scheme and the latest project – the Colombo Plan?

It is true that so many Australians love and have adopted PNG as their second country and like the author, may have married into the Melanesian culture. But the collective machinery in Australia used in dealing with PNG still seems so-old fashioned and racist and patronizing.

Evidence? How else would one describe the 5 word admonishment by a representative of Australian High Commission to the author … “Stop thinking like a PNGean” (pg 76). I have read and reread but the author does not elaborate anywhere in the book, what it means to “think like a local”.

Unfortunately for white people who have been in the PNG sun too long, they start thinking different-like Papua New Guineans.

So at the end, who was the embarrassed one? Sean Dorney is an Australian, with  over 40 years of family ties to PNG. He may be regarded as a renegade to his birth country because he has started to think like a local. This inside knowledge  however, makes his voice one of the most authentic voices to discuss PNG issues. With his leg in both societies, he has judged for himself and has spoken.

The rules for re-engagement as recommended by the author are spot on.  Seeing eye-to-eye is very important for the way going forward. PNG has been forced to grow up fast in the last 40 years. At 40, PNG is old enough to navigate its own waters, but put into nation building perspective – 40 years is still infancy. Indeed, PNG needs a guide, if not Australia then who  else will do it?

As a re-engagement recommendation, PNG also needs to take responsibility for its own growth and start behaving like an independent nation.

This book even though written by an Australian, is the PNG voice speaking to Australia.  It will serve Australia well to take this work seriously. I also highly recommend  this book to Papua New Guinean readers. Young people, you need to learn your history and only then can you chart a better way forward for your nation

Book Review: Searching for pekpek. Cassowaries and Conservation in the New Guinea rainforest.

IMG_6511I see James Cameron’s Pandora in my mind’s eye, but behind the scenes – the internal conversations, the private moments, sickness, death, frustrations and many tiny victories – all the little moments that go into informing a great script.

It was a feat to relocate from a jungle of concrete, steel and glass to the forest – with jungle of trees that seem to stretch all the way to the end of the earth, covered with man eating vines, giant waterfalls, steep mountains, misty valleys, flash floods, pre-historical birds, and humans so at home in their environment they seem to possess supernatural powers.

Instead of Jake Sully among the 7 foot tall Naavi you have Andy and Deb among the 5 foot Pawaia.  Roaming the jungle, living, seeing and learning by searching for  “pekpek”.

In the pages of this book lies the proof that we are each built for our respective environment. It is perfectly Ok if in another life you find yourself a Pawaia in a forest or an urban warrior on the streets of New York.

In the pages of this book is also the narration of a life calling. The noblest calling – to defend Mother Nature in this tiny blue marble we call home. Many are called but few are brave enough to walk the path.

In the Avatar of Pandora, the story ends with the hometree burning to the ground, in Papua New Guinea, there is hope for a future because of dedicated people who with brutal honesty share their personal experiences – setting the foundation for greater exploits for science.   And cautioning against capitalists who come dressed in sheep skin.

I was briefly a student in the capacity building course before the program was dismantled. The training program taught me more than my four years of university.  Andy and Deb were mentors and role models.   Conservation was like a religion to them, a conviction that permeated their whole being (as is apparent in this book) – and they were building disciples. Disciples armed with a science knowledge to ensure sustainable management of resources for the forest people.

Much of what has become the basis of my consciousness for nature protection was absorbed from Andy and Deb and the countless visitors they brought to the program and the conversations and importantly, the paper discussions.

In retrospect, their model for building local manpower is working.  Regardless of whose payroll the ex-students are being paid from now, the conservation principles received from Deb and Andy lives on. They have built a cohort of biologists and conservationists who are capable of driving conservation into the future.

The first chapters of the book sounds so romantic – the stuff of adventure tales immortalized around dinner tables. At the turning of the pages, it becomes apparent that this accomplishment was at a great cost. Disease, rascals, “sanguma”, death, estrangement from relationships – a hefty price was paid in the name of conservation.

So what, after all of this?

Indeed, humans have short memory. The only remaining physical evidence of the dream of  a field station may be the metal frames of the proposed research centre and the iron cast oven slowly rotting in the jungle, which are now probably “tumbuna” story among the locals. But for some of us who have walked part of the way, no matter how brief, the place will forever be an altar of sacrifice – where tears, sweat and blood were shed for a cause. It is a sacred site for pondering life and the purpose for being alive at a time such as now when reckless plunder of the earth seems more fashionable than protecting it.

The best gift any generation can leave for the future is telling their story so the future can learn and make better choices.  Andrew Mack has done just that with his book.

The documentation of conservation history in Papua New Guinea in this book is priceless. The lessons to learn from it is universal. I would recommend this book as a reading for any student in the field of conservation in PNG or anywhere else in the world.

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