A month in Papua

By Nicolò Favotto

13 January: it is exactly one month since I arrived as a volunteer at the Cavanis Mission in Papua New Guinea, Oceania (Melanesia to be precise). It is just a month, but I feel like I have been here for much longer: here the rhythm of time is very different from the one I am used to. Days seems to unfold more slowly, the sun to set later. The air gets full of dragonflies and then during supper it gets dark without you noticing it and the muggy air gets full again, but of mosquitoes. It happens then to think back to all the things you have done during the day, from the 7.30 am Mass to the 5.15pm Rosary. In between, everyone does his/her task and, even those who cannot do much, do their part, which is more than enough. In short, it is like in a family.

I believe it is not simple to define and express the emotional side of the work and life here at the mission, an oasis in the middle of meadows, forests, bushes and banana and coconut plantations. I think that the most fitted definition to describe the feelings and relationships in this centre, where they welcome and teach children coming from difficult situations (violence, abuse, and abandonment) and young boys, who wants to leave behind addictions, violence, death and lack of hope for the future, is the word family.

Several women are also welcomed to work at the mission. Yes, family: an organized place there all work together according to their own capabilities for the good of everybody, not just of a single person.

In this family, you feel like being together on a journey. In fact, the real trip starts once you get off the plane at Port Moresby and, buffeted by the different climate, the tiredness and the newness of everything, after three hours by truck, you reach Bereina Station, having lost some of your neurons: Bereina, a small town (town?!) lost in the middle of the Central Province, in the Kairuku Hiri district. This area of Roro, Mekeo and Nara people, has about 20,000 inhabitants, spread in many villages of bamboo and metal sheets, from the coastline to the inland region, between the rivers Angabunga and Inawafunga, up to the feet of the Owen Stanley Range. The whole province counts about 260,000 persons.

At this point, the community adventure begins. Youth and men (it is interesting to ask ourselves who is a young one and who is a man here) comes from the nearby villages like Paikua, Hihive and To’orena to help at the mission. We work together and there is much to do: building a dining area at the school and a stair, organize a stockroom and a clinic, go for firewood. The sisters ask some women and boys to help at the vegetables garden: a scorching piece of land at about 500 meters from the mission, made available by some local friends. A bit of everything is growing there, under the careful supervision of the sisters who sometimes ask everybody to leave their tasks and go to work together at the garden, to water, clean, build some supports where the plants of tomatoes and cucumber can lean on.

Of course, we have meals. Three areas at the mission are used to dine. But, if we want to eat, someone must cook. Starting in the morning, the kitchen is crawling with people as much as the construction area.

Nearby there is always someone to check if the bread is enough for all or if there is a need to bake some again.

Sometimes someone from the villages brings pineapple or bananas or papaya. Thanks to donations from Italy, everyday all of us are able to eat, even strange foods like fried bananas or breadfruit. If someone is a bit choosy with food, there is also the possibility of having grilled wallaby, bought along the Hiritano Road (Highway Road).

Everybody wants to take part in the life of this community, which is deeply integrating with the surroundings. Everybody takes part, like in a family, in working for the common good (we need to repeat it) and for the good of each one who comes at the mission to ask and to give help at the same time. Nobody is obliged or forced to take part: what you will find three hours far away from Port Moresby is not like a colonial experiment of the XIX century. The Cavanis Community Jesus Good Shepherd in Papua New Guinea is founded on the concrete example, the witness to values, the cooperation of brothers and sisters who live at the mission and nearby. The mission is not supported by the government (actually a bit “absent” in the area), but by the local people, the Church and by anyone in the world wishes to help and contribute.

The mission is trying to set an example of positive relationships and a centre to which many persons come every day, for help… food, free medicines with the instruction on their proper use. Sick children are welcomed. At the mission, materials for basic needs are also sold at a very affordable price: an example is the sale of coffins, in a place where deaths are frequent.

On Sunday morning, some old ladies gather at the centre and when there is movie viewing in the evening, people flocks from the surrounding.

The mission is integrated into the local life and those who work here since the beginning say that there have been many improvements and developments. The mission has become the metaphor of the Papuan culture (Roro culture in this case) which is never static and always able to accept the newness by integrating it in the daily life, sometimes slowly and not without consequences (they said that the phone brought several). The mission is also trying to mediate the encounter between the technological world and the people of Bereina (the other areas are a bit cut off the main roads and the globalization of communication). This is a much more complex, deep and culturally alive world than the one of the coloured faces with feathers on the heads we see in the pictures, from home.

Now, with the end of the dry season, holidays will end too and the school will start again, with the rainy season. Feasts days are gone and people here at the mission are about to get back to their ordinary days, with a new routine.

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