I left Papua New Guinea in the middle of October. I am writing this at the end of December. Since then I went to South East Asia with the intention of relaxing, but actually ended up partying all night most of the time. Later, I met with MSF to debrief and then with a psychologist to see if the mission had any adverse affect on my mental health. I also was invited to talk to MSF and others about the PNG mission, opportunities that I really enjoyed. During these talks I received some very thought-provoking questions. People wanted to know if it was difficult to fit into a society that was so different to my own, referring to the sorcery and violence. The truth is that it wasn’t that difficult to adapt to Papua New Guinea. The people were so friendly and warm towards me that it was leaving that was difficult. And as I write this, 2 months after leaving, what I am finding very difficult is adjusting back to the society I left. Media headlines on the personal lives of celebrity singers or sports star disenfranchise me from society. I enjoy partying, but so many times I wonder about how much money we waste on processed food and alcoholic drinks and if we can enjoy ourselves without them.
I spent the first weeks believing that Papua New Guinea was the most wonderful experience of my life so far (I still do) but that it had not fundamentally changed me as a person. My two weeks in post-tsunami Sri Lanka was my life changing experience. But as time passes, I start to realise that PNG did change me. I observe people more and I am saddened by extravagant and unnecessary spending or obsession with fashion and celebrity culture.
In a few weeks I return to the life I had before, I love working for MSF but I have the opportunity to work in London and my bank balance forces me to accept a job back in the UK. But I’m fairly confident that I will return to PNG and that I will return to MSF. I have left a bit of my heart in both of them.
I’ve received quite a lot of nice messages from people who have read this blog, many thanking me for the work I’ve done. Some people say that the MSF logisticians are the ones behind the scenes supplying the medics with the things that they need. But actually there are people behind the logisticians who deserve some thanks: Ken, runs the MSF Canada website and my blog – cheers dude. I want to say thanks to Isa for her inspiration while writing this blog and for the thought provoking questions she asks when we have our conversations. I want to thank my three wonderful bosses, Julia, Isabel and Claire for their direction, for their trust and for the laughs. Huge thanks go out to David J our driver, artist and carpenter in Lae for doing so much. I want to thank David K and Adam B for being my brothers. I want to say thanks to Marc (head of mission) for the sacrifices he has made for MSF and I want to say thanks to Karen for the constant laughs. I want to thank Nadia, the hardest working person I met in MSF. I want to say thanks to Keith and Otas, the guys who took over from me for being so super cool. My biggest worry towards the end of my mission was about leaving what I had been doing with people who would do a good job. With Keith and Otas I can relax knowing things will go well. I want to say thanks to Mevis, Emasi, John, Yako, Kobe and Hewali and especially Awaro for guarding us when we worked and slept and especially thanks to “lifesaver” for putting himself between us and harm’s way in 2009.
I want to say thanks to Jui for being the easiest going person to work with. And I want to say thanks to all the other national staff who continue to work hard, long after us expats complete their missions in Papua New Guinea. A final special thanks go out to Norman, the nurse who saves lives.
So I hope you enjoyed reading my blog. If you are reading it because you want to join Médecins Sans Frontières as a volunteer, I would encourage you to do it. It was the greatest experience of my life. If you are reading this as one of the many individuals who make up the vast majority of our funding, then thanks for allowing me to help. If you are reading this to learn more about PNG then I hope I gave you some insight about the tragic violence that occurs there, but I hope you also saw the warmth of the people there. I met some of the most wonderful, warm friendly and trustworthy people in the world in PNG. The paradox of the violence and the warmth of the people is something I can never understand. If you are reading this because you have an interest in addressing the sexual violence in PNG then I urge you to act. In my last few days in PNG, my former boss told me about a patient who had been imprisoned for weeks, moved around a province and raped by different men each day. Sometimes, when I see what makes the news where I live, I want to scream at people “open you eyes, see what is happening in the world”. But I don’t. Instead I write this blog. Thanks for reading it. Please tell people about PNG.