Archive for February, 2007

I organized a reception last night at the family catering business (Wareham House!) to inaugurate Oxfam New Zealand’s Wellington office. It was a lot of fun. About eighty representatives of the capital’s diplomatic, political, media, and non-governmental organizations came. We were especially pleased that Hon. Luamanuvao Winnie Laban agreed to speak. She is Minister for the Community and Voluntary Sector and also member of parliament for the Mana electorate, where my parents live.

This afternoon I’m headed to John Head’s funeral. He passed away on Sunday, 4 February 2007. John worked to ban landmines with people in government, military and civil society both in NZ and overseas from the early days back in 1992 until ill health forced him to slow down a couple of months ago. John still had a telephone next to his bed though and would call me up about the newsletter, Landmine Monitor research, and to talk about cluster munitions. The award of the 2001 Queens Service Medal (QSM) was a fitting acknowledgment of his work. I had a lot of fun working on our last campaign event at parliament together – his perseverance made it happen. John is survived by Avril, his wife of 57 years, two children, and nine grandchildren.

I did some shopping today at the heavily secured Boroka Foodworld supermarket. My expat colleague from the highlands wanted to pick up some hard-to-find produce like yoghurt and spinach. My shopping criteria was for products made in PNG that were not perishable. Picked up some ground coffee from Goroka for NZD$4.20/K8.20 per pound, a few cans of “Diana” tuna, a jar of banana-ginger jam, a pot of honey, and few savoury wafer biscuits that seem to be popular. While the packaging looked great, I decided against the cans of corned beef… Customs in Australia were a bit annoyed, but let me keep everything! Returning to New Zealand via Oz was a bit of a shock – poverty/wealth, black/white – all less than 2 hours apart…

I’ve only had a glimpse in, but Papua New Guinea seems like an amazing country. It is overwhelming rural and Port Moresby felt more like a town than the capital of the country with 5.8 million people divided between the mountainous highlands, coastal areas, and islands. Over 850 indigenous languages are spoken, while Pidgin English or “Tok Pisin” is principal unifying language. Trying to follow Pidgin is a lot of fun. Woman is “meri” so my name came in for some humourous name-calling (like “razor meri” or “sharp/fine woman.”

Since independence in 1975 from its Australian administrators, the government has struggled to govern under the Westminster-style parliamentary system. Infrastructure is minimal. Airplanes are the only means to get around most parts of the country and the flights aren’t cheap (US$500+). Corruption is rampant and crime serious. Tribal warfare continues in the highlands and conflicts have arisen over foreign exploitation of the country’s vast oil, gas, and mineral reserves. During the week I read articles in the national Post-Courier newspaper with headlines such as: “gang taunts cops as they rape woman” and “infant devoured by dogs” and “terror on Mt. Hagen streets.”

Just one national TV station, EM TV, screening news at 6pm and music videos from around the Pacific as well as copious amounts of cricket. One of the biggest stories that week was the cancellation of an A$8 billion gas pipeline from the southern highlands down to Queensland.