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There are silent tears at Papua New Guinea’s last page

Sunset at Rumginae HospitalKEVIN PONDIKOU

THE world is a book. And those who have not travelled have only read one page.

One day, if you're searching for a different perspective on life and an altruistic experience, I recommend spending some time in a little hospital far away from the concrete and the fast paced urban surrounds.

Turn the page with me as you leave the urban scenery, where everyone has a phone and the world happens only as it's updated on social media and the next moment only unfolds as you slide a finger over a touch screen.

Leave the plush air conditioned surrounds of the plane as you disembark at Kiunga airport in the searing heat and make your way along the only sealed road in town, the Kiunga-Tabubil Highway.

Then travel through a forest of sago palms and rubber trees and bush that is home to various birds of paradise.

In just turning one page, you have entered an alternate reality as you wipe the sweat from your brow in the tropical humidity of the plains of North Fly District.

If you're willing to turn more pages, then come with me as we step off a PMV bus with groceries purchased from Kiunga, 28 km away because there are no shops here, only the school canteen and a few small village canteens.

This is an unstable reality. It is a place where time stands still one moment and takes a huge leap forwards the next as traditional culture mixes bumpily with mod cons and new attitudes.

Here in the last page of Papua New Guinea, you'll find Papua New Guineans living their lives the best way they know how, moving along with their hurts and insecurities and mistakes from the past.

But, when you turn another page, it’s time to take a closer look at the cards that were dealt to our citizens here in remote, rural Papua New Guinea.


Let me tell you that there are tear drops here at the last page of Papua New Guinea. Tear drops I noticed one day as I went about living my own life.

It is only recently I have realised that I encounter the tear drops of citizens on a regular basis.

There are individuals I have met whose tear drops I clearly recall.

In 2014, there was a young man from a remote place called Suki in the South Fly District, who had a flesh eating bacteria called mycobacterium ulcerans. The bacteria had eaten away the skin beneath the surface of his leg which meant that skin had to be removed from his foot to the top of his thigh.

The wound was enormous and the dressings had to be changed daily: removing the gauze completely but after 24 hours the wound’s fluids were stuck to the gauze intensifying the pain. Changing the dressings was like peeling off his skin from the top of the thigh all the way down to the toes.

One day, when I wanted to review the wound here in the last page of Papua New Guinea, as the gauze was being removed the young man covered his head and face with his shirt.

There was another young girl there who also had the flesh eating bacteria, and the skin was also removed from the top of her thigh to the ankle. When the dressing was being removed, she covered her head and face with a garment.

I didn't realise what was happening.

Not having seen such a disease before and not realising how intensely painful it was, I asked one of our community health workers:

"Why is he hiding his face?"

"Because he's crying".

There had been no sound from these people and as a result I couldn't deduce they were crying in severe pain.

There seem to be a lot of tear drops here in the last page of Papua New Guinea. I must have been living in an alternate reality to miss them.

Ever since my experience with this young man, these days I'm more in tuned with people crying.

This afternoon, I was putting on a POP (post office protocol) for a staff member’s son who had a broken tibia. As I have put POPs on before, I knew there would be tears this afternoon in the last page of Papua New Guinea.

As I applied the bandage to his broken leg, the boy began crying with tears flowing down his cheeks, although there was no sound. I still have not gotten used to seeing tears falling silently here in the last page of Papua New Guinea.

Being in such a remote location, these tears matter, even if they're silent and unseen.

I had to attend to a young child with a broken femur. The leg needed to be put in a skin traction, where weights would pull on the leg to allow it to heal.

It was easy to set up, apart from the heart-rending tears that inevitably fell due to the indescribable pain.

Prior to doing this procedure, I walked in with all the equipment ready to attack this injury with the aim of bringing healing.

Pumped with determination I focused on the procedure.

I asked the young girl: "Mama blo u we?"

"Mama blo mi dai pinis," she replied matter matter-of-factly.

She was a neglected child and was in the ward with an aunt.

Tuberculosis ward at Rumginae HospitalAs I applied the plaster, the excruciating pain brought tears to the young girl’s eyes.

These are some of the tears at the last page of Papua New Guinea.

I have been there and witnessed them with my own eyes.

So though you may never witness the tears of the destitute and remote and forgotten, these tears matter.

I hope you can join me one day in witnessing the tears that fall, here in the last page of Papua New Guinea.

Photos: Rumginae Rural Hospital at sunset; tuberculosis ward at Rumginae


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arthur williams

Catching up on PNG Attitude I seem to be having rough morning. Just posted a blog after Busa’s essay and now this one comes along. Kevin you made me bloody well cry too.
Not a week day goes by without my thinking back to PNG - my home for thirty mind changing years. I lived for several years on and off at Lavongai Mission and was favourite with a German Sister serving God’s people there. Later she would overnight with my family along the coast during her regular MCH patrols..often in atrocious monsoonal rains braving the waves to give hope to her anti and post pregnancy patients and often to save lives too.

I have seen people with amazing injuries being eventually carried miles along muddy tracks that were once roads or paddled to an aidpost in tiny canoes through seas which caused Magistrates to refuse to leave Kavieng to attend a Court in Taskul. Similarly while their schools deteriorated Education Inspectors refusing for years to live and patrol from Taskul because of the poor transport and other conditions.

Have seen a tiny baby dying slowly from malaria because of lack of roads or sea transport to reach a rural health centre. Aspirins being prescribed for all sorts of problem when no other drugs were in stock.

Thus when I seeing the lavish praises being lauded at the ageing Chief I don’t see him in his glorious days of the early 70s but rather think of the struggling rural masses failed by him and his kind since 1975 and the prestige projects of the capital built to impress fellow international elites as they FIFO to conferences and other tokfests about 5, 10, 20 year plans or missed millennium goals; MP’s waistlines bulging from extravagant lunches at launches for corporate plans in Moresby’s 5-star resorts. Queensland properties for PNG spivs and I can only guess at Panama or Cayman Island accounts for the elite narcissists selling the nation to international carpet baggers.
Billions of kina nowhere to be seen from hundreds of shiploads of LNG and incredulously Exxon wants to exploit more wells despite over production in the world. THis past week an expert wants to find a supply of gas to develop a petro-chemical industry in Moresby. Is PNG's only for export?

Millions of metric tonnes of logs from despoiled hundreds of thousands of hectares of pristine forest and their logging roads revert to muddy morasses.

Tuna selling for K10 or more a small tin in Europe after years of depleting the waters of the Coral Triangle and while the PMIZ in Madang continues it eight years disgraceful charade costing millions.

Holes in the ground from mining that will never be restored as promised by the developers.

Balimo airstrip closed for years yet the Falcon still flying for the PM.

Calm down old fella and take your tablet..inap pastaim

`Robin Lillicrapp

Well said, Kevin.

Simon Davidson

Kevin - Beautifully written. Your masterfully minted word pictures capture my imagination. Thank you for sharing your skills through this article.

Paul Oates

Whoever isn't moved by this word picture surely should not be referred to as human.

Those who have allowed this travesty to occur should not only hang their heads in shame but withdraw from any further political and government activity.

Those who don't acknowledge that they have created this situation with their own greed and selfishness must be held to account when the next general election comes.

Is there no one who will stand up and rid PNG of this terrible blight?

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