TUMBY BAY - While we were in Australia training for our roles as kiaps in Papua New Guinea we were warned about the possibility of experiencing culture shock.
Culture shock is the feeling of uncertainty, confusion, or anxiety that people experience when living and working in a society that is different from their own.
Social norms can vary significantly across countries and regions. Culture shock can arise from an individual's unfamiliarity with local customs, language and acceptable behaviour.
Despite a youthful sense of invincibility, if anyone was going to experience culture shock after arriving in PNG young Cadet Patrol Officers going to bush postings were prime candidates.
Despite dire warnings I think most of us handled it quite well. Those that didn’t quickly resigned.
I don’t recall being particularly discombobulated despite the range of new things I experienced and the rapid and steep learning curves required.
One of the first things we had to get used to was the lack of clothing worn by people. This was the 1960s and traditional dress was still the widespread norm.
As kiaps we were embedded in the communities in which we worked and in close proximity to the local people.
Suffice to say that after a while the sight of near-naked people seemed quite normal, even if the odd comely young lady caught our eye.
I saw my first dead body when I was a cadet. It was the body of a deceased bigman. As the temporary officer in charge of the station I was invited to pay my respects.
His body was lying in state on a bed of ferns in a low and smoky highland round house. Apart from a distinct smell he looked like he was asleep.
Outside I joined the onlookers at a demonstration put on by the tribal warriors in honour of the old man. The men were stripped down to a few tanket leaves and were wielding deadly and razor sharp steel axes.
They were a frightful sight but what was most disarming was the sight of the otherwise mild mannered station interpreter, his eyes a-gleam in his sweat covered face with a glistening axe in his hand. After that I tended to treat him a bit more seriously.
Another fascinating new experience was attending my first pig kill. In Australia the public is assiduously protected from the barbaric nature of meat production but in PNG it was part of everyday life.
Watching over 100 pigs being clubbed to death was an enlightening experience. So too was being handed the gift of a bloody portion of pig meat wrapped in a banana leaf.
Highlanders were great orators. The skills required to speak to a gathering of hundreds of expectant people ready to judge your performance can be daunting but as kiaps we were expected to perform well.
For a basically shy 19 year old cadet my first attempt filled me with trepidation. Nevertheless, I took the bull by the horns and plunged in regardless. Lord knows what I talked about but it seemed to hold my audience rapt.
Strangely enough the experience was quite exhilarating and I came to enjoy such opportunities. I might be tongue tied at social gatherings with other expatriates but addressing 200 villagers from a grassy knoll was a piece of cake.
Slowly but surely all of these sorts of events brought us closer and closer to the Papua New Guinean people.
Culture shock, if we had ever experienced it, faded away and was replaced by what became a sense of comfortable belonging.
And, remarkably, that sense of belonging stayed with us, even when we packed up and sadly left the country.
Not that we would admit it of course. We were tough kiaps and sentimentality was not part of our remit. It is only old age that has made us drop our guard.