LAE - Kerenga Kua, Papua New Guinea’s petroleum and energy minister, has occupied senior political positions since he was first elected as the member for Sinasina-Yongamugl in Simbu Province in 2012.
My story, though, is about his student days at Aiyura National High School as told by the man himself in 2014.
At this time he had been invited talk to participants at the Youth for Christ Seminar at Kama Adventist Church in Goroka.
I remember most of what he had to say and I’ll try to tell it here as he told it.
Kerenga was still in high school when PNG gained its independence in 1975. On Independence Day he was given the privileged of hoisting the new PNG flag in front of the whole school, which he said was an honour and something he would always cherish.
After junior school, Kerenga went on to Aiyura National High School to complete Years 11 and 12.
One day a couple from New Zealand, who were teaching there, invited Kerenga for dinner.
That afternoon he put on his best shirt and went to the couple’s house. He knocked on the door and the husband guided him into the dining room.
The husband said his wife was preparing the meal in the kitchen and left Kerenga in the dining room. A couple of minutes later he came back with a tray that he placed on the table in front of Kerenga.
On the tray were some small cups, a steaming hot tea pot and a small jar containing sugar.
One cup already contained a tea bag and water. Kerenga tasted the tea but was disappointed to find it wasn’t sweet. There was no sugar in it.
Realising this, the words of Simbu elders echoed in his head. “If you visit someone’s house and the tea they serve isn’t sweet, know that you’re not welcome. Get up leave. Do not say anything, just leave.”
Kerenga gently put the cup down and without a word sneaked out of the house and went back to the dormitory.
Very worried, he kept thinking, “Why would they invite me when they didn’t want me there.” He felt humiliated.
Meanwhile, back at the couple’s house, the hosts finished preparing the meal and brought it into the dining room. To their surprise, Kerenga was nowhere to be seen.
The cup of tea was still full, where could he be? They checked around the house but he wasn’t there. The husband then ran to the dormitory, for he knew that’s where Kerenga would be.
And there he was, sitting in his cubicle with a long face.
The husband sat next to him. “What’s the matter, Kerenga? Why did you leave?”
Kerenga didn’t want to answer but finally said, “I felt I was not welcome in your home.”
The husband was surprised, and asked Kerenga why he felt that way.
Kerenga explained that the tea wasn’t sweet and in his culture this meant you were not welcome in a home and that you should leave immediately without saying a word.
The husband burst out laughing, but Kerenga did not understand what was funny. This was a serious situation.
The husband chuckled and said, “I am to blame young man, I should have told you when I set the tray before you.
“There was no sugar because it was up to you to put in how much sugar you wanted. That’s why I placed the sugar container with a tea spoon before you.
“It was my mistake and I’m sorry. It’s how we do things and I’m sorry you had to feel that way.
“You’re welcome in our home. My wife and I are more than happy to have you in our home.”
Kerenga could hardly believe what he just heard.
“How could I be so foolish?” he thought as he let out a chuckle.
The husband turned to Kerenga and said dinner was served and asked if he wanted to go.
Kerenga nodded his head.
The meal was lovely but he was further embarrassed because he didn’t know how to use a knife and a fork when eating. The couple guided him through.
After the meal, the husband and wife talked. Kerenga was brought up in that culture, so we have to help him and other students adjust to and learn Western ways.
So one day some time later, the students walked into the dining hall to a surprising sight.
There were knives and forks on the tables and the teachers were ready to show the students how to eat using them.
In his talk to us, Kerenga recalled visiting New Zealand many years later when he was now a lawyer.
He went to visit the couple. The husband had passed away but the wife and children were there.
Kerenga asked if they had ever gone bungee jumping and they said no.
“If you have never gone bungee jumping, are you sure you’re New Zealanders?” he commented playfully.
As Kerenga told his story, I was seated in the front row staring at him in awe.
One of the youths asked him if he might write a book about his life.
“There are many other Papua New Guineans who have contributed a lot to the development of this country who deserve to have their story told, mi ino iet,” Kerenga responded.