I am an Australian working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Bible translation and linguistics. Before I moved here I worked on traditional sailing ships doing sail training, and shared life with friends through our variation on intentional Christian community living.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any of the organisations mentioned.
Friday, 4 September 2015
Hospitality and Independence
I was sitting by the rain water tank washing my clothes when
a well meaning woman came up and told me that I should give them to her to wash
for me. I’m not sure if she thought I was not doing a good enough job (I
certainly don’t scrub as much as locals do), that the work was somehow beneath
me or she was just being helpful, but my answer was a polite no. This is but
one example of the times I’ve found myself seeking a balance between local
hospitality and being independent.
I don’t really enjoy hand washing, but neither do I want to
hand over everything for other people to do for me. When do I let someone to
help me and when do I hold on to my independence and do it myself?
Another time I was walking through a muddy village and a
lady insisted on holding me by the elbow the whole way. It is true that I may
have slipped if she wasn’t there, but the chance was small. I felt that
slipping over, although embarrassing and messy, was not the biggest deal, but
to my friend it would have been a slight on her care for me. If I fell over,
she would have been seen as a poor host. Recognising this, I let her guide me
by the elbow, keeping her dignity intact, even if mine was a bit bruised by
what felt like babying.
There are many things where I am glad that I can ask for
help and that people are willing to help me. Drawing water from a well is
something I’m yet to try, as I’m worried I’ll fall in. It is also something
people are unwilling to let me try, as they have the same concern. They’d much
rather draw water for me, than let me take that risk. This situation is a win
for both of us.
I have enough trouble sitting in a small canoe,
Being allowed to go out in a small canoe has been a
contentious issue. Children here grow up in canoes, and many are in fact
literally born in a canoe, as they did not get to the hospital in time. Their
sense of balance is trained from birth and they are unlikely to tip the canoe.
On the other hand, I have little experience with small round bottomed dugouts
and am a liability to anyone else in the canoe. Often they are too small for me
to sit right down in, so I have to crouch, making me less stable and raising my
centre of gravity to make the whole thing less stable. People do not want to
see me injured, so do not want to let me in a small canoe.
I on the other hand, would like to go out with the ladies
sometimes, to check fishing nets or crab baskets. The first time I went with my
village sister she got told off by numerous people afterwards. I spent a lot of
time assuring them that I’d wanted to go, I’m not afraid of falling in and I
know how to swim. They weren’t convinced. Thankfully it was a successful trip
and I did not tip the canoe. This was not so much for my dignity or my sister’s
standing in the community, but because there was a bumper catch in the fishing
net and I would have been horrified to tip the canoe and lose everyone’s dinner!
The second time I went in the canoe I managed to fall in
before we left the river bank. The news had made it around our village and down
to the next one in about half an hour. Who needs the internet to spread news
fast?!?! Wet, I got back into the canoe and we went to check the net. My
village sister is pretty amazing for still letting me go with her, even though
she knew she’d face disapproval from people later. The catch was not as good
this time, but I felt more comfortable in the canoe and we made it back in one
piece. As I was already wet, I then jumped in the river for a swim. This was
both a nice way to cool off and proved to those watching… and those who heard the
news later… that I indeed know how to
Kids on their way to school by canoe
In my own world I am a competent, intelligent, independent
adult. In the village I am a cared for guest who is still learning how to do
the most basic things. Finding the balance of hospitality and independence is
hard. I want to relate well with people and accept their generous care, but I
also want to be able to be myself and not always have a baby sitter looking
after me. I suspect it will be a long time before I find the way to balance