the PAPUA POST

Follow the Adventure: The Brazeau's Serving In Papua

Its Not All Fun and It's Not Easy

We live in a beautiful, fairly remote and special place. When people see our posts on Facebook sometimes they think all we do is have fun and go to the beach. We do both those things but they are not the norm. Our job here is to make it fun for the students as well as educate them to a high standard. It is their parents who have chosen to serve God in one of the most remote places in the modern world and they are just along for the ride. None of the students we teach have chosen to leave their friends and family and live in a third world country. None of the students have chosen to live in the hostels and be away from their parents, for months at a time, while they work to save people in tribes only accessible by a plane or months of walking. And now, with the internet making the world so small, the students can see all of the things they are missing out on back home. It can be very difficult.

The struggles of day to day living in Papua are very real and tiring. You often hear people saying "I just need to get off the island for a few days". 
I know the feeling. Living in a culture where things are not often done the way westerners would can lead to frustration. The systems are corrupt and being white means you pay. We rarely had hot water for two years. It is dirty, loud and dangerous at times. Especially for women. I have had a number of unfortunate experiences that have come about as a result of the internet making pornography readily available to men on their phones and a belief that all white women are in reality the same as they are portrayed in those awful films.

I have been groped and grabbed at even with Jeremy present. I have been followed and harassed in public by groups of men. I have felt great fear at being alone when Jeremy has had to go away because there has even been trouble with the guards at the school. Jeremy and students have chased peeping Tom's from the school property who were touching themselves while staring into the classrooms at our female students. On any trip we make with the school extra caution has to be taken because we cannot allow anything to happen to our students. And things have happened to students and staff alike.

I am very allergic to a small gnat like bug here that can fit through our screens to I have to wear bug spray even in our home or risk huge, itchy welts that turn into bruises. I have had something called 'creeping eruptions' twice caused by worms living under your skin that enter through cuts and leave a trail of bubbling flesh as they come up for air. I had malaria twice in several months, the first time falling quite ill as I didn't realize I had it until it was fairly far gone. It was a kind that attacked your brain and left me with severe headaches and difficulty thinking. Thankfully we have great nurses in the missions community and malaria is easily treated. I got impetigo from a student and had blistering sores all over my face. I caught pneumonia in the tropics and coughed so badly that I cracked my ribs. My arm was broken and I ended up teaching in a cast for months at a time on two separate occasions. Because of that injury I am no longer able to rotate my forearm or bend my wrist properly. It still hurts everyday. Teaching gym means I end up with sprains and bruises all the time. My least favourite ball to be hit in the head with is a basketball.

Because we live on an island most goods and food are shipped in so prices are high and choice is low. We have gone for months without seeing cheese, margarine (butter is a new introduction), various vegetables and other things like decent toilet paper or toothpaste. Stores leave vegetables and fruit on the shelves until they rot because they want to sell them before the put out the next batch meaning that when it does come out they are half rotten already. Once we get our food we have to rinse it in a chemical bath to remove pesticides and, in the case of locally grown veggies, human fecal matter that is used as a fertilizer.

Once a missionary spoke to a store owner and promised that if a certain item was stocked they would have guaranteed sales from our community. The store owner replied that they would no longer be stocking the item because it sold out to fast. It looked bad to have empty space on the shelves and it was too much work to have to constantly restock and reorder the item. Go figure.

All of the power on the island is provided by gas generators. Gas is brought in from off island and driven to the stations. The gas sometimes mysteriously disappears (stolen and resold) resulting in no power or rolling blackouts for days and weeks at a time. It also means that you may not be able to drive to town to get supplies because no one has any gas to sell. No power means no internet. The internet is terribly slow to begin with and can be shut off by the powers that be, along with cell service, to ensure lack of communication at times when protests are planned. Fiber optics have just arrived this past year but the internet was down for nearly a week after a shark, yes a shark, attacked the cable and severed it.

Driving is dangerous. The road conditions and drivers make it so. When you are driving down the road and see a barrel with a flag standing in it means some has died there. White flag means they were Muslim and a black flag means they were Christian. We have seen crushed cars, rolled cars, burned out cars and spots were cars and motorbikes have gone off cliffs. There was one burnt and crushed truck that was turned into a safety reminder on the road side. People drive without their lights on at night, which is dangerous enough considering how few street lamps there are, and they do so to save their batteries.

Another stresser for me was the fires. So many fires that came so close to our home. I would leave for a day and wonder if we would come home to nothing. The fires came so close that twice I packed everything I could and put it by the door and then went back to fighting the fire. It is harder to think of losing things here because it is so hard to replace. We bring what we need from home for a year because most are not available in Papua. We can be too big for clothes, too sensitive for local products or too poor to buy them.

Earthquakes are kind of scary things. We have been woken by them and had our bed moved across the room as the ceiling fan swung dangerously overhead. Our local grocery store is in the basement of the mall (don't think mall as in a Canadian mall) and I am always a little afraid that we will be caught down there during a quake. I know I am not paranoid because a number of people have expressed the same concern to me. My friend, the Middle School Principal has told me that she has seen the quakes coming and you can watch from the hill where the school resides as all the land ripples in a wave towards you.

Besides the quakes and the fires there are flash floods that wash away homes and people, windstorms that take down trees and homes, riots and demonstrations, robberies and home invasions, diseases like dengue, malaria, chikungunya, boils, typhoid, tuberculosis and so many others. 

The noise is constant. Calls to prayer five times a day from the innumerable mosques, traffic noise, gun shots from the military range, bells from the Buddhist temple, speakers blaring music at all hours of the day, rosters, birds, bamboo cannons and fireworks. Whenever I found a sealed quiet room my ears rang because they were no longer used to silence.

One of the worst things is have to report on the death of a community member. When someone is killed, as has happened several times, we need to let the students know and be there to comfort them. The children of pilots can be rocked by the death of even a pilot they do not know because it just reiterates the fact that their father has a very dangerous job. It is a close community here and we are all serving the same purpose. Death is a very real part of life here.

I could go on and on but I am stopping here because I think that is enough. I had a purpose in sharing this. I want people to know our life is not all fun and games but that is what we chose to dwell on. That, and the Lord, is what gives us strength to keep going. We came to serve and that is what we will do. So to those who think we spend all our time at the beach or we live in Papua because it is easier than Canada I am sorry for misleading you but I hope this clears things up.