Go Pinis

Go Pinis

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Hi there,

Long time, no post! I am off on holiday next week, back a couple of weeks into the new year. Looking forward to a break, have been in-country since February and I need a taste of home.

Have not been able to to talk much about my work as the main project I am involved in is kinda confidential, but I hope I can talk about it next year. Will also try and put things up more regularly.

Until then, all the best and merry Christmas.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


My flatmate discovered an old weekly newsletter published in Bougainville back in the 90s. Produced and printed by the Division of Information, the VillePress serves as an interesting insight into Bougainville's history. Reading through the articles I found myself experiencing a sense of déjà vu…

The front page of issue 15, Friday 5 September 1998, is titled:

Resistance to disarm before BRG is formed

The article was drafted soon after the peace initiatives lead by New Zealand with the parties to the conflict. The article centres on an interview with a Resistance leader (one of the armed factions at the time), who is quoted as saying the following:

"We have come a long way from Burnham to Buin and we feel a lot better after the Pan Bougainville Congress.

However, we can't get things right until those arms and ammunition leave our hands.

We had been preparing a paper for PPCC's deliberation this month and we're really serious about this disarmament thing. It must begin at once. Really there is no longer any need for Bougainvilleans to be armed."

It is now over ten years since those words were spoken, but sadly disarmament is still an issue in Bougainville. How much progress have we really made?

Half a Century

Apparently I have drafted 50 posts for this blog. I actually don't believe it!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


So I have to go to higher ground because of a tsunami threat. The last one didn't eventuate but better safe than sorry.

Ok we are safe and sound, the warning was cancelled. That was exciting. At first no-one seemed to be responding, but then word went out on the radio and all of sudden everyone was piling into PMVs (public motor vehicles) and heading for the hills. Fortunately those are only 10 minutes from town.

Quite a gathering at my house. Binoculars were out, photo and video cameras were on stand by and Jane was serving drinks.

I've heard that a wave did hit the south east coast of Bougainville, as far north as Kieta and some parts of Arawa beach. However, I can't confirm those reports (not that anyone is actually reading this right now).

The response amongst the locals was good, but there were still many in town. You always get skeptics, and to be fair there simply isn't enough transportation for everyone, so that was sad to see. I hope the real thing doesn't arrive because many will be at risk.

At it seems the false warning (no evidence yet) has upset some people. I passed a friend of mine on my way out - he asked me "how serious are you." I considered the fact that he had children and replied "very serious." Yes these events can cause a lot of panic, but I would hate for them to play it conservatively and lose lives as a result.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


So I found myself reading a report I drafted during my time at the Ministry of Education. It's always funny going back through previous work because I find myself pondering whether I've gone forwards or backwards.

Moving here was a huge change from life in Wellington. I went from being surrounded by friends and family and having a job with professional support to living in a foreign country where no-one was close to me and where skills in policy development were seriously lacking. It didn't take long before I was right in the thick of things and feeling under pressure.

12 months on I feel that I have grown a lot – and I've had to! The professional and personal challenges have been numerous and at times intense. I'm not one to back down so the only choice in my mind was to climb the mountain, and I have to say, the experience has been both rewarding and humbling.

And after all that hard work I'm finally starting to get some positive reinforcement: my CEO has said he wants to extend my contract, the head of the Administration wants me to work here as a local and I hope my volunteer organisation would like me to undertake another posting.

Personally, being offered a position to work as a local Bougainvillean with local Bougainvilleans is about the highest honour they could pay me, so it feels good to know that I'm being considered. I'm not sure what I will do next but for now I think I can say I'm moving in the right direction.

Sunday, September 27, 2009


Yeah g'day :)

I'm back in Buka after a few weeks muckin' about in PNG. Was a good break and desperately needed.

For those interested in the Carteret Islands issue you can find some work by photojournalist Bjorn Hansen here: http://www.bjornstighansen.com/?p=92

For those interested in Bougainville in general it has come to my attention that there are plenty of videos to be found on You-Tube.

More from me later.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Going offline


So I'm off on holiday next week which couldn't come sooner. Very relieved and looking forward to having a bit of an adventure. The plan is to head to Goroka then swing through to Madang afterwards, basically my attempt to see PNG while I am here.

Work wise things have been very busy. Recently got involved in a small side project with Marilyn Havini, a human rights advocate living in Buka. She and her husband Moses put in a heroic effort documenting the human rights abuses taking place in Bougainville during the Crisis, which are summarised in two reports and a database.

Unfortunately Marilyn does not have any of these backed up in digital format so I spent a bit of time last week scanning and touching up the reports so that we had a digital copy that closely resembled the original. The database work has hit a snag though; it is saved on floppy disks with a format that conforms to a now out of date operating system. Hopefully we will be able to recruit some help from an Australian university to recover the data. Will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Monday, August 10, 2009


Oh, it's a mystery to me
We have a greed with which we have agreed
And you think you have to want more than you need
Until you have it all you won't be free

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me...

When you want more than you have
You think you need...
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
Because when you have more than you think
You need more space

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me...
Society, crazy indeed
Hope you're not lonely without me...

There's those thinking, more-or-less, less is more
But if less is more, how you keeping score?
Means for every point you make, your level drops
Kinda like you're starting from the top
You can't do that...

Society, you're a crazy breed
Hope you're not lonely without me...
Society, crazy indeed
Hope you're not lonely without me...

Society, have mercy on me
Hope you're not angry if I disagree...
Society, crazy indeed
Hope you're not lonely without me...

Eddie Vedder

And now…

Quick post to fill you in on recent events…

Finally launched the Administration's Corporate Plan, which I first worked on waaaaaaaay back in August 2008! Good things take time… Launching went very well, Vice-President was happy. Saved a few bottles of wine for the end of the week with my boss, went down very well.

Also conducted the fourth and final public forum on restoration and development in Bougainville, so relieved to finally have that over with! Turn out was a bit low at 70 people but had really good engagement and debate, which kinda makes up for it I guess. One of the highly paid AusAID advisors managed to fall asleep in front of the chairman though, both feet up on a stool and chin on chest, which was poor form…I expect a higher standard from those guys.

So with those and the Health Summit behind me I'm feeling a little more relaxed. The hospital project looks to be set aside for next year and is a big maybe, which is also a relief to be honest. Don't have the staff for one anyway so hopefully the focus will be a nursing school, which seems to be the way things are heading at the moment.

And my holiday is coming up. Hooray.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


The ABG intends to be online. http://www.abg.gov.pg/

No, she is not participating in illegal activities.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Health Summit – Day Four

Em pinis. I officially closed the fourth and final day of the Autonomous Bougainville Government's first Health Summit today at 4pm. I think I'll have myself a beer.

This project really has been a lesson in how to go about doing this sort of thing. The Health Summit was conceived in response to signs that we have serious problems with the health sector here: drug supply shortages; high maternal mortality rate; deteriorating infrastructure; and only six practicing doctors. I initiated the project as a result of a discussion with a senior ABG official here, who shared the same concerns. From that point on it was a careful balancing act, with me pushing the project along while trying to ensure that the Division of Health took responsibility for it.

Although it tested my patience on many occasions, this project has taught me that one has to be very considered when choosing the moments to step in and the times to step out. It was hard to stay on the sideline at times, but I learnt from doing so that they will go beyond my expectations when left to manage the work themselves, and must make some mistakes in order to learn. I know it sounds quite patronising, but this is a funny game.

At the end of the day it is all about nurturing and respecting relationships, as without them no project will succeed. I've definitely had my fair share of tongue biting moments, but I think I have learned a lot about being patient and maintaining an optimistic outlook…and in the long run this will probably be the most important lesson I will have learnt from my time here in Bougainville.

I hope the seeds sown during the Summit will bear fruit.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Health Summit – Day Three

And Day Three concluded with a presentation by Rayleen Sole on drug supply in Bougainville. As I have raised already, drug supply is a serious issue here. Finally, we have had the opportunity to discuss it together.

Rayleen did a great job and seems to have it covered. Seems to be a mix of classic supply chain problems and poor stock management skills within health facilities. Regrettably, there is also evidence of theft for private sale (a problem across PNG).

It doesn't help that ABG has cut the drug supply budget by 92% over three years, so I relished the opportunity to raise this at the forum. The CEO of Health's response was that he doesn't know why the budget is so low; apparently they bid for 1.5 million kina and what they got was 40,000 kina. Now, I know for a fact that the budget process is a mess, and to an extent political interference is to blame. However, I do feel that the Division of Health should make more of an effort to advocate for itself, and should be using the Minister of Health as a lever. The current state of play is not good enough.

It is good to have these issues out in the open and my colleagues within the sector seem to be very happy with how this is all going. The key issues are clear and I look forward to debating the priorities with my fellow Health Summit participants on Friday.

Ka kite ano.

Health Summit Day Two

Ok, straight into it on Day Two with group work on challenges we face in preventing and treating common illnesses in Bougainville. This morning began with four discussion groups on malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis and diarrhoea. Again, great engagement from participants on the issues and good ideas on the way forward.

I'd like to share an example that is a classic for development practitioners. Malaria is the leading cause of morbidity and the second most common cause of mortality here. So, many suffer and we need to focus on preventative measures.

There are several measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of malaria. Firstly, the local environment. Water is a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and they like long grass, so build homes a fair distance from fresh water and clear the bush from around your house. Secondly, the type of mosquito infected with malaria bites at night, so put mosquito netting on your doors and windows and put treated mosquito nets around your bed (chemically treated nets kill mosquitoes). Thirdly, stay indoors at night as much as is reasonable. Fourthly, take a preventative medicine such as doxycyclene so your immune system is able to defend you, should you get bitten.

Governments and their development partners (the latest jargon which tries to capture donors, NGOs, churches, community group etc) like to target funds on distributing mosquito nets. A good idea, as you can't really buy them here and not everyone could if they were available. However, the trick is getting them to use them. The group discussion on malaria raised the following:

  • People are using their mosquito nets for shredding of cocoa seedlings
  • People are using their mosquito nets for fishing
  • People simply aren't using them

Simply providing the solution is not enough. As participants noted, the community has to have some ownership over the solution. This means that you need to help them see the value in having mosquito nets, and communities must desire to have them for the purpose they were designed for. Now, I can't really say that this is why we are having the problem, but that's the impression I'm getting here at the Summit, which means more time needs to be spent with the communities to get them to the point where they are identifying and asking for the solutions, instead of having them randomly handed out by Santa Claus. The lessons continue…

Health Summit – Day One

Well we finally got there! Day One of the Autonomous Bougainville Government's Health Summit was conducted on Monday 20 July 2009, almost nine months after we first began planning for it.

The Division of Health has done a great job of organising the venue, I was very impressed. Name tags, seating numbers and stationary folders, a media and secretariat desk, microphones and overhead projector for presentations were all sorted. The participants seemed to be either very excited or very serious, such were the expectations amongst those gathered here. I was just stoked that the day had finally come!

Day One's presentations went very well, and there was good debate amongst the participants about the issues raised. Highlight was probably the domestic violence agenda, which got added at the last minute. Fellow VSA volunteer Lesley Young and Helen Harkena, the head of her host organisation, presented on the topic and fielded the many questions. The debate was very emotive, with one participant breaking down in tears as she recounted the stories of patients she has treated. All that resulted in a commitment by the CEO of Health to place domestic violence on the health agenda. Good stuff.

Only quibble is the lack of staff in attendance from Port Moresby, however I gather this is due to the staff taking too long to send out the invitations…ah well. I reminded them again and again about that but in the end I had to step back and let them learn it for themselves. More on that later.

All in all a great start to the Summit!

Thursday, July 16, 2009


My German friend Dete has just walked in with a WWII photography book covering the Solomon Islands and Bougainville. This has caused a lot of interest as the executive manager from the Torokina district, 3 hours south by boat, is grappling with the growing black market for WWII weapons.

Torokina was the launching site for the campaign to capture Bougainville (1 November 1943), which followed the hard won success in Guadalcanal. Although this took place 60 years ago, local communities are still dealing with the consequences: namely, the volume of live, dangerous rounds and explosives easily found around Torokina.

Many of these arms were dug up and put to use as part of the war with Papua New Guinea, and unfortunately, despite the signing of the peace agreement and the push for disarmament, many locals in Torokina are profiteering from a black trade in WWII weapons and munitions (e.g. mortar shells, machine gun belts, grenades). The consequence for Bougainville is the arming of trouble makers in the south, which is contributing to ongoing insecurity in the region.

To help with the issue Bougainville has sought assistance from the American Embassy in PNG, which recently visited to see the munitions for themselves. Hopefully they will be keen to lend a hand in solving an unintended consequence of their presence here over 60 years ago…

Monday, July 13, 2009


So we have internet access now! Wow. It is running via a satellite dish on the top of our new building, which is coming along nicely (although at least 3 months behind schedule).

In other news:

  • The date for the Health Summit has finally been set, 20th of July. It's been a lesson in sitting back and letting them work it out for themselves
  • The review of Bougainville's development priorities is slowly lumbering forward. Recently visited the Carteret Islands, a group of five coral atolls just past the horizon line. Was amazing and promise will put in some blog entries soon
  • Will be launching the ABG Corporate Plan this month (I hope), almost exactly 12 months after we first began working on it!
  • I've been preparing advice for the Minister of Finance on financial (mis)management within Government…has been interesting
  • I am juggling about seven different projects at the moment, but am finally getting on top of things
  • Next holiday is scheduled for September. Will be running around in the Highlands and some of the coastal areas (Madang, Rabaul)
  • I have two currently homeless VSA volunteers moving in for a week or two, and possibly a permanent flatmate from late August onwards
  • I thought it would be cool to hold a concert in August with me mate Francis. Time will tell whether that was a good idea

Ka kite ano.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Hi everyone. It is my brother's birthday today.

Happy birthday bro.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Peace in Bougainville

Hi there. You might recall that I have been conducting some public forums on restoration and development in Bougainville. While discussing the forums with Niki Hannan, a fellow VSA volunteer, the idea of including the opinions of Bougainville's students came up. Niki works at a distance education school in Buka and asked her students to write a short essay on peace in Bougainville. I would like to share the following response from Belinda (22).

"In this essay I am going to write about Peace in Bougainville. The first paragraph will look at the issues around Peace in Bougainville. The second paragraph will look at what is going well in terms of Peace. The third paragraph will look at what is not going well and finally the conclusion.

The problems in Bougainville are violence against women and children, abuse of alcohol, drug taking, land disputes, road blocks, guns and further to this crime and many more.

On the other hand people are starting to fed up of all this problems and are working hard to reach peace on the region. For example the village community police are working hard to make sure everyone in the village is safe and they have the freedom to do what they intend to do and further to this the freedom to move around.

However, people are still dying, road blocks are still operating and violence against women and children is still practiced and the guns are still on hand. Which means there is still no Peace in Bougainville.

In conclusion, I think that if we want total peace in Bougainville we should forget all about the past and let us move forward and turn away from all the problems we are facing and reach the everlasting Peace in Bougainville."

Belinda was a student whose education was interrupted during the Crisis. That interruption means that this 22 year old women has a reading age of a 15 year old, but thanks to a return to relative peace and stability Belinda is able to pick up where she left off and continue her education. Makes you appreciate what you've got huh?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Camp Slayer

For those of you living in Melbourne, my mate Dave has a photo exhibition going up at Monash Gallery of Art. The name of the project is Camp Slayer, and is basically a collection of photos Dave took while he was working in Iraq as a forensic photographer.

For those who can't get to Melbourne, you can view photo's from the exhibition on Dave's website http://www.davidhempenstall.com .


We Would Like Another Hospital Please

So the Minister of Health just paid me a personal visit. I had no idea why he wanted to talk to me, so I really didn't see it coming. I've just been directed to conduct a cost benefit analysis on the establishment of a second hospital in Buin, Southern Bougainville.

I'm stoked – not because he approached me personally, but because finally someone is taking the initiative to get something done. The CEO of the Buka Hospital and myself have already tried to get something going on this before, but failed due to lack of will within the Division of Health. Now we have a clear mandate to get the work done. Awesome.

The other bonus was that I was able to provide the Minister with a copy of our survey report on the health centres and aid posts. That report has been very well received here, and it will give the Minister a good briefing on what the challenges are.

As background, one of the problems we face here is a big gap between the Executive and the Administration. This gap grew due to the death of the President and the Chief Administrator. The new President has made it clear that we need to bridge that gap, which is part of the reason I am happy that the Minister of Health is so engaged.

So yeah, awesome, great way to end the week!

Monday, June 8, 2009



Apologies for the lack of updates. Here's a quick run down:

- two new VSA volunteers have arrived in Buka and are working at the local high school
- I have no flatmates
- I've been sick for five weeks but am finally getting better
- the infection on my finger is finally healing
- there is mould all over my house and it is taking a lot of time to get rid of it
- the health summit was delayed and I hope to meet with the Division of Health this week to find out why
- planning a trip to the Carteret Islands at the end of the month to hold a public forum
- hope to get agreement on process for reviewing Bougainville's development priorities this week (finally)
- big reconciliation meeting this weekend with the controversial Sir Julias Chan

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

No Tan Dan

Am aware that the whole cooking naked thing has a few of you alarmed so would like to reassure you that the arrival of freelance journalist and English emissary Dan Box has helped introduce some civility into haus bilong mi.

As I write he has just burnt our dinner (all he had to do was reheat the soup), but really he is quite a good cook. In fact we've eaten quite well – Steakfest '09, Prawnfest '09 and a hearty cooked breakfast that featured bacon marinated in molasses. Yes, I have molasses. No, I don't know where it came from.

Dan is here to record a couple of stories on the plight of the Carteret Islanders, whose land is slowly sinking and being eroded by the Pacific Ocean. Their story has received quite a lot of coverage due to the links with Climate Change (more severe weather patterns), and some are watching to see what lessons can be learned from Bougainville's efforts to relocate them onto the mainland. If you are interested Dan has a blog: http://journeytothesinkinglands.wordpress.com/

It's been great having him here, had some great debates on the deck and will always remember his Sea Snake Self-Defence Technique™. All the best mate.


The week beginning 4 May was a big week for me. It was a week of first times:

  • I was criticised on the radio
  • I was interviewed on the radio
  • I briefed a President
  • I briefed Cabinet, and
  • I cooked naked.

I'm quite proud of this. Ignoring the signs that I am going feral without a flatmate, things are looking up :)

Highlight was probably the radio. Story with that – some git came up from Arawa and falsely reported facts concerning a public forum I ran in Arawa, the former capital of Bougainville. Fortunately for me, I'm friends with the lads down at Radio Bougainville, so I went down there and (diplomatically) gave them an ear full. They in turn politely requested to interview me about the forums, to which I consented.

One of the projects I am working on at the moment requires that we conduct public forums on restoration and development across Bougainville. This is pretty important, as it provides the public with an opportunity to send a message to the politicians. Furthermore, there are big differences in development across the regions, and I am hoping the forums will identify those differences. That should result in more informed planning of the delivery of services…I hope. At a minimum the politicians will be better informed come budget time.

The bonus is that I am getting a chance to see Bougainville. Two forums have been conducted so far, one in Arawa and one in Buin, the 'urban' centre for southern Bougainville. I was very lucky to go on that trip, not many volunteers get to go down there, but it really opened my eyes to the challenges facing development in that region. Fighting is still ongoing, albeit on a small scale, and the police face significant challenges in imposing law and order…and that's just one of the issues they are grappling with down there. Conversely, Arawa is much more settled yet seems stuck in time. It is noticeably different to Buin; it is safe for women to move around at night and there is a lot more economic activity. Arawa still has a long way to go but at least it is further along the line than it's southern neighbour.

The upswing of all this so far is I am starting to pull together the key themes for each region. I will talk more about that once the forums are completed, but I'm happy to say that I managed to get several key messages across in my radio interview and they have now been broadcast. Hopefully the participants at the forums will feel reassured that we are listening when they talk.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Bare Bones and Broken Earth

There is a place in central Bougainville called Panguna. It sits high in the mountains, a valley surrounded by rainforest and shrouded in mist.

Once upon a time, that's all there was. But a significant deposit of copper was discovered there, and one of the largest open cast copper mines in the world was excavated. It is said that the mine is so deep that it's base is below sea level. The volume of rubble, or tailings, removed from the ground was so large that they were slowly filling a valley from the bottom to the top, a man made plain in the middle of a mountain range. They hoped to build an international airport on it once enough of the valley was filled.

The relative impact on Bougainville was just as big. Arawa, the old capital city for the former province, was a plantation before the mine was opened. However, they needed a town to support the workforce, so an entire town was constructed.

The local workforce could not of course provide the depth and breadth of skills required for such a project, so soon a large community of PNG nationals and foreigners moved in. That workforce wished to be serviced by high quality health and education facilities, so the community was supported by the best health care in Papua New Guinea and the schools were also of a high standard.

Then there were the returns on the profits. Panguna mine accounted for approximately 45% of Papua New Guinea's Gross Domestic Product at its peak, extending the impact of the mine to development of Papua New Guinea more broadly. It made a lot of men rich, and as often happens, created a lot of envy as well.
In 1989 a group of men led by a Mr Francis Ona brought down a pylon and shut down the mine. Soon after a civil war erupted between Ona's Bougainville Revolutionary Army and Papua New Guinea. The mine was closed and has remained so ever since.

Panguna now is a landscape of bare bones and broken earth. Scavengers have pillaged any scrap metal they could easily remove, leaving skeletons where factories and processing plants once stood. The mine itself is a great, gaping hole in the earth, its insides gathered up in piles to form man made hills or sold in foreign markets.

What was once the centre of economic activity for a country has now become an eerie wasteland peppered with scrap metal, decrepit vehicles and fallen weapons. I wonder if the local landowners or the foreign surveyors ever foresaw that this would be Panguna's future?

Sunday, May 10, 2009


Ok, sorry for the poor effort at keeping this thing updated. I have so much to update on, but luckily me mate No Tan Dan has made more of an effort than I have :)


Wednesday, April 22, 2009


"I know the pieces fit 'cause I watched them tumble down

No fault, none to blame

It doesn't mean I don't desire to point the finger, blame the other

Watch the temple topple over

To bring the pieces back together, (I must) rediscover communication"

Communication in Bougainville gives me the shits.

There's no internet access in the offices, so there's no email. There goes your ability to quickly and reliably arrange meetings.

There are phone lines, but Telecom sends the bills a few months late, and cancels your power because you didn't pay (having not received the bill…). Even if the bill arrives on time, chances are that the organisation has not budgeted for it and therefore can't pay it. So the phones are effectively mute.

We do have two mobile phone networks running, but they operate erratically, and sometimes have a lovers tiff and refuse to talk to each other.

So one knows that as soon as you need to communicate with more than, say, yourself, things are going to get complicated. For this reason I am often seen running around town, chasing people up and generally trying to get things done ("Mark! You go walkabout?").

Now imagine, as you sit in cubicle #2468, that one of your client/stakeholder meetings had to be arranged with people outside of town and you cannot use email or a phone line. Imagine also that there is no postal service. Messing with your head? Now imagine that a volcano blows up and the mobile phone networks are taken out. Welcome to my day.

''But I'm still right here, given blood, keepin' faith

And I'm still right here…"

Somehow, somehow, it all seems to work out. People are used to that here, and we all end up relying on personal networks…someone who knows someone who knows the person you are trying to get through to.

Serendipity also likes to play a card or two: it's weird how often I will bump into the very person I am looking for while going walkabout, even when I've been told that said person is currently in another town or on another island.

The key is to try and get patience and optimism to hold hands. Get that going and you can trust that it will all work out…eventually.

"Wait it out, gonna wait it out

Be patient."

Quotes from Schism and The Patient by Tool.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Woke up to another one of those mornings where its just impossible to rise and face the day…the ocean outside is taking it easy today and a calm breeze is telling me to relax and stay in bed. So I do.

I reckon I deserve a bit of a sleep in, to be honest. Yesterday was quite stressful: I was enlisted to help in addressing 1.3 billion kina worth of outstanding claims from the Crisis, and was informed that one of my projects could put lives at risk.

Goes without saying, then, that I was pretty fucking on edge when I sat down to have a rare beer after work yesterday. The location was Kuri Lodge and we (the VSA crew) were meeting to have dinner with Lloyd Jones, author of Mr Pip. Luckily my friends were spared my anger as one of the new AusAID advisers, Luther Smith, saw me first! Cheers Luther, I did sleep on it and will sort it out this morning.

Most of you will have heard of Mr Pip, or at least the kiwis will have. Lloyd Jones is a former journalist and was here covering the conflict in 1998. The people he met and the events must have inspired him, because he wrote what has become a very popular work of fiction, so popular that a film is going to be produced (they are casting already).

Lloyd was a really nice guy and shared some pretty cool stories. While chatting away he made the point that we are living in history; Bougainville is a nation in the making, and we should be recording the events and moments we experience here.

I have to say, he has a point. Change is all around us…there is a new President, and he is doing a good job of pushing for progress in achieving peace across Bougainville. The Panguna area, central to the conflict, has recently opened up to government services. The Morgan Junction road block, symbolic of the unwillingness of some to accept peace, may be dismantled this year. Both positive signs that Bougainville is moving forward.

I think it will be good for me to note some of this stuff down, and perhaps you might enjoy reading it as well. So I am going to make more of an effort to record what I am experiencing here. I'll even attempt to write every day, as Lloyd recommended. Gotta be good for me, right?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


We have a problem over here.

According to government figures, in Papua New Guinea health facilities can expect to be short of essential medical supplies for five months every year. That's right, five months.

I've recently completed a survey of health centres and aid posts in Bougainville for a health conference we are planning in May. Aid posts and health centres offer the majority of health services in Bougainville as there is only one hospital with five doctors, located on Buka Island (which equates to one doctor per 35,000 Bougainvilleans, but that's another problem). Not surprisingly, 77% of the staff interviewed reported that they often lack the supplies they need to do their job.

We also asked them what supplies they most commonly ran out of. I have compared responses to the most common illnesses reported by patients, and have found that the supplies they most commonly run out of correlate with the most common illnesses patients seek treatment for. What's disturbing is that the most common illnesses are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea – also the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in Bougainville.

But wait, there's more.

The supply of medicines is managed centrally by the Department of Health in Port Moresby. The Division of Health in Bougainville is tasked with sending orders and distributing supplies. However, since the problem of supply shortages is so serious, the Bougainville Government has set aside additional funding to address the shortfall in medical supplies. In 2007 the appropriation equalled 500,000 kina, roughly ASD250,000. Not much, certainly not enough, but that was 2007. I've just established that over 2007 to 2009 that appropriation has decreased from K500,000 to K40,000. That's a decrease of 92%.

Let me emphasise that point: despite knowing that Bougainville, and Papua New Guinea more broadly, faces serious shortages of medical supplies, the Bougainville government has decreased its budget for the purchase of medical supplies by 92%.

I got so angry when I learnt this that I felt sick.

Ok, time to change the tone. I am happy to say that there are solutions on the horizon. Firstly, sorting these issues out would be a bit of a slog without some good evidence to hand. My survey gives us that evidence. Secondly, we have had funding approved for a health conference in May, which will provide a forum to discuss the issue of drug shortages – the Minister of Health and the President will be in attendance, and I will make sure they hear about this. Thirdly, we have a Budget and Planning Advisor now, and I'm getting him involved on this so I can do a tag team hit for more impact. I'm pretty confident that we can turn this around, and that over the next few years we will see some changes. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Welcome Back

The following describes my first day back at work, Monday 23 February.

6:30am – woke up to the sound of the ocean, cool breeze and sunlight. Lay there for half an hour. Get up at 7am, make banana smoothies for me and the flatmates. Relax on deck for a bit. Go to work.

Monday morning – back to work and I’m walking in quick sand – apparently I’ve been delegated some work but no-one took minutes so we don’t know what that was, had to tell the head of the Bougainville AIDS Committee that there will be no funding from the Bougainville Government for the committee this year (still sorting that one out), shortly after that the power was cut as once again PNG Power has failed to import the right amount of diesel for the generators.

Try to call Health Division but they haven’t paid phone bill. This is actually good, as that means I have to get out of the office and take a boat trip (the Division is on an island overlooking much of Bougainville). Beautiful day, calm, clear water, chat to some friendly locals in the boat. Get to the Division and find out they have done everything I’d asked before I left. Very good news. Also find out that meeting to approve funding for Health Summits takes place end of week. More good news.

Afternoon – bump into friends all over town, everyone pleased to see me back because everyone noticed I was gone. This place is great. Good to catch up with everyone, great to see them again.

Malaria hysteria – find out that four ex-pats have come down with malaria, including Mel and Kim, my flatmates. It’s the wet season so not surprising. They are doing well though so that’s good.

Gossip – find out that there is a strike in the markets. Apparently a women from the Solos area (one hour north) got into a fight with a women from Ieta (two minutes up the road). A strike is on between market sellers from the two different areas, so not as much produce in the market (this turned into a big protest march in town at the end of the week, people showed up armed, roads were closed, much diplomatic alarm due to missing ex-pats, who were in fact away fishing for the day).

Rait Man – forgot how people love whitey’s over here. Lots of red toothed smiles and waves from strangers and calls of “Rait Man” (legend). I smile, wave back and shake hands, say cheers and ask how they are.

It’s good to be back.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Israel may face war crimes trials over Gaza

Yeah, I know, not related to Bougainville at all, but this article really got my attention. Would love to read the Red Cross reports when they come out.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Victoria is burning

Hard to take in.


Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Black Magic

Time to introduce you to the role of myth and superstition in communities here. I've not been exposed to much myself, but I've heard people talk about the existence of mermaids in Bougainville, a tribe of nomadic dwarfs that roam along the base of the Buka cliffs, a GIANT octopus that lives in an underwater cave, and one fellow asked me if I could visit his village and let him know if the diamond on the head of a local snake was worth anything (apparently it hides in a cave and he will take me to see it).

While the myths by and large are harmless, the superstitions held by people here need to be taken very seriously. During a recent survey of health professionals I was told that sometimes people refuse to seek treatment because they believe they are cursed. Such is the strength of these beliefs that those accused of cursing people, or sorcery, are attacked and often killed. See below.

Sorcery killings on rise


MORE than 50 people have been wilfully murdered, some in gruesome fashion, for allegedly practising sorcery in two Highlands provinces last year.

Eastern Highlands provincial police commander Teddy Tei said more than 30 people were reportedly killed in the province while Chimbu police commander Joseph Tondop confirmed more than 20 cases.

However, the two men said they believed there to be more cases that had not been reported to police.

Mr Tei, in condemning these brutal killings, said in some cases people suspected of sorcery were tied and burnt alive while others were simply killed in front of others.
The commanders made these revelations when commenting on the death of a Chimbu man at the Goroka Base Hospital on Christmas Day from injuries sustained after he was attacked by relatives of a person who accused him of sorcery and attacked him on December 18 at Namaro coffee plantation in the Bena area of the province.

Mr Tei said the police were doing a lot of awareness on killing of innocent people and or repercussions on sorcery and murder but it seemed to have no effect on the people as the crime continued without a glimmer of change in the attitude of people.
“I want the people of Eastern Highlands to know that sorcery in itself is a crime but it is hard to prove in court, but taking the law into their own hands does not make the killers free,” Mr Tei said.

He said many of the sorcery suspects killed were innocent people.
Mr Tei said: “I condemn the actions and attitudes of people taking the law into their own hands when addressing alleged sorcery cases.”

Mr Tondop said sorcery was hard to address as it was alleged to follow bloodlines and practised against relatives and the retaliatory killings involved their immediate relatives. HE cited the death of former Chimbu administrator Joseph Bal as allegedly related to sorcery and an old man was killed and houses destroyed by relatives which saw to the arrest of suspects in that killing.

Mr Tondop also said his men were carrying out awareness but to no effect and called on the community leaders to help police and discourage sorcery related killings.

In the Western Highlands a young girl was set alight on Wednesday morning by suspects at the Kerebug rubbish dump and police are still investigating the incident.
Meanwhile, in other police news, Eastern Highlands police are investigating the attempted murder of a son of a policeman on Monday afternoon.

Mr Tei also raised concern that the cultivation of marijuana was on the rise in the province and called on the villagers to resort to making an honest living.
Mr Tei said the land used for cultivation of the illicit drug should be used to produce fruits and vegetables and sold instead of something that will land them into trouble.

For more: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/7825511.stm

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A moment

The washing machine has stopped. What the? I checked the taps, seemed fine. Water should be flowing then. Lights blink at me. I blink at them. Why isn’t this thing working? Hmm, a start/pause button. Let’s try it.

I press the button.

The machine starts working.

I suppress the urge to kick it and accept a simple solution. As I head down the path it occurs to me that the machine may want to stop again; it seems to have a mind of its own. I can’t be bothered waiting for it to stop, but I don’t want to return later and find it sitting there, confused and not sure what to do. I decide to stall for time by collecting a cold can from the local store. Hopefully when I come back the machine will still be working.

I roll out the door and stroll down the footpath. Arawa has many features that push it out ahead of its cousins. My favourite feature is the footpaths. I like footpaths. Tidies things up a bit. I especially like walking on warm concrete in bare feet. Always have.

I reach the local store and peer through the bars into the gloom. I think I can see a shape back there, black on black.

“Api noon?”

“Api noon.” A dark, smiling face emerges from the shadows.

“Hot ah? Mi laik buyim wanpela Sprite.”

“Ahh, Sprite.” My new friend retrieves a cold can of Sprite from his battered freezer and places it before me, still smiling.

“Em hamas?” I asked.

“Two kina, forty toia.” I place the money on the counter and he slides the can towards me.

“Have a good day, lukim yu.”

“Lukim yu,” he replied.

Back at the house. Washing machine is still going. Gudpela. I like it when things work the way they should.