(Election time on the Mountain)Goodbyes are very difficult for me. I am never sure how to handle them. They always seem awkward and there is no good way to end them. I often try to avoid them all together. That is one of my many character flaws. There I said it, I hate goodbyes. For most people this wouldn’t be so bad but for me it is terrible. It seems we are always traveling or moving to a new place and we are always having to say goodbye to someone. Its not that I don’t miss them; its just that the whole business is clumsy and awkward and I‘m not sure what to do in those extended moments.
Now, as we approach the end of our time here at POC we have so many relationships that need this closure that I am beginning to be overwhelmed by the prospect of it all. I have grown very close to a good many people here on the mountain, heck we even named one of our children after one of them, that I feel like I should start saying goodbye now but our lives are so intertwined that it almost seems absurd. How do you say goodbye to people you will continue to see all the time for another month?
Once, we started telling people we were leaving word spread pretty quickly and lots of people asked me if it was true. Each time I say “yes” and then in good Papua New Guinean fashion we have to discuss the whys, hows, and whens. When all of this is done they mull it over a bit and agree that it is the best thing but they are so terribly sad to see us go. I guess in some ways this is a goodbye in itself, especially for the more casual relations we have formed. And in some ways this is easier on me than abrupt goodbye at the very end that seems to hang on an uncomfortably long time.
For the people we have built deep relationships with it has been much more difficult on both sides. We have to discuss it more and the separation has to be dealt with much more solemnly. There are some other cultural elements that have to be dealt with as well. Papua New Guinea has several different broad cultural areas. The area we currently live in (and really feel a part of at this point) is the “lowlands”. This area is most of the costal regions (excluding the Sepik) on the north side of the island. Our folks (and us by extension) are a much more low key people. Life goes at a slower pace stuff takes time to be worked out and a discussion can go on for weeks without getting truly heated. People spend a great deal of time tending to relationships and making sure that they are in good order. Physical conflict is always a last resort. Of all of these lowlands people the people of Madang are the most steeped in this way of life.
The area we are moving to is called the “highlands”. It can be broken into several broad cultural subcategories but for simplicity sake I will treat it as one here. Highland people are much more aggressive. This is good in the fact that they tend to jump on a task and try to push it through to completion much more than lowland people do. They are also more entrepreneurial and seem to always have an angle they are working (good if it is channeled in the right direction). Unfortunately, they are much more quick to fight as well. A dispute can very quickly erupt into a fight that involves entire families. The fights also tend to involve weapons and are much more deadly.
These cultural elements add a bit of anxiety to our goodbyes as well. Our people are afraid of highlanders and so they are afraid for us. We have assured them that we will be ok, but they worry none the less. Please pray that we will deal well with goodbyes over the next 5 weeks and that people will understand that we will be back to visit.