“Man is in chains everywhere!’ ……….‘The only thing that keeps him alive is his imagination. His feet are always shackled to the earth, yet he flies on the wings of his imagination. He is convicted by reality, and pardoned by the imagination.” - Chandrahas Choudhury
After a week-long work stint in Papua New Guinea (PNG), I’ve returned home to Melbourne, feeling tired and yet spiritually refreshed. As the plane started its decent at Tullamarine Airport, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the sun kissed horizon of Melbourne’s imposing skyscrapers, each structurally erected to spin a glossy corporate tale of affluence and clockwork efficiency.
It was only 24 hours ago when I was working in an office nestled within the hilly and largely untamed landscape of Port Moresby, soaking in the beauty of tropical orchids, lilies, ferns, priding in their blooming beauty amid the vulgarity of the overgrown moss. Not even the repulsive realism of rampant homelessness, corruption, mangled moralities and violent crime - could take away its inherent natural beauty and the wholesomeness of nature chiselled by the kaleidoscopic array of human emotions, desires and struggles.
This geographically vast and mineral-rich nation boasts a soul that sings from the hymn book of the human spirit; communities in the outer provinces and highlands have a deeply rooted and generational love and respect for the land they reside upon, a relationship that transcends the pallid taste of capitalistic ownership structures. Because without a reverence for these sacred values of place and belonging, there would not be beautiful memories to keep the past alive and no illusion of happiness and hope for the future. People nurture the land and the land in turn fashions the prevailing communities. Each physical settlement exudes an indescribable burbling energy aimed at seeking the genuine vitality of life, positivity through the purity of the wild.
The gift to remain alive is, for those caught within the quagmire of violence and poverty, reason enough to cherish each moment of every day. I pondered on the thought of how human survival becomes indubitably magnified when one is required to thrive at the lowest rung of the societal ladder in squalor and deprivation.
There is often a templated narrative to how we understand communities or parts of the world that are stereotypically less affluent - marginalised people, forgotten lives overlooked by the socioeconomic indicators, suffering at the hands of their affluent counterparts. Yet, there is a greater universal tale: life in general is a mingled yarn of all things pure and impure, sincerity and deceit ; every action or reaction revolves around the vitality of a perishable life holding onto the wispy filaments of pure longing, no matter how basic or exuberant these longings may be.
In the case of PNG, that longing, at least through the eyes of an outsider looking in, was the desire to be respected, acknowledged and cherished in a world where remorse often overpowers elation, where the reservations of a colonial past are carried in a shaky present. Because the human quest for validation, purpose and meaning is as legitimate and universal no matter where it emanates from, be it from the rugged hills of the Papuan highlands or the concrete urban jungle of Melbourne. We are all human.
Lovely - but sadly always a dark side sits in readiness... I was reminded of Vandana Shiva’s wonderful work in India and beyond. It really is worth looking at her autobiography to see what can happen in these beautiful communities if we are not watchful - ‘My Life in a Biodiversity of Movements’ is both tragic and full of hope - but also a warning...
This an honest serenade to the beauty of realities that are vastly different than ours and yet intertwined with our shared sense of humanity. Thank you for writing this. What a delightful read!