mr. zilla goes to town

Friday, February 27, 2004

travelling on

I'm not sure why this story has come to the front of my mind, with a message that it needed to be told now. Washed in by the sand and salty swimming last weekend perhaps?

Once upon a time in Bougainville there was... still is, for all I know... a man call Patrick Piritam. He's a village chief - but not a paramount (hereditary) chief, and was deputy chair of the local government, the council of elders. Over a number of years, he was a key point of contact for the UN Peace Monitoring Group in his region. Looking back on the relationship we built and the disarmament work we took a few steps toward, I like to think that he and I achieved something, once upon a time.

Once upon a time, Patrick came with the PMG to round up some other chiefs and roll some balls through a local steering committee prior to a centralised major peace and reconciliation forum. Bougainvilleans, in this respect, felt like intuitive bureaucrats. You might have gathered from the above that Patrick was a fairly important and useful chap in the community. He's also a well muscular, quite devout, and now and then, a fiercely malaria-ridden one. Patrick also lived next door to -- and kept tabs on -- his brother in law, who drank heavily and usually kept a stack of shotguns under his bed, often at the same time.

The point is that Patrick had an eldest son whose name was Max. Max was five years old. Patrick and his family lived near the church in Manetai village in West Asikopan. Well, Max came along for the ride that day we went rolling about with Patrick, and we travelled in the PMG's landcruiser monster 4WDs along barely 2km of road down to a seaside village in Torau.

Incidentally, Max has some kind of hearing difficulty, that with the terribly limited health and medical resources on the island, only began to be distinguished during my time in Bougainville. At five years old, that ain't cool.

I can't easily explain the cultural, social, and economic barriers that prevented this from happening earlier. I don't pretend to understand them all. It doesn't matter. Once upon a time in a seaside village in the Torau subdistrict of Bougainville, I watched a five year old boy see the ocean for the very first time.


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