27 August 2013


When I was in college, I was intrigued by the philosophies discussed in the sociology courses that I chose to pursue as part of my mandated humanities courses required for my liberal arts college degree. We often talked about social norms and raising families, and we heavily discussed theories like nature vs. nurture.

Since my brother and I grew up in the same household and turned out completely different personality wise, temperament wise, business wise and natural instinct wise, I was originally a strong contender for the nature argument, believing that a lot of my brother’s habits were attributed to his genes, specifically the ones associated with his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

However, I eventually concluded that while our genetic makeup has a lot to do with certain traits, our varying experiences within the same household – and among peer groups – truly proved that the nurture controversy heavily contributed to our overall social and behavioral makeup.

In my opinion, one of the biggest contributors to a child’s behavior is the parenting style, which I have been actively observing over the last few years since my close friends and I are at what we consider to be prime baby-making age, balancing career goals with family desires. Living in, observing and studying various cultures proves just how much cultural practices align with nurturing habits.

Before Paul and I moved to Port Moresby, we were advised of the violent culture, which made us seriously contemplate relocating. We were informed that fights were common, an eye for an eye more closely translated to an eye for a life, theft levels were high and going out at night was out of the question. We were advised to always keep on main roads and to avoid seemingly-problematic situations at all costs.

Knowing that a violent culture exists is one thing but observing the effects of a violent culture first hand, among children….in church…is quite another.

Sunday Paul and I for the second consecutive week attended a local church that was recommended by another Air Niugini family. We arrived a few minutes prior to the start of the service and sat ourselves in the front-half of the middle pews as the church was not yet half full. Once the service started, a local child I recognized from the prior week sat herself in front of us. She was wearing a bright, multi-colored top and brown knee-length shorts; she appeared to have a bit of brush stuck in sections of her hair.

Like most kids, she had a lot of energy and constantly moved. Last week she seemed fascinated by us, constantly turning around and purposely becoming a distraction in order to make eye contact. She, likely the age of 5 or 6, was later joined by two older girls in matching tops and a boy around their age, all appearing to be under 12. Later yet the kids were joined by a younger boy who may have been 4.

My heart sank when he entered barefoot, legs dusty, clothes dirty. I wanted so badly to pick him up, take him home with me, put him in the shower and buy him new clothes. He, like the youngest girl, also had a lot of energy. He ran out of the pew, down the aisle to the back of the church and returned a few minutes later. Whenever he did something the other girls did not like, whether moving too much or squealing, they would hit him – sometimes with gentle force and sometimes with quite a crack. I was shocked.

Throughout the service the girls hit on each other and hit on the boy; the youngest girl and the younger boy were hit the most – over and over again. I wanted to step in but wondered what reaction I would get since none of the adults in the same pew or the pews in front and behind seemed to do anything. I do not usually support stepping in to correct cultural norms but I also felt for the children and wanted so badly to stop the hitting.

At that moment I realized that the violent PNG culture is prevalent even in such young age groups. This society teaches people to attack when they are wronged so even the children are learning to fight instead of communicating or collaborating.

I decided that if the boy made eye contact with me, I would invite him to sit with me. The pastor proceeded to lead the congregation in prayer and I bowed my head and asked that God would resolve the situation so that I did not have to. In the middle of the prayer, the two youngest – the boy and the girl who were receiving most of the beatings – ran outside and into the next building where youth services are held. Thank you, Jesus.

Today Paul and I avoided violence through another cultural practice – financial bribery. This morning Paul dropped me off at a coffee shop while he visited the cable company next door. When he finished he joined me and we had a light breakfast and some time eavesdropping on a conversation at the adjacent table.

When we had finished both of our objectives we got into the car and headed home. We were two roundabouts away from our residence when we saw familiar orange cones, a couple vehicles and a few men in blue shirts, all of which indicated a seemingly-routine traffic stop.

All around Port Moresby, any day of the week, traffic police set up cones blocking one of two lanes and check small stickers on the corner of our windscreen indicating that the vehicle has passed a safety check. The stickers are valid for six months and must be up to date.

PNG also requires that drivers have their license on them at all times, and it is common for traffic policemen to check a driver’s license at a checkpoint. Failure to produce a license at a checkpoint will result in a fine or jail time. More often than not, the officers check our stickers and wave us along; only once before today have I been asked to flash my license, showing the man outside the passenger window my license from the driver’s seat; not once has an officer held onto my license for close verification.

Today, after checking our sticker, Paul was asked if he had a valid license. When Paul confirmed that he did, I obtained the license to show the officer at my window and we were asked to pull to the side so that other cars could pass through. Apparently we were going to be a few minutes. This was the first time that I had been in a pull-over situation and the first time that a traffic man had so thoroughly reviewed a license.

He told us that the license class Paul held – a Class 3 that was provided by the local license bureau – was not valid and that in order to hold a Class 3 license, Paul had to first hold a Class 1 license. The man checked my license and confirmed the same thing. I initially challenged the man asking why our licenses were invalid when those were the classifications that the local bureau had provided, but he stuck to his statement and told us that we were going to be fined. Paul asked how much and immediately paid the man the 50 kina he requested while my eyes were wide open and my mouth remained closed.

I was hurt, frustrated and confused as we pulled away, feeling anger simmering inside. I could neither understand why our licenses were invalid, nor understand why we had to pay the man, who just put the money in his pocket and did not issue us any sort of documentation regarding the offense.

When I told Paul that I wanted to say something but kept my mouth shut, he told me that was a good thing. He knew story about an expat who challenged a traffic policeman and found his nose broken after the butt of the traffic man’s gun hit him in the face.

“What would have happened if I was alone and did not have 50 kina?” I asked.

“You would probably be put in jail,” Paul replied matter-of-factly.

I continued asking questions regarding standing my ground, stating that I really wanted to ask the man for documentation relating to our fine and Paul told me that in every case I need to shut my mouth and pay the man – every time.

Today was the first day that I felt disdain toward Port Moresby and thought about America, however corrupt and awful the government is at times, suddenly seemed better than this place. 

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