Friday, February 26, 2010

Learn More to Earn More

The article first appeared in Steven's Window, a column in The National newspaper in Papua New Guinea. Friday 26th February 2010: 5.

Success has everything to do with simple behaviors such as reading for an hour a day, turning television time into learning time, and attending classes and training programs. Jack Canfield’s Success Principle 36: learning more leads to earning more is what’s on my mind this week. People who have more information have a tremendous advantage over people who don’t. Cutting out just 1 hour of television or idle conversation a day creates an extra 365 hours per year (that’s over nine additional 40-hour workweeks—2 months of additional time!) to accomplish whatever is most important to you. What can you do with that extra hour? We can learn from motivation leaders.

Forget saying: I don’t have the time to do what you do or that I wish have all the time in the world to do something different. I wish I have the time to write a book. I wish I have the time to learn more about computing? I wish I have all the time to make my family happy. We complain about having no time to do everything we want to do.

We don’t complain about all the time we take to tell stories, complain, and talk about the things that don’t get us anywhere. People don’t complain about playing computer games or net serving all day long. People don’t complain about spending many hours in the betting shops. People don’t complain about drinking beer during work hours or staying on the phone whole day doing personal calls. People appear busy without doing anything productive.

This week in this column I am sharing what I learnt from reading Jack Canfield’s The Success Principles. There are 12 sub-principles for learning and gaining more with the extra time:

1. Decrease your television time or storytelling time. Use that time to read for an hour a day. Read inspirational autobiographies of successful people.

2. Leaders are readers. Read the books on successful people and successful living. Read a book or chapter of a book every day.

3. Learn to read faster to read more. If you read more slowly than you’d like, consider taking a course to increase not only your reading but also how fast you absorb the information. You can check for useful sources on reading by using the internet search facilities.

4. Develop a weekly system for getting smart. Reading self-help and personal development books will help you achieve mastery in the areas of life that are central to your happiness and fulfillment. They contain some of the best time-tested wisdom, information, methodologies, systems, techniques, and secrets of success that have ever been recorded. If you make the commitment to read one book a week, review what you have read, and apply at least one thing you learn from each book, you will be miles ahead of everyone else in creating an extraordinary life.

5. Study the lives of great people. Read some of the best books out there on biographies and autobiographies on great people. By reading them you will become great yourself. A thought: If you’re to watch television, make a point of watching any documentaries on inspirational people.

6. Attend success rallies, conferences and retreats. Thousands of people attend rallies, conferences, retreats, and workshops to learn from great speakers, trainers, and motivators of our day. You, too, can access these powerful learning experiences by attending rallies, conferences, and retreats—additionally benefiting from the excitement and inspiration of your fellow attendees and the networking that goes on at these events. Keep an eye out for ads in your local paper.

7. Be teachable. To learn and grow in life, you need to be teachable, too. You need to let go of already knowing it all and needing to be right and look good, and open yourself to being a learner. Listen to those who have earned the right to speak, who have already done what you want to do.

8. Be prepared when opportunity knocks. Learn as much as you can from people around you or those who have gone before you. Seek out mentors and learn from them what you can about what you want to be. Absorb everything you could. Be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they present themselves.

9. What do you need to do to get ready? If you want a promotion at work, why not ask your boss what it takes to become promotable? Perhaps you need to go back to school and get your MBA. Or maybe you need 1 year accounting experience. Or perhaps you need to learn the latest software programs. Do you need to learn a new foreign language? Could you develop advance skills, more resources, or new contacts? Do you need to get your body into better physical shape? Should you expand your business skills, sales skills, or negotiating skills. Are you learning new skills on the computer—such as using PowerPoint, PageMaker, Photoshop, or Excel? Whatever you need to do to get ready, start now by making a list of the top 10 things you could be doing to be ready when opportunity finds you.

10. Attend human-potential trainings. Imagine that you suddenly discovered you were driving with the emergency brake on. Would you push harder on the gas? No! You would simple release the brake and instantly go faster—without any additional expenditure of energy. Most of us are going through life with the emergency brake on. It’s time to release the limiting beliefs, emotional blocks, and self-destructive behaviours that are holding you back.

11. Therapy and Counseling. Some of us simply need more in-depth work to remove the emotional blocks and childhood programming that are holding us back. For some therapy and counseling are the answers.

Finally you must commit to lifelong learning. The amount of knowledge and information available in the world is growing at a mind-numbing pace. All human knowledge has doubled in the last 10 years. Don’t expect this trend to slow down in the next hour.

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Book Flood Without PNG Authors

First published in Steven's Window, a column in The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea.  Friday 19th, February, 2010; p.5.

The dailies, on Thursday 28th, 2010, covered the news on 20 containers of books shipped from Australia to Port Moresby and Lae for distribution to schools around the country. It sounded to me as the best news before schools began this year. From the newspaper reports I gathered that the number of books destined for primary schools is 539,000 books. It was revealed that the textbooks were funded by the Australian government through its AUSAID program in consultation with the Department of Education through its Curriculum Division. The cost involved is about K20 million to purchase, ship, and distribute the books to primary schools and teachers colleges around the country.

I applaud this commitment from the PNG government and the Australian government through their respective agencies to flood our primary schools and teachers colleges with books and reading materials. The massive book flood is very costly, yet it seems like a worthy cause to have developmental grants quickly disbursed for quick commitments.

In between the fine prints of the news on this book flood several issues remain etched uneasily in the throes of the PNG Education Department’s Curriculum Division and the AUSAID office. The amount used for purchase of books for our schools is massive.

I asked myself one question soon after reading this good news: Should some of these funds be set aside to purchase books and resource materials written by Papua New Guinean writers? Our local writers have written and published books and resource materials for use in schools. Half of what was spent on purchasing books in Australia could have been used to purchase books from local authors, reprint Papua New Guinean classics, assist local publishers in publishing and reprinting costs, and running writing, editing, and publishing courses for Papua New Guinean teachers to learn how to write, edit, and publish locally relevant materials for use in their schools.

Several local authors with excellent books appropriate for primary schools and colleges expressed disappointment that their books were ignored in the process of selection. It makes no sense to snub local authors and import books that has little relevance to the local culture and society. I have argued in some of my earlier articles that local authors must be supported by the government as well as the development partners where books and reading materials are concerned.

Many Papua New Guineans are writing books now-a-days and having them published with little support from the government. Many local writers struggle to have their first books published, let alone if they have one book published it is either because they are lucky or that by some sheer miracle they stumbled on to some charitable sources or from the personal sacrifices they have to make in order to get the book published. Some of these writers have paid local and international publishers and printers amounts between K6,000.00 and K20,000.00 to have their first 1,000 books published and printed.

That amount is difficult to recover in a scenario where the PNG Education Department’s curriculum officers become turn-coats and collude with the funding agencies to ignore the plight of Papua New Guinean authors. The problem is further compounded with the inability of the National Library to pay local authors to have their books distributed to school libraries around the country. The scenario gets even abysmal when schools and colleges pay books with bad cheques after receiving their books from an author or publisher. Bookshops and stationery shops also add to the woes and wounds of the local writer when they are unable to sell books by local authors, fail to pay for the books they ordered from the authors or publishers, and when they care less about the local literary scene. There are exceptional ones that support the works of local authors such as the UNIBookshop and Theodist Limited.

The poor attitude to local writers and the ambivalent situation of local literary art scene and book trade have a negative impact on the results expected of an Outcome Based Education. Papua New Guinea will remain handicap in the production of its own literary and school materials and the implementation of the curriculum will have a zero movement forward.

The views I express here are the sentiments I share with many Papua New Guinean writers and would be writers. I have talked to many former primary and secondary school teachers who are writing books. They want the Education Department to help them publish their books for use in their schools. The Education Department is unable to support creative endeavors and local materials production and book publishing. Perhaps one suggestion is for the Education Department to work with writers, local publishers, and printers to produce locally relevant materials for use in schools. For example, it could work with several writers, teachers, publishers, and printers to produce locally written books that get absorbed into the school curriculums. Quality local content and text could be printed on affordable paper thereby increasing the quantity of prints at minimal cost, enough to distribute a copy of one book to every school child in Papua New Guinea.

A final point to consider: Instead of developmental partners of Papua New Guinea taking back their money set aside for book purchase they should build school libraries, strengthen local book publishing capacity, and assist the government in setting up programs and projects to enable Papua New Guineans to write and publish their own books. This may sound wishful, but if we think about it, it makes sense as it involves several government departments and agencies such as the Department of Education, Department of Community Development, the National Cultural Commission, the University of Papua New Guinea, NARI, NRI, Divine Word University, and various international and church organizations. Many of them are involve in book production and publishing that a concerted effort is needed if funding is set aside for writing and book publishing. Books published in the programs and by these organizations can then be absorbed in the education system of Papua New Guinea.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

To Embellish or Not to Be

The first version appeared in Steven's Window, a column in The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea. Date: 12th February 2010.

Charles Dickens remains one of the most influential British writers of all time in many corners of the world, including ours, as revealed in an award winning novel: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones.

“I have tried to describe the events as they happened to me and my mum on the island. I have not tried to embellish. Everyone says the same thing of Dickens. They love his characters. Well, something has changed in me. As I have grown older I have fallen out of love with his characters. They are too loud, they are grotesques. But strip away their masks and you find what their creator understood about human soul and its suffering and vanity. When I told my father of my mum’s death he broke down and wept. This is when I learnt there is a place for embellishment after all. But it belongs to life—not to literature”. This is the voice of Matilda, a young Bougainvillean lass, researching her Masters thesis on Charles Dickens in England. Matilda Laimo is a fictional character in Lloyd Jones’s novel: Mister Pip (2006), published by the Text Publishing Company of Melbourne Australia. The novel went on to win the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Japan’s Kiriyama Prize, Montana Deutz medal and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
Matilda Laimo’s story began during the Bougainville Crisis of the early 1990s. Matilda grew up in the middle of the civil war where men had gone into the jungle to join the rebels or had been killed in the conflict. Matilda and her mother Dolores Laimo lived through the Crisis to experience the darkest moments of her life. Matilda’s father lives in exile in Townsville, Australia.

The other important character in the book is Mr. Watts, the only white person, the self-appointed teacher of the tiny primary school where the only textbook is the Dickens novel Great Expectations. Mr. Watts teaches the children about their lives through the word, lines, and images painted by Charles Dickens during the Victorian era in England. Dickens’ world came alive for the young children in Mr. Watt’s class.

In the beginning of the novel Matilda tells us about the background of her own life narrative in Bougainville: “during the blockade we could not waste fuel or candles. But as the rebels and redskins went on butchering one another, we had another reason for hiding under the cover of night. Mr. Watts had given us another world to spend the night in. We could escape to another place. It didn’t matter that it was Victorian England. We found we could easily get there…By the time Mr. Watts reached the end of chapter one I felt like I had been spoken to by this boy Pip. This boy who I couldn’t see to touch but knew by ear. I had found a new friend.” It was Pip who captured all her imaginations as Matilda lived through the ordeal before coming out to tell her story about that experience and the influence Mr. Watts, Mr. Pip, and Charles Dickens have on her life.

The word embellishment as used in the book captures my attention. Matilda talks about embellishment towards the end of the book. Embellishment is a noun, meaning adornment or enrichment. Adding ornaments or decorations to increase beauty of something is one meaning of the word embellish. Another meaning is to add false details to something by making an account or description more interesting by inventing or exaggerating details, and in the context of music adding ornamentation to melody such as extra notes, accents, or trills to a melody to make it more beautiful or interesting.

Matilda declares that embellishment is more true to life than it is to literature. Embellishment is the outcome of adding something to enrich what is already present. Matilda grew up with the wondrous and exciting world of Mister Pip as embellished by Mr. Watts.

Matilda discovers the place of embellishment in life in her search for the world described to her by Mr. Watts through Charles Dickens’ book. She comes to the shocking conclusion that Mister Pip’s England was never that fantastic, magical, and the fairytale world, but one which went through periods of defining moments that shaped its contemporary history. Mister. Pip’s world was stark, harsh, plain, and grim. Dickens capitalized on that experience for most of his fiction, revealing nothing of the future that England would become.

Mr. Watts, the self-appointed envoy for Charles Dickens and the bearer of Western knowledge, stubborn enough to risk his own life for the Bougainvilleans, was caught up in the armed conflict between the PNG government and Bougainvilleans. He had a lot to do with the embellishment of Charles Dickens’ world that Matilda grew up as a child to believe in.
In much the same way The Great Expectation was a window into the world of Mister Pip I think of Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip as a window into the world of Matilda, her people, and Mr. Watts’s, during the Bougainville crisis. Matilda’s escape from the dangers of the Bougainville conflict to Australia provides us a window into one of the defining moments in our history. She joins up with her father in Australia and grows up in exile from her country.

Matilda’s discovery, that embellishment belongs to life rather than literature, is our observation of life. We need also to ask how embellishment might have anything to do with our lives. Embellishment occurs the moment we adorn ourselves with underserved titles and appear powerful. Others accentuate self-importance without demonstrating the solid foundations for such titles and offices they hold. Still others make themselves look so big without evidence of productivity, progress, or substance. Our society is now saturated with such people. Striping away their masks would reveal their emptiness, hollowness, and a magnitude of fictitious lives.

At least that is one thing I learnt from reading Lloyd Jones’ Mister Pip, which gave me a new sense of appreciation of the works of Charles Dickens.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Experiences of expatriate women in PNG

The National newspaper of Papua New Guinea published first version in Steven's Window, Friday 05th February, 2010. Picture: The National newspaper.

In one of my regular visits to the University of Papua New Guinea Bookshop in recent times I came across a book: Our Time but not Our Place: Voices of Expatriate Women in Papua New Guinea. The book is edited by Myra Jean Bourke, Susanne Holsknecht, Kathy Kituai, and Linda Roach. Melbourne University Press published the book in 1993. The chance I had seeing this book for the first time, I could not resist buying it for my personal library.

I have two reasons for buying the book: First, I figured the book is useful for my research on how Papua New Guinea is constructed through the eyes of expatriates, in this case how expatriate women saw, lived, and experienced Papua New Guinea. This perspective is one that is difficult to know until it is written down as in the book. Expatriate women have varied reasons to come to Papua New Guinea. The reasons are many, but the ones around which the book features, include adventure in exotic surroundings, seeking fortunes, changing jobs, running away from unhappy situations, furthering professional or academic interests, and others came here because their partners or parents had work to do here. Some of the contributors to the book lived in Papua New Guinea since the 1930s. The book covers the stories of women from Australia, Britain, New Zealand, China, French, Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, and North America. “The writers chose to present their experiences in the form of essays, diary extracts or letters, memoires and fiction. Some focus on incidents, issues or characters while others review the entire period of their sojourn in Papua New Guinea,” according to the editors of the book.

The second reason for buying the book is that many books written about Papua New Guinea are difficult to get hold of from our end. The University of Papua New Guinea Bookshop, under Dr. John Evans’s, capable management, now sells rare and out-of print books and publications on Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. Dr. Evans, who knows more about books than anyone I know, made sure the UNI Bookshop regains its reputations as the best bookshop in the Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. A complete section holds any books and publications about Papua New Guinea and the Pacific. The UNI Bookshop is now the next place to recommend to anyone interested in books about Papua New Guinea if accessing one from the libraries in the country is impossible.

I am glad I bought the book that day. I read the book several days later during a quite time at home. I read the book backwards, beginning with the Rosalie Everest’s story “Barefoot and Free”. The story interested me because Mrs. Everest, as she was known to me, was one of my inspiring teachers in Aiyura National High School between 1982 and 1983. Mrs. Everest, the ‘local meri’—a term used by her students to differentiate her from other expatriate teachers, taught me Expressive Arts with good nature and grace. She guided me to write and illustrate my first children’s story book in 1983. For that part in my education and growth I acknowledged her in my second book of poems: Hembemba: Rivers of the Forest (2000) published by the Institute of Pacific Studies (IPS) in Fiji.

After I had read the book I pondered on how little we, Papua New Guineans, know our expatriate teachers, coworkers, helpers, mentors, friends, mates, and acquaintances. I knew Mrs. Everest for two years as her student, but hardly know the full background and the challenges she and family went through to live with us, work with us, and help us to find our place in the world. At least, Mrs. Everest, her husband Mr. Roy Everest (my biology teacher), like many well-meaning expatriates, gave their lives and time to develop our intellectual capacity without displaying frustrations, displeasure, unnecessary demands, or anger to belittle us.

I also pondered on the importance of writing books in our lives. I was lucky to have someone like Mrs. Everest encouraged and mentored me in thinking about writing books before I entered the University of Papua New Guinea. Even though the unearthing of the literary and artistic talents came early to me I refused to think that I had any talents at all. I entered the University of Papua New Guinea to study Political Science and Public Administration. It was only in the third year of my studies did I make the final decision to study Literature as a field to make a career out of.

Writing in the same book as Rosalie Everest are other expatriate women writers whose work and scholarship I have read. Among them are Mary Mennis, Lolo Houbein, and Amirah Inglis. Mary Mennis’s Hagen Saga is an indispensible text about the Catholic missionary experience in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The essay by Lolo Houbein on the theme of love in Papua New Guinean literature has been a source for several of my research papers on PNG literature. Amirah Inglis published two iconic books on colonial law and its application and misapplication: ‘Not a White Woman Safe’: Sexual Anxiety and Politics in Port Moresby 1920-1934 and Karo: The Life and Fate of a Papuan. I have never met these expatriate women writers and scholars, but their books and scholarships remain influential in the kind of research I do in literature and cultural studies in Papua New Guinea.

Books and teachers are important part of our lives. The difference they make in our lives remains permanent marks we can never erase. I gained from reading this book the importance of writing down our experiences and publishing them in books for others to know who we are and the kinds of work and challenges we face in our lives every day. I appreciate reading the essays in the book, especially the stories of Andree Millar, Mollie Parer, and especially Tan Mow Yan Hing, whose shops in Wewak had so much childhood memories locked into it.