Here in PNG, it seems that the people deal with death much more frequently than we do in the US. It may be an exaggeration, but it seems like every other week a friend of ours tells us about a death in their family.
This past week a policeman who lives here on our centre passed away. He had been living and working here for the past 20 years. When we first came here we lived right next door to him and his family. Our children often played with his children. He will be missed.
He didn't die from cancer, heart attack, or even one of those tropical diseases we deal with here. He died of an asthma attack. This is especially heartbreaking to me as I reflect on Calvin's struggles with asthma over the past couple of months.
When my son was struggling with asthma last month, we were put on an airplane and flown over the pacific ocean to Australia, met at the airport by a fully equipped ambulance, and driven to a nearby clean, fully stocked hospital with well trained doctors and nurses. Our friend, the policeman, was given some basic medicine and sent home, where he later died. Our clinic here did the best they could (they truly are an amazing group of doctors and nurses), but there is only so much that can be done here.
It's in times like these that I feel thankful for the medical resources and support we have here through our organization, but I also feel saddened and discouraged that our Papua New Guinean friends don't have the same access. In the US, have you ever heard of someone dying because of Asthma? It's possible, but It's not likely. Here, we do what we can to help our national friends with their medical needs, but sometimes it's just not enough. Our organization operates a medical clinic that serves the people who live in this valley. Often times, people walk for hours to seek medical care at our clinic. We do basic medical care, but have no hospital here. The nearest hospital, about a 20 minute drive from here, has very basic facilities and supplies. I've had friends here be admitted to the hospital only to be given pain medication and be told "We don't know what's wrong with you." I know that medical care in the US has it's problems, but the situation changes my perspective a bit.
One of the traditions here when someone dies is the "haus krai." In English, this translates to "house cry." Basically, the family and friends construct a large "house" out of bamboo and tarps. The body is placed in a wooden casket and set on a bamboo stand in the middle of the "haus krai." Family and friends come from all over to mourn and cry over the body. Often the "haus krai" can last several days. People, quite literally, sit in the "haus krai" and cry, sometimes in loud wailing, other times in quiet sobs. There's something very natural and cathartic about this process. Afterward, the body is transported back to the "as ples" or place of birth to be buried.
Matthew 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will inherit the earth.