Pacific Partnership and I have both come "home" to Papua New Guinea (PNG). I was assigned to the American Embassy in Port Moresby from 2005 until 2008, and remain fascinated by this country. Last week, we arrived to the port city of Lae, which makes PNG our most-visited Pacific Partnership country, having been part of four missions (2007, 2008, 2010, 2011). New Guinea is the second largest island in the world, divided between the Indonesian province of West Papua and the independent country of Papua New Guinea. In area and population (over 6 million), PNG dwarfs the other Pacific Island countries. It possesses natural gas and minerals which could transform the economy of the country and provide critically needed jobs, infrastructure, educational support, and health benefits.
Morobe Province Governor Luther Wenge spoke at a welcoming ceremony last week in Lae, again reminding us of the strong ties between the United States and Papua New Guinea, forged in the crucible of World War II. Governore Wenge thanked us for continuing to keep PNG at the forefront of Pacific Partnership planning, and for our emphasis on personal outreach, especially to young people and students. In alignment with local needs and local government wishes, Pacific Partnership 2011 (PP2011) Commodore Jesse Wilson and American Ambassador to PNG, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands Teddy Taylor visited several secondary schools and the Lae Poly Tech University, the country's sole technical university. The reception by students, faculty and families of the students has been uniformly gracious and enthusiastic -- at times, overwhelming so.
On May 28, I joined Ambassador Taylor and Commodore Wilson to visit two of our PP11 medical clinics near Lae. At one of them, in a settlement known as Tent City, we encountered a local man who claimed to be one hundred years old. When asked the secret of his longevity, he said he was a Lutheran and tried to live a good life. I told him I grew up in a Lutheran congregation in Seattle, and that we supported a missionary in Papua New Guinea after the war, so we already had a link from half way around the world when I was only ten years old. Life has a way of doubling back, reminding us of our interconnectedness.
We also attended a Navy band performance at Lae's outdoor Kilege stadium, an impressive venue attended by several thousand people, mostly families enjoying a beautiful Saturday afternoon listening to this high-octane band that had floated into town on the USS Cleveland. Two local bands took over the Navy band's instruments for a set, which the audience applauded wildly. As always, the time seemed to pass too quickly, but we departed with a commitment to do this again. We don't want to lose this connection.