Dana Jensen lives with her husband in the region of Bougainville. I met Dana through my beloved Mandy Furlong and was so blessed by her story, her journey, her deep steadfastness and wisdom. I can’t wait for you all to hear what she has to say in these interesting times:
Dana! For those who don’t know you, Could you describe yourself and what you do?
“Hi Christine! I have been married to Kent for 26 years and we have two children, a son Zac who is married to Stefanie, and a daughter Aimee. I love them all dearly. Oh I am also an artist! I grew up in Brisbane and spent most of my life there, but have lived in Fiji, spent two years at Bethel School of Ministry in Redding, California and my favourite things are deep conversations with friends, transformation, missions, and the local church has my heart.“
You live in Bouganville. I had to google that to even find out where it is! What led you to go there, and what is it like to live there?
Yes, we currently live in Arawa, Central Bougainville. Bougainville is the northernmost island of the Solomon Island chain and is technically a part of Papua New Guinea but they are seeking independence. Last year they had a referendum and Bougainvillians voted 98% in favour of becoming independent from Papua New Guinea. To gain it is a complex process and may take years. My husband felt led to come here about 8 years ago. (His family has been coming to the island since about 2000, his dad was adopted into a tribe here, and both of us had visited on ministry trips.)
I have to admit it took me a bit to agree to come here! But I surrendered it to the Lord and said YES to God in 2014. We made the move in stages. Finally in 2017 as I arrived in Port Moresby to join Kent permanently, he was critically injured in an accident. Just over 12 months later after an intense year of operations and recovery, we finally made it back to Bougainville in May 2018. Life here is mostly good. Bougainville has been through a civil war and it is still recovering from it 30 years later. Although it’s a beautiful place to live – it is quite rough around the edges 🙂 Any day could look like, no power, no water, and no network – on a really bad day all three are off! But the beauty of our surroundings definitely help – we are closely surrounded by mountains and the beach. Stunning. The people are very friendly. Our town is a few thousand locals, who mostly tend to head back to their villages on the weekends. It’s a pretty unique place.
In this time where we are intentionally social distancing, we are all feeling the effects of being physically disconnected from each other, work colleagues, family, friends and society. However, you have been dealing with this, to some degree, I would imagine, since you moved to Bougainville. What has this been like for you? How have you remained connected? Have you been able to find deep connections where you are? How do you keep loneliness at bay being so far away from friends, family, children, and other connections?
This has been very challenging. And probably one of the main differences I can see between our two cultures. As I mentioned earlier the network can go off here, but at best it is extremely slow and unreliable so keeping in contact with our family and friends is really hard. Video calling and even just phone calls break up and end up being frustrating. We have found that using Messenger and email is the easiest form of communication. Which is extremely hard when our family or friends are having a tough time, or we need a pick me up here.
As for relationships here, people are generally very friendly. Those who are confident in their English will readily strike up a conversation with you to find out where you are from. And EVERYONE somehow knows your name! 🙂 Though a lot of the time I’m just called White Meri (white lady). It’s not offensive and I find it SO cute and endearing when the young children sing out in the street to me as I walk past. We have a handful of good solid people here that we connect with. We haven’t found it to be part of the culture to have people around for coffee or meals to build relationships as we do in Australia. There are no coffee shops here either! 🙂
I have to admit at times it has definitely been a struggle for both of us to keep the loneliness at bay. When it’s really tough I reach out to my friends via Messenger generally, and pull on my relationship with Jesus – that is a biggie. He is always so faithful to me.
What has it been like where you are in light of coronavirus? Has it affected you and your husband and if so in what ways? Has it affected the community around you?
I believe coronavirus has touched everyone, even us on our little island. We currently have no confirmed cases here – praise God. Kent was in Australia for a couple of weeks mid-March, just as things were intensifying around the world, he managed to get back to Bougainville before the borders closed on both countries. A State of Emergency was declared which meant a change of rules and regulations for everyone. Kent had been getting around town and had felt tensions arising toward him. (Locals had heard he’d just returned from Aus and were scared he had the virus.) We were visited by police and medical officers and Kent was forced into 21 days of quarantine at the house – but more like house arrest with regular visits from the police and medical officers!
The big problem is the lack of information and education on the virus and access to it. Fear comes from lack of knowledge. So the locals are afraid and don’t understand fully about the virus, so they take their fear out on whoever they can blame. I have been posting printed information at my shop so people can read it and be informed.
With the state of emergency rules, they have shut down all of the fresh fruit and vegetable markets. The main market is a crowded space so this makes sense in the light of social distancing. Our other 2 street markets are open-air and less congested but are still closed. This creates a number of issues. We rely on these markets to get ALL of our fresh produce from. It is not sold in the supermarkets. So we have limited access to it and need to drive a fair way out of town to buy it. It also means that families who sell these market goods, no longer have an income. It is also driving ‘illegal’ side markets all over town! Locals mostly eat this product that they call ‘garden foods’ – taro, sweet potato, tapioca, Choko vines, plantain bananas etc. They are relatively cheap to buy and filling for large Melanesian families here. The regulations have also closed our only bakery. No bread. Definitely everyone in our town is feeling it and from what I hear all of Bougainville is as well.
What is the community in which you live like? Can you tell us a little about their culture, how they live their lives and what it is like to live there?
Bougainvillian people are really incredible. Such a strong people group. My admiration for them comes from the civil war or ‘crisis’, as it’s called here, that they went through for a decade from 1989. The second-largest open-cut copper mine in the world was operating here from the late 1960s owned by Australians with many ex-pat workers living and working here. The crisis erupted when pollution from the mine destroyed a river which was the livelihood and nourishment of many villages downstream. PNG government was also taking the profits and not giving back to the island. Finally, the local people had enough of the abuse of their land, rose up and drove the company and its workers out of Bougainville through warfare. PNG called on Australia for military assistance to get the Bougainville Revolutionary Army under control. They even put an embargo around the island to try and starve the people out – such a shame on Australia to be involved in this and even now Australians are viewed with great scrutiny – it didn’t work. Bougainvillians survived 10 years living in the mountains eating their garden foods. In 1999 a peace agreement was drawn, arms were laid down and the country could start to recover from the trauma. Now 20 years on, it is still recover- ing.
Before the crisis, Arawa was like a really good small Australian town. Supermarkets with everything, banks, pharmacies, cinemas, squash courts, golf courses, world-class yacht club, even million-dollar waterfront homes for the executives! But all of that was destroyed during the war. Buildings burnt, looted and materials salvaged to make weapons.
Most of the houses in the town which were built and owned by the mining company in the 60s are still as they were when the crisis started. Australian style chamfer board houses. Chickens roam freely around the streets. Most of the houses even though they have kitchens inside will have an outside cook-house where the majority of the cooking is done over a fire. Washing is strung wherever a piece of the line can be hooked between 2 stationery objects. Locals tend to sit outside and underneath the 2 storey houses. Talking story and watching what’s happening around them.
What is the best part about living where you are?
I love being out of the ‘rat race’. I do love Australia and being home in Brisbane, but I don’t miss the traffic and stress that comes with our western lifestyle. We don’t even have a traffic light here in Arawa – and even the stop signs are optional at best!! 🙂 I love being near water and having spectacular mountains around. I find it extremely good for the soul. Not everyone can handle the humidity and heat, but I love it!
What is the hardest part about living where you are?
Besides all of the other challenges I have listed, hands down the hardest part of living here is being away from family and friends, closely followed by not having church and that community and spiritual input here.
What does a regular normal day look for you right now?
At the moment with SoE (state of emergency) regulations it looks very different. It starts with coffee with Kent. We brought a Nespresso machine with us – and each trip back to Aus sees us restocking our supply of pods!! – I know for some coffee aficionados this might be horrifying, haha but for us it’s a little cup of sunshine to start the day! I then head off to the second-hand store to meet my store assistant. Our store is only allowed to open from 10-3, its a very small space but we have very good quality clothing and goods at reasonable prices so I have a consistent business and I love getting to help and meet new people and catch up with my regular customers. It’s very laid back and I enjoy it! When it’s not busy we hang on the veranda and people watch. 🙂
We have 60 layer chickens here which we sell the eggs locally. The majority of the fresh eggs come in on ships and are expensive. So Kent currently is preparing to incubate some more eggs for our crossbreeding project. We will be able to sell these layer chicks to locals – currently, they have to be flown in from PNG and are very expensive and many chicks die during transit. This is a much-needed market here. Kent also looks after chicken killing and processing which is all on hold at the moment.
What kind of produce is available to you where you are? Do you try and eat a healthy diet, or is that hard to maintain living remote?
The produce here is incredible. We have access to seasonal organic, picked daily, vine/tree-ripened fruits and vegetables. And it is all very cheap. Honestly, some of the sizes of the produce here has to be seen to be believed. The only downside is that the variety and choices available are not huge. We tend not to eat a lot of what the locals enjoy as they are starchy tasteless carbohydrates – sweet potato (kaukau), taro, plantain bananas, yams, and a variety of unrecognisable greens and vines! The produce that you would be familiar with is spring onions, capsicums, tomatoes, eggplant, ginger, beans, mandarins, paw-paw (these are absolutely huge), giant avocados (see below!), coconuts both green for drinking (kulau) and brown for coconut milk/cream. In saying that it is still tricky to continue to eat healthy without being bored with the same foods. We usually bring back spices from Aus so that we can keep our cooking interesting. They cook very plainly here. Most foods either boiled in water or coconut milk. And flavour added by salt or chicken stock cube. Also, everything we cook is from scratch – no pre-prepared foods here – or very limited – so in that way it is healthy in that we can control what we put in it. There are a lot of sugary drinks and being hot it is easy to consume too many. A big part of the diabetic problem in the Melanesian culture, as well as the cheap store foods, are really bad. The main supermarkets here usually have huge supplies of rice, tinned fish (tuna or mackerel) and two minute noodles, and not a lot else.
I like to make curries and we ended up with a 20l bucket of red lentils (from a doomsday prepper who decided Armageddon wasn’t happening! True story) and we sent it up in a shipping container – I discovered them recently so I’ve been getting creative with them! 🙂 Protein is limited and expensive. Mostly chicken, a little bit of lamb and pork. We are lucky at the moment that the supermarket has some frozen mixed vegetable available while the markets are closed.
What does Owning your health mean to you, especially in light of coronavirus?
Owning your health is taking responsibility for my current physical and spiritual wellbeing and maintaining it whatever the situation and circumstance we may be currently facing: and adapting to those situations as necessary. And using whatever resources we have access to. We have a few more freedoms here at the moment compared to, but Kent was using concrete blocks and old car parts to stay fit while in quarantine! Owning my health is being true to who I am. I believe we are to have self-control and do our best to be healthy through our diet and exercise so that we can be at our best for God’s use in expanding His Kingdom.
What a fascinating woman, such an inspiration. Dana, we bless all that you do!
Beloveds, let’s own our health, no matter what the season, or what the challenge.
You are richly cherished and loved.
Dr Christine Greenwood
Own Your Health – Changing the way you Think, Eat and Live
Huge news… Hot Cross Buns were on sale at Coles this week. Oh my goodness. I nearly died with delight. Seriously. There was Choc chip and there was traditional. Oh yeah, It MADE my day! Snapped them up with some real butter. Oh, I love them so much. Why are they so delicious?