The man standing in the middle of the road was obviously drunk. Not the happy, everybody is my friend kind of drunk either. He was puffed chest bully drunk.
The drunk man put out his hand and our taksi driver stopped and opened his window. Oh no! Why is he stopping? He should keep going! I thought. Our driver spoke a few calm words to the drunk man and then started to pull away. Whap! The man's fist came down hard on the hood. The driver stopped again, this time he offered the drunk some money. After a bit of arguing back and forth our taksi driver gave more cash and the drunk man stumbled off to harass another vehicle.
I looked towards the back, my fellow passengers all shared the same sombre expressions. Their faces downcast with sadness. What on earth was all that about? I wondered.
I told this story to an expat friend who explained, "Oh the people here hate confrontation so much that they give in to the drunks. If a drunk person comes to a restaurant they would sit them down and give them food rather than throwing them out."
This kind of treatment of angry addicts is completely contrary to that of my own society. An aggressive drunk wandering into a restaurant in the US would be thrown out and if they didn't go willingly security would be called. A drunk on the road would be ignored and quickly driven past, despite any attempts to stop the vehicle. I had no reference point for the kind of response given by my taksi driver.
A few days later I told a Papuan friend about what happened. He replied, "Yes, I know it's bad. All the people feel this situation is bad. You see, alcohol was introduced here from the outside. It did not exist in Papua. The people do not know how to handle it." He went on to talk about peace, and hospitality, and avoiding unnecessary conflicts. "If you come to a drunk person, just try to make it smooth. Don't cause a disagreement. It is better this way."
Later that evening, still mulling over the conversations with my expat and Papuan friends, verses like Proverbs 19:11 came to mind, "A man's discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression." And Proverbs 20:3 "Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man, but any fool will quarrel."
It is so easy for me to jump to the comfort of my own personal and cultural response. To think, That person is in wrong and they shouldn't even be given the time of day! Or get them out of here! Someone call security! But now wonder if I wouldn't simply fall into the "any fool will quarrel" category.
I recently wrote a post about walking in Post 7, a neighbourhood notorious for problems with drunks, against the advice of other expats. Our strategy then had been to avoid any signs of trouble. We would turn around and walk the other way. We would have left the situation, not indulge or engage it.
I have no insight and make no claims for or against my own personal or cultural response. What do I take away from this? Only that I exchange the comfort of self righteous judgement for the sadness shared by my fellow passengers. Perhaps together we will find a way.
What would you do?