Author: John E. Quinlan
Publisher: MCP Books
Author: John E. Quinlan
Publisher: MCP Books
John E. Quinlan's memoir, Tau Bada: The Quest and Memoir Of A Vulnerable Man is set in Papua New Guinea, located just south of the equator, 160 km north of Australia. It is here where we find over six hundred islands and more than eight hundred indigenous languages. It is also home to the largest area of intact rain forest outside of the Amazon. Politically, it consists of four regions that are made up of twenty-two provinces and the National Capital District and each of which has its own special character and cultures.
The introduction to the memoir John informs his readers that he wishes to seek refuge from public and personal humiliation after his dismissal from a publicly traded company in 1985. Prior to being cast aside, John had been a successful management consultant and an executive coach who enjoyed all of the materialistic perks that goes along with the job, but also included a hedonistic life style as well as the self-deception and self-absorption that ran high.
After a failed second marriage, riding on his Harley Davidson, John embarks on a cross-country motorcycle trip in August 1999 from his home in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. During his trip he meets Fiona Delaney, who is from Papua New Guinea and who becomes his third wife.
At the time, John never heard of Papua New Guinea and as he becomes more acquainted with Fiona he learns that she has three daughters and is on the way out of a bad marriage. She was living in New York City and when he invited her to go on a motorcycle ride, her response was immediate, but only if it was a Harley. As he recounts, this small exchange marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life, probably one he would never have dreamed about. Meeting Fiona was a game changer and one that would lead to a new path where he would view himself differently within this world.
Smitten with love for Fiona, John decides to join her in Cairns, Australia and celebrate Christmas with her daughters in New Britain, Papua New Guinea. It is here where he is named by the locals, Tau Bada (Big White Man).
Eventually, the couple try their luck with their first business venture, a lobster and fishing company, which unfortunately ended in a bad fiasco. In February of 2007 they marry and make Tabuane their home base. They were the first white people to ever be married in the village and it should be noted that it was not too long ago that this would never have taken place. In fact, they may have be eaten alive as this neck of the woods was known for its cannibalism.
Their second business venture focused on building Java Mama, which means good coffee, a locally based certified organic coffee enterprise. They were also involved in building a chilies business. The altruistic goal was to help the residents of Papua New Guinea enjoy the fruits of their labor that had been denied them for many years.
Living in Tabuane, John was becoming a member of the community and was being assimilated, though still an outsider and was viewed as the outside boss. And even though at times they were warmly welcomed by farmers and villagers as they crossed the rivers, valleys and mountains of Papua, mounting financial problems, isolationism, corruption, thefts committed by managers stealing payroll funds, cyclones, violence, road wash outs, tribal intrusions, killings in Tabuane, and the threats to their lives all took their toll. In addition, they had also to contend with village sorcerers who demanded that their advice, warnings, threats and poisonings be heeded. This certainly was a recipe for disaster and disappointment, even though John tried putting into practice all of his business skills to help resolve personal, social and cultural upheavals.
Rich in geographical detail, anxiety, longing, and sometimes confusion, Quinlan's memoir is a testament to his tenacity and courage in his choice and belief that there was a sense of destiny to his efforts that led to life-altering decisions. By putting his experiences and reinvention of himself into a colorful narrative Quinlan has given a meaning to the life he lived prior to taking up residence in Papua New Guinea as well as during the time he was there. And I guess one of the lessons to take home here is that deciding to make a major life change does not mean that your world will fall apart, no matter that the outcome may not be as planned.