The following anecdotes, written by cooperants and interns in country, have been provided to give candidates and newcomers a sense of what it is like to live in PNG. This was thought to be a more effective means of conveying ‘security concerns’ rather than preaching or down playing the issue. In addition, to the negative aspects of life in PNG (such as security), the practical (such as shopping) and the positive (and bizarre!!) aspects of life in PNG have also been highlighted. Please note that some cooperants have asked that these anecdotes be for your use and orientation only. As many of the contributors are still in-country they (or at least some) feel that these should not be distributed or retold.
We haven’t had any big problems with grocery stores - we
have, however; had to adjust our eating habits somewhat. For example, we cannot
get fresh milk, peanut butter, ground beef, and those sorts of things, but
plenty of alternatives are still readily available: chicken, rice . . . the
closest thing we can find to jam is this stuff called “jem buah buah” or
something similar to that anyway – not bad though =). The grocery stores here
check everybody’s shopping bags and receipts . . . except ours, we just get
waved through - it’s a little bothersome, being made a special case – but you
get used to it.
We’ve found the best time to go shopping in Kainantu is early in the morning – 9:00 or so. If it’s raining – even better! The crowds that mill about on warm afternoons can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re the shy type like me.
Markets are great – however there was a few armed hold ups and gunfire exchanges in ours during coffee season. The variety of vegetables in the highlands market is wonderful – onions, carrots, kaukau, oranges, bananas – you name it.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
I am getting more used to going out into town to do basic shopping for groceries. The first little while, I felt tense just going to buy food with everyone staring. There are a few different markets around, but we usually go to the one. The selection of items to buy is fairly limited(compared to home) but we get by.
I sometimes feel a little uneasy buying a lot of items to carry back to the school. It is kind of like displaying our wealth.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
No problems, without bars or restaurants or shopping malls in Kainantu – we basically only spend money on food, and the prices are quite reasonable.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
This isn’t a problem. Most expenses are covered for us. We basically pay for food, lights, and any other personal things. We haven’t gotten a light bill yet. There isn’t a whole lot to spend money on in Kainantu either.
We used to wait for expensive items in the supermarkets in Goroka to expire (ie: cheese, home brew kits, etc). Then we would ‘rush’ the store and stock up (you had to beat your friends in before they bought the stock out). One day off the expiration date and the items were half price. They have since stopped this policy I think. They got wise to us. Those were the days though…
When prices were steadily rising (from week to week) last year there was quite a bit of the ‘hoard’ mentality. Cereal for example, would be K10 one week and the next K15 and so on. Now it hovers at approx K18 ($CAD 9 approx) depending on the brand. We can only afford Wheat Bix, which no one particularly likes but it’s healthy. Cereal is considered a “luxury item” here.
I’m definitely loosing weight, but it’s not from lack of eating. There’s plenty of food to buy. We mostly eat KauKau (sweet potato), rice, lamb, and chicken which are all available at the markets. Hamburger, cheese, peanut butter, and some other nice North American delicacies are pretty hard to find in Kainantu. The markets usually only sell what is needed by the locals.
We have been invited to several mumus in our time here, some of the most memorable being in the village near our old house in Goroka. There was the “ass bean” mumu, which occurred during a muddier period in Goroka. We all sat around in the mud (not exactly true as we were given the coconut scraper to sit on..) and the ‘ass beans’ were pulled out of the pit where they were cooked along with kumu (greens) and some lamb flaps (fatty stomach lining bits of a sheep from what I can make out). The ass bean is basically pulled out of the ground and deposited in the pit. It is then up to the eater to peel the dirt off and eat (you tend to eat quite a bit of dirt doing this however). Yum, yum…actually the greens taste outstanding and our kids have acquired considerable appreciation for a good mumu!
Trips to the bank
The atms are just as straight-forward as anywhere else in the world – there’s only one in Kainantu and it’s working most of the time. Alternatively, the Papindo grocery store here takes PNGBC Save cards (you have to make a purchase though – about K10). While in the Bank, if you have to go to the counter you’d best give yourself 1-2 hours lee-way – I have to make monthly CC payments, which means a great big TTY International Transaction form to fill out every time. You stand at the counter forever, and there’s no personal space - people will lean in right next to you and read everything on your form – pretty unnerving sometimes! – The same lessons we’ve learned from groceries apply here . . . ie, go in the morning.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
Taking out money is not a problem if you get to the bank at the right time. If it is busy, the wait in line can take a long time, either inside or at the ATM. People watch you make your transactions. I try to get my money and get it inside my pocket and out of sight as quickly as possible. I could be overreacting though.
One of the first things I did when I got to my posting was go open my bank account. I was told I ought to get the "All-In-One" account. I asked if this account had checks and a bank card, and I was told that it did and so I filled in all the paper work to open this account. I was then told I should come back the following day to pick up my check book. I was impressed at the efficiency of the bank, and thought perhaps all the
stories I had heard to the contrary had been exaggerations.
I returned the following day to pick up my check book, only to have a puzzled teller tell me that "All-In-One" accounts did not get check books. If I wanted a check book I would need to get a checking account, but I could not do the transfer that day because it was a Tuesday. I should come back on a Thursday. The following Thursday I came back to find an early rush on the pay Friday theme, and bank line ups that extended out the door. I decided to return the following week.
When I did transfer the account, I got a check book and put in a request for a bank card. That was October, it is now July and I still have not seen the bank card, in spite of my repeated requests and enquiries.
In order to avoid the bank lineups I write all my checks at stores for an amount greater than that which I owe, and get the change.
Never get cross even when you feel like blowing your stack. Instead, take a deep breath and smile. Ask about the family. Service providers are accustomed to expats being rude, demanding and abrupt. They may actually encourage this behaviour. Don’t fall for it. Cultivate their friendship instead. Bring buai. You might as well be friends, as you will probably have to visit the office daily to ensure that whatever you are trying to get done gets done.
If there is a form to fill out, do not assume that the form will go anywhere. You may have to fill the form in several times before it reaches its target.
It was a little hectic dealing with the computer providers. They were unorganized, late, and didn’t have everything put together correctly. We waited in Goroka all day for them to have the computers ready when they were supposed to be ready when we got there. They told us they were ready. It can be a long ordeal at the bank sometimes also, but it’s not too bad.
The school is pretty large – we have about a 5-10 minute walk from our house to the computer lab, which we do about 3-4 times each way every day. (morning, recess, dinner, supper, etc…). We also have access to a soccer field, squash and basketball courts – so no problems getting a workout.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
I teach yoga to a group of women in Madang. We follow a book as none of us really know what we are doing (including me). We don’t get that much inner enrichment (ie: connection to our spiritual sides) from the experience but we do manage a good work out and are able to exercise our jaws between positions.
There’s no sugar-coating that one – basically we get stared at by a couple hundred eyes every day. People on the street will sometimes stop talking to the person next to them and pivot on their heel to watch you go past. You get “sort of” used to it. The up side is that most of the 900 students here seem used to us now, as the staring inside school grounds has pretty much disappeared. We still get laughed at pretty regularly – let’s face it folks, a couple of pasty east coast Canadians wandering around the highlands of PNG are a comical site. =)
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
On far too many occasions I have been greeted at work with "Monin. So you went out for dinner last night. How was the fish?" or "I heard you when out for dinner with a new friend last night." In casual conversations with my neighbour I came to the realisation that she knew exactly who came and visited me, when they came, and when they left my house.
Folks like "col wara", and so usually like containers to put water in any refrigerator they have access to. They usually use plastic bottles as those are most common - however large glass bottles are particularly sought. I had been asked by several people to please collect any strong plastic or glass bottles for them.
I collected all my bottles for just this purpose, among which were a couple two L wine bottles. I brought a couple of plastic bags full of bottles to the people who had asked me for them. They were very happy that I had come through for them, and began to look through the bags. When they saw the wine bottles they asked me somewhat surprised if I drank. The tone of voice was somewhere between accusatory and teasing, as if they now knew some dirty little secret about me.
When purchasing wine or beer to take home I often found the same reaction. After a while I realised that men did not receive this kind of response. Since then I ask male friends to make my alcohol purchases for me, and I now dispose of the evidence of my consumption, rather than give out the bottles. The leaps and assumptions that are made are just not worth it.
The people of the community pretty much all know who we are now and they seem very pleased with what we are doing. A lot of people recognize us out in town and always give us a wave and hello.
I was once driving home with a friend after dinner when we saw a couple by the side of the road signaling for us to slow down. A kitten was sitting in the middle of the road, so we slowed down. We assumed that the couple was trying to rescue their pet. The woman crossed the road in front of thecar, picked up the kitten by the scruff of the neck and flung it into the bushes on the side of the road, some eight meters away. "tank yu" we said to them as we drove off a little confused and rather taken aback.
We were preparing for Christmas our first year in Goroka—we had gotten chickens and a ham that we planned to roast with some of the neighbours. It appeared that some of the villagers near our house had similar plans: the Doberman Pincher, “Benji” who lived beside us (a dear friend of mine), went missing about this time and rumour had it (confirmed by many), he ended up as Christmas roast in the village up the road.
A few months later, in our same neighbourhood, another dog, an old and regal husky, was walked home by youths tied up on a stick (like a spit). They marched the dog through the “security gate” and up to the house of our neighbour where they demanded money for the release of the dog. If they did not get what they wanted this dog too would go the way of Benji. The woman said she would get her husband to deal with them—they replied—“we know he is not here”. Yikes! She went in the house and produced K100. The ruffled husky was promptly returned and the youths disappeared with their money.
We never got a dog, but did end up with a cat that was presented to my daughter one day. Cats are also considered fair game in the highlands (one pot meals), but good ‘ol Jake still lives on in Madang. He is scarred from a neighbourhood child ripping his mouth off when he was a kitten. We came home to find the little guy with his skin hanging around his neck. The local “vet” (for horses and cows) tied his mouth on to his teeth but this did not heal well.
I haven’t seen any cases of all out abuse, but animals like dogs are treated more as guards than pets, so people won’t be playing fetch the stick with them. If the dog is treated like a pet, it will become too people friendly and won’t make a good guard dog. The animals do for the most part, look quite clean and healthy though.
Well . . . that’s not why we came is it? Honestly though, you have to be prepared to make your own fun. We have some great neighbors who’ve included us in a few mumus and guitar-n-bia (beer) get-togethers, but most of the time your on your own – so a deck of cards or an old acoustic (or whatever instrument you might play) are definitely must-haves!
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
1) get ten bigpela cans of SP (beer)
2) fill em up with sand and pack it in with water
3) place the ten cans in a triangle
o o o
o o o o
4) get a coconut (don't worry if it is not perfectly spherical)
5) whip the coconut against the cans so they all fall down
6) from this point, same rules as regular bowling apply
note: if you want to get high tech, get some plastic coke bottles and have your big VSO friend fill em with
cement... good fun for both bowling and throwing at pmv's!!!!
Port Moresby, NCD
I find we have to make our own entertainment. There’s not much to do here. The lodge is up on the hill, but we don’t get there very much. Socially, we are making very good friends with many of the other teachers and people living in the school campus. We have been to a few mumus and sometimes some of us will sit around with the guitars. There aren’t many other expats where we are. There is one in Aiyura and a few in Goroka who we get to see once in awhile which is nice.
The school is pretty self contained – and if we need groceries we can walk to the grocery store in town (about 10 minutes). To get from here to any other major center (Goroka, Madang, etc) you’d need to grab a pmv. They are crowded and dirty, yes, but from our experiences they are quite safe. (we’ve been to Goroka, approx 1.5 hours, and Madang, approx 6 hours) If you are going to travel by pmv make sure you show up EARLY.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
We walk mostly since we are usually just in town. For trips to Aiyura or Goroka, we can usually go on the school truck if anyone else is going. For any other trips, we have to take a PMV. The small minivan PMVs are good to take, the larger ones are not. They are jammed full of everything once they have finally driven around for hours picking up half the town and their belongings. This was the case taking a large PMV from Madang to Kainantu anyway. It’s an adventure.
Sense of Security and Life Behind Bars
There’s two of us, and we rarely travel alone – at least
outside of the school. We had an incident in Goroka – we waited too long to walk
from one location to another and it was dark by the time we got halfway there –
thanks to a good Samaritan we narrowly avoided getting robbed by a gang of
Inside the school we feel quite safe – there’s a network of teachers living all around us, the police make regular patrols around town and the school has security. From time to time the alarm will blare, you lock your doors and listen to the guards chase out some boys from the street. There have been a few incidents involving armed men sighted on school grounds, however they’ve been handily chased out as well.
Kainantu, Eastern Highlands Province
When we came to Madang (from Goroka) for holiday with my folks, we wanted to go to the Chinese restaurant, which was a (large) block away from the hotel. We asked about getting there and people repeatedly said, walk. But we persisted, how could we walk after dark? They said, don’t worry it is fine and we walked. It was the first time we had walked after dark in over a year. It felt weird and unsafe. This place trains you well I suppose. Now we live in Madang, and we don’t walk after dark—why risk it.
Other than my generally well-founded paranoia about walking after dark, I have had no major security incidences (a few drunk guys harassing me, nothing more).
[There was a] shooting incident the other day [involving a bun truck] - I'm not sure if they caught the guy or not, I think so. Since then the bun truck has been held up again, this time a few doors down from us, on the street in front of our house (yup, inside the [school] compound).
During their morning bun-run to the teachers’ area, some armed guys stopped the truck and got away with the cash - in broad daylight. Seems the local "entrepreneurs" are testing their boundaries a little bit…
We'll keep our eyes open!
B. Hickman & P. MacDougall
I rarely feel like I’m in any personal danger. I don’t feel like anyone is out to get me, but they may be out to get my belongings and I could have an unpleasant experience in the process. There is crime in Kainantu and we hear gunblasts off in the distance regularly. There have been four armed holdups in the school since we got here, but again I don’t feel in danger as long as I‘m inside and the door is locked. There is a community of teachers and their families living all around us which makes for a much more secure feeling.
It bothers me that I cannot go outside (any distance anyway) at nighttime. I’d like to be able to walk down street safely at any time of day or night.
Scariest or funniest experience
Hmm, there’s been a lot of interesting things to report . . . perhaps getting arrested for littering in Madang would rank up there as my most traumatic experience =). My own dumb fault – dropped a cigarette butt on the ground and was immediately face to face with an angry town councilman – he didn’t have any ID so my friends (pidgin language instructors) argued that he couldn’t take me away. He agreed to let me travel on in the company of my friends, as long as we went straight to the council office to pay the fine – K20. We agreed, then acting on the advice of my friends we decide the guy is a phony (no ID = “entrepreneur”) so we take-off. However, we stopped for a few minutes in a grocery store on the other end of town – I’m standing in an aisle by myself when this guy comes in, and boy is he angry – I had become separated from my companions in the grocery store and had to leave by myself with the councilman. To make a long story short, it cost me K70 – 20 for littering, 50 for obstructing an officer! Well it certainly wizened me up . . . I’m not the type who would normally litter, however looking around at the rubbish on the street that day I made an ignorant assumption, and was taught a lesson =)
The scariest was in Goroka about a month ago. We were walking up to The Bird of Paradise Hotel. It was bright when we left, but the walk was longer than we thought it would be and it got dark. There were a lot of people hanging around watching us. When we were crossing the street, this guy came running up to us huffing and puffing. He told us that we were in trouble and that we were targeted for a robbery. It was difficult to understand what he was saying. He said that we would be safe with him and that he'd take us to the hotel. My first thought was that this was a con man and he was leading us into the lion’s den. We went through a dark park full of people and my heart was pounding. I was thinking that we really got ourselves into a situation this time. The young man pointed out the people who were after us and we made it to The Bird quite safely.
There are too many funny experiences to count. One of them was the old man chasing the guy around Kainantu with a wooden stick and everybody was laughing at him.
The whole teachers’ strike thing going on is pretty bizarre. Everything changes so quickly. You never know what to expect.
I was on a flight from Goroka to Lae when a Kiwi beside me started to chat about his work—ya, ya, ya. Then he told me a truly amazing story about losing his wallet in PNG. It went something like this: The guy was in the Lae airport when someone walked up and said ‘sir, you have lost your wallet’. The Kiwi quickly started fumbling in his pockets and sure enough, he had lost his wallet. The man said, ‘don’t worry, you are going to Goroka?’ When the Kiwi responded affirmatively, the man said ‘we’ll have one of our pilots collect your wallet (I think it was in Madang) and drop it off in Goroka.’ The man was despondent, all of his credit cards and money had been in the wallet, but what could he do. He got on the plane for Goroka. As he was getting off of the plane (in Goroka) another plane came swooping down over the runway, a window was opened and a package was thrown out.
It was the Kiwi’s wallet. All of his money—and credit cards were there.
I was in the back seat of my organisation's pick-up, with the director and a senior male in the front and two women out in the bed of the truck. We were driving no more than 200 meters from my house, past a corner where a raskol had recently been buried. The mourning period for this particular individual had been exceedingly long, and the grave was frequented at night by the town raskols, but usually during the day was pretty clear.
On this particular morning a few stragglers, who had obviously been drinking far too much were still hanging around. One individual lay, passed-out, across the road, blocking the path of vehicles. The other three individuals came and began to reach into the car on the director's side. I could see that both of the guys in the front were nervous, and my boss, having recently had his jaw broken by some army guys, was not about to pick a fight. He tried making small talk and asking them to please clear their friend off the road. The hot air inside the car was thick with the smell of booze. They would not move their friend, and instead they began playing with the director's face. The director moved the car forward a little, and the guys outside only reached further into the car. One of them shifted hisattention to me and began calling my name and saying that all he wanted was to shake my hand. I did not know who he was, but he obviously knew who I was. A couple of other guys jumped up into the bed of the truck with the two women. The director again inched the car forward and suggested that they remove their friend from the road. The guy at my window had practically inserted his upper body through the rear window and continued to insist that he just wanted to be my friend.
Eventually I gave him a very fast five (slap on the hand), thinking that at least this way he would not be holding my hand and thus could not pull me. The director convinced them eventually to take their friend off the road. They picked him up and in the process of carrying him off the road, pulled off his pants.
We drove off with the two guys still in the truck bed.
I came back home from work one day to find a bottle of my wine and a flashlight missing. I found this most bizarre, as I was living in a place adjacent to a family, with two large and noisy dogs in the yard and which
ostensibly was one of the safest places in the area. As all they took was only about 30 kina worth of stuff, I thought I'd inform the landlord but not take things any further. As there was no sign of forced entry, and
as the dogs bark at strangers, the culprit had to be a wantok who was well known to the dogs. I agreed with my landlord that a family meeting ought to be enough to stop this from happening again.
A few days later I got home to find my short wave radio, and 300 kina gone from my closet. This time I was more upset, and informed the landlord. I said to the land lord that I wanted the keys changed, as somebody obviously had a copy. He agreed, but did not do anything about it until I said I would go buy the locks and give him the receipt. The following day he arrived with the locks, but he had still not found someone to change them.
Whoever it was that was going in my house went in one last time and took some other minor items before I found out that a friend of mine knew how to change locks. I asked him if he could give me a hand changing the locks, and we agreed that the following day he would search for some tools and change my lock.
He arrived the following day with some tools but not the exact ones he needed to do the job easily. He began working away at the lock in the sun. After a few hours of battling with a dull saw, an inadequate work space and the midday heat, I was feeling incredibly guilty about having asked him to do me this favour. Although exasperated, he insisted that he would finish the job. I looked over at his partner who signaled me to let him be, as once he had started a project he was going to finish it. Half an hour and a
bucket of sweat later, I again said that perhaps it would be better to just leave it for now, and that the following day I would pressure the landlord into getting the locksmith. "No, no, no" he said, he was determined to finish the job - which after several more hours and much sweat, he did.
That same night, around 10 or 11, I heard a key insert itself into the newly changed key hole. Whoever it was, shook the key around a bit, realised the lock had been changed and withdrew the key. Not having a peep hole or a window with a view of the door, I never found out who it had been. What I do know is that experience ought to have taught this person that if they wanted to take things from the house, daytime was the best time to do it, as nobody would be home. At 10 or 11 pm, I can only assume that different ideas must have crossed his mind.
Finding orchids on our walks through the bush—you have to really pay attention or you’ll miss them. Bird watching: never interested me before until I saw hornbills flying—they are magnificent. My new goal is to see some live Birds of Paradise—so far I have only seen them sold as ‘bird on a stick’ in the highland markets. I am also very much interested in my work, something that never much appealed to me in Canada.
I don’t really have any new hobbies, but a definite interest is just living in a culture which is so different from back home.
My children and my husband: they drive me insane and keep me sane.
I paint--something that I never had time for before. It can be very relaxing except when the cat and kids invade my ‘studio’ (a small patch of floor in my bedroom). I have tried golfing because now we live in Madang the tourist mecca of PNG. It can be relaxing for about 4 holes.
Hmm, other than that, nothing beats a cold SP on a Friday afternoon….
Reading books, keeping busy, watching TV, relaxing, being patient and not letting every little thing get to you, and going for little walks around the campus keep me going. Socializing with neighbors and going on trips to Goroka or Madang are also good for the mental health.
Top ten list: Stuff to bring
q Music you like;
q E-mail ready computer;
q One good wok (if you are into cooking, bring whatever basics you feel you need. Quality items here are not available or are prohibitably expensive;
q Tank tops (for women);
q Desk/night lamp (if you don’t like to read by fluorescent tube light);
q Whatever shoes/ sandals (Tevas, Ecos, etc.) you'll use in 2 years;
q Water purification equipment (Nalgene);
q Pictures of family, friends, home etc. (not just for you, but also because people are interested in your family and life back home);
q Any specific spice(s) you really like;
q One nice outfit;
q Adaptor and/or plugs that fit the local electrical system;
q Any "alternative" health/hygiene products you might like (eg.. tea tree oil);
q Dry bags and silica salt for electrical equipment;
q More dark socks;
q More books (Kainantu contribution; NOTE: the extra books appear dependant on the expat population of an area);
q More pictures;
q Jeans (for the coast);
q Too much warm clothing;
q Camping equipment;
q Mosquito net;
q Too many books (people here have libraries and are quite willing to share);
q Anything from a pharmacy;
q White socks;
q Smoking habit;
q Old clothes I never wear;
Top ten things I wish I had left behind in Canada
- Are you kidding? If I could fit the kitchen sink into my luggage, I'd bring it. Two years is a long time to
go without (okay, I am a wuss!)
Top ten things I wish I had brought:
10. As many well written softcover books as I possibly could have crammed into my baggage.
9. Another sweater and a little variety in clothing.
(this is suggested for highland residents only: it is up to 30 degrees most days but drops to a 'chilly' 5 to
10 degrees some evenings and the mornings are very damp and cold)
8. Socks: enough pairs to last my whole contract.
(what they sell here is made so loosely woven it last little more than a month)
7. Herbal tea
(not sold here)
6. A (lightweight) chess or backgammon board
...#1 thing I wish I had brought...
Extra money stowed away in the bank so I could afford to get away ...to anywhere!
(flights out of Goroka starting with the nearest Australian cities, Darwin or ...yawn... Cairns, begin at about
K900 or $550-600 CDN but there are some nice little get-aways within the country such as Madang, New
Ireland, or a trip up the Sepik - again getting a little pricey)
Top ten things I am really glad I brought:
10. Two dozen tapes of really good music
9. if you're fussy about your shampoo, soap, or other toiletries bring your own
...I did :-)
8. my sense of humour (I lost it when I arrived but just found it again last week, thank god!)
...#1 thing I am reeeeaaaalllly glad I brought:
About a dozen unfinished projects to work on when I'm on my own, can't get out of the house, and my
mind is beginning to go numb.
Four o’clock in the morning—time to get up. We were going to town to do some shopping. Sojourns from the outposts of Papua New Guinea require extreme hours, a little forethought, and some unusual modes of transportation to get to the nearest urban centre. Not your average trip to the market--best not to leave the shopping list at home either.
It is still dark at four o’clock. I fumbled around for a packet of matches and the South Pacific beer bottle cum candle holder that I had carefully placed near the bed the night before. No electricity requires such planning. I found my way to the kitchen, put on a pot of coffee, woke up the children and an hour later, we made our way out of the house and found our footing along the path—still plunged in darkness.
Down the hill we went, past the coconut grove, the market place and other permanent structures that make up the outpost, and finally along the beach. A family, still huddled under covers against the early morning coolness, were just coming to after spending the night in their dugout canoe. We recognised them. The man was the local crocodile hunter . He swung the canoe to shore in order to show us the 6ft croc that he’d caught from one of the nearby rivers. Our children were quickly deposited off shoulders and waded out to touch the croc, very dead, and admire its large teeth. A momentary distraction, but there is always time for such things in Papua New Guinea.
A little further down the shore, the dinghy that would take us on the first leg of our trip, could be seen bobbing in the surf. It would take us two and a half hours down the coast to the air strip - the closest one still operating—all others being washed away with the rain or shut due to conflicts between the logging companies, and local villagers. Best to leave them to their dispute.
I sat in the bow of the boat with two other women who had come along for the ride, the children, theirs and mine, on our laps. We faced the wind, rising sun, and the occasional wave that would make its way over the rim of the boat to slap us in the face. The men were in the back of the boat, not much drier. The morning’s swell was a big one and battered our boat and its passengers relentlessly. Time went by, reefs went by, villages—the occasional mission--and other seafarers all went by. We arrived at the airstrip, wet and weathered, hair wild from the salt and wind just as the plane was making its approach to the landing strip, a grassy patch just long enough to accommodate a small twin engine plane. The pilot, a disturbingly young looking Australian, was at the beginning of his “milk run” to little known mud strips all over West New Britain. We climbed over boxes and folding seats, to make our way into the plane.
A three hour journey lay ahead of us—plenty of time to reflect on the day’s demands--but more conducive to reflection upon the rattling screws holding the interior of the plane together, taped windows, and the regular squabbles between our son and daughter. People got on and off the plane, the squabbles continued to flare up, and our daughter threw up. The pilot took particular interest in the left propeller. So did I. (I’m still not sure why.) Finally, the regular geometric patterns of the oil palm plantations came into sight far below us. We had left the bush behind. Shortly thereafter, with tarmac under wheel, we had landed.
Now, It was time to go shopping. And I did remember the list from home.
Written when living in Gloucester Station, West New Britain
It is not all work for the dedicated CUSO volunteer. Weekends for us here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea dish up many delights. Find a friend with a Land Cruiser, load dogs and kids in the back, drive down any one of the two roads in the region, and let the good times roll. In this particular instance, we had a pre-arranged date with a local business man and his clan for a hike on their surrounding land. Getting out to their haus lain –or line of houses—did in fact require the foresight of inviting the friends with the large vehicle as the mud and ruts in the narrow lane challenged even the mightiest of four wheel drives. Upon arrival at the pre-appointed time and destination, we found ourselves upon a ridge that commanded a 360-degree view of the surrounding valley. This scene encompassed blue mountains with clouds from the adjacent valley crawling over their peaks, green mountains in front. It was breathtaking.
Our arrival was cause for a gathering in the small hamlet where our friend lived. Men and women and children quickly appeared from the surrounding structures, the adults profusely pumping our hands in greeting and the children giggling and hiding behind their mothers’ skirts. Robin, our friend, had a route planned for the hike that would take us down into the valley, through a couple of villages, and back up again. Good. Our group promptly departed, the giggling children taking up the rear of our party, about 20 trekkers in all.
The path quickly descended into the valley requiring careful footing for those of us in shoes. The children on the other hand experienced little difficulty as their bare feet quickly hugged the contours of the rocks and caked up ridges left from months of rain and then weeks of intense sun. These rains had also left small muddy creeks that had to be forded and waist-high rivers, again requiring careful footing and negotiation. Children, ours, were handed over these barriers and the hike proceeded. Footwear was abandoned and tied around necks. The friend with the Land Rover carried his wife across these hurdles. She was the only one with dry mud-free feet.
Finally, we arrived in the first of a series of villages. No roads, no power, no water, no plumbing... just grass thatch, bamboo mat walls, and betal nut vendors. The vendors of this mildly narcotic and aesthetically displeasing nut were situated across from the local church, which was in service. With due respect for the occasion, we waited for the sermon to wind up. This thoughtfulness was also out of consideration for our friend and guide who had passed on church in order to take us around, a sacrifice which we all decided would leave him in good stead with "Bikpela" - the big guy. Nonetheless, he was not convinced that his fellow mortals would see things that way. It was thought that introductions to the white people would make some amends for this, so, upon termination of services, salutations were made all around. These consisted of "Morning. I am Robin's friend. We're just going walkabout looking at your ground." The response invariably followed that, "Ok that's good. You go walkabout." The conversation got a bit stale after about 15 repetitions, but then we were on our way...across the rivers and swollen streams, the invariable mud and up the mountain only to repeat these same salutations in the villages that lay between. We were rewarded upon arrival back at the ridge and the Land Cruiser with a roasted sweet potato, large enough to feed our entire party, and cucumbers that the ladies, who had stayed behind,
provided from their gardens.
Many westerners and Asians alike believe that hiking requires special footwear, multi-pocketed vests, or the latest in lightweight cargo outfits. Superfluous in PNG (although I would recommend a water bottle). A pair of mud caked feet, a command of a few Pidgin English phrases, and the camaraderie of a local guide and friend, and, yes, even giggling children, is all one really needs to hike in Papua New Guinea. Mind you, the Land Cruiser doesn’t hurt either.
Written when living in Goroka, Eastern Highlands