Archive for May, 2010

Air conditioned comfort.

Air conditioned comfort – which is of course a bad sign, because if you are in air conditioning you are probably in an office, and often offices are places where things take longer than they should. For example: an hour to change the details on a plane ticket, with various calculations, recalculations and apologies necessitating additional taps on the keyboard and calls through to supervisors, inaudible from where I sit despite the woman only sitting on the other side of the desk. The women are all dressed like the hostesses on the planes, all emerald green and blue and lilac, they were fussing over some shoes when I arrived. One of their relatives sells them for her children’s school fees. The archaic creak of a dot matrix printer banishes whatever made you thought this was any time after the 1980’s. Another example: the long line to replace a licence, only to be given a pink form to take to a court house for the signature to be witnessed. Despite my protestations of gross inefficiency I am compelled to go. The next day, a longer line. The stainless steel barriers gleam strangely under the flouro lights, they could belong in any of those forbiddingly familiar and banal foyers. The staffing arrangements could also be anywhere, with the usual story of less than one third of the available windows occupied by the customer service people (and by standards up here that is in fact a good ratio of windows to staff!). A newspaper is all that staves off a frothing expatriate tantrum during the half hour wait. At the window the man takes a split-second look at my signed pink form and tells me to go straight to the next window (with a nice, fat, fresh looking queue) to pay. In other words, I had no need to negotiate the first line. At the next stage there are indeed two lines – licences and registrations, but with little to indicate which line is which. In a moment of camaraderie some customers figure out the situation and advise the rest, which causes groans as people shuffle obediently from the line they had waited patiently in to the line they were supposed to be in. I think idly that this kind of experience would be the kind one would have in a Cuban immigration office, but I would expect much better music there.


Domesticity – strange sounds filter in from outside. A man with a megaphone is reciting the names of the Highlands provinces – Enga, Simbu, Eastern Highlands, Western Highlands, Southern Highlands… there is some kind of meeting on tomorrow but the wind warps the sound so I cannot make out what it’s all about. I go out too look but can see nothing from the balcony, just the shuddering leaves, the curved rooftop of the new market being built, and the endless parade of traffic on Waigani Drive. Inside, more water is boiling. It boils for thirteen to fifteen minutes. I keep a lid on it so it doesn’t all evaporate away. The city has cholera these days, apparently more than 450 cases have been reported around town but it seems like not many people have died. I remember that the lettuce I bought at the market probably needs a wash in sterilised water. Aside from the tedious inconvenience life goes on. Television in the evening still broadcasts news services and cooking shows. One such show was on the day while I was telling a story. Mid-sentence I find my words cut off by the volume. Somewhat piqued I turn the TV off at the wall. How dare you! I was trying not to laugh, because I could see what had been on – some luscious looking dessert is being made on the screen. Kit looks at me, disgruntled. But that was FUDGE!. Other domestic scenarios surrender their momentoes to the curious bank of memory. At the supermarket – not the supermarket for expats and ‘aspirationals’, but the local one visible from the balcony – the woman at the checkout was happy to see me, possibly not for any reason besides the fact that any evidence that other people could come here and go to the ‘normal’ supermarkets was welcome. I was happy to humour the woman, although I did not spare the time to explain our usual shopping tendencies. The woman commented that the city had a bad name thanks to the exaggerations of the media, both local and foreign. Not for the first time did I find myself agreeing with such sentiments – but only half agreeing. The half that disagreed was bemused, yet again, by the propensity of many PNGeans to blame their country’s ills on the hype of the media, as if this were some great sweaty dusty simulacrum where the reality of crime and poverty was a problem borne purely from the illusory powers of the powerful ideas-manipulating forces of the media. Never mind that media access is hugely limited countrywide, never mind the gross and obvious disparities in wealth (not just between expat and national but elite PNG and poor PNG), never mind the shitty roads and the shitty services and the shitty state of health and education… never mind that in the next sentence after decrying the media most PNGeans will agree vehemently that things are indeed no good. I bought my mi goreng noodles and the tin of bamboo shoots I found, waved goodbye to the two women sitting in the shade nearby, and went back home just in time for the power to black out.

Breezy afternoon.

Breezy afternoon – a woman snips at the hair of a young man, who sits with head down obsequiously but with frequent, sullen glances up. He looks like the energetic hound being given a bath, pride stung and enthusiasm stifled. They are seated on a balcony, on the same level as the palm leaves rustling in the wind. As she snips, the wind picks up severed clumps of thick, curled hair. It is carried aloft for metres before settling on the dry grass like a strange hirsute black snow, except that days later it has yet to melt. It merely sits like the other odd organic and inorganic detritus. It is rubbish day, the bins await their moment of purging by the ragtag collection of workers who rattle through the streets in their old green garbage truck adorned with Japanese writing. I fancy sometimes it says something like ‘A Gift From Osaka to Port Moresby!’, and think that’s funny because after all nobody would have a clue what it said. Meanwhile, as the bins languish on the roadside for two days, the bags of rubbish pile up on top of bushes. They are torn own every night by the desperate scavenging animals, who scatter the pungent contents all over the place in search of whatever sustenance they can glean – a scrap at the bottom of a can of tuna, the bloody ant-covered smear on a piece of dish-shaped styrofoam, a piece of bread mostly eaten. The next day it is collected and disposed of by the groundskeeper, but small bits remain, settling comfortably into the grotty cityscape, to be kicked aside later or ground into the road by the passage of vehicles, or swept into the drains with the next deluge.

Too busy / wasman.

I recall that Hunter S Thompson dedicated his book Hell’s Angels to the many friends who had mercifully kept him free of employment for much of his life. It’s a nice notion, especially when you find yourself in a constant state of work-induced turmoil – constantly bucketing and rowing towards a horizon that never stops receding. If I may put it that way.

Without divulging too much, I will say only two things – one, it should go on for only a fortnight longer, and two, it seems frightfully easy to change this country’s Constitution. Additional details are not interesting. They have taken over my life of course, much like Jonah’s life was taken over by a whale for a short time. There are already too many Moresby-based colleagues who have endured my profanity-riddled reflections on these matters and to them I apologise – sorry to everyone except my wonderful darling Kitty who, in the midst of this ridiculous period in my world, has managed to evacuate herself to the beautiful and lugubrious town of Madang, where she has even managed to get some scuba diving in. The fish are big over there apparently.

An anecdote for those good enough to keep coming back to this page – thank you dear readers. On the way to work I see a shirt with a slogan. It says – Jesus em wasman bilong mi! Pisin is a funny language in case you haven’t heard me say that before. The verb ‘wasim’ means ‘to wash’, while if you go for a swim or a bath you ‘go waswas’. I was puzzled then whether or not this man’s shirt was subversive or even deliberately absurd – Jesus is the man who washes/bathes me! What?!?! Even your bum?!?! Maybe it was a reference to baptism? Anyway I was disabused of my folly soon after, with my colleague telling me that ‘wasman’ simply means ‘watchman’. So Jesus is this guy’s guardian. Of course. That’s all.