Archive for the 'race and creed' Category

Halle-freaking-loo-yah!

The kid came into the supermarket as I did. She wore a burgundy uniform and her hair was cut short , she also had big eyes that lolled back too far when she looked up at me. She walked with exaggerated stride and a dramatic swinging of her arms.

I found myself in the aisle where certain cereals were kept. I was looking for rolled oats, but they only had the usual selection of sugar-coated stuff. I was about to leave when the kid came up the aisle. She offered her hand to shake, and we swapped names. As she spoke I saw almost all of her teeth were rotted down nearly to the gums. Each was a hideous decayed hunk. I was revolted.

It was hard to hear what she was saying, so I asked her to speak again. When I go to my house, I will pray for you she said. I felt disconcerted, but also touched. You are a good kid I said, hoping that would be the end of things. I believe in the Lord Jesus and I believe he made me the way I am. She spoke with innocent conviction, the kind that would be frightening if expressed by an adult but was perfectly normal for a kid. I said that was nice and that it was nice to meet her, then I walked off. I could not banish the image of the wrecked carnage of her teeth. The persistent image made me queasy until I got outside.

*

I came to the office and shook hands with the security guard like I always did. He was a large, bellicose man with a habit of yelling and following people around when they don’t want to be followed, making small talk and unfunny jokes. He usually wore loud tropical shirts and a hat that said I LOVE JESUS on it. During the day he would often come inside to find the owners of particular cars that needed to be moved out of the way. His voice would reverberate up the stairwell into the office, booming and incongruous and unwelcome.

This particular morning (a Monday) he was telling me about his weekend. He had gone to Church on Sunday, and worked Saturday. Every week, he said, he worked Monday to Saturday (although from his frequent absences one could surmise his definition of attending to duty was somewhat looser than usual). On Sunday he always went to church. I was pushing at the door, about the get inside to avoid the inevitable question – but not fast enough.

“Do you go to church?” he asked expectantly. I have fended off these questions before. The usual trick is to say one’s church – say, the Evangelical Apostle’s Church of the Redeeming Son of the Spirit of the Revelation of Man in the Promise of the Holy Scripture and Word of the Good Saviour – can only be found in Australia, and that our strict preference is to not risk deviating from the teachings of this church by attending another. But I was not in the mood this morning.

“No. I don’t” I replied bluntly, edging open the door. I felt the thick meaty hand against my arm.

“But – you must. You must.”

“No, I must not.”

“Can I tell you something?”

“I have the feeling I would prefer not.”

“It is important. Can I say it to you?”

Sigh. “Alright.”

“He gave you your wisdom, your mind and your health, he…”

“OK, stop, I knew I did not want to hear this.”

“He died for you, to save you.”

“I am sorry, but that is only what you believe. I believe people can only save themselves. I don’t believe anyone but humanity can do anything to help us. I am walking away now.” Which I did.

We did not speak much after that, except he did offer a “God bless you” when we said goodbye a few weeks later. But I cursed his very silhouette, and fumed at the sound of his voice whenever it roared in the stairwell. I became twisted with contempt.

Not long afterwards I discovered that the same man had fought with his colleagues over who deserved the best slices of meat – at a staff Christmas function.

*

We were more or less expected to attend, because our neighbour was involved and his excitement and eagerness for us to be there was palpable. So we went. The church was just at the end of the road anyway, so not far to drive. How long could a church play go for? Even with a hefty dollop of moralising, surely no more than an hour, or ninety minutes at the most.

For starters, this is PNG, and when something is supposed to start at 7pm it means it won’t start until 8. We sat threw a few singing groups and youth bands, presided over by a chubby young Australian minister. I went outside in the break to see if any more popcorn was for sale. There wasn’t. The drama started almost an hour and a half late.

The play was long and indeed pointed in its message. Young men dedicated to crime threw off their evil-looking wrap-around sunglasses and proclaimed they had seen a new truth. Families on the verge of collapse came together over prayer and renewal of faith. And a young man, killed in a car accident with his friends, realises too late that while his friends (bathed in sweet white light) have made the right choice in life, he had failed to do so. He suffered – for a good thirty minutes, live on stage – in the raging hellfires. The dark interior of the large church was wracked with the wails and squeals of his infernal punishment. Huge flames were projected onto the backdrop, and red lights circled the stage. Perhaps some felt fear and awe at this spectacle, but I felt outrage and something bordering on hate. The acted-out ordeal playing out before me was a real one for me. I squirmed as the brutal message of fear and retribution bludgeoned the people assembled.

Excluding the half-time intermission between the two acts, the drama went for more than two hours, followed by a fifteen minute sermon by another local pastor. Apparently our neighbour sought us out after the show to see if we had enjoyed the performance, but I had rushed to the car as soon as the moment permitted when the sermon was done. I was glad I had not seen him. He is a good man, a decent neighbour and a friend. But I could not have looked him in the eyes that night for fear of the disgust in my own.

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Shituation 2: livin’ next door to Engans…

I’m not sure what made me peer over the edge of our balcony from my reclining position. A general listlessness, the kind that makes you have a look around just in case something epiphanic (is that a word?) is waiting there to be captured in a one-in-a-million glance. Whatever the reason, I lifted my head and looked out and down.

Our neighbour was there, holding something fist-sized and partly golden up in my direction. It was the elder of the two women who lived downstairs, the one we label the ‘aunty’: thin, weathered and prone to corporal solutions to child-related issues. The thing she was holding up in my direction was a mango.

It is mango season again, and that fact is nothing but good. Yesterday I betrayed our fondness for the fruit when the kids downstairs observed me clamber up the tree to try and shake some down. I failed, only because their more nimble efforts had already dislodged the best and ripest of them. My persistence was banished by about two dozen ants which, although of the more benign type, were starting to use me less as a fleshy thoroughfare and more as a food source.

I got down and the kids helped me pick the ants from my legs and back. Then the eldest gave me a mango anyway. It seemed a bit too soft. Em mau tumas? I asked. He shook his head. Would you eat this? He nodded. In hindsight I wonder why I was so suspicious. It probably has a lot to do with the way I imagine the people downstairs see us – goofy, clueless, insular outsiders with peculiar ways and a fondness for loud music and the other strange expensive habits of white people. I thought the kid was playing a trick, giving me the squishy mango that was too pummelled to be worthy of eating. I was wrong. He gave me another one. Instead if the usual reserved, dour expression his face bore a nervous smile. For the first time I noticed how his eyes were so like his younger brothers’ – deep and brown, full of consideration, cute as hell for a kid too. The mango was stringy and I got a lot in my teeth. Otherwise, perfect.

Regardless of their real opinions of us, we are obviously the topic of at least some of their discussions – I assume so as the aunty was obviously acting on the news that tupela an tap em laik mango or however they say it in their own language. The people downstairs are Engans, which to be frank is a term I have not got into the habit of using in a complimentary sense. Bloody Engans, I say when the rolling murmur of their speech gets overly boisterous and loud at awkward hours. Bloody Engans I say when the water isn’t running in our kitchen but the hose is running downstairs. Bastard Engan Devil Child I say when the second-eldest son, a four year old spawn of Lucifer’s indiscretions in PNG, erupts into yet another violent bout of demonic glossolalia (otherwise known as a tantrum, the ace card held by all genuine little shits worldwide). Get behind me, Satan! I hiss under my breath when I walk past.

So the mangos were a surprise, not so much because I doubted any capacity for generosity in our neighbours – they’re different but they’re still undoubtedly human, a family of human beings – but because of the interaction. Usually when we go by there is silence, a pleasant wave and a smile but not much else. The kids fall silent and avert their gazes if they are older, or stare wide eyes and incredulous if they are younger. It is strange to have almost nothing to do with people whose lives and ours overlap so often but the evidence of whose presence is constant.

So aunty held the mango up and I was keen to accept. She made motions of lifting and offering but I stood and said to throw it up. She looked a bit incredulous but I gestured at her to give it a try. AAAiiiyyooOOO!! she exclaimed and tossed it up. Defying my own awkwardness at such things I caught it.

Other neighbourly moments have not been so great, the most notable being when, on the eve of a young relative’s flight back to Wabag, the men had a bit of a party. It started inncuously, and the infrequent starts as we were woken were forgivable. But at three in the morning the revellers decided their taste for music could not be suppressed any longger, and the stereo was cranked loudly and started belting out the greatest hits of… Toto. Yes, Toto. This was accompanied by some bottle smashing and some general drunken sentiment expressed loudly at the neighbourhood at large – Ay! AY! AAIIIIieeeEEEIIEE! Huuuyaaa! Uuuyya. IIiiiiiEEEE! YyyiiiaaaAA! AY AY AY! Then some more Toto. My first attempt to alert them to our displeasure was probably not even heard, the second, although more concilaitory in tone, was ignored. The last I witnessed of the party before giving up was one of the young men, beer in one hand and a packet of uncooked Maggi noodles in the other, sloshing his way awkwardly down the driveway.

The family setup is what I would call ‘extended’. Quite extended. There’s mum and dad, although dad works for a civil engineering company and if often out in the provinces building roads. The aunty’s role is to help with the kids, especially the newborn – there was a different aunty when we first arrived to the one living downstairs now. There’s one or two younger guys at any given time, one who has a job with the same civil engineering company, the other with no discernible pastimes or gainful employment. There’s an intermittent parade of other family members related by all sorts of tenuous but nonetheless meaningful connections, who come and go for an unpredictable variety of purposes. And of course there are the kids.

The eldest, Devadanura, the mango-giver, has a complicated name derived from his grandfather’s experience at university in Canberra – DEVelopment ADministration at the ANU in CanberRA – DEVADANURA. Everyone calls him Dink. The next, younger by about six years, is the Devil Child, who has never forgiven me for the time I yelled at him to shut up in the midst of one of his Oscar-winning performances. I have no regrets, as I know the entire compound and probably his own family were pleased with the sudden, if sulky, silence that followed. His dark gaze that he levels at me all the time is no reason to deter me from doing it again either – there is no need for a remake of The Exorcist and hence no need to endure his crazed squawkings any more.

The youngest is simply the Lump, as he does little besides act flabby and infantile – hardly surprising, given he’s less than six months old. And finally, between Lumpy and the Devil, is He Who Can Do No Wrong, the most perfect flabby-bottomed brown eyed stocky Highlander child in existence. He is known for waddling awkwardly, hitting things (rubbish bins, poles, his uncle) with other things (broom, leafy branch, bush knife), and breaking into impromptu warbling or very Highlander-style exclamations such as AAAAYYYYY OdiOdiOdiOdiOdiOdi! He is the kind of kid who makes you wish you could remember what the hell was ging through your own head when you were three years old, when shaking a small tree or tossing a rock clumsily skyward was enough to keep you going throughout the day. HWCDNW is clearly everyone’s favourite and will probably remain so until the Lump learns how to use his legs.

As for placing this post under the “shituation” banner, it’s probably unfair. I guess objectively speaking there’s nothing more or less shitty about our neighbours than the white trash of Marrickville, who were equally as noisy and who also had small aggravating dogs as well. Nonetheless, the Toto-fuelled party was very shit (and was until the mango incident the impetus for writing this in the first place), and the Devil Child’s antics are often intolerable. But for the few parties we have the mangoes to make up for it, and for the Devil Child we have Dink the mango-boy and He Who Can Do No Wrong… Maybe I’m just a misanthrope with a sentimental streak that cannot be helped.

Afternote, the next morning – loud and ongoing sound of hammering at ten to six. Bloooooody Engaaaaaans.

Foreigners and their baggage

… and just in case anyone has been paying attention to the news from over here – no I am not burning and looting any shops owned by Asians!!!

For those who came in late – a bunch of self-styled Port Moresby grassroots defenders (known to the organisation I work for, incidentally, although definitely not approved of) recently organised a few protests against the exploitation of local workers by Asian employers, and also the general corruption and mismanagement of labour and immigration in PNG that allows these situations to continue. These grassroots defenders can often be caught at markets with megaphones, haranguing attentive crowds with megaphones in a fashions quite similar to the many Godly zealots tramping the street.

The grievances are justified if obviously racist at times, however the situation is also beset by plenty of misunderstanding. An example of the former situation would be the Chinese ‘engineers’ brought to PNG on special visas, photographed receiving special treatment at airports from immigration officials and who were subsequently witnessed mopping floors – a job supposedly reserved for local unskilled workers. An example of the latter would be the incident at a Ramu Nickel mine site recently, when a recently injured local worker was evacuated by boat after sustaining a bad injury. His PNGean colleagues insisted he be airlifted out but to no avail, and word soon filtered back to the mine that the man had died en route to hospital. A riot ensued, expensive equipment was destroyed and a few Chinese workers were bashed. The last I heard the injured man whose ‘death’ sparked the incident is still alive and kicking.

The protest organisers say they wanted a peaceful protest and initially I had no reason to disbelieve them. Yet I eventually found this claim hard to stomach having spoken to one of them and gleaned his enthusiasm for an email going around demanding that all Asian ‘cottage’ businesses be torched on December 31 by way of welcoming 2010. The guy was happy enough to be quoted on Radio NZ describing these Asians as ‘animals’ and ‘robbers’ as well. I’m personally happy that I had the chance to inform him that he had just sprung an old Australian/NZ media trap – the depiction of PNG as a country full of savagery and barbarism. Congratulations friend, the world thinks so highly of you and your country as a result of your ‘robbers and animals’ call, while plenty of decent folk continue to get lumped with the travestial flesh-eating spear-chucking stereotype.

In any case the protests were never going to stay peaceful – and it’s not hard to come to the conclusion that if they ever thought would stay peaceful then they are really, really, REALLY dumb. The fallout: Asian-owned shops in Moresby closed after a day of random destruction and looting. People were shot by the cops in the Highlands as they attempted to pillage abandoned Asian trade stores. A lot of small-time, hard working shop owners are probably thinking of a career in another country (that would include third-fourth-fifth generation Papua New Guineans of Asian descent as well!). The people who they probably didn’t pay enough are now probably going to get paid nothing at all. Meanwhile a certain Malaysian logging and trading company responsible for the worst illegal logging in the country still happily plies its trade, a certain Malaysian tuna cannery still has plans to expand its operations, and a certain Chinese owned mine probably still has ‘engineers’ mopping floors. Asian gambling and illegal visa rings will still operate, the seedy criminal underworld I can only speculate on still makes a nice buck of two, and the dodgy officials in immigration and labour departments (not to mention fatcat department heads and members of parliament) get even fatter and happier. But never mind, a blow has been struck against the vendors of cheap imported button-up shirts and bain-marie stews. Viva le lynch mob!