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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.

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.

Best pants, worst pants.

We’ve been back in Moresby for over a week (at the time of writing, not time of posting), and I’ve spent a lot of spare moments in the interim trying to sweep together the images and memories of the two weeks holidaying beforehand to give them a shape appropriate for a reader’s consumption. It’s too easy to just to tell stories – we did this, then we did this, then we did THAT and wasn’t that exciting. So you say, says the reader, but all I have here is words on a screen. One enthusiastically shuffles the pile of dust and hair into a single pile with the broom, only for a casual observer to remark that hairballs and dust heaps are no more or less interesting that the detritus previously strewn around the place, it’s just that they are merely shoved into the same place for convenience of disposal. In short, after coming back to Moresby eager to convey what I’ve seen and done, what’s made me amused and bemused, I discover yet again that writing is actually difficult.

It’s probably easier to start where I am now and work backwards. As I have said we are back in Moresby, living through an odd jumble of expected and unexpected feelings. The expected: bouts of tedium, annoyance, isolation and paranoia, interspersed with flashes of incredulity and humour (usually both at once). The unexpected: the sensation of relief upon our trouble-free return trip, an ascetic steadiness in knowing one’s most frequent company are books to be read or written in, the quiet yet remarkable happiness in seeing green hills and clouds overhead.

Our return was a good omen. We were upgraded to the big seats at the front of the plane, the taxi ride from Jackson’s airport to Waigani Heights was faster and cheaper than expected, the streets were far less hectic than when we left during the pre-Christmas febrility, the house was clean (enough) when we stepped through the door, the power and water were both on, the rain was on its way, and the beer shop was just downhill. It was not a triumphant return, but it was encouraging. It occured to me that it had become easier to say ‘home’ when I talked about this no-frills besser-block unit on a small hill in Waigani. Sometimes I can’t convince myself, but sometimes it’s a comfortable fit – like a fickle pair of pants that stretches and resiles from day to day. Some days, loose and fancy-free. Other days, the worst pants ever.