Posts Tagged 'bye’s and hi’s'

Brave old world.

Things certainly work differently down here. Propriety is different, not so much snobby but more stylish. The classic Yacht Club outfit sported by Moresby upper crust will not do in Sydney. Where are the floral shirts? The stripes and saggy breast pockets? At least sandals and thongs are still OK, if somewhat less ragged and dusty. I find myself slipping into the old uniforms with surprising ease – new Bonds t-shirts are a comfort after not being able to wear them much, thanks to that swift Moresby slickness that comes up every time you step into the heat.

An iPhone in Sydney is part of the kit. Requisite. An iPhone in Moresby is a fatuous gesture, a joke, a trinket good for being thieved and not much else. Selecting a good kalamata olive leaves one boggled for choice. In Moresby, it is one kind or maybe the other and by God you’re happy to have it despite the clearly indulgent price. Bicycles and after-hours strolls. The ability to get snobbish over instant coffee and wallow in internet that loads like a breeze. Drinking beer with names like “Fat Yak” and in styles like “amber ale”, with the words “south” and “pacific” nowhere to be seen on the label.

On beer – a reunion BBQ in Brisbane by the river sees a pair of mates show up with the cheapest beer they could find in the bottle-o: a six pack of nothing less than the mighty SP brown. I made eyes at the free bottle opener that came with it, and am thankful for their generous gesture – nowhere in Moresby did I see one for sale. The memorabilia and the memories keep coming, like little shockwaves one month on, elegiac ripples of sorts (for isn’t nostalgia a kind of mourning in its own way?). I hope they keep coming, I really do.

Memory is tricky and motivation is fickle. I am no longer in PNG but Kit and I have aspirations to return – just not quite yet. In the meantime I hope to use this nether-space as a repository for the moments, images and stories that the last two-and-a-bit years have given me. Subject of course to the two factors mentioned above. There’s enough to keep this thing going a little while longer in any case. Until then – Manda. Apa kanda. Catch. Luuukkiiiiiiimm yuuuu.


At about twenty past four in the morning I had what is called a “blowout”. As far as I know a blowout is when an item of footwear – usually a thong, but sometimes a shoe or in this case a sandal – suffers fatal damage to a strap or some other bit that is essential if you need the piece of footwear to remain on one’s feet. The timing was almost perfect. The sandals had been loyal and enduring for two years, three months and the woozy small hours of one day. If they had lasted another eight hours they would have got me all the way home.

It was December 15th 2010 and we had just finished loading our neighbour’s car for the final run to Jackson’s. We’d made the dead man’s watch trip to the airport a few times to help out needy mates and fellow volunteers. We’d be back in bed by five thirty or so – just enough time to lie awake and ponder the futility of getting back to sleep before the neighbours starting clanging and bellowing. But this time it was our turn to be deposited for the check-in queue and the discombobulated wait for boarding. We were pretty much gone.

Five minutes before the fateful blowout I fulfilled a small promise I had made to myself. I stepped out onto the balcony and took in the view for a final few moments. I recall that the streets were quiet, the stillness exerting a sense of calm and order that was incongruous with the day-to-day reality of the city we were about to leave. The Mobil service station had its big street light on (the letter ‘o’ still suffering from its own blowout suffered months before), the light on our own street illuminated the big pile of dirt scraped off the hillside where the new neighbours had carved out a driveway to their home, but otherwise the darkness of a city with few street lights dominated. The garish daylight that was a constant factor to be endured, avoided and overcome was not present. Nor were the crowds, the hurtling fish-like schools of PMV buses, the insidious dust, or the haphazard hubbub of a city replete with rules rarely obeyed.

I had expected a swelling of confusion or nostalgia or giddy trepidation. Some kind of emotion worthy of the occasion – my final view of the place that had been home, from the balcony we loved, in the humble home that had kept us insulated from the worst and cocooned us inside with the best, the home where (among other things) we decided to get married for God’s sake!

What I actually felt at the time was my belly feels funny. Not because I was nervous or overwhelmed, but because my belly always feels funny when I get up too early. That’s all. Maybe I should have saved one last SP for the moment. I took it all in for a minute or so, then stepped inside and locked the door to the balcony for what I guess will be the last time.

Minutes later I suffered the blowout. I tossed the sandals into the bin like the newest piece of junk they were and got in the waiting car. The security guard did not take too long to wake up and open the gate. The deluge the previous afternoon had created a wild new mound of soil to traverse halfway up the road. Otherwise nothing was unusual. Goodbye Waigani Heights. Dare I say it? Until next time.

Back to it

I got one foot on the tarmac
The other’s on the plane
I’m goin’ back to Port Moresby
To wear that ball and chain

No, it wasn’t a marriage reference (although…?) and no I didn’t sing it. Kitty spouted the inglorious number as our plane eased its way to the disembarkation point. Inside it was all Pacific Blue – enamel-clad pleasantries, tinny top of the pops and brand-enforced pleasantry. Nonetheless it was Port Moresby outside the windows.

A greener city to be fair – and believe me a verdant Moresby is miraculously easier on the eye. I was reminded of this en route to my first day back at work. My colleague decided to take the feared back road through Tokorara into Hohola, a road that might as well be in another city as it winds its way through the hills adorned with newly-dug food gardens. Rickety junk fences and tyre repair shops with the obligatory pool tables. Residents sitting behind their little tables made from crates or old cardboard boxes, selling newspapers, cigarettes and buai, sharing stories with neighbours and pedestrians as they come to buy. Neat little yards with short grass, banana trees and bougainvillea. The bowed backs of the elderly as they sweep and rake at the ground, clearing their patches of gravelly dirt with short straw brooms or wiry rakes with no handles, clearing and piling the detritus with the kind of determination and focused energy one notices when bush turkeys go about building their nests.

Then again, it’s still Moresby. We have been inundated thanks to the (former) tropical cyclone Neville off North Queensland. The freeway near Hohola is a big puddle, with no sign of the soupy lake (chunks and all) diminising after three days. Over the years the dirt and rubbish of Moresby has accumulated in the storm drains, rendering them useless. The result is a city that, although tropical, cannot handle the rain. The rain that brings out the flush of greenery also encourages a blooming of a less pleasant kind – potholes. The lurch and swerve of cars as they avoid water and newly-formed craters is a well-known roadway dance. An automotive tropical tango. A Moresby motoring macarena. Something like that.

Anyway. We’re back, and I believe suitably recovered from the stunned confusion that results when plucked from one world and shunted back into another. Apologies for the absence dear readers but this isn’t supposed to be a record of my adventures on holidays in Australia, so our time there, although pleasant and indeed greatly significant (yes the ring is still on the finger), is hardly relevant to this little project. Although one of two New Years resolutions may encourage more frequent updates, the commitment being to write more (flowing on hopefully to more blog action). Then again my other resolution was the floss my teeth every night and I think I’ve done that once since January 1st. Oh well, 2010 is yet young and the next nine months or so still lie before me, like fresh mumu pig on a platter. Oily and meaty and full of both tasty and slightly unpleasant morsels. Yum yum.

More farewells.

The attrition continues!

Ev and Joanna – one adventure down, another to embark on. Good luck with the kid, I’m sure you’ll thrive in the role even if kids are a total pain as a rule. Yours no doubt won’t be as much of a headache as Newman and Clinton (or whatever the screaming terrors’ names are), although I sincerely hope that it has the chance to run around uninhibited with willy flying freely – if there’s anything PNG has taught me it’s that kids should be starkers for as much of their childhood as possible. Then again, New Zealand is cold. Good luck with the big questions in life, heck knows – there may even be answers! Meanwhile the compound is minus two good folk. Don’t miss Waigani Heights too much, ha!

As for the erstwhile Country Manager… I know a few country managers thanks to my line of work, they tend to wear ties and sit in offices and control small fiefdoms in the worlds of insurance brokerage, development contracts, and deep-sea mineral exploration. So what the hell makes you think you can get away with traipsing around Port Moresby (indeed also the rest of PNG) with one of a dozen multicoloured bilums slung over a shoulder, tropical shirt untucked, wearing shorts and sandals? There are many country managers who are probably pleased at your departure, relieved that they can get to work restoring their collective image as serious pastel shirts, pressed trousers covered-shoe types. Meanwhile while they restore their tattered prestige denigrated by your contempt for the uniform of high office a few hardbitten volunteers look forward to seeing you in a few months as one of their own – again. Good one Rick, thanks for the lot.

Goodbye already?!?

Well in a way we were all born to say goodbye – I don’t suppose there’s much else to say when people die besides “I love you mum” and “wwwaaaaauu uggghhh aaaaaahhhhahh uuuhuuhuuuhuuh”.

And then there’s the odd ebb and flow of people, close and not-so-close, who in the interregnum between that time you get spat out all bloody and mewling and to the time of your final departure constitute your social world, teach you most of what you know, share the odd beer and otherwise just piss you off.

Being ‘away’ makes this whole process an even odder one, as the cavalcade of people taking their leave seems to be a pretty common event. Already some people we know well (or well enough at least) have taken there leave of PNG and it’s safe to say our lives here will be different in their absence. So here’s to youse…

To Emma in Hagen – was it ten weeks? No, eight weeks once you discount the two you camped at ours in Moresby. Oh well, there’s nothing like a good ol’ fashioned attempted carjacking to make you critically reevaluate your position in life. Safety em nambawan, and whoever said you were lucky not to be gang-raped was a FUCKER. Cheers to you, sorry it didn’t work out, catchya eh.

To Susie also in Hagen – well, I wouldn’t have stayed either. It’s one thing to be full of piss and bravado, and another thing to live by yourself in a town being ripped to bits from the inside out by blood-mad political partisans a la Western Highlands. Screw. That. As with Emma, I’m sorry it didn’t work out, but like I said, safety em nambawan. Take it easy Monty!

To Brigid – The profession I have come to appreciate the most in PNG thus far is the ‘driver’, that poorly paid individual who uncomplainingly gets you from A to B and to Z if necessary, typically without complaint. So cheers, and sorry mipela olgeta taim sidaun long back seat a. But of course there was more than the limo service – there was gin! And STOUT!!!!! So thanks for being casual on the balcony and tolerating two utter dags. Sapos yu lukim mi long Australia yumi ken pilai ‘raskol raskol’ na no ken wari tru. You’re a champion, and I wish you were sticking around – but I daresay you’ve been through enough! Cheers.

To Dave – if you ever drag yourself out of the steaming jungles of FNQ again then feel free to drop by. You’ll probably be madder and bushier next time we meet, but I think that’s the natural evolution for North Queenslanders – they don’t die, they just become giant crazy hairballs with a XXXX Gold constantly wedged in there somewhere. I’ll enjoy shocking people with your stories, but not all of them – I’m afraid sometimes stories should remain in the past where they came from. Oh, and I won’t forget you owe us a beer or two eh. Tall tales do not satisfy one’s thirst after all.

Bye and all.

Goodbyes were dispensed with in various denominations, a gradual culling from sixteen to thirteen to nine to five. A final eat-out in Marrickville (hail and farewell, o food of Marrickville), a final redistribution of weight and baggage, ticking off items on the very last checklist. The sun outside was hot and there was a feeling of unreality. We’re going, sure, but not right now. We’ve got literally hours before we go – or minutes, seconds, instants glary with spring afternoon sun… Five bags and two imminent departees were escorted to the airport for the flight to Cairns. The roads and traffic were awful and the same as always, the airport shops reeked of plastic excess the way they always have, the security checks kept us lingering as one would expect of course. Goodbye and all that – we blubbered and laughed at ourselves walking down the ramp to the plane, making the most of every possible last glimpse and wave. How many farewells are played out just like this? Tears and ultimate parting and a banal threshold that once crossed scarcely seemed to do the moment any justice. A raw-throated rheumy-eyed living cliche. We found our seats, shoved our baggage wherever it went, and thought of things pertinent to the flight ahead – a book, a water bottle, the window seat. The plane took off and we flew directly over our old homes in Marrickville and Richmond. I think there was a game on at Henson Park. The last thing I wanted to think about was how long it would be before any of that would be familiar again. Three hours to Cairns. Finally there were only two.