Posts Tagged 'people'

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.

Thoughts during a half-drunk drive home

We finish our beers on the way down. The road clings to the edge of the sheer hillside. On some stretches decades-old guard rails line some strips of road: rickety and feeble-looking barriers that no doubt failed to prevent many vehicles from lurching too far over the edge. However in most places there is nothing between a vehicle and a twenty- or thirty- metre drop onto the road below as it snakes back upon itself: nothing except luck, wits, sobriety. We are perhaps too reliant on the first of these factors.

Signs advise drivers to sound their horn before surging around the blind corners. Our driver does so obligingly: not only at the blind corners, but to the young boys pointing at the holes in the road that they have filled with dirt in the hope of some small cash; to the cars overtaken on the short straight stretches; to the frequent clusters of women, children and dogs selling vegetables by the roadside.

The road seems improbable in the way it has been carved out of the hillside, and although I never feel worried I make sure I look forward, not down. Everything is steep and wild, and our driver demands much of second gear as he navigates hairpin bends while making the most of his dregs of beer. As we descend into the valley the panorama opens itself to us, the dust and haze of the coast manifests in the dusky light. Escarpments line the other sheer wall of the valley, crowning the wildness of the jungle on the slopes, the bare rocky outcroppings and the river surging far, far below.

I am making the most out of being passive in the back seat, enjoying (maybe for the last time in the foreseeable future) travelling this decrepit, reckless road and the rough country it traverses. Our driver and the passenger in front dominate the conversation, and aside from a few interjections (voice raised over the hefty rumble of the diesel engine) I am content to let them natter. Frankly I am buggered. The day began early, the five hours’ hiking took us up and down some brutally steep terrain, and the couple of beers over lunch became something more like six or seven. Again Kit and had I found ourselves at the welcome mercy of generous hosts. Another entry in the karmic ledger to be reckoned up later on: but for now food and company during our last weeks in this place are what matter.

There is a lot to remember: not just for the purpose of repaying unlooked-for hospitality, but simply for its own sake. How many times has this place stunned us with its beauty, its folly, its cruelty and its generosity? I wish I knew that every scrap of sound, sensation, light and colour will be with me forever, but it obviously can’t be that way. Already I feel the images shifting and slipping in my head. Some will stay, many will go. Recollections float up like flotsam as the Hilux thunders down and down. The furious orange of the carrots dangling from the shacks of roadside vendors in the drab marshes of Kandep. The tartness fresh kalamansi juice mixed with gin and tonic, the slight orange tincture of the drink the perfect accompaniment for a vivid sunset, a sky laced with fire. Rough drinking in Six Mile: strange characters and unlooked for friends getting more and more shitfaced under the hopeful eye of the dog locked outside and the half-snarling visage of the Outlaw Josey Wales (to say nothing of the relic machine gun directly under Clint’s watchful eye). The simultaneous grip of pity and hardness in the gut as I see the albino street boy, huddled in a service driveway downtown away from the eyes of his numerous peers, gulping food down like a desperate scavenger, a grip on life so tenuous yet so tenacious at the same time. Among many other things, all these memories lingering restlessly until their time to be summoned again, like kelp waiting to be spewed onto the beach by a roiling, unpredictable sea – or maybe like the bubbles in a nice beer, floating up and forming a satisfying, frothy head on a perfect amber beer.

Now on the verge of leaving I am trying to start this in-turned process, navigating the twists of remembering and forgetting, pulling up dregs and shedding dead weight, almost done with one thing but now starting to move through the mass of what it has imparted. Snaking through old image and noise and feelings like the wild road coming down from the plateau. A nice clear stretch: visions run rapidly and smoothly and there is a strict sense of direction and narrative to what’s come up. A hairpin bend: a memory turns around and devours its own tail and I confront something new, contorted, unexpected. A sheer drop: a lost moment where you are eclipsed by reverie, rumination and a weird yawning sense of imminent loss.

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.

Twenty point seven

Here’s a statistic – 20.7.

It’s a percentage, from the UN. It represents the probability of Papua New Guineans not surviving until the age of forty. For me, that’s just over eleven years off, and frankly if I was going to be told I had a one in five chance of not making it through the next eleven years I’d feel a bit bummed.

Two of these one-in-fivers have just ducked out to kaikai buai na stori liklik during lunch hour. One looks cross at having endured yet another morning of intensive introductory job training from a rambling white man. One has just shared a moment of satisfaction with me that a project budget is not going bananas on him. Another is chortling at something dumb on the internet. Another says luluai! in reaction to the demands of an insurance form. One walks past with a box of Big Rooster swaying in a bag hung from her slim brown wrist. Two are having a minor squabble over what instructions were given regarding a plane fare (Mi bin salim email lo yu! Nogat mi no kisim na yu bin tok nating!). Another is off to deliver some things to Ela Beach and the office of the Chairman in the fancy tower on top of the hill. One came to work with a stain on his shirt. Another was the butt of everyone’s jokes as unfortunately her hammock had collapsed under her the night before. One was woken up early in the morning when his infant son pinched him savagely on the bum. One has a job application they are trying to keep hidden from the boss, while another may be having regrets ever setting foot in this place.

Granted these are people with relatively higher incomes than their countryfolk, with typically cleaner and safer living conditions, and more robust diets. Still…

20.7 percent.

Shituation 3 – car i bagarup

There’s nothing much you can say in favour of having a car break down on you twice in one week. Conversely you can confidently say it’s a bit shithouse. It’s satisfying, however, to be able to say that having a car break down on you twice in one week in Port Moresby was no more or less shithouse than were it to have happened in Sydney. Or at least to say our car broke down on us twice in a week in Port Moresby, and guess what? We lived.

Now, a qualification – said breakdowns did not happen at night. They did not happen in the midst of a settlement teeming with raskols (probably because we tend to avoid those places, like most folks who have both the sense and the luxury of doing so – and of course there’s plenty around without much of the latter, never mind the former). The breakdowns have, I might add, been resolved to 95 percent satisfaction – once we could be bothered hauling the vehicle to our mechanically-minded man in Six Mile with the heavy equipment hire business and the defunct WW2 browning machinegun in his living room, I’ll be 100 percent satisfied.

Initially we suspected the incompetence of the petrol station attendant (a small but significant boon of Moresby life is that people fill your vehicle for you!). As our humble brown auto choked and shuddered it’s way towards home we reasoned that maybe the guy had put diesel instead of petrol in the fragile engine. We’d already recruited three strangers (one actually turned out to be our neighbour!) to help push-start it at the servo, and the effort was more painful than usual. Splutter, cough, gasp, and ppppffftttpppffff… we rolled to a halt at the lights closest to home, conveniently blocking the turning lane.

I got out and again ‘recruited’ some more help. One need not be proactive when seeking help in pushing a vehicle out of harm’s way in Moresby. You need only make vague pushing motions at the rear of a vehicle and maybe summon a few glistening droplets to adorn one’s brown and abracadabra! Three or four helpful types will materialise and get your car out of the way. If you’re lucky the same ‘new’ neighbour will appear again (as he of course did, a few kilometres from where we’d first met him), helpful and red mouthed and wild-eyed with a pot belly full of boisterousness. ‘We are used to this!’ he exclaimed, meaning his countryfolk’s frequent vehicle-pushing. ‘This is real PNG driving’. When I mentioned the diesel in the petrol tank theory he offered the services of his son to take a whiff and figure out what was in our car’s gizzards. When I said that was a bit too dangerous he told me not to worry. ‘We’re not like the Abos!’ he assured me, jokingly. I was too stupefied to respond.

A small crowd of mechanical know-it-a-bits gathered and peered at the unfathomable engine region of the car, but meanwhile we had called the helpful chap we shall call, for the purposes of this narrative, Mr Tech. Mr Tech is our property manager and his job description apparently extends to ‘helping clueless dimdims when their car’s stuffed’, among other useful activities. It was Sunday but Tech was around, so I took a short walk up to his office (an air conditioned shipping container) to borrow some jumper leads. Of course there was no question that the exercise in getting the jumper leads was simply another chance to remind him that I had no idea what to do with such things, so he said he’d be down – after some paperwork. He was rolling a cigarette as he told me this but I dare not presume what kind of paperwork would keep a man busy on a Sunday.

Tech came of course, but the jumper leads did little to reinvigorate our vehicle. In my ignorance I entertained the notion that flogging the car with them to encourage onward movement may help but I did not voice this, as even I know a car is not the same as a horse. Mr Tech retreated with the useless jumper leads. We lingered in the sun and the dust congealed between my toes. Kit got a sunburnt right arm from hanging out of the driver’s seat window. After a while the sunlight makes everything go a bit bleached-looking, a slow surreal scalding of the retinae that comes from long exposure to the garish light. The bare hills, the ubiquitous red dust, the palls of smoke, the people trudging and wilting under the bare sky. I went and bought two cans of Solo and came back just as Tech arrived again with a tow rope. As we attached it his wife sat dutifully in the front seat of their ramshackle Land Cruiser and assured us warmly that it was not a bother to help, even on a Sunday. Actual charitable Christians! I thought.

That was the first breakdown. We got the car back within a day or two after Tech’s offsider had examined it, and were told the issue was simply a flat battery, and maybe the oil (which of course had been disgracefully low). All seemed well and I was collected from work in Town a couple of afternoons later. It may have been the proximity of the same service station where the trouble had started that prompted the shudders and jolts, but again we were sitting in a car with a near-fatal case of the hiccups. Traffic was slow and inevitably we stalled. As I got out to push I could only give a helpless shrug to the driver of the ramshackle taxi now stuck behind us, who if it were not for the surprise of seeing a dimdim get out to push could have been thinking ‘there but for the grace of God…’ Or, just maybe, he was thinking we were deadshits who should be in a better car – as we were thinking.

This of course was a conspicuous situation. Two whiteys stuck by the side of a busy road, close to a kai bar and a bus stop, leaning nonchalantly on the car as if it were just the kind of thing we’d normally do in our spare time. Plenty of greetings and smiles and waves and entertained locals eyed us up as they went past. We had decided to try and get help from different quarters seeing as Mr Tech had helped us so readily the previous Sunday, but none of our calls got through. As we were contemplating the dilemma of calling on the same guy for a favour, the situation resolved itself for us – for who else what creaking his way up the bumper-to-bumper traffic than Tech himself. He spotted us, clearly puzzled, and again I shrugged. He promised to return soon with tow ropes – just first he’d have to get home and throw the two tuna fish in the back of his vehicle in the fridge. I saw these fish, they were massive, and it would have been a damn shame to leave them in the heat too long. So we waited.

Now when waiting idly by the roadside one gets less relaxed as the light dwindles. This is a fair fact. The traffic dissipated, the crowds thin and vanish. I watched as the old women packed up their cheap sunglasses and buai after a long day squatting in the dirt under the beating sun. Somewhere some people at home were probably bracing themselves for the Channel 9 news theme that preceded the EMTV news. Meanwhile I briefly got to know one of the guys who had helped us push the car, a shifty looking bloke with a ludicrously colourful shirt named Charleston. ‘I’m always around here’, he informed me, indicating the grubby steps and benches in front of the kai bar, before expectorating a mouthful of red gob proficiently into the gutter. It settled with the bountiful refuse and kindred buai stains that filled the overbrimming storm drain.

The lack of light eventually became disconcerting, but not for long – Mr Tech’s Land Cruiser was spotted rumbling in our direction, his great grey afro luminous in the cabin of the vehicle. He had brought his son, who was promptly put to work. As he bent over his son and informed him of his uselessness in the arts of the tow-rope I could not help notice Tech’s gnarled, talon-like toenails, and the wafer-thin surface of his thongs that separated his feet from the bitumen – they were so clearly part of his person that they almost looked like they would have to be peeled off his feet later after a long soak.

One final mishap awaited us, but not an unexpected one. The rope came undone as we were hauled up the wide expanse of road approaching our place, past the leering face of the Happy Gardener on the billboard out the front of his nursery, but before the Country Club and the dilapidated playing field. It was fully dark by now and cars, though fewer, were careening past at reckless speeds. Our own lights were utterly functionless and so we were were praying oncoming traffic in our lane saw us with enough time to not smash us to smithereens as we retied the rope – or as Tech’s son tied it, before his dad finally intervened to do it the grown up’s way. As they tied and untied and objected to each others’ interference I noted grimly the portions of the roadside railings that had been wiped out by speed-crazed suicide drivers in recent times. It isn’t an exagguration to say that new evidence of high-speed carnage can be seen on this road every week. We would have looked like sitting ducks in the oncoming headlights – assuming we were spotted.

A few dithering minutes later and we were moving again, all of us in one piece, as was our car. The same could not be said for Tech’s Cruiser, although this was no fault of some wild driver on Waigani Drive. Earlier I had noticed the steering column held together by layers of electrical tape, and the missing window-winder handle that had been replaced by a pair of multi-grip pliers. I commented to Tech’s son that multi-grips were probably put to better use than as makeshift window winders but he just said they always knew where to find them. Fair enough. The engine obviously worked OK though, and that was clearly the most necessary bit (along with the rope). Neither failed us for the rest of the short voyage back to Tech’s compound.

The epilogue goes something like this – the car is now fixed, although like I said I’d like our man in Six Mile to give it a once over. Some clever device called an alternator needed replacing, and the process of getting Tech’s right hand man to fix it involved two weekends of waiting – being fiscally challenged the mechanic couldn’t just buy the parts and get us to reimburse him, we had to fork out up front for everything. In addition the process of figuring out what ws actually broken seemed a bit trial and error, as in ‘stretim displa, see if it works, nogat, traim displa samting, whoops em bagarap yet, wokim nupela alternator then…’. But when you can’t fix it yourself one learns to accept these things, hop on the buses in the meantime, and wonder why on earth people don’t just ride bikes.

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.

White collar / King Pops

In case you’ve been wondering at my extended absence from this blog, I must inform you that I am now a member of the PNG Wage Slave Society. Obviously certain facts of my employment still differentiate me from the typical Moresby white collared classes, not least the fact that I’m a volunteer sponsored by an overseas agency working for an NGO rather a profit-based enterprise. One fact remains universal – work is life and life is work, give or take a couple of days a week. Factor in the commuting and the concomitant waiting for rides, the hours at home seem horribly squeezed. The sad corollary of the ‘work = life’ equation is a diminished inclination to tap away at a keyboard at awkward hours close to bedtime. Hence no blogs for the last six weeks.

So far as I have been able to figure out, working at a busy but under-resourced NGO involves a lot of moments that can be reduced to certain acronyms popularised over the internet – WTF, OMGWTF and FUBAR being three common acronyms that rattle their way around my skull in moments of duress. Without going into details of my job, I can reveal I am engaged as a volunteer ‘communications advisor’, which I find both disturbing and funny seeing as I’ve never had a ‘real’ comms job before (although I have done comms-related work to be fair on myself and those who recruited me), and also because the term ‘advisor’ tends to get lumped onto folks directly sponsored by AusAID who drive around in shiny CR-V’s and who are compelled to carry walkie-talkies everywhere to avoid severing the invisible umbilical that exists between expats and security companies (I can imagine the conversations… “Coming In Bravo 123, Bravo 123… have just progressed from the dairy aisle to the local fruits section… please advise on the safety of the Sogeri tomatoes, they seem a bit green…” or maybe “Coming in Bravo 123, have just been carjacked, bashed, robbed, stripped, beaten around the bare arse with what appeared to be a fat red saveloy sausage, and am now wandering naked up Waigani Drive at midnight, but thank duck I still have this goddamned walkie-talkie”).

But I digress. My advice has been limited and tends to include advice on spelling and what I believe is correct grammar, as well as timeless design advice like “try and make sure all your headings are the same size… and font… and colour…”. Silently I also wish to advise my colleague to “Kill that word art crap!” and “We do NOT spell ‘organisation’ with a bloody Z in former Australian colonies!” As I’ve expressed in a couple of emails and letters I often muse over my initial gut-instinct advice: “RUN AWAY!” I still marvel at the simplicity and enduring relevance. It’s right up there with “don’t shit where you eat”.

Some things are just too typical. There is a water cooler, a shared tea room with a microwave, complaints about air conditioning, and people sample your lunch if you leave it in the fridge. Other things are somewhat unusual. For example there’s the old guy (everyone calls him Pops) who sits and stares out the window and speaks quiet but gravelly Tok Pisin. He has a thin weathered face, big kind eyes and an unapologetically unhurried style. Pops is the guy who carries the used cups and spoons to some secret location known only to those inducted into the arcane rites of the Venerable Order of the Mop and Bucket, and carries them back a few minutes later when his ritual is complete, miraculously clean. I say “miraculously” because from all observations Pops himself cleans nothing. He does a lot of staring out the window and admiring the bulky container ships as they are shunted around the harbour by the bright red tugboats. He hassles the people in charge for money to go and buy more instant coffee, sugar and milk – items that Pops can incidentally be seen consuming at frequent intervals. He can be seen pacing the board room with a broom – not sweeping, just cradling the thing like a sceptre in the crook of his arm, warning the squirming hordes of cockroaches that there is only one King and that King is Pops.

Once I asked Pops about the microwave. He patiently explained that people spilled food inside, and as the successive two-minute bursts of high microwave energy fried the spilled milk and noodles, causing the smell to get worse and worse. Armed with this new wisdom I returned to my desk, still no wiser as to who cleans the putrid thing. Mysteriously it was cleaned within a day after my enquiry – but nobody saw anyone clean it. If I have spare lunch I share it with Pops. If he has wild sorceries at his command I want him on my side. Or at least I want him to clean the microwave.