I am an Australian working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) in Bible translation and linguistics. Before I moved here I worked on traditional sailing ships doing sail training, and shared life with friends through our variation on intentional Christian community living.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect the opinion of any of the organisations mentioned.
Friday, 10 May 2013
Diesel guarding the gate.
After months of living in Ukarumpa, being back in a PNG town
feels, smells and sounds different. I am secure behind our big gates and barbed
wire topped fence and the neighbours behind theirs, but we spread into each
other’s space in many other ways. With windows always open to catch any breath
of breeze, we can hear and smell everything that is going on.
The mostly empty block next door has people coming and going
all day. I hear the chain rattle as the gate is unlocked and relocked. Someone
sits by the fence in the shade of an umbrella, selling buai and chatting to passersby.
The naked toddler mostly plays happily, sometimes cries. I pick starfruit from
the tree at the end of our veranda, as do the neighbours from their side of the
Neighbourhood buai stall
Next to the empty yet populated block is a church. It is
clean and well kept. Last night there was a gathering there, so I fell asleep
to joyful and tuneful singing. Another night I fell asleep to a sermon…something
I try not to do when actually in the church! They were not out late, I was in
bed early. I struggle to sleep beyond sunrise here, so choose to go to bed
Across the road are the back of patchwork houses crowded
around the edge of a property. At night I could see their fires and smell the
burning rubbish. I see a lady cooking, a man going to wash, a string of
clothing out to dry. Bananas and buai grow in the limited space available.
Behind us are some half built houses. It sounds like someone
is working on them today. With the cut grass and pile of gravel it seems to be
a project that is progressing, not one of the many abandoned half finished
projects I see around the country.
Not far away are the shops. Each one has much the same
inside it. Crackers, rice, sugar, tea, coffee, milk powder, flour, 2 min
noodles, tinned fish, canned pork or beef, salt, msg…all the basics plus a few
other things. If you see something you like, buy it while you can, as it may
not be back for a very long time. These stores are often run by ‘Asians’
(Philipino, Indian, Chinese) who keep things running but there is a common bias
against them. The fresh produce market is a bit further away and features
lobster from K2 (A$1) each; a cheaper, fresher and tastier option that the
tinned fish at the store.
Skinny dogs wander the streets. They are generally ignored,
but should you hit one with your car, it suddenly becomes someone’s precious
animal and compensation is demanded. The streets of Kavieng, like Alotau, are
much cleaner than the Highlands towns I’ve been to recently. There the rubbish
piles up, gets set on fire, but is never really cleared away. There is even
less Buai spit on the streets here, although the trademark red splatters are
still around. If this cleanliness is the product of a smaller population,
different regulations or different cultures, I do not know.
In one empty block I saw kids kicking a football, Aussie
Rules style. This was surprising, as the usual question is ‘Blues or
Maroons?’…a question I did not know the meaning of the first time I heard it, and
it refers to an Australian competition. Competitive sport never was my thing!
New houses over the back fence
The road out front is normal and pot holed. People cut
across an empty lot to avoid the worst of the holes, but there is no smooth
route. Most people travel by foot anyway, shaded by their umbrellas, carrying
cargo on bilums hung from their heads.
It is good to be back in town, back in another slice of PNG.
Each place has its own feel, which is what makes this the land of the