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 fence.

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 early instead.

Patchwork houses
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 unexpected. 

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