I have been in Papua New Guinea for a few days now and I am settling in well. As I suspected, life has been nuts since I arrived. For example, I spent my lunch time one day just buying toilet paper and soap. Life is better with toilet paper and soap.
I am almost over jetlag, although I still get awfully tired in the late afternoon. I have started work, and so far it is going really well. There is a tonne of work to do (that’s a metric tonne, in case you’re wondering), but it is super-interesting and engaging. I genuinely feel like I am going to have a significant ability to positively influence the work and to make a positive contribution to both the project and the organisation.
When I was setting up my office computer yesterday afternoon, I had to unplug the Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS). I had the end of the power cable that is supposed to be plugged into the wall and grabbed it with my left hand. I must have touched two of the metal prongs at the same time as it gave me quite a jolt. It is not supposed to do that, but then who knows where these things are made and to what standard. My left hand went numb for a little while but recovered quickly. I shall have to be more careful in future. Two things I hate in life are when people drive too close behind me and being electrocuted. Nothing ruins one’s day like electrocution.
In my spare time I, I have been very active. I have been walking to work – along my street past the cars that have been stripped for parts and abandoned, and then down a long, steep set of stairs that are covered in dust, rocks, rubbish, broken glass, etc.
I have also been playing a lot of sport. I have been swimming twice. The water is gloriously warm. I love swimming in the tropics. I have also found a gym and I’ve been going most days. I played squash this week (the gym has two squash courts), and I went hiking last night through one of the “Settlements” – an area of town where squatters have set up rough housing and made it their homes. They tend to be a bit like a slum and are definitely dangerous places. However, we were there in numbers and I felt quite safe. In fact, the people were quite welcoming. More on that later. And tonight, I am going to Yoga.
I have largely figured out the food situation and I have been eating all the mangoes, watermelon and pineapple that I can get my hands on.
I tend to eat at a restaurant once per day so I use that meal to get my protein fix. Everyone here drinks a lot. So far, I have avoided getting dragged in to that. Although, I did give in and have a Crown Lager at the Yacht Club the other day.
I used to drink Crown in Australia sometimes and I would have to say that it is one of my favourite beers. But in the time since I arrived, I have watched friends around me consume a few hundred beers each, so by comparison I am a teetotaller.
Despite all of my precautions, I was bitten by mosquitoes on the ankles on my first night. I think it happened while I was asleep – right through my mosquito net and a sheet. I’ve fixed the problem now – I bought two cushions and put them on the corners of the bed to hold my mosquito net up above my sheet (like a tent fly). I was speaking to my colleagues about being bitten. One of my new colleagues is Eve, a Filipino woman who is very short and slender and always speaks her mind. She is hilariously direct in her communication style. I explained that the mosquitoes feasted on me, but left Owen alone. Eve said that it must be because they like my blood more. I said, “Yeah, they say, ‘this stuff is great – it’s full of vitamins’” Owen said, “Whereas when they take my blood they say, “Hey! This is full of booze and cholesterol!”
Safety is constantly on one’s mind here. Three of my expatriate colleagues at work have been carjacked in the last year. One was robbed at gunpoint on the street outside my office. So far, I have felt quite safe for the most part. There was some crazy man yelling at me as I crossed the street a couple of days ago. I don’t know what I did to offend him. I just ignored him and kept walking. He proceeded along the street, still yelling at me incomprehensibly until I disappeared into my building.
It is universally acknowledged that it is not safe to walk the streets of Port Moresby after dark. However, the taxis (on which I am dependent for transport) almost completely stop after dark. That makes it tricky at around 18:00 when the sun starts to go down. One has to decide whether to walk home quickly and hope to make it before dark, or to grab a taxi just to be on the safe side.
Walking to the gym is a little bit frightening to be honest. It’s just hard to know when one is really at risk and when one is safe. I try to be friendly to the people around me and always greet them as I go past. Mostly, people respond very positively. They are almost all really nice.
However, sometimes, one gets the sense that one is not welcome. I try to keep a smile on my face and act as though I belong there, even though in reality I am usually freaking out on the inside.
When we arrived at the office yesterday, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirrors near the lifts and noticed that the hairstyling that I had done just before leaving the house was completely destroyed by the time I arrived at work. The humidity wreaks havoc with my hair. The prospect of 500 ‘bad hair days’ in a row is not very appealing. I mentioned this to Owen and he said, “That’s a First World problem”. I felt a bit embarrassed and said, “Yeah, I guess it is”.
Thanks very much to those who’ve sent me e-mails and posted comments below. I really appreciate it!
Until next Postcard from Dangerous Places…