So much has been happening since I arrived that I haven’t been able to keep up with writing about it. No doubt I shall have more time as things settle down for me and indeed I am already establishing a comfortable daily routine of work, exercise and foraging for food.
Connecting to the world has proved to be a challenge. Internet connections are expensive and unreliable in PNG. It costs 0.2 Kina i.e. 10 cents per megabyte. There is only one trunk connecting PNG to the rest of the world – a cable running between here and Australia. On occasion it has gone down (like the time when a ship ran over it and cut the cable) and then the whole country loses its connection to the Internet.
This poster is in Pidgin English. It reads “Top up here”.
I connect using a USB ‘broadband dongle’, but it is slow and constantly drops out or just isn’t available at all. However, early in the morning it tends to be a lot faster. I took advantage of a moment when the connection was fast to upload some short videos of life here, which I’ve included below.
I’m starting to take in more of the details of life in PNG as I interact with more people and become more familiar with the culture here. There are definitely some distinctive traits that I have observed already. For example, I’ve noticed that quite often, people will call me ‘boss’. I’m told this is a relic of a bygone era when Caucasian guys were always the boss. It’s a bit odd to be called that by a stranger though. Yesterday, I opened the door for a chap and he said, “Thank you boss”. I find myself calling people ‘boss’ now too, in the same way that an Australian would use the word ‘mate’.
Another thing that I’ve observed is that people here tend to be very superstitious. This was an Animist society a few generations ago but now Western religion has taken hold in a big way. The Catholics, the Protestants, the JWs and the Mormons all have churches and religious centres around town. Almost wherever I go, religious propaganda abounds.
Apparently, somebody didn’t get the memo though – for such a religious country there is obviously a serious amount of sexual activity going on, and much of it unprotected. There is an HIV epidemic in PNG with 1% of the population being HIV positive. There are posters all over the place educating people about the risks of HIV and the need to practice safe sex.
My personal favourite poster though, relates to Tuberculosis. It reads “TB is not caused by sorcery”.
The message is that TB is caused by a germ, so don’t go blaming Harry Potter – he had nothing to do with it.
The lifts in my office building have been driving me nuts. I am located on the 10th floor and usually only one of the three lifts is functioning so it is always crowded. The elevator on right is often the one that is available but it has a quirk in that if more than three floor buttons are pressed at once, it cancels all the buttons. So when I get in to the lift I have to wait to see who else is going to press a button. If there are three buttons selected, then I wait until some folks get out before I can press the button for the 10th floor.
The lifts also happen to play the most annoying elevator music ever. A woman’s voice announces each floor in an Australian accent.
I went to catch the lift the other day and there was a group waiting on the ground floor for the only working lift. Someone asked about the other two and the reply was “buggerup”. That is the Pidgin English word for “broken”. I decided to abandon my colleagues and walk the 11 stories up to the 10th floor (buildings here are like Australia – the ground floor is called ‘ground’, not ‘1’). They waited and took the lift up. I beat them by two or three minutes.
It continues to be blisteringly hot most days. Sometimes I can barely cope – especially when I’m walking up the many steep hills. The hardest part has been adjusting to the heat when I am exercising. I find myself asking, “What were they thinking putting a country in such a hot place?”
But there has been some respite of late. The wet season has arrived. We have had a few days where it rained. And of course this is the tropics, so when it rains, it pours.
I had one of my first truly amazing PNG experiences yesterday. I joined a walking group (well, it’s more of a drinking group that walks to places where they can drink). We took a stroll outside of town to a large hill overlooking Port Moresby. To get there, we had to make our way through some heavy foliage, which was challenging. I really felt like I was an intrepid explorer trudging through the jungle. Then I’d come across a big pile of rubbish and be reminded that I was still quite close to the city. The walk was tough but the view was well worth it.
On the way back down, we passed through an outer suburb of Port Moresby that is inhabited only by locals – the foreigners tend to clump together closer to the downtown area. It was fascinating to wander through this neighbourhood and see the houses and the shops. We came across a game of touch Rugby being played on a dusty field. At one point during the walk, we came across a power pole that had fallen down and was resting at about a 45 degree angle. The wires were hanging right down over the road, only about a metre off the bitumen. I don’t know if there was still power running through them, but I gave the wires a wide berth to be on the safe side.
The people were so welcoming. They were obviously surprised to see us there (most foreigners are too scared to leave their compounds, let alone walk through a neighbourhood like this). The children followed us along and people called out “Good afternoon”. Many of them wanted to shake my hand. It was humbling to be so warmly welcomed by complete strangers just because I happened to stroll along their street. I am sure that this would almost never happen back in Vancouver.
This really is a remarkable place and I get the sense that I am at the very beginning of a journey here. I think it would take years of living here to truly unlock the secrets of this place.