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The Best Epiphanies Occur in Public Toilets.

On the way home from Papua New Guinea, in the aeroplane, I had to go and lock myself in the toilet for 20 minutes so that I could cry without making everyone on the cabin feel uncomfortable. I don’t usually do that but I had been watching some short New Zealand films, and I got a little emotional. (For the record it was The Graffiti of Mr Tupaia)

They weren’t sad tears exactly, I just happened to be suddenly struck by how beautiful, and heart achingly tragic and fragile the world was, all at once, and I needed to let it all out. And as I’ve always had something of an affinity with toilets, I knew it would appreciate my emotional outburst probably more than the sleepy business man sitting beside me and so I went in and I sat down and I cried.

I cried for New Guinea, and for it’s women, and for how strong they are and I cried for it’s beautiful soil, and for it’s corruption, and for fresh coconut and for small cooking fires laughing in makeshift slum huts ,and for the way the mist in front of Mt Hagen looks early in the morning, and I cried for it’s rainforests, and for the people cutting them down. I cried for Wall street, and men in suits, and rich children, and loneliness, and cotton wool and too big clone houses with easycare gardens, and greed that eats you up and makes you empty. I cried for Greg who has four luxury cars and is friendly and successful and thinks he is a good person, and for those sad dead parts of america where the fast food chains sit clean and quiet and murmur apocalyptic whispers that even the radio in the empty carpark will not drown out.

I cried for New Zealand, and for Parihaka, and for our squeamish, uncomfortable history, for the way nice teachers with lipstick dismiss the caretaker without meaning to, for what we don’t see and what we do see, and how we pretend everything is fine; God’s own country. I cried for the wrinkles on my grandparents and for potlucks,and for how much I wanted to see my family and for the dune hills above sandfly bay and the deep forests of fiordland, and the way you feel when you can see the top of Aspiring, and I cried because I don’t know whether my grandchildren will be able to breathe those places like I have, or even if I should have children, even though my stomach somersaults when I smell the top of babies heads. I cried because I was in a plane, burning oil and going too fast, contributing to the deaths of people in Pakistan and famines in Kenya and glaciers melting and fresh water disappearing and the destruction of kaimoana, and because momentum makes you feel sick sometimes especially when you’re small and the tide feels like the whole ocean. I cried for the silly confidence of politicians and for old men who tell me I’m young and idealistic and for middle age people who humour me and I cried for the power of ideas, and for words which are like fire, for the way a photograph tells things , for the way a children’s book can make you dance, and the way a story stays in your stomach for days. But mostly I cried because the world was beautiful, and there just didn’t seem to be any other sensible response.

And then I laughed while I sobbed because I was so happy to be alive, and because I was so grateful that I could feel anything at all, and because of how ridiculous it was that I was bawling my eyes out in the aeroplane toilet, somewhere between Brisbane and Christchurch in the middle of the ocean on a Tuesday afternoon.

I think that might have been the moment that I realised that I was never ever ever never, going to give up on the world, that it had infected its crazy beauty in me, and that I was stuck, quite gloriously and helplessly, in it.

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Legitimate existence and chickens

After 4 months of happily being out of the country, blissfully flitting around in other peoples lives and tragedies, rejoicing in the shitty problems of other countries and cultures, I am now back, at home,  attempting to face up to what is technically, for me at least, The Real World. It is deflating. The sad fact of the matter is that I can’t run away and be on holiday for ever, and have to accept sooner or later that I am in life for the long haul, and must have complicated, long term relationships with people, and have to exist specifically somewhere for the long term, that specific place being New Zealand, and that specific place happening to have shitty and abundantly complicated problems just like anywhere else in the world, and, just like everywhere else in the world, shitty and abundantly complicated problems that are not easy to fix

At the tender age of 18 and 11/12, and nearly a year after being churned and spit out of school I guess I could probably be considered (even though my mother doesn’t think so) an adult, one with the ominous task of now Making Something Of Myself, becoming Successful, and Achieving My Dreams. I must go to university, get a job , then a career, and a car and a house and a marriage and buy Stuff.And the problem is , that I really couldn’t care less about any of those things. Life is a kadrillion times more beautiful, and besides, aside from being hideously boring, the Being Successful parade seems, in the light of the situation of the world as a whole just a little bit selfish, not to mention stupid and soul destroying. In fact, I think, if I ever manage to be successful by the typical standards of society, I will probably have betrayed everything that I believe in. If success means fitting into a culture that is destroying the lives of people, and the planet, idiotically committing murder and suicide on a grand scale, while most of the people around you have nothing, then I don’t really think I want to be successful.  Not suprisingly, I never really found school career advice that helpful.

The 2 things that I perhaps would like to be mildly successful in are, 1) being a real human being,and 2) fixing the worlds shitty and abundantly complicated problems. While possibly, with a lot of help,I have a marginally acceptable shot at achieving the first one, there is not a single chance that I will achieve the second one The world has a lot of very complicated problems, with muddly and unclear solutions and I am not even going to come close to fixing half of them, or a quarter of them, or 5% of them or even 0.5% . That’s not to say that trying is a waste of time, It quite thoroughly is not, but fixing the world is not particularly achievable, nor is it quantifiable ( which is of course what matters) and nor is it particularly permanent

Unfortunately however no one is going to employ me to be a real human being, or to destroy capitalism or stick it to the man,, and also, doing the above things is sadly not going to get me a second four wheel drive or a hideously boring house in the suburbs with an easy care garden.

So it seems like I’m bound to be something of a failure, through whomevers eyes you look.

Which brings me to the question: How on earth can I exist legitimately in society as it is without hating myself? If anyone has a good answer I would love to hear it, however I have been thinking a lot about this over the last week, and I have decided that it is simply not possible.

And actually, I think that’s okay. Further more I have decided that I don’t particularly want to be legitimate. I think on the whole, Society is mostly pretty undeserving of my respect and interest in it’s opinions of me. I have decided instead that my hopes and dreams are to be a gloriously unsuccessful but real human being,with chickens, and home made jam and friends and potatoes, and I don’t really mind whether that’s considered a legitimate career option or not.

I guess I could redefine success, but that to be honest, just sounds like a clichéd ad for mascara.

A poor quality love poem for PNG

New Guinea, your sorrows weigh on me heavy like

bundles of kaukau on a womans back

baby on one hip and bare feet in a crowded

market place decomposing rubbish and chewed

betel nut.

Flattened coke bottles like

small corpses lie layered in the mud

part of the fabric of your soil.

.

If I could hold you

fix your wounds with my magical white meri box

I would

but there’s not much left just

some soggy stained plasters that have lost their stick

and I don’t really know what I can tell you. I come

escaping from the smouldering wreck

of white dreams

not exactly recovered from the trauma

.

But I will tell you you are beautiful

.

You are beautiful like the toothless grin

of an old man in dirty suit and no shoes who

will die happy after a life abundant

in the richness of suffering and joy.

.

Your markets are chaotically alive,

in the joy that fills the face and hands of an old friend,

in the acrid smell of rubbish and fire that wafts

through unwashed people and fresh pineapple.

.

Even your forests breathe beating

with the pulse of river veins

swirling mud brown deep

.

You are beautiful like hot sweet potato, cooked in ash

and kumu steamed with coconut cream

just enough for everyone in the room

and the baby

who will hold it in his fist like a torch.

You are beautiful but I hold your tragedies with me too.

.

so what shall I say to the fat men

in suits who wish to take apart your body like

small boys with trucks in a sandpit?

For money does not come from nowhere and

kaukau wil not pay your children’s school fees

But you are lined with it in the folds of your flesh and

in the scent of your cloak and hair and

If you let them tear up your skin burn

scars deep into your surface strip

you of just some

of your forests maybe they will have strong houses and cars

for a while. Washing machines and fridges. Maybe

it will pay for hospitals and schools

and roads and bridges

I don’t know

A class full of wide eyes in brown faces expectant

empty pages waiting to be filled but

I’m really not sure what to say

.

other than you are beautiful and

that’s not much use when your sister is dying of aids and your

mother is dying of something else and your baby is sick and

there is no road to get to a hospital.

Some lessons in Murphy’s Law, or How To Travel And Not Get Bored.

Seeing that I abused facebook with my pleas for help so much over the last couple of days, and also because it is a pretty good story, I thought I should try and explain, in writing, how exactly it was that I came to make it home from Papua New Guinea.

We had decided that I could catch the plane to Moresby from Lae to instead of Hagen, as it would be cheaper, and also because the Lae show was on that weekend, so Wendy and I got up early on Wednesday to begin the 8 hour journey along the highlands highway by bus. Traveling by Public Motor Vehicle ( PMV) in Papua New Guinea is the one guaranteed way that I know of to ensure that your trip will not be uneventful. That or perhaps holding a sign that says “I don’t give a shit about the world cup” out your window while driving along in NZ.
About an hour down the highway we managed to achieve a flat tyre. This was fine, we fixed it and the driver then proceded to lead us all in prayer for thesafe protection of the rest of the journey, which all 20 people on our 15 seater van did, quite sincerely. The journey continued to plan with the usual outrageous potholes, sheer cliff faces that look very crumbly, reckless speeding and exciting swerves whenever we met someone driving the opposite way. Sometime after we’d made it down out of the Chimbu area I noticed that one of the bus crew members had a ridiculously large knife tucked up by the top of the van door. This was “just in case” we were stopped by any tribal groups involved in the warfare in this area, desperate for food or supplies. He also warned us, quite casually, not to fall asleep in this section of the area. Thankfully nothing happened and we arrived down in the coast quite intact, although a little hot and sweaty.. Being squished in a van with 20 other people and no air conditioning in 40 degree heat isn’t the most pleasant experience, and I did think I might possibly faint or die at one stage.

But anyway.That was all fine. We stayed for 3 nights in Lae, with friends of Wendy’s and another relation whose husband is a pastor at Lae baptist church.. My plane was due to fly out on Sunday morning, and a relation of some sort who had a car was going to take us out there. It was getting late and we werent sure where he was though, so everyone began to panic a little bit, as we didn’t have a plan B. However, about an hour late, Bala turned up. On the realisation that I was about to leave PNG forever, Grace the three year old, my new best friend of all of 2 days burst into hysterical tears, and then, spontaneously the whole family, about 10 people, decided to accompany us and ended up piling into the ute and we sped off, hoping to make it in time.. About half way to the airport Bala rang the airport to check me in, only to discover that actually, because of the recent plane crash, airlines PNG had canceled all flights for about the next week.

This was a little problematic for me, because I had a separate flight with virgin blue from Moresby to Brisbane, and then another separately booked flight from Brisbane, and these would leave without me if I couldn’t get down to Moresby that day or early next morning. I was also broke, Airlines PNG refused to refund the ticket until the next day and any flights available with air niu guinea, the only other airline that operates domestically, were very, very expensive. It also happened to be Sunday, and so nobody was able to get our any money from savings accounts in the bank (which needed to be done in person) The only possibility anyone could think of was to get family in NZ to transfer some money online, so I would be able to withdraw some cash from an ATM. However, it just so happened that my parents happened to be on holiday. And for some reason Balas phone( who, miraculously, actually has credit because he works for a cellphone company) wasn’t able to reach them, even though we tried about 20 times. So I spent my last 20 kina on an internet voucher and we decided to go back to the church house to try and use the internet on the pastor’s modem. However, it just so happened that there was a power cut. Luckily, I had my laptop with half-full battery, so we tried this, however the modem required a password, and the only person who knew this happened to be the pastor who was currently preaching ferociously, without any sign of winding down. Being Papua New Guinean, and baptist, and because the saving power of jesus christ was so transformational, the service took another 2 hours to finish, and by the time Lawrence the pastor was able to connect my laptop to the modem, it just so happened that the internet signal for the entire area was down.
Luckily though, someone at church worked at the university had access to the internet at the uni, which was working, so we went there, and finally got online. I sent an embarrassing plea for help on facebook, and several emails, in the hope someone would send me money, and hurrah for faceook, it worked almost instantly. Checking the flight website online however, it would just so happen that all of the next mornings flights would be booked out. But luckily, Bala happened to know someone at air niu guinea, and somehow, unbelievably managed to ring up and get me booked on board an early flight, in time to make it to moresby to catch my next flight. We breathed a sigh of relief. There was still however, the issue of money. Because it was a sunday, John’s money transferred online woudn’t be processed until the next working day, and my flight would leave at 7.00 am, check in time 4am. Because NZ is 3 hours ahead of new Guinea I figured that might just be processed in time to pay for the flight in the morning. Everyone else figured that we should take extra cash if possible, just in case, so the entire family and collection of friends, rallied and I ended up with : 100 kina from the sunday school, Wendy’s bus money to get home, another 100 kina for an upcoming youth event, and all the extra cash everyone had with them, which individually wasn’t much, but somehow all up was just enough for the flight. When we arrived at the airport at 5.30,am it hadn’t opened yet, in typical PNG style, even though my official check in time was 4am. It was a good thing we did bring the cash, because , for starters, the eftpos machine refused to recognise my card at all, and then it ran out of batteries and promptly died anyway. So, promising to send the money back via post office as soon as possible, so that Wendy could travel home that afternoon to start work the next day, we paid with cash and I got on the plane.

When I arrived at Port Moresby, I met up with Ven Morris and we went to see about getting a refund from Airlines PNG. However an angry mob was gathering outside the office and apparently refunds were only going to be given out after lunch, Because I am white I was offered special assistance, and because my plane was leaving at 2pm I let this happen. However after waiting round for another hour and a bit, with at least 6 people saying they would definitely help us and then promptly disappearing, we finally gave up and went to an ATM to see if the money had gone through. It hadn’t. Agnes drove me into an internet cafe in town and I posted another desperate message, and this time Karen put money through. However, this didn’t go through instantly either, because, like john, she is with a different bank and so it takes a day or two to process. I had no idea what to do, but we went back to Air niu guinea, and after another half an hour, finally got the refund. It was nowhere enough to pay everyone back, but we were running out of time, so went back to the airport, checked me in, then went back to the ATM one last time in a desperate hope that something would happen, and miraculously there was just enough. I got the money out gave it to agnes to post and the refund money to morris so he’d be able to fly up to hagen, said a last goodbye and went to wait in the departure lounge. I would like to say this was the end of the drama , because I am already tiring of writing this, but not quite, as it just so happened that the PA system at the airport was broken, and no one called us up for our flight. Concerned that it was getting late I went up to the desk on two separate occasions and asked if I should be somewhere, however both times was told to go and wait to be called. At about 2pm ( the plane was due to depart at 2pm) a man walked past, glanced at our tickets and said “did you realise that flight is about to leave?” The papua new guinean lady, who I was hanging out with and I ran sprinting down with our bilums, got on the plane, and 5 minutes later were in the sky looking down through the clouds.

There was turbulence and the plane arrived an hour an a half late, but I managed to catch the train into Paul’s in Brisbane, cook dinner, have a conversation about psychotherapy and then go to sleep. And from this point on everything else went smoothly, apart from me missing the train in the morning by 30 seconds because I went down the wrong elevator, having to take the next one, and arriving at the Air NZ check with 10 minutes to spare.
Considering I missed my international flight on the way over to America because of the ash cloud (spending 3 days in Auckland and having to pay about $800 to get the flights connected up), I am beginning to wonder whether god is sending me some sort of message about my carbon emissions…

Regardless, I’m quite happy that everything went wrong. It’s been quite a nice lesson in dealing with catastrophe, and in not expecting everything to go exactly according to plan, and in sometimes having to rely entirely and utterly on other people . I’m also now personally indebted to about half the population of Papua New Guinea and am never going to be able to wash my hands of the place, ( and quite a few NZers too) but in a way that’s kind of nice too, even if it is messy and complicated.

Being white in Papua New Guinea

The other day one of the kiwi ladies at MAF ( missionary aviation fellowship) took me out for lunch. I had no idea the cafe existed, but it’s actually quite near to our house only behind huge walls and barbed wire. A couple of metres from the entrance, 2 women sit in the mud and sell betel nuts and cigarettes. They probably make about 5 or 6kina a day. But inside the compound, there are gardens, and a bird aviary, and a lot of white people and affluent koreans.  It’s like being in a different world. The sandwiches/lunch dishes on the menu cost between 25 and 45 kina, and a coffee is 9 kina. The waitress and counter staff are probably being paid 2 kina an hour.This is why there are no national papua new guineans who eat there.

J is part maori, but has lived in australia most of her life, and is married to an australian who works for MAF as an engineer. They have several children, and live in a MAF compound with other white families, and televisions, and stereos, and coffee machines, and a generator, and their own water supply. I had no idea really, how many ‘expats’ there were in hagen, because you hardly ever see them in town, or at the market. Whenever i go to town with Sandra or Wendy, people stare, and sometimes hold their children up to see me. Come to think of it I don’t think i have ever seen another white person at the Hagen market, and i have been here nearly a month..However here i was, in a clean hygenic place,with art on the walls and no chicken bones and betel ut spit on the floor, and with a multitude of white people. I was rather bewildered, and asked J about the market thing, and she said , quite casually it would be becasue they send their hausmeris to fetch groceries and run errands.

Hausmeri means literally house woman, and in this context, it means a poor papua new guinean woman who comes and cleans your house, and washes your dishes, and straigtens your furniture, and then probably, when she is finished, she will go hometo her grass hut, where she will sleep on  a thin matress on the floor becasue they have no furniture and cook some kumara on an open fire for her numerous , probably dirty children. You have to train them first J tells me, because they come from villages or the settlements where there is no electricity, and no dishwashers and and no washing machines. I swallowed my revulsion, and J said that she did find it wierd at first, but then she said she realised that everyone did it, and it was a way of helping someone out who needed a job. MAF pays them generously, at 2.50 kina an hour (equivalent to around $1.50, and for an unedducated woman, living in the city, it’s quite a highly prized job. I do see what she means by this, I really do, but I don’t know  what to think about it. It doesn’t feel right at all. What disturbs me somewhat too, is that when they are talking about this woman amongst themselves, they don’t refer to her by name, but by the term hausmeri  ie ” maybe the hausmeri put it somewhere funny” I really don’t like it at all.

How can you be a missionary to somebody if you’re not equals? How can you come in with all your things like that, when your neighbors have no shoes and malnourished babies. I don’t think you can be equals with someone if you pay them to do your dirty dishes and laundry. You definately can’t if youu pay them in an entire week what you would spend on going out or a casual lunch. I really don’t understand. And I am really confused as to what these people think christianity is all about. You can’t just fly in and drop a  personal relationship with jesus box on someones dirt floor, and then go sit in your palace, and expect to impart christianity on a place.. And i don’t think you can really love your neighbor from a palace either, particulalrly if your neighbor lives on a dirt floor. Not that there is anything wrong with dirt floors, but it is impossible to have a healthy relationship with someone who lives on one, if you think dirt floors are beneath you.

J was telling me, that some of the  mixed race business people ( who are universally rich becasue they have australian educations) are discovering christianity ( to her great joy) They went along to some local church services for a while,and all was going fine, but after a bit began to feel uncomfortable becasue people expected them to be generous with their money. So they  went and talked to J about this, and instead of, I don’t know what,  she and her huband have started up a home church on Sunday afternoons in the cafe, catering to these guys, and some other expats who don’t really have a christian background, where they can learn about having a personal relationship with jesus, without feeling uncomforable about having money while everyone else around them doesn’t.

I like this story a lot, I think it is beautifully ironic

If you have a house here, and perhaps a car, and a little money, or really anything that someone could take, you have to live inside a compound, with barbed wire fences, and a 24 hour security guard. If you’re an expat, its very very easy to live a  completely separate life from the messy, muddiness that is the real face of PNG, and the more I stay here, the moreIi realise how entrenched this separation sometimes is. I really really hate it that Papua new guineans are often  shocked that I don’t mind sleeping on the floor, or using pit toilets, or that I am living with a  local family. People in the villages are astounded that  can use a skipping rope and walk without falling over most of the time. And it really annoys me that people think i can’t do work either, that i don’t know how to wash clothes without a machine, or set fires or cook, or that i can’t walk bare foot or carry my own bag.I mean I am lazy, and a little incompetent and clumsy  sometimes,but they take it too far. It’s like i’m some giant pallid princess doll that needs to be waited on.  The fact that people will remark on how strong I am ( I am not in the slightest) and on how well I fit into life with a PNG family I find very disturbing becasue it begs the question what sort of impression do white people normally give???!!! How on earth can people come here and tolerate being waited on by people? How can they allow themselves to be treated like a superior class and never integrate properly with people in the villages? If this is the expectation people have for me, then there must be a precedent for it – there have been missionaries and aid workers  living in these villages for 50 plus year…

I wish too, that papua new guinea hadn’t been quite so thoroughly brainwashed by evangelical missionaries rhetoric on westernised christianity and progress. People tend to put a little holy bubble around life in NZ and Australia and around western culture in general, and often tend to act like any step towards progress means looking like a little mini australia or america. They assume that i know everything, whereas in reality i come screaming from the wreakage of western culture, and really have no idea what ‘development’ should look like for PNG. I mean it is both arrogant and callous  and ridiculously impossible to tell people they should go back an live in their villages without technology and western medicine and education, and likewise it seems particulalrly stupid to try and model PNG on america and NZ and australia, considering the crises that we are facing.

So i don’t really have any satisfactory conclusions apart from the fact that the world is infinitely complicated and dificult

City! life! in Papua! new! guinea!

Papua New Guinea is a very messy sort of a place. Alive and vibrant and joyous  but very, very messy and rather dysfunctional in a loveable sort of way. It is hot and humid, and at the moment it is rainy season, which means it pours down every afternoon like clockwork, creating rivers of mud down to our house, which means it is impossible to walk out in the morning without getting your sandals filfthy because the road is not gravelled or tarsealed In the cities, like Moresby and Hagen where i am staying, the streets are filled with rubbish, piles of plastic bags and nappies and twisted deformed coke bottles like little corpses in layers of mud, In Moresby, people burn piles of this stuff from time to time, little smoking piles giving off acrid smoke that curdles your nostrils, but mainly it just sits around, in the gutters and sides of the roads. This is mostly because there isn’t an efficient working collection system anywhere, and becasue no one has any way of taking it to a dump themselves, and also i suspect a little bit because the concept of non biodegradable rubbish has really made it into the collective social consciousness yet; banana leaves and sugar cane fibres and old bush rope are used to being thrown onto the side of the path, why should plastic bags be any different?

Houses are a mixture of falling down western style houses, grass huts and anything in between , especially in the settlement areas which are essentially slums really. Most people even in the cities will still cook regulalrly on an open fire.. Electricity and water supplies are tempermental at best in Hagen, although the supply is a lot better than other smaller cities i’m told and it’s not wise to rely soley on electricity for your food, even if you can afford electricity units, which most people probably can’t

Most people don’t have access to private cars. You see women all the time carrying enormous loads on the backs- huge string bilums holding kilograms and kilograms and kilograms of produce, and sometimes a baby or two as well, with all the weight resting on their heads. Public transport from to and from town and from village to village, or t least the nearest point along th road to your village, is by dilapidated vans, and trucks called dinahs with open back and long benches, both of which fit ridiculous amounts of people. There are no bus timetables,  and no marked bus stops, the drivers’ assistant will simply yell out the destination aggressively as the drive along or as they wait outside the market.No one ever wears seatbelts, and not a whole lot of attention is paid to following road rulesThe first time I ever rode in a PMV I counted 23 people as well as a baby and an alive chicken in our 10 seater van,and impressively, everyone wasinside the vehicle – Its not at all unusual to see people sitting in top of truck roofs, or hanging out the side of vans.

 

Nothing ever really runs to a strict time schedule, or goes exactly as you planned..You start when everyone is there, you finish church when everyone has run out of testimonies, you eat when the food has been cooked ( the other day we had dinner at 11), you get home when you finish everything that needs to be done, and if you meet a friend on the street, it is perfecty okay to stop nd chat for half an hour, even if you really need to be somewhere else

 

in the cities there are often problems with pickpockets, and rascal men. Just last week a missionary woman we  know had a laptop and several hundred kina stolen from her at knife point on the road that Greg and I walk to school on.  And the other day i had an old bag slashed open with a knife in the middle of the market. Fortunately the only thing inside was a bottle of sunscreen– which was sliced right through too. I’ve also had  had people reaching into my pocket. I would be mad, but in all likelyhood it is probably  just some of the street kids that hang around the market, who are in what is effectively child labour situation,z where they’re sent out totry and earn a few kina  for their dinner by carrying peoples bags at the market.

 

In spite of all this, papua new guineans are quite possibly some of the happiest people in the world. They know how to laugh well, and frequently, and they know how to cry, when crying is needed They are overwhelmingly generous and hospitible, with their money and time and with themselves  I think what has struck me most is that they know how to care for people really well. It’s not as if PNG is devoid of social ills, wifebeating and violence and and crime and rape are very common, especially violence towards women, but even amongst the instability that detribalisation and ‘development’ can bring, the social support structure is still very very strong and people are much more emotionally healthy and able to cope  a lot more readily with what life throws at them. Which in PNG can be quite a lot. Family, and relationships are incredibly important, unusually, more so than money, and being on time for things and buying new shoes. This does mean though, that loosely extended family are liable to pop in unannounced at any time, requiring accomodation and food and love, and while it is lovely to be surrounded by whanau of this sort, the traditon is easily abused by diplaced family members who stay too long and too loudly, and when this happens, the burden almost always falls to the women, who  are responsib;e for cooking and finding food for all these extra mouths, on a very limited budget, even if this means digging into savings accounts

 

I’ve been absolutley blown away by the level of committment people here have to their famillies and communities and schools and amongst huge adversity too. As a small casual example, Wendy, the woman who i’m staying with is supporting 6 kids, school fees and all, only 2 of which are hers, her elderly parents, who escaped from their village 4 years ago during tribal fightinh inwhich their house was destroyed, as well as a ouple of otherodd relatives who are always around, on a salary of about 600 kina a fortnight (which is about $300 dollar) and actualy atthe moment she’ssuporting them on 250 kina a fortnight because she’s also paying pack a loan. She works full time asa nurse at the local hospital, is heavily involved in her localchurch, and helps to run a handicraft business cooperative for women living with Aids, as well as trying to fundraise for her eldest son to go and study in NZ. And she does this all with minimal support from her husband who is living with another wife in another city. I say all this not to evoke pity( although if you want to help support Ven Morris to study in NZ donations would be most welcome) but just really to show how amazing people here can be, particulalry the women. ( I now fully appreciate what people mean when they say empowering women iscritical for developing countries -it is particulalrly particulalrly true in PNG)

 

They’re a very resilient sort of people is what i want to say, both emotionally and socially and  practically too, in terms of being able to survive of the land with next to nothing. The rest of the world could explode, and the papuan newguinean ladies would still bundle up their kaukau and and take it to market every morning, and life would carry on it’s muddly way, only with less 2 minute noodles

 

 

 

Yesterday, I killed a chicken, on purpose

I carried it home , upside down with its white feathered bottom poking out of a small little sack from the other end of the village, along a small dirt path and across the stream, which has a thin plank for a bridge across.  It was beginning to rain, the sky was darkening ominously, the chicken was very much alive and warm and breathing and I began to feel somewhat conflicted as we reached our house.

Alas Timothy, who is 5 , held out the knife, and it’s neck expectantly, and so, closing off a big portion of my brain, but not my eyes, even though I wanted to, I pushed down.

Chicken neck skin is rather tough and the knife was a little blunt, and I am not very good at killing things, so I panicked, but then realised that I couldn’t really do anything else but keep going, and so I sawed. The chicken didn’t make a sound, maybe because timothy was holding it’s head, but it was still very alive and its neck was very solid. After what seemed like an eternity, the head fell into the pot with a dramatic flourish of bright red blood and was motionless. The body was not. Wendy held onto it while it convulsed and flapped and writhed, so it would not run away and so the blood would drain into the pot and not make a mess all over the ground. Finally, the legs stopped and the body sat still in the pot. It was oddly quiet, or maybe it was just quiet in my head.

 

Presently, Daniel brought out a kettle of boiling water to pour over the little lump of feathers and we plucked it. With hot water, plucking is suprisingly easy to do, a little like brushing a moulting dog. And perhaps kind of like waxing legs, only zoomed in , a lot easier, and nowhere near as painful.

Then we took out all its inside bits. The heart, and the stomach, with chicken feed still inside, and the intestines, over a metre long, and the liver, which is secretly my favourite texture in the world, and then even the rectum. All of these things get cooked, apart from the rectum, which we gave to Harry-the -dog ( although in china they do eat chicken rectums) The intestines you have to slit all the way up, to clean out all the digested food waste. These inner organ parts, being full of nutrients  and very tasty are highly prized and are fiercely competed for by the children.

 

We cooked the chicken in a mumu, which is a little like a hangi, a ground oven with hot stones, only this was just for the family so we made in the rim of a truck wheel. First taro on the bottom, then cabbage and the chicken, and then more salad greens – kumu, and freshly grated ginger nad tomatoes and grated carrots and spring onion and fresh coconut cream poured over the top. It’s sealed off and cooks altogether for about 20 -50 mins or so, depending on how hot the stones were, and emerges hot and juicy, and absolutely delicious

 

I realise that the fact I am usually vegetarian, and have been so for the past 4 odd years might need a little explanation as to why I am suddenly going about murdering chickens. (and eating their intestines) So to start off with, I had already decided to eat anything while I was staying in PNG, just because refusing to eat meat for reasons I’d come up with in an affluent western context, seemed a little bit inflexible and ungrateful and thoroughly difficult, seeing that half the time we’re cooking over a single open fire, and meat or tins of fish tend to get mixed in with everything else, and also that other western foods and vegetarian options aren’t necessarily always available and are usually insanely expensive. Also I think the culture around meat eating is somewhat healthier than in western countries and that a few of my reasons for not eating meat in NZ are not so valid here. Traditionally in PNG, diet consists of the staple kau kau ( kumara) and other root vegetables like taro and yam and cassava  along with lots of kumu ( leafy green vegetable), other garden vegetables, and fruits like banana and papaya and pineapple and coconut. Pigs and chickens ( and maybe eggs) are the main source of protein and are not eaten that often, so animal killing would usually be a pretty special ocaison and usually tied in with some other celebration. Pigs are very highly valued and traditionally were used almost like currency – for bride prices and for compensation to make ammends after tribal fights. In some remote parts of Enga, ( and like one part we visited) people still share houses with the pigs. Since the advent of contact with the outside world anything from 100ish to 30 years or so depending on where you are in PNG, the diet seemed to have changed particularly drastically, apart from the addition of coca cola, rice, tinned fish or tinned corn beef, maggi noodles  and big cream cracker type things and perhaps some bread. You can buy other things of course, and people do, but generally they’re very expensive, in comparison to the organic fresh garden foods you can buy at the market. You can buy huge bundles of kumu for  20 toia! (About 10 cents) Cabbages bigger than my head for 2 kina, which is like a dollar.  A block of cadburys chocolate costs 18 kina, a chicken costs 30 kina and a pig anything from 100 to 200 kina. Considering the average wage for an officially paid job is something like 2 kina an hour, most people tend to stick to kau kau and kumu and rice, with some tinned fish and noodle thrown in if finances allow. In villages where there is little cash economy, this is particularly so.

So when people eat meat, apart from the tinned stuff, its usually fresh, and probably killed by themselves, or someone in their family, and either raised at home or bought home alive from the market. You have direct contact with it and where it came from and what it took  to bring it to your table ( or floor, no one has tables apart from business people)

 

That’s not to say that people have some Avatar-like magical spiritual connection  and respect for animals. Animal welfare standards, ar not exactly that high, and do make me wince a little bit.The chicken stalls at the market are  concrete benches with piles of dehydrated and rather sad looking chickens sitting exhaustedly, some in various states of dying, watched over by women in meri blouses lest they decide to hop off the tables and toddle away. One was dead, its neck flopped over the side, blood dripping onto the concrete floor. People carry them by the wings,or upside down by the feet, or stuffed into sacks, much like they would  a broccoli, or a bunch of carrots.

 

I thought, before I killed the chicken, that I might be more psychologically disturbed by it than I am. But I am actually pretty okay. No one has found me manically washing my hands at 3 o’lock in the morning, muttering ‘out out damn spot’, as I thought might happen. I think I might possibly even be a little bit proud, which is why I am writing about how I killed a chicken. Which worries me somewhat, because if I can kill a chicken,without breaking down, I could probably kill a human.   And I don’t really want to be able to kill a human.

Any way, we shall see. The bucket with the chicken blood and bedraggled feathers is still sitting in the backyard under the tap with a couple of flies buzzing around it. If I return to NZ a shaking, psychotic mess, you’ll know why.