Sep 25, 2010

A Rainy Hike in the City

So sorry I haven't posted recently. Things here have been a bit CRAZY for the last few weeks. I'm not sure whether they are going to settle down any or not, but I'm hoping for just a little slowdown.

Yesterday (Friday) was quite busy. I picked up a new contract (building a website for a landowner company here) in the afternoon and finished off the day about 5pm. I had one of the boss' daughters with me, however, and couldn't leave until her mom stopped by to pick her up. About an hour before we left, we had quite a bit of rainfall in a short time. Leo called from the apartment to inform me that the only water intrusion we had was on the wall above the kitchen sink. That was good news.

When Mom finally showed up to pick up my charge, I offered a friend a lift and she and I headed to my apartment. When I arrived, with a suitcase full of computing equipment and homework papers, I discovered that the lift was out of order and water was POURING down the stairwell.


I drove back to work to put my toys away then went back to the apartment. I shifted my bilum (woven purse) to the outside arm--water was pouring down the stairwell inside--and began my hike up the 11 stories (22 flights) to my apartment.

"Where is all this water coming from," I kept thinking. "Why is it pouring down the stairwell?" "How can there be no flooding in my apartment but this much flooding on the upper story?"

When I reached the 9th floor, I began to hear noises above me. By the 10th floor, I began to giggle about the whole situation. Sure enough, when I approached the 11th floor, I could see the door was propped open and had to avoid a worker who was mopping up the water that had leaked into the hall near the elevator, putting it into a garbage can, pulling it over to the stairwell, and pouring it out! LOL! The whole time I was hiking up the stairs there was a man at the top pouring water down on top of me!

In case you don't know it, I live in an apartment that leaks like a sieve. I've done really well in the past few months because we are in the dry season here; the rainy season doesn't start for another 3-6 weeks. For the past 3 weeks, workers have been on the roof every day attempting to make roof repairs. At the moment, it appears they have stripped away the roofing on the area near the center of the building, allowing for water intrusion there, in the hallway, near the elevator. Although Leo was really concerned about my long hike and the fact that I arrived home drenched, I really got a good laugh out of it. "Typical life in PNG," was all I could think!

Sep 6, 2010

Making the Papers

Embarrassing. Yes, I made the papers this week. I was acting silly, got captured on film, and shared across the nation. Sigh.

Check it out: Newspaper Clipping.

Sep 4, 2010

PNG Arts Extravaganza

On Thursday night, I was invited to the PNG Arts Extravaganza launch. It was a night of music, laughter, art, and performance. The performances included music by a local group of young people, a native comedy sketch that had me falling off my seat in laughter, and dance performances by the Siassi Islanders. It was a fabulous night!

The music was a nice blend of modern with more than a touch of jazz, and traditional tribal sounds. Doesn't sound like a good mix? You'd be surprised, I think. I was.

The art work that was for sale included a wide range of styles and subjects. The focus was primarily on local themes, however, since PNG offers so much diversity in such a small place. I almost purchased a couple of pieces myself, but decided to hold off for a bit and see what other opportunities come up in the next few weeks as September will be filled with cultural events.

The one-man comedy sketch was just hilarious. He started off with actions that clearly indicated he was a man alone on a fishing trip. Dressed in traditional garb, he also made it a point to let the audience know that the mosquitoes were having a time with him. And as is typical of a person alone, anything that itched got matter the location on the body! As the story progressed, we soon figured out that the man had a bit of a stomach ache coming on. The passing of gas and the accompanying facial expressions were so very funny. But the climax of the story came when he finally had to "do his business" without letting go of his fishing line. When he grabbed a handful of leaves and began wiping his backside, he hooked a really big one. Not wanting to let go, and needing both hands free for the job, he reacted by accidentally shifting the handful of leaves to his mouth. The result was absolutely hilarious. The actor was quite the showman!

I also got to get up close and personal with three Asaro mudmen. These guys are famous in my part of the world and an encounter like this is rare indeed. I was thrilled for the opportunity!

Finally, it was time for the Siassi Islanders to perform. The good friend who invited me to the event is from Siassi and arranged for the islanders to come to Moresby. Most (if not all) have never been on an airplane nor visited the capital. Coming here is a long and difficult journey, but to do it in a large group with all of their elaborate costumes in tow is nothing short of extraordinary! On Thursday night, I got to see the dances and costumes that have been passed down for many generations from the Siassi peoples, something that most PNG nationals have never gotten to experience. It was so very rich! After the show, my friend introduced me to the dance troupe and I was surprised when they applauded. The whole interaction was just incredibly humbling and wildly exotic. And I just received an invitation to join them again tomorrow for more fun!

Aug 27, 2010

Learning the Language

The three primary languages spoken here are English, Tok Pisin, and Motu. As I become acquainted with more members of the expat community, I struggle a bit with a fourth language I can only call "Aussie English". Here are some of the things I've learned:

  • Almost everything can be, and is, abbreviated in some way. The Yacht Club is the YACHTI, the bar-b-que pit is the BARBIE, a journalist is a JOURNO etc.
  • A meeting that takes place after lunch happens in the ARVO
  • When someone has way too much to drink, they are PISSED
  • A SKIVVY is a turtle neck shirt
  • I NEVER hear anyone say G'DAY, NEVER
  • Everyone is addressed as MATE
  • I hear what I consider "quaint" phrases almost every day, like the ever popular LOVELY TO MEET YOU
  • You should NEVER use the phrase FANNY PACK here as it means something entirely different and will embarrass everyone
  • A STUBBIE is a beer in a short brown bottle

There are so many more, and I always try to ask so I get them straight, but I have to admit, it's a bit of a struggle for me not to appear so out-of-place with my south Texas accent and slang.

Aug 24, 2010

Negotiated Thievery

I'm the first to admit that, try as I might, I don't always "get" the cultural aspects of where I live. As a case in point, I'll tell you about a friend of mine who was recently robbed. My friend parked his vehicle in front of the Crowne Plaza and went inside to meet friends, and in an admittedly "stupid" move, he left his laptop bag in the vehicle. Inside the bag were his laptop, mobile phone, and an iPhone loaned to him by a close friend (yours truly).

When he came back out an hour or so later, he found the vehicle had been broken into, and the laptop bag was gone. We were BOTH less than thrilled about this. The laptop was less than 6 months old, and he really LOVED that machine.

Now for the culturally weird part. The next day, I called his stolen phone and although no one answered, I am surprised when the guy with the phone calls me back. I tell him that I think he has my friend's phone, which has been stolen. He tells me that's probably true since he just bought the phone, at a really good deal, from the boys "on the street". He's sorry about my friend's loss, but is happy to have a new phone at such a good deal.

I talk to my friend later in the day and discover that he has been in touch with the thief. It seems the man who stole the bag contacted him and has been trying to negotiate a deal for the return of some of the items. In other words, the computer is being held hostage and the ransom amount is being negotiated!

Although the mobile phone is a lost cause, my friend is trying to convince the thief that the iPhone won't be a hot item on the street. (Although it can't be used as a phone here, I know that it's useful as a media device even without the phone features and have a feeling it won't be coming back.)

I find the whole incident rather remarkable and would never expect to be contacted by a thief in order to negotiate a deal. But most of all, I find my friend's attitude a bit remarkable. He actually feels quite fortunate ("lucky" was the word he used) that his items were stolen from someone who seems willing to negotiate. Furthermore, he does not seem to find the situation at all "strange", but rather a common facet of life here in Papua New Guinea.

Aug 12, 2010

Women, Culture, and Negotiation

While waiting in the queue at the bank this morning, I overheard bits of a conversation between two national women. When I was finished with my business, I had to walk over and join in for a few minutes.

Although the women were lamenting the loss of cultural traditions, especially tribal traditions that are failing to be handed down from tribal elders, they were also discussing the difficulties associated with the restraints that they, as women, must deal with in PNG culture. One woman, a "boss meri" (female supervisor) at the bank, explained that she and her husband were both village raised. As such, the expectations for her role has unexpected [by me] effects like keeping her from driving, as it would question the ability of her husband to provide for her, requiring her to wear dresses, as there is no question of her challenging her husband's authority in the household by, literally, "wearing the pants", etc.

I think the most interesting thing about discussing the topic with her was that she wasn't angry or upset by the situation, and didn't appear to take offence to the clearly designated roles, but rather viewed it as a cultural influence that had to be dealt with. I got the idea that she and her husband both discussed the topics, especially the wearing of pants, in a way that allowed them to work toward agreement on the issues by both parties. It seems they were working together to come up with solutions that were good for them, good for their children, and good for the preservation of their culture.

The number of extremely diverse cultures in such a small place (over 650 recognised languages in a country the size of California with only 1/6 of the population of it!) means that this view of women is shared by some, but certainly not all, of the local cultures.

The issues of balancing tribal beliefs with modern knowledge, of respecting and honouring tradition while allowing for growth and development, and of providing rooted connections to the past for young people while encouraging them to seek new ways of educating, collaborating, and innovating, all are complex and occasionally controversial. Still, I love it that I am here at a time and in a place where I can observe, and even learn from, these "growing pains". And as the country prepares for the celebration of independence from Australian rule in just a few short weeks, I am preparing for an explosion of cultural pride across the nation and in my own neighbourhood. I can't wait to see what comes next.

Jul 26, 2010

A Day in Brissy

Caught the 8am train into the city and headed straight for the downtown shopping. I stopped in at the first hair salon I came to and asked for help. It was definitely a hair salon for the younger generation, and I offered the girl an out. But she said she didn't like to back down from a challenge, so she took on the job. I am very pleased with the results, and made plans to come back again in 6 weeks or so. We really had a great time visiting while she helped save me from my grown out grays.

When that job was finished, I made my way to the Cinema in the Queen Street Mall. The movie I wanted to see had just started, so I made a note of the time and went to lunch instead. I had a tasty chicken wrap with chips (fries), then took in a bit of shopping. When movie time rolled around I headed in to watch 'Inception' with Leonardo Di Caprio. It was a great flick. The only problem was that [you'll probably have to see the movie to understand] when I left the theatre, in a city where I know absolutely nobody, well, let's just say it was a bit surreal. To cap it all off, I missed the last train out of the city (to the station where my hotel is) and had to 'wing it'. Other than the fact that the Brisbane streets are slightly spooky after dark, what with people ducking their heads as they walk by in order to avoid speaking to you and all (yes...just like in the US), I did okay getting back to the hotel.

To finish off, here are a few things I noticed about Brisbane:

  • There are a lot of Asians there, but very few people of colour. After Houston, it seems a bit, well, weird.
  • Everything seems so very expensive. A regular size bottle of make-up is $25-35. A movie is $16 (matinee). A can of Diet Coke is $2. Crazy high as far as I can tell.
  • People don't avoid eye contact so much, but they don't speak to you on the street. Wouldn't have found this 'strange' but for the fact that I've been living for months in a place where everyone speaks to me on the street--everyone.
  • I still like the fact that I can get around the city with a Go Card and the bus/train routes. I found that I don't enjoy travelling around town by myself after dark, however.
  • I forgot all about it being winter down under. I was comfortable all day with a light shirt and no jacket, but was surprised at how many people were wearing coats and sweaters.
  • I also forgot that the further south you go, the closer you are to the cold weather of the South Pole. So here, South = colder.
  • I found that I like Brisbane a lot better when I have someone along. Can't wait for Rebecca to come for a visit!

Jul 24, 2010

Sogeri Singsing

My driver and my administrative assistant decided that I needed to attend the Sogeri Singsing yesterday in order to get a taste for some of the cultural diversity of PNG. I had an absolute blast!

Although almost all of the holidays here are Australian holidays, Remembrance Day, similar to our own Veterans Day, is one that actually touches the PNG culture in a real way. Yesterday was Remembrance Day here, and all of the offices and businesses were closed in celebration. Although I had originally planned to work, when the boys invited me to attend the Sogeri Singsing on this holiday, I just couldn't resist.

Sogeri National High School boasts student populations from all over the country. Most (if not all) of the 19 provinces are represented in the student body here. Yesterday's singsing was much like a band, dance, or cheerleading competition that you might find in the States. Not only is it the source of tribal pride for the students, but for the entire community as well.

In spite of my best attempts to have a decent camera on hand for the even, I ended up with only an iPhone to take photos on. The photos aren't great, but hopefully they'll give you a good idea of the types of things the celebration involved.

We arrived early to the event. My hosts were worried that it was "too early", but I was glad of it as it gave me a chance to get my bearings and to watch the groups prepare and the crowds arrive. The first group we saw escorted the dignitaries to the platform in front of the performance area, then went to one of the smaller "tents" to watch the rest of the proceedings and rest out of the hot sun.

The area in front of the platform was roped off but had an opening in the back corner. It was in this area that each of the groups performed their best moves. The crowd was relatively thin at the start of the competitions, and many of the attendees did not actually pay the fee to come into the performance grounds but waited along the roadside outside watching the dancers come and go from the grounds, shopping for betel nut, cigarettes, vegetables and fruits from the roadside vendors.

For the longest time, I thought I was the only white in attendance. As the day progressed, however, I did see three others in the crowd. Two of these were older men who appeared to have native wives or girlfriends, and the third was a young white man who looked to be participating in the singsing activities with other students. I saw no other white women in the crowd. My whiteness is generally not a problem here, and tends to encourage people to want to talk to me, an experience I relish. One older woman who spoke little or no English shook my hand and commented on my bilum. I pointed out how much I liked her dress (meri blouse) and we smiled at each other before going on our way. I always feel free to interact with the children, some of whom smile and speak to me, largely in a way that their friends notice their bravery, and others who hide behind their father's legs, embarrassed that a white woman has acknowledged their presence. Only occasionally am I treated with the rudeness of a young man who pushes me out of the way as he passes or unfriendly looks in return to my smile. These I can understand, and do not take personally. Why should they be expected to "like" me or be polite to me simply because I am white?

I did wonder a bit about some of the student dancers as I took their photos. While many of the groups smiled for the cameras and laughed together, others took a much more serious view of the events. Occasionally unsure whether the seriousness was directed at me or was part of their role-playing, I was reassured on occasion with shy smiles from participants when no one else was looking. At first, I was shy about taking photos myself. Again, in an event where there were few whites in attendance, my presence seems to stand out. I also knew it was a hot day, and brought my pink baseball cap with "Texas" written across the top as protection. Add to all of this the fact that I stand taller than most of the people I encounter here (which is funny to me as I am the shortest of my siblings), well, let's just say my presence there was noticed.

The early announcements from the stage were all in English with just a touch of pidgin thrown in. As the day wore on, the comments switched over to being predominantly in Tok Pisin and I struggled a bit to catch all of the implications. Some of the comments surprised me, such as the mentions of "groups you may have never seen before". My hosts seemed well versed in which tribes were which as they answered my questions and pointed out details I was missing, so I assumed everyone there knew them all. Then I remembered just how many different groups there were [although not all represented here] and understood. When another group of some ten elaborately dressed young men were accompanied by twice as many students with nothing more than painted faces to identify their association, there seemed to be a bit of murmuring in the crowd. I got the idea they thought it was inappropriate. However, when the MC remarked about how expensive the costumes were and lamented about the number of students who were prevented from participating simply because of economic reasons, the crowd applauded and all was well again. Still, while I found many of the comments made humorous enough to laugh out loud, I missed out on just as many, as the day wore on, because of my unfamiliarity with the language.

Some of the performance highlights were truly memorable:

  • There was one group from the Gulf province that had girls with wonderfully thick grass skirts that hung to their ankles and had shells around their waists. Many of the girls used a side to side movement that gently swished the grasses and made the shells sing out as they moved. There were two girls in the group, however, that had a little more swing in their hips, and I stood among a group of spectators (men and women both) that sounded out their approval for such moves. It was from these two that we learned, simply from the "swishing", the painted designs on the backs of their legs extended all the way up to the tops of their thighs.
  • There was also one small girl in a group from a similar grass-skirted region that had moves of her own. The more the crowd responded, the more she put into her dance. She was so very cute, I almost felt sorry for the older girls who had put so much into their costumes and moves only to be outdone by this youngster. It was a great presentation.
  • One of the island groups had two scantily clad young men enter the arena first, to a wonderful trio of hollow log drums. These boys had some moves that Michael Jackson would have been proud of, and elicited encouraging hoots from the men in the crowd as well as appreciative laughter from the girls and women.
  • The dancers from the Sepik region put on a wonderful performance simulating the killing of a crocodile as they danced. Then one of their young men moved slowly about the edges of the roped off area with a live young crocodile secured to a piece of wood, thrusting it at audience members as he moved. The young people merely jumped back and laughed, while young children ran for their mothers, and more than a few of the older women nearly trampled people trying to get out of the way.
  • The Asaro mudmen were another crowd favourite in their distinctive clay pot masks, and bodies white with dried mud. These boys played their parts very seriously and even the two younger boys, mudmen in training it seemed, were serious and cautious about their duties in the festivities.

Gosh, there is so much more I want to share with you, but already this post is so long that I know I've lost many of you. So, I'll bring it to an end now. But I did enjoy this day, and this glimpse of only small pieces of PNG culture, so very much!

Jul 18, 2010

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

Although I've been too busy to take care of getting my driver's license here, I do feel comfortable driving to a couple of regular spots. One of these is the SVS at Harbour City. I still get a lot of "looks" when out driving alone, but it's stopped worrying me so much. After working for a few hours this morning, I stopped by one of the banks and pulled out some cash at an ATM. One of the security officers took a particular liking to my bilum, and wanted to talk about it, but I could understand very little of what he said. Still, I smiled politely and patted my bag to let him know I knew what the conversation was basically about.

After the bank, I headed for the grocery store. I'm not sure what they call it here, but "grocery store" is not it. I tried calling it the "market", but that seems to refer to a different type of store. The SVS I go to is one that is frequented by expats. It's a bit different than the Stop 'n' Shop I go to downtown, at which I rarely encounter other whites. I like shopping at both, but for different things.

Although every week I look at the beef in the packages and think I will "treat" myself to something, even if only a hamburger. And every week I shake my head at the high prices and move on. In the vegetable section, I try to buy only locally grown foods. That may seem silly, but the prices are much better, and I just feel like I have a better chance at settling in here by sticking to local products. So, I bought a couple of nice eggplants and can't wait to get home and cook them up. I also bought some locally grown potatoes, which look and taste delicious, but are rather small in size and cost a bit more when you account for the amount of dirt still on them. I bought some local tomatoes, and a small version of what we would call "bell peppers". Here, they call them "capsicum" and I believe they are going to be a bit hotter than the larger, local varieties found back in the states.

Going to the store alone gives me quite a feeling of independence as I am perfectly at home there now. I know where to go, what to buy, how to act, how to check out properly, where and how to park, and regularly encounter people that I "know" from other trips to the store or from other encounters in town. I continue to be amazed at how many people want to extend greetings to me, young and old alike, and how much pleasure they seem to get from me spending a few minutes exchanging words with them. It's a bit funny that I didn't realize how much I missed the independence when I had to rely on a driver to "escort" me there, but I really do love my trips to the market.

When I left, I stopped by the petrol station to top up the tank for the day, then headed back to the apartment to unload my goodies. After that, I came back to work to finish up some tasks and try and get ready for tomorrow's adventures. Oh, although I try to shop "like a local" as much as I can, I generally do splurge on something, some little item, while I'm there. For the past couple of weeks, my splurge item has been a box of pop tarts. Yes, that's right...Pop Tarts! Yum!

And now that I am settling into life in Moresby a bit, there is one little drawback. It seems that since my business associates have figured out that I don't have to use their help so much any more, they don't feel responsible for making sure I am taken care of all the time. In other words, my independence has resulted in a bit of loneliness for me. The solution, of course, will be for me to make some new friends of my own. But this is not as straightforward and simple as it might seem, especially for someone as socially challenged as I am. Still, it's all progress and I'll learn to live with it and learn to deal with it. For now, I'm just trying to deal with the basic tasks in life, like grocery shopping. And by golly...I actually seem to be doing just fine at it.

Jul 13, 2010

Jarusa's Dedication

I was treated to a special event this weekend when I was invited to attend the dedication of the baby of a friend of mine. The family spent the whole day preparing food for the event, and by the time I arrived, the party was in full swing. A group of young men from the church were playing and singing some nice gospel choruses while the women carried food (and a LOT of it!) from the house out to the picnic area.

Everyone was so very nice to me, but it was Jarusa's special day. She was dressed all in pink and was a perfect little lady throughout the proceedings. The pastor spoke about the joy of children and the strength of family, and if I understand it right, even made a little joke about the possibility of Jarusa being the first female PNG Prime Minister.

Jarusa belongs to one of those polygamous families that are still popular in some tribal groups. While Jarusa's mother and father were the main participants in the proceedings, the other mothers dropped off siblings earlier in the day, so many of Jarusa's 12 siblings were in attendance as well. The children in a certain age range all seem to be very close, playing together, exchanging smiles and laughter, and engaging in all kinds of banter and teasing. For the most part, they are a sweet bunch of kids.

At the end of the evening, after a wonderful visit with all the members of the extended family, I headed back to my apartment. I've been invited to attend church with mom and some of the kids on Sunday, so I'm looking forward to that. I felt quite honoured to be invited to participate in the family event. Such happenings tell me so much more about my friends, neighbours, and business partners than I could ever pick out of a book or learn through casual observation. It was a really nice event.

Jul 6, 2010

Roller Coaster

It's a bit of a roller coaster ride at the moment, but not the scary kind; rather the wonder-what's-around-the-next-bend kind. I sleep with a notepad and pen on my bed in case I wake up in the middle of the night (and I often do) with thoughts of something that needs more work. My mornings, days, evenings, and nights are crammed full of mental activity, much of which I have no one to share with. My closest friend here is beginning to get tied up in activities of his own, making him less and less available to me. And although I am beginning to build friendships outside of work, I could really use some strong friendships within my work environment as well.

However, culturally, that is just not really allowed. I am white, I am a female, and although my partners value my business contributions, I don't really fit the profile of a PNG executive. So, I am excluded from all but the formal business transactions. When the partying (and networking) starts, I am left behind. And even in casual affairs of business, I am only included if someone thinks it appropriate to invite me; I am never included by default.

Am I complaining? Sure, just a bit. Am I ready to chuck it all and go home? Not at all. I continue to be fascinated by the political, social, and cultural structures that affect my work, and continue to strive to find ways to participate in productive and contributive ways. Nope. Not ready to abandon ship just yet. I still have so much to do.

Jul 2, 2010

Yes, Commenting Allowed

Thanks so much to my new friend muddleglum who pointed out that my silly blog settings 'preclude commenting'. Darn if he wasn't right! So sorry folks. I've modified them now which means that, technically, it should be possible for people to actually comment on my posts now. Thanks so much, Mr. Smith!!

Catching Up

I know it's no excuse, but my life here has been so busy recently, I just haven't taken the time to provide an update. There is too much to cover to try and update you on my goings-on here, but I want to post something, so, I think I'm going to talk a bit more about my walk to work each day.

If you've kept up with my rantings at all recently, then you know something about my bilum. A bilum is a bag, much like a crocheted purse, that is used to carry everything from cell phones to babies here in PNG. They are so very useful, they are carried by men and women alike. Sometimes they are large and hang across the body with the bag down at the hip. This is the way I carry mine. Sometimes they are smaller, and slung over one shoulder. Some are even quite tiny. The villagers often carry them with the strap across the forehead and the bag hanging in the back. This is also the way I've seen babies carried in them. When the little ones are carried this way, mum can reach around behind and bounce the baby a bit from the bottom to quiet or reassure them.

My bilum is typical of those carried in the Southern Highlands province. Southern Highlanders, like many other groups in PNG, are fiercely proud of their clan, and prone to interacting in social and business situations with others from the region. Many of the betel nut vendors along my walk are Southern Highlanders. Because I pass them 2-4 times each day, the fact that I carry a Huli or Tari bag elicits smiles and comments along my walk...every day.

Contrary to other large cities, in Port Moresby, the people you pass on the street (nationals) in PNG are open, friendly, look you in the eye, and greet you verbally. My walk is occasionally almost tiring as I am expected to greet those I encounter, and there are often a LOT of them, with the traditional "moning", "apinun", or "gut nait". Sometimes they want to engage me in further conversation, and I often oblige, wanting to make friends. Although I often walk through crowds, and most often carrying my laptop in a second bilum, I am never fearful and only occasionally suspicious of someone in my vicinity. [Note: when walking the streets of Houston, although I am also never fearful, I am more often suspicious of those around me.]

Some of those who want to talk address me as "Huli lady", "Tari woman", or something along those lines. Sometimes they want to tell me their names, or ask me questions. "Do you work for ExxonMobil?" "Do you like your walk?" "Are you from Australia?" And when I do stop to talk, they want to shake, or probably more appropriately, hold my hand when we greet or while we talk. While it may seem strange to my friends back home, holding hands while talking was not something that was difficult for me to get used to. Actually, it is strangely comforting and lends a further sense of "friendship" to the situation.

Finally, my friends and I who have discussed my daily walks through town have come to a few conclusions. First, my friends along the walk look forward to seeing me as I am a bit of an anomaly. Second, because I greet and talk to them along my way, we think that I could count on at least some protection from them if trouble of any kind should start. Finally, even though I have a car and could make the drive, and better protect myself and my laptop from the hazards of the walk, what I would miss in return is just too much to give up. So, I pound the streets, often in the heat, and often struggling for breath (both ends of the walk are elevated and the middle section is low), every day. But, I just wouldn't miss the experience now for anything.

Jun 17, 2010

Conference Proposal

As I watch an awesome sunset behind the hills across the bay, I think about the week's events and wonder what could possibly come next. I've had an incredibly busy week, finished up a big project, brought someone new into the company, knocked out some very big contract preparation activities, and then there is today's big news. Today I got word that my abstract was accepted and I am on the schedule to present at the PNG Science & Technology Conference 2010. Yes, that's right. My name is officially listed in the program as one of the presenters on Wednesday afternoon, August 18, 2010, at 2:00pm. The presentation before mine is "A comparative analysis of attrition rates of the first year engineering maths students of the Papua New Guinea University of Technology" by Augustine Moshi, and I am followed by "Community education: Alternative for the country", by Michael Kapari. Mine is listed in the program as "Public-private partnership in delivery education programs", and my name is there in print too!

The venue for this prestigious gathering is "Divine Word University" in Madang. I've not been to the northern coast of PNG yet, so I am really looking forward to the trip. Still, there are some drawbacks too. Namely, that I haven't a CLUE what to expect! I mean, I know my topic, and feel relatively confident that I can provide a decent paper. I'm really hoping my presentation might spur some to action and encourage the kind of partnerships that I have envisioned to actually be established. But as far as presenting a topic at a conference like this, well, I'm actually clueless on how to proceed.

So, my next game plan will involve me checking in with some of my academic resources back at TTU, my putting in some long hours tweaking my paper until it is ready for prime time, then observing day one and day two of the conference to get an idea of what I am going to actually do on day three! I am so very excited, so please, wish me luck. Uncharted waters are nothing new to me. I'm always nervous, but I always get through it. Here's hoping that I hold to my standard and actually survive this!

Jun 15, 2010

Best Pizza in Moresby

Memories from home: Pizza with sizes, toppings, tastes, and prices that I really miss!

Yes, the search is on. A friend and I are trying to find the best pizza in Moresby. As far as I know, there are only 4 places in town worth entering in the competition. We are judging our winner solely on taste, although we are making other notes as we go along. In an attempt at fairness, we are also ordering the same pizza each time, whatever passes for their version of a "meat lover's pizza".

I have to include a little disclaimer here for my husband, if for no one else. You see, Leo is a pizza connoisseur. He discovered long ago that he can start with a store-bought pizza and dress it up (differently every time) to suit our needs. So Leo, just for your information, none of these pizzas even come close to what you fix for us at home. These aren't bad, but they aren't loaded up like the ones you are used to. Still, sometimes you just get a craving for a good pizza. Hence, our quest to find the best in town.

Our first contestant was the Pondo Tavern, the bar at the Crowne Plaza. When I look out the window of my apartment every day, I see a sign that says "Best Pizza in Town". Well, so far, it actually is, although only by a slight lead. Here are the current standings:

1. Pondo Tavern

Crust: Good
Toppings:Excellent. Lots of variety, good veggies, thick and delicious.
Service:Poor. We were out on the deck and I had to go inside twice, to ask for menus, and to ask for refills and check and see what was taking the pizza so long.
Atmosphere:Good. It can be a bit noisy along the street, but we ate in early arvo on a weekend, so no traffic and no bar traffic to deal with.

2. Ela Beach

Crust: Good
Toppings:Really good flavour, but too thin. If they had beefed up the toppings a bit, these guys would've taken first place.
Service:Excellent. Perhaps because they know me, or perhaps they are just good at their jobs, but we got lots of attention, were checked on regularly, and felt very "taken care of" there.
Atmosphere:Good. Even when crowded, the Ela Beach staff seem to keep things flowing smoothly. Not too noisy, not too quiet, very nice.

3. Gateway Bar

Toppings:Good. Of all we've tried so far, these guys were the "thinnest" on their toppings.
Service:Okay. We sat right next to the pizza ovens so we could see them steady at work, but it still took a long time.
Atmosphere:Okay. Although we were there before noon, we kept seeing pitchers of beer being delivered somewhere. When we walked outside, we had to pass through a trail of smokers and drinkers that was slightly unpleasant.

Jun 14, 2010

Starting to Have a Routine

Although I HATE having my picture taken, and always have, I occasionally find I just have to share one of me anyway. Perhaps I was worried that people might think I'm not really here. Perhaps I just wanted to "show off" a bit, as I am STILL enamoured with the view from my apartment. Whatever the reason, here I am, standing in my kitchen, getting ready to head downtown for a little grocery shopping.

Never one for routine, really, it seems I have developed a bit of one now. I usually wake up around 6:30am. For the first couple of weeks I was here, it was 4:30am, but I've worked myself out of that little problem, for the most part. After my shower, I start in on emails and try to catch up a bit on the news. This week, I check the World Cup updates when I get up. I used to look and see what's happening back home as well, but I've modified those habits a bit too and tend to check in on what the BBC says is important in the world instead. This week I seem to be drawn to following the sad news of ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan.

I only eat breakfast once a week or so. If I do, it's usually because I skipped supper the night before. My largest meal here is usually lunch, but on nights when I go out (1-2 per week) I often eat a good sized meal for supper. If I don't go out, supper is usually sliced potatoes, sliced tomatoes, or something along those lines. Oh yes, a friend and I are involved in a "Pizza Challenge" this month, with our goal being to find the best pizza in Port Moresby. But, that's another blog posting, I think.

The rest of my day has been split between two activities, but starting this week, it will be a 3-way split instead. I generally spend about 8 hours focusing on business. We are working hard to build something new, and it's a tough battle trying to get our foot in the door at the moment. Still, we seem to be making some headway. I also generally spend 2 hours focusing on homework. I sometimes spend another hour or so travelling down "rabbit holes" (unplanned side tracks that come up while I am researching topics) as well. This week, however, I am adding a new dimension to the plan by putting in 3-4 hours on ExxonMobil (Houston) work. Yeah, I know that adds up to a VERY long day, but if you stop and think about it, you'll see that it really does work out okay. I live alone, have very few friends here, have no television and no habits (drinking, golfing, knitting, whatever) to take up my time, so what else am I going to do? Besides, as you might have heard me say before, I really do like my work.

So, that's it in a [very big] nutshell. I have a routine, of sorts, in PNG, and I like how it keeps me busy, focused, and engaged in activity. However, I am starting to be curious just how long I can hold up at this pace. :-)

Jun 13, 2010

Learning to Drive

Okay, yeah, I do know how to drive. I've been driving for more years than most of you have been alive. But, I've been driving all those years while sitting on the left side of the car and driving on the right side of the road. This, this business today, was something different entirely.

I wasn't sure just how to proceed really, but when I spotted "the boys" driving by my place earlier today, I got an idea and rang them up to see if they were game. They were. One of them got in the vehicle with me, a little moral support and all that, and we proceed to follow the other two around town, making a point of driving to the bank, the market, the technology store, the airport, etc., in an attempt to cover those places that I would normally drive.

For the most part, it was a very smooth adventure. Okay, yes, I know it's a Sunday and things are pretty laid-back here in the city on Sundays, but hey, it was a start. Anyway, when we got up to the airport, we took a little side trip and enjoyed pizza together at Gateway. We talked of sports, and drinking, and bachelor parties, and who can remember what else, but it was a great deal of fun. [Of course I have an idea that they are just humouring me most of the time, but I don't care, it IS fun!]

After pizza, I made sure they showed me how to stop in at the station and fill up with petrol (you leave the vehicle running and hand your money out through a gap in the window glass). Finally, we made our way back to my place where I parked on the street (don't forget the hand brake Bea!) and called the adventure to an end for the day. Much thanks to "the boys" for an excellent adventure today! I feel like I am well on my way to becoming qualified to drive in Moresby!

Jun 11, 2010

Out and About

After a morning of productive work, and nice lunch of chicken, rice, and a slice of fresh pineapple, I decided to take a stroll. Actually, I just realised that this is only my second "stroll" of my entire time in PNG! Although I generally make my way through grocery stores and other shopping excursions alone, the "boys" are usually there to lend a hand if needed. My only other unaccompanied stroll was many months ago when, while staying at the Ela Beach Hotel I got a bit "stir crazy", I went for a nice walk along the seawall.

Today, I decided to walk down the street and visit a couple of shops. The streets are crowded this time of day, lots of pedestrians and lots of traffic, but it was an easy walk down to the office supply store. I only bought a few of the things on my list as I am still struggling with the "sticker shock" of living in such an expensive city that has no outward signs of being prosperous. Anyway, after the office supply, I strolled across to a print shop to see about getting some brochures printed up. I want large format brochures printed on the local equivalent of 11" x 17" paper, full colour, both sides. The price quoted was K6 ($2.10 USD) per page. [Sigh]. Guess I'll just have to make sure that we take good care of them and only hand them out to real potential customers.

Other than homework, project work, and real work, I'm not sure what I have on tap for tonight. I'd really like the kids (my neighbours from the old neighbourhood) to come by for a visit, but until I can get to the point where I can drive over and pick them up, I guess that's just not going to happen. Maybe next weekend!

Anyway, my broken air con unit is repaired, there is very little water still leaking into my place, and it's Friday night in the big city, so I guess I'll just settle in for the evening. I really could use some company tonight, but until my hubby gets home from his rotation in Nigeria, I can't even hustle up a Skype call to get me past my loneliness. Still, there is some excitement on tap for the weekend, and next week promises to be business-eventful, so, I really can't complain. Another week in the big city!

Jun 9, 2010

Work/Life Balance Struggles

Work/life balance is something that all the educational programs and business ventures I've ever engaged in dedicate at least some lip service to at some point. I know, I've been taught, how important it is to have some "balance" in my life; to find something I like to do and to spend time doing it outside of work. Trouble is, I seem to really like two things in life; work and school.

Tonight I realized it had been weeks (almost 4 weeks, actually) since I had done anything other than focus on those two items. Even during movie night at school I sat in the back of the auditorium with my laptop running working on our class project through the entire thing. So tonight, I gave my business partner, the guy who has dedicated a LOT of time and energy to the venture recently!, the night off and decided to treat myself as well by watching one of the movies I brought along. I have a dual screen setup on my computer that would actually allow for watching a movie on one screen while working on the other, but I thought this would be "cheating". So, I arranged my couch comfortably, opened all the shades so I could enjoy the city lights, turned out the lights, turned up the sound, and JUST watched a movie. It was actually nice. As a matter of fact, I can honestly say that I enjoyed it. Well, until the end that is.

At the end of the movie, I scrambled a couple of eggs then sat back down to the computer to work, and you know what I felt? I felt guilty. I felt like a couple of hours of my life were lost to me, to my business, to my educational pursuits, just because I watched a movie. Dang. Unexpected consequences, I guess.

So now I'm faced with a real dilemma. I'm thinking this can go either of two ways for me here (so far away from psychological counselling of any kind :-) Either I can force the issue a bit, and make myself take some time off now and then, if only to see if I can train myself to believe I deserve a break, OR I can abandon the exercise entirely and just stick to those two things that I seem to love, work and school. Work/Life Balance? Hmmm...perhaps for me it's going to just be Work.

Jun 8, 2010

I'm Back

After much delay (so sorry) I am happy to report that I am back in POM and settling in to a busy lifestyle again. My biggest recent excitement was my move into a new apartment. Although I miss the old neighborhood, I really do love the location of, and the view from, my new digs. On the downside, however, is the fact that the place leaks like a sieve. I was "misled" a bit when I Moved in as to just how much it leaks, so now I spend hours each day attempting to mop up buckets of accumulated water. So, sadly, I probably won't be here long. Still, I'm giving it my best shot because I really hate to give up this wonderful view!

Now, on to the pictures!

This first photo shows the building where my apartment is located. I am on the top floor, left corner. This gives me a beautiful view of the harbour to the northwest as well as a view of Walter Bay to the southwest. The building houses offices on all floors except the top where there are 5 or 6 apartments. Mine defintely has the best view! I am just across the street from the Crowne Plaza hotel, so I have access to a restaurant, a backup internet service, and a convenient ATM machine when I need them.

This is the view that greets me when I walk in to my apartment. The apartment is relatively spacious and affords the most wonderful views. I can leave the shades up in the mornings and evenings, but have to put the blinds down on the harbour side in the middle of the day as the light is too bright for me to work by. By late afternoon, however, I am ready to open the blinds once again. I like this location so much and am now thinking I may continue to use it as my primary office space. [IF we resolve the water issue, that is!]

The harbour is a busy, bustling space and there is construction going on all around me. So the city is noisy and bustling during the day, and I have had no problems at all with being able to sleep at night. I haven't gotten out and walked the streets much yet, but that's mainly because I have been so busy with other matters. I expect I will be ready for some exploring when the weekend rolls around.

My small stove is pushed right up next to the window, so it is really easiest on me when I cook to just open the window to make sure I don't catch something on fire. (Leo would joke that I cook by fire alarm, but it's not true.)

My bedroom is also large and actually a waste of space as the only things in it are a bed and some closets. I thought about arranging my office in that room at first, leaving the living area open for entertaining. Then I remembered...I don't entertain! All I ever do is work! :-) So, I scratched the original plan and set my office up right in the middle of my living space. works for me!

Apr 29, 2010

About My Whiteness

I'm actually glad that I planned a 2-day layover in Brisbane as I find I'm needing the time to adjust my perspective. Surprisingly, one of the things I'm having to come to terms with is my whiteness. This will be difficult to explain, but I'll give it a shot.

First, the issue of my being white is something that has come up before, of course. I am married to a Mexican-American who calls me "Guera", as an endearment, a term that translates loosely to "white girl". When we hang out with his family or attend his high school reunion, I am often a bit "out of the loop" because of my whiteness, although I am always treated well by these groups, and always feel comfortable.

When I arrived in PNG, however, my whiteness actually became an issue. Not at all like race discussions in the US, my neighbours were quite comfortable sticking me in a group they called "white" and discussing openly the differences between us. At home, except among close friends of different races, this subject is always handled with kid gloves. I mean, in the US we seem to work at ignoring our differences and focusing instead on our similarities in avoidance of old remnants of poor race relations. In PNG, however, there was much open curiosity about the "white lady" in the neighbourhood and questions and comments about "white people" were frequent. As a side note, the children seemed a bit fascinated with my strange hair, the fact that it stays wet so long after washing, that I never apply cream to it, that I brush it or rearrange my pony tail often, etc.

Some of my PNG friends have never travelled from PNG and often posed some very interesting questions. For example, I was asked if I have ever travelled to another black country. I just had never thought of such a question and had no answer. I talked a bit about my travels to Cuba and Venezuela where I could find no "line" between white and black, but rather a long progression of skin shades with extremely dark skin at one end and extremely white skin at the other, but this seemed to be met with some scepticism. When I think about my work in Houston, I so often work with people of different races, I tend to minimize the differences there as well. I think it might be different if I were a really social person as my social interactions might indicate with which groups I identify more closely. But, alas, I am not. I tend to work so much, and keep to myself outside of that, that most of my "social" interactions are really work interactions that have overflowed the boundaries a bit. In PNG my social selections are clear and straightforward. For whatever reason or reasons, I am most definitely more comfortable in the presence of PNG nationals, no matter what colour I might label their skin.

But, I am rambling here. Let me try once again to get back on target.

"On target" is to say that after living and working in a world where I was most often the only white face in the room (yes, for some reason I tend to avoid the expat crowd, finding them too separatist for my tastes), when I got on the plane in Port Moresby to head here to Brisbane, I was actually uncomfortable. Yes, that's right. Uncomfortable. I would not have been able to put a label on it except for that fact that on my last night out, I ate dinner in a restaurant that was filled with whites as well, and I was able to recognize immediately the cause of my discomfort there. When we chose to sit, I have to admit I chose a seat that put my back to the rest of the room and allowed me to face my 3 friends (PNG nationals) throughout the meal.

Hey, I didn't say I could explain this...I just said that I'm having to adjust to it!

So, here I am in Brisbane now, still a stranger in a strange place, but one that gets no second look at all, unless I open my mouth and let my south Texas accent spill out, of course. I sit at supper in a room full of white faces and struggle to understand their conversations as the Aussie and New Zealand slang I hear here is a far cry from the proper "television English" that is more understandable to me. In Port Moresby, even though I tended to frequent the same locations again and again making me often recognized by those around me, I still was treated "differently". But always "differently" in a good way. Greetings were often exchanged and random, open questions by those I passed on the street were common ("Where are you from?", "Where are you going?", "Do you live here?", etc.)

The neighbourhood residents up and down my street in Korobosea soon learned to expect seeing me at the betel nut stand outside the gate in the mornings and late evenings, talking with my friends and learning new words in tok pisin. Although my presence there stopped being unexpected, it still seemed to be something of a treat as many stopped by to hear my strange accent and listen in as questions were asked about my home and family.

And when I went out somewhere, or travelled anywhere, it was only rarely in a crowd with another white face. [As a side note, although of not much importance, because of my business dealings it was also most often in the company of only men.] Again, this didn't really occur to me, not as a point of consideration, until recently, when trying to figure out just what it is that makes me uncomfortable now.

Finally, there is this "white" habit of keeping to ones self. [I must place a disclaimer here that my husband has NEVER suffered from this...Leo speaks to anyone and everyone he encounters with no sense that this type of interaction is to be avoided. And I, often first embarrassed, am almost always happy that he feel so inclined to "intrude" as we meet so many more interesting people when he is along on the journey.] Now that I am back in a world where looking someone in the eye is almost considered rude, or intrusive, I find myself shrinking back into my comfortable little shell. The woman who sat next to me on the plane did not speak, not even once, and never even glanced my way. So I, of course, took the hint and ignored her as well.

I have no doubt that my 4-week foray into my mostly white world with a sprinkling of brown, black, yellow and all the colours in between will be comfortable and enjoyable. But, I was so very much surprised by my feelings over the past couple of days, that I thought I should try and think them through. I know now that I will very much miss finding out what my friends think of my "whiteness" by the questions they ask and am already looking forward to my return, to my new home, in June.

Post Script: on the issue of my bilum.
I have a bilum that I carry now, actually, I have a collection of them. This is a kind of woven purse that is worn slung across the body and stores an AMAZING amount of "stuff" inside. The first one I received upon my arrival was a string variety found in the coastal areas of the country. I received many compliments on it, from people of all origins there. When another friend gave me one that had a longer, thicker handle and I began carrying it (yes, I carry a lot of "junk" with me), I began getting smiles and compliments from my Highlands friends as well. On one trip to the bank, I noticed a woman pointing my bilum out to her husband and commenting on it. Even security guards and strangers would compliment me on it. And I continue to tell people about my, "Now you look like a proper Huli woman" comment, which is my absolute favourite and the one that gives me the most pride. I arrived in Brisbane yesterday to find I was one of only a few carrying such a thing. I have decided, however, that even if it does look out of place, it is still such a logical item, I intend to continue carrying it with me. I might look like the strange lady with the weird bag to others I encounter on my journey home, but I like my little "security blanket" and intend to continue hanging on to it while I am gone.

Apr 28, 2010

Korobosea Letter

To my friends and neighbours at Korobosea,

Thank you so much for making my stay here an extremely enjoyable adventure. You befriended me, took care of me, advised me, protected me, provided for me, taught me, and shared your lives with me. The card games, the rugby matches, the storytelling, the Tok Pisin lessons, the late night chats, the game play in the drive, and even the emergency runs to the store to purchase electricity, phone, and internet credits for me…ALL of these contributed to making my stay here enjoyable and to helping me achieve my goals.

I will miss you all and can’t wait to see you again upon my return.

Bea Amaya

Houston, Texas USA

Apr 17, 2010

Ten Things

Although it's really too early for me to think about going home for a month, because it's 6am on a Saturday morning and I've been up for hours, I figure I can afford the diversion. So, I've been thinking about the things I can't WAIT to get home for, and the things I'll miss about PNG while I am there.

10 Things I Can't Wait For

  1. HOT showers
  2. Mexican food
  3. Leo
  4. unlimited high-speed internet
  5. online pizza ordering
  6. iPhone interaction
  7. air conditioning
  8. overnight delivery of materials/equipment
  9. Jessie
  10. kids and grandkids

10 Things I'll Miss While I'm Gone

  1. exotic bird calls in the morning
  2. no ringing phones
  3. neighbours waiting at the gate for me to arrive home from work
  4. hearing so many languages spoken each day
  5. polite interest when visiting areas/places frequented by locals
  6. not having to wear shoes
  7. not having to drive
  8. casual business attire [always]
  9. always being surrounded by lush greenery
  10. playing 'spoons' with the neighbours amid raucous laughter

Apr 14, 2010

One Hot Night

Last night was the worst of my stay here. About 11pm or so, the power in the apartment complex went out and there was nothing to be done about it. There was absolutely no breeze and sleeping was almost impossible. I was not the only one I heard up and moving about when I took a cold shower about 3am. It was late afternoon by the time the power came back on, and all the discomfort of the night before (well, almost all of it) was forgotten.

Evenings at my place are about the same every night. I have a steady stream of visitors who love it that I brought crayons, colouring books, and puzzles with me to PNG. This first photo was taken last night, before the power outage. These three sisters laid on the cool tiles and coloured for hours. The little one, fascinated with my hair, spent much of the evening playing with it, brushing it, putting it in an interesting array of "pony tails", etc. We really had a good time.

Tonight, the same crew is back for more fun. Once again the girls are colouring while Justin works on the ongoing puzzle. (Note: We are on our 3rd round of reassembling it!) If you look closely at the youngest girl, Skyla, in the forefront of the photo, you'll see that she has fallen sound asleep, crayon in hand.

It's rather nice to have a welcoming committee waiting on me each evening when I return home from my travels. If I have time, we usually play 'catch' out in the drive with any of a number of balls (basketball, rugby ball, bouncy ball). Then as I settle in to work/homework, the kids settle in to colouring and/or working on the puzzle as we spend a companionable evening together. Not the most exciting of times, these evenings of mine, but comfortable and nice just the same.

Apr 12, 2010

Around the House

I live in an apartment complex with 5 units, 3 of which are occupied. The drive is tiny, and the complex is surrounded by razor-wire topped fencing. Still, I really do like it here. It's the isolation that gets a bit much. Also, the cost of these units is more than I am willing to part with each week, especially considering the fact that I have no hot water, so, I will be moving soon.

I'll miss the beautiful plants here, and depending on where I end up, I may also miss the birds in the mornings and the lush foliage outside my rooms. But more than that, I know I will miss my neighbors. Next door to me is a family who speak little English, but with whom I interact almost every day; especially my friend Justin.

Justin visits me every day, sometimes appearing in my living room without me noticing he has come in, but often calling my name softly at the door first, to make sure it is okay. Of course, it is almost always okay for Justin and Hadassah to show up here. They are so cute, sweet, and funny. Justin lives in a household where older men and boys come and go a lot, most of them speaking very few words of English. No matter how I try, I cannot seem to communicate to Justin, who is 9 years old, that his overuse of the word "sh_t" is inappropriate. He'll stop using it for a bit, giving me a strange look, but forget and use it again only minutes later. How to you explain the inappropriateness of word usage to a 9-yo when you don't speak his language?!

Still, when I move out I'll definitely have to make sure I schedule visits back here now and then to get my "fix" of laughter and fun with these guys. They've made my stay here so much more pleasant! By the way, the photo shows that Hadassah and Justin were able to put together one of my puzzles with no help from anyone else. They were very proud of their achievement, and I have to admit I was surprised as well. I'll keep the puzzle in place a few days more, to show off to friends, then break it up, bag it up, and pass it on to someone else to try. You can also see on the coffee table the signs of our recent foray into the game of "spoons". I will definitely have to post photos of this soon as the game play gets very crazy and occasionally involves security guards, babysitters, neighbors and friends. It is our newest game of choice.

Apr 7, 2010

Apartment Hunting

Last night, I took the first steps toward finding a long-term solution to my housing by contacting friends and enlisting their help. Now that they know what location, price range, and requirements I have (which are few) the search is beginning in earnest. I'm hoping to have something secured before I leave so that when I return in June the transition will be seamless.

In general, housing here in the capital is expensive. The price I will pay for a lower quality 1-bedroom here (no a/c, no washer/dryer, no covered parking, etc.) would get me a medium upscale loft in Houston. But, it is what it is, so I will accept the situation and move forward.

I'm also looking at a vehicle now, a Honda CRV with about 60,000 km (37,000 miles) on the odometer. The road conditions here mean those are 'hard' miles, by the way. The price on it is not nearly as bad as I expected. The good news is that, although I haven't done a straight-forward calculation on fuel here, it seems that, in general, 100 kina ($36) will fill up the tank on most vehicles. Yippee!

The next few weeks are going to be hectic and action-packed, but I'll try to keep the updates here coming so you guys can keep up with my adventures. My next big adventure? Seeing my sweetie after SO VERY LONG!!

Apr 6, 2010

Birthday Weekend

I had an absolutely wonderful birthday weekend here in PNG. It started when some friends invited me to a weekly get-together of their work group (the staff of a local newspaper). I was afraid I would feel like a 5th wheel, but was hoping to do something different, so I went. I had an absolute blast! The home was lovely, the food was delicious, the friends were interesting, there was entertainment of a sort, and it was SO NICE to do something different.

I got home about 1:30am on Sunday morning, in plenty of time to get rested up before church. Although I hadn't made plans, I felt sure I could attend with one of the neighbors. However, Sunday morning turned out to be rainy and ugly. So, I chose not to go out instead. I stayed in and took care of some work, but mostly just relaxed. A little later in the afternoon, one of my co-workers came by so we could work on something specific. He, his wife and family were sweet enough to bring by a birthday cake for me. It was SO DELICIOUS.

After we met for a couple of hours, another co-worker called to tell us all to get ready for a dinner out on the town. We drove out to a lovely (very fancy) restaurant and I was able to enjoy the evening with friends, co-workers, and neighbors. At the end of the dinner, another beautiful cake appeared, which made for a perfect end to the evening. Yes, I had a LOVELY 50th birthday here in Papua New Guinea!

Apr 3, 2010

Trip to Kutubu: Part 3

The drive down from the Ridge each day, and back up at the end of the day, was always incredible. The road is long, winding, but in good condition. Navigating it meant watching for oncoming traffic (most often buses or big rigs) in order to navigate to allow for safe passage. The guys I rode with were used to the views and generally chatted the entire trip, but I was awestruck at the scenery. It was absolutely breathtaking. So, I'm posting some photos here for your enjoyment.

Trip to Kutubu: Part 2

When I checked in, I was given two items: a key, labeled "D9", and a bar of soap. The man I was traveling with, the person who contracted me, had a room in the building next to the mess hall. My building was located in another areas across the site. Down sidewalks, between buildings, past the pool room, through the gym, up stairs at 3 locations, and I found myself in a "building" created from tying temporary office structures together. Image 1: D Building.

Although my room was cramped, old, and worn, it was quite comfortable and always breezy. The door had a section that popped open into the hallway and allowed cool breezes to pass through. I had a bed, desk, lockers, and sink in my room. I shared an adjoining bathroom with the next (unoccupied) cell over. And best of all? I had LOTS of HOT WATER all to myself! In spite of its resemblance to a room at county lockup (don't ask how I know that!), I found my quarters to be quite comfortable and decided I could handle that set-up long-term if necessary. And with all the activities occurring here, I won't be surprised to find that it is necessary on occasion.Image 2: My room, D9.

The site was most often covered by a foggy mist, and we had light showers every evening. By the time I got settled in enough to have a look around, I was amazed at the beauty that could be found all around. Not all of the rooms were like mine, reserved for the 'worker bees'. There were also some very nice buildings with rooms angled to take advantage of the scenic vistas. I assumed these to be reserved for Oil Search higher-ups and VIPs. Image 3: Scenic vistas from the Ridge.

Staying on the Ridge was nice and comfortable. The offices were scattered throughout the site, so the people I passed on my way to mess might be coming from work, from the gym, or from their rooms, at any particular time. It was quite definitely a 'camp' atmosphere. My only excitement came when I was forewarned by a friend that a 'muster' [we would call it an 'emergency drill'] was scheduled for 7am, the time when we were to be picked up. He warned me that this was to be a longer-than-normal scenario, and that we should try to get out of camp before the alarm sounded. Although I tried to call my ride and let him know, I had no luck getting through. About 10 minutes before 7, my companion and I decided to hop on the bus instead in the hopes of getting out of the camp. The bus was loaded, we were all signed in and buckled down, the driver put the bus in gear and let off of the brake...then the alarm sounded. It took a full 2 minutes of debate in the bus, with most wanting the driver to haul for the gate, before reason convinced us to disembark and join the muster. 45 minutes later, when the drill's 'casualty' had been located and evacuated to the emergency facility, those of us who had been standing in line in the gym for the muster were finally released to go. Typical emergency drill, in my opinion.

Apr 1, 2010

Trip to Kutubu: Part 1

This will be a difficult post for me, as I know that nothing I share will be close to the experience of visiting the Southern Highlands area called Kutubu, but, I'll give it a shot. The flight up was uneventful. We checked in at Port Moresby, boarded an hour later, and arrived in Kutubu 1.5 hours after that. What I could see on the flight was lots of forest and lots of water. Image 1: Kutubu Airport.

I arrived in the airport of a typical industrial complex. As a new visitor to the Oil Search site, I was treated to the viewing of the site orientation (they used another word, but I can't recall it) video. It was VERY similar to other such videos--Chevron, ExxonMobil, Dow, etc.--that I have seen over the years. Once I finished that process, and was issued a temporary badge, we were on our way.

The Oil Search site, which covers the entire area, seems to be securely maintained by a system of checkpoints, gated areas, and a strong security presence. Our (the company I am currently contracting to, TWL) trucking operation is located on this site, and a stop at the Moro Head Office was first up on the list. I was given a place to set up my equipment, was introduced to a number of TWL workers (drivers, schedulers, mechanics, etc.), and began the task of sifting through company information in order to identify gaps and prepare a game plan for filling them. Image 2: Trans Wonderland Trucking Limited Moro HQ.

Still early in the day, we decided to drive up to The Ridge and get checked in for the stay. I was told "The Ridge" was first established by Chevron to a) separate workers from the locals, and b) try and avoid exposure to the malaria-carrying mosquitoes in the lower areas. I wasn't sure what to expect, but after Leo's descriptions of compound living in Nigeria, I thought it might be similar.

Besides the little room assigned to me, the mess hall was the other building on site that I frequented most. I just had to provide my room number, D9, to gain access to the building. The meals were delicious with lots of choices available. I really enjoyed meal time as a time of meeting new people, laughing and joking, and relaxing for just a bit. When sitting with other expats (Aussies, Brits, Kiwis [New Zealanders]), the conversation generally turned to language usage, pronunciation, eating habits, and the like. When sitting with the nationals, I was always treated with kindness and curiosity, and enjoyed hearing a smattering of different languages. [Note: PNG is rare in its proliferation of multiple, as in more than 650, languages spoken. Not different dialects. Different languages. Amazing!] The nationals seem to have quite a sense of humor although they are generally more reserved than the expats about expressing it. Most often, I found the humor in this group expressed in looks exchanged, quiet giggles, and comments uttered under the breath rather than in the raucous outbursts of the expats. Image 3. Mess Hall.

Mar 22, 2010

Leo Leaving for Nigeria

When I talked to Leo earlier this morning (1:30am for me, 10:30am yesterday for him) he was packing for his trip. I thought I was going to be able to avoid the feelings of resentment I get when he leaves the country this time. I mean, I'm not even home to see him! But, I was wrong. I'm already feeling resentful. I have really enjoyed speaking to him EVERY SINGLE DAY from here. When he is in Nigeria, that communication slows down to bursts and spurts via email, and virtually no voice communication at all. So...I am already feeling the "loss" of his leaving.

The good news is that the next time he returns home, he has just a few days to prepare for my coming home as well. So, we are both looking forward to the end of April/first of May with extremely eager anticipation!

Sunday Service

After a bit of a rough week, I accepted an invitation to join a friend in attending a church service in PNG. Explaining the experience to you will be a bit difficult, but I'll do my best.

Grace picked me up at my apartment at 9:45am or so. We took a drive along roads I had not traveled before to one of the local villages, a seaside village called Vabukori. The day was hot, but the views were lovely. When we arrived at the village, we stopped and picked up the woman who invited us to the service, a wonderfully sweet woman name Emily. As we drove up to the church, I realized we were the only ones who actually drove to the service; all the others walked there from the surrounding village.

Before we even got out of the vehicle, I heard the most wondrous music. There were no instruments at all and I later realized that instruments would actually detract from the sounds, not add to them. Now comes the difficult part. How in the world do I describe this music!?!

Leo laughs at my fascination with John Wayne movies, and in particular, my all-time favorite flick called "Donovan's Reef". The setting for the movie is Hawaii, and in it, when the locals sing in their native tongue, well, that music is the closest thing I can equate to what I heard yesterday. However, there were some major differences.

The Building

Before I get to the music, however, perhaps I should describe the church. In the PNG churches I have attended, as you walk in the back door, men move to sit on the left side of the church, and women on the right. This is not a hard-and-fast rule, I think, since I saw some exceptions far to the left and far to the right in this church. Still, the seating has a great deal to do with the music, as I'll describe later. This church was an open affair built on the ground and supported by large timber framing. Above, the largest timbers spanned from the edges to the center of the round assembly area. In the center was a huge iron circle that brought the timbers together in a central hub. Wooden slats were laid across the spokes of the "wheel" which resulted in a beautiful overhead structure that appeared both strong and traditional in appearance.

The People

The church is one called a "United" church and seems to be a spin-off from the Methodist traditions. The area to the front left was occupied by the male deacons, facing the congregation much like a choir does, and the area to the front right held the female deacons. The men wore white business shirts and ties, and white wrap-around skirts that hit mid-calf. Most of the deacons, and members of the congregation, wore some kind of thongs ("flip-flops") or other open-toed footwear. The female deacons were dressed in white as well, although I think they wore one-piece dresses, as opposed to skirts and tops.

When we walked in to the church, the music was in full swing although the service had not yet started. I searched for a choir director before realizing that the songs were just started by a single member in the church and picked up by the others. Now I'm going to attempt to describe the music.

The Music

During the service, I only heard 3 songs that were recognizable. First, the doxology was sung at the beginning of the service. The harmonizations were a bit different than our renditions, however, giving the song a distinctly Polynesian sound. Near the end of the service another such single verse song was sung, although I can't quite put my finger on the song title just now. And somewhere toward the end of the sermon, the visiting pastor had the congregation sing "Work for the Night is Coming" (I think) in Motu, the language of these people.

The songs were generally started by a female deacon or congregation member. The congregation sang loudly, but in a controlled manner. After the first few words, however, the fun really began. All of the songs were sung in parts; I could sometimes pick out something close to our four-part harmonies, but often, could detect even more layers in the music. The really amazing thing, however, was the fact that much of the music was also separated into men's and women's parts that were separated by more than these "parts". Often, the mens voices set out a deep base, occasionally sounding like drum beats, while the women answered the call in mostly low-to-medium tones with a few women taking the higher voices. Because of the location of the congregation, this call-and-answer resulted in the music moving from the left-to-right sides of the church in waves. Because of the divisions into parts, and the synchronized but separate startings and stoppings in the music, the songs had a level of complexity that is hard to describe, although I had the feeling that if I knew the words, I would actually be able to pick from a number of places to join in. I noticed that most of the congregation participated in the singing, so although it sounded like a choir, a much wider participation was involved. It was, in a word, INCREDIBLE.

Final Notes

Although I could go on-and-on about this, my posting is already too long so I'll try to bring it to an end. The service was conducted almost entirely in Motu. However, during the opening comments, although I was never formally introduced to the congregation, my presence was commented on and I was welcomed (in English) to the service and provided with a heartfelt welcome, a wish for enjoyment during my time in PNG, and a message of fellowship to my church at home. It was surprising, a bit embarrassing, but one of the sweetest welcomes I have ever received anywhere! The Motu language spoken actually surprised me. Not at all like the pidgin widely spoken here, Motu seems a bit more lyrical, sounding more like Hawaiian (to my untrained ear) than anything else I've heard so far, and not much at all like the Asian or English languages. Although I could understand only the occasional English word during the sermon, the visiting pastor was extremely engaging, a wonderful story-teller, actor, and strong speaker. He had the congregation on the edge of their seats for much of the sermon, and I could tell by their responses that he was a master at delivering a message to them. It was really wonderful, and I'll never forget the experience. I truly hope to go back one day, although we've already made plans to visit 2 more churches in the coming weeks.

Further Resources