Jul 2, 2010

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.

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