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.