Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Creature of Habit

Hello those of you who have not given up on this blog yet. I know, I haven’t made an entry for a long time, I was going to when I was in Madang on the coast, but I was writing my first 3-monthly report and was frankly sick of writing. So the title of this post is a self-effacement for not being the thing I had counted on being. Like many things in this country, habits are often broken, only to be reformed in different guises with all the passion of their former manifestation. In fact, this is ‘passin’ in Tok Pisin, at least as far as I understand it now. It really is quite amusing all these disclaimers (‘as far as I understand it now’) I have to put on my statements here and everyday, as if by magic my opinions of what ‘is’ will crystallise upon alighting that plane in London next year.

So what have I been doing? Well the two anthropologists which came to stay with me (I mentioned in my last entry) have now gone home, a while ago actually. One didn’t stay long, the other, Chris, a Canadian, stayed with me for some time (I have forgotten how long, a few weeks). We went to a cultural show in a village together a few hours out of Goroka, and it was a bizarre, fun, and frightening experience. A quasi-tribal fight broke out, and the show was cut short, leading to interesting compensation payment calculations. It was very remarkable before that too, with a mixture of bare-bottomed old men in traditional costumes dancing and singing in groups; boys and young men drummed in regimental lines as ‘brass bands’ with one or two members pelvicly thrusting their way around the groups as they marched (also skimpily attired); finally Goroka based body-builders oiled up and dressed down to speedos, demonstrating their godly bodies to an appreciative and mildly bemused crowd. We laughed, took notes, crapped ourselves, and made the most of being in Chris’ words the ‘super-monkeys in a zoo’ that we whiteboys face when alone in villages. Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t laughing at the locals in general, but again Chris’ words ‘there is more character per capita in PNG than anywhere’. So, with two quotes, you must think me besotted by this New Worlder, eh? Well we did get on very well actually, similar senses of humour and a grasp of the underlying humour of Lamb Flaps saw to that. Chris will be back in 2010, about the time I leave, to study sport in Goroka, so it looks like a fruitful relationship in the making.

After Chris was gone, I fell back into my routine of getting myself in mildly hairy situations, taking notes, and putting them on computer in my safe haven, rather than doing the former and never writing up the latter, as I did when they were with me. In no time at all, as it seemed, my 3 monthly report was due, and I had to postpone it so I could be around for the third State of Origin game: fascinating and frantic again, in the settlement again, with fighting again. I then went down to Madang and stayed with my anthropologist friend Alice Street for a week or so, who was there a few months getting permissions and gathering data for her new project and next long-term stint. She was, by a turn of events, in an apartment in a plush hotel, opposite the pool. It was heaven! Writing, getting wet, towelling off and writing again. I met two German(ish) anthropologists who I respect immensely: Juerg Wassman and his wife Verena (I have met her before). They had some of their students there as well, and I really hit it off with them, one especially, which was excellent. Nevertheless I was very pleased to get back to my place, my guys, and out of the sometimes quite oppressive heat of the tropical coast.

Now I am back and have started working in Kakaruk Market and Chuave Market, the two buai and gambling markets in Goroka and the most tricky and dangerous places. I feel confident about how to approach it now, how to get people on my side, confident about my friends so far and their advice and their looking after me. My tok pisin is good enough to start tackling it, and it is easier to know quickly who you can trust. There are card games and darts games which you simply don’t see in the settlements there, and as a space in the town they hold a lot in the imagination of people as well as much physical activity. You know I never really thought I would become one of those ‘underworld anthropologists’, but I cant get away from the fact of the links this project brings up: the raskols, the marijuana, adultery, stealing, drinking and fighting. I guess I am one, and an ‘exotic’ one at that; oh well, there are worse things to be. At the moment I am interviewing raskols and getting to know their interaction with security men, who often live next door. This brings me to the one major personal problem I have here, which I did not anticipate. Not only is there so little you can take for granted and it is impossible to turn off the learning side of my brain to make simple friends, but actually a lot of the people I talk to often do things I cannot find less than abhorrent under any moral framework. I can cut it out as I work, but it is emotionally exhausting sometimes, and ethically problematic. I do tell people I don’t agree with things they do, either verbally or through expression, I am no wimp on that front, but I have to persevere with them nonetheless. Rapists, murderers, career criminals, all of these people are not only integral to my research, but also my safety. Now I am very aware that while I am free to roam the settlement at any time, I cannot get on the wrong side of these people, and this is now bringing problems in what I can take notes on around people. Any suspicion on their part that I am an informer and I will be dead, simple as that. Again, I don’t mean to be dramatic, but it is cathartic letting this out, and though day to day things are fine, it is a fact I have to live with, like everyone else.

Anyway, my bestest friend in the whole wide world is coming to Goroka on Friday, that’s Alana (sorry to disappoint you Sparky!). I plan to show her how I live and work for a week and a half, and go to my adopted father’s village for a day to see the rural highlands. Then we will travel down to Madang and go from there, see some of the country. A daren’t take her further up into the Highlands, as I am responsible for her safety, and the risk factor is higher with her without the payoff, so it is the nambis (coast), and the islands. This I think will be good for my research, as I will get to know how people elsewhere live a little. I am really excited about her coming, she will be the only person from home to see me out here, and I plan to make the most of it. It may be a little early on, but I won’t miss any big events, which is good. Also, as a budding filmmaker, you never know what ideas may come out of it.



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