Words cant express my joy at being in this staggering (both senses) country sometimes. I have just spent a week in a remote village in neighbouring Madang Province. It was so quiet, peaceful, people pleased with my presence but without motivation towards return. It was very pleasant to spend a week where my role was not that of the enquiring transactor, washing in a murky ox-bow lake and tending innumerable fires. The experience was made more enchanting (don’t I sound romantic if not exoticising! But piss off anthropology purists, I am the individual from where I am from, and it is only a sentence) by the event of our travel to the village. We were held up by raskols, poetic justice. I lost my shoes, most of my clothes for the trip, my medicine and wash things. After 6 months of tempting fate, it was finally my time, and as it did not happen in my province it changed nothing except the tan lines on my feet. I even found myself framing it as an opportunity to see the other side of raskol life. The story of a homemade gun and Town discompassion prompted villagers to much lending of sportswear, kind offers of accompaniment and cant have hurt my baui (betel nut) accumulation through the week.
Nevertheless, after a week I missed Goroka and my friends, and as I followed the buai trade routes at first to nearby Base Camp with the intention of travelling up along the Highlands Highway at night, I ran into Highlanders I knew by two degrees of separation. I did not know them personally so I decided to travel up the conventional way, via two 6 hour buses and an overnight stay at a friend’s house in Madang. The second bus picked me up from my friends house as the driver is a friend of mine from Goroka. From that moment I was back into my sphere, which I now consider to extend from Goroka down the highway like the rapidly developing tail of a tadpole. At the 4 Mile Buai Maket along the road leaving Madang, I met a baui trader friend on his way back from an expedition into the bush to seek out his green gold, a lady who I buy vegetables from in the market near my house, who was down selling onions from her garden, a body builder friend returning from a sponsorship gathering foray amongst Madang wantoks, and a host of people who knew me by name. Flattering to my hard work, I found myself the donee of further buai to complement those given me by the villagers. Back on the bus, Blackie, the comic driver so called for his dark skin relative to other highlanders, heard my story of a hold-up in Madang, and shared his stories with the bus of bigomy, crashed vehicles and family strife as we all laughed, chewed our buai and smoked. Blackie, whose debts and credits lie dotted along the highway as do his four wives, seemed to have either come across some money or felt it was time to repay some of the extensive comestible debts along the road, as we stopped frequently to donate buai to roadside dwellers and maketers. Remarkably, nearing Goroka at 5pm, we found ourselves blocked by a slow moving maintenance pickup belching oil-black exhaust fumes into our open windows. Raining heavily, the ten or so men on the back of the pickup huddled or wore traffic cones on their heads to shelter themselves from the rain they find so repugnant. The completely unselfconscious act of refuge under orange witches hats, unmentioned by anyone, only added to my own private comic monologue, coming from a country where their act would classify them as a group of inebriated students or stags, and their appearance that of subversively racialised gnomes. The effect was further promulgated by the half-moon smiles plastered on their faces by Blackie’s next unselfish and stylised act. Unable to pass them for oncoming traffic, Blackie took individual buai from his white plastic bag by the handbrake and launched them via the open drivers’ window towards their arms outstretched like those of public school teacher’s pets. Each lob was proceeded by a fleeting attempt at stunt driving as we lunged to within inches of the moving vehicle on the winding mountain road. Some buai fell by the side, others rattled around the corrugated cab amid scrabbling hands, others caught by star-jumping political garden ornaments at the risk of discovering their fragility. 20 flings of buai or accompanying daka later, our host swerved out with a stab at the accelerator and we passed our animated delayers, having lost their cabs and now moving so wildly as to resemble just caught fish, and to my surprise, they called my name as we passed. I have to admit I did not recognise them, but the personal touch tacked on to this unique experience will ferment it into one of my sweeter memories of this place (nothing gets corked in Papua New Guinea!).
In other news, I received comments on my 6 month report on cards, quite encouraging and very useful. Much to get on with though, as always. Also I have had some trouble in the settlement that I cannot put on the blog, but I can no longer work there and I am nervous about going to certain places, hopefully it will simmer down, but I may start working in a village for a while until it does, I have been wanting to anyway.
I am back now, my adopted father will be concluding the death ceremony of his father tomorrow and the 6 pigs and 2 cows are no doubt rifling through the rubbish in his car park, so I am off to take pictures and ask questions (it is not all gambling, thankfully). This entry has been a lot of fun to pour over, it seemed to me to require colourful adjectives, similes and metaphors to translate it to writing.
Until next time,