Saturday, 16 January 2010

The 'Harsh' Reality

I have not posted for a while, I will not pretend to have been very busy. Ok I was at first, doing whatever it was I was doing, and then Christmas crept closer and closer like a lizard or a grinch. Now Christmas was awful, I spent four hours at a Pentecostal church, which with my restless soul was not easy, and made less so by the fact I quit smoking (yes, I know, again). After church I sat at home and relaxed, eating, talking with security guards, practicing my archery. In the evening I heard my family’s voice for the first time in nine months or so. Not too bad, I hear you say, but no cold, no change in the weather at all in fact, no gifts exchanged, and I had not been able to go out and do my work around the gambling places for a week before that. I was bored, very bored. So I made a garden over Christmas and New year, and now I look after beans, tomatoes, strawberries, pumpkins, spring onions, aubergines, sweet potatoes, taro, pineapple, chilli, corn, tapioca, peas and the most over-engineered composting system ever put together by someone with no engineering background. Aside from going to church a lot, conducting a couple of interviews, and getting people to play a research game I invented, I have not actually done very much. But in the last two weeks or so I have been writing my third 3 monthly report, on distributing money. I finished it this afternoon. It has been very informative putting things down, though it can get a bit frustrating staying in all the time when you don’t have anyone to visit in other places where you can work and get away. Each day is punctuated by the roar of the two main flights to Mosbi, and the snarl of smaller, more irregular types of planes. They break the monotony of adult disenchantment at standardised fleets of passenger hungry flying buses and hark back to the excitement of a British childhood: seeing the plane one will take for your holiday to a corner of the south coast of Spain. The small ones leave and arrive at irregular times, announcing themselves distinctly, with characteristic engine calls that recall names given to planes in previous wars. Off they go to far flung places, nearby and yet so distant. Small planes leaving Goroka is a regular occurrence, but in their strained speed you can see them secretly looking forward to being welcomed as a life-giving novelty, disguising their lust for uniqueness under necessity. They burst the low morning clouds or rise steeply into the endless blue sky like fearlessly accustomed nomads on another venture into the desert overhead. Underneath, flights of fancy transmit similar benefits upon people: unexpected, expected, satisfactory or unsatisfactory, fast money is distributed by gambling winners to persons around Goroka. These transactions may never reach further than ones house, or they might go all the way to a village in another province, and like the small planes, they carry with them the name of their initiator, leaving a trace of renown like a jet trail, their origin hidden by decision as the horizon obeys the mountains. This plane bit is how the report starts. As you know, I am increasingly bold about imagery, I think because my poetic moments get fewer and fewer.

Planes and forays are all very well, but the truth here is that we are in the tail end of the rainy season now, and it is earth, not the skies, which preoccupy. As I mentioned, my good shoes were taken in Madang, and so I had to buy a pair of ‘stockman’s’, a cheap version of Caterpillar’s or Doctor Martin’s, and I plod around in these heavy, black oily mud covered things and shorts. The oily mud comes from Kakaruk market, it is disgusting stuff, but not as tricky as some of the stuff constituting the backroads around here. Along these faith is required as one steps, hoping this will not be the spot where the boot keeps sinking until it can no longer be seen anymore. Now it is established that I look stupid; my teeth and lips are now usually ruby red from the betelnut habit replacing the smoking, and my hair is so annoying in length I often resort to tying it up. Now stupid doesn’t seem the right word, does it?

Anyway, at least its not cold, like for most of you reading this. Oh and by the way I have booked my tickets back to London, via Hong Kong for three nights, sweet. I leave PNG on the 14th of June, earlier than expected, but I want to get to the ESfO Conference in St Andrews in July, I am giving two papers, and I plan to do another 3 months back in the field a few months later. Other than that, its all rather mundane I am afraid.