An Australian volunteer who was doing whatever volunteers do in PNG.
I was there for 2 years until Dec 2005 .. I hope I made the most of it.

Monday, February 16, 2004

It's All So New

My little Haus Meri that I mentioned last post came on Tuesday morning and she stayed the whole day, cleaned everything in sight. I gave her a tip of 2 Kina (big of me I know). I felt guilty about her staying all day as I didn't have a key to give her to lock up and leave, so I did walk back home at lunchtime and asked her if she wanted to go home, but she wouldn't have a bar of it saying she still had clothes to iron, floors to mop. She wanted to come on Thursday as well, but I told her once a week is plenty, for a single guy.

I have met quite a few of the other Volunteers around, who are from VSO (British mob) and GDS (German Development Service). A couple of the VSO guys are actually working at the uni, and one has a car. I have already buttered up to him and have managed to jump on board for a few trips into town, which has been handy and means that I have now stocked my fridge with a slab of SP Lagers (the local brew, tastes like cat's piss, but you get used to it).

Well my next-door neighbour Martin and myself are trying to organise a joint house warming party for this weekend, for all the local volunteers to get together and christen our places. Martin only moved in just before Christmas and then went back to Oz for a month. We should have had it organised for last Saturday, but I have not got my phone connected yet and Martin's has been dead. Trying to get Telikom to do anything is like trying to get Telstra to do something.

Work has changed gears and instead of being in Neutral we are now moving along in First. Last week I built 6 old donated laptops that I needed to give to the site coordinators who came for a seminar. This was no mean feat, as out of the 20 laptops we had, only about half work. I also had to give a little presentation on the technology we are going to be using, for the project, which went down pretty well.

It looks like my first trip around the country should be in a few weeks, and the destination is lovely Manus Island a few hundred k's north of the mainland near the equator. It is supposed to quite pretty with great places to swim, which will be good as Lae doesn't have any. Martin has offered to lend me his snorkel, goggles and flippers. It is pretty tough, but someone has to do it. The reason for going is just to collect some old radio equipment that DODL set up about 6 years ago, but they never use, so I will probably fly up and then catch the boat back.

Well the staff club has opened up, which is conveniently located on the walk back home. They have a TV there that I think will suffice for me to catch the news occasionally. It is amusing over here in the fact that if you join any club (Golf, Workers etc) they give you a key to the front door, not sure why though. Having no TV has not fazed me yet and I have not really missed, I might even be able to get away with not needing one at all. We shall see. Books have been my main source of entertainment, and the library is well stocked. I shall probably get a decent laptop soon through work so I can watch all my movies that I have brought along.

My Pidgin is slowing coming along. All the guys in the office want to help me out and they have decided to speak to me only in Pidgin. This has been half successful as they soon forgot and went back to speaking English to me. I have been asking questions on how to say things and phrases and as I said it is slowly coming along.

Pidgin is a bit of laugh, when you read signs around the place. Went for a trip on Saturday up the valley, where there are quite a number of cattle properties. Signs along the way warning about cattle straying onto the road say, "Luk Aut: Bulamakau long rot!" (say it as it is spelt). As a side note, Bull is "Man Bulamakau" and Cow is "Meri Bulamakau". It is pretty funny.

Another thing that cracks me up is that people here don't buy cigarettes by the packet, but individually. Your waiting in line to get something from the Kiosk and the guy in front asks for 3 smokes and the girl opens up a packet and pulls out 3 and hands them to him.

Friday, February 06, 2004

Checking it All Out

I am making quite a lot of new friends. In fact I would say that I have made more new friends here in a week (outside of work mates) than I ever did while living in Sydney. It is quite a lot easier obviously when you live in a smaller community. For example I met my next door neighbour last night, and we had a chat over a glass of wine in his place for a couple of hours. I have probably only talked to the next door neighbours in Bourke st maybe 3 or 4 times. My next door neighbour up here is an Aussie guy, who lectures in the architecture dept. He is not a volunteer, but was actually born up here, but has lived most of his life in Oz. We got on really well.

This morning I was held up by a little local lady outside my door as I started off to work. She had a reference and was wondering if I wanted a house cleaner and someone to iron my clothes. For the equivalent of $4 I now have a Haus Meri, who will come once a week, and do all the things I used to avoid in Oz like clean the toilets and bathroom, and iron my shirts. Whose complaining?

Yesterday I visited the Rainforest Habitat, that they have on campus. It was pretty good. Got to see Tree Kangaroos, and the PNG echidna which is bigger than the Oz variety. They have birds of paradise there, a saltwater croc and cassowaries etc. So I had fun with my camera snapping away. I was the only visitor at the time so one of the workers let me into the tree kangaroo/echidna pen and I got to wander around and get up close to them. If anyone comes and visits me, this will be on the destination list.

Went out on the town on Friday night to a local club with some of the AVI volunteers who live in town. It is certainly no London or Sydney, but I am sure it could have been worse. The local beer was cheap at least. They have an obsession it seems with 80's music though.

Speaking of price, anything local is very cheap. You can buy fresh food and vegetables at markets for next to nothing, and there is a little campus market which is about 100m away from my place. The price for about half a dozen Kau Kau (Sweet Potato), is 1 Kina (40 cents). Carrots are a similar price/quantity. 1 Kina for a pineapple, same for a coconut. To go into town on a PMV it cost's 50 toea (about 20 cents). A local newspaper costs 1.50 Kina. It gets expensive on any imported goods. Electrical products are very pricey, and there seems to be a massive mark-up somewhere along the line. eg a DVD player costs 1000Kina ($400), where a similar one in Oz would be $150.

So far I have done all my own cooking, but I need to get myself some more utensils like a wok etc. Last night I had chicken with kau kau chips, plus some veggies. Not too bad if I say so myself. Milk is a problem over here and it is like Asian countries where they only have UHT or powder milk, something I guess I will just have to live with.

Lae is not the prettiest town in the world and it is very spread out, it gets dusty when it doesn't rain, although last night we had a massive rainstorm that absolutely down-poured. It caused a brief blackout this morning with the wind. The university campus is pretty quite and laid back, but then the students haven't arrived yet. It is a flat place with mountains all around it in the distance. Through my bedroom window I get a great view of mountains that rise up to 4000m. They constantly have cloud wisping around them, pretty picturesque, although there is a powerline across the street that runs through the scene. On my 20 minutes walk to the office, I pass through sports fields, where they play cricket on the weekend at the moment and Rugby League during the southern winter months.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Settling In

I have now been here for more than a week and I am starting to settle into the pace of life here, which is pretty laid back. I am now in Lae after flying over from Port Moresby on Saturday. And I started my job at the Uni yesterday. Though so far I have not done a hell of a lot, just the usual start of a new job stuff like ID cards, forms, bank accounts etc.

My house is pretty cool, I have a little 2 level, 2 up, terrace style place on the campus grounds that is about 15 minutes walk from the office. I haven?t moved in yet as power and other things are still being sorted. So I have been staying at the Uni Guest house which is pretty good, as I get my meals all cooked for me.

It is hard to get over how lush and green everything is coming from dry and dusty Oz. Lae gets something like 4500mm every year, but so far it has not rained here yet. Apparently when it does, it can last for weeks. An umbrella is on the shopping list. It is also pretty hot, especially when the sun is out. I went for a walk yesterday morning and went I got back I was dripping with sweat, I am getting used to it though. As I knew it would be, the humidity is the killer.

Port Moresby was as everyone had informed me is a bit of dump. The first thing that you notice is the tall fences topped with razor wire everywhere. The second thing you notice is the red spit stains on the ground from everyone chewing Buai (or Bettle Nut), it is a pretty disgusting habit that a lot of people have. Black teeth and a red mouth are a pretty common sight.

The course that we did in Moresby for the first week, was useful but laid back. We learnt a bit of Tok Pisin (Pidgin) and useful phrases etc, that we put into use on a field trip to a Market via PMV (public motor vehicle). The best part was spending time with the other Australian volunteers I came over with and hitting the pool at the motel at the end of the day.

We did a few touristy things, not that there is much of that to do there. We saw the National Parliament and sat in the viewing gallery for a session. Pretty boring. We went to the National Library, a bit depressing as they had no money and could not even get the air-conditioning fixed, therefore the books were starting to mould. The National Museum I have heard is good, but when we arrived the security guard had gone home after locking the main door. It seems no one else had a key to let anyone inside. Stories like this are pretty common over here. For example, another good one is one day during a session of the National Parliament, the building went into blackout, apparently the power company turned off the power after they had forgot to pay their bill.

My boss is a great guy, he came and picked me up from Lae airport on Saturday and took me to the uni guest house. Then we went into a club in town that he was a member of and we sunk quite a few of the local beer SP Lager (the beer slogan written in pidgin is pretty funny, "nambewan bia"). We chatted about the job and everything else, like family etc. Everyone here seems to have a big family, which is not really surprising. He also picked me up on Sunday and we went for a drive up towards Wau (where gold was first discovered) and visited a village on the way back. No one was home though as the village Volleyball championships were taking place, that was an amusing sight. He is also a big hiker, so he is going to organise a trip up Mt Wilhelm at Easter, which is the highest mountain here at 4500m, and a possible Kokoda track attempt early next year. The Kokoda track is a pretty serious adventure that usually takes most westerners between 7 & 10 days. In Moresby I met some locals who had done it in 3 days.