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.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Work Tripping to Goroka

I have been and returned from Goroka again, but this time it was for work and not a holiday, although it seemed a bit like one. Drove up on Thursday with the printer guy from the office, Sanga, who can only speak in pidgin. Managed to get by on the communication front without too much hassle. Although I am still mixing a few words up in my tok pisin (pidgin). An example would be "Wanem" and "Likem". The former means "What" and the second can mean either "I want" or "I like". So occasionally I will say "Mi wanem dispela kau kau" instead of saying "Mi likeim dispela kau kau" (I want that sweet potato). Anyway my vocabulary is slowly increasing and like I said I am getting by most of the time.

Up in Goroka I stayed with my "wantoks", Monica and Widya, while I dumped my colleague off at a guest house. Much more homely with friends. On the Friday night I met a new volunteer from AVI who has been there a month now (hard to believe I have been here for four) whose name is Jennifer. She is working in the local government in some capacity that I can't remember. Monica told me beforehand that she was a bit weird, and I tend to agree with her now, though perhaps just a tad eccentric or crazy is more apt. I did invite them all along to my Tropfest film festival that I am having mid June. Monica and Jennifer will come down, but Widya, is too much of a stick in the mud to even attempt to bother to see any other part of the country. There are some people I just don't understand and those are usually the ones that have no desire to travel. Ohh well. In case you hadn't heard I received the DVD of the 2004 Tropfest finalist, so seeing as I wasn't there this year I decided to host my own. I sent out a cool e-mail to all the local volunteers and ex-volunteers in Lae that I know, the response has been good so I should get about 20 people turn up. I am going to borrow a multi-media projector and use a laptop and sheet to recreate the atmosphere of the Domain in February, or so I hope. Something to keep a real tropo sane at least, nothing like a big bash to do that.

On the drive back from Goroka (4½ hours) on Saturday I made the mistake of stopping in at the frontier town of Kianantu (picture a one street town, add about 2000 people wandering aimlessly up and down, and you have it). The reason was because there is a cool Cultural Centre (apparently) that I was told to visit by various people. Well after trying a few combinations of my limited pidgin to describe to Sanga that I wanted to see the Cultural Centre (conversation goes something like this - "Mi likeim long lukim long Cultural Centre" somehow that phrase just kept getting misinterpreted - I think it was the words "Cultural Centre". Perhaps I should have used this phrase "Mi likeim long lukim haus bilong olpela sompela" - I want to see the haus with old things), I eventually found a sign for the Kianantu Lodge that had I also heard about and headed towards that. Something in my brain twigged that the cultural centre and lodge were connected. Anyway I was wrong, so after drive up a hill on rough road and talking to the security guard, I discovered that the centre was back down on the main road. Sanga at this time became animated as he now knew what the hell I now wanted, so he took the steps in directing me to the building that I was after. Before I got there I dropped Sanga off (who is actually from Kianantu - hence my initial thought that he would know where the place was), as I thought he may want to meet up with his wantoks while I wandered around looking at pottery and rugs etc. I do have a kind streak you know.

Well it then turned out that the centre was not open anyway (later I actually found out that the shop was open and where I had been directed to was the factory), as it is closed on the weekend (so much for tourism in this country), so I now had to find something to do for the next half and hour while I waited for Sanga to return. One of the cardinal rules in this country is never expect a Melanesian to abide by time. Most of them don't even have watches, those that do will still look at the sun first. So half an hour turned into a 3/4 of an hour then an hour wait. Have you ever had to wait in a nothing town with nothing to do for that long? Well I can now tick that box. Actually I ticked it a while ago waiting on the border between Russia and Mongolia (5 hours then) - but hey that is another story. I used the time to collect some provisions consisting of a can of drink, some scones and chewing gum, and then walked up and down the busy street, whence upon I decided to wait for my colleague to return. Eventually he did but not before telling my I have to drive down the a side street to the market where he then had to go and collect his "pikinini bilong mi" (kid). This involved him trotting off again past the market to some villages. Before he left, I told him if he wasn't back in 10 minutes he could catch the bus back to Lae. I think it was the first time I had seen a local run. He was back in 5 minutes, kid in tow.

Well last night was a big night in the social lives of PNG'ers everywhere. It was the annual clash between New South Wales and Queensland in the Rugby League State of Origin. It beats the hell out of me why a bunch of people living in another country would get so passionate about a particular team that they have no connection with what so ever. But they do and they really do get passionate about it. So far no stories have emerged, but I'm sure it will that a loser was pissed off with his wife/girl friend/mate who supported NSW (who deservedly won) and decided to beat her/him up. Apparently it happens every year. Last year some guy was killed in one of these fights. As to myself I went into town with my boss to watch the game at a club. It was good to give it to him afterwards as he supports those noneities from north of the border.

Well as you can see I have attached a pic from my trip back from Goroka. I hope you enjoy. It is from the spot at an altitude of around 1500m where you start to descend from the highlands down to the Ramu/ Markham valley, which Lae lies at one end of. When I stopped I whipped out the camera and did some shots, and stitched it together into a panoramic. From the point where I took this photo, it is about another 150km to Lae (way off to the right-hand side of the pic), or if you head to Madang (off to the left) another 200km. The valley itself is about 20km wide and 300km long and is pretty much dead flat the whole way. The reason is because it sits astride the point where the Australiasia plate meets the Pacific plate (so does Lae incidentally), and causes a type of rift valley.

The Ramu/Markham valley from the Kasam pass

Of course the camera can't quite convey the actual experience of standing there and looking down into the valley with the wind still nice and cool, watching the smoke swirl from the sugar cane burning in the Ramu Sugar fields, but at least you get an idea of what it's like.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Driving Skills Tested

I have now completed a trip off to beautiful Madang. It was a good experience, but I am not too sure if it is a road that I would really want to travel along everyday, as some of the bus drivers do. The road is pretty good, apart from the odd pothole all the way until Usino (if you have a map it is where road changes direction from the north-west route to north-east) then it starts to climb over small mountains, and is mostly unsealed. Lets just say that the 70km stretch was a good test of the driving skills, as it had been raining for five days straight. On the bad sections it was a case of plough through and find the smoothest path, no time to take pictures. The ute which is as good as they get in PNG, struggled up some of the 20° inclines with the load of computers I had on the back and the full cabin, mostly finding being happy in second gear. Down the other side of the hills it was more of a case of hoping the brakes don't give out, as even in second I had to rely a lot on them.

Robin giving the ute a wash

Madang itself is a pretty town based around a peninsular. It is very green and pretty clean. But as I said there had been a fair amount of rain there over the last week, so a couple of trees had fallen over in the soft earth. Apparently it had been raining since Sunday with no let up before finishing an hour before we arrive on Thursday. Friday was perfect weather, if not too bloody humid with all the water about, and the fact the that room I was in setting up computers had no ventilation let alone fans or air conditioning which was a bit much. The room is going to be renovated into a proper computer lab after the start of next semester, once there is the money to do it. At the moment the PC's are just going to be used for tutors only. At some point they are going to fly me back up once they have things a bit better organised so that I can configure things. This trip was mainly to deliver some of the second hand computers to them so that they are doing something, instead of occupying my second bedroom as a lot are doing at the moment.

I met up with some volunteers in Madang, quite a few are from VSO (the brit mob) so I was told by the local VSO people here to get in touch with them, which I did. There is no one there at the moment from AVI, so I had to contend with poms. It was all good but and it was good to meet some new people. I have told them all that if they come to Lae to look me up.

The 5 hour trip back on Saturday was pretty similar to the one there, but with less equipment in the back. It didn't stop us though from buying (not me) hoards of stuff along the way at the roadside markets. Sago and big bags of coconuts seemed to be the popular choice. We also had an esky full of fish that, Tony (husband of Admin lady in our department who came for the ride) had caught with his in-laws on Friday, they gave me a couple of them which I now have to cook soon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Flying Visit to Aitape

I made a flying visit (literally) with my boss George to Aitape on Monday, staying 24 hours and then flying back. Now if you don't know Aitape (pronounced i-tap-ae), it is on the north coast of the mainland between Wewak and Vanimo. It has the infamous distinction of being the centre of a disaster not long ago, so like Newcastle after the earthquake in '89 it always gets referred to as being the town where the Tsunami hit in '98.

The flight up and back was as always in PNG a bit of an adventure with six take offs and six landing in two days. There is no direct flight there, so we followed the coast flying in a 12 seater 2 prop Spanish built "Bandirante" to Madang. That plane was supposed to take us all the way on to Aitape, but there was apparently an "electrical fault" in the HF radio, which meant we waited at Madang for ages before they put some of us on a small 4 seater "BN3-Islander" to Wewak. Flying from Madang to Wewak is supposed to take 50 minutes in a Bandirante, but in our little "flying shoebox" it ended up taking 80. There was actually a volunteer from France on the flight, heading to Wewak for a holiday, he got the lucky distinction of sitting in the co-pilots seat. If you could have had a conversation over the noise of the engines, I would have joked with him not to flip any switches.

I was directly behind the pilot who was a big guy, which caused his seat to almost bang into my knees. Accompanying us on the flight were a bunch of newspapers and a pallet load of day-old chicks, cheeping the whole way. The plane turned out to be good, because it afforded great views of the mighty Ramu (see attached photo of it variable path) and Sepik rivers, the latter has the same esteem in PNG as the Amazon does in Brazil.

The Wewak to Aitape flight was back on to a Bandriante, and amazingly we made it to our destination only an hour behind schedule. The runway there is the same as the one built during the war in 3 days by the Americans, with the distinctive and amazingly versatile Marsden matting. I think the strip would probably have to be the only original WWII strip still used in commercial operation in PNG or possibly the Pacific? Considering this was now 60 years ago, it is some achievement. As a side note, Marsden matting has done wonders for fences in PNG, they are used as posts, gates and panels. Stock yards in particular have benefited.

Aitape could be best described as a 2 horse town, one street running through the centre, a post office, grocery store, a couple of houses and that's it. Comparing Aitape to my home town of Paterson in the Hunter, the latter would come out looking like a metropolis, and that's saying something.

The reason I went was to look at a college which is being set up. We are going to be using this school for our courses and programs, and the boss decided I could do with a trip up there to see how easily the place could utilise computers.

I got to meet back up with one of the volunteers that I came up here with, Gerry, who is the station manager for a 300ha property currently running about 150 brahman cross. He is a bit of a character and could probably talk underwater. I also got to meet a brand new young volunteer couple, Emmi and Gavin, from AVI who are going to be managing part of the local catholic diocese. They have only been in the country for two weeks and already she has had Malaria.

We did our inspection and talked to the teachers at a local high school, who will be doing some volunteer tutoring. We also talked to year 11 and 12 students who could possibly be potential clients next year about the courses that we are going to be offering, may as well drum up some business.

Flying back we managed to get the same plane the whole way. The terminal at Aitape airport consisted of a red ute and some portable scales. Len the director of the college we visited and Gerry dropped us off, you can see them in the other photo as I am about to board to the Bandirante for the flight back.

The flight back was not as interesting as the one up, as there were no electrical faults this time. We also arrived back at Nadzab (Lae airport) exactly on time.

Tadji airport terminal

About to board. Len, Gerry and me