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.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Conference and Bikpela Sing-Sing

Well it has been an interesting week. From the Monday when I picked up mum at Nadzab (Lae) airport till now while we are in Goroka having a restful Sunday at my wantoks house, Monica.

I'll start at the beginning I guess, with the arrival of my mother. Monday afternoon and with a bit of a wait around at the airport - which I found out later was caused by the late arrival of mum's flight to POM from BNE - mum eventually turned up, multiple items of cabin luggage in hand (most of which was mine).

Driving back into town and it is always interesting to get someone's first impression of somewhere new. This meant that mum chipped up with comments like "Look! She's carrying that on her head!", "Goodness, look at the grass house" and "Everything is so green". First things first and I took her off to the little market near home to get some kai kai for dinner, and she got a lot of kudos and smiles from the locals when people found out she was mama bilong mi, this included a big hug from one of the old women who has taken a bit of a fancy to me and always pops a little bit extra in my bilum when I buy from her.

Early rise and off we went back to Nadzab to catch a plane to Goroka. In true PNG style, the plane was supposed to take off at 0730 and arrive 0805. Of course we arrived at 1030, with a side trip to Madang thrown in. We took our stuff off to the Bird of Paradise and left our bags behind the desk and went for a look around the town. Mum was very impressed with the range of bilums lining the street outside the Government offices and was overwhelmed. She wanted to get one to use for the week, but had an issue in deciding what to get, I think her words were "it is like a being a kid in a lolly shop".

We met up with all the volunteer crew as they gradually trickled into Goroka for the AVI in-country meeting that coincided with mums visit. They were usually hanging around the pool at the Bird, as the sun was out and the weather was great. In the afternoon we got a lift in the back of the ute that AVI had hired for the week to the Conference centre about 5 minutes out of town towards Mt Hagen. Personally it was great for me to meet up with all the people that I had came here with and to meet more as well.

I wont go into too many details of the conference over the next two and a half days, suffice to say it was a great time, with a fantastic mix of social and serious discussions. We met various individuals doing amazing work in the community, who were invited to talk with us. We also met more important people from the Government and AusAID who talked about what they were doing.

The group from AVI

During the afternoon on Friday we moved our stuff from the conference centre to Monica's house - a fellow volunteer in Goroka - and then got ready and to go to our first of a lot of culture for for the weekend at the Raun Raun Theatre to see a locally produced performance about the history of PNG. It was great as they used a mix of English for the colonizers and Pidgin for the locals. I sat and interpreted for mum doing the pidgin sequences.

Saturday morning and it was time for the next chunk of culture, where most of it for the weekend came from, at the Goroka Cultural Show or bikpela singsing. This was one of the reason that mum came up at this time of year, and I think it would be safe to say that she was blown away by what she saw.

There were groups from Mt Hagen to Madang and Lae, about 25 in total, all doing their various performances. Some of the best I had to admit were from my province of Morobe, especially the coordination involved in their moves. But in terms of cute factor the winner would have to be by a mile the group from Simbu province who simply sat on top of a plinth and did a show which in lots of head wiggling and looking into each others eyes. The cuteness came from the little kids who sat at the front.

One of the Mangi's (boy) from the head wiggling group

It was a great day and I could talk for ages about it, but it is one of those experiences that really needs to be seen with your own eyes to appreciate, words won't do it justice.

Tomorrow we are heading off to Maimafu in the Crater Mountain wilderness area, directly south of here, unless something happens like more rain, which will mean the airstrip will be too wet to land. We are staying two nights in a guest house before coming back on Wednesday, whereupon we head down to Madang to chill for a bit.

Monday, September 13, 2004

In Hiatus

Today is my last day of work for a while as I first head off to Goroka for the Australian Volunteers In-Country meeting. It should be a good laugh as I will get to meet up with all the Vols that I came over here with and quite a lot of new faces who live in various parts of the country.

I am also picking my mother up from the airport this afternoon and she will be here for close to three weeks. First up, unfortunately she will have to endure the conference and all the volunteers. When she had booked her tickets AVI had still not pulled out their fingers, and I had no idea when the conference was going to be on. She should have a good time though, as Thursday is Independence day and there will be plenty for her to see.

After the conference on the weekend is the Goroka show, which should be a huge spectacular spectacle, that will blow away someone uninitiated to this country like mum. This is partially why she had booked her tickets at this time, because I told her that if she was going to come to the country she should at least catch one of these shows.

Following the show I have been trying to organise to take her out to Crater Mountain Wilderness Management Area for a stay at a village called Maimafu (here are a couple of pics I found of the place approach pic and coming in to land). This has been a good exercise in the way PNG works or usually doesn't work.

The organisation that you book stays there through, The Research Conservation Foundation, initially told me that flying in on the Monday and out on the Friday was not a problem and it would cost me K154. So I booked it. Then a month later I receive an e-mail saying:
We have made a booking for a return trip for 2 to go into Maimafu on Monday 20th Sept and return on the Monday 27th Sept. This is because there will be no flights on Friday 25th Sept. Please confirm if this is OK. Otherwise, maybe you should plan on coming out earlier perhaps Thursday 24th Sept which means you will be pushing for time and would need to squeeze some of your plans in Maimafu.

Firstly I was confused because Thursday is actually the 23rd, so I fire off a reply saying:
Thanks for booking the flights. But could you make the flight out for Thursday the 23rd (not 24th as stated in your last e-mail). One whole week is a bit long as my mother is here for 3 weeks and I want to spend it in various different places.

So time goes by and I figure that this is OK. Then on Thursday last week, I decided that I should ring RCF and make sure that this is OK. The response I got from them was that it was and we were booked in as stated. I wasn't totally convinced, so I decided to ring MAF (the airline) to make sure. The response I got from them was that they don't fly in to Maimafu on Thursday and it is only Monday and Wednesday and it will be K160 one way per person. Hmmm OK.

So I book it anyway. If you have looked at the pictures above, partially the whole reason to go is just for the plane ride and landing on the strip. 14° up a hill, one of the steepest strips in the country.

Anyway, hopefully we should be able to have a good time there, even for only two days, it will be an experience for mum though as it will be all new to her. After the village stay I have yet to make any plans, but we will probably go for a PMV ride down to Madang and stay there. Possibly doing a trip out to Kar Kar island, an active volcano that plenty of people live on.

So don't expect any new posts for a while. I will be taking my laptop up to Goroka for the conference, so I may post a bit while I am there. It should all be good fun and it will be good to have a break from work, see my mother for the first time in 9 months, experience new things and have a holiday.

Friday, September 10, 2004


I have been meaning to write a post for a while in regard to PNG street fashion, or depending on your point of view, lack there of. There are a few distinct styles that seemed to have taken root here. Now trust me I am no expert on fashion, as my ex will testify, but I will have a go and see if I can enlighten on these styles.

The Meri Blouse
This dress is probably the most distinctive fashion available for women. I am not 100% sure of the history, but I am certain that the dress was introduced to the country by missionaries who needed an easy way to get all the women to cover up. There was just too much flesh being shown in the old days. Women running around bare breasted, how savage!

So the Meri Blouse was invented, there are slightly different styles depending on the area (or so I am told). But the general jist of it is a loose dress which comes to you knees, with a round neck and short puffed sleeves. Underneath a laplap (sarong) is wrapped around to cover even more skin. The material is usually pretty loud, bright and colourful with patterns of flowers, birds or whatever and they get worn everywhere. Most women will usually have quite a few blouses. One will be everyday work in the garden or at the market, but then they will also have a special blouse for Sunday and lotu (Church).

If you are wondering Meri is the pidgin (tok pisin) word for Woman. Meri = Mary = Woman.

There are quite a few styles of hats. The good news is that the local styles are still making an impact, especially in the form of the colourful Highlands "beenie" style of hat. The dedication of the devoted wearer is pretty amazing as well. It could be 35° in the shade with a humidity over 90% and these guys will still be wearing their hats (plus probably a big jacket as well). It does get cold in the highlands, but not in Lae.

Western styles of course have crept in. There are plenty of baseball style caps, with all sorts of logos on the front - popular ones are NRL teams or one of the two State of Origin sides. There are also other slightly more bizarre western styles probably collected from the ubiquitous second hand clothes stores. The other day I saw a guy wearing a green Heineken top hat, the kind you would probably see on St Patrick's day and one of our tutors comes in occasionally wearing what looks to the a Russian (fake) fur hat. It looks like he has got an old tabby cat and wrapped it around his head.

Company Logos
Because there are so many second hand clothes stores that get their clothes bales from Australia, you will find all sorts of company logos on shirts floating around. I have seen Victoria policemen, State Rail workers, Telstra linesmen and even a guy from Muffin Break (it was a ladies shirt as well).

The second hand clothes stores are a great place to shop for clothes. They are soooo cheap. I have picked up business work shirts (logo free), for K1, and they are perfect quality.

Not sure if this was in a previous post, but I was invited to a Bohemian fancy dress birthday party a couple of months ago. I couldn't find anything decent in the shops until I found a short workers style jacket and a peak less bakers cap whence upon I decided to go as a communist (loose interpretation of the theme I know). And these items worked out to be the equivalent of the price of a banana in Sydney. Great huh.

PNG Place T-Shirts
Screen printing must have arrived on PNG about the same time as the cheap chinese polo-neck T-shirts. As soon as this new technological widzardry became available all sorts of creative shirts started appearing. Any place in PNG you visit now you can get T-shirt as well. In fact you don't even have to visit the place, as there is a store here in Lae, where you can "Greeting from Madang" or "Aitape: Sandaun province" etc.

I must admit that I think these shirts are pretty cool, if for nothing else because they are uniquely Papuan New Guinean. Before I head home I will be stocking up on a few of these shirts.

There have also been some creative locals who are now branching out and modifying the style with some pretty funky designs, not with just place names on the back. The other day I bought one saying "PNG: EXPECT the UNEXPECTED" all in a cool font.

Inside-out Shirts
OK lastly I have to make a comment about a certain fashion of wearing clothes in this country. T-Shirts, second-hand corporate shirts or work shirts all get the same treatment it seems. After a few days of wearing an item, instead of giving your shirt a wash the fashion is to just flip it inside-out and continue to wear it.

This is almost seen as a trendy thing to be doing by the proponents. Maybe, I am not sure, they don't even wait till they have worn it beforehand and straight after a wash get it thrown on inside out.

While in Manus I saw a memorable look. A guy was wearing what was obviously a womans blouse, a nice pink one too, but he had it inside-out and back to front so that he had a nice opening on his back and was almost being choked across the front of the neck. Very odd.

Anyway, that is some of my views on fashion here in PNG. As you can see it is slightly different from other places.

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

My Sage Days Are Over

As soon as I wrote Sunny Days are here to Stay?, I knew that those words would come back and bite me. Of course since then it has been mainly overcast with quite a bit of rain thrown in.

I woke up yesterday morning with it sheeting down and to make matters worse my two month old, 25 Kina, Unitech logo embellished umbrella broke - cheap Chinese crap - on the way to work through it. I managed to do a on the run quick repair job so that I didn't get saturated.

Well the student strike looks like it has petered out for the time being. They still have not gone back to class but, the gates have been opened and there is free movement of traffic from the outside world in and campus out.

Luther Wenge the outspoken Governor of our province (Morobe Province) is coming to speak to the kids tomorrow at 10am. It will be interesting to see what he has to say. If it is anything like what he says about the enhanced cooperation program (ECP) between Australia and PNG, and his outspoken views on this or in general towards Australians, it will make interesting listening.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Students Striking

Unitech (my employer) is currently in the midst of a shut-down, caused by the students striking. The students are not surprisingly pretty unhappy at the moment that they will have to up to pay nearly 6 times more for their education starting next year.

Currently they get a bill from Unitech of K3800 a year for any course they do, but from next year depending on their course they will be whacked with an increase of between K8000 and K22,400! A bit of leap to say the least.

The actual proposed fee structure that is being looked at brought in is a joint proposal across the all six Universities. The Universities want to bring a new 5 band costing structure that depends on the course, and because this is a Technological Uni most of the courses here are in the higher bands 4 and 5. They breaks down as follows:

  • Band 1 - (Disciplines): Administration, Arts, Business, Commerce, Economics, Humanities and Law @ K8,000

  • Band 2 - Behavioural Sciences, Social Studies @ K10,400

  • Band 3 - Architecture, Built environment, computing, education, foreign languages, health, nursing, visual and performing arts @ K12,000

  • Band 4 - Engineering, science and surveying @ K19,200

  • Band 5 - Agriculture, dentistry, fisheries, forestry, medicine and veterinary sciences @ K22,400

These student strikes have a history of getting pretty nasty in PNG. So far there has been just the normal lock the gates, make demands and hand in petitions. But this morning it looks like it could turn the other way with a section of the students chasing any students that are not involved with the strike and giving them a beating.

Hopefully as the Post Courier says some sense will prevail in all this. Obviously the fee structure is going to cripple access to tertiary education to the masses in this country, how are villages going to come up with K22,400 a year? But also as it is at the moment the Uni is running on a shoestring.

It shall be all interesting to my uninitiated eyes.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Sunny Days are here to Stay?

The sun has been shining over the past couple of weeks and it now looks like the rainy season is petering out. Which to be honest is a bit of a mixed blessing. I didn't mind the rainy season, as it was not all that wet during a lot of days - most of the time it just rained at night. It made the place quite respectable in terms of temperature as it was overcast a lot of the time.

On the other side of the coin, I do love when you wake up and the suns shining and the birds are singing, it make the little walk down to the office very pleasant. Of course during the middle of the day it will be absolutely scorching with the big fiery ball being directly over the top.

When the actual rainy season is, is a question that I found hard to get a straight answer when I arrived here. I had asked a lot of people and the results ranged from "it should have already started" to "it won't be for a few months yet". So perhaps this post may be a bit of a false harbinger. Just as my Mystical Infrastructure Inverse Relationship post proved. I was told that when I was away in Manus there was a massive power failure, with the power being out for a few days. Which could explain why when I looked in my freezer after returning that it looked like it had partially defrosted and had then refrozen.

Friday, September 03, 2004

Party, Party, Party!

Well I have been keeping myself busy by organising my social life. So with an impending birthday, I decided to whip up a birthday invite using some new technology that I thought I would learn along the way. I have had Macromedia Flash for a while but have never really bothered to use it, so now I have managed to self teach myself in the art of using it and the results are pretty good if I do say so myself.

I e-mailed off the invite, but alas I don't have an isp at the moment so have no free spot to host it from, so that a link is included here.

The party itself, is also in the name of one of my volunteer colleagues here at the Uni who is heading back home a week after it. So we decided that we would just amalgamate the celebrations.

Crusade or Circus?

For the past four nights I have been having to drown out a wail coming from a circus tent on the sports oval by putting on loud music and closing windows, and I live over 500 metres away with a barricade of trees and houses in between.

The annual Unitech Fellowship Christian Crusade is on. Which means that every night from Monday to Saturday, I am going to get Pastors and Preachers spell out their rhetoric in loud angry pidgin.

I have nothing against freedom of expression or freedom of religion, in fact those are things I whole-heartedly believe in. As the saying goes “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight for your right to say it�.

What I have a problem with though is people forcing their opinions on others. And this is exactly what is happening at the moment, with the amplifiers being turned up to ridiculous levels.

The other issue and another reason I am pissed off, is that when the Uni Staff club, had a band on every second Friday, the Vice-Chancellor canned it because it was making too much noise. Now I should mention that the Vice-Chancellor is strict born-again style of Christian, who has also has done a lot of other things like stop the Staff Club from opening on Saturday and Sunday as those days should be for prayer only, not drinking and having fun.

Also it seems that political correctness hasn't quite yet made it all the way to PNG. I think the word Crusade is pretty much taboo in most parts of the world especially when in context of a large Christian get together. Just ask George W Bush this, after his gaffe when speaking about the "War on Terror".

Anyway enough of my rant. Did I mention I am going on holidays soon and my mum is coming up?