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.

Friday, December 16, 2005

And So It Ends

Well, I am writing this back in Australia .. in my home town .. in the bush .. in my ples.

The mountains are smaller and rounder. The countryside browner. The locals whiter. The roads better .. without potholes. The power stays on. The phones work. Things are just .. developed. My little GPS device says the distance back to the my old house in Lae is 2954km but it seems a hell of a lot further. Another world away.

I snuck back in on Tuesday. Selecting a limited few to tell that I was actually coming back to the country. I had previously said that I would be travelling around PNG after my contract finished at the university .. and this was going to be the case for a long time .. but I also had a ticket back since January.

Travelling up on a PMV bus in August to Goroka and I changed my mind to travel back for Christmas .. the reasoning at the time now eludes me, but once I had made my mind, I started to look forward to coming back .. cafes, pubs, broadsheet newspapers, cinemas .. the little things you miss.

And so I stealthily planned my return. My poor old mother was not one I told and her surprise was evident when I met up with her yesterday. I entered the house and gave her a hug. The look of glee and happiness was a special moment .. and I am glad I did it like I did (it is not the first time I have done this, previously I arrived back in the country a few days before I was supposed to).

Being back I can now reflect on what PNG was. Two full years of my life, obviously. Another country, yes. An experience, of course. An adventure, certainly. A challenge, completed. An opportunity to see if I could cope, passed. A great time, indeed. The chance to meet fantastic people, oh yes. A memory bank full of memories. And plenty of stories to tell my kids (if I ever have any). Papua New Guinea was all of this and a lot more. To use a cliché, words can't really do it justice .. though as all the stack of posts to this blog are testament, I have tried.

So as to what the future holds for me. Well for the next few weeks at least there are family and friends to see and be with and there is the frantic Christmas shopping experience to fulfil (I have been asked why didn't I bring PNG presents back .. and my answer is, those things would mean something to me, but would they really mean something for you - better to choose a present for the person). After these then we will see. I have already been offered a job .. but whether this is what I will want to do I will have to find out.

And as to this blog, well as it is two years of thoughts and observations about PNG it will seem weird to continue it if I am not in PNG anymore so I am going to stop posting to it from now on. If you want to follow my more mundane life you will be able to over on my other blog which I have had for some time .. Nomad Tales. Ketch you there.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The My Choice Awards

and the winners go to ...

Best overall week ...
Going to Manus for work and spending it tripping out to a remote island on a banana boat, heading into Manus island interior via the Manus highway (or goat track) and saving a cuscus from becoming kai kai.

Most scariest moment ...
Climbing two thirds up an active volcano and finally realising that the thing was erupting boulders the size of VW beetles ... a hasty retreat was made.

Most exhausting event ...
Trekking for 7 days over the Kokoda Track, which meant 96 kms overland but climbing up a combined height of two thirds of Mount Everest (and going down again).

Best moment of instant celebrity ...
Flying into a remote highlands village with my white haired mother and being swamped by the entire population.

Best PNG location visited ...
The remote Balaun island, part of the Manus trip. I had always wanted to visited a remote pacific island .. this felt very much like it.

Best non-PNG location visited ...
Biak in Indonesia. Cheap food, cheap accommodation, great scenery, great weather, great company .. all good.

Biggest culture shock moment ...
Eating a cuscus foreleg on the second Mt Wilhelm trip. Nice .. tastes like lamb .. not much of it though.

Biggest culturally awkward moment ...
Expected to cry at a Western Highlands funeral. The tears didn't well up.

Worst health moment ...
Urinating a dark red colour while having Malaria in a place without a doctor.

Lifetime changing award ...
Growing up quickly when driving a car full of computers and having guns pointed at you by rascal gangs on the side of the road.

Most thrilling individual moment ...
Making it to the top of Mount Wilhelm the first time ... I laughed and cried at the same time.

and finally ...

Best thing discovered ...
Meeting some of the best friends I have ever made .. including some fantastic locals with lion hearts and some brilliant ex-pats including some very special people. See you on the other side.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Not The Shipping News

Yesterday I finally shipped off my surplus cargo .. by plane. The original plan I highlighted had to be amended .. because of the cost! What a rort. For one cubic metre of cargo I was looking down the cost of exactly 3,782 kina (approx Au$1550) with a removalist company. Yeah, in their dreams.

So the amendment meant that I would ditch my clam shell. A shame but too bloody heavy. Besides I also decided to do some checking up about what the status was with these things being sent into Australia. This led me down the path of checking out the Australian Customs Service webpage and having a look at what is prohibited from being brought into Australia (a very confusing topic here, with many opinions, as anyone who has ever visited Australia probably has discovered).

On their prohibited and restricted imports page they give you a quick list (though still pretty long) of what you can't bring in (amusingly next to Chemical Weapons and Nuclear products, we have novelty erasers, novelty money boxes, the Australian flag and anything with ANZAC on it). This wasn't much help apart from informing me I needed to check with the Department of Environment and Heritage on what the story is with these shells.

On their site they state that anything already banned or requiring a permit under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) would be restricted. I still wasn't sure if clam shells were covered or not and a quick look at the CITES website confirmed that I should just shoot an email off to DEH and ask them what the story was (I have no idea what the scientific name for the shell is).

Amazingly for a government department my email got a reply the next working day:
Dear JCD,

There is an exemption for up to 3 specimens of Giant Clam shell (not exceeding 3 kgs) for importation into Australia as personal baggage. However, if you wish to ship the specimen, then you will require a personal item CITES import permit from us. I have attached the application form. Please note that you will need to provide information in your application that satisfies us that it was leagally aquired.



My shell was not going to be covered by personal baggage and under 3 kilos. Also the "leagally[sic] aquired[sic]" was a bit of a worry (though this confirmed that even in the Australian public service they are lazy spell checkers). I bought it off some Telikom guy in Lorengau, Manus for 20 kina. He didn't write a receipt. A bit more of an examination of the form and it became apparent that I also needed to get an export permit from PNG customs as well and I needed all this done before I got the import permit from DEH which in itself was going to cost $30, and they take credit card, but my credit card has expired .. anyway it was all a bit much. The shells can stay in their country of origin.

So the end result was that I ended up with two plywood boxes which in themselves weigh a lot and just personal effects to send back. I decided to ring Air Niugini and find out more about something others have told me about .. unaccompanied luggage. They gave me a per kilo price and then the on top fee prices and this definitely sounded like the go.

So yesterday I loaded up the repacked four cardboard boxes (plywood ones can stay as well) in the work vehicle and headed off to town to a courier company. I wanted to get it weighed there and see what they could do it for (too much of course). The total weight they gave me was 74, so next stop was the bank and then out to the airport.

Out at the Air Niugini cargo desk I got it weighed again and was surprised to find their scales giving me a total weight of 60 kilos. I didn't say anything, though was thinking the couriers were a bunch of dodgy dealers with dodgy weights, not unlike that bad dude in Karate Kid II, with the weights made of foam (I should go back and smash ice bricks and save the cute Japanese girl from them .. honour!).

So to cut a long (and a bit boring) story short the total cost of sending it as unaccompanied baggage turned out to be K600. Much more reasonable.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

So You Wanna Volunteer?

Time's nearly up on my little adventure into the world of international volunteering. So in the effort to encourage (or discourage) would be volunteers who might be interested in dedicating a couple of years of their life to go and live in a country not as fortunate as their own, and have all sorts of adventures, and life altering experiences, all potentially good or bad, here are three insights I offer to impart on the more pragmatic side of volunteers and volunteering.

These are all now hindsight views on the ideals that I originally thought this caper would be like. Most of them proved to be false.

All volunteers will be like me?

Not quite. While it is probably true your average volunteer demographic is made up of mainly a left leaning, want-to-change-the-world, pinko, style people, this is about where the similarity lies between you and the other vols you will come across. The canvas of personalities and characters is about as wide across volunteers as they are across any group of people.

One thing is for sure is even though people are not as similiar as you would have imagined you will still make great friends with them and quite likely from new age groups. This is because you get two classes of volunteer age groups, the people who have yet to settle down and pop out the kids and want to have an experience before they do so and the people who are older and have already done the kid thing and are ready to have an experience while they are still upright enough to do so.

So what you will experience by volunteering is something quite bizarre and something that does not usually happen .. you will have friends who are your parent's/children's age.

All volunteering agencies are the same, right?

Pick and choose if you have a choice. There is more than one volunteer organisation around. For Australians for example there is Australian Volunteers International (the mob I came to PNG with), Australian Business Volunteers and the government set up Australian Youth Ambassadors. They each have their own niche and offer a slightly different experience.

AVI is typically for two years and you get enough to live on. ABV is for short-term periods and you get semi-decent pay (though still a lot less than you would be used to) and the Youthie guys are for one year and seem to get the best treatment (they are after all run directly by AusAID and are Alexander Downer's babies).

For other countries the story I gather is similar, the ones on a similar vein as AVI are: The Brits with VSO, the Yanks with the well-known Peace Corps, the Japanese with their JICA program and the Canadians and CUSO. There is also the United Nations Volunteers.

My advice is to have a shop around.

There will be volunteer romance aplenty?

For the potential single volunteers here's a little tip, do your research well and pick a position/location where there are actually other volunteers already based .. and which has members of the opposite sex .. and about your own age .. and single as well. This may then heighten the chances of finding a bit of romance amongst the foreignness.

And hey who isn't thinking this if they're a potential volunteer and single ... "hmmm, I'm a goin' to go overseas for a couple of years .. yeah, work will keep me busy enough ... she'll be right ... no need to worry ... ah shit, I hope there are some chicks!".

Don't despair though if you do end up getting stuck in one sex volunteer town, there are a couple of options available. Firstly cast your net a bit wider and see what else is available in other parts of the country and secondly go it with a local. Beware though the second option can have many hidden traps, much more than the usual romance worries. I have discussed this in regard to PNG women in more detail previously, depending on where you go the problems will be different.

So there you go, would be vol, some insights from the informed. I hope it helps.

Monday, December 05, 2005

I Want a Mummy

Something I have been meaning to mention for a while. PNG has some really cool stuff you just won't see everywhere. Up in Aseki for example, about a four hour drive from Lae (apparently over some very shocking roads) there is a place where the locals used to smoke the bodies of their dead underneath cliff ledges.

This practice died out only recently with the missionaries arriving (I may be wrong but I don't think it's in the good book to keep your mama and papa on a shelf) but it is still quite possible to go and visit the ones that have been there for while.

Anyway a mate of mine who used to be in Lae, and now over in Madang, went there for a trip a couple of years ago and put heaps of pictures on his website. So if you are keen to see some mummy action from this part of the world head over to and click on the Smoked bodies of Engibena link.

I might just have to get up there myself sooner or later. It is very slack of me not to have done so already.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Post No. 300

A day filled with nothing, I needed it, especially the two hour nap this afternoon (can a sleep for two hours be classed as a nap?). Visitors have come and gone. Parties and going out have been done. A big mess to clean up and sore head to soothe. Last night I hosted a go-finish party .. for myself.

Good times and a great final party to finish up with. It was actually the first time I have had a party with work colleagues and friends and it worked well (except my colleagues kids gobbling all the pizza brought by my mates before they had a chance to eat some .. I must admit that I like hosting parties, but catering is not my forté).

Highlights from the night include the kids rounding up masses of frangipani flowers from backyard trees, some cane toad whacking and bush knife testing. My knife, I am sending home, works a treat .. you can even hack off tree limbs (as demonstrated below by a mate, after kids playing in the guava tree broke a branch).

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Power Not to the People

In one final show of defiance, I am being reminded why this is a developing country. So far this week, out of the 32 working hours available (between 8 and 4 .. government work hours) we have had 14 hours of power.

For the other 18 I have been twiddling my thumbs trying to find something to do. The crossword has proved useful.

Computers are great handy tools, but without power they are big paperweights. The reason; a combination of load shedding while they replace a faulty big-mother transformer in town and a full day out on tuesday after a small distribution transformer blew up. The university seems to cop a hefty amount of power out from load shedding, PNG power must think we are all now on holidays with the students.

Anyway, that big diesel generator I kept plugging for, needs to be bought .. soon methinks. Not that I really care anymore.

Update - Friday 2 Dec

And today .. well 6 hours without power. Mi les.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Slushie Sense

Some sense has come across finally in PNG .. or at least to a couple of its members of parliament. Member for Nuku, Mr Andrew Kumbakor, had previously proposed an increase to the MP's "slush fund" from 500,000 kina to 1.5 million kina per year. Now he has had the sense to withdraw the bill.

In case you didn't know, the 500,000 is for the MPs to do as so he or she wishes for their electorate and here is the best part for the member .. without any accountability. You can see why it is popular to become a MP here. "woohoo, I have 500,000 to give back to my wantoks, after all, they helped me get elected anyway".

The reasoning behind the increase was of course that the MPs needed it so they could provide services to their community. Despite the fact that after the 500,000 now being in place for the last 4 or 5 years many electorates have seen zero benefits.

If the thing hadn't been withdrawn it looks like it would almost have been passed unanimously. All the MPs were supporting it, all the public was in anger. Most saying correctly that there was already existing methods of allocating funds for projects, without the need for an unaccountable slush fund.

Global corruption watchdog Transparency International was the driving force behind getting the bill rejected or withdrawn. Their petitions in the daily newspapers seems to have been a major factor in helping the conscience of Mr Kumbakor, and justifiably the PNG chairman of TI, Mike Manning, is quite a happy chappie at the moment.

On the same day that the slush fund bill was withdrawn, another controversial bill was also withdrawn. This time the member of Lagaip-Porgera, Mr Karpa Yarka, had put forward a bill to amend the Leadership Code. It would have allowed MPs to be exempt from dismissal from the parliament in case they were found guilty of an offence.

More sense. Can it be true that there are MPs in this country who have a conscience, and not just looking to board the good-time gravy train?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Black & White & Read All Over

The joy of weekend newspapers came flooding back to me over the weekend. It has taken a while but I have finally got around to buying one of those big half-a-tree weekend papers that do make their way up here.

On Saturday I picked up The Sydney Morning Herald and hooked in reading the reviews, the magazine, the (old) news and doing the puzzles. Admittedly the paper was actually last weekends, but only the news was out of date, the rest was great, and of course it cost a pretty price (K18.90) but hey I enjoyed it.

Then yesterday I discovered that my flat-mate had the same idea. But this time he managed to pick up this weekend's Weekend Australian. Noice. More puzzles and stories and reviews to keep us busy for the entire week. And the Australian only cost 13 kina.

Not sure why I didn't do this before and then I remembered that every time I have previously looked at the news stand at the big in town supermarket they have only stocked out of date (by at least two weeks) Queensland Courier Mails (and I am not reading that rubbish). It just seems you have to time it right to get the best paper. ie Sunday morning.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

The Shipping News

Time to crate up my shite. Books, DVDs, clothes, camping equipment, bush knife, letters, cards and two halves of a bloody heavy giant clam shell.

I got a couple of plywood boxes made especially to hold the shells I brought back from Manus. If I loaded them and the rest of the stuff into cardboard boxes, it would fall out the bottom. Unfortunately I told them not to bother with handles. I will now have to get them to stick some on.

The next problem is how to get them back. My next-door neighbour who has just gone pinis, had half a dozen boxes totalling 160 kilos and he told me after ringing around, he eventually had to get them posted back - air mail. Can you imagine being in a post office for three hours with the clerk sticking on 2,000 kina worth of stamps onto your packages. Well this is what he went through.

Fortunately I have access to a car and yesterday I went around town and visited a couple of spots to find out the story with shipping this stuff back. Luckily there is a guy in town who does it, part of a removalist mod, and they measure by volume not weight and send by ship. Exactly what I want.

I think he is used to dealing with large volumes though and not under a cubic metre like I have. I am waiting for a quote.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Up Close and Personal

I have been checking out Google Earth ... as you do. I am supposed to be busy during my last few weeks of work, and I am, but you know how it is. Besides I blame a mate who mentioned it the other night, when he told me to look at the difference between Port Moresby and Jayapura (at least I now know for certain which is the bigger city on this big island of New Guinea).

Anyway, I am sure there is a good work related reason .. just give me a few minutes. But I thought now that I have been tinkering with it I would say how that it is a great program .. except if you want to get up close and personal in PNG.


Here is where I used to live in Sydney - right in the middle of the image from an altitude of about 350m.

Lovely spot, near the water close to the centre of the city, with lots of pubs and a massive tollway out the back (see that big square roof on the left, that is where you cough up your $4 something). Anyway notice the resolution. You can see cars parked and a bus clearly visable at the right of the image. That is good resolution.

Now here is where I used to live in London from the same height of 350m. Not as nice a spot in this case, sandwiched as it was between the A4 motorway and the District Line (oncoming tube can be seen in bottom left). But again pretty good resolution, not quite as clear but not bad.

And here we have where I live in PNG from the same height again. I think if you squint you can see something. Perhaps it is blurred on purpose. Sensitive military area or something - Igam barracks is nearby afterall.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Drink. Drive. Drunk. Drove.

Time to highlight a niche of life I have neglected about PNG - the old drink driving thing (no reason why I have suddenly decided to post about this .. although did go out the other night).

After two years of careful observation I think I can safely make a few conclusions about life without breathalysers. Some people seem to get on fine without them. Others are a true worry.

One in the former category is the driver of my regular ride into town to the yacht club. I have seen him knock back quite a bit and not have any problems getting home. At first, with my upbringing of a "thou shalt not drink and drive" mantra being hammered home through the media, it was a bit of a worry - getting into the car of someone with quite a few beers under the belt, or as many as myself at least, and knowing they will be driving for the next 10 minutes or so to get you back home. But then you grow in confidence, as you discover they seem to have learnt to either not be affected or not let it show.

Then there is the latter category - too legless to walk, certainly should not be driving type. One night driving into town, about 7, we followed a vehicle that veered all over the place - head on into on-coming cars, before swerving abruptly just before impact, slowing down, speeding up, around double lane round-abouts in the wrong lane. If the guy made it home I would be surprised.

The thing with PNG though is this is expected. The drink driving thing I mean. The completely drunk driving is I dare say not, but alas there is no highway patrol which seems to operate at night anyway.

From what I hear it stems all the way from the grassroots (the ones that have access to a vehicle at least) to the top. There is a good story (although probably now a tad embellished) I heard recounted about how a charitable organisation from Australia decided to donate quite a lot of breathalysers to the Port Moresby police back in the 1990s. This was something new for them, and they even got training in how to correctly use them.

So out onto the streets the cops went one night to put into action the new equipment. They set up a road block on one of the main thoroughfares in town and stopped all cars passing through. Anyone over the limit was taken away and locked up. It seemed like a great success and proved just how many people drink and drive.

The problem was half of the people caught were politicians. After they were released a bill was put forward and then passed banning the use of breathalysers.

It seems though there are attempts to bring them back, according to this old article I have found at any rate. Since I have been here I have not heard anything new about it and I could probably safely say it has been forgotten about.

As to whether they should be back is another question. As the article stats the only way to go out at night is with your own vehicle, due to the law and order issue and no night public transport (although in Moresby there are at least cabs that can be caught, although I am not if they operate at night).

On the other side of the argument there are claims that it is just a need for re-education. The designated driver scenario seems to have taken hold down south or at least getting someone to come and pick you up and there shouldn't be any reason why it can't here.

At the moment though, while it can be got away with, "designated driver" is certainly a phrase you won't hear around here.