The internet in PNG is a tricky thing. Technically there's wifi at my workplace, but it only works intermittently and it thinks pretty much every website apart from Facebook is 'porn', so I've mostly been relying on the data plan from my phone and temperamental hotspot.
The weather plays a huge factor in the reliance of internet, according to locals. If it's cloudy? The internet will be crap. This is usually shrugged off with an "eh, what can you do?" gesture.
My primary purpose for coming up here was to help my old Sydney flatmate run a week-long conference at the university. It went really well, despite the challenges of working with a team who’ve never done anything on this scale before and work on “PNG" time. By that I mean, none of them turned up on the fourth morning until after 8.30am… registration started at 8am, they were all rostered to start at 7am and none of them had their phones switched on. The only two people who this appeared to stress were my awesome assistant coordinator and I. Everyone else just shrugged it off as “oh well, PNG time”. Nothing really stressed them.
The third day of the conference involved field trips – I didn’t go on any of them (too busy catching up on work!) but they sounded awesome. One group climbed Mt Gahavisuka and went to a place called ATprojects, who train people in remote villages in business and life skills. The other group went to Banana Block, which is a settlement where the Kafe Women’s Association are based – they work to prevent violence against women, especially in sorcery cases, which is a big issue here in the highlands. Then they went to Goroka Agribusiness Training Institute, which is run by the First Secretary of the district. Most of his students are illiterate, so uses a lot of media in his training. The third group went on a community filmmaking trip to two of the villages nearby.
Afterwards, we all met met up at Raun Raun Theatre, which is about five minutes from here and is home to the National Performing Arts Troupe – they had some demonstrations and then did some performances for us. A lot of it was in Tok Pisin, so I couldn’t understand it (although I have been picking up a few phrases here and there, so I can get by in the market or shops without feeling like an ignorant outsider!), but their performances were really strong so the message was clear. They were performing a history of PNG independence and I’m not sure how it fit into the story of independence, but a guy came out on stage with three live snakes hanging off him – he put them down on the stage for a bit while he did a tribal dance, then when he picked them up again, he put one’s head in his mouth. Like, right down his throat. There were lots of locals sitting in the audience as well – they all freaked, as did I!
Once the conference ended, I was supposed to start working as drama coach on a feature film being shot up here, but due to a combination of factors (the director being completely disorganised and not even having a finished script or shooting schedule, let alone there being enough money in the budget to pay me being the main issues), I was seconded onto a couple of other projects, which are really quite awesome.
The first project is a continuation of one that I was working on earlier in the year – Pawa Meri (www.pawameri.org). Six female filmmakers were given training and mentorship as they made half hour docos about six influential PNG women. Inspiring stuff and it’s really kicking off here in Papua New Guinea, so now we want to expand the reach into the Pacific and beyond.
The second project is with one of the filmmakers from Pawa Meri who is conducting visual storytelling workshops in Tari (Southern Highlands) with sex workers and their clients. Apparently Tari is a big mining town, so has a pretty big sex trade, but they don’t necessarily work for money – they get paid in betelnut (which people here chew like tobacco, gives them a bit of a pot-like high and makes their mouths go red – gross), cigarettes and food.
Tari is one of the few towns left in PNG where people still wear traditional clothing instead of western clothing, so it will certainly be an interesting part of the country to see. We’re flying in via Mt Hagen and have to stay in Hagen overnight because they only fly once a day, but the Mt Hagen show is on while we're there, so we’ll get to check that out which will be amazing.
On that note, I'll post this and get cracking on the next installment from PNG.