Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's The Little Things... aka PNG Tales

It’s the little things you don’t notice at first, but creep up on your brain at odd moments…

Like realising that the electricity has run out, meaning you have to top it up via the meter on the outside of the house, using credits on your mobile phone. 

Or not being able to use the washing machine, because it’s a twin tub and requires pulling tubes out of one spot to put into another depending on which cycle is on and it’s all just too bloody difficult and thank god you have a local woman who comes in twice a week and does it all for you.

It’s when you look at your legs, thinking “I need a leg wax” but realising that not only are there no beauty salons in the town, but the local pharmacies (there’s only 3 of them) don’t even sell DIY kits.

That then leads you to ponder the fact that only one pharmacy sells tampons and only one brand and one size.

You need a haircut, but there’s no hairdresser either. Not. A. One.

You go shopping for house-related items to furnish the flat of the intern who’s arriving from Germany next week and realise that not a single one of the six stores you’ve been into sell practical things like shower caddies or dish drainers. Ikea would make a killing with the expats up here.

Someone suggests you try the “Chinese Shop”, which is PNG-speak for a five & dime, or dollar store, to try and locate the afore-mentioned items, but they’re closed because it’s Saturday and they’re Seventh Day Adventists.

You’ve learned to drink your coffee black because the only soy milk available is So Good, which is full of sugar and just tastes disgusting. This fact that astonishes most of the locals who drink their coffee with liberal amounts of both milk (or Sunshine milk powder) and sugar. The average Papuan will put no less than 4 heaped teaspoons of sugar into their coffee. 

The blood sugar levels of most people here are astonishingly high.

Kids up here are extraordinarily self-sufficient and resilient. The neighbour’s three year old daughter walks down the road to school each morning with her older brothers, then walks home again on her own and it’s perfectly safe for her to do so.

“Buses” are actually just Toyota Taragos with extra seats crammed in. Many have their taillights held together with gaffa tape and one or two have completely cracked windscreens. The drivers weave all over the road like psychos.

To get a driver's licence you technically need to take a practical test (no theory needed), but if you pay the local officials enough cash they'll give you one, no questions asked.

There are no traffic lights. Anywhere. The few roads that are surfaced are full of potholes and there are no lines marked. There are no stop signs, no give way signs and no speed limit signs, because there are no speed limits. You go as fast or slow as your car will allow you.

There are no streetlights. 

Most people drive 4WDs or faux-4WDs (like Toyota Ravs). Your neighbour drives a Toyota Starlet and you wonder how the axel isn’t smashed to pieces.

The local (outdoor) market is sectioned by produce. Everyone sits on a mat in their 'aisle' with their vegetables or fruit in front of them with little hand-written signs on old pieces of cardboard, indicating the price. There’s a potato aisle, a kao kao aisle, a banana aisle, an avocado aisle, and so on and so on. There’s also, hilariously, a live chicken aisle and a pig aisle. The idea is that you take them home and kill them yourself. Which you know, is a skill most village kids are taught pretty early on.

There are two petrol stations in town and there are no clear entrances or exits, so you have cars lining up top to tail to be served. There’s no self-service – they have attendants who do it for you – if you can get their attention before the car next to you does. 

Not only does the electricity go off at least twice a day, but the water gets shut off at random intervals too, meaning it's wise to keep at least a few large buckets of water around the house.

Every window in the house is louvered, meaning they don't close properly, which is great when it's warm and there's a breeze, but a bit difficult when it gets cold and rains. Thankfully that's not too often.

You're due to leave in two weeks but you're really not ready yet.

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