Aunty Femli is cray-cray. She’s high-pitched and exuberant and in-yo-face. One time we were bathing in the creek – Mum and I scantily clad, Aunty Femli naked from the waist up. When one of the younger girls noticed some men spying on us from a handy vantage point up the hill, Aunty Femli shimmied her shoulders and flapped her bosoms at them, hollering “easy to look, hard to touch!” in her screechy timbre. 99.9% of PNG women will not do this. The men fled in terror.
Aunty Femli has been taken to court for attacking her husband with a machete – he’s been abusive in the past and I don’t know what the extenuating circumstances are, so she gets a pass from me. Any man try to lay his hands on me in anger, he prolly get a machete in the ass too. If there was ever any doubt which side of the family my attitude comes from, it’s now been clarified.
We visited her home on the third day of our stay in Lae. This involved taking a bus from the suburb of Kamkumung to Hunter.
Let me tell you what catching a bus in Lae entails.
First, there are no signs on the buses or helpful informational panels at bus stops to advise where they are headed. You must rely on the man standing on the footplate, shouting incomprehensible destinations in machine-gun, auction-house gibberish. “Wassa-taun, wassataun, WASSATAUN!” (One Kina tasol [only] to town), “Eriku, erku, ERRRKUUUU” (Eriku suburb).
The buses look like this:
Once you’re on a bus and you’ve avoided being manhandled by another operator onto his bus, you must fill up the vehicle from the rear. There are seats that fold out into the aisles blocking the escape route, so once you’re on, you’re on for the entire trip. Two minutes into the journey, Gibberish Footplate Guy will hit you up for money – usually 80 Toea to 1 Kina ($AUD 40 cents to 50 cents). You indicate how many travellers you’re paying for and hand your fee to the passenger in front of you, who ostensibly will pass it up the bus to Gibberish Footplate Guy. If you’re only carrying notes, GFB may give you change…but most of the time he won’t. The buses drive on the wrong side of the road, overtake on blind corners and charge through foot deep potholes at 70 km/hr – but then so does everybody else. If you arrive at your destination in one piece, you light a candle to whichever deity you worship and vow to burn your passport upon return to your home country.
Which is precisely what I did upon arriving at Hunter suburb. We alighted right in front of Mum’s old high school, next to the grocery store she used to visit when she was a little tacker. Mum has told me numerous stories about her childhood, but the one that stood out to me was how boys (and men) used to visit her all-girls high school and stick their penises through the fence. I felt edified to be standing next to the very chickenwire through which these venerable genitalia were shoved.
We bought some snacks from the nostalgic corner store and started our walk to Aunty Femli’s house. We passed a bunch of people who recognised Mum (once again, not an odd occurrence in any country), then one lady came rushing out of a marketplace, almost in tears and embracing us both while making kissy noises into our necks. I’d become used to this kind of behaviour, and wandered ahead with my cousins while this woman clutched my mother’s hand and warbled on about their childhood together.
Approximately one hour’s walk from Hunter, we arrived at Aunty Femli’s house and the nearby beach and river swimming area.
The beach is filthy and the sand is black. On the other hand, the tidal river was clear and cool and enticing, despite its unfortunate name of ‘Blood River’. We found out it was called this because in World War II, blood from the soldiers’ corpses upstream dyed the river a deep red hue. Delightful.
Back at Aunty Femli’s place, we had a barbecue and I got to meet some more cousins, while Mum’s long lost friend from the marketplace helped herself to a healthy serving of rice and lamb flaps, then lit up a marijuana joint.
Eventually someone organised a paid driver to collect us and take us back to Kamkumung, and Mum’s friend happily climbed into the back of the utility, giving instructions on where to drop her. Safely in the cab, Mum confessed she had no idea who the woman was, and no one else seemed to either. Eventually it dawned on us that she was a con-woman who was out for nothing more than a free feed and maybe some cash if Mum had been silly enough. I had a little giggle, because I’d snapped a bunch of photos of Mum hand-in-hand with her old ‘friend’, thinking she’d be pleased. In her defence, Mum was loath to offend somebody who may or may not have been an important acquaintance, so she played along. PNG is like that.
Next instalment: The planes keep getting smaller, and grandma’s boobs.