Apologies for the lull in PNG posts – in my defence, I’ve since been to Japan and New Zealand, have been a bridesmaid, and have been slogging my arse off in a new job for the last few weeks. I do need to write my adventures down though, so please allow me to return to PNG…
Pindiu Village was a verdant paradise after the horrors of Lae and Moresby. We had our own house, abundant (if repetitive) meals, animals to play with…and best of all, freedom to walk around without fear of being hacked up and left to bleed to death on the side of the road. The most common crime in Pindiu is theft – vegetables, livestock and the occasional mobile phone.
There is an awful lot of our family in the village. Here’s most of them:
And those are all direct family – Mum’s siblings and their offspring. None of this second cousin rubbish.
They have a sense of humour that is one part dry, one part slapstick and one big chunk of taking the piss out of you. They’re not afraid to make fun of you to your face, a trait which seems in direct contrast to their rather circumspect way of discussing anything of import.
One day Jojo took me for a walk, and a little girl peeking over her fence spied me and started hollering at her siblings in the house “lala emba hatza!” Jojo laughed and translated it for me: the white girl is coming. Now I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but white girl has never been one of them. Despite the incongruity in my mind, the moniker ended up sticking, and I was Lala Emba for the remainder of my stay. (My cousin Nicole was landed with the rather less flattering ‘Waka waka’, which is a term usually reserved for white livestock such as pigs and cattle.)
There was one unfortunate blot on the landscape during the time we were in town:
Look, I’m all for freedom of religion – but these people seriously made me want to start a holy war. We almost sort of did, but more on that later. So our friends the Revivalists set up a stage and deafening PA system in the centre of the village, then proceeded to preach, testify and sing horribly pitchy hymns at a decibel level that would put a Fokker-100 to shame. They did this for 12 hours a day for 5 days straight – no matter where you went in the village, you could hear their shitty keyboard and pious warbling. At 6am every morning I’d be bolted awake by a piercing feedback whine and a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ muttering breathlessly ‘testing mic one, testing mic one.’ (One of my uncles later did an impression of the guy saying ‘tasting mic one, tasting mic one’ while pretending to lick a microphone. It was pretty hilarious. At least now I know where I get my sense of humour from.)
When you’ve spent 30 years dwelling in First World Bliss, it’s difficult to adapt to village life. There is a tap in our little family compound that the ladies can use for washing up, but it ceases to work after about 9am every morning, for reasons no one could adequately explain. Once the tap goes kaput, all water-based routines must take place in the creek.
The creek is only a ten minute walk away, but it’s at the bottom of God-forsaken muddy descent on which I nearly broke my coccyx on twenty separate occasions. It’s literally a giant pain in the arse. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful place.
There’s not a great deal to do in Pindiu. Sometimes my family would set up a volleyball net outside the house, and half the village would turn up to play. Personally I thought it was way too hot for volleyball, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. On some evenings one of my uncles would start the diesel generator, and the kids would gather around to watch some TV. Mum brought a Lassie DVD with her, and though they couldn’t understand the entire story, the kids all cheered whenever Lassie tried to maul someone. And now I know where my malicious streak comes from, too.
Three months later I can look back at the experience with a benign nostalgia, but while I was there I seemed to be in a constant state of frustration. Part of it stemmed from being dirty all the time. It’s perfectly possible to bathe yourself adequately in an icy creek or under a tap, but it’s impossible to stay clean around animals, cooking fires and dirt yards. I smelt like a sow and was twice as grumpy. I was also stressed about having to come back to Australia and find a job – as some of you may remember, I was livid at the prospect of being dragged overseas when I should have been sorting out my life. On top of that was the frustration at the PNG people themselves. I know there’s something to be said for a life of simplicity – growing your own food, looking after your family unit looking after the earth. It’s magical. But for heaven’s sake, how hard is it to have water reliably piped to your house? Or rig up a wood-fired hot water system? Or send your twenty year old son out to work to help support the family so you don’t have to sponge money off the only sister that married a white man? I know what you’re thinking – these people have happily lived like this for hundreds of years; leave them alone you entitled bitch. But let me explain something – back in the 70’s, they had all the modern amenities. They had education; they even had a tennis court. Then independence came along, and it’s all gone steadily downhill ever since. There’s nothing atrociously wrong with their current lifestyle, but it frustrated me no end that nobody bothers to make the simplest adjustments to make life easier. As an example, the Mongi River crossing is a 5 kilometre walk from the village. It’s a ‘walk’, because several years ago the vehicle bridge was washed away in a flood, and nobody has bothered to rebuild it. All supplies must be brought in by foot. My family was carting grocery supplies up the hill at 1am, and at no point does anyone say hey, maybe we should rebuild that bridge. Frustrating.
Or maybe my privilege is showing.
Next instalment: how to kill a Lala Emba in five days.