Inga’s Travelogue: Village Lyfe

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.

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.

Obligatory holiday bikini shot.

Obligatory holiday bikini shot.

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.

TV night in the courtyard.

TV night in the courtyard.

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.

The water tap that might as well be a stripper pole.

The water tap that might as well be a stripper pole.

Laundry day!

Laundry day!

Mum teaching Grandma how to binocular.

Mum teaching Grandma how to binocular.

Every time Mum took a photo...

Every time Mum took a photo…

Sanzeng village, 30 minutes walk from Pindiu.

Sanzeng village, 30 minutes walk from Pindiu.

Aunty and cousin. (Photo credit Mrs GOF)

Aunty and cousin. (Photo credit Mrs GOF)

Next instalment: how to kill a Lala Emba in five days.


9 thoughts on “Inga’s Travelogue: Village Lyfe

  1. Whoa! A New post! (But it does sound like you’ve been busy).

    Is there anyone in that village you are not somehow related to? Of course, the same thing could be asked about the small town I live in – everyone’s related to everyone.

    Your frustrations are understandable, especially since “amenities” were there at one time. But, as you said, it’s hard to really understand the mindset of “third-world” people when you’re not from there.

    • I really meant to bang these out faster, because my memory’s not as good as it was when I was a young tacker of 29. Sadly life gets in the way of blogging sometimes…

      I’m pretty sure everyone is related – I think it’s a small town thing. My home town is like that too (at one of our graduation parties, one of the girls in my class made out with her cousin. To be fair, he was pretty hot).

      • I’m pretty sure that if I really researched one branch of my family tree thoroughly I’d find cousins marrying cousins because there was nobody else around. No webbed toes or two-headed babies, so I’m not too worried about it.

        On your reply to Lauri – a FORTY-FIVE minute drive??? It must be a great job.

        • Yeah, that side of the family’s been inbreeding for generations, and most of us turned out alright. Not sure what GOF’s excuse is.

          Forty-five minutes isn’t that long around these parts – I know a few people that commute into the city, and that’s over an hour! It is a nice job though 🙂

  2. Incredible.
    I wonder what it is that causes people to go into that inertia where things as they are, or even things going slowly downhill, is just fine and they muddle along without a care.
    And what is the other thing, that causes people to explore and strive and never be happy staying at one level?
    Ah, philosophy.

    But, anyway, it is quite a gift that you were able to see so many family members in so many separate villages.

    In India they would turn on loud-speakers of chanting. Loud LOUD chanting, for two hours in the middle of the night. It almost drove me mad. Darned if I know if it was Hindu or Muslim or what, but it was f*cking annoying.

    What is your new job like? Is it good?

    • It’s an interesting topic, isn’t it? I read somewhere once that the cultures that became ‘civilised’ the fastest were the ones that lived in areas with extreme seasonal changes – having to adapt from heat to cold every season made them a bit more resourceful than those that could lounge around in the tropics all year round. I’m not sure how much proof there is to back it up but it sounds good in theory. I know if I lived in that heat all year round I’d be hard pressed to set up a functional water system too.

      Oh my gosh, that chanting is horrible. I don’t care who you worship, but can you do it quietly?

      I love my new job – mostly because it’s not my old job 🙂 The commute is 45 minutes one way instead of the 7 minutes I was used to, but life is all about trade-offs hey?

    • This is very true. At one point someone pulled out a very old photo of me with an ex-boyfriend, and started making fun of my taste in men.

  3. Pingback: Inga’s Travelogue: Merry Cultural Disconnect! | Step Into The Light

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