Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A prison for your breasts?

Before I explain the title for this post, a few important facts about languages in PNG (you can just imagine how excited a language nerd like myself gets over this stuff).

Fact #1. There are approximately 800 languages in PNG. This equates to one fifth of the world’s languages. No, not dialects, languages. Not even languages as in Spanish and Portuguese, where, to quote my good Peruvian friend Erik, ‘only a total d*#khead would be able to speak fluently in one and claim to not understand any of the other’. PNG languages are distinct and usually unrelated to each other. So, unsurprisingly, Pidgin or Tok Pisin as it’s called here, is a very useful tool for communication. Everyone that Geoff and I work with can speak English. They speak really good English, but when they speak together they use Tok Pisin, (they are ethnically from a variety of different backgrounds and not all of them can speak Kuanua, the local Tolai language).

Interesting (to me) fact #2, Tok Pisin is very similar to Bislama, spoken in Vanuatu, and the Pidgin spoken in the Solomon Islands. It combines English, (apparently) German and local languages – and of course, this results in some truly awesome expressions.

When I was on the plane (second flight so I was no longer sitting next to the fear inducing American Oil Man), I sat next to an Australian, who told me that the Tok Pisin word for ‘helicopter’ is ‘mixmasta bilong Jesus Christ’. Yes, sceptical looks followed. How ridiculous. Surely this is the equivalent of the stories about ‘drop bears’ which Australians enjoy spinning to tourists. Naturally, I (secretly) wanted it to be true and was already planning to work it casually into a sentence. Within a day of arrival, I did what I now always do when in doubt (about every 15 minutes in this country), I asked Robert the driver.

Me: Robert, how do you say ‘helicopter’ in Tok Pisin?
Robert: Simone, we say ‘helicopter’. Well, sometimes we say ‘chopper’.
Me: What about ‘mixmasta bilong Jesus Christ’?
Robert: No. We don’t say that. That sounds a little crazy.

Drop bears indeed.

Like finding out that Santa isn’t real.

But here are some quality expressions that are in circulation!

Kalabus bilong susu = bra (literally: a prison for your breasts), OK, turns out this one is kinda old Pidgin and your young, hip Papua New Guinean just says ‘bra’ but it was used and is still understood J
Hamas krismas bilong yu? = How old are you? (lit. how many Christmases do you have?)
Wok painim aut = research (lit. wok to find out –what I’m doing!)
Man bilong mi = husband
ai bilong me hevi tru = I’m tired (eyes belonging to me are truly heavy!)
Em tru tru laikim = It’s true love J
Liklik haus = toilet (liklik just means small)

Now for the next one, I’m sure very few of my friends will find this amusing, being great bastions of maturity, but for the childish amongst us, ‘kisim pinis’ (you really must say it out loud for effect) is just the past tense of ‘take’, so posing the question, ‘Yu kisim pinis?’ means, innocently, ‘did you take it?’ J

Yep, Tok Pisin is really fun to learn and our driver and team leader are wonderful teachers, teaching us useful words like ‘egg’ (kiau) and more importantly, that ‘kiau’ in Tok Pisin is used much like ‘balls’ in English. So, if you go around talking about breaking eggs, needing some eggs, etc, it could be very funny for all concerned.

This is the kind of help I found lacking in Japan, where people were too polite to correct me and too embarrassed to teach me the slang (the exception being Furihata Sensei who ALWAYS told it like it was). So far, with Tok Pisin, I’m getting good honest help from the team at work so I’ve got no excuse not to pick up quite a lot and frankly; I’m screwed without it. Fortunately, it’s not anywhere near as hard as learning Japanese or Russian, and already, if the topic is familiar, I can understand a lot.

Which brings me to the topic of which I am familiar. I spend most of my time hearing discussions about STIs, multiple sex partners, pregnancy and breastfeeding (and the many ways in which these areas overlap). As a result, I know how to ask ‘Do you think most women would tell their husbands if they had symptoms of an STI?’ (honestly, I really can and if need be I can explain what those symptoms might be) but I can’t talk about the weather at all. Well, that’s not quite true, I can say ‘The volcano’s really smoking today!’ but all other weather patterns are beyond me. I’m also still struggling to ask for things at the market. But I can ask ‘Do you know of some ways by which a women can increase her supply of breastmilk?’ Yep, you can imagine what a hit I’d be at a dinner party, (if dinner parties were held here).

One thing that’s hard for me to accustom myself to, are words like bossmeri and masta. While Australians were here, ruling the roost and generally bossing people about, white men were called ‘bossman’ and their wives, ‘bossmeri’ (meri is woman). The men were also called masta. (Bossman/meri is still used though, for a boss including PNG people who are bosses.) The other day, a small child (about 3 years old) in a village waved goodbye to me and said, smiling, ‘bye masta’. The staff I were with fell about laughing, not because the general title is inappropriate, but because he got the gender wrong. The kid sees a white person and that overrides any sense of gender. He should have said the female equivalent (if anything like that at all). They thought it was funny cause I’m not a man. I thought it was appalling for many other reasons. The kid’s only three for Christ sakes. Colonial times are long gone. I sometimes get called waitmeri too which is fine, I truly am rather white. But I’m not down with this ’masta’ stuff. Fortunately, this is the exception rather than the rule. Usually, I just get giggled at.

Oh, lastly, in my previous post, I wrote that kids cry when they see me. Last Saturday, Geoff and I went to the market, and a little girl, maybe 2 or 3 years old and super cute, just ran up and grabbed my hand, looking up at me with the biggest smile. Her amused parents came and dragged her away and she kept her hand reached out behind her, trying to grab me until I was out of sight. Some kids also see me and wave and laugh. So, I’ve realized, I’m a clown to them. Some kids love a clown – it’s pure entertainment for them, other children (and some adults, Danielle I’m looking at you) are deathly frightened of them. Hence the crying.

OK, enough from me,

Gutpela weekend long yupla.

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Photos - life in Kokopo

Our street (our place is on the right hand side)
Elder member of the gecko family who live in our kitchen


'Tipi' the wannabe tough guard dog

Me having lunch at work 

Kids playing at the beach (baby asleep in front)

Beach at Rapopo (where we snorkel)
Smoking Mt Turvavur (taken at about 3 km from home)

Friday, 12 August 2011

Kokopo – like Kokomo if Tom Cruise wasn’t around to piss you off

Ahh, life in the tropics, so many coconuts, so much time to knock 'em back. Actually, it hasn’t been that hot, lots of rain at night, warm but breezy during the day. So far, things are really good (only 2 weeks in, still early days I know). Here are, in a convenient dot point form, points of interest from life in Kokopo;

·       - We have a garden with 11 coconut trees.
·      - There are 3 dogs (quite skittish but very cute).
·      - Geckos (some quite big) live in my kitchen.
·      - I get to wear muu muu and people think it’s normal – and fashionable.
·      - I can see a smouldering volcano from nearly anywhere in the town.
·      - When babies see me they start crying – unless they were already crying, in which case the shock makes them forget what they were crying about.
·      - I can get a really good bento from the market for about $1.20 Aus, which is wrapped and tied up in a banana leaf.
·      - My colleagues don’t have to worry about losing pens, they stick spares in their afros (so many awesome afros).
·       - My house is decorated with bible related paraphernalia and we have inherited many fine board games – if anyone comes to visit I promise to let you play Bible Marathon (Copperfield ladies – games night soon?).
·       - Small children walking down the street call out to greet me; waving, smiling and occasionally carrying a machete.
·       - There is a bar we went to in town, which locals and expats go to, but you can’t just rock up, it seems you have to ring up and put your name down. It’s free to get in and you get 2 free drinks per person. There’s pretty serious security on the outside, but inside, just a bunch of people looking very chill, drinking South Pacific Brew, looking out to the ocean and listening to a local band.

Yep, that’s the main stuff I think. Other news is that I’ve taken up some hobbies; yoga and the guitar. Both are reminding me of how old I am and how much harder things get.  Have also made friends with some great Kiwis and Australians and the people I work with (all PNGns) are a truly fantastic group of people – am learning so much from them. 
I’m also trying very hard to learn PNG pidgin, or Tok Pisin and our driver Robert is an awesome teacher. I think I’ll write about that next time, they’ve got some very nice words which I’d like to share with you all (or record for posterity if no one reads this J).

Lukim yu

POM – Port Moresby or Place Of Misery?

So, I’ve arrived.
In Papua New Guinea.
If there was ever a time for me to write a blog, I guess it’s now.

Spent a night in Sydney and from there flew straight to Port Moresby which from here on in will be referred to as POM - what all the expats call it (not sure bout the locals). POM, by it’s longer, official name, will forever remind me of many happy times playing ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’ in primary school. The name ‘POM’ however, is new to me and conjures up images of convoys, compounds and carjackings. This image has been entrenched by the many warnings of just about everyone I know (and the many blogs of people I don’t know) and was reinforced by the nice man from Houston who works for an oil company and sat next to me on the plane. He kindly informed me that Qantas will not permit its female flight attendants to fly to POM, a policy that he adheres to with regards to his wife and daughter. My efforts to brush this off with ‘silly overprotective men’ took a slight battering when he proceeded to tell me that his teenage daughter was without her mother in Mumbai and having a great time. Hmmm.

Those who know me well know that I am not too fond of flying (thank you Anna and Renee L for holding my hand) and so I’m happy to chat to someone to prevent my mind from composing final texts of love to Geoff in the ‘unlikely event of an emergency’. This time, flying was the least of my worries; my biggest worry was POM and listening to further bad stories about it from the Nice Oil Man. What if my connecting flight was cancelled? What if I had to stay on my own in POM? Everything I’d read and heard had me to thinking that I’d rather be in Kabul.

I turned my attentions to the inflight magazine, unconvincingly called ‘Paradise’. In Air Nuigini’s inflight mag, the usual adverts for overpriced restaurants with supposedly local cuisine are replaced by ads for Bisleys’ Insect Repellent Workwear – for Aussies who Hate Mozzies. ‘Protect your workers from malaria and lyme disease’. Yes paradise indeed.

I gave the inflight meal a go, nothing like trying to digest airplane food to take your mind off other problems. Except this was so bad, it didn’t even make it to the digestion stage. I couldn’t eat it. Any of it. And before you think I’m expecting too much (yes, airline food is always bad), let me just say that what they served on Air Nuigini made the offerings on a China Eastern domestic flight look like the degustation menu at Vue de Monde. So nasty.

Then I arrived and did the visa queue thing. And while I was patiently queuing, four Australian expats behind me were having a conversation that went something like this…

“Did I tell you we had dinner with the attorney general?” (or was the governor?)
“No, how was that?”
“Great. Nice guy. Did you hear he got shot?”
“Really? Raskols?”
“Yeah, they shot him in the shoulder but he’s fine now.”

Not helpful to earsdrop. Not helpful at all. And just when I was thinking that this is the first time in my life that I’ve landed but not actually wanted to land in an overseas location, I hear the most beautiful and melodious, deep singing voices. Some kind of ‘Welcome to PNG – not everyone here wants to steal your shit and shoot you’ kind of airport arranged performance. It worked a treat for me. It was very calming. I got through customs, checked in again, made the change to the domestic terminal (which involves, wait for it; walking OUTSIDE) and got through security and the only thing that happened was that as I was walking outside the airport to change terminals, a lot of people smiled at me. Sometimes in a welcoming way, sometimes in a you-look-funny kind of way, but not at all in a menacing way. My flight to Kokopo left on time (which is apparently a minor miracle in itself) and we flew to Kavieng in New Ireland Province and then onto Kokopo in East New Britain. During the stop over, we just waited on the tarmac and a few people got on, some with bare feet and their carry on luggage in woven baskets.

So, we landed in Kokopo, via a big swoop around Mt Tavurur which is seriously smoking and looks amazing. I promise that the next instalment will not be about inflight magazines or how I’m really a big cry baby. It might actually be about something related to life in PNG. I just had to be honest about my initial headspace (yes Andras, you also really helped with that J)

Lukim yu