Sunday, April 25, 2010

My M’dina

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

You remember, said a wondering voice on the phone
Of course. I stalk a land of ghosts
We walk and talk and together we recall
A thousand lessons, a thousand little jokes
They made of me and I of them
Before I could remember
As they so gently-roughly formed
The dull gray stuff inside my head
Into my life; their living

Now half a century on, those days, Donne’s
Rags of time, stand in sharp relief as though
Engraved on the inside of my eyes
Names and faces and fun and beauty
There’s only a handful left it seems
Except virtually in my head
Shades and shadows everywhere
Traces of the dead.

I rage at the manner of their passing
Some victims of anno domini of course
But also of a million minute thugs
Named and unnamed; parasites, virii and bacteria
That corrupted their paradise
And of another corruption that meant
A common drug, a doctor’s minutes



This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

The “right” place to put stuff in the kitchen

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

This morning I was searching for a cutting board. I have two; they both seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. The frustrating thing was that I knew they were somewhere within the small compass of the kitchen because I knew what had happened.

The kitchen had undergone a womanly visitation.

Being wifeless in Port Moresby (that’s my wife, Gabriela, with her picture up in the followers panel, the lady with glasses. She’s in Timor-Leste -- hello darling!) I am finding that there are even more places in the kitchen to put stuff that a woman will consider logical and correct than I had dreamed of.
On each womanly visit to my house I am gently but firmly driven out of the kitchen and next day spend time searching for stuff -- stuff which has been moved to someone else’s idea of the “right” place. Sometimes -- well, pretty often -- they have a point, like the case that had me searching around this morning.

If that sounds prima facie sexist it's not meant to be. It's simply a fact. Blokes don't re-arrange kitchens in my experience.

Now I’ve always been aware, of course, that people’s right places for stuff, particularly kitchen stuff, can vary widely. For instance, Gabriela has spent a lot of time in Timor-Leste, her mother country, in the past decade or so, helping the place get on its feet. Returning home to Melbourne for a visit, she would pretty soon re-arrange the kitchen stuff her way from the consensus by default reached by our growing daughter, Jessica, and me.

At end of her stay, Jessica and I would put her on the plane, drive home and without need of a word or a wink, head straight into the kitchen to put all the stuff back into its right place ... according to us!

I have also noticed what amounts to a feminine conspiracy about this. My sisters or sisters-in-law, older daughter or nieces visiting my home in Australia would consult my wife about the right place to put things; they would never ask me.

Now I’m not a total dummy in the kitchen. Let it not be forgotten that at the age of 13 I won fame and glory by taking out first prize in the decorated sponge competition, open class, beating all he big girls and the mothers, at the Mordialloc-Chelsea High School fete. Not quite the Iron Chef, I admit, but not too shabby either.

So back to Port Moresby.

Several times now we have had a barbecue (there’s a open barbecue in the backyard and for K4.00 the Goilala firewood sellers at Malaoro market provide enough first class firewood for at least two barbecues) with people from the organization I work for.

The barbies bring women into the house, staff and distaff (ho, ho, ho -- I just realized I have been waiting decades to write that phrase!). Inevitably, they take over the joint and do stuff ranging from all the cooking (except the barbie) to virtually cleaning the house from top to bottom -- totally disregarding my pleas and protests along the lines of “but I just did it this morning” or “I’ll do that in a minute”. Obviously what I did was insufficient or lacked staying power and minutes count.

And they rearrange the storage as they go.

Sometimes they “consult” me. “I’ll put the Italian Herbs in that cupboard with the salt and pepper, it’s better to keep them together, don’t you think?” they’ll say.
I've typed a question mark there but the way they ask it, it isn’t really a question. Sometimes they will have a discussion among themselves about it leaving me to be a mere spectator. Mostly they simply relocate stuff without saying anything.

We had a barbie last night, the take-over occurred, and this morning I couldn’t find either of the two chopping boards when I wanted to prepare the ultimate breakfast -- a slice of pawpaw from the fridge (papaya to the great unwashed residing in the place of the outer darkness and gnashing of teeth), lime juice (about half a juicy lime) and a sprinkling of raw sugar.

(I would like to pause at this point to offer belated but heartfelt thanks to Mrs Dorothy Stewart, of the Ascot Hotel, Rabaul, for introducing me to this delight when I first arrived in Papua New Guinea in 1963. I was a bit dubious at first, never having seen this extravagantly luscious tropical fruit in the flesh until that moment but Mrs Stewart informed me firmly and finally that pawpaw was *the* breakfast in the tropics and showed me the proper way to prepare and eat it. I’ve never looked at any other breakfast in quite the same way since.)

So this morning I sliced the pawpaw and lime on a plate instead of the cutting board. After eating it with appropriate reverence I moved on to the second course, two slices of excellent wholemeal toast, one with Vegemite the other with marmalade, and a cup of tea.

And I started typing this story with the laptop on the dining table.

Seeking inspiration, my eye wandering to the serving space between the bench and the upper cupboards and fastened on to an unaccustomed shape.

Ha! The truant cutting boards! Hung on the wall! I had been standing right in front of them and never raised my eyes above bench level. And you’re right, Dorcas (head lady last night), that *is* the perfect place for them. I had forgotten those hooks even existed. Thank you.

Thanks are also due to Amy, Jacqueline and Liz for their major contributions at the outset and over succeeding weeks, and to various others for lesser, but nevertheless valuable input that has helped turn this house into “my” home.

I would put up a plaque listing you all but I’m sure it would be in the wrong place.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Give them curry!

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

I seem to be going on about food a bit. It’s not that I’m totally obsessed with the sustenance of the old bod, it’s more that I’m interested in cooking and good food -- if you’re going to pig out, at least do it with quality, I always say -- and I’ve been having some gastronomic adventures worthy, I think, of note.

Last night I went with a couple of blokes, Peter, a 20 year resident, and Chris, a one week resident, a business volunteer, to one of the major hotels. We looked at the menu and the offerings in the bain marie and yawned.

Curry, we thought, was the go. As a 20 year resident, Peter was our leader, and he took us to a restaurant simply named Ang. Like many restaurants and retail establishments in Port Moresby, this place was situated in the midst of a pretty much darkened industrial estate. Corrugated iron warehouses and the like. You know about it because you work in the vicinity or someone has told you.

Unprepossessing to the point of total ugliness on the outside, unprepossessing on the inside. Think your average suburban Chinese restaurant, come down a couple or three notches, and you have an idea of the decor.

Apart from family, only two other tables were taken. It didn’t look like a location to challenge the taste buds.

“It’s packed at lunch time,” our guide assured us, “and I’ve never had a bad meal here.”

Things looked even more average when the cheerful waitress told us there was no beef but Peter held his nerve in the face of our disbelieving stare and ordered around that. He kept the brave face going through an unusually long wait (for a Chinese restaurant) for our order.

Then the prawns came out, which kept us quiet, and after another ten minutes, our fish, curried chicken, vegetables and a generous serving of rice appeared in quick succession.

Friends, I have to tell you that if heaven is like this, I’m an instant believer.

The deep fried prawns were delicious. I would rate them second only to the prawns I had a few weeks ago at Asian Aromas in the centre of Port Moresby, and I freely rate those as the best prawns I have ever had.

The rice was just right -- as it should be but isn’t always; the fish was red emperor cooked to perfection -- almost too good to eat; the vegetables were fresh and crisp and full of flavor; and the chicken curry...

Well, the less said about me and that curry the better. I can state with confidence that it was not a pretty sight. I do feel, however, that the other two blokes were hardly playing the game when they insisted that a third of the dish was a “fair” share. I mean, they’re both as skinny as rakes and hardly need food at all, really, while I have some substance to support. And I did let them have their “fair” share of the fish and veg!

And what did this delight cost the three of us in the end? With a beer each and Chinese tea included, K55 a head -- about $22. I was nice about that, I let them pay their fair share of the total.

In the course of all this, Peter told us that Port Moresby has a Curry Lunch Club. The members gallop out of their offices and whatnot at 12 noon to consume lahksa (...and mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun!). They work their way around a circuit of 15 restaurants in Port Moresby and suburbs. Fifteen! Not a bad number for a smallish city. Not all the very best, Peter said, but certainly at least good enough.

One of the places Chris and I had already discovered, the Cellar Restaurant in the Shady Rest Hotel. Actually there’s no hotel name sign out front, you drive down Taurama Road and identify the place by the sign saying “Hotel Room Sale Now On” and the other sign saying “Curry Club”. The decor is faux Spanish (or was that Austrian?), but it is now run by Sri Lankans who make a pretty successful curry -- definitely worth a second, third and further visits after that.

The Lamana Hotel -- with rooms at K650/night, a three level night club with the DJ suspended more or less in space, and conference rooms with names like Aphrodite 1 and 2 -- has a very nice dining room with excellent service and good food -- including some good but not inspired curries -- at the K35-45 main course level.

But whoa -- forget the decor, the perfectly outfitted waitresses. Think suburban-minus decor, cheerful service and those prawns, that fish, the veg, and most of all, that chicken curry...

Think Ang!


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

Warm hearts and two for the price of one in Malaoro market

by Geoffrey Heard

I am deeply concerned; I am on the verge of being uncovered as a fraud. Some day soon, someone is going to see through my chesty promotion of myself as the bold septuagenerian (well nearly) risk-taker who prances around Malaoro market, the home of vagabonds, pickpockets, confidence men and violent thieves, cocking a snook at those in authority and all others who know what’s best for me.

The thing is that Malaoro is the nearest of Port Moresby’s markets to me but I was advised initially to avoid it. Being the nearest, I have patronized it anyway.

But pretty soon, someone in authority is going to realize, as I have, that Malaoro market is full of really nice people who are far too busy doing business and enjoying life to be bothered about mugging the pale gray ghost who appears sporadically among them (but mostly on Saturday or Sunday mornings).

I’ve already reported two instances of Malaoro honesty and generosity. Let’s add three more for last weekend. On Saturday afternoon, one vendor gave me, unasked, double the “standard” handful of cherry tomatoes I had bought for the “standard” and very reasonable price of one kina (about 45 cents). With a grin, he just poured two handfuls into my bag.

“Liklik presen bilong yu (A little present for you),” he told me with a smile when I explained I had only asked for one lot. I thanked him sincerely.

Further on, I spotted some nice looking limes away across several stalls, and had to take a rather circuitous route to them. They were being sold by an elderly woman (well, probably not as old me but who knows their own age except when they’re walking up stairs?) from the area immediately around Port Moresby. In the traditional way, her face and arms were richly decorated with tattoos -- blue on brown geometric patterns.

As I took the standard handful of limes and paid the standard K1, I said: “Tenekiu bada herea, Mama (Thank you very much, Mother).” The first word is an adaptation from English, the next two are Hiri Motu, the beautiful trading language and lingua franca of the people in this area, but the “mama” was wrong. “Sinana” is the Motu word for mother, but I had forgotten it. In any case, I wasn’t at all sure it would be the correct way to address a lady. I checked with a friend later; probably “Taihuna”, a man’s sister, would have been the go. I’ll practise that.

Regardless, the next moment I found I was again having double quantity thrust upon me. The old lady said something I missed (I’m a bit deaf). “It is a gift,” explained a young girl with the lady, presumably a grand-daughter.

Fumbling for Motu words, I thanked the old lady again. One day she and I will talk, but I fear it will be a few months more before I get enough Motu back to undertake a conversation. I learnt Motu late in my previous stay in Papua New Guinea because it was not until then that I lived in the Motu speaking area around Port Moresby. It is much more complex than Tok Pisin, and when I tried to thank the old lady again, I quickly lost it. But it is there inside my head trying to get out and I’m working away at extracting it.

The third instance was when I bought some greens from a confident stallholder, a Highlander, I’ve bought from before. I had a K1 coin in hand because I thought it was K1 per bundle, but it wasn’t -- it was 40 toea. I dropped the K1 coin back into my pocket, pulled out two 20t coins and paid.

“Eh, yu rong (Hey, you’ve made a mistake),” said the bloke, smiling broadly, and spread the coins in his palm to show I had given him a 20t coin and a K1 coin (the K1 is only slightly larger thank the 20t but has a hole in the centre to distinguish it; fine by sight but by feel, the two can be readily confused). I laughed, we exchanged the K1 coin for a 20t and the trader sent me on my way with an admonition to look after my money more carefully.

So there you have it. Malaoro is still a pretty run down, unprepossessing place, but it has lost its jagged edge. Behind that rugged exterior lurk hearts of gold. And I actually have a witness -- Chris Black, a newly arrived Australian Business Volunteer who shared the market’s bounty.

Get a grip, Malaoro, you’re in danger of making the mighty “man bilong bipo (man from early times)” look a fool with all this warm and fuzzy stuff!

And by the way, what on earth is a snook and how do you cock it?


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Going to the dogs, Englishmen and G&T

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

The English (with a bit of help from the odd Scottish, Welsh, and Irish person) conquered the tropical world with gin and red herrings (both virtual and real in the case of the latter). I’m not much interested in the red herrings (or the Portuguese variant, salt cod, which obviously wasn’t as effective or I would be writing this in Portuguese) -- it’s the gin that I want to talk about.

The English drank the filthy fire water pink (neat with bitters and, one hopes, ice when available) and with Indian Tonic Water (also, hopefully, with ice most of the time). Then the Anglophonic Americans followed with a variety of gin-based cocktails.

In both cultures, the role of gin was celebrated in song and story. Indeed, it would be pretty safe to say that without gin, vast slabs of the history and literature of both nations could hardly exist.

All of which should mean, I think you will agree, as a literary person keenly aware of history, that two phenomena I have observed since my return to tropical life here in Port Moresby are deserving of special mention as indicators that the world is going to the dogs and not very gracefully at that.

The first is the paucity of bars and restaurants serving quality G&Ts and the second is the shortage of tonic water if you want to make your own.

I can take a pink gin if I have to but gin and tonic is my drink of choice. I like it long (about twice a standard glass) and I like it cold (plenty of ice). And I absolutely demand a slice of lime and a squeeze of juice (lemon is a poor substitute I’ll put up with in temperate climes).

Addressing the question of a decent G&T in a bar, I am reluctant to say it out loud, but I have had far superior G&Ts in such hell holes as Darwin and Dili than I’ve been served in some “reputable” establishments here in Moresby. I mean, a G&T in a shortish glass with only two rapidly melting ice cubes in it and NO LIME although prime limes plucked fresh from the mother tree’s twig that very dawning are for sale at up to four for a kina on the street outside? Come on!

And even in the one or two better performing places I’ve come across they really don’t grok the notion of “long”.

Thus the dedicated tropical liver (thank you for appreciating the pun) has been forced to fall back on his own resources, more or less confining his G&T imbibing to home. A long G&T is the ideal winding-down-after-work drink, lasting right through cooking and well into dinner itself. It is also ideal as the base drink for the busy host, allowing him to focus on meeting the needs of his guests.

I was greatly encouraged in this move at first by the fact that Port Moresby’s supermarkets offer at least two brands of cheap gin (to say nothing of rum and whisky) -- about half the price of Gordon’s and Sapphire.

But seeing me getting complacent, the supermarkets reverted to type with a catastrophic shortage of Indian Tonic Water (we will talk more about the vagaries of Port Moresby supermarket shopping at another time). I was forced to risk my malaria status (we’ll come to that in a moment) by drinking stuff like water and beer for nearly two weeks until a colleague, sensitive to the threat this posed to my health, spotted a few cans of the precious solution semi-concealed at the rear of a shelf of a certain supermarket, and texted me instanter. I was in the car and down there in a flash (allowing for the six minutes and ten or so seconds it takes to get out the gate) to make my purchase. Okay, okay, it was Boroko Foodland situated not in Boroko but in Gordons.

I stocked up (I remember the bad old days between ships in the islands) and just as well. It’s been a week now, but still the other supermarkets don’t seem to have caught up. In the tropics! Noel Coward (“Mad Dogs and Englishmen”) should be spinning in his grave, and as for W. Somerset Maugham...!

As I said, G&T is my drink of choice most of the time. I don’t mind a stubby or tinny or two (the Port Moresby world is pretty much split between “brown stubby” and “white can” -- the local South Pacific Breweries’ SP Lager and Export Lager lines) but under attack from the stubby suckers or tinny heads, I roll out my G&T rationale.

Quite apart from appealing to my taste buds more than somewhat, gin and tonic is a solid rational choice, a four-way winner. Here’s why:

Here in Port Moresby we are surrounded by a hoard of unseen assailants just bursting to get at us and lay us low. I speak of the mosquitoes carrying malaria, dengue fever, and 3,587 other nasties (for those inclined to argue about that figure, I have two words: “Prove it!”).

Now look at the noble G&T. The gin contains alcohol which kills pain. You need to kill pain when you have malaria, and given its prevalence, if you’re not taking anti-malarials there is a pretty good chance that you have malaria to some degree pretty much all the time. If you take modern anti-malarial drugs, you’ll feel the pain of them pretty much all the time too. So either way, you need to kill the pain pretty much all the time. Make mine a G&T, thanks.

The primary ingredient of tonic water (apart from water) is the anti-malarial, quinine. I have known pedants (who would not know a good time if it bit them on the bum) to argue that quinine isn’t that effective any more given the prevalence of malaria types now resistant to it and anyway, you would have to drink enough G&Ts to keep a camel going for a week to get enough quinine to make an impact.

Exactly -- that’s the beauty of it. You can get falling down drunk and *stay that way* and call it medicinal. Further, even if modern malarias are resistant, there is still some good old-fashioned malaria out there, real malaria, my kind of malaria, ready to have a crack at me if it can hitch a ride in the right vector. That’s what I’m protecting myself from. Phooey to all this i-malaria and the like. I’m just not interested.

This is where the l-o-o-o-o-n-g G&T fits in too. Here in the tropics, we have to keep the liquids up. Now alcohol, as well as banishing pain, has the pleasing side-effect of promoting the healthy movement of H2O through the system. The l-o-o-o-n-g G&T tops up, literally.

Water balance? Am I a shrivelled prune? No. Am I a stagnant puddle covered by a red slime? No. I learned at my mother’s knee that running water is pure water so I know that if I keep everything flowing I am on the right track for purity in both mind and body. Yes, I will have another, thanks. A smidgeon more ice this time?

Finally, the lime. Who will ever forget Captain Cook curing his scurvy-ridden sailors? Drinking my well-limed G&T, I can feel every one of my multitudinous wounds happily puckering up and pulling in a stitch. Sometimes, I swear, I can almost feel my gums sucking my teeth deeper into their sockets. Damn, it’s good!

So IF you don’t mind, I’ll continue to absorb the occasional G&T (but never on the Weetbix) preserving old values, keeping up the fight against malaria, H2O deficit and scurvy the way nature intended, and maintaining an environment for the appreciation and future development of English literature.

Yes thanks, but I really must insist, it’s my shout next time.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

Hair yesterday, hair today, and hair tomorrow

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

When I left Papua New Guinea in 1977, I could distinguish at a glance 30 or 40 different groups -- maybe more -- and I could address quite a few of them with a greeting in their own language (although a greeting was as far as I could go in this land of 800+ languages).

Returning 33 years later, I find myself flummoxed. Faced with a market full of people, I can pick fairly reliably people from only one tribal group, Tolais from Rabaul, and those from three regional gtoups, people from Buka and Bougainville, Highlanders, and Central and Eastern Papuans.

Long absence, of course, is part of my problem. I’ve simply forgotten what the different groups looked like. Apart from a few basic markers (e.g. the 
Buka/Bougainville people have by far the darkest skin in Papua New Guinea, they are black where others are brown) I don’t know how I recognized the different groups. I simply had a gestalt in my head that signalled: “They are both from Morobe Province, but he is from Finschhafen and she is from Markham.”

The people I am looking at have changed too, though. Historically, Papua New Guineans were separated by their 800+ languages, the culture that went with each one, and geography (islands, mountains) for thousands of years. Nobody knows how long ago the separation took place but there is plenty of evidence that it wasn’t yesterday -- there are people who live on adjoining islands or in adjoining valleys who speak languages so different that the only commonality is the fact that they are languages.

People mixed very little across language lines so while each group took great care to avoid close interbreeding, nevertheless they developed their own “look”.

There were also some regional characteristics. Highlanders tend to be strong and stocky. Power lifters. When you see where they live and what they have to do for life, that body shape fits to a “T”. Many islanders tended to be leaner and longer limbed. That seems to fit as well.

Back in the 1960s, most people (it seemed to me) still married within their own groups and nearly everyone I met was the product of a union within their own group, so the age-old differences were retained.

Ask them their origins, and they could tell you precisely in a single word -- the name of their home small district. Look at them, and in nine out of 10 cases, you could place them pretty close to

Marrying out was accelerating by the 1970s and today, particularly in a city like Port Moresby which is a magnet for people from every corner of Papua New Guinea, there are many, many people of mixed parentage and even mixed grandparentage. The old visual markers of origin are broken and scattered. The old gestalts are stored somewhere in my head, but they don’t apply nearly as often as they did before.

A friend who, incidentally, married within his own village, almost a rarity in Port Moresby these days, was chuckling as he related the story of a young lad he encountered in the Boy Scout group he mentors.

“Where do you come from?” my friend asked.

The boy’s reply ran along these lines:

“My dad’s father came from X, his mother came from Y, but really that was only half Y because her mother came fron Z. My mum’s mother came from A and her dad from B, but they both had mixed parents too. So I just say I come from Rainbow.” (Rainbow is the Port Moresby suburb where the boy’s family lives.)

But aside from all that, and the fact that the people I meet today are mostly bigger than people were back when, there is one huge difference between the Papua New Guineans of yesteryear and those of today.


Back in the day, every group seemed to have a kind of overarching hair style. There would be many variations in how each individual dressed her or his individual hair, but there would be something about it that pointed to the group. Often you couldn’t put your finger on it, but you recognized it for all that. You can see the same kind of thing between different periods in Australia.

Most Papua New Guineans have strong, tightly curled or crinkly hair which traditionally was combed in support of its natural tendency to stand out from the head. It’s length, shape and compactness (patted back after combing) along with its color were where the group “look” came through. The so-called “Afro” hairstyle was an indigenous style to Papua New Guinea long before African-Americans thought of using it as a signal to the world that they were going to be different in their own way.

And there was good reason to wear it that way. It protected the head from the sun and acted as insulation.

But today, distinctive regional hairstyles have gone out of the window in Port Moresby; even “natural” hair has gone. I’ll be interested to see what has happened in other parts of the country when I visit them.

Among women, the overwhelming style is severely straightened hair pulled hard back from the face and pinned or tied in a small, tight bun or roll at the back. There’s so much “product” on women’s hair in Port Moresby one suspects that if they all washed their hair simultaneously, the entire drainage system would be clogged for a month.

Dreadlocks are also in, often short and of even length around the head, like a Medusa’s cap. Some girls have tight plaits in lines over their heads in the African style.

Men’s hair tends to be short; often shorter than before, and since many are going to the same barbers, the regional variations have disappeared. Shaved heads are in, as are long dreadlocks tied back in a dreadlock ponytail.

For my part, I hope Papua New Guinean women’s fascination with straightened hair and the American “schoolmarm” look doesn’t last too long. It really is terribly boring and unattractive to my eye -- and it really does have a peculiar uniformity that overrides and suppresses individual and group/regional character.

Personally, I’m all for naturally curly hair.

Like mine.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Hardship? I’ve just eaten the best rump steak I ever had

by Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard

Having returned to Papua New Guinea as a volunteer, I am paid at the local rate, even a low local rate. I suspect I am the lowest paid person in my office except for the cleaner, and she works only three days a week.

I’m not complaining, you understand, I put my hand up for the gig with a song in my heart (the best place for me to have songs; vocally, my singing daughter would tell you, I am “interesting”) in full knowledge of what I was doing, so that part is fine. I bring it up only to illustrate that I really do need to be careful with my pennies, or more correctly here, toeas (toy-yahs).

However, feeling a bit frazzled after one of those messy days when you work like stink and nothing seems to happen, I called in at the supermarket on the way home the other day determined to buy something a bit different -- even to splash out.

What looked like a nice bit of local rump steak very attractively priced caught my eye. A bit over 300 grams for a bit over K7.00 (seven kina, about AU$3.00) perhaps a third of the Australian price) -- the “different” was there but splashing out wasn’t needed. I fried it medium rare and served it with a tomato and onion salad, a squeeze of lime juice, and plenty of salt (you *must* keep the salt up in the tropics and your low salt bodily condition means that when you put what might look like an excess of salt on food, it tastes fine).

The big surprise came when I stuck the fork into it with what I thought was reasonable force. The tines bottomed out on the plate with a clang. I applied the knife gingerly -- and found cutting this steak was like carving butter.

Whoa! But what about the flavour? Just plain delicious, that’s what.

I had started out to be satisfied with half the steak but in the end I was overcome by sheer greediness and ate the lot. From gourmet to gourmand in two serves.

It was the best rump steak I have ever eaten and I’ve had a few.

But was it a fluke? Ha! You can see what’s coming. Of course I had to go back and try again. A few days had elapsed so they were sure to be on a different carcass by now.

Same result, even though I overcooked one side a bit because an important phone call came through at a critical moment.

I don’t know whether to tell everyone about the rump steak at SVS Super Value Mart on the Hubert Murray Highway or keep quiet about it. I mean, it would be pretty sad if a rush developed and they sacrificed quality to ... what? Oh damn, I just let the cat out of the bag, didn’t I?

Another gourmet/gourmand delight in Port Moresby has to be the fish in season -- and oh boy, they sure are in season as I write! My local market, Malaoro (pron. Mah-l-ow-row), is known for its fish. It looks like a down-at-heel, dirty kind of place, make-shift stalls along the roadside, but the fish are superb.

Barramundi and Red emperor have to be the pick, but there are a dozen other varieties which are nearly as good. Then there are the painted lobsters and the crabs, both in a size and abundance Australians generally haven’t seen for 30 years.

The fruit and veg are also good at Malaoro and if, for example, garlic is in short supply, the supermarket is right there behind the market.

In addition, I’m starting to feel at home there. My employers, friendly locals and endless expatriates have told me I have to be particularly careful at Malaoro -- it is a known haunt of pickpockets and other criminals who would rip my ears off and empty my wallet at the drop of a hat.

But I know some of the vendors a little now and they know me. They see me coming and launch into their patter. They chaff me, try to tempt me when I am reluctant to buy, and above all, they are honest.

Two things happened at the market today that spurred me to write about it. The first occurred after I had bought some tomatoes. As I stuffed my change back into my pocket, I dropped a K2.00 bill (about $1.00). I didn’t notice, but a young lad of perhaps eight or so did. He was enjoying himself immensely on a homemade swing he and his friend had strung from a small tree behind the stalls.

“Tu kina pondaun!” he sang as he swung, “tu kina pondaun long giraun! Tu kina bilong yu ia!” (Two kina fell down, two kina fell on the ground, your two kina.)

An older man on a neighbouring stall looked down. “Eh, manki tok tru,” he told me, pointing to the two kina bill, “em ia, tu kina pondaun long han bilong yu.” (The boy spoke the truth, look here, two kina fell from your hand.)

Now here were are in the middle of a market which is supposed to be crawling with thieves, confidence men, tricksters and violent criminals but I have dropped two kina, and a boy and a man, both dressed pretty much in rags, have pointed it out to me and made no attempt to hustle me.

As I picked it up, the man was praising the boy. I reached into my pocket, grabbed all the change I had, about 70 toea (30 cents), and gave it to the lad, thanking him for his help.

The old stallholder patted me on the shoulder and told me sagely that I had done the right thing. That was the way to encourage kids to grow up honest, he said. Exactly, I agreed, and thank you for your support.

A short time later, on the other side of the market, a stallholder miscalculated my change and gave me too much. I said I thought he was in error. We calculated it together and found it was 60 toea out my way. He told me not to worry, it was his error. I told him I didn’t want to be responsible for him having to go home to his wife to explain that the financial collapse of his little business selling betel nut and bananas was due to a strange white creature who roamed around the market terrifying innocent stallholders and then took advantage of them when they miscalculated the change.

We had a laugh (along with neighbouring stallholders) and sorted out the correct change.

For expatriates in all sorts of positions, Port Moresby is a “hardship post”. They’ll get paid from 10% to 30% extra on top of their regular, Australian salaries to live and work here (their hardship allowances might be more than my total pay).

But how hard is the ship really?

I fully understand that here in Port Moresby the risk to life and limb from criminals or PMV driver assault while on the road (I’ll tell you more about the latter on another day) is greater than in Australian cities. I also accept that it is hotter than most Australian cities (but not most of Australia), there are unaccountable shortages in the stores from time to time (I’ve had search parties out looking for tonic water for a week), and there are no cinemas.

On the other hand, much food is very cheap (but bacon seems high, dammit, at least on my salary), many aspects of life are much more colorful -- including food shopping at the nearest local market -- household help is expert and cheap, the scenery is stunning, and their inflated salaries should run to a home entertainment system...just like at home but cheaper to buy here.

And anyone open to it will find themselves to be the recipients of constant small kindnesses. (When was the last time an Australian supermarket employee spotted you struggling with a messy armful of goods -- you only went in to buy two items but ... -- and appeared in front of you with a basket, unasked?)

In reality, of course, the measure of the “hardshipness” of anywhere is how much you can make yourself feel at home in it. An important factor in my feeling at home in the Malaoro market is that I am fluent in the local lingua franca, Tok Pisin, so not only do I understand what is being said around me, I can join in -- and do.

Many Australians live in this wonderful land for years without bothering to make themselves fluent in Tok Pisin. The same used to be true in the 60s and 70s when I was first here. It is really quite bizarre; Tok Pisin is a great lingua franca in this nation of 800 languages for the simple reason that it is a so easy to learn -- a vocabulary of perhaps 1500 words, most variations on English (you rely on context and word combinations to make many, many meanings) and straightforward grammar.

If you get a Tok Pisin dictionary and put your mind to it for a few weeks, you can just pick it up. And suddenly, you’ll hear someone talking to you and you will answer them and... .

When that happens, you are living “in” the land, not “on” it -- and hardship has flown out the window.


This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

Geoffrey Heard worked in media in Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and 1970s and has just returned to that country as an Australian Volunteer supported by AusAID working with the Media Council of Papua New Guinea. The opinions and comments in this article are his own and do not represent the views of the Media Council of PNG, Australian Volunteers International, or AusAID.