Friday, April 23, 2010

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.

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