Friday, November 18, 2011

Strong nerves and sure feet get you across the road in Port Moresby

by Geoffrey Heard

In a town where most people are on foot, there is remarkably little consideration given to pedestrians in Port Moresby. Everywhere in this city, you will see pedestrians diving through traffic to cross roads. There are few traffic lights or pedestrian crossings and particularly in the case of the latter, these are more honored in the breach than otherwise.

In fact, rather than catering for pedestrians, when the vast majority on foot have found their own way through the actively anti-pedestrian vehicular morass, the traffic policy makers have gone out of their way to place hurdles in their path -- literally!

Take the situation between the outward bound and inward bound PMV (Passenger Motor Vehicle -- minibus) stops at 4 Mile/Boroko, a busy shopping and gathering area for the many and an important bus interchange. Boroko is on the southern side and 4 Mile on the northern side of a major road, the Sir Hubert Murray Highway, four lanes of tearing traffic with a half meter (2 foot or so) island in the middle.

If you wish to cross the Sir Hubert Murray Highway to shop, go to the bank, take your child to school, visit the clinic, reach your house, change bus direction, or whatever, you can choose the only pedestrian bridge in Papua New Guinea or dash across the road through the traffic.

Most choose the dash through speeding, patently unfriendly car, bus, and truck traffic for three reasons. The first is that much of the time, the bridge is simply far too narrow to carry the traffic -- it is just wide enough for two people to pass in opposite directions. The second is that it is a favorite haunt of pickpockets, bag snatchers, muggers, and other low lifes ready to take advantage of any crush developing (a bunch of suspects lurks at the 4 Mile end of the bridge; I’ve spotted a couple on the Boroko side too). The third problem is inconvenience; the bridge takes you a block out of the direct way to most destinations.

To take their chance on the road, people step over the bus stop crash barrier, climb down to road level using one of two footholds* in the stone retaining wall, then dash to sanctuary on the narrow dividing island when there’s a break in traffic. They then make the quick dash through a break in the traffic in the opposite direction to get to the other side.

People have been making this death defying dash forever. So sooner or later, the authorities had to do something about it. They might have provided a secure pedestrian crossing (i.e. one with traffic lights) or built another, wider bridge. But instead, last year (2010) they built a fence along the middle of the traffic island to try to stop the pedestrians!

What the hey? Where are they supposed to go? Queue up to be mugged on the bridge?

Fortunately, however, the anti-pedestrian forces suffered a reverse due to their own incompetence -- the fence is too low to stop many pedestrians. They can step over it, albeit with a little difficulty for the shorter legged members of the community or ladies in skirts or laplaps since the top of the fence is somewhat spiked and you could catch your clothing on it or do a nasty injury to yourself if you slipped halfway. So the less able, including mothers with toddlers in hand and school-age children in tow, are seen sidling down the median strip to the end of the fence with traffic roaring past at 60+ kph (35+ mph) within touching distance.

They do it, though, because they figure this is safer and faster than the bridge.

The same disregard for the needs of pedestrians an be seen throughout Port Moresby. One intersection with traffic lights on Waigani Drive (six lanes, three each way) offers a marked pedestrian crossing from one side to the median divider -- but nothing beyond that! One speculates about the fate of the law-abiding pedestrian trapped on the island. Will they ever reach the other side? Tune in tomorrow for an update! :)

There are the occasional zebra pedestrian crossings; the wise walker waits until the road is clear before crossing (as s/he would if there was no marked crossing there) because most drivers seem to regard them as legitimate prey.
It’s the darting dash or nothing.

I’m told this anti-pedestrianism s not just a Port Moresby phenomenon but in the islands, Rabaul/Kokopo and Kavieng, car, bus, and truck drivers have a much more friendly attitude towards those of lesser perambulatory means. Six lanes of traffic grinding to a halt for a lone pedestrian on the zebra crossing to the main market in Kokopo is routine while an inebriated cyclist I saw wobbling along the wrong side of the road in Kavieng was in more danger of skinned knees from falling off than of being run down by a truck.

So what is it that makes Port Moresby so anti the person on foot? Maybe it’s just the big town environment where people are strangers. Maybe it’s the ubiquitous street crime; drivers who stop for pedestrians at the zebra crossing in Koki have found themselves the victims of armed hold-ups. Or maybe it’s just a tough town where everyone is scratching for an advantage and once they get it, hold on to it grimly. Perhaps those who have got off their feet and into a motor vehicle don;t actually wish to inflict body harm or worse on pedestrians but are are simply making a point about status.

*I have a foolish little vanity that I am the only white person in Port Moresby who knows about those footholds and routinely uses them -- small things amuse small minds. That;'s my inverted status symbol, I suppose. :) ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Bride price -- it’s a clan affair not a store purchase, dammit!

By Geoffrey Heard

The traditional marriage settlement in Papua New Guinea is usually called “bride price” in English and is crudely characterized by most outsiders as the purchase of a woman -- often the forced purchase -- as a chattel, a slave of her husband whose only value is to produce children and produce food as a garden cultivator.

There are cases of this, of course -- there are hundreds of different cultural groups in Papua New Guinea and very large variations among them in respect of marriage settlements and the position of women in society. In addition, as in any culture, there are brutes of men who abuse their wives and children, regarding them as chattels or worse.

But by and large, the simplistic outsiders’ view is wrong. While it certainly happened and some pretty vile practices have been recorded, it obviously doesn’t stand up in the many areas where women are the stewards of land and inheritance is matrilineal (land is the very foundation of life in any subsistence farming community), it doesn’t stand up in the many cultures which include courtship rituals which allow a degree of individual choice in marriage partner, and it doesn’t stand up in most cultures I know where men are dominant -- at least not today and not for a long time.

The chattel story is one of the white man’s nasty little fictions which ignores his own recent and pretty unsavory history of repression of women (the suffragettes in England are remembered, when that can’t be avoided, in connection with voting; all too often the depth and seriousness of the repression they were fighting against has disappeared into the void) while putting down others of a different skin color and different culture.

In most cases, Papua New Guinea marriage settlements are a payment from the husband’s family to the bride’s family. A friend from southern Bougainville once described the two-way settlement system in his area -- there were bride and husband prices, as it were, with the bride price being higher. In my experience, this is an exception.

Another failure of understanding by many outsiders is the complexity of the system. They tend to see “a man”, one side, paying a huge sum for “a woman”, the other side. But typically, there is no such thing as an individual making a marriage settlement, the settlement comes from the husband’s clan and goes to the wife’s clan. And then some!

Marriage settlement contribution and distribution is part of the mutual obligation system which Papua New Guinea is built on. You contribute to a marriage settlement; you will receive proportionately from the next one your clan collects. Everybody knows who owes what to whom and why -- and the debits and credits can span multiple generations and take on byzantine proportions.

Rules of contribution or distribution of the goods and monies might be quite strict according to nearness of relationship to the couple or they might be quite open with an expectation but not a rule. Needless to say, any branch of the family which fails to contribute to rule expectation can expect appropriate treatment at distribution time!

When my family, who are Tolais from the area near Rabaul, was preparing a marriage settlement, they sent the word out along the clan lines. It is almost impossible to calculate how many would have been involved in contributing, but my daughter-in-law was once talking about people three or four times removed from her and they, in turn, would have relied links that went even further if they didn’t have the “ready”.

The complexity can become byzantine. Very often, individuals both give and receive through different ancestral lines, and even more often, where a husband is paying out, the wife is receiving, and vice versa.

Among the Tolai, marriage settlements -- mostly made up front at the time of the marriage -- are regulated by local government councils who restrict both the currency and the amount. Four hundred param (fathoms) of tambu, traditional shell money, is the maximum allowed in my family’s area. The restrictions do not remove all difficulties -- the tiny cowrie shells used to make tambu have been fished out in all the near areas and have to be bought for cash from locations hundreds of kilometers away -- but the rules have helped in keeping the marriage settlement custom alive and well. That’s important, not just because of its economic impact, but because of its enormous impact on social cohesion. See http://pngtimetraveller.blogspot.com/2010/12/theyre-making-money-in-rabaul-literally.html

In Karai Komana and many nearby areas in eastern and central Papua, the marriage settlement is made years after the couple has married and produced a family. It is a celebration of their marriage and the contribution the wife has made to the husband’s family and clan. Normal practice is for a payment, the Bole, to be made to the wife’s family a year after the first child is born. It used to be some piles of peeled yams but today might be about K4000 plus some pigs and lots of yams (peeled, of c0urse! But why? Nobody knows). This is a statement that the child (and subsequent children) belong to the husband’s clan, an assurance of continuing marriage, and a promise of complete settlement later.

The settlement I saw, for Kurona’s wife, Nigona, was four children (the oldest is 16) and the best part of 20 years into the marriage.

If that first payment is not made, traditionally the marriage might be annulled at that point, the wife returning to her family -- taking her child or children with her.

An ungenerous payment will be seen as an insult, as a rejection of the wife and of cocking a snook at her clan, and might also lead to termination of the marriage. Better to make no payment at all than to offer up a spavined pig and K20!

The initial payment points to the universal recognition in subsistence communities of the value of children. They are loved for themselves, of course, but they are also a subsistence family’s health insurance and old age pension. The parents (and aunts and uncles) will support the children when they are young and the children will reciprocate when the parents and grandparents and possibly the odd uncle or aunt, are old, infirm, and unable to pull their weight in the gardens any longer. The cost of raising children is an investment.

In the industrialized west, there is no expectation that children will reciprocate so parents see the cost of children rearing as an expense, not an investment, which reduces their ability to make financial provision for their own future. They might very well make the decision not to have children -- a decision which would be the greatest folly in a subsistence community.

The escalation of the marriage settlement payments is no problem so long as the system is closed -- the medium of exchange -- fruit, veges, handcrafts, pigs, shell money, and whatever produced in the villages or traditionally traded -- goes round and round, and it doesn’t come out. People grow their own money, in effect. Knowing that a settlement is coming up, they plant extra crops for their contribution. Knowing they are going to receive a settlement, they take it a bit easy. In most parts of Papua New Guinea, the productivity of the environment is high enough for people to be able to work several days less than a full week to subsist, so cultivating an extra garden for marriage contributions is no problem at all.

But when people are living in a cash economy, the money doesn’t go round and round, it goes in and out and participants working regular jobs get regular pay -- they don’t have the income elasticity of their country cousins.

This can lead to financial disaster. Most of those working in the cash economy, even the those who might be described as middle class, are relatively poorly paid -- they are generally worse off than their country cousins put a day or two a week into cash crops. The perception, however, is the other way about so the town dwellers are expected to stump up big time when a traditional obligation is to be fulfilled. Failure to meet that expectation will result in loss of face and loss of standing within the clan. This is very, very serious with long term ramifications.

As a result, townies can be driven into the clutches of the moneylenders with personally catastrophic results. In Papua New Guinea, legal small short-term non-bank lenders charge 20-40 percent annual interest rates. At these rates (expressed in terms of months to repay rather than percentage of loan capital) borrowers can dig a deep, deep financial hole for themselves very quickly. Recently PNG’s biggest bank, BSP, Bank South Pacific, has been attempting to help borrowers find their way out by offering bank loans. However, it’s rumored bank employees are among the non-bank lenders’ biggest customers.

This kind of financial peril along with the move away from village life, and the high number of mixed marriages -- people marrying outside their traditional boundaries -- is leading to the old marriage settlement traditions breaking down. Often, no marriage settlement, bride price, is paid at all.

That’s sad -- as I found in Karai Komana and as I’ve also seen among the Tolai, the marriage settlement is a time of fun, togetherness, and vital reinforcement of family and clan links.

The day the last marriage settlement is paid in Papua New Guinea will be a sad day indeed -- it will mark the loss of a key unifying factor among the nation’s peoples. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Karai Komana marriage settlement -- color, noise, extravagance, fun and family links

By Geoffrey Heard

“We are people who like to have fun!” Laeko Bala, Lavui’s mother, rasped on Sunday morning, as we settled side by side into the back of the Toyota for the trip down the mountains and back to Port Moresby.

She was hoarse from a day of prancing and dancing, hooting, hollering, chanting, and singing in recognition, thanks and praise for contributions from the many branches of the family who gave to the marriage settlement for her eldest son, Kurona -- Lavui’s big brother. (She was deputized for the role by her aunt, the woman clan leader, whose voice had faded too much to lead the celebrations.) Then there was the subsequent night of feasting, singing, dancing, talking, general fun, and exhausted sleep. How she kept it up, I don’t know. I’d fallen over before 9pm -- and I was just a spectator!

Laeko was speaking the truth though. Her clan had stretched its resources to the limit to put up a good show for Kurona and Nigona, his wife, presenting her extended family with K30,044 (about $13,000), six pigs (about K6500 in total), one cow (K1500), a wall of locally grown produce -- including yams, sweet potato, bananas, pitpit, pandanus, and betel nut, 60 10kg bags of rice, 230 traditional hand woven string bags, and to top it off, a carton of two minute noodles! This was an expression of the high regard in which Nigona is held in her marriage clan and of thanks to her birth clan for giving her up.

But while the underlying intention was serious, it was also all about having fun. As we drove down the mountain, members of my host family were talking about the fun they had had and eagerly looking forward to more getting together with more fun, feasting, singing, dancing and general roistering, at another marriage settlement in December when the Bala family and its clan would be on the receiving end instead of being the givers.

They were expecting a pretty bounteous haul -- virtually a refilling of their coffers -- but the actual total and the amount each clan member would receive weren’t in the forefront of their minds in the financial sense. The first interest in the size of what was to come seemed to be how the other clan would “score” in a sporting sense. The record cash component for a karai Komana Dava is a bit over K31,000 -- but that was when virtually the whole village was contributing to settle for a woman from outside the area. Would the giving clan in December be able to match the Bala family’s total? Or would they outscore them? Would they come up with some cunning ploy, like driving several live cows up the mountain and dramatically slaughtering them on the spot (the Bala family delivered their cow ready-slaughtered but the pigs were all alive)?

Anything was possible and it would all add to the fun.

Still, refilling the coffers was not something to be taken lightly because of escalating marriage settlements in Karai Komana and many other communities in Papua New Guinea where people now live in a mixed economy. Those who live in the village mostly live by subsistence farming with a little cash income from trading excess produce. A few go for money, focusing on cash crops. One man has a betel nut (areca palm) plantation -- betel, buai, is a high value crop and can return a good profit despite the remoteness of the village. But today a large number of people live and work away from the village, living in a cash economy, as nearly all Lavui’s family does and, in fact, most people from Karai Komana do.

Expected to contribute big time to the Dava but lacking the income elasticity of their country cousins, the townies can find themselves on financial trouble if they don't get substantial a pay back from the system quickly.

So yes, they are in it for the family fun but perforce they must keep a close eye on the figures. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Return to Karai Komana

By Geoffrey Heard

“My brother’s Dava -- that’s our name for marriage settlement -- is happening in the village on October 29. Like to come?” said my mate, Lavui, on the phone. Would I like a return to Karai Komana in the Rigo mountains east of Port Moresby? And for a Dava too? Would I what!

I visited Karai Komana, Lavui’s home village, last year (2010) for a quick in-and-out trip during the night. See May 2010, I Break Out!

I hadn’t really seen the place, let alone the magnificent scenery of the area. That the scenery was magnificent was made clear by the hair-raising seven hour b0uncing and jouncing trip up and down the mountains to get there and back. Whenever the road, um, track is as precipitous and rough as that, you know the scenery is magnificent even if you can’t see it!

My Tolai son confirmed it. Despite being from Rabaul right on the other side of Papua New Guinea, he knew the area, having walked through it in younger days. “Wait till you see the places where the track is running along the ridge and there is nothing but space on both sides of the road,” he chuckled when I told him where I was going. Cheeky wretch; I brought him up on the Bougainville mine road in the early stages of its construction and the then notorious Chimbu sections of the Highlands Highway. There were times on both those roads in the wet season when we had to tailgate a bulldozer cutting a path through a mud and rock slide, with the mud closing up behind us. If the mud caught us, we would be over the edge of a 300+ meter (1000 foot) drop. Instant death and instant burial. How dare he try to scare me!

We would be staying in the village for two nights so I shopped accordingly. One 2 inch foam mattress, sheet, blanket, pillow, towel. I packed a change of clothes including long pants and a jacket; while Port Moresby was sweltering in doldrums heat and humidity, Karai Komana is at a considerable height and it could be fresh during the day and markedly cool at night.

The trip to the village started with the usual chaos of any extended family holiday journey; people popping up from all over the place with items to take (particularly contributions to the marriage settlement) and/or looking for a seat in the back of the Toyota Landcruiser 4WD truck (or ute as we call it in Australia). Lavui had to take a firm line to maintain an appearance of legality (in PNG, that means everyone sitting down within the confines of the truck and no arms, legs or bits of cargo sticking out the side) and a modicum of comfort for the closest family members. We only had one truck, we could have used a small fleet!

First stop was the pig farm where we purchased pigs to contribute to the bride price. Thankfully, Lavui was able to hand those off to his brother to take in his big truck so they didn’t have to come with us. I like pigs -- we used to have a few on the farm in my youth -- but I have never had a burning ambition to share passenger space with them when we’re bouncing up a mountain. Odd, that! :)

Then it was round the city making last minute purchases and collecting passengers and luggage before we finally hit the road in the gathering cool of the evening.

There were the usual stops to buy buai (betel nut) at roadside stalls lit only by a kerosene lamp as we rolled down the sealed road to Kwikila east of Port Moresby, then we turned towards the mountains, forded the big river, and started to climb.

The steep, badly eroded track was muddy, slippery and cut up. It had rained in the previous few days and with the marriage settlement about to happen, there had been a lot of traffic -- there would be a lot more before the weekend was over -- with scores of members of both the giving and receiving clans hurrying home from Port Moresby and other centers for the big event.

Several times, Lavui had to backup and tackle a section again as the Landcruiser was brought to a halt by deep, muddy holes in steep sections of the track. Once, everyone in the back had to get out and walk for a stretch while Lavui threw his usual finesse out the window and with a demonic grin and a vice-like grip on the steering wheel, slammed the Toyota up the mountain by main force, the engine roaring, the wheels spinning, the truck lurching and sliding.

We reached Karai Komana at midnight, unloaded our gear, unrolled our mats and mattresses on the floor of the small hut allocated to us, and within minutes, fell into a dreamless sleep cosseted by the quiet breathing of a dozen others similarly engaged who were sharing the room.


Next morning, Saturday, dawned fine and clear -- a little overcast, but with no hint of rain. Good. It was going to be a great day. More people had arrived in the early hours, and our Toyota had gone back down the mountain to ferry up the pigs from the point where the big truck had had to stop.

In the meantime, there was breakfast, and time to walk around the village, get to know new friends, and to appreciate the beauty of the location.

The place was bubbling with the fun and excitement of the Dava in prospect! (See my next post.)


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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Inventing the wheel

by Geoffrey Heard

It’s pretty amazing how round a coconut palm trunk looks and how not round a disc cut from it turns out to be. But a couple of coconut trunk discs were still round enough for Lawrence and Faezi to use to invent the wheel for young Bale’s (pron. Barlay) bicycle -- his kokol, as he dubbed it in his three year old nakedness, for some totally unknown reason.

An old bike frame had been hanging around since 14 year old Faezi began messing with it last year -- putting together a running bike from a collection of bits trawled from the middens of his own and neighboring villages. He made it, too, which given his inexperience as a mechanic, his limited number of tools, and the state of the parts he was working with ought to go down in the annals of cycling as a triumph. But the old parts kept breaking so in the end the bits were returned to the midden -- that is, until young Bale toddled down and dragged the frame back up to the house, demanding action on his kokol.

Bale wanted wheels so after appropriate procrastination by Lawrence and Faezi had failed to dim his enthusiasm, they cogitated in depth and came up with a way.
With Bale hovering and providing an unwonted helping hand from time to time, they cut a couple of discs from a coconut palm log and chopped away the bark. Not perfectly round, but pretty good. Then drilling holes for axles -- in the absence of a drill, the fact that the haus kuk fire was burning and there was a steel rod handy meant that the holes were going to be burnt out.

And so they were. Not terribly straight, but as Lawrence pointed out, they would make for a much more interesting ride that way.


Making the wheels and fitting them took an whiled away a pleasant couple of hours, giving Bale his first few rides took about ten minutes, then the whole thing collapsed for want of a second axle (we were using a round file for the front axle), and we all decided it was too hot to pursue the project further. Bale, to my surprise, was perfectly happy with the outcome.

His kokol had been created, he had ridden it, and he had no more demand for it in that form. He continued to drag the wheel-less frame around for a couple of days, seeming to make no distinction between a kokol with and without wheels. The rest of us were perfectly happy too. Lawrence and Faezi had proved their concept and as chief spectator and urger, I was more than satisfied with my morning’s free entertainment. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

It’s pretty quiet here, but something interesting is always happening



by Geoffrey Heard

The latest local production in the baby stakes is getting ready to walk. I was somewhat surprised to hear her parents say they would make a walking frame for her.

I had a vision of my 80 year old friend with his walking frame… No not quite right, and how would you make one anyway in a PNG village? Your typical toddler “walking” thing in Australia (and a lot of the rest of the world) is a brightly colored plastic vehicle with wheels, flashing lights, raucous sound, and a seat so the toddler can thrash around the legs and at some point, get an idea that they don’t need the machine. Even less likely for village production.

I strolled down to the haus kuk for a cup of tea a little later and saw the walking frame in the final throes of construction.

It turns out to be some sticks garnered from nearby brush cut to the preferred length then hammered into the ground and horizontals lashed to it. Baby was on to it in a flash.

When she’s walking freely in a week or so, the sticks will join the kitchen firewood heap. Too easy.

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Kavieng to Rabaul with Solwara Meri

By Geoffrey Heard


New Ireland is described in Tok Pisin as a "masket" -- rifle -- it is a long, skinny island only a few kilometers wide in most parts, lying roughly northwest/southeast, with Kavieng at its northwestern end and the second town, Namatanai, 263 kilometers away (as the Buliminski Highway runs) in the mountainous southeastern end -- the butt of the masket.

New Ireland is coral (unlike New Britain which is pretty much all volcanic) which makes for legendary white beaches, wonderful reefs, cool streams of sparkling pure water running out of the limestone mountain spine, and the sweetest fruit you have ever eaten. Pineapple with no acid after taste? Just dripping sweetness? It's simply not fair!

I call Rabaul and environs paradise and in many ways it is. So what can I call new Ireland? It's paradise too. We have a bit of an embarrassment of paradisiacal riches in this part of the world, actually! :)

It was a huge pleasure to visit Kavieng and be in Medina again, but my time was limited so I had to get on to Rabaul. A call to Solwara Meri (Mermaid) had the next sector of my travel organized in a moment. Solwara Meri runs a "banana boat" -- open 22 foot outboard-powered boat -- ferry service from the west coast of New Ireland near Namatanai across the St George's Channel to Rabaul. Three services a day -- early morning, noon, and afternoon -- with the boats running in pairs for mutual assistance if necessary.

Their own buses were full but I could catch an associate's bus from Kavieng when it came through Medina at about 10 in the morning. It would bring me to Namatanai where I would board their truck for the quick trip to their west coast speedboat base to catch the 3 o'clock run to Rabaul. No sweat.

It went just as arranged -- at 3 o'clock precisely, we were pushing off from the New Ireland beach, next stop Kokopo/Rabaul.

Pushed along by one or two 60hp Yamahas, the boats make the trip in about an hour and a half in the smoothest water -- early morning -- and a bit longer later when the swell gets up. Our trip starting at 3pm took a bit over two hours -- the boats had to drive out quite a long way to the north of Kokopo then come back down to it running south-west to avoid confronting the sea too directly.

Even with a few waves around, the trip was surprisingly dry. Banana boats are pretty clean runners and the skippers are skilled, but even so, you wouldn't want to wear your Sunday best for the trip. And it takes just one tricky wave and…. After cheating the waves for nearly two hours, we got a bit of a splash right near the end of the trip. Nobody was worried though -- after all, this is the tropics, the temperature was still about 28 C, and our speed produced a nice wind. We were all dry within minutes!

Even though the skippers were angling across the swell, there was plenty of kidney beating percussion as the boats bucked over the waves. This (and the bus trip over part of the Buliminski which is unsealed) were definitely BYO cushion situations.

Back in the day I used to be somewhat subject to motion sickness but had never experienced it on a small boat or a canoe. I was fine on Solwara Meri until we stopped towards the end to wait for the second boat (which had veered more widely than we had) to catch up. As we sat rocking in the swell, I suddenly became conscious of my breakfast and lunch. Oh dear! The other boat arrived and we got underway again just in time to save me from disgracing myself!


HAT OVERBOARD

We had a hilarious moment when I stood (holding on to the wheel-house with a grip like an octopus, believe me!) to take a picture of the second boat running astern of us. The wind whipped off the old straw hat that has been my companion on three tours to PNG and a moment later it was floating
in our wake far astern. We all fell about laughing at the time -- the action was so sudden and so fast we were all totally startled. It actually turned out to be a problem though; a search of the stores in Kokopo failed to turn up a replacement -- and I need a hat to avoid sunburn of the head!

A GREAT DAY AND ECONOMICAL TOO

A great day traveling, capped when I arrived in Rabaul by the good fortune to find a bus half empty and about to head out for Vunakabi. I was aboard in a flash and home in Vunakabi half an hour later. I tottered off to bed early and slept like a log.

The Kavieng-Medina-Namatanai bus fare totaled K40 the Solwara Meri truck trip was K2, and the speedboat sector cost K60. A total of K102 or about $40. is that economical travel or what? Oh -- add the K14.95 I had to pay for a crummy cotton hat today!

Certainly, the banana boat/bus run between Kavieng and Rabaul is not for everyone, but for a lot of islanders and visitors looking for something a bit different at economical rates, it's a godsend.

You can book by ringing John and Nelita Tse, who own and run Solwara Meri, on 7136 3764.
Or if you prefer, just inquire where you see banana boats parked on the beach. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The real market in action -- buying and selling betel nut in Kavieng

by Geoffrey Heard
The main Kavieng bus stop, a scene of somnolence at eight o’clock on the inevitable hot, sunny morning, with a couple of dozen passengers scattered around, a mini-bus pulling in and out now and again, and a notable event being the arrival of a 25 seater school bus, is hardly the place you expect to see naked libertarian capitalism in action, the market red in tooth and claw.
But that is exactly what I did see while waiting for the Medina bus with my grand-daughter, Shirin.
We were idly chatting with a street betel nut vendor (Shirin was buying and chewing a bit too), a substantial woman named Beryl with a relaxed sense of humor sitting cross legged on an empty rice bag with her “maket”, her stall, in front of her. Her little stall was nothing grander than another empty rice bag spread out on the ground and on it, the buai (boo-eye) makings -- a couple of dozen betel nuts, some daka (pepper), and containers of kambang (lime). For the uninitiated, you chew all three together which turns red in your mouth and provides anything from mild stimulation if you spit out he juice to significant intoxication if you swallow.
In addition, she was selling cigarettes individually from a packet.
Suddenly, in the midst of a remark, this mild mannered woman uttered a sharp exclamation, seemingly levitated to her feet, and in a single step was sprinting hard past us abandoning customers and market! When we recovered from our startle, we looked for the whatever had stimulated this mad action. It turned out to be a mini-bus that was pulling into the back of the bus stop.
Our vendor was not alone in targeting the bus. It was a clearly a race with a dozen others competing, some of whom had already reached the bus and were clammering at the “botskru” (boat’s crew, the driver’s assistant) who was scrambling out of the passenger door and up on to the roof rack even before the bus completely halted.
Supplies of fresh betel nut had arrived from villages down the road and every street vendor within reach of the bus stop was hot footing in to grab a share.
Failure meant no stock to sell and no income. Nothing. Nada.
There was perhaps five minutes of frantic bidding before handfuls of money changed hands, the winners took possession of their purchases, and the losers returned disconsolately to their stalls or just a seat in the shade while they waited for the next arrival of stock.
Beryl was triumphant. I’m not sure how much she spent, but it clearly was a very significant amount compared with the few kina worth of offerings she had on her mean stall, and she had secured a lot more than her fair share -- two and a half bags plus a big bunch of nuts. Since betel nut is in short supply in Kavieng at the moment (three for a Kina, and not particularly big nuts at that) and there is unrelenting demand, she was assured of a profitable day.
But what of the losers? More supplies will arrive from time to time during the day, so there will be other opportunities. Their chances of winning are better too; the first winners like Beryl are out of the race for the rest of the day -- the stock they have on hand is too valuable to leave unattended and in any case, they have to walk home in the afternoon and take their stock with them. They don't want to have more than they can carry.

And in any case, this is paradise. Betel nut might be selling at K1 for three, but for the same money, you can buy enough bananas to feed a substantial family. Market libertarianism might rule the buai market, but the good earth ensures nobody starves.

Which is why this little bit of market libertarianism can work but not be destructive.  ###
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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.
The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Ah, Kavieng, New Ireland. You win!

By Geoffrey Heard

Flying from Port Moresby to Rabaul in East New Britain on Monday afternoon, I was surprised mid-flight by the announcement that the weather in Kavieng, New Ireland (the adjoining island to New Britain where Rabaul is located) was fine and hot and we would be arriving there at 4.50pm. Huh? It was no surprise that the weather was fine and hot in Kavieng just a couple of degrees south of the equator, but we were landing there?
Turned out this flight bypassed Rabaul to land in Kavieng then flew the half hour back to Rabaul to overnight there. I had been itching to visit New Ireland on my last two trips to Rabaul but irritatingly, something always came up and I hadn't been able to fit it in.


Now here was New Ireland dumped in my lap! "You might be taking off again for Rabaul," I muttered to myself addressing the world, "but I'm not! I'll be getting off in Kavieng!"

We landed and I leaped off the plane with a happy cry to the astonishment and consternation of the plane and ground crews and the kindly concern of some passengers, including the United Church Bishop of Kavieng. They clearly had a notion that I was definitely eccentric not to say possibly somewhat erratic and ought to be handled with care.


You'll sacrifice the Kavieng-Rabaul leg of your ticket! I don’t care! Nobody will know where you are! Fine! Will anyone pick you up? Not that I know of. Do I have anywhere to stay? No. What are you doing here? Standing on the soil of wonderful New Ireland for the first time in 40 years, breathing the warm tropical air, looking at the coconut palms, and falling in love again.
I told the Bish not to worry, his kindly concern was not justified. I would be fine; one of the first lessons I learned on arrival in PNG nearly 50 years ago was that if you hang around a bit almost anywhere something will turn up.

In fact, Kavieng town was only 15 minutes' walk or so away, and I already knew it had a handy collection of hotels, resorts and guest houses. Since the vast, vast majority of the people around the world have the horrible misfortune to be ignorant of New Ireland's charms, I had no doubt there would be a room available.


I didn't have to resort to resorts, however. Ringing my family at Vunakabi, Rabaul, to tell them I wasn't on the plane led to them ringing one of their daughters who happened to be resident with her husband in Kavieng at the time (in my delight at being in New Ireland again she had slipped my mind) and 10 minutes later she drove up and I was safe and sound in the bosom of the family!
I had no need to use them, but I did tour around and see that indeed there was plenty of accommodation in a range of styles and prices for the traveler to lay his (or her) weary head in New Ireland and places to eat.
I stayed two nights in Kavieng, then took the bus down the Boluminski Highway (named for the German Governor who oversaw construction of it more then a century ago -- also known as the East Coast Road) to Madina Village.

I stayed a day and a night, enjoying the serenity and beauty of the place and most importantly, meeting tearfully with the sadly depleted ranks of old friends and becoming reacquainted with people I knew as young children who are now in late middle age.

Then I flagged down the bus for the run to Namatanai, New Ireland's second town, and the "banana boat" trip to Rabaul. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011. The opinions, comments, and photographs in this article are his own.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

I am a victim of Port Moresby street crime…and come up smiling!

by Geoffrey Heard

It's Sunday morning, and I'm feeling absurdly chuffed. The reason is simple; last night I was a victim of Port Moresby's notorious street crime … but came out of it victorious. Well, almost!

In the taxi home, I couldn't take the adrenalin-fueled grin off my face or stop myself chuckling as I ran and re-ran the scenario in my head. Petty though the situation was, I felt as though I had been tested and had triumphed. Like some sort of rite of passage.

The incident occurred as a group of us left the Lamana Hotel's Gold Club after seeing the PNG's Got Talent hip-hop dance competition.
As we stepped through the door, I slipped the taxi fare home, two bills, a K10 and a K5 (a generous fare for the short trip), into my shirt pocket ready to pay the taxi without having to take my wallet out of my buttoned hip pocket. I realized too late that the end of that action could be seen through the bars of the gate. Careless.

The taxi was 30-40 meters outside the Lamana security gate (everywhere in Port Moresby has security fences and gates -- homes, restaurants, supermarkets…). As we walked towards the taxi, a man, apparently drunk, attached himself to me, talking rubbish about the show and asking us for a lift home in our taxi.

I was instantly wary and began (as is my wont) rehearsing possible scenarios and my response. He had to be preparing to pick my pocket (a hold-up was out of the question with so much security nearby, I thought) and his best bet would be to go for it as I was getting into the car; half standing, half sitting. I planned accordingly.

His chance came early though. I was set to get into the taxi with my eyes firmly on the would-be pickpocket and the taxi door between him and me, when one of our party stopped behind me and questioned the
amount of the quoted fare (most taxis don’t have meters).

Involuntarily, my eyes turned towards the speaker and in that moment the thief's hand flashed to my shirt pocket like a striking snake, skilled fingers pincered onto the money and whipped it out. I didn't feel a thing!

But I saw -- even as I glanced away from him I was realizing my mistake and my eyes flicked back just in time to see his hand moving away. Another striking snake (the night was full of them!) and I had his hand and the moneyt in my grip. I pushed him off balance with my other hand and stripped the notes from between his fingers. I had the K10 in my grasp; the K5 bill fell to the ground. I left it, hopped into the taxi and we were away.

A couple of the security guards started down the hill towards us. I waved them away -- in Port Moresby, security guards will give a petty thief a severe beating. I didn't want that, the man had offered us no violence, I had learned a life lesson, and Port Moresby is a hard place to make a living legitimately.

At home, I got a beer (SP Export white can, of course!) from the fridge and went out to sit on the back verandah to look at the lights, the night sky, and come down from the adrenalin high.

But what if he had been armed? What if …? I put the "what ifs" firmly from my mind. They didn't happen. What had happened was that in my 69th year, I had encountered my first pickpocket, and had beaten him. Not quite Olympic gold, I know, but you can only respond to the challenges you encounter.

I popped the can. Life felt good and it still does this morning.

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I have to add a rider to this -- I am by no means making light of those who have been victims of serious crime in Port Moresby, on or off the streets.
Port Moresby has a very, very serious crime problem involving murder, rape, assault, burglary, armed hold ups, and theft of all kinds, all exacerbated by corrupt police and the under-paying, under-equipping, and constant undermining of those police who are straight.

Crime victims are legion and several good friends of mine have suffered the worst kinds of crime short of murder.

By and large, though, you can be safe from all but the most extreme crime (e.g. a gang home invasion) if you take care. In this case, I had put myself in harm's way by choosing to go to Lamana and walking outside at night. I had exacerbated the situation by being careless and literally pointing out where I was carrying money.

As I said, a life lesson learned. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What was interesting about your last visit to the doctor?

By Geoffrey Heard

Free entertainment along the road, free fresh-off-the-tree bananas? What unexpected thing happened last time you were on your way to visit your doctor?

It is a beautiful, sunny morning in Paradise 1, Vunakabi, and the first thing on the agenda today is to take 10 year old Roselyn (named for her grandmother) to the doctor to have her cut and infected foot treated. Well, to the nurse at the clinic a couple of villages away, Rapitok. That means traveling by bus along a secondary route. Could mean a fair wait for the bus.

As we wait at the roadside for an hour-and-a-half for a bus which will pick us up (a couple go past full), I have to consciously suppress the niggle of misplaced urgency.

I chuckle as I on what I would be doing right this moment if I wasn't sitting at the side of the road chatting with Roselyn the child, Roselyn the grandmother, a couple of the kids who are shooting at a tree with their slingshots (and having a go and scoring a lucky hit myself), other members of the family wandering in and out of the picture, chatting with passersby, and editing pictures and writing this on my laptop.

I would be sitting on the tank stand 20 meters away doing exactly the same thing -- but with a poor chance of spotting and stopping the appropriate bus, that's what! I'm not waiting for a bus, I'm having a morning with my family!

There are no designated bus stops outside town. There are designated routes (we're on number 4) and maximum prices, but apart from that the bus stops when hailed or when passengers indicate that they want to get out.

Finally a bus arrives with a couple of empty seats heading where we want to go. Roselyn and I climb in, satisfy the natural curiosity of the other passengers interested in why a 10 year old Tolai girl is addressing the old white guy as "Bubu Geoff" (Grandfather Geoff -- in fact, I am the child's putative Great-Grandfather), and prepare to enjoy the trip through satisfyingly scenic surrounds.

A couple of kilometers along the road, we hear the sounds of celebration. "Subuna," explains Roselyn excitedly, "they're going to do a bride price exchange."

This is something I haven't experienced. It's pretty much an all day event, I am told, where the groom's husband visits the bride's home village to complete payment of the marriage settlement and claim the bride.

She hides in her parents' house and won't come out. The visitors tempt her and try to persuade her to come out with their singsings (song and dance). Finally, they might enter the house and physically remove her.

It is all pre-arranged and scripted and regarded by everyone as jolly good fun. At least, I'm told that is so today. I'm not sure it was always thus.

As we reach the hamlet where the subuna is in progress, the beating of drums and the chanting voices rise to a happy crescendo, then we are past and it fades behind us.
After a 20 minute ride, we reach our destination only to find the clinic closed. More waiting. The sister, it seems, will come, she is very reliable, but she has to catch the bus from another village, Taulil, which is poorly served. We settle down to wait in the shade of a tree under which someone has built a small stall out of bush materials. The two or three women occupying it today are making one or two small improvements to it while selling the ubiquitous betel nut and a few food other items, including some "banana mau" (ripe bananas -- similar to the Cavendish banana common in Australia).

We chat back and forth a bit, explain the Bubu Geoff thing again, and settle down to wait. I'm working through my email (ain't mobile technology grand? it is when it works!) when one of the ladies makes me a gift of a hand of bananas. It turns out her son is a PMV driver I've travelled with a number of times who has become a friend.

Roselyn and I are enjoying a banana snack when a mini-bus arrives with the nurse. She bustles in, lines up the patients on the bend outside the clinic, and deals with them all cheerfully, caringly and with despatch. More patients arrive as we are leaving -- it's going to be a busy day.

Across the road a couple of people are waiting for the bus heading out. We join them; one is an old bloke and having ascertained that I am a b-4 (foreigner who was in PNG a long time ago -- I find it hilarious to be a b-4 -- back in the day, that referred to people who had been in PNG before WWII), launches into reminiscence. We swap the names of people we both knew back then, laugh about the absurd (and there was plenty of that), applaud some of our contemporaries, share sadness over tragedy, and -- like all old blokes -- condemn the current generation and agree that the world has gone to the dogs since our day.

In the course of that, it transpires that a former colleague lives just down the road. My new friend is just proposing that we stroll down to say hello to him when the bus arrives. We all have to take it -- there might not be another bus for an hour or three.

I promise to return on my next visit. Lovely to see you again, Rapitok. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Lighting the morning fire; the plastic bag method


by Geoffrey Heard

Our house in the village has some early risers and some late risers. I tend to be one of the former since I don’t often stay up late gossiping, yarning and chewing betelnut with neighbors, relatives and friends. (I’m happy to gossip and yarn, but I’m not a betelnut addict.)

In addition, I’m leading a fairly active life; you’ve no idea the energy expended staying upright in a minibus driven down the side of a mountain
by a guy with blatant Formula 1 ambitions, to say nothing of the amount of walking you can do between stores in Kokopo which is strung out along three or four kilometers of (glorious) sea front.

So I am up soon after dawn, have the first of my two daily washes (bucket and dipper) in what is supposed to be cold water (but it isn’t really cold; it comes from a 9000 liter tank which has cooled only a little overnight after the heat of the previous day), then dry and dressed (shorts, shirt, sandals), I move on to the question of the morning cup of tea.

Young Rachel or Roselyn, two of my putative great grand-daughters aged something like 12 and 10 respectively, are likely to be up, and we will confer on lighting the morning fire.

Here is how it is done (with a shuddering nod in the direction of environmental correctness). First gather up all sorts of kindling, wood chips, twigs, dry coconut leaves, and if we are really lucky, a segment or two of dry coconut husk (detritus from the evening meal when a coconut would have been husked and scraped out for extraction of the “cream” for cooking -- but usually the evening cook has already used this husk for his or her fire).

Ignore any newspaper lying around (we have that too, a couple of people in the house are avid newspaper readers). This is the wet tropics, that means high humidity even when it is sunny and dry, and that, in turn, means something as absorbent as newsprint is not really dry after a night on the cook house bench. The cook house (or as we call it, haus kuk) has a roof but apart from that, is open to the environment, including having no formal floor to differentiate it from the surrounding “outside”, so if the atmosphere is humid, everything in the haus kuk is too. Day-old newsprint here just tends to smoulder and die.

Next collect a couple of plastic bags. These are your fire starters. Since you can’t get out of a store without your purchase being plastic bagged, there are lots of them around even in a semi-bush village environment.

There is an important principle to grasp before you start. It took me a couple of days to wake up to it. With paper or coconut husk, you set the fire with the igniter underneath so it burns up, the plastic bag method is top down.

Assemble the kindling in the fireplace (a bunch of stones) keeping a few bits and pieces in reserve, squeeze a plastic bag into a bit of a rope, then gingerly dangling it from a stick, apply a lit match to the bottom. As the plastic burns, it melts and drips on to the kindling. Do I hear an “Ah ha!” moment? When the bags burns up near the top, you twist the stick to wrap the remaining plastic bag around it, put that on top of your beginning fire, and add the last of the kindling.

Given good luck, strong lungs to “winim” the fire when it staggers (Rachel and/or Roselyn provide these), and some usefully dry firewood (see the remarks about damp paper above; the same applies to firewood particularly the fibrous logs from coconut palms), you are now on the way to the morning cuppa and a hot breakfast!

PS: I’m no fan of lighting fires with plastic bags, but it’s now ubiquitous in PNG -- I’ve seen it used by a top public servant to light an official entertainment barbecue. I can’t stop it -- nobody can in this intensive recycling community short of banning plastic bags altogether -- but at least I’ve alerted my people to its environmental impact and in particular, persuaded the kids that breathing plastic smoke is a really, really bad idea. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Aibika to the rescue as we suffer kid-stress in paradise

by Geoffrey Heard

It’s a stressful time in paradise -- it is school holiday time and packs of kids are roaming around, playing vigorous games, hooting and laughing, running, chasing, bluffing, arguing, resolving disputes by shouting louder and occasionally delivering a smack over the ear, and paying no attention to parental cries for merciful quiet.

Our usual quota of anything from five to a dozen ankle biters and above (depends on how many related houses you include in the count and the time of day) has been supplemented by the arrival of a daughter of the house with three of her own plus one of her brother’s children.

The increase of the four visiting kids attracted the attention of every child for several hundred meters around so that we had a whole tribe (in reality, a clan) racing around in one giant pack for a day. Then they were alternatively arguing and playing in a number of lesser giant packs for another day, and finally thinning out on the third day as interest waned, all the kids had got up to date on the news since they were all together last time, parents demanded their children stay at home long enough to complete family tasks, and everyone shook down into comfortable smaller groups.

But every now and again, they coalesce and the chaos and cacophony break out again!

It was quite funny watching normally “cope with anything” parents and grandparents fraying at the edges and suddenly finding they had urgent errands to run in town which demanded that they instantly flee on the nearest minibus to return a couple of hours later looking virtuous, errand apparently completed satisfactorily. And so it was -- they had achieved their goal, a break from the kid cacophony and frenetic activity.

Note the use of “was” in “it was quite funny”. I was rolling along quite nicely in all this when what amounted to a giant wave of noise and mad activity engulfed me just before lunch today. Mercifully, a minibus with a spare seat appeared within minutes to whisk me away to do my urgent business in town. The escape was worth ten times the asking price of K2.00 (80¢).

Right now, the sun is setting and the sky is on fire over Kerevat and the Bainings mountains.

And a level of peace has descended.

The soccer game in our front yard has ended although the bigger kids have moved across the road and joined the touch footy game there (they have a rugby ball on that side) as it runs down to its inevitable end in the deepening dusk.

Our littlelies are out the back undergoing the serial social bathing experience -- they stand on the spare part of the tank stand and are vigorously doused and washed down by the nearest mother or aunt (some aunts are not much older than the tots they are bathing) armed with a bucket of cold water and a can for throwing it over them. Resistance is useless; there are some pretty firm hands around here and the kids know that their mothers are never going to gainsay another mother or an aunt. They’re the sisterhood! Anyway, the water’s not really cold -- this is the tropics! It’s just not hot.

In the haus kuk (cook house), mother and grandmother, Roselyn, is producing mouthwatering odours as she prepares dinner for about 15 (she actually does count them when serving up). The rice is ready, and she is now working on the stew of greens, salted fish and coconut.

I’m very familiar with the underpinnings of this village diet but to my surprise, I’m finding I’m noticing the details of it more than I have before.

I always knew greens played a important part in the diet, but only recently have I noticed how big a part in terms of volume, variety and flavor. Your average Tolai eats a lot of greens. And not just just big bunches of leaves, but a huge variety. Again, it was something I knew intellectually, but after living for decades in Australia and becoming re-accustomed to the focus on just a few species in our supermarkets and fruiterers, I had forgotten how rich and diverse the Tolais’ diet is.

Tolais must regularly eat 100 or more varieties of greens, some of which they grow in gardens and some of which grow wild to be harvested when they see it. The most prized of the greens seems to be the leaves of the aibika, a stalky plant with a spinach-like taste and consistency.

If you’re traveling from Rabaul to Port Moresby and want to guarantee your welcome there, you visit the market on the way to the airport and for about K2 (80¢) buy two big bunches of aibika, enough to feed six or seven people. Yum, yum! (You’ll also be asked for betelnut, buai, but that’s anther story!)

I’ve seen four (or is it more?) kinds of leaves going into the mix tonight. Aibika is there, also pumpkin and/or choko tips, two more kinds of leaves I don’t recognize and perhaps two or three more (or they might be more or less mature leaves of the same). Whatever, cooked with coconut and with the salted (but not salt) tuna added (it might work out wt 20 gms per person), it will be delicious and very nourishing.

After dinner, I’ll have a cup of tea while we sit around talking for a bit, then I’ll retire to bed to repair the stress of the day with some well-earned shut eye.

Ah! There’s the call for dinner now. ###


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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

In a bind over Bundy … and the world economic system

by Geoffrey Heard

It's late morning, Tuesday, 21 June 2011, and I'm in the duty-free store (really the GST-free store these days) at the Brisbane airport buying rum for the elite of Port Moresby's rum and coke drinkers. I've been instructed by email and text that two liters (the PNG duty free limit) of rum is required and the brand is the Australian-made Bundaberg rum. These are dedicated Bundy 'n' coke drinkers.

But as I survey the shelves, I am startled to find that the formerly expensive and upmarket Bacardi (white) rum is a couple of bucks a bottle cheaper than the formerly el cheapo Australian-made Bundy. Here's a revelation -- with the Australian dollar having taken off to a degree (and other former leaders like the USD and Euro having gone south somewhat), and the removal of tariffs on imported liquor, the price differential between domestic and imported has been turned on its head.

So with a guilty apology to Australian-made, I decide to do my Port Moresby friends a favor -- I'll take them upmarket Caribbean sunshine.

When I proudly unleash a liter bottle of Bacardi in Port Moresby that evening I'm repaid for my thoughtfulness by horrified cries of "What? We said Bundy! That stuff's just water!". When I reveal that I have grossly departed from the script and bought Frangelico instead of a second liter of rum, my name is Mud with a capital "M"!

Tough -- we're all having dinner and I'm rounding out mine with ice cream and Frangelico like I had at my farewell dinner (except that I'll be pouring the Frangelico out of the bottle, not out of a shot glass!). The team can take it or leave it. I might be a bit of a soft touch in some respects, but in regard to desserts (and rum and coke which I regard as a last resort drink), I can be as tough as nails.

Making that purchase really hammered home a point, though; one which I have been acutely aware of for some time in my own tiny business. I used to sell Australian-made books in the USA. At that time, the Australian dollar was ranging around 70 US cents. At one point, it got as low as about 55 US cents. It was quite ridiculous, of course -- at the time, Australia had as useful an economy as most others and certainly one as useful or better than America's which was already mired in up-to-the-nostrils debt with a whole lot of stuff going on -- like the idiotic invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq that were clearly out of control before they began -- that were adding staggering amounts to US debt hourly.

The Australian dollar's climb coincided with a post office clamp down on special rates for overseas mail (mail is the only viable carrier for micro-business products), and suddenly, every book I shipped was making a loss! Raising prices wasn't an option; Americans are used to certain price points and won't be moved from them.

I had to switch to printing in the United States -- leaving me to ponder what to do with a roomful of brand new books which now weren't salable (I still have them).

So I was fully aware of what the currency movements had done to price relationships, but striking them so vividly contrasted in the duty-free really hammered home the point.

Tough for many Australian businesses

The ridiculous movements in the currency market make it very, very tough for a lot of Australian industries. And then, of course, the ones that are making out like bandits, the mining industry, don't want to pay appropriate taxes on gigantic windfall profits most of which are going overseas to people who have more money than they could possibly poke a stick at in a month of Sundays.

The trick in all this is the financial system constructed by the monied elite for the benefit of the monied elite. At the beginning of modern democracy, the monied elite had everything their way -- democracy slowly rolled back some of that those privileges to some degree, but money always ruled.

Now big money is bigger than ever -- a handful of modern corporations have enormous transnational power supported by the most powerful governments in the world; the USA is the prime example but it's not alone, Australia runs along like its little lapdog -- and it is busy rolling back democracy and turning relatively egalitarian societies like Australia into inequitable, unjust, undemocratic societies which are merely enormous money pumps that feed the money bags' greed. The rich are getting richer, a (very) few of the middle class are getting richer, most of the middle are getting poorer, and the poor are getting even poorer.

The process is complex and includes many subtle steps, but the underlying trick is simple. You set up a scenario where people are restricted in their movement around the globe -- nearly everyone in the world is actually a prisoner in the country they were born in, both physically and mentally -- while allowing money and goods unrestricted movement.

Thus, people are not free to move from place to place to take advantage of the best wages, for example, while capital is free to move from place to place to take advantage of the worst wages, and their goods are free to move anywhere. Then they declare "globalization" to be the great savior of the world's economic system and "protection" at national borders
(against goods and money only, naturally) to be anathema, old fashioned, unfair, and nasty, and they're away towards riches even further beyond the ordinary person's imagining and to gathering even more power to make the trick even more effective.

Of course, it is all a Ponzi scheme and must collapse sooner or later, but when it does collapse, we all know who will have the most comfortable ride -- the super rich. When money becomes essentially valueless, it pays to have sh*tloads of it.

When everyone's down and they've scraped up all the money and valuables left lyng around by the crash, they'll start all over again building another huge pyramid.

The "poor" who have kept a grip on their own land like the majority of people in Papua New Guinea will do next best because they can still live off their land -- in large part, they are outside the world economy. The middle and lower classes in the developed countries will do badly because they are bound up in the money machine, are in debt to the money machine, and will have to take what pittance they are given. And, of course, the truly dispossessed, the very, very poor of areas like Sudan, Eritrea and so on, will do worst of all as has been demonstrated in depressions and recessions throughout history.

I reflect on the period in which I grew up and have through in (or in touch with) Australia -- the latter part of the 1940s, the 1950s, 1960s, even into the 1970s and 1980s. In many respects this was the democratic dream time, the high tide of democracy in both in Australia and overseas.

Today, we are participating in its end.

Of course, democracy always had its dark underbelly -- the wars against the "evils of communism" and now "terrorism" (the latter so clearly an excuse for ramping up control of frightened populations), the exploitation of the weak and poor both at home and overseas --particularly overseas, the pretense of self-determination and the granting of independence to colonies (economic colonialism is so much more profitable), and so on and so forth.

Of course, while we know all this, fighting back is difficult. The vast majority of Australians (and Americans, and Brits, and French, and Germans, and Canadians and whoever!) all know that the solution is to clamp controls on capital and globalism. But much as we talk and protest, politicians of the major parties, the politicians in control, flatly refuse to act for the good of the people -- the good of those they are supposed to be representing.

They are corrupt. Whether they take cash on the barrelhead or under the table or just accept promises of support so they can stay in power (or in the case of the enormously rich mining companies, promises of no public opposition to them), they are corrupt. They promise to represent the people, to work for the good of the people, but they do not.

They know damned well that if they moved to do what people want and fix the economy so it serves the people rather than enslaving them in the service of a tiny elite, their money masters would come down on them like a ton of bricks.

They are so afraid or their palms are so well greased -- or both -- that they stand up in public and tell barefaced lies. They sign Australia up to trade agreements that take decisions on trade out of our hands, clearly advantage our trade competitors, are unfair to our neighbors, and put disputes about trade rules into secret courts. Having signed up Australia in the full knowledge of what they are doing, they then feign looks of doleful helplessness as though it all happened by accident and not design!

I really applaud the Icelanders who broke out of the thrall of these poisonous, anti-democratic, anti-people schemes and refused to drive themselves into penury to pay off debts incurred by foreign bankers under cover of their name.

We need more of that. We need to do that in Australia.

In the meantime while we Australians are getting up the courage to act in accordance with our national myth (rugged bushmen, individualists -- in fact we are among the most urbanized societies in the world and the most politically apathetic and naive), we need to do something immediate about Bundy.

For mine, I promise to buy two bottles next time I go to Papua New Guinea. No Caribbean sunshine (get nicked, Bacardi), no Italian dessert wine, just Bundy. I swear!

I might even get a bonus by doing that -- a bit of respect from the disgruntled Moresby Bundy 'n' coke team. ###

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This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2011.

The opinions and comments in this article are his own.