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