Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Day 5: The Land of the Unexpected

"PNG is the land of the unexpected," Luke told Tim and I on the first day. That statement didn't sink in till about now...

I had no idea my name can mean so many things in one country. In the Keri dialect, Nina means you and me; in Kuman--father; in Kewabi--mine alone, just to name a few.

This morning we saw a man on the street with a machete hacking away at another man, blood on the face and cars continued to whiz by.

The most talkative and articulate farmer I've ever met in the third world, narrating away his life story during the interview. I barely had to ask any questions. He was a natural on camera as if he'd been waiting for this moment all his life. Farmer John, who also works as a school teacher, missed work today because he knew we were coming. He wanted to take care of us himself, showing us his piglets and corn rows. Soon enough, mud stacked up underneath my sandles. All of a sudden, my flip-flops became platform shoes, with every step creating heavy plunge-plunge sound deeper into more mud. At the end of such arduous trek in the corn field, John's aunt had to hack away at the mud with a machete and gave me a mud-whacking, shoe-cleaning service, all free of charge--only with a big smile and a good laugh. (Everyone seems to carry a machete in this country. It's not at all uncharacteristic of PNG to drive by a security guard who is capable of flashing you his betelnut- stained teeth and his big machete, all at the same time and, naturally, we give a polite but awkward smile, nod and hope he doesn't take a swing near any of our body parts.) Not long after the mud-whacking experience, an army of red ants, out of nowhere, marched onto my feet and attacked me with all their might. Tim didn't stop rolling the camera. Ha..ha.. not funny.

In the afternoon, after filming Peter's home in a settlement in Morata, his wife and aunt (possibly in their fifties and sixties), hopped, yes I mean they literally hopped like grasshoppers, onto the back of a yewt (the Aussie version of a pick-up truck). Tim was wondering if he should be the one in the back of the truck instead of them. But no, oh no, for PNG women, that's how they do it . Peter, with his reputation of being a gangsta driver, drove off like there were no tomorrow. I was holding on to the backseat with my dear life, hair flying wildly in all directions. Tim wasn't sure if Peter forgot that his wife and aunt were sitting in the back of the truck. And that's not the end of it. When I turned around to check on the two elderly, there was not an once of fear or discomfort on their faces, just smiling and chatting away.

Tonight we had dinner at Julie's house, and it, unexpectedly, turned into a PNG dance party, featuring O-Shen and Patti Potts music.

This is Nina Chaiyapin, reporting live from Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea. All for reals...

Monday, February 19, 2007

Day 3: Nine Mile Urban Clinic

8 am. sharp. A personal chauffeur, no I mean, a brother Titus came to pick me up and drove me to the HOPE office in Boroka. I'm not allowed to be alone or wander off, which helps me understand how the rich and famous must feel like, no privacy and such.

I'm grateful for the protection, but at times I miss the freedom to roam around the city on my own. Port Moresby isn't a place for a foreign woman to wander alone. The HOPE building is fenced off with barbed and razor wires. There's always a guard at the door. At 8.15 am, the office was already bustling with people.

I met Graham Ogle for the first time. I've heard so much about him. He gave Tim and I an assignment for the day to film/ photograph Nine Mile Urban Clinic. Every skill that you know is useful in PNG. Every bit of talent counts. What I do, however small like taking photographs, matters.There's nothing more satisfying for me than knowing that what I do affects lives, and it's more visible in places like PNG.

Nine Mile Clinic started off as a mobile clinic in 1994 with a camper van going around various settlements, then it became a fixed clinic in 2000. The temperture in the clinic began to rise as the day went on. The air was thick, smelly and babies were crying. People were elbowing each other due to cramped space. Many young moms and children came because of TB. They were sick but still smiled for the camera.

Today I had a chat with Ivon. She has a chiseled face with curious dark brown eyes, hair underneath a red bandana. When she smiles, she looks like a model. Ivon has TB in her lungs, and yet she's been volunteering for HOPE for one year, educating settlement people about AIDS awareness with twenty other volunteers three days/week, three hours/day. It wasn't a problem for her to stop for a chat with a stranger like me.

Needless to say, I had a sensory overload. I admire HOPE workers/volunteers who show up day in and day out to serve the poor. Hats off to all of you, the true unsung heroes...

In the afternoon, I had the privilege of attending an education meeting with Graham. Mind you, he'd been in meetings back to back all day long and still had the sharpness of mind to carry on discussing the building of a school. In the meeting room, there was no air conditioning, no glass of water or tea. It was late afternoon and the heat made my eyes droopy. But I still got the gist of the meeting, which revolved around building a school that will best meet the needs of PNG students and the available budget. Ah! meeting the budget, that's always the tricky part. I'm glad to see that part of our work to film/photograph PNG will help raise money for the underprivileged. By the time the building will be constructed, they may not have enough money to build flushed but only pit toilets, which is still better than what they have now, for they've got none. Tim and I will go to the school tomorrow and will report further of their conditions...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day 2: The Reception

Tim and I have been given nothing but a royal treatment here by the disciples. Everywhere we go, there's an entourage around us. Today, our second day, they threw us a mumu or barbeque PNG style.
It was a feast. Food was cooked on the ground with hot stones and banana leaves. People have so little and yet give so much. Again, the love of the people in third world countries never ceases to amaze me.

The children here made us laugh non-stop. The way they LOVED being on camera and giggled every time they saw themselves on it. Their laughter was contagious.

Tomorrow, we'll meet up with Graham Ogle and will start the filming at HOPE. I'm so excited. So many people have already invited us to spend time with them. We are instant celebs!!!

Day 1: Landed in Port Moresby

[The story that leads up to my present stay in PNG is in the Australia blog]

Is it too soon to say that I'm already in love with Papua New Guinea?

PNG is worth sticking it out at the humdrum temp job in Melbourne for two and a half months, every minute of it.

Maybe I'm going through an infatuation period. I'm fascinated by its people, culture and the fact that it has 800 different languages. Melanesian women with tattoos on their faces. Beautiful dark skin and kinky hair. Colorful clothes. A sense of humor that puts travelers at ease. A car tipped over on the side of a road and a man lying nonchalantly on the grass next to it. No worries, eh? A boy, with the agility of a money, pulling a tree branch, climbing on it and coming down the trunk. No MacDonald's or Starbuck's. People sit on the back of a truck and scream wildly when go through a tunnel. People shaking hands with you even though you don't know them. They smile a lot. In Pidgin, PNG's second national language, they say "me" for "I." Although their culture is so different, the people speak English. We are "wantok" and it's a lot easier to connect with them. Imagine if the whole world speaks one language!

A brother from Bougainville, Luke, came to pick up Tim and I at Jackson's Airport, Port Moresby. I've read a bit about Bougainville. Later on, Luke's niece Priscilla told me they had a ten-year war of independence. Still hasn't won. But the PNG government at least granted them autonomy. The fight will continue, but for now, no blood is being shed...

On our first day, we got dropped off at Tony and Tasha Williams' house. They're from America. On my first night, Tasha taught me how to make pizza from scratch for the first time. I felt like being back in time when women spent hours preparing food and bonding in the kitchen. Yes, we had our kitchen-bonding talk while kneading the dough and chopping up the ingredients. Each person got to choose their own toppings. There were chicken, capsicum (bell peper), minced (ground) beef, cheese, bacon, and pineapple. I also learned to cut a pineapple for the first time and will not forget how juicy and sweet pineapples are in PNG. A slice of paradise.

The Williams lead the PNG church. Their boys Zion, 7, and Bryce,3, are the cutest things. I always feel like it's a blessing everytime I'm around children. On my first night, the boys were worried because I spent so much time in the bathroom. Well, it's just that I had the bathroom to myself, so I decided to take as long as needed. Come on girls, we all do it...

There’s no TV at Tony and Tasha’s. The tube has become an essential item in many households and for me. My excuse is I "need" to watch Lost so I can socialize with people at work. I’m amazed at how well the Williams get along without it. They talk, teach, read and play with their kids. Not a bad tradeoff, eh?

Tim stayed at Luke's. I saw him at church the next morning and, poor thing, he couldn't sleep well last night because of the heat. Well, Tim's a Tazzie boy and that explains it. The heat was pretty unbearable. I'm a warm-blooded creature and didn't mind it as much. The weather reminded me of home in Thailand, but the sun is stronger here. Mind you, when I was cooking with Tasha, we were dripping sweat!