Only three weeks into this adventure and I already have a running list of things to write about. Even though I am still living in a hotel and have limited mobility (no car, security concerns), I have been able to see a little bit of Port Moresby and to learn more about what this part of the world has to offer. As with anything, it is a mixed bag, but for what it is worth, I think there will be enough here to keep me happy and engaged for some time. So here is the breakout so far, and so as not to cause alarm, I will start with:
It will come as no surprise to most of you that at the top of the “good” category is my discovery of, and recent contact with, the Moresby Arts Theatre. From the day I saw my first live theatrical production (an early 1970’s high school production of Man of LaMancha) I was hooked and have been involved in the world of theater in some manner or another ever since. It was my immersion in the Little Theatre Group of Costa Rica that kept me sane (a relative term) and happy in San Jose and introduced me to some of my dearest Costa Rican friends. So I was thrilled to learn that there is a group here that appears to be as active and needy of volunteers as LTG! And my timing is great…they are just about to launch a production of Twelfth Night, and are holding a pre-production meeting this weekend, with auditions to follow. I am pretty sure I am too long in the tooth now to play Olivia or Viola, but that crafty, witty, meddling Maria wouldn’t be too much of a stretch! There is also a choral group that is active here, so I should be able to get my arts game on in the near future.
Also on the positive side of the ledger, I have had interviews with two international schools. The principals of both The Ela Murray International School (TEMIS) and Port Moresby International School (POMIS) spent time with me last week and showed me around their respective schools. TEMIS is a PreK-8 school, with a large expat community and a surprisingly large and well funded campus. POMIS has students from 7-12 grade, is at least 80% local students and is primarily funded by fees from the small number of students who are college-bound and in the IB program, which, in contrast to TEMIS, means their school has fewer resources available. I liked both principals, believe they liked me, and have positive impressions of both sets of students. However, I am not sure either school will be able to hire me, not only because they may not have a suitable job opening, but more because it is insanely difficult to get a work visa. In order to convert my current dependant visa, I would first have to be offered a contract, and then leave the country for anywhere from 3-5 weeks, possibly longer. The cost associated with leaving (anyone checked the cost of a round-trip flight to PNG yet?) and staying for an elongated stay somewhere may prove too burdensome. I have not closed this as an option yet, and remain hopeful that I can do what I love to do, but this topic may ultimately move to the “bad” category before too long.
There are a couple of very well stocked grocery stores, with just about any product you would want to buy and with the added bonus of carrying a wide-range of Asian products. For those of you in the DC area, it is almost like combining a small Safeway or Giant store with Eden Center or one of the large Chinese grocery stores! And while the prices for US/European goods is extremely high, the Asian products are cheap…oh wait, that is how it is all over the world! No wonder the US is making its “Pivot to Aisa” policy so prominent!
Peace and Quiet
Drivers do not honk their horns, play loud music, drive two-stroke engine motorcycles, and they seem to all have working mufflers. I know this means something to those of you who lived in Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, and, especially Egypt! Perhaps it is part of the culture. From my experience thus far, many Papua New Guineans are relatively soft spoken and non-confrontational, so honking the horn is just not something you would do lightly. On top of that, I have yet to hear a rooster crow, a pack of dogs bark, or a mullah call the faithful to prayer. It is a striking contrast to the noise chaos of Alexandria, Egypt!
So now on to the darker side of paradise:
Security (or lack thereof)
One of the primary concerns voiced by anyone and everyone who has been in Papua New Guinea for any length of time is that of personal and property security. I am always hesitant to buy into a mindset that lives in fear, but constant vigilance does seem to be required here. And it is not just the anecdotal wariness—we have unfortunately learned firsthand how critical security is here as Steph’s office was broken into last week and several computers stolen. No doubt, it was an “inside job” with a very iffy story of being overcome and tied up raskols (the local hoodlum moniker) with machetes related by the hired security guard, but that makes it even more disconcerting. If you don’t know who you can trust to guard your home or office, how do you know if you are safe? Luckily it was just “stuff” that was taken and no one was hurt, but it still gives one pause. So we will be looking for a secure apartment for us and stay alert when out and about, and hope for the best.
What You Can Get For Your Kina
I know I alluded to this when I bemoaned the cost of a bottle of wine, but it is increasingly clear that this is going to be one expensive place to live. The exchange rate of kina (originally a large white shell traded on the coast, now a plastic coated paper currency) to dollar is approximately 2:1, so luckily for me the mental math is easy to calculate, but I am still staggering when I come up with the dollar equivalent. Ten bucks for a box of bran flakes?! Eleven thousand dollars a month for an apartment?! Seriously?! Even basic foodstuffs like milk, eggs and vegetables are at least a third higher priced than in the US. I know that the cost of living allowances for most expats takes this into account, and, as a westerner, I am likely to opt for higher end goods, but it goes a long way toward understanding the source of the security issues. With no clear secondary or black market (at least that I am aware of) that would allow locals to make more reasonably priced purchases, and local jobs that pay nowhere near the expat salaries, it is no wonder that the raskol culture has taken hold.
OK, that is not too bad…four good things and only two bad ones. Not a bad ratio. So now one more category to go:
Blue v. Maroon
OK, well this isn’t really a whole category, but I guess that I was surprised to learn that the sports teams that seem to generate the most enthusiasm here in PNG play in the Australian rugby league. It is not a game that I know much about, kind of like cricket, but in my limited understanding and exposure to the sport, I know that it is a tough, aggressive, non-stop, hands-on kind of sport that is usually played by big, burly men (or sometimes big, burly women) wearing tight shorts. But as with sports fans everywhere, the crowds are polarized for or against “their” teams—this week it was those supporting either the New South Wales “Blues” or the Queensland “Maroons” who scrummed and sweated and gutted it out on Thursday night in the State of Origin tournament. I have added a picture of one fan who was triumphantly going Friday morning in full battle regalia to see his boss and collect on a two hundred kina bet! Lucky for him the currency was changed from shells or he would be struggling to carry it home-- I just wish he could buy more with it.