In the land of the unexpected

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“Welcome to the land of the Unexpected”. This is how a poster at the airport in Port Moresby greeted me. I have finally made it and have arrived in Kavieng. The past few weeks have been very busy and I did not get much chance to write a blog entry even though I really planned to do one. My feelings were so mixed, however, I had a hard time putting them into words anyway. This hasn’t actually changed yet but at least the preparation phase is over and I can see a bit clearer.

And the way it looks I have completely overdone it with my preparation. I made use of every kilo of the 50 kg allowance I had. So now I am waiting for 4 boxes plus a folding bike to arrive. I sent it off at the beginning of last week and it is supposed to arrive here next week. When I leave I will probably leave half of all the stuff behind but I thought I better have too much than missing out something I really need. Something which could still be the case, though. I have never done anything like this before and actually lived in a developing country for such an extended time.

My last week in Auckland has been spent packing, buying stuff, more packing, more buying stuff and then this started again. I also had to move out of my flat which was another minor issue I had to deal with. Thanks to Ian and Bridget, who offered me storage for my things I knew where to put my belongings for the 12 months. They have a large shed and offered me a corner to stack my boxes. I rented a Toyota Hiace and brought my stuff to their place in Clevedon. It was raining hard and that made moving even less fun than it already is. I just hate shifting places. Getting up their steep driveway, on gravel road, with an empty rear powered cargo van was a job for a professional rallye driver. I managed it, however. The trick to spectacular driving stunts up a hill seems to be to close your eyes, let out a really loud war scream, step on the gas and don’t get off it until your reach the summit, no matter what the world displays outside of your windscreen. At times the world rushed past it sideways, who new cargo vans could move like that. Eventually I reached the road on top of their property but I left a trail of destruction behind me.

On sunday evening Ian and Bridget invited my for my last dinner in New Zealand and Ian was so friendly to drive me out to to the airport, at 3.30 am the following morning. He said it is ok, he is going to watch rugby after dropping me off, at 4 am. I don’t know if he did, but judging by the look of his eyes, I think he did not make it far into the game before catching up with the missing sleeping hours.

And then there I was, sitting at the airport and facing a whole year in a land I know nothing about. I have done that kind of thing several times before. 15 years ago I traveled to New Zealand and Australia for a whole year. I moved to Bermuda for three years without having visited the island before. But this time I was going to Papua New Guinea. I mean, PAPUA NEW GUINEA!!!! I was getting quite nervous.

So I went on mental auto-pilot while moving through the routine of airport travel. It was a bit different this time as I had 4 stops along the way, and I was not sure where I had to claim my baggage and where not. My ticket said I have to claim it in Australia then check in again, the lady at the airport said I have to claim it in Port Moresby. I was sure it will sort itself out somehow. And it did. My feeling were very weird in Brisbane boarding the plane to Port Moresby. I was just about to fly into the airport at one of the most dangerous cities in the world. I wondered what what kind of people go there? So I scanned the people around me very carefully. It was actually unremarkable and quite what one would expect, mostly very ordinarily looking middle aged, white men with jackets displaying the labels of different mining companies. The massive guy next to me on the plane, however, seemed to have more interesting work tasks ahead. I looked over his shoulder when he read his documents on his laptops. Very interesting material, covering several court cases of murder, rape and one of a sunken ship. It brought me into the right mood when we arrived in Port Moresby.

When I left the plane it was actually quite unspectacular. In my mind I expected bullet holes in the walls, police having shoot-outs with criminals in the terminal area and I was convinced I had to scream at the check-in counter to be heard over the noise of the gunfire.

Instead it was just very hot and very busy and confusing. Eventually I found my way to the domestic terminal after getting a random security stamp on my ticket I did not need. This happened after I lined up at a counter I thought was there to scan my ticket but it must have been something entirely different because the guy behind the counter stared at it with a confused look and then pointed me to the counter opposite of him. He did stamp it, though, and the stamp said “security”. Then I marched into an empty room full of security people in the belief this is the way to the domestic terminal. It wasn’t. It was obviously an area nobody was expected to go because the faces of the guards in it spoke out that fact. I must have looked really lost because one of the security women literally took me by the hand and guided me outside to point me in the right direction. I hope this is what people do here and she didn’t do it just because she thought I am totally retarded.

Then I flew to Kavieng on a large plane full of people. Quite a mix of locals and foreigners and I thought, that’s not too bad, Kavieng looks like a busy, international place. However most got off the plane at our Stopover in Rabaul/Kokopo, the capital of East New Britain province. What was left was a bunch of 20 people and me. Me being the only white person. We landed right during a fantastic tropical sunset over all the little islands scattered off the coast of New Ireland.

I was greeted but Johannes, the VSA program manager who was showing me around. The house I was meant to move into is not available yet so VSA had a few difficulties finding a place for me to stay. I was meant to move into a temporary house until my actual house would be free but even this house is still occupied for another week or two. So Johannes accommodated me in a guest house called “Noxie’s”. It’s basic but really nice. The best thing is it includes meals. And the food is fantastic. They offer a buffet every night which will make me drool for the rest of my life just thinking about it. Tonight I had fresh lobster, shrimp, fish with potatoes, banana (cooked, raw and fried; apparently PNG has 50 species of bananas) and drinking coconuts. Since my visit to the Cook Islands I have become a bit of an addict when it comes to drinking coconuts so this is just paradise for me. I have sworn myself to have at least two every day. On my first night Johannes invited all the current VSA volunteers over for a welcome dinner. It was really interesting to meet all the other volunteers but quite a large number will leave soon. In a few weeks there will only be 4 of us.

Johannes showed me around town and helped me open a bank account. It was a lot of information to take in and I probably forgot half of it already. Especially the names of the people I was introduced to. We did visit the workplaces of all the volunteers and at least I have a good memory visually, so I know where everybody can be found. We also drove out to the Fisheries College and I was introduced to my future employer. I will start on Thursday, so I have one more day off before life becomes serious for me. Johannes leaves tomorrow and I will be on my own. Tonight I feasted on another load lobster and drinking coconuts. I also tried a beetlenut, which is a fruit the locals chew a lot. Apparently it is not very healthy, it makes you addicted and can give you throat cancer. One does feel sort of a kick but not too much. I thought this sounds like regular cigarettes and I should be fine. I hesitated because this fruit also makes your mouth red and it looks terrible. Many locals look like as if they have insanely bleeding gums. However, they explained to me that the red color comes from lime juice. They pour this over the nut and it enhances the effect but the chemical reaction makes everything red. In its natural state they are just white. So I had one. It tastes bitter but refreshing. I felt a bit light-headed for a short while but that was it. Then John, the owner of this place, showed us his pet saltwater crocodile in the large container just next to my room. I am not sure if the crocodile was there because I had eaten the beetlenut or not. Tomorrow morning I will check first thing if the crocodile exists or not. If it doesn’t I’ll buy a whole load of those nuts. But I’m pretty sure its there. I think.

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