Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Garden Kaikai

Kaikai, in Tok Pisin, means “food.” People often refer to the traditional Papua New Guinean meal as “gaden kaikai” because the majority of Papua New Guineans subsist mainly on what they grow in their own gardens.

Pictured above is a meal that we were served at a funeral while we were living in the village. On the left you see a bowl of what looks like potatoes. They are actually a variety of sweet potato; topped with greens (specifically, young pumpkin leaves). That is a typical meal for many Papua New Guineans. They will boil sweet potatoes, cooking bananas or taro in coconut cream or water, and top them with boiled greens. They may or may not have meat, such as chicken, wild game, fish, or on special occasions, like this funeral, pork.

You can also see that they have rice. In our experience, Papua New Guineans love rice. But for most people, rice is somewhat of a luxury because they have to buy it. However, some people are now learning how to plant dry land rice in their gardens.

For the most part, we enjoyed garden kaikai, though we found it a bit monotonous, being spoiled as we are by the variety we are used to at home. But Papua New Guineans are wonderfully self-sufficient. They may get a paying job in town for a time, but if they tire of having a set schedule or of not being their own boss, they can always go back to their land and work their gardens. Most places in Papua New Guinea are not prone to drought or similar problems, and so living off of the land is a pretty secure lifestyle.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Brief History of PNG

Since many of you know about as much about Papua New Guinea as I did two years ago (i.e. nothing), I’ve decided to take you on a brief tour of some important dates in PNG history. These excerpts are taken from a handout that we got in our orientation course.

Taim Bipo Bipo Tru (a long long time ago)
The first people arrive on canoes and rafts, probably from Asia. Gradually some move to the Highlands.

Taim Bipo (a long time ago)
Some traders bring over pigs which become like money in the Highlands. They are used for ceremonies, bride prices, etc. PIGS=WEALTH. Kaukau (sweet potato) is brought in later and becomes the main food source for the Highlands.

Jorge de Menesos sails by the south coast of PNG on his way to Portugal. He notices the people’s frizzy hair and gives them the name “Papuans” (which means “frizzy hair.”)

People on the islands and coastal regions discover Dutch explorers. They are amazed by the strange sight of people with white skin in odd canoes carrying wonderful stuff. They try to explain it all through myths and legends.

People notice that the “white skins” begin to stay – colonists who make them work on plantations and missionaries who give them the Gospel of Jesus. Some people fight with the “white skins” and some are friendly. Some are kidnapped by slave traders.

People in the North are told that they live in New Guinea and that they belong to Germany. People in the South are told that they live in Papua and they belong to Great Britain.

People in Papua (the South) are told that their new masters are the Australians.

People in New Guinea (the North) are told that they belong to Australia too, because Germany started a war somewhere.

1920’s and 30’s
People in the Highlands discover white skins for the first time. They are scared and confused and many think that their dead ancestors have turned white and have come back to them. They soon realize that they are only human.

1942 - 1945
Japanese invade and take over much of the North coast and try to take Port Moresby (the capital in the South). People hide in the bush and caves as their villages and gardens are destroyed. Many people die. Many people become involved in the war as soldiers, carriers and laborers for Australian forces. They are remembered as heroes for their bravery and are nicknamed “Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels”.

Australia forms Local Governments so the people are ruled by their own leaders again (sort of).

Papuans and New Guineans are allowed to vote in a national election for the first time.

Australia allows Papuans and New Guineans to govern themselves in national government (with Australia’s help).

Papuans and New Guineans take down the Australian flag and put up their own new flag and peacefully become the independent nation of Papua New Guinea.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Land of the Unexpected

PNG’s nickname is “The Land of the Unexpected.” It’s very apt. I (Brian) went to work in the Industrial Department on my first day with the expectation that I would spend the day cleaning out my office, reading up on the equipment that I will be fixing, and just getting organized.

You can imagine my surprise when an employee from the local bank showed up at the shop with a full police escort. They had come to meet a shipment of money for the bank at the airstrip (hence the heavily-armed police) but decided that since they were in the neighborhood, they would ask another favor. You see, back in town there was a semi truck parked in front of the bank with three new ATM machines waiting to be unloaded – but they had no equipment to unload them with! So they asked if we could follow them back into town with our loader to help them out. “Why not?” we said.

So, I found myself driving into town with my boss, while another employee followed us with the loader. There was a huge crowd of people outside of the fence surrounding the bank, watching the proceedings. It was a bit tricky maneuvering the heavy ATMs from the truck to the front step of the bank, where we placed them on rollers so that they could be re-positioned later. Even though the bank was closed for the day, they let my boss inside to do some banking because we were giving them a hand.

Later, I told my story to another expat who has been in PNG for some time. I was expecting her to be astonished at my unexpected activities for the day, but her astonishment was reserved for another detail. “They have ATMs in Kainantu now?!!”

$6.40 for a gallon of milk

(Disclaimer: This is the part of the blog where I (Susan) display my complete ignorance on the current state of affairs in my home country. I’ve been way out of touch for about 4 months, but when I left home, everyone was concerned with the rising cost of food items like milk. You were lucky to find milk for $3.50 per gallon back in August. I don’t really know the current price of milk in the U.S. I have heard that gas prices have decreased dramatically in my absence, so maybe milk is flowing freely now too.)

I guess one of the harder things for me to adjust to in Papua New Guinea is the fact that I’m living in a third-world country, and yet the cost of living is not as cheap as you would think. When I was in Indonesia in 2003, the exchange rate was about 9,000 rupiah to one U.S. dollar. This meant that I could take a public bus to anywhere in the city for about 9 cents. I paid the same price for an ice cream cone at MacDonald’s.

But here in Papua New Guinea, anything that is imported (which in this country is a LOT of things) is priced to reflect that. I was shocked to see that staples such as flour, sugar and oatmeal are significantly more expensive here than they are in the U.S. Yesterday, as Brian and I were eating our (imported) corn flakes and enjoying our (imported) boxed, UHT (ultra-heat-treated), long-life milk, I began to wonder how much it was costing us to have a typical American breakfast.

We buy milk in liters here, and I had to convert from kina to dollars, but I double checked my math and I came up with a price of $6.40 for a gallon of milk. Using powdered milk is about the same price as using boxed. Makes you think twice about making that Jell-O instant pudding, doesn’t it?

To be fair, other costs of living are a lot lower here. We pay less on rent, and since we don’t own a car (though Brian is trying to convince me that needs to change) we save on insurance and gasoline. There is also a wonderful market three mornings a week where the locals bring fresh produce to sell. You can buy beautiful tomatoes, carrots, lettuce, broccoli, potatoes and even strawberries. Not to mention the fact that you can get things here for cheap that would be very pricey in the States (avocados, pineapples, papaya and passion fruit). The previous occupants of the house we are renting left a garden with pineapples, lettuce, pumpkin, bananas and some herbs. There’s even a lemon tree in the front yard! So really we’re quite fortunate. Our yard man cut a bunch of bananas off of one of our trees last week, and when I say “bunch” I mean a whole stalk with about 100 bananas on it. They all decided to ripen today at the same time, so now I am desperately trying to use them or give them away. Maybe Brian will have to have bananas tomorrow for breakfast instead of corn flakes and milk.