Tuesday, March 10, 2009

PNG humor

Sometimes I just don’t get Papua New Guinean humor. Sometimes I laugh at the same things that make Papua New Guineans laugh, but perhaps not for the same reasons. Sometimes I find myself laughing simply because I’m taking part of something so completely unexpected that I don’t know how else to react. Let me give you an example.

First here are some brief disclaimers and background information. This is a story that involves nudity. For this reason (and also because I didn’t think fast enough to grab my camera) there are no photos attached. Nudity is much less shocking here in PNG than it is at home. Kids often prefer to run around naked until age 5 or so. While young women are usually careful to be modest, it’s not uncommon to see the breasts of mothers. Children are breastfed frequently throughout the day and are usually not weaned until they are at least two years old. During the 5 weeks we lived in Karmanang village, we probably saw the breasts of half of the women who lived there. “Susu” is the Tok Pisin word for milk. It’s also the word for breast, and the verb to breastfeed. Lastly, children in Papua New Guinea tend to play with sharp objects from a very early age. No one here freaks out if they see a two-year-old playing with a large knife.

This past weekend, Brian and I spent the night in the village where we lived for 5 weeks during our orientation. We spent the entire day Saturday sitting in the shade and just hanging out and talking with our was family and other village friends.

The baby of the family is Esther, a girl who is a little more than a year old. Much of the family’s entertainment involves playing with Esther. On this particular day, the game involved “chasing” Esther with a small pair of garden clippers with a curved blade, which actually did look like a sinister little mouth opening and closing as they slid it across the floor towards her, telling her that the creature was going to eat her. Of course Esther was frightened (though she knew it was a game and was enjoying it too) and everyone thought it was hilarious.

I had turned away and was talking to someone else when I heard Esther’s mom say in the background, “Esther! Susu!” Surely not… I thought to myself. But when I turned, sure enough, there was Esther’s mom, shirt pulled up and exposing her breasts, with the open blade of the garden shears around her nipple. With everyone egging her on, Esther finally got up the courage to come close, but as soon as she got near to the breast, her mom exclaimed, “it’s going to bite your mouth!” Brian and I exchanged a look of disbelief and laughed along with everyone, though I think both of us were worried that someone would make a sudden move and mom’s susu would be permanently damaged. No one else seemed concerned, and it didn’t seem to discourage Esther from breastfeeding later.

Only in PNG! Papua New Guineans love to laugh, and that’s one of the reasons why life here is seldom boring.

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