Monday, 13 May 2013

Barbed Wire Paradise

“Welcome to the Jungle Baby”

Google Port Moresby and you might see a few palm trees and some beaches, but you are more likely to get crime statistics and you tube videos on the security risks. Security is a big deal here and that has a huge impact on personal freedom, particularly for women.
I live in a compound. The house is painted breeze block and we have bars on our windows and doors. With the addition of the mesh to keep out insects, it can be a little claustrophobic. I refer to my housemates as inmates and I’ve bought a tin mug to rattle on the bars. We have a garden with a banana tree, mango tree and some very beautiful flowers. We also have a ten foot high gate and a fence right round the compound with razor wire covering all of it. It’s a common sight to see stunning orchids growing up to hide barbed wire and unsightly security fences.

So far I’ve not had any trouble, apart from a preacher man in one market shouting at me for wearing ‘men’s trousers’. Apparently that’s what has caused so much trouble in the world! Last week I was at Koki market getting some shopping. The supermarkets are so expensive so it really is the best way to shop. I can get fresh fish, cooking bananas and coconut for a few kina.

 Everyone was very friendly and the atmosphere was pleasant and laid back. It’s fascinating, however, to see how quickly it erupts here. Only an hour or so later the same place was the scene of violent disturbances, stalls set on fire and betal nut sellers being chased with sticks. In PNG you don’t know what on earth is going to happen next. This can be wonderful because the surprise might be your colleagues suddenly rushing you into the car park to see an eclipse, 100 bats coming in to roost or someone just handing you a foot long fish. Sometimes however it can be scary, so I lock my doors, drive with the windows up and generally remember that what might just be an argument in some places becomes a bit more serious when the arguing factions have bush knives.
It’s hard not to get paranoid. Security services are big business here. POM is full of white Toyotas proudly bearing their ‘Baby Glock on board’ stickers, or moving in convey with Semi Automatic rifles on display. 

Driving schools have banners that say ‘drive to survive’. Going anywhere is a mission. I’m not supposed to walk anywhere but taxis are unreliable, they don’t turn up and occasionally the drivers are ‘Spark’ (drunk). At night we have a security guard on the gate to check comings and goings but to be honest I don’t do a lot of going anywhere at night.
This Sunday morning I got a bit too stir crazy and went to find a church. Working on the principle that it was too early for drunks or Rascals - I took only my mobile phone, personal alarm and two kina for collection. It was hot, and the road is a dust track but it was a joy to be outside walking. Everyone I met said hello and were impressed with my hunt for a church “me lukim long Baptis Church bilong Jesus”. The neighbours were lovely and I ended up having a lovely afternoon tea with people from the church. It reminded me that the problems in POM are caused by a few people, who have very tough lives, with very little hope. I hope that my contribution to improving literacy for the street boys might just be one small part of the solution. I’m thankful that I am safe and just a bit bored on ‘Prison Sundays’. I do however spend a lot of time sitting on my balcony listening to Guns and Roses, reading the Count of Monte Cristo and planning my escape. 

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