“Imap me kissim wanpela, gutpela pineapple me givim long Governor General”
Imagine a country where the roads out of the capital city don’t really connect with anywhere else in the country. It makes transporting people and food rather tricky. When I contacted my new team in Port Moresby and asked if I could bring anything with me when I travelled from Madang they requested a pineapple for the Governors General’s visit (affectionately referred to as GG here in PNG). The story of the procurement and transport of said fruit is a wonderful example of the challenges of daily life here. Firstly I am not supposed to go to the market unaccompanied so I had to find someone to come with me and no one was available, a lovely local offered to go on my behalf but she reported back from the market that due to the rain, the roads were difficult and there were no pineapples at the market fit for the important lady! Fortunately in my discussions with the staff at the Lodge it was discovered that there was a fine example of a pineapple in the fridge and as it was for the GG then it would be possible to sell this to me for 10 Kina.
So the following day I left beautiful Madang for the airport (one room, one runway, security was a trestle table) with a pineapple wrapped like a baby in my arms. Security wondered why my fruit wasn’t travelling in the hold with all the other produce “Pineapple bilong Governor General” obviously worked but the pineapple and I were not upgraded, mostly because on a Fokker there is nothing but cattle class. “If it’s not Boeing, I’m not going” won’t work here in PNG. All the passengers were transporting food and the valuable Betal nut to the city (Bwui). This is an immensely fertile country yet the transport systems limits the effectiveness of food transport. The shops in Port Moresby have food- imported from New Zealand and Australia.
On the plane I sat next to a gentleman from the Sepic area of PNG who spent the entire flight sharing the stories of his tribe with me in a mix of Tok Ples, Tok Pisin and some English. Be warned – if someone starts a conversation with 'before, before, before', it’s going to take up the whole flight! This is where I learned my favourite phrase so far, maus warer- translated it means mouth water (you talk a lot) from the lady sat the other side of me. My two companions treated the pineapple with a great deal of respect as did the customs officers on landing, in the scrum that is baggage handling. They have a brilliant system here. To leave the airport you have to present your luggage receipt with corresponding luggage – to prove you haven’t stolen anyone’s baggage! So the pineapple and I made it to Port Moresby and I was glad to be met by my Wantok – Luke (He does not speak my language – he is a Scouser!)
The following day was rehearsal for the GG visit and it was joyful to be straight into working with the children on my first day in the job. Working with one of the librarians we devised a little ‘phonics’ play. The children were so well behaved, lined up nicely for drinks and an apple and worked really hard at their performances.
The actual visit was a joy. We were there early setting up the stage with displays of plants and fruit, a red carpet and the children all in their national costume. I chatted to them about the fact that each costume was from a specific region and one family were so proud to be meeting the GG they had sent grandmother (Bubu Meri) on the plane with an awesome costume for the children. This would have been funded by a major collection from all the tribe back home to afford this. I made my first public announcement in Tok Pisin “Meri belong Prime Minister em come long , all sindaun”. Not quite right but the parents laughed and came to sit. I met the Prime Minister a week earlier, whilst in my swimming clothes and I now met his wife whilst making a fool of myself. I cannot imagine the Camerons being that approachable. As the VIPs began to arrive I made an interesting observation. On the VIP side of the red carpet everyone was white, apart from the Prime Minister’s wife. On the other side the librarians, families and children were all locals and I was the only white person, like yin and yang. I may return to this in later blogs – It’s too early for me to comment.
The GG was lovely with the children and was visibly moved by their performances and their reading. When she came to sit right in the middle of the group of children it made everyone’s day. A visit like this is a great boost for the charity but also special for the children and their families. I felt really honoured to stand along the carpet to say goodbye with the children and librarians, already feeling welcomed into the team. It was a great first week in the job, but I never found out if she liked the pineapple J