Today is our last full day in Buka. Ali and I are leaving tomorrow and traveling to Port Moresby, then on to Australia for a bit of R&R before finally heading home. We’ve done quite a bit of work, met some amazing people, had a few adventures, and had a lot of fun along the way! I’m so glad I was able to come here, and I hope that I’ll be able to return before too long and see the progress our partners are making.
This will be my last post from Papua New Guinea, but once I return home, I plan to go through the hundreds (literally!) of photos I took and share the best ones. I’ll put up a new post with links to photos once they’re ready in addition to adding photos to some of these posts. In the meantime, here are a few more “story snapshots” for you to enjoy.
* Ali and I attempted to do some souvenir shopping during our last few days in Buka, but our options are a little limited. The things for sale in and around town—at the town pharmacy, supermarket, local outdoor market, or roadside stands—are primarily just the everyday things people eat or use. So, there’s a lot of fruits and vegetables and everyday items, like toiletries and housewares. Ali and I went to the outdoor market, but mostly its vegetables and fruits for sale. But at one end, there are a few vendors selling baskets, sarongs, and shell necklaces. The baskets are beautiful, and they told us they most of them were made in southern Bougainville and brought up from there. Some of them are quite large, so while I fell in love with a few big ones, I knew I couldn’t fit them in my bag and that they would never have survived the journey home. The bigger baskets that had lids reminded me a little of the sweetgrass baskets that can be found at home in Charleston and the South Carolina coast. But there are also other types of baskets that look more like half-moons. Ali and I have noticed that the local men carry around very simple woven baskets that are flat and resemble purses—they often use them to carry newspapers or other items. Accessories aren’t just for women here! I had been hoping to find some of the simple baskets that the men carry, but I haven’t seen any for sale. But I did pick up some beautiful smaller baskets. I’ve also noticed that many of the locals wear necklaces made of a certain type of dark shell (the shell is cut into small, thin rings and stacked) and the necklace ends in the front with two beads that resemble nuts. Both men and women wear them. I bought one for myself, and since I started wearing it, I’ve had four different people compliment me on it. I think they like that I’m wearing a local fashion. Update: I tried to bring several seed necklaces home to give as gifts, but Australian customs wouldn’t let me bring them in. Their border controls are really tight for bio-security, and they were concerned that the seeds could be planted (which was annoying since they were attached to necklaces and were covered in some kind of varnish, not to mention that I was transporting them to the US, but anyway… ). So, they insisted on confiscating the seed portions of the necklace. 😦
* This past Friday was a government payday, so we knew that we were going to have to leave the office and get to the guest house well before dark because people were going to start drinking heavily and crowds might become unpredictable. Ali and I had started to become accustomed to walking around town, but we were still wary of walking around close to dark and knew that some days were more high-risk than others. This Friday, as the workday drew to a close, we could feel a different vibe in the air—something was going on. Our Chief of Party, Wilson, was walking us home and seemed to feel that we needed to move with a little more urgency than usual, plus he took us a different route to avoid some crowds. As we turned down a side street that would take us to the main road and to our guest house, we saw a very large crowd was gathering in the street, which made me feel a little nervous. Suddenly, we heard some shouting, more like a roar, coming from an open area to our left, opposite the direction we were headed. Everyone was looking that way, and that was where most other pedestrians were headed. We realized that a crude stage had been constructed in what is usually an open area with a blue tarp over it. A boxing match was beginning. I didn’t see much of the fight because Wilson was urging us onward, but the crowd was clearly enjoying the entertainment and we could feel the energy—it was both exciting and unsettling. Although I would have liked to stay and observe, I felt relieved to be in the safety of the guest house when we arrived and night fell.
* I can’t get my clothes to dry! I’m starting to get used to wearing damp clothes, although I don’t think it will ever be a particularly pleasant sensation to pull on damp underwear or pants, even when it is very hot out. After we wash our clothes, we hang them out to dry on a rope line that is strung across the top of each of our balconies. It is very convenient to have our own private drying line (except when one accidentally drops a pair of one’s underpants over the railing into the ocean, as one recently did… oops). When it is hot and sunny, it works great. However, for the past week and a half, this has also been very frustrating because I’ll hang my clothes out and they’ll nearly be dry when yet another fierce rain squall will blow through. It is incredibly frustrating to know that my clean clothes were almost dry and are now drenched by the sudden rainstorm. Gah! Ali and I have started saying we might just start walking around with soap in our pockets, so that we can wash our clothes while we walk around and not worry about trying to get them dry.
* There are three beer choices in the local restaurant: “green can,” “white can,” and “blue can.” They are all local brews, and are all light lagers. The best I can tell, “Blue can” is their “ice” version, like “Bud Ice,” and has a slightly higher alcohol content. “White can” is really “South Pacific Export,” it has been my go-to beer. It’s a pretty pleasant brew and perfect for Buka’s hot and humid evenings. “Green can” is another Papua New Guinea “SP” lager beer. Truthfully, I can’t tell much difference among them. Either way, I have enjoyed the opportunity to sample the local beers and relax from time to time with a cold brew at the end of a hot day.
* Coca-cola has definitely made its mark here in Bougainville. There are Coca-cola brand coolers in the supermarket, pharmacy, and local restaurants as well as cases and cases full of Coke. During one of our journeys across Buka Passage, we were climbing into one of the banana boats that ferries people across the water for a fee when I noticed another banana boat arriving that was piled full of cases of Coke. You can even get Coke Zero from the local restaurant, if you want! Fanta and other fruit flavored sodas are also popular—orange, lime (which practically looks nuclear when the green liquid is poured in a glass), grape, and cherry. We even got a good giggle when we were offered a “Creaming Soda,” which appears to be their version of “Cream Soda.” However, they are decidedly lacking in lemonade, which I consider a major oversight. But if you prefer to go with a local brand, there’s a brown soda that is sold in red and white cans—a white can with red writing—called “Go-Go” Cola. Go-go Cola. Co-ca Cola. Get it?
* Every now and then, Ali and I realize that we understand a sign that has been written in pidgin. For example, the other morning we were walking to the office when we passed a Digicel sign that advertised the small store as a place to add credit to mobile phones, which is referred to as “topping up.” We’ve passed it every morning on our way to the office, and we knew what it was advertising because it has the Digicel logo and colors. But it wasn’t until the other morning that it suddenly hit me: “Top Ap Hia” means “Top Up Here.” Ha!
* Tom, our M&E Manager, brought Ali and me a small gift from the market the other day—some fresh fruit! But Ali and I weren’t sure what they were. They looked just like tangerines or oranges, but the skins were bright green colored like limes! Turns out, they are tangerines and tasted just like them. We really enjoyed the fresh, tart, juicy snack. But it was funny to open up the green fruit and find the orange inside.
* The owner and landlord of our office building came back from a trip a couple of weeks ago with two small parrots. Apparently, these small parrots live wild in one of the southern jungles, and he captured them to keep as pets. One is a brilliant green, and the other is a ruby red, and they both have blue accents. Their tails are clipped to keep them from flying away, and to be honest, they look a little rough around the edges. The feathers on their heads look really fuzzy (like they just woke up and need to tame their hair), and their body feathers a bit over-ruffled. The landlord keeps the birds outdoors, sitting on a makeshift perch that hangs from underneath the eaves of one of neighboring buildings. On hotter days, he shifts them over to a nearby shrubbery, but I don’t think it is much cooler over there, as it is more like a very tall, leafy bush than a tree and gets a lot of direct sunlight. I don’t think the parrots are particularly happy with their new home. They squawk quite a bit during the day, sounding as crabby, irritated and nonplussed as their ruffled feathers make them look. I pity them, but I also think they are really cute. I’ve tried to make friends with them, but each time I approach, they go silent and just stare at me as though daring me to disappear. They stay still until I walk away, although the red one will sometimes side-step and bob his head a little. Great minds think alike, because the other day, Ali walked over while I was in front of them, and I turned to tell her I thought we should call them Larry and Mo. She burst out laughing and said, “I was just thinking the same thing!”
* Ali and I have made friends with at least two of the local waitstaff at Reasons, the only restaurant that caters to expats in Buka, because we’re there nearly every day. It’s the only place where we can get steady Internet access outside of the office and it’s the only place where we can get dinner. Two waitstaff in particular have been incredibly friendly and kind. Alfonse introduced himself early on and was very amused at Ali’s name because he let us know that his friends usually call him Ali! But while Alfonse didn’t speak a lot of English, he’s incredibly enthusiastic when he sees us, welcoming us and always checking on us with a huge smile, a big thumbs up, and a ready laugh. We always look forward to seeing him. We also enjoy seeing Soditha, who memorized our names the first time we met her. She would greet us by name when she saw us in the restaurant or in the street, and she always took time to teach us local pidgin phrases for greeting friends or saying different things. Soditha, who is short in stature but big in spirit, told us about living briefly in Port Moresby for university and how she prefers the small town of Buka because she can live more freely and in greater safety. She is pregnant with her first child and will be having a baby soon–exciting! Getting to know Soditha and feeling welcomed by her has definitely been one of the highlights of our time in Buka.