Fresh Pair Of Eyes

“Medicine is not only a science; it is also an art. It does not consist of compounding pills and plasters; it deals with the very processes of life, which must be understood before they may be guided. “
– Paracelsus

I thought I’d take a moment to recount some of the experiences and stories that Anna and Hannah have stumbled upon during their two months in South East Papua New Guinea. They have been working in a hospital for their medical elective – firstly in coastal Alotau and latterly on Goodenough Island, one of the D’Entrecasteaux Islands in the Milne Bay Province. It’s interesting to hear about the PNG culture from a totally different perspective. The highlanders are still viewed by many of the coastal folk as complete savages! An Australian called David who’s been working with the palm oil plantations for the past 18 months described his first encounter: He had just arrived in PNG and was staying at a hotel in Port Moresby. The first time he ventured out of the house he saw a ‘rascal’ (generic name for thieves or troublemakers) attempt to pick-pocket a highland man in full traditional dress. The highlander grabbed the rascal’s hand, cut off his arm with a bush knife, threw it on the floor and carried on his way. Nobody else on the street batted an eyelid. David retreated immediately to his hotel where he remained for the rest of his stay!
Anna and Hannah were staying in similar accommodation to me, partly with a Pastor and his family in their little family-run church and partly in the hospital’s accommodation on the island with four other Slovenian students. They made up the only six doctors on the island. The doctor-patient confidentiality in PNG is not quite as rigid as the system at home; whilst they were doing the procedure for contraceptive implants they had a stream of spectators wandering in to watch or take photos. As an example of the sort of cases they dealt with a young boy was brought it who had fallen six metres out of a coconut tree. They were trying to pacify him, worried that he’d ruptured his spleen, but he didn’t seem to grasp the concept of staying still and kept trying to get up to go to the market!
They also spent some time in a rural aid post in a stilted wooden hut. Every morning a man would blow a conch to summon the families from across the local area and mountains to bring their children down for inspection. They would weigh the kids in a big sack hanging from the roof with the equivalent of supermarket scales!
They also similarly had interactions concerning witchcraft: A young lady called Sandii told them about her Uncle who ‘flew around the islands to eat people’. She was uneducated as apparently her Uncle had put a spell on her giving her a permanent headache and therefore preventing her from going to school as her dad owed him money. She’s now a yam farmer.
There’s a little flavour of their side of the PNG story.

Anna and Hannah with Trobriand facepaint.

Anna and Hannah with Trobriand facepaint.

The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning

The Beginning Is The End Is The Beginning

So my time in Papua New Guinea is finally over. Phase one complete. I’m currently in Brisbane preparing for my flight to Auckland tomorrow…re-shuffling my bags with completely different clothes suitable for ‘normal’ civilisation. I had a look in the … Continue reading

Soul Shake Down

So many ridiculous things have happened over the past couple of days that I’m starting to lose track. Yesterday, after the cancellation of the flight, I had my UCL interview over Skype. I’m not sure that I made any coherent sense at all. My mouth was seriously hurting as I’d tried betelnut in the morning; it was (I thought) my last day and betelnut is such a large part of the culture here – it would be like visiting Russia and not trying the vodka. Word of caution: Don’t ever try betelnut. I now have acid burns in my mouth from the disgusting stuff. Not pleasant.

This morning I eventually managed to get to Port Moresby where they arranged an alternative flight stopping overnight in Cairns. Luckily a relative of Wendy was in the area so took me to her house to wait. They have a pet crocodile called Ronda and a baby wallaby called Bali. Is that legal?! This is PNG though – they seem to make up their own rules. I eventually got on the flight to Cairns. I was assured that there would be somebody from the company to meet me at the airport. Inevitably there wasn’t. I arrived in a strange city in the dark into a completely empty airport with no plans until my flight at 5:30 the next morning.



I asked the only staff member in the terminal for some assistance – he phoned through and Air Niugini had not arranged anything at all. After he’d given up, the pilot from my flight (who is, I may add, ridiculously attractive – looks like Chris Pine. Looks in his late twenties.) then came through to arrivals and took pity on me. He stayed with me for a couple of hours ringing the various companies on his iphone. He managed to make an arrangement and drove me to an office at the domestic airport where there was someone waiting to take me to my accommodation. A little bit bizarre getting a lift from the pilot. I was embarrassingly wearing my PJ bottoms and walking boots. Not a good look. A sweaty day in hot PNG holding Wallabies added to my general ‘homeless’ appearance. Anyway, I then bumped into an old French man who was in the same situation as me – with accommodation arranged at the same Hotel so we waited for the shuttle bus together. He’s been doing research into biodiversity in Madang with the Prince of Monaco (among other people)! They’ve discovered 200 new species in their three month program. Incredible! Their most notable discovery was a bright orange deep sea crab (surprisingly large) which was named after the prince – Grimaldi. The man didn’t speak English so it was a great excuse to practice my French for the evening – he seemed incredibly relieved to find somebody who understood him! In general it’s nice to be able to talk to men without having to discuss marriage arrangements. Things had become so ridiculous in Goroka that Verena had to tell the community that I was in fact married, I just didn’t wear the ring. Incidentally, if anyone out there is worried about not finding a husband, head to PNG and you’ll be hitched within a week.

The Cairns hotel is very luxurious! Such a nice surprise! We had a fantastic meal of locally caught Barramundi. The only rooms left were ‘superior garden view’ rooms. There’s a beautiful pool made to look like a natural rock pool with arrangements of boulders, palm trees and little waterfalls dotted about. I’m pretty sure it was shut – it was completely deserted. Irresistible. It was so nice to cool off whilst star gazing with fruit bats swooping around a couple of metres above my head. Definately makes up for the complications.

Weapon Of Choice

As my time here draws to a close, I’m carefully abiding to the Papua New Guinean motto: ‘Expect the unexpected.’ My communication with UCL following their invitation for an interview this November in London (Great, but also very impossible) has led to the arrangement for an interview over Skype tomorrow at 19.40 PNG time (9.40 in England). I’m incredibly grateful that the time difference is not at all inconvenient; I was not relishing the idea of waking up at 4:00 to answer questions about my life story. I will be (hopefully) flying to boiling Port Moresby tomorrow so with any luck, I’ll be able to find some internet there! I’ve spent today trying to remember what I included in my personal statement…not easy! The frustrating thing is that UCL offered me a place when I first applied but I turned it down. Hopefully they won’t remember but one of the inconveniences of having such a strange name as ‘ffrench-Constant’ is that it doesn’t blend in as well as your average ‘Smith’ or ‘Richards’.

I’ve also spent the day debating which of my gifts to risk taking through the labyrinth that is Australian customs. I’ve taken out any items with seeds on them (usually in the form of beads) and bilas with fur or feathers on – I’m going to try to post them home! I’m risking taking my 10 spears and other bits and bobs including bow and arrows through customs. I’m not particularly optimistic but we’ll see!

Thalia and I have just been listening to Verena reading German advent stories under candle light. I’m going to miss this family.



Crocodile Rock

Perhaps I was slightly over dramatic last night. Madang is gorgeous. When I woke up in the morning I realised that we are literally a couple of metres from the sea. It really took me by surprise! We drove up the coast picking up increasingly larger numbers of Mrs Nomino’s relatives until the car was packed up like taking pigs to market. I tried some fruits that I hadn’t even heard of: Laulau, which is a very strange fruit a little bit like a pear but with a large seed like an avocado. Delicious. Also these strange swollen little bananas which were white and tasted oddly milky. We stopped off at a couple of points to get in the water. It was so nice to be in the sea again, I didn’t realise how much I missed it. I happily passed away a couple of hours meandering through the beautiful reef (thankfully Verena leant me a snorkel). It was surprisingly good – the variety of enormous, vibrant coral formations were to rival the Maldives (Unfortunately the water was significantly murkier though!) I managed to find a little nudibranc which brought back fond memories of Pemba Island and at one point came face to face with a large eel less than half a metre away – That’s what you get for diving down to look in the little caves in the reef! The area really was spectacular, with dark volcanic sand between thick rainforest and turquoise sea. Every now and then a few flying foxes would spring out from the tree tops and fly passed us.

One sun-burnt back and a couple of reef cuts later we headed back to the house, drinking from some coconuts that we picked up on the way. The sun was setting when we arrived back and the water was irresistible. The fact that it’s prime crocodile territory here was not a strong enough deterrent.


Whispers In The Dark

These people are out of their minds. I’ve spent the whole day on the road with the C.C.C (Crazy Christian Clan a.k.a the headmistress’ family) driving to Madang, on the coast of PNG. The drive itself was spectacular. The culmination of different textures and colours in the foliage here is extraordinary. We eventually descended from the highlands into thick rainforest. Imagine bouncing along at 80 k along a dirt track through the jungle whilst trying to eat a watermelon out of the window. Hilarious. Anyway, Mrs Nomino had told me that we would be staying in a Lutheran guest house in Madang. It transpires that this was just what she hoped to do. The guest houses were all full due to the approaching Christmas holidays and the hotels and lodges were obscenely expensive (around 500 Kina a night – around £250). The C.C.C was moving at an incredibly glacial pace considering the situation, for example spending an hour chatting to an old friend on the phone… I plucked up the courage to rudely ask if we could stay with Mrs Nomino’s sister who lives in Madang (honestly I’d been wondering why it hadn’t been suggested three hours earlier). They eventually came to the conclusion that this would be OK.

Seriously. It was like the meeting of the Ents in Lord of the Rings.

So, we got back into the car when Mr Nomino proceeded to tell me that this was a very dangerous place and that we needed to wind up the windows in case some of the strangers from other provinces try to shoot at us with guns, which is happening very frequently at the moment.

That really calmed me down.

I was then scanning the road whilst trying to shove down some food and getting indigestion whenever I saw a man or group of men at the side of the road. To exacerbate things the C.C.C where then explaining that this is the most common place for road accidents as the roads and bridges are very bad, probably due to angry spirits. The cherry on top of this escalating state of terror was Mr Nomino telling me that Margaret had asked the headmistress for money and that “there is something possessing that woman and the whole community knows it.” Oh MY GOD!! I’m now sat on the floor of Mrs Nomino’s sister’s house (if you can call it that) in the middle of the PNG WW2 cemetery. I’m sweating so much that I could be mistaken for a water feature – it’s ridiculously hot here and the entire clan are sleeping on the floor around me…