Voodoo People

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This is a poster on the wall of the hospital in Alotau. I think it pretty much sums up the PNG views on health and sanitation!

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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.

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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.

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…

Sunny Afternoon / Madness

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It was my last day at Mando today. The kids put on a spectacular show! Groups of them had dressed up in various local traditional costumes: Mud men – covered in mud, giving them a ‘white’ appearance and then fairly creepy masks with real teeth; Moko Moko men – orange and white mud striped, with a dance consisting of smacking their backsides whilst singing “moko moko; sinahime men – covered completely in pitch black mud and singing a chant whilst they walk around in a line and lastly the traditional bilas which they dressed me up in the Saturday before last. It was breathtaking! The teachers had actually made the effort to come in today. Even the board members were there to see me off. They each gave long speeches and then asked me to give one. Unfortunately there was a black out mid way through my improvised speech cutting off the (pretty crap) microphone and leaving me in the embarrassing position of having to just shout through the rest. The children then came up to me one by one and piled presents on me: various shell and bead necklaces, bilums, spears, mud men masks, mud jewellery!, traditional clothing etc. I was really overwhelmed by the whole thing! We then waited around for three hours (this is still PNG, after all) and then had a feast with the staff where they gave me yet more presents and then I finally made my way home with my hoard! Yet another incredible day.