Sunday, August 30, 2015

Guest Post: A view from the outside

Last month, Bryce's mum, Anne visited him in Port Moresby. We asked Anne if she would like to write a guest post for the blog sharing her experience over there! 

I would like to preface Anne's post with that what you read may cause some of you to worry about our safety.  While the outward view of security is ever present (as described), I have never once felt unsafe in Port Moresby. Of course it is considered to be one of the more dangerous places in the world which we do not take lightly and I owe much of my sense of security to Bryce's vigilance. So rest assured!

And with that, I'll hand it over!
Getting greeted by a bevy of hotel sign wavers and treated like a dignitary is an interesting way to start a holiday.

The hotel limo arrived and it was a short trip to the hotel where Bryce was staying. I was surprised by how many people were walking along the streets. A number of women were carrying bags hanging off their heads or just on their heads (big bag of rice). Men and boys with machetes held across their shoulders like we carry around our mobile phones. No wonder there are so many fights with people suffering machete chops. 

The hotel entry gate, garden and outside foyer had guards everywhere. Two of the guys on the road side of the closed gate, had bullet proof vests and two of the multiple inside guards had shot guns. There were guards in the bushes in the garden area too. So - there were at least two outside the gate, four inside the gate and 6 or more in the foyer and car park.

Alongside the road from the airport, there was a high galvanized iron sheet fence protecting the airport property. In one spot there was a small window sized square cut out of the galvanized sheet fence with a grill (concrete reinforcing) and behind that was a shop and people bought drinks, sweets?, whatever it was, through this small hole in the wall. It was quite busy too.

On an orientation drive into Port Moresby proper, I was gob-smacked by the extent of the litter. Not only was it generalized litter but great piles of it too. The trip into Moresby revealed a city drowning in litter. It’s everywhere. Burnt patches of fire circles are everywhere too. There was a playing oval with burnt circles all around the perimeters of the field.
Many of the roadside stalls had betel nuts but Bryce said that they weren’t allowed to chew and spit it in public in PM any more. It’s a habit that is hard to disguise with the staining of the mouth and teeth so evident

There were so many people wandering around and it made it understandable why drivers have to keep their cars locked and some have two way radios to connect with base whenever they leave their house. The driver is expected to provide a destination and expected time of arrival there. When the destination is actually reached it must be reported in to base. There were literally thousands of people mooching around. There are no bikes or motor bikes used in Port Moresby. The buses are either mini buses or trucks with benches running the length of the tray and a canvas cover overhead. The taxis were pretty dubious. One beauty didn’t have a straight piece of metal in the body work. It gave the appearance of having been hammered over the entire body of the vehicle. I was advised to organize any trips through the hotel reception where an accompanying guard will be provided.

The supermarkets in the downtown area were more like concrete bunkers. Not like the glass fronted multiple doored varieties we have in Oz. Like a concrete block with an IN door and an OUT door and the guards ensuring no one went in the wrong door. A general drive around Moresby showed private properties with high fences with multiple strands of razor wire on top and some had a further meter of electrified wire fencing above that. Most had guards at the gates as well. 
Because the Pacific Games were in progress whilst I was there, I was actually seeing the sanitized version of Moresby! Several places had removed some of their layers of external security to present a better image for Games visitors. 

There are lots of people everywhere all day and night - hordes of people. There are ramshackle little street stalls with what looks like the whole family there for the day – dozens of people around one little store with seemingly very little to sell. 

We proceeded to the Yacht Club to join the WAGS which is a group who sign up to go sailing together, supported and encouraged by the yacht club with pizzas provided after the sailing event. There were 8 of us all up and a very entertaining sail with lots of good yarns from the group of diverse leaders in the PNG industries. They pointed out a newly finished high rise building which was very nice. Only snag…it was built by the Chinese with Chinese workers and all material provided and delivered by ships from China – only trouble was, it was an asbestos building and no one would go into the building. Apparently China still manufactures and uses asbestos sheets unreservedly. After sailing for several hours we moored in the Marina and went to the yacht club for pizza provided by the yacht club. The pizzas were massive and pretty good too.

As a day trip, I accompanied Bryce to a location outside of Moresby. Initially the surrounds departing town were quite scary, overcrowded squalor but as we got further out, even though most residences were of the recycled galvanized iron variety -surrounded by a rubbish tip and lots of clothes on a clothesline – there was a least some green jungle surrounds. Many were set very high off the ground. No windows to speak of (there was the place where they could go - just minus the glass). People were still walking along the road in the middle of no-where. 

The location we were at, had seen better days. There was the standard motel size room with 9 chairs, a desk, 1x queen bed and 1x double bed (one looked like it may have been slept in). The headboards were plastic wrapped. As we approached, it seemed as though something had died near the stairwell and the smell of dog was very strong as I ascended the stairs. The culprit was sitting on the mat outside our unit’s door. All the dogs I saw were either male dogs or bitches that had recently had litters. The dogs are a small/medium thin breed of mongrel and not unattractive.

There was a café and a water front deck. The beach was of the grey sand and litter variety and the ocean lapped gently below the deck. There was an area of green grass but it mostly comprised fruit trees, bindis, dog poo and betel nut spit balls. We had an escort/guard car accompany us all the way there and it was supposed to return to escort us on our homeward trip back to town but seemed to forget to come back. Fortunately the trip was uneventful.

The newspaper makes interesting reading with people getting killed at every event. The government wants to ban State of Origin being screened because of the violence it provokes. About 11 dead and lots of injuries as a result of this year’s game.  

There was a report in the newspaper that a bus hit a man and the man’s family (wantok) was gathering to take revenge on any bus and driver from that company that drove past them and the police were trying to head them off. 

Friday was the trip for Bryce’s work as described above although I didn’t mention the drive through one of the huge slum areas. This area was one of the main reasons for the escort car. It didn’t feel very comfortable driving at 5km per hour around massive potholes and among the milling throng of local slum dwellers. Very unsettling and an excellent reason to always drive with the doors locked. I didn’t feel comfortable enough to take photos with people peering into the window that seemed to radiate that we were not welcome there. Fortunately we navigated through that area and the rest was mostly reasonable one lane each way road. Where there was a settlement of sorts, with several roadside vendors, the locals had dug away about a 30cm strip across the road as their own answer to speed bumps. These ditches were marked by a large rock placed on either side of the road to mark where the road was missing. Pretty bad news to hit them at high speed but luckily Bryce knew about that little catch for the unwary. He did, however, have to put his car in for repair at the end of the week as his tyres seemed low and probably one was flat. When his work car maintenance dude returned the car a few days later and reported that it was all fixed Bryce went down with him to check (he’d learned that trick too - of always checking stated facts) only to discover that the wrong tyre had been replaced and the flat one was still flat! 

On Saturday we traveled in convoy with a friend of Bryce’s and drove to Bomana war cemetery where something like 3,000 World War II Aussie soldiers were laid to rest. It looked as though the average age was in the 20s and there were a lot of unknown soldiers as well. As I looked out on the acres of headstones it made me realize what a big part the PNG connection played in World War II, especially as my dad served there. The War Cemetery is owned and maintained by Australia and was in excellent condition and in a well maintained setting. This was gated and guarded of course, and was surrounded by the expected slums proving to be a little oasis amidst the squalor.

Further along to a wonderful nature park that had a large collection of orchids and also some of the birds of PNG (caged). There were some very beautiful and exotic birds including cockatoos with blue eyes. There were very unusual tree kangaroos that looked like regular kangaroos but were high up in the branches of massive trees and sitting there like koalas. The grounds were pristine and beautiful. It cost the equivalent of $2.50 to get in which precluded the local poor but allowed the middle class to afford entry.
We had lunch at a funny ‘resort’ that the boys had used before (guards at the gates of course). The lady who drew the short straw to serve us didn’t share any facial expression whatsoever. The grounds here were really clean and green but through the trees to the stream we could see the local family doing their washing and having their bath in the stream that had just previously run through a high density slum area.

While we were in the area, we went to the Seventh Day Adventist University. The gated and guarded entries automatically opened for us and we received whacking great salutes everywhere we went. The SDA complex was maintained in very good condition with mowed green expansive lawns and a lake in the middle with huge fish in it. The complex is self sufficient and there were acres of paw paws, egg plants and bananas along with other crops. It held a market once a week for locals to buy their stuff and also supplied hotels etc. It being Saturday (the SDA Sabbath), there were family groups sitting on the grass around the lake and ladies bearing casserole dishes to their church complex where there was obviously an after church dinner happening. We sat on a bench and ate oranges to the smiles of the residents. The Staff housing was equally well maintained and of good standard as were the student residences. It was a great experience to see some of the nicest areas on offer on Saturday.

On Sunday, we went out with Bryce’s friend again, this time he drove his car and took us on a drive to places that he had become familiar with. I was glad that Bryce hadn’t seen some of these locations so the day provided something new and different for him too. 

Despite some of my views on the cultural diversity, I actually had the best and most wonderful time from the safety of Bryce's experience and have 'entertained' my friends with some of the stories. It was such a great holiday and especially getting time to spend with Bryce. 

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