To Kokoda

I spent my first afternoon in Moresby wandering the local market in Central Boroko. Betelnut, mostly, piles and piles of green addiction. I was the only white person; I stood out. I got plenty of friendly greetings — “Hello friend”, “Apinun”, “G’day mate”, “Hey white man”, “Hi masta”, “Hi boss”, even a “Hi honey” in a low voice from a lady of dubious repute. There’s no getting away from it in PNG: you’re different, and will always be different. It’s an uneasy divide; PNG became independent in 1975, but the colonial differences haven’t really gone away. Many expats embrace it, living in a bubble world behind fortresses. The compound where the Australian High Commission staff live is known by the other Australians here as “Fort Shit-Scared”.  

I’ve tasted a bit of that world already. Frank Taylor, my guide for the Kokoda Track walk, is a member of some of the exclusive expat establishments in Moresby. I was the first in our group to arrive, so the last couple of evenings have been spent drinking on the verandah of the Royal Papua Yacht Club, watching a beautiful tropical sunset over the harbour. Such a life certainly has it’s attractions. There surely can’t be many places in the world where the guards at the door have bows and arrows, and are ready to use them. Or a trip to the stationery store involves negotiating nuns, puppies, and marsupials in the aisles. Or the word for ‘bra’ (kalabus long susu) translates literally as ‘prison for breasts’.

According to the Lonely Planet, in PNG the expats consist of “religious zealots, people fleeing broken marriages or dodgy business activities, obsessed nerds studying insect larvae, and adventurers.” Frank calls them the “Three Ms”: Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits. Not sure which one I am.

Was hoping to describe my trip to my old primary school, and my experience on the Port Moresby Fun Run along with 20, 000 other people (because what else do you do on a Sunday in the world’s most dangerous city?). But that will have to wait — about to drop offline. Heading off tomorrow morning for Kokoda — back in a couple of weeks, hopefully in one piece.


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