16 September 2013


Today is PNG's National Day. It's like the Fourth of July in that people wear red and decorate everything with flags but instead of barbecuing and setting off fireworks, they dress in traditional islander clothes, dance, hold a beauty pageant and reenact trade customs using canoes in the sea.

I would love to provide you with more detail and fabulous pictures but apparently the Internet doesn't actually know everything and it's not a good idea to go outside.

We only found out about National Day a few days ago when we happened to see a sign posted to the grocery checkout. For some reason - maybe it's the communications professional in me - I thought that we would be provided some sort of information regarding the national holiday but, no, we didn't.

When the U.S. Embassy posted to the Facebook page a message offering congratulations to the PNG people in celebration of the upcoming holiday, I thought that maybe some sort of helpful information would follow but, no, it didn't.

I thought that maybe the local newspaper would have information on the day's activities but, no, not a single article.

I thought that the local news blog, typically filled with fascinating local info, might have some details on holiday festivities but, no, it didn't.

Last night I started Googleing like I was on a mission. Let's be honest, I was on a mission. I hate being places where there are significant celebrations or festivals happening and not participating or at least observing and documenting my experiences.

Here's what I was able to find:

  • PNG celebrates National Day on 16 September
  • The country, a unitary parliamentary democracy under constitutional monarchy, attained peaceful independence from Australia in 1975; Australia remains PNG's largest financial contributor
  • The Hiri Moale Festival is a really big deal in Port Moresby, with activities and celebrations spanning two to three days over the Independence Day holiday
  • Villages send women to compete for the title of Hiri Moale Queen; the queen is chosen on the festival's final day
  • The canoe reenactment and races pay homage to ancient villagers who set to the sea in order to trade with neighboring island villagers
Here's what I did not find:
  • When do this year's festivities begin?
  • What events will be held over which days?
  • Where will the events be held?
  • What time of day do the events occur?
  • Is it safe for expats to attend the events?
  • Are there any areas of the city that expats should avoid?
  • What is the story behind PNG's independence and how does it relate to the Hiri Moale Festival?

At 1 a.m. I decided I should go to bed; I made a plan to visit the hotel concierge when I woke. I made my way to the desk before 8 a.m. and asked one of the two local women, donning dresses in PNG's flag print and feathers in their hair, "Can you provide any information on the National Day Festivities?"

She looked at me wide eyed for a second and then replied, "No."

I stood there for a second because, again, for some reason I just didn't expect that response even though I realize this is a typical PNG response. 

"Are there events being held in the city today?"


See - this is just like the time Paul and some pilots went to dinner and, after ordering the surf and turf, were told that the club restaurant was out of said item. One of the pilots asked, "Do you have steak?" 

"Yes," the employee replied.

"Do you have lobster?" he continued.


"Well that's surf and turf."

"We're out of that."

So, really, I should not have been surprised. I continued with the hotel representative:

"What time do the events start?"

"Oh some people are gathering now," she said.

"O.K., well, if I want to go see some of the events today, when should I go?"

"You could go around 10, 10:30."

O.K., now we were getting somewhere. "Where should I go to see the events?" I used my research here - "Are they all down at Ela Beach?"

"Yes, Ela Beach," she replied. "And five mile." 

Five mile is a neighborhood a few minutes down the road; we live at seven mile. Five mile is nowhere near Ela Beach and the beach park itself is not small so exactly where on the beach the festivities would be held, I could only guess. 

"Which place would you recommend that I go?"

"Oh, you can go to both."

As I was just about to give up and thank her, she piped in with, "Just be careful with your phone," which was at that time positioned on the desk, "and your money. Make sure everything is tied to you very well." 

Awesome. I knew Paul would love to hear that part. 

I thanked her and turned to walk back up the hill to our apartment. I told Paul what she said and stated that I really wanted to get out there and see what there was to see but that she did warn of getting robbed. 

But I still wanted to go so I made Paul e-mail his boss, a local PNG man who is well known and well connected, especially in the security world. Paul's boss advised us not to go. In fact, he said he and his family are staying in today and avoiding all of the crowds that will give us attention and will put us in harm's way. This place is so much fun!

Paul tried to make me feel better by offering me a deal: "Instead of going outside and getting robbed, we can stay inside, order pizza from the Airways and watch Gilmore Girls!" How can I say no to that? 

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