19 January 2014


Every time I come back to the U.S. I experience a relief being home, excitement toward exciting trips and joy spending time with those I am able to see. Not long after my stay, however, I will ultimately experience a moment in which my whole being realizes it’s time to go home, wherever my other home may be.

My first year away, after spending eight months overseas, it took three weeks for me to become “done with America” and ready to go back to Singapore. The second year it happened around the same time. This trip did take a little longer but only by a week. Sometime around December 13th I was standing in the shower and my whole body perked up, my eyes became suddenly wide and my brain decided it was time to go. I didn’t necessarily want to go back to PNG but I was certainly ready to leave the country.

Thankfully I have had a lot of in-country travel – and I was in D.C. at the time – so I haven’t exactly stayed in one place. In fact, I landed in America on November 9 and have pretty much been on this kind of schedule: home two weeks, away two weeks, home a week, away a week, home two weeks, away another week….or something pretty close to that.

In each of the places Paul and I have visited, we encounter numerous questions regarding Paul’s job, my sanity, our living situation and just how long we plan to stay in PNG. Surprising nearly everyone at the table I time and again stated that I honestly feel blessed to live in PNG and that I am grateful to experience a whole new side of life.

“What is it like?” everyone asks.

“It’s completely the opposite of Singapore,” I state. I often refer to Singapore as my bubble: the country is full of people, full of culture, known for its food and shopping and neighborhoods abound. Health care is amazing, the city is clean, the government works hard to preserve natural areas, the economy is great, there is no corruption, unemployment levels are extremely low, crime rates are extremely low and the local people are socially neutral.

Port Moresby, by comparison, has a lot of people but the population doesn’t come close to Singapore’s population density; there are cultures but they are tribal and many share similar histories. While Singapore lacks natural resources, PNG has miles of untouched, undeveloped, fertile land for produce, livestock and mining for gold, copper and liquefied natural gas.

Paul and I have not found any local food other than Big Rooster fried chicken; many of the restaurants we visit cater to the western population. There are a couple shopping centers but they are not known for their popular stores, high quality or cleanliness.

Local health care is not recommended; even the local people who work for Paul’s company see a private physician and travel to Australia for major medical procedures including childbirth. On the one occasion I needed a doctor and an antibiotic, I risked my life and entered a local clinic. To my surprise, the clinic was better than third world. I thought the tiny Asian physician was cute, pleasant and quick. I told Paul I would definitely go back if I needed to see a doctor. Our other two options are to pay for a private membership clinic out of pocket or to hop on a plane to Australia.

The economy is poor, more than half the population is illiterate and most people do not have jobs. Many people strive to earn what they can by selling cokes and bottled water in coolers by the road while others take produce from random fields and bring them into the city to sell atop newspaper.

Trash is everywhere – in the roads, on the sidewalks, in the water. Before we left we heard that the government was leading an initiative to clean the area and we began to see trash bags filled and left on the side of the road. Those same bags were left by the roadside, open, for weeks. I think we left the city before the trash bags did.

We also heard that in order to conciliate the trash issue, the government would soon outlaw street vendors – those who sold produce at bus stops and on sidewalks. In order to solve a trash problem, the government is allegedly taking away likely the only form of income these people have.

Corruption is all over the city on every level and crime is as well. While gangs no longer control the city, vigilante justice is common and we have been victims of illegal fines.

The social culture is a little bipolar. Most of the people that we encounter are extremely welcoming and kind. In a few church services, everyone wanted to say hello and shake our hands - everyone. The stern or unwelcoming people, however, are absolutely unwelcoming. Luckily we haven’t met too many unwelcoming people.

Security guards probably outnumber actual policemen and I can only think of one place we have gone that did not have a security guard present. Most security guards look rough but they can be very kind; some even lecture me when I exude confidence. The guards outside my favorite coffee shop often tell me that I shouldn’t travel by myself and they tell me not to park across the street. On occasion they have guided me to park on the sidewalk so that I can be on the property. They really look out for me.

I have never seen separation of wealth like I see in PNG. Americans talk about wage gaps and upper class vs. the poverty line but I see it every day. I live it. It’s just unreal.

When I moved to PNG, I had two suitcases: one with clothing and one with supplies. We have made a few small purchases but, for the most part, we have lived out of three suitcases for nearly a year. Furniture, clothing, kitchen equipment, towels, shoes, decorative items have all been sitting in a warehouse in Singapore since the first week of April, making me realize we don’t actually need those items. I am ready to donate almost all of it without even looking at what we have. I feel like calling the warehouse and telling the staff to just take everything to the Salvation Army. Except the Kitchen Aid mixer. I am not giving up my Kitchen Aid mixer.

My appearance standards have lessened since living in PNG. I am now absolutely O.K. leaving the house (in PNG and in the U.S. on a few occasions) without makeup, without having my hair done, wearing workout clothes and sometimes sans shower. I just don’t seem to care a whole lot anymore. I hear this happens to old married couples but I thought I had to have a few kids first.

So many things in life just don’t matter anymore. Maybe a better way to phrase that is that a lot of things just don’t matter to me as much as they did a few years ago. I have lived with and I now live without. I am starting to really appreciate the simple life.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, yeah the standard of health care in major centres in PNG is not as bad as people think. My old man spent a couple of days in a private hospital in Lae after being shot by rascals and was pretty happy with the level of care he got. If your situation is urgent your always going to be seen by a fully qualified doctor who studied outside of PNG. Only outside of Lae and Moresby (maybe Madang) are you faced with levels of care that are not acceptable.