26 August 2013

Mmm...islander food!

Fish and coconut cream curry, banana sago folds and fried sweet sago were on the menu tonight. These dishes were proffered to us when we delivered a chicken butter chicken to Serah and her family this afternoon. Our offering was supposed to pay them back for the delicious food that they brought to our place on the weekend. But now we find we owe again! Tonight's treats were even more exceptional. The fish curry especially was so flavoursome with a stock based on fish shells that the Masterchef judges would be proud. The fried sweet sago was crunchy and "coconutty" and the banana sago folds with coconut cream were chewy and delicious. We are not sure if we ate them the right way (Which one first? What goes with what? Is one of them a dessert?) but we just tucked into it all anyway and loved every mouthful!


25 August 2013

An almost empty fridge

A few weeks ago, I showed you photos of the "fullness" of our fridge and cupboards. At the time, I worried about how we might get through the food before we left. Well, here is the state of our fridge and cupboard now, one week before we leave. I spent our last (typically rainy) Sunday cooking...a meatloaf, a fried rice, a bolognese and a butter chicken curry. They are all now cooling and will be frozen and defrosted as needed during the week.


23 August 2013

Open hearts

Just when we thought we had been humbled enough, these Papua New Guineans humbled us again today. We were invited to a farewell afternoon tea by our team, which turned out to be a truly blessed event soaked in genuine emotion. The entire team of 30 nationals gathered in our small conference room. No expats had been invited. Deliberately. Trays of hot and cold food had been discreetly deposited on the conference room table a few minutes earlier. When we entered, we were met by the aromas of fried chicken, sausage rolls and chips and the colours of filled sandwiches and fruit. Up one end of the table sat a cake the size of a european pillow! The icing on the cake read "best wishes to catherine doyle and stuart whyte", sweetly but oddly formal. My team leader Ellie, who was so shy that she couldn't speak at a meeting when I first arrived a year ago, made a beautifully brave and genuine speech. She talked about how I had taught them about time management and how Stu had brought them fun. She broke down a couple of times but waded through it in a massive display of courage and respect. Stu made a speech, then I made a speech. Then we were given 2 large gifts: a framed collage of 3 photos of the mine/town and a hardcover book about the Min tribe of the area. A quick flick through the book told me that the local peoples had not seen Westerners until 1968! They really were unknown to the rest of the world until I was 3 years old!? While others looked through the book, I found myself distracted by thoughts about how these people had been thrust into the modern world because of the greed of the modern world. There is something deeply disturbing about their exposure and I wondered if it really has been good for them. I was brought back to the present by Ellie inviting the rest of the team to bring their individual gifts forward. There followed a procession of team members, each endowing us with handcrafts from their local villages and regions. There were carvings from East Sepia, woollen Bilums from the Highlands and traditional bark Bilums from the local Min tribe villages. They were all explained to us ("this is a bark Bilum from the village where my wife comes from" and "this woollen Bilum was made by my friend in my village" and "my people in East Sepik are the only people who make carvings in PNG"). It was simply beautiful and beautifully simple and each gift will be treasured because it was given with a proud and very open heart.


21 August 2013

Goodbye things

We are now 10 days from leaving Tabubil and are busy selling off our treasure (well, rubbish really...all our treasures are on the high seas on their way to Italy!). We are having more people dropping in to view things than have ever dropped in to visit us. So far, we have sold the treadmill, a rug, a wok, 2 saucepans, a blender, a slow cooker and a microwave. By the time we get on the "freedom flight" on Sunday 31st September we should be reasonably free of possessions.

17 August 2013

Humbled again

This afternoon, a typical rainy Tabubil Sunday, we received a phone call. It was Serah, the team member who visited us a couple of days ago to give us gifts. She told us that her children were upset and wanted to visit again "because we gave all the gifts to Boss and not enough gifts to Stuart and now we have gifts for Stuart". They were on their way. So I flew into the kitchen to make a quick-mix chocolate cake with thick butter icing in readiness for their arrival. This was a fortunate decision because when they arrived they carried not only a bag of gifts but also a coconut fish curry and banana sago! After we convinced them to sit down, they presented Stu with a "Bilum", a traditional woven bag with a forehead strap that is only made and worn in the highlands of PNG. We shared the food, talked for an hour, laughed a lot and took photos. Then they left to enjoy the rest of their Sunday, leaving us to again wonder about the generosity and selflessness of these people.



16 August 2013

Across two centuries

Just before dinner last night, we had a visitor. Actually, we had 3 visitors. One of my direct reports, who has only recently moved to Tabubil, dropped in with 2 of her 3 daughters. They carried a huge polystyrene bag which they placed on the floor in our dining room. After a few minutes of conversation, Serah leaned down, dug into the bag and brought out several treasures. They were gifts for our imminent departure and they included 2 bags woven from tree bark, another bag woven from cane and a set of jewellery made from shells (necklace, bracelet, earrings). She ceremoniously placed the bags around our necks and pressed the jewellery into the palm of my hand. Although I was standing in the middle of our dining room, I felt like Captain Cook on a distant beach surrounded by natives. I was decorated with meaningful items skillfully crafted by people from foreign lands. I don't know how Captain Cook felt but I was very humbled indeed. Serah is from Manus Island, the beautiful island to the east of PNG where Australia has just started to redirect illegal boat people. She had sought the assistance of family members and friends back on Manus to make these gifts, then to carry them from the island to the highlands for us. A couple of centuries ago, Captain Cook was an "invader" who had received garlands from natives and here was I, another generation of "invader" still receiving garlands from natives. Much has changed between generations but this remains the same...



13 August 2013

When size counts

I have a special treat for readers today...yours truly herself! Well, i simply had to put something in the photo that could demonstrate how big that beautiful orange flower is!


10 August 2013

A finished masterpiece!

I am proud to announce that I have actually finished a craft project! While I remain surrounded by unfinished masterpieces in the form of half-knitted hats, half-knitted ponchos, half-knitted shawls and half-knitted collars, there is now a finished article amongst them. Here is a crocheted bag. I must remain honest, though...my clever photography hides the threads that haven't yet been worked in...



Give and take the children...

Sometimes we are confronted by the sheer selflessness of Papua New Guineans. A while ago, a cleaner in our office told me that she had 4 babies "but I give 1 away, Boss". Apparently, she gave 1 away to her sister because she couldn't have children. I asked her if she ever sees this baby or her sister and she said she doesn't; her sister lives in another village. This week, I learned that our receptionist has 1 child and another on the way. I expressed surprise that she had 2 children at the age of 25. She said "Actually, Boss, I have 4 children". My interest was peaked. Apparently her parents work in a refugee camp for Iryan Jayans. A few years ago, her mother came across a very young mother in the camp who had a baby that she couldn't look after. Our receptionist's mother suggested that she adopt this baby. A year later, her father told her about his friend, who "had 5 wives and many many daughters but no sons". The 5th wife was pregnant again and the friend had asked our receptionist's father "If this baby is a girl, will you take her?" The baby was born a girl. This baby is now 1 month old and our receptionist will adopt her during her next roster off period. I asked her what adoption involved and she said that she "just has to sign some papers". I asked her what her husband thinks of all this and what he does for a living. She said "he loves children" and that he has "deferred his degree in journalism to look after his children". He shares this task with his mother-in-law while our receptionist works at the mine and lives in the camp. It is very humbling indeed to be amongst a community where people are prepared to, and able to, look after other people's children. While there's certainly something to be said for a lack of red tape, I wonder what complexities this brings later...?

09 August 2013

Up up and away

Today we booked our flights to Italy! We leave Australia on 1st October via Finnair and travel via Hong Kong and Helsinki to Milan. Very exciting! The beginning of the next phase of our lives...

08 August 2013

More of the unexpected

Yesterday I wrote about a number of international visitors that we had on site and the wonderful exposure to PNG culture that they had experienced. While we were able to get the visitors back to Tabubil yesterday on 2 chopper flights, it seems that PNG wasn't finished with them yet. It's "winter" in the jungle and this means cloud, cloud and more cloud. The cloud is so thick that no commercial airlines have been prepared to land at Tabubil for days. This in turn meant that no commercial airlines had been LEAVING Tabubil. So our visitors remain stranded with no hope of escape...yet another experience of "the land of the unexpected"...


07 August 2013

The land of the unexpected

I have had an interesting 2 days. On my return from roster off, I was asked to attend a 2 day site visit by tenderers to our dredging operations a few kilometres down the river at Bige. Several international visitors came for the visit, from Belgium, Denmark and USA. The visit involved a small aircraft, a helicopter and a lot of coordination. It had taken considerable effort to organise and a number of my team members had been involved over recent weeks. Half of the 12 visitors flew in and out of Tabubil, while the other half in and out of the smaller Kiunga. The Tabubil group left early yesterday morning in the company's chartered Twin Otter aircraft. Our first stop was Kiunga, to collect the remainder of the visitors, then on to Bige. The first day was spent explaining the company's objectives and touring the operation. Significant effort was put into explaining the cultural challenges of the country, a critical consideration in order to conduct a successful business in PNG. At the end of the first day, we were rather casually advised that the runway at Kiunga was unable to be used for the remainder of the week because it was "under construction". Just like that. Suddenly and inexplicably, "under construction". This announcement sent a mild panic through the group as half of the visitors needed to meet international connections out of Port Moresby after the visit. In their best efforts to be efficient, our international visitors hadn't considered the great capacity of PNG to send the best laid plans into disarray. I guess this is why Papua New Guinea is known as "the land of the unexpected"...and I guess this experience was more effective in explaining the culture to them than anything we said!



05 August 2013

What is furry and green?

Welcome to the joys of returning to Tabubil in the wet season...furry green teabags and curtains...