Archive for the month “September, 2015”

Picture from Paradise.

A typical rural house, just outside Madang.


Made entirely of local materials, (apart from the electricity wire), cool and well ventilated all year round.  if it is well built, it should last a good ten years, after which it will be time to build another one.



Pollie Strine – a whole new language.

As you may have realised, Australia changed Prime Minister last week and now has a brand new one. Not an unusual event.  It happens all the time.

Tony Abbott is out and Malcolm Turnbull is in.  (Tony Abbott, for those of you who don’t follow Australian politics, is the one who awarded the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, a knighthood earlier this year to the amazement and derision of almost everybody.)

As you can imagine, the political atmosphere was pretty febrile last week, as pollies got amped up in the party room and started to plot the spill. (Don’t worry if you didn’t understand that last sentence.  It was just me showing off my new-found language skills.  Last week, Tony Abbot’s various political gaffs were all replayed, which gave lots of potential for the use of language which, to me at least, was completely new.  Let me share a few of these.

Pollie: a politician.  An easy one to start with.

Donnybrook:  a brawl or heated argument.  “There was an absolute donnybrook in Parliament yesterday….”  Apparently, this fine word derives from the Donnybrook Fair that takes place near Dublin in Ireland and is associated with rowdy behaviour.

A spill: a leadership spill, (sometimes also known as a party room spill), is a declaration that the leadership of a parliamentary party is vacant, and open for re-election.

To be amped up:  to be excited or energized about something.  “The MPs were amped up about the prospect of a spill motion.”

To arc up:  to get angry.  “The leader arced up when he heard about the spill motion.

A party room:  this is where the members of a political party will meet to discuss policy, tactics, or to vote on a leadership spill.

To rort:  to cheat or abuse a system. “The PM was determined to stop migrants rorting the welfare system.”

Branch-stacking:  the practice of moving your own supporters into an area just before an election in order to rig the vote.

Whiteanting: to erode the foundations of something. It is often used in reference to groups such as political parties where information from group insiders is ‘leaked’ and used to undermine the goals of the group.  In his resignation speech, Tony Abbott declared that there would be no white-anting on his part.

To shirt-front:  to confront.  Tony Abbott famously threated, on national television, to ‘shirt-front’ Russia’s President Putin over the shooting down of The Malaysia Airlines plane MH17.  History does not record how brow-beaten Putin was by the confrontation but, a few weeks later, Russian warships appeared off Brisbane.

Give me another year and I think I’ll have mastered this language.  Fair dinkum, cobber!

It’s in the paper, so it must be true.

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It isn’t often that you see a headline like this.  The el Nino weather phenomenon is clearly causing a lot of problems all over Papua New Guinea, but 24 fatalities?  It seemed an alarmingly high death toll for a drought that only started a couple of months ago.

Intrigued by the headline, I bought the paper and read the story.  All of a sudden everything was a lot less certain.  The text supporting the headline on the front page read:-

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But as I dug deeper into the story, I discovered the following on the inside pages:-

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All of a sudden, the story about the sad demise of 24 individuals in the Highlands seems to be less about the deadly effects of the drought and more to do with attracting disaster relief funding.

Cynical, me?  You reckon?

VSO Exit Strategy

We have been away now for three years.  It has been a fascinating, fun and sometimes infuriating experience and we wouldn’t have missed it for the world.  Sixteen months in South Sudan, ending in a untimely evacuation in a small plane, followed by a hiatus of four months back in the UK and then a further seventeen months in Papua New Guinea.

Faithful followers of this blog will have lived some of the highlights with us, since I started recording random impressions and rambling stories in June 2012.  (Unfaithful followers of the blog are cordially invited to trawl back through the months to catch up on the story so far.  –  it does wonders for my daily statistics when that happens!)

But now it’s time to go back home and start to learn how to be retired. Our contract here at Divine Word University will expire in December.

In 2013 we were flown back to the UK a few days before Christmas and it was a stark reminder of just how unwelcoming the British climate can be in January and February.  After three years of sweating in countries where the sun shines pretty much every day, we started to think that returning and re-establishing our base in Brighton in the short, dark, wet, windy days of December would be a bit too much like a heroine addict going ‘cold turkey.’

Added to that, we have to accept that Fate dealt us a very good hand in bringing us unexpectedly to the South Pacific, on the  other side of the world and we were concerned that Fate would think us ungrateful wretches, if we just jumped on an aeroplane at the first opportunity and high-tailed it back to Europe.  So here’s the plan.

At the end of the first week in December, we will gather whatever belongings we can easily carry and donate the rest. (A bit like South Sudan all over again.) We will then fly to New Zealand and spend Christmas and New Year touring around what everyone says is a very beautiful country.

We will then make our way to Australia and spend most of January and February exploring.  All of our Australian friends tell us that two months won’t be enough, but we have to draw the line somewhere!

So that brings us to the end of February  – still not the nicest time of the year in Britain.  Bare trees, no flowers, not much daylight.

Next stop, Malaysia!  Why Malaysia?  Well Kuala Lumpur is in Malaysia and a few miles from Kuala Lumpur is the huge shipping terminal of Port Kelang.  “Ah!” I hear you say. “That makes it all perfectly clear.”

No? Well, …

In Port Kelang we hope to find…


… the MV Bougainville, 400 metres of slow and stately, nautical loveliness!

It is the largest vessel sailing under the French flag.  It can carry 18,000 shipping containers and 200,000 tons of freight and it will take us across the Indian Ocean, up the Red Sea, through the newly expanded Suez Canal, through the Mediterranean, past Gibraltar and finally will butt its way through the Bay of Biscay and into Southampton.  Total voyage time, about 22 days; total number of stopovers, one, (at Algeciras in Spain);  total number of crew, 26; total number of fellow passengers, maybe 6.

Some rather unkind people have suggested that we have clearly spent too much time out in the sun and have completely taken leave of our senses.  We are a bit embarrassed to tell such people that our original plan was to join a container ship in Sydney, that would have taken us to New Caledonia, across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal, across the Atlantic (in March!), and deposited us in Rotterdam, after 66 days at sea.  Unfortunately, the earliest available cabin on that ship was April 2017, so we will have to put that off for a later date.


We might find that after three weeks staring of at the open ocean and 18,000 identical shipping containers we have, indeed, gone stark raving mad with cabin-fever, but, at least, when we finally set foot on British soil again, we shouldn’t  be suffering from jet-lag!

Independence Day


Papua New Guinea Had its fortieth birthday last Wednesday.  Happy Anniversary PNG!

PNG gained its independence from Australia, some say prematurely, in 1975.  When I say “some say prematurely”, I am not relating the comments of embittered expatriates but of some Papua New Guineans who feel that Australia ‘cut and ran’ from PNG much too soon, given that is some areas, ‘first contact’  between local communities and the outside world didn’t happen until the early 1930s.

There’s a lot wrong with this country.  There’s a lot that could be better.  Despite having a lot of mineral resources, it has some of the worst health statistics in the world.  Security is a problem all over the country and there are far too many reports of financial corruption and ‘wantokism’.

Your ‘wantok’ is the person with whom you have ‘one talk’, so it’s either someone from your own family, from your own village or from your own clan.  The practice of “wantokism” means that jobs are given, favours are doled out and contracts are awarded not on merit but on the basis of how closely you are related to the person in whose gift there advantages are vested.  And of course, once you have appointed someone because he or she is a member of your family or clan, how do you then discipline that person if they perform badly or do something wrong?

But what I have to keep reminding myself is that these problems are not unique to Papua New Guinea, indeed that are not even unique to what we call the ‘developing world’.  The United Kingdom has produced some spectacular examples of financial corruption, particularly in the banking sector, and even in the BBC, that bastion of rectitude and respectability, there is a remarkable similarity between the surnames of a number of up-and- coming journalists and the names of some of the ‘grandees’ of British journalism of previous generations.  Wantokism rules OK.

With all its faults, Papua New Guinea has achieved something that many developing countries have failed to do.  It has held together as one country and, touch wood, has never suffered a coup.  I can’t help making the comparisons with South Sudan, which managed less than three years of unified government before ethnic tensions, that had existed for centuries, tore it apart.

So, Congratulations, PNG on your significant anniversary.  You can be forgiven a little celebratory flag waving today.

And there was plenty of flag-waving. indeed, as I walked around the university and surrounding areas, it seemed as if every woman in Madang was wearing a flag in her hair.



Everyone seemed to be proud to wear the national colours, and the university became a sea of red, gold, black and white.


Some of the younger ones were less impressed by what was going on, and some were just a little bemused.


Whilst others were starting to show the effects of the very early start.


Even the traffic joined in with the celebrations.

Onward, Christian Soldiers!

Not my favourite way to be woken up on a public holiday, but I can’t fault it for efficiency!

I don’t know whether it was the stirring nature of the hymn itself, played over and over again in an unending loop, or the number of decibels with which it was being drummed into my bedroom, but it had me up, awake and marching around the house, almost before I’d got my socks on.

When I finally ventured out into the cool morning air, it turned out that I was not the only one marching.  It seemed like everyone was marching.  Lots and lots of  young Christian soldiers.  I had stumbled into the middle of the Independence Day flag-raising ceremony.

Some very smart, and very earnest young people, parading through the campus, representing their various scout and guide groups and taking the whole thing very seriously, despite in inhumanly early time of day.

  At the bottom of every empty flagpole, two young people prepared the flags of the various regions of Papua New Guinea.


Serious responsibility and not to be taken lightly.  Officers were on hand to supervise.


Finally, all the regional flags were ready and the national flag began its slow march though the campus to the first flagpole at the front gate.   (I have to confess that, by this time, I was starting to wonder if I would ever get my breakfast!).

Whose idea was a ‘slow march’?


Finally, the national flag was in place and all of the flags were ceremoniously hoisted to the top of their respective poles.

And very jolly it all looked.  A very well planned and executed ceremony in honour of PNG’s 40th Anniversary and some very proud young people carrying out their civic duties.

On balance, well worth getting up early for!

OK. I give up!

Last night was not a good night.  And Sir Arthur Sullivan* didn’t help either!

We have great accommodation here.  The University really couldn’t have made us more comfortable. We have constant running water, both hot and cold. We have electricity that only very rarely lets us down. We have a TV, a fridge, and in order to reach our front door, you have to walk up a set of metal steps and open a noisy gate, which helps to make us feel secure.

The only disadvantage is that the house is right next door to the female students’ dormitories, (I originally wrote girls’ dormitories, but all of these students are over 18, even though sometimes you could be forgiven for forgetting.)

Once the girls, sorry, female students, get back from their evening meal at about 8.00pm, they, not unreasonably, tend to congregate in small groups outside in their compound and spend the next three hours of the warm evening sitting around chatting or watching videos on their laptops.

There is nothing but a chain-link fence separating their compound from our house and sometimes the noise levels can be, – how can I put this? – a trifle inconsiderate.  People here tend to go to bed quite early, and some of the students have not quite got the idea that they are living in a community with neighbours, and that raucous laughter and squealing can be an unwelcome intrusion into other people’s leisure time.   I have raised this a couple of times with the Dean of Women, and there is now a sort of acceptance that everyone should be in their rooms by 11.00pm.  So far, so good.

Divine Word takes its responsibilities for the security of staff and students seriously.  There is security lighting everywhere, which means that we regularly hear birdsong in the middle of the night.  There are ‘rangers’ who guard the campus at night and every house, and every room in the dormitories, has an alarm button that sets off a siren when pressed.

Last night I went to bed just after 10.00pm, and curled up with my Kindle.  (Linda is away doing some science teacher training this week.)  By 10.30, before the informal noise curfew, I was asleep.  Two hours later I was woken by the laughter of my young neighbours, still out in their garden.  I was not a happy bunny, but I was too tired to get dressed and go and remonstrate, so I went back to sleep.

Some time after 2.00am, one of the alarm sirens in the girls’ dormitory went off.  I jumped out of bed to see what was happening.  Nothing.  The siren  stopped.  False alarm. Back to bed.  Five minutes later the siren went off again.

This time, a number of men came out of the various houses around the campus to see what the problem was.  Agitated conversations broke out outside my window.

Just to add another bit of drama, (and noise), to the situation, someone else thought it would be helpful to start ringing the church bell just behind our house. I have no idea why.

Eventually, thanks to a shouted question and answer session between the men outside the fence and the young women in their rooms, it was decided that there was, in fact, no emergency and everyone returned to their beds.

Ten minutes later, two gunshots, or, at least, what sounded suspiciously like two gunshots.

By this time, I was past caring.  Everything outside remained quiet, so at some time after 2.30am, I rolled over and went back to sleep.

Imagine my delight when only four hours later, I was wrenched out of a deep sleep by the strains of “Onward, Christian Soldiers!*, being played by a brass band and relayed, all over the campus, at considerable volume, courtesy of a powerful PA system.

Papua New Guinea’s 40th Independence Day had broken!

Time to go, el Nino!

Still no rain in our part of the world.


Photo taken just outside our house.

Zero dolphins.

Sooner or later everyone reaches the limit of how many groups of masked dancers you can sit and watch, so on the last day of our brief holiday, we started to look for other diversions.

At our hotel there was a little office from which various tours and boat trips could be booked.  We went to make some enquiries.

We were told that just off the coast of Kokopo, in a certain bay, there was a huge pod of about 300 dolphins and the boat would take us into the middle of the pod so that we could actually swim with the dolphins in their own habitat.  If they were in the right mood, they would even come and play.  I have mixed feelings about the whole idea of swimming with big sea creatures with teeth, but even to see 300 dolphins in one place at one time was something not to be missed.

We signed up and paid our money.  We were almost guaranteed to see them, they told us, and in good numbers.  Note to self:  Beware of the words ‘almost guaranteed.’

To be fair to the organisers, it was a very blustery day when we set off.  As we sat at the front of the open boat, the spray lashed our faces like a scene from Moby Dick.  The dolphins had also decided that it was a good day for an excursion, so they had all disappeared, – every last one of them!

No matter, the boat landed us on our very own desert island for a spot of snorkeling.

Our very own desert island.Our very own desert island.  In fact, it took us about 20 minutes to walk right around.  Some sand, some shells, some bushes and that was it!  No Starbucks, nowhere to plug in your mobile.  Not even a coconut tree.  Not the sort of island you’d want to be ship-wrecked onto.


Even if it did have  some impressive pieces of driftwood…

… and a few barnacles, maybe.


The snorkeling wasn’t brilliant.  There were not many fish and what there were, were pretty small.

However, the half hour of snorkeling was memorable for a completely different reason.

If your mask is properly fitted, you usually get a pretty good view of what’s on the reef, once you put your head in the water.  This day was no exception and I was happily drifting on the surface of the water, looking at the fish and being careful to keep my breathing tube above the surface of the water, when suddenly my vision went blurred!

I was really quite scared.  I thought I was having some kind of seizure.  My vision cleared for a while and then everything went blurred again.  I made my way back to the boat only to discover that Linda had been experiencing exactly the same distortion of vision.

To our considerable relief, our guide and ship’s captain, explained to us that there had been a very heavy rain storm the night before and what we were experiencing was the fact that the cold rainwater was mixing with the warm sea water but had not yet become fully absorbed.  Apparently that’s what happens when fresh water mixes with salt water.  Who knew?  “Phew” was all I could say.  I lived to fight another day.

And, every now and then, I had to keep looking up to see that the boat hadn’t gone without us …

…and that Linda was still somewhere around.  (If I was going to cast away on a desert island, I knew that I would need to have somebody to fight off the wild animals and deal with the snakes!)

  Ah, yes!  There she was.  No problem.

A couple of starfish caught our eye.


And then something altogether different and quite unexpected started to come into view through the murky water.


It turned out to be the remains of a World War Two, Japanese ‘Zero’ fighter plane.  It had been sitting on the ocean floor since 1945, gradually disintegrating in the warm, shallow water.

Another reminder of how lucky my generation has been.

Now that’s what I call a mask!

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None of your mamby-pamby delicate headdresses here.  Just raw energy and downright spookiness.

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They looked tame enough as they walked to the performance area and then suddenly they’d start to go crazy!

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You certainly wouldn’t want to meet them on a dark night.

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