French tip-toes and stereotypes

I spent last week in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, in order to attend management training...

Since living the last four and a half months in little Tari, it was exciting to come to the capital and have a taste of a more Western life (meaning supermarkets, cinemas and shopping for non-vital products).

In order to pamper myself in my free time, I went to a spa for a much needed pedicure. During the treatment, the pedicurist asked if this was my first time visiting Papua New Guinea. I answered that I actually live in the country. “Oh, in Port Moresby?” the pedicurist asked. “No”, I answered, “in Tari”. The pedicurist’s eyes grew big and she shouted in disbelief: “In TARI?!”

The highlanders (including people from Tari) have an exceptional reputation in Papua New Guinea. There are even people who fear them. The reason is all the stories about brutal violence existing in the area. And yes, the violence is widespread and sometimes extreme. However, I feel it is unfortunate that the image of a highlander is limited to the stereotype of a ruthless, violent warrior.

It is true that the people are very emotional in general and their moods can shift rapidly between two extremes. Yet I think it is important also to focus on all the beautiful qualities of the highlanders. They are among the friendliest, warmest people I have ever met. They are easy to approach, they laugh a lot, they are eager to learn new things and they are always prepared to help someone in need.

I feel fortunate for having the opportunity to work with the people here, and I also told all this to the pedicurist. I don’t know if I was able to convince her, but as I left the spa (with the cutest French tips on my toe nails!) she waved and wished me a good stay in Tari. Hopefully she didn’t think that a crazy white woman had just walked out…