My watercolor memory of Papua New Guinea, hazy and indistinct, is touched up with new paint-strokes of color and images. PNG is beautiful. We have been in Port Moresby (capital city) for the last few days. It is cradled by an oceanic tapestry of greens and blues, and lush hills lined by palm trees, banana trees, rain trees, and, well, other trees whose names have never been registered into my knowledge-base. The scenery is brought to life by the luminosity of the sun, while I try to shun it out with my newly purchased 19.95 Kina sunglasses after losing mine somewhere along the way. It’s been a long way here.
Port Moresby is where the MSF main office will be based. The team, brimming with enthusiasm, has converged here. Rob, Silvia and I flew in from Amsterdam. Kara flew in from Australia. Karen will fly in later. Lauren has been briefing us on security (including curfews and radio transmission lingo) and health issues (including the procurement of anti-venom for snake bites!).
In the afternoon, I walk around in the market with Billy (our local driver and “fixer”) picking out fresh coconuts, pineapples, and pitpit (a sugar cane-like vegetable that tastes like artichoke). Men, women and children look at me with curiosity; they smile and nod. I bend down to take a photo of the market and the vendors volunteer to have their photos taken. They grin bashfully when I show it to them, though the image on the screen is stolen by the brightness of the sun. Their kindness and friendliness make me at ease. As I take in the scene in snapshots - the multi-colored umbrellas casting shadows over the vegetables, the smiles, the heat of the sun -I am happy.
Yet, words like Koruptem (corruption), settlements, violence and images of barbed wire, guarded compounds and cars, hang in the air. They seem out of place. As if someone put them there by mistake; tacky Christmas decorations that nobody takes down. Maybe someone could pluck them out of the air, and nobody would know the difference. Poof…they’d be gone.
Dusk. We walk to Billy’s friend’s house for a soiree consisting of pitpit barbecued over the fire and local SP beer. The sunset stencils out the trees in the background. No high-rises. The squeals of a pig, protesting the presence of the barbecue fire, break the evening silence. Richard, in his Stopim Koruptem (Stop Corruption) t-shirt, speaks of issues that affect PNG: deforestation due to coffee plantations, poverty, unemployment. His dog MDM (massive democratic movement), nervous for reasons other that the barbecue, pops his head in and out between our legs like a cartoonesque mushroom. A Tribal Freedom banner presides over the evening, as our features are slowly smudged by the darkness.
We are heading to Lae today. We leave Rob (Finco) behind in Port Moresby in our main office for his one-man show. Siliva, Kara, and I head with Lauren to Lae where we will meet Leslie, our logistician. Tomorrow we start the task of coming up with timelines and objectives to set up the clinic.