Prior to making the decision to join my husband here in Papua New Guinea, I did my homework.
The most important thing I did was speak to other women who live here and who have done ExPat assignments with their husbands. They were very forthcoming with their information and yet I was unprepared for the reality of it all. One thing I know for sure, people (me included) explain things differently when we get use to something, than we do when it is still new and raw.
Nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock I experienced in those first few weeks.
Life on a compound or “Residential Living” for the fancy folk. ;)
We have guards at our gates to get into the compound, guards at the entrance to our apartment building, guards at the restaurants, pool area etc. We are never alone.
Because Papua New Guinea is a slowly becoming an up and coming country with many third world issues, there is a lot of crime. Unfortunately many pale face people are the target as we are seen as having money.
Over the past number of years many Papuans left their villages to come to the city because of the promise of jobs and a better way of life. Unfortunately there wasn’t enough jobs for all the people who came and there is not a lot of housing. There is a lot of poverty and squaller here. People cannot get back to their villages because there are no roads into some of them and airfare is so expensive they cannot afford their ticket home.
Seeing this on a regular basis is very heart wrenching. I chose very carefully what I complain about and who I complain to.
Life in PNG has taught me even more to live from a place of gratitude.
“Charlie ### to base”
“This is Papa4821 Whiskey….” (Translation Blair’s Wife. Papa4821 because of the department he works in and all wives of employees here are whiskeys and husbands are hotels. All based on the military security code words).
**please note that I have changed all security handles to protect privacy**
If someone had told me a year ago I would have a “handle” I would never have believe them. I always wanted one when I would watch Dukes of Hazard as a kid. Apparently someone was listening because I have one now.
Driving in PNG is not an option for us.
We are provided drivers and whenever we wish to go some place we call. It took me a few weeks to get my head around this. My strong feminist, stubborn part was definitely not going along with it. In hindsight it may have been because I was scared and didn’t know what to say. Language is definitely a barrier – add the alpha, charlie, bravo, delta to it all and it gets more complicated.
This is me getting ready to go out. I walk around practicing out loud what I need to say before I call (NOT kidding).
Calling Dispatch HeadQuarters….
“Hello this is Papa4821 Whiskey at Tango 9 Foxtrot” (our compound and apartment building codes)
HQ – Papa 4821 Whiskey? (in broken english & very fast)
Me: Pardon? Yes Papa 4821 Whiskey Foxtrot
HQ: Will send vehicle ###
Me: Pardon? Oh OK (sweating at this point with no time to change).
I get in the vehicle when it arrives and have to talk over the radio.
“Charlie ### to Base” (vehicle #)
“This is Papa4821 Whiskey leaving Tango 9 Foxtrot for Waterfront Food World over”.
Then I sit back sweaty and red faced.
I have yet to do it without completely messing up. Just in the past couple of weeks I realized everyone in vehicles can hear me over the radio. It was nice when one whiskey commented she heard me and that I was getting better. It is so much easier typing it, I wish I could text dispatch.
I always feel safe with our drivers.
They answer all my questions even though sometimes they have no idea what I am saying. There are a couple who I especially like, they like to laugh with me – OK maybe at me…. It doesn’t matter we laugh.
The question I get asked the most when I talk to someone from my world is “how does it feel to be a minority?”
There is only one word to describe it….HUMBLING.
To have people stop and stare and notice the colour of my skin has definitely had me stop many times and think about my friends who are minorities due to skin colour. The stories they have shared. It doesn’t bother me anymore, I have sent more than one small child crying back to their mother by being friendly.
Because we all smile in the same language, they always smile at me to let me know it is OK.
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