October 30th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

A day which illustrated our usual ability to fall on our feet when we have to.  Not that things began well.  We were up early, packed + on our way out at 7.10.  On our way to the corner that I’d been told was the best place to pick up a PMV, another guy told us he was waiting for one too, so we waited there, by the shop.  Sheltered in the doorway from the drizzle, + sure enough a PMV came along fairly soon.  Everybody rushed to climb aboard, but having heavy packs, we were a bit slower, + by the time we got there, it had zoomed off again, leaving us behind.  All we could do was look at each other bemusedly, then return to the shelter of the shop, + wait to see if there was another one – local opinion was pretty divided on the subject.  One guy who came along told us he had a letter in his house from the others, + he went off to fetch it, but we never saw him again, so never received it.  And then another bloke told us that if there were another PMV, the best place to pick it up would be down at the corner, the place we’d been going to go first of all, so we hobbled off there.  Val’s foot was in a dreadful way by this time, so as we were  now right outside the hospital, she went in, only to emerge 20 mins later with it heavily bandaged.  Chatted for a while there with Arnold + Russell, 2 local guys who seemed drunk but were very anxious to help us if they could.  We decided ultimately tho’ to give up for the day, return to the guest-house, + try again in the morning.  It was very likely that, today being Sunday, there’d be no more traffic.

Val put my boot on over her bandaged foot, and we started to hobble back to the guest-house.  Val was very slow, of course, so I sent her on ahead while I went to the shop + bought us a pack of frozen sausages, a tin of baked beans, + a couple of cokes.  When I got back to the guest-house, Val was standing outside the museum next door, chatting with a white lady.  She was English, as it turned out, but living out here.  Her husband Jim (he was over at the memorials) worked for the Commonwealth Development Corporation, who were setting up a big palm oil industry in the area.  Katie was very nice, + offered us a ride to Popondetta, in the back of their pick-up.

We accepted, of course, but it was quite a ride.  The road was very bumpy in places, + Jim drove very fast, so that on several occasions we were flung into the air.  What it would have been like in the back of the PMV with 6 or 7 others, I shudder to think.  It made for an exhilarating ride tho’.  The nicest thing about it was that all along the road, whenever we passed anyone, they would wave, so of course one had to wave back.  It made me feel like royalty… except that royalty rarely travel in the back of a pick-up.  We were driven to J + K’s house, 10 miles or so before Popondetta,  but this was much as expected, since they had mentioned giving us a cup of coffee.  When we stopped tho’, that invitation was upped to an invite to stay the night.

The house was an absolutely fabulous place, set in the middle of a sort of upper-class housing estate on which the senior executives of the place lived, but even if it hadn’t been, we would have had no hesitation in accepting.  Katie took Val under her wing, + they got busy on the washing, while Jim + I shared beer, chocolate + conversation.  Then, when Val + Katie had done their stuff, we had lunch – bacon, egg, + tomato.  Beautiful!

The afternoon was passed lazily, Val spending much of it languishing in the bath, + then we all went down to the club grounds, just a couple of hundred yards away, part of the estate.  They had a pool there, so Jim + I swam a little.  He’s a remarkably fit man, particularly in view of his age – he’s close to retirement – + easily outswam + outdived me.  Not that that is much of an achievement in itself.  He then played tennis with his boss + boss’s wife.  I would have enjoyed playing myself, particularly when I saw the standard was a little below mine, but everybody else was in whites while I didn’t have any gear, + in any case it was clear that some sort of traditional ritual was in progress, + it wasn’t my place to intrude, so I sat + watched.

When we returned, it was my turn to languish in the bath, + then it was dinner.  Another couple had previously been invited, Sue + Andrew, but they were very nice, + we all drank, + then ate, rather too much.  S + A had been invited round to play bridge, but K + J dropped out, so the rest of us played, tho’ not very well, me partnering Sue.  Katie watched on, while Jim read his sailing book, while the rest of us stumbled along cheerfully – not the way I envisaged the day at the beginning.

So, as I say, falling on our feet. At the time, we knew nothing about the palm oil industry, though of couirse we are now aware of the ecological damage. Evidence of this was there at the time, however – shown in the accompanying photo – though I can’t remember the circumstances. Clearly we were, once again, deriving benefit from having a white skin… though, as we wereto discovere, it had its downside too. Bit for the time being, especially after the privations of the past week or so, we were enjoying being trated royally… and in more ways than learninga regal wave.

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