October 31st 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Oro Bay harbour

Joe was already up + away to work when we stirred ourselves, but after breakfast we packed our belongings (now including one extra pair of shorts, + 3 shirts, donated by Katie) + loaded them into the car ready to go into town.  On the way, tho’, Katie took us on a tour of the plantation, + tho’ her commentary wasn’t very informative, it was stil interesting to see the housing developments, the row upon row of tree, + the offices, where 5 years before there’s been just bush.  Katie is a terrific talker too, tho’ not all of it is the sort of thing that is of much interest to us.  There is a hell of a lot of internal politics within the company, + tho’ she pretends to be uninterested in such things, it is easy to tell that she is a seasoned + experienced in-fighter.  There is much talk of seniority, of what wives are expected to do, + of what wives refuse to do, + I think that for all her derision + scorn, Katie revels in it.

She took us then to Popondetta city centre, which wasn’t a centre at all, of course.  Like Moresby, if you weren’t told it was there, you could easily miss it.  Our first stop was at the NGFA shipping office, where Katy knew some people, + the guy there, Lance, a Kiwi, was very helpful, thjo’ Katie did rather bully him into being so.  He rang the Police for us, to report in after the Trail, which saved us some time + effort, but on the shipping front the news was much less good, since it seemed there was  no boat to Lae until Thursday.  This left us with the problem of where to stay, since there is only one hotel in Pop, that is a dump, + it costs 100K a  night.

We did a little bit of shopping, mainly for surgical stuff to patch up our feet, + then Katie drove us out to see a friend of hers, a young Anglican missionary called Father Timothy.  We had tried to ring him, but had only succeeded in locating another fellow who had been less than enthusiastic in his welcome.  So Katie took us out to Timothy, a bridge friend, it seemed.  It took us a little while to track him down, but we finally did so, + Katie was finally able to unload us.  I’m sure she had enjoyed fussing over us,   but enough was enough.  So we said goodbye + promised to write.

Tim (I think the Father Timothy bit was half for the benefit of the locals + half a sort of joke) was very nice, but not really able to do much.  A local priest had been ordained bishop yesterday, so they were absolutely swamped with people.  I wish we had been able to see it actually, as it had evidently been quite some spectacle, with thousands of people present, many of them dressed in traditional costume.  We shared some lunch, + chatted about various things – the problems of missionary work in PNG, travel in Africa – + then Tim suggested we travel out to Oro Bay, the port to Popondetta, this afternoon.  There was a chance there might be a boat a little sooner, but even if not, Oro Bay was a  nicer place to spend a couple of days than Pop, especially since he would give is a letter of introduction to one of the nurses at the hospital there.  There was a chance, he told us, of staying in a spare house there.  So we said tentative farewells to Tim, + stationed ourselves on the road.

Within 20 mins, luck smiled on us again, for who should come driving along but John, (Jim’s boss at HOPPL) + Jim, driving along to Oro Bay in John’s Range Rover – a far more comfortable ride than we’d anticipated.  They had business to see to at the port itself first of all, where HOPPL has huge storage tanks for the palm oil, but that took only 20 mins or so, + then they were good enough to seek out the hospital for us, + deliver us into the hands, not of Sister Nancy, for she was away, but her assistant, Sister Annette.  She was very kind, tho’ she was busy, but provided us with tea + cake, before showing us up to the vacant house.  It was not, however, as we had anticipated, a rude villager’s shack, but had been the doctor’s house when the hospital had had a doctor, + tho’ dusty + dirty now from neglect, it did have running water (tho’ not for drinking), electric light when the generator was running – 4 hrs every night ) beds, chairs, crockery.  It was a huge place, even with a fridge + cooker, tho’ neither were connected, + it was a crying shame it was now unoccupied.  An empty house, that has been well-used, is so sad.  Where are those people now?  The house is now earmarked for the use of a maintenance man, but it seems they can’t attract, or haven’t been allocated, one of those either.

For our meal, Val + I finally had the sausages + beans I’d bought at Kokoda – we’d pre-cooked the sausages at Katie’s place to help preserve them for their travels.  And in the evening we paid a social call on Annette + Nancy, passing a pleasant hour or 2 with them.  Nancy has been in PNG for 23 years now, her current function being as principal of the training centre, situated at the hospital, for  nurse aids + assistant post-orderlies (these latter being a sort of low-level barefoot doctor, living + working in the villages.)

Picked our way home in the dark, managing to slip in the mud more than once, + then I finished reading the Sunday Telegraph that Timothy had given us, a mere 2 weeks out of date.  Nothing seems to have changed back home, nothing at all.  Tho’ Sir Ralph Richardson has just died, which saddened me.  Tho’ I have no doubt some future great actor-knight has just been born.  Births + deaths, hatches + dispatches.  We then climbed, for the first time ever, under a mosquito net, but either because it was old + holey, or unable to cope with a double bed, or not hung properly, it was almost entirely useless for is professed function.

Falling on our feet, volume 2. Several times, so it would seem, with thye ex-pat community giving us a helpful nudge or two. And then even more so at Oro Bay clinic, which was remarkable. Serious apologies over the lack of photos of any of our benefactors – Katie and Joe, Father Timothy, John and Jim, Sisters Annette and Nancy – not a single photo of any of them. It was the ex-pat community in PNG that took care of us virtually throughout, but it did seem to be more difficult to take photos. I think they were more formal occasions back then, while now, when everyone has a phone, hence a camera, in their pocket, and they get used far more regularly.

  1. Pamela Blair

    This is all so interesting, Chris. The phenomenon of falling into the hands/arms of strangers as “out there” travelers is one of the things I loved most about traveling. That, and having to amuse oneself while one waits for the next form of transportation, when it only comes weekly or rarely. I once had to wait a week in Wau, Sudan, for the weekly lorry, which had left hours before I arrived by train. I slept on the porch of the town’s youth center and had lots of adventures that week–one of the most memorable weeks of my trip.

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