November 11th 1983

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The Budd family

Breakfast was provided by the guest-house as part of the nightly fee, so Val + I were able to recoup some of our outlay by eating heartily.  It was, tho’ no more than cereal, toast + coffee, + tho’ we did ample justice to that lot, I’m sure we still paid a substantial amount for our rooms.  Then we showered + packed + went to meet Eddy – I had rung him last night, + re-confirmed the time + place.  He was there on the dot of 9, + then it was simply another trip to the bank – our money is disappearing at an alarming rate – + then on the road again.  Only this time in stereo, air-conditioned luxury.  Eddy had had a successful trip, by his own account, having made some very big sales indeed, so he was in a good mood, tho’ now quite happy to return to his wife + kids.

We arrived back in Koiknantu, the town with the craft centre where he had picked us up, at around lunch-time, so we wandered around the Centre while he conducted some business.  The craftsmen + women were at work now, tho’ it was hardly production-line stuff.  The pottery impressed me most of all – much of it was etched with a design before firing, + was very attractive.  More so, to my eye, than its usual English equivalent.  Eddy was soon back with us – he had only made the one call, since he couldn’t be bothered, so we had a coffee + a sandwich + were soon on our way again.

Up till now, we had been back-tracking towards Lae, but shortly beyond Koinantu we came to the turn-off to Madang – they haven’t yet been able to construct a more direct route down to Madang from the Highlands.  We had heard many stories as to how bad the Madang road was, but it didn’t seem too bad to me, tho’ it was still a long + rather slow road, with one or 2 long pulls up the hills.  When we could get going tho’, Eddy put his foot down, + we fairly bombed along.  Once or twice we weren’t in total control as the car slipped + slithered on the loose gravel surface, but there was no harm done, so it just made for an exciting ride.  Just outside Madang, Eddy stopped to show us a sulphur hole + stream, all part of a nature reserve – a very pleasant spot.  Then the last few miles, arriving at Eddy’s house just on 4.

We were introduced, of course, to Eddy’s family – his wife Ann (rather plainer + older-looking than I would have imagined, but very pleasant) + the kids – Belinda, 10, Kerry 7, + Antony 3.  Our first act was to have a cup of tea, then a shower.  After that, we felt quite human again.  Val + I have become devoted followers of the American/Australian a-shower-a-day notion – don’t know how we’ll manage back in England.  There were a couple of other visitors to the house, Fred + Peter.  Fred they had known back in Lae, from where they had recently moved, + he was combining a work trip, installing a computer at Ramu Sugar Refinery, with pleasure, playing in the PNG squash championships being held this weekend in Madang.  Fred is an ex-pom, with quite a sense of humour; his mate Peter an Oz, quieter, tho’ still pleasant.  We arranged to meet them later at the Coastwatchers Motel, in town.  We then had a very pleasant roast dinner meal, tho’ it was interrupted as a social occasion by the arrival of Eddy’s work colleague, another Peter, with whom he proceeded to discuss business.  Afterwards Eddy + I amused ourselves with a couple of computer games he had acquired during his trip.  They were ostensibly presents for the 2 girls, but they didn’t get a look in edgeways.  It was shades of Juneau, with Eddy + I competing for the top score.  At the end of the evening, I was slightly ahead, with a hundred + something.

The evening in the Coastwatchers was reasonably pleasant, tho’ I did find I was spending most of my time entertaining the kids – I’m afraid I prefer to do my drinking without the company of the younger generation.  When we returned, we watched a video movie – “Fun with Dick and Jane” with George Segal + Jane Fonda.  I watched it intermittently, between writing this + playing the video game, but it was no more than light entertainment.

More expat life, which certainly makes for a comfortable, if faintly dull, life. Interesting comment on the shower, and its regularity. It has become a British things too nowadays, having a daily showere, but we were still ocked in to the more usual bath (often weekly.)

November 10th 1983

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We breakfasted lightly, then drove down with Maggie to town.  She told us a little about the first arrival of white people in PNG – a lot of the events in the film First Contact took place very close to Maggie’s place.  She told us that even when she was a small girl, + she’s now only 30, white people were rarities, + she would go a long way to have a look at them.

In town, we decided to supplement our meal before leaving by having some fresh bread + cheese, + we sat down on a step outside the Tal air office to consume it – a true feast.  And who should come along as we were sitting there but Greg.  He was on his own now, having split up form the others at Lae, but he certainly hadn’t done badly for himself since then, by the brief account he gave us of his experiences.  I wasn’t surprised – he was the sort to talk himself into invitations.  And while we have not done too badly by the expat community, Greg has been taken in by the nationals – 5 days staying with a family on an island off Madang, days here + there with other individuals + groups.  I felt quite envious, I must confess, tho’ I’m sure it’s the idea that appeals far more than the reality would do.  Even Greg had had his troubles, having been severely bitten by an insect during a stay in a hut, but he’d had his compensations too, having received, as well as hospitality, a number of fine presents.  We chatted for a while, comparing notes on our finish to the Trail – in both cases it was much as we’d expected.  Then I gave him the letter I’d written   to him + the others the night before – a saving on postage, at any rate – + we said farewell once more.

We then trotted round to catch the PMV to Goroka, + luckily once again we had a new + comfortable minibus.  A pleasant incident, just after we’d set out on the journey, when the lady in the seat in front turned round + gave Val a bead-shell necklace, + we reciprocated by giving her in turn a bracelet, a piece we’d bought for the purpose of present at a garage sale in Sydney.  She also showed us some photographs she had of various relatives, + I wish we could have shown her the photos we have since I’m sure she would have enjoyed them, but unfortunately they were among the things we had left behind with Eddy.

It was a long + fairly tedious ride, but we arrived at Goroka at about 4, + then Val minded the bags while I set out to find some accommodation.  Our guide book mentioned 2 places, but the first, the Salvation Army flats, were full (I rang them, fortunately), so we were more or less forced to take the second – the Lutheran guest house.  They had no room for us, so it meant dormitory arrangements, but, like I said, Hobson’s choice.  After I’d fetched Val, she tried to persuade the young lady in charge to allow us to camp in their grounds, but that was turned down, so we were left with our K11 a night each beds.  Fortunately for us, they weren’t offering an evening meal tonight.  This meant we were able to use the kitchen facilities – + very adequate they were too.  We immediately rushed down to the shops to purchase the necessary provisions – we decided upon chops, taters, + cabbage, + a splendid meal it was too.  It also seemed we were fortunate not to be out camping, since while we were eating our meal, it began to teem down, heavier than anything we’d experienced.  In those conditions, one appreciates a solid roof above one’s head, even if it does cost K22.  But to be fair, the guest-house was very pleasant + comfortable, with comfortable rooms, hot showers, a lounge + kitchen, this latter equipped as it was for catering to the establishment, being wonderfully well-provisioned with basic foodstuffs as well as pots + pans etc.  We were allowed to help ourselves to tea, coffee, juice, + during the evening, Jenny, the warden, offered us a piece of banana cake she had made.  We chatted a little with Jenny + a couple of the other residents – most of the guests were attending a church conference, + they seemed rather insular – until, at around 10, there was a power cut.  This was a regular occurrence, it seemed, + would last until the early hours of the morning, so we lit candles + went to bed.  I slept like a log.

Goroka market

Meeting with Greg did rather confirm the downside of going native, in terms of insect bites etc. Nor did I think that either of us had the temperament to cope with the lack of ability to communicate effectively.

November 9th 1983

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The market at Mt Hagen

A cold night, but we huddled together + stayed warm that way.  And then a bowl of porridge to finish the job.  Then we strolled out of town to catch a PMV back to Hagen – our visit to Mendi had been very short + sweet.  Very lucky to find a comfortable bus to take us back, + tho’ we took the usual tour around the houses to drum up custom, we were soon enough on our way.  We both buried ourselves in books for the duration of the trip.  I was somewhere in the midlands, Val back in Australia (“Jane Eyre” + “A Fringe of Leaves”)  And by these means the trip back to Hagen was far less tedious.

Had some chores to perform then – a trip to the Post Office to send off our Christmas cards – we’d found some postcards with an interesting design on them, so they were serving the purpose.  We also had to go to the bank, of course, + the guy there located a mate of his who had just a few Indonesian rupaiyah left over from a trip to Jayapura, + then, both feeling in an absolutely famished condition, we went round to Mr Chips.  They advertise themselves as the best chips in PNG – I don’t know about that, but they were delicious, especially with a big fat sausage to go with ‘em.

We asked in the govt. office for advice as to cheap accommodation, + the bloke there, a rather dour bloke named Ian, booked us in by phone at the nearby hostel at K14 a night.  Great.  But he did look after our bags for the afternoon.  Plus, during our travels, we saw a sign in a shop window advertising accommodation for travellers at K7 per person.  This sounded much more our ticket, so we made some enquiries about it, which improved it even more.  The lady in charge of both the shop + the hostel was not in, but her assistant was able to give us more information.  The place was 7 kms out of town,  but if we turned up at the shop at 5 pm, we would get a ride up there, + in the morning, a ride back again.  It sounded good to us.

For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered around town, + down to the market.  Hagen’s market is magnificent, with most of the vegetables one could want, in English tastes as well as New Guinean.  We bought some potatoes + some green beans (tho’ we regretted buying the latter when we saw a beautiful bunch of broccoli) to go with some bangers.  Various other little luxuries were purchased too – a cassette (they have no copyright law at the moment in PNG, so they have very cheap bootleg tapes), + a copy of Time.  The big news in the world at the moment concerns the US.  First they lost 229 marines in a terrorist attack upon their base in Lebanon.  And they have invaded Grenada, which has just gone thro’ a Marxist coup.  Pity + anger with the damned country, intermingled.

We were at the shop a little before 5, + were surprised when we met our host, Maggie Wilson, to discover that she was a national (the polite word for native.)  It is unusual for a national, especially a national woman, to have the sort of place, a fairly high-class fashion shop, that she has – but then she is a fairly unusual woman.  She gave us the promised ride up to her place, + on the way told us something about herself.  She had been taken away from her village when quite young, + given a scholarship to study in Australia for 8 years.  On coming back to PNG, she had been able to take her pick of jobs, but she had finally elected to return to her home village, from which she ran her shop in Hagen.  It wasn’t a complete return, of course – she now had an English husband + 2 children, + their house was thoroughly modern + comfortable, tho’ on the outskirts of the village proper, + without electricity.

The ride in the truck was quite amazing, because of the condition of the road.  It was so boggy + muddy, they had to have logs laid horizontal across the track.  It made for a bumpy ride, + even with the 4-wheel drive, Maggie had her work cut out getting us through.  At the top, tho’, a number of pleasant surprises.  First of all, we were taken on a brief tour around the village, + shown where a new headman’s house was being built.  It was a neat + pretty village, with a terrific view down over Mt Hagen.

Our second pleasant surprise was to see the accommodation provided for us.  It was a house built right next to Maggie’s own house, + was, like her house, a pleasing combination of traditional + modern.  It was both huge + comfortable, + very nearly self-contained – all that was lacking was a bathroom, + it was made quite clear that we were welcome to use Maggie’s at any time.  We were even provided with a key to the house, in case we needed the facilities during the night.

While there was still some light, we walked back to the village + took some photographs.  We also felt very privileged.  In one of the huts, there was a great number sitting around + having a chin-wag, + they had no objection to us sitting in the doorway + drinking in the atmosphere.  We didn’t understand a word, of course – they weren’t even speaking pidgin.  And they allowed us to take some photos.  It’s not often you can have the opportunity to witness something like that.

We returned to our less than humble abode, + cooked a superb tea.  In the evening we went to take showers – hot! – but Val, who went in at 9, did not re-appear till 12.30.  I was not at all surprised to discover she had been sitting with Maggie + a couple of the other village women, learning how to make a bilum, or native string bag.  Another craft under her belt.

It did make a nice change to experience some life that is not seen directly through expat eyes, even though Maggie was not exactly living life the way the majority of the local people were. We did feel ourselves somewhat swept up by the expat community, though actually I am not at all sure how comfortable we might have felt if we had gone native entirely; it would have meant sacrificing quite a bit of comfort.

November 8th 1983

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We had slept well – Val had last night fixed sticks on the underside of the guys on the fly-sheet, the better to keep it from pressing down on the tent itself, + allowing the water thro’, + that had worked remarkably well.  By the time we had breakfasted + packed up, it was time to go down to the main entrance, from where, we had been assured, we would have no trouble in obtaining a PMV.  In fact, it was quite some time before a vehicle appeared heading our way, but this gave me the opportunity to re-dress my sores.  The good news was that at last the swelling of my feet had subsided – Val had bought some antibiotic ointment in Mt Hagen, + that seemed to have done the trick.  A vehicle did come past us eventually, but it rushed thro’ at great speed, without stopping.  Which was partly our fault – there doesn’t seem to be a recognised hailing (or hitch-hiking) signal, + they had probably misinterpreted my wave as a mere expression of friendliness.  They did, however, return a few minutes later, + offered to take us to Mt Hagen, apologising, in fact, for not picking us up before.  “We’ll be back in a few minutes,” said the driver, in excellent English, + back they were, in a larger pick-up – the other one had already been pretty full.  This one had a double cab, so Val, at my behest, climbed in the front, while I sat in the open truck, as much to keep an eye on our bags as anything else.  I had a pleasant, +  not too uncomfortable ride, tho’ I was rather cold – it was interesting to listen to the chat among the others, tho’ they were rather taciturn, + even more so to observe them – their rivalries, humour, etc.  They were enormously delighted when a truck going the other way drove thro’ a puddle as it passed us, + threw a fair quantity of water over one of their number… + me.

When we arrived in Mt Hagen, I enquired if Val whether she had paid for our ride, + it was only then that I learned that we had been given a ride by the Premier of the Western Highlands.  I then minded the bags while Val re-stocked the larder with fresh meat, + then we sought out, + found, the PMV to Mendi.  Once again we were fortunate – our chosen vehicle was a bus, not a truck.  The driver’s assistant (tho’ in this case I  believe he was the driver’s superior), was dressed in traditional style, as are a large no. of the men, tho’ very few of the women, around Mt Hagen.  This is a belt around the waist, thick, made of bamboo or leather, + hanging down the front to cover their genitals a piece of cloth.  Most interesting, hanging down the back to cover the buttocks a bunch of leaves.  On the head, many of them wear a woolly top – isn’t it funny the way that negro peoples seem to like brightly coloured woolly hats, + the richer of them, richer in pigs that is, indicate this by a string of strips of bamboo hanging from their neck, + our feller obviously has himself quite a few porkers, with his necklace quite a way down his chest. 

We had, tho’, got the wrong idea entirely about the trip to Mendi.  It cost us K6 each, + was one hell of a long ride.  What was worse, we had managed to leave ourselves very short of money indeed – I was rather keen on staying at a guest-house for a change, but we really didn’t have the money to do that, + have the fare for the return journey.  However, we’d also got hold of the wrong end of the stick with regard to the place.  I had somehow got the impression that this trip to Mendi was to a small, off the beaten track village, with different costumes, + possibly a particular style of handicraft.  It was, in fact, a good-sized town, the HQ of the Southern Highlands, really not all that much different from Mt Hagen.  It did have the advantage of having a bank,  but our pleasure at that soon disappeared when we discovered it was shut.  Then, to add to our problems, it began to rain.

We sheltered, + then took it in turns to find out about accommodation.  My discovery was nothing special – the only guest-house that might possibly be within our fairly limited price range was a fair way out of town.  Val did rather better, tho’ I hesitated to acknowledge it at the time.  She had asked at the police station, + tho’ there didn’t seem to be a government house that we could use, they were happy for us to camp on their back lawn.  So, this we agreed to do.  The grass was well-cut, the ground flat, + they also had a toilet, + a small outhouse with a sink in it that we could use.  So we sheltered in there until we thought it was easing.  Then, once we were fully committed to erection, down came the rain with renewed + revived force.  We had always managed to avoid putting Terry the Tent up in the rain before, so we weren’t exactly proficient, + there was a good deal of bad language roundly + unfairly for getting us into the mess. 

However, it was put up eventually, + really didn’t seem to be doing too bad a job at keeping out the rain.  The weather was most uninviting,  but we decided we should make the effort to get out + about, + have even a brief look at the place.  So we donned our ponchos + went for a stroll.  It was interesting enough, I suppose, tho’ not really very much more so than any other PNG town.  Wandered back to the police station + cooked our meal – a big pot of chili.  I still had no appetite, unfortunately, so wasn’t able to do it justice.  And afterwards, we crawled into our tent, read, + then went to sleep.  We did, anyway, when the shouts of the prisoners in the cells died away.

As seems to be usual for this stage of our journey, we don’t seem to have the relevant photos you would have thought we would have taken. I suppose one does have to remember this was in the days of film cameras, when one had to be careful about how many one took, etc, but we really do seem to have carried that to an extreme.

Apologies for the “negro peoples” remark, just showing what a pitfall language can be.  Don’t think it was considered offensive at the time, but what do I know?

November 7th 1983

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Chris in minibus

Ate a fine breakfast, + purloined some more jams + vegemites, + then set off for the great metropolis of Mt Hagen, leaving Eddy to his task of making as much money out of its citizens as he could. Mt Hagen, like all PNG cities, so far as I can tell, is not a city in the western sense, in that it is not a population centre.  It is merely a centre of government, of administration, + because of those, of trade.  It therefore has a few people living in the neighbourhood, mainly the ex-pats and relatively high-up officials of govt, banking + trade, but the ordinary people all live in outlying villages.  Which is good, in that there are no slums, but confusing to the poor westerner.

We wandered the streets a little, performing the various necessary visits we had to make, the PO, bank, etc, + being importuned by various local people, approaching us as we walked along, to buy various locally-made artefacts, such as slate axes, bows + arrows, spears, + shell necklaces.  One thing that did take Val’s fancy was the woven basket, heavy + intricate.  Its seller indicated that the true price for the one she had was K35, but she was willing to accept K25.  We held out, tho’, for K20, but it seemed she wouldn’t drop from 24.  So we walked away.  Much, I could see, to Val’s distress, for I could see she really had fallen for it.  So when, a little later, he came upon us once more, + offered it for K22, she immediately said yes, + handed over the cash.

We visited Ken Logan, a local district policeman cum magistrate – we’d been referred to him by Ray + Pauline, since he would be able to give us more information about the place, + might, they had surmised, put us up for the night.  In this latter hope we were disappointed, but he did suggest a couple of places we could visit.  Both of these, he suggested, would be overnight stops.  Since Hagen was mostly a trading centre, most PMVs came into town in the morning, + returned in the afternoon.  People like ourselves, trying to do things in reverse, might find it difficult to arrange within the one day.  The first of these trips was to the Baiyer River Bird Sanctuary, but before setting out we had to return to the motel to collect our bags, + to inform Eddy of our intentions.  It wasn’t so very easy to find the place, in fact – because of our own stupidity, we wandered in to the market by one entrance, + left, without realising it, by another, thus putting ourselves on the wrong road.  We did, however, eventually realise our mistake.

I was halfway thro’ writing Eddy a note, when he appeared, declared he had had an excellent +  most profitable morning.  Since Val also wanted to go on the other trip, to Mendi, we agreed to meet Eddy in Goroka on Friday morning.  He seemed quite happy with that (and we were anxious not to overstrain a new friendship), so, leaving him in charge of the basket, + various other non immediately-essential items, we shouldered our packs + walked into town.  Caught the PMV with no problems – contrary to what we had been told, we had a minibus, not the back of a truck.  The people were all very friendly – first of all we were presented with sugar-cane to chew on, + tho’ we weren’t as adept as everyone else at removing the woody outside – they used their teeth, while we needed a knife – it was refreshing.  We were also presented with a pineapple by a lady on the bus, to pay for if we chose.  We did choose, of course, giving her 50b + a small kangaroo brooch.  She was delighted with this latter, treating it as an ear-ring, + trusting the pin thro’ her pierced ear.  We were required to pay an extra K2 for the bus to take us right to the gates of the sanctuary – something we hadn’t already been told about, which was a bit naughty – but we paid, + left everyone on good terms.

Walked up to the Lodge to see about accommodation, + soon discovered that at K10 each, it was beyond our price range, especially since we knew we would be able to camp on their grounds for just K2 each.  So we put up the tent, + then went for a walk around the grounds while there was still light.  The general air was of mild decrepitude, the place looked run-down (we later learned that it was indeed short of money), but there was plenty which was of interest.  Lots of birds in cages – some shy + retiring, others not at all so – + the first cassowaries we had ever seen.  The place is famous for its birds of paradise, but for us they were remarkably unimpressive, tho’ since it was a grey + chilly evening we scarcely saw them in the best of circumstances.  There were a few other native animals there too, tho’ nothing too spectacular.  The star of the show, certainly for the Nationals, was a white cockatoo who screeched “Hello Cocky!”, + laughed hysterically.  But for me the best thing about the place was the jungle setting – the cages + compounds were set in, + dominated by, the jungle environment around us.

We returned to the tent, + Val cooked a meat + vegetable stew.  The rain was starting to fall quite heavily, so we had to build a small cooking shelter in the doorway of the hut with one of the ponchos.  I had  no appetite whatever tho’ , I’m afraid, + only enjoyed the potatoes.  I suppose I was satiated by the sugar cane.  We retreated into our canvas – well, nylon – home, the rain drumming ever more fiercely on the roof, + soon tucked ourselves up as cosily as we might.

Actually good to be back by ourselves for a bit, and to get the chance to interact with the local people; not in a very close way, but at least to feel that we were in the same country.

An A to Z of my time in Ethiopia

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Cottage pie and carrots

A and B have to go together, as they refer to the terrible twins, Alazar and Binyam.  They had much going for them:  Alazar is funny, witty, erudite, and, though he actually contributed very little during the project, he did come good at the end, with a nifty little poster, and some excellent photos (and maybe some video to come.) And Binyam is an excellent performer, when he could be persuaded to focus and not disappear with his phone.  But first they were at almighty loggerheads with each other, which I had to manage, and worst of all was the constant demand for more money, virtually daily, which seriously got me down.

C is for cottage pie.  Most of the time here I cooked for myself, and this was my proudest achievement; it tasted as good as it looks.

D is for Dr Anchu, my landlady, who is always on call, and prompt in her response to any problem.  And always nice about it too! (“Sorry for the inconvenience!”)

E is for enjira, the Ethiopian pancake that they use for everything.  At first I quite liked it; now the very thought makes me gag.  A friend who had been here fifty years ago described it as like a thin foam mattress, and that is kind, in my opinion.

F is for the Film School staff.  Not, I hasten to add, the management, teaching staff, or students, none of whom could be bothered to come to see the show, and merely seemed to regard me as a cash cow (nothing new there), but the kitchen girls, and the two security guys, who were great.  I always said hello, clowned and made them laugh, and we got on very well.

G is actually the best of all, the Gang: the fifteen members of the cast, all of whom I really, really liked – they were just great.

H is home, my home in Addis.  I spent quite a lot of time here, there generally being little to do and nowhere to go in the evening, but I was quite happy with that (so long as the wi-fi worked.)  I had tea and biscuits, the paper, beer and crisps, home-cooked food, the radio.  Even the telly once I’d sorted out a VPN.  And a comfortable bed.  Who could ask for more?

I stands for internet, or rather wi-fi (or weefy, as Val’s uncle would have described it.)  I pretty much covered it in the last paragraph, just missing the utter desolation when the power went off and it disappeared.  Plus the troubles with my blog-site; Val has been posting my blogs for me for the past week, since I appear to have been locked out of my own site!

J (a bit of a cop-out) is for jam, which stands in for my shopping here, when at first I thought I would not be able to find anything I could manage to eat.  So it includes jam, peanut butter (pretty disgusting), a couple of huge avocados (which went off and I had to throw away), but also my more successful purchases – a tin of Quaker porridge oats’ a tin of mi8lk powder, a big block of (admittedly tasteless) cheese…

K is for king,, and two of our warm-up games: King Rabbit (actually a drinking game – not that I told them that), silly and funny;  and Who Killed King John, a rule-based get the words right and don’t laugh game, which I used once in desperation, and which they coped with amazingly well.

L is for Lucy.  No, not my daughter, but the ancient skeleton in the museum (don’t know which one; I was taken there on a tour.)  Not all that impressive, actually, but the Ethiopians are very proud of her as mankind’s earliest ancestor (maybe.) 

M is for the mini-market, just around the corner.  I was most disparaging about it when I first arrived, but actually it has been a godsend – onions, potatoes, tomatoes (the tomatoes look pretty scabby, but taste amazing.)  Beer, coke and water, crisps, noodles…  And a really nice couple who run it.  (I once gave a 200 birre too many by mistake, which was returned to me.)

N is for notes, as in director’s notes, scribbled down in an exercise book during run-throughs.  For just about every one, I repeated the note “The Chase!”, referencing a tricky movement section, which, despite being rehearsed again and again, was disastrous every time.  Until the performance!

O is for ordinary life, ie the opposite of being a tourist, when the only Ethiopians you get to speak to are taxi-drivers and people who work in hotels.  I nod and say hello to people on the street, I buy food in the local shops, I talk and joke with lots of local people, I’ve been to their houses…  Not that I am claiming any great merit in this, but working in a place is so much better than just visiting, in my opinion.  Although, in contrast, I am sad that I have not seen more of Ethiopia.

P is for phones.  Vital, of course, as I discovered when my Ethiopian phone stopped working on me (I’ve since discovered that it works when outside on high buildings, and luckily I have a large balcony outside my apartment.)  But for too much of the time, they make me want to scream.  Binyam never stopped being on his, despite insisting that the cast should do without theirs.  I frequently threatened the cast with throwing theirs off the Film School terrace, but they knew I was joking (just.)

Q is for the Queen of Sheba.  Mythical figure, had sex with Solomon, claimed by various countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen and, of course, Ethiopia – Ethiopian air miles are Sheba miles, and the print shop where I got the scripts copied, with a very nice, English-speaking manager, is called Queen of Sheba Printing.  Ironically, in an earlier version of Double Trouble, one of the characters said, “Who’s she?  The Queen of Sheba?”

R is for rolls, as in bread rolls.  When I first came to Ethiopia, and stayed in the Hotel Sidra, I found the bread disgusting, falling apart and sweet.  But there is a bakery nearby, and though I was suspicious that theirs would be similar.  But actually, though there is no choice other than Hobson’s – she just has soft bread rolls, a bit like hamburger baps, they are very nice.  They cost 8 birre each, and the lady is always amused when I hand over the right money for the number of rolls requested.  They made a difference to my life here – cheese and tomato sandwiches.

S is for stairs, one of my least favourite aspects of my trip here.  Both my apartment and the Film School are on the fourth floor, and neither has a lift, meaning that whichever direction I travel, my journey ends with me out of breath.

T is for tea.  At first, I was carefully conserving the ones I had brought from England (even keeping used ones in the fridge in case I got desperate.)  But since discovering that the ones on sale here are at least as good, I have drunk as many cups as I want.

U is for unfinished buildings (I know – a bit of a stretch.)  I am just amazed that there are so many of them around.  Very occasionally, I have come across some frantic activity (all with manual labour), but then, the next time I pass by, the site is idle again.

V is for Village, or rather The Village, a bar-cum-restaurant just a short walk away.  It has bookended my stay; it was where Alazar took me for coffee when I first arrived, and was the scene of my final get-together with the cast.  A fine place… with draft beer.

W is for water, more specifically lack of water.  On a regular basis, nothing comes out of the taps (even when they are working, it is barely a trickle.)  Which means a ten gallon drum is hauled up the stairs, for me to decant into a bowl to throw down the toilet, have a wash, clean the dishes etc.  Sometimes, Anchu the construction work going on outside, but it also happened before they started work.

X is for crossing, as in crossing the road, something I have become entirely used to (and will have to unlearn as soon as I return home, or else I shall get myself run over.)  I am not quite so casual about it as the locals; walking with Atala and her daughter was a nightmare, as she would appear just to step out without a glance, even carving our way across a roundabout.

Y is for Yod Abyssinia, the traditional restaurant offering an amazing cabaret of traditional music and dances (there are many different ethnic groups in Ethiopia, and they all have their own style, costume, etc.)  It was quite a highlight, though I believe there are several offering much the same fare – I went to another, was even persuaded to get up and dance, but it lacked the magic of the first time.

And Z (of course!) is for Zip zap boing.  It was a favourite at Thame Youth Theatre, and I have used it with just about every group I have worked with (the one exception being Lebanon, where it failed to work because zip is too close to zib, Arabic for willy.)  It always follows the first pattern.  At first they are bemused, then start to catch on, and end up lightning fast.

November 6th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Awoke early, + fixed ourselves, at Pauline’s behest, a simple but much appreciated breakfast of Rice Krispies + milk, toast + coffee.  Afterwards Ray, rather the worse for wear for his night of indulgence, suggested a trip up to the Craft Centre, 135 kms or so towards Goroka, + Pauline, whi gets out little enough, I imagine, agreed happily.  We, of course, were delighted, since we were by no means sure we would have been able to catch a PMV on a Sunday.  First, tho’, there was a brief trip to Burns Philp, one of the 2 dominant chain dept stores throughout PNG, primarily to fulfil Peter’s request + my own requirements by buying some shoes, but also to stock ourselves up with a few basic provisions.  The others all bought soft drinks, + this occasioned an ugly little scene.  Pauline was driving, + as we pulled out + swung round a corner, the opened bottle which she had rested on the space next to the gear-stick, toppled + spilt some of its contents.  It ws stupid of her, but Ray’s reaction was disproportionate: he yelled + swore at her.  It was both rude, being in front of guests, + degrading, being in front of their children.

The journey was pleasant, driving out from Lae towards the mountains towering before us, but a little uncomfortable, since I suspect Ray was repenting at leisure what he had offered in haste – a long + tiring trip.  It didn’t help that 2 of the kids were in sulky moods, + I was relieved when we finally turned into the centre.  By lucky co-incidence there was another ex-pat guy standing there in the car park, + it seemed he + Pauline knew each other, tho’ not well.  They established their connection, + she then asked him if he was going on to Mt Hagen, + whether he had room for 2 more – the answer to both was yes.  A lucky meeting for us indeed.  His name was Eddy, + we all went into the Centre to have a chat, + some coffee – they served excellent coffee.  Indeed, the whole place was a revelation to us – they had a vast array of the most varied assortment of crafts, both modern + traditional, + all of it of a very high standard indeed.  This was our opportunity to buy Ray + Pauline a present for all the troubles they had gone to over us, + we chose a small pot with a lid.  We deliberately avoided ethnic or traditional work, since they would know so much better than us what would be worth having, plus, of course, what they would already have.  We then took our leave of our old friends, + set off with our new.

Eddy was a travelling salesman.  At least, his title was marketing manager, but in fact he was, at least for the present, doing a rep’s job, selling clothes.  He would be in Hagen tonight, he told us, + tomorrow as well, + would then be slowly be working his way back to his home in Madang, if his timetable would suit us.  Which, we agreed, was a definite possibility.  We soon discovered Eddy to be a most congenial personality, + we soon found areas of sympathy.  He was a Londoner, but had lived for some years in Welwyn Garden City.  He had come to PNG purely to make money, with no sympathetic feeling towards the Nationals, but had now taken a new job with a cut in salary in order to be able to stay, + now found the native people warm + friendly.  His sense of humour + mine dovetailed very nicely – he even liked the new styles of music.  He did carry a gun in the front seat, it’s true, but he hastened to explain that it was for purely defensive purposes, that it fired a mixture of tear gas + chloroform, + that, on one of the only 2 occasions he had used it, he had knocked himself out, by firing it ahead of him, + then running smack into its cloud of gas.  On the other occasion tho’, it had effectively scared off some “rascals” who had barricaded the road.

We arrived in Hagen a little before 6, + Eddy assured us we were more than welcome to share his motel room – he was confident the difference between a single + a double room would be a mere K5 or so.  We were then horrified when the lady at the motel told us the tariff was K20 per person for bed + breakfast.  Eddy was quite unperturbed, however, + signed us in.  He told us later that he would normally stay at the far more expensive hotel in town, that he was only staying here because he wanted to do business with the proprietress’s husband, that the company paid anyway, that it was on them.

Thus relieved, we went to dinner (for which he paid, our share anyway_ + had a pleasant if unexciting meal.  Eddy was quite in accord with us in purloining the individual jams etc left on the table, + was, all in all, splendid company.  In the evening we sat in the lounge, read + wrote, + watched the video, this latter being particularly unexciting.  Then, being kicked out at about 10, we retired to our room + chatted for a good while.

No, no pictures of Ray and Pauline, but no great loss there. In fact, it was a relief to have stumbled onto a far more congenial host, and not to have to bite one’s tonguer when referring to the local people. More ex-pat life, of course, though it did have its advantages, in terms of food and accommodation, certainly in this case.

November 5th 1983

posted in: The way back | 1

Woke up aboard the Nagada – again – steaming along merrily.  However, as the morning went on, early estimates as to time of arrival were put back + back – the trip was becoming a bore.  So I lost myself in a book, Charlotte Bronte’s “Jane Eyre”.  Rather to my own surprise, I was fascinated, + instead of taking it slow, slow + easy, I raced thro’ chapter after chapter.  Tho’ it did help to take my mind off my stomach – by now I was becoming very hungry.  However, Val also provided assistance there – she took the water from the 2nd coconut we’d been given, + used that to cook a big bag of porridge (the oats reclaimed from the muesli.)  That helped me a good deal, + filled a mighty hole.  Val passed a little time too by chatting up the captain, + thereby getting a look at the navigation room, as well as a quick turn at the wheel – course 315 degrees, plus or minus 5 degrees.

Finally arrived at Lae at about 2.30, + after the usual hassles about mooring the thing in the right place, then filing off down the gangplank one by one to give in our tickets, there we were.  Right next door to the wharf was the Lae Yacht Club, + we’d been mildly amazed to see the large number of whites sitting there (they also looked a little surprised to see us.)  As we were so close, Val popped in to check out the food there (I felt slightly embarrassed as I was padding around in my socks) but she soon popped out again to drag me in – we were having a drink bought for us.  Our host was an enormous + amazingly fit + well-built guy called Peter, head of stevedoring with a local shipping co. – he was both ebullient + friendly in a very Australian sort of way.  We bought ourselves a hamburger + some chips, + more beer appeared, + then more.  We were still, at this stage, fairly determined to catch a PMV out of Lae, so we approached Peter, to which he suggested moving onto another club, so, as much in order not to offend, we agreed.  But just for the one mind you.

The next place was pretty much exactly the same as the last, the same sort of boozy crowd, the same sort of boozy jokes.  We were, however, introduced to a couple of ex-poms, so chatted with them.  They were both the worse for wear for drink – one slightly, one extremely (it seems to be very much an occupational hazard out here.)  It was Ray, the drunker one, who invited us back to his place to kip on the floor, + as it was by now fairly late in the afternoon, we succumbed + agreed.  Peter seemed delighted that we had found shelter for the night (tho’ I think we may have ended up kipping at his place had we not), but as we transferred our bags from his car to Ray’s truck, he thrust K10 into Ray’s hand, + told him to buy me some shoes – I was still, as I had been all afternoon, padding around in my socks.

Ray took us back + introduced us to his wife Pauline.  She was in no state to receive guests, having just got out of bed + having a stinking cold,  but she was nonetheless very nice indeed, + made us feel quite at home.  I wasn’t nearly so sure about Ray – he dragged me out on a couple of occasions, first to the Yacht Club (again!). where he swapped his pick-up with a colleague for a luxury saloon car – his mate apparently needed the pick-up to pill his boat of the water – + then to the Bowling Club (another drinking establishment almost exactly the same as the others we’d visited.)  This trip was specifically to enquire about fixing a lift for us to Goroka, but they guy wasn’t about, so we had a beer (I didn’t enjoy it, having had too many already) + came back.

It seemed we weren’t the only ones invited to dinner this evening – 3 of Ray’s mates also came round.  They were basically typical Oz types (even tho’ one was a Kiwi, + one had been born in Poland), + good-natured enough, but boozy,+ most objectionable of all, overtly racist.  Which I thought was particularly bad in view of the fact that there were 3 young kids present.  But the evening passed pleasantly enough – the booze flowed, + Ray, in particular, became drunker + drunker; the meal, a curry, was presented (quite delicious); + the video flickered on throughout the evening.

One interesting footnote – Pauline told Val that during the flood disaster a year or 2 previously, it was the ex-pat community who had supervised the distribution of clothes + blankets.  The blankets, it seemed, had mostly found their way into the shops, while the clothes had been pillaged of anything half-decent by the women appointed to look after them.  Pauline said this in a tone of disapprobation… + then announced that she had done the same thing.  And would have done more, had she been able to find the clothes to fit her.  After all, she said, what good would decent clothes be to the native women?

Straight back in to the ex-pat community; we are more or less adopted wherever we go, and though it makes for comfortable living and plenty of beer, we would have liked to escape it rather more than we did. All the more so when we encounter the sort of attitude described in the final paragraph, even from someone as relatively enlightened as Pauline.

(And still no photos, sorry.)


posted in: Ethiopian project | 0


This being my last full night in Ethiopia, I invited any of the cast who was able and willing to join me at The Village, the bar and restaurant just a few minutes away from the apartment, though I made it clear that there was no pressure; Binyam has gone on many times about how they were always asking him for money for transportation.

I chose to sit on the other side of the room, where there was a better space for a larger group to congregate, and discovered that they had a large-screen TV there.  What was more, they were showing highlights of the Carabao Cup, including West Ham’s win against Arsenal, so I was able to eat (Half of) my pizza and enjoy a beer.  Alazar turned up shortly after that game had finished, full of praise for the performance, and some gentle apologies that things had not always been smooth, which I brushed aside.  He gave me a present, a sort of triptych of paintings of Ethiopian village life, which was a nice gesture, and then said goodbye, while assuring me that the others were on their way.

Which indeed they were, all of them except for Atala and Yebsira, dressed up smartly.  And we had a most pleasant time.  There were a couple of songs, a poem, several speeches, all summarised for me by Hana, the best English speaker there, though it was difficult to hear her in a noisy restaurant.  But I caught the general gist, that they were grateful to me (likewise), and that they wished to stay together forever – a tad ambitious – to create more theatre.

There were some presents at this point: another triptych (seems to be a thing here), a book of poems in Amaric, and a shirt for me and a scarf for Val.  And then I sang the chorus from Goodbyee, that being the most appropriate thing I could think of at the time, gave each one a(nother) hug, and left them to it.

November 4th 1983

posted in: The way back | 0

Not a very inspiring day.  Very much the same as yesterday, in fact, only rather less so.  I have vague recollections of us docking at Tufi at some impossible hour  of the morning, + I got up to check our belongings, in case some light-fingered New Guinean had made off with them.  (In fact, they had – as far as my flip-flops at any rate, but I didn’t discover this until later.)  I recall not being over-impressed with what tiny part of Tufi I could barely see, + returning to bed, only to wake much later, the sun streaming down out of a perfect sky, + us nearly returned to Oro Bay.  We docked at around 9.30, we ate some soggy bran, + then Val, she being the one with shoes, rushed off to purchase further provisions before the boat left.  She needn’t have worried, since as things turned out she had time to get to Popondetta + back, but at that hour of the morning, with the sun still bright in the sky, we were still hopeful. 

Spent the rest of the day reading, + chatting with the occasional local.  One was Raymond, a pleasant young soul I’d met yesterday – he brought us a present of 2 coconuts.  And there was another lady, making a fortune she told us, like many of her fellow Highlanders, by coming down to Popondetta to buy betel nuts by the sackful, to sell at a large profit back home.  The unloading + loading of the vessel, the remainder of the work left over from yesterday, took all day.  But eventually, at around 9 (or 10 or 11 – one becomes numbed to the effects + passage of time) we cast off our moorings + left.  So from being just a few hours behind the others, we found ourselves 6 days behind, with our time in PNG rapidly running out, + so little seen.  We must return tho’, I feel, to visit New Britain + the other outer isles.

Raymond appeared after dark with another present, 2 parcels of boiled rice wrapped up in a leaf, tied up into cigar shapes.  The rice I found bland + unpalatable, but I was intrigued by the biodegradable packaging, + much appreciated the gesture.  I had been about to fix up Walter Walkman to listen to some music, so Raymond + I sat on my bunk + listened.  First was Side 2 of “A Nice Pair”, not my favourite tape, + then PG Live, which I am appreciating more + more.  Raymond seemed to enjoy it too.  And then fatigue (or ennui) setting in, laid down to sleep.

Simply passing time as best we could, waiting to arrive somewhere and so able to continue our journey. But managed to chat with various local people – not always our strength.