Sunday, 24 July 2016

PNG 11 - Mt Hagen Refreshed

Mt Hagen has become more familiar as the days have passed. I've discovered other sides of the town which have helped redeem it in my eyes. It still reminds me of a shanty town with shabby broken down store fronts, each one guarded by a security guard; the Westpac Bank, housed inside a pallisade of heavy duty steel bars as thick as my wrist; the main street full of trucks and potholes the size of cows, with people in all sorts of rough garb, young, old,  beautiful, mis-shapen; some faces lined with creases as deep as the potholes, others with skin shining like burnished ebony.

We have not seen another white face in the town streets in three days.

What's changed to make me feel more relaxed, more comfortable?  Firstly the friendly reception we receive from strangers. People constantly making eye contact and saying good morning; people constantly asking to have their photos taken and not asking for anything - even to see the result - as if we are providing some service; then thanking us as if we have given them some privileged experience.

Then there are the ladies at the market where Gabrielle is the honeypot and the bilum sellers the honey bees. They swarm over us whenever we step inside the gate and often before, calling to us through the bars of the metal fence. They laugh, compete, pose for photos but always with their eye on the prize - another sale. The market is bountiful, overflowing with produce fresh from the village plots. It is a heaving mass of people doing business. It's mainly women. They sit surrounded by expanses of leafy green vegetables, absurdly orange carrots, ginger, brocolli, bananas, oranges, vivid red and purple sweet potato, spring onions, beans, smoked fish, trussed chickens; everything you can imagine.  It is a gardener's paradise. So much more than Kokopo and at prices you can imagine people can afford.

Thirdly, we discovered the areas outside the centre where people live largely subsistence lives in family groups on family land. Here the green of the valley returns, where garden plots abound and family compounds are proudly clean and maintained. You can feel yourself breath again as the dust and bustle of central Mt Hagen recede.

We were lucky enough to visit one of these families. Gabrielle managed to make contact with her old friend from 42 years ago, Teresa Bolga.

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