I wake around 5:45 or 6:00 most mornings, with the warm rays of the sun just beginning to peak through our upstairs bedroom windows that face the mountains to the east. The ceiling fan is beating on high speed, and the air is already becoming sticky and warm. During the night, it may have gotten cool enough that I’ve pulled a thin sheet over myself, but usually it’s too warm for that. There are many bird sounds coming through the open windows, and the curtains are blowing in the breeze caused by the fan.
I go downstairs to make coffee. I grind fresh roasted coffee beans that came from the highlands just north of Port Moresby, and I fill the electric kettle with water from the tap to boil for the coffee. The remaining water will be poured into saved plastic bottles and put in the refrigerator for drinking later, or for making lemonade or Tang.
We have wireless Internet at our home that’s beamed from the THQ building at the other side of the compound. It’s weak and slow by American standards, but we’re grateful to be able to keep in touch with family and friends. So while I enjoy my first morning coffee, I check up on Facebook and on my favorite news web sites in order to see what’s going on “back home.”
Breakfast is usually juice, and a bowl of cereal with “milk” from a square box. That took some getting used to! I still always chuckle as I twist the small plastic cap off the box, and read the words printed across the top: “Made from fresh milk.” So in other words — this isn’t really milk I’m pouring on my cereal, it’s something white that was made from real milk! What I’ve learned is that as long as the cereal has a strong enough flavor, I can enjoy my breakfast without too much difficulty, but I will not drink the remaining milk in the bowl. And I won’t even attempt to just pour a glass of the stuff and drink it straight.
After breakfast, we carefully rinse every dish, because if we don’t remove all food residue there will be many tiny, lightning-fast ants that will find it and quickly populate whatever counter-top the items were left on.
I go iron a clean uniform shirt for the day, and one for my wife (she washes and folds, I hang and iron!), then take a cool shower and get ready for the day. By the time I’m pulling on that fresh ironed shirt, I’m already getting hot and sweaty — it’s one of the first things you learn here, that it’s just a way of life, and you get used to it.
I pack a squeeze bottle of cold water, along with a 1.5 liter bottle, into my backpack along with my computer and other materials, and we head to the office, a short 5-minute walk across the compound. Guards greet us at the gate between our complex of eight townhouses and the Salvation Army’s schools that lie between us and the THQ offices. Uniformed children from pre-school age to middle-schoolers are scurrying and playing before school. A PA system comes on with a recorded arpeggio chime up the scale, and a voice tells the children it’s time for classes. Then the arpeggio chime reverses back down the scale — the signal that the announcement is over. We’ll hear that same chime up and down throughout the school day. As the children hang their backpacks on pegs outside their classrooms and file in, we can hear them all begin to sing Sunday school choruses, loudly and in their heavy Australian influenced accents and in English.
There are more than 800 languages in this country, but Tok Pisin and Motu are the two most prevalent, and English is taught in the schools.
At the office, the floors are white ceramic tile, a most-common floor covering. It’s cheap and easy to clean. The main areas are cooler than outside, but “AirCon” is in the individual office spaces and meeting rooms. Each room has its own unit, high on a wall, that’s controlled with a remote. Our building is three floors, and there is one stair, near the center, to access the upper floors.
My office faces west, back toward the schools. There is a small gravel and dirt parking area that’s always teeming with school children and their parents, visitors, people passing through, and little cars taking driving students out for lessons from the adult school run here. The territory’s “auditorium,” the Roy Bungay Memorial Hall, is a large concrete slab with a high metal roof over it, and a huge stage and back wall at the far end. The hall is about the size of three basketball courts. And throughout the week it’s used for school assemblies, physical education classes, or outside groups that have rented the space for meetings and other large gatherings. (Sometimes the singing and extremely loud PA speaking can get a bit distracting, but again, it’s just something you begin to adjust to.)
The office has electricity and Internet, but neither is completely dependable. Every computer in every office has an UPS (uninterruptible power supply) because sometimes several times a day, the power will just suddenly go out. The building has an automatic back-up generator, but it takes a second or two to kick in – that’s assuming it’s not run out of Kerosene.
At lunch time we usually walk home for a sandwich. We’ll turn on the ceiling fan in the living room, and hang our uniform shirts over a chair to try to stay relatively cool. After lunch, we’ll refill water bottles, don our uniform shirts and sunglasses, and walk back to the office.
Sometimes we treat ourselves at a couple of nearby places we can walk to. There’s a “Big Rooster” where we can get chicken and chips (their name for fries here) or a small vertical mall that has a lunch counter on the second floor where we can get a “plain” hamburger and chips. (The “plain” burger comes with catsup, lettuce, tomato, a slice of beet, onion and a slice of cucumber. Our first time there, we ordered the deluxe, and were surprised to find all those, plus a fried egg, a slice of ham, some cabbage, a slice of pineapple, and some additional sauce. We dismantled most of it, and felt like we had both breakfast and lunch on the same plate!)
Work ends at 4:30, but sometimes we stay at the office for another couple of hours because we can get more done with less interruptions (that’s the official reason) or because that way we can stay in the air conditioning instead of going home to our hot house (the unofficial reason!).
At home, we’ll catch up on Facebook and personal emails, put in a load of laundry (they have washers here, but no driers, so we hang everything up to dry in an upstairs bedroom), and make something for a light supper. We pay for cable television, so we scan through the channels to find reruns of American shows, or movies we might like to watch. It’s an eclectic mix of choices, because programming comes from local stations, from Australia, Asia and the mid-East. We have to go the cable office every month to pay in cash. Everything here is cash, and you pay for everything up front. There is no getting work done and then paying the bill!
The sun goes down around 6 or 6:15 every night. It gets very dark, and in the evenings, it’s noisy. Besides traffic, there’s usually people walking or congregating across the streets in front of our behind our compound. The rowdy folks come out after dark–drunks and just trouble makers. Here, they use the term “rascals” to refer to the dangerous criminals. I always find that funny, since at home, “rascals” almost has a light, comical connotation. But we don’t go out after dark. At all.
In spite of screens on all the windows, there are always little bugs flying and or crawling around. We brought little electric fly swatters with us, and I keep one near where I sit.
Somewhere around 9 or 10 we’ll turn off lights and fans and head upstairs for bed. We may read for a while and try to cool down.
Oh, we never go barefoot at home. I’ve talked about the open windows. They never close. We want as much breeze through the house as possible. Well, it’s a very dusty dirty country, so the house always has dust on everything. Our first few days, we would come to bed, and bring a wash cloth with us to scrub the dirt off our feet. It just got to be bothersome, so now we just always wear sandals or flip-flops around the house.