Thursday, December 20, 2012

Midnight Madness

"Perfection can only ever be achieved by those who neglect self improvement" - That's me.

Port Morseby Waterfront

           The connecting terminal hall descends and turns as I march towards the plane with a sense of relief, ‘whathat’s done is done’ I tell myself. I use figurative bridges like this in life to control stress and move forward without dwelling in the past. I’ve just spent a fort night’s hard earned Canadian carpenter wages on a plane ticket I may never use, missed out on 4.5k of instant superannuation, and got a 1.6% exchange rate instead of 2.1% on $300. But that skywalk to any flight is purgatory in the life of a traveler. Once you step through the open fuselage door that’s it, there’s no turning back physically or mentally, we make our choices and we bare the burden of their consciences, what’s done is done. That's the point when the journey really begins, there’s only one way but forward from here.

      My new alleviation brings on a cheery mood and my hang over mixed with a delirious lack of sleep breaks down any discomforts attached to public scrutiny. The normal code of shy politeness doesn’t apply to me as I wear my charismatic and confident attitude on my sleeve.  The dark skinned flight attended smiles at me because it’s her job to do so, she could also just be a genuinely happy person. I don’t waste the opportunity to find out. She kindly looks at my ticket and instructs me to head straight down and then right; I give her a grin of acknowledgment, walk 5 feet to a first class seat on my right and sit down with our eyes never separating. ‘This one right?” Turns out she is genuinely happy. Her smile was real and true as a fake smile always contorts the face in its transition to a defenseless smile for cheap humor. I don’t allow her time to correct me and I’m already up moving towards my designated seat. When I turn around to look back my imposed smile still lingers between her ears. My own grin reveals my cheeky innocence without the need of any words. I’ve just been foolish in the audience of a plane loaded with strangers but the humiliation is overwhelmed by the comfort of knowing I just made somebody’s day that much better. It’s as new goal inherited to positively impact somebody life every day for the rest of my life. To smile at a stranger is a cordial antibiotic that fights the blood borne disease of hatred.                     
                                    I walked down the aisle towards seat 32 A meeting the eyes off all the seated passengers and I could feel my presence disarming their defenses that’s naturally held in the company of a new stranger. That’s when I met him. I didn’t know it then but the man examining my body language, searching deep into my eyes for answers of which strangers don’t share was the man who later came to be one of my best friends and one of the wisest people I have ever met. He gently greeted me as his job entitles him to do and waved an elegant upturned hand to my seat at the back of the plane vacant of any passengers within a five row radius. “You’re sending me to the back? It’s because of my long hair isn’t it?” Yelling it out in the mocking tone of the pretentious passenger we all know and hate.  A few chuckles rang out from the surrounding passengers as they understood my jab at the downside to customer service. “I assure you sir, that these are the best seats on the plane” he said meeting my challenge with a quick and clever wit. “I know, that’s why I chose them”. And that was it, my eyes were too far open to hide my secrets and he pulled the truth of every moral gained in the past 23 years out of me with a single glance. As a people watcher I’m not used to people watching me, it’s the sign of superior wisdom. He saw in the darkness of my pupils a person with a parallel view of life and someone worth both investing in and withdrawing knowledge from.

Hotel warnings

     It wasn’t long before I looked up and saw him back next to my row of seats ready to challenge my banter.  And so it went on, I explained my enthusiasm of blowing my budget even before stepping foot into the country and he explained that the best marijuana in the world comes from New Guinea, so strong that not even the locals smoke it. “My apologies sir, my name is Sam” Offering me an outstretched hand. I accepted Sam’s hand and added “I do my best to avoid using names, it spares me the embarrassment of forgetting them. I’m Joe”. And with that handshake an invaluable friendship was born, the same birth that makes it impossible for me to stop travelling the world. The heart and soul of a memory is the people in it. The scenery, aromas, and tastes are the bi-products that link our memories to the people.  We spent the rest of the flight sitting and talking about life, morals and the quest to personal improvement. Sam returned just before final arrangements were made for landing, hands grasped together “I have decided that you will come and stay with me and my family, it is very lucky for you as well because I have a very exciting weekend planed” unfortunately the airline made last minute changes and sent him back to Brisbane so I would be fending for myself in Port Moresby for a night until he could collect me the following day.

                                     It’s always such a great feeling of adventure stepping out of a foreign airport armed with ignorance itself. Trying to get your bearings, searching information from a tourism industry that doesn’t exist, unable to understand a single word the locals are speaking, being dressed in clothes designed for an environment three times colder. This, this is real adventure and travel. No guide books, no contacts, no local language. Just a white skinned, long haired wannabe hippy, with an oversized back pack sticking out in the crowd like a pubic hair in a bowl of rice.  It’s not until you’re in situations like this that human kindness reveals itself once given the opportunity. I couldn’t imagine how boring it would be to have a chartered limousines waiting to take you to a hotel where the itinerary would be neatly printed out at the base of a crisply made bed so familiar to the one left back home. Not me, I just wander around aimlessly and clearly puzzled until some bystander is fed up with my lack of progress.  A very generous man dressed in camouflage (everyone here seems to wear some article of camouflage) spends 40 minutes rehearsing the metro bus system to me when I make it clear that 30 kina ($14) is too much for a 6 kilometer taxi ride. I think he was genuinely more interested in conversation with the apparently very scarce white man than actually sending me on my way. Content that I’ve got enough information to navigate my way to town via the local bus service I set off with my 20kg backpack and 8kg day pack strapped to my chest. That quest lasts about 20 meters before summoning a taxi in the 35 degree heat and humidity.

    My taxi driver Tony reveals that he’s a Christian and it’s why he accepted my 15 Kina haggle that all the other taxi’s refused. He said it’s the Christmas spirit time of year and god would want him to help a man in need.  We spent the better part of two hours driving around to find the cheapest guesthouse possible and finally settled on a $150 kina ($75 Australian)  / night room in a ‘Hotel’ Tony walked me around the guesthouse translating what the security guard explained in the local pigeon language. Tony appointed himself as my personal concierge showing me to my shoe box room and pausing to get full effect before turning the ceiling fan on full speed “You see?  It turns and make things cool for you” Incredible! I thought. For $75/ night I got a room with a bed, lawn chair, and ceiling fan, a communal bathroom hosting a single mold encrusted cold water shower, a sink with no faucet, and a security guard that insisted I leave my room key with him while I went out despite the 20 Kina key deposit he held.  Such is life when flying by the seat of your pants. I spent three days researching credits cards to save a percentage on exchange rates, I’ve starved myself for entire days in Africa to get the discounted bread from bakery’s at closing time, I’ve spent 24 hours in Singapore airport sleeping on the floors to save myself a small amount of money for the convenience of an earlier flight, I’ve even haggled a Chinese market in Budapest to get a shaver for $3 instead of $5 for a haircut I desperately needed.  I sacrificed so much and yet that exuberant one night of accommodation brought me back to square one.

Inner city rivers full of tiny fish

  I spent the last few hours of dusk walking the cluttered roads and exploring the local area being sure not to stray too far from the main roads. It’s apparent that white people very rarely visit the country and it’s even more apparent that white people never walk aimlessly in the streets of Port Morseby. I can confidently say that I’m the first white person they saw walking alone in that part of town, if not the first white person some of them have ever actually seen in flesh and blood. A thousand eyes followed me down the street. The already manic drivers became even more sporadic as they watched me instead of the road; however I knew I would never be hit by a car in this country because every driver noticed me from a mile away. Blending in and being inconspicuous was quickly realized as impossible. Every young woman would give me a shy smile, the braver ones would greet me with “good afternoon” The men usually threw out the peace sign or yelled “Hello Mate” mistaking me for an Australian. Some men even leaned dangerously out of passing metro busses yelling and pointing “whitey, whitey!” or “Masta, Masta” the pigeon word for a colonial foreigner. In the midst of the quickly darkening sky and the attention drawn to myself I never felt frightened or intimidated. The people were curious but they weren’t dangerous. I’ve learned how to read people who mean you harm in my home town back in Canada. It only takes the slightest moment of inattentiveness to find yourself being king punched in the ear or up against a dark wall with hands reaching through your pockets.  I usually carry myself in a stern hard manner when I sense the presence of opportunists searching for vulnerability. Cold hard glances casted downward and the rigidity of a compressed snake ready to strike express themselves in my movements while facial expressions never risk  a smile, smiling is a sign of weakness and vulnerability. I never thought I would be thankful for the muggings I endured in my youth but luckily those encounters have prepared me for conflicts that could harness much greater consequence. 

My $70 /night room

   I made it back to my room before the shadows and their accomplices transformed the streets into the wild crazed energy and sounds that penetrate the 10 foot high corrugated iron fence crowned with a heavy tangle of spiraled razor wire. I wasn’t scared but I was weary. The slum’s surrounded the small compound of the hotel, forcing in the sounds of the night that came in from every direction. I sat back against the wall in my room to write and listened to the progressive noise of night come alive. I could relate it most closely to lying in a tent alone at night and hearing the transition from birds calling their bed time songs to the increasing croak of frogs and eventual deafening roar of crickets followed up by the piercing howl of a chayote. The streets at night made the sounds of day sound like an echoless sleep. The wild dogs ran in packs and barked ferociously at whatever creature’s death was being witnessed. The cats prowled on high vantage points waiting to pounce on territorial wars. The people came out of their hiding places to scream. The screams were deafening, I’m not sure what kind of drugs and alcohol provoke screams like that but even my finger nails wanted to fall away from my crawling skin.  Spark plug bombs cracked the silence between yells and unrestrained group laughter. Eventually the fatigue of travel and airtime got the best of me and I surrendered to the droopy eyelids.

The relatively comfortable sleep was torn from my unconscious like a road rash scab. My instincts shocked me to life as my heart pounded ferociously through the thin fabric of my shirt. The crashing and banging that erupted below my bedroom window was the unmistakable sound of desperation like the thuds of flesh and scuffs of shoes in a drunken street fight. I was up on my knees looking through the window in time to see a creature running within an inch of his life and leaping over the fortress like fence and soaring like a bat over the barbed wire. Three men were chasing the perpetrator within a strides length and lucky be it to the impressive bat like acrobatics, the machetes wielded by his pursuers never had a chance to prove their effectiveness.  The men yelled over the fence and dragged their machetes along bars of steal to threaten the thief as he scurried away and warned against any other contemplating minds nearby. I piled my 20kg backpack against the door and held my hunting knife in my right hand and the sheath body in my left. Whoever it was wouldn’t be coming back, at least not tonight, there were no comforting thoughts that would help me get back to sleep. I laid there in my bed and contemplated every sound as alarming; the guards bellow didn’t seem any more at ease and stayed up late into the night talking in their pigeon tongue. I couldn’t understand their language but I did pick up the words ‘guest’ and ‘masta’. I couldn’t help but to think my little excursion down the street earlier that night had drawn the wrong kind of attention and my blind braveness might cost me more than what I budgeted for.  Adventure, this is what I live for.


Buying drugs on the street - Beetle Nut

     I checked out of the hotel early the next morning leaving my backpack under a table for pickup later on. When quizzed on the night’s events the owner assured me it had nothing to do with me and the rascals come into try and steal stuff all the time, she even showed me the hole cut through the corrugated iron fence where he had broken in. I had no reason not to believe her but despite the new confidence she inspired; I was still assigned a two man company to the bus stop a couple of hundred meters down the road. One of them ended up staying with me and giving me a walking tour of the city and showed me how to navigate the bus system around town. I got the feeling early on he wasn’t overly concerned about my lack of safety but was a genuinely nice and caring person. He was a year younger than myself and had been studying medicine before his family ran out of money to send him to school. He moved back to Port Moresby where his family was and lived in a makeshift hut underneath the hotel, he was one of the guys who chased away the rascal the night before.  He couldn’t get a job in the city because all he had was an incomplete doctor’s degree so his days consisted of sitting underneath the hotel and taking shifts with his father to open the gate when visitors arrived or left. I couldn’t help but to be reminded of growing up in the public school systems in Canada where the lame slogans promoted equal opportunity in multicolored banners strung across the gymnasium. I felt like a fool in this humble genius’s presence for all my own missed opportunity and carried the weight of everyone else I knew who chose a life of misfortune when billions more just like my new friend were dealt one.

1 comment:

  1. I am truly amazed!!! But I would be lying if I would tell you I am not worrying right now:(. I want you to keep following your dream and pray you stay safe! These blogs are just so inspiring Joe! Love ya xo