Sunday, January 19, 2014

Blood Stain - Papua New Guinea

                                     Blood stained fat saturates the earth in crusty layers. Hordes of flies cover sections of ground like an oscillating second skin. A cocktail of rotting flesh and mortal fear lingers low to the ground in a hazy sweat. The soggy smell finds its way to our hard working tongues; it’s a blessing we only get fed once a day in this slaughter house, it’s about all the appetite can stomach. The high pitch squeal of a pig makes even the most murderous of creatures search for their own shadow after death. It’s something so human about a pig’s squeal that lingers on my conscience. Pigs are sensitive and intelligent creatures; they possess characteristics that not even dogs can equal. When a pig is about to die, it’s fully aware of the fate about to come down upon its skull. The squeal isn’t a fearful yell but a pleading cry that’s always answered devoid of consideration. But this is the cycle of carnivorous life, silencing the beat of one heart to prolong the existence of another.
                                     The first kill will forever linger in my mind. “On a farm in Outback Australia, I run my eye down the sights on a bolt action rifle, readying my shoulder for the recoil it’s about to cushion, the 1300 pound cow stares at me dumbfounded only ten meters away and completely oblivious to the peril it’s in. My sights line up with the animals left eye, dark as black marble and deeper than the furthest reaches of space. A steady exhale of my lungs combined with a gentle squeeze of the trigger and those dark innocent eyes see no more.” I brace myself on top of the small alley built of cinder blocks, but this slaughter house in the outlying suburbs of Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea have no guns or ammunition, I’m handed a sledge hammer and further explanation isn’t required. The coworker behind me twists the pig's tail to restrain it temporarily. There is no language barrier here as I nod my head letting him know I’m ready for what comes next. My coworker lets go of the pig’s tail and delivers a cracking slap to its back, the pig in its last attempt of desperation runs the gauntlet only to be greeted by the business end of the sledge hammer being swung between my legs.  It dies quick, there is no pain, at least that’s what I tell myself to rationalize taking the life of another. There are some who will argue that killing is unjustifiably wrong but there is some peace found while browsing a local grocery store for plastic wrapped pork chops and instead of seeing a pink slab with a price tag, I see an animal that lived a full life and had to die so that I can live on.

                                     This is my new job, working for a Philippino run business killing and roasting full sized pigs over a charcoal fire. Clients come from all walks of life require our service to provide full sized pigs to be gutted, cleaned, roasted, and delivered to customers on aluminum foil trays. Anything from corporate Christmas parties to holiday family gatherings. Whatever the reason may be, a feast always ensues and the once trotting, squealing creature remains nothing but dry bone to which even the cartilage and marrow have been sucked clean. Jobs around the slaughter house and pig roasting compound vary from collecting water from a nearby well to supervising the cooking of the pigs and maintaining a steady supply of coals. Unlike my presence in South East Asia where white men are admired, they had little skilled use for me in the business and I spent most of my time picking chilies from the garden with the children until I was paired up with a gentle native man named Micheal to accompany him on a journey that had the potential to be the most dangerous car ride I will ever take.  
                                     In the compound we only slaughter and cook the pigs. The pigs are raised and farmed by a Chinese man in an area called 16 mile, named appropriately for its proximity to the center of the city. Naturally the further from the city one finds themselves, the more rugged and unmaintained the roads become and the less police presence is seen. 16 miles on narrow roads competing with ox driven carts and commercial shipping trucks whilst dodging pot holes and burned out cars quickly becomes less of a Sunday drive and more of a risky adventure for the average commuter, however we were anything but just passerby’s to the local rascals looking for a quick fix of cash for a simple heist. All trading in this country is done with good hard cash, the gangs of unemployed youth in the outlying suburban sprawl know that any truck heading to the pig farm has at least $500 of cash which paints a huge target on our truck to begin with, now throw a white man (me) in the passenger seat and the chances of being hijacked go from probable to very likely.

                                     It was imperative that we left just after the break of dawn, no camera, no wallet, nothing of value, one of our drivers was robber just weeks before during a late afternoon trip. Most of the rascals spend their days getting high and drunk so leaving early in the morning improved our odds due to the thugs still sleeping off their hangovers.  Michael my driver was shy at first but after our first stop at a road side vendor, he saw me buying some boa nut and mustard flower. I had no lime but he was all too honored to share his own supply of lime to complete the drug which sparked our friendship that followed. Michael spent 28 years in the PNG military being trained by the Australian and American Special Forces through the country’s military partnership. He was old and leathered but I’m sure he could still kick some ass. I’m glad we were on the same tame. I assured him I would be his security escort for the day, Michael erupted in a great laugh and grabbed at my hand in a rough shake to acknowledge the humour at my own fragility. Me being there was putting both of us in more danger than necessary but he was unfazed, in fact I felt such a sense of pride radiating from him during that day that I began to understand the faithfulness and sense of comradery these humble tribesmen had with each other. I knew from our short relationship together that if shit did go down that day, he would have been the first to take a hit or a knife for me.

                                     Our pigs were purchased without incident and the lack of urgency in the culture was apparent as we spent the rest of the day touring around the different villages his family members resided. I was shown around to some religious missions he helped build pointing out the roof he put on or the ditch he helped dig until we finally came to rest on the bank of a beautiful clean crisp river.  I’m not sure what it is about the PNG people but I’ve never connected with any other culture so quickly in my life. I hardly knew the ex-military sergeant for more than a few hours and yet we lay side by side in the tuffs of grass on the river bank exchanging our deepest and darkest secrets. We had a parallel understanding of life, a poor man helping me understand that money doesn’t bring happiness. I was talking to a soldier who grew up in a village where money would be used to start a fire or roll a cigarette. If they wanted rice they would trade it for coconut, if they wanted fruit they would pick it from the many trees, if they wanted meat they would hunt for it. They didn’t have flat screen tv’s, five day all inclusive holidays, air Jordans but yet they seemed to have everything needed to live comfortably without the complicated fabric of western demeanour. The only thing more important than a full stomach and roof over your head are the people who help you eat it and the warmth they bring around you.
“Well, Less is more, Lucrezia: I am Judged.
Thee Burns a truer light of God in them”
Andrea Del Sarto’ – The Faultless Painter.

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