Weekends Relaxing in Papua New Guinea

The village, from the water

This past weekend, I went to a small village about 30 minutes outside of Port Moresby, out close to the large Liquid Natural Gas project. There are four villages out this way, which are deriving economic benefits from being close to the LNG site. Employment, a significant boost in land valuations, and better access to water and power are a few of the benefits for these small communities.

I was spending the night with a friend of mine, who has been living here for some 15 years. A British national who married a Papua New Guinean woman from this particular village, they own a business in POM, and are raising three delightful daughters. The invite was to go out, fish off their little jetty in the evening for Diamondhead Rays, and then in the morning, pop out in their boat, try to catch a couple of reef fish, and putter out to the small uninhabited island for a little sun, beer and relaxation. A more idyllic way to spend the weekend surely can’t be imagined.

Survivor Island

As you can see from the pictures, village life is pretty rustic and quaint. Houses built up on stilts over the water are the standard construction. My friend’s house had running water (although it needed to be boiled) and electricity with a generator backup. My wireless internet didn’t work, although I was able to get a faint signal on my mobile phone. How it works: each ‘clan’ within the village is granted a strip of land including access to the water. Individual families allocate who can build what, where. Land titling doesn’t appear to exist as such – my friend explained that the house is ‘his’ for as long as he is married and alive, but it will revert back to the family when he is gone.

With neighbors like these…

As you can also see from the pictures, it is a rather unspoiled beauty on some levels. The small island located a few minutes offshore (one could walk/swim to it during low tide without any difficulty) has lovely white sand beaches and enough trees to provide ample shade. The villages have excellent subsistence level fishing, being able to catch 400-500 Kina ($200 – $250) worth of saleable fish in a good evening. There is a co-operative bus which will take the women to market with their eskies (ice chest or cooler) filled with ice and fresh fish to market.

The sad part is that even after 30+ years of foreign aid and assistance, the village is essentially choked with garbage. People throw their sewage, their kitchen waste, metal, glass and plastic over into the sea, where some of it gets washed away, some gets washed back underneath the houses and accumulates.  I’m told that while sanitation projects have been tried, people apparently steal the bins for scrap metal, or the programme simply fails at one level or another. It is a testament in many ways to the folly of the business in which I work – or on another level, a cautionary tale of how NOT to do development work.  It would be easy to picture western tourists coming out in sustainable levels to pay 100 Kina for a ferry ride over to the pristine island, to lounge in the sun, buy cold drinks and simple food from enterprising locals, and then get ferried back at sundown. However no tourist would want to swim in the water when seeing the amount of garbage and sewage thrown into it, nor would they be inclined to risk typhoid or whatever other disease lurks to catch the ferry.

At low tide, the picture changes.

The other sad part was the ostentatious church that has been built by the villagers. Why such opulence is required while people are living in squalor is beyond me, although I guess it is a pattern we’ve seen in many other countries. Apparently, villages compete for who has the biggest, fanciest church, but appear to take little pride in their individual homes. The churches, in a variety of denominations, are very well-entrenched in PNG, but to what benefit I couldn’t begin to explain.

In any event, we didn’t catch any fish, but I did have a pleasant weekend, even if I had to give my head a shake several times. As an added bonus, on our way back we passed a wedding party, with more dancers in traditional costume. I love the marlin totem they are dancing with!

Can I pack that totem in my suitcase?

Categories: History, Travel

Tags: , , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. Wow great article. I had no idea that they had such a pollution problem. I don’t think this place will be on my must-visit list.


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