The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

Papua New Guinea: A Land That Time Forgot!

A land that time forgot? Or, a land where time is of no consequence, or where it runs on a completely different scale… It's a little like the freeway into town: problems only occur at the mixture – or interface – between fast and slow. Some years ago, around State of Origin time, some TVs were stolen from Fatima and taken back to a village. Great commotion emerged when the TVs did absolutely nothing when the power plug was pushed into the natural woven wall. Local Big Men can be found with satellite phones clipped to their belts while they sit around the village fire. Phone cards and an inoperative telephone system. Opposites balancing the scale, or, divergent vectors creating tension? Well, I'm not a believer in Yin & Yang, but peace can be found in between the vectors, so long as you don't try and balance the equation.

What is the feminine of PK?

I am still saddened by the memory of our beloved puskat, PK, who met an untimely end on our back lawn. Yet in the tradition of families less than 100 years ago, when one dies, get another. So we have a new puskat, this time, a female. Her name? What's the feminine of PK? KP of course! Let me say from the outset that KP is a very funny animal, but delightfully cute. Certainly much more intelligent than PK, but still "a cat of very little brain". But she has survived, which is one thing in her favour.

KP came from a litter of 5-6 kittens that Andy & Iris' cat had. We actually had our eye on a uniquely coloured grey kitten, but Andy had become attached to that one (which turned out to be quite unfortunate, because about a month after we took KP, Mack – one of their dogs – killed the grey kitten). KP is black and white – very similar to PK – and was quite young when we got her. But she was box trained, as all the kittens were (unfortunately, the other kittens regressed in their training and started defecating all over Andy & Iris' house! Which made us glad we got her when we did.)

The boys had decided on KP as a name well before her advent. Poetic justice? I'm not sure, but it is amazing how different the two cats are: even reversed, like their names. KP is probably more of a shoulder sitter than PK ever was. She would love to sit there while you read, or washed up or cooked, or even wandered about the College property. It was really quite neat, like a feline version of Long John Silver! We knew that it wouldn't last though, as she grew and got bigger, she physically wouldn't fit any more. So now it is a rare occasion that she graces our shoulders.

As she grew though, her shoulder sitting took on more aggressive forms. She would often not wait until you were in a sitting position to jump up. I remember one night; I was brushing my teeth and examining my grimace in the mirror, when I felt intense pain in the back of my leg. The pain began about my calves then shot up my leg, over by buttocks and up my back. To my horror, KP's little head appeared next to mine in the mirror, "Meeow." Thankfully my shrieks were muffled by a mouthful of toothpaste, or my family would have thought me a right git! But this was not the only occurrence, and I, not the only victim. Sandi has quite a fierce yell when the occasion calls for it, or the pain is right.

It can be a little disturbing for visitors too, whether they are the climbee or the observer. I remember one occasion having a serious talk with someone in our lounge room. KP did her tree climbing display up my legs and back, while I tried to keep an appropriate expression on my face to suit the seriousness of the conversation. Then she proceeded to promenade across my shoulders, her bottom and tail flicking in front of my face, my partner in conversation having to peer around her bottom to see my face, which is becoming harder and harder to control. It is very difficult to keep a straight face with important people, discussing important issues, when your cat insists on losing all her modesty right under your nose!

Our wee cat in Sydney – Claude de Puss by name – used to like drinking the water off the bottom of the bath. KP has similar tastes. We got quite a shock though, when she started getting into the shower while we were still washing. My first reaction was to cover my nakedness in the presence of a female; but then I realised that she's just a cat. But it was uncanny the way she would just sit down and look up at me and wink (or was that just water droplets causing her eyes to blink?). After she had sat and winked a while, she'd wander out and clean herself too.

Once when Jesse was sick with a fever, he had a bowl of water next to his bed for cooling the face cloth. KP came in and sat next to the bowl and looked inquisitively at the water. She stood up on her haunches, leaned on the rim and paddled with one paw. We all looked at her, wondering what was going on in that wee head. Then she leaned over and stood one legged in the bowl and paddled with the other. Slowly she worked her way in, until finally she sat down in the middle, and looked quite pleased with herself. Needless to say, that was the end of the water for Jesse's purposes.

KP likes being with you when you are on the toilet too – PK used to sit in my shorts as they formed a basket around my ankles. Sometimes, while you are peacefully contemplating some distant scene in your imagination, she jerks you back into the present by jumping up onto your knee – claws used for stability – and then onto your shoulder – her bottom wriggling in front of your face again. Once she has settled down, the two of us contemplate together. It's very peaceful really if her breath is not too bad.

Her fascination with water is heightened by the sound of rushing or splashing. Often when the toilet is flushed she'll run and stand up with her two front paws on the bowl, and look at the gushing water. Sometimes her interest is aroused when I'm in the process of going toilet. I feel something brush against my legs, I look down, and there she is, her head precariously close to being pee'd on (I wonder if human pee is as horrid to cats as cat pee is to us?) She must have great confidence in my aim. It can be quite disconcerting though (KP taking an interest while in the process of going toilet); sometimes she sits next to the toilet looking up at me and seems to be studying the whole process quite carefully. It is quite frightening watching her eyes widen at the sight of me shaking the drips off! It is not an action that I linger in, just in case she is tempted beyond all reasonableness!

Today she actually jumped up onto the bowl while I was going toilet, and walked around the rim! A strange toilet dance? It was a close call, because I was so surprised, I almost lost all control of what I was doing.

Now we're really talking: Telikom PNG!

But only if the phones are working. It's hard to imagine how a country's major telecommunications carrier can run like this, or probably more to the point, how the country can run with Telikom the way it is. But there we go: one of the mysteries of the modern world.

Nearly two years ago now, I had a brilliant idea [see College Telephones]. The College should get one of Telikom's PABX systems. It would enable calls to be passed around the College much more easily, would include intercom and paging, and would enhance security in the far-flung reaches of the College. Extra lines for facsimile, more lines for staff and office. Students would have an extension (for receiving calls) and a pay (card) phone for making calls. The Sales Manager at Telikom was wonderful in his ability to understand our needs, and promise a solution.

What started out as a fairly simple exercise turned into over 18 months of weekly arguments; to this day the pay phone is still not installed! Each week I would walk into the Telikom offices and harangue whomever I could find (and therefore hadn't run away), trying to get some answers on when the next stage of the project would be started. A verbal response was only the first step. Often this response bore no relation to reality at all (as my initial contact with the sales manager demonstrated: at one stage I wondered if I'd imagined the whole incident, or he was an escapee from a local institution. But I had his signature on official documents, so it all had to be true!)

The new lines that were promised: "Sorry, no more cable pairs are available out of the Banz exchange." The PABX system (I'd given up hope on new lines and was going to use the two we currently had): "Sorry, there are none in the country." The cabling (I managed to get 3 extra lines out of the blue one day): "Sorry, the car has been broken, and we can't get to Banz." The installation (the cabling was waiting in the ground for about a month waiting for the technicians): "Sorry, the technicians are away doing a big job in Mendi." The programming of the PABX (after it was finally installed we couldn't access the more advanced features because the normal technicians had never programmed them before): "Sorry, the fellow who does that is working in another province." The special programmed features you wanted: "Sorry, I'll have to go back to the office and experiment on the PABX there; I did do this once, but it was 10 years ago." The card phone (one of the 3 extra lines was for a pay phone): "Sorry, they don't work with the Banz exchange (which incidentally dates back to the colonial period); you'll have to use a coin phone." The coin phone: "Sorry, we are out of stock – there are none in the country." There are no more cable pairs available for the pay phone anyway: "Sorry, the one we reserved for you must have been taken (read: given to a wantok) while you were waiting &On and on it went&

It was not all completely frustrating though. Some rather beautiful moments occurred in the midst of the confusion. Like one day when I walked in, one of the salesmen burst forward saying he had a few number cancellations and would I like some? Did he need to ask? I took them all! But the one for the pay phone disappeared somewhere while we waited for the hardware&

Added to the confusion is the utter chaos amongst staff and students about this technology. The staff here are incapable, unwilling or too busy to learn the few basic operation principles. The students were more than willing to learn how the phones worked (especially to their benefit), but had trouble fitting in with the College rules.

The phone set up for the students' extension is fairly simple. Callers for students are asked to ring back between 3:30 and 4:00 PM (free time for students) when the call will be transferred to their extension (#21) in the hall. The entertainment committee is to collect messages and distribute them, and man the extension, fetching the student if he wasn't there to receive the call. After briefing the leader of the entertainment committee, I discovered the following announcement in the students' dining room:

ATT: The Telephone Extension 21

The telephone extension 21 will from now on controlled by the social committees. The extension will only be used between 3:30 - 4:00 according to the number of messages we receive each day.

There will not be any call coming at any time as long as the one ringing is in contact with Mr. Perry first and to whom the call is coming will be referred to the extension and the call will be first of all recieved by one of the committees on duty and will be given to you.

Because of the possibility of causing some inconveniences, the two main doors to the hall will be monitored.

We don't want anybody to touch the reciever and even go close to it to rescue yourself from the temptation of touching it.

I hope this is clear!

On behalp, Steve Kanda, Social Committee.

An absolutely delightful toksave, in my humble opinion. "I hope this is clear"? Which bit? I was starting to get confused after the "ATT:" Possibly the message leaving my lips in English; converted to, and understood in Pidgin by Steve, and then translated back into English had something to do with it. Maybe it's just Pidginified concepts, which they find more understandable?

Postscript: After a lot of haranguing, Telikom came out to fix the PABX, which had blown up. Whilst they were here Fr. Kees bounced up the path and into my office saying, "They're back!" I became suspicious and said, "No. They're here to fix the PABX. What do you mean they are back?" Kees said they had come out the previous Tuesday – when I was in town – to install the cardphone, but he sent them away because he didn't want them using any of our existing lines. He had forgotten that I'd arranged for them to use the line that Fr Matthew has. When I had my hands slowly tightening around his neck I realised what I was doing: letting my imagination run away with me! Fr. Kees just smiled and said, "They can install it another day?" I couldn't believe it: over 12 months to set something up and he sends them away! Incidentally, the card phone was never installed.

The Most Asked Question…
"What are you going to do when you get back to Sydney?" My standard answer, summing up our complete dearth of perception, was, "Get off the plane." But our plans have been steadily developing, and I can now confidently say, "Get out of the car." Apart from that (we'll be driving to Sydney from Brisbane), it's all in His hands.