Tuesday, May 31, 2005

OurHero wins

raining in town : this is a very very good day 2005 : darkening clouds precede tropical nights filled with the deep echo of rain rain rain; brown grass comes up green and long and lawnmowers grown rusty get dragged screeching out of the laundry; mosquitos multiply in man-dug ditches and empty tin cans at the edges of garden beds; the red stain of bettlenut spat here there and all over, gets washed away, washed down cement drains along with the plastic itinerant litter; for just a minute, one sweet minute, everything smells fresh ...

Today the National Court of PNG has thrown out a case against ricebag's uncle, OurHero ... finally almost 3 years of vexatious litigation ends and am so very very happy. Tonight is family time and we will bung and remember all the reasons why noone can ever cut us down ... and it's so simple ... no matter what people do to hurt us, we are such a tight unit that none of their chipping will ever dent this single body ... the material nature of these contests, these threats from the outside, they mean nothing against us when we have the love only we can give each other.

The most important thing is that this result will let OurHero, as a Member of Parliament, get on with his job and, without restraint, begin to properly administer the services to our people in our remote province, so they have access to health, transport and ameneties they are in desperate need of. That is the real victory.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

hiv/aids or cancer - you win

I am increasingly distressed by the glaring inadequacies in in the attention given to the various health problems in this country of mine. Foremost on this list of my rash-inducing stresses is the fact that millions of kina are being pumped into addressing the HIV/AIDS endemic (it really is endemic!!) in this country and at the same time, someone with a curable form of cancer cannot get chemotherapy!

Sadly little old Cancer is just not as sexy as HIV/AIDS in terms of funding from international organisations. Oh sure - we've already found the cure to cancer, so let's attack the other pandemic. In June 2001 UN General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS called for a global investment of US $7-$10 billion annually over the next decade to help prevent the spread of HIV in low and middle-income countries - one of which is mine. It now seems like there are a thousand different groups appealing for this international funding in order to combat the problem at home. This is fine. Fine. Fine. Fine. Fine if you don't have a curable form of cancer ... because in this country, your cure, the same cure which is easily and readily attainable in our neighbouring coutnries is simply unavailable here.

It's being left up to independent citizens and organisations such as the PNG Women Doctors Association to raise funds in order to purchase the appropriate chemo equipment. Why isn't the National Government paying for this??!! Instead, my freind, Miss Finah, her little niece who has leukemia, has to raise funds to go down to Australia for treatment. Most people in PNG unlucky enough to have cancer but lucky enough to have a treatable form of cancer, cannot afford to go to Australia, cannot even begin to raise the funds to make this trip - that's if they can even get to a doctor in time and get correctly diagnosed early enough and make their way out of their village, find the airfare to come to a big city ... only to be left medically stranded!

I mean, I know HIV/AIDS is massive here - it's claimed by the WHO that in a population of about 6 million, it's estimated that one out every 5 PNGns has it - that will make us a DYING people in 15 years time. But I cannot see where when we have a cure for some types of cancer, when we have the ability to save up to 8000 people a year from certain death for lack of proper treatment, that we don't first invest in that course.

And this is just one of the inadequacies in attention given to the health needs of this nation's people - If you do come from a developed country, you need to understand that the issue of FUNDING by all those thousands of benevolent international organisations, isn't funding without conditions - and right now those funds aren't exactly balanced and are heading in directions that do not necessarily attend to the very real needs in other aspects of our society. And our National Govenrment is not picking up the slack. And little 8 year old girls have to thank God they were born into families that are capable and educated and able to get the right diagnosis, secure the right treatment in Australia and then, with expedience, raise the funds by-every-mean-necessary, then when all of that is done, go down south and put their babies into chemo and meet their palms in prayer.

Friday, May 27, 2005

who is that?

Do you ever get the sensation when you catch your own reflection that you're looking at a stranger ... Do you ever feel a total lack of recognition?

Sometimes I catch my reflection and it's not ricebag, it's not me.

And then I am floored. I slump into myself and try to forget that I just forgot who I am.

we need each other

I left home when I was still little enough to believe that 'shut-up' was a bad word (and that is little!!). And was sent to another country to boarding school. It's been 15 years since that day and almost all of that time has been spent in other countries with people I call my friends, with people who are my 'family' away from home. So returning now, coming back to png with an air of permanency, is giving me a chance to get to know my real family beyond the few short weeks of holiday and the honey-moon aura of those previous stays, a time when I was the long-lost-lovely daughter, the one who gets to leave before either she or her relatives, or both, tire of each other.

Now I am back, I am sort of alone. My immediate family don't live in this city ... so I am left with my extended one. I don't live with them. I run away to their various houses every weekend and throughout the week they are constantly checking with me to make sure I am ok. That everything is ok. And sometimes I feel even more lonely because of it.

It's weird because most of my adult life, I have spent 'alone' in so many ways, tangible and intangible. I know this feeling intimately, in all its guises. It seems to have chosen me. But coming home and feeling lonely was never something I had anticipated. Because I have such a beautiful family. Who love me and want me.

And last week, just when I was tucking into a dinner-for-one, I got a text from my irreplaceable Aunty D, and she texted in half pidgin/half english:

Gutnight n God Bless! We r all hepi when u kam! We need each other. D

Just those 4 words brought me so much peace ... here I sat feeling like I was such a disappointment, like I only took and had nothing to give, and those 4 powerful words saved me from myself - We Need Each Other - because the truth is that it's not what I bring to the table that counts, it's just that I am sitting at the table at all with the other people in my life, the only people who are truly mine. I need them, yes. But more importantly to me - they need me back.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

tea for my love

ricebag taking some tea with her sugar : anywhere middle east 2004 : copious amounts of hot sweet sweet mint apple lemon herb fruit wild tea served on trays with saucers and teaspoons; tea in an oasis, thirsty under a setting sun; tea by the roadside, dusty waiting for a ride; tea at a border town, two days until the next bus going out; tea for tears and tea for weary; tea and sheesha; sometimes tea and cigarettes, moretimes tea and rollies; tea on first entry, tea on last exit ...

I did that. ME!!

I've been working for one month now - WORKING! As in paid full-time proper employment-pending-probation-period. Bit of a shock ... starting the first real job of my life. It's been pretty full-on so far and am just finding some slippery ground, which is so much better than free-falling. Was catching a pmv (Public Motor Vehicle AKA road hazard; pollution emitter; road-rage inducer; life-threatening mode of public transport) down along the beach into town this morning and I was felling pretty low ... the usual pattern of ricebag-bashing re my slow & ineffective brain ... when some derivative of techno-music on the bus started to permeate my muddling brain and triggered off some thing ... and I started to smile ... because I remembered - I WALKED/HITCHED ACROSS TIBET!! I did that. Me! I did it illegally. 1200 kilometres. Last year I did it when noone said I could do it. I camped in barren yak hunting territory; I trekked the holiest bhuddist koras (paths); I walked around Chinese checkpoints; I escaped arrest twice; I made pacts of friendship with Tibetans ... and even the Chinese in Tibet, with whom I thought I never could; I bathed in rushing ice-melt and fished in vagabond rivers, lined with the silt flowing down from the 8 highest mountains in the world; hitching rides on pilgrimmage trucks; stealing rides with Chinese army officials!; walking with yak herders and their sons across vast brown plains dusted with a dying light ... I did that. Me! And so much more. More even than I thought possible.

So I began this day in the office with a smile. My first start with a real smile-from-my-soul, the kind you're not conscious of ... after my first month of smiling-on-purpose, the kind that can only be made on purpose.

It was such a liberating thing - just those 2 minutes of free-smiling

Everything does not seem to massive now. Nor so heavy. Yesterday I just started getting on with it ... and I am. [Mental note not to be so hard on ricebag.]

Sunday, May 22, 2005

cash poet : I have tried in my way to be free

empty wardrobe port moresby png : yesterday 2005 : ricebag needs hangers ... or birds on wires ...
'lyric' : of or relating to a category of poetry that expresses subjective thoughts and feelings, often in a songlike style or form

Johnny Cash ... was a poet, a lyricist. I don't think anything should be called a LYRIC unless its lyrical ... by definition


Like a bird on a wire Like a drunk in a midnight choir I have tried in my way to be free

Like a fish on a hook Like a knight from an old fashioned book I have saved all my ribbons with thee

And if I have been unkind I hope that you will just let it go by And if I have been untrue I hope you know it was never to you

Like a baby stillborn Like a beast with his horn I have torn everyone who reached out for me But I swear by this song By all I have done wrong I'll make it all up to you

a driving ricebag

Woohoo. Ricebag had her first official driving lesson yesterday.

Driving stick shift without power steering is such a joy. I havent yet ventured onto real roads with other real cars, but my driving instructor, the lovely J from Brunei, has assured me this baby is almost real island ready.

Spent Saturday (wahey!) night in my aunts yard practicing reversing ... and going forward and reversing some more ... my boy-cousins China and Mickey, going slowly nuts because I haven't quite caught driving-by-osmosis. Also the fact that I need to turn the steering wheel BEFORE reversing and not WHILE reversing seems to have annoyed them intensely.

I have garnered new and huge respect for mothers the world over who manage to simultaneously drive and maintain multiple multi-layered conversations and drive and break-up fights and drive and wipe up spills and drive and sing and drive and lecture and drive and scream and drive and rummage through massive carry-all mama-sized wallets/handbags and drive and apply lipstick/mascara and drive and drink coffee, open juice-packs, smack little annoying people in the back ... it's all so amazing to me. I have instituted a no-talking, no-music, no-noise, no-unnescessary-people rule in my car - at least until further notice.

In this town, you have NO independence and NO life until you (i) know how to drive and (2) have a car to drive. Hence, I've been back 2 months and I haven't been out yet ... YIKES!! ... if you knew anything about me, you'd know ricebag loves a healthy social life.

The more I practice driving, the more I love my girlfriends who drive so smoothly, missing Naama and Woo and Crispy and Bare-bum and Skybear and s'more. Love you lovers! Ricebag loves you!

Friday, May 20, 2005

ricebag sobriquet

Why 'Ricebag'?

When this highlander islander was born in this our nation's capital, she was a very very little islandbaby - I fit inside my daddy's palm like a little buttered nut and I never slid off! Probably because I slept through most of my real baby-baby time.

Very very premature. Born in a linen closet. Born 6 weeks early. And born ugly according to MyMama ... ugly for about 3 weeks and then I burst ranks and came up so sweet that syrup couldn't stick in my mouth.

My godfather, the completely and utterly unreliable, yet totally lovable Puff, picked me up and christened me Ricebag ... because he thought I weighed less than a kilogram bag of rice.

Once I started weighing more than a bag of rice, once I started filling out, I got the tag of TightBel, coz babysoft Ricebag was rounding up into a pretty fatty, stretching all those caterpillar babyrolls into one big round one. Puff's younger brother and my uncle, OurHero, took an 18 month-old TightBel Ricebag to university with him. OurHero was lauded all over campus as the most desirable of beaus ... add to his incredible popularity this completely irresistable little nut Ricebag and it was a totally winning combination.

Common legend has it OurHero used to carry his TightBel Ricebag everywhere ... circa late 1970s cabbage-patch. It was an intense friendship ended rather abruptly when Ricebag's daddy flew her away to another galaxy called The-Rest-Of-Our-Lives-Begins-In-Bruxelles. Since then noone was ever allowed to call Ricebag by her baby tags. Noone except OurHero.

So with some licence from you, dearest OurHero ... I am borrowing back that sobriquet ... if only for the purposes of blogging.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

lomo cows

ricebag glides between cows in new delhi india : cheap tourist crap lane 2004 : tinny black every-comrade-is-the-same russian lomo in my hot little hands; weaving across bovine lanes, never ever looking up or ahead or behind; everything flows if you let it ...

rick astley was right

'All I needed was to cry for help' ... I just forgot how to ask!! Running around the office like I had to do it all and know it all, all alone ... silly billy me. Am still a pretty stressed out ricebag but not feeling totally hopeless, now that I've remembered that it's not a solo race - do you even know how good that feels, NOT to feel Totally Hopeless?!

Starting to get a grip with Work - tentative but real. Its clear to me they've chucked me in the deep end and are watching me very carefully ... they know I can swim but my limbs have atrophied ... getting some massaging but mostly I just have to do the hard yards. There won't be any rescues.

A senior colleague sat me down and said "You are very very very smart. But you're starting practice now and its the real world so you've got to learn how things work."

Truth be told though - I'm not as smart as she thinks. Somehow I have managed to wing it - you can call me WING-GIRL, coz I am queeeeeen of winging. I wung it through school and then I wung it through uni; I wung it through my travelling little-lost-girl life; I wung it through other people's socio-economic groups from the highest-set to the village-set; I wung it through loves lost and the few I've kept; I wung it through 5 continents on copper coins ... and the list goes on.

And that is the sad truth ... that everything I've managed to fit in so far on the list of things done in this thing called My Life seems to have been accomplished by elements other than ME ... that knowing my own weaknesses, I must praise God for putting so many excellent circumstances amongst all the shitty ones ... because I'm not that smart; I'm not that exotic; I'm not that brave; I'm not that fit; I'm not that worthy ... I am not that person.

So I think maybe I just keep reflecting all the brilliance of those who surround me. That is, the sparkle and glow of the real stars that flitter and filter through My Life, they somehow shed some of that beauty and I've been picking it up like lint on my skin ... and that's how I keep on going. Because looking at them, the people I admire, the ones I love, the few I trust ... I truly feel I can make it. And then when I look in the mirror, there are traces of glitter on me too.

parliament haus is falling down, falling down, falling down

Earlier this week on the front page of one of our national dailys, the news that our 20-year old National Parliament Haus admired the world over as exemplifying the modern meshing with traditional in architecture - a building complex that is largely made of wood we grew here ourselves especially for thousands of years - is being attacked by termites. A building report already 4 years old has warned of the seriousness of the problem. When questioned, the building manager of Parliament Haus said, 'Yes, we've seen termites throughout the site but they're not eating the wood!'

What do termites eat then? According to the appointed custodian of the symbol of this country's governance, independence, sovereignty and democracy, termites eat ... cement.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

one dorm minute

another ricebag selfie in madras india : the other day 2004 : briny day in the communal hallway preceding the communal showers in the communal dorm; standing, sleeping beneath flaking ceilings of peeling base-coats; musty dusty where the walls, and the shelves carved into them, are so white that they're blue and beds so flat they beg huddling ...

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

me me

a ricebag moment in cairo egypt : high pollution this time 2004 : standing in a bathtub; hood up under a dripping fawcet; abandoned dusty pink thongs lying on scuffed tiles; a bottle-glassed porthole to the inner world of the cairean highrise ...

Friday, May 13, 2005

dumb ricebag dumb

Working is scary. Ricebag is head down, rushing past the boss's door ... definitely avoiding him at the tea-room, in the hallway, in the lift. Why? because I think my work is so poor I can't even face him. I hope he confronts me soon. Just so I can apologise and beg forgiveness.

I've only been back in the game 3 weeks, so I was expecting to need a little oil, rework the hinges, creak up the motors (ok, ok, no more metaphors) ... but I feel completely dumb. My brain can't actually take anything in, let alone actually understand, investigate and comment in an intelligent manner, and I spend hours going over and over documents and notes on documents and briefs on documents ... and submitting and creating more documents which actually don't record anything of value other than proof that my work is just plain bad.

AAAAAAAAARGH. What is wrong with ricebag?

MissSweet downstairs says it took her at least 6 months to feel like she was waving not drowning. She says I probably have an inferiority complex being the New Girl plus she knows I am extremely hard on myself and that won't help. Whatever the case, I am praying the cloud of dumb lifts long enough so I can see clear enough to make my way.

wearing the panties

I have a BabySister. She is a big baby now, but still the Baby of the Family. Her best, most true, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die friend is our cousin-brother, whom we shall call Tel. Tel and BabySister were born days apart and have ever since shared parts of their heart you can't ever take back.

Tel is living in sin with Butter, a handsome girl who grew up while I was away and has now become The One for Tel. Butter is smooth and dark and has an aquiline face. Unfortunately it has become clear that Butter is also the Boss. The not-so-good Boss of Tel. They live in another southern land, far enough for them from our disappointment and close enough for us to care.

Last night, sitting out under a black sky on a glittering green verandah, swatting mosquitoes and scratching their bites, MyMama and I were discussing Tel's life in the hands of Butter. MyMama instructed me to tell BabySister to take control of Tel and wise him up and advise/order/convince/beg him to get out from under the dominating Butter. "Mama" I said, "You are asking me to replace one woman Boss with another. Tel has to make his own decisions. And his own mistakes."

"Hhhhmpfh" was the disgruntled reply.

In this country no woman is ever going to be 'good enough' for the Son-Brother. My advice to young highlander islander men is make your pick, stake your claim, defend your right and take responsibility for your decisions ... except of course unless you are related to my Family ... then we reserve the unmitigated right to drag you kicking and screaming unceremoniously from a certainly less-than-worthy fate in the arms of someone who is certainly less-than-worthy.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

cookie-cutting me

Another day begins ... on the top top storey of this high high building overlooking the too-blue bay of this harbour city, container ships peppering the vista and a nagging sensation that I am practicing bad bad time-management by sitting here and playing blog-this instead of perusing documents, twiddling my cocoa-buttered fingers and billing accordingly.

Instead I am thinking ... what am I doing here or, more to the point, what I am doing here. I am committed to this start of a career, I am. I am. But I also know I cannot do a job that can be done by anyone else ... I need to create a career, a product, a work, that could only be done by me ... that could not be born without me ... that could not otherwise have even been imagined. This is my old song and I have been fine-tuning the melody all my life ... I just need a new instrument.

All I know right now and for sure is that I cannot be cut out by the cookie-cutter ... I will not be made the same as the next and the next and the next, where small concerns consume all days and great passions are reduced to ideas that belong only in great romantic tragedies ... I will not be cut out unless all men are cut out into little stars and pasted across the sky.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

the impossible love : part 1 : a warrior

Sitting here in my just-below-freezing, tastefully understated beige office, with blue-veined fingers tapping cool-to-the-touch keypads under a regulation flat screen, flanked by an L-shaped faux-wooden veneer desk, I should be poring over legislation and contracts finding the definitions to terms that are undefinable and writing a memo to my boss stating same. Instead my shivering fingers itch to start, at least for you, a story of the saga that made me leave this highlanders island 3 long years ago ...


This is a strange story, all the more strange because it happened to ricebag - or at least, that someone who used to be me. Ricebag was always a little cyncial, always a lover, but also apparently a little ahead of the rest, not easily sucked into other people's lives or vague promises of happiness and forever.

But something happened that made ricebag understand that true love had a legitimate right beyond all obstacles, that it survived by imperative, that finding THE ONE (how quaint!) ... was such a unique and incredible feat of complete accident and happenstance, that it ought to be held onto and never, ever let go.

What happened was that ricebag found her Impossible Love.

A Warrior. They sent their love through the grey-blue mist of mountain passes; along the muddy shore of village political rallies; across fields of men and women decked in bilas, thumping the trembling earth with bare feet; from vallies of burnt-down villages that echoed the war-cries of young men chopping down others' futures in the fields of their enemies; in deep nights strung out with fervent stars where young girls skipped home, lanterns swinging great arcs across stone-holed village paths, kunai grass cutting high lean shadows. They sent their love in swift looks and silent promises. They sent their love by messenger, by night. They sent their love in a land where loving outside your right is unacceptable. And ricebag did love. Right outside her right and almost outside of her mind.

She did love a Warrior. And he loved ricebag too. He desired ricebag; his heart beat hard, so much harder when she came into view; he felt scared and not so worthy of the like, let alone the love of a highlander island girl who had only known all the worlds outside of the very one from which he came.

The Warrior did suffer greatly. And in silence. His great love for this strange girl was held so high by him that even he could not reach it. Soon it became a love only good enough for his best dreams and not worthy of defilement by harsh reality, not worthy of his worth-less-ness.

At the end, ricebag did turn to him. She said "I can do this. I know the reason I was born was to have your children. Let me love you. We are not doing anything new and impossible. People of different histories have fallen in love and made it work throughout mankind and throughout time. Let. Me. Love. You." But he would not. The noblest Man, the fiercest Warrior, the honoured Tribesman, the obedient Son, the loyal Brother and the local Hero ... could not stand up against those that he respected and feared the most - the Family of the only one he would ever truly want and never truly know.

... to be continued ...

shh shh office

Ok. Been back BACK in this country a month and in an actual real office for the last 2 weeks ... an office where I am expected to turn up and expected not to leave by and before certain prescribed times. Expected to look and sound professional ... presumably until I am well enough liked/tolerated to act/talk a little less than text-book presentation dictates. Lots and lots of air-conditioning. Lots of shhhhhhhh, noise that is not actually noise, humming that lies just under the radar - not sure exactly what it is - leather-backed swivel seats rolling across marbled carpet; computer hard-drives whirring some electronic pah; the slick sleeves of flipping folders and files; ink-jet printers emitting paper emissaries signalling the work due now, due tomorrow, due yesterday.

Haven't been in a proper shh shh office as a worker bee for over 1.5 years.

Am praying the shh shh isn't just inside my head.

coming home is sometimes harder than leaving

We join our heroine (that would be me) in the capital city of the largest island in the South Pacific, the second-largest island in the world ... she is the highlander islander who having run her sad love song the world over, has finally come back, to her home, to her people, to her 'ples'.

She has run for a long time. Maybe longer than even she knows. And its not just tired bones and lonely heart that led her back, its some well where she dropped a stone many months ago and is still waiting for the sign that the bottom is not dry and not too deep for loving.

For the first time in a long time, home feels like the beginning of the rest of her story ...