Thursday, June 30, 2005

i am

i am a really good auntie.

i am definitely a lover. not a fighter.

i am very perceptive.

i am fiercely loyal. sometimes, stupidly so.

i sometimes play dumb. and i shouldn't. ever.

i am way too hard on myself.

i am a change agent.

i am not afraid to tell people that i love them.

i am a diplomat.

i am very persuasive. when i want to be.

i am a debater. not an arguer.

i know a little bit about alot of things.

i am capable of being really generous.

i am capable of being a little bit naughty.

i am always looking for and long on all the little perfect imperfect moments in this fleeting life.

i don't always stand up for myself. and i need to. more.

i am not very good at holding a grudge.

i have hips.

i never forget a face. ever.

i am fiercly independent.

i am my father's daughter.

i am lousy at forgiving myself.

i have a tendency to overanalyse. but i'm fighting it. hard.

i hate asking for help.

i am not good at claiming my worth in work or love.

i am tired. a lot.

i am proud of my sister.

i am in awe of the women in my life.

i am an outdoor kind of gal.

i am an indoor kind of gal.

i have my own style.

i know what i like.

i am a bargain shopper.

i am a dreamer. all the time.

i can always see something beautiful in you.

i am scared almost all of the time.

i am waiting for a good man.

i am complex.

i am interesting.

i am more than even i know. and then some.

Friday, June 24, 2005

wish me luck lovers, wish on me

Dearest All

Ricebag has HORRENDOUS exams next week ... YIKES. Passing or failing means being able to work or not (as the case may be) in her profession for which she toiled for many years at various tertiary institutions (the 'toiled' part may be contested by those who 'toiled' alongside her).

Wish me luck lovers, wish on me.

You will hear from me in a week.


please return my car

This appeared in today's 'Viewpoint' section of our national daily.


A LARGE reward is offered for the return of a Toyota Corser, BBG930, four-door sedan. It is a dark grey colour. Information must include on the cowards who held up my wife at gunpoint in the Brian Bell compound at Henao Drive in Gordons at 8am on Tuesday, June 22.

The return of the car would be a bonus but I really want these spineless gutter-dwellers caught and punished. If no-one in this country is willing to punish them properly, this angry Aussie expat will gladly "bushwhip" them from the location the car was stolen to the nearest police station.

Paul Ross EMAIL

And good luck to you Mr Ross. Let me know if you need any help holding them down.

fashion friday : mad cortes

Mad Cortes : Designer Mira Vukovic arrived in Australia from Sarajevo eight years ago and four years ago formed the label Mad Cortes - named after a cartoon character she knew as a child. The young Bosnian, a fine arts graduate, emigrated from her war-ravaged home to further ambitions in fashion ... and and the results are fresh and informed.

*Pictures taken from Sydney Morning Herald Website*

Mad Cortes : Mercedes Australian Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2005/2006

Really liking Mad Cortes. Just feels like me. Very cotton and very every day. Ricebag also went through an apron faze. It lasted a widdle while and it was all kicked off because of Ghandi's special looms ... long story. Needless to say my friends aren't all that affected anymore by my own eclectic liddle likes, like aprons and white white and bone white and cotton and layers and frilly shirts and bits of floral and mixing things and missing things and yellow and s'more.

Mad Cortes : Mercedes Australian Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2005/2006


: do not over do it : do not over do it :

Geddit?? Less is ALWAYS more. Classy not brassy. Heed, heed, heed. Less less less ... liddle gals with lots to say can do it more with less, just enough so someone looking SEES you! We don't dress for the masses, just the ones who will know.

oa-didi remembers kipuli

Miss Oa-Didi is the only one in ricebag's life who has crossed over and knows initimately ricebags lucky-lovely world outside PNG and ricebags incredible heritage and complex familial ties within the sheer walls of her mountained province in the highlands of PNG ... we lived together in a land downunder where long days felt a little bit sweet and smelt of fresh linen and life really can be good and she came 'home' 'home' 'home' Enga-home with me not so long ago and stuck it out through some of the strangest times of our lives where we learnt more than was our fair share. She is a bit of a beautiful rock and I am so very privileged she calls me her good friend.

oa-didi wrote to say:

Ohhh ricebag-ohhhh, Sad sad day indeed. I wont forget that cheeky twinkle nor his teddy-bear t-shirt ... nor the time we shared Liklik Wopas and chicken cheesy pop things in the Panda Cafe ... nor the time we shot a bit of stick with the BigMan in the Irelya pool hall. I raised a few beer to the memory of Kipuli.

Well, I'd love to raise a beer too but some fo the most frightening exams of my life are aorund the corner ...

MyMama attended the funeral and she said it was a really good day - people from all over Enga travelled to Irelya for Kipuli. It was so packed there was no room to move on the battered football-pitch/mumu-ground at the top of Irelya ... such a respected leader, in the old traditional way.

May Kipuli rest in peace.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

hello future

4 from the future ... 4 of my cousins ... ricebag promises to help you be ready, she does!

goodbye kipuli

Well, since Kipuli passed away things have been pretty sombre. His body has been taken home and true to his wishes, hardly any time has been wasted moving the body and getting him put to rest this morning on the lush green mesa mountain top of his birth, Irelya.

A friend of mine from New Zealand had the great fortune to meet Kipuli when he came home with me to Enga in 2002. He writes:

Really sad to hear that nuis. Kipuli was the beginning and the end of (our work in Enga) and as far as any of us could tell, meant the same for Enga. He seemed to represent the best aspects of tribalism, rose above all the ilekson melodrama, spoke his mind, and spoke it clearly. The end of an era, though not the end of the family.

On Monday our people chartered a plane to fly the body up home from Port Moresby and the Prime Minister Sir Miachael Somare also lent us one of his planes, The Kumul, to fly up other members of our family - there was a seat on that flight with my name on it ... but as you know, I am sitting here still, wondering what it all means and why bother with these completely terrifying exams in LESS THAN ONE WEEK!!

Monday, June 20, 2005

a very sad day

A great man has died. Yesterday, Kipuli, a great traditional, tribal leader of my people, died in Port Moresby. He was greatly respected by many people and many other leaders. He is the uncle of the Governor of our province and his words held sway across mountains steeped in mist and vallies teeming with rushing brown rivers flowing by scattered villages. I had the honour of meeting with this man on several ocassions and watching him diffuse tensions which had the taste of blood at their edges ... when he spoke, men listened ... when he demanded, men heeded ... when he laughed, men knew something was right. He was humble and he truly loved the land of my fathers and the people of our blood. Kipuli knew our people, directed their passions, understood their excesses and their weaknesses and fought for their strengths and their longevity. He will be sadly missed, especially because he was taken very quickly, and much too soon.

My family have beeen in the cry-haus for the last 24 hours ... half of them are flying back to my province for the funeral on a specially chartered flight. And little miss ricebag is stuck in this town because of exams next week.

Its all too awful.

I know its selfish but I can't bear it that I have to come to work and gather all my exam materials and do exam cram and run around organising documents for admission in my profession in this country ... I can't bear to be away just on this day when all I care for in this town are together and mourning Kipuli's death and sending off our family members and the body at the airport today.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

knitting with the natives : haute couture in pakistan

Talking about fashion ... I have two friends from Australia, Cathy Braid & Kirsten Ainsworth who have started their own fashion label Caravana in Pakistan - a label which has buyers from Dubai to New York to Sydney. These two girls are living and working their dream and it's been two years of 'knitting with the natives'. I visited them last year in Chitral, a remote area in the Hundu Kush mountain range of Pakistan, an incredibly beautiful region steeped in Islam and a town where women aren't allowed to cross the main bazaar.

A recent article describes how they managed to make magic in the mountains : an excerpt :

During a long and stubborn winter in the Hindu Kush in northern Pakistan, eight figures rose on the horizon of the Lowari Pass. Seven porters, 20 suitcases and an Australian fashion designer. They crunched over the snowy track at 3,000 metres laden with an improbable cargo of spring and summer clothing. "Winter is tough and you just have to work around that," says Cathy Braid, who launched the Caravana couture label with friend and business manager Kirsten Ainsworth in 2003 from Pakistan's northern town of Chitral.

They really are living this mad dream & making things happen for other women & themselves & I love them for it.

For more on Caravana and what it's like for my friends working in a remote Muslim province of Pakistan, read the transcript from an interview with the ABCs Foreign Correspondent late 2004.

Friday, June 17, 2005

fashion-friday : aurelio costarella

Aurelio Costarella : frothy & feminine Perth-based designer. Cotton & tulle memories of a bygone era and historic personalities ... romantic line detail and intiricate panel work makes his pieces beautiful and wearable.

Aurelio Costarella Sydney Winter 2005


Just because, because it's 4pm on a Friday and all the bosses have left the office and noone at any other supposed place of work is answering any of my phone calls and I have to seriously start cramming for some MAJOR exams coming up in 10 days and just because because because I like clothes. I LIKE CLOTHES. And because I like some of the clothes coming out of Australia and so there.

And because I like clothes, and I like some fashion - I like fashion when it's fits my style, when its something I would have in my wardrobe or slumped over my couch or puddled in the corner of my room. And I only like clothes that I would or could actually wear so I thought you could get a glimpse of the kind of stuff ricebag would hold if she could and has if she does ... so we'll be having a fashion-friday segment every flyday methinks.

Aurelio Costarella Sydney Winter 2005

Aurelio Costarella Sydney Winter 2005

*Pictures taken from Sydney Morning Herald Website*

office circular

This was an email circular sent in my office today:


Dear Colleagues, I have received Police intelligence information that criminals are targeting business houses to rob. This is evident this week when they robbed WESTAC BANK WAIGANI, STOP N SHOP NORTH WAIGANI & TST GEREHU. In all these incidents thugs involved were reported to be armed with high powered weapons.If you are in a bank or a shop when a Robbery takes place, do not panic but keep calm. The criminals will always know where to go to get what are after and leave immediately but if they are threatened they will not hesitate to use force. If there is shooting or discharging of firearms in the bank or shop you must lie down flat on the floor and keep your head down until the shooting stops or you are told to get up. Most of us take our child/ren with us when we go shopping. You must control their movement whilst inside the shop and never let them wander off themselves. It will be very difficult to control your child/ren if they not beside you when incident of armed robbery take place. They can easily become victims. Please extend information to staff not on email.

give blood, play rugby

On the way into work this morning, coasting along Ela Beach, and I saw a woman wearing a t-shirt reading "Give Blood. Play Rugby." with no explanation as to what event or reason would have caused the giving of blood and the playing of rugby to be brought together. Sounds good enough though.

PNG is the only country in the world whose national sport is rugby league! PNGns are mad for the sport and hold players and referrees and anyone remotely connected, including television commentators from Australia, in very high regard.

Apart from our national obsession with what happens on the footy pitches in Australia, we have our own national league with teams representing their provinces. Unfortunately it seems every week brings some kind of public embarrassment to a particular team, the league or both. Just this week, 3 players from the Mendi Muruks were hauled away from the airport for drunk & disorderly behaviour. Some of these players act like there are no rules for them but it's a bit of a disgrace when kids look up to these people. And one has to question how seriously they take they committment to the game - a month ago, my own provincial team, the Enga Mioks, lost in Port Moresby basically because they're pretty unfit (due to no off-season prep) & they'd been out the night before.

The slogan might read "Drink Beer. Play Rugby." A sad endictment.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

at the end of the day, this is a beautiful boy

Dhink and his mama.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

at the end of the day, this is an ugly boy

Have you ever looked at someone's tattoo and said to yourself "why???!!!". Why the overrused exhausted misunderstood yin yang symbol? Why any Chinese or Japanese symbol? Is it the pretty squiggles? Of course it is!

As a traveller, I have been privy to the toned down, honed down, buffed, sun-kissed bodies of my haggling brethren ... long days doing nothing much, eating cheap and lolling about musing on the wonders of existence tend to lend a somewhat ethereal existential air to what is really an incredibly self-involved navel-gazing exercise supported by third world economies that miraculously transform the 'poor student' et al into the rich traveller. More often than should be legally permissible, I meet up with some young beautiful thing that has recently acquired a memento of this hedonistic period of their lives in the form of a TATTOO. If said person has managed to break free from the common dolphin symbol, they've probably inscribed 'beautiful' flowing 'ethnic' Chinese characters instead.

Tattooing meaningful words on your body in Chinese characters might be hip, but it's a risky business when you don't read or speak Chinese. is a weblog dedicated to the misuse of Chinese characters (Hanzi or Kanji) in Western culture, most often in tattoo form. It's good for a laugh. The blog's creator, Tian, posts photos of tattoos submitted by readers who thought they knew the meaning of the Asian characters inked onto their bodies - and points out the misspellings and mistakes (a necessary public service!).

There is the fantastic story about a boy with his badly done Chinese tattoo. He wanted the tattoo to say "Love, Honor, and Obey", instead he got "At the end of the day, this is an ugly boy". And let's not forget the girl who had "Crazy Diarrhea" tattooed at the low of her back - at least she got it put in the right place!

As a tatto artist confesses on the weblog :

The tattoo artists don’t care what the kanji means because they don’t care what you put on your body, especially when you are getting the cheapest tattoo in the shop. Most tattoo artists can’t read Japanese so how do they know what that stuff says, all they know is that you’re sure that this is what you want on your body for the rest of your life.

dundu-o tae manna

Dhink aka Dundu and his brothers Tae & Manna.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

dhink devotional

Don't even try to tell me he isn't the most gorgeous!! Sorry - couldn't wait until tomorrow to send another Dhink Devotional

devoted to dhink

ricebag holding the future gerehu stage 2 : any sunday 2005 : skin-tight dhink; the baby who came at the end of the line - the line that started with ricebag and ends with the baby we've all been waiting for, perfect dhink; we call him dundu and he always comes to me first (after i push his mama out of sight); dhink who really was an unexpected gift and whom everyone cherishes; the one who came after a gap, when some of the olds thought their baby days were over and affection is LAVISHED on him; little dundu, a thousand kisses for him from every one; it seems the next baby will come from the next generation - mine ...

Every day this week we are going to have a pic of my little cousin Dhink - whose name means "something given" as in "from above" in my language, my tok ples - Engan. Dhink is the beautiful, perfectly fat pumpkin-fed dundu who at 8 months is pawed over by strangers in the street. Everytime I see my dundu it's with anticipation because I know exactly how many days its been since the last time I saw him and I've been waiting since then to hold him again. So you will have the great privilege of seeing him EVERY DAY for a little while ...

Friday, June 10, 2005

sitting on matted mat

sitting on matted mat chitting the chat mamallapuram india : any blue day 2004 : spinning yarns across hammocks with the long-term brethren of travellers who think one month more is never enough; scratching rickets into old sores, past histories open for public consumption around chillum sessions and midnight fables; meeting people minus their excess, they and I so much the lighter; breathing silty dust from stone-carvers around corners and setting smoking incense piles against the mosquitos; these long nights and hot days in our little huts, side by side, music verberating mp3s from Israeli, Finnish and British/Sri Lankan musical stock ... so many moments ...

our virtue of the week

In yesterdays Post Courier a small advert in the bottom right hand corner of the 3rd page, a little box entitled "Our Virtue of the Week is : RELIABILITY" and it states:

Reliability means that others can depend on you. It is doing something that you have agreed to do in a predictable way without forgetting or having to be reminded.

Listen ricebag ... listen!!

Ricebag is dealing with her reliability issues. You can trust her 100%. But sometimes she is not always where she says she will be when she says she will be ... she EVENTUALLY gets there but the madness of stuff happening to and around her is often very very distracting and coupled with ricebag's admirable ability to daydream in any given situation and to ponder a million different issues (not always irrelevant) during any given period ... well, sometimes she does wander down a different path to the one in someone else's daily planner. It's not really spontaneity and it's not forgetfulness - rather, ricebag feels that her priorities are different and some commitments are subject to change because of the unpredictability of it all. However, some of these loose strings must be tightened because other people aren't as flexible as she is, so ricebag is elevating her 'responsibility to others' in the list of things she must do first, before the other things on the list of things.

Despite this, all who know her love her anyway. She can rely on that.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

dearest fin

Dearest Fin is a delightful 7-month baby that lives in Dublin with his 'dada' and 'mama', my friends, Karlos & Mich. I sent him an email today:

Dearest Fin

I hope you know how beautiful you are!

Seems being all loved up and striped up agrees with you. The pics of you are are very flattering and will duly be saved to the stripey 'little Fin' folder I've created ... am so glad to see dada and mama have been clothing you in that totally practical & adorable striped bonds-baby style and am sure you're having much more fun at creche than the olds are when you're not with them. I am also sure you have at least one new pair of (striped perhaps?) baby Birkies since I saw you in Sydney in January.

Sounds like you're keeping ma n' pa busy - we don't want them to get lazy now! But you're looking happy and healthy and striped so I guess they must be doing something right.

The latest addition to my big family over here in my tropical 24-7 summer land is another 7 month old baby boy - Dhink, which means 'to give' in my language. And I can categorically state that you are both the CUTEST babies I have EVER seen! I plan one day to introduce you so you can swap stripes for frangipanis. Until then I promise to pass on the stripe ethic in my efforts to better little-baby-kind in the Pacific.

Lots and lots of love little Fin. I hope to see you one day soon ... long before you outgrow stripes and creches.

Your aunty, Ricebag

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

most sundays

ricebag worships with her family : any sunday so far pom 2005 : sunday means calm and warmth; ricebag watches and listens and tries not to think too much as her family sing and talk and as they worship; ricebag is still figuring out what IT ALL means and all who love her are letting her do it at her own pace; the real religion here is love ...

Most Sundays I wake up in Aunty D or Aunty Em's house. Invariably sharing a bed with one of my cousins in the little girls room. Usually by then some of the little 8 are already sitting knee up, milky milo in hand, crumbling biscuit in fist, listening to some sort of biblical story, being told by D.

Sunday is a day we spend together.

Early morning-time sometimes there's a guitar strumming - one of 'the boys' (teenagers of my extended fam) will be playing, practicisng. Sometimes it's D on the sofa, playing and singing. There is an air of peace I couldn't replicate without the specific elements of this family.

Eventually the troops get ironed and shirt-fitted and leather-belted and hair-combed with coconut-oil and our clothes smell just-off-the-line and wooden-pegged and its a scramble to get into cars ... and always, always there's one behind who is trying to scoff a last toast or plait the last braid or tie the last shoelace.

And when we get to church it's in time for my favourite part - the singing. It goes on for hours before the sermon and its the part which I understand best, left in my own communion.

I respect my family and their beliefs. I love that they don't pressure me into anything. And I know they see that while I BELIEVE, my faith is not theirs. Its another creature that lives with theirs. Its a creature that lives with buddhists; jains; muslims; hindus; christians; jews ... I believe in God. I believe He is not just the God of the followers of Christ but is also the God of all faiths.

I'm still figuring it out ... and they're giving me time, my people, the ones who count for ricebag in this lifetime.

world military spending & third world debt

These stats published in todays Sydney Morning Herald about military spending in 2004 were taken from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, a prominent European think tank.
  • The world spent $US1.035 trillion on defence during the year, corresponding to 2.6 per cent of global gross domestic product.
  • The United States accounted for 47 per cent of all military expenditure, while Britain and France each made up five per cent of the total.
  • In all, 15 countries accounted for 82 per cent of the world's total military spending.
  • The arms trade also grew sharply, with the top 100 makers of weapons increasing their combined sales by 25 per cent between 2002 and 2003, the report said. Those companies sold weapons and arms worth $US236 billion worldwide in 2003, compared to $US188 billion a year earlier.
  • The United States accounted for 63 per cent of all arms sales in 2003.

However, the figures may be on the low end, the institute said, as countries are increasingly outsourcing services related to armed conflict, like military training and providing logistics in combat zones, without classifying them as military expenses.

I am so offended by these figures I can't see straight. Offended because these same countries who justify justify justify spending trillions on controlling the planet so she and all her resources can serve THEM the best. Offended because most of the people on this planet belong to third world countries who are trapped in poverty cycles which are almost impossible to escape because of third world debt.

Total long-term debt of the 137 developing countries reporting to the World Bank is up to $2.5 TRILLION to date. The money is owed to commercial banks and other private lenders, directly to the governments of First World countries, and to international financial institutions such as the World Bank and IMF - what is known as multilateral debt.

These debts have literally trapped billions of people around the world.

Alleviating this crisis would free 80% of the world's population from the institutionalised process of economic degradation that occurs in most of the nations of the planet struggling to deal with paying the interest (not even the capital) of these massive international loans. The IMF has a LOT to answer for!! But if everyone stopped this mad military spending for just one day, it could completely eradicate the DEBT CRISIS of even a few of the poorest coutnries who need to be able to stand.

There is only one war in all of this - an economic one. The first world countries that propogate War also benefit from the massive economics of war and those same countries also happen to be the ones who refuse to release their dirt-poor third world debtors from the shackles of poverty.

Many developing countries spend more on debt payments than on education and health combined. Those same countries who spend so lavishly on war cannot afford to cure thrid world debt - it would mean economic emancipation for the majority of poor people on the planet and this could seriously threaten the economic world domiance the top 8 economies enjoy so much.

Dozens of nations trapped in the Third World debt cycle, in hock to foreign banks, governments and multilateral bodies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). These countries cannot declare bankruptcy, wipe the slate clean and start again. They have to pay these "preferred creditors" in full and on time.

In the 42 most 'Heavily Indebted Poor Countries' as defined by the World Bank Group, 600 million people struggle to survive on less than a dollar a day. Yet these same countries send the world's rich countries $64 million every day to cover the interest and capital payments on their total $213 billion debt.

How did this massive debt come about? In short, billions of dollars - much of it money from oil earnings in the Middle East recycled through Western banks - were lent to Third World nations decades ago to help them 'develop'. Tragically, relatively little of this borrowed money went to uplift people from long-term poverty. Too much was spent on military arms, wasted on disastrous mega-projects, squandered by corrupt dictators or siphoned off to rich elites.

High interest rates in the 1970s and 80s made matters worse, and low commodity prices for traditional Third World exports such as coffee, sugar and tin left poor countries broke, without the foreign exchange necessary to pay their debts.

Money that should have been earmarked for projects to reduce poverty was sent back to developed nations to service old debt principle and interest. Unable to fully pay off or default on previous loans, developing countries had to, and still do, take out new loans to keep afloat.

And so the debt spiral deepens.

As a condition of new loans from bodies such as the IMF, governments usually have to implement harsh free market measures known as 'structural adjustment policies' (SAPs). SAPs generally call for deep cuts to social programs and government services, the selling off of state enterprises and the promotion of raw resource exports over local food production.

On paper, the plan is to help get economies back 'on course' and trim bloated and inefficient bureaucracies. But in reality, the controversial policies often result in deepening poverty and social unrest.

And in the push to generate fast cash to pay off the debts, the environment is pushed beyond sustainable limits. Deforestation and desertification are all too common sights in much of the Third World.

Some would argue that the money simply has to be paid back. If you borrow it, you are on the hook for it, end of story. But Third World countries would not be getting a "free ride" if their debts were cancelled. They've been repaid many times over.

The never-ending hole that first world countries think they throw their foreign aid money into actually flows upwards, and back to them.

Between 1981 and 1997 the less developed countries paid over $2.9 trillion in interest and principal payments. That's about $1.5 trillion more than what they received in new loans.

For every US dollar of 'official development assistance' Third World countries received in 1999, they paid out almost six dollars in debt payments.

I support an organisation called "Jubilee +" which is now pushing for the outright cancellation of developing countries' illegitimate debts, without adherence to strict Structural Adjustment Programs. This includes:

  • Immediate 100 percent cancellation of the debts owned by low-income countries on the grounds that they are illegitimate, since repayment violates the human rights of countries' citizens.
  • Assessing the debts of all developing nations, leading to cancellation of those incurred illegitimately. (What is an illegitimate debt? $13 billion is owed by the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), even though much of it was lent to former dictator Mobutu.)

I won't go into all the possible scenarios ... theres already too much written here - I just wanted to highlight this major HYPOCRISY that I can barely stomach. There are ways out of the debt spiral, and none of them are easy ... but thats for another blog.

please note : all figures US dollars.

Monday, June 06, 2005

come if you want to come

Sometimes when I am feeling both bored and in a generous mood, (VERY occassionally) I will surf the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree ... see if (now that my travels have stalled) I can offer some advice etc for people about places I've been, things I've seen, stuff I've done.

I love going to check questions on travelling in PNG - invariably about how 'dangerous' it is or isn't to come here. One character call Mississippi1234 just lives to bag out PNG and how rough it is here ... his statements includes comments like "This Country is NOT tourist-friendly ... Some will say that the RED color you see on the ground everywhere is spit from chewing the Narcotic betel nut but what you are looking at is B L O O D".

A few weeks ago someone asked a question on LPTT about the possibility of travelling independently in PNG & (after Miss1234 put in his ten cents) I responded as follows:

Wow. I am from PNG. A young woman. I have travelled solo through the middle east, central Asia (incl Afghanistan), Indian sub-continent, China, South-East Asia, Europe etc etc ... and travelled independent, mostly by foot or hitching etc ... I KNOW hard travel, especially with this hard passport from PNG.

I have ALSO travelled independently in PNG - it IS possible. Everywhere, people will look out for you. The dangers are real, but there is a converse side to this - for all the raskols, there are many more normal people who are just getting on with living their lives.

mississippi1234 says there is 'no social system' and he could not be more WRONG!! This country made up of a thousand language systems dictates that people create intricate communical and public social relationships in order to maintain their smaller familial ones. PNG is an anthropoloigists wet dream precisely because of its multi-layered social systems ...

I think the dangers are real ... but as an intrepid traveller myself who has been to other no-go-zones in the world, I've found some universal truths ... one of which is that you must know yourself - if you're one of those people that has the ability to understand your instincts and to trust in people, then other people will trust in you and take care of you. Its not about being brave or stupid or foolhardy - its that taking a trip to PNG is taking as trip into yourself and into mankind. And those trips are not for the fainthearted and are not for the lazy. It takes hard work - hard work keeping an open mind and energy to keep going when in a challenging environment. But the rewards and the ride are experiences you can't replicate in more tourist-friendly destinations ... that's probably because hoofing it 'independently' in PNG requires travellers, not tourists.

Come if you want to come.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

the little 8

Satade in da ofis ... Yes that's right ... poor little old ricebag is wiling away her most promising years in the office. How utterly boring. Truth is I LOVE working weekends or after hours because I actually get schtuff done ... my concentration levels are high high high and it feels good to have no distractions (other than time-out for blagging-on-blog.) But that doesn't mean I want to work ALL the time ... and lately work is all I seem to be doing or thinking about when I'm not doing ...

I just rang Aunty D to say I am staying at her house tonight and in the back-ground I could hear the little 8 pre-teen members of my extended family ... D said the little 8 babies are sitting crosslegged on her patio floor taking a home-made Bible quiz and they are giggling and I can see them being very good for Aunty D who we all love to love ... all the little 8 just promised not to leave Ds until after I get there so this is really really great because the little 8, who I see every weekend, are so much fun and they really just kill me and I am just going to run downstairs to the chemist and buy the little 8, 8 little pairs of swimming goggles they have on sale.

I love the little 8.

Friday, June 03, 2005

(sort of) blogging stats

RAZOR (aka Charles Wright) blogs for the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper - he blogs to help others understand technology. Here are some snatches from a couple of his blogs about blogging ...

  • 52.8 per cent of all blogs belong to people aged 19 or younger, the typical blogger being a teenage girl who uses the medium primarily to communicate with five to 10 friends

  • according to the Wall St Journal, there's 10 million blogs out there. Or 31 million. Or 60 million. Depending on who's counting them and whether or not they're designed to be read by the public
  • according to the Wall St Journal, as recently as last fall/autumn, only 40 per cent of Internet users knew what a blog is
  • at Technorati, CEO David Sifri recently told a blog conference in Seoul - you don't have to explain to Koreans what a blog is - daily volume is 800,000 to 900,000 posts. But a researcher at competitor BlogPulse, which says it has more blogs in its index, counts only between 350,000 and 450,000 posts a day, due to the fact that the average blogger can summon the energy to post only once every 10 days

Who knows, we may have uncovered a new physical law, like entropy, which holds that the total number of blog posts will never be more than 450,000 per day, due to the fact that there's only 24 hours in a day, and the people who are willing to spend some of them sitting down and dreaming up these things tend to actually have other things to do in their lives.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

somone I know

kumiko cappoeira baby varkala india : muggy 2004 : dancing cappoeira at sunset under the hang of stony cliffs; kumiko with the perfect dimple in the low of her perfect back strikes high; 50-rupee thalis from mama k, blood red beitrut chutney, mango banana curry, coconut and mint dips, husked brown rice, crispy hot papadams, spicy onion, salty beans ... and more ... a feast for many sitting hunched in mama k's low-slung lounge, palm leaf plates and dripping candles adorn a shaky table, every night sitting satisfied on her sand-bitten stoop, all of us breathing slowly and one of us singing long and lonely into the dark hot night ...

I know this next bit is long but it is such a beautifully related story from someone I know and care about - EM. EM is in her 20s. She is the younger sister of a good friend of mine.

If you met her you’d be impressed by her wit, her intelligence and great conversation stemming from an acute awareness of the world around her, linked to strong views on lots of things.

What would amaze you though is that if you left the room and came back a few moments later, EM probably wouldn’t recognise you as someone she’s just been chatting to. EM developed a brain tumour in her teens, and this is the incredible story of her learning to live with the consequences ... a transcript taken from a radio interview with the ABC.

EM: My friend Jess, is the only person I know who doesn’t complain about having a bad memory. She’s a phenomenon, but I think it was inherited. Me? I’ve the memory of a fish. Jess knows more about my life than I do. She even seems quite envious, and tells me, ‘Em, you know what’s so great about your memory? Firstly, you make a new friend every day; secondly you can hide your own Easter eggs; and thirdly, you make a new friend every day.’

I first knew something was seriously wrong in 1997 when I was in Year 12 at school. I was lying in bed when I was suddenly overcome with an intense sensation of déjà vu, followed by a rush of foreboding and then indescribable fear. Then there was a feeling that I was going to die, which progressed into a horrible guilt of even existing. It was such an intense feeling of madness that I didn’t tell anyone what was happening. These feelings continued and they became more frequent, and I found myself sleeping a lot to try and escape them. Then they followed me into my sleep.

Each feeling held the full emotional assault of the first one. Looking back, I can identify other symptoms at that time. My friends would sometimes wave their hands in front of my face and complain of my freakish staring. I would fall asleep with my eyes still open. I studied Japanese for my HSC and throughout the year it became more and more difficult to learn to recognise and draw the intricate kanji characters.

This was because my visual memory was deteriorating. I found myself unable to retain information for long periods, and had to cram for my HSC exams.

In 1998 when I started university, things got worse. The feelings increased to six a day and two in my sleep. I began to suddenly wake up at places. I came to in the middle of Sydney University one day, and didn’t know how I got there or why I was there. I awoke at the podium in the lecture theatre, only to realise I was in the middle of delivering a speech in Japanese. I began cocking my head when taking orders at the bar I worked at part-time to move the customer out of giant black spots in front of my eyes. I was convinced I was mad, and went to see a GP who diagnosed panic attacks.

She prescribed deep breathing, rescue remedy and cognitive behavioural therapy which of course did nothing.

In 1999 six months into my second year of uni, I woke up next to my bed, my hair matted with blood and with ambulancemen standing over me. They took me to hospital. The doctor suspected I’d had a fit, and I was given an EEG. The results confirmed I was epileptic and I then had to have an MRI.

The next day I was called into St Vincent’s with my family and told that they had found a golf-ball sized epidermoid cyst in my right temporal lobe, that it was benign and operable but a large tumour. It was a horrible shock, but there was also a certain relief because finally I was being heard and the gravity of my misery was being acknowledged as something serious rather than a personal incapability to manage stress.

Over the next few years my wonderful neurosurgeon and I were to get to know each other very well. The night before my first operation, my family came into the hospital with me and sat around my bed. My macabre sister, Nina, was hiding something behind her back and looking terribly pleased with herself. She announced she’d made me a present and pulled out a life-sized papier-mâché head on which she’d painted two eyes, a nose and a big smile. She then pulled out a large steak knife and told me I had to carve through the top of it to get to the chocolates inside. Such a charmer!

The night had a very sombre ‘Last Supper’ feel to it, and when it was time for them to leave, my sister left me with a tape she’d compiled to listen to in my Walkman, something akin to ‘Nina’s Greatest Funeral Hits’ with a lot of Radiohead and Jeff Buckley.

I was so scared, and spent the night thinking of every possible horrible outcome, of becoming severely mentally retarded and not having the intelligence to even know it.

The surgery went for eight hours; it was complicated by tentacles wrapped around the optic nerve and extending into the choroidal fissure which is the groove on the surface of the optic stalk. The neurosurgeon couldn’t remove the whole tumour and scheduled another operation in six months time. This was devastating, however I considered myself lucky that I didn’t think it was 1963 like the guy in the bed next to me.

After the surgery, I returned to uni with a freshly shaven head and three of my friends shaved their heads in support. Having a shaved head was quite liberating, and I had a bit of fun with it. When checking my ID the bouncers would often stare suspiciously from the long-locked girl in the photo to the neo-Nazi with giant scar and track marks before them. I’d say, ‘You think this is bad? You should have seen the other guy!’ When my hair grew a bit, I fell into spiking it, which was strange, because it made me look a lot cooler than I actually am.

The crazy feelings persisted, and the evil presence in my head continued to let me know who was running the show. My sudden awakenings at strange places and attacks of amnesia increased. In these episodes, known as complex partial seizures, I’d suddenly become very forgetful and not know much about my life. I wouldn’t know whether I was still at school or university, or that I had a brain tumour at all.

Once, lying in bed, I jumped up and asked the guy lying next to me who he was and why he was in my bed. He was my boyfriend. It was horrible, and very difficult at the time. But when we broke up, it made it very easy to forget him.

These seizures could last 10 minutes or a couple of hours. During them, I’d ask the same questions over and over again, unable to retain the answers for more than a few seconds at a time. I was amnesic about my amnesia. When I came to, I wouldn’t know anything of what had passed. I relied on the people around me to tell me what I’d done, and sometimes they threw in embellishments.

The doctors began neuropsychological testing on me to isolate which parts of my memory were most affected. Each test took about three hours and involved copying diagrams, remembering stories, names and lists of words, completing complex block designs and recognising buildings and people’s faces.

The testing was exhausting, and every test showed a decline in my previous scores. Exactly the same test we used each session, and it was devastating to be presented with a block design that I knew was easy, and I’d quickly completed last time. I’d sit there stumped, and unable to do it.

Recognising faces has been my greatest problem. At one stage my own face became alien, and I’d stare at myself in the mirror, moving my arm to see if the reflection moved with it. I’d stand there and stare, and felt an utter disconnection to this reflection.

I find it hard to recognise anyone I met after 1997. It helps if there’s a defining feature such as a piercing, or glasses or facial hair. It’s difficult for me to remember a person’s face, even for 30 seconds. Working part-time in the pub doing my degree, I’ve learnt to remember the colour of a customer’s top so I know who to bring the drinks back to. There was one hairy moment in the bar when I was collecting glasses and had a tower of them up to my ear. A dirty grey old man I was passing suddenly grabbed the bottom of my pants and rubbed his hand up and down against me. Unable to stop him with my hands full of glasses, I shot him a horrified look which was really designed to study his burgundy T-shirt rather than intimidate him.

I walked away to offload my glasses before returning to that end of the bar. I stormed up to the man in the burgundy T-shirt and told him how disgusting he was, and that he would have to leave the bar immediately. These gentle, bewildered eyes looked up at me and the man silently raised his hand and pointed to the left. Two people down from him there was another grey-haired man in a burgundy T-shirt.

There have been other pickles. One night I met a great boy. We were introduced and we sat down and talked for most of the night. At one stage he excused himself to go to the bathroom. A few minutes later a guy came up and sat down at my table, which seemed very forward of him, and I put my hand out and introduced myself. He looked at me like I was absolutely mad and said he was the same guy, and that all he’d done was go to the bathroom. I realised that that wasn’t all he’d done: he’d taken his jumper off while he was in there.

I had another operation six months later. They were able to go in the same incision, and after 6 hours I was back in Intensive Care. They told me it had been successful but that I’d have to stay on medication for at least a year.

The brain surgery itself wasn’t terribly painful, it was the removal of the staples that really hurt. For each operation there were over 40 staples sealing the incision. They’d sit me down, hand me a disposal tray and set to work with pliers and no anaesthetic. It was excruciatingly painful.

The doctors believed that this surgery had worked. The tumour had been removed, but the scarring inside would mean that I still had temporal lobe epilepsy.

The feelings changed. They now became a slightly evil, uncomfortable presence. The presence would come and go as if to say, ‘Don’t get too comfortable; just reminding you who’s boss in this head.’ I got more complex partials during which my taste would change. I’d look down at my clothes, find them foreign and in bad taste, and ask whose they were, incredulous that I’d bought them. It was like hearing about another person. My mum laments shouting me a holiday to Melbourne that year. The only reason that I know I ever went to Melbourne is because I see myself smiling back at me in the photos.

I continued to do my media and communications degree, able to choose subjects that didn’t have exams. However, suddenly I was getting my essays back and wondering how I’d possibly written them. I didn’t know anything on the subject matter, much less the meaning of a lot of the words I’d used.

This was the beginning of a rapid decline. Soon I could only read short stories because I couldn’t remember what had happened previously in the story. I started going to see the same movies a couple of times. I caught myself out when I went to a film, then recommended it to a friend, who told me I’d seen it with her three weeks ago. I’d look through my diary and not remember going to any of the events written down in there. I read old emails my friends had written in reply to mine. I read the bottom of the email to see what I had written to them and there was this collection of stories of another person’s life. I read what she’d been up to and I laughed at her jokes. I was particularly surprised to learn that she’d played soccer at university. I never knew she liked soccer.

The doctors suspected frequent seizures were erasing memories, but the number of seizures I was having didn’t explain my decline. They hooked me up to an ambulatory EEG, a recent technology that can record brainwaves for three days and nights. Electrodes were stuck all over my head, and the wires snaked down to a console that I wore around my waist. I sat in the Neuro waiting room and read my horoscope: ‘Your mental batteries need recharging’, it said. Finally, ‘Women’s Weekly’ had got it right.

For the next three mornings I went into RPA and they downloaded the last 24 hours brainwaves. I went down to the pub, believing I had to give an accurate cross-section of my brainwaves in day-to-day life. I did get some stares, and I had a good time making up stories. A lot of people walked out of the pub that night, believing they’d witnessed a trial of ‘the effect of alcohol consumption on orgasmatrons’.

The ambulatory EEG showed that I was getting three seizures a night in my sleep. This was momentous, because up until then, to our knowledge, I’d only have a seizure once every few weeks. The neurosurgeon said he would have to do a full right temporal lobectomy. If you’re lucky enough to get a brain tumour, the right temporal lobe’s the place to get it. The right temporal lobe is responsible for memory, emotion and personality, and it seems you can do quite well without it. I found solace in the knowledge that if it left me an amnesic with no personality, I wouldn’t have the emotion to care.

As with the previous two operations, my understanding of the dangers of the lobectomy was that there would either be a change in physical capability, mental capacity, or both. In five hours, the neurosurgeons removed the remaining tumour, my right hippocampus, and right temporal lobe. Thankfully when I came to, there were no obvious disabilities. The Registrar said, ‘When she regained consciousness, the first thing she said was “Can I have a Diet Coke?” It was then that we knew she would enjoy a high quality of life.

After this surgery the tumour was gone and the feeling stopped. There was no physical paralysis and no immediate mental problems. What I hadn’t been prepared for and what did result from the lobectomy was a dislocation of my identity. I didn’t feel like me any more, and have forgotten how to get back to me. It’s a side effect of a temporal lobectomy for the patient to have a change in personality, and for the change to be obvious to everyone except the patient themselves. I developed a ‘Truman Show’ paranoia, where I believed that I must have awoken post-op a very different person, a lesser person, and the world and its characters were feigning normality to stop me from finding out.

I noticed that processing information in my head is harder, and I have sensory overloads where there’s just too much information at once. I’ve become incredibly hyper-emotional. I get upset very easily, particularly watching or reading the news. My sense of inhibition has lessened and I find myself coming out with inappropriate comments and telling people very personal things. I’m currently trying to curb this. My sense of smell has heightened and I smell quite pungent smells that others don’t.

However I think what is perhaps the toughest thing I’ve had to do with post lobectomy, has been the loss of this evil presence. Whilst the presence was debilitating and made me feel guilty, depressed and a terrible person, and seemed to take malicious enjoyment in creating my misery, it was still a being inside my head that lived with me for six years. Someone else is running the show. Quite suddenly, post-op, when the feelings and presence disappeared, I was given sole control of a person I’d forgotten to know. I hated this controlling presence, but now it left me lost. I began to miss my horrible feelings, only for the feeling of being the person I used to be. I’m still working out who that being is.

Today I have memory problems and I still have the odd seizure. The latest seizure was in a job interview. I must have really turned the tables when I became the one questioning the interviewer about myself. I’ve learnt little daily adaptations. I no longer spend more time walking the groceries than walking my dog in the perennial quest to find where I’ve parked my car. Now I save a text message to my phone with the street name and nearest cross street. To remember a person’s name I find that if I link them to someone with the same name that I know from my past, it’s much easier. When remembering faces it helps if I think of the person as an animal, and if I have to remember a list of things to do, I sometimes ascribe an object to each thought and place them in different rooms of a space I picture inside my head. I then walk myself through this space to recall the list.

If I’m using creative imagery, even if it becomes a much more convoluted idea, it makes it easier to commit things to memory, and when all else fails, there is always the back of my hand.

I never saw myself as someone who could be epileptic, but then I’m sure most epileptics would say the same. And I didn’t foresee that the side effects of the lobectomy could be anything other than purely physical or intellectual.

I’ve wrestled to find myself in this incognito state, and in that fight I’ve learnt that I will never return to normal, that I must find a new normal, and then quickly get my friend Jess to remember it for me.