I begin work at the Bookmakers over the Christmas holidays. It’s no easy job, but I like it, lots of dashing back and forth. A full-on paper job, moving, tearing, piling paper everywhere. I will replace Vicky, a ticket-collector, so she shows me the ropes, taking duplicate sheets from the ticket books as the ticket sellers finish them and rip them out; we separate them after ticking them off from the list at a small table behind the cashiers. The blue sheet goes to Belinda, he boss, the yellow is stacked in the office, which is to the right as one enters the back area. In the back office a telex machine churns out the scratches, the changing odds, and the weigh ins or wins for each race. Belinda checks these before we carry the strips of paper to the window in front of Edith’s seat, where Kuku will fetch them from the outside and run them up the big board in the public space.
The office has a shelf desk along one wall that’s cluttered with papers and old butter tubs holding books of raffle tickets, pens, ans rubberbands. There's a wardrobe, sink, refrigerator and a toilet stall. In one high corner a TV monitor runs the races from Skycam, and on the linoleum floor there are three desk chairs, one of which rolls.
In the first room the cashiers, who begin with K1000 floats, sit at benches on a riser behind desks, and hunch over the books that have been sorted by number for each ticket-taker. There are three payout men and Edna, who’s top dog. Then beyond them, in a narrow railroad of two rooms, there are eleven ticket-sellers who sit in a row before grilled windows with six inch opening below; they stand or sit on the bar stools in front of their heavy wooden drawers with slip latches, laying the racing form next to their receipt books.There are nine woman and two men--Rose, Linneth, Susan, Vero, Joyce, Norbert, Christine, Mareea, Melissa, Tutus and Jessica. The ticket stubs are in triplicate. They’re all numbered and we have a pad of sheets, one for each ticketer and their book, with lists of the top righthand numbers on the tickets in their books, so that when each sheet is collected we tick off which sheet from the list has come in. The object is to prevent any missing tickets. They might be placing their own bets after the race or have some other system that warrants holding tickets back.
I’m not sure how they’d do this, because I’m terminally stupid at all this. My only hope it work like a robot and enjoy the exercize of it. It’s smoky and hot, stuffy even with the door in each room opened-by a screen door that leads to a narrow corridor of ground outside, with a drain and a chickenwire fence where Belinda’s attack dog, an Alsatian trained to kill, named Caleb, continually paces. When he lingers near one of the doors and someone passes, he snarls and barks ferociously, scaring me witless.
The Bookies is the end unit in a double strip mall, two buildings facing each other across a car park; nextdoor is a kai bar, or fast food stall. Across is a newsagency, a Korean general goods shop and another kai bar. Inside the front doors, the Bookies is dark and cavernous: the parlor resembles a disused church (to the god of capital) with pews running down the center. You midway down this length and across the way on the right is large blackboard subdivided into three parts, for each of the tracks in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The rows across are filled first thing in the morning with names of horses scratched from today’s races. Next to this board is the door to the back area, and left of that begins the long bank of ticket-takers' windows. On the near wall, as one enters the subterranean light and smoke of the place, there is the large whiteboard also subdivided by track and listing all the horses running in the current races, with the odds next to their names.
As the odds come in on the telex in back, they’re handed to Kuku who jumps on a ledge above the heads of the crowd--wearing a backwards baseball cap--erases and changes them, wiping a whole race out as soon as its run, and refilling with the next. At the far left wall is the projection screen between two large speakers running the races from a satellite link all day. Sometimes there are eight races at each track running from 11 AM to 5 PM. Never any later races, because of safety and darkness when they’re shutting up shop.
The place is packed by eleven thirty with men crushed to each other and crushed to the ticket windows thrusting two kina notes through the grill, sometimes rudely calling out their bets and ordering the ticket-takers to take them now! At one or another race there may be a swelling roar from the crowd on the last stretch and a deep cheer at the win. Usually its mixed groans and titters, softening to a dull rumble of tok ples, or local language, and Pidgin. Sometimes the favorite loses badly and the room rumbles with grunts and moans, sometimes also ironic cheers. Looking through the grills to the crowd you can see little old men from Marawaka, young dudes, working men spending their week's wage, adolescent boys, and run of the mill villagers. It’s everyone. And at the end of the day the place is filthy with betelnut streams, scraps of paper, wrappers, just plain dirt, and cigarette butts stomped out everywhere.
When the odds for a horse get reduced dramatically before a race, Belinda calls this out to us and we go to each ticketer and write on their next ticket-but never the one they’re writing out now--a small XS or XM or XB for a change in Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Two minutes before a race, it’s closed to bets and we walk down the rooms calling “Sydney is closed!” and leaning in with markers we circle the last tickets written, with S2, for example, for the second Sydney race--so that any ticket written after that is fraud by the ticket seller.
Every few minutes, we take tiny raffle ticket pads and a stack of margarine tubs and move from drawer to collect their money, leaving what may be needed for change-making. We mark their names in both sides of the raffle ticket, and the amount N165, for 165 kina in notes, and C34 for change, and leave half with the ticketer, in their drawer, and wrap half in the rubberband around the notes--all stacked facing the same way, and place the tub on the desk of one of the cashiers, who counts it.
All the winnings are sunk into an old iron safe under the office floor.
My first day is ripping. There’s barely a pause between races. When Vicky mentions I’ll be there alone next Saturday, she sees my face and laughs, "Yu poret nau!" --Now you’re scared!
At the first opportunity Carl and I drive to Lae for the weekend. We leave early on Friday morning, so that we can get through a potential roadblock at Kompri Valley (one place on the Highlands Highway known mainly for its treachery) and Watarais, at the Madang turnoff in the Markham Valley. Last week a PMV from Goroka had its windscreen busted by Watarais people. It travelled back to Kainantu to pick up wantoks and high powered rifles so they could come back and open fire on the Watarais men--one man had his stomach blown away. So the Watarais are asking huge compensation--250 thousand kina--and demanding the Governor of the Eastern Highland Province come negotiate. They’ve set up a roadblock.
It’s an on and off roadblock, though. When we arrive at the spot, only an hour and change from Lae, we aren’t surprised to see a big Pajero on the side of the road (American missionaries), and one PMV, all waiting at the Goroka side of a bridge that’s 100 metres from the actual road block. Hundreds of men are converged on the road across the bridge, and stray PMV passengers are saying they all have axes and knives, and a big man has just come to try to calm them down. Apparently three PMVs coming from Lae have just been smashed up and their passengers badly beaten. The other news is that they’re ready to blow up the bridge if the Governor doesn’t come to talk. On the car radio we hear that the Governor is in Port Moresby right now, so that’s a snag. We wait a half hour. I see the Pajero is filled with blond teenagers in the back. Wonder where they’re going.
Word arrives that they’ll open the blockade. Someone has convinced the men to wait for ten days to have their demands met, after which, if they’re not met, they’ll blow up the bridges and block the road again. There are no police anywhere. The missionaries have been waiting for forty five minutes, they tell us with preternatural calm.
But now I don’t really want to go on. I’m too scared. Hundreds of men and no women up there-it isn’t a good omen. They’ve been waiting around, slinging shotguns and axes from their arms, and over their shoulders; looking for a confrontation all morning. The crowd stands only 100 metres up the road threatening an Altamont level of violence, and we’re supposed to drive through now. Carl says it’s better than waiting, so we hop in his truck and get going, slowly. We’e following the PMV’s, although some of them, we know, are heading for Madang rather than Lae. This means that once they’re through the first pile of logs being lifted from the road now, they’ll turn left onto the road north to Madang. We’ll keep driving east, to Lae. We crawl through in a line. Someone in the crowd calls out for us to go very slow, not to chance it. There are literally hundreds of young men outside the front and side windows now, and my heart is thumping in my throat. The PMV, then our truck, crawls through the unblocked space parting clusters of men with axes and bushknives part. Then the PMV turns left to Madang. Carl says, “Well, at least we can get to Madang now.”
“Maybe we should go that way.” Twenty metres down the road before us I see them replace a second blockade.
This is a crowd still seeking revenge against Gorokans, and they may be incited by the Goroka company sign on the side of thes truck. Omagod, this is it. I see through the crowd beyond Carl’s window the two charred partially-upended PMVs from last week.
We draw up to the second roadblock and someone sees our faces and waves the others to open it up for us, which they do, and we crawl through. No faster than ten kms per hour, we’re dispersing young men who amble towards us heading to the intersection. I can’t see the cars behind us--the missionaries or the other PMV--for the crowds. Another two hundred metres away, just when we think we’re in the clear, we slow to a crawl again over a blockade of stones.
“Just go through,” I urge, and Carl does, even as people all around us wave us to stop, and one or two even gesture for us to turn around. The road is no longer choked with men, but we don’t speed up right away. It’s edgy for another ten minutes driving, a long distance really--as people with rocks in their hands still try to turn us around or wave us down. This is a phenomenon I’ll never get used to on the roads here: how many deadpan faces try to make you stop or detour for a ride, or for something more sinister. Eventually we’re passing groups of PMVs and men and women waiting at PMV stops, and we wave to signal it’s okay to go on now.
Carl lays his hand on my knee. "Scared?"
"Yea", I look ahead.
A minute later he says, “Its finished now. You okay?"
I nod a little, but I’m still shaken.
Tuesday the 18th of December Carl has a small dinner party. He’s made turkey, ham and roasted potatoes and there’s Christmas cake with cream for dessert. It’s all lovely. Everyone’s quickly drunk. Or at least I am. Christine makes it a point throughout the evening to ignore me, performing a difficult trick of looking across the table to Carl to turn away from my face when I speak. Late in the evening she’s legless, but happy, and everyone else has gone. Even though she lives nextdoor, I am saying, “That’s fine, stay here Christine, flop on the couch. Don’t worry.” Carl later says I told her to undress and that she may have considered this an invitation. I’m exhausted by being ignored, and drunk, so I go upstairs to Carl’s room to sleep. Five minutes later, I’m up to piss and walking to the bathroom when I look down to see her sitting on Carl’s lap in nothing but her bra, attached to his face like a suckerfish to a manta ray. My my. Carl, for his part, is catatonic--I’m all too familiar with this look, as it involves arms limp down the sides of the chair. It all strikes me as pretty funny, a little moment of necrophilia, so I head on to the toilet.
It’s only moments later, when I’m walking out again that the whole thing strikes me as awful. Christine is still at it. I pile up some things, and stride down and out to my car, searching for the keys to my friend Kate’s house. The deed is not nearly as clean as it sounds, as I’m actually hiking up a laplap and tripping, as if anyone needed proof of my insobriety. It’s not that I’m mad at Carl, he’s too pitiful. But I can’t figure out why Christine is always doing this stuff to me.
I’m just getting into my car when I see Christine wobble by down the drive and Carl runs to the car with his shirt flying open.
“What? What? Where you going? Please don’t go, it wasn’t my fault!” he pleads. Christine sways back into the picture, saying I have to move before she can get her car out. Then she slides away, and Carl and I look at each other in wide-eyed silence.
“What, she can’t walk down the street?” And we both crack up.
There are a couple of forgeries at work--one from some bloke who keeps asking for work, too. Belinda and her mother Jan, the top boos, sit in back laughing over it.
“Yeah sure, we like the way you write,” Jan says.
And then, when we’re all closed, there’s one guy who won’t leave, who keeps arguing at the outside door that he wants his ticket cashed. “Get the fuck outta here before we call Securimax!” Jan screams, then calmly locks the front grill and walks off.
A few days later Carl arrives at the Aero Club and explains that his father’s dying in Holland and he has to get on the next plane (today) to Moresby to catch the Hercules helicopter that’ll be off to Singapore then Abudabi, where he'll get priority seating to Brussels, or whatever’s the quickest route. He tells me that when his sister rang with the news, he sat down on the steps in the house and just cried and cried. Now he’s so sorry to leave me alone for Christmas. I want to cry for him. This is not his year.
Two days before Christmas, I wake with a splitting headache and discover that I’ve left the oven gas on slightly all night. It’s a good thing the house is so drafty. Then I tie up Cloe the rotweiler and go to pick up my girlfriend’s sweet shepard, Daisy, whom I to look after for the holidays. I bring her back to the house, where Cindy, Carl’s passive old shepard, makes fast friends. But I must hustle Daisy inside the house before I untie Cloe. Who then barrels past me and through the front door, savagely attacking Daisy and knocking chairs over, breaking photo frames, and smashing a favorite vase of Carl’s. Not to me left out, Cindy joins the fray.
Once I’ve stopped screaming and separated the dogs, I must dash down to work at the Bookies. Today is a panic because the Mt Otto satellite repeater station has been held hostage by landowners all month, so the telex goes down and there are no markets, no odds before any of the races. Belinda, to her credit, hounds Moresby all day for the odds--even though Moresby’s so swamped they often won’t help her. She keeps cool, but for one brief fit, and manages to keep the business going. But in mid afternoon the only other Bookie in town closes down and we’re swamped with spillover punters. This is insane now, so much work, running around, frantically collecting money for pay-outs, and making hundreds of mistakes all the while. I can’t seem to ever get on top of it.
The next day, Belinda calls a guy at the telecommunications authority who won’t connect her telex. When she gets steamed, he blithely asks her what planet she thinks she’s on. “Well, at least I’m not a rock ape like you from Planet of the Apes!” she yells.
They pay out more money than ever before on certain odds--something like K700 on one bet, and more I suppose for the rest of the bets, so we’re scrambling for cash all day, pulling thirty and fifty kina out of the ticket-takers’ almost empty drawers. By the time I get home I want nothing more than a hot bath and bed. Another Christmas in PNG, I think. This time, alone.
The day before Christmas I go to Mark and Api's plantation house, where Api, a beautiful young woman from Wuvulu Island, spends the day in the kitchen churning out piles of food: fish, meat, chicken, ham, crabs, and vegetable springrolls. Big Muddy’s there telling lewd jokes about the fair dumb sex. At one point everyone begins to make fun of the houseboy, Joe, who seems a nice Tari man with an easy smile who’s been dressed for the occasion in Pepsi boxer shorts, white shirt and red bow tie, then given a spiked Coca Cola so he stumbles around like a stooge. O-tay! Time for me to go. Pity I can’t bring Joe with me.
I drive to my friend Meg’s plantation nearby. But I’m now caught in a downpour outside her gate, one of Meg’s wantoks sitting with me inside as the security guard fumbles with the padlock. It won’t fit. So I drive around to the muddy pitted road behind the market, to the back gate, where the other security guard is nowhere to be found. So I go back to Carl’s and dry off and change, to set out again. Still no key at Meg’s. I stop by Mark and Api's again where they’re playing headbands now. This is a kind of charades where everyone tries to guess the name written on their headband. Joe seems to have gone on a break. A young girl of mixed Indian descent struggles with clues for what seems forever, finally throwing up her hands, falling back on a sofa and saying,
“Who is Gandhi anyway?”
Christmas day is better. I drive directly to Meg's where it’s lovely to see friends like Douglas and Preston, Leonie’s ex and son, and to meet Elaine and Bill Farmer--he’s the outgoing Australian Consulate and she’s an ordained Anglican priest who will be giving a Mass. Meg’s daughter Taimal is there, as is her sister Daisy and brother Jason, her mother, her housekeeper Kathy, and Magwi, who’d taken such loving care of BooBoo, my tree possum. Brimbie and Christina and David are there, and David sits down with Elaine on the broad slate verandah explaining how he knew the precise moment in his young son’s life when he was ready to receive the holy sacrament, the body of Christ.
Elaine gives Mass before a tableau with an old Spanish cross and a naif Caribbean Madonna and child. Afterwards, drinks in hand, I have the sense of being on Montauk or Malibu, until I hear David explain how his eldest could chatter on in English, Pidgin and the housegirl’s vernacular before he even learned to walk.
A few days later at the Bookies, it’s relatively quiet and one of the punters grumbles about Belinda's dog.
“He’s here for you asshole!”
Garnet is in Barry’s flat, both of them watching a video. These are my old neighbours from Jamie’s block of flats. Barry’s sitting behind the bar, and Garnet’s in front, lolling on a stool. Both are old PNG hands, SP helicopter engineers. And they’re mesmerized by a tape called ‘Girls and Guns.’ It’s a series of young women in bikinis, one by one standing on a platform in the Arizona desert, wearing rhinestone cuffs, go-go boots and such, and packing AK-47s.
“Hi, my name is Barbara. I’m an actress and a dental hygienist, and I’m holding the Romanian AK-74 with all U.S. parts in a pre-ban configuration, and a fixed T-74 muzzle brake. This beautiful rifle is the semi-automatic version of the AK-74 used by Russian and other former communist bloc special troops. As you can see, it has a deep satin finish on its exposed metal parts and a hardwood pistol grip.”
Barbara lets rip a round, the kickback jiggling her tits, and when done, she turns to smile primly at the camera.
I watch for a while. But while I say things like, There’s a babe, and She’s a gun moll, Garnet and Barry don’t really seem to be into the girls.
“God I love that gun,” Barry says.
“Mmm. That’s a beaut.”
“Got a wicked kick, that one.”
“It’s a ripper, though. And easy to handle.”
“Yea. You tried the East German AK-74?”
“Naw. Any good?”
Barry puts on a video of the latest Gun Club competition. A boring piece of camerawork--all off-kilter long shots from a camera on a table somewhere. The scene is a combat shoot -competition, in which competitors move through sets and shoot at several targets intended to be the enemy. Each set has a name. Flat Intruders is one; Night Shift another, involving a desk and dark bandits. Night Puncture involves a roadside ambush; and another one has to do with the hull of a crashed plane in the field. The targets are fixed figures, some wood, some tin, marked at various distances from the shooter, who must find cover and try to pick off as many Bad Guys as quickly as possible.
Barry, the Gun Club member, critiques one guy’s shooting because he stayed too far inside a set and failed to see a third target on his right side. Others use too many rounds--most of the guns were 38’s and 45’s that have ten to fifteen rounds before changing the magazine. But some with shorter rounds require the shooter to change magazines swiftly, and Barry and Garnet applaud them for it. The number of hits gets divided by the time to reach a final score, but there are also other statistics they try to explain to me, like the fact that the top scorer gets 100 percent and everyone else is rated on a curve.
I am much more interested in the techniques Barry points out--how someone tries to start shooting left, then turns right and backtracks, wasting time; or another moves forward to find the greatest vantage. The car set is the body of an old Mazda four-door and I joke that it looks like my old car’s been resuscitated.
“The idea is,” Barry explains, “you’re changing a flat at night and all these raskals ambush you from the dark.”
But the car has four flats, I notice, and you’d surely never live to change them all. That scene’s gonna give me nightmares every time I drive in Moresby now.
Barry then gets to talking about how he’s from a family of fourteen kids; his Mom’s Maori and eighty seven years old now, alive and kicking. They were raised on a farm and had to milk four hundred cows twice a day, every day, rising at three thirty and walking to school after their chores. He spent eighteen months in Vietnam which blew him away for good, he says.
“The fighting?” I ask.
“All of it. Like seeing the guts of your friends spilled out everywhere.”
“Remember that plane crash in Okapa? I went over and found four guys in pieces everywhere, only two survivors.”
“You came back to the hangar absolutely white faced, I remember. Like you were gonna spew chunks.”
“People like me, you know,” Barry goes on, “can’t get ever back to reality. I spent a year in a psychiatric hospital after Nam. Like, my mother even warned my old girlfriend about me, she told her I was very violent.”
Barry’s house is extremely neat. Everything in its place, all bagged and folded and stacked. I want a snack, so I go to the fridge and notice the bread’s upended just so in a certain place. Barry takes out margarine, salsa and cheese, so I can grill something, but I just make toast. Then he goes back in, and in a flash produces a tray of pickled onions, tinned mushrooms, asparagus, cheese chunks and rye crackers-canapes for the Girls and Guns crowd. Passing the TV set me points out his favorite videotape, Dune; then he pops it in. When Sean Young’s face comes up he quietly says, "Seany."
Carl and I are invited to a friend’s 40th birthday in Salamaua. This man’s expatriate family has a weekend house on the beautiful little windswept island off Lae. His wife is my good friend, and she sends us an invitation with husband Rob in full highlands regalia, looking surprisingly dashing. ‘Costumes only’ it instructs. Carl refuses to go in drag, which omits all the really good costumes so far as I’m concerned, so we hit on a compromise. He’s a professor getup in cap and gown, and I’m the naughty schoolgirl in an undersized school uniform, stockings and garters, push-up bra and smeared makeup. Our hostess Liz does my hair in ringlets, and she herself is so dishy in a custom-made Playboy Bunny bodice, fishnets and mules.
Another friend, Donna, is a dark and lovely dominatrix in leather shorts, bra, a biker’s cap and a whip. There are Draculas and Casanovas, baby dolls and fairy godmothers, an Arabian Princess, and two sets of Pebbles and Bam Bam, or maybe one of them is Tarzan and Jane. In a place where people gather the feathers, shells, teeth and bones of traditional finery together over weeks, sometimes years, its no minor miracle that these people can pull together capes, whips, fake eyelashes and leopardskin togas on short notice.
We’re all ferried out to the island in big pleasure boats, with boxes and boxes of provisions, and Liz shifts into high gear right away, delegating chores in the big open kitchen downstairs. Guests are to sleep in the dormitory or bedrooms upstairs, and in houses all over the island. Neighbors lend their hands, their refrigerators and ovens; they string Chinese lights and put up a big tent by the dock. Marathon drinking begins, fueled by continuous platters of food from the kitchen.
“I can’t stand some of these people we had to invite,” Liz tells me. “And they’d just love it if I couldn’t pull this off.”
Someone’s hired a two-piece band from Australia, with a lead singer that looks like Gilligan at fifty in a Wings t-shirt. Their music stinks, and everyone gets up to dance to CDs when they break sets. About midnight the lovely Arabian Princess who arrived with Donna the dominatrix turns into a hired stripper, as someone pulls the birthday boy to the dance floor and the guests form a human palisade against local onlookers in the surrounding dark. The woman writhes and shimmies so enticingly that some of the guests pool hundreds of kina for an encore later on.
Speeches are made, glasses are raised to Rob, and yet one good mate seems uncharacteristically mum tonight. He makes a short speech and winces as if in pain. Normally he’d be hard to get off the floor, one of the mixed race Hagen mob, best pals with Rob and Brian Leahy. Turns out he’s suffering a massive haemorrhoid attack and getting all kinds of weird advice: someone tells him to go in the bathroom and shove the swelling back up with his hand, assuring Mungo that he’s been there before. (Weeks later Mungo’s in Brisbane at the--I’m guessing--proctologist, who takes a look and then reaches for a photo album. It’s a collection of haemorrhoid shots, the full range of clinical possibilities. Mungo says, “This is like the gay man’s mail order bride book.”)
We are all aware of being Nero on the violin as Rome is burning. Because, as we dance, a coup is erupting in Port Moresby. One of the army’s top brass has just blown the whistle on Prime Minister Sir Julius Chan for having hired a team of mercenaries from South Africa to take down his greatest political bugbear, the Bougainville Revolutionary Army. And true to form, he stands to make a handsome profit from it. It’s egg on Chan’s face and riots in Lae, Hagen, Moresby, even Goroka. Driving to Lae for the party the day before, Carl and I crawled through crowds of protestors on the road that dispersed beneath arcs of tear gas. Now things have gotten much worse. Students are rioting at the Unitech, right across the street from Rob and Liz’ bakery and home in Lae. Flights are suspended, curfews are on. We’ve had a weird respite on an island for two days. But then Carl leaves early to get back to his building yard in Goroka, and I hang around to help Liz cleanup.
We boat back to town and life quickly becomes surreal. A handful of us are now trapped in the bakery compound-- Liz and Rob; a cheery Brisbane couple; myself; and the two godawful musicians--while riot squad police camp out at the gate. The police enjoy an unbroken supply of scones and hot coffee from us, as great mobs of students thrust and parry from the University gates just across the road. Liz and I then crawl onto the roof of their house to watch cops lob tear gas into the students. The crowds stay dense at the core, and scatter at the fringe, then reconvene; another tear gas bomb explodes, they scatter again, then reconvene. Gunshots reverberate in the distance.
We’re not going anywhere for a couple of days. It’s now an episode of Real TV where everyone suffocates in one house. (Or Sartre’s No Exit, I can’t tell.) The first night the students firebomb the factory compound next door. The next morning Liz is screaming at the housegirl, “Come inside!” and the poor woman shuffles inside. Then we hear noises in the back of the house and she yelps, “Get outside!” and we all scramble outside. It’s critical that we know where everything is in case of an emergency evacuation, so Liz and I line up our shoes in order of importance: her new Jimmy Choos, my red pumps. Just so they’re not left behind. At one point Liz slumps into the couch complaining about how dull her life in Lae is, without real stimulation.
“Maybe it’s not the same for you, Nancy,” she says, “but I just cannot live in an intellectual vacuum.”
Gilligan the band singer is trying to find Blondie on the CD rack, and the TV is running the debates going on right now in Parliament. There’s a bearded and neckless Governor General asking for calm, and Sir Julius on the floor looking cool and condescending as usual. Hours later he is to escape the student seige on Parliament by scaling the fence in a policeman’s uniform. During an afternoon lull in the riots, Liz dashes to town with Rob for groceries, where the snotty store manager puts an Easter chocolate in her bag and says,
“Here Lizzie, something to make you sweeter,” and she hurls it back at him, saying, “No thanks!”
In the evening, Rob turns on ‘Men Behaving Badly’ and, for the first time, sits down to a drink and a chuckle. The rest of us lounge on the floor, wash the dishes, try to relax somewhow. Liz comes in, sees the program, then storms out saying she refuses to be subjected to British sitcoms.
The emergency is diffused in Moresby by day three. We all have yet to actually hate each other, but it is a relief to go home. Students have been hurt, a few killed, property destroyed in big towns everywhere. Once again PNG is a safe place to have a birthday with costumes and a stripper under Chinese lanterns.