Monday, August 22, 2011

Saturday in Town

Here we are preparing to head out on the Hino
On Saturday we drove into Madang, the closest large town to POC, to do some shopping. The adventure starts with the truck ride on the Hino, a truck that has benches on its bed to hold twenty or more people. The road down the mountain winds back and forth, etching the mountainside as it curves around towering coconut trees and massive ferns reminiscent of some prehistoric era. The ever-present rains carve miniature Grand Canyons into the rock and sand, creating craters that I think could potentially be visible from outer space. But, the faithful Hino and our talented drivers navigate the obstacle course with speed and precision.

Out one window, the ground drops off, and I can see the Pacific Ocean, glinting until it merges with the sky; through the other window, ferns reach their freshly-washed hands inside, dripping down my neck in a friendly greeting. We shout conversations across the benches, swaying and jerking like water in a pail, and brace against the poles, warned by the downshifting of the truck for the upcoming pothole.

Saturday morning is market day, and the whole town thrives with activity. Men, women, and children wander the maze of stalls in the outdoor market, where selling bilums (string bags), laplaps (skirts), meri blouses (women’s shirts) is more than just a business—it’s the week’s social event.  Two other girls and I snack on roasted peanuts as we look at the wares, feeling cloth and nodding moning at the venders, many resting on the ground in the shade of thatched shelters or the huge tree that spreads over the market. Tarps stretch across the ground, advertising a plethora of food at only a few toea—taro, pineapple, mangos, greens, carrots, guava, peanuts, and avocados bigger than my fist. We keep our skirts tucked close, careful not to let them brush over any nearby greens.

After we left the market, we begin wandering through other stores—Papindos, Best Buy (it’s not the electronic store you’re thinking of, but instead carries a bit of everything—almost like a Pamida) and a local pharmacy, looking for basic toiletries. Shopping is a hunt, and goods don’t necessarily show up in the same place twice. I stare at plastic containers and attempt to translate kina into dollars. The PNG flag and colors are everywhere, proclaiming evidence of their national pride, and signs shift between English and Tok Pisin.

Outside, it’s already hot, but I don’t know the temperature (my mind isn’t converting Farenheit to Celsius very quickly yet), and people lean against buildings, seeking whatever shade available. Despite the late-night rain, dry season dust hangs in the air and betel nut stains the streets. There are very few private cars—most vehicles are trucks and PMVs (semi-public transportation vans). I have to remember to look the other direction when crossing the street, and many vehicles seem shockingly automated… until I glance at the other side and see the steering wheel. :)

Hours pass quickly, and soon, we are all gathering back at the Hino, chatting about our purchases and experiences. Bags are tucked under our feet, and we hang fruit in bilums from the Hino’s rafters as it jerks and sputters to life. Everyone stops and stares as we trundle back to the main road. One of the children sticks his head out the window and waves. “Apinun!” A chorus of greetings and smiles echoes back as we pick up speed. It’s time to go back up the mountain.