Tuesday, December 6, 2011

What’s in Your Bilum?

 If Papua New Guinea (PNG) is the Land of the Unexpected, then your first lesson should be How to Pack a Bilum. A bilum, as a quick review, is the handy-dandy all-purpose string bag of Papua New Guinea. Both men and women carry them, and they can be made out of plastic, wool, or traditionally, bush materials.

Pretty much, as soon as you step out of your house, a bilum is automatically part of your wardrobe.

Here are a few things you will find in mine
However, whether it is well-packed or not is another question. I soon found out that a poorly-stocked bilum can result in some slight discomfort when I take that 6-hour detour to visit the mother’s sister’s cousin’s baby boy in the next mountain range or decide that fishing in the ocean might actually be a good idea since the market was rather boring. While each circumstance (and part of the country) will have its own priorities, here’s what my bilum looked like as I lived in Silum.
  • Spoon in plastic—Hospitality, often shown by massive plates of food, is a key part of PNG culture. However, washing all utensils in hot soapy water isn’t so universal. Having a clean spoon with you (in plastic, so you can take it back), is not only more sanitary, but it also relieves a burden on their limited resources.
  • Hand sanitizer—Dirt and plenty of other microscopic wiggly things that I don’t need to mention are everywhere. Soap is not.
  • Ibprofen, bandaids, toilet paper—Light, compact, and oh-so-helpful when you need them…
  • Tiny sunscreen/bug repellant—Tropical sun is killer, especially to people like me whose ancestors hark back to Good Mother Europe. Mosquitoes are killer too. Repeat after me: re-apply. Re-apply…
  • Photo book—As the newcomer, you are the local entertainment. Thus, having some photos to illustrate your stories (especially about the Great and Terrible Land of Ice) is extremely helpful.
  • Water—Lots of sun = lots of sweat = lots of water you must drink
  • Pen and tiny notepad—I’m a linguist :) so as I hear new words and idioms, I write them down. Go figure.
  • Hat—Remember that sun? It’s still there. Wear the hat.
  • Mobile—(It’s a cell phone, for you US people). Service is spreading rapidly around PNG. Of course, you might need to stand on one particular hill under one particular coconut tree facing one particular mountain range…
  • Camera—If I didn’t take it with me, you wouldn’t have interesting photos. So be glad I did.
  • Flashlight—Dark falls quickly in the tropics...and even more quickly when you are scrambling at high speed through the rainforest. Don't leave without a flashlight.
  • Umbrella—I have the cutest little umbrella that just tucks into my bilum, and it has saved me more than once!
  • Crackers—Someday I have to write a blog post on the beauties of PNG crackers. Suffice it to say for now that you really have no idea when your next meal is, so having food along will keep everyone happy.