Sunday, July 29, 2012

When I was a Game Show Contestant in Port Moresby

Seven and a half hours. I squinted at the screen, fuzzy letters announcing the arrivals and departures for the Port Moresby airport.  I had been sitting in this tiny airport for seven and a half hours—and now there was only (theoretically) a half hour to go before boarding my flight to Rabaul, East New Britain. I looked at the flight list again. Yes, it was still there. Cancelled. My flight was cancelled.

I flicked the off switch on my Kindle and looked around. Since my early-morning arrival from Cairns, Australia, I had been curled in a worn blue-covered foam seat at the gate (when I say “the gate” I do indeed mean the only gate), watching my shade turn to sun. I had visited with an Australian Aid team, a campaigner in the election, a mother and her Twisties-covered son travelling back to see her family, and a first-time overseas couple looking to visit their daughters in the Sepik (obviously American, I concluded, as I overheard their struggle to convert 15:30 to 3:30 pm). I had read books and journaled and watched wave after wave of people creak out of their seats, gathering bags and children in response to the muffled “now boarding flight…”

And now, it didn’t look like I was going anywhere. I zipped my bag shut and started standing in lines. First at the gate counter (yes, it’s cancelled; go to customer service). Then at customer service (yes, it’s cancelled; go collect your baggage). Then at the baggage claim (yes, it’s cancelled; now go to customer service). As I pulled my bag back to customer service and into the continually growing press of tired and disgruntled people, I considered my situation. Night falls quickly in the tropics. It was now quite late in the afternoon, and I, a young white female, was alone in Port Moresby during the election season. Not quite an ideal situation. Customer service had mentioned something about accommodation, but exactly where and how I was supposed to get there (much less it’s relative safety or expense) was unknown. I tried calling the local guesthouse where missionaries typically stayed—no answer.

Okay, Lord, I threw a quick glance upward. It’s in your hands. You know what Moresby is like, and since I can’t seem to go to the guesthouse, you must have another idea.

I shifted my bag and glanced around. Another expatriate woman was ruffling through her paperwork while waiting for the line to move. Probably her first time in PNG, I guessed. I introduced myself—and found my hunch was correct; she was hoping to visit missionary friends on New Ireland. I was even familiar with the language group!

As we chatted, I could hear the harried customer service agents parcelling out passengers into various hotels, but I couldn’t help but grinning as I resumed my earlier conversation with the Lord: Abba, if you could send me to a hotel with this woman, I would really appreciate it. I think it would meet both our needs.

He had much more in store than that.

The rest of the evening I felt like I was the grand prize winner on a game show, watching the host role out prize after prize, heaping them into a mountain at my feet. But wait! There’s still much, much more!

My all-expense paid accommodation voucher in hand (provided by the airline), I and a few other passengers (yes, the other woman among them) stared wide-eyed out of the complimentary hotel shuttle (no need to call a taxi), as we pulled up to the Ela Beach hotel, a high-buck waterfront property whose rate per night was more than my plane ticket. “Sign here please,” the attendant indicated, and I found myself swiping my room key into a private suite complete with air conditioning (!!), a big-screen TV (with more channels than I could count—and none of them were playing rugby!), and a courtyard view of the luxurious pool and waterfall.

Goodness gracious. I stared out my window, incredulous. I don’t think I’d stayed in such a nice hotel back in the US!

Except for a quick snack grabbed at the airport cafe, I hadn’t eaten since my 6 am flight. The restaurant must be down by the pool, I guessed. Earlier, in the lobby, we had been handed our meal vouchers... and I and the other national passengers had stared at each other in astonishment. 82 kina per person!  

Were they serious?? My seatmate and I exchanged looks. “We could go to a kai bar and get a full meal for K10!” She nodded, “Too bad we can’t do that and pocket the rest!” (The other expatriates were extraordinarily calm in comparison; apparently, they had no idea what they were experiencing and thought this was normal.)

Well, I thought as I glanced through the menu, if I have 82 kina to spend on this meal and it can’t be used anywhere else...I might as well go all out.

On what? The one thing that I would likely never purchase again...



Yes, here it is: the spectacular steak. The other expats must have thought I was crazy... but, I figured I might as well embrace it! :)

The evening sped by as I dined on steak, shared about my work here in PNG with the other stranded passengers, savoured the steak, answered questions about PNG from the other curious expats...and, of course, relished every bite of steak. Before I knew it, I was stumbling out of bed for a 2:30 departure to the airport, stood in more lines, read the notice that the airline is not responsible if in-flight meals are disturbed due to volcanic activity(!), and finally dozed off in my window seat, to the vibration of propellers and the miles of ocean and clouds under the plane’s wings.

I was finally on my way to Rabaul... but not before feeling like a game show winner in Port Moresby.