Friday, August 20, 2010

High Noon in Port Moresby

Squatting down on the cement pathway, huddled amidst the short shadows of the passers-by, is a small child. As people stir past him, ambling on their daily chores, he watches them pass intently.

Periodically, he stiffens his back, puffs out his chest, and yells.


The locals ignore him easily, continuing their amiable conversations as they proceed. Most are wearing bilims around their heads or shoulders. A woman carries a small baby nestled in her woven string bag – others are full of lime pots, food and cigarettes.

The sidewalk is a deep rusty orange, the colour of the Beetelnut tainted streams of spit that spurt unexpectedly from the mouths of those who crowd into it. The oppressive humidity seems to lift a little in the middle of the day, to be replaced by the blazing heat of the sun.


I have always had trouble intentionally ignoring people. I have a kind of universal respect for every human, which seems to include at a minimum that I will genuinely listen to anybody when they talk to me. This means that, throughout my life, I have had a lot of very boring conversations about life insurance, salvation and various worthy charities. I am, as the less scrupulous and hardened salesman can attest, an “Easy Mark”.

Each time I am accosted in this manner, I am always slightly offended at the salesman for taking advantage of me. Surely, I think, if everyone has the same sense of respect for each other, we wouldn’t exploit such a notion for personal gain? That would be unfair…

I look down at his brown face. His big dark eyes, bulging slightly. His scruff of curly hair is tightly cropped, and his cheeks are slight, above full red lips. As soon as his eyes meet mine, He knows me.

Our engagement is silent, and flits by in a microsecond, yet worlds of information pass quickly between us.

He can sense my sickly patronising sympathy, which I am desperately trying to suppress. My compassion and sense of dignity that I feel should be afforded to all people, regardless of social or economic background. He can tell that, on some level, I am afraid of him. Afraid. A grown man of thirty-five is afraid of an eight year old? And yet, he is correct. In addition to a general feeling of not being safe, I am fearful of his culture – of his status. In some way his presence offends my worldview. “This isn’t right”, I say through my eyes. My son is eight. He concerns himself primarily with Nerf guns and Nintendo and school. This boy is all wrong. He should be learning and playing, and enjoying all of what it means to be eight years old, not barefoot, yelling at strangers in a dirty street.

He knows that I am not of this place. That I am here fleetingly, on some whitepela business deal, that I am uncomfortable and awkward.

I can see that he is not enjoying this, yet he does not dream of being elsewhere. I know that he is hawking these streets at the behest of some other entrepreneurial adult, probably somewhere nearby. I know that he is hardened, pushed well beyond things that are expected of such a young child in other cultures. That he has seen and experienced things that my sheltered upbringing and ever so slightly wayward youth never forced upon me. I know a sense of unfounded remorse, of inherited shame.

And I know that he knows that in this instance, he has found himself an easy mark.

I look away, and attempt to resume my passage along the sidewalk as if nothing has happened. I adjust the laptop bag I am carrying on my shoulder. The average wage earner here would have to work for about three years to afford the contents of my laptop bag. It’s like carrying a fucking house in the boot of your car.


I stop, and look back at him. He hurriedly waves me toward him. Slowly, I turn and comply.
In his hands, he holds some cheap horrid looking perfume in a glass bottle, that proudly proclaims itself to be “Drakkar Noir”

“Manspray, huh?” I ask. He looks at me again. This time, all business.


I hand him the cash. He offers me the bottle.

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