Sunday, August 24, 2008

Betel Nut

Okay, to discuss betel nut. Apparently Popondetta, which is where we were at, has some of the best betel nut there is around. Hopefully that would explain some of the fascination that people have with it. There are a few different ways that people can partake of the nuts: one way is to simply chew on the nut itself, the preferred method is to mix it with lime and mustard. The latter concoction turns the teeth red and makes a pleasant looking puddle when expectorated. It is pretty easy to pick out who does and does not chew the betel nut, you only have to look at the teeth. People who do it have almost bright red teeth (the ones that are left anyway). They take the nut, take a small bite of the mustard seed, dip it into lime, and then chew it up. Apparently when you mix it this way it becomes a bit of a stimulant. It is not dissimilar to tobacco I suppose, but it seems a bit odd, especially when you consider that somebody had to be the first to discover this mixture. It makes you wonder how many other things the intrepid inventor mixed it with first before deciding to mix it with lime and mustard, or maybe they just mixed lime and mustard and then began experimenting, I don’t know. I guess that it has been passed down for a long time, (I know that it was being done that way in the Philippines when Magellan made his infamous stop there), according to the PNG guys we worked with it could be in the four digit range of years. Everywhere you go there, you see nice, bright red ropes of betel nut expectorant, at first I thought that it was blood, but quickly realized my mistake when I saw some lady hawk a giant one on the sidewalk. There is some betel nut chewing that goes on here in Micronesia, but it does not take on the huge status that it does in PNG. I will have more to say on that topic when I discuss the scope of work we have at the hospital we are working on

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Still Getting Caught Up

Our time in Papua New Guinea (or niugini as they spell it sometimes), wasn’t particularly all that eventful. Our accommodations were not that spectacular, for those of you familiar with our usual luxurious lodging at Hampton Beach, you can get a feel for what we were staying in. Walls that seem to be made of some strange material somewhere between the thickness of cellophane and cardboard, with acoustical qualities that would make any theatre architect jealous; water pressure that could knock your skin off (if you are a leper)-(assuming it was actually working)-(sometimes you could get hot, sometimes cold, but never any combination in between). Work was long, we built two clinics and a two room school house in addition to installing two 6,000 gallon water tanks at the local hospital for emergency water distribution. To say the least we were busy. The weather wasn’t too bad, considering that it was winter on that side of the world, it was usually upper 80s to low 90s with varying degrees of humidity. The people were pretty good to us and we made some good friends with the PNG Defense Force men we worked with. The only subject that I feel that I need to expound on and digress upon is the betel nut. I will save that for a future date as it will encompass all of my mental faculties to describe the lengths and breadths that people there go to for a good betel nut chew.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

leaving the philippines

Going all the way back to June, we finished all of our projects in the PI and were sent off with some very nice parties and ceremonies (and a not nice supposedly 5k "fun run" that was not fun and was not 5k). We left the Philippines by C-130, one of the nice and unique things about a C-130 is that it has the ability to utilize a "reverse" by changing the angle of its propellers. This is necessary when you are attempting to take off from a small runway the size of the one that they had in Calbayog City. What many people don't think of (especially children from a small island in the PI apparently) is that once that plane backs all the way up to the edge of the runway, it's going to change direction. There were two small boys standing at the edge of the runway on a small grass knoll when our C-130 changed the propellers to get us moving forward, the boys had only felt a small wind from our movement and must have felt safe standing a hundred or so feet behind the plane. However, when we began to move forward, all of that changed and they were sent literally flying down the backside of the knoll (naturally to our great amusement), I was just glad that the ramp was down so that we had a nice view of it.
If anyone has ever had the pleasure of flying on a C-130, you know how "comfortable" the accomodations are for a five hour flight. The important thing is that we made it back to Okinawa in one piece and were able to catch up with the rest of our battalion that had just left Gulfport. We spent two pretty uneventful weeks at Camp Shields before departing for PNG. It was another C-130 trip down to Port Moresby, PNG where we spent the night in a pretty nice hotel while awaiting our C-12 trip down (actually it was kind of up, in the north/south sense of the words up and down, but it was below the equator so I don't know if the usual convention of referring to northly directions as "up" and southerly directions as "down" is still accepted) to Popondetta. I will leave off here and continue updates as I find the time. Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 15, 2008

getting caught up

Wow, I knew that I hadn't posted anything on here in a while, but when I saw that the last post was from June, and I just realized we are halfway through August, I couldn't believe it. For all two people who read this, I apologize for not attempting to get anything on the page. Papua New Guinea was extremely slow (dial-up) with only two computers and twenty people trying to use them in the few hours a day we weren't working. I am going to try to backdate everything and fill you in on the trials of working in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I will just say for now that we had some serious materials issues (three days in a row we had parts bumped from a plane in order to make room for chickens, this is not a joke, it really happened, we really had parts taken off of a plane to make room for live chickens, again, not a joke-really happened). The internet here is slightly better, the difference being that we have limited wireless availability, so we can have more than just one or two people on at the same time, plus hopefully we will be working slightly more sane hours. I will also update on our trip to the USNS Mercy, we stayed overnight before flying to Micronesia. Thanks for not giving up on me and I almost promise to keep typing.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

getting a rooster

05 June 2008

Okay, I know that I haven’t written for a while, but there is a good reason; I haven’t really felt like it, nor have I had any experiences that I truly felt compelled to put into words. Mostly it is just work and sleep. We are hoping to finish a 1500 square foot building in about a month, most of which is concrete and block, a feat that will be something if we can accomplish it. We are closing in on it, but it is still in doubt whether or not we will make it by the 12th. We need the 13th and 14th to wash, organize, pack, and load our gear on the next set of flights. I have been told that I will be on the first flight back to Japan (this time that’s good) where I will take up residence in a new barracks room (hopefully the last time I have to switch rooms when we go back). Because I mentioned the roosters, I will elaborate on the topic. I cannot even begin to count the number of people that I see on a daily basis walking or riding in the pedal taxis that are carrying a rooster. Every time that I see these people I wonder if they are taking the rooster to the vet, the fights, or simply just taking the family rooster for a stroll. Everywhere, and I do mean everywhere, you go, you see roosters, chickens, and whatnot, but I only see people getting serious about walking the roosters.
I have seen all manner of things being walked, water buffalo(?), donkeys, fleas, lice, etc., but for some reason that I cannot fathom, the rooster is king. I have been invited to go to the local cock fights Sunday afternoon and will probably go just for the curiosity factor. In the meantime, I have to go walk my new rooster. I will try to keep this more updated, but can make no promises as the rooster is getting me up early in the morning.

Monday, May 19, 2008

getting around town

19 May 2008

Well, we didn’t quite finish the pharmacy, there were some material issues and we didn’t get the door and windows until almost noon. We just have some cosmetic details to take care of tomorrow and will be out of there by noon one way or the other. I don’t know which job I’ll be off to after that, probably back to the big block job at the main clinic that we are building, it’s probably about time I went back there and see how the electrical is coming. The pharmacy is about 45 minutes away from our compound which gives me a good chance to observe the driving here in this part of the Philippines.
Driving here is more of a contact sport than navigation. I have been to places where lane markings and signs are suggestions, but here they are wishes more than anything. There is a hierarchy on the roads here that must be observed at all costs. Right of way goes first and foremost to the largest vehicle, then the fastest, then the one with the most insistent use of the horn. In the States, the horn is generally used to signal your displeasure to another driver who has done something stupid; here there is an entire vocabulary contained within a few short bursts. I have been able to decode much of what is being said in this morse-like code – one short honk means “I am coming up behind you”, (this is reserved for slow moving pedestrians and human powered tricycles), the longer single honk is meant for engine powered tricycles and is a warning to move to the right. Two honks is the signal for “I’m passing you regardless of safety and road conditions because I’m faster” – this one also doubles to let the oncoming driver know that the vehicle couldn’t care less about you, so you better move to the right or you will be pushed off of the road. Three honks is serious and means “ move you slow moving a** or you’re going to get run over” – again, this one is reserved for pedestrians (even the dogs seem to understand this one) and pedal bikes and this signal is usually given approximately 6-12 inches from the offending party’s rear end resulting in an immediate jerking movement out of the vehicle’s path. Four blasts is so far the most serious that I have seen and is only utilized in the most hazardous of situations and usually only occurs every 100 or so feet of travel, this one means “pardon me driver of a larger vehicle, but I did not see you when I blindly pulled out from behind the vehicle that had the nerve to travel slower than I wished to, I would pull back in, but I have not yet had the chance to push the slower, smaller vehicle (pedestrian, bike, pig, cow, rooster, etc.) from the roadway, and would you please slow down momentarily to allow me to do so.” I know that that seems like a lot to cram into 4 toots, but they do it somehow.
The vast majority of vehicles on the road are not motor powered, they are human powered (I did see a kid with a roto-tiller tied to a wagon, he had leaned it back and had the tines in the air, I still haven’t figured out how he steered, but I digress), there are bikes with a third wheel and a cab everywhere you go. There are also motorcycles with the requisite cab also. You could not believe the amount of stuff that can fit into one of these cabs (I say into, but what I really mean is into, on top, below, off to the side, etc.), I even saw one that had the cab converted into a moving livestock cage and contained two pigs, I have no idea how the pigs paid for the cab but since sausage and bacon are delicious I don’t really care. The do have some busses that look like something that Scooby-Doo and the gang painted (picture the mystery machine with about 50 people in it, and again I use the term in loosely).
I have more to say about the transportation here, but will try to save further posting until I have completed more in-depth analysis. I do have a theory as to why people stare at me everywhere I go, and contrary to popular belief, it is not because I am 6’4”, 220lbs, and have red hair – it’s because I don’t walk around carrying a rooster - but more on that next time.

Friday, May 16, 2008

getting an eye opener

16 May 2008

Yesterday I was moved to another project – remodeling a “pharmacy”. Myself and two other Seabees were tasked with painting it inside and out, replacing four windows and a door, and building two sets of shelves for medication. The pharmacy is only about 50 square feet and barely has room for all three of us inside at the same time. We spent most of the day yesterday preparing the building by pressure washing it and scrubbing it. We had a hard time getting the pressure washer going. The only water source in town is a set of spigots by the town well, yes THE town well. We had to take a piece of hose and jam it over the end of the spigot and then jam the hose into our American hose which we then connected to the washer. There were already a bunch of the villagers out there watching us when we started, but they came out of the woodwork when we fired up the pressure washer. For the most part, the locals aren’t too impressed by out tools, a hammer may be nicer than another hammer, but it is still a hammer. The one thing that they are fascinated by is our power tools. Once we got the building squared away, we spent the rest of the day painting the outside in front of another huge crowd. Paint isn’t unheard of here, but it is fairly uncommon. Most of the buildings are made of unpainted block and stucco, while the majority of the homes are for lack of a better word, shanties. They are made of pieces and parts of all manner of things, old signs, pieces of plywood, corrugated metal, and of course bamboo and palm fronds.
Today we finished painting the inside of the building and second coated the outside. We again drew a huge crowd when we pulled out another of our mysterious wonders, a circular saw. One of the Philippino Seabees that we are working with stated that he had never run one, let alone seen one. The village was just amazed at how fast we were able to cut the plywood and pieces for the sides of the shelves. The villagers are extremely friendly, most of the men are gone during the day out working in the rice paddies, picking cutting and drying the rice. They put the rice on the side of the road because it’s hot and then sweep it up into sacks and cart it off. Almost none of the houses have electricity and none that I have seen have any type of running water. Everyone has big plastic jugs that they bring to the well pump to fill up. Some of the houses with electricity have televisions, you can tell which ones by the huge bamboo poles with rabbit ears on top in the yards and by the crowd of kids standing in the window to watch. We should be done there on Monday, and off to the next job.