Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Fruits and Veggies, anyone?
Welcome to the main market in Lae! We are so thankful for this market. It is always full of fresh produce, that is extremely cheap! We can buy our produce for the week--delicious sweet bananas, juicy watermelon, crisp lettuce, green peppers, carrots, onions, potatoes, and other more exotic foods--anyone want to eat a fruit bat or an eel?? All for about 25 kina, that's about $8 Canadian! We're thankful because across a mountain range in Port Moresby where our colleagues live, the market is not safe to shop at or the prices so affordable. Rumour has it that the Lae market wasn't too safe a few years ago either, but then they called in security guards from a certain tribe who apparently are excellent marksmen---they don't have to aim, because their arrows always hit the mark anyway. So the legend goes. And so there are no security problems at the Lae market anymore.
This may be the case, but it's still a little unnerving for me to be in such a crowded place, carrying a heavy bilum (string bag) in the heat of the sun, and trying to keep track of my son who's trailing along slowly behind me. And to add to all that, we're usually some of the few whiteskins there so we provide the entertainment for the day. Especially when Jonathan decides he's tired and plunks himself down in the middle of the pathway or splashes wildly through every puddle from the rains the night before.
There was one day a few weeks ago that he and I did witness an incident that made me feel quite uneasy. I noticed a crowd gathering near where the guards have a little office, and then I heard over the loudspeaker something about a woman who had stolen something. I couldn't quite understand the pidgin. And then they invited everyone to come watch while she was beaten with a stick. The crowd quickly grew. This was even better entertainment than the whiteskins. I quickly steered Jonathan away from there, not wanting him to see or hear any of it, and wanting to get away from the crowd because that's where pickpockets are at their best. As we turned the other way, I could hear the cheers and laughter of the crowd as they watched the woman being hit. A few minutes later, I noticed a woman walking quickly away from the crowd, head down, and hand covering her face. I gathered she was the thief. A few steps behind her was a guard, carrying the stick and looking as if he was going to go at her again. And that's what he did. People all around were laughing and I just couldn't help but think they were so cruel and immature. I didn't understand what was going on. And then I remembered that this is what you call a "shame culture", and therefore it wasn't so important that pain was inflicted on this woman--it didn't seem like she was being hit very hard, but that she was ridiculed and shamed, in the hope that she wouldn't try to steal again. The ironic thing is that in an impoverished place like PNG, any of the people who were standing around laughing at her today, could be the thief tomorrow, just trying to survive and maybe feed their children. Not really a laughing matter.
The people at the market come from villages all around Lae, some waking up at 3 or 4 in the morning, just to catch the bus into town to sell their food. Not to mention the hours they toil to plant and harvest the food from their garden. And then many of them sit in the hot sun for hours at the market only to make enough to cover their bus fare and maybe a little bit extra. We admire their hard work and appreciate the food they sell. Fruits and veggies, anyone? Come to Lae, and enjoy!!
Here's a woman at the market selling colourful skirts and the traditional meriblouses and laplaps.