It has been a really interesting experience leaving my very hectic London life in the UK behind and adopting a much more laid back Pacific pace. To begin with it felt really strange not having my weekends booked up months in advance, weekday dinner dates with friends no longer in the diary, and planning for events all put on hold. Waking up at the weekend and making a decision there and then what the day has in store or changing plans at the drop of a hat to join a friend on a road trip or adventure out to sea is very much the norm.
To fit into PNG life you have to embrace the unknown – weekend plans based around the weather, access to transport and safety is how escapes from everyday life are made. Although this can be frustrating at times, there is a level of freedom that this relaxed approach has. Being more impulsive and less routine brings about a different level of enjoyment if you can let go of having to run out the door with toast in your mouth! I also think that in turn, this uncoordinated approach to planning means that time slows down. This slowing down is in part due to the heat and humidity so going fast isn’t really an option but naturally there is less to occupy your time and it gives you a chance to appreciate the here and now a little more. There’s something to be said for taking a moment to appreciate the small things in life.
We get used to living very scheduled lives where activities are set well in advance and a lot of life is guided by routine but here in PNG life is very day-by-day. If you ask a local what they have organised for the weekend it is likely that other than their regular trip to church they will have little more planned than a bigpela malolo (big rest!) People just have a very relaxed approach to their day and whatever happens, happens.
As an extension of this, in PNG there is a very different approach to planning. Thinking ahead long-term feels like quite a new concept and doesn’t seem like an intrinsic quality. Things that happen in the here and now are very present in people’s consciousness and tend to happen but trying to arrange transport for the following day at a certain time or a meeting a couple of weeks ahead is a much more challenging concept. I guess this comes down to the fact that people have been used to living as subsistence farmers off their own land and not having to really think ahead as they have pretty much all they need. We’ve been brought up to expect things to start and finish on time, to get advance notice of events, to have a schedule in place. I think in the Pacific you tend to go with the flow. It’s very easy to have the wrong expectations of nationals but it can sometimes be tricky when you are working on something time sensitive. I’m not suggesting for a second that no one in PNG knows how to plan just recognising the difference in approach that you have to have in mind when it comes to working here.
It is also quite interesting to note that there is even an element of this in the language. Tok Pisin relies almost entirely on the present tense, the here and now. The concept of past and future is not inherent in the language itself. Similarly the concept of accurate time is unclear to many people. That perhaps explains why I’m never picked up on time and why meetings often start late!
So for me, this weekend is a blank canvas…I’m not saying that the pace of life in PNG is what I want forever but it is nice to have the freedom of fewer commitments just for a short time. I also think the reality is that every day is an adventure here whether at work or play and although I didn’t see it at first, that is something quite special in itself.