There are a couple of Western women sitting in the lobby in khaki shorts and T-shirts with slogans on them I do not bother to read. Aid workers. (Grant, The Cast Iron Shore)
Words are my business; my work and my interest, my income and my passion. In PNG, books and printing are very expensive. There are no bookstores in Goroka (I think a might be a few shops that sell books in Moresby; maybe Lae, less likely Medang). The national library has had no funding for purchasing new books since 1997; it relies on donations – of which there aren’t many; there is a public library in Qld that sends books they don’t want anymore; think of those little tables of sale books inside some public libraries – you can imagine how bad the ‘new’ items are then at the national l.
[Up the road from me, the University of Goroka has a big nice new library, and no books inside it. I haven’t heard why; if the building was built through sponsorship/donation, this could be a reason; could also be a result of idiot decision making, which is likely. Studying at uni and not having reference books as a resource…hm. I think I will leave that one alone, not knowing any more about the situation. Because christ…]
In Goroka, you buy your clothes from secondhand stores, and they are amazingly cheap. A lacoste-style t-shirt, for instance, will be, say, two to four kina (aus$1-$2). Well, it depends on what you like; I find that locals have different tastes to expats – so stuff I’m interested in doesn’t sell too well, and is cheaper. Today I bought two women’s long sleeved shirts priced at 30 toya (15 cents) each. And one is even Country Road! I am going to leave here with a better wardrobe; no more tshirts with slogans…ha ha. (ok I don’t actually have any; and I’m not exactly an aid worker; it just sounded good.)
Anyway, my point was that these shops are the only ones I’ve found where you see books for sale. Obviously it’s a mishmash, but that’s what makes it so interesting. God knows where these come from – whether Australia (this is where most of the clothes come from; they’re donated by special interest groups) or expats in PNG. Mills and boons; national geographics; dumb books you’d see in a beach house in Victor Harbor. But that’s what makes the occasional “literary” sighting interesting: I’ve seen Sebastian Faulks’ Charlotte Gray (didn’t like it first time round so didn’t bother); Miss Simila’s Feeling for Snow (remember reading a few chapters and loathing it, so again didn’t bother); Intro to Freud (that raised a smile); a memoir of a Chinese poet (too earnest; decided it would be unbearable); and today, Linda Grant’s The Cast Iron Shore. I almost didn’t buy it because I remember Bean reading Grant’s History of Modern Times and being disappointed. But, it was 30 cents, so I bought it with my shirts. I had a little read over lunch and already on page 6 I want to argue a point, but I’m interested and will continue.
I read Kidnapped last week, which was total pleasure! (Before that I wasted my time on Malinowski’s journals – tedious and lacking insight, the man and his writing; one [only] interesting point: he lived in Adelaide for a few months and thought it like paradise. Unfortunately he had an affair with a lady there which turned sour – as in he carried on the affair at the same time as proposing and marrying another woman – so end result was that he could never return to Adelaide; ah, paradise lost, he wrote…). I have a soft spot for RLS. (I brought over some of his pacific writings (he ended up living in Samoa), which will be interesting to look at; surprising how many writers have had pacific sojourns; Klaus Neumann, bean! And some other interesting discoveries). It was fun to read about someone else trying to get by in a land where he didn’t know the custom or culture; and who wouldn’t secretly love Alan Stewart? But it’s the telling of the tale that gets me; it’s a rollicking yarn:
I do not know if I was what you call afraid; but my heard beat like a bird’s, both quick and little; and there was a dimness came before my eyes which I continually rubbed away, and which continually returned. As for hope, I had none; but only a darkness of despair and a sort of anger against all the world that made me long to sell my life as dear as I was able. (Kidnapped, RLS)