“I shot the sheriff but I swear it was in self defense“
Went out to the Yacht club in Lae which is filled with fat old white Australian men sitting drinking numerous draft beers and getting drunk. We go because the drinks are cheap and there is a breeze from the sea. Three women, a woman from India, a woman from Germany, and I sit gossiping about work, gossiping about men, talking about our lives – an unusual sight in Papua New Guinea – there is no man there to protect us, to hover over us, to tell us what to do. So the Papuan women are intrigued and always come to talk to us. One comes over – she’s lovely, dressed well, very drunk. She starts off telling us about how she is being forced to do things she doesn’t want to do - things that she wishes she wasn’t doing. We’re concerned and waiting to hear what is going on. But she instead talks about being unable to get pregnant, about having irregular periods, about being unable to conceive and how sad she feels because she has the money because she’s married to a white man, to go to a local clinic and get a d&c. I still wonder what she’s trying to tell us. We encourage her to visit us at the sexual violence clinic. She says she works near by and has heard about us. We never mention the word Sexual Violence.
She leaves and we all look at each other – we were thinking the same thing. We start talking about leaving pamphlets in the bathroom so the women who work here and the women married to expat men can read them in private and know where to go for help.
Anyway, its Friday night. The other women have been working for five days straight treating about 25 women who have been brutally beaten by their husbands, raped by strangers, and have brought in their children who have been sexually molested. I’m tired because my brain has been stretched to its limit by an American doctor who wants everyting NOW and challenges me. I am happily tired. Rather have this than ridiculous office politics. We’re drinking gin and tonics and looking at the mountains that meet the Pacific ocean and the big moon. The mental health counselor tells us about a karaoke night nearby at a place called the Melanesian Inn. Supposedly the nurse and the logistician got pissed and sang “Bohemian Rhapsody” there, completely unaware that a video was playing behind them of women in bikinis holding bananas and riding elephants seductively.
We’ve got to see it. We’ve got to go there! I have to see a karaoke place where women hold bananas suggestively. I always forget what they are really like. So we drive over in our big white humanitarian Jeep, I hope out of the back in my pink sundress, clambering down the back step with my gold strappy sandals. We walk in – 15 kina charge! Outrageous (that’s almost 3 dollars! And beers are only 1 dollar 50). But they wave us in – three single women! We walk in to an intense punch of the scent of cigarette smoke, body odor, and what smells like barely disguised sexual frustration and anger. I’m suddenly aware of the vulnerable position we are in. I’m not used to it. In my countries, in general, I can wear skimpy sundresses to bars and dance and talk to men, and no one is going to drag me off into the bushes and rape me. I’m a little nervous, I hve to admit. I feel vulnerable with four gin and tonics in me and nothing between me and my modesty but a cotton sundress. I didn’t dress provocatively – it was so hot and humid so I wore the dress because it’s lighter than cargo pants and a tshirt.
We are the only non Papuans in the place. The music is nice but the man are DRUNK and the women start to cluster towards us. They are all prostitutes. It’s been my experience that prostitutes tend to be the nicest women in the world (with the exception of those on 13th Street NW in DC in 1996 but that’s another story). These Papuan women who are almost certainly on the game come and sit with us – eager to talk to women and chat with us and find out what is going on. “Me no savvy English, me talk talk pidgin” says one. One, who is smoking a small cigar keeps kissing my hand and smiling at me. They are funny and nice. We order a round of drinks.
Suddenly a band strikes up – keyboard, bass guitar, guitar, drummer, and two singers. They are singing John Fogerty’s Centerfield. “Put me in coach, I’m ready to play!”- we get up and dance. The music is surpsingly good. A very short mideget like man comes up to dance with us – he dances in ecstasy with his hands in the air, maintaining a safe distance. One of the prostitutes begins to grind against me. To Centerfield! I dance away. The woman who has lived here six months is laughing hysterically looking at our faces as we find ourselves danced against the wall by the female prostitutes. The band begins to play “I saw her Standing there” by the Beatles. We keep dancing. Some men come up and dance too close – a security guard eases on up and puts their arms on the men and whispers in their ear – the men back off. I wish they had that service in the US. Dutch men are so cold, they never dance too close.
We feel protected – we dance and sing as the band moves into Bob Marley – I shot the Sheriff – an ironic song given the violence in Papua New Guinea. But an awesome version! The singer has a great voice. And then into … of course… no party is complete without it – “No Woman No Cry”. But still the female prostitute is kissing my friends arms and grinding against me. We decide to take a break to have another beer. And then! The Drifters! The music of my youth in South Carolina – at Camp Saint Christopher, at the Swan Lake Dance competitions, at Myrtle Beach – at school dances. I have to dance to this. The other girls don’t want to dance so I find myself on a dance floor with two prostitutes and four men, dancing and trying to shag to “Under the Boardwalk” . I twist and turn and try to spin the prostitute but she seems unable to follow my guidance and keeps trying to grind. So I sing – UNDER THE BOARDWALK – DOWN BY THE SEA- UNDER THE BOARDWALK- ….
A man starts screaming – two men carry him out on their shoulders as he twists and thrashes about. The men start circling closer and closer. The guards are eyeing us nervously. A giant huge man with hands twice the size of me comes up to talk tome. He’s a local Rugby player. He won’t admit it at first and when I ask him what he does, he says, he’ll tell me later insinuating all kinds of things. He has great dimples. It’s midnight. Another drunk falls over a stool and lands on the floor. The prostitutes are gathering again –their betel nut stained teeth shining against their dark skin in the black light. The smell of unwashed and sweaty skin is overwhelming and the fans aren’t helping ventilate – just pushing the smell closer and closer to me. I’m getting nervous again – so we leave.
As we walk up to our driver with his humanitarian logo embossed vest and our giant white SUV, he tells us there is still a fight going on – the man who was thrown out of the bar! We can’t resist. We have to go look. There are five security guards still watching. We climb in to the car and head home at midnight – one more hour before curfew but it feels prudent to go home now. Just another Friday night in Lae, Papua New Guinea.