Hi, I’m Ella. Known to most as pg or Aunty Purple. Originally from Melbourne Australia, now living in Lae, Papua New Guinea.
1. Why did you move abroad?
Most expats will tell you it’s for the experience, or the chance to see other cultures. Us? The GFC hit, my husband was retrenched and he couldn’t get a job in Aus. After 9 months, unemployment and creditors forced us to consider expatting.
2. How do you make a living?
I run a small social media company, the only one of its kind in PNG. Pretty typical of me to have an internet based business in a country where the average internet speed is akin to a snail on valium. I also do volunteer work up here for the Lioness Club, and I’ve just begun to foster orphan girls up here. Our first poppett is 4!
My husband is a Logistics Manager for a local engineering company.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
The internet up here is pretty dodgy. We can go days without internet or mobile phones. However, I email a list of friends once a week, I Skype with my kids at least once a week (although we often have to message as the connection is often too slow for video) and I ring home on special occasions. I spend the first few hours of each day (Internet gods willing) answering emails and catching up with friends and family via FB/emails
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Papua New Guinea?
PNG is one of the most beautiful places on earth. We try to get out of town as much as we can, and head up to the Highlands, out to the islands, to remote villages. Each province in PNG is vastly different from the rest. There’s just so much to see and do! Last weekend I went snorkeling off a coral reef at Salamaua, and the weekend before I ate sweet banana at a market near Goroka in the Highlands.
Honestly? I love the money being an expat brings. I love that it allows me to travel to remote places and meet some of the friendliest people on earth. PNG has a fearsome reputation for violence and safety, but like most places, 95% of people you meet WANT you to love their country. They want you to visit their villages and meet their kids. They’re proud, friendly people whose hopes and dreams aren’t so much different from our own.
The other 5% want to kill you, rob you and eat your liver with a nice Chianti. Not necessarily in that order.
I love the food. The pineapples, the papayas, the arbika, the guavas, the custard apples. I love shopping at the local markets for ingredients I have never seen before. I LOVE drinking fresh coconut water from kulau (sweet young coconuts) sold at roadside stalls, or offered to you fresh from the tree, when you visit a village.
I do not, however, love smoked fruit bat.
I love the local language, Tok Pisin. Where else can you call an helicopter “mixmaster bilong Mister jesus Christ”? or say “Man bilong me, him pinis work” and actually mean “my husband has finished work”
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Papua New Guinea?
Not being able to get fresh coriander. It does my head in.
Seriously, the one thing that makes my head almost explode, is getting anything done up here. I am the original Type-A control freak. When I worked in Aus, things crossed my desk once, and once only. I’ve had workmen in the house for more than 9 weeks, just to fix a leaking air conditioner.
9 WEEKS, people.
I am considering a new business venture. You know those silicone bracelets that people wear “WWJD?” Imma going to make my fortune by marketing “RWYA” bracelets.
Remember Where You Are.
The whole “Melanesian time” thing isn’t a myth. Someone rang me a month ago about coming by to fix my alarm system, and is yet to turn up. Yesterday, I took the dog out to the groomers…having rung first and been told “yes, come any time” So I got out there, and no one knew about me coming.
Up here the right hand not only doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, the right hand is speaking one of the 800 separate and distinct languages of PNG, and the left hand is staring at you, gormlessly, waiting for the Babel fish to be invented.
6. What do you miss most?
Vietnamese food. I used to dream about George Clooney wearing a rubber chicken suit. Now I dream about big bowls of pho, crunchy banh mi, unctuous goi cuon…. **insert Homer drooling noise**
George and Angelina, swimming naked in a pool filled with rice noodle soup, floating on pillows of lemongrass pork…
Sorry . Where was I?
Oh yes, I miss my kids, too. **insert furtive glance**
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
PNG, and Lae in particular, isn’t for the faint-hearted. Shy, retiring wall flowers don’t last long. There are 88,000 people in Lae, and 2000 of them are expats.
I smile. A lot. People usually always respond to a smile. It breaks the ice and starts to the conversation. It’s hard not to say “Hello” to someone who is smiling at you. Although, albeit it, in my case, somewhat maniacally.
I did an online Tok class before I moved. So I could at least say hello/goodbye/thank you in the local language. I speak Tok as much as possible.
I insist on going out to a local expat haunt (The Lae Yacht Club) once a week, and I blithely walk up to people and introduce myself.
I joined a women’s group that meets once a month.
I offer to meet newbie wives and take them around the town.
Before I arrived I internet stalked people who lived in Lae and sent them random “Hi, I am moving to Lae” emails. Seriously. Facebook is your expat friend. Do a search for the place you’re moving to, or the company you/your husband will be working for. Get some names. Send an email. You’ll be surprised!
I made an effort to met expat AND local women alike. And you know what? Women all over the world really are sisters under the skin. Whether we cook in a mumu pot over open coals in the middle of a jungle, or a stainless steel Miele kitchen in NYC, women all over the world are worried about their kids, their husbands, the cost of living, the future. We want to share and talk and laugh together.
It just take someone to make the effort and break the ice.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
Dear lord! How long have you got!
There are NUMEROUS customs for women up here that make me shake my head. Nudity or at least, bare-breastedness is still common, yet you have to be careful when you go to the market not to walk over the corner of someone’s food mat. It’s highly offensive. You’ve effectively pointed your ‘nethers’ at the food they’re selling and made it unclean. Menstrual blood is considered evil, domestic violence is rife (it’s not unusual at all to see a man beating his wife in public and it’s considered the height of rudeness to get involved in ‘marriage matters”), yet public displays of affection- even holding hands with your husband- is considered rude.
There is no concept of ‘please’ or ‘thank-you’ in Tok, so- given I am a manners freak- it does my head in when people say to me “I want a drink/cigarette/money/lift” without the “May I, please” To my western ear it sounds rude, but I look at my yet-to-exist bracelet and mutter “RWYA”.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
It’s the most violent, unsafe place outside a war zone. Don’t get me wrong, it CAN be very dangerous, but it’s not nearly as bad as sites like “Lonely Planet” make it out to be.
10. What advice would you give other expats?
Be open. To new people. To new foods. To new experiences.
Too many women come up here and never leave the safety of their compounds for fear of ‘something’ happening.
Before long they’re buying ab-er-ciseres on e-bay and pouring Vodka on their cornflakes.
If you want ‘safe’ or ‘normal’ or ‘like home’, move to Sydney or Idaho.
Don’t miss out on one of the world’s great unspoilt places because a friend of a friend of a friend read on the internet that “they’re” all still cannibals and it’s too dangerous.
11. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in 2008, as a way of documenting the building of an outdoor wood-fired oven at our holiday house. Since then, it has morphed into a food blog, a way of me documenting my attempts to feed my family as SOLE (sustainably, organically, locally and ethically) as possible. Then it became a way for me to experiment with food of the cultures we were planning to expat to, (PNG and Saudi Arabia), and now it’s morphed again into a blog about my expat exploits.
It’s still mostly about the food, though.
12. How has the blog been beneficial?
I have met some amazing people via my blog. I’ve been offered the opportunity to blog for TV shows, I’ve won awards and been interviewed by people around the world. I get the chance to interact with other obsessive foodies from all over the world.
I mean, I’m here aren’t I?!
Ella's blog, A Goddess in the Kitchen