The journey to Buka was long and tiring. I flew to Brisbane on Tuesday at 7am, met up with my fellow volunteer, Bryn, and we continued to Port Moresby (POM) to stay the night. POM is beautiful but difficult to get around safely so we were confined to the hotel. The hotel had a great pool though, so we took advantage of one more night of luxury before hitting Buka.
After a somewhat emotional night where I had a slight freak out ("What am I doing? Surely I must be crazy?!"), Bryn and I took a shuttle to the POM domestic terminal on Wednesday morning, which was a thoroughly overwhelming experience. A grainy speaker gushed forth constant announcements in Tok Pisin and English, none of which were decipherable given the constant static. People lined up and milled around with kids and bags everywhere. It took an hour to check in, but we eventually got on to the tiny plane and after a stopover in Rabaul, East New Britain Island, we arrived in Buka.
Flying in to Buka from the East.
Buka is so stunning. Any worries about my vocational choices were put at ease as we cruised over breathtakingly beautiful beaches, coconut plantations, mountains covered in thick bush and the turquoise Buka Passage. We landed on the shortest runway in the world, screeching to a halt outside a tiny tin shed where all the bags were dropped. Chaos ensued as people rummaged for their baggage, and Bougainville Security officials checked their bag receipts to make sure nothing was being stolen. Bryn and I were met by Raewyn and Chris, the VSA staff in Bougainville, and another VSA volunteer, Annabel, who works in my office. I quickly developed a sheen of sweat covering my entire body; Buka has a reputation for being the hottest part of Bougainville! The temperature hovers between 28C and 32C with around 90 per cent humidity. There is, however, a nice ocean breeze that provides some relief, and for the last 24 hours it has been raining, which means it is nice and cool, with geckos chirping around the house and crickets (I think) maintaining a deafening chorus.
My home for the year - Bryn lives downstairs, and I live upstairs.
The view from my balcony.
I have been into the Division of Media and Communications office to meet my workmates and boss, but I start proper work on Monday. For the last couple of days Raewyn and Chris (Chis is from Buka originally) have been taking Bryn and me around town, checking out the supermarket and the outdoor veggie markets, the trade stores and (my favourite part so far) the second-hand clothing shops! At the market the women all laughed at me when I asked how to cook a suspiciously prickly vine/green leafy vegetable. Everyone seems so nice and despite me being a white meri (woman) who seems to make a fool of herself all the time, the locals are incredibly welcoming and friendly. One thing I have learned is that if people say a meeting is at 9am, no one will actually turn up until 10:30am. Island time indeed!
Last night the VSA volunteers had dinner with the New Zealand Police Community Taskforce who are based here in Buka, as well as in Bruin and Arawa. On Saturday, a few of the other volunteers and I may organise a boat trip to one of the outer islands, and on Sunday we’re having a pot luck lunch at Annabel’s house. So, despite my occasional homesickness, I feel positive about making connections with people and getting to see more of Buka – and hopefully, down the track, more of Bougainville! Looking at the full moon as we ate dinner next to the passage, I was reminded that it was the same moon as in New Zealand.
I’m missing everyone at home terribly, but there are so many exciting new places to explore here, and people to get to know. I know it’s going to be hard in these first few months, but I’m also hopeful about the relationships I will build and the experiences I will have.