I don’t really know how I started thinking about this experience, but it was definitely one of the more unusual (not to say that any of my experiences in Papua New Guinea were anything like usual) experiences that I had while I was in PNG.  Now, I think that I have mentioned before that I did not fit into the culture there, not just for the fact that I didn’t speak more than a handful of words of their working language (Pidgin), nor the fact that I was at least a head taller than everyone, but more for the fact that I was stark white and covered head to toe in clothes to try to keep the lobster burns away (yeah, I basically go from white to lobster in a matter of minutes, and then back to white again, without any hope of a tan of any kind).  I smelled, to, have I mentioned that?  Smell badly?  Well, I suppose that depends on what you call “bad.”  You see, I was already taking anti-malarial medication, but the mosquitoes were just relentless there in the humidity and all of the standing water everywhere.  So, in order to take extra precautions, I basically bathed in repellent.  And I don’t mean the lovely, new coconut or lime-scented versions of repellent that exist today.  No, I mean, DDT.  That’s right.  The really stinky, smelly repellent that only those in desperate need of a way to get rid of mosquitoes resorts to.  Thanks, Dad. So, I smelled.  But, I will say this:  I never got more than a handful of bites the entire time that I was there.  So I really do thank you, Dad.  That was perhaps the most helpful piece of advice (“Bring DDT!”) that gave me before I left.  Well, that and remembering to also bring along cortizone for those few bites that I did get.

Anyway, on to the rest of the story (what you thought that was it?). . . So, i stood out, is what I am trying to say.  And that goes for pretty much everything about me.  Right down to my knickers (that’s underwear to those of you not of the UK persuasion).  Thanks to a long-standing and profound addiction to Victoria’s Secret for bras and knickers, I was the proud owner of over thirty pairs of *extremely* floraly, frilly, colorful knickers – that’s right, everything from neon pink to green lace coupled with bright blue flowers.  Now, why does that matter, you ask?  Don’t you normally wear clothes over you knickers?  Why yes, yes you do.  However, everyone, no matter how many pairs they own or bother to bring on an extended visit to a remote area in the middle of the South Pacific, will eventually need to wash them.

But, I wouldn’t be the one washing them.  No.  You see, I was (at the time of this event) staying at a hotel on Wewak on our way to the small island on which we would be living for a few weeks.  The rains and the delay in the delivery of our equipment (see: prior stories involving the vanilla trade in PNG) caused a further delay in journey to Koil and in the meantime, I had run out of clean knickers. I asked Glenn where I could take them to wash (I was presuming that Wewak had a laundromat -silly me), and he just told me to leave them for the hotel staff to clean.  I couldn’t quite explain to this fifty-plus year-old man how leaving my underthings in the hands of unknown staffers worried me, given my previous experiences with the local people thinking that I was already quite far removed from their reality, if not Reality in general.  Instead, I asked him if it might not be possible, then, to take Herman (one of the PNG people that helped us on our trip and regularly worked as a translator / facilitator for Glenn on his trips here) and go to the “supermarket” (or at least, what they had to serve as one) and purchase some clothing soap that I had seen on their local TV shows and then wash my clothes in the hotel’s bathroom.  No.  He would have none of it.  That would be taken very badly and would essentially, apparently, signal to the staff and thus all of the local people of Wewak, that we thought that they were inept and incapable of even the most basic of tasks:  washing clothes.

So, defeated, I left my clothes in their hands.  Now, I should mention at this point that at the time, I was still under the somewhat naive presumption that Wewak, and PNG in general, possessed things that I took for granted, like can openers, electricity and, of course, washing machines.  I assumed that the staff would simply take my clothes, bring them to a washing machine, wash them, put them in a dryer and then bring them back to me.  I had known that such a procedure happened every day in hotels around the world, from Norway to Mexico.  Apparently, that’s not what happens in PNG.  And I found out the hard way; or rather, the loud way.

The next day, while trying to pass the time by talking to Glenn about his experiences in the South Pacific over the years (remember, no electricity most of them time, only one TV channel in a language you don’t understand and nothing else to do means that there is a *lot* of time to pass every day), I suddenly heard some kids in the distance giggling.  At first, I thought that it was coming from the road across from the hotel that led down to a beach.  I had heard kids there before, but this time, the laughing and giggling was louder and it was punctuated by adults giggling and talking loudly.  Again, I couldn’t understand much, but it sounded like they were having a grand old time somewhere.  Well, given that there wasn’t much else going on, Glenn and I decided to see what was going on that was clearly so funny.

What was it?  Well, let’s just say that Victoria has one less secret now.  You see, hanging from a wire across two tree stumps and waving in the slight breeze, with the sunlight shining off of them and highlighting their beautiful colorful decorations, were my knickers and bras, slowly drying.  Yup.  About ten of them, if my memory serves.  And around them were no fewer than five young children, a couple of teens and the entire hotel staff laughing and pointing at them.  And it wasn’t as if I could pretend that anyone else had left those to be washed.  Nope.  Those knickers clearly belonged to the strange, smelly, White Woman.

Now, I suppose that, on the plus side, at least it was just Glenn and I that witnessed that mortifying site and have escaped the island to remember and pass along the story.  But frankly, I blush even just thinking about it, and dread that one day, randomly (as things like this often occur) I will encounter one of those kids, now grown, that was laughing so merrily at my expense, and remember me and start laughing all over again.

Lesson learned:  Next time, listen to my mother and shop at Macy’s, where the prices are low and the knickers are all plain.

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