My family moved to Papua New Guinea during my teenage years. We only lived there briefly, for about three months, because it quickly became apparent that events such as rape or getting killed were mundane. Yes, living there was quite an experience, with plenty of stories that maybe I should write about here.
Today I read this article called Off Their Nut in PNG by The Global Mail. The journalist, Jo Chandler, vividly describes daily scenes of life with betel nut chewers. Please do check it out for some great insight.
Betel nut is the seed of the areca palm. Chewing it gives a stimulant effect with a warming sensation, like a bit of a buzz… Not that I’ve tried it myself, it’s just what heard. As side effects, the betel nut gives throat and mouth cancer, amongst other health problems. It gives you a pretty disgusting looking mouth too. Betel nut would be made into buai, which combines it with lime powder and some mustard fruit. People from all social classes would chew it until it bubbles up in size with saliva, and then spit it out.
The main topic of the article is that the Governor of Port Moresby, Powes Parkop, has banned the sale and consumption of buai in public. Hey, it makes the streets terribly dirty and it’s also unhealthy.
The people who agree are pretty happy with it. At the same time, opposers say that the betel nut and the condiments that go along with it make buai are an important part of the economy, so banning it would be ruining the livelihood of many. They also make a big point that a large part of the argument is the cleanliness of the streets. I think an even larger argument should be the health of the population.
This reminds me of the banning tobacco advertisements and smoking in public in many countries around the world. Then tobacco companies lobby hard so that smoking won’t disappear altogether…
Anyway, the article brought back memories of walking through the streets and watching out in case you stepped on puddles of bright red betel nut enriched saliva, or even worse, you are hit by the spit. Such was the extent of so many people chewing it and therefore getting awful mouth cancers, that dental clinics had signs put up on their front doors stating that betel nut chewers are not welcome because there was just too many severe cases for them to handle.
Here is a photo – within my photo – taken by my mum. She also loves making photos. This photo is included in a photo album she made me for my 19th birthday. That is so nice of my mum.
This photo was taken on a day we visited a Papua New Guinean family that lived in a bit of a tribal way. The only things they normally eat was watermelon and boiled (tasteless) banana. They had a few chickens so once or twice a year they could eat chicken. My mum had prepared us some sandwiches, but as soon as she took them out of the bag, they disappeared so we ate the boiled banana.
After that we visited a much larger tribe. We experienced the typical scene of all the children in the tribe – goodness, there must have been at least 50 of them – following us around everywhere because they had never seen people that looked different to them before.
Thank you for reading!