The plane touched down at Hoskins airport, West New Britain. I was here to take up a new job as an assistant manager at a palm oil plantation. I had never been to this part of the world or worked in palm oil before. It was a whole new experience for me, and so it was with more than a little trepidation that I stepped onto the tarmac. 36 hours ago I had left behind a wet, grey and cold Scotland. Here I was in the middle of the tropics. It was midway through the wet season, hot and overwhelmingly humid. It had obviously been raining all morning but now there was nothing more than a light drizzle.
The walk from the plane to the terminal required some tricky footwork negotiating a couple of wooden planks thrown across an open drain that ran in front of the building. To say that Hoskins had a terminal was being quite generous. I have been in more inviting cattle sheds. There was buai (beetle nut) spat over the floor and across the walls, and apart from a row of 5 aged plastic chairs the place was bare concrete, with a tin roof and walls. The departure area that ran alongside the arrivals had a weld mesh wall with a small gate and a rickety wooden table. I couldn’t help but notice the rather bored looking security guard manning the gate. The luggage carts arrived rather slowly from the plane and were hauled directly into the terminal. People started to bustle round collecting their bags. I kept looking hard but saw no sign of my bags on the first cart. The second cart arrived and still no sign of my luggage. It was not a good start to my new life in the tropics. 36 hours of flying does not leave you sharp, and so I began looking around in the hope that I had missed something and would eventually find my bags. I obviously appeared quite lost and was grateful when one of the local passengers took pity on me and asked if they could help. I told them of the missing luggage as best I could, and they disappeared off to find someone to help me. Eventually one of the stewards arrived and explained that my luggage had missed the connection in Port Moresby and that I should be able collect my baggage the next day from the Air Niugini office in Kimbe.
Even before the loss of my luggage the day had not started on a positive note. Before leaving the UK the Assistant HR manager had advised to me ring her when I left Port Moresby, after which she would arrange for someone to collect me at the airport. This sounded fine at the time. My flight, however, arrived in Port Moresby at 5am and left at 6.45am on a Sunday morning. Not unsurprisingly my calls remained unanswered and the short stopover time, which undoubtedly caused the loss of my bags, meant I didn’t have time to find anyone else to call. I was slightly concerned as I boarded my flight in the capital. I had no one arranged to collect me from the airport at the other end, and neither did I know where I was going even if I could find myself a lift. I had not been advised which plantation I was going to, not that I even knew where any of the plantations were. I was going to have to wing it. My wife who grew up in underdeveloped parts of the world had impressed upon me that these things do happen. Apparently in Africa there is a saying that explains it all. TIA. This is Africa. Well, this was PNG and I was going to have to make a plan.
Luckily as I had boarded I had spotted another peely-wally face (peely-wally is a Scottish phrase for pale and sickly, denoting how white we get in Scotland due to our 11 1/2 month rainy season). I knew that there were a couple of Scots working for the company out in West New Britain, and hoped that my fellow passenger might be one of them. Luckily enough for me he was. He was warm and welcoming, and explained that even the best laid plans in PNG come awry. I would find out that PNG was a very friendly and relaxed place where everyone was always willing to lend a hand. If you have a puncture on the side of the road, there will be 5 people ready and willing to help.
A driver had been arranged to pick him up and he offered to give me a lift to the head office at Mosa, where someone would know where to put me and what to do with me. Things were beginning to look up.