Cafe whispers muted, rustling and audible. Ice in my coffee, K4 wara, na K2 coke, surrounded by non-Indigenous Papua New Guinean residents. This is what the weekly pilgrimage looks like. Same-same but different.
I put on my best grin as if to greet a long time friend. It’s only the girl behind the counter. I expect something, but not even a momentary silence could solicit a response. No courteous pleasantries.
I sigh. It’s different. Different is just another normal – I tell myself for the hundredth time this week.
I hope she makes good coffee though. She’s cute, I could stay in her eyes for endless moments but I check out instead. Her innocent smile gives her away, I see a whole world between us that would be pointless crossing.
No small talk today pretty lady.
I find my place in the middle of the cafe. In the corner, there’s a group of expatriate wives and girlfriends sharing a laugh over their regular Friday coffee-mornings. Behind me, a group of ladies, both non-Papua New Guinean and Papua New Guinean sit huddled practicing their Tok Pisin, mastering the art of ‘Maus Wara’, all dressed in Morobean meri blouses. A missionary pilots wife and the mother’s leaderdship group – she is pregnant. There is something oddly calming about it all.
Cafe whispers muted and rustling.
But there’s the noticeable absence of men here. Why?-
A child scurries across the floor to catch her mother’s laughter. Between the ladies, the table is set for play. Toys lay littered between mugs and plates of half eaten cakes. The child is passed around, resting in the arms of the oldest in the group. The child’s mother prepares a bottle of milk. A well rehearsed drill between the six of them.
The strength of women. I am reminded of my aunties and mothers sat atop woven-mats spread across a creaky wooden bed in a ‘haus win’, sharing a child’s cries.
Same-same but different.
Cafe whispers take on a whole new meaning now. I see this third space more for what it is then what it was. Here, the humble cafe serves more then just coffee. It is an elevated space – almost sacred to these non-Papua New Guinean residents – offering a taste of what is normal for them in a land foreign to them. A space to reproduce some semblance of their culture while they wait out their time in this timeless land. Sharing stories, rearing children, creating their version of a Papua New Guinea they will not soon forget – that their children will call home forever.
Sitting between both worlds, I too have come to associate the humble cafe with a space for respite. I gravitate to it to escape the strangeness – to make sense of the strangeness – but mostly to find familiarity, to sit and meet with my thoughts, to make memories I would not soon forget.
I notice these things more, the more I come back to this place.
I catch a young Papua New Guinean child pierce the hum-drum chatter of the cafe with his curious stare. Hiding behind a plastic pot plant, he peers through his fear of being seen, wondering how far apart our worlds really are. An outside observer making mental notes, who will no doubt tell his friends of this strange gathering of white people and this black guy at the monestary of the black juice.
How primitive they must be to work so hard, to earn that money, to spend on expensive dirty black water. Samting bilong ol waitman.
Our eyes meet and hang a second too long, reminding me of my own foreigness – both in this cafe and in my own land.
I avert my eyes. I sip my coffee. I continue to write.
He’ll never know how much I need my dirty black water.
It’s different. There is nothing wrong with different.
One-hundred and four.