PORT MORESBY - Darn the wind!
As she stepped out of the PMV bus outside the Port Moresby town police station, Matalina immediately knew she would be in trouble.
The gale-force wind, blowing fast and furious from Ela Beach over the isthmus to Fairfax Harbour, was sweeping the debris away and replacing it with its own rubbish of torn bushes and plants.
The new trees in the median strip shrieked and shed their leaves.
Matalina set her bag-bilum down on the stone wall next to the police station and adjusted its contents.
She had managed to get most of her purchases into the bilum. She adjusted the chicken pieces and the coconut on top of the books.
The bilum was packed so full that Matalina found herself having to cradle the bundle of aibika in her hands.
Already some raindrops straight up from Ela beach were stinging the back of her neck. The darkening clouds told of more and heavier rain very soon.
What Matalina carried was not worrying her. It was what she was wearing that gave her cause for concern. That, plus it was one of her days.
She was wearing holey sweat pants under a billowing rubber-banded skirt. She did not want the wind upending that. It would bare her holey backside to all – perhaps a bit too much.
She was conscious of men scrambling behind her trying their best to get out of the wind and impending rain.
Not only that, there were men huddled under cover across the street watching to see if any person would be blown away. Better still if it were a woman.
Matalina believed that men took pleasure when misfortune happened upon women.
But right at that moment, all she was thinking was to get quickly out of this troubling spot and so protect her modesty.
In Moresby, rain did not follow a pattern. It did not fall to a plan. The wind put paid to any plan that the rain had. That she knew, and was resolute about the few steps she was about to take.
She must not be blown away when she rounded the corner.
The November wind, too, was resolute. It was going to blow and blow and pity anybody who thought it was not going to blow.
And now it was blowing with gusto, at gale force, from the cove at the far end of Ela Beach and around Paga Hill.
It took up intensity as it discovered the gap, the isthmus between the hills of Touaguba and Paga Hill, driving along Ela Beach straight into the township of Port Moresby and down into Fairfax Harbour.
In the dip approaching the BSP bank building, the winds were angry at being forced through the gap and they roared down the one main street with all their force, shoving and pushing people, shooing them to a fast walk or buffeting them and tipping them over.
Matalina had her hands and body full. The bilum hung from her shoulder, she clutched the bundle of aibika in one hand and her bag full of students’ exercise books in the other. She would have difficulty here: should her skirt billow up, her hands could not hold it down.
Perhaps the bilum brushing her waist might assist press the skirt into place as she walked. But it was no guarantee.
If her skirt flew up – and, with this wind, it was going to do that - she had no free hand to hold the skirt in place.
Matalina paused a moment to think.
Turning that corner around the BSP Bank against the resolute wind and stinging rain was going to be a problem.
Although she did not understand the science, Matalina had witnessed how the wind from Ela Beach blew down Musgrave Street to Fairfax Harbour creating a vacuum. And into that vacuum poured even more wind from the steep hill of Douglas Street.
Around that BSP corner the winds collided and swirled around furiously leaving hapless women trying to cover their modesty as their skirts whirled up around them.
Matalina crossed her fingers hoping that today would not be a hapless day.
She lived up the hill beyond and had often walked through these wind gusts.
These days, however, she hit the weighing machine at 95 kilograms. Her full body weight was a brake on the winds that were forcing her from behind but her size was like a sail.
She had been caught in many of these gusts before but this time the aibika in one hand, the bag in the other and the bilum swinging from her shoulder seemed to weigh a tonne.
And the rain added another degree of difficulty. At any moment the shower could turn into a downpour.
Matalina’s consciousness of her holey sweat pants did not help. She was also more concerned this time because of her underwear bought ten years ago. It was of that flimsy, lacy see-through style.
Although she had always deemed it too kinky for her, she had run out of other clean ones and this was all that was available this morning. The underwear was really small and scanty on her now - like a g string.
It didn’t help , either, that her second hand sweat pants – already well past their use-by date, decided that today was the appropriate time to develop a tear across the base of her buttocks.
With such flimsy underwear, she knew the wind would expose a good chunk of her backside. A damned day to have one of her days.
She swore at herself for not being more careful in the morning. It was one of those days when a woman had to wear her second or third undies. She had rummaged through her dresser and could only come up with these kinky ones.
And this was compounded by the mischance that she did not have any better sweat pants. She had rushed to work without a second thought about the wind or the rain that assailed her now.
Matalina remembered one nasty experience with this wind and rain a long time back.
Cradling one of her babies, she couldn’t recall which one, she was nearly bowled over walking around that corner.
Since then she had been more cautious, and always avoided walking when the wind blew strong. If it was only the wind, she would have sat down. But, today of all days, with the wind came biting sheets of rain.
The rain is different in Moresby. It falls fell differently than in other places. It comes from all directions and falls at angles, straight, bending, perpendicular or parallel so it stings your ears, spears straight into your eyes or somehow penetrates right up your nose.
The Moresby rain falls not only from above but from the back, sides and occasionally from the ground.
The chaotic wind and rain from the ground were especially dangerous as they could undress a woman.
Being blown off balance this time was the least of Matalina’s worries. There were two shames to contend with.
One was showing her backside through the hole in her sweat pants and skimpy underwear. The other was if there was a sudden run off. That would be ugly.
Her anxiety deepened as she struggled against the wind up Douglas Street to her house on the side of Paga Hill.
The wind rushed Matalina towards the corner.
She rounded the corner and was bowled back by the wind bursting down Douglas Street. She moved two steps forward only to be forced three paces back.
Then the rain came. It fell in continuous bucket loads as if from the top of Deloitte Tower.
When she finally conquered the top of the street past the old Central Provincial Education Office to go up Armit Street to her house, Matalina heaved a sigh of relief.
She was wet, chilled by the wind and shivering sweat. She was exhausted. She came across someone selling bottles of tap water. She bought one and took a long drink.
She could feel her drenched clothes. She could also feel the run off down her legs.
Matalina went behind a tree and pulled up her skirt. It was an embarrassing colour.
She looked up and down the road. The old stories her mother told her loomed large in her mind. What to do at times when it was one of those days a woman has?
Some women passed by. Mama, they seemed to nod. We know it is one of those days and we don’t care. It is not something you should worry about.
Nobody seemed interested in her ordeal.
Oh, these modern people. Traditionalists would balk at seeing a woman on the streets during her time out.
Get over it, Mama. The days are long gone since women isolated themselves at the hauspik and gaden haus during their time. The city is not a rural hamlet. The village tabus are best left in the village.
Matalina smiled, remembering Kuliso’s story. Kuliso was a likeness of her and a myriad of other women who had problems with their time.
Kuliso had been married to a sickly man. One day she was harvesting kaukau in an old plot - a garden kept especially for the kaukau runners from which the tubers could form.
Kuliso was standing amongst the runners.
Two of her husband’s sisters, who knew of their brother’s illness, had been seeking a reason why he was always sick. Now bingo, there it was.
They saw their sister-in-law amongst the kaukau runners and knew it was her time.
Tabus being tabus, people read a lot of things into them. Kuliso had been breaking tabu by harvesting kaukau, tainting during her time.
She must have been feeding her family tainted food. No wonder her husband was always sick.
So the three women tussled in the garden with one getting a cracked head from the casuarina digging stick. It caused much hilarity in the village.
The fun was in how the women described their ordeal trying to get home.
During the scuffle their clothes were ripped off and, seeing themselves with no clothes, the three battered Eves covered their embarrassments with taro kongkong leaf.
Such village fun stories mattered little in the city. Tabus and naïve ways trying to navigate during times for women were for the village.
Matalina looked up, relieved her anxiety was for nothing. She was worrying over something that mattered little to these city slickers. There were no sisters-in-law to wrangle over her running red during a rain storm.
Matalina held her head up, smiled into the rain and stepped towards home.
She held out her full hands, embracing it all unabashed.
She let the rain wash her afresh. Agghh, let the rain fall down red.
aibika - Greens, scientific name Abelmoshus manihot
bag-bilum - A bag that is fashioned as a carry all bag with straps so it can be hoisted over the shoulders
digging stick - A stick festooned from the casuarina or yar tree that is used as a digging implement in the garden
gaden haus - A small hut at the main food garden. A hauspik can be used as a gaden haus if it near the food garden
hauspik - House where pigs are kept
her/their time - Time when a woman has her menstruation period
tabus - There are strict rules or tabus that a woman has to observe when she has her time. One tabu is that a woman must not jump over food that she is gathering for family consumption. When a woman is harvesting kaukau she must stay in the rows and harvest them with the digging stick. Another tabu is that she will usually stay at the gaden haus or hauspik for the duration of her time
taro kongkong - Chinese taro