Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Tales from the Bar: The Beehive

At a reception at the Ambassador's house one night, my good friend Stewart was talking up a place called the Beehive. The Beehive had a happy hour on Wednesdays that featured drinks for 2 kinas (or about 75 cents in American money).

As we talked about the happy hour, I used the phrase “2-kina night”, and Stewart got a bit embarrassed. He looked around to see if anyone else had heard me.

“You can't say that!” he told me, a bit under his breath. Then he explained why.

Prostitutes in Papua New Guinea are known as 2-kina girls because historically the going rate for services was a mere 2 kinas. I don't know what the current rate is, but the “2-kina” name remains. As a result, “2-kina” isn't used as an adjective to describe anything except prostitutes – at least in polite company. So, it's not OK to say 2-kina night or 2-kina drink or especially not 2-kina happy hour.

I knew that prostitutes were called 2-kina girls, but I hadn't thought about the implications. It was good of Stewart to educate me.

The Wednesday after the reception, which happened to be the day before Thanksgiving, I called up Stewart to see if he would be going to the Beehive for happy hour. When he told me that he wouldn't be able to go, I decided to go on my own.

I didn't have a car at the time, so I asked the Embassy driver for a ride. Sam was on duty that night.

The Beehive is in the indoor sports complex at the main stadium in Port Moresby, and as Sam and I drove around the place, it looked pretty deserted. We parked in the dark and nearly empty parking lot, and I got out of the car.

Sam didn't like the look of the place, so he told me that he would wait outside while I went in to have a look. If I wanted to stay, I could call him and let him know.

I walked into the building and, figuring that the bar must be in the direction of the loud music, I went upstairs.

Sure enough, I found the bar. There was a “members only” sign near the door which caused me to pause for a moment. The sign must have been leftover from bygone days, though, because the bar was now open to the general public.

Before I entered, I called Sam and told him that he could go. It was about 7:00 at the time, and he would be back to get me at 11:00.

The guard opened the door for me, and there was a good-sized crowd inside. There were 3 expat guys sitting at a booth in the corner, and everyone else was local. As I walked in, everyone stopped to gawk. If this had been a scene from a movie, that record-scratching sound effect that often precedes an awkward silence would have been perfect.

Since I didn't know anyone there, I moseyed up to the bar and grabbed a stool. I was in the Beehive (“the Place to Buzz”), and I was ready for my first drink.

Happy hour was underway, so I ordered a bourbon on the rocks for 2 kinas. When I was served, I could see why it was so cheap. This whisky was awful, even by PNG standards. The price was right, though.

I had barely started on my drink before the two guys on my right introduced themselves. One was the owner of the place, and his name was Bernard. He pronounced his name with the accent on the first syllable (BUR-nerd) as opposed to the common American pronunciation with the accent on the second (ber-NARD). The other guy was named Sumasy, which I forgot repeatedly throughout the night. Sumasy was a pretty big fish, or at least that's how he presented himself. He was the Prime Minister's legal advisor as well as a law professor at a university in Australia.

Our place at the bar put us just in front of the small dance floor and just near the Fijian band, which was pretty good. We were also front and center for the action-packed card draw that was going on that night. For the card draw, the waitresses circulated around the room with a deck of oversized playing cards on wooden sticks. Customers bought the cards for 5 kinas a pop. Then when the whole deck was sold, someone would draw a card from another deck, and the person who had the matching card on a stick would win a prize. In the three draws that I witnessed, the prizes were a rotisserie chicken, a bottle of wine, and another rotisserie chicken. So, the stakes weren't huge.

When I had first started talking with Bernard and Sumasy, they had inquired as to what had brought me to PNG. I told them that I was working at the Embassy on a 2-year assignment.

They thought this was swell, and Bernard decided to honor me by having me pick one of the cards for the card draw.

All the cards on sticks had been sold for the new round, and everyone was waiting for the winning card to be selected.

Then Bernard went up to the band leader's microphone.

“For our next draw,” he told them, “we have a very special guest.” “Please welcome the American Ambassador!”

Seeing no reason to make a fuss over the extreme promotion Bernard had incorrectly bestowed upon me, I stood up to a nice round of applause and picked a card.

When Bernard and I sat back down, I explained to him a second time that I only worked at the Embassy and that I definitely was not the Ambassador. Feeling rather pleased with himself, though, he just sat there smiling. I don't think that he cared one bit about the point I was trying to make.

I was on the bourbon and Bernard and Sumasy were on red wine, and we drank quite a bit.

I would buy the occasional round, but Bernard and Sumasy didn't really leave much of an opening for me. They were ordering drinks so rapidly that we all ended up with one in the hand and two or three on the bar at the ready.

After a while, Bernard went off to chat with other patrons. Then the conversation was only between me and Sumasy. At one point, he asked me what all I had seen in PNG. At the time, I had been in the country for a shade over 2 months, and I had been to two places outside of Port Moresby. This wasn't good enough for Sumasy, though, and he started rattling off a list of places, asking if I had visited them. Of course, I hadn't. All of the places that he mentioned were worth a visit, I'm sure, but traveling in PNG is not cheap, and for me at least, it has to be spread out.

Sumasy, however, thought I hadn't been to many places because I was afraid. “You can live in fear, or you can get out there and experience life!” he kept telling me.

I found this to be a bit irritating, but Sumasy was drunk, and there was no sense in trying to deny that I was afraid to leave Port Moresby. He was absolutely convinced that a lack of courage was all that was keeping me from seeing the entire country.

When he finally got over the whole stop-living-in-fear sermon, Sumasy started telling me how great it was that I was willing to come to a place like the Beehive alone.

After half an hour of this, we were back to talking about work. As I mentioned before, Sumasy was an advisor to the Prime Minister. He was understandably proud of this fact, and in an effort both to impress me and to throw me a bone, he told me that he could connect me to the Prime Minister any time I wanted to talk with him. Calling the Prime Minister up on the phone would kind of be a big deal. It would be equivalent to meeting someone in a bar who told you that he could connect you to President Bush whenever you wanted to speak with him.

I thanked Sumasy for his offer, just before I told him that I could foresee no reason why I would ever need to call up the Prime Minister. He took this to mean that I doubted his connections, so in order to save face, he tried that much harder to convince me to call the Prime Minister. In response, I tried to change the subject.

It wasn't long, though, before I was saved by the band. The musicians were cranking out some catchy island tunes, and the dance floor was hopping. The music was calling to Sumasy as well, and he left me to have a stumble of his own across the dance floor. He also took a few turns at the mike.

Meanwhile, I talked with the waitresses and bartenders (all female), and they were quite possibly the least friendly bunch I ever did meet.

After Sumasy had his fill of dancing and evidently his fill of drinking, he came back over to where I was sitting. He was finished for the night, but before he left, we had one more bonding moment.

Sumasy told me again how great it was that I came to the Beehive. Then he leaned-in close to me, put his hand on the back of my head, and pulled me toward him so that my forehead was smack dab against his forehead, which was dripping with sweat.

As we sat there noggin-to-noggin, Sumasy gave me one last tip.

“Remember one thing,” he told me. “Don't live your life in fear.”

Then he repeated himself for dramatic effect.

I had an inkling that his parting advice was going to be something along these lines – either that or something about calling the Prime Minister.

After our little moment was over, we separated foreheads, and Sumasy left.

I wasn't alone for long, though, because Bernard soon returned with two lady friends in tow. Then, being the gracious host that he is, he introduced us. Actually, he kind of shoved the ladies in my direction and disappeared again.

The first young woman was named Jenny.

After she introduced herself, it was her friend's turn. “My name's Mavis,” she told me, “but you'll probably just call me Maymay like everyone else does.” She said this with a bit of a pout as if she didn't care to be called Maymay. Of course she did like to be called Maymay, or else she wouldn't have mentioned it in the first place. Later, both ladies entered their numbers in my cell phone, and Maymay listed herself as Maymay. She seemed pretty comfortable with the name to me.

Both Maymay and Jenny claimed that they rarely went out to bars, but they had decided to come out on this particular night because they had had a hellish week at work. With Bernard and Sumasy gone, and with two new friends in the picture, my kinas started disappearing much faster than before. Not to mention that happy hour had long since ended.

Maymay and Jenny were nice company, though. Maymay was the more serious of the two, while Jenny was more playful and had a bit of a wild side. She also spoke with a very strong Aussie accent owing to the fact that she had gone to school in Australia.

Jenny was the younger of the two, and once when she was gone to the bathroom, Maymay admitted that it bothered her that Jenny outranked her at work. Actually Maymay said that she didn't even care that Jenny was younger than her and outranked her, which I deduced meant that she did care.

Anyhow, Maymay was only grinding a small ax, and we all got along fine when Jenny rejoined us.

Eventually, we all ended up on the dance floor. Sometimes the three of us danced together, but more often than not, it was only me and Jenny because Maymay chose to sit out much of the time. There was a big crowd, and the dancing was good fun.

At one point, another guy who was on the floor turned to me with an observation. “Bro, you need some dancing lessons!” he told me. Well aware that I dance like the character Elaine Benes on Seinfeld, I took no great offense. He was half-joking anyways.

While we were all dancing, I met several other new people including Margaret, who was one of the security guards. She was a bit older, but still a good dancer. I also made the acquaintance of a young woman named Cathy, I think. That's what I was calling her, in any case.

After a while, I was ready to hang up my dancing shoes. Cathy, who had quit dancing earlier, invited me to join her table.

I did, and Maymay immediately got jealous. She came over to my new table and was like, “I'm only saying this because I don't want you to get into trouble: You should really be careful about who you associate with in places like this.”

She said this so that the whole table could hear, and Cathy of course took exception. “He's a grown man,” she said. “He doesn't need you to be his mother!”

“I know,” Maymay replied, “and that's all I have to say.” Then she turned to me and said, “I think you should leave, but you can make your own choice.”

I told her that I was fine, and she left us alone. Maymay was nice enough, but I didn't much care for her sudden possessiveness. Both she and Cathy were random people that I had met in a bar. I didn't know much about either of them, and I had no reason to believe that one was better than the other. Maybe they were both angels; maybe they were both devils; or maybe they were both somewhere in the middle. I was only having a bit of conversation over a drink, so it didn't much matter to me any way you sliced it.

My conversation with Cathy and her friends was nice, but after a while, I noticed that the crowd was thinning out.

Maymay also noticed this, and she came over to our table again. “I think you should go home now,” she said. “It's getting pretty late.”

This was Cathy's cue to get confrontational again, and the bickering started in short order. It was a bit before 11:00, but I decided to call it a night so that I could get away from both of them and their annoying squabbling.

Several of my new friends bid me farewell inside the bar, and several of the die-hards, including Maymay, Cathy, and Jenny, decided to escort me downstairs.

My entourage consisted of the very people that had driven me out of the bar in the first place, so I was relieved to see that Sam had arrived early and was standing by with the car. This meant that I could make a speedy get-away before any more feuding erupted.

Sam had never been to the Beehive before, so I filled him in on all the happenings as we drove the 15 minutes back to my house.

As I mentioned earlier, this particular night that I had gone to the Beehive was the day before Thanksgiving. It was the day before a holiday, which meant that I could sleep as late as I wanted the next morning. I was a bit drunk, so this was a good thing.

The next morning, however, my peaceful slumber was ruined by a phone call at 7:45. It was none other than Maymay who called thinking that I was probably getting ready for work.

I explained that it was an American holiday and that I was trying to sleep late. Maymay couldn't be bothered with this, though. She had to tell me how her night at the Beehive had ended.

Once I got in the car and left, all the loose-cannons were left unsupervised out on the sidewalk. They started bickering again. And then it happened...

Someone called someone... a bitch!

And all hell broke loose.

Cathy was the more scrappy and aggressive of the two women, so when Maymay told me that Cathy really gave her a beating, I wasn't overly surprised. Maymay was completely out-gunned and only managed to walk away from the ordeal because a male relative saw the ruckus and busted up the fight.

I found the whole story mildly entertaining, even though it would have been more entertaining if Maymay had called to tell me at a more reasonable hour.

She bellyached for a good long while about her injuries – a swollen this, a bruised that, an ice pack here, a bandage there. All the while, I was thinking, “hello... 7:45 in the morning on a holiday... I should be sleeping now.”

I think Maymay was hoping to inspire a sense of responsibility in me, or at the very least some sympathy, since she perceived that the fight had been about me. In my opinion, though, the fight had very little to do with me. Rather, it was about two hoodlums who needed to learn how to behave in public. Like I said before, I found the whole situation to be a bit entertaining, but it didn't leave me with any desire to see either woman again.

I finally got Maymay off the line, but the peace and quiet was short-lived. She woke me up twice more to give me further updates on her injuries.

It's times such as these that make me regret giving my mobile phone number to anyone who asks for it.

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