Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Papua New Guinea: Tales from the Bar: The Beehive: Part III

Ready for a midweek drink, I found myself back at the Beehive's Wednesday happy hour.

I was meeting up with Stewart again, and this time, he arrived before I did. He had already ordered the usual table full of drinks when I turned up.

Stewart was with four other guys, one of whom was named Naga. This name was easy for me to remember because it reminded me of Naugahyde, the famous fake leather product. The other guys had less exotic names, and I soon forgot them.

One of the guys, who I'll call Reggie, was trying to lose weight and get in shape for rugby. I'm sure he's probably a cool guy ordinarily, but he was playing a game with his girlfriend that was getting on my nerves. She called him several times while we were drinking. Each time, he would talk to her briefly and then hang-up on her. After a few hang-ups, she started calling the mobiles of the other guys. So all around the table, the guys' phones were ringing one after the other, and each time it was Reggie's girlfriend on the line. She was obviously well acquainted with the whole crew.

The guys would answer the call and pass the phone to Reggie. Then he would revert to the same stupid game of hanging up on her. Then another phone would ring, and the cycle would continue. The guys all thought this was a hoot, but I wasn't amused. It was freakin' annoying, and I was glad when little miss desperation stopped calling after more than a dozen fruitless attempts.

Apparently Stewart had briefed his friends about me before I had arrived because they were all conversant on my earlier adventures. This was all good and well, but a strange dynamic developed at the table. The guys all thought I was hilarious for whatever reason, so whenever I would say anything - even if it wasn't remotely funny - they would crack up.

“You are too much!” one guy told me. He was doubled over, laughing, and smacking the table, and this was in response to some mundane comment I had made about grocery shopping.

The guys didn't seem overly drunk, but it was clear that they were well ahead of me. I upped my consumption to try to catch up.

Over the course of a few hours, we covered all the usual topics. We all had a few dances as well, and the guys had a field day when Margaret, my little friend in uniform, asked for a dance. She's like 20 years older than me, about 4 feet tall, and a bit stocky, so I'm sure we did make a funny couple.

At one point in the night, the conversation turned to moonshine. In PNG, moonshine is referred to as homebrew or steam. It is also referred to by its quality, so if you say A-Grade, B-Grade, or C-Grade, everyone will know that you are talking about hooch.

I had yet to try PNG homebrew, but it was on my list of things to do. When I told this to the guys, they laughed like I had just told the best joke ever. This reaction was no surprise, though, since they were no closer to sobering up than they were before.

When I convinced them that I was serious, they stopped laughing and started up with the warnings. “You'd be better off drinking kerosene, man!”

Undeterred, I asked if one of them would buy me a bottle. They were all more than willing to help, and they told me that a bottle of A-Grade would set me back 10 kinas (about $4).

Still convinced that I didn't know what I was getting into, the guys decided that they should be with me when I tried steam for the first time. They were after the entertainment value, no doubt.

I didn't mind if they joined me, so we agreed to meet on Friday at Ozzie's. They told me that they knew the manager there and he wouldn't care if we brought our own alcohol.

Soon after we settled on our plan for Friday, it was time for me to leave. I had pre-booked a ride home, and Sam was waiting for me in the parking lot.

When I left, the others also called it quits. We all walked downstairs together, and then they peeled off and went to their car.

Before I got in my car, Margaret came rushing out of the bar. She had something on her mind, and it was money.

She asked me for 100 kinas (about $40) to put toward bail money. Unbeknownst to me, she had been arrested the week before.

Margaret then proceeded to tell me her side of the story.

In her capacity as a guard at the Beehive, she had been forced to deal with an obnoxious customer. While short and stocky, Margaret was also a practitioner of judo, and she had really put the hurt on this man who had crossed the line. PNG is a testosterone-heavy society, so any bodily injury Margaret inflicted on this man was completely secondary to the bruised ego she gave him. Surely owing to this bruised ego, the man pressed charges, and Margaret found herself on the wrong side of the law.

Jail is no picnic anywhere, and a women's correctional facility in Port Moresby is certainly not a place anyone wants to go. In order to avoid this fate, Margaret posted bail with the help of her extended family, making her a free woman until her day in court. She was asking me for money to pay back some of the people who had loaned her the bail money. One person noticeably missing from her list of benefactors was Bernard, the owner of the Beehive. He had washed his hands of the whole affair and told Margaret to sleep in the bed she had made. Nice boss.

The story seemed plausible enough to me, so I decided to contribute to Margaret's fund. I only had 50 kinas (about $20) on me, so I gave her that. Margaret was very appreciative, and she assured me that she would have the money back to me in a few weeks.

The whole transaction had taken place under Sam's watchful eye, so when we finally headed for home, he brought it up. He thought Margaret's whole story was suspicious, and he was quite sure that I would never see that 50 kinas again. Having reached the same conclusion myself, though, I had already written it off as charity.

No comments: