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Friday
Jun162017

II. In Preparation 

Once you finally arrive on the other side of the world, you want to stay a minute. But how does one pack for five weeks in Papua New Guinea? My advice: pack less clothes than you think you need. Less clothes, and more chocolate. Chocolate is hard to come by, expensive if found, and a single square at the end of a long day has the magical ability to make life in a Third World country feel less daunting. I bring fifteen bars of the good stuff—Cadbury Caramello, Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups, Lindt salted toffee, Whole Foods dark cacao mixed with pear and almond—immediately endearing myself to my new housemates, Tina and Theresa, who’d been rationing their last remaining chunk. 

I further prepare for all medical eventualities. I pack pills for if you catch a cold but need to function in the day, or get the flu and long to sleep at night. Creams to combat fungus, and emollients that battle yeast. Band-Aids, tampons, and a panoply of gut remedies to cure every affliction from chronic constipation to raging diarrhea, plus the interspersing range of indigestive ailments. Sprays that repel bugs, ointment to treat the itch after they inevitably bite, and Doxycycline, an antibiotic meant to prevent malaria. Here, malaria is ubiquitous and comes in two forms: falciparum, the fatal kind, which kills at least one million unfortunates a year, and the less-threatening yet relapsing strain that everyone, including Pete, seems to have suffered and survived. “Even on Doxy, you might get malaria,” says Liz, the dive instructor. She’s been in PNG eight months. She first suspected something wrong one morning on the water when her body felt cold in the heat of eighty-nine degrees. Once her muscles started aching she turned the boat around and headed back to shore, and there began a treatment cocktail that includes doses of a drug called Malarone; Larium, which gives you vivid acid-trip dreams; and quinine, the same extract found in tonic water. At night in PNG we mix massive gin-and-tonic batches. Every mosquito bite might carry the same weight as that of sharks. 

Thus my suitcase is composed of one-third chocolate, one-third med kit, and in the remaining third I fold some clothes: two pairs of shorts, ten T-shirts, ten pairs cotton knickers, three light dresses, Crocs and flip-flops. None are clothes I care about. I’m ready for all of them to rot while on my body, and I only hope there are enough remaining intact fibers for the return trip home. Unlike Australia, its next-door neighbor that is flat and dry, PNG is mountainous and wet. The air is hard to breathe, because it’s viscous. It takes more energy to breathe this air, so by the end of every day you’re tired just from breathing. Walking in the grass feels like stepping on a giant sponge. Nothing ever fully dries, no matter how long it’s left hanging in the sun, which means all clothes and sheets and towels eventually sprout mold. And if the mildew doesn’t get them, field mice might. We share our thatch cabin with a particularly perverted group of rodents, small and brown and cute as chipmunks, whose favorite snacks are women’s knickers, especially those pulled from the hamper. 

Despite the dripping atmosphere, I’m always thirsty. It’s incongruous. Yet there seems no limit to the quantity of water I consume. I fill and refill my Hydro Flask, and at day’s end I calculate: I drank almost two gallons. The water must leave my body moments after entering, via pores dilated and forever dewy to the touch. 

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