Fair day’s wage

Tawa Airstrip from last ridge

Tawa Airstrip from last mountain ridge

I was reminded recently about the vast difference there is in the world concerning a fair wage for a days work.

It was October and I had just landed at the grass strip in Tawa, Papua New Guinea. The bush plane which we had arrived in had departed. My guide/translator Joseph,and I needed to move my gear and ourselves eight miles over rugged terrain to our target area, the village of Bainu.  My gear and equipment all fit into  two large military style green duffle bags. Each bag weighed close to seventy pounds. I asked Joseph to find us some local help to carry the duffle bags.  With the recent rains the steep mountain trails were going to be very muddy and muddy also means slippery and slippery can cause injuries and I sure did not want any type of injury out here.

About an hour later Joseph shows up with two young girls.  I would estimate their age around fifteen years old.  Very slender and I would call “scrawny”.  Nothing like I imagined for one to be able to carry my duffle bags a hundred feet much less eight miles. Boy, was I ever wrong! Joseph had to explain to me that in this tribal area the men do not carry things. Carrying things is a womans work. So he was not able to hire any men to carry our equipment and supplies.

Typical trail going to Bainu village

Typical trail going to Bainu village

Trusting in his expertise of the local culture we started up the trail to the top of a ridge. I was slipping and sliding back as much as I was climbing up.  Very difficult climb, up and over, then back down the other side for eight long muddy hours.  Those “scrawny” girls put me to shame with their strength and agility on a steep muddy trail.  From the start they carried the duffle bags by putting the shoulder straps across their forehead and letting the bag lay crossways on their shoulders with their neck carrying most of the weight. They would beat me up to the top of a ridge and wait the next fifteen minutes or so to for me to catch up.  As soon as I got to the top of a ridge, off they would scamper, laughing and talking like it was a normal stroll through a park. Meanwhile I was panting and exhausted just to make it to the top. Rest for a while and start the torture down and up the next ridge.

One of the girls who carried my equipment for the * hour hike

One of the girls who carried my equipment for the 8 hour hike

After eight hours of torture for me, we arrived at our destination. Out of a  heart felt thanks and still in awe of these girls with  their strength and endurance I reached into my pockets and gave each girl what would be the equivalent of $5.00 US dollars.  What I thought was really cheap for the eight hours of work they had done for me.

I returned five months later to the same airstrip in Tawa. The plane was still unloading when I was bombarded with the question….”why did I pay those girls so much money?”  I had to think back to remember how much I had paid them and realized the very small amount I had given each of them. It seemed that when the girls returned to the village of Tawa and people heard what I had paid them the “wantoks” showed up for their share of the bounty. Wantoks are family relatives and in this tribal culture relatives are never said no to.  If a relative wants to stay in your hut and eat your food for months…then that is OK.  If a relative needs money and you have some you must share a portion. So these poor girls ended up losing all the money I had given them. Only because of the number of relatives that showed up claimed their portion of the excess wages.

I learned very quickly to give my guide/translator money in advance of needing to hire some one because he would know the fair wages for a days work.  So once more we traveled the same trail, in half the time because the trail was dry, and arrived at the same remote village.  After the girls had left I asked Joseph what he had paid the girls to carry the bags. Three kina, just over $.65 cents US.  Since this was a days fair wages in this area the girls were able to keep the whole amount and go buy something at the local “general store”. I learned that the $5.00 US dollars was a weeks worth of work!

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