When I left for Papua New Guinea, we were digging out from all the snow of the winter of 1996. The lake was still frozen, and two days later I was in the tropics for two years. One of my first Pidgin English sentences was: "Behain bai mi olrait, tasol long numbawan de long Madang mi hat tumas." That translates to mean: I will be alright later, but on my first day in Madang I'm feeling too hot.
The main culprit in PNG is the sun, which always sits high in the sky because the South Pacific island lies only three degrees south of the equator. Walking on roads during the middle of the day was invariably miserable. Hot. Sweaty. Sunburned. Even Niuginians, with a far greater tolerance to the sun, would carry umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun while walking, especially mothers with infant children.
I bet you had a similar overwhelming feeling once or twice last week. Walked out of your air-conditioned house or business, and felt a wave of heat blast your face. Tried to do something physical and started to sweat profusely. Maybe you wanted to go to sleep but had trouble. Oh, that's right. Most of us enjoy the luxury of air conditioning.
I had flashbacks last week though. During the first part of my Peace Corps duty, a few volunteer friends of mine used to meet at a couple's house in Aitape, which lies right on the Pacific Ocean and has weather like last week the whole year long. We'd be sitting in the house, with as few clothes as our rather modest social standards required. At about 10 p.m. we would start showering, and the ice-cold water felt good even then.
I'd resume sweating while drying off.
That happened to me again last week. I even started to sweat walking to the post office, which reminded me of going home for lunch at Lumi High School. My house was a half kilometre from the school, and, on a hot day with the sun bearing down, I would be absolutely drenched in sweat by the time I got home.
This is a little gross, so skip this paragraph if you like. Near the end of my Peace Corps tour, I noticed that my underarm hair had turned burnt orange and appeared to be rotting. I asked the doctor during my exit physical what was wrong. I thought it was probably malnutrition or something, but he said it was just due to excessive sweat and was frequent in the tropics.
Nice, huh, just don't imagine what I smelled like.
In my two and a half years in Papua New Guinea, I only looked at a thermometer once, or make that twice, but both on the same day. An English and an Australian teacher from the coast had come to Lumi to hike in the mountains during a school holiday. The Englishman had a thermometer. They were out hiking on a Sunday afternoon, and I had just finished making banana bread. I was walking around in just a pair of shorts, sweating, and the temperature reading in the shade on my porch was 95 degrees. A half hour later, the clouds formed on the mountain and a typical late afternoon rain shower poured down on Lumi. I rushed for my sweatshirt as the air cooled rapidly.
When I checked the temperature, it had dropped all the way to 86 degrees!
Media goes overboard in JFK search
As a reporter, I try not to bash the media too much. After all, we depend on the same First Amendment freedoms.
However, the coverage on Saturday of John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane crash had me screaming at the national media bigwigs.
All I wanted to do was watch an hour of golf coverage from the British Open Championship, but when I turned on the tube all three major channels were dedicated to "reporting" about the crash and the search.
Sure, Kennedy was a public figure, so his disappearance and apparent death is certainly news, especially in light of his family's tragic history. But does it really merit wall-to-wall coverage by the network channels? Don't we already have cable stations devoted to news? ABC said I could watch the golf on ESPN, which does me a fat lot of good without cable.
It's an Americanized version of Princess Diana, whose death was even over publicized in PNG. Both Diana and John Jr. are stereotypical modern celebrities, famous for being famous. At least, Diana had at one time been in line to become Queen of England. John Jr. was the President's son until he was three, and has been a private citizen ever since.
What was the public impact that necessitated such massive coverage? I'll bet there were other tragic accidents this weekend.
One thing that perturbed me on Saturday were the in-progress reports on television. Basically, the news anchors were doing their rough reporting on air. Why not get your kit together and then do periodic updates? How many shots of rescue boats, helicopters and Massachusetts maps did they expect viewers to see?
If it sounds like I had the tube on too much myself, I have to admit that I periodically checked the networks to see if they were still blanketing the nation with excessive, mundane coverage. Besides, a little inner fire keeps your outside cool on hot summer days.
Sunday's coverage was a little better. Nobody interrupted my viewing. The split screen with updates provided me with more information than I wanted, even if half the sentences didn't change for hours. "Still searching an area west of Martha's Vineyard. Clouds not affecting the search conditions. Blah. Blah. Blah."
It continues to be the media's favorite news story of the week, maybe the month, possibly for the year. I watched the news Monday night and people were testifying how they felt they "knew" the Kennedys. Sounds like the result of prying to me.
You know the saddest part of all of this, as I see it, is that the Kennedy clan--Jackie, Caroline, and John Jr.--never seemed to want the media attention they received. They seemed to prefer a more private existence that they never found on earth.
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