Lae Main Market is in the heart of the city, drawing over one thousand sellers each day. There is constant noise from those spruiking their prices, and general chat between sellers and shoppers alike.
The majority are selling their own produce, from a mat on the ground – taro, kaukau, green leaf crops in dozens of varieties, paw paw, pineapples.
And … bananas. Forget your simple choices in Australia – Cavendish, Lady Finger, or perhaps the organics with the red mark on the end. Here there are varieties of cooking bananas – long and green with a dry, fibrous texture or short thick yellowish ones, which Keith accidentally bought and wondered why they never ripened [Our staff though that was hilarious]. What we know as “normal” are termed “mau” (ripe) bananas, which still seem to come in different sizes and colours.
Thankfully, the sellers are quite happy to give guidance to an uninformed shopper. They smile and politely respond to our queries of “Em mau banana?” or “Dispela kaikai, nem bilong em?” (Is this banana ripe?, What is this food called?)
The quality is high, as everything is ‘vineripened’ as it were. No cold storage or gas treatments. Some comes down from the Highlands, where the cooler climate enables growing of potatoes, lettuce, cabbage, and broccoli. These stalls tend to be on the tables under cover – a privilege I assume sellers pay extra for. What is available varies greatly, so we have learnt to eat what we find. It is fresh and ripe, which means we are having to go to market twice a week.
The absence of cold storage tends to make you think twice before buying fish and meat products. The sellers are constantly attentive to wave away the flies. The place is very clean overall, as everyone washes and sorts their produce, forming small piles into one or two kina lots (1 kina is around AUD 50 cents). There are no scales or per kilo pricing, and they don’t haggle – prices are clearly marked on cardboard tags, and if you want it, you buy it. Once we wanted several kilo’s of tomatoes for making relish, so asked for a “number two price” – it caused some confusion for a while. [We were given a discount, but I won’t rush to try it again! – Keith]
We enjoy the market experience. You find yourself studying the faces of the sellers as much as the goods themselves. Many are holding infant children as they work; some are attentive to each prospective customer, rearranging stock as you approach; others look resigned to the heat and bustling crowds as just part of their daily lives. Whenever possible, we buy from the ones who look like they need a helping hand – the young breast-feeding mothers or hopeful teenagers starting out with their own stall.
There are stalls for clothing and other hand-made items; bilums (woven or knitted bags) or the 1 kina alternative of a re-purposed rice bag for the careless shopper who forgot to bring one from home. [We have quite a growing collection!]
As you walk in, realising you forgot your bilum, the sellers at the gate evidently realise this too – the excited shouts of “1 kina, 1 kina” follow you all the way as they hold up their stock of bags. You try to avoid eye contact, all the while knowing that attempting to carry three days worth of vegetables, a paw paw and two pineapples around a crowded market is going to be near impossible.
On your way out, you can buy a fresh chook for dinner – after you kill and pluck it that is – or invest in a carton of chicks a few days old and be prepared to wait. Meat in any form is expensive compared to produce, hence expatriates and locals alike tend to minimise consumption if they aren’t raising or catching it for themselves.
This situation can make life fairly tough for those without land as a means of production. Around town there are countless roadside stalls selling manufactured goods, often trying to profit on buying wholesale and re-packaging – everything from sweets and biscuits, to fuel in Coke bottles. These are often the displaced people, who come to Lae looking for work. You really feel for them as you drive around town.
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.” Matthew 9:36-38
As always, we can learn from the example of Jesus in this – he saw, he understood the real needs, and he moved others to pray and then to get out and do something about it.
Please pray …
- for us all to have “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor 2:16) in regard to our worldview
- for faithful harvest labourers