Sunday, 6 September 2015

Inside The Crocodile : The Papua New Guinea Journals by Trish Nicholson

In the wilds of the most diverse nation on earth, while she copes with crocodiles under the blackboard and sorcery in the office, Trish Nicholson survives near-fatal malaria and mollifies irascible politicians and an ever-changing roster of bosses – realities of life for a development worker. 

With a background in anthropology and a successful management career in Europe, five years on a development project in the remote West Sepik province of Papua New Guinea more than fulfils Trish Nicholson’s desire for a challenge. In extreme tropical conditions, with few only sometimes-passable roads, travel is by a balus – an alarmingly tiny plane, landing on airstrips cut with grass knives and squeezed between mountains. Students build their own schools, babies’ weights are recorded in rice bags and women walk for days, carrying their produce to market. 

I'm always drawn to books about people who've made life changing choices, done the unusual and had experiences that I will only ever read about.
Trish Nicholson writes memoirs like this. Her other books about Butan and the Philippines were fascinating and this one more than equals them. 

We all hear and see through the media of television how people live in different parts of the world but back in the eighties to think of visiting such a place would never enter our head.

Trish broke the mould, she accepted a job in Papua New Guinea in a place called Sandaun. She brought order to the chaos that was the Department of Personal Management,obeyed the local customs and endeavoured to work around bureaucracy within the local government.
This is an adventure story too. Trish didn't just relax during her free time, she risked her life in small planes which sound like they were held together with blue tack to explore the surrounding islands. Walking across bridges made with vines which were fraying in the middle, swimming  in rivers shared with crocodiles and shrugging off her repeated bouts of malaria as if they were the common cold.  Each one of her adventures in the book is a story in its own right. You just never know whether she'll make it back to her home in Sandaun in one piece. The writing in this book is so descriptive that I felt I was walking alongside Trish frequently telling her not to get on that plane or cross that rickety old bridge.
Dr Trish Nicholson

I enjoyed reading about her work colleagues, Jim, Martha,Sinur, Clarkson and I fell in love with Jim's dog Frisbie. The local lanuague was mostly Pidgin which I had fun trying to work out what it meant but a glossary at the end of the book helped.
Local politics meant constant changes of staff with some being promoted or demoted frequently. Trish coped with it all with her pragmatic common sense and won the respect of the locals and politicians.

Eventually the continuous bouts of Malaria catch up with Trish and it becomes a life or death situation. One of her colleagues makes a phone call which ultimately is a lifesaver.
One thing I didn't expect from this book was for it to make me shed a few tears. At the end when Trish's time working there is over I felt sadness at her having to leave all the friends she had made over the years. I also wondered just how hard it would be for her to return to normal life with all the modern conveniences after living so frugally. 
More tears came when we are told what happened over the years to the friends who worked alongside her. I'm sure I'm not the only one who read this part and felt some sadness. 
I enjoyed this book so much and I'm so glad that Trish scribbled away in her diaries to bring us these memoirs. 
So Trish if you're reading this, "Tenk yu tru."
Paperback or for kindle- here 
paperback from The Book Depository, free worldwide postage

This is Trish's video of the people of Papua New Guinea



  1. Oh Anne, this is lovely to read as I've also read it and loved it! And yes, Frisbee became very important to me as a 'character' in the book. A great review!

  2. Thanks Val. I really enjoyed the book,it's nice to read something different.

  3. A super review of a super book Anne!


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