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.
Physically tested by dense jungle and swaying vine bridges, Trish’s patience is stretched by nothing ever being what it seems and with ‘yes’ usually meaning ‘no’. Assignments in isolated outstations provide surreal moments, like the 80-year-old missionary in long friar’s robes revealing natty turquoise shorts as he tears away on an ancient motorbike. Adventures on nearby Pacific islands relieve the intensity of life in a close-knit community of nationals and a cosmopolitan mix of expat ‘characters’. Local women offer friendship, but their stories are often heart-breaking.
More chaos arrives with Frisbee, the dog she inherits when the project manager leaves, along with other project expats. Tensions increase between local factions supporting the project and those who feel threatened by it – and stuck in the middle is Trish. Her emotionally engaging memoir Inside the Crocodile is full of humour, adventure, iron determination and... Frisbee the dog. It is beautifully illustrated with colour photos of Trish’s time there.