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Memoir Review: Inside the Crocodile by Trish Nicholson

December 7, 2018

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This account of Dr Trish Nicholson’s five and a half years in Papua New Guinea in the late eighties and early nineties is absolutely fascinating. Using her extensive diaries as the basis of her narrative, she takes us from a chilly wind-blown Scotland to her arrival and consequent culture shock in tropical, humid Papua New Guinea. Nothing daunted, however, she uses her great people skills plus the help and friendship of fellow expats such as Jim, PNG colleagues like the marvellous Clarkson, Vero and Martha, and Frisbee the Hound Dog to find her way in the maze of PNG life and bureaucracy. Her job was to reorganise, restructure and give training to the Department of Personnel Management in Sandaun as part of a project financed by the World Bank. However, this was not a challenge for the faint hearted. So many personnel lived in remote areas, and the records were such a mess, it even involved paying staff who were already dead!

In her task, I was often amazed at her ability to survive the mind-numbing procedural complexities combined with the sometimes petty and anarchic disregard for truth and transparency of those entrenched in the system. Fighting ongoing Malaria, dramas such as pay-back killings, vengeful jealousies and corrupt practices, it took more than Trish’s strength to cope. Towards the end of her stay, she became dangerously ill with Malaria. Nevertheless, she builds wonderful friendships with her PNG colleagues and earns immense respect for her courage and pluck in tackling almost anything that comes her way. This includes a three day hike through dense and inhospitable bush that would have sent me scurrying for home about one hour into it, particularly the idea of crossing bridges made of rotting rope or vine over deep river gorges.

There are delightful side characters, such as Sebby, who gate-crashed seminars and scribbled on blackboards intended for training notes. Frisbee the fly-everywhere dog also adds a special canine touch to the story.

The book is quite long and very detailed, but this serves to underscore the chaotic situations Dr Nicholson, or rather ‘Tris’ had to unravel. I found it completely absorbing and was easily able to transport myself there into the time, period and place. I was also glad she provided a glossary of Pidgin terms at the end and enjoyed the photos that gave visual reality to some of the characters and situations. All in all, this is a wonderful journal, a great memoir and a riveting read.

The link to the book on Amazon is here

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