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With Lori Rackl

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The good news is the Sun-Times travel blog is up and running.

The bad news is I'm not in the country right now to tend to it. I'm traveling through Sicily. But I'd like
nothing more than to come home and find some suggestions from you, the reader, posted to this site.

What types of travel stories do you want to read? Do you have a great vacation planned that might make
for a good article? Any travel tips or suggestions you want to share? Let me know! That way I can hit the
ground running when I get back from Italy in a couple weeks.

Thanks, and I look forward to talking travel with you....Lori Rackl

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HOW MUCH IS A BRIDE WORTH?

By William R. Coulson, Chicago

Rabaul, Papua New Guinea, lies deep within a beautiful natural bay, surrounded by a circle of active volcanoes, about 600 miles northeast of Cairns, Australia.

In 1944, U.S. air forces blasted this major Japanese naval base, and the harbor is still littered with sunken hulks of warships. The town was again leveled in 1994 when Mount Tuvurvur erupted and buried the area in a foot of hot ash. In some of the remote areas of New Guinea, cannibalism is said to still be practiced.

On a visit last month, I wandered down Rabaul’s rebuilt main boulevard - intermittently paved and pockmarked with truck-sized potholes. A milling crowd attracted me to a squat, open-air cement-block building. “Village Court” its sign read! A busman’s holiday for this Chicago litigator! I removed my hat and respectfully tiptoed into the small, single courtroom. Three male judges sat at the front table under a large Papua New Guinea flag mounted on the wall. They were dressed in white short-sleeved shirts and ties (it was about 105 degrees outside, and there was no fan in the courtroom, and indeed no electricity). There were two clerks, a man and a woman, with handwritten stacks of case papers and a rubber stamp (like the Circuit Court!). One of the clerks would call out the name of the case, and only then would the parties enter the courtroom. There were no seats for spectators, and I was rather conspicuous standing there in the corner. Rabaulians speak a kind of fast pidgin-English, and I could understand about every third word of the proceedings. The first cases called were domestic disputes.. There were no lawyers. The Chief Judge briefly questioned each of the parties, and then dictated an order to the clerks, who wrote it down, stamped the paper, and gave a copy to each litigant.


At this point the Chief Judge motioned to me. “Do you speak English?” he asked, and waved at me to come forward. My mind flashed - was I also about to see the inside of the Rabaul jail? “May it please the Court,” I began, I am a lawyer from Chicago, U.S., and of course am very interested in watching court proceedings whenever I travel.” I handed my business card to the clerk. At all this the Chief Judge smiled, said “welcome”, and motioned to the clerk to give me one of their chairs to sit on. The ice was broken. Before each case was called , the clerk then whispered to me the nature of the dispute and the purpose of this court hearing. Many of the litigants had paddled their canoes to Rabaul from nearby islands for the hearings (maybe I’ll suggest this to my next client - the Chicago River is lovely this time of year).

The biggest case, the clerk explained, was next to be called. It was, he said, a “bride-price” dispute! If a man wants to marry a women, his family must negotiate a “bride price” to be paid to her family. There are standards for this price, and it apparently depends on the relative wealth of the two families as well as the beauty and skills of the woman. I got the impression that love was helpful, but not necessary, to the transaction.

The two disputing families did not look happy to be there. They were extended families - I counted six people on each side. The would-be bride was a striking, statuesque lady in a beautiful green, flowered mumu (it was, of course, in her interest to dress up for this trial). The groom was a smaller man who apparently tried to appear shabby by contrast. They were, whispered the clerk to me “island people”.

The Chief Judge interrogated each family (there was no oath, and no court reporter).

The two other judges appeared to lecture to the parties (just like a U.S. Judge trying to settle a case). The families were far apart in their offers. The bride’s father wanted 60,000 kina; the groom’s family offered 2,000 kina. Both sides were questioned about their financial worth, and the bride was asked about her homemaking skills. While all this was going on, I noticed that the other clerk was chewing on betel nuts (a stimulant), and spitting into a makeshift spittoon.

The Chief Judge told the parties to leave the room, and the Judges then deliberated in open court, speaking softly to each other. The families were than called back, and the Judges again tried to get them to agree on a price. But the case would not settle. So the Judges announced their verdict. The groom’s family was to pay 6,000 kina and one pig to the bride’s family; and they would have “six moons” to complete the payment. The clerk wrote up the order. The families, still not looking vary pleased, shuffled out of the courtroom, not speaking to each other. As they left the courtroom, each person turned and politely bowed to the Judges. I couldn’t help but wonder what kind of a start this was to a married life!

The last matter called was a criminal case. A young man who was the public prosecutor entered the courtroom. Unlike the Judges, he did not wear a tie (every day is casual Friday for lawyers in New Guinea)! An unhappy, surly woman was given “one last chance” by the Judges to conform her conduct, and stop drinking and abusing her husband! The twice-weekly Village Court was adjourned. The public prosecutor smiled and shook my hand. The Judges let me pose with them at the bench for a photograph. Thus ended my appearance and practice, on the record, in the Courts of Papua New Guinea.

The proceedings I watched were fast and informal. The people appeared to respect the Court’s rulings, even when they disagreed with them. And I couldn’t help but ponder the notion that in the U.S., a “bride-price” lawsuit would have proceeded quite differently. There would have been months of motion practice; a year’s worth of discovery, the hiring of expensive experts, voluminous summary judgment filings, a multi-week trial , and long appeals. Maybe our profession can learn a great deal from the kind people of Papua New Guinea!


WILLIAM R. COULSON

Joel - Thanks for sharing your travel wisdom regarding Peter Q's questions. This is exactly the kind of thing I'd like to see happen on the blog: Readers helping other readers have better trips. I'll try to pitch in with my two cents when I can, too. But many thanks for chiming in on this one.

--Lori Rackl
Sun-Times

Peter Q
You should research the cost of train vs plane -- it is the more relaxing option. I would not go by car or plane, take the train and relax, have a drink, snooze, see the countryside -- a very sophisticated way to travel in Europe, especially short distances.
Northwestern Hospital downtown has a full unit dedicated to travel innoculations and injections -- they know it all and will issue the paperwork for you to travel with.
For hotels in Amsterdam, start with the well known international brands -- remember that Monday night all hotels post their cheapest prices on the internet. Hotels.com is a questionable service -- I had problems with them for hotel in Palma (Majorca, Spain) last summer. Any travel agent can assist with travel insurance. I do not know much about medical coverage, but they will advise.
Joel
Deerfield, IL

I recently went to Hawaii for the first time. Stayed in Maui. Went on tours - visited Hana & Haleakala Mountain, Circle Island Maui tour & City of Honolulu tours( which included visit to Pearl Harbor). Also went shopping @ Whalers Village & Lahaina Cannery Mall. And, went to the Drums of the Pacific Luau. The Pacific Ocean is magnificent. Saw a whale!It was a wonderful trip!

Having experienced the wonders of Iceland, offered by the Des Plaines Oakton Community College's Annuitants Assoc., I find that the landscape forged by fire and ice relect it's volcanic nature. With an amazing display of geothermal activity, including steaming springs and hot mud pots there is the world famous Blue Lagoon geothermal pool and spa to relax in or take a swim. This 55+ woman swore she would never remove her cloths and jump into a pool in Iceland in Feb. I was wrong, it took much coaxing to get me out of the hot springs. Traveling the "Golden Circle" with it's scenic wonders is an experience that most travelers never think of exploring. Boat trips among the floating icebergs which can also be taken by jeep to travel to the top of Iceland's Langjokull Glacier is a sight many people never get to experience. This island is an unexplored treasure. Iceland is a short flight from Chicago. Smithsonian sponsored lectures given to travelers exploring this area explain that the geologic energies at work in Iceland may be investigated for future use in the US. Join the next trip Sept 4th with retired Oakton history professor Frank Fonsino.

I think the best new undiscovered or newly discovered destination is the Dominican Repbulic. I went there last October to Punta Cana and stayed at a FIVE STAR hotel on Bavaro Beach. It was simply gorgeous. The beach was nice and powedery , the sun was bright and the water was clearist of tourqouise blue. Although it was october there were times of rain but it rained near the htl rms but was sunny at the pool.It never lasted to long and the beac dried quickly. I t was so warm and sunny during october,I can only imagine the climate during the summer.I don't know spanish but after a while I found my self humming along to the merengue music. I palm to vist La Romana, Santo Domingo, and the up and coming San Jaun really soon. The locals were friendly and the shopping and excursion were great.I will defintiley visit this caribbean dream again.

Lori,

Do you want to use your blog to answer travel questions? If so, here are a few I have:

How would you recommend traveling from Paris to Amsterdam...car for flexibility, plane for speed, or train for cost/seeing the countryside?

What's the best way to research what shots are required to go to Kenya and Tanzania and where to get them?

What's the best resource for researching/getting a recommendation for a hotel in Amsterdam?...for researching trip insurance and foreign medical insurance options?

Peter Q.

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This page contains a single entry by Lori Rackl published on March 22, 2007 11:05 AM.

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