Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Bad day

Anyone got something good to tell me? Today sucked... I need cheering up.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Bikpela chief

I got this fantastic necklace at Ela Beach market on the weekend - it's a carved shell - quite big and very white. I love it, and wore it to school today, where Henry told me first that she liked it, and then that in her place it's only the chief's wife or daughter who wears it. So I suffered about an hour's worry wondering if I was being disrepectful wearing it - til I came home and asked Pia and she was very scathing and said of course I could wear it, it looked great, and they wouldn't sell it unless I could (or unless they were desperate for money!). So, doubts reassured, I figured I could do with being royalty for the afternoon, and Pia proceeded to call me Chief for the rest of the day - hence the Princess Pose on my bouncy ball, with Tommy and some of my bilum/basket collection in the background (Pia insisted on getting the woven mat in the picture too - though I don't really think the thongs add much class!) Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Nonstop Pia...

A Happy Birthday to Pia today! (and Deshley and Spot too) Posted by Picasa

(and thanks to the Sloganizer for that little catchphrase)

We had a good day. It all started with me making her pancakes in the morning - and they actually worked, for a change! - and giving her the present I'd brought her back from Sydney (a strong of those flower party lights and some pretty blue earrings). Good choices, which met with her approval.

As the last Saturday of the month, it was market day, so we'd made plans to go into town and then have lunch with some friends to celebrate the big birthday. I borrowed the school car and we set off about 10am - the 2 of us plus Rosie, another teacher - to go into town for the Ela Beach craft market, where we wandered happily around til it closed at 11.30. It's a real expat hangout, and all morning I was constantly running into people I knew - it's nice to feel connected and to realise there really is a whole community out there, as well as the M'ville community, that I'm a part of (even if its just a small part). We all got some shells, and I bought a gorgeous drawing of a Hiri Queen that I'd been admiring for months - very happy about that!

Then we had an hour to kill before we were due to meet up with another friend for lunch, so we wandered around the Plaza (sounds a lot more upmarket than it is!) and a second-hand clothes shop downtown before heading off to the Ela Beach Hotel. Lunch was delicious - I know where to take Em for her mussel fix when she comes now! - and fun. It's pretty rare that Pia and I eat out together so it was a nice birthday celebration.

Then there was just time for another second-hand clothes barn (2 pairs of trousers, 3 shirts and a skirt all for the princely sum of K11.90!) and the supermarket before we trawled home again, ready for a huge glass of water and a long afternoon kip.

A good day all round, and a good celebration day for Pia.

Friday, August 26, 2005

So long, Sailor

Well, another sad goodbye today, even if it's only for a few months. It's always hard to let people go but I had such a great week with my "small sister" here - I just loved having her around, and showing her off to everyone - and I think she had a pretty good week too (even though I'm sure she was missing Doug a lot more than she let on!)

Sam came down to school for her last round of classes with the girls, and had 3 classes of questions to get through before I'd let her finish up!

Then I took her to the airport to check in, and we had some goodbye drinks and chips up at Airways (and a last shop!) before having to head back down and say goodbye.

Always teary, but it won't be long now til it'll be me getting on that plane - and that won't just be a few tears, that will be WEEPING! It will be so hard to leave this place and all my girls and friends on staff.

But, to end this blog on a more cheerful note, I promised Henry today that since she braided Sam's hair and turned her into a rasta meri, I'd come down this afternoon with my straightening iron and turn her into a sleek Western girl for the night. She pretended not to be too excited in class, but she was there on the dot of 4 o'clock this arvo, and quite disappointed when I had to postpone it til night studies.

So I headed on down just after 6 - and she'd brushed out her hair til it was almost horizontal it was so boofy!!! I don't know how sleek it turned out, but certainly she did look different, and I've never seen her be so quiet and still as when I was straightening it! The girls got a kick out of watching, and I'm sure she'll be a celebrity in the dorms tonight! A bit of fun to cheer me up...

The view from Graham's window - not one you'd get sick of quickly, is it? Ella Beach at it's prettiest. Posted by Picasa

Sam relaxing at Graham's place Posted by Picasa

The bank downtown - Sam took a lot of Moresby scenic photos, but the Bank of South Pacific is probably the prettiest building in town (other than Parliament House of course), with its carved sides. Posted by Picasa

Scraping the coconut - it's harder than it looks (and it looks a bit tricky!) Posted by Picasa

The girls next door, after they'd come around to help us out with creaming the coconuts. Note Gaylene's Trukai T-shirt (from the annual fun run) that's a standard item of clothing in most people's wardrobes (including my family, after I sent home a bunch last year - though I still haven't seen that group photo with all of you wearing them out in public togther, now that I think about it...), and my latest Sepik basket hanging on the chair. Josepha's cousin sent it up to me last weekend. And you can just see my 2 Tolai dukduk's on the table (well, the back view anyway) - got so much stuff I'm going to ahve to take home with me I think I'll need to hire a shipping container! Posted by Picasa

Sisters! Posted by Picasa

Here's Sam squished in with the 10 Yellow girls. She came and had Q&A with first Purple and then Yellow today. I'd given them a week's notice to come up with questions, and they asked her the standard "What have you seen?" and "What do you think about our school?" and "How did you feel when you first came to PNG?" ones - but the best reactions were when Sam told them I'd cooked her kaukau last night (big screams of approval!) and when she replied to their question of how her husband felt about her being here - that he'd given her the trip as a Valentine's Day present - well they thought that was just fantastic! I'm sure they think all Australian men are as lovely and thoughtful and romantic as our Doug now... Posted by Picasa

Sam with 10 Purple, up near the school bus, just outside our driveway. We'd gone up there so that the girls could do some role play as characters from Bend it Like Beckham, without disturbing the other classes around us (yesterday I/we got yelled at by both Sr Angela and Sr St Francis and I didn't feel like repeating that!) Oh it was funny listening to these PNG girls trying to put on Indian, English and Irish accents - reminded me of Josepha after I'd just made an announcement on our new school intercom - I'd come back into the staffroom after saying my message over the speaker system, and she said "Oh that was you! I thought it was one of the girls trying to put on a fancy voice!" Posted by Picasa

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Sam's Diary entries

Went down to school to watch Bend it like Beckham for Riss’ English class (first round, with 10 Purple). They loved it, especially Jasminda’s mum. Lots of laughs.
This afternoon I went to listen to the choir practice and I even got to make a few requests! It was great to hear “A New Commandment” – but it made me homesick for my church back home in Doonside.
I heard the PNG National Anthem too, which I hadn’t heard before. Plus the Marianville school song.
Then at night we went to Graham’s place in the city for dinner. He has an incredible view of Ella Beach from his window, and the flat was gorgeous – lots of art and stuff as well all the mod cons – including a huge screen for watching DVDs etc. Delicious meal and a fantastic dessert I couldn’t eat all of coz it was very rich – but yummy! Watched a lot of music videos – lots of fun.

Slept in this morning, so only went down for one class – Riss’ 10 Purple IT lesson, making posters with friendship poems and digital pictures of themselves and their classmates.
Spent a lot of the day resting, and trying to do some of my assignment (not much luck)
In the afternoon we heard a huge roar coming up from the school as the girls came home from their Inter-School Athletics carnival. They were assuming they had won, and the cheering went on for ages – all the war cries plus extra screaming and yelling.
Tonight we went out to dinner with the AVIs at Asia Aroma, so I got to meet some of Riss’ friends. We stayed over night in town – with Lea & Neville. They have a great view of the harbour from their unit and they like to watch The Glasshouse! Riss was very happy she got to see the end of McLeod’s Daughters after all (for the dress-ups, of course!).

This morning we caught the school bus with the girls from in town.
Henri braided my hair while we watched Bend it Like Beckham with 10 Yellow.
Father Omero from the Seminary drove me & Riss around in the afternoon so I got to see a proper food market where Riss bought kau kau (sweet potato) and bananas & a coconut. We drove to various stores around Moresby, including an art gallery and artifact store where I bought a Sepik Mask to take home.
Every one liked my braids! Rasta Meri!
Ripper Rita! – we had a great meal, PNG style (cooked by Riss as Pia was still down at school, on duty). Learnt how to scrape a coconut with the girls next door (once again, Riss was a star at it, and I was a bit of a dud) and then how to milk it for the cream. They came over and admired my wedding photos after we’d been over there and admired their puppy. Dinner was yummy: the kaukau and bananas in the coconut we creamed, kakaruk curry + rice. Mmmm

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Sam in the new meri blouse she bought yesterday afternoon at Tabari Place. We went into Boroko with Pia and Rosie and had a good wander around the market there. It was really dusty and blowy - the clothes were really flying on their lines - but we managed to bag a few bargains. She looks like a real PNG meri now (and the girls and teachers just LOVED seeing her in her new outfit!) Posted by Picasa

Sam came to Pia's combined English classes today to be an example of the "modern Australian woman", and be interviewed about marriage, family life and the changing role of women in Australia. The girls were full of questions and wanted to hear all about how different things were in Australia, and all about the wedding. Sam was really great (even if she was shy beforehand - although that could have been wearing the meri blaus as much as anything else!!) - she gave good and thoughtful answers and they really enjoyed listening to her. Posted by Picasa

Sam and I with 11 Purple - Pia's English class and my IT class - after she'd finsihed being interviewed. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sing us a song, a song of the sea...

Where's Wally, on Laloata Island today. We went on a boat trip on Bootless Bay with my mate Graham and his girlfriend Lelini and her son Daniel - it was a fantastic day!
Posted by Picasa

Laloata Island Resort, as viewed from the walk along the island's spine. Posted by Picasa

Land Ahoy!

Sam, being a dag (as usual) with Lion Island (where we went snorkelling - so many fish!!!) in the background. It was a king tide, so it was hard work even with flippers - but worth it to see so much coral and seaweed and gorgeous fish everywhere.

"Aye Aye Landlubbers!" - Sam's contribution to this blog Posted by Picasa

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Sam showing off the matching necklace and bracelet Pia gave her Posted by Picasa

Sam in her meri blaus! Posted by Picasa

The advent of Sam

We picked up Sam from the airport this afternoon, just in time to rush back to Bomana for the Seminary's Open Day - a cultural show and singsing - talk about good timing!

We wandered around the "fair ground" for a while, checking out the stalls and dancers, and then went to the main dancing arena to watch with the crowds.

The Nth Solomons group seemed to be the crowd favourite, with everyone laughing their heads off (or "out" as my girls say) at their scratching antics and pelvis thrusting designed to do just that - make everyone scream - but my favourite were the West New Britian group's shrubs - their magic men (like duk duks), who according to Sam looked just like Grug!

Friday, August 19, 2005

One more sleep

Sam comes tomorrow!!!! Yay!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Peep's turn

Happy Birthday Sambo!

Hope you're having a wonderful day. It's pretty amazing to think that I'm here in Bomana, PNG and yet I can still manage to talk to you while you're driving along the Great Ocean Road in Victoria. Ain't technology grand?!

I miss my two sisters like crazy, but cannot wait til this time next week when when Sam will be here with me!!! Yay!!!!

Sepik Adventure, Part II – the story continues…

[This is ridiculously long, I know, but how do you sum up an experience like this in a few paragraphs? Bear with me, please - or at the very least, skim to the photos - I'll try to make it interesting!]

Well, the next bit of the adventure was in fact the real reason for the trip – an excursion into the mountains to visit Josepha’s village. I’ve lost my little bit of paper with the spelling of all the names, but according to her, the anthologists made up their own spelling anyway, so I’ll continue with that grand white tradition now and hope I get it close to correct… (tho which way is correct, anyway?)

According to Josepha I was the first white woman to ever come and stay at her village (did I already make this boast? If so, I apologise – but you have to admit, it’s a good one!), and when she told her family back at Christmas that I’d be coming they didn’t believe her. She’d filled me up with all sorts of stories beforehand about what I’d have to do and how people would react to me and what a significant thing this would be for the whole village – so understandably I was a little bit nervous about embarking on this leg of the journey. She was busy counting down the days and then the hours – and I was too - except for her it was how many days til we get there – for me it was how many days til I’m back home and safe and comfortable again!!

But anyway it was Wednesday afternoon, and the moment had finally come. It was about 2.30 – 3pm and I had a whole truckload of people staring incredulously at me as I walked out in my big (ugly!! – sorry Jono!) new hiking boots, old shirt and cargo pants, shouldering an enormous backpack and helping Josepha with the bags and bags of food and household stuff she was planning on lugging up to the village. There must have been at least 20 people crowded into the back of the truck, with a mountain of cargo lashed to the gate behind the cab and on the tray. I don’t know how we squeezed in all our stuff as well, but somehow we did, and Josepha told me to hop in the front between the driver and his off-sider (to whom she quickly introduced me – her cousin Enoch and his mate). With a lurch and a wave to the Sisters we were off on our journey – a two hour trip along sealed highway before we reached the Yangoru turnoff.

The trip was long, and made longer by the fact that within 10 minutes my bum was burning – squashed in between these two men, I was sitting on the middle seat directly above the gearbox (and/or engine) – and this was the second 3-hour trip this truck had made today, as well as a lot of running around Wewak town itself. Let’s just say I was doing a fair bit of wriggling…

Anyway, the highway was reasonably smooth sailing (once the men and I had settled into a more comfortable silence: at first we didn’t know whether we should make small talk or not, but after about 30 minutes of intermittent Q&A, we realised we’d probably exhausted spontaneous conversation) – but the Yangoru road was something else! It was a dirt road that had been untouched by graders or any kind of maintenance equipment for 20 years. We were lucky it was dry season or we wouldn’t have made it past the first kilometre – and how we managed to get as far as we did is beyond me. There were times when I though the truck would tip over, so far to the side and for so long did we tilt – and other times I was sure we’d be bogged completely as the mud was incredibly thick in places, as well as uphill. The road was more a series of steep ravines than potholes, and we drove straight through a creek at one stage too (which, although it looked scary as we were baring down the hill, was actually a lot smoother than trying to navigate the “dry” ground).

We made a lot of stops along the way, with drop-offs at different villages and hamlets – which meant a lot of waving and smiling as villagers gathered to welcome people back and saw the strange white lady sitting in the cab. Word spread quickly (or so it seemed) that there was a rather unexpected visitor in this PMV, and at some stops the entire village came out to stare and whisper.

Josepha had warned the driver at the beginning of the trip that I’d probably be needing to make a pit-stop along the way, and this had indeed been a worry for me, knowing my tiny bladder was unlikely to last the long drive – but also knowing I’d be too embarrassed to ask him to stop. As it turned out, Enoch made the decision for me, stopping about halfway through the dirt road leg of the trip and telling me I should get out and ‘stretch my legs’ (very diplomatic of him!). By now I was used to having to tramp into the bush and find a place to squat, so I just grit my teeth and followed Josepha – but the rest of the passengers certainly weren’t used to the sight of a white meri doing that and when I returned to the truck there was a huge cry of laughter from everyone in the back (Josepha kindly explained that they were laughing at me, just in case I’d missed the point!)

Finally, 3 hours of driving since we started, we reached the end of the line – well, the end of the PMV line, because this was where the real journey would begin… From this point on it was inaccessible to vehicles, and it was up to us to get ourselves and our cargo up to the village. Josepha had warned me it would be about a 2 hour walk – which to be honest didn’t sound half as bad as what she’d originally been threatening me with – but I was a little bit concerned that it was now about 5.30pm, and it would be getting dark well before we arrived at the village. Still, there was nothing to do but pick up our stuff (Josepha had brought a few cousins/friends along for the ride to help us with the baggage carrying, as well as coming for a visit) and start walking.

While distributing the luggage between us they insisted I carry Josepha’s backpack instead of my own as it was considerably lighter – and while I felt very bad at first, I was soon very grateful because it became apparent that the walk would not be short, or flat. Within 20 minutes we’d come to a stream, so I had to sit down and take off my boots and socks while the ladies just strolled across in their thongs – I felt kinda foolish but I knew I wouldn’t want to walk in wet socks for another hour or so. And by the time I got across, put them back on again, and picked up the backpack, one of the girls had decided to relieve me of the mat I had been carrying too, leaving me with free hands (again, a decision I appreciated later as we were climbing uphill). Between them the others had my backpack, the sleeping mat, a foam mattress, a 20kg bag of rice, bags of food, plates, cutlery etc – and their own luggage. No wonder Josepha and I made a quicker pace as we set off again. They decided to take the shortcut, which was directly up a mountain – an amazing view from the top but oh my god it was steep! By the time we reached the top the light was fading, and we saw a man and his daughter walking along the path. Josepha hailed him – it was Andrew, the Councilor from the next village along, and she promptly gave him her heavy bag and took his instead. He complained, but she insisted, and they started storytelling as we continued to walk. And walk. And walk. By this time it was night, and I had thought we’d stop to get out torches – but no, we just kept walking. Luckily there was a big moon. I had stopped listening or contributing to the stories – all my energy was going into putting one foot in front of the other, and trying not to stumble – and when all the response they got from me about their observations, such as “this is the football field”, or “this is my aunty’s mother’s sister’s house” was a grunt, I think they gave me up as a lost cause in the conversation!

Finally, at about 7.30pm we trudged down the final mountain, and into Beligel – Josepha’s village. All I could see were a few shapes of houses in the moonlight, and as I collapsed onto a rock and was handed (what else?) a banana to eat, all I could think was thank God we’d finally arrived. There was no rush of welcoming activity as I had expected, because the people there hadn’t thought we were coming. They’d been looking for us on Monday, and when we didn’t come they assumed we weren’t going to. So we waited for the other women to arrive with the rest of the gear, and then Josepha set them into action, opening up her mother’s house (her mum was away in Lae) and getting a fire going and water boiling. I would have been happy just to collapse onto a bed (or even just ground!) at that point, but it seemed like they were intent on cooking some food for dinner, and as it turns out, boiling water for me to wash.

After an hour, they came to say the water was ready, and Josepha turned to me and said it was time for me to have a bath. Somewhat confused, I followed her to just behind her house, where she put a big banana leaf of the ground, a bucket of warm water at my feet, and a cup in my hand, and said, “You get undressed and have your shower here now. I’ll stand at the house and make sure no one comes back here”. What??!!! Get undressed a metre from the house, in the open???
“Josepha, everyone here is trying to see me as I am! They’ll all be watching!”
“It’s dark, Larissa – no one can see you.”
“I’m white! I glow in the dark!”

Well, what could I do? I didn’t get totally undressed and didn’t stay there for long – and all I could do was laugh and compare this situation to the way I coped with my first real outdoor dunny experience at Mary and Terry’s place and the little tanny I chucked at having to walk out to an open door loo in the bush in the mud the night we arrived there. Luxury compared to this! I’m glad to say I think I can cope a little better these days!

After washing, there was tinned fish and rice and greens for dinner, and then I climbed up the ladder to the house, crawled into the mosquito net tent, and sunk down on the double foam mattress Josepha and I would share for the next few nights – totally exhausted, but still not really able to sleep. Both she and I got up several times in the night to go pee in the bushes – and I don’t think she actually slept much more than an hour or so – but at least I was finally vertical.

At first light I heard the other women in the room rustle out of their beds, and head outside to the kitchen to start the fire and start the storytelling of the day – but I figured as visitor I could just lie there for another hour or so and try to get a bit more sleep. At about 7 o’clock I finally decided it was time to brave this strange new world, and tried to rub the night from my face and make myself look presentable before I faced the inquisitive eyes of the whole village. And sure enough, as soon as I poked my head out and went to sit on the verandah, faces started appearing, and fingers and whispers pointed in my direction. Thankfully Josepha soon came from the meeting hut, and started introducing me to people – who mostly came and shook my hand shyly, then retreated to a safe distance to sit and stare at me.

Breakfast was a bowl of 2 minute noodles and rice, and sweet black tea. We wouldn’t have a bath until later in the day because the water in the river was so cold, and wouldn’t get any warmer until about lunchtime. So we sat and watched the world from the verandah for a while, had a brief explore around the village (which took a whole of 5 minutes I think – there were only about 6 houses! It’s just a little hamlet on the path across the mountains), and listened to stories until Josepha decided it was time to walk to the next village along.

We had heard the garamut that morning, which was being beaten by Andrew (the Councilor we met the night before) in the village we were about to go to, to let people know a visitor was coming. The garamut is the traditional method of communication between villages – a huge carved-out log, which is sometimes painted or carved with designs, and beaten in specific rhythms on the side by a heavy stick. They are still used in Yangoru and around PNG to communicate messages between places – they call it their telephone. Amazing, huh?

The village we were going to was called Kariru, and it was about 20 minutes further along the mountain path we were on yesterday. We set off with a contingent from Beligel, and were welcomed by Andrew and a small group of kids and older people, which rapidly increased to the whole of the top village, and many from below. We sat and talked a bit, and Andrew told me some stories about his village and how they hadn’t had a visitor like me before, and about the vanilla that was drying in the sun on mats at our feet (it was a huge cash crop a couple of years ago – they’d get K1000 a kilo – but then everyone decided to get in on it, and they rushed the growing and drying process, so the market crashed through too many producers and poor quality product – now they’re lucky to get a K100-200 a kilo for it – but still we saw it drying everywhere throughout the Sepik).

I took lots of photos of the kids and different people (EVERYONE wanted to be “snapped”), and they had me beat the garamut myself – I hope I didn’t send out any rude messages… Then we went exploring the lower part of the village. As Councilor, Andrew lived in the house at the top, but the village went on for quite a long way back – it was about 10 times the size of Beligel. He explained how the houses were made, and how Josepha’s family was allowed to use diagonal wood patterns, but everyone else had to use vertical patterns, and how his brother’s family was allowed to use a more complex cane weaving to trim the windows etc. Apparently the way you can design your house is highly regulated, with some families having the “patent” for certain designs, and others being unable to copy them. Same for their costumes – different families have different feathers/shells/teeth/colours etc they are allowed to use in certain patterns, and no one else is allowed to. Very interesting.

As we walked through the village, it was a real snowball effect – every step we took, another 5 or so people joined us, so by the time we reached the end we had basically everyone in the village with us, all clamouring to be in a photo, and then stampeding me immediately I clicked it to see the picture on the back of the digital camera. I felt like the Pied Piper – except it wasn’t just children!

Once we’d walked all the way through, we went and sat in the shelter and waited for some of the older men and women who wanted to go and get dressed in traditional clothes to show me, and have their picture taken. In the meantime, Andrew told me some of the legend of how the Cassowary founded their village, and told me some stories of an anthropologist who had come years ago and listened to this legend, but had never come back. He was very indignant that this man had taken something precious from them – ie the story – but given nothing back. Alarm bells were starting to ring in my head a bit, and even more so when he asked me if I could publish this story and bring it back in a book. It wasn’t the first or last time someone in this place asked me if I could do something quite improbable – another man asked me where in Australia I could arrange for them to sell their vanilla, and another one asked me if I knew someone who would sell their gold for them in Sydney. I had to explain that 1. while I would love to hear the story, and maybe even write it up, getting a book published was quite another matter and unfortunately probably wouldn’t happen (they also wanted to know if the photos I was taking would be on TV or in a magazine. I had to say probably not, but I could certainly put them on the internet – at which they seemed quite happy!); 2. I’d never seen vanilla in Australia except as a liquid in tiny bottles in the supermarket, and we didn’t have markets in Australia like they do in PNG where you could buy things like dried vanilla!; and 3. I didn’t know any importers/exporters and I actually thought sending gold to Australia would be quite complicated, sorry!

I did tell them that I’d send them copies of the photos though, because I didn’t want to be like this anthropologist who took their culture for his research and gave nothing back.

Another man came and tried to get us to either buy ourselves or find a buyer for an ancient stone carved in a circle – very old stone money – apparently one of the creator Cassowary’s stone money pieces. Because he was speaking in quite fast pidgin I could get away with pretending I didn’t know what he was talking about, but Josepha had quite a long conversation with him, trying to explain that if he sold this stone that belonged to the history of the village, then they would have lost an important part of their cultural heritage, and the next time someone like me came, they’d have nothing to show them. She was quite firm about it, and he eventually got the message we wouldn’t do it – but I’m sure the message of preserving his village history went totally over his head and the next opportunity that comes his way he’ll try his luck again. Just as well there aren’t many of us whiteys heading up to the mountains…

It was really interesting actually listening to this – on one hand someone saying how important their history and culture is to them and they don’t want white people taking it away from them, and in the next minute someone trying to sell it to us. Sadly, I think it’s a real reflection of what’s happening here in PNG – everything’s for sale, and it’s all about a quick buck, with no thoughts of the future. You can see it in everything from the man who today tried to make a quick K30 by offering Neil and I a basket he’d seen us admiring – despite the fact that he’d obviously been using it as his own and it was full of betelnut – to the way villagers leap for joy when oil or gas is discovered on their land or a logging company wants their trees, because it means lots of kina (and you can guess what it gets spent on) – even if their land is destroyed. The future is sold for beer and buai and tinned fish, with no thoughts of what damage it will do or what their grandchildren will have to hold onto.

Anyway, I digress… (and am probably being way too politically incorrect too. Funny how it’s never OK to be honest about the way you see problems, huh?)

So, next up was several lapuns (old people) coming out dressed up in not really all, but some of their traditional gear, and a few pikininis and one young man all bilased up too. Photo time again – a thousand and one poses, unfortunately all in the unforgiving midday sun which cast shadows and glare every which way – but you can’t pick and chose photo ops – and I clearly needed to take lots. Soon the digital camera was nearly dead, and we were getting pretty hot and tired ourselves, so we started to head back up to the top of the village again. Before we left, several of the older women presented me with gifts of enormous rope bilums and a flying fox teeth necklace, and Andrew gave me a carved circle shell which is a traditional part of bride price ceremonies (and I gave a sigh of relief to see it was an older, less valuable one – I had been really frightened when he’d been showing me the old woman’s one that was worth K500 and had told me he’d give me one that he’d give me one like that. Again, the issue of taking away something valuable from the village, as well as the corresponding need to reciprocate in some way. A touchy issue for me this whole trip – people here are very generous and want to give you gifts, and as a visitor you probably don’t need to return in kind – but it is part of Melanesian culture that there are obligations and expectations that accompany “gifts”- and in a position like mine it feels like you risk offending if you do, and also if you don’t).

After many hugs and thanks and goodbyes, we finally left Kariru, walked back to Beligel to get changed, and then started trekking again – this time to the river to wash. I knew it would be a bit of a walk, but had no idea just what it would entail – after 15-20 minutes of bush track we started going downhill. And when I say downhill, I really mean down-cliff – it was unbelievably steep and slippery and long, with virtually no easy place to put your feet, and thorns on the plants where your hands tried to grip. I thought I was going to plunge to my death, or at the very least slip and completely twist my knee and be stuck on this mountain for the rest of my life! I don’t know how the hell these women climb this with huge bilums of clothing and buckets on their heads, but they do – and apparently we took the easy route!! There were parts where I was almost sliding on my bum, and I had to hold Philo (Josepha’s cousin)’s hand most of the way down – but eventually we made it.

The river itself was more like a creek – I had been expecting a huge rush of water, but it was pretty shallow in parts and certainly not very fast flowing – more of a trickle. But it was beautiful, and we walked a way upstream to a deeper pool where we could “swim” (splash and sit in the water). The water was freezing, but refreshing, and it was a novel experience to soap yourself whilst in a swimming costume and in a river. The 4 little girls we took with us had a ball – figuratively, and literally after I gave them the red rubber ball I’d brought with me – so they had a lot of fun splashing about while we washed and then went downstream to do our laundry. That was hard work! Am I ever grateful for washing machines – or even just the tub we have at our place.

We stayed there quite a while – it was lovely, and quite peaceful after a morning of being the centre of so many people’s attention, to just have only one other new adult, and only 4 new kids to be with. Philo is a teacher at the local primary school. It serves a huge area, and she has to walk 2 hours to work and back each day – and some of the kids walk even further than that. There are only 3 teachers at the school, when there should be six. It was interesting to hear her talk about it, because only that morning I had asked Andrew why the children weren’t at school (it was Thursday) and he’d said there weren’t enough teachers. I had assumed that meant the school had shut, but Philo said they were still open, just with doubled up classes – but that she’d rung the bell every day that week (including today) and not one of the several hundred children had turned up. Apparently the parents are mad that there aren’t enough staff, so they’re just not sending the kids. And when I had asked Andrew what the kids did all day if they didn’t go to school, he said they just sit around – they’re not learning anything. My response was “Why don’t you teach them then?” He said he wasn’t smart enough or his English wasn’t good enough. He’s the Councilor! Surely anything they can learn from him, or from anyone else in the village, would be better than nothing? He told me that they needed people like me to come and teach them. I said that’s crazy, they need to be able to do it themselves – anything is better than nothing, and they need to teach the kids their own stories and traditions anyway. Well, that argument didn’t go down well either – he just turned to Josepha and told her she needed to come back and teach here instead of in Moresby. Actually, I can see the argument for that – but there is such a huge issue of just sitting back and waiting for it to be delivered – I don’t think I need to spell it out here – but how can something like that be so obvious to me, and to Josepha, and not be at all clear to anyone there?


Actually my memory here gets a bit hazy. I know we climbed back up the mountain to get back home, and hung our clothes out to dry on the line – and then it rained, so we brought them onto the verandah – and I know I went to rest for a while, and then sat on the verandah to listen to the others telling stories… but most of the next 24 hours or so is a bit of a blur because life in the village was mostly sitting on the verandah and listening to people tell stories, the occasional trip to the “loo” (a small shelter you bend to walk into, lined with a bamboo stick floor over the pit, with a small hole in the middle that you have to aim for), meals of rice and tinned fish (or having to try sago – grey gelatinous blobs – or Singapore taro – grey bland root vegetable - both yuck!), Josepha calling people to bring me kulau to drink, and getting up to stretch my legs every now and then. Everywhere I went, Josepha sent a cousin sister or two with me, and everywhere I sat, people stared. No one went to the gardens to work the whole time I was in the village because they were all coming to sit and watch me instead! The first day, they sat a long way away and stared, and asked Josepha questions about me instead of to me; the second day they sat a bit closer to me and attempted a few sentences to me every now and then; the last day they sat up with me on the verandah, the kids running their hands over my legs and feet all the time, and they’d mostly realised that if they spoke pidgin (slowly) I could understand, and if I replied in English, they’d usually understand.

The first day, too, I was known as Josepha’s friend. The second day, they were starting to call me Larissa. By the third day I had acquired a new name – as a village girl now I needed a village name, and they decided to call me Unaluh (meaning cassowary – because I was so tall!).

The village kids were very friendly. They all wanted to come with me wherever I went, and the little girls who came to wash with us were especially friendly. They took me on a tour of the village with my big SLR camera, and for a stroll up and down the paths in and out of the village on either side, all vying to walk next to me and be snapped. One of my favourites, Hosea, was a gorgeous little boy who was very shy at first – about 5 years old. Apparently on his first day of seeing me, he asked his mother which shop they’d bought me from, because he thought I was a big dolly!

Sadly, a lot of them showed obvious signs of malnutrition and lack of hygiene – big bellies, open sores and scaly dry skin over large areas of their bodies. Although they seemed to be reasonably well dressed – well, in raggedy second hand clothes (for my benefit no doubt), I don’t think they have many clothes and they don’t seem to wash with soap all that often – or their clothes. It was pretty sad. And Josepha had brought some medicine with her – just paracetamol, an antibiotic for mucus sicknesses, and an anti-malarial – and the mothers and lapuns were all lining up to get a handful – even if they weren’t sick they said they were so they could get some ‘maracin’ – it was like manna.

Tinned fish, rice, 2-minute noodles – all of these are enormous treats. Mostly they eat taro and banana, and protein is rare, which is why they are small-framed. Clothes, bars of soap, medicine, cups, plates – all of these are highly prized gifts and I wish I’d thought to bring any of them. Luckily Josepha had a good supply of all. In this culture, anything she gets asked for she is expected to provide – esp as someone who lives in Moresby, she’s seen as extremely wealthy. She told me in advance that she’d be asked for the clothes off her back, and if so, she would have to give them – and indeed I saw people wearing clothes she’d worn the day before – her bag was basically empty by the time we left. Luckily she left a change of clothes at the convent in Wewak.

The day we were due to leave, another contingent from Kariru came down to Beligel around lunchtime, again with a young man all dressed up in traditional bilas (plus a few extras), with his fighting gear – spears, bow and arrow and stone axe. Time for another round of photos - and then it was my turn to be dressed up. Even though it was a male costume, and too small, and covered in sweat and grease from him just wearing it in the heat of the midday sun, they got me all decorated and then I had to pose while Josepha snapped me – to the amusement of the whole village who turned up to watch this most unusual spectacle, and insisted on “action! action!” shots with the weapons! Oh dear. It was pretty funny – but by this stage I was on friendly terms with people, and less of a stranger, so it felt more like an affectionate game than an ordeal. By now people had accepted that I was just here to “be” rather than do research or work, and although they didn’t understand it, they thought it was great I was there (or so they said!) – and were much more comfortable with talking to me in pidgin or English. It was nice. But I was getting a bit tired of the kids by now – they swarmed like flies and were less inhibited now – they were sitting and walking practically on top of me, and seemed to think it was their job to take care of me and anticipate everything I might want or need. Exhausting. I was starting to count the hours til we left. My bum was also very sore from just sitting all day! Once we’d done the short walks around the village there was nothing much else to do – all anyone was doing was sitting and telling stories – and after 2½ days of that I was getting a bit over it. And Josepha had taken me, on one of these walks, to see the waterhole where they do the washing up and fetch drinking water. That was enough to make me glad I had seen it after I’d already been there 3 days, not at the beginning, or I would never have eaten or drunk anything!

We were due to leave at 3.30pm so we’d have enough time to get to the place we’d be spending the night before it got dark. Josepha had organized for us to stay the night at Wilaru Catholic Mission (the Priest’s mission house) so we wouldn’t have to get up at 2am to start walking to the PMV stop – she said the PMVs left for Wewak really early in the morning and this way we’d be almost at the stop already. An hour before we left she started organising flowers and a cleaning up of her brother’s grave – a big concrete slab with a headstone just off the village track. He was killed a few years ago, shot by police - apparently they were chasing raskols and thought he was one of them – all a mistake, but he dies for it, and the family were to short of money to follow it up with a court case. Anyway, this tidying-up was obviously an important thing for Josepha to do as a sign of respect, and I had already realised her flower-arranging was an unstoppable habit – she’d done it at every place we’d been to on the journey so far. She’s a machine!

Just after she finished, at 3 o’clock the sky was ominously grey, and sure enough, it started to rain. Even though they all insisted it was only “gamin” rain, not real setting-in rain, it did continue to rain reasonably heavily for the next 30 minutes or so. I was starting to panic because as glad as I was I’d come, the thought of another day in the village was very unappealing – I was tired and dirty and sick of feeling like I was living in a World Vision ad, being constantly stared at and while welcomed, still somewhat of a freak. Fortunately the rain cleared (well, mostly) and we decided to risk setting off in the assumption the wind would blow it all away.

I picked up my pack, not knowing who’d be coming with us this time and assuming that there’d be no one else to swap with. It was bloody heavy, but I figured it was time I stopped being a princess, so straightened my back, bravely waved goodbye, and set off with Josepha and Andrew’s brother (carrying a HUGE bunch of bananas). Her cousin was coming with an enormous bilum of kaukau (sweet potato) and the kids I’d thought I’d finally be free of were all carrying bilums of varying sizes. Looked like they were in for the long haul.

And I was too. The rain had made the path really slippery and the mud had turned to thick sticky muck. My boots (which I was IMMENSELY grateful for, for my ankles if nothing else) were coated and picked about 2 inches of mud on their soles within the first 5 minutes, thereby adding about another 2 kilos to each step, and making traction virtually nil. I knew if I stopped I’d never start again, so I started off with an even pace and just kept walking, not trying to talk or listen (Josepha knew by now not to distract me while walking!) – just trying to avoid falling.

The view was just incredible. When we’d come up the other night it was too dark to see – now it was light and amazing – mountains in every direction, tiny clusters of bush houses in distant villages, a huge drop away on both sides of the path – miles and miles of distance, blue sky and about 30 shades of freshly-washed green. When my class asked me later what the best part of the trip was, I had to say this – looking around and seeing nothing but mountains, and knowing I’d walked them to get here. At the time I was so exhausted and my pack was so heavy I knew that if I took it off to get my camera out I’d never start again, so I just kept walking - even though I knew I’d never see anything like this again. And in a way I’m glad. Even if I had taken a photo it would never measure up to the real thing – this way I have the experience in my mind, and I’ll remember it from the way I felt, rather than from a picture on my computer.

As we walked I refused to ask Josepha how far we had to go. I was trying to remember from the walk up, but it looked totally different in the moonlight and I wasn’t paying that much attention then anyway. So when we finally came to the place I recognised as the soccer field I was devastated because it felt like we’d been walking for hours, and I remembered that from near the end of the trip up. Fortunately I think my memory was plying tricks on me, coz we soon turned off onto another path – one that went down an almost vertical mountain. I just stood at the top of it and said “you’ve got to be kidding”, because it was almost sheer, and what path I could see was all mud – how the hell was I going to get down this with a pack on my back???? Every step I took someone said “isi, isi” til I almost screamed – I was certainly getting very tired and cranky because having people tell me to take it easy when it was clear I was only a half-step away from breaking my neck was so bloody obvious I thought I’d break one of their necks! Halfway down the mountain it dawned on me that this could be the shortcut we’d taken on the way up, this time in reverse and down the mountain – but I wouldn’t let myself believe it because I knew it was only a relatively short way to the creek after the shortcut, and then it was only 20 minutes to where we got dropped off – and if I was wrong it would be too cruel to think we had only a short way to go. But after we finally made it down, the ground started changing and getting more watery, and sure enough, we were soon at the creek. I almost cried with relief as I tried to untie my sodden and mud-covered laces. Josepha had warned me we’d need to walk a bit more to get from that drop-off point to the mission station, but had said it was only about 500m up the road.

I happily let Andrew’s brother swap packs with me then because I thought I’d done most of the hard work carrying it this far and could hold my head high. We got up the road to our drop-off point quite quickly, and I was happy with our progress and the fact that it was still quite light (and that I wasn’t really that tired or sore – apart from my shoulders). Unfortunately because we were now on the PMV track the mud was a lot thicker here and there was less chance of avoiding it, but I figured we’d be there within half an hour.

How wrong I was! Five hundred metres???? I’m so glad Josepha’s not a maths teacher because it was closer to five kilometres – all through swamp-like mud where I got stuck several times and slipped and nearly fell at least 5 times. Every time I thought we must be getting close, the road just stretched out further ahead – and the kids by now were driving me insane with their proximity. When they tried to grab my hand if I nearly fell I had to bite my tongue to keep from barking at them – how on earth could they possibly support my weight if I slipped? They were only making it worse by crowding me. At each village we passed, people would cluster at the edges to stare at the white meri covered in mud, no doubt by now bright red and sweaty from exertion and the exhaustion of trying to stay upright – there was none of the friendliness or welcome of Beligel (to my tired eyes anyway) – it was just staring and disbelief. When we passed a produce market full of people, they all just stopped – the silence descended immediately they saw us – and continued to stare even after we said our greetings and smiled and passed on by.

By now all I was thinking of was home – and by home I mean Sydney – all I wanted was to be in a quiet room with no one else in it – cold weather, a fire burning, and a lounge to curl up onto. Family in the background, but no one expecting any attention, and no one that I had to talk to or be stared at by. (Actually I had been thinking of home the entire Sepik journey – but that’s another, sadder, spookier story…) I could feel myself getting crankier and crankier and more and more hostile towards the people who kept turning up to stare from every hamlet – but still there’s something inside of you that pulls you towards being a better person – even in the midst of wanting to kill Josepha I managed to laugh as I told her that “Josepha I’m going to KILL you! This is NOT 500 metres!!!! You are NEVER getting me out of a resort again!”, and even when I wanted to stomp past the people on the side of the road and pretend I didn’t see them staring, something in me still forced out a smile and an “apinun!”(afternoon) and an explanation of who I was and why I was here when asked. I shook hands and put on a beam and told them how much I loved their village, and yes I was having a marvelous time – and inwardly swore this would do me for villages for the rest of my life!

The dark started falling and I was beginning to think there was no end in sight to the infernal road when finally, up ahead, we spied Philo coming out to meet us on the road. At last! If she was here, that meant we were almost at the mission station. She welcomed us, exclaimed over our muddiness, told us she’d left bilums for us up ahead, and sent us on our way. It was only a 5-minute walk to the station from here and we arrived as the last light was dying from the sky.

Unfortunately the catechist at the station was somewhat flummoxed to see us, as the news we needed a bed for the night had somehow not reached him. He, his wife and kids scurried around trying to get things together and cleaned up while Josepha told me to prise off my muddy boots and she’d find me the shower. By this stage I was so exhausted and dirty that when I saw the 3 rusted and falling down sheet iron walls enclosing a dribbling shower head all I did was laugh, strip off and stand under it, trusting in Josepha and the growing dark to make sure I wasn’t seen. The cold was nothing (I hadn’t had a hot shower since Angoram anyway) – but the feeling of shampoo and soap was pure heaven – even if it meant standing naked in an almost-open dilapidated tin box with a dirty concrete floor.

When Josepha led me to the room I’d be sleeping in, again it was not quite what I’d expected – in fact I took a photo of it as soon as she left me in the room because it felt more like the kind of dusty shed you’d put a dog in rather than the visiting priest’s quarters – but apparently it was where the Father stayed, and in fact it was his bed I’d be sleeping in (much to the amusement of everyone as Josepha told them I’d gone from staying at the Father’s house in Angoram, to the nuns’ quarters in Wewak before finally ending up in the priest’s bedroom – and bed, no less - here at Wilaru!).

Dinner was a can of pineapple Fanta and chicken-flavoured dry biscuits as the catechist’s family had no food there for us – luckily they operated a small canteen that sold these and other essentials to people in neighbouring villages. We sat outside telling stories under the stars for an hour or so with his family and Josepha’s other friends and relative who’d either come with us or met us there to continue on our journey tomorrow, before I turned in for the night. I realised shortly after I went to bed that the foam mattress I’d set up for Josepha at the back of my little room was occupied by the little boy who’d called me his dolly – I hadn’t seen him at first and thought it was the sound of rats shuffling in the darkness before I heard a definite human sigh. With my own sigh of relief I settled back down to try and sleep – but it evaded me most of the night, and instead I lay there as Josepha, another child and Himbru (I think that’s her name), Hosea’s mother, all made their bed on that same single foam mattress, also too awake to do more than whisper the night hours away.

We were on the road again by 7am, Josepha having told the driver the afternoon before we’d meet him further up the road at the PMV stop, ready to leave as soon as we got there. A short walk, we were told, and not trusting Josepha I had this confirmed by the others there. Five minutes, one said, a few hundred metres said another. Half an hour later and still walking I resolved to never again ask anyone from PNG to make any approximations of either time or distance, and shook my head thinking I’d never learn.

We arrived at the little village where the PMV was waiting for us, and assumed the driver would be there shortly to take us on our final journey back to Wewak and the convent. While waiting for Enoch, I dug out two little koala keychains I had in my bag to give to Hosea and his older sister – you know the junky tourist things they sell at Hot Dollar and the like? Well that was an excellent move because not only did they both absolutely love these little toys, it also kept them (and me, watching them) occupied as they played with them for the next THREE HOURS as we waited for our driver to emerge. Josepha and Himbru went to look for him after we’d been waiting half an hour – but we were still sitting there in the dirt (me sitting in an old tyre rim) at 10.30 – nothing to do, no one to talk to, the only occupation being scraping the mud off my boots with the help of Grace (Josepha’s teenage niece) and listening to Hosea and his sister muck around with their koalas.

Finally, around 11am, the driver and his off-sider arrived in a little ute. They had been waiting til late morning so the sun would dry up some of the mud caused by the rain the day before – otherwise the truck might get bogged. Might have been nice if they had told us of that plan yesterday when we saw them on the road - but thinking ahead and keeping track of time are foreign concepts here, and people are used to waiting for lengthy periods of time for transport, so they were somewhat surprised when Josepha was mad at them.

Eventually the truck was loaded up, I jumped into my designated spot in the cab (this time a lot cooler as the engine hadn’t been used in 12 hours or more) and we were on our way. Another bumpy hour of near-bogging along the Yangoru road, then 2 hours of highway before we rolled back into town. The market and almost all the shops were closed, so we stopped briefly at a wholesaler to buy some biscuits and drinks (by now we’d missed lunch, and after all that walking yesterday, and only a couple of dry biscuits for dinner and an apricot bar for breakfast I was STARVING!) as provisions, before they dropped me at Rosary Novitiate where we’d be spending our last night. Josepha was off to visit her relatives but I elected to stay at the convent, wash and rest for the rest of the afternoon. I curled up on my bed after grabbing Josepha’s copy of The Da Vinci Code (I’d finished my own book last time we were here), not emerging until the garamut sounded for dinner at 6pm.

Dinner with the nuns was another dark affair, but much more light-hearted as we laughed about our experiences and how I coped with all the walking and life in the village. Sr Sophie was a lot more at ease with me now she knew me, and praised me for going, saying I was a ‘fit meri’ and she would never have been able to walk to the village. We giggled and told stories until it was time to retreat to the lounge room, and there we watched the much-anticipated Xena until my yawns told me it was time to go to bed.

Even though it was Sunday the next morning and the bell sounded for no less than 15 minutes to ensure everyone in the huge Catholic religious compound had heard it, I guiltily stayed in bed and finished reading all about the “real” story of Mary Magdalene while they all toddled off to Mass.

Then it was breakfast and a final packing up, trying to figure out how we would carry the enormous amounts of food Josepha had stockpiled to take back to Moresby. She must have had 15-20 kilos of yams as well as taro, dried fish, a whole bunch of bananas and 4 bags of sago. I, on the other hand, had about 6 baskets, a kundu drum, a mask, a spear-thrower, a huge cane laundry basket and bilums full of bilas – mostly presents from various people along the way. Between us we had probably at least twice the legal weight we were supposed to have – but Josepha had elaborate plans as to how to get it all on board.

We had a final stop at the basket stall before arriving at the airport, where the haggling over luggage and weight began in earnest. I let Josepha do the talking, and then we waited outside under a tree and did a final round of photos in this most unusual ‘departure lounge’. Saying goodbye was an emotional affair – well, not for Josepha and I, but for Himbru and some of the other ladies who had been with us since Beligel and had come to the airport to wish us goodbye. Himbru was sobbing and saying she wasn’t sad for Josepha because she’d be back, but for me, Unaluh, who she would miss! We did about 4 rounds of hugs before we finally managed to get out the gate – not before my carry-on bag of sago was confiscated – my guess is it looks too much like cocaine (or someone’s family was hungry) – and then finally, we were seated on the Fokker 100 (which looked incredibly luxurious to me after 10 days of Sepik experience!), ready to fly back home to Moresby.

What a trip! What an experience!

Even as I was doing it I knew I’d never have another holiday like this again in my life. I feel so lucky to have had the chance to do it – it’s a PNG experience that I doubt many other white people ever get the opportunity to have, and I was just so grateful and honoured to be given the chance – but at the same time I was thinking once was probably enough! (at least for this year).

Thank you so much to Josepha and her family at Beligel and Kariru for an amazing adventure, and to Father Lawrence and Sr Sohpie for the Angoram/Wewak legs of the journey. I had an incredible, eye-opening time and will certainly never forget it.

Walking in to Beligel village Posted by Picasa

The meeting hut in Beligel - view from the verandah of Jospeha's place Posted by Picasa