Today has been one of the most surreal days of my life. I woke up this morning in a Lutheran guest house with food poisoning and a random PNG lady who I had only met for an hour the day before. An hour or so later two Germans arrived at the door to take me away. It turns out Wendy, the lady who set up my volunteering, had been in touch with them (Thomas and Verena) and had filled them in on the situation. I then drove with Verena back to Mando to pick up my stuff, which was difficult, to say the least. Margaret did not say a word. She didn’t even come outside the hut.
We then went to pick up their daughter, Thalia from school. This was where things started to get pretty odd. We drove for 10 minutes from Goroka and eventually arrived at a place called ‘Lapilo’ home to the ‘new tribes missionaries’ who seek to convert the most rural of Papua New Guineans to Christianity (despite the fact that 98% of PNGs are already Christian). This ‘centre’ was basically a secluded slice of America in the middle of the Papua New Guinea bush. Bearing in mind that I have not seen a single white person throughout my two weeks it was a shock to see, on driving in through the gates, that the entire community was made up of white Americans and Australians. They all live on the site, which has everything they could need supplied for them: elementary, primary and secondary schools, a shop, gym etc very much like an isolated campus university. We took a walk around and I felt like I was actually in America – everything was entirely modernised, not a hint of the ‘backwardness’ of PNG was present. They were even playing girl’s ‘soccer’ on their (perfectly maintained) playing field. All of the children, including Thalia have heavy American accents. It was completely and utterly bizarre to move so suddenly between such polar opposite cultures. To exaggerate the incongruity, I was feeling extremely light-headed, as if I might faint in the aftermath of my night with food poisoning. It was unbelievably weird.
Thomas and Ruth themselves seem to be very typically German. Not trying to stereotype or anything! On returning to their house in Goroka they were making “sausage” as apparently PNG doesn’t make proper sausage. I’ve been helping Thalia with her character in the school play this evening. (Feels like being back at home, Sue!) Anyway, the arrangement is that I’m going to get a PMV to Mando everyday to teach and then return here in the evenings. Let’s hope it works out.
So the Nominos picked me up yesterday and took me to their house (well, hut) in a village about 40 minutes away. Like most communities here they live with their extended family. They call it their ‘Kingdom’. Their daughters Roselyn and Georgie are around my age and are incredibly nice, they took me down for a swim in the river. Mr and Mrs Nomino are extremely religious. The first thing that they did when I arrived was to call together the family and have an hour long mass. After explaining to them the situation with Margaret they believe that she is actually a witch. Seriously. Black magic etc. They told me that they can see satan’s presence in her and that she will be punished by God. They kept going on about how God has left the rest of the world and is now in PNG looking out for me. Mr Nomino then recounted a story from 20 years ago when his family were shot at by maniacs with machine guns. Not a single bullet hit any of them. He claims ‘gods protection knows no bounds’. He followed up this story with a tale of how he once saw an angel on the spot where he built his house…hmm.
On the drive back to Goroka (where I stayed in a Lutheran rest house for the night with Mrs Nominos sister) the entire family were singing hymns and songs about Jesus. It was pretty surreal. However, despite the extremities of their beliefs I am extremely grateful for the overwhelming kindness they have shown me. It was great fun with the kids in the river too! I’m now with a German couple in Goroka. They have running water, very unreliably, but still – luxury! The Nominos have kindly offered to transport me to and from the school on a daily basis and anywhere else that I want to visit.
Things have gone pretty pear shaped. I went to Mrs Nomino (the headmistress) yesterday morning as I was fed up of the way Margaret has been treating me. I already pay her weekly to look after me yet she has been demanding extra money left right and centre and insisting that I buy all the food which she then cooks for all of the people she invites round. I am running on my student loan. I cannot afford to be basically feeding a family of five or so each night. Anyway, Margaret had been leaving me on my own in the hut for large periods of time whilst she goes out to chew betelnut or drink which, after the incident with Alo, has made me feel pretty uneasy. She was frequently coming back too drunk to cook in the middle of the afternoon and she doesn’t wash up after cooking for days explaining the mice army swarming around the place.
I’ve just found out that an unmarried woman sleeping in the same house as an unmarried man for a night is a strict faux-pas here. I can see why. Any unmarried man see’s a single woman, particularly a white one as fair game. Being friends with an unmarried man here has a lot more significance and implications behind it than at home! Margaret has twice now invited strange men back to stay the night with us. The first time it was her creepy son, Jack. She promptly left for the evening leaving me on my own with him. I went to bed straight away. About an hour or so later he came into my room, lifted up my mozzy net, sat on my bed and started trying to give me a back massage and trying to force me to turn over. I firmly told him to leave and held my ground – trying not to appear weak or vulnerable. Thankfully he eventually gave up and left the room. I did not sleep after that for hours. Margaret invited two more men to stay on Friday; they were drunk and didn’t want to face their fathers. One of them was the savage who cooked my possum. Great, invite two drunk men back to an open hut which contains all of my valuables and with only a sarong hanging in a doorway to seperate us. Cheers for that. (To rub salt in the wounds she cooks them lots of MY eggs which she served on lots of MY bread but that seems relatively trivial) Anyway Mrs Nomino took me away to her house. Will keep you posted.