The last couple of days have been spectacular. We trekked out to a series of waterfalls. I had to take my boots off after the first hour as the mud was coming up to my knees. The disadvantage of this is that my feet are now fairly massacred (I had to drown them in savlon for the night!): we were walking through the wild jungle and sliding down practically vertical edges down to the river and so on. It was taking ‘off the beaten track’ to a whole new level. To cross rivers one of the men would cut down a tree, for example! There were the most amazing wild orchids dotted around the place! I was also lucky enough to spot a rare PNG eagle! The water was so fresh that we drank it directly from the falls…really incredible.
To make a fire one of the men rubbed some bush rope (made of bark) against some firewood. He then picked up the fire in some more sticks and carried it to the middle of the group! Snacks consisted of pandanas nuts that the men cut down from the top of the palm trees – I have to admit, they’re pretty disgusting – all of the locals were peeling them and happily forcing them on me!
That night we stopped at a small village and the ‘big man’ offered us the use of his round hut. A fire in the middle of the dirt floor keeps the bugs out of the grass roof of the hut! We all gathered round to cook ‘Kau Kau’ (sweet potato) and tell stories. They served Phillip and I the most ridiculously enormous portions of food – easily enough for six people – no exaggeration! I tried to sneak some to the emaciated dogs (the poor things were so hungry that they were trying to eat the fire!). Unfortunately for me the people only spoke pidgin, but I’m getting the hang of it gradually! We slept on a bamboo mat on the floor soon after the sun set (no lights there, of course – you sleep with the sun!).
The next morning the local girls took me down to the river for a ‘was was’. It was a completely pointless exercise as after washing we had to climb back up the mountain in the thick mud – inevitably we arrived back much dirtier than when we left! The villagers then took us on a ‘short walk’ to their church (two hours!). I embarrassingly fell asleep – Mr Bean style – repeatedly nodding off and suddenly jerking awake with a flourish. We eventually found our way back to the road and Verena came to pick us up! What a weekend!
I’m now teaching the grade fours: ages ranging from 11 to 13. Although interestingly quite a few of the children don’t actually know how old they are; their parents didn’t keep track! With my three classes today I set them assignments in their English lesson to write poems about their favourite animals or their responsibilities at home (depending on which class they were in). Quite a few made little, if any, sense but overall I was pleasantly surprised with what they managed to come up with. Here’s my favourite:
Only A Dog
Oh Mum and Dad…
Every night I guard
you while you are
Every day we go hunting
for wild meat.
Yet you forget me.
Yesterday Verena introduced me to a German volunteer a year older than me called Phillip who’s working in publishing here for a year. We’re planning a bush hike for the weekend – not sure whether leaving tonight or tomorrow morning – but I will not be able to post until we’re back. That is if we make it back: The more I learn about this country the more I see how completely sated with crime it is! (I’ve been learning some fascinating details about the sorcery and witchcraft beliefs here – will write a post on that subject soon.) Phillip’s a black belt in karate though so that could come in handy in a sticky situation!
Thomas and Verena’s house is fantastic – I feel really secure here. Thomas is the kind of man who commands respect whenever he enters a room. He’s very tall, broad, with dark hair and an impressive scar on his upper lip. Verena in contrast is a very warm and friendly woman: blonde hair blue eyes, like Thalia, and a tendency to laugh at pretty much everything. Thalia seems a bit of an anomaly with a strong American accent amongst the German – very impressive how they dip in and out of three languages! Recently Thomas brought back 120 Mangos from a visit to the coast so we have had a complete glut: Mango smooties, milkshakes, dried mango etc it’s pretty much the staple food here at the moment. Not that I’m complaining – I love it! Mangos aside, we’ve been eating traditional German meals every evening which is all very new to me. It’s completely bizarre that my introduction to German culture is taking place in the middle of PNG.
However, Wendy (the lady who set up the arrangement for me to volunteer here) has been receiving messages from Mando telling her that I’m still sleeping in the village. I’ve been noticing some fairly strange behaviour developing: They are very concerned about keeping the support of the rotary club of Australia. I am to them merely an object that must either be looked after well or, failing that, Wendy must believe that I am being looked after well! A little bit of an awkward situation. Wendy and Verena have both suggested that I should teach at a different school for the remainder of the time but, as none of the teachers at Mando seem to have the slightest interest in the children there I would like to persevere, even if it does mean waiting around for PMVs for 3 hours to get home (like today). For example, today I seemed to be the only teacher in the school. I took three separate classes simultaneously all day. Not easy.
I queued in Port Moresby airport from 12:00 until 3:20. It has to be one of the most inefficient airports I’ve been in (and I’ve known some bad ones!) Whilst I was queueing for my domestic flight transfer the UK national anthem started playing loudly outside and from what I could see loads of people were gathered around trying to see something…I asked a friendly Oz guy what was going on and , of course, it was Prince Charles and Camilla getting on their flight home!
Then there was SUCH a close shave – I thought i’d rest my eyes and consequently fell asleep in the departure lounge. I woke up 10 minutes after my plane was scheduled to leave! Missing it would have meant I would have to stay overnight in Moresby – the crime capital and buy a new flight. I was completely freaking out, as you can imagine. So I went to the gate and explained – they said I probably wouldn’t be able to get on – but I kept badgering them, explaining my suitcase was on the plane etc and they gave in and told me to run over! Got on the plane as it was supposed to be leaving!!
P.B. My first encounter with pidgin: A ‘NO ENTRY’ sign with the PNG version next to it reading ‘NO KAN CAM INSAIT’. Fantastic.