The PNG Chronicles: Pindiu to Morago with a bad attitude.

This part of my story is fairly epic, and I may need to split it into several parts. Epic, I tells you.

I was more than aware that most of our passage around PNG would be on foot. We have relatives in all sorts of disparate villages, and there are only two ways to travel between them all:  planes and legs. This didn’t concern me before the trip, because I consider myself a fairly fit person. I regularly do cardio exercise, and put in quite a bit of hill-climbing because we have some lovely hilly national parks and bushwalks in Victoria.

This means diddly-goddamn-squat in the vicious, unholy terrain of Papua New Guinea. I might as well have been Gina Rinehart for the amount my ‘fitness’ helped me.

Our original plan was to take a week to make a return trip from Pindiu to a village called Siwea, where Mum was born and several of our relatives still live. Step-Grandma was a bit antsy about this idea, for reasons that remain vague to me to this day. Something about curses or spirits or people with ill-feelings towards our family. Papua New Guineans can be very evasive and roundabout with tender issues, yet they’ll happily slice you in two if you touch their husband. Mum and my uncle mulled over the issue with the appropriate amount of prevarication, and finally decided we’d better not walk all the way to Siwea, but instead do a kind of loop that would take in several other villages in which we had family ties.

Our little party of four Westerners, the eldest uncle and four minder cousins set out at 6am one Tuesday. Sometimes it’s difficult to put emotions into words, so here is a photographic depiction of my state of mind that morning:

Top o' the mornin' to ye

Top o’ the mornin’ to ye

Most of the family followed us down to the first river crossing to see us off. We later found out Jojo had surreptitiously  trailed after us for quite some way, until one of the uncles had noticed she was missing and dragged her back home while she cried her eyes out.

I’ve previously mentioned the Mongi River and its lack of vehicle passage. Luckily, at some point the villagers had strung this delightful contraption across it to make foot crossing a more pleasant, safer experience:

Just like the Golden Gate, except stupid.

Just like the Golden Gate, except stupid.

Obviously, the most fun game in the world for the locals is to violently shake the bridge while you’re traversing. Such a fun game.

Papua New Guinean precision engineering - nothing to fear.

Papua New Guinean precision engineering – nothing to fear.

Safely on the other side, we found ourselves faced with a solid four hours of up. Being a main road, it wasn’t terribly steep and the surface condition wasn’t bad compared to the goat track that led down to the Mongi, but the sun was burning down and it had been made clear to us that there was nowhere to fill our water bottles until around lunch time. Our cousins had come along as porters (somehow villagers can embark on a 5 day trek needing nothing but the clothes on their backs), but for some reason I had it in my head that I was going to carry my 13kg backpack all the way on my own, because I am an independent woman and don’t need no help from nobody. This is actually a very good way to kill yourself, as I was soon to found out.

Eventually the up ended, to be replaced by ankle-splintering, jagged-limestone-littered down. It soon became apparent this was not a main road, as the track whittled down to little more than a muddy line through the scrub. We had a short rest at another river, where I fixed up my first blister and tried to mentally prepare myself for another couple of hours of uphill slogging. Sometime around 4pm the fog started closing in around us, and shortly afterwards it entered my soul, too.

The fog closes in around Faseu village

The fog closes in around Faseu village

The last few hours of the day were nothing short of a nightmare. The ascent just never stopped. It was a never ending staircase of mud and despair. I cursed Papua New Guinea, I cursed my parents for talking me into this shit, I screamed a ragged ‘FUCK’ at the sky every two minutes. Every time I lifted my exhausted head, the doglegged track stitched itself interminably higher with no end in sight. I could barely take four steps at a time without stopping to catch my breath, and it only dawned on me later that maybe the five thousand foot altitude was wreaking havoc on my sea level accustomed lungs.

The men had charged on ahead a couple of hours earlier to alert the village we were to stay at that visitors were imminent, leaving Nicole, Mum, cousin Gersing and I to wander up at our own pace.  As twilight descended, we came to a crossroad and it became immediately apparent that we were lost. The sound of children’s laughter was drifting through the mist, but with all the trees and hills and rapidly encroaching darkness, it was impossible to tell from which direction it came. It was like a bad 70’s horror flick. We scoured the ground for familiar footprints, but with our limited forensic experience we came up with nothing.  Just as we sat down dejectedly in the drizzle, some ghostly apparitions emerged from the mist – local villagers with umbrellas. It turned out they knew Mum (surprise, surprise), and gave us directions to Morago village. I was almost feeling cheered by the thought of the impending warm meal and dry hut, but forty-five minutes later when we were still clambering up muddy slopes in the damp semi-darkness, I nearly had a nervous breakdown. Eventually we passed a hut, then another, then a whole cluster of huts and suddenly we were in the midst of a group of Morago villagers violently shaking our hands and clutching our shoulders.

Now in Australia, when someone has just made a twelve hour journey on foot, carrying a 13kg backpack, we offer them a place to sit and maybe a cup of tea. In Morago, however, there is nowhere to sit. There is no tea, no food – just a lot of hand shaking and talking. The disappointment came like a kick in the guts – this was as physically exhausted as I’d ever been in my life, all I wanted to do was sit, and I was being denied even that simple pleasure. I dragged my carcass beneath the nearest hut, sat down in the dirt, closed my eyes and tried to quietly come to terms with death, while every few minutes someone would come over, shake me awake, introduce themselves and walk away.

Finally someone decided to show us where we would be sleeping, and as we unrolled our sleeping mats and sleeping bags the entire village trickled into the hut to observe. One of the aunties offered to show Nicole and I the ‘shower’ (a tap in the yard), and kindly held a towel up as a screen while we dejectedly splashed cold water onto ourselves. When I was as clean as I was likely to get, I trotted back to our hut all ready to crash into bed, only to find thirty people crammed inside, loudly munching their dinner and yapping with the usual PNG vigour that’s often recognisable in cocaine addicts. I looked despairingly at Mum, who whispered that if I just lay down to sleep, they would get the idea and leave. I lay down. They kept munching and yapping. I sat up and glared. They kept munching and yapping. I lay down again, and just as my brain was about to hit Ctrl Alt Del, a blinding glare through my eyelids pitched me painfully back into reality. I squinted past the light to find some old woman shining a torch in my face, exclaiming excitedly something like “which one is this one?”  Then Mum made me stand up and hug her – unsurprisingly, I was more inclined to chuck her headfirst into the fire.

Around 10pm the circus eventually departed and I could finally put my weary bones to bed, with a throbbing head and a deep regret at ignoring my instincts and coming on this stupid trip.

The 'good' road.

The ‘good’ road.

The hills are alive with the sound of some chick yelling expletives.

The hills are alive with the sound of some chick yelling expletives.

This woman came dangerously close to losing her life.

This woman came dangerously close to losing her life.

Kill me. Kill me now.

Kill me. Kill me now.

IMG_0597

A school on top of a hill. One minute you’re belting through the jungle, the next – time for school!

PNG people are excellent at things like materialising out of the mist.

PNG people are excellent at things like materialising out of the mist.

Me, cousin Bobby and Random Cow.

Me, cousin Bobby and Random Cow.

My cousins Gersong and Gersing - cutie pies. Also excellent porters.

My cousins Gersong and Gersing – cutie pies. Also excellent porters.

I said LIFT!

I said LIFT!

 

I'm in a bulldozer. Your argument is invalid.

I’m in a bulldozer. Your argument is invalid.

Dad regularly made patrols like this during his didiman days. He kindly gave me a scrap of his journal to take with me, that I could compare his previous journey to my own.

GOF’s Journal
9th May, 1972
Village meeting Masa. To Hobo and conducted meeting thence Morago overnight.

Globet’s Journal
18th December, 2012
To hell with this shit.

Next instalment: The continuing misery of a spoiled white girl.

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Inga’s Travelogue: Village Lyfe

Apologies for the lull in PNG posts – in my defence, I’ve since been to Japan and New Zealand, have been a bridesmaid, and have been slogging my arse off in a new job for the last few weeks. I do need to write my adventures down though, so please allow me to return to PNG…

Pindiu Village was a verdant paradise after the horrors of Lae and Moresby. We had our own house, abundant (if repetitive) meals, animals to play with…and best of all, freedom to walk around without fear of being hacked up and left to bleed to death on the side of the road. The most common crime in Pindiu is theft – vegetables, livestock and the occasional mobile phone.

There is an awful lot of our family in the village. Here’s most of them:

IMG_0485

And those are all direct family – Mum’s siblings and their offspring. None of this second cousin rubbish.

They have a sense of humour that is one part dry, one part slapstick and one big chunk of taking the piss out of you. They’re not afraid to make fun of you to your face, a trait which seems in direct contrast to their rather circumspect way of discussing anything of import.

One day Jojo took me for a walk, and a little girl peeking over her fence spied me and started hollering at her siblings in the house “lala emba hatza!” Jojo laughed and translated it for me: the white girl is coming. Now I’ve been called a lot of things in my time, but white girl has never been one of them. Despite the incongruity in my mind, the moniker ended up sticking, and I was Lala Emba for the remainder of my stay. (My cousin Nicole was landed with the rather less flattering ‘Waka waka’, which is a term usually reserved for white livestock such as pigs and cattle.)

There was one unfortunate blot on the landscape during the time we were in town:

"Cutnius"?

“Cutnius”?

Look, I’m all for freedom of religion – but these people seriously made me want to start a holy war. We almost sort of did, but more on that later. So our friends the Revivalists set up a stage and deafening PA system in the centre of the village, then proceeded to preach, testify and sing horribly pitchy hymns at a decibel level that would put a Fokker-100 to shame. They did this for 12 hours a day for 5 days straight – no matter where you went in the village, you could hear their shitty keyboard and pious warbling. At 6am every morning I’d be bolted awake by a piercing feedback whine and a disciple of our Lord Jesus Christ muttering breathlessly ‘testing mic one, testing mic one.’ (One of my uncles later did an impression of the guy saying ‘tasting mic one, tasting mic one’ while pretending to lick a microphone. It was pretty hilarious. At least now I know where I get my sense of humour from.)

Hallelujah.

Hallelujah.

When you’ve spent 30 years dwelling in First World Bliss, it’s difficult to adapt to village life. There is a tap in our little family compound that the ladies can use for washing up, but it ceases to work after about 9am every morning, for reasons no one could adequately explain. Once the tap goes kaput, all water-based routines must take place in the creek.

The creek.

The creek.

The creek is only a ten minute walk away, but it’s at the bottom of God-forsaken muddy descent on which I nearly broke my coccyx on twenty separate occasions. It’s literally a giant pain in the arse. On the other hand, it’s a beautiful place.

Obligatory holiday bikini shot.

Obligatory holiday bikini shot.

There’s not a great deal to do in Pindiu. Sometimes my family would set up a volleyball net outside the house, and half the village would turn up to play. Personally I thought it was way too hot for volleyball, but everyone else seemed to enjoy it. On some evenings one of my uncles would start the diesel generator, and the kids would gather around to watch some TV. Mum brought a Lassie DVD with her, and though they couldn’t understand the entire story, the kids all cheered whenever Lassie tried to maul someone. And now I know where my malicious streak comes from, too.

TV night in the courtyard.

TV night in the courtyard.

Three months later I can look back at the experience with a benign nostalgia, but while I was there I seemed to be in a constant state of frustration. Part of it stemmed from being dirty all the time. It’s perfectly possible to bathe yourself adequately in an icy creek or under a tap, but it’s impossible to stay clean around animals, cooking fires and dirt yards. I smelt like a sow and was twice as grumpy. I was also stressed about having to come back to Australia and find a job – as some of you may remember, I was livid at the prospect of being dragged overseas when I should have been sorting out my life. On top of that was the frustration at the PNG people themselves. I know there’s something to be said for a life of simplicity – growing your own food, looking after your family unit looking after the earth. It’s magical. But for heaven’s sake, how hard is it to have water reliably piped to your house? Or rig up a wood-fired hot water system? Or send your twenty year old son out to work to help support the family so you don’t have to sponge money off the only sister that married a white man? I know what you’re thinking – these people have happily lived like this for hundreds of years; leave them alone you entitled bitch. But let me explain something – back in the 70’s, they had all the modern amenities. They had education; they even had a tennis court. Then independence came along, and it’s all gone steadily downhill ever since. There’s nothing atrociously wrong with their current lifestyle, but it frustrated me no end that nobody bothers to make the simplest adjustments to make life easier. As an example, the Mongi River crossing is a 5 kilometre walk from the village. It’s a ‘walk’, because several years ago the vehicle bridge was washed away in a flood, and nobody has bothered to rebuild it. All supplies must be brought in by foot. My family was carting grocery supplies up the hill at 1am, and at no point does anyone say hey, maybe we should rebuild that bridge. Frustrating.

Or maybe my privilege is showing.

The water tap that might as well be a stripper pole.

The water tap that might as well be a stripper pole.

Laundry day!

Laundry day!

Mum teaching Grandma how to binocular.

Mum teaching Grandma how to binocular.

Every time Mum took a photo...

Every time Mum took a photo…

Sanzeng village, 30 minutes walk from Pindiu.

Sanzeng village, 30 minutes walk from Pindiu.

Aunty and cousin. (Photo credit Mrs GOF)

Aunty and cousin. (Photo credit Mrs GOF)

Next instalment: how to kill a Lala Emba in five days.