Morago was my first insight into authentic village life. Pindiu is undoubtedly rural, but still boasts elements of civilisation – there is a grocery store (which one of my uncles owns – he’d occasionally slip me soft drinks and plastic jewellery as if I was eight years old, which was quite sweet), a post office and an air strip that guarantees entertainment twice a week. Morago has none of this. The ‘grocery store’ is literally a cupboard in some lady’s house – you let her know what you need, and she charges you an extortionate amount of money for a bag of rice and some chicken stock. It was my first time sleeping in a hut with a fire in the centre, and let me tell you, it’s nowhere near as pleasingly rustic as it looks. The smoke chokes you, the residue leaves ugly sooty ropes dangling from the ceiling, and all throughout the night people will helpfully stoke the fire, which is like having someone switch on your bedside lamp every hour. The huts are built with minimal head space, because New Guineans are miniature people. Mum stands as high as my cheek, and that includes her illustrious afro. If you’re taller than about 150cm you’ll brush your head against the sooty rafters, and if you’re over 167cm like myself, you’ll repeatedly smash your forehead into the door frame and fly into a homicidal rage every time. How the hell our six foot tall GOF managed to survive so many years in this environment with neither concussions nor permanent brain damage, I’ll never understand.
The toilet hut faced a sweeping visage of mountains and valleys, and in a unique design feature there was no door to hinder the view. Each trip to the loo had to be prefaced with a cautious holler from behind to check if anyone was currently using the facilities.
So after our twelve hour death march the previous day, I awoke around dawn to the sound of Mum talking to no one in particular.
Now I adore my mother to the moon and back, but in all the time I’ve known her she’s never really taken to the concept of letting sleeping people lie. Whenever I’m home visiting and have the audacity to take a nap, or heaven forbid sleep in, I’ll be awakened by a disembodied “Inga! INGA! Are you asleep? Oh. Ok. I just wanted to tell you…<insert monologue here>.” Sometimes there won’t even be that simple precursor, and she’ll just start talking to me from wherever she happens to be, with sufficient volume that I’ll be sure to hear. This didn’t change in Papua New Guinea, and it turns out it’s not a trait peculiar to Mum; it inflicts the entire nation of PNG. These people can talk.
Back to the journey. After two nights at Morago, we departed for Sebigo. Sebigo is the name of my family’s ancestral land; an asset which is passed down to the oldest child of the oldest child (or maybe it’s the oldest son – I’m a bit fuzzy on PNG lines of succession). Apparently the ownership rights go back generations, but in all those years nobody has bothered to set up a functioning water supply or toilet facilities. The river is a twenty minute walk away, and the toilet pit was brand new in honour of our visit. I think I was actually the first person to use it, and I dutifully christened it by misjudging the size of the aperture in the raw timber and peeing all over the floor.
Morago to Sebigo was only about six hours, but the track was even more ruthless than the previous leg. I was also a little feverish, which had me wondering if I’d contracted malaria and was about to die a muddy, ignoble death in the wilderness. I was having these dark thoughts when we came to a tree that had fallen across the path. I had to bend down to go under it, but of course with my giant pack (yes, I was still too obstinate to give it up) I wouldn’t fit. In exasperation I sat down in the mud and scooted through on my arse, deftly grabbing some stinging nettles in the process.
Later Mum told me she heard my almighty yell and string of cuss words from twenty metres up the track, and said to Nicole “I bet she’s touched some nettles”.
Despite stopping for a wash in the river, we were a sorry looking bunch when we arrived in Sebigo. My 15 year old cousin Ada fell asleep almost as soon as we stopped, and I wasn’t far behind her. Sometime during the night I awoke in a panic, convinced I was going to die in my sleep because all I’d eaten during the previous day was four crackers. Fevered and starving, I mixed myself some Hydralite and sat outside the hut sipping it, staring into the darkness and thinking dejectedly about home.