Inga’s Travelogue: Merry Cultural Disconnect!

Christmas is not a huge deal in Pindiu. My uncle had organised to bring a live pig up from the coast, but for various reasons that purchase fell through, and we ended up with a truckload of ready slaughtered meat instead. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except it arrived a couple of days before the 25th, and obviously nobody has a fridge in the village. So we had our big feast on the 24th, leaving Christmas Day to pass completely unnoticed except for the birth of these little pumpkins:

Baby bacon.

Baby bacon.

My uncle called them his Baby Jesus Pigs, and remarked he should take them down to the Revivalist bible camp to sell at an inflated price.

With Christmas being a non-event, my family organised a local dance troupe to perform a sing-sing for us on our final night in the village.

Mum has always really enjoyed a good sing-sing. She’s had various performances recorded onto cassette tape over the years, and ever since I was a little girl Mum would play these percussive, repetitive tunes to accompany her housework, while I’d periodically try to slip in a Savage Garden CD instead. So as you can appreciate, I was really keen to finally see one of these functions live and discover what the fuss was about.

With all due respect to the hundreds of years of cultural history of Papua New Guinea, I found it duller than a Coldplay concert. I enjoyed the first couple of songs, bouncing around in my grass skirt on the arm of one of the ‘professional’ dancers – but after that it became repetitive. The men beat their kundu drums and leap around, while the women shuffle around them in a circle and wail. I don’t like Papua New Guinean singing – it’s reedy and pitchy, and there’s always at least one woman harmonising in the higher registers that sounds like a howler monkey fucking a cat. I spent much of the evening wishing I was African – let’s face it, those guys have the market cornered when it comes to epic native music.

Everyone else had a ball though, and they only stopped when it started raining at midnight.

Meanwhile, in true colonialist missionary style, the Revivalists squatting downtown had spent most of the week preaching that traditional singing and dancing is satan’s work. Duly horrified by our drumming and chanting on top of the hill, the Revivalists promptly turned up their PA system and blasted their hymns loud enough to frighten the devil himself. Our crew responded with an enthusiastic increase in volume. It turned into a comical battle of defiance between the stamping heathens in their grass skirts and the God-fearing citizens in their dapper suits, made even more ridiculous by the fact that a steady trickle of half-arsed Revivalists was abandoning the bible camp in the darkness to come and watch our performance. By the end of the night there were eighty or so people milling around the yard, stamping and singing. Many of them were in dapper suits.

The next day it was time to catch the plane and fly back to Lae. I’d made a big fuss about being in love with the cute Canadian pilot who flew us up, so my family had a  grand time teasing me about their new ‘in-law’ and the various reasons why he probably wouldn’t show up. In the end the plane was two hours late and the pilot was a Kiwi, much to everyone’s disappointment.

There were lots of hugs and handshakes to be had, and I squeezed the hell out of each member of the family (as well as a few people I’d never seen before). As I watched their faces and waves blur as our aircraft lifted off over the valley, I had the distinct feeling my life would never be the same.

True to her usual form, once we disembarked in Lae my mother took to chatting up the Kiwi pilot, and we soon found out he was friends with Hotass Canadian. Well, did my eyes light up. My American uncle had indulgently insisted Nicole and I spend the last two nights in a hotel in Lae, rather than in my other uncle’s three bedroom shack with 11 other people – so when I mentioned to Kiwi pilot where we were staying, he offered to come around for some beers later in the evening with his Canadian friend. Well, I felt like the cat that got the cream.

And the rest of this debaucherous tale will have to wait for another post.

My grass skirt brings all the boys to the yard.

My grass skirt brings all the boys to the yard.

Just play some Pitbull already.

Just play some Pitbull already.

Everybody dance now!

Everybody dance now!

IMG_0509

Gangsta.

Gangsta.

Bye bye everyone :(

Bye bye everyone 😦

Nicole the hijacker.

Nicole the hijacker.

 

 

 

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The PNG Chronicles: The Final Leg

In retrospect, the final leg of the walk was the easiest – probably because I had images of our clean, cosy hut dancing in my head the whole day. The plan was to walk to a place called Pongo, then once on the main road catch a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle – a privately owned utility or equivalent four wheel drive, crammed full of villagers and looking like a casualty from a Fast and the Furious chase scene) down to the river. This would eliminate a couple of hours of walking, and I was stoked to be catching any kind of public transport.

There were lots of hills again (this is getting repetitive), but there was one interesting stretch of ‘haunted’ forest that is worth mentioning. I’m not sure what the correct botanical terminology is, but the landscape was more wooded and less choking jungle than the previous terrain. The tree roots formed a woven mesh all over the forest floor, and I guess heavy rainfall over the years must have eroded much of the soil underneath, while leaf litter and other nature junk accumulated on top. The overall effect was like walking on a bouncy dirt trampoline. A step here could result in an assortment of creaks and snaps from over there, which is probably why all the locals think the place is infested with spirits. It is also a haven for leeches, and my cousin Nicole picked up most of them.

Nicole's unfortunate leech mauling.

Nicole’s unfortunate leech mauling.

My American uncle chose the Haunted Forest walk as the ideal time to tell me about some of my grandfather’s escapades during World War II. Apparently he was chosen as one of the local guides for the Australian soldiers, and one day while he and his contingent were all lying down to rest, Japanese snipers took out the blokes on either side of him. Fortunately for me (and a whole legion of descendants), Grandpa immediately bolted for the hills and never looked back.

No sooner had we reached the top of Haunted Forest Mountain than we arrived at this majestic outpost.

The house at Pongo. Just look at that thing!

The house at Pongo. Just look at that thing!

Apparently this was Pongo, and this marvellous dwelling is owned by a gentleman Nicole and I named Pastor Cray-cray. He’s a pastor, and he crazeh. Please don’t think I’m classifying all Christian zealots as insane – just this guy. This is a man who fakes epileptic fits when his wife doesn’t do what he wants. I’d previously met his 30 year old daughter in Lae, and she’s a special kind of crazy unto herself. More on her in another post. Anyway once we got to Pongo, we learned the PMV wouldn’t be along until about 10pm. It was 1pm at this point, and Pindiu was maybe a 4 hour walk away. We all just wanted to get home at that time, so we decided to walk.

Nicole and I had a burst of energy and found ourselves way in front of the group, so when we arrived at the tiny village of Silamana we sat down at an abandoned kande haus (tea house) to wait. Nicole’s wry comment “I wish it was a real candy house” sent me into stiches. Two unattended white girls suddenly materialising in a village doesn’t go unnoticed for long, and before long we’d attracted a cluster of curious folk. A lot of them knew who we were, and several turned out to be related. PNG is the original small town.

Arriving back at Pindiu was probably the biggest feeling of relief I’ve had in my life. All the kids came squealing out of the gate and clung to us like limpets – so did some of the aunties, now I think about it. It was like we’d been gone for a year, rather than five days.

If I never see a road like this again, it will be too soon.

If I never see a road like this again, it will be too soon.

The 'haunted' forest.

The ‘haunted’ forest.

Emerging from the Haunted Forest - don't we look vigorous?

Emerging from the Haunted Forest – don’t we look vigorous?

Silamana village. 'Candy house' is on the left next to the road.

Silamana village. ‘Candy house’ is on the left next to the road.

Bobby clowning around in the dirt.

Bobby clowning around in the dirt.

From left: Gersing, Inga, Nicole, Gersong and Bobby. Five cousins very happy to be home.

From left: Gersing, Inga, Nicole, Gersong and Bobby. Five cousins very happy to be home.

The entire trip to PNG changed a lot of my perspectives about life, but I think that particular five days did the most to change my perspective about myself. It took everything I’d ever prided myself on and crushed it into the mud. My positivity, my fitness, my tolerance, my kindness. I’d never felt less like myself, and it frightened the life out of me that all it took to defeat me was a little discomfort in the wilderness. Thankfully, when everything you ever thought you were is taken away, you hang onto them like hell when you eventually get them back.

 

Next installment: How to celebrate Christmas in Pindiu while simultaneously pissing off hundreds of Christians.