Thursday, July 2, 2009

Friday, June 5, 2009

Settling back into the routine

To be honest I must admit that I miss being on the road. To be really honest I miss my people. I miss waking up in the morning, making coffee and giving a cup to Jordan.

I miss being the only morning person in the bunch. I miss devotions in the morning and debriefing at night.

I miss cooking on a stove top with little ingredients and having people rave about my food.

I miss Nicole and I talking to the geckos on the screen as they hunted for moths.

I miss Tim Tam Time.

I miss the Mai Pai van.

So I wonder if my perceptions of our journey are the same as the rest of the team.

Was it really as wonderful as I thought it was?

My journey home was uneventful. In an effort to make things easier for my friends in Australia, I booked a hotel room in Sydney the night before leaving the country. It was a great decision. After Esther, Grace and I had lunch at the hotel I settled a bit in my room and then went on a walkabout to the waterfront of Sydney Harbor.

It was a little lonely walking around by myself, so after getting the required photos I headed back to my room where I updated this blog.

It was great to be alone and by myself. Peace. I could be free.

The cushy king sized bed was amazing!!!

I took a $12 shuttle to the airport. The driver treated me to a lovely tour of downtown Sydney as he drove around picking up the other 8 passengers. Along the way, as the minutes ticked by, I was concerned that I would arrive at the airport behind schedule. Although I was the last to be dropped off at the international terminal, I arrived with an hour and 15 minutes before my flight boarded.

Once on the plane I was happy to have an empty seat next to me.

Things were looking really great.

An uneventful flight, my mind was on the Air France flight that went down off the coast of South America.

I basically watched movies and documentaries across the Pacific Ocean.

Arriving in LA was a disappointment. Sterile, unfriendly and unwelcoming. My mind remembered the welcoming band when we landed in Port Moresby, PNG.

I slept all the way from LA to Portland. Sleep came quickly and easily.

Wade was there to meet me. It felt good to be home.

I knew I needed to stay awake as long as possible. I went to bed at 10 pm. When Wade came to bed at 11 pm he woke me up and that was it till 3 am.

Settling in on the recliner I watched the season finales of shows I'd saved on the DVR. Finally, with a a little help from Vicodin, sleep overcame me for a while.

Knowing I would need a day off I had the rest of the day to unpack, get a manicure and pedicure and enjoy being home.

On my way to work I was a little concerned about how it would be at work. But it all turned out okay. By the end of the day I was caught up with emails and today I was able to work on other projects.

I posted a bunch of pictures on Facebook. Pictures from the mumu. It didn't go over very well and I removed them tonight. I think they are beautiful. The girls are as covered as if they were in their swimsuits. Oh well. I understand.

Sadness, depression? These emotions feel close to me right now.

I know this will pass. But right now I feel sad.

I miss my people. My friends. Wantoks.

I miss what we shared, something only the 12 of us will ever understand.

The disappointments of Ukarumpa and the challenges of Lae. Electricity going out. No water. Humidity. Laughter. Memories. Mai Pai Transportation.

I wish I could go back in time. I wasn't ready for it to end.

Monday, June 1, 2009

May 25 - Leaving Papua New Guinea

Prior to my trip I looked forward to smelling PNG again. Now, I am looking forward to leaving it behind.

From Lae to Port Moresby - then on to Brisbane.

Our layover in Port Moresby was long. We were grateful for a comfortable place to put our feet up for the several hours we had to wait.

Our flight left Port Moresby about 20 minutes late. Apparently we were held up by someone who was ill.

I tried to sleep on the flight to Brisbane but the three loud men behind me prevented me from sleeping. This was our bare bones flight - no head phones.

I couldn't find my iPod. I was doomed. I needed sleep.

I realized about half way to Brisbane that in order to make my flight I needed that 20 minutes that I lost in Port Moresby.

Plus, we had to get through customs. It was going to be close.

As we began to disembark I told some of the students that I needed to hurry to catch my flight to Sydney. I would say goodbye once we go through customs.

The lines were short so I made it through in record time.

Enter now my misinterpretation of military time and the time on the clock.

As soon as I exited customs (this time I declared everything) I hit the information booth that proved to be pretty uninformative. I had to get to the domestic terminal which was a short train ride away.

I had to leave the area that I had planned to say good bye to everyone. If I tarried, I could miss my plane. I was so tired at this point that the thought of missing my plane sent me over the edge.

I waited and prayed that someone would come through customs. As the clock ticked away I saw Jordan and Nicole come through the door.

The tears flooded from my eyes and we hugged and said goodbye.

And then I ran.

The other problem I was facing was the infection under my arm. I had developed a sore (long story, I'll tell you sometime) about a week and a half into the trip. I was taking care of it but after our swim in the ocean and after our plane trip it had swollen and was now throbbing.

I also felt feverish.

Now I had to scramble. I purchased a train ticket to the domestic terminal and made my way to the station. I made my way to the Quantas line and was informed that I would not be able to make my flight. I could get my flight re-arranged at the domestic terminal.

I had two very heavy suitcases, a backpack and a bag.

Once I got to the platform I inquired of a young man if I was on the right side of the tracks - literally. Craig was very helpful. When we got off the train he offered to take my heaviest suitcase. What an angel.

Both of us were on the flight from Port Moresby. Both of us were going to Sydney. He had been booked on a later flight - the one I would end up on.

As I arrived to the domestic flight area I found the Quantas service desk. At this point I am crying...not sobbing...just tears falling. I was exhausted.

I explained to the lady at the counter that I was not upset, that the tears were from fatigue and pain in my arm. I had missed my flight and needed to rebook it.

Phase 1 - I was informed that I needed to go to the ticket agent 'over there.'

Making my way 'over there' I trudged through the crowds, bags in tow, tears flowing.

The lady who helped me was in training so I had the pleasure of two Aussies booking my flight. Once again I explained that I was not upset but that I was very tired. I didn't want to tell them about my infection in case they wanted to quarantine me.

We worked through the process and I was rebooked on the next flight.

I made my way back to the service desk where I would check my bags.

Since I was now flying domestically my bags were overweight. I had to go back to the ticket agent to pay for the over weight bag - $30.

This time she kept my two heavy bags.

Now I had to go through security. Although I had been through two other airports I knew I had some illegal items - hair spray and water.

I took the water out and guzzled it down. I was parched.

Then I just left the two small cans of hair spray on the counter and made my way, tearfully through security.

Now I had a chance to call Luke and Esther to let them know my flight would be late.

The first pay phone I went to didn't work. More tears.

I left a message on Esther's cell phone. Later we would replay it and laugh and laugh. It really was hilarious. Now. Not then.

Reaching Luke on his cell phone I burst into sobbing tears. I assured him I was alright but just very tired. He laughed too. It was very funny. Now. Not then.

I made my way to the gate waiting area and found that the flight was delayed. I sat as far from people as I could. I couldn't quit crying. Not sobbing. Just tears.

Pretty soon a lovely young lady came over and asked if I was alright. She handed me a package of tissues and I quickly told her my story.

Another angel.

The flight was only an hour - it took a bit longer to get from Sydney to the Davidson's house.

As I write this I am at a hotel in Sydney waiting to leave Australia. The stories of my time here will be told on Facebook.

My journey is almost complete.

My gratitude to those of you who prayed is immeasurable. The entire trip could not have gone better. Even with the drama at the end of the trip I am considering myself really blessed.

May 24

I woke up for the first time at 2:30 am. No wind. Just heat.

A loud tapping noise was keeping me awake. It was like a woodpecker with no rhythm.

The slidewhistle bird was doing his thing. It sure is noisy in the jungle.

No electricity so it wouldn't do any good to sleep in the livingroom with Jordan and Stephen.

Finally dawn appears and we realize that we have a fun day ahead of us.

Karen Quinn was one of the Luedkte boy's teachings in elementary school. She never really left PNG. Todd connected with her about renting her boat for a fun day at sea and a trip to Salamoa.

We left the house quickly: no use in dawdling as we still had not regained our electricity.

Karen and her crew met us at the Lae Yacht Club. Again, not knowing what to expect, we were all excited to see how big the boat was: two bathrooms, an air conditioned main deck, water, music, and food.

Our first excitement came when a pod of dolphins joined our bow and swam along with us. I had been suffering from a bout of nausea but when the dolphins appeared the nausea went away. Shaman's of the sea?

We dropped anchor near the shore for a two hour snorkeling venture. We all slathered sun screen on our backs and faces. It would end up being futile as we all returned with beet red skin and a lot of amazing sights in our minds eye.

The island itself was like something from a movie. We were taken ashore by a small boat with a promise to return to pick us up in an hour or so.

The ride home was breathtaking. The sunset indescribable.

The day ended with dinner at the Lae Yacht Club - courtesy of Jacob Luke. Tired, hot and full, we all headed home for our last night in the country.

We prayed all the way that the electricity would be on: once again...answered prayer.

Showers were had by all. Tomorrow we leave for home. All that is, except me.

May 24

Before leaving Goroka we had one more stop to make. Many of the team needed that last minute gift for their family back home. I had yet to find just one penis gourd.

Rhett had us on the bus at 7:30 am for a quick trip to the Goroka craft market.

It was still a little early, even for the Papua New Guineans.

The beautiful bilums were out along with some jewelry, baskets and wood carvings adorned the street in front of the Bird of Paradise Hotel.

No penis gourds were to be found.

As I boarded the bus I expressed my displeasure to Todd. "You were serious about wanting penis gourds?" Yes...I replied.

"I know a lady in Lae who has a curio shop, in fact, it's the same lady who is taking us all on the boat ride tomorrow!"


Hope remained!

Our drive down to the highlands was uneventful. Once again, answered prayers.

As we headed down the Kassam Pass and into the Markham Valley smoked filled the valley. With every kilometer we felt the heat and humidity get stronger and stronger.

There is a unique smell to each area of PNG - Lae's smell's filled the bus and the heat lulled us all to sleep.

We arrived home in the early afternoon.

Rhett needed some laundry done, everyone with a bilum wanted to wash them to get the unique smell out of the fabric.

Jordan and Whitney agreed to manage the laundry project.

I started to rummage through the kitchen to find something to cook for dinner.

We ended up having a delicious lamb stew served with rice.

Todd had invited some friends over for dinner. Although they weren't home when he went to get them, Jacob Luke did come by and he stayed for supper.

It was good to sit down with him and tell him of our journey. His gift of transportation made this trip possible. We were glad that we were able to thank him.

Todd's friends came later in the evening and cleaned up the leftovers.

The energy in the house was low. We'd enjoyed the relief in temperature and humidity while in the highlands. The Lae heat hit us pretty hard.

We all needed a day at the beach.

May 23

The plan was to follow the NPAT group up to a village market and perform. John Doa told us he would be there at 9:00 am.

With fatigue as our constant companion at this leg of the journey we mustered enough energy to get ourselves out of bed, showered and feed, ready to go by 9 am.

As the clock slowly ticked by, we waited, and waited. At 10 am a phone call to Todd’s cell phone informed us that John would be at our guest house in 10 minutes.
Forty minutes would go by before we would hear a honk indicating our departure was at hand. We hurriedly piled into the van along with one of the NPAT actors to help us navigate our journey.

We headed back down the highway towards Lae for several miles before turning right off the road and up into the mountains.

The scenery was breathtaking.

We traveled for about 30 minutes on this road before another phone call to Todd’s cell indicated that we were almost there, another 10 minutes.

Forty minutes later we seemed to arrive at our destination. A large market off the side of the road with hundreds of people milling around. We followed John’s van as he drove onto the muddy, grassy market area. The contents of the van in front of us was removed of it’s contents as swarms of people encircled our vehicle. Unsure of what to do, we did nothing but sit. Since it was well after lunch time I decided that our actors needed to have their now traditional peanut butter and honey sandwiches so I distributed their meal.

We watched as John pushed back the crowd to almost a perfect half moon circle giving way for the actors to ‘set up the stage.’

Like monkeys in a cage we sat eating our lunch, watching the watchers. We laughed about what would happen when the first of our group exited the bus. Would they applaud? Should we do a little ‘ta da!’ ?

As was often the case, as soon as I was finished with my sandwich I exited the bus to no fanfare. Soon the others followed and we sloshed our way through the grassy mud to find a place to stand.

Rhett soon informed our team that it was time to do “Hello.”

I was so proud of them for risking so much as they went through the skit. A simple misstep could send them falling into the grassy mud.

Over 2000 eyes were upon them as they performed.

Their audience was keenly tuned to their every move.

Loud applause met the conclusion.

Now what do we do?

The NPAT performers then took the stage and it became obvious that we needed to find another place to stand. We went back to the bus.

Safety. Comfort. We could watch, but not hear or understand, the performance. The appreciative audience declared their approval at the end of the first skit. About half way into the second rain began to fall. Lightly at first, but soon a pretty serious rain had arrived.

Soon our bus was full of the NPAT team, not really sure what they were doing either, they jockeyed for position on our van.

Much later Rhett explained that part of the delay earlier in the morning was the lack of vehicles for the NPAT team so they had to make two trips to the village market.
We had volunteered to help them out by transporting part of their team back to Goroka.
It was a lively trip down the mountain with many conversations happening from the front to the back of the bus.

Upon returning to the theatre, John told us that we should go back to the guest house for a short rest before the afternoon performance began.

It was the ‘variety’ show we hadn’t heard much about.

So that’s what we did.

At the appointed time we returned.

We sat through hours of “So you think you can dance?” wannabes.

Skits, songs, both traditional and modern filled the stage.

Our team performed ‘The Weave.’ For the first time in the trip it seemed out of place in the marijuana smoke filled room, but the actors performed it beautifully. Whitney shined in her roll and I was so happy that Rosie and her family were there to watch.

Rosie is a woman who was raised by Whitney’s grandparents: almost a sister to her dad.
She and her husband had arrived earlier that week to connect with Whitney. They had a lovely family, both were teachers and believers.

On this day they spared Whitney, Rhett and myself as they took us away from the variety show for a time to give us some gifts.

May 22 - the Mumu

We started the day not really knowing where, what or how.

Typical day for us!

Before long John Doa arrived at the guest house gate honking his horn.

We all piled in the van and followed John Doa through the streets of Goroka. None of us know exactly how far or how long we would be following him.

Soon we turned off at a store front down along the highway heading towards Kainantu.
A man behind a cyclone fence gate unlatched the chain and our van disappeared inside.
One by one we filed out of the van and was greeted by a outgoing woman named Margaret. She told us to get into the truck. We looked at each other, gulped, and began to pile into the bed of a small Toyota truck. One by one we made space for ourselves, wondering when we would have no more space to give. There was no more room for Todd, so he piled into the cab with Margaret and our fit, young driver and off we went.

We left through the gate we entered and headed a short distance down the highway.
As we turned off the paved road, we started down a one lane, dirt (no muddy) road with ruts the size of small craters. Rhett and I looked at each other: surely this wasn’t a Juniors Abroad approved road. But then our mode of transportation wasn’t GFU approved either.

Soon we turned onto a smaller road with more ruts and cliffs on each side.
The ups and downs and turns of the road felt more like a wild ride at Six Flags.
Everyone was squealing with delight! It was so much fun! And scary!
After about 15 minutes we arrived at our destination.

We knew we were headed to a village for the mumu and sing sing. But we just didn’t know what to expect.

Margaret beckoned us all to get out of the truck and with a flair of sophistication she climbed over a know...

There was a crooked man and he walked a crooked mile.
He found a crooked sixpence upon a crooked style.

Our style was also very crooked.

We followed a path, muddy with piles of dog and pig poo (at least that was what I hoped it was) along the side, making our way to the center of a village where several men and women were sitting in the center of the village preparing kau kau.

As soon as we arrived the people, as if they had been practicing, gave us a big “Whoop, whoop!!”

At first, our insecurities kept us huddled together in a group, but once I got my bearings I took the lead, as the group’s extrovert, and started walking to those sitting preparing the food, shaking their hands and greeting them.

Soon other joined me. Jessie jumped in, asked to help and began scraping the skin off kau kau. Other’s soon joined in. Stephen and Jordan began their ‘man talk’ with the men in the village who were sitting along the perimeter of the center of the village.

For 30 minutes or so we were all engaged with a group of villagers, happily chatting away like we were the visiting family from another village.

Then came the announcement: They were waiting for us to arrive before the pig was killed. Great.

Margaret had told us that they would kill the pig prior to our arrival. I am sure they wanted to watch our white faces squirm with fear during the kill. How entertaining that would be.

Or maybe they really just wanted us to give us the full meal deal.

Either way, the squeamish removed themselves from the village center, while those who wanted to capture the event stayed around.

The 200 + pound pig was tethered by the leg thus keeping him ready for easy capture.
You know me: I love animals. And while I have nothing against pigs, I wanted the full meal deal.

With the barrier of my camera I snapped several pre-whacking pictures. When the sounds of wood crushing pig skull started, I shut my eyes and only heard the sickening sounds. Having been around pigs as a child, the sounds could very well have been caused by a another pig stealing his food, or a human pushing a pig out of the way. Pigs squeal horribly for just the slightest offence to them.

Soon the pig was out of it’s misery. Nicole suffered the most, she ran away crying. Several women, amused no doubt by her reaction, consoled her by telling her how much they themselves love the pigs. They raise them like a child from birth and let them sleep with them at night. Once they are old enough to forage the land, they are encouraged to do so during the day, but at night they are brought back to the hut. It goes like this until they are old enough to spend the night outside.

When they are young, the women may nurse them if the sow doesn’t want to or doesn’t have enough milk.

5 men removed the lifeless body from the pen and took it over to the bed of banana leaves that had been prepared. At this point, the man who killed the pig began sharpening a knife. He was the pig specialist. A few men were his assistants but basically he was in charge.

First they cut the throat and drained the blood out into a clean (?) bowl. Later, when the pigs belly was cut open, kumu was used to soak up more blood that was put into the bowl. Much later, all the special parts of the pig (NOT the penis though…that was actually removed and thrown onto the fire) would be placed into this blood and cooked in a special banana leaf wrap.

All of the intestines were removed from the belly of the pig and placed onto the waiting banana leaf mat of three women. Soon these ladies were carefully cutting each organ from the connective tissue and placing them in a bowl. Some of these parts were added to the blood bowl.

One of the most interesting part of the pig – the rectum – was removed and cleaned. Later it was stuffed with some meat and greens and placed into the bowl of blood. Apparently this was a delicacy and would be eaten by someone special. Hopefully it would be Todd.

Back to the main carcass – the specialist was removing each of the rib bones, and the hips of the pig was broken with an ax.

Once everything was removed, including the spine, the pig was turned over onto a clean bed of banana leaves and kumu (greens).

And now it was time for Bilasim Skin – or dress up time.

Several elderly village members ushered each of us to an isolated location around the center of the village. Some people were taken into huts: Others were taken behind a hut. Since I was just having a headdress, I was positioned in front of one of the huts.

Everyone else was asking to remove their clothes. And they did.

With each student stripped down to their underwear, certainly not Juniors Abroad approved, the village elders began working to create their masterpieces. I wouldn’t be able to fully appreciate was each student endured until later.

For myself, an older man and woman pulled out the head dress pieces from a leather bag. Each adornment was carefully unwrapped from a thick cloth.

But first, the man prepared what became the foundation. He stuffed a knitted hat with dried banana leaves. This hat was then put on my head.

One by one they attached a strip of kuskus fur, beads, or feathers around my head, positioning each one just right. After 10 minutes of this the two argued and the man removed each of the strips. Using a different order each strip was reapplied to my head very tightly. Then came the single feathers. Not having a mirror I had no idea what he was doing with the feathers. Each point of the feathers were dug into my knitted cap and into my skull. It was NOT comfortable.

Every now and then the lady pulled a large knife out of her bilum and handed it to the man standing over my head. Was he cutting my hair?

The last items to be placed on my body was a large kina shell necklace and a smaller sea shell necklace.

After 45 minutes of work I was free to walk around and see what my team mates were up to.

A man was walking around the village with a broken rear view mirror to people could get an idea of their appearance before making one in the center of the village.
Gingerly, one by one everyone began immerging from their ‘dressing room.’ The looks on everyone’s faces were priceless. From the every smiling Whitney to the pensive Sara: but where was Rhett?

He too failed to escape the ceremony, although he was allowed to keep his shorts on.
Once everyone had a chance to drink in the sight of each other, the ladies of the village took the team , arm in arm and began the sing sing.

Roars of laughter erupted from both groups.

Everyone danced in a line, at least that is what was being attempted. More laughter.
After a feeble attempt to dance, the women left us to get the group their special meal.

The women were gathered on one tarp and the men on another. Each of us were given a large bowl of kau kau and nice chunks of meat. It was delicious.

The entire village watched as we ate our special mumu.

The men were given the ‘special food’ including the blood and stuffed rectum dishes.
It was hot and each one of us suffered from the tight headdresses. Karith was the first to go and quickly Margaret had her host usher her to the hut to have the head dress removed.

After 30 minutes or so we had reached our capacity to eat so we picked up the bowl with the remaining food and walked around the village sharing our meal.
Hoping we didn’t offend anyone, we began to inquire as to when we could remove our costuming.

While our hosts removed our finery, a light rain began to fall. Exhausted, I sat under the eaves of the house with Kadish.

Who is Kadish you ask?

Let me take you back to when I first met Kadish.

After the pig was killed and the butchering well underway, Rhett, Jordan and I went on a walk about with Palo. He had invited us to his house to look at his herbs.
We made our way back up the path and to the road. A couple of kids came along: one of them was Kadish.

She was dressed in an oversized blue dress. I guessed her age to be about 6 years old. As we walked up the path she handed me a mandarin. Although it had seeds in it the juice of the fruit quenched my thirst and hunger.

Along the way to Palo’s house we met up with another man who spoke very good English. He explained that Palo grew plants that he used for medicinal purposes.
Some of the ailments he could take care of had to do with birth control, internal bleeding and arthritis. He explained that for 70 kina he could cure my arthritis.
Palo’s wife met us and gave each of us some more delicious mandarins.

I shared mine with Kadish.

After returning to the main village where the mumu was taking place, Kadish seemed to be my constant companion. Once in a while she would disappear only to return with something to eat: more mandarins, bananas or roasted corn.

After the sing sing and bilasim skin I was exhausted. The rain gave us all an excuse to sit and relax.

While relaxing under the eaves of the hut, Kadish once again disappeared. Soon she returned bringin her sister and another mandarin. Her sister’s name was Mapet.
Soon both girls were sitting on my lap as we waited for the rain to abate.

My camera became our entertainment as I let both sisters take turns taking pictures of those sitting around us.

As I rested I wondered who the girl’s parents were. Soon my question was answered as a woman walked towards us and Kadish called out “Mama!” She ran into her arms and brought the woman to me.

I never did catch the mother’s name, but she brought me a bilum and asked for my name and address….for Kadish.

After another mumu ceremony where Rhett was given the hind end of the pig, with leg attached, it was announced that our transportation had returned and we were walking up the path to the road.

Exhausted and tired, but with great anticipation (we knew what kind of a ride we were in for) we climbed back into the bed of the truck, squeezing in even further as we made room for a woman from the village.

As the day came to a close, we all acknowledged that we had been given an incredible gift. We had been invited to an up close and personal glimpse of what it was like to live in a culture that was on the opposite spectrum of our own

Our journey had taken us into the past to see what life was like for a people whose existence depended upon the success of their crops and the hard work it took to cultivate and grow their own food.

Exposed, these people welcomed us with open and happy hearts. What an amazing gift.
Okay, we did pay for this experience: we bought the pig. Yet all in all, the village’s generosity could be felt by all.