Papua New Guinean Roots

I am reading a great book by Kira Salak called Four Corners. It is her stories as a lone traveler in Papua New Guinea. It is interesting to read it from her point of view on the great dangers there. I read stuff and thought “really” I didn’t know that.

You see our experiences were vastly different because she traveled their alone whereas I went over there when I was two and had all the protection of my family, other missionary families and all the wonderful PNG wantoks (friends) we had. Since I lived there until I was thirteen, I feel that I am part PNG-ian.

I get excited when I can buy a bowl of greens or make myself some fish (tin mackerel) and rice. I just recently saw a post on Facebook for Books for Papua New Guinea. They are asking for books because they don’t even have textbooks or books to use in schools. I got so excited I went through all my books and am going to the post office today. Why? Because I feel like I am helping my own people.

I came back from New Guinea when I was thirteen leaving my dear mother in a grave in the small village of Pabrabuk. My life was never the same after losing my mom, but it has never been the same since I lived in New Guinea either. When my family and I went back to PNG in 2007 (fourteen years after we left), we still went back to many wonderful wantoks taking us everywhere and throwing us huge feasts called muums – food cooked in the ground wrapped in banana leaves and cooked with hot stones. Amazing! Pig, chicken, sweet potatoes, bananas and greens cooked to amazing perfection. In the Highlands, where we lived, that was how it was cooked. The pig fat gave it the flavor and moisture. In the Sepik region (the coastal areas) they do the same thing, but mix in coconut milk which is also yummy.

So we were celebrated and given many bilums which are homemade purses made out of yarn and sometimes fur. We were so surprised to find that even after fourteen years of being gone nothing has changed. It felt like we were walking back into the time period when we had left. The people still lived in grass huts in the villages, besides Port Moresby, the capital which you have to fly to, everything was just as we left it. It was amazing and wonderful at the same time.

What was disheartening for me, though, was Pabrabuk, our little village I grew up in with missionaries and people everywhere, and where my mom was buried, was like a ghost town. There were a handful of people living in the houses and a few people going to the college we had started. However, the silence everywhere made me feel so lonely. I had thought that being able to go back to my mother’s grave would help me feel close to her, but all I felt was loneliness.

We weren’t able to stay in the house we grew up in, but were put in the guest house. The moment we went in, I wanted to leave and go to the closest town which was Mt. Hagen, an hour away. When you would turn the lights on roaches would scatter everywhere. They were all over the walls in the kitchen. In the bathroom we had to cover our toothbrushes in plastic bags so the roaches wouldn’t crawl all over them. In bed, I would pray that no roach would crawl on me as I slept.

It was funny, our itinerary was to fly into Port Moresby and stay with our wontaks, then fly to Lae (the rainforest there is so beautiful) where another of our past friends were. They drove us to Goroka where we had moved to the last three years we were there (and lived with my step-mother – so not fun memories), and then through the Highlands highway, where I always would stop and buy a fresh, flower crown, through Mt. Hagen to Pabrabuk.

We didn’t even know if we were going to be able to go to Pabrabuk because it was so dangerous. We had a police escort there. I was so thrilled, because that was the highlight of my trip. So my disappointment that what I looked forward to the most was the worst experience made me feel really depressed.

On top of the loneliness from past memories, and the disgusting roaches, my ex-husband and I were not speaking and my father, a missionary and preacher, was upset at me because I was wearing pants. We had a fight and I won and still wore my pants, despite my father telling me I was disgracing my mother’s memory. However, it all made the trip of my dreams the worst trip I ever took.

The only positive part about Pabrabuk was we trekked to a vine bridge, because my sister-in-law had never seen one, and had a glorious adventure. The New Guineans are famous for not caring about the time as most do not have watches in the villages. Why would they? So if you ask them how long it will take to get somewhere they just shrug and say “not long – half and hour to an hour.” So thinking our trek to this vine bridge would only be an hour an a half at the most we all set out without food and water, my brother, his wife and two kids, my ex-husband who I wasn’t talking to, and myself. My father, of course stayed back at the village.

After several hours walking in the sun, the kids started getting hungry and my brother realized we weren’t close to this place at all. Thankfully, the natives we passed by gave the kids some peanuts and we continued on. We finally made it there after another couple of hours. We walked over the vine bridge, ate more peanuts and drank out of the water below.

It was all well and good, a nice little adventure, until we started heading home and it began to get dark and then it started to sprinkle on us. Walking in the dark through kunai grass (long, sharp blades of grass – which is why I wanted to wear pants) and over rocks we could now not see very well was a lot different than trekking during the day.

The way home seemed twice as long and we were never so happy to see the van waiting for us. We stopped to get some snacks for the kids at some little store in the middle of nowhere. We were told to stay in the van as the men were drunk and it wasn’t safe. My sister-in-law acted scared, but I wasn’t scared. Nothing bad had ever happened to us in New Guinea. In fact, I was always disappointed growing up, that when there was a tribal war, or something bad happening that I wasn’t allowed to go see, but my brother was.

The next day we took it easy and walked twenty minutes to a waterfall and swam under it which was lovely, but the most memorable waterfall was the one in Goroka where we would always take our friends and slide down the waterfall and dive off the cliffs. I still love Papua New Guinea and feel it is deeply part of who I am, but I don’t know if I’ll ever go back again.

Digital Editor

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