Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Papua New Guinea

With my limited vocabulary it’s impossible for me to accurately describe the sheer magnificence of our Papua New Guinea trip.   Part of me wishes I would have journaled better so that I could read and remember every single detail of our two weeks in the jungle.  I have never before been to a place as pure, magical, stunning, real, tranquil, and beautiful as the villages of PNG.  I hope the memories and images will never fade, as I re-grow accustomed to living in the developed world.

It took 10 minutes in a car from my apartment to the train station; an hour and 15 minutes in a train from Murakami to Niigata; 6 hours in a bus from Niigata to Narita Airport; 7 hours in a plane from Tokyo to Port Moresby, PNG; 1 hour in a plane from Port Moresby to Lae; 10 hours in a ferry called ‘The Rainforest’ from Lae to Bau; 1 and a half hours in a Banana Boat from Bau to Saigara; and finally another hour in a Banana Boat from Saigara to Pema, which is the village where our charity donations were used to build a classroom. 

PNG is made up of over 800 different tribes and languages that live in villages with no electricity, pluming, phone lines, and all those amenities that all but rule our daily lives.  While the majority of the world is rapidly developing and exploiting the earth’s natural resources, PNG has managed to, for the most part, live with what is around them.  A rising problem in the country is deforestation and mining for gold by other countries.  Greedy companies can too easily trick a village into signing a contract that allows them to ruin their luscious jungles for a small price.  The Village Development Trust (VDT), the organization we donated our money to, is a grassroots, non-government organization that works with individual villages to promote practical sustainable development of village resources.  Some of the things we saw first hand were schools being built in villages so that children would not have to leave their homes for the cities to receive an education, and a ‘Wokabout’ that allows lumber to be cut from a tree right where it is cut down.  For every tree that is cut down, a certain number of trees must be planted.  The Wokabout eliminates the need for smaller trees the be cut down in order to get to a more desirable big tree, and the lumber is then carried out of the jungle.  We helped (a little)!!

We spent two nights in Lae (only supposed to spend one night there, but The Rainforest Ferry needed a repair ~ as they say, ‘expect the unexpected in PNG’), one night in the coastal village of Bau, one night in Saigara, a village on the Waria River, 4 nights in Pema, a village further down the river in Waria Valley, and then another night in Saigara, 2 nights in Bau, and the last half-a-night in Lae.  Each village welcomed us with open arms, cheers, and some kind of tribal dance and song.  The welcome in Saigara consisted of a man running at us and screaming with a plant spear, showing us that he could have killed us, but didn’t.  We’d follow the processions of painted people singing and jumping into the villages where the people would yell ‘Oro, oro, oro!!’ (‘welcome, welcome, welcome’) at us. 

We spend most of our time in the villages belonging to the Zia Tribe in Waria Valley, Morobe Province.  Within the tribe, people belong to one of four clans: Yewa: symbolized by the Bird of Paradise and in charge of planning events, Wapo: Eagle, farmers; Sakia: White Cockatoo, fishermen; Bago: Hornbill and pig hunters.  People can only marry outside of their clan, and children become the clan of their mother.  I was chosen to be part of the Yewa Clan, Bird of Paradise, and Party Planners!! 

Each of the villages we stayed at had a guesthouse where we slept in mosquito nets, ate loads of delicious dishes of fruits, vegetables, and rice, bathed in the river and ocean, and hung our laundry to dry.  Some of the guesthouses were kind enough to supply us with a generator so that we could charge our camera batteries and hang out.  We pooped in outhouses, one broke…woops!!  The only thing we really had to take heed of were the bugs.  Some mosquitoes carry malaria, and sand flies can cause a person to want to chop off their bitten limbs.  For whatever unknown reason, I’m not as tasty to these bugs as other people in the team were.  People hated me for being able to get by without covering every inch of my skin while they rubber-banded their long pants shut.  

PNG kids have the most gorgeous smiles, and are too much fun to play around with.  We’d chase them, swim with them, play Frisbee, soccer, volleyball, and teach them games from our childhood everyday.  They gave us necklaces made from shells, seeds, and bananas, bracelets made from leaves, bilum bags made from tree bark, grass skirts, and drums. 

The sounds of hornbills woke me up in the mornings.  Each day we would do something new, play with new kids, dance a new dance, learn a new song, hike to a new place, eat a new dish, and so on.  I drank and ate the most delicious coconuts multiple times per day.  At night, we could see the billions of stars shining so bright, even the Southern Cross!!

Our group of 17 consisted of Christian (team leader), Colleen, Etsuko, Jess, Margaret, Matt, Megan, Mia, Mike, Nicole, Nicole, Rick, Reed, Sean, Troy, Tsuneo, and I.  The enchantment of the trip caused us to get along so well, I can’t imagine what the two weeks would have been like without them.  Our 3 main guides, all from the Waria area, Maine, Dzia, and Tuja were fantastic.  They taught me so much about their villages, customs, way of life, and tribe history – Maine even taught me a couple of chords on the guitar!!  It was so difficult to say goodbye, but hopefully we will be able to keep in touch forever.  

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