Bush Trip

Published Mar 3, 2010

The last week I was in Papua New Guinea, before coming home in preparation for my wedding, I was able to spend with my dear friends in their bush homes. After my trip my body felt like it was a ball in a pin ball machine, pushed this way and that way with little control over direction, totally controlled by the layout of the ground and jungle around it. I visited with the preacher boy’s in their homes for six nights and Margaret’s garden home for a night. Margaret has been my faithful language helper.

Each day was full of hiking, eating traditional food, and taking part in the culture in any way possible. I could tell endless stories about each one of those events and about all the people who I met along the way. Like the lady who collected my hair for the two days that I lived in her village. She told me she was going to make a bilum (traditional bag) with it. It wasn’t until after I left the village that I remembered that they work witchcraft on hair around here. I could tell you about all the old ladies that called me their child and didn’t stop touching me, or about the many children with bloated stomachs that followed me around for days and jabbered away like I understood each word.  

Native Cooking

I spent the first two nights in Anewa. I am the first white lady to ever make it to the top of their mountain and I have never been watched so closely in my life. At night they would take their torches and stand around me and watch me as I got in my sleeping bag and curled up to sleep. Some nights I would fall asleep while they were still watching me. They never really believed me that my skin may be different, but inside I am the same as they are. 

For a Kamea person to move fourteen hours down the trail is a bigger sacrifice in my mind than me as an American going across the ocean.

The majority of the rest of the week I stayed at the base of Kemu’s mountain with Luke and Getti. Luke and Getti are currently praying about going to another village that has expressed a desire for a church. They will leave their families, land, and gardens with no monetary support, and hike about fourteen hours to Komako and start a new life. On Pastor James, Luke, and a few others have taken several evangelistic trips to are going to Komako. If they see people accept Christ and show interest in starting a church Luke will be ready to shift his family. For a Kamea person to move fourteen hours down the trail is a bigger sacrifice in my mind than me as an American going across the ocean. Their culture is community oriented. Land is passed down through your family.  You can not buy or rent land. The only source of food is a garden which takes years to cultivate in order to provide all the needs of your family. Our people start a new garden each year and they go in three year cycles. 

The last night that I spent with Luke and Getti I asked Luke if he wanted to translate any more songs before I left. He eagerly spoke the song that obviously was already on his mind. As I thought through the words of the English song “What Can Wash Away My Sins?” Luke was already singing it in Kamea. I said, “Luke, you have already translated this. You don’t need me.” His response, “Yes I do sister Cherith. I don’t know how to write my talk.” The Kamea literacy program will include both learning how to read and write the language. After writing the song down we sang late into the night and closed our time together with all three of us praying. As we prayed, them in Kamea, me in English, we all three let the tears flow. We committed each other into the hands of the Lord, knowing that our paths may not cross again or at least not for a long time. Luke and Getti are not just Kamea friends to me, they have become some of my dearest friends in the world. Our communication is so limited but somehow the Lord has bonded our hearts with likemindedness and a common goal. 

It may have been due to my prior week’s experience or it may have just been the ruggedness of the trail, but my trip to Margaret’s house over the next two days was the most difficult bush experience I have had. You catch yourself thinking things like, “How long can you go without being able to catch your breath and it still be healthly?” The three hour hike into the bush included crossing two rivers and two mountains. The bush trail was laced with tree roots that provided fairly secure foot holds. I fell all the way down once and had several small slips. I arrived at Margaret’s house early afternoon yesterday and we immediately set our things down and headed for the garden. We pulled weeds out of the mountain side of sweet potato vines for hours.

When I first came to PNG back in November I didn’t even know what a sweet potato vine looked like. I thought it was impossible to weed their gardens because it all looked the same to me. I still can’t tell the difference between the different types of banana trees, but I have improved in some areas.

When the afternoon rains started Margaret sent me and her son to the river with the bag of sweet potatoes for washing and for me to clean up. While I was there I thought I would take the chance to pump water also. The water was close to the house but straight down the slippery mountain side. Pumping water always draws a crowd and I was about to make my crowd bigger. The water filter is a small hand pump with a hose coming from either end. As I was pumping the pin that holds the handle on, this operates the whole thing, slipped out into the waterfall. I immediately called for those watching to help which in return they asked me how.  So I thought, “How do I explain to these Kamea kids that a small black pin has fallen into the water and is going downstream and without it I don’t have any clean water?” I went simple and said I dropped a black nail and I pointed downstream. They searched the waters and I tried to but crossing over the slippery boulders seemed more dangerous than drinking the water. After about fifteen minutes I gave up and decided that the pin had been lost in the strong current. I thought I could hike the three hours back home now, I could live on the remaining bottle of water I had, or I could drink the contaminated water. Considering that cholera has now been reported to be just two hours away from my house I decided that the last one really wasn’t an option. I started to pray for wisdom and think of what I could use in place of the pin. A nail would work perfectly, but there are no nails in the bush. Jungle vines are the only fasteners. So I decided to start experimenting with sticks. Finding a stick that was strong enough to hold the pressure of the suction and pushing of the pump and that was also the right size was difficult to find. But God was gracious and I found a stick that worked perfectly. I used the pump as little as possible as I didn’t want the stick to snap.

That night we ate greens and bananas roasted in bamboo tubes. We had several people join us to sleep that night.  Can you imagine hiking in the mountain three hours each way just so you can sleep in the same house as a white lady?  Well several ladies did and left early the next morning. Sleeping was difficult that night as the round house with the fire in the middle is built for people under five feet. So should I put my feet in the fire pit or put them in front of someone else? The half walls, missing door, and widely spaced bamboo floor all provided a very cold sleepless night. Morning came and the fire was again crackling. The little boy next to me jumped up and within five minutes he was back in the house with a rat about ten inches long. He must have been dreaming about the trap he had set all night. He threw it in the fire and the smell of burnt hair filled the small bamboo house.  Then Margaret took her bush knife, cut the abdomen, and popped out the intestines. Then with that same bush knife and unwashed hands she scraped the bananas that had been sitting in the ashes of the fire. We prayed and ate our breakfast. During times like that you just pray for the Lord’s protection.

Margaret told me that morning she would be getting greens from deeper into the bush and it wasn’t safe for me to go so I spent the morning washing sweet potatoes and playing with the children. We had fun around the waterfall catching tadpoles. When the children’s hands would become too full to hold anymore they would put the tadpoles in their mouth and then plop them out into the sauce pan to be cooked over the fire. They would be talking to me and a tadpole would try to escape out of their mouth. The large boulders along the waterfall were better than any water slide I have seen. They spent about an hour sliding down, and climbing back up. They also tortured some lizards by sliding them down, and throwing them back to the top.

Margaret returned after several hours, went to the next mountain to buy some pig that had been cooked in a hole in the ground and then we hiked back. Each time I thought how exhausted I was I would hear Margaret talking to someone on the trail telling them that I slept in her house or that I helped her in the garden. When we split trails to go to our different houses she thanked me for being her friend. In this culture you are friends if you eat, sleep, and work together. Time is never wasted in building relationships.