“Are you an African?”
“How did you know?”
“You look like one?”
“You have met many?”
“No. I have never met an African.”
I smiled in confusion
“But I have read about them.They are good people.”
|Trying to show my new mates where Africa is…
Charles was clearly incredibly wise and insightful.
We got talking about good people.
We got talking about bad people
(PNG is renowned for their rascals – the raping pillaging, lawless anarchists hungry to inflict pain and violence in their wake).
We got talking about cannibals:
“The headman would choose who he would like to eat. Sometimes the men. Sometimes the woman. Normally visitors – especially the lumo lumo” (white men; maybe I was dark enough to avoid the palet).
“And how would they eat them?”
“Well first they would remove the head. The body would be cooked on a fire and served to the village. When the flies stop sitting on the head then it is ready to be boiled and turned into a soup. The soup is a special delicacy.”
“IS!!??” I asked in a mild panic. “What do you mean is?”
“No no no” said Charles. “We do not eat humans anymore. Now we have enough meat.”
I wondered how their “meat” supply was doing with the famine and drought they’d experience just last year.
I delved deeper into the technicalities and the history on the matter and probably shouldn’t have. Just one bay over there still sat a boat where all thirty [plus] passengers were dragged ashore and feasted upon
“And how long ago was that?”
“Ahhh, not so long ago… maybe 40 years.”
That was just short of my lifetime!
“She’s half school” (one coconut short of a palm) chuckled the toothless beetlenuters who’d tied up to our boat to give us yams as another wanga [outrigger] paddled over.
We seemed to have an endless supply of curious visitors wandering over. Sometimes we’d still be dropping anchor when the friendly smiles would bargain and trade and want.
Day. Night. Too frequently before breakfast.
I traded 3 balloons for 2 coconuts and a bunch of tasty leaves.
I traded an old t-shirt for a bunch of bananas.
I traded beads or pens or notebooks for papayas.
Soap for wild bird eggs.
Fish hooks for potatoes.
Balloons were the first niche that all the kids wanted
In the next bay it was bracelets…
And finally i dug deep into my scant bundle of life belongings and produced luminous hairpins – they were an instant success!
We had more fresh supplies than we could eat!
I liked this way of life. Out here money was about as useless as a roll of toilet paper that had been swimming in the bog.
“Can you help me please, I have cut my finger”
John climbed on board and removed his grass bandage. It didn’t look like much and had already closed. We took out the first aid kit and disinfected it before covering it up with a white men bandaid. We told him he’d live.
And where are my pills?
Yes. I need painkillers.
The first visitor the next morning needed the same thing. She claimed neck pain.
“Please miss we are very remote.”
Remote? Remote? Do remote people NEED lumo lumo painkillers to survive minor pains. Aren’t these the wildest of the wild- people who wrestle crocs and horde off rascals. Aren’t these people genetically fearless warriors.
I said no. And almost added a “flip off”…
She paddled away miraculously appearing to be healed.
While it wasn’t everywhere, there were some islands where visiting yachts had over traded and introduced people to things that were never meant to be introduced to. When people wanted yeast or water containers, it was normally for [illegal] homebrew.
When we tried to give swimming goggles, they simply spat them back in our face and demanded our personal dive masks instead.
Boats coming from Australia would load up with bags of donated clothes and equipment for trading, so it was hard to communicate that the t-shirt I was trading had sentimental value and was one of the only four I owned…
We didn’t stick around these places for long. The residents here had seemed to forget about what was really important in life!
|The local sailing canoe (Sailow)
We tried to stick to the places where we were welcomed and accepted. The places where sailows laughed as they breezed past and the smiles sang as they paddled home from their farms.
Where the children simply wanted to give and smile and visit and play with your hair, you knew the community still held.
“Are there crocodiles?” I asked the smiling faces who’d paddled over to greet us as we arrived after a very rough passage from Honiara, Solomon Islands.
“In this bay?”
“And do they attack?”
“Yes.” [matter-of-factly as if to say “duh!”]
“Have you seen it?”
“And what about in your wanga? Can they jump up and pull you down?”
I sensed that maybe we drew so many visitors because they wanted to give us food to fatten us up and make us more attractive to the neighborhood pets.
So much for swimming.
It was two days later on a lonely dusk [inflatable kayak] paddle back from a village where I stumbled upon a big shape drifting through the water towards me. It dropped down leaving two eye like blobs submerged and then it vanished all-together.
I cannot confirm the nature of the creature but it separated me from the yacht and left me at a bit of a quandry: did I paddle faster and [hopefully] get back quicker? Or did I slow right down and drift in the current and wind hopefully to be mistaken as a log?
As you may have suspected I did make it back alive.
The swarm of visitors all confirmed the nature of the creature to be as I suspected. They leave the rivers in the dry season in search of food and only return when sated.
I was glad to be home – but I saw the anguish on the faces of our guests who had a long dark row back in their dainty serving dishes.
As we hopped beautiful islands and bays I was continually challenged to face the fears nature threw at me. I was in some of the most bewithching, unexplored islands on earth and I was towering in fear – almost too scared to enjoy them.
The crocodiles, sharks, malarial mosquitoes, pirates and canibalisms seemed to merely mirror the inner insecurities I needed to tackle. Fear of failure, fear of inadequacy, fear of dissappointing others… These terrified me even more than the salties! It’s amazing how much you learn about yourself when you completely remove all technological and worldly distractions.
As I began wrestling the self issues, I found the natural threats becoming less alarming. I began swimming and snorkeling the pacific blues (When the kayak broke it became a necessity) and climbing hills where wild people might reside. I got myself tangled in webs and had massive tarantulas crawl over me. We even pulled up a snake on the anchor…
I ran into a few huge reef sharks and got plenty of mosquito bites; but I began to trust I’d be okay.
After all, I also only had one chance to explore these almost untouched cultures.
It took a long time to overcome my own inner turmoil but If I could trade my bra for a pumpkin, I could trade in my own insecurities for an unrestrained life.
I did. I think this one was a fair trade.