As we journeyed along the river I started to realise how far inland we were going. Each ‘turn off’ the river became shallower and narrower. From the Sepik River (which looks like a huge inland lake it is so big and wide) we turned left onto the Keram River. About 1.5 hrs along we turned right onto the Black Keram River. About 2 hrs along there we then turned right onto the Yamen River (Yamen Wara) and the difference was truly remarkable. The trees overhead were now joining to create a bit of a canopy in sections, it was really shallow in parts and so it was stop, start to find the deepest section to allow the heavy boat and motor through. We were wilting in the heat. It was reassuring that the locals were also wilting because the boat suddenly stopped, the locals jumped into the water for a swim and cracked open a coconut to drink! I saw this happening and thought, bugger it, I’m going in as well. So fully clothed I hopped in. Aaah, like a warm but refreshing bath!! Lyn soon followed, but Mike I think was so heat stroked that he couldn’t even contemplate jumping into the water. I’m glad I did because we still had another good hr before we arrived at Yamen. In no time at all I was dry again, but at least Id managed to reduce my core temperature.
There are 2 villages called Yamen. Yamen 1 comes up first and is a Catholic village. We noticed a huge wooden carving of Jesus in the classic Catholic style on the edge of the river. People were running along to see us. By now we were huddled under a blue umbrella looking like true colonial explorers! Every now and then through the heat haze we gave a royal wave to the locals who were vigorously waving and cheering. We heard a loud drum beat and Yabru told us they were signalling to Yamen 2 (our host village) that we were nearby. We were getting closer and the anticipation was growing. Yabru then told us not to be frightened because apparently they had planned a traditional welcome and there would be men with spears and arrows. I’m glad he forewarned us!
Another 30min up the river and we finally were within reach of Yamen 2. We saw some people standing on the shore with palm leaves waving. As we got closer to the main landing there were crowds of people watching and waiting for us to leave the boat. We were instructed to walk under the arch made out of local palm leaves, ascend the steps cut into the mud bank and then push through the welcome gate also made of palm fronds. Mike had to go first. There was this nervous tension in the crowd and then when Mike broke through the ‘gate’ the men shouted, banging drums and waving their spears. It was quite confronting. Lyn was behind me and she said later that I had stepped back in fright and a man behind had pushed me forward! There were 2 faces/characters that really stood out: one was a man with a suit on made out of hessian and a mask with a big pig’s tusk through it. Another was a guy that we nicknamed ‘teddybear man’ because he had what seemed to be a teddybear face mask from spotlight or some similar shop in the west. All in this extreme heat!
Just inside the gate a woman draped 2 garlands of patterned leaves around our necks.
It was stiflingly hot. As the people, men, women and children waved the palms small bits of seeds or residue rained down on us and stuck in our sweat. Kids came up behind blowing through reeds which made a high pitched musical sound. They would do a routine and then stop and clap. Then start up again. We kept walking up the path, people and dancers either side of us. There were also people sitting in their houses waving and cheering at us. It was quite surreal. We walked for about 20 minutes before we arrived at a central cleared area where a ‘stage’ was set up. Here there were men playing guitars and singing Christian songs of praise. A woman threw some petals over our heads. We were then ushered to the stage and formal welcomes were made through a loud haler.
Yabru interpreted for us. They thanked us for leaving our families and coming so far away to their village. They said that no one had come this far up the river before so this was a special occasion! I really felt overwhelmed. At that moment tears welled up in my eyes and I had a sense of being in a place that God had called me to. Mike said he heard a voice in his head say, “This is a Holy moment”. It really was incredible.
Mike was then given the loud haler and introduced the team. What do you say to all those people with such expectant faces? He said we were very thankful to be there with them, that we were looking forward to spending time with them and learning from them and that even though they were people in a very remote village, Jesus had not forgotten them, that He loved them and that is why we were there. I was then asked to say a few words. I just shared that I felt truly honoured to be there, that I knew God had called me to this place and that I was looking forward to sharing with the women and looking at ways to help stop the mothers and babies from dying so often. Again I felt overwhelmed with emotion and the tears came.
I felt God say, “welcome to Yamen, I have brought you here for a reason”.