Perth & Yamen – Worlds Apart

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Gina delivering our dinner to us: rice, yam and kumaro boiled in coconut cream, spinach cooked in coconut cream. Yum.

I’m having a back to normality day today. Usually on a Monday morning I meet with friends to take the dog for a walk either along the beach or around the river. Today we did the beach. It was wonderful to feel healthy and strong again – I even indulged in a chocolate milk drink which was yummy (I’ve had to stay away from dairy while my gut recovers). So, my energy levels are back to normal and so is my diet, although I don’t think I’ll be able to face a meat pie for a while, just the thought makes me feel ill again!!

As I’m adjusting back to life in Perth after such an incredible village experience, I’m reminded of one night where the three of us, Lyn, Mike and myself, just lost it laughing. I can’t even remember the details of the conversation but it was around the issue of once we returned to civilisation and our roles as parents again how that would impact on our kids. We were playing around with the Pidgin English words and recounting how we’d be constantly trying to remind our children to think about the poor underprivileged kids in the village of Yamen and surrounds. The conversation went something like: kids, we’re growing our own fruit and vegies now in the backyard so that we can remember the people in PNG who have to grow their own stuff to eat. All the lawn is dug up and replaced with a plantation of paw paws, mangoes and bananas. No kids, there’s no meat for dinner because the kids in PNG have to live without, so can we. We’re going to build a lik lik haus (longdrop toilet) in the backyard so that we can remember what it’s like living in a remote village. Kids, we’re going to be learning pidgin from no onwards. We’re selling all our furniture and will be sitting on the floor from now onwards because that’s how they do it in PNG…

Writing it down it just doesn’t seem funny, but at the time it was hilarious. We all had tears streaming down our faces. When I think about it, it was probably a reaction to where we’d come from and where we were – places at the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum. We were not rude about our current experience, but it was good to have a laugh about how different it was to life in Perth!

Over the last few days when I’ve popped into the shops to pick up some groceries I keep feeling a tad guilty and remember how isolated Yamen was. If you wanted fruit you asked and someone went to their tree and picked some bananas or a paw paw. You then had to wait about 24hrs for it to ripen and then eat as fast as possible because the humidity just destroyed everything quickly (not to mention the midges). Meat is not a staple part of their diet and is only for special occasions. In preparation for the farewell feast they had planned for us for the Friday night, Gina (a beautiful woman who did all the cooking for us) asked if we could eat chicken. Sure we said as long as it has been well cooked. On Friday morning I then noticed a pile of chicken feathers near the haus behind us – ‘that must be our dinner’, I thought! And it was.

Gina also asked us if we would have some pig (pork). On Wed and Thursday some men went pig hunting in the jungle. Because it was the dry season they lit fires in a circular manner to trap the pigs in the centre.  They then attacked them with spears. 12 pigs were caught for the feast. We watched on Thursday night as they burned off the hairs, then expertly butchered the pig and boiled it overnight in a big pot! And we just stroll down to the local shop to get a few pork chops! How convenient! No wonder we’re all overweight; much too easy getting food in our culture.

One morning we were awoken to the heavy thud of cocunuts near our haus. Mike called for us girls to get out of bed and come and have a look. Way up in the coconut palm, about 25 metres high, was a man picking off the coconuts and then expertly dropping them to the ground. There were about 30 on the ground. He posed nicely for a photo once he realised he’d attracted our attention. We later heard that many men and boys die or are seriously injured because they have fallen out of a coconut tree. I’m not surprised. We were also told that many people die because a coconut has fallen on their head! While in Yamen we heard 3 coconuts fall from trees, one right next to our haus. The thud was incredibly loud and frightening. From then on we always made sure we were not standing under a coconut palm tree…

I think I’ll do the village thing now and have a little afternoon rest.

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Coconut Man

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Aaron burning off the pig’s hair.

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