The Ebb and Flow of Village Life

Waswas in Yamen Wara


 Sunset over the river that runs through Yamen

Back to Yamen…

After listening to the women on Monday morning and hearing their stories of grief and loss, then the intensive teaching in the afternoon about the uterus and the placenta, we decided to lighten up and play with the kids. Lyn took out one of the soccer balls she had brought with her. She had a pump as well, so after pumping up a bright yellow ball she started kicking it to a couple of children on the grass below our haus. Well, in a flash there were dozens of kids descended on the grass patch hankering to kick the ball. They loved it, especially trying to kick the ball as hard as they could to either Lyn or I. If we kicked the ball over their heads to the other side of the grass, the squeals of delight were just wonderful.  It was amazing because eventually when we flaked out from shear heat exhaustion, there was a bigger set of kids that descended on the ball. We then went for our waswas down by the river and when we returned all the older guys (youth probably 16yrs plus) were playing and the little kids had gone for a swim. This was a more serious game. I have to say that the young men were rather nice eye candy. They don’t work out at the gym but their bodies were incredibly buff from the diet and lifestyle in the villages! Rippling six packs glistening in the haze of humidity…


Waswas time was really special. The village people also value waswas time. Around about 5pm every evening we (Mike, Lyn and I) would wander down to the same spot along the river for a bit of a wash – fully clothed! The river had quite a current, so despite the muddy brown colour, it was rather fresh water. It was dry season, so the river was low, it came to just above my knees in the centre.  I would wear my crocs just in case there were worms or other such delights at the bottom of the riverbed! Our waswas time was a bit different to the locals in that we stood out like sore thumbs and hence  attracted quite a crowd. One time Lyn’s sarong fell off from around her body and the squeals of delight were quite funny. I love water and swimming and so when I plunged into the river, then lay on my back floating with the current, it stirred up quite a response from the onlookers. Must have looked strange: tall, very white woman in bright sarong and red crocs floating down river… You can imagine that scene can’t you?

The river is such a rich source of life for the village. Everything happens around, in and through the river. It provides fish and crocodiles as food, drinking water, washing water, irrigation for crops, transport and access to other towns and villages, fun and relaxation and most importantly somewhere cool to escape the heat and humidity. At the end of the day we’d often hear shrieks of laughter from children playing in the river. They’d float along in canoes, then jump into the water, paddle upstream again or across to the other side, fall in the water, climb back into the canoe and so on. Not a life jacket in sight and the kids were often really young too! One time a young boy had the bladder from an old football. Lyn had pumped it up for him and this provided great entertainment in the water!

The river could also be the bearer of death and destruction. The houses are all built on stilts to preserve against high tides during the wet season. We were told that many children get swept to their deaths when the tides are high and the current strong.  Along the riverbanks we saw fish traps made from bamboo that are used during times of high tide. The fish are trapped inside as the fast current flows past the structure, they dive down for food which has been placed at the bottom and then they then can’t get out. The traps were high up, so it gave a glimpse of what the river looks like during those times. Closer to Angoram and the mighty Sepik River, the flats or grasslands as the locals called them, the houses were high and dry at this time. I could picture what the area would look like once the rains came! Water, water everywhere. The people would be confined to their houses or canoes.  Completely exposed to the element of water. I admit, I’m glad we were there in the dry season. I don’t think I could cope in the wet.

This weekend I have sorting out our house, contents and building insurances – something I hate doing! Reading through all the fine print does my head in. Wading through the information and trying to work out whether we’re overinsured, underinsured or being taken for a ride. Trying to have an objective view and not be driven by subjective (or rather projected from the insurance company) fear! I admit that I did wish I was back in the village experiencing the simple life. Very few possessions, living within our means, subsistence farming. When the river rises during a flood and washes everything away, you just gather your family together and start again…or, mmm, a child may have been washed down the river to their death, or I could leave my husband a widower by dying from bloodloss during childbirth, or he could die from snakebite. Perhaps the village life is not that great. On the outside it appears idyllic, but once you start hearing about the suffering of the people due to a lack of health and education (and this is not overstated marketing, but rather the truth), then the mad, fastpaced world here doesn’t seem that bad after all!


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