On the road to Bunam

Early on Sunday morning, after a restless night’s sleep, we had to wake at 4am, ready to leave for the drive to Angoram. Our aim was to leave at 4.30, to reduce the amount of time travelling along the river in the sun. Well that was the plan. By 5am the car still hadn’t arrived and we didn’t even know who our driver was going to be. The day before we’d been told we’d have 2 vehicles which was wonderful news because we had quite a few bags – full of birthing kits! Finally, just after 5, the vehicle arrived. A Toyota 4 wheel drive people mover. One vehicle. We were learning to be flexible.

After what seemed like a very long time, the vehicle was carefully and skilfully packed by Yabru. We crammed in to the back and were on our way by 5.30.

The road was rough! Sitting over the back axel I felt every bump, dip and sway. Our driver was very good – he never travelled more than 45km an hour, but the road was in terrible condition after so much rain this last wet season. It was a tough journey. Deb was feeling ill and I was certainly digging deep and gritting my teeth. We counted the bridges, 7 in all before finally reaching Angoram. What a relief to get there: a strange town. Rundown, unused telegraph and electricity poles, a reminder of the swinging days when Angoram was the place to be seen.

This time the Sepik River looked full of debris: lots of water hyacinth floating downstream along with logs travelling at quite a fast pace. Our boat was on the other side of the river so we had to wait for them to come across and collect us. Waiting. Again.

It was lovely to see Gina again. This time she had a baby: Massi, whom she and John had adopted as of the beginning of this year. He was about 16 months old. John is the owner of the boat and our skipper – same as last year. Gina was our beautiful companion last year who cooked for us and generally took care of us in her home village of Yamen. It was really nice to see them again. Dokop too, the Merisen Man and general helper to John. We loaded up and were off. I wondered if we’d stop on the other side again like last time and didn’t have to wait long before the same routine occurred. We hopped off the boat while the men repacked our luggage and covered it, loaded up the fuel and generally had a chat. Welcome to PNG time. Deb, Debbie and I joined in a local game of hopscotch, much to the delight of the children and a funny guy who took a shine to us. It was stinking hot, but we all had a go hopping through the challenge. After about 30 minutes we were finally boarding our carrier and on our way. Travelling fast with the wind in our faces was bliss. We were going against the current so the trip was going to take a while.

We could see evidence of the recent floods – the worst in many years apparently. A number of huts along the river had been damaged or washed away, but there were signs of them being rebuilt already.

We were all feeling quite tired after such a restless night and early start. It was lovely to just rest back on the luggage and have a snooze with the monotonous engine sound in the background. I was so thankful to have my sunglasses this time: last trip they were pickpocketed in Wewak, so I had to deal with the glare.

After 3 hours travelling we finally arrived at the Catholic village of Kambot where Brigit lives. She had told me and Yabru that the health people were expecting us and really looking forward to seeing us. She had also told Yabru that the village had prepared a warm welcome for us. Well, that didn’t happen! We climbed out of the boat and up the river bank to the sounds of a few people saying “Get Brigit”. Eventually she appeared and looked terrible: pale, underweight, dehydrated. She wouldn’t look me in the eye. It was really strange. I felt really sad but could see she wasn’t feeling herself. We asked if it was still ok for us to see the Health Centre. A couple of men led us down a manicured path, past the church building and then towards some nicely built western style buildings. We waited a while. There was a bit of scuffling in the building and eventually a rather tall man came out. He was not happy. He looked directly at me and demanded, “So what is your business here?”

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