A long Day on the Keram

It was now really hot. Even though we were still travelling quite fast and the breeze from the speed was keeping us cool, I could still feel I was baking in the heat and being exposed to the sun’s rays. After what felt like a long time we pulled in to stop at the village of Yar. Morix lives in Yar. He’s the youth pastor and has been confined to a wheelchair for a number of years after an accident left him paralysed from the waist down. The people look after him so well, carrying him around, helping him with his wheelchair. He has a huge smile and always seems to be happy despite his predicament. Last year in Yamen Lyn attended to his pressure sores which she said were quite horrific. She had given me some dressings and a lovely soft cushion to give him but they were at the bottom of the luggage pile under the plastic. I told him I had those things for him and we decided that we’d drop them off on the way back down or hand them over if he made it up to Bunam.

All of a sudden there was much commotion and a little boy was climbing a coconut palm. He dropped a coconut down and then a man skilfully used a bush knife to cut a hole in it and they served each of us with a fresh drink of coconut milk. It was delicious. Fizzy and refreshing – but way too much for us to finish a whole one each. I got the impression they were being really generous and I felt very grateful. So warm, friendly and inviting.

I was feeling really hot and sweaty and felt claustrophobic with so many people crowding around us so I walked to the side of the crowd where I saw a woman sitting holding a baby. She looked familiar. I asked her if she had been in Yamen last year and she said she had. I asked her if she was a VBA and she nodded. It was coming back to me. I said, “Are you Priscilla from Yar” and she said yes with a small smile on her face. I was so excited to meet a VBA who had come to training last year. I asked her if she had used the birthing kits and she said she had used about 15 already. I asked her if she had had any mother’s die and unfortunately she said yes, there had been 2 mothers die in Yar since August last year. Both of them had given birth to twins and then died. She held the little baby up and said this was one of the twins and she was looking after her now. I have to say I felt really sad. Overcome with sadness. 2 mothers died in this village. That’s terrible. Awful. Preventable. I felt heavy in my heart. I asked Priscilla if she was planning to come to the training at Bunam and she said ‘yes’. I turned slowly away and then realised the others were already in the boat waiting for me.

We were off again. I was feeling so sad for those women who had died. I was feeling that this whole gig is just too much for us to do. It’s impossible to work in this area. The needs are too great. The obstacles to high. We live too far away to truly make a difference…

Another 45 minutes and we arrived at Bunam.

It was a huge climb up the bank of the river to get to the village on the river’s edge. We then had to walk for about 10 minutes at a slow incline to the actual village of Bunam. The path was narrow with long grass on either side and the jungle was thick – huge bread trees with massive leaves and ginormous sago palms. Everything is this part of PNG is big.

There was much excitement as the locals hurried along the path carrying our bags. And the bags were heavy. With birthing kits! I still hadn’t seen anyone I knew yet. It was a strange feeling. Nothing like when we arrived in Yamen where the whole village was out to give us a warm, traditional welcome. Even though we knew no one, we felt very welcome. I consciously had to set aside my Yamen experience and say to myself, “expect nothing, don’t compare to Yamen”. Easier said than done.

Ahead of us I saw some western style buildings on stilts and we were led to the first one. It was right on the edge of the village. I couldn’t see any traditional huts. The grass had been freshly cut around the house and there was a lawnmower parked under the veranda. There was a dilapidated house across the way with very tall grass all around it. There were a couple of rainwater tanks next to the house but they didn’t have taps on them and one looked like it had a big hole in the side. There was a long drop toilet quite close to the building and I noticed an outdoor shower – with taps and all! We climbed the stairs of the house. Upstairs there was a living room with a desk and old chair, a kitchen area, then 3 rooms. All had louver windows with flyscreens although there were rips in the screens. There were power switches and lights, taps, but no power or water. I felt I was in the bad end of town! In Yamen we were in a haus right in the centre of the village where all the action was next to the ‘green’ and the church.


Mike enjoying fresh coconut milk

Debbie, Deb and I keeping cool on the boat

Walking up to Bunam at the end of a long day

Our house in Bunam




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