Defending the city

Trip Start Jul 14, 2009
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Trip End Aug 09, 2009


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Flag of Papua New Guinea  , Northern,
Monday, July 27, 2009

Slept in till after 6am, when just bathed and packed and rested till breakfast. After breakfast, we said good-bye to the family and walked down a different path to a different beach. The sun was out today, and there wasn't much breeze, so it was much hotter. The path again was mostly overgrown with grass, so much that it was sometimes difficult to tell that there was a path at all. When we reached the garden, I suddenly saw Laksan start. "Snake," I thought. He turned and looked at us. “Snake,” he said. “But not poisonous. Racer.” So I relaxed.

At the beach, we said good-bye to Laksan and Younger Brother, met Fabian, our host at Garewa, then boarded a platform on a dugout-outrigger canoe for the trip across the fjord to Garewa.

The outrigger felt amazingly stable, even going over large swells on a beam reach. It wasn’t a long paddle at all (about 20 minutes) and we landed on another beach. We walked up the short path to the very beautiful, very welcoming Garewa guest house. The house commands a gorgeous view of two beaches and a coral reef. The sleeping quarters consist of two double rooms and a twin: the rooms were decorated with tapa cloths and fresh flowers when we arrived. There’s a shower room and a separate latrine. The paths between the buildings are paved in white coral and lined with shells. Flowering bushes dot the landscape.

We met Fabian’s family, then went down to the landing beach for a brief swim. The water temperature was lovely, but the surf was a bit high, due to all the wind. Paul and the kids went snorkeling … said it was good, too – particularly liked the large purple anemone with clown fish “doing their thing.” But Kyla was stung by a jellyfish – not badly, but it was painful, so they all decided to come in. (A nice touch: a small creek runs into the sea at the beach, and Fabian has cut two small, deep bowls into the lava rock, for rinsing shoes and snorkel gear. All beaches should have that.) so we spent the rest of the morning enjoying the view and the beach.

Lunch was very tasty, if sparse: a slice of papaya and a small pile of chips – but presentation was nice, and we eat too much, anyway.

After lunch, we went down to the beach to read. The tide was coming in, threatening our space – so we abandoned the reading and spent about three hours “defending a city” from the encroaching sea. On a very low palm tree stump, we built a sand-castle “city” using coconuts to form the sand into domes. The buildings were topped with shells or bits of plants. Beyond the city ,we built a retaining wall and moat, to redirect the water. And, beyond that, a couple of “fortresses.” As the incoming tide slowly eroded each layer of defense, we would rebuilt until it became pointless. Then we’d consolidate and build in more closely to the city. The whole time, we kept up a narration, form the city fathers, how they would tell the population not to panic, and how the focus was on keeping the symbols of the city – the sacred shell and the tiki-god – safe, instead of focusing on housing (unless it was housing of the nobles). And how the governor’s brother-in-law kept getting boondoggle contracts, e.g., building a monument to all the monuments that were lost to the encroaching sea. Eventually, we established a colony on another, much taller, stump. But it was all in vain, and the tide won.

Around 4pm, we went back to our house, and Fabian invited us to come see the village. It was very interesting – quite small, just 17 people: Fabian and his family, his brother and his family, his father, his uncle. The land had been his great-grandfather’s coconut farm, and Fabian and his family left the Tainabuna village to start this one. The village is very beautiful, lots of flowering bushes, and the paths all lined with shells. Surrounding the village are the coconut palms – used for copra – and banana plants. Fabian says they sell the copra and bananas. The green parrots each the bananas and are considered a pest. Fabian killed one this morning, and his kids cooked and ate it. For subsistence, they fish (at night) and grow sweet potatoes. Their children go to school in Tainabuna village. That’s also where they go to church (Anglican). They have to canoe their children over in the morning, then canoe to pick them up in the afternoon. Tainabuna has only grades 1-8 (until recently, only grades 1-6), then “the lucky ones” (as Fabian says) go to secondary school elsewhere.

While we were walking around the village, we came to a flat, burnt-out area. Fabian said they burned the grass to create a helicopter pad to accommodate tourists from a cruise ship. They had about 45 guests (how many helicopters?) who went to the fjord, saw dancing, and visited the village. He’s had just a few groups from cruise ships come. They don’t come often to PNG, and Simon tries to spread the visits among different villages. I should think that would be a good trade to cultivate … but I bet little of what the passengers pay for their visit goes to Fabian.

The wind really came up at dusk, and the seas grew very choppy. At dinner (delicious fish, pumpkin, taro, bananas, rice, cabbage – all with a very tasty coconut milk sauce), Fabian told us that, yesterday, a boat carrying five policemen on patrol capsized just outside Tufi. The villagers went out in the canoes to help search for the two missing men (three made it to shore). We had heard Simon over the radio talking about “going back out to search again” … but didn’t know at the time what it was but hoped it wasn’t a search for missing people. The body of one of the two was found today; the other is still missing. Given the size of the swells, I’m not hopeful the search can continue.

Also at dinner, we asked Fabian a bit about local politics. He says that, in Tufi, they don’t pay taxes on their coconut groves, though others do in different parts of PNG. We also learned that “Papuans” are different from “New Guineans”. And, he said disputes are settled by a “mediation committee” which hears both sides and tries to help them come to a compromise. Each village counselor is selected for five years and must form a local government, which includes this mediation committee. They serve for five years, too, and may change when the counselor changes. Counselors can be re-elected by often are not.

After dinner, we sat in the lee of the sleeping house, playing Uno (which a previous guest had given Fabian, saying that most people who stayed would know the game), teaching Fabian how to play. It was fairly pleasant there, and fun to hear the waves crashing in the distance.

We though it amusing that, when Fabian said good-night, he said we’d be enjoying the sounds of the surf and wind, instead of our usual sounds such as honking cars … and the noise of the generator.
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