“May I share my story with you?”
We recently got another chance to hike out to one of the nearby villages. Our class gathered early in the morning, and we all started off along the path. We walked through some hillside gardens, mainly of kaukau (sweet potatoes), the staple crop of the highlands. People were very happy to wish us ‘morning’ and one lady in particular wanted to point out all her plants to us new white people. The teachers brought along some candies for the children, which was really the only way to tempt them to approach us. Win over the children, and you win over the parents.
Along the trail two of the village elders came up to greet us. It had been previously arranged with them for our visit to their place. They made their way along the line and shook our hands, as we introduced ourselves in Tok Pisin: “Nem bilong mi Jenifa.”
When we reached the village, one of the older mama’s came running up to us with open arms, to literally embrace us. The villagers and we sat down, separated men from women, to talk. Traditionally, men sit on the better seats, so they went over to sit on a toppled tree trunk, and we ladies sat down on the grass. However, for us white meri’s, they had to run and grab a quilt and sheet for us to sit on. It can really make feel you feel badly, the way they give their best to you.
With the women, it was much more personal talk than the men’s. A few ladies gathered around each of us expats. We told our names, ages, talked about our families, and shared why we were here in PNG. The national ladies talked about their daily life, their gardens, and selling produce at the market.
In the men’s group, our classmates told a bit about their families, but what was interesting to the PNG men were the stories about the places we had come from. Jonathan tried to explain Idaho, being a flat desert area opposite to the lush mountainous terrain of the highlands here. He made a mistake when explaining our family to them; instead of using the word ‘brata’ or ‘susa,’ he used the word for child, and told them he had five kids. That brought a lot of laughs. I think the most popular person was our Canadian pilot. He came from the Yukon area, and tried to explain how in the winter, the sun doesn’t rise for four months. That really blew their minds. Our teacher later told us that one of the men sitting next to him made a comment asking what kind of crazy people would live in such a terrible place.
Our trip went very well overall. It was our first time to really try to hold a conversation in Tok Pisin, but we managed to stumble through. And as our teachers had explained we were still learning, they were glad to help us out. We were quite a show; the group around us swelled from about twenty at the beginning, to near sixty by the end, as a few more people would come up and join us every couple of minutes. The villagers were incredibly sweet and friendly, and all the ladies got sent back with bilums (bags intricately woven from string). We will visit again closer to the end of school to show how we have improved our Tok Pisin. I am looking forward to the next trip!