Martha and Beatrice


I really enjoyed getting to know Martha (pronounced Mata) during my village stay.  I spent most of my time with her and we would chat or fall into comfortable silences while doing daily tasks or spending time with the kids.  Each morning I would wake up and after a quick breakfast we would head down to the water with dirty dishes, clothes and sometimes kids in tow.  I learned how to wash and scrub everything by hand.  My pots blackened by the cooking fire would come clean when scoured with sand or if necessary scraped with a spoon and my clothes heavy with dirt and smoke would be cleaned with a bar of klina soap and a brush to scrub out the dirt.  When I finished cleaning everything, I would change into my bathing clothes (a long elastic waste skirt pulled up to my arm pits) and head into the river to scrub myself clean.  Sometimes I was followed by two dirty children who wanted to splash and play, other times I would just relax and contemplate how to float in the water and clean my feet, which so often seemed like such a futile task.  After washing sometimes we would go to the garden or to the market, spend time working on traditional string bags or just hang out with whoever was around.  Martha taught me many things, like how to light a fire using a plastic bag to help ignite the wood.  She also taught me how to cook garden food like kaukau, taro, pitpit or kumu by boiling them in coconut milk made by straining water through freshly shaved coconut.  Martha was sensitive to my lack of cultural understanding and often explained things to me when we were in a group of people or I just looked confused.  Our discussions were usually practical but she gave me a lot of insight into the role of the woman in PNG and the different and very important family relationships.  I enjoyed teaching Martha how to use the drum oven and make bread, scones and cookies.  The “swit kai” (desserts) were always a special treat and were eagerly eaten by everyone in the family.  I rarely cooked food just for myself because it was nice to be able to share and eat together.  Most of my cooking was very basic but the family loved when I made tacos.  Martha insisted on learning how to make tortillas.  The seasoning over the rice and the store bought cheese were a special treat that everyone enjoyed even if the rice was too spicy for Beatrice.  In the late afternoons before it got dark Martha and I would venture to one of our washing spots to get clean for the night.  We would walked to a well and draw water to bathe, go into the bush and wash in a river while balancing on bamboo so we don’t muddy the water or if the tide was right go back to the beach and wash in the mouth of the river.  I never thought I would have to learn over and over again how to wash myself but each place required a different technique in order to get clean.  Martha was gracious and helpful even when I made some very silly mistakes.  When we finished washing we would return home to either cook an evening meal or relax and story with the family or neighbors.  I feel very blessed to have had Martha guide me through my 5 weeks in the village.  She is a great teacher and friend.

Beatrice is a 5 year old with spunk.  She loved to hang out with me and was a great source of information like “How to I sweep the walls of my house?” (It was a new house to the bamboo was always very dusty) or “Who is that person?” (I got many of the uncles mixed up because I saw them less than the aunties).  She talks great Tok Pisin at super high speeds but would gladly repeat herself if I misunderstood or didn’t quite catch what she meant.  As a five year old she is expected to help with certain chores like sweeping the dirt around the house and scrubbing pots or clothes.  She was often sent with me when I went on little village errands like to the market or to fill up my water bucket.  She laughs easily and loves to climb the laulau tree next to my house and help me cook or teach me songs.  And of course she is great at antagonizing her little brother.

One thought on “Martha and Beatrice

  1. I love how you used the word “story” as a verb in this post and the last one. 🙂 What a cool way to spend time with the people you were living with.

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