Every day in the village yields a different answer to the question, “What did you do today?” Yesterday I had a great optimistic plan but plans don’t guarantee anything and I should be use to it by now…plans change. In the morning I handed my co-workers the little push mower and the rake and said good-bye to them as they walked down to the airstrip to work. I then went over to the literacy office, printed some books and worked on some fixing some numbering mistakes that I had found in the curriculum. Then I plugged in the computer to charge and headed over to the house to do emails. I was followed by an entourage of little girls who were waiting with me and would walk down with me to the airstrip when I was ready. I checked my email, did some other things around the house and got myself together to go down to the airstrip. The plan was to see what work was being done and give them some encouragement, come back to the house and keep working.
The walk down to the airstrip was quite amusing because one little girl had a sore on her foot and so her friends who were about the same size were taking turns carrying her. I finally convinced her that she wouldn’t break my riding on my back so (except for the bridges) I carried her most of the way down the hill. Part of the way because I was hot they also took turns carrying an umbrella over us. This was probably a sight because I am so tall, the little girls were walking beside me on their tips toes trying not to hit me or my little human backpack in the heads. We finally got to the second to the last bridge and spent some time discussing what the best way for me to cross would be. Two of the four logs had already split and the other two were far apart. However, thanks to a wiggly hand rail I walked across the smallest log just fine. The little girls were relieved that I didn’t tumble into the creek on their watch. We finally made it up to the airstrip and there was no work being done and I could hear the sounds of wailing coming from the village.
We crossed another bridge into the village and I left my airstrip tools at a house before making my way around to where the funeral was still going on. The body of John Malimi had been buried on Saturday but earlier in the morning a helicopter arrived with some of his children who live in cities so they were now having their chance to grieve and mourn. There were groups of men and women sitting throughout the area and so I approached the group with the largest concentration of women. I then chook hands with John’s oldest daughter and greeted some other people before sitting down next to a friend and her daughter. My friend explained who the people were on top of the grave crying and wailing. John had 5 wives and lots of children and one of these children had not seen his father in 5 years but was planning on coming for Christmas. However, since his father died before Christmas, he will never see him again. This man in particular was showing his grief very loudly and openly.
The body was buried in the middle of a large open area, on top of a trapezoid-ish shaped mound so when the sun was up, it must have been blazing hot to sit or lay on the red clay covering the burial area. The mourners closest to it would sob and beat the ground and return with their faces and clothes covered in the clay. I watched as many would mourn and then leave to go bath and return some time later in fresh clothes with the dirt removed from their faces. Others wept silently near the grave and many more looked on speaking in hushed whispers from the shade underneath the houses surrounding the area.
We all noticed the rain beginning to come closer as the wall of white swept down from the hills towards us from Mt.Bosavi and we everyone moved in under the houses where it was drier. I sat on a log with a group of women, listening to them talk, watching other women cook and the children playing a game like marbles but with rocks instead. Some of the kids would try to play with me but most of them were sent away by their mothers who were afraid I would fall off the precariously placed log. We sat for a long time as the rain poured and slowly the conversation turned to the airstrip. The man’s children from town had chartered a large plane to come and bring supplies for the gravesite and other relatives in from other places. However with the airstrips poor condition and now with the rain, no one was sure if the plane would come or not. I listened to the conversations around me and told them that I was afraid what would happen if I large plane landed now. If small planes were not happy landing here, I couldn’t even imagine what would happen if a big plane landed.
The conversation ended as the ripples of what was said slowly moved through the groups of people sitting together under the houses. I was offered a slice of pineapple and munched happily while the kids continued playing and watched as the women started removing the sago from the fire. Sago wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over the fire leaves the outside the consistency of a firm gummy bear and the inside dry and flakey. I was given a hunk of sago and tried not to laugh as the women around me used me as an excuse to get more for our area. Since they had to share with the white lady, they should get another bundle to eat. I ate the sago happily since it was well after noon by this time.
The rain had let down and there were now some young men moving towards the airstrip. I noticed one of my co-workers standing on the outside of a group of men so I thought I would ask him what he knew about the plane and the airstrip. Sometimes being a white woman has its advantages because I can approach a group of men more easily without being offensive. My co-worker explained that some of the young guys would cut a bit of the airstrip now but that the plane was delayed and might not come until tomorrow morning. While I was talking with the men I was handed a plate of greens, sweet potato and 2 minute noodles. One of the other perks of being white is if there is any food being served, you will probably at least be the recipient of something. I ate my plate of food and then spent a little time talking with more people about the airstrip before deciding to go home.
While I was walking back through the village, I said good-bye to a few people and bribed a few small girls with the gift of peanut butter back in Walagu if they would walk with me. I had heard them complaining that they were hungry so they happily agreed. The walk back was much more slippery and the bridges a bit more slick since the rain storm but we made it into the village without incident. Everyone came into my house, drank water and then happily ate cracker and peanut butter sandwiches.
The rest of the afternoon I did computer work while different groups of kids rotated through playing with the puzzles and games. I was exhausted by the time I closed the door at 6 wanting nothing more than I quick shower and a hot cup of tea. I had just finished my shower and was getting ready to put up my wet hair when there was a knock at my door. I answered the door clad in my pajamas, covered in a laplap (piece of cloth used like a skirt) with wet hair hanging down my back. Another co-worker and his wife were at the door wanting to discuss the possibility of him leaving the following day for Port Moresby and not returning before I left. We spent the next hour talking about what he needed to do and why he was also needed here. We prayed together and they left.
Needless to say I didn’t really sleep well last night but prayer is powerful and this morning I woke up and the day started and my co-worker had straightened things out with those in Port Moresby and will be staying in the village. It may seem like just a little thing but after such a long day it was almost too much to have to think about saying good-bye so soon. Each day brings new challenges but the memories and good time with the people especially the children, make all the struggles worth while.