At the Village
Jun 6, 2013
|Up early and take a walk through the destroyed town. Cut through fields that used to be people’s houses and passed what were once elegant hotels. An eerie feeling in some ways, with bits and pieces (trees, flowers) left over from 20 years ago still blooming but mostly nothing.
Also stopped in at the Rabaul Yacht Club – with two boats – and passed over an open sewer coming from the Travel Lodge (now an apartment building). Then to the Montevideo Maru memorial – over 1000 prisoners – both military and civilian, went down when the ship was torpedoed by a US sub in 1942. Then back to the hotel along with school kids heading to classes for the day.
Tavurvur volcano has been quite active today with almost continuous rumbling. The wind is just right so the ash is blowing over Rabaul. Everything has a most interesting gray sheen. When a heavy cloud of ash passes it looks foggy on the mountain.
Back at the hotel there was some confusion (always) about the village trip to Matupit Island (which is called that but has not been an island since the 1994 eruption), but finally Robert drove me there but the guide that was set up wasn’t around… So he went to another house and he talked to a guy named Paul who agreed to show me the village. Not the best of starts but I was psyched.
We started off by Paul showing me the three churches in the village (about 500 people) Catholic, United Church of Christ, and Seventh Day Adventist. The first two had functioning churches but they were still building the other. All were destroyed by the eruption as was most of the town. Passed two grave yards – the Seventh Day one had most unusual markers – A wreath around the name and a truncated top. When I asked Paul he said it was the symbol of the church. Catholic cemetery had traditional crosses with names on them. Recent graves were completely covered by artificial flowers – they do that for about six months then clean them up.
Moving back toward town we passed a number of abandoned houses and house frames – the government gave land (about four acres) to many of the people on the island after the eruption and many moved away – some moved and left their land on the island to their children. In any event, there were both “modern” houses (building materials used) and “traditional” houses – using local wood and woven palm leaves. Most were some combination of the two techniques. Many had metal roofs which they were given by the government (and talk of only the “special” people getting the roofs) and the rest had leaves and sometime tarps.
Then we stopped in a local market – sort of. The only things for sale were peanuts and beetle nuts with mustard. Met several people along the way – all very friendly and open except for young children – who screamed and cried when they saw me. Most of the young kids were naked starting to wear clothes around age two. As on the mainland, the men all wore shirts and shorts or pants and shirts or not and the women handmade dresses - very colorful and loose about calf length.
Stopped in at an elementary school house where there were about 20 kids. They were cleaning up and when they saw me they went crazy – yelling and smiling and giving me the thumbs up sigh (very popular throughout the area). They were learning their local language (Razal) and customs and they stay four years. Then off to middle and high school which they finish up at 16. They sit on the floor and have chalk boards and are responsible for keeping the place clean.
We then walked through the local sports field – a flat spot large enough to play rugby and soccer. Rugby is by far the most popular sport. As we were crossing the field I heard music – it was a guy playing a ukulele – not very well – but that got us talking about music – the most popular form is singing but drums and flutes – all handmade – are used. Most music is religious in nature but also for special ceremonies such as weddings and various celebrations. A bit later in the day we walked by a house where a woman was singing a hymn. There was no other music the entire time – no electricity (the volcano knocked down many of the poles leading to the village and before they could be repaired a scrap metal company had collected all the wire and taken it away. The government has promised they will get it back soon).
There is also no running water so the villagers collect rain water for most of their needs. Many of the roofs have rain barrels attached – but the pipes are not connected. Since the volcano deposits ash on the roofs, they wait until the water runs clear before they collect the water. Toilets are all outhouses.
There are several small “stores” in the village. They sell simple things – salt, sugar, tea bags, kerosene, cigarettes and a few other items – everything else the people provide for themselves through a variety of means. There are chickens everywhere for eggs and meat. Many people fish and they usually smoke the fish in big metal bins – sheet metal on four sides and for a lid. They put firewood under rocks and the fish on the rocks, light it on fire and put the lid back on. On rare occasions they will buy and smoke a pig in the same manner for weddings and the like.
Everyone has a garden where they grow tapioca, sweet potatoes, pumpkins, and a variety of other things. There are also coconut trees that provide both food and a source of income (copra – which is dried coconut meat that is sold to make into coconut oil). The staple crop is the sweet potato – when all else fails there is always the sweet potato. One man I chatted about the fire at the local coconut oil plant and unemployment said there was really no problem for people in the village who worked there – they had sweet potatoes.
Then I was taken to meet Tony – a member of the local committee (they serve on courts to try to settle disputes). We chatted for a while about world events, the contrast between the USA and his village. When I tried to explain Walmart he just could not conceive of the immensity of the store. Even talks of supermarkets had him shaking his head – “Everyone must be scared there all the time” he said. They have no security.
I was introduced to the rest of his family – Joel his son, Agnes his wife (who has breast cancer), and his father-in-law whose name I have forgotten. I was served a small meal of a banana and some pumpkin greens in coconut milk. The greens were very nice. The banana rather dry. Also a cup of tea with sugar. And the sugar came from a small bag in Tony’s pocket. Expensive stuff!
I was then shown around the compound – the cook stove – a 55 gallon drum that used firewood for fuel, a table of sinks for food preparation and washing up, the cooker, a shrine to the Virgin Mary (important for every family to have a shrine), and the house. There were three BRA lights outside – Homemade kerosene lanterns. A piece of metal pipe with a piece of paper inserted and kerosene at the bottom. You light the top and it draws up the kerosene to make a small light. Coconut oil is better, but more expensive. In the house there were three bedrooms with one single bed for the man and a mat on the floor for his wife in the main room. A separate room with mats for the boy and his wife and baby and another for the older children. You could see through the floorboards and the windows were covered with a thin cloth. All their possessions were in the rooms. Tony said they were adequate and kept them dry when it rained.
Tony then gave me a string of Tabu – ceremonial money that is actually small shells that are drilled then tied together. They can buy small things in the village but their main purpose is status. When there are big events (weddings, people graduating from school, deaths) the Tabu they’ve gathered and made themselves is broken up and handed out to all who attend the event. When older men who are important in the village die they have usually collected a huge amount of tabu and it is then broken up and passed out. There is a huge one in the hotel – probably 250,000 shells or more – which will be broken up when the man who built the hotel dies.
As we left Tony he asked that I send him a small book on Yoga – he’s heard of it and would like to practice to help him meditate. I said I would so he wrote down his address. He also asked for pictures of himself and his family.
Paul then took me back to the pickup spot – we passed through several more compounds and saw similar set ups of stoves, cookers, and sinks. When we got to the pickup point the woman was doing the laundry. A bucket of water on the ground, the dress on a bench, a bar of soap and a brush. Wet the dress, rub the soap on and then scrub – then rotate the dress and continue until done. Then rinse and hang to dry. For a family of five (it was Robert’s wife) it takes quite some time.
As we waited for Robert I asked Paul to show me how to chew beetle nut and he was more than happy to oblige. You first use your teeth to pull off the three part green shell to expose the white nut. You put the nut in your mouth and start to chew. You then bite off a piece of mustard stalk and chew that, then dip the mustard stalk into lime (the mineral – made from heated coral) and chew that. You dip – chew four or five times, then continue chewing for about five minutes, occasionally spitting out a little of the (by then) bright red liquid. The beetle nut is used as a stimulant so is popular with folks who do heavy labor.
Robert showed up then and he drove me to the town market. It was almost all food products with a few stands selling candy, cigarettes (one at a time), and drinks. I bought a drink and had finished almost half when I remembered that I forgot to check whether the lid had been opened… Now I’m waiting for a little tropical two step…
Anyway, the market had a great variety of foods. Sugar cane, coconuts, pumpkin greens, beans, rice, bananas, peanuts, straw (for making brooms), mustard greens, beetle nuts, and many other things. There were also prepared foods for sale – items wrapped in banana leaves ready for steaming! Fresh fish, pork, chicken all with pumpkin or some other greens, some stews. There were also small bundles of raw tobacco for sale and bolts of colorful cloth for people to use to make dresses.
Located nearby were “market and general merchandise” selling all sorts of necessities – from shoes to sugar. Lots of rice in various sizes as well as kitchen equipment. In the largest there were three types of dry cereal. Very few sweets or crackers. But always drinks – Go Go cola, Coke, SP beer… the largest store was probably 2000 square feet.
Finally made my way back to the hotel sunburned but exhausted. Alice spent most of the time at the pool where she met Suzie – who lent her the movie laptop… so all afternoon it has been movies. I decided I better record what I did in case I get sick. It has now been three hours and no effects so I am hopeful…
Tavurvur continues to be noisy… and our internet time has expired. Five hours for $62.50…
For the afternoon I decided to read so grabbed my book and sat by the pool – listening to Tavurvur and looking into the ash cloud. A man showed up with six kids and they hit the pool having a great time. After about an hour I headed back to the room to find Alice still engrossed in her movies so we headed off to dinner. I wanted to try Ho Fun noodles but they were out, so ordered prawn fried rice, but they were out of prawns… So chicken fried rice and two spring rolls, plus the mushrooms from Alice’s soup, made for a nice meal.
So far no ill effects – I may have dodged a bullet or it could strike later this evening… I will need to be more careful!
We will be leaving Rabaul tomorrow to spend two nights in Kokopo at a hotel on the beach. Alice has been a real sport about my various adventures so she deserves a place she can enjoy. It will also be good preparation for out 11+ hour layover in Port Moresby Airport – which is