Monday, June 29, 2009

Bilums, buttons and broken bones

Why bilums, buttons and broken bones? They were certainly contributors to a very hectic week for me last week. I finally got around to doing the washing from our trip to Papua New Guinea, and the biggest job of all was soaking the many bilums we received and washing and drying them . Bilums are beautiful traditional PNG needle woven /string looped bags used for carrying all sorts of things from babies to kau kau ( sweet potatoes). Thank goodness for modern products like Napisan - it makes the job easier, but not less time consuming. But the result is worth it - I love these bilums.
Next, the buttons.... Earlier in the year, I had agreed to running a felted accessories workshop at my friend's studio LamboArt on 27 June. I thought ... no problem ... a week between getting home from PNG and the workshop ... plenty of time to get organised. All the felt project samples were made well in advance, but one of the workshop projects is what I call a felt button brooch - a beautiful but simple flat piece of handmade felt with a feature button. These buttons were going to be Australian timber buttons handmade by my husband, Jim who was to make them last week. You probably realise by now he has the broken bones, and was in hospital all of last week recovering from surgery following his accident in PNG! So I spent a couple of days ( in between hospital visits) searching op shops, antique shops, haberdasheries and going through my own stash for interesting and special buttons for the workshop participants to incorporate into their work. I did find some special metal and plastic ( not as good as timber) buttons which looked okay. Anyway, we had a great day on Saturday, and all seemed pleased with their results. Wow - check out those beautiful merino scarves made by Julie and Karen!

I must admit I was very happy to have Jim in hospital back here in Newcastle during the last week - in the seemingly absolute luxury of Warners Bay Hospital, operated on by a wonderful surgeon and in the care of fantastic health professionals. I certainly didn't mind visiting him in such a reassuring environment - it was such a relief to know Jim was in such good care. Here he is looking longingly at one of the floral arrangements from a friend - it included a bottle of Crown Lager! Not that we had any complaints about the care in Papua New Guinea. The photos tell the contrasting story of lack of resources, there was still genuine care and commitment - village women wrapping Jim's leg in aloevera leaves, being "plastered" over a bathtub in Goroka Hospital, and the very heavy, rather clumsy plaster.
While it may have been a hectic and somewhat worrying week, it was a happy week with wonderful outcomes - beautiful bilums,( with wondeful memories of PNG), a successful felt workshop and mended bones!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Home from Papua New Guinea

Home Sweet Home .... we had another wonderful and amazing PNG adventure ( not without incident - see later ) . Here's a summary....
The first week was spent preparing and attending the wedding of a friend, Frank Goi. The wedding was in a remote village, called Gun ( pronounced more like the French 'un") on the border of Western Highlands and Chimbu Provinces. The second week was back at Mando where we worked as Rotary volunteers last year as well.
Day 1: Travel . Newcastle-Brisbane-Port Moresby - Mt Hagen. Sleepover in Mt Hagen Hotel.
Day 2 : Shopping for essentials like toilet paper in Mt Hagen, adjusting to altitude, travelling by vehicle ( complete with police escort) to the village via muddy, slippery , rough gravel mountainside tracks. Huge welcome - hundreds of people in the rain. Hard to believe that a couple of generations here haven't seen white skinned people before! Welcome was by women wailing and screaming, as well as traditional dances and music, presentations of bilums ( woven bags) and hats, and of course, many speeches in English, pidgin and the local language. Walk to Gun through mud, and settle into our village home for the week. All were grateful for a mattress and a sleeping bag that night!
Day 3 : The Bride Price. All day, people came from everywhere to contribute to the bride price - money, bananas, sweet potatoes, vegetables, live pigs and goats .... As each contributor made his/her offerings, there were emotional speeches, more screaming and lifting the contributors. We were made members of the Kumkan clan and of course also contributed. In a break in proceedings,there was more work to be done - the men cut down banana leaves, and the women carried them back to the food preparation area for the mumu ( pit cooking) the next day. After a nighttime presentation, the women peeled green bananas and sweet potatoes until about midnight. The men went to bed earlier because they had to kill the pigs early in the morning. Day 4: The pits and heating of the stones in the fire started before dawn, and as the sun rose, the pigs were killed for today's feast. Fortunately, one of the Australian delegation was a butcher, and he was able to complete the deed for us. As the food cooked in the pits, we walked around the area, visited a community school and swam in the Gar River. Then home by about 3pm, to see masses of food laid out on banana leaves, all with labels. Each contributor to the bride price was allocated some food to take home to his/her family. We ate a fantastic roast pork lunch. That night, performers from the village presented dramas about courting, sang, danced and played music... an amazing colourful, exciting, and cultural show .
Day 5 : A tour of the Waghi Valley, Western Highlands Province - an area to be declared as the new Jiwaka Province after the third reading in Parliament on 7 July - lots of political speeches, but interesting tours of a coffee production plant, a sustainable Christian leaders' training college, and a teachers' college. The touring was again over rough roads, so we were very happy again to be back in the village after we trekked in in the dark.
Day 6: The wedding- we were up early to get dressed in traditional costume - one experience I certainly won't forget. Rather weird though that the bride was radiant in beaded white satin and the groom in a formal suit, while we were in our cuscus furs and feathers! There was a blessing of the house while the wedding was delayed as it rained quite heavily, and we were not able to walk through the wet mud to the village church. The ceremony finally took place around noon, with speeches from a grandstand, by VIPs - the provincial governor, other local politicians, and some of us. Quite an experience to give a speech in front of a couple of thousand people from a woven bamboo "grandstand"! 8 of the 14 in our group left to go to mt Hagen to catch a plane back to Australia the next morning. Day 7. Up early again to prepare for our trip to Mando, the village in the Eastern Highlands where our Rotary Health, Education and Literacy Project is centred. It had rained the night before so the terrain was muddy, slippery and slimy - and we almost made it out. Unfortunately, Jim ( my husband) fell and when we heard the crack, we knew something was broken. He had to be carried out by four strong men, and put into the waiting vehicle - a four wheel drive troop carrier. We decided just to keep going - to get to Mando and assess the situation there. The journey across the Daulo Pass was an adventure - we were held up by "raskols" ( gang of petty thieves) and I must admit I was a bit scared. However, they turned out to be quite mild mannered -accepting only 10 kina ( $5) to let us go. After the four hour drive, we felt so grateful to be in Mando to have the beautiful traditional house ready for us. Women brought aloe vera leaves to wrap around Jim's leg. By this time he was in severe pain and suffering from shock.
Day 8: Jobs at Mando School while Jim rested. The five of us made presentations at the school assembly, and while the others did some maintenance jobs around the school,, including locating our disappearing pig, I worked out ways of getting Jim to a hospital. and then make some plans to get home. An old man in the village produced a set of crutches ( not the same length) but they did allow Jim access to the outside "toilet"
Day 9: Jim to Goroka Hospital. I found someone with a car and he kindly drove us 85km to the hospital early in the morning, and there I found a Rotary contact, who is the Director of Nursing. She fast tracked us through emergency, and Jim saw a surgical registrar, was x rayed, and had a plaster cast applied, a prescription filled and phone calls were made to Rotary contacts here in Newcastle - all in a couple of hours! Back to Mando to complete jobs and meet with the school principal and for Jim to rest Day 10: Finsh up the maintenance jobs at Mando and pack up the house for the next team of volunteers. We travelled into Goroka, and booked into a guesthouse, where we stayed to prepare for the trip home. We dined in style at the Bird of Paradise Hotel.
Day 11: Travelling with someone with a broken leg is worrying. Amazingly, our Rotary friends at home had contacted the airlines to organise a wheelchair for Jim. What was even more amazing, was that all through PNG, there was not a single problem, - in fact Jim was given the best of care. It was only when we hit the domestic airport in Brisbane that finding a wheelchair or any other means of support for Jim proved difficult. HOME AT LAST ....
It is now 4 days after arriving home and Jim has just undergone an operation to insert a plate and pin to correct the damage to his leg.
Phew! While we love an adventure every now and then, I think we can do without some of the excitement ... And now, only 500 or so more photos to sort out.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Papua New Guinea Adventure

Today, I am very excited about our trip to the Eastern and Western Highlands of Papua New Guinea . We leave very early on Monday morning, and need to have our bags packed in our friend's car tomorrow afternoon, so I am rushing around madly trying to gather things together to pack our bags tonight. Besides the traditional costume I will be wearing for our friend Frank Goi's wedding ceremony in Gunn, a village in the highlands west of Mt Hagen, I will wear Rotary T shirts and trousers. The rest of my luggage will be supplies of wool for the women in Mando (a village in the Eastern Highlands, near Goroka) , so they can make bilums (bags) and children's clothes. Last year, I taught about 50 women in the village to knit and crochet blankets and other wearable items for their families. In the Highlands, it gets very cold at night, so woollen items are much needed. Of course, we are fully stocked with the usual array of travel essentials when you are going to live in fairly primitive conditions - a torch that doesn't need batteries, gel sanitiser, basic first aid items, sun screen, insect repellent, baby wipes, inflatable pillows and even a plastic shower bag which you fill with water, lay out in the sun, and voila - a warm shower! Without the plastic bag shower, it's under a waterfall or in a river!
We are really very lucky because we will be in two villages, where the locals have built us special houses - traditional houses made of woven bamboo. We found these to be very comfortable last year, and weren't too stiff sleeping on the sleeping platforms with our old Paddy Pallin sleeping bags. We also left some inflatable mattresses at Mando last year - perhaps they will still be there in the house when we go back there next week?
Jim, my husband, is also frantically getting prepared. He is the chief packer and is looking quite bewildered at the array of stuff I have put out for packing. The mystery photo below is one of the gifts we are giving the village as a repayment for their hospitality - part of it anyway. It is a stand for keyboard we are presenting to the village for their church. Fortunately, someone else in the group is carrying the keyboard.
It should be a great adventure again ... but I will not be in contact with the world of technology for at least another two weeks. The next blog post will not appear until after 20 June.