Tea Party

alex rust

20 November 2010 | Umboi Island, Papua New Guinea

It was morning when we first could see the mountainous island of Papua New Guinea (2nd largest island in the world) looming over the horizon well over 30 miles away and it took us all day to get there. Just before sundown we entered a bay with white beach, palm studded islets surrounding it. We approached a warf built by the Americans during ww2 and as we did natives starting pouring out of the bush by the dozens. There must have been 30 waiting there at the dock to greet us. An older man grabbed me by the hand and insisted I call him uncle. I explained we had been on the water for several days and just wanted to walk around on land. As he lead me down the dirt path (still holding by hand) we were followed by a group of locals and the crowd grew the further we walked. Uncle explained the history of where we were, Fincshhafen, being the first European colony on the island by the Germans which had all long since died of malaria. During wwII 200,000 American troops moved through the area to battle the Japanese and walking by the modest thatch homes we noticed airplane wings as hog pins, propellers as gates , rusted machine guns to hang things on, and tanks sticking out of the water. Uncle told us his father remembered so many military boats in the bay at the time that he ‘walk across it’ to the outer islands.

The next day we went to visit the Lutheren seminary sitting on top of a 3000 foot ridge overlooking the ocean and bay. Bubbles was just a spec from our vantage point. We talked with Rev. Gunter about the local happenings and just in the previous week he was held up on the road by a man with a grenade. Locals find them all the time (left over from ww2) and many are still unused and able to be exploded. The Lutheran Church has a strong influence in the area running the schools and local hospital. This would explain why everyone we met spoke such good English. Papua New Guinea has 820 languages (let me spell that out so as not confuse it for a typo – eight hundred and twenty) and only in the past century have they been united by a common tongue of pidgin ( derived from the English language but is a language of its own)and without the schools that teach proper English we wouldn’t be able to communicate. Just in our short time in PNG waters thus far we have came across 20 different languages.

Beetle nut is king in PNG and everywhere you go you will find some for sale (costs around a nickel) and even in the open air produce markets it (along with tobacco) take up half the space. Beetle nut (a stimulant similar to 4 cups of coffee) is first cracked open then chewed but not swallowed. After ground up by the chewing it is moved to the side of the mouth at which time you take a mustard stick and dip it in a white powder made of lime coral and chew that into the nut which produces the bright red color. The taste is foul and the red saliva its creates must be constantly spat out. Over time this stains the teeth red and eventually make them fall out. Walking down the road almost every greeting can be returned back from a local with a mouthfull of bright red beetlenut juice and the appearance that they had just been punched in the lip and were bleeding profusely minus that warm smile that came with it.

Our next overnight passage took us the western tip of New Britain and the island of Uboi. There are many small islands off its southern tip and the area is unserveyed so with Ben on the spreaders and Tree at the bow we navigated past coral patches and approached a small island with huts built up on stilts covering it. Within half an hour our boat was surrounded by wooden canoes and I invited them aboard for some tea. They seemed very happy to drink tea with sugar in it and when they heard the music asked I turn it up. Garth Brooks, Metallica and Fanny Lu attracted even more villagers and before long Bubbles was full with people of all ages from a baby less than a year to a men who looked to be in their sixties (they don’t know how old they are). We boiled more water to keep the tea flowing while playing dj to keep the boat rockin. I traded some of an old sail and rice for a wooden mask and bowl. An older man explained that the village had never had a sailboat come to their island before (the least visited settlement I had before here had been a on the south coast of Haiti where they hadn’t seen a sailboat in 7 years). Tree tried to explain snow and how they had sunlight at midnight in the summer in alaska while Ben talked of skiing in his home village of the French alps while also demonstrating a yodel. Alas the tea ran out and the party was over. We said our goodbyes and they all watched as we faded away into the sunset toward Madang.

Here are a few pics from Haiti…I never wrote a blog about haiti, but have pictures.

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