One Year In Paradise, Part 2 (See part 1 here)
An S.I.L.(Summer Institute of Linguistics) worker met us at the Madang airport and ushered us to our "taxi," a one-ton truck with long wooden benches down the sides and middle, covered by a steel frame and canvass tarp rolled up on both sides. We, and another family, loaded our considerable gear into it and clung to the metal frame as we lurched up a narrow trail toward the site of the Pacific Orientation Course (POC), also known as “jungle camp.” For those of us without fear of heights, the view was breathtaking. The rest preferred to admire the banana and coconut trees on the mountain side.
At POC, we were met by "wantoks" – a PNG term meaning countrymen, those who speak the same language. It was wonderful to see those smiling Canadian faces. They introduced us to life at jungle camp. Our accommodations consisted of one room divided by a plywood wall with two mosquito-screened bunks on one side and a double bed on the other. Showers were around back, made out of a bucket on a pulley and sporadically heated by a wood stove. We quickly learned to give the bucket a whack before using it, to dislodge the geckos and spiders.
Meals were taken communally with eight other families, all of us assigned to work together to help prepare and cook the food on a huge wood stove. Often it was a challenge to guess what we would be served at the next meal. On one occasion we were told we were eating “Sepik chicken.” After we had taken a few bites, the cook explained the Sepik is one of the country’s largest rivers and the "chickens" have thick leathery skins and large teeth. We were savoring crocodile tail. It wasn’t until a few months later that we were offered another traditional delicacy, roasted sago grubs. As I accepted the skewered grubs, blackened by an open cooking fire, I was thankful for the “jungle camp” experience and tried to pretend I really didn’t know what I was popping into my mouth.
Our days at P.O.C. were filled with lectures on the culture and customs, covering such things as the taboo of stepping over food, even though it may be scattered on the ground, and the common practice of holding hands or linking “pinkies” (your smallest finger) as you chat with a member of the same sex. Language learning (Melanesian Pidgin), taught by a young Dutch woman and a Papua New Guinean man, also took up many hours as we practiced dialogues and concentrated on grammatical construction. The rest of our time was spent swimming and snorkeling in the ocean and hiking in the tropical heat. By the end of the two weeks we were feeling much more comfortable with it all and felt confidant as our orientation ended and we boarded an S.I.L. plane for the short hop over the mountains to Ukarumpa. The highlands town is S.I.L.'s main centre housing about 450 translators, literacy workers and support personnel.
In spite of our time at P.O.C., culture shock continued in Ukarumpa.
Part 3 coming soon …
Marcia Laycock writes from Central Alberta Canada. Visit her website - www.vinemarc.com