A place has many faces. Its people, its landmarks, its way.If this post were about my native Phoenix, I could show you the five-lane freeways during rush hour or the swollen Saguaro cacti after a particularly fruitful summer monsoon in the desert just 15 minutes from our house.I could show you the effervescent pinks, fluorescent oranges, and deepening reds of an Arizona sunset or the massive, creeping walls of an approaching dust storm. I could flash pictures of the baristas at the local Starbucks or the friendly greeters at a nearby Walmart; hundreds of students traversing ASU on a school day or my sweet family around the table at Thanksgiving–the list goes on.But this post is not about Phoenix. It’s about my new home, my new place!As most of you know, we live in a remote village in the rugged mountains of Papua New Guinea called Mawarero.To introduce you to this place, I could show you how the cold sheets of wispy cloud pass right through our house most afternoons or how, on clear nights, millions of stars glitter and twinkle and prick every inch of sky, giving several hundred people on a remote mountainside the planetarium show of their life.I could show you how, after a couple days of nonstop rain, you can see dozens of new waterfalls streaming from the mountains if you turn in a 180 degree circle. I could show you the market on market day, with the reds and whites and browns of their varied sweet potatoes, the differing hues of green of their, well, greens, and the flashing yellow of their bananas.But none of those things would tell you about this place as much as seeing some of the many faces of those who live here; the ones who depend on that nonstop rain for water, who wash their clothes and pots and bodies in the rivers of those waterfalls, and who feed their families from that market.Here are some of the faces in Mawarero!This is Maikepe(pronounced: My-ke-pay).He recently has been working for us, doing things we don’t exactly know how to do. Like cut the grass outside our house with a bush knife and plant a garden for us and make the ground stronger on the side of our house that drops off down the mountain. When I see someone who is my generation (i.e. is a parent with kids), but is a man, I greet them “Kumone! (pronounced: koo-mon-ay), which means “my brother”.Most people, when they see us around the village, smile and call out a greeting. At first, the children would just laugh and run away whenever they saw any of us white people headed towards them. Now they call out to greet us. The adults, too, would either laugh and become embarrassed when we would speak to them or just look grave and not speak to us at all. Now, nearly all of them–unless they’re visiting from another village–smile and greet us whenever we walk by.
This is Muwesi (pronounced: Moo-wes-ee) and her daughter. She used to be my language teacher not so long ago and is really sweet. When you see someone who is your generation (i.e. I’m a mom and she’s also a mom) and also your same gender, you call them “Topone!(pronounced: to-po-nay)” which means, “my friend”. So when I see Muwesi, I greet her with “Topone!”.This is Mapiang. She is so sweet and smiley every time I see her. In Mawarero, when you see someone in the generation before you, my grandmother’s age, you call them “nange (pronounced: nang-ay), which means “my mother”. That is how I greet Mapiang.
This is Reuben. He is one of the older men in the village and has helped us much with language learning. When I see Reuben, I greet him by saying, “Awane! (pronounced: “a-wa-nay”), which means “my father”.
Confession: I do not know all of the names of the people who live here, especially the kids. There are so many! And many of them have native names that are hard for me to remember. But I’m working on it. This girl’s name is Suyo. She is carrying a bilum on her head, which is a string bag that they make here out of vines and then dye different colors, and it is full of sweet potatoes!
Sweet potatoes (“tokote” in Tok Ples Ndo) are a popular–and heavy–thing we see carried around here. The men carry heavy things on occasion, say, when they hike into town to sell 50 kilograms of coffee or when they cut down massive lengths of bamboo in the jungle and then carry them down the mountain to build a house, but it’s the women and girls here that do the heavy lifting for everyday tasks, like gathering firewood from the jungle or sweet potatoes from their garden. They also carry bilums on their heads far more often than the men.
Point in case: on one of my last trips around the village, this woman came down the mountain, probably from her garden, which can be a few miles’ hike away, carrying sweet potatoes (on the bottom) and plenty of firewood (on the top). Considering that it is still very much of a challenge for me to just to walk without tripping or slipping on these rugged mountain trails, these women are my sweet-potato-carrying heroes. They are strong and work hard to provide their families with fire and food.
Even the little girls work hard here. What’s in her bilum? You guessed it–sweet potatoes! Whenever I see a girl young enough to be my daughter like this one, I say, “Nambone! (pronounced: nam-bone-ay), which means, “my daughter” and she says in return, “Oh, nange!” (pronounced as above: nang-ay and means “my mother”.)
This is Timothy. His wife, Wila, is one of my buddies up here. The whole village recently went through their coffee harvesting time which, believe me, is no small feat!
First, they have to go to their coffee gardens (as opposed to their regular gardens) and pick the ripened coffee beans (Again, these gardens can be miles away). Then, they have to wash the coffee beans, dry them in the sun, and take the skins off of them.But wait! How can they sell the coffee? People here in the village don’t really drink it, so what do they have to do? That’s right–they have to hike every pound of it out to the coast (a day or two’s walk, depending on how much they have to carry), catch a dinghy and take it to the closest town, and then ride a bus to one of the larger towns that have coffee factories and who then buy the coffee from them.
Oftentimes when I go through the village, there will be no adults in sight–just groups and gaggles of kids, playing or just hanging out like these ones. When there’s a group of kids together, I greet them by saying, “Simonge!” (pronounced: “see-mong-ay”), which means, “my children” and they call “Nange!” in return.
I see these faces sometimes around the village, too.
This is my friend Joyce. Oh, Joyce. I find it easier to laugh with Joyce than anyone else here so far and I am so thankful for that! She’s not from Mawarero. She met her husband, Namu, who is from here, in town years ago and when they got married, she came here to live with him.
That’s the tradition here–when a woman marries a man, she goes to live with his clan in his village and often goes months, if not years, without seeing her family, depending on how far away they are. Joyce, along with many of the women who left their families and came here when they got married, understand when I talk about how much I miss my mom and my family.
This is Elizabeth. I don’t know her very well yet, but I always like to see her around. Soon after we got here, she developed a nasty looking abscess on her calf that the doctor here in the village had to drain (with no anesthetic!). She couldn’t walk without limping for a while, which is a pretty big deal here when life is so physical. But she’s fine now!I could show so many pictures–of Yute, the lady who helps us clean our house, of Florence, Cass’ language teacher, of Kathryn, my language teacher, of Finuwo and Rinuwo and Eki and Na and Kais and Maria and Dombian and Pais…names just cartwheel over each other in my mind. As time goes on, maybe we’ll get to share pictures of all of them. But for now, we’re so glad that you get to see some of the faces that we get to see every day. The faces of our friends, the faces of village leaders, the faces of the people who look out for us over here.The faces of our village.