The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

Our Madang Holiday

(December 21, 1998 – January 10, 1999)
This never actually made it to correspondence status, which is why it isn't in with the letters. It was such a huge excursion that after we got back, other things took my time (as can happen on the mission field). I always wanted to record our holiday, because in many ways, this was the high point of our time in Papua New Guinea. This was the time when we could see the Papua New Guineans as they really are for an extended period. This representation of our holiday was taken mainly from our family journal which we keep, with embellishments from memory.
They did not speak English in the village, so we had to speak Tok Pisin, therefore there was a lot of Pidgin spoken. Waitpelaman toktok istap olsem [ English translations are rendered like this ].
Our holiday in Madang was recommended and organised by Fr Kees here at the College. He asked the Madang Diocese students who would like to have our family stay in their village. Adolph Kowinggre was unanimously recommended as having the most suitable village. It turned out that we were the first waitskins to stay in a village in the area, which produced it’s own problems - for us and them.

Monday 21st December
The Trip Down
Fr Kees very kindly allowed us to borrow the College bus for our holiday. A Mitsubishi L300 diesel. We packed our clothes, gumies, food (including bananas and a bag of kaukau) and other paraphernalia into the bus the night before, and left the College at 5:40am Monday morning. We had spent many hours during the previous weeks praying about the holiday in general, but specifically about the drive down. The road can be abysmal in a number of spots and raskols are common [see Lae and Return in Four Days].

Click to go to the maps page The drive was about 11 hours all up (with about 1˝ in stopovers). The road was certainly terrible through Chimbu Province (see the cartoon from an earlier excursion: not too much of an exaggeration!), and then again in the penultimate part of the journey through the coastal ranges which was a quickly deteriorating dirt road that took 1˝ to 2 hours to transverse. Jesse was to write in the diary that it was more an aligned set of potholes than a road. But all Glory to God: no unclean thing was found. No rascals, no guns and no holdups!

We were all thoroughly exhausted by the trip, the coastal ranges just about breaking our spirits as we seemed to be driving up very steep hills at 15 km/h in first gear with the rear tyres spitting out stones as they lost traction and then sliding down the other side no faster that 20 km/h because of the potholes! Rempi should of been a short 30 minute drive north from Madang on a sealed road, but we had forgotten most of Adolph’s directions he had given us some 2 months previously. On the fifth stop to ask directions, two young girls said they knew Adolph Kowinggre, and they kindly jumped into the bus, sat on our bananas, and directed us to his house.

SkolastikaWe followed a picturesque mausrot into Kawe Village, past a graceful avenue of betel nut palms, circled under a large mango tree, and there was Adolph’s mum walking toward the bus with a huge smile on her face and a cheeky glint in her eye. We were actually arriving 3 days later than we had organised with Adolph before the College term had finished. Fr. Kees had rung Alexishaven (the local Catholic Mission Station) and asked them to pass the message on that Sandi was sick and we would be coming the following week at some time.

Sandi jumped out of the bus and greeted Skolastika in a warm embrace: we had met her at Adolph's graduation from Good Shepherd College last November. Skol is a shortish woman, about 1.4 metres high. Her skin is very dark, like others from Bogia. Her teeth are badly stained black and red from the betel nut they traditionally chew with lime and daka. She, like most other PNG women, is wearing a meri blaus and laplap.

Adolph ino stap! Em i tinktink yupela i no kum long ples bilong mipela? Pata Otten i toksave long Adolph asdai. Pata i tokim olgeta yupela i kamup sik tumas na yupela inokum long ples. Mi save yupela kum, tasol, Adolph i tinktink yupela no kum! [ Adolph is not here! He thought you were not coming to our village? Fr. Otten told Adolph yesterday. Father said that you all got too sick and so were not coming. I knew that you would come, but Adolph thought that you would not! ]

Sandi and I looked at each other, quite perplexed, we had heard the exact message given as we were sitting in the office when Fr. Kees delivered it. We were later to meet Fr. Otten and could then understand how the message transformed itself.

Skol said that Adolph was working in a nearby coconut plantation, and she’d take us to meet him. She got into the bus, we did a U-turn and off we went, only to meet Adolph walking down the mausrot. Adolph looked like he had seen a ghost, or five ghosts to be precise! Just stood there, opened mouthed. Couldn’t get much sense from him for quite a while. Skol kept saying, Adolph no save, mi save! Obviously quite proud of her perception.

Kawe Village
My family ourside the house we were staying in We managed to get Adolph into the bus, do another U-turn and head back to the village again. The village is certainly an orderly affair: all the houses are aligned approximately East-West, with sufficient space in-between so that they are not all on top of one another. Adolph helped us to unpack our gear into his brother Stephen’s house. Stephen works in Lae and only visits the village infrequently. The house is typical of the Rempi Style: marota roof ( saksak leaflets individually folded over bamboo), sliced palm trunk walls and floor with no windows but a large verandah, all set up about 1.2 metres on timber posts set into the ground.

The house has two rooms, and one door. Adolph's father, Otto sleeps in the first room which Sandi and I must walk through to get to our bedroom. Adolph's first plan was to put the whole family in there, but the boys wanted to sleep on the verandah with Adolph. Even though the roof, walls and floor of this house breathes, the bedrooms were still a little stuffy with no windows.

Click to Enlarge The village of Kawe has a couple of clumps of houses, this clump belonging to Otto’s family has about 12 houses. The geographical and social centre is Otto and Skol’s house. Skol’s house (I am not sure why Skol and Otto sleep in separate houses) is very similar to Steven’s, except that many of the timber posts at the rear of the house have rotted and sunk into the ground. This has created an very undulating floor. To the north is Steven’s house, to the east is Augustine’s house, to the south-east is Hillary’s house and to the south is Willie’s house. The village well is about 25 metres from Skol’s house. Keren, Jesse, Nathanael and I waswas at the well The well is about 1˝ metres in diameter and about 3 metres deep. Water is pulled up with a metal bucket attached to a bamboo pole. The water is used for waswas and wasim klos only. Adolph showed us a partially completed haus waswas they were building to replace the old one which looked the worse for wear. Simple construction: branches forced into the sandy ground, lashed to bracing poles and coconut palm leaves forced into the ground as walls. No one I saw used them.

Some time ago, the local constituent had issued rainwater tanks to all the villages in his area. Therefore there was a plentiful supply of good drinking water. The tank is located next to a tin roofed home a short 5 minute walk away. The first day Sandi said we would like to boil our water (which was the advice of local doctors), but the looks on their faces and their insistence that the water was good meant it was just another thing that was committed into Jesus’ care.

Adolph showed us the toilet we should use: a pit toilet in Augustine’s yard. I’m not sure where everyone else went toilet, but I never saw anyone except Augustine’s family, other visitors and us using it! It was a simple structure: four bush posts rammed into the soil, roofed with a piece of tin and clad with old flour bags, one corner unbound to act as a door flap. The floor was surfaced in a jigsaw puzzle of timber off-cuts, with a small, square hole left in the middle.

My first inspection/use of the pit toilet was none too appetising. There was lots of mess on the floor and the smell was quite unpleasant. The second day we went to town to buy a few items, one of which was some hospital strength disinfectant requested by Skol. After this they scrubbed the pit toilet out at least once a day, something I am sure they did for our benefit. Sandi helped on the first scrub out, the disinfectant flushing two scorpions out of the woodwork!

The pit toilet was probably the hardest thing for the boys to cope with, and I must admit, it did fill me with dread when walking to the toilet and finding yourself gagging from the smell when still 20 metres from the toilet! Still, it was probably some freak of air movement, because it often smelt worse outside than it did inside. I am not sure if the body's position adopted at the pit toilet encourages speedy evacuation of the bowels or the time was limited to how long you could hold your breath, but toilet visits were mostly a brief affair. Keren once wrote in the journal: "Woke up at about 6:15am and dozed until sunrise so I could see what was happening in the liklik house and of course relieve the bladder"; Jesse used to call it the "house of horrors".

One nightmare visit I remember was when I followed a very badly aimed visit by Nathanael. I found myself squatting in his puddles and hearing what sounded like a squadron of B-52 bombers flying up out of the pit. Scared they were about to infest my private parts I wildly swung my hands in the appropriate direction while still trying to get the business done!

Otto Otto
Adolph introduced us to his father, Otto, also a little man. He has a roundish face, easy smile and the kind eyes of a teacher. He is quite bald on top of his head, and what is left of his hair is grey. He often wears a once yellow baseball cap.

Otto is a thin man. He explained that he is in retirement because of his health. He has some sort of liver problem which restricts his diet. He doesn’t eat greasy food, which includes coconut. He only uses buai occasionally, and his while teeth testify to this fact.

Otto spends most of his time sitting in a chair in the shade of a mango tree; but he is the Papa bilong ples [ father of the village ] and definitely has the grace and character to go with that position.

The Lagoon
Adolph smiles and suggests, Yu laik go waswas? [ Do you want to go swimming? ]

The beach at Kawe village, Rempi: no waves, coral sand, shade trees After such a long dusty trip it was almost impossible to refuse! The beach is a leisurely 30 second walk from Otto’s house. We had been warned about the beaches, but still felt a little disappointed at the sight of the broken coral beach, although in some parts the broken bits had been reduced to a soft, white coral sand: absolutely beautiful to walk on! The water of the lagoon is an amazing turquoise, with darker blue-green patches, and quite shallow. Hillary came down for a swim too, he was introduced to us as Adolph’s helper and our co-guide. We were soon enveloped by all the young pikanini of the village, Adolph and Hillary constantly telling them to keep their distance.

We lolled about, floated around while the pikanini climbed trees and jumped off. There is no real room for swimming, and we had to be careful to keep away from the coral. We spent much time at the nambis in the first 3 days, it was the easy relief we needed whilst getting used to the tropical climate. We floated on our gumies out to the reef.

Adolph informed us, Mipela waswas long wara olgeta taim behain waswas long solwara. Mi pelim hat long nait bihainim mi waswas long solwara. [ We wash in the fresh water after each swim in the ocean. I feel hot at night after I swim in the ocean. ] We didn't know about that, but we were feeling hot anyway! He took us to the village well, pulled up some water for us and showed us how to bathe at the well.

Someone is nearly always washing or doing laundry at the well. It is the most amazing sight to see these brown skinned bodies completely covered in soap, from head to toe in white lather, before rinsing. We washed with our swimmers on, as they did, washing our more private parts under our clothes.

Laundry was done in buckets, and quite effective using Cold Power and laundry bar soap.


After dressing in some less sweaty clothes, we sat around the cooking area of Skol’s house which is located at the beach end of the verandah. We spent a lot of time in these chairs: storying, eating, learning and laughing.

Joycelyn and her little baby Alex
At the fire is Joycelyn, Adolph’s 17 year old sister. She has a young baby (about 5 months old) called Alex. Alex looks like a happy child, always laughing, everyone comes to hold him a while or to play with him: it is almost like he is community property. Although you can see that Skol is very proud of Alex.

Without warning Skol brings out five plates of food and puts them on a stool in front of us. I wonder if anyone else is eating? Adolph instructs us, Oli kaikai bilong yupela. Yupela mus kaikai. [ This is your food. You must eat. ]

Kaikai bilong yupela i stap we? I ask. [ Where is your food? ]

Mipela kaikai pinis. [ We have already eaten. ]

Dinner is boiled root vegetables and greens. Otto, Skol and the rest sit a little way off. I feel a little awkward at being so separate.

Our first night falls and our beds quickly call. The night is amazingly cool. Otto provides candles and kerosene lamps to light the house for us – but they are not on for long.

Tuesday 22nd December

Tuesday dawned a lovely bright day: blue skies and hot. Sandi and I creaked our way out of our bedroom, Otto having obviously long gone. We have taken over Stephen's house, who lives and works in Lae. For some reason that was never answered, Otto slept in this house and Skol slept in their house. They are simple constructions, though larger than the highland counterparts. Two closed rooms (our bedroom came off Otto's, with not much to separate them) and large expanses of verandah. The boys and Adolph slept on the verandah.

The 4 white plastic chairs are arranged in a semi circle again in front of the cooking area. Skol is frying some sort of root vegetable in a little frying pan.

Skol looked up from tending the fire,  Monin.

Monin, Skol. We reply like well trained school children.

A young child is shooed out of one of the chairs so that we can sit down. When a plate of chips’ was finished, six cups of coffee was made and all set on a stool in front of us again. This time Adolph was eating with us. We said a small grace, and jumped in with two feet. The chips were crispy and delicious with ample salt. The coffee did not look strong, but when I took a sip the sweetness took my breath away. I looked at Sandi who was struggling to keep the sip in her mouth: it was such a surprise!

After breakfast Hillary and Adolph give us a tour of the local school and church complex: St. Boniface School and church. It was a modest 4 classroom affair with a large open sided church at one side of the clearing. Otto explained later that the previous church was much better, but had been blown up during the war by the Japanese. Apparently, the Japanese had an official policy of disrupting the religious activities of Christians. There are 333 recorded martyrs in Papua New Guinea at the hands of the Japanese; and in fact, Papua New Guinea's first Catholic saint was one of those martyrs.

One of Nathanael's great wishes on coming to the coast was to get some kulau, so he was not slow, or reserved, in asking for some. Pikaninis were dispatched up a coconut palm, to the dizzying heights where the green coconuts are, and in a minute, Nathanael had his wish (with a big smile on his face).

We made numerous trips to the lagoon for swims, and took walks along the coast to catch the sea breeze.

As the day progressed, lunch time came and went with no sign that any food was being prepared. Afternoon tea came and went, with no food. We were still not sure enough to ask what was happening, but the tummies were grumbling. Finally dinner was ready and we were called to table. Well, not a table, just 5 PVC chairs and 5 laps. The meal was almost identical to the previous night's, and very enjoyable.

Today was meant to be the unofficial recovery day after the trip down, but has seemed to have slipped past so quickly without doing too much.

Wednesday 23rd December
Fried bananas for breakfast, coffee just as sweet but I was prepared for it today. The boys seem to prefer it that way! I actually watched while Skol made it today: ˝ teaspoon coffee, 1 dessert spoon sugar and 1 dessert spoon of milk powder, fill with recently boiled water.

After breakfast we sit around and talk with the family. As the sun moves, we chase the shade around the village compound. What is a little frustrating is that they wont let us do anything, even insisting on carrying our chairs around for us.

That morning I noticed some red burns on my knees: I must have missed with the sunburn cream. Funny? I showed Sandi and made sure I put extra sunburn cream on before heading off to the lagoon. At the lagoon I also noticed that Keren has a burn on his face which looks like he may have missed with the sunburn cream too – it seemed to have finger smears across his cheek. Jesse about to kick a football across the village

After the swim, and we had cooled ourselves back down to operational temperatures, we brought out the pump that we brought for the football, and instantly there appeared all the flat balls in the village! We dutifully pumped them all up (I think it was about the only thing that they let us do!), and after that there ensued running games of football, volley ball and anything else with a ball (now pumped).

The physical excursion of the ball games has made us sweaty again, so it's off to the lagoon for another swim – this time accompanied by all the village kids.

By the afternoon Keren, Nathanael and my burns have starting to blister. It is definitely not sunburn, and can only be something in the salt water; and Otto says that sometimes the salt water is dirty. All the village seem embarrassed. They come and look, profess their sorrow and leave again with very sad eyes.

That night we are woken up by loud truck sounds and people talking animatedly. It seems to be raining heavily. Sandi and I are not sure if we should get up and help if there is trouble, but sleep again overtakes us in the humid atmosphere.

Thursday: Christmas Eve Wolphi, Rachel and family
Awoke this morning to the news that Wolphi and family came in the middle of the night. Wolphi is the eldest brother of Adolph, and has been a teacher in Mount Hagen for 17 years. He has just quit his job and come back home with his family to live in the village. They were the ones making all the noise in the middle of the night before.

The blisters on Keren's fingers have got quite large; and Nathanael's and mine are developing. They are becoming painful too.

After breakfast we drive into Madang Town. Buy lots of Christmas type food, chocolate etc. Jesse is looking for postcards, but can’t find any good ones. We asked the chemist what the rash was, but he didn’t have a clue: just kept turning Keren's hands over with a bewildered look on his face. Finally he gave us some silverzene cream in case they got infected.

After getting back home and giving the Christmas treats to Skol, we relax around the village& take the air down beside the lagoon, chat under the mango tree.

The boys are getting restless with the inactivity. Not that it is really inactivity, it is just activity at a slower pace. The lack of swimming, and the pain from the rash and blisters is getting everyone down; the feeling of being trapped (by bridges and something horrid in the lagoon) and intruding on the village is not helping either. Jesse says he is sick of just hanging around the village, and we have been doing a lot of not much but acclimatising.

The blisters on Keren’s fingers have become huge, standing 2 cm off his skin! The blisters on my knee and my side are quite painful. It is a complete mystery, but we felt sure it had something to do with the lagoon. Otto would say,  Solwara i kamup dirti sampela taim. Yupela noken waswas long solwara. [ Sometimes the ocean is dirty. You better not swim in the ocean. ] I didn’t need much encouragement, I felt like Job, and only needed a pot shard to complete the picture. Although Keren and Nathanael continued to swim with their blisters for a day or two.

Skol confesses over dinner that she had been extremely scared about what to cook for us. Adolph had said we’d just eat what they normally would eat, but we were the first waitskins to stay in the village, and she wasn’t sure. But now she had seen us eat the simple’ food she’d cooked she said she’d just cook Madang style. We of course said Great! unsure what all that really meant. But the tension over meal times immediately cleared, and meal times became a much more relaxed affair.

Willie, one of Adolph’s cousins who is a PMV driver, came over during dinner to tell us that a large bridge on the Ramu Highway was washed out last night. He said the road could be cut for 4-5 months. The thought of being stuck in the village for an extended period of time was quite appealing, but the kids were horrified at the thought.

Wolphi came over and introduced himself, and stressed that it was a good thing we are there. He is really happy about it, and is staying with Augustine and his family. I felt a little uncomfortable that we were being given the royal treatment and the rest of the extended family was crammed into smaller houses; but there was nothing that could be done about it!

Adolph, Sandi and I went to Mass tonight. The Church was highly bilas’d, and very full and therefore a little stuffy, even with there being no walls. Walking back from Mass in the thick humid night (no street lights) was an amazing experience.

Friday: Christmas Day
The day is bright again and very hot; flaua for breakfast, eaten with paw paw jam we’d brought. I happened to mention that Sandi and I would like no sugar in our tea, well that was OK, but the result was a tasteless, white liquid that was called tea. I think I preferred it with sugar, but felt too embarrassed to change again.

Adolph, Sandi, Keren & Jesse go to Mass at 8:30. The day is very hot, even at 8:30 in the morning.

I sit under the mango tree and talk with Otto. We talk about many things, my Pidgin has really improved in the village environment – of course, they speak nothing else (although the meri seem to have retained the tokples more than the men).

The churchgoers return, and in the fullness of the publication and celebration of the day ask Skol if we could hand around some of the chocolate and treats we had bought. Skol looked just a little embarrassed and said that Nathan had eaten most of the chocolate yesterday! A little disappointed, we head off to the lagoon to sit in the shade. Eventually Jesse goes in (he seems to have largely missed any rash or blisters), and Keren and Nathanael just can't resist any longer. I do not want more rash so I watch from the shade.

Stephen, the owner of the house we are staying in, came to stay in the village this morning too. He came and introduced himself, and said we were not to worry that we were in his house, he would stay with Augustine and Wolphi. I felt very uncomfortable during this, and only barely managed to contain my embarrassment.

Lunch today: a meal specially for Christmas. About 1:30pm we were called: Rice, cabbage and a little chicken: very simple and really nice.

Sat and talked with Adolph until it was too hot in the shade, when we went and sat on the coral bits in the shade at the beach. Wonderful sea breeze. Played crib. Cracked a dry coconut.

A local woman wandered past whilst we were playing cards with a bag of laulau which she gave to us. Laulau is the fruit of a tree (not sure which one), red in colour and shaped like a baby squash. The flavour and texture is not unlike lilypily.

We eventually got too uncomfortable on the coral bits, so retired to the house and continued cards. The days are very hot, too hot to play volleyball, and not being able to swim is a huge restriction.

Saturday: Boxing Day.
This morning we wake after a delicious sleep: it rained overnight which dropped the air temperature considerably. Skol boiled eggs and coffee for breakfast this morning.

Started a game of French cricket with the boys. Instantly all the local kids joined in, and it is huge fun, though meltingly hot in the sun. We all rinse at the well to cool off.

A leasurely game of French Cricket between Nathanael and the girls

The blisters are getting quite serious and painful. Sandi has decided to dress them a couple of times a day. the pain sometimes disrupts the boy's sleep and is making them irritable.

We head into town about 11am with Adolph and Skol. Looked at Anderson’s Supermarket, looked unsuccessfully for post cards (again), checked the haus tambuna opening times and walked through the botanical gardens. Bought some cake and Pepsi which we ate on the way home.

Had a drive around St. Fidelus minor seminary; this is where most of our students at Good Shepherd come from initially. They do a 2 year course there, which is like years 11 & 12 with an introduction to the spiritual life.

After returning to the village we lunched on bananas; really, this is just grazing: which is what the locals do all the time. It is just too hot to be eating meals, so lots of smaller mealettes are much more sensible. Started reading Screwtape Letters’ to the boys.

About 2pm went to the nambis to catch the sea breeze, and a change of scenery. The boys are finding the village hard to take all the time without any 'touristy' things to do (as Jesse puts it). Very much a case of slowing down to the village pace – I'm sure they'll get used to it.

Once we had revived ourselves enough with the breeze, we heading back to the village and started some ball games. Volley ball with the girls and French cricket with the boys. Actually, when we first came back there was no one to be seen, they were all over at Augustine's watching Wolphi setting up his TV. Glued to some very poor reception; but their palm climbing skills were put to good use in arranging the antenna at the top of a coconut palm!

Skol prepared a dinner of rice, kaukau, chicken and taro. We had not tried taro previously, it is deliciously smooth and creamy.

After dinner we washed as a family at the well and then settled down to some cards.

Sunday 27th December
Skol prepared a small pre-Mass breakfast of flaua and coffee.

9:30am: 2 hour Mass, very long, wandering homily that was hard to hear: the church is large and there is not amplification. Fr. Otten was presiding. The singing was nice, accompanied by drums, tambourines and guitars. It didn't seem to have that harsh quality that the highland singing does. The highland girls can almost get screechy. The walk home was hot.

Jesse & I start washing some clothes (he’s always fussy about such things). Sandi & Keren brought some over too. It only started as a little splash, almost accidental; but it ended up that we all were saturated, all laughing, all much cooler& and thankfully all the clothes clean.

After filling all the drying space on the clothes line, we walk over to sit with Skol and Otto. Skol is cooking something again. Fried Yam. Slightly stringy texture, fluffy. Yummy! We ate heaps: Skol just kept peeling, slicing and frying – and we kept eating! When we’d eaten our fill, Willie brought over a pot of food for us: lamb flaps, aibika, pitpit, taro and yams in a soup like arrangement with coconut cream. We looked at Adolph, and he said he had brought it over for us to eat now. I looked mournfully at Sandi, and we did our best. It was extremely yummy, but I wish I had some more room to fit it in!

After the 1˝ hour lunch, Jesse and Adolph throw a tennis ball across the village square. Sandi and I sit and talk with Otto. Otto suggests we go down to the bikpela wara [ the big river ], he says it is Nais tru! [ very nice ]; but don’t float down the river too far, " pukpuk i stap long maus" [ crocodiles are at the mouth of the river ]. He told us 3 times, so he must have been serious (At this point I was reminded about what Fr Kees says about eating pukpuk: he never does, because he can not be sure he is not eating an unlucky parishioner). Adolph, Hillary and lots of the pikanini, joined us and went with tubes, goggles and tennis ball, and head off for the river. The bus on the way back from the river, coconut palms are planted over cocoa trees

The drive down to the river is through plantations of interplanted coconut and cocoa. It is a delightful landscape: the graceful coconuts swaying with the breeze, and underneath the cocoa trees with colourful leaves and fruit. Adolph is a little unsure about the turnoff, but we eventually find the correct track and find ourselves at a sizable river.

The river is not deep, but the current is strong; a constant force pulling us down to the waiting jaws of the crocodiles! The mouth is not very far away, and at least initially, it seemed very close. But the fun to be had, and the refreshment removes all concerns, and it was a very enjoyable 4 hours!

Arriving back home about 5pm, we started yet another game of french cricket until it became too dark to see the ball; then dinner and talking.

Wolphi came over during dinner and said the bridge is  bagarup tru, but a way has been made through the river, so if it doesn’t rain seriously again we should be OK. He also offered us the air tickets the Government gave him to come home by. Half price. Wolphi of course came home by car, and so the tickets were not used. I wonder if maybe we could leave the bus at Alexishaven and fly home? Although I still quite like the idea of being stranded in the village – but I'm not sure how that would work out.

Keren and Nathanael awake with pain from their blisters again tonight. There's not much that can be done, so Sandi issues panadol and hopes they can get back to sleep.

Monday 28th December
Flaua for breakfast again this morning – this is a real favourite of the village.

Left for town about 9am with Otto.

We visited the Haus Tambuna, which is a cultural museum. It had some very interesting displays and stories, in two rooms. It also had a flushing, sit-on toilet that worked. When I came out from this not quite rapturous experience, I found the family sitting on garamuts waiting for me! A garamut is a hollowed out section of tree trunk which is used as a drum. They are generally ornately carved – and I did wonder if it was the done thing to sit on a museum display; but it is probably what they may have done in the village anyway. Sadly they had no postcards; Jesse is despairing of finding any good postcards of Madang.

After the Haus Tambuna we wandered through the botanical gardens. Keren was to describe it as "a line of old trees covered in orchids". Admittedly, there was not much there, except these large buttressed trees and colonies of noisy bats.

We looked for Adolph in Madang town without success. Otto didn't seem concerned, so we headed off to the Madang Resort for a look see at this renowned place. This is the international motel, and had prices to match: K4.50 milkshake & five K1.70 cans of drink. But it was set on 5 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens, the Orchid garden was especially good. Otto was being our tour guide, and kept referring to these amazing orchids as "plaua bilong bus" [ Flowers from the bush ]. I'd ask him if he'd seen them in the bush and he'd reply very seriously, "Yessa."

We finally found some postcards in the Resort Tourist shop (and Jesse is much relieved), and I also bought some earrings for Sandi, which were made from rainforest timber by the local owners. Found some Guria birds in the little zoo there. Seeing them here made sense of the time I was offered one in Banz town by a fellow – I couldn't quite understand why they were called guria. But here they were standing on the bottom of the cage wagging their tails constantly – like a huge blue willie wag tail. Otto said they were good eating, and I would imagine that they were a lot of good eating, because they were much bigger than a chicken.

Standing still enough in the midst of ravanous mosquitoes was nearly more than we could cope with! On the way home we stop off at a relic of the Second World War. It was a simple hand made sign on the road pointing into the jungle. turning into the over grown track, it was impossible to know where it would take us and what would be at the end. It turned out to be one Japanese light bomber. Apparently destroyed on the ground during an allied air raid. I would have liked to stay longer, but the mosquitoes were ferocious! They attacked as soon as we got out of the car, and even smothered in repellent, they seemed to be able to find a small hole in the defences. So, slapping and running (trying not to think of malaria) we jump back in the car and head off home.

After getting back home at about 2pm and unpacking, we grazed on some pineapple and coconut ( drai), then head off to swim in the river – it is very hot. Jesse is not feeling too well with a stomach bug, and Sandi has put him on boiled water. The current in the river today was too strong to swim against (I’m glad: keeps the crocodiles down their end!)

Hillary and Fidelis picked a ripe cocoa pod for us to try. Actually, I was going to just find one and try it – but they were concerned about ownership, and thinking that they would be more able to handle any compensation, fetched it for us. They really are glorious colours, and inside was filled with brown seeds and creamy flesh. Very similar to custard apple in taste and appearance. The pod was deep red, though we could also see yellows and purples hanging amongst the trees.

I feel like Job with these blisters. The ulcer on my leg healing very slowly – It actually started in the highlands (I must have knocked it or something) but it is only getting worse in this climate. The dressing of the sores has become a twice daily ritual. Nathanael, Keren and I line up while Sandi removes and bandages all our sores with the silverzene the chemist recommended. Sandi is quite pleased with how it is going, although that may just be her nurse training putting on the best face. On some of the deeper ulcers we are using some out-of-date dressings sent up to us from a nurse friend in New Zealand. But it's all very slow healing in this climate.

Just before dinner I notice Joycelyn walking over to a decrepit looking tree in the middle of the village. This is the tulip tree. I had read of this plant before (as it is one of only three green vegetables traditionally available on the coast), and mistakenly thought, with my English understanding, that it had something to do with tulips; but the name actually comes from the opposite leaf arrangement, and is Pidgin for "Two Leaf". And what was worse, after waiting for so long to taste it, it turned out to be quite bitter!

This tree has been heavily pruned over many years, and vividly displays the lack of green vegetables (farmers from the Wahgi Valley can make a tidy income growing greens and selling them in the coastal Markets). There has been very little meat in our meals of late, in fact what there has been, has been what we have bought: I realise suddenly that this is normal village life for them. Well, to be honest, having five white skinned meat eaters in the village would not be normal, and would be a huge strain to the pantry.

Otto says that since the introduction of nets, the lagoon has been fished out. We talked of seeding the ocean with hatchlings. He commented that once he thought he would build a wall around the lagoon to keep the fish. I had initially thought that fish would have been a major part of their diet; and was looking forward to it being a major part of my diet too! Our diet has been really simple and really yummy. Mainly boiled root vegetables ( kaukau, yam, taro) and greens (aibika, tulip) and rarely some meat (usually tinned). I never thought that I would get used to boiled vegetables for breakfast, but I have come to really enjoy it!

The nightly dressing of the blisters continues. After dinner we all line up beside Sandi who has the first aid kit open on her knee. She removes the old dressings, inspects and redresses, and now because of the increased pain, includes a dosing of panadol to help us through the night.

Tuesday 29th December
Swimming at the river with Adolf tending the fire Jesse is still not well, still on boiled water and sao biscuits. He is spending a lot of time in bed sleeping.

About 11am we packed up some food and fire materials and headed off to the river. Jesse must have a bit of a temperature, because after a bout 30 minutes in the luke warm water he felt too chilled and got our and lay on the bank while the rest of us frolicked.

I had actually asked some local boys about the crocodiles (quite pleased I could have a conversation in Pidgin): They said very big crocodiles lived at the wara maus [ mouth of the river ], and the men of the village sometimes killed a crocodile in the tais wara and ate it. "The abus iswit tru!" [ The meat is very tasty! ] Otto was very insistent not to ride the gumi down into the solwara; for very good reason it seems!

The current was almost too strong to stand up in today – maybe it's raining upstream? I hope the bridges are OK!

We peeled some cooking bananas and lit a fire, and fried them and some coconut as well. We opened kulau and pineapple. It was all a feast, after which we went for another swim.

Skol with her brother and his familyAbout 3:30pm we took Skol and Nathan to the airport to pick up her brother. We continued on to Jais Aben to try and track Andy and Iris down; albeit unsuccessfully.

Headed home to find the village bulging at the seams! I can't believe how many people are coming back to the village, and with every new arrival we feel more and more uncomfortable about the space and resources we are using. We had dinner in our own little house tonight as the rest of the family were storying with Skol's brother, who she has not seen for 40 years!

Wednesday 30th December
We have fallen into an easy daily routine of going into town to buy fruit at the market and then taking it down to the river to eat. The days are typically tropical and hot, so lolling around in the luke warm water of the river was really refreshing (even if it was only momentary). The boys have finally relaxed into the village lifestyle.

Thursday: New Year's Eve
Went to town to post postcards ( Jesse is turning out to be a bit of a production line) and get some supplies from Best Buy (they will also cash our cheques). Bumped into Andy and Iris in Best Buy, organised to drive home together on the 10th, because they have a four wheel drive (which should be able to drag us out of any problems). They are staying in Divine Word Institute, which is a university run by the Divine Word Missionaries; apparently they had found Jais Aben too expensive.

The Ohu Butterfly Farm
After finishing in town, we headed out to the Butterfly farm we saw advertised at the Haus Tambuna. We had some rough directions from the lady there, so courageously, with simple prayers, drove off to the mountains without any idea of where we were going. Once off the main highway, the road steadily deteriorated (some parts being so rutted that it was almost impossible to keep the bus on the two ridges the track had become) until the van couldn't make it up the slippery slopes of mud. We ended up having to leave the van on the side of the road, and walk what turned out to be about another 1˝km to the farm (at the first corner I looked back at the bus and hoped that it would still be there when we came back).

We finally arrived at a village after about 20 minutes walking – we were all feeling hot and sweaty and the humidity seemed to suddenly increase during our walk. An old sign said, "Ohu Butterfly Farm"; but we couldn't find anyone in residence and just really wanted to find some shade to sit under because the sun was cooking us. After asking around a bit we found that the Papa bilong bataflai ino stap [ The owner of the butterfly farm is not here ]. One of the little pikanini took us down the track to the sanctuary, where we met the owner coming up the other way.

After some very smiling introductions, he led us to the sanctuary proper. An open air affair with new shrub plantings to encourage the butterflies. We squatted for a while, squashing mosquitoes and seeing a few species flutter by us. Apparently, most of the butterflies do not make a habit of feeding during the day (pity the mosquitoes didn't behave in a similar fashion). What we did see though was amazing.

Papa bilong bataflai wantaim olgeta bataflai istap olsem piksa The Papa was quite proud of the fact that he had received UNDP funding to help set up the farm, although little evidence of the funding could be seen now. Tracks were badly rutted, name tags for the trees were unreadable. His guest book showed the names of the UNDP personnel who had come to check the work. Back up in the village he showed us his mounted specimens.

Back in town we found ourselves in the middle of a near riot. Bread. There was none, and then a new tray was brought out. Everyone rushed forward, everyone wanted at least one loaf. The crush is amazing, like at Hagen Show waiting to buy tickets. The manager starts yelling, "Get back, get back!" A very tall Papua New Guinean security man waded in wearing a hard hat, his baton at the ready, and an unsteady peace was restored. We bought some celebratory type food (or what we could find) and headed home.

New Year is a bigger celebration than Christmas here: a lot of feasting, spark and sing sing. We'd asked the Papa bilong bataflai what he was doing, and he said that he was not doing much: He wasn't killing a pig because his mother had only recently died and he had other hevi. Next year he said.

Whilst waiting around the village fire for dinner, Jacob dropped a bomb shell. He is a dark man, much darker than the Rempi people, like Skol. He is a professional driver for the Government, now living in Popondetta. He drove the Queen when she visited PNG. He is very Australianised: follows sport and watches it on a big TV. His priorities are definitely different from his village sister. He likes talking – making pronouncements on the current topic – always clearing his limey throat first.

Jacob leant over to me, cleared his throat, "I'm taking little Alex home with me. You know, I only have 2 sons and I need another." He smiled broadly showing his buai stained teeth. He jumped up and walked over to Joycelyn and took Alex in his arms, "My son!" he proclaimed.

I'm not sure if it is imagination, but Joycelyn's smile now seems brave, her big brown eyes, sad. She looks as Jacob carries her baby away. Jacob's daughters have suddenly metamorphosed into Mothers. Jacob's wife is a sour looking woman: never says a word. I'm a bit taken aback by my bad feeling toward them, and it seems very difficult to deal with.

I feel mortified by the news. I can not comprehend of what is happening, of what it would be like to have my son taken from me. My feelings for Jacob definitely turn sour, it is very hard to not to dislike him.

After dinner we retire to our little house to play cards and reminisce with God around the kero lamp over the happenings of the year and our hopes for next year. It was wonderful to spend it as a family. The New Year's celebrations are incredibly noisy. They all like to raus the old year with style and lots of noise.

About 8 o'clock the bombs started going off. Apparently made from bamboo segments, filled with kerosene and set alight, they boomed into the night. About 10 o'clock when we went to bed a huge chorus of bombs up and down the coast in a dramatic syncopation erupted into the still night. Around 12 midnight Sandi and I were awoken suddenly by the cacophony. People sigarupin water tanks, ringing the church bells, beating the garamut. Shouting and singing, "Hepi Niu Yea!" [ Happy New Year ]

Otto had told us that the government had had to make a law against using TNT for New Year celebrations. Many people blew off limbs and some lost their lives.

Friday: New Year's Day
This morning we woke up to the sad news that a three month old baby was brought back from the haus sik dead in the middle of the night. Born with liver problems, yellow pekpek, skin and eyes; never recovered.

We ate a small breakfast of buns and boiled bananas ( Skol obviously tired from the nights activities) to the sound of coffin building in the neighbouring house. There was a lotu planned for this morning and the baby will be planted after that (I presumed that a Mass and burial service would be said later).

The haus krai on the coast is not a huge affair like it is in the highlands. It is just as infectious though, the mournful wailing of the mothers and the passionate crying of the children. So sad. Most of the family were left around the house; the mother of the dead child was one of Otto's sisters. The whole village is quiet: not sure what we should do, so we decide to go swimming at the river – alone.

I didn't swim, Sandi just lay in the water – her stomach problems draining her of energy. Nathanael didn't swim either: his bandages making him feel uncomfortable.

Second time to the river Sandi sat in the shallow again while we swam. Fidelis, Nathan and Jacob's son came too. Jacob's son didn't swim, but just sat on the bank. We tried our hand at swimming against the current, and had a wrestling competition on the coconut tree over the river. Nathan didn't swim because he had a temperature.

This afternoon there was a suddenly a feeling of disquiet in the village. All the menfolk standing, talking with sombre expressions. We were later told that Wolfreda was beaten up by her husband one night. Wolfreda apparently has epilepsy. All her six brothers decided to pay her husband a visit. I was surprised how aggressive Otto was about it, but thankfully they only want to warn him of the serious consequences if it happened again. I guess this is the positive side of payback.

Dinner was quite early today – Sandi has put herself onto boiled water and sao type biscuits.

Willie brought over a meal that his wife had prepared of the first octopus that had been caught on the reef this season. Absolutely delicious! We raved and raved about it, until I realised somewhat sheepishly that we were the only ones eating it.

Otto brought the lamps over to the house and stayed for a bit of a chat. He said that because it was a baby that had died, and they had not got to know it yet, the haus krai would just be one day. He also remembers a hydro-electric scheme on the Wahgi near Banz.

I had wanted to ask some of the coastals about betel nut, because I had always thought that the highlanders were still getting used to it, that it had not actually formed part of their culture. In that sense, they treat it more like a drug. Otto was only too pleased to talk. Otto described how they clean their teeth with the husk of the buai nut to remove the red stain. Toothpaste costs too much. I asked if buai caused the cough I had noticed in many older people, like Jacob's throat clearing. Otto said the lime kuks the teeth and gums and cracks the teeth.

Before the white man came, they used the tobacco leaf (brus) to roll up cigarettes. Brus na brus. Now he says the factory made simok igo igo [ cigarettes that keep burning ]. Kampani bilong simok ilaik wokim moni tasol [ Cigarette companies just want to make money ].

Arsenia with Jol and LidiaEvery time I see Joycelyn with Alex, one of Jacob's lain is always coming and taking him away. It makes me feel angry. She has been reduced from a mother to a wet nurse in a night. We asked Arsenia what happened when we had come back from the second swim. Otto apparently didn't pay a bride price for Skol to Jacob (it gets paid to fathers and brothers). Otto had said before that it was an agreement that was common in the Rempi area. Jacob had left home when Skol was just a child and so had not agreed to this proposal, and so he was fully justified in asking for the bride price 40 years later when turning up out of the blue.

Arsenia was, I thought, quite blunt in saying it was her father's mistake – "he should have paid something when he could have". They were all sad, Skol has spent quite some time crying.

We also asked Adolph if they could say, "No." Adolph said that they could, but it would not be worth it, because Jacob would become so angry.

Saturday: 2nd January
Nathan doing a Bob Marley impersonation Skol had taken Nathan into the haus sik early that morning because his temperature of the previous day had continued during the night.

Had a great time down at the river with Fidelis this morning after breakfast – about 4 or 5 hours all up! All the bandages are off Keren and Nathanael's fingers, and so they are swimming too. We wrestled on the log: I managed to scratch Jesse, and Jesse managed to scratch Keren. We had taken down some damper to cook on pitpit sticks, and ate it with fresh bananas ( mau). It was very hot, with a clear blue sky: the hottest and sunniest yet – I think we got a little burnt.

Sandi stayed at home, sleeping most of the time: desperately trying to get rid of the intestinal bug she has caught.

When we got back to the village we were told that Skol and Nathan were back from the haus sik: they had given him some oral antimalarials and sent him home with some chloroquin tablets. Nathan was in bed and Skol was off in the garden (a good walk away). We were hot again, so we headed off to the nambis to catch the sea breeze and read a book.

We had not long been there when Fidelis rushed down, "Nathan igat skinhot tru, na long long tok!" [ Nathan has a bad fever, and is delirious! ] We got up and ran back to find them rinsing him with the water from the well. Otto was pulling his fingers and wrists, Wolphi was trying to get some coherent speech from him.

I realised that we should see what was in his medical book before we gave him any medication (the medical books are carried by everyone as a record of their medical history)& the haus sik had given him chloroquin, primequin and penicillin. We gave him a panadol and kept rinsing. His temperature was 38.8°. Otto and Skol were frantic (Skol having run all the way back from the garden), as anyone would be who had seen someone die from malaria. Otto had real fear in his eyes, "Drink marisen ino inup, imus kisim sut marisen!" [ Oral medicine is not good enough, we must get injected medicine ]

I said I'd be happy to drive them if they'd like, but we must get his temperature down first. By this time Nathan was sitting on some kapa and crying with the cold, teeth chattering uncontrollably. Otto was collecting his stuff from his house saying, "As wik, wanpela pikanini i daipinis long ples i klostu!" [ Last week, one child died in a village near here! ]

I got them to organise a bucket with water and two towels for sponging. By this time Skol had wrapped Nathan up in a blanket and was cuddling him on her lap. "Yu noken hotim gen!" [ Don't make him hot again! ] Skol's concern was overriding logic.

Otto and Skol; Wolphi, Rachel and Samantha; Adolf and Fidelis; Nathanael and I bundled Nathan into the bus and set off. I instructed Wolphi to sponge Nathan's vital points. Water splashed everywhere as we bumped across the the rough track to the road.

There was no waiting at the haus sik, Skol carried him straight in. The nurse took his temperature (under the arm), left, and when she came back found that it was down to 37°. She gave him a quinine shot in the buttocks and said he and Skol had to stay till Monday. So we left them there, Skol giving us instructions on what we should bring back for her and Nathan, and looking much relieved.

Sunday 3rd January
Sandi has woken up feeling much better this morning. The rain has been drizzling most of the night, and forced Jesse to move his bed from under a drip.

Breakfast of Weetbix and bananas of all things (we got our own because Skol is still not back), then off to Mass at St. Boniface. During the service it rained quite hard and frequently, and the rain on the tin roof was so loud that it was extremely hard to hear anything. On the walk home under some umbrellas we stopped at the village stoa to buy Sandi some more dry biscuits. Unfortunately it was closed, so we ended up waiting for about 30 minutes.

Jesse and Keren are sick again too. Jesse has an infection and a deal of pain in his ear.

About 11am head off to Alexishaven with Otto to see how Skol and Nathan are going, only to discover on arrival that they had been discharged that morning. We eventually found them at a PMV stop and took them home, then head off to try and track Andy and Iris down at Jais Aben. After a little bit of running around we find them eating their lunch in the outside bar area down on the wharf. This is a very up market place, and it seems just a little incongruous with our time in the village.

The extended family sitting under the mango treeSitting under the mango tree in the hot afternoon, we got talking about their natural traditions and sing sings. We asked them if they enjoyed their traditions; Fidelis said that he did not; and didn't want to learn the tokples or the village dances. Otto said that the local village doesn't sing sing anymore. But there would be many more sing sings if the tourist boats came back into the harbour regularly again – on the wharf. They also sing sing in the cultural shows, but this isn't village traditions or history. Wolphi added that the Madang Show was much better than the Hagen Show, primarily because it went on into the night with a big Rock & Roll Show. Otto says that the older people don't teach the younger anymore& Fidelis said that he just wasn't interested. Skol with Jesse and Nathanael in her grass skirts

Traditionally, this area of the coast made grass skirts, called porapora, and made from saksak. Skol uses a tie dye technique to dye them in red, black and yellows (all bought from the stoa these days). Skol said that she had that skill and had made many for the various cultural days. Suddenly, her eyes lit up and she instructed Fidelis to go and get them. They were wrapped up in paper and plastic to preserve them in that tropical climate.

Both Jesse and Nathanael tried them on, to the visible delight of Skol who looks at them with real motherly smiles.

Nathan starts shivering again after dinner, and is found to have skinhot. We bring his temperature down with some panadol and cooling with water, but it doesn't look good.

Monday 4th January
A hot glorious morning again, Skol has taken Nathan to the haus sik early.

Augustine said that he knew the owners of the crocodile farm down the coast, and would we like to do the touristy thing and go? We, of course, said, "Yes!"

We all loaded into the College bus and set off into the tropical swamp. I must admit feeling just a little nervous the deeper we got into the swampy areas; I almost expected to see a crocodile beside the road at any minute. The road finally came to an end across from a little island, which we were to discover was the crocodile farm.

Augustine stood on the bank, feet in the water (I thought this was particularly crazy!) and shouted across to someone on the island (obviously in the hearing of every crocodile in the river – some people are crazy! Eventually someone answered, a very small someone who said that all the adults had gone to town. Augustine tried to exert some of his influence, but to not avail; finally saying that we should come back tomorrow when the adults should be there.

Augustine, just a little crestfallen, heads off to town to try and organise a viewing tomorrow.

In town we buy some mangoes, soursob (similar to a custard apple, but with a sherbet tang), tomatoes, cucumbers, bread and eggs from the market; post some more of Jesse's postcards and then head back out toward home.

Adolf tending the fire at the riverOn the way home we drop into Alexishaven to check on Nathan, who seemed peacefully asleep when we arrived, and then continued on to the river. Spent a couple of hours swimming and eating. The water was quite warm again today.

Back home in the village we opened a watermelon and a drai coconut, and then headed off to the lagoon to catch the sea breeze and read some more screwtape letters.

That night, because Skol was in hospital with Nathan, the kids did the cooking; and because we had raved so much about the octopus the previous night, they decided to cook octopus again. In fact they had to go all the way to a neighbouring village to buy some! Adolf, Fidelis and Arsenia were the main conspirators. Arsenia taking the leading hand.

Life is hard in the village: it's never dark when Skol cooks. Utensils were hard to find and easy to lose again. It was interesting to see the nerves so tense. Eventually a huge dish of taro, yam, banana, aibika, kaukau and octopus was given to each of us. We retreated to our house to eat this sumptuous meal.

The vegetable soup was really delicious, the octopus nearly unedible. We chewed and chewed and chewed without making much of an impact on the little tendrils. Fidelis sheepishly appeared and apologized that the octopus was so tough. The local tradition is to pait dispela abus wantaim diwai to tenderise it. They had forgotten to do that! I found the best way to cope was to chew off a bite sized piece (which can take up to a couple of minutes of consistent gnawing), and chew it with added vegetables, adding more vegetables as required. I found it could take up to 5 additional scoops of vegetables before the octopus was swallowable.

Keren refused to touch his, except for putting it into Sandi's plate. Jesse got through about two-thirds of his, Sandi coped with two bites – but I ate all of mine and two-thirds of Keren's (Sandi put it on my plate)!

Later, after the boys had gone to bed, Sandi and I went for a wee walk to view the silvery moon rising over the lagoon. It's the stuff romantic tropical honeymoons are made of (pity this one was nearly two decades late)! One local lady we bumped into, said that it was too hot for her to sleep, so she was sitting on the beach. Looking at the rising moon, silhouetting the coconut palms with Sandi in my arms, is an experience which is hard to describe, but easy to hang on to.

Tuesday 5th January
Jesse had an uncomfortable night last night with ear pain. It rained heavily again – which made Jesse move his bed again – but it has brought down the temperature considerably.

Skol and Nathan are still are at the haus sik, and the village is really missing her input. The meals are always late, the fire wood runs out, etc. Over breakfast this morning Otto was berating this fact: "dispela nogut pasin bilong PNG kirup laet, kaikai laet na kisim wok laet!" [ This is a bad tradition of PNG – get up late, eat late and get to work late! ]

After our breakfast of flaua and village coffee, we head off to try the crocodile farm again, dropping some wantoks at the haus sik to visit Skol and Nathan. Unfortunately the owners of the crocodile farm will not let tourists on to the island: No dice, no tourists, no friends. Augustine was effusive in his apologies: it must have been doubly disappointing for him because he had spent the day yesterday trying to st the thing up for us. So it's on to plan B: into town to do some chores.

We bumped into Andy and Iris again in town and made arrangements for our departure on Friday.

Bought some lunch type things (lettuce, tomato, mangoes, bananas and sour sop) from the market and headed back to Rempi and the river.

On the way back to the river we drop Adolf at Alexishaven for the practice of the rededication of the local order of sisters. Wolphi and Rachael spent the day with Nathan and Skol. Nathan has had some blood taken and examined. It is apparently filled with kiau bilong malaria [ malaria eggs ] – which is obviously chloroquin resistant. He'd been given his sut marisen [ injection ], stabilised and sent home, with chloroquin (which distressed me a little, I couldn't understand it). But Nathan seems fully recovered now – the whole incident reinforced the fact that the hold on life in the village is more tenuous than what we'd ever imagined!

The weather is very hot and dry and everyone enjoys the swim. We boiled up some eggs and cooked corn on the cob (in the fire). The mangoes are beautiful. Eventually had to leave for home because the sun was so hot, and it was only 3:30pm!

Fidelis came up after dinner that night and said that he had a bikpela hevi. I, unfortunately, immediately thought that he was about to ask for some money or a lift to the highlands or we had done something to insult him. He went on to say that he was very sad that our time in his village was coming to an end; we had been there for so long now that we had ceased to be guests. What can you say in return? I just said that our time wasn't finished yet, so lets enjoy what's left! He said that he was going to spend all the rest of the time with us (at which I was a little surprised, but thankfully as it turned out we really didn't see him after that).

It was a very hot night tonight – no rain. Keren and Jesse are both restless with ear pain.

Wednesday 6th January
Keren and Jesse are still not getting better, so Sandi has decided to take them to the clinic. Keren is very tired (Jesse says grumpy) with pain in his head; Jesse seems to cope a little better. Actually, Sandi is a little worried with the prolonged sickness of the boys.

Nathanael getting his hair cut with just a few spectatorsSandi has decided to cut Nathanael's hair, because he has picked up nits from somewhere. Sandi doesn't have her clippers with her, and there is no electricity anyway, so she attacked his hair with scissors. Actually, about 3 seconds after Nathanael has been sat down there is an audience in gripped attendance.

BBQ eggs and bread for lunch: we are now starting to graze like the rest of the villagers. After lunch we head off to the clinic at Alexishaven to have Jesse and Keren checked out. Jesse is diagnosed with swimmer's ear – no medication, just no more swimming! They thought Keren may have malaria, so a blood smear is done to check.

After we got back to the village we were amazed to see Fr. Bart striding across the village toward us. Took just a few moments to put two and two together. He brought a message from the Mary Sisters. He was down with Fr. Peter and was doing some sight seeing; he said the road seemed fine when he had crossed it.

The river was nice again, but the water was very warm: almost hot. Took about six of the village kids down with us, who played energetically on the log; but we could not do much so just floated around, Jesse had to keep his ear dry.

Later that afternoon we popped into Alexishaven to pick up Keren's results, which thankfully turned out to be negative. Although when they checked his ears they found two infected ones! Which does help to explain the temperature, sore throat and ears.

Thursday 7th January
I woke early, and feeling a strange pang in my stomach, decided to wander down to the beach in the predawn darkness and watch the sunrise over the lagoon. I can feel the impending departure weighing on me, and I guess it's like catching every minute on offer. The peace of the new day in such a delightful surround was special.

While Sandi and I do some chores in town (essentially buying some food that Skol wanted for the big farewell) the boys stayed at home and ended up making coconut brooms with Adolf and Fidelis, up the hill at Arsenia and Valentine's place.

Jesse and Keren learning how to make brooms the Madang way Jol was volunteered to go up the coconut, so up he went – bush knife in hand. When he had scampered up the 10-15 metres, he simply sat down in the crown and started hacking off kulau with his knife. As they hit the ground, they rolled off down the hill, which meant that Fidelis and Adolf had to give chase. Down came some dry coconuts and some fronds and then finally Jol.

The leaves were stripped back to their centre veins and bundled together and bound with cut strips of gumi. Jesse and Keren very much enjoyed this experience, in fact, they have enjoyed the second half of the holiday. I think they have slowed down to village pace and are really soaking in the benefits it offers us.

Sandi and I arrived home to find the village empty, but not long after the line of adventurous broom makers came walking in with a huge bounty and smiles on their faces.

Jesse climbing a buai palmThe discussion turns to the task of providing some buai to Skol's brother on his departure (the traditional farewell), and Jesse volunteers to scamper up the palm and collect the fruit. The local boys tie some grass around their ankles to hold their feet together and give them the grip needed, but Jesse used his arm and shoulder strength to pull himself up. Whichever way, it was successful, and all the locals were most impressed!

After lunch we went for a swim in the river, and took a few village pikaninis as well. Was quite nice, except the water was very warm again – it can't be raining up river.

Skol prepared a joint Farewell Meal for us and her brother, who is leaving tomorrow too. The whole village turned up and Skol had cooked a real feast: rice, kaukau, taro, yam, chicken. After the meal there were general speeches and thank you's. Chairs were at a premium, so I sat on the floor which upset a few people. In fact Jacob had to tell his son to stop laughing, presumably because it was the women's place to sit on the floor.

We had asked Adolf for a family story and got a thank you for coming speech. I tried to reply in Pidgin, with mixed success. Wolphi informed us that Willie went to Lae in the morning, driving through the two river crossings, and on his return came back on top of the two completed crossings! So our journey home seems assured: thank you Jesus!

We all are bundled off to bed feeling quite exhausted, but Skol and Wolphi are up till 12:30am washing dishes, one of the main reasons was that they had to wait until the moon came up so that they could see the dishes.

Friday 8th January
I was so impressed with yesterday's sunrise, I woke everyone up while it was still dark so that we could wander down to see the sunrise this morning. Off we trotted in the dark, with torches and cameras to the beach. From pitch black (there are no artificial lights here) to the dazzling, brilliant day was an awesome experience.

Skol was up at 5am to farewell Jacob and his family. Adolf had been dispatched to buy some tapiok cake (tapioca cooked with coconut and formed into slabs; the same type of thing that Rovin cooked for our Blue Lagoon picnic!), which was very nice but very rich.

After breakfast we cleaned our little house and packed the bus. We sat and talked, everyone from the village was milling about, waiting to say goodbye. We took some group photos and unable to cope with waiting any longer decided to leave. It took quite some time to walk the short distance to the bus, as we had to shake everyone's hand and many offered us a gift from their garden ( kulau, drai, laulau, guava, pineapples and flowers): it was really very emotional. Adolf wanted a lift into Madang, so came with us.

The Departure
All the village kids lined up ready to throw flowers over usLeaving the village was an experience I will never forget. Everyone was milling about as we were waiting to leave and taking photos, saying goodbyes. When we jumped into the bus all the village kids ran toward the road. We didn't really know what was happening, but as we turned onto the road there they were: lining the sides. And as we drove past they shouted and called in their sweet little Pidgin voices, and showered us with flowers. It was extremely moving and produced quite a flow of aiwara.

We dropped into Best Buy to buy some provisions and bumped into Fidelis. Fidelis almost immediately burst into tears on seeing us, which made the whole farewell very hard. And then Andy and Iris drove up and a strange emotional triangle was formed. We sort of just stood there for some minutes, Fidelis weeping and Andy smiling. Quite strange.

The Coastwatchers LighthouseThat night we ate dinner at the Madang Lodge, which served pizza (and we were all quite keen to have some pizza again). The pizza was a shocker, with a base that resembled cardboard; all I could think as I was trying to get it down was how nice the village food was. The view over the bay was nice though, and the mosquitoes thought Iris' legs were particularly tempting.

We later went down to the coastwatchers lighthouse, but were disappointed because they don't turn the light fully on anymore because it interferes with the planes landing at the airport.

We stayed the night in a vacant cabin at the Divine Word Institute, where Andy and Iris were staying. The boys were particularly impressed with sleeping in a bed again, but I was shocked how hot the houses were in comparison to the village structures. In the three weeks in the village, I was never kept awake at night by the heat, but at DWI the rooms were hot and stuffy.

Saturday 9th January
A quiet day washing sheets and clothes in the DWI washing machines, visiting the Madang Markets for the last time and purchasing supplies for the trip home.

After lunch we went out to Jais Aben for a swim. Whilst there we spoke to a professional dive instructor who solved the mystery of our sores! He said it was Fire Coral. The stinging cells can be picked up form the coral, the water or even the sand. They don’t seem to affect stronger skin (hence the local people were not affected), and could be picked up on the hands and transferred to a more sensitive area without affecting the hands (this is how Keren’s face was affected). He always carries a can of Xylocain local anesthetic spray, which will kill the stinging cells (and also works on Portuguese Man of War and other box jelly fishes!).

The boys were keen to watch a video that night – the only one available being Pulp Fiction. A shocking story, though interestingly told: but in the end a horrid intrusion.

We were struck by the fact that we probably could not have stayed so long in Madang if we were at DWI. Without a lot of money of boats, dive courses, restaurants, etc, we would have tired of it all much sooner.

Sunday 10th January
Left DWI at 6:04am, stopped at Goroka for nearly 2 hours for lunch and finally got home at 5:21pm after travelling 473kms in nearly 10 hours of driving in convoy with Andy and Iris!

The trip home was particularly uneventful, so much easier than the trip down. Because the road had had to be remade because of all the rain damage, it was in great shape. We ate a breakfast of beef crackers (one of the store bought products we will very much miss) and cheeses in the bus on route. We sang praises to God at the top of our voices through the Coastal Ranges. We must have acclimatised to the coastal temperatures during our short stay, because we all started feeling quite cold as we hit the highlands again.

On our arrival back at Good Shepherd College we find the chickens are bigger and (thankfully) still there! A lovely welcome from Fr. Kees, John and Anna and Maria [Staff Cook]. There is heaps of mail, mostly christmas cards, which is a real treat.