A weekend it was, indeed. At some point, I’ll tell you all about the betel nut phenomenon (slightly intoxicated people with red teeth), and the Ukarumpa Village Thanksgiving service (including people pushing baby strollers over that bridge I showed you pictures of a few weeks ago) – but for now, I’ll stick with the PMV story.
The nearest town to Ukarumpa is Kainantu, a place you might actually find on a world map or (if you paid extra) on a globe. The story is that during World War II, an airstrip was built in the area under the call-name of K92. After the war was over and some stores had emerged on both sides of the strip, the town was called “Kainantu” due to an apparent lack of name ingenuity.
Some kind folks here in Ukarumpa (Jacob and Juliann) offered to take me with them to Kainantu this past Saturday, and since I’ve spent very little time outside Ukarumpa, I gladly took them up on the offer. Those of us without cars must either walk the eleven kilometers or pay one-kina-fifty to ride a public motor vehicle (PMV). Opting for the more reasonable method, we paid the one-kina-fifty.
The trip itself was somewhat of a bust, since all the stores they wanted to go to closed about an hour before we arrived, but we still managed to get some groceries, and the fine folks who brought me familiarized me with the town (for which I’m most grateful).
At the end of our time there, we stood at the town center waiting for the next PMV to arrive. As far as I can tell, the way it works is this: someone who owns a private vehicle drives into town, asks the first guy he sees where he wants to go, and then lets it slip that he’s heading that direction. Soon, the rest of the crowd gets wind of where the PMV is going, and before long a motley crew of strangers start jumping in the back of the vehicle as fast as they can. Once everyone is situated (and I use the term loosely), the driver pulls out of the town center and stops a little ways up to collect everyone’s money.
In our case it was a truck with an elongated bed that picked us up, and half the town was apparently going the same place we were. I found a spot to sit on the outer rim of the truck-bed with just enough room to hold my umbrella between my legs.
“That’s an old joke,” Jacob said, turning to me as another fellow jumped on the back: “How many people can you fit on a PMV? ... One more.”
I did a quick count for the record: 54 people in one truck-bed. Some were standing, some sitting in other people’s laps, and a few were just crouching.
The truck in this picture is essentially the same, but triple the number of people in it (no joke) to get the right idea of how packed we were:
A guy who’d had a few too many pine nuts took the occasion to start conversing with Jacob in a mixture of Pidgin and English – Mi black man, yu waitskin, but we bratas! We bratas! – he repeated. Jacob just smiled and replied the only way you really can in such a situation: We bratas!
Then they shook hands, and after about four minutes or so, the man spoke up again – Yu waitman mi blackman, we bratas! Yes, we bratas. And Jacob, rising to the occasion, replied – We are bratas!
And then all the folks sitting at the back of the truck burst into song. The song, I should mention, was about as repetitive as the previous conversation. And as far as I could tell, only a few of them knew all the words (but this did not, by any means, prevent them singing it).
I, meanwhile, was having flashbacks of the time I got on a bus full of spaniards at five in the morning on the way to a soccer match. That story I’ll save for another time.