“Arran,” says Ezikiel when the bananas are all finished, “yumi go waswas,” and off to the river we go.
Since it rained last night, the path to Wara Murur is mostly mud. Kunai grass and cocoa trees line the sides, and frogs sing out boisterously. As we walk, Ezikiel explains the difference between a “wantok” and a “brata” and listens as I practice using the new words in a sentence.
When we arrive at a fork in the road, he reminds me that the left path leads to the men’s bathing area and the right to the women’s. We, of course, go left – and when we arrive, three or four others are already bathing in the river.
I walk in with my boxers, submerge, and begin to lather with soap and shampoo. At the sight of the latter, some of the other men ask to borrow it, and it’s thrown about from man to man as I finish bathing. It’s as hot at the blazes outside – and hotter yet inside – so I stay and swim as long as seems reasonable.
When we return to the village, a group of men mostly thirty and older sits in chairs around a fire next to Ezikiel’s house, speaking their local language. They see me and ask if I’ll join the circle to stori with them. To “stori” here can mean anything from describing what a beaver looks like to retelling the plot of The Lord of the Rings (both of which I’ve done here at some point).
So I run inside, pick up my Tok Pisin workbook, and return. I’ve concluded that this is perhaps the best way to learn a new language: I read a new word out loud, use it in a sentence or two, they correct me if I’ve spoken slant, and they talk for two or three minutes about all the other uses of the word. Usually, this also leads into a conversation about the history of the Markam Valley or the customs of different PNG tribes.
Today is no different. When the word “daiman” comes up, Siga begins to explain how, back in the day, Papua Niuginians would hang dead bodies from trees as a warning to other tribes. It wasn’t until the missionaries came in the late 1800s, he explains, that this custom (and the cannibalism so often associated with this country) began to disappear. Now both practices have vanished altogether, thanks to the “gutpela tok bilong Papa God.”
After an hour or two of stori-ing, I’m mentally exhaused, so I say farewell and ask to get some rest.
Alone in my room, though, I rarely sleep during the day. Instead I use the time to write or read All Creatures Great and Small, which I appreciate all the more for being in English. Today’s chapter begins, “I can see you like pigs, said Mr. Worely…” and as I read it, a half dozen of the creatures grunt contentedly nearby.
I’ve come to treasure this time of resting my mind and renewing my strength – and my hosts are gracious enough to let me get away and take it an hour or two every day…