Papua New Gine
We've got this world map attached to the wall.
Every time we sail a piece I draw a purple line, on it I draw our route, centimeters at a time. I see we are progressing. We're at the other side of the map since a month now and we're in the most remote parts I've ever been to. It is strange to trade earth where electricity had not arrived, where there are no roads, where there is no water.
Today I drew 2 centimeters on our map, we're nearly touching Australia. We're in a small island of Papua New Guinea, it is beautiful when we sail in, there is a small village, huts are on stilts so the pigs won't come in, the walls are made of palm leaves, everything is natural, no plastic no cement, no iron. There are a few red trees and it is beautiful, the red leaves fall on the beach, fly in the air and for ones I feel this place is different from all our previous tropical stops. Red trees and a total absence of the industrialized world.
We have just thrown the anchor, I cook sweet potatoes with onions. We are very tired, we've had another long and exhausting passage. We're pushing it. Our bodies are complaining, it is getting too much for us to sail like that, we're not sailors, we're not enjoying it, it is draining us and we don't give our self the time to forget and restock on new energy so when we set sail again it seems we're just going on, miles and waves and wind overflowing, overwhelming.
We sit down and wait for the food to cool down a little. A canoe with 5, no 6 little children is coming towards us. Extending their tiny arms to get hold of Mardek. 'Hello' I say wondering if they speak any English. I'm in a new country, I know nothing of their customs, nothing of their way of thinking. 'Hello, do you like bananas?' one little boy asks. 'Sure' I answer and 5 fat nearly ripe bananas are pushed on board. 'C'scuse me, do you like shells?' asks another one. Do I like shells? Well no, not really, I mean I like them but not to the extend of stuffing Mardek with them, but then if it is a welcome gift, can I tell them I don't like it? So I answer 'Yes, I love shells' and they give me 5. 'S'scuse me, can we come on board? Visit the boat?' Can they come on board? 6 of them little buggers, just when the food is calling us, food for 2 not for 8. Again, can I tell them no? No I can't, so I say 'Sure' they tie their canoe and slip on board, pulling the little ones in precarious ways on deck. 'Do you want cookies?' I ask and they all smile and nod vigorously. I get a pack of crackers and they start eating them. We look at each other. 'S'scuse me, do you have meat?' then 'C'scuse me do you have exercise book' 'C'scuse me do you have pencil?' 'C'scuse me do you have t-shirt? And shorts? Trousers? Or fabric for my mom? Do you have flour? Rice?' We are being mugged by little cracker-eating children. Then the chief of the village passes by on a canoe and all little children hide their treasures under their shirts and smile innocently. The chief's a woman, she's been traveling all over the pacific and has come back a few years ago. Hakan speaks with her, I ask the children 'Why do you hide the presents?' of course I know why they hide their loot, but what will they say? The chief saves us for a while, tell the children to give us time to rest and eat. After a while all six of them get off. We eat our potatoes, rest. Then another canoe arrives, and mugs us again, and again, they keep on coming alongside and offer us 2 cherry tomatoes and leave with kilos of rice, tuna fish, balloons, dried fruit, lentils and so on.
Hmm... what will we do? The non-stop visits don't stop. No naps for us, because they stay and stay and stay until we give them all our worth... soon we'll have no more clothes, no more food, no more patience, we'll pull up the anchor, go some place else and from what I've heard, it'll go on like this. We'll have to become unpleasant or what? Become cold and egoistic? It's the first time we're confronted with this kind of thing, we're much unprepared and very uncomfortable with it. How can you say to someone that you want a little peace and quiet when you are sitting in their bay? How can you say you don't have a shirt when you do have one? How can you say that one coconut is not worth all they expect from it? We're at a loss...
The islands around here have no money, they trade. Trade??? My head doesn't know trade, I can't even bother with the bargaining bit used in some countries. So here we are, intruders from the world of have-it-all setting up the scale of things in their head. Judging from my trading busyness one coconut is worth a fortune in their minds. When really, it is not. Or is it? The thing is, they don't come up with clear trading intentions, though, now we're well aware they are, or aren't they? They come along side, ask us if we like this or that. But when we like something, does it mean we want to have it?
We're walking to the next village, this girl is looking at me, love is pouring out of her eyes, showering me with admiration. I'm getting a little shy. Every minute she seems closer to me when finally she jumps on me, caresses my arm, touches my hair, takes me in her cool hand. She's 12 years old but she's tiny, she shows me her school, introduces me to her teacher, tells me she wants to come and read the magazines we have on board. We take her with us I'm trying to make sure that her mom knows and allow her to join us, to the other side of the hill. She speaks a lot, Hakan is amazed by my patience with her, but really, I listen with one ear only and just register what's being said when an answer is being expected from me. She comes on board. She inspects everything. Then she shows me how to fry flour, it turns out to be not too bad although it is quite heavy on the stomach. Then she inspects some more, what is this and that and here? What does it tastes like. She makes an inventory of our ingredients, and informs on who made the crackers, who did the cereals, who made the marmalade and how do we get hold of fresh water. I give her my toothbrush and toothpaste, monoi oil and dried fruit, throat pastilles for her sick friend and plasters for her small wounds. Hakan is eager to bring her back on land, so am I. We drop her off with a bag bigger than her tiny body... I've done it again, but here it was no trading, here it was friendship... a friendship carving false material values yes, but a friendship none the less. How can I refuse to give a toothbrush? Can you tell me that? And what should she have to do to get it from me so she wouldn't misunderstand the values of things from a world that is coming to her whether it is good for her or not, whether she wants it or not.