I was doing third year when I was terminated from school on disciplinary grounds, I decided not to inform my family and planned on running away, to where I don’t know, but it was a plan I had formulated in my crafty mind while I was waiting for my decision from the disciplinary council of Divine Word University. I was scared of going home; I felt it was in my best interest that I keep the not so pleasing news from my parents, I feared the news would break my mother’s fragile heart and send my dad into a rage. I just did not have the courage to tell my family about my termination so I hung around the campus for a while until an opportunity for me to escape popped up on my Facebook news-feed.
It was from the YWAM Medical Ship, they were going on their sixth outreach in Finschaffen, Morobe Province and were calling for volunteers so without hesitation, I applied and was told to come on board the ship, which would be docking at Lae Port. I packed my bag and took the road to Lae from Madang.
I was a drifter, a piece of wood floating in the vast ocean called life, wherever the waves carried me, I would go. The tide was favorable and so I found myself in Lae City, PNG’s industrial hub.
It was late when I arrived at Lae, I told the driver of the Lae-Madang bus “Ayang” to drop me off at the port where I was taken on board the ship by an YWAM worker. The outreach would last for two weeks so I thought when the outreach ended, I would find another place to travel to, somewhere as far away from home.
On board the ship, I met people of different nationalities, and some locals. The next day, the ship raised anchor and we sailed off to Finschaffen. However, I am not here to tell you what happened on the ship, rather what happened when we went on a patrol. I spent the first week as a volunteer on board the ship working with the Optometry team going out to rural areas, conducting eye tests and handing out glasses to people. The second week, I was put to work in the galley to prepare food for the volunteers on board, which I really much enjoyed as I spent more time in the kitchen eating every type of food I laid eyes on.
The first week, we anchored at Langema Bay at Butaweng and served the surrounding communities and villages, we went as far as Sattleberg. During the second week, we sailed and dropped anchor at Dregerhaffen. It was there that one of the team leaders of the patrol outreach approached me, and informed me that we were going on a patrol to one of the remote areas of Finschaffen.
Once again, I packed my bag and went to Dregerhaffen secondary school field with the patrol team where a helicopter owned by Manolos Aviation airlifted us to Makini, a remote village perched high up in the mountains of Finschaffen. The climate was like that of Highlands, me having spent a significant amount of time in the Highlands can tell you that Makini is even colder than the Highlands climate. There was no road no road network for the people, the only road I saw while flying was constructed for the logging companies to move their logs down to the river, going all way down to the coast. The area was only accessible by aircraft and by foot.
We landed at Makini on a small airstrip built for single engine aircrafts; the airstrip was located near the aidpost, which served the entire population in the remote region. However, the aid post had been shut down for almost two years; the medical workers left and never came back. When the helicopter dropped us and took off, a small number of people came and gave us a warm welcome even though the place was cold.
Those of us who went on the patrol were eight of us. Three nationals and five expatriates; each an expert in their own field of work who had come on board YWAM Medical Ship as volunteers. We had a guy from Canada, a lady from Switzerland, An American, Two Australians and us three locals, one from Finschaffen and another from Kabwum and myself, from Central.
We were then shown to the house we would be sleeping in and had our cargoes moved in. It was a traditional house; the walls were made from woven bamboos, the roof was sago leaf and the flooring made from trunks of betelnut palms or just palms. Most of the expatriates had never slept in a traditional hut before so they kept inspecting it to see if it was safe to sleep in it. They were even surprised to see a fireplace in the middle of the hut. I explained that it was cold up here so a fireplace was needed in the hut to warm it while we slept. The American lady said ‘it’s just like our heating systems back in USA, how cool is that?’. I nodded in agreement. You got that right.
When we had settled in, it was already afternoon so I started a fire in the fireplace in the middle of the hut without any difficulties which from the look and the expressions on their faces was like me performing a magic trick. Upon seeing this, the swizz lady startled at how quick the fire was started said ‘Wow Duncan, you’re an expert in starting fires, how did you do that?’. In my mind, I was like ‘really?’, but I understood that most of them have never started a fire in their lives. Coming from first world countries, they had no experience in collecting wood to start fires so I didn’t say a thing.
They were here to serve my people by bringing much needed services to the rural areas and also to experience new cultures so I felt that as a native, I had to make sure they enjoyed the experiences.
When the fire was up, I poured three cups of rice into a pot, poured water in, measured it and set it on the fire, which was now burning like the furnace in hell because the Canadian guy kept feeding the monster with dried twigs. I told him to stop pushing wood and save some as we would be needing it later during the night to keep us warm. The villagers were kind enough to bring us more wood for our fire.
My two PNG friends were outside while I was in the hut with the foreigners making sure the fire was burning and also to make sure the guy didn’t push anymore wood in. When I saw the rice boiling, I minimized the fire and told them to keep an eye on the pot and if possible remove the pot from the fire when the rice was cooked or just let the fire die down. When I was sure they understood my instruction, I went out to join my wantoks for a smoke. Outside, the sun was setting in the horizon, the view was so beautiful that me and my wantoks stood overlooking the magnificent jungles below us, while we enjoyed our tobacco the locals gave us.
While we were laughing away from the Kande’s jokes, the Kande poked me and said ‘Muna, Go na lukim rice ya, mi smelim em fire stap ya’. I lifted my head and sniffed the air, and indeed, rice ya woklo fire stap. I ran like a madman into the hut and lo, inside the hut was polluted with the smell of the over burnt rice. I picked up the hot fiery pot with my bare hands and dropped it on the palm trunk flooring of the hut, and then opened the lid. The steam coming out of the pot burnt my hands and my face. I was so mad and wanted to swear but kept my cool and asked why they didn’t remove the pot from the fire to which the American lady replied and said ‘we did’t know if the rice was cooked or not’. I was about to explode but then remembered that they had never cooked rice on the fire before and his was totally new to them so I explained how cooking on the fire, works. Now I wanted to know why the fire was burning like hell when I had clearly instructed them not to stick any more wood into the fire.
Just as I had a feared, when I left the hut, the Canadian guy was back at it feeding the fire with wood until the flame blanketed the rice pot, the pot was black like a dark starless night including the rice. I inspected the pot of rice and found that almost 70% of the rice was burnt. Only the top part of the rice was properly cooked, the poor ones at the bottom of the pot were burnt beyond recognition. The other lady being concerned asked me about my hands but I told her it was okay and then went on to explain the rice was burnt and had to be thrown away and a new one be cooked. I did not want them eating burnt rice but to my amazement, one of them got and said ‘It’s okay, we will just eat it’. I looked of the other lady in surprise, ‘No no, this is unfit for consumption’ I replied in my best English to the American. She responded and said ‘It’s fried rice’ to which her other four friends nodded their heads in agreement and said something about eating fried rice on the fire.
‘No, this is not fried rice, there is a difference between fried rice and burnt rice’ I objected. The Swizz lady then asked ‘It will still taste like fried rice won’t it?’. By this time, I was about to lose my mind and kick the rice pot out of the hut. I stood up and went out of the hut to inform my two PNG wantoks about the disaster in the hut. I asked one of them to go cook the stew while I stood outside and got some cool air.
The foreigners were still in the hut watching the soup being prepared; they were surprised when we dumped everything into one pot when cooking the soup. I just told them that this is how we cook in PNG to which they all made several comments. One said ‘Now I wanna try that, PNG soup yeah?. Everything goes into one pot’. We all found that comment hilarious and laughed while the Kabwum was tasting the soup he had prepared, like any chef would do, taste the work of his hand before serving.
When the soup was cooked, we served them the best part of the rice, which was properly cooked, and for ourselves, the burnt part.
During dinner, we watched as they enjoyed their meal; complementing our cooking while we sat quietly in the corner and tried our best to swallow our burnt fried rice.