A number of weeks ago, Anastasia and I took a brief Sunday stroll to the local river – the Waghi. The river starts near Mt. Hagen and is the efficient cause of the valley in which we live. It meanders east through our area and then abruptly swings south to eventually flow into the distant Gulf of Papua. The Catholic Church leases a large swath of land bordered on the south and east by the Waghi and to the northeast by the Warakar creek.
First, Annie and I walked to the nearby convent to see if one of the sisters would walk with us. Though we would be walking the whole time in Church lands, there is an extensive coffee plantation between the Catholic schools and the river, a plantation crisscrossed with bush trails and dirt roads meant for coffee gathering pickup trucks. And as we had recently been told to always walk with someone local, I sought out a nun to be our bodyguard and guide.
Sadly (for us) the nuns were in prayer, but right next door at the school for the disabled (mostly programs for the deaf, I understand) was a married couple that we had had dinner with before. The wife is a special education teacher and the husband teaches English. The husband, Isaac, was coaxed into being our tour guide and bodyguard.
The walk itself was pleasant – a sparse forest with the undergrowth consisting entirely of coffee bushes with dark green leaves. It is the only walk that I’ve gone on in PNG so far in which we did not constantly meet people. Apparently the back corner of the Fatima coffee plantation is not the popular place to be on a Sunday afternoon . . .
We had a nice view of the river from a small bluff and then we worked our way down to the water itself. Unfortunately the sewerage of Mount Hagen and of all the villages in the valley flow into the River, so it is not fit for swimming. The rector of Good Shepherd, in fact, regularly comments on the dirtiness of the Waghi, claiming that it was an immediate effect of the Fall!
I enjoyed talking to Isaac. He and his wife are from Rabaul, which is a city on New Britain Island. The islands and the northern coast of PNG were colonized by the Germans well before the Highlands even knew that there was an outside world. So it was interesting to hear Isaac talk about how Highlands life is rather wild and Highlands people are rather violent compared to the more sedate life on the coast. One difference is that in New Britain the police actually have power, perhaps too much (Isaac said that they confiscate firearms and shoot law-breakers), while in the Highlands problems are (sadly) often resolved through personal and tribal fighting and the police do little more than note what happened. Isaac also said that he missed the tropical fruits and the seafood of the coast, and he told me an amusing tale of how a fisherman tried to sell him a single eel from the Waghi for a 100 kina (~$45)!
It was a nice walk on the not-too-wild side.