If you read my other blog on what my expectations were before I went to Paama, you will know they were very low. I’m not sure if I should feel fortunate or disappointed as I did not have to use a long drop toilet while I was there. I was looking forward to really roughing it but we were spoilt with concrete accommodations, flush toilets, no mosquitos and rat proof bedrooms.
Don’t get me wrong, though, there was still plenty of adventure.
The 3km ride on the back of the ute to get from the airport to the village was enough to destroy any bad back and make any 10-year-olds them park dreams come true. The return journey 10 days later by boat, this time, carried its own adventure, as the boat had a leak. One of the guys had to put his feet over the holes while I bailed.
The food was a little bit of a challenge for me early on as they love their peanut butter and tuna, which I do not. By the end, I was eating small amounts of tuna mixed with Chinese cabbage and other things but never peanut butter. As the days went on the variety changed and increased, we started getting packet biscuits and home made banana and coconut pie. The pie was one of my favourites. Pawpaw, coconuts, grapefruit, taro, cassava, pumpkin, sweet potato, boiled rice and chicken were among the other foods we were given.
The meals were at 6:30; 10:30; 12:30; 3:30 and 6:30, all of a similar size, the only variation was more fruit and sweets at 10:30 and 3:30.
Living in the village and working with the villagers provided many special moments.
Firstly, a bucket list item for me, we got to try some authentic Kava. One evening at about 6 o’clock we went to one of the village homes and sat down outside on logs and stumps. We were each given a piece of pawpaw as a chaser before being given half a coconut shell full of kava. It didn’t look good, even in the dark. I had read many a story about how it tasted, but I was very surprised to find that I didn’t need the pawpaw and I actually liked it.
The day we arrived we attended church in the village where we were the guests of honour. We had to wait until everyone else was in and seated before we could enter, then we sat in the front row. It was a lovely service, but just on two hours was a little too long for me. I was glad to find out afterwards that I was not the only one struggling to stay awake.
A week later was my most special occasion when we went to the thanksgiving service. This was a full day event starting with a boat ride down the coast to another beach and then a walk up a valley to another village where we had a thanksgiving service with other villages from around the area. Each village takes turns holding the thanksgiving service, generally once a month to raise extra funds for the village. Paster Geoff spoke at this service assisted by Seema, so most of the service was in English and it was a good deal shorter than the previous one, so no issues staying awake this time. The service was followed by lunch (provided by the local village) which consisted of boiled rice, we asked for half the quantity they were dishing out and your choice of fish, chicken or pork. I got chicken, 3 small pieces of chicken and importantly a ladle of broth. The pork choice was a dozen or so pieces of pork, no broth and therefore very dry.
Interesting, I have just realised that I have only talked about the village, the people and the culture, nothing about why we went there. But then as I think about it, that is why we went there, to show this small community that people do care and that they are not forgotten.
I have many other stories I could tell of interacting with and meeting the locals, but I will save those for another time.
So we had three main jobs to do in Niro, all at the Vaum Junior Secondary School.
- Clean and paint the girl’s dorm and showers
- Install a handrail on the bridge
- Replace the iron on the boy’s toilets
I spent most of my time working in the girl’s dorm, while this was a simple job it was also a big job. We added a couple of mosquito nets and some security bars as well. We also cleaned and painted the girl’s shower block. This was a much smaller job, so allowed for some creativity by Lisa and AM to make and install door handles and add some extra trimmings around the windows. These extra details do make the showers look extra smart.
I worked on the bridge at various stages as we all did. This is one of those projects where the finished product does show how much time and effort went into completing it. But it is done and now the locals can feel safer about crossing the bridge at night.
The boy’s toilets. I started here by helping measure up the iron sheets and then finished here too by helping screw the new ones on. This was almost the forgotten project, bubbling away in the background while the other two projects steamed ahead. But like all the other jobs it was completed in the end, even if we had to work in the rain on the last couple of days.
In reflection, as I look back and compare my Paama trip with my other trips, where I have built houses instead of doing maintenance and wonder which I prefer, and which adds more value to the local community. I think the answer is, it doesn’t matter what I do, but the mere fact of doing it enriches my life and the lives of the locals.
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