Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ocean Crossing

Karkar in the background--a still-active volcanic island :)
Fish, I decided, is meant to be eaten by the ocean. Especially if it is wrapped in a banana leaf and combined with fire-roasted cooking bananas.

My wasfemili (host family) and I had walked the two and a half hours down to the Pacific Ocean where I encountered one of those places that I thought only exist in postcards. Waves crashed up against the point, rippling off the volcanic islands on the horizon. Under the shadow of a cloud-crusted Karkar, I could see flashes sparkling and twisting above the waves like fireflies—tuna and yellow-fin were leaping before the boats of fishermen. The sun-warmed breeze, flavored with salt and tropical flowers, filtered through the palm trees and lush vegetation. My host brothers clambered over the black coral rocks, using their knives to pry off mussels, crabs (yes, the kuka appeared again), shrimp, and crawfish and fry them in the fire.

I am indeed attempting to canoe in the background
At one point, one of my nephews or uncles (keeping all the relations straight is always a puzzle) invited me to embark on a traditional outrigger canoe, where I soon discovered that my Minnesota paddling skills do not translate easily to a watercraft with a saman and ocean waves. So, I practiced going in circles… and marveled at the scenery of this place I’m learning to call home on the Pacific Rim.

It was a tropical paradise.

As I sat, listening to the waves break over the reef and the chatter of my wasfemili in the languages of Tok Pisin and Bargam, I realized that crossing from one culture into another is like stepping from dry land onto a ship… and living there.

People still eat and drink and laugh, but onboard the plates must be secured to the table and your bed is simply a hammock. The floor rocks under your feet unexpectedly, storms seem to blow up without reason, and the bird calls seem to scrape against your ears. Your stomach roils at the slightest provocation, the speech barked out by the sailors is a jumble of nonsense, and you stumble and fall like a small child just learning to walk.

Why did I leave? You wonder, hands outstretched to the wooden sides, clinging for stability. You wonder, until you gain your sea legs, learn to read the sky, and fall in love with the ocean depths.

And then you realize that once your voyage is at an end, you must once again cross over—this time from the deck to dry land.

And so, you start again.