05 NOVEMBER 2020
Riding in an old dugout canoe with a single outboard motor, Efrongawi is jokingly cautioned by his guide to keep his limbs and phalange’s well inside the confines of the vessel lest the crocodiles snap at him.
“Keeping his head in the game” and his limbs in the canoe, Efrongaindu asks his experienced attendant how long he has been giving tours along the Sepik River. His local fixer explains that he has been in the tourism industry for many years but that he, Efrondu, was the most famous person he has had for a while. Efrongawi, Efrongaindu, Efrondu, Chekarias Efroningi, are some of the local names that Sepik’s have bestowed on him as a way of relating him to them and them to him; making him a kind of honorary ‘kin’. As they lose sight of Pagwi Waterfront behind them, Efroningi wonders how he can “kill” himself on TV without actually killing himself in real life.
When they finally arrive at their destination at Kaminibit Village, Efrongawi is overawed by the aesthetics of the village, the seemingly mowed lawns, and the intriguing architectural brilliance of the residential and ritual houses. The people’s way life seemed to go about like clockwork, oblivious to his presence. They were a very hospitable village. His hosts brought water to him from a “nearby” water source for a bath. He later learned that the water source was a ten to fifteen minute walk from the main village site. They told him about their daily lives and local issues, and brought him food from their gardens, bush and river to cook dinner for him with some rice and noodles that had been bought and brought from Wewak Town. He felt like he could be his true self without having to “put on a show” or a mask for prying paparazzi or overzealous fans. At night laying safely under his bed net as he was lulled to sleep by a riparian symphony of a million different insects and mosquitoes he closed his eyes and felt like he could be swallowed up whole by his new environment and lost to the world forever.
The sun rose and morning spat him out. Chekarias sat atop the raised steps leading down from the open-air hut he was accommodated at.
Watching as the villagers went about their lives, making breakfast and getting ready to go to their gardens, and fishing, he realized that this was not the “backwater”, “lost”, “primitive”, “wild” tribal village ideal for his new TV series “Killing Zac Efron”. He thought to himself that he would need to go further inland, to the interior of the country to see if there was such a tribe that existed in PNG. He decided he would ask his guide friend to take him back to Pagwi Waterfront after breakfast.
Perforated beads of sweat trickled down his face and sunglasses like mini streams down a windowpane during a drizzle. He took off his shades to give them a wipe with his shirt for the umpteenth time. He preferred the dry arid heat of Port Moresby. The heat in Wewak came in waves of humidity that seared through his clothes and drenched his body with sweat from the inside out so he always had wet spots on his shirt around his underarms and chest. He lifted his new “focus cap” with his right hand and with the same arm wiped the sweat from his brows with the back of his wrist. The “focus caps”, as the locals called it, seemed to be a popular head adornment among the youths. The cap was actually the flat-cap type and some versions more resembled the Gatsby caps that were popular among early twentieth century boys and adult men in Europe and North America. Fashion trends seem to pick up late here in PNG but last long when they do start trending.
Cap back on and “dark specs” protecting his eyes again from the sun’s harmful UV rays, he undid another button on his vermilion shirt. He felt like he was back on the set of Baywatch in California. He wished he was there too so he could at least walk around with nothing on except his swimming togs. In PNG, unless you were in a village or at a beach or river, everyone dressed more or less sensibly, though some with a questionable fashion nous. In town the previous day he saw a young man walking barefoot along the hot pavement outside the Tang Mow department store with a brightly coloured and elaborately designed sleeveless shirt, cut jeans and slinging a Trukai Rice bag. He recognized the brand as the same company that produced the rice that he has been eating regularly for dinner while in East Sepik Province. When he asked his guide friend if Trukai also has a fashion line, he was told that the bag was the same ten kilogram rice bag that was reused as a carrying bag after its content was eaten. The bag has its own sling handle but some people he saw had sewn on different sling handles. He saw the same ingenious reusing of hand-me-downs and throw away items everywhere he went and was intrigued particularly by people’s wardrobe choices. Another slick guy he saw when at Dagua Market confidently strutted around with a black-belted fedora hat, button-up tropical shirt, blue jeans and slippers. Zac only realized the guy had on ladies jeans when he saw the row of five buttons in the front of his crotch where there should have been a zipper. He thought the guy still looked cool though and clearly the guy thought the same of himself.
The droning of aircraft engines circling above along with his rumbling tummy startled him out of his thoughts. Soon he would be back in the capital city and was scheduled to fly the next day to Goroka, the capital of the Eastern Highlands Province. From the intel he had gathered, Goroka had a cool and temperate climate. The best climate in PNG he was assured. He looked forward to a change in weather and to sampling some of the highlands mumu or ground-oven-cooked food he was told a lot about. He insisted that he himself kill the pig that would be used for the Goroka steam mumu he was organizing for tomorrow. Zac was quite enjoying the local cuisine so far but the stomach upset he was currently having may have been from something he ate at a local “kai bar” or eatery earlier in the morning. In the meantime he looked forward to the temporary respite from the heat he would be getting once he got into the cabin of the Air Niugini Dash-8 aircraft. Boram Airport terminal did not have the luxury of air con. He wasn’t sure whether it was just the heat and humidity or if he was coming down with something. He had been faithful to his anti-malarial medication and when his first dosage finished he bought Malawan 3 from the Pharmacy in Wewak Town after returning from the Sepik River.
Apart from having a bit more leg space there was not much more difference between his first class seat and the economy seats. Seated across the aisle from him on the same row was a good-looking young women who was about the same age as him. She had a head full of dreadlocks but he couldn’t make out if they were extensions or her own natural hair grown out. In any case he thought she looked good in the locks. She had on a short-sleeved shirt that had a patchwork of checkered, almost basket-like, laced designs. The shirt was coloured in white with streaks of pink interspersed in between and splashes of green around the borders; and she wore slightly loose black pants that didn’t outline her figure. He liked that her figure was still eye-catching though and that she didn’t need tight jeans to show-off her shape. His guide, who was next to him in Seat A2, advised Zac that the lady he couldn’t get his eyes off of was from Yangoru. They had driven past that area on the way to Pagwi Waterfront he remembered. The Dash-8 was at cruising level now and he felt almost normal again sitting under the air con vent at full blast. He smiled and stuttered back to his guide that he was just admiring her shirt.
His guide friend soon fell asleep and Zac resumed stealthily eyeing the beautiful dark woman betwixt pages of his Paradise In-Flight magazine. But she seemed to be lost in her own reading of the same magazine. She obviously didn’t watch a lot of movies or TV for that matter and appeared blasé to his celebrity. Apart from his white skin, which was normally enough to stand out in a predominantly black country, he was not exactly dressed to impress, especially with his flip flops or “thongs” as the popular tropical footwear was colloquially referred to in PNG. On the set of Baywatch all his female co-stars wore a very different kind of thongs and no footwear.
Half-way into the flight his stomach growled loudly and he made a quick dash to the toilet to answer the call of nature. As an experienced world traveler, he knew it was always hard to go somewhere new without getting an upset tummy. Diarrhea was just the body’s way of responding to different bacteria in food and water. He popped a pill of Imodium before returning to his seat. He wasn’t going to allow a simple case of the runs to prevent him from enjoying exotic PNG foods.