by Geoffrey Heard
It’s a stressful time in paradise -- it is school holiday time and packs of kids are roaming around, playing vigorous games, hooting and laughing, running, chasing, bluffing, arguing, resolving disputes by shouting louder and occasionally delivering a smack over the ear, and paying no attention to parental cries for merciful quiet.
Our usual quota of anything from five to a dozen ankle biters and above (depends on how many related houses you include in the count and the time of day) has been supplemented by the arrival of a daughter of the house with three of her own plus one of her brother’s children.
The increase of the four visiting kids attracted the attention of every child for several hundred meters around so that we had a whole tribe (in reality, a clan) racing around in one giant pack for a day. Then they were alternatively arguing and playing in a number of lesser giant packs for another day, and finally thinning out on the third day as interest waned, all the kids had got up to date on the news since they were all together last time, parents demanded their children stay at home long enough to complete family tasks, and everyone shook down into comfortable smaller groups.
But every now and again, they coalesce and the chaos and cacophony break out again!
It was quite funny watching normally “cope with anything” parents and grandparents fraying at the edges and suddenly finding they had urgent errands to run in town which demanded that they instantly flee on the nearest minibus to return a couple of hours later looking virtuous, errand apparently completed satisfactorily. And so it was -- they had achieved their goal, a break from the kid cacophony and frenetic activity.
Note the use of “was” in “it was quite funny”. I was rolling along quite nicely in all this when what amounted to a giant wave of noise and mad activity engulfed me just before lunch today. Mercifully, a minibus with a spare seat appeared within minutes to whisk me away to do my urgent business in town. The escape was worth ten times the asking price of K2.00 (80¢).
Right now, the sun is setting and the sky is on fire over Kerevat and the Bainings mountains.
And a level of peace has descended.
The soccer game in our front yard has ended although the bigger kids have moved across the road and joined the touch footy game there (they have a rugby ball on that side) as it runs down to its inevitable end in the deepening dusk.
Our littlelies are out the back undergoing the serial social bathing experience -- they stand on the spare part of the tank stand and are vigorously doused and washed down by the nearest mother or aunt (some aunts are not much older than the tots they are bathing) armed with a bucket of cold water and a can for throwing it over them. Resistance is useless; there are some pretty firm hands around here and the kids know that their mothers are never going to gainsay another mother or an aunt. They’re the sisterhood! Anyway, the water’s not really cold -- this is the tropics! It’s just not hot.
In the haus kuk (cook house), mother and grandmother, Roselyn, is producing mouthwatering odours as she prepares dinner for about 15 (she actually does count them when serving up). The rice is ready, and she is now working on the stew of greens, salted fish and coconut.
I’m very familiar with the underpinnings of this village diet but to my surprise, I’m finding I’m noticing the details of it more than I have before.
I always knew greens played a important part in the diet, but only recently have I noticed how big a part in terms of volume, variety and flavor. Your average Tolai eats a lot of greens. And not just just big bunches of leaves, but a huge variety. Again, it was something I knew intellectually, but after living for decades in Australia and becoming re-accustomed to the focus on just a few species in our supermarkets and fruiterers, I had forgotten how rich and diverse the Tolais’ diet is.
Tolais must regularly eat 100 or more varieties of greens, some of which they grow in gardens and some of which grow wild to be harvested when they see it. The most prized of the greens seems to be the leaves of the aibika, a stalky plant with a spinach-like taste and consistency.
If you’re traveling from Rabaul to Port Moresby and want to guarantee your welcome there, you visit the market on the way to the airport and for about K2 (80¢) buy two big bunches of aibika, enough to feed six or seven people. Yum, yum! (You’ll also be asked for betelnut, buai, but that’s anther story!)
I’ve seen four (or is it more?) kinds of leaves going into the mix tonight. Aibika is there, also pumpkin and/or choko tips, two more kinds of leaves I don’t recognize and perhaps two or three more (or they might be more or less mature leaves of the same). Whatever, cooked with coconut and with the salted (but not salt) tuna added (it might work out wt 20 gms per person), it will be delicious and very nourishing.
After dinner, I’ll have a cup of tea while we sit around talking for a bit, then I’ll retire to bed to repair the stress of the day with some well-earned shut eye.
Ah! There’s the call for dinner now. ###
This material is copyright © Geoffrey Carrascalao Heard 2010.
The opinions and comments in this article are his own.