Try to Interact with the Locals...
It's been over ten years since I held this baby, but I can still recall her name....it was Gwendolyn.
Once in a while I have thought about her, wondering what she looks like now and what her life is like. I hope she's still alive. She'd be around 14 years old...maybe even married.
I don't know what it was about her, but I asked her mother if I could pick her up. She was one of the cutest babies I'd ever seen. I was curious to know her name, and even more surprised when her mother told me "Gwendolyn". Obviously the missionaries had been in these parts....
As we were getting ready to leave the village, I felt a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned around and it was Gwendolyn's mother, giving me a necklace made of seed pods. It was really an honor that she wanted me to have this gift, and I still have it today. She let me pose with Gwendolyn (I'm wearing the necklace) for this photo.
In my mind, that one special encounter was really the highlight of our Karawari River explorations.
Sago Palm continued (4)...
The resulting mass of sago palm is then cooked by either heating it over hot stones, or boiling it in water together with taro leaves or some other type of vegetation. The leaves are usually stuffed inside the mass.
Turning Sago Palm into Food
The sago palm grows prolifically in the Sepik region, and the natives depend on it as a staple in their monotonous and somewhat nutritionally void diets.
Sago is basically a starchy compound. The women distill the pulp by washing it over and over with water as it slides down a make-shift chute (see next tip).
Karawari River Villages
As I mentioned in the intro page, traveling the river while the sun shines down on you and the breeze tickles your face....well, it's easy to imagine that what you see along the shores is some magical fantasy place where happy natives dwell...
The reality was actually a bit shocking....I could not help but be concerned about the malaria that the locals are constantly fighting - apparently regular visitors to the area bring extra malaria pills and other medicines which simply aren't available in this area or aren't easily transported.
It became the norm to see villagers squatting in their doorways or even on the sandy ground beneath a tree, robotically swatting flies and mosquitoes away from their faces and bodies with makeshift pieces of palm fronds or leaves tied to branches...
And as I said, the children seemed bright eyed, but a lot of them had distended bellies. We learned that the staple in the region is the starchy sago palm.
The only commerce or economic activity in this area is provided by tourists visiting the villages - a double edged sword, really.
The highlight of the day is to receive us visitors, giving the natives a chance to show their crafts and hope to make a sale....
I tried to purchase a little something at each village, as the locals always displayed their wares out on the ground so we could take our time and decide.....often times I didn't want to get anything but it somehow didn't feel right to go through there and not pump a little bit of money into their villages....
And mostly I just tried to speak with the people directly, which seemed to surprise them - but they were always friendly and sweet, never pushy or stand-offish...I think they appreciated being treated with respect.
There were a few people in the group who were interested in making the best deals on wood carvings and I watched them breeze through these villages without even acknowledging the people....what a waste. Neither they nor the villagers will ever remember one another - and that seems sad.
Sago Palm continued (3)...
Once the pulp reaches a mushy consistency, the water is squeezed out and the remaining pulp is kneaded into a doughy mass and rolled into balls of various sizes and shapes.