SETTING UP HOUSE
Entry to the field:
Upon my arrival in Bundi, both the Catholic missionary and the local government councillors suggested I use a vacant school teacher's house as my first house in Yandera village. The Yandera school was composed of four grades, drawing children from the Upper Bundi villages (as opposed to the Lower Bundi villages, whose children walked everyday to the school at Bundi). This house was ideal and the rent was inexpensive. It had two rooms: one I could use as a sitting room and kitchen area, the other for storage and sleeping. It sat on the edge of the school's lower playing field, centrally located on what used to be the meeting place or sometimes "fight ground" between the two clans in Yandera. Few people in Yandera were happy with this setup, however, as both sides wanted me to live in their half of the village. As a new teacher was expected to arrive in a few months' time (and after some turmoil as I attempted to maintain a neutral position), I paid workers to build a house for me in the compound of the man and woman who were most actively engaged in my research and personal welfare and who, it turned out, were two of the most powerful persons in the entire Gende area.
First impressions, first helpers:
When I arrived at the dilapidated swinging bridge over the Tai-ayor River, almost the entire population of Yandera village came down the mountain to greet me and to laugh at my timid crossing (many of the wooden slats were broken and I was afraid of falling throught to the boulder-strewn rapids below). As we made our way up the slope and into the village, old men and women came out of their houses to shake hands and exclaim what a brave missus I was to come to such an out-of-the-way place. While I had explained my research and goals at the monthly local government council meeting in Bundi, at that moment few people in Yandera had any idea of why I was there.
For the next several hours, I had many visitors at my new home: giggling boys and girls who told wide-eyed - and soon crying - toddlers I was a ghost, men and women who came to chat and see what was in the boxes and trunks the carriers were bringing in, and local leaders (called Big Men) and their wives wanting to officially welcome me and to see for themselves what new curiosity the outside world had brought to their village. When darkness fell and people went away to prepare their dinners, a teenage girl showed me how to light my new kerosene lantern and cookstove. A young boy went off with my two water buckets to fetch water from a nearby spring. And Ruge and Elizabeth, the Big Man and his eldest wife who had met me on the Bundi airstrip and orchestrated my "grand entrance" into the village accepted my hospitality and shared the tea and rice and corned beef Elizabeth and I cooked for my first dinner in Yandera village.
Having a house built for me:
My new house was made of bush materials with woven walls and floors, thatched roof, and a porch (with shower room at one end) overlooking the houses where Ruge and his sub-clan lived with their families. Many times I sat on the that porch, writing up notes, interviewing or observing people going about their business, or reading a book (one doesn't work every second of the day!). Because it was built on a slope three sides of the house were on stilts and I couldn't have an interior fireplace to heat and cook with. When the nights turned freezing cold during the dry season, I slept with three blankets and a sleeping bag, going to a neighbor's house to warm up by their fire, then running back and jumping under my covers. In the rainy season, the area under my house was a favored card-playing site, something I didn't mind as card-playing redistributed cash more equitably among the many villagers who played.
In addition to bringing in clothing, medical supplies, and field equipment, when I first came to Yandera I brought with me household goods and cooking utensils and enough food supplies to last me for several months. You can see some of my furniture and utensils in the series of interior photos:
two chairs, two kerosene lanterns, a kerosene cookstove, sleeping cot, a trunk and two patrol boxes, flashlight, water buckets, plastic kerosene container, floor mat, dishes, pots and pans, wash tubs (one for dishes, one for washing clothes in), and more.
I also brought a five-gallon shower bag which I would fill with hot water and use during the rainy season in the shower-room off my balcony. During the dry season I bathed and washed clothes in the Tai-ayor river or at several smaller pools and creeks.
Some of the food supplies I brought included: rice, cans of corned beef and fish, powdered milk, powdered orange juice, cocoa, peanut butter and jelly, hard crackers, sugar, flour, cooking oil, salt and pepper, curry powder, ketchup, and tea. I bought fresh vegetables in the bi-weekly market women held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, times when people would come from nearby villages to play cards, socialize and assist with the maintenance of the school. For the rare treat I also brought along several cans of sardines and tuna fish and a few packets of coconut and chocolate cookies. On a few occasions a friend would bring back a bottle of warm Pepsi from a large tradestore several hours away. With little variety in my food, I sometimes fantasized about ice cream, fresh orange juice, and bacon-lettuce-and-tomato sandwiches and made sure I ate all these things whenever I spent a week in Madang. One thing I did not bring with me and did not miss was a watch. While some men wore watches as symbols of modernity, except for the school teachers and Sunday morning church services, no one was on a time schedule.
Copyright © 1996 by Laura Tamakoshi and Brian Cross