Coffee, women and tyranny of terrain – an Eastern Highlands perspective

 Highlands women with coffee bags

By:  Jeffrey Mane Febi

They call us camels. They call us white horses. They call us semi-trailers. They call us many names. Names of things we don’t know much about. We’re they who walk with the strength of our grandmothers; those bygone women who tamed angry rivers; appeased bellowing clouds and walked with mists.

This very dawn, as light stretches its influence across a grey sky, a weary traveler under a rock shelter; or under a tree’s roots; or from inside a hastily constructed temporary shelter during yesterday’s twilight; wakes to an early dawn orchestra.

A stifled yawn and stretch, then a long loving look and gentle graceful touch at life warmly kept in her bosom’s softness; and then at neatly stacked pile of white bags dissipate lingering weariness from a restless night. The journey that started 37 years ago must continue.

On a rocky ridge where violent winds play and clouds more often than not watch and cry over those who rise with sweaty sleeves, blistered backs and heavy hearts in any given gloomy morning; a young family walks on somewhat silently under heavy loads. The mother firmly cuddles in her weary arms a package from which a pair of peering sickly eyes – devoid of animation and manifesting all life’s flaws-caught her gaze.

At the ridge’s foot, over a fast flowing river a cane bridge swings left dangerously, then right. A stretcher of wood and reinforced used-rice bags is being ferried across on bare shoulders – one step at a time while the river’s deafening roars remind the carriers what lays beneath. One wrong step and certain death is inevitable.

On the other side of the river a voice gentle and soft sings: ‘…oh mighty Wamu, flighty splashes! It’s only me, only him! Olomo’s mama, Olomo’s papa! Calm down now, warm down you! Don’t be cross, let us cross! Sorrow will be tomorrow’s! Don’t be cross, let us cross’.  It echoes into the heart of him who is in the stretcher and uplifts the spirits of the carriers.

Then a skinny arm, like a dry tree branch reaches out and attempts to steady the unsteady stretcher. It drops back in as quickly as it emerged.

On a lookout, resting place where multitudes have paused to marvel at the beauty of seemingly unending evergreen faces of mountain ranges, waterfalls and patrolling birds yonder; a teenager pulls a piece of newspaper from a side bag. Before he rolls his tobacco leaves, he reads aloud: ‘…the gov…ern…ment…’ and abruptly stops. However the next word is pronounced and whatever the bloody hell it means isn’t going to stress his exhausted mind – not now! Soon he’ll be puffing his exhaustion into circular skinny columns of drifting mists of vapor.

But close by watches his mother. Her heart breaks upon hearing her dear son. ‘He really misses school! Hope the coffee bags we’ve been ferrying for the last three days raise sufficient funds to ensure his return to school next year’, she started to cry.

A dry bitterness in her thirsty throat starts to grow. She looks up. The damn track, zigzagging endlessly up into the mists glared teasingly back at her as if she hadn’t conquered it before. Figures of women under heavy loads, accompanied by their spouses and grown children continue on in a long line like camels.

Eastern Highlands women from remote rural places like Unavi, Gimi, Marrawaka, Unggai and Wesan, are daily impoverished by the tyranny of its terrains. Other places in PNG: Teleformin, Menyyama, and Salt-Nomane to name a few also encounter similarly daunting circumstances.

Many a heroine, accompanied by a trustworthy husband, whilst waiting for the government to at least promise them a glimmer of hope, continues to tread treacherous tracks to make ends meet.

Their eyes have beheld countless sufferings and their ears have heard many a final cry but still they persevere. Giving up isn’t an option and still they derive and summon incredible strength somehow. It is truly a marvel – the strength of a woman.

And the journey continues; a journey to sell coffee beans, vegetables or meat for money and to access the nearest health facility.

Oh words of hope, which glisten and dance from many a leader’s lips, are words and mere words.

Highlands women with coffee bags
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About febijefwhispers
I love reading and writing poetry!

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