Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Kalu-u Caves of Kurti

Manus Province is home to about 48,000 people spread across many smaller outer islands, along the coast and into the mountains. It has some of the most picturesque sandy beaches, stunning coral reefs, pretty thatched houses, striking waterfalls and the smiles of the locals can cut your heart right out. Don’t get too excited yet because the real beauty lies in the highlands of Manus.
The highlands of Manus is often mountainous, rugged and cold. In mornings, the cool mist covers the mountains and in the evenings, the water in the streams is cold as ice.
The highlands of Manus hosts a great number of people and villages. The National Highway starts from Lorengau, passes many villages including Rosun, Lundret, Kawa, Pundru and then comes to Kari village and then goes down to the north coast to Dromalmal station and Lomei village.

I live on the northern coastline so when we visit relatives at Kari, we walk uphill for four hours. Some years ago my uncles told me about three huge caves in the mountains of Kalu-u. This place called Kalu-u is about a kilometer outside of Kari village. These three caves called Lehlia, Poko-oh and Mada Worei and there are many traditional stories about how these caves came to be and who lived in them.

During one of my hilodays, I decided that I should visit these great limestone caves to see for myself once and for all the place and the legends it mysteriously held. One has to actually visit the caves to understand the uniqueness of these caves they said because these group of caves are not found anywhere else in the province.

My father and I and plus a guide left Liap, crossed over to Derimbat village and then started on the 4 hour walk from the coast up to the mountains. The mountains were steep and slippery. The earth was red and claylike. The tropical vegetation casts a spell of silence around us. We walk and rest. I was exhausted by the time we arrive at Kari. We rest and overnight at Papu Kaku’s place at Lolep.

Next morning we start for the caves. It takes about an hour to walk from the main village to where most of the caves are. There is a light shower but that did not deter us as we walked quickly through the mud and water. The air is quiet and everything around us is wet. My father said that soccer boots were the best for this type of bush track as you wouldn’t slip and I definitely didn’t argue. Along the way we had to walk over sharp limestones. It is sharp and pointed upwards. Most of the boys that we walked with just climbed up them and over the other side as if it was flat land. I knew that if I slipped, the stones could pierce my flesh like a hot knife through butter.

A small creek cuts through the mountain forming a pathway

We walk between a passage of hard black stone that cuts through a mountain. If you are claustrophobic, don’t venture down here. The dark passage has water running though it. It is also about a meter wide and 30 meters long. The hard stone walls on both sides run all the way up to about 30 meters. You can still see the sunlight above. We walk along the way with the water just above our ankles.
We then crossed over shallow streams a couple of times. The waters were cold and clean. We followed another stream and finally stand in front of a huge opening of a cave. This is the Poko-oh cave. The pebbles are numerous at the entrance of the caves. Many are round and smooth.

My father and the guides stand in front of Poko-oh

The cave itself is hard solid rock and ferns and other vegetation grow on the cave’s entrance. The cave itself is dark. We had torches to light the way and walked carefully. We enter it and the first thing I notice is the quietness. Nothing but drips of water falling from the roof onto the ground. The air is damp. I walk quickly to catch up with the others.. We walk through the cave and in a few minutes we are out on the other side. The water runs through the cave and out again.

My father just about to enter the Lehlia cave

The interior of the Poko-oh is pitch dark so we use torches to find our way around.

Our guide walks quickly and we follow on. We climb up dead logs and walk in the mud again. Then we see another cave. This is the Lehleah cave. We go in again, walk through it and out again.

The serene beauty of the cave is spectecular looking out of the cave.

One of the guides standing a log that was washed through the cave.

In some caves, the ground to the roof top to is 40 meters, in others, it is just 6 meters. The length vary from half the rugby field to about 15 meters. The air is damp and cold in some of the caves. The stone roof in some caves is flat like the belly of a gigantic serpent while in others the roof look like dripping wax from huge candles. There are puddles on the ground formed by water from the stalactites.
It gave me goose bumps just by looking at the interior of the caves. As you walk in the middle of some of the caves, you feel as though you are in another time. A time when my ancestors walked in these caves; carrying pig meat from their hunting trips and taro from their gardens. A time when they rested in the caves as it rained outside and told stories to their kids. A time when the families were strong and warriors were honoured.

The stalactities hang fromg the top of the cave creating an errie look

You think you hear voices but realize that it is only the cold water falling from the stalactites, hitting the stones below then disappearing into the ground.
In some caves, there are holes which are dry and dusty. In others they are wet, cold and slippery. I shudder to think what crawled in them. Sometimes when the river floods, huge trees are pulled by the force of the flood and they come through the caves and out the other side.

Entering the huge Lehlia cave

Outside the caves, the river banks have stones that have rounded holes causing them to look like a whole village walked on them. I imagine that it has been shaped by the river over a long period of time.

Making our way out the other end of Lehlia

The Kari river joins the head of the Worei river, flows through a cave at Mada Worei then runs quickly into a small cave on the side of a mountain. The cave then falls deep into the earth. They say it runs underground and then comes out again a few kilometers on the south coast of Manus to what is known as the mighty Worei river.
It is after midday when we make our way back to Kari. There is a market on.

The eroding state of the government road from Kari village to Dromalmal station on the coast.

We gobble up huge slices of pineapple which cost ten toea each and then follow the road down to Dromalmal station on the north coast. The government road has been reduced to a bushy track over the years.
Along the way, my father tells me that there is a water that actually comes out from a stone. The water is called ‘Wo Drahal’. I said I would only believe if I saw it.
And I did see it. The stone is located just a few minutes walk off the road. Yes, the water comes out from a stone.

Wo Drahal runs unabated. Natural water at its best!

Many travellers like myself have come here, drank from it and even filled a bottle to take away. The stone has a small hole where the water comes out, and come rain or shine and long dry periods like the one that Manus experienced during 1997 El Nino weather pattens, this one kept flowing like it had been for thousands of years. Some villagers tried to find its source so by digging around the stone to see if it flowed from somewhere. All their efforts have been in vain to identify its source. They just say it comes out from the stone and I say so myself too. The water is clean, cool and very refreshing.

Well thanks for reading this short story of mine. Hope you liked it as it was just a simple story of how God has truely blessed this country with wonderful and pure places like this.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A night at the labour ward

Its late at night.

The place is quiet as if only ghosts walk the dimly lit corridors. The tiled floor smells of disinfectant, the ceiling fan spins lazily and the mothers are sleeping on the green leather covered beds. The bleached white bed sheets and pillow cases have blue letters – MGH - written on them. It is late at night at the Modilon General Hospital’s labour ward. Close to 30 mothers are in the labour ward, some having already given birth and sleeping next to their babies while others are just entering the labour process.

I sit on a wooden bench next to the nursing sisters table. I am waiting.

The nurses talk in hush tones and scurry along the corridors to expectant mothers. There are a couple of women who walk past me with their bellies protruding infront of them, their hands at their backs and the pain is written all over their faces. The pain is so unbearable, so relentless, so sharp, so unjustified! They hang onto posts and bed frames begging for the pain to stop. The nurses tell them to keep on walking. I am surprised at how the women in the labour ward don’t scream when they have birth pains. It’s as if there is silent understanding that you do not scream until you are on the delivery bed or maybe the women are afraid the nurses might scold them.

However, inside the delivery room, I hear women shouting from pain and agony. My partner is in there too behind the closed doors. I can only look down the corridor and imagine what they are going through. My mother has been with my partner throughout the afternoon and now it is night and i can see that her eyes are bloodshot and tired from the lack of sleep. I sit still. Worried, tired, apprehensive, and biting my finger nails for the umpteenth time today. My mother comes down the corridor and signals me to follow her. She pulls me closer and says that my partner wants me to go to her. I walk past her to the delivery room.

As soon as I enter, I feel the air is cool. The air conditioner is running in the background. There are four beds and one other one for the intermediate is on the opposite side of the room. The first bed is occupied by a woman who is sleeping in the foetal position. Only her feet are visible under the hospital issued blanket. They are as pale as a bed sheet. I only later on learn that she came close to dying because of the lack of blood. I turn to the last of the four beds and see my partner on one of the bed. She lies on her side. She is the only one from the group of mother who came today, that has not given birth yet. I can see that she is in pain. She opens her mouth and screams. I have known this woman for seven years now and never heard her scream and shout like this. Tonight, these terrible and agonising screams I hear carry a terrible pain and rock me to the core. She cries out but the nurses tell her not to but to breathe and exhale when the contractions come. I hold her hand and don’t say anything. What could I say. I didn’t know what to say. She had been in terrible pain for the past 20 hours. I rub her back with a wet cloth and hold her quietly. I read in the papers that 2 babies had died in this very ward last weekend and I witnessed two more die this weekend. To further compound my uneasiness, I have heard that nine mothers have already died from child birth complications this year in this very ward.

The nurse comes in for the umpteenth time today and checks to see if the baby’s head is ready to come. This time she finally nods and says ‘its time’. They instruct her take a deep breath and to push when the contractions arrive. She does so but the baby doesn’t come. She does the same thing for almost 20 minutes. The nurses wait on her and keep instructing her on how to push. She feels weak from each push. I see the blood from her hand go back up the water drip. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see that the nurses are eye signalling each other and at the clock. Earlier one the nurses had told me that if the labour prolonged from up to 24 hours, they would induce the birth or use the vacuum the baby out, both methods not without their risks. After a few minutes, they look at me as if to gauge my approval for the use of the other methods. I quickly turn away and look at my partner. I think she quickly catches on and asks us to wait for the next contraction to come. I know that in the next few minutes could be very crucial to both the mother and baby.

She waits and then when the next contraction arrives, and through the urgings of three nurses and one to-be father, she gives a mighty push and my daughter arrives. The nurse clips the cord and cuts it and gives the baby to the mother. I am left stunned. I mean this is another human being that is removed from the body of another human and is a person of its own. She is complete in every way yet she is so fragile. She is beautiful in every way possible and her spirit is impossible to numerate in words. One look at her face is enough to light my whole week. She has my cheeks, my nose, my lips and, I dare say, my eyes too! She is perfect! They quickly take her to a machine and quickly drain the mucous from her nose, mouth and eye. I hear her cry and then a few seconds later, my mother comes in, holding her in a warm blanket and she is silent as the rising sun.

My life has surely turned for the better. If there is anything with which I was ever proud of, this would be it. The moment my daughter was born beat my every other achievement in life by a mile. This is surely what life is all about.