My last day of work and my mission was on Dec 11th. The students were abruptly dismissed roughly two weeks before because of Covid, but the staff still had to report to do report cards and other end of the year reports. It was so abrupt that I was unable to give my final exam. I left for my vacation to the Diocese of Rabaul in another Province and then traveled to a bush village of Pomio where I was invited to celebrate Fr. Paul's 25 year jubilee.Pomio is known as Paradise for the order of Man and that is so true. It is absolutely beautiful here. We are in a very remote area and the only way to get here is by boat or walking. There is a road with no vehicles of any kind. (bicycles- but I haven't seen one yet). Dinghies with motors and canoes are on the bay, but only if there is money for fuel. To get to the small town of Palmalmal - you either walk for 3 hours or take the dinghy and be there in 15 minutes across the bay. But either way, to get to the actual village, you have to climb a steep mountain.
Luckily, Fr. Paul's house is located closer to the beach, but to attend the various customs or ceremonies in the village, we had to climb that mountain. Some, especially children, are used to it - so they can run up and down and usually the women have their dishes or laundry on their heads and/or carrying small children to take to the river to wash. Plus, there is, at times, no water coming from the faucets, so to get water, everything comes from the river. I am trying to drink from the boiled water, but that can be difficult, too. I just pray a lot and take my malaria pills. And the best part (so far), my legs are healthy- no infections. To climb the mountain, I have to inch my way up and down and one time it poured while up in the village- it was so hard climbing down - I had a walking stick and had to hold on to someone's hand - but managed to get down without falling- thank God. I guess if I stayed here, I would get used to it, but yikes!
One of the custom ceremonies I was privileged to attend was the initiation of young boys into their tribe. One of Sr. Bernadette's natural born sisters adopted a young boy (3 years old) from Pomio who went through the initiation (he was circumcised). Afterwards, a few men dressed up like dancing bushes or flowers called Tumbuams come out with taro stems and whip family members and friends of these young boys so they can share the pain of what these young boys had to endure. Sort of hard to watch, but couldn't look away. Other customs were of various dances to commemorate the people who died in their village.
Another interesting custom ceremony was the initiation of the older young men into their tribe (17-20 year-olds). They spent the previous week in a private place in the mountains and had to carry their secret items with tribal meanings to their village and they had to make sure it was dark and that no women were around to see them. They did this around 6pm when it is dark outside and they make whooping sounds and various bird calls that tell the women to stay in their houses and to be quiet as the young men proceed up the mountain to their village. It was rather eerie but fascinating to hear the sounds and witness the overall experience.
Christmas here is celebrated on that day as the birthday of Jesus. No decorations, no cookies, no Santa, no presents, no Christmas trees. One of my traditions at home is to go around on Christmas Eve and see Christmas decorations, so one of Fr. Paul's brothers had a small crystal Christmas tree that changed colors and one strand of lights. I purposely walked to his place after Mass on Christmas Eve to see his small display just to fulfill my tradition. The manger in the church was also nicely decorated. But that was about it. People were now able to concentrate on their custom ceremonies.
Fr. Paul's 25th Jubilee of his ordination was celebrated on Sunday December 27th - Feast Day of the Holy Family. But his actual ordination day was January 2nd and both days were celebrated with a Mass, dances, gift presentations and lunch.
Dec 27th was celebrated in the parish of Malakur and on Jan 2nd was celebrated in the village of Ngaval - the village on top of the mountain. The view on top of the mountain in that remote village is a million-dollar view of the bay below. It is situated between the mountain on one side and the beach and bay view on the other side. Remote, but just beautiful! So far, 2021 is good - I am in Pomio - paradise, my football team (The Ohio State Buckeyes) will play Alabama for the National Championship on January 11th and after the way they played in the playoff - it should be an amazing game. My professional football team (Cleveland Browns) are in the playoffs for the first time in 18 years and Biden will be president on January 20th. The virus is the only negative so far. Prayers are needed that I can return home safely. I plan to return home sometime before February 14th, the day my visa expires.
I wish all of you a happy and blessed New Year. I will keep you in my prayers, please keep me in yours. God bless.