In the photo, I am fifteen. My eyes are cast downwards, a little embarrassed. She stands beside me looking ahead, smiling. We have the same colour brown hair. Hers is short and densely packed with tightly coiled curls. Mine is cut in a bob.
I wear a maroon fake Adidas polo shirt, made in china, buttoned to the very top. It’s a new purchase from Moresby, where pirate t-shirts and cassette tapes provide local Chinese businesspeople with income, and over-privileged boarding school teenagers like me wear them as a badge of honor when we return to school.
She’s not wearing a shirt. Mud has been painted over her breasts. This is the source of my discomfort.
I’m not used to seeing the public display of breasts. I feel embarrassed for her. I imagine what it would be like for me to be standing next to a stranger, partly clothed, being photographed by men. The men are my father and uncle, but to her they are strangers.
Behind us, visible in the photo is her house. Her family makes hers from thatched straw and wood. It stands high on stilts for protection when the river rises, and to keep them safe from predatory animals at night. Anyone who pays to go on the tour can come to her village, and poke their nose into her house.
Mine is a modern apartment in a high-rise complex surrounded by high fences topped with barbed wire. Guards stand at my gate, and only those who live there are allowed to enter.
She fears evil spirits, but is comfortable with ritual and communicating with the dead. I’m afraid of being seen as a loser or a nerd, and the only person I’ve ever lost was my Nanna. Death is not yet something I want to talk about.
She lives in Ambiwarra along the Sepik River. I live in Port Moresby on the school holidays and Brisbane during the school term.
At this point in time, I discover, that wherever you travel, there you are. We bring with us all of our beliefs and baggage. It is with time and experience that we can enjoy being confronted by new situations and new discoveries about how others live their lives, and realize, that there is nothing to compare. It just is.
Travel opens your eyes and clears the layers of first-world privilege. The more uncomfortable it makes you feel, the greater the change on your psyche, the more aware you are of the gifts of your birth. Twenty-four years later, I will post this photo on my website. It will be the journey that I identify as the source of my life long travel bug.
The post above was an entry for a travel writing competition with World Nomads.https://journals.worldnomads.com/katische/story/132517/Papua-New-Guinea/Exposed