Scented memories spoken with pictures. I think I’m asleep when a movie begins to play, its scent ridden in on the back of a breeze. I inhale the strangely sweet char, watch the tall green blades of grass begin to appear and suddenly, I am transported back, deep into the Papua New Guinean jungle….
* * *
My sandaled feet, lightly dusted with dirt, are taking me to where we are living—a hut in the middle of a coffee plantation in the Eastern Highlands. I breathe it all in again, to be sure I am where I was called, and this time I take in not just the blades of grass but the scent of bilums (bags woven from tree bark), and fried flour balls, bottles of blue kerosene, and wisps of unnamed smoke, and let me not forget the ginger stewing in the bottom of my tin cup—all of it wiped with an invisible rag across my face. It’s with with me now, as if I never left.
I come up to the tightly woven walls my adopted family and I call home. The fire in the dirt courtyard is smoldering. A tarp piled high with red coffee beans waits for tending. A baby pig grunts as he scrambles out of my way. He came from inside the house.
A group of women are waiting for me. It’s the day they have decided to transform me, to make me into one of them. I find my strength—breathe and trust—that what they will do to me wont hurt and it wont last. I am so present that I don’t even remember to get my camera ready.
They are gentle with me as they undress me to my underclothes, as they paint my body, as they decorate me in feathers and woven tree bark, in bird beaks and leaves. My face, my arms, my legs, my back and chest—I am multi-colored, shiny with pig fat, my skin alive, immersed in loving attention.
They mumble as they work and even more, they laugh, oh, do they laugh. And not a controlled laugh like the kind we westerners are used to. A high-pitched squeal that isn’t just fresh and wild to twenty-five year old me, it reeks of authenticity. They are happy! They are excited!
“Its time,” they say between giggles.
“Time?” I ask, still not sure of the language that I am trying to speak.
“Yes, time for you to ‘sing-sing’,” says my adopted mama, her hand upon my shoulder.
And as I peek my head out the door to emerge from the palm thatched roof, I know right away I won’t be ‘sing-singing’ alone. Kids, dogs, pigs, even my elderly bubu with a missing finger for every child she lost over the years was ready to accompany me. They start to chant. Someone bangs on a drum. And then they begin to bounce. We begin to bounce. All the way down the street…with high pitched squealing, dogs barking, old men staring, and kids fighting over who can dance next to Linimuto, little mountain, a name that I will never, ever forget.