|photo by graphicheartproductions.homestead.com via googleimages|
My world is one of scents. I breathe in to better understand—the scented flavors of my surroundings sharing secrets the rest of me could never know.
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The scent of the Southern Highlands in Papua New Guinea begins with the reeds along the dirt road moving like an ocean, their gentle rhythm whispering slow down, listen, be with the sacred silence. I gladly melt into the equatorial heat, my head rising up for still more, the sun’s kiss a welcome warmth upon my thirsty face. I close my eyes and when I do, the scent emerges like faint ribbon of smoke twisting its way to my open, unsuspecting heart. I breathe in to better see. I breathe in and smile. I breathe in and an old woman finds me, just a solitary soul in front of an ocean of reed, soaking up the gifts of an ancient sea.
Years later, I lift a string bilum from its storage place and the scent emerges again, sending me back, back to that day on the road with the old woman.
She herself carries a bilum, the knotted ends meeting at the top of her head, its heavy contents weighting her rounded back until she is almost horizontal. She rubs her leathered fingers up and down my legs as if to be sure I am real, my skin so different from her own. She squeezes my flesh and pets my head of long hair as if I am a treasure. But she, she is the treasure. Her eyes look up at me, wet with age, red- rimmed with life experience and she begins to speak to me . . .
I remember. I remember when your people first came. I was a small one but my eyes were open, my ears listened and my fingers, they knew what they touched. Some thought your people were angels reincarnated from our dead. And maybe you are. But I know as well as you that your pek pek smells just as bad as ours. It’s just that your eyes, they still confuse me. Why do so many of your people close them? Close them, you say? Yes. From the inside. So they cannot connect. How do your people live so closed off? I see how they do not feel the earth with their feet never touching the ground, but their eyes . . ? Why do they hide those, too? Are they so afraid? Do they not know that they have given themselves dead eyes, broken tools, a fire that can no longer provide warmth? Neither for themselves or for anyone around them. Why have they forgotten to stay foolish, foolish enough to feel it all? Is there anything more to fear than living a life without fire, yes a life without deep connection?
She screamed a little fright when she looked into my eyes that day. I wasn’t like the others, she said, for I still had my fire. I could hear her! Not her words, but her scented mystery. I was not afraid to connect, to deeply connect, with someone so different from myself, to slow down, to listen, to be present in our shared sacred silence.
And so the souls of our eyes danced in those few moments along a dusty dirt road in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, a dance scented like a sea of roasted grass on a hot equatorial day, my every bit ablaze in foolish ecstasy.