We’ve heard a lot about Longan Island from other cruisers, and it sounds like a great place to share the last of our trading goods. I’m also keen to distribute more of the ‘Days for Girls’ kits to the school there. Longan Island is on the north side of the lagoon, about 4 hours away from Mal. There’s a south-easterly blowing so we unfurl the jib and have an easy sail across. But we also realise that the anchorage at Longan isn’t going to be comfortable in a southerly breeze, so instead late in the afternoon we drop anchor off the north side of uninhabited Hotum Island. I have a feeling it’s going to be a very social time at Longan so we’re looking forward to a quiet day of snorkelling and relaxing at Hotum tomorrow.
It’s not to be. At 7.30am the next morning I hear “hellooo” from off the bow. I’m frankly a bit irritated – it’s too early for visitors. But it turns out it’s Oscar and Karen from Longan – people we’ve heard so much about. They tell us that they paddled out and spent the night sleeping on the island so they could guide us into Longan in the morning – unfortunately some of the locals have recently started putting out shark nets so they can sell shark fins to the Chinese. Oscar and Karen are worried that we may not see the nets on our way in. They come aboard and have tea while we chat. Karen has brought us green vegetables and collected some ‘bush eggs’ from the island – they’re larger than chook eggs, probably frigate bird eggs, but she assures us they’re good eating. We tell Oscar that we have supplies to share with the village and he suggests that the best way is to bring it all ashore and he’ll assist in distributing everything equally amongst the 22 households, which suits us fine. It’ll be easier than handling lots of individual requests. He guides us to the anchorage just off the disused ‘beche de mer’ jetty while we tow Karen behind in their canoe.
The residents of Longan Island come from neighbouring Amik Island, but have moved here so their children can attend the primary school (I think primary school here is the equivalent of years 5-10 in Australia). Karen and Oscar say they like it better at Longan because it’s not so crowded – they have two more years here and then they’ll move back to Amik and someone else will take over their current house on Longan. Sounds like a great arrangement!
We gather all our remaining goods together, load the dinghy up and head into the beach. What a welcome! Everyone wants to shake our hand and say “Letu solian” the local Seimat word for “Good morning”. Then comes the serious business of dividing up the goods. They’ve obviously done this before – they lay out a tarpaulin and everyone brings their bowls to receive their share of rice, sugar and flour. Oscar has a notebook in which he meticulously records who has received what, but there’s also much joking around and fun to be had. I get to meet Eileen Kalenda, the teacher at the school and she’s very excited about the kits for the girls – it’s very opportune as they’re doing their PDH/PE curriculum at the moment, so my flip chart on sexual health and personal hygiene will come in handy.
After the distributions are all done, Rellen gives us a tour of the village and school and invites us to come ashore anytime to visit. The village is beautifully neat and tidy and they obviously spend much time sweeping the paths and gardening.
Oscar and Karen invite us for a meal, as does Solomon and his family, and we have to start declining more offers otherwise we’ll never get away from here!
I spend a morning with Eileen showing her the kits and giving her and a couple of the other ladies instructions on how to sew more. I’ve brought in all my spare material which hopefully will keep them going for a while. They’re sassy, funny, resourceful women, we laugh a lot and I thoroughly enjoy the time I spend with them. By the time we leave, they’ve made another twenty kits in addition to the 15 I’ve given them. Wow, that’s impressive! Hopefully Eileen can do an in-service to other teachers in the area so the sewing skills can be shared with more women.
Every time the wind blows the dads and kids are out in the shallows racing their model canoes – it looks like a lot of fun!
We thoroughly enjoy our time in Longan. The dinners are simple but delicious – fried fish, boiled fish, chicken in coconut milk, greens, sago pudding, fried bananas – and we enjoy learning more about Ninigo life.
On our last day here Oscar, his two sons and Stanley take us out for a sail on his canoe – there’s not much wind but it’s still a fabulous experience and so interesting to see how they set and trim the sails. Oscar is a racer through and through – he’s constantly tweaking the trim. To tack the boat they have to bring the whole sail down and reset it on the other side. Oscar says when they’re racing they have 6-7 crew and can do this manoeuvre in a matter of minutes. The other crucial crew member is the ‘engineer’ – he’s in the bottom of the boat bailing as fast as he can!
On our final night the village put on a farewell dinner for us at the school, complete with speeches and farewell songs. How lucky are we to have been accepted into these communities and to get a glimpse of their lives? They’re the nicest, friendliest people we’ve met in all our travels. We’d love to stay longer but our PNG visas are almost expired.
We have time to spend a couple of days back at Ahu Island. We snorkel, paddle our canoes and walk on the beach – what a great spot.
We spend a couple more days back at Mal before reluctantly heading off to Vanimo on the mainland, carrying all our beautiful memories of Ninigo with us. “kemulik wanen” (thank you very much) to all our new friends at Longan and Mal Islands. We’ll miss you.