Chop it Down!
I held a long hatchet called a tamiak, a little unsure what to do with it. A dozen Papua New Guinean men had fanned out through a couple acres of land chopping at trees with axes, tamiaks, and the like. I sized up one tree.
“Katim!” Ludwig called out, “Chop it down!”
“Mi no save wanem diwai,” I said, “I don’t know which tree.”
“Any tree. Cut all of them down.”
Okay. I sized up the tree again.
“Not that one,” Ruban called out. I’m not sure why, but he probably thought I would struggle taking down even a small tree. So I picked a smaller one, about six inches in diameter, and swung. Whack! The tamiak sunk about an inch into the wood. I had forgotten that most jungle trees have very soft wood. I soon took that tree down, and moved on to bigger trees.
We were clearing trees in the jungle for a new gaden, a plot to grow food for the family.
I heard some cracks and a couple of men called out something. I looked up to see a giant tree more than a hundred feet tall lean and then start to fall. Its branches broke when they collided with other trees. Smaller trees snapped under its weight. It landed with a crash.
Few things can match the awe of watching a giant falling in the jungle. Debbie said she heard it all the way back in the village up the mountain.
I chopped through a tree and it only partly fell. The top was tied in vines or something. “Larim,” a man told me, “Leave it.” He told me why, but I didn’t follow the language. Others had chopped most of the way through numerous tree trunks and left them standing. I discovered why later. A man chopped down a tree farther up the hill. When it fell, it crashed down on others, which fell into still others. A half dozen trees all came down at the same time. A simple way to save labor. One time a bigger tree fell onto another and completely uprooted another one. Ludwig laughed about that.
Pieces of lumber can get hung up in the vines. One time Ruban called out, warning me of a large piece of wood overhead. I made sure to keep a trunk between me and it.
Another time, a piece of wood fell and hit Ruban on the back, just below the shoulder blade. I didn’t see it hit him, but he was on his hands and knees. Others stood still. I realized with some surprise that I probably had the most education in anatomy, biology, and first aid of anyone there. I hurried to Ruban and asked where it hit him. I checked for broken bones but didn’t see any. He sat down and I watched him closely.
I handed him the rest of my kulau, or young coconut juice. Kulau is well known here to help people recover from injury and heat. Ever a man of courtesy, he asked me if I had enough yet. “Dringim,” I said, “Drink it.”
Someone gave Ruban another kulau and he recovered enough to stand up and walk around, but he didn’t swing his axe anymore. After about an hour, he decided he needed to go back, and he took me with him. He stopped twice and closed his eyes. He was only half conscious. We still had a climb back up the mountain trail and I was helpless to do anything for him there. I prayed, “Papa God, please heal Brother Ruban. Please.”
He opened his eyes and we started back up again. He stopped part of the way to sit in a tiny pool of water. Later that night he said that both the prayer and the water helped him recover. A couple of days later he was well.
Photo: Steve presenting a soccer ball to Ruban and his family.