Wah-kah

It was my first week at homestay in Goroka, the southern highlands of Papua New Guinea. I was excited and nervous, and adjusting to all the details of a new life in a village with no electricity or running water. Over the first few days, my homestay papa Lomsea took me around to meet everyone in the village. I was just learning pigeon, so I didn’t understand much of the conversation, but I could follow that each family we met with talked excitedly about “wah-kah,” and confirmed that it would be on Saturday.

 

There had been no mention of “wah-kah” at the Peace Corps training. When I asked my Peace Corps friends, no one else had heard of it either. There were no other volunteers in Kamaliki. The nearest volunteer was about five miles down the road, and village activities and languages varied intensely from one place to the next, so I figured “wah-kah” must be a village cultural event, or a special local meeting just for Kamaliki village. I imagined traditional grass skirts and garamut drums, a small-scale version of the famous colorful Highlands Show from National Geographic.

 

On Saturday, I went off to the Peace Corps training all day. It was dusk when I returned to the main road for Kamaliki. As I approached the house, I saw everyone crowded around outside, sitting in groups on pandunus mats on the ground. There on the side of the house was a flickering tv hooked up to a car battery. The crowd fell silent as the introduction to “Walker: Texas Ranger” came up on the television. I had never watched it before; in fact, I had never heard of it before that evening with my new family and neighbors in Kamaliki. Everyone cheered whenever Chuck Norris fought. After particularly dramatic or funny scenes, the women would make a collective happy singing noise. There was no audio for the show, but no one seemed to mind. After the show ended, everyone stayed and visited and chewed bettelnut until it was completely dark. It was a perfect introduction to the “land of the unexpected.”



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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.