Love at First Sight?

I haven’t written this story before, although I have told it many times. It happened at Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea, and although difficult to clearly imagine, it is a true and worthy tale to record.

I know it happened because I was director of our Branch at the time and responsible for the welfare of our members, employees and friends. The participants in this story came under my care, unfortunately.

It was early on a Sunday morning when AT (abbreviated, of course) called me. “Kalo,” he said, “ni ona menda meawa. Saa rumaalipa kone salo,” which translated from his vernacular language (which I knew and spoke) means something like “I have found a woman. We are going to be married, I think.” AT had spoken to me in his native language and I heard and understood what he said, but I wanted to be sure. “Tell me what you said again in Tok Pisin” (the main trade language of Papua New Guine).

“Mi bin painim wanpela meri, na mitupela laik marit. Em tingting bilong mi.” The meaning was becoming very clear: “I have found a woman and the two of us want to get married. That is what I am thinking.”

I was still a bit sleepy so I said, “AT, tell me what you just said in English,” and, sure enough, the content was the same. “Who is this woman?” I asked. “It is KO (also abbreviated) and we want to marry.” KO was a woman who had recently arrived from Australia and was what we called a “short term worker,” assigned to be a secretary in some department of the Branch.

“Bring KO and meet me at my office and be in a hurry.”

They were waiting when I arrived. “Let’s go into the office where I can hear your story,” I told them. We went in, AT and KO leaning heavily on each other, with delightful smiles on their faces. The end of the story would erase their smiles.

When new workers arrive for their assignments, we insist that, first of all, they gain some familiarity with the country and with the trade language. AT had been assigned as one of the “teachers” of Tok Pisin and he had been helping KO to learn some of the language.

AT’s story of what happened followed, which I now translate freely: “KO and I were in the basement of the guest house playing ping-pong. At one stage I hit the ball wildly and it struck KO in the eye. I went over to console her, and we began eating each other’s faces.”

In Kewa, “to eat one’s face” is a literal translation of how the Kewa describe the “white man’s kiss.” There is a word for “kiss” in Kewa, but it is generally how people talk about caressing their babies and rubbing their lips over them. That is not what AT and KO did—no rubbing, just eating one another’s faces.

“We kept on eating one another’s faces all that day, hiding in the bushes and, even at one time, hiding under the guest house (it was raised on stumps and had plenty of room for storing things—or hiding). Now we want to get married.”

I decided to talk rather bluntly to KO: “Has AT told you what is required of a Kewa wife? Has he told you that you will work long hours in the garden, look after the pigs and sleep with them if necessary? Has he told you that you will carry firewood and have many babies?” I kept up a steady barrage of what was required of a Kewa woman.

KO began to weep, rather softly at first, then more loudly. AT looked at her happily and did not seem bothered at the problems I proposed.

“Go home and think about it,” I said, “then we will talk more about it.”

We did not need to talk about it. I contacted the aviation department and made a booking for KO to leave the next day for Australia. I heard that she was married about 6 weeks later, but of course not to AT.

But what about AT? Was he left heartbroken? No, he seemed to think, “You win some, you lose some.” The Tok Pisin expression is “mi traim tasol” (I just took a chance). He was teased and ridiculed by some of his national friends, but that didn’t bother him either. It wasn’t long before he left his job, moved to another town and married a local woman. He became a successful evangelist and started his own small church.

I don’t know what KO is doing, but I believe she has remained in Australia.

It probably was not love at first sight.

From a true event in about 1982
Ukarumpa, Papua New Guinea