Setting out from Wewak in the dark at 5am, it is a 2 hour+ drive on the only road heading south-east over the Alexander Range. You get great views back over the ocean from up there! The dirt road is being worked on, but with the heavy rainy season just finished, there are plenty of erosion ruts and bumpy rocks, so hang on to those handles above the doors! The thick green jungle is beautiful to pass through as it encroaches on the road….. forever growing and needing to be cut back.
Arriving at Angoram, you would be surprised that it doesn’t look like a town. It is the District centre, situated on the northern bank of the huge Sepik River, and was once a thriving holiday resort and trading centre for the colonial Germans. But no sign now of the hotels, golf course, movie theatres and healthy businesses! When their new District Administrator, Raymond Wungen, arrived 18 months ago, there was not much more than a lot of grass, 60 or so houses and run-down buildings, a decrepit primary school, a very run-down and non-functional wooden hospital and secondary school, and a bad crime problem. There is still not one single shop, but Raymond has made a HUGE difference in changing the place. They now have 9 policemen and it’s safe, a town water supply, an electric generator running 12 hours a day, 3 good dirt roads (soon to be sealed), an energetic renewal of both the schools, a renovated little hospital, a cement jetty on the river, 2 motels, and several new government office buildings. As a result, houses are being repaired and built, and the population is growing steadily with the now-functioning District services.
Wearing our Living Child hat today, our main interest of course is the hospital. There is not much point training village health volunteers all along the (Sepik tributary) Keram River system to recognise high risk pregnancies or potential delivery problems if there is no place for them to refer those women. People who do make the several-hour, arduous canoe ride to Angoram, then have to find a ride for the long, bumpy road trip to Wewak hospital (and we might tell you about THAT place another day!). So it is essential for the health of everyone in the entire district that the Angoram hospital, especially the maternity section, be up and running. DA Wungen has constructed a new brick maternity block that is almost completed, and which he hopes Living Child will assist in equipping. There is also an abandoned and run-down staff house next door to the hospital, that he will organise to be rehabbed. We have ordered 3 special beds for the delivery room, and visiting trainers from Australia have carried up donated smaller equipment in readiness……. as we wait to secure a midwife to run the section and to be a huge asset to the maternal health training project.
Now, about the rest of Angoram……. As we said, it is on a bend in the huge Sepik River, one of the biggest in the world, both in drainage area as well as amount of water flowing in it. It starts out all along the rugged central highlands, draining north into an almost flat plain and then meandering in huge, double-back loops, east to the sea. In the photo, you can see all the river basin geography you learned in school… exaggerated looping river, ox-bow lakes, swamps, billabongs, grass everglades, but strong currents mid-stream.
Crocodiles are a common danger, but they also provide food (we even found vacuum-packaged croc meat in the Wewak supermarket), and material for art … the prows of the scores of visiting dugout canoes are just one example. Check out the length of that one dugout …wow! And take note, too, of the outboard motors on some of them! So the traditional transport is not always powered by paddle! Fish of various types and sizes are plentiful, caught and brought to the open-air market every day. We were surprised to see the foot-long Piranhas among them (the ones with orange colouring around their side fins), but apparently they were ill-advisedly introduced to the river in 1994, stocked because they are usually vegetarian and they multiply quickly. Yes, well…..
Anyway, the markets are still open-air, from about 7am to 10am under the shady branches of two HUGE rain trees. People come from far and wide to sell their meagre wares, spread on small mats in rows. Interesting things like 3 smoked bats, or a few dozen river shrimp, or a whopping great Moon Fish, various greens, cooked sausages, cold cokes, bright coloured wool to make bags with, fried dough balls, packets of biscuits and individual onions. But they also come for the social aspect …...one big get-together for a few hours. And a perfect time to get messages out to all the surrounding villages!
After talking at length with DA Wungen in the car and his office, and all day with various people in charge of health planning, hospital administration, education, building, and women’s issues, touring the secondary school and trying to find some food (no shops, remember), we headed back along that bumpy road and arrived safely back in Wewak at 10pm.