I joined a group called Travel Massive LA with the hope of making new travel friends and potentially making travel connections. The group recently hosted an event with Touristm Papua New Guinea, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to start meeting people, and at least get out of our boxed-up apartment. I pulled into the Marina del Ray Hotel thinking, if Barbie was a hipster, this is where she would stay.
The sun hadn’t quite started to set, but I grabbed a glass of Pinot Noir from the bar and folded down onto the mat by the water’s edge.
“Please join me,” a woman in a white feather headpiece said. “We use these mats for everything, sleeping, sititng, make yourself at home.”
“I’m Lucy, and this is my daughter,” she gestured towards a young woman. “Typically we don’t shave coconuts in our ceremonial dress, but it makes for fun pictures, yes?” I stared at her daughter, viciously shaving the coconut down into a basin, her headdress trembling slightly.
“We use the coconut for everything. If there is a feast, all the young girls will be sitting and shaving coconuts for cooking, for eating, while the women cook the meal.”
Lucy’s big toe strained against the pull of the grass skirt she meticulously tied together. “You can make different lengths for girls or women, for more bounce and movement.” She showed us the small skirt in front of her on the mat. “This was for my daughter when she was little, It took less than two weeks to make. The one she is wearing now took three weeks, much longer.”
I eye a giant headdress on a chief across the grass, and ask Lucy how long the headdress would take.
“It’s made from human hair, go ask him how long it took him to make it.”
“His own?” I ask, immediately thinking of the famous Jack Sparrow exchange:
Will Turner: He roped a couple of sea turtles.
Mr. Gibbs: Aye. Sea turtles.
Will Turner: What did he use for rope?
Jack Sparrow: Human hair. From my back.
I hesitantly go over to the chief and ask. “Two years,” he says smiling. “The bird feathers are very rare.”
“They are beautiful,” I tell him. He has come across the ocean to entice us to visit his homeland, and it feels like the most personal invitation.
At the end of the night, I return to Lucy to thank her for sharing some of her culture with me. She follows her husband’s job around, and it happy to think fondly of home, on this ocean shore so far away from her family.
“Let me know if you ever come to Papua New Guinea,” she smiles warmly. I have felt a little bit of a world away in the past hour, and I’m intrigued to see this island nation of such welcoming people.
“I will. Make sure your family leaves a mat out for me to sleep on.”