National Geographic : 2012 Feb
• Legs and arms but knobby sticks, Lidia Maiyu is curled up close to the camp re. Her eyes are wide in apprehension of death. She coughs, her body convulses, and she cries out in pain. Lidia is perhaps 15 years old, she isn't sure. ree months ago she gave birth, and the baby died; the group le the body in a cave and moved on. Pasu Aiyo, Lidia's husband, tells me this is what happens. "When you get sick, you get better or you die." But for the glow from the campfire, it is impenetrably dark. Never are there stars, as if that would be too much to hope for. Instead, beyond the rock overhang, it's pouring, waves of water relentlessly slapping the giant fronds of the jungle. It always seems to rain at night here in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. is is why Lidia and what's le of her people, the Meakambut, seek refuge in rock shelters--- they're dry. Located high in the cli s, sometimes requiring a treacherous climb up vines, caves are also natural fortresses that once protected the Meakambut from their enemies: headhunters and cannibals and bride stealers. But that was generations ago. Now their enemies are less vio- lent yet no less deadly: malaria, tuberculosis. Pasu shoos away Biyi, their hunting dog, and sits down by the re. He smooths his leaf loin- cloth and rests Lidia's head in his lap. She peers up at him wanly. Pasu gravely tells his brother John to ask us if there is anything we can do. We---a team from National Geographic--- have unwittingly walked into a crisis. Our plan, to follow the Meakambut, one of the last cave- dwelling, seminomadic peoples in Papua New Guinea, through their mountainous homeland, has been eclipsed by the present emergency. A member of our team, trained as an emergency medical technician, examines Lidia and discov- ers that her lungs are lled with uid, her heart is thrumming at 140 beats a minute, and her temperature is 104. He determines that Lidia likely has a life-threatening case of pneumonia and gives her double doses of antibiotics and Tylenol. We coax her to drink a cup of steril- ized water mixed with sugar and salt, sit her up for the night in her husband's arms so she can She is lying in a cave, dying. Gripping a kindling-packed stick with his feet and using a strip of bamboo for friction, a Meakambut man coaxes a cooking fire from soggy terrain. This "fire saw" method is widely practiced through- out Papua New Guinea.