Saturday, February 27, 2010

Our First Few Days in the “Land of the Unexpected”

Our arrival in Papua New Guinea finally arrived. As we taxied towards the terminal it was very sparsely populated by Air Niugini aircraft and private aircraft of every kind. As we had large carry on items in the overhead compartment, we waited for the other passengers to get off of the plane and then we proceeded to remove our luggage from the overhead compartments and deplane. It turned out that this was not a great idea as we ended up dead last in the line to go through customs.

The airport was clean but old, and we waited in line for about an hour to go through customs and have our passports stamped. As we waited we watched our action packers come in on the luggage carrousel and slowly make revolution after revolution. When we got to the customs counter we handed them our passports. They looked at them, stamped them, and said “Welcome to Papua New Guinea.” It seemed way too easy, and we were sure that the ease of clearing customs meant that immigrations was going to go through our action packers with a fine-toothed comb. We retrieved our four fifty-plus pound bags from the luggage carrousel and loaded them onto a luggage cart with our very oversized carry-ons on our backs and proceeded to the immigrations station. As we approached, we watched as a Chinese man with one small bag was being forced to dump everything out and the immigrations officer was rummaging through his belongings. We walked up to an immigrations officer and handed him our paperwork. He looked at the papers and then at his fellow officer and said “SIL.” He stepped aside and said “Welcome to Papua New Guinea.” He did not look twice and one of our huge pieces of luggage. SIL, which is the Summer Institute of Linguistics, is what Wycliffe Bible Translators is known as overseas, and they typically have a very good relationship with the governments of the countries in which they work. It was clear that we were the beneficiaries of this relationship.

We met the gentleman from Wycliffe that had been sent to meet us, and we were soon on our way to the Mission Aviation Fellowship hanger to catch our jungle plane. Once we arrived at the hanger, we were required to weigh ourselves and our luggage to make sure that the plane would have capacity to carry everything.

Fortunately, our luggage was light enough and everything was cleared to be loaded on the plane. We had the pleasure of flying out on the new Kodiak aircraft that Wycliffe had recently received. The Kodiak was very impressive and boasted all of the latest in avionics

Our flight inland offered many breathtaking views of the dense jungle that was passing below. It was not long and we began to notice small round grass huts on ridges and open areas. It was amazing to see these small villages that were so remote and think about what the people who called them home thought of us as we went zipping through the sky over their village.

Our flight lasted about an hour and we began to drop into the Ayura Valley that is the location of Ukarumpa.

We touched down and taxied towards the hanger. A small crowd had formed to welcome us to Ukarumpa. There was our host couple, Kim’s supervisor, Jacob’s supervisor and a couple that specializes in helping to orient people to life at Ukarumpa. It was around 4:00 pm on Friday the 29th of January. We had been traveling since 6:00 am on the Tuesday the 26th of January and we were tired. After a few minutes of meeting new people, the crowd dispersed.

Our host couple loaded us and our luggage into a vehicle and drove us to a house that had been assigned to us. The house we had been assigned to was next to a park filled with large jungle trees and was kind of set back all by itself. It was surrounded by all sorts of flowers and other decorative types of plants. We were deposited at the house by our host couple, Benji and Ester Campbell. Benji and Ester had purchased us some groceries to get us through the weekend, as the store is closed on the weekends. They showed us that they had gotten us milk, eggs, bread, bananas, a pineapple, and various other groceries. They then told us that at 6:00pm we were to have dinner with Jacob’s supervisor, LaVeryl Voss, and his family. LaVeryl lived just across a field from our house, so after spending a little time unpacking we walked over to the Vosses. LaVeryl’s wife, Max, had made tacos for dinner. We enjoyed a very nice meal and then sat and chatted for a while. At around 8:00pm we were beginning to get very tired as we had at this point had no time to recover from our long trip. We said good night to LaVeryl and his family and walked back to our house. Once home we got ready for bed and called it a night.

The house that had been assigned to us was like a small rustic cabin. It was clear by the layout that originally the house had had an outhouse. When you walked in the front door the bathroom was immediately to the right and straight ahead was a doorway (the door had been removed) into the kitchen. The master bedroom was immediately to the left as you walked in the front door. The bed was situated so from the bed you had an interrupted view of the entryway, the front door and into the bathroom. A large wooden bat (not the kind used for baseball) was leaning against the night stand. The floor of the entryway was very much like the floor you would find on a deck outside, it was made of 2x6’s and there were ½ inch cracks between each plank. The front door was interesting as well as it had no door knob, but rather just a leather strap used to pull it open or shut and then a deadbolt to lock it. Also, it was made of planks of wood and you could see through the cracks in it.

Being exhausted, we had gone to bed and were lying the master bedroom just dozing off to sleep when Jacob heard someone walking in the yard. He pulled the curtain back and peered out the window and watched as a Papua New Guinean man walked up to the front door and began to yank on the leather strap. The door was dead-bolted and when the man was done shaking it he turned and saw Jacob peering at him. At this point the man said “gud nait” (Tok Pisin for good night) and Jacob replied by saying “Good Evening” (English for what the heck are you trying to open my door for?) in as menacing a voice as he could muster. The man walked off. At this point we laid in bed for sometime contemplating if what had just happened was “normal,” we were in a different culture after all. Being unable to determine for ourselves what was normal in Papua New Guinea we decided to call LaVeryl. After Jacob relayed our experience to LaVeryl, he assured us that is was not normal to have someone try to open your door after dark, but suggested that possibly one of the guards was checking on the door to make sure no one had broken in, as the house had been vacant for some time. Being satisfied with this explanation and exhausted from our trip, we both fell fast asleep.

The following morning we were scheduled to have a tour of Ukarumpa. As we were being shown around Ukarumpa we mentioned our experience from the night before and our tour guide mentioned that there had been a rash of night time burglaries taking place at Ukarumpa the last few days and that the “raskols” (Tok Pisin for rascal) as they are called don’t mind if people are home when they break in or not. But we were assured that it was most likely a guard just checking to make sure no raskols had broken into the house, which had been vacant for some time.

On our way back towards our house we saw our friend Heidi from Bozeman, who is also a teacher at Ukarumpa, and stopped to talk with her. Heidi said that she had just been by our house and a group of Papua New Guineans had just killed a cow in our yard. The story went that two cows had escaped from a fence that morning, one a milk cow, and the other a cow scheduled to be slaughtered that day. The cow scheduled to be slaughtered had run through our yard but was apprehended and was being dismembered by what appeared to be a very excited group of Nationals on the lot line between our house and our neighbors. It was crazy; after they were done with the cow we walked over to the location they had butchered it and there was no sign of the cow…except a set of tracks that sank 3 inches into the saturated soil and abruptly ended with no sign of the cow…had we been ignorant of the mornings activities in that location it would have looked like the cow vanished into thin air.

That night we were getting ready for bed and the events of the previous day and night were running through our minds. We went to bed around 9pm and just kind of laid there listening to all of the evening jungle noises that may or may not have been raskols surrounding our house. At around midnight, sleep was finally starting to take hold when from the entryway came a violent thud followed immediately by a loud crack. Before he even had time to think, Jacob had grabbed the bat from by the bed and wielding it, had thrown himself into the entryway to fend off the raskol that had just kicked the door in. Fortunately, the raskol turned out to be the pineapple Benji and Ester had purchased for us that had rolled off a shelf onto the plank floor where it thudded loudly and then cracked upon impact. It now lay bleeding pineapple juice down through the cracks in the floor. Jacob, standing trembling over the broken fruit still clutching the bat, and shaking from the adrenaline that had coursed through his body looked back to Kim who was sitting up in bed and said “It’s Okay, it was just the pineapple”. Needless to say, we did not sleep much the rest of the night.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Travel to PNG

We departed Denver on the flight that would take us all the way to Singapore. We flew to Seattle where w
e had a three hour layover and Kim had her last Starbucks latte (sadness… ). We also switched to a Boeing 777 in Seattle, the largest jet Jacob had ever been on.

It was quite thrilling all around. After departing Seattle, we flew along the coast northward over Alaska and the Bering Strait and then dropped down into Tokyo. It was crazy because we left Seattle at 1:30 pm on Tuesday and arrived 10 hours later in Tokyo at 5:00 pm on Wednesday and we were in bright sunshine the entire flight. Our layover in Tokyo was very short, only 55 minutes. Enough to take a picture or two and buy Kim a Japanese magazine.

We continued on a different Boeing 777 to Singapore where we arrived 7 hours later at midnight on Wednesday. We had a 24 hour layover in Singapore and had planned to use the transit hotel loc
ated at the airport. We discovered that you could not use the hotel if you left the secure area and being that our next flight was 24 hours away we had to collect our luggage which forced us to leave the secure area. Our plan B was to stay at the Crown Plaza Singapore, which is also attached to the airport, and very posh. However, the Crown Plaza was full, so we went to plan C which was looking into getting a hotel in Singapore, but found that at 1:30 am they were all full unless we wanted to stay in the red light district. Therefore, we opted for plan D, and “slept” on benches in the airport.

By the time we had our luggage checked into 24 hour lockers and changed into our pjs, it was around 3:00 am. We awoke fully rested at shortly after 6:00 am and changed so we could catch a free tour bus into Singapore.

We had a lovely day exploring Singapore and all of its charm. By charm we mean 95 degree weather, crazy high-end shopping centers on every block, skyscrapers in every direction, lots of Ferraris, beautiful gardens, and crazy laws such as no eating in the subway (unless you wanted to pay the $500 fine.) Kim brazenly broke the no eating in the subway law and we barely escaped into a passing subway train before the guards stole her lion-shaped lotus blossom cream-filled pastry and fined us $500.

As the day progressed, we made our way back to the airport. At this time it was Thursday at around 5:00 pm and we had been traveling since Tuesday at 6:00 am with no opportunity for showers. We were delighted to discover (after we checked in for our flight) that the Singapore airport has a spa (seriously, there is really no airport that rivals Singapore’s) and for the low low price of $8.00 we could have hot showers, a hot beverage and some time in the spa’s lounge to relax. After our showers, we relaxed in the spa lounge and then headed off to grab some dinner and catch our flight to Port Moresby. Dinner was strange foreign Subway sandwiches and by the time we ate and made it to our gate we were so tired that we were literally falling asleep at the gate. The flight to Port Moresby was on Air Nuiguini the plane was a Boeing 767 that was older and crowded. Kim saw a sign in the restroom that said it was illegal to smoke under Icelandic law in aircraft restrooms. Maybe Air Nuiguini got a good deal on the plane from Iceland. At any rate, we boarded shortly after midnight and they proceeded to feed us and show a movie. We were very tired, but it was cramped so we just kind of sat there. After 7 hours in the air, we finally began our descent into Port Moresby. As we flew in along the coast of Papua New Guinea, it was interesting to see how it was pretty much just jungle as far as the eye could see.