Julie and I are finally on the ground after several days of travel and several more of settling in. We would have posted an update earlier but we’ve either been moving too quickly or have had no internet access until recently. Our hope is to catch you up so that you both know the facts but also get an impression about what it has been like to move from fast-paced American to third world Papua New Guinea (PNG), specifically the highlands.
Guam to Cairns, Australia
Suffice to say that getting from Guam to Port Moresby (PNG) was pretty easy, considering that we had a too brief layover in Cairns, Australia. We stayed at Tree Tops Lodge, a lodging location run by Wycliffe. When we finally met the managers (husband and wife) the next morning, we were told two unexpected facts. First, the Air Niugini (the flight we were to catch at noon) only allowed one bag at 20 kg (44 lbs) per person and, since we had four large bags plus 4 small “carry-ons”, we could expect to be charge $10 per kilogram of excess weight. We calculated that meant over $1000 in penalty costs! The second and more serious problem (just kidding) was that the PNG government would not let us take our 1 lb bag of Dunkin Donuts decaf coffee into the country.
We hurriedly set aside one bag with all the items we thought we could live without for about a month because a SIL plane from Ukarumpa would be coming around then and would carry this bag on that flight to us for half the cost. The lodge managers were, of course, happy to receive the DD coffee as a gift.
When we got to the airport, the Air Niugini representative happily took all four bags with no extra charge, even though two of the bags were clearly over the specified 44 lb limit. What a surprise gift from God! We also got to carry the other smaller “carry-on” items with us even though their website says you can only take a couple items the size of books (to read) to our seats.
The bummer news, once we got to Ukarumpa, is that everyone tells us that the lodge managers were wrong about the DD bag not being allowed in-country. We don’t believe they mislead us deliberately but, oh, how I miss having decaf coffee on hand.
Cairns, Australia to Port Moresby, PNG
The capital’s airport was small but nice. We were able to check through immigration and customs quickly and were met by Wiluka (Luke) who, after getting some local currency (1 Kina = $ .37), were taken to the cheapest hotel that we thought would be safe, the Hideaway Hotel, which was within sight of the airport. The surrounding area didn’t look tourist friendly so we stayed inside the hotel boundary the entire stay.
The “Standard” room was actually sub-standard to our thinking and Julie had a bad night’s sleep on the too-soft, sagging bed. Still, it had an air conditioner, good lock, working (but rusty) small refrigerator for some small perishables and the complimentary breakfast had scrambled eggs. All for $165, half of anything else we’d priced!
One particular blessing: we noticed a group of men and one woman pull in after obviously hiking/climbing the mountains of PNG. About 8 nationals (probably the guides/porters) arrived a couple hours later for what we figure was a group farewell dinner as we returned to our room. Around 9 pm, Julie heard accapella singing and we grabbed our video camera and went out to listen. The porters were standing together singing 4 or 5 part close harmony and the hikers were standing quietly at their table listening. Julie picked out the words, a message from the Lord for us:
“No, no---it's not an easy road...but Jesus walks beside me and brightens the journey and lightens every heavy load."
Ukarumpa, at last!
We were picked up after lunch and taken to the MAF hangar (Missions Aviation Fellowship, another Christian aviation ministry serving missionaries worldwide) where we weighed ourselves and our baggage for the SIL flight. (The flight is NOT free. We pay for the distance flown and our weight.) Fifty-five minutes later, we landed at Ukarumpa where we were met by several people, including our assigned “Fellowship Family”, Bruce and Laurie Schwager.
The Schwagers delivered us to the house we’ll be renting for most of time here, showing us around and making sure the utilities worked and teaching us the unique features.
It feels like a summer "camp" (smaller than a cottage) that I spent many New England summers growing up in. The construction is fairly dated though solid. The floors are hardwood planks. The master bedroom is large enough for about two feet of walking space around the bed. Clothing storage is limited. The other bedrooms are for kids, very small and only have standalone closets. All furniture is pretty basic and utilitarian.
The kitchen has a gas stove without electric lighting. Julie is deathly afraid of lighting matches for the stovetop burners. I guess I don’t eat until I get home and start the stove.
All rain is collected from the downspouts into two huge tanks for house water and a water pump boosts the pressure up. A solar panel heats the water we use. Anything you drink is poured through a “bucket filter”.
All power here is 220 volts at 50 cycles. Most of our equipment (toothbrush, shaver, computers, etc.) can handle both the 110 (US) and 220 voltage, but we needed to buy adapters so that our plugs could fit the Australian style power outlets.
We had dinner with Tommy and Konni Logan, missionaries we knew from Vermont when Connie taught at the local Christian school during one of the Logan’s furlough. They served a welcome meal of chili, corn bread, PNG coffee and chocolate cake. As we are learning the past few days, it isn’t so easy to turn out a nice meal without lots of work.
We got back to our house at 9 pm, unpacked a bunch, and got to bed at 11 pm. Tomorrow begins checking in.
Ukarumpa, Day 1 and Day 2!
The Schwagers took us around to many departments to turn in paperwork or to get set up for living here. This included turning in our passports (so we can’t escape) and US currency, getting some local currency for the local early morning produce market, shopping at the Ukarumpa store for groceries, etc.
We’re learning what it means to get around the center. While most missionaries that have been here for a while have a vehicle (usually very beat up) and some have motorcycles or ATVs, many people walk everywhere. Considering that Ukarumpa starts at the bottom (where we live) of a steep hill and proceeds up almost a mile, we are getting some good walks in. Add that we’re living a mile high and we expect to take about 3 weeks before we can walk to work without pausing to catch a breath. This hilly village is a labyrinth of streets with names that no one knows. All the houses are identified by who used to live there.
Second day in Ukarumpa and our computers are finally hooked up. Internet connections are super slow and anything other than email and Skype are billable at about 23 cents per megabyte. We tried using a device to call home to Julie’s mom and my dad but the connection is often so bad that they can’t understand anything we say.
We finished checking in by Friday morning. While others coming to PNG long term get a 14 week orientation course, we got a 90 minute meeting with someone from member care. Julie’s now looking for a personal tutor for Tok Pison, the trade language common to all PNG nationals.
I spent the last two hours this week meeting with my new manager, Richard. I am now able to access the network and helped change the backup tapes for the weekly full backup of all Ukarumpa data. One surprise is that I learned that the daily morning devotions in our department, consisting of 30 minutes of singing, Scripture and praying, are completely conducted in Tok Pison, of which I know about 5 words.
In soon-to-come postings, we’ll share about the grocery store, the produce market, about the nationals, the “Spiritual Emphasis Week” that started today, the Sunday worship service, our assignments, and much more.
As before… stay tuned.