This past weekend, Jeremy, Zach, and I visited a tribe in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.Our guide: Lucas.The place : Nekgini.
The whole trip was exactly what we thought it would be. We learned what it was like to take a boat ride here, how to hike into a village, and how to sleep in a hut. We learned how a village operates and how its people lived and worked. We got to talk a lot of Tok Pisin. The whole trip was great (well, other than the last 12 hours which were maybe the hardest of my life). But I’m jumping ahead.Just to warn you, this post is long. But I wanted to give a clear picture of the time we had — the good, the bad, and the painful.
Friday – A Boat Ride, A Hike, and a Shower
The trip started Friday morning. Cameron had been sick for 2 weeks prior to us leaving and I wasn’t going to go if she was still sick. But she made a full recovery by Wednesday, so the trip was on.Friday morning, we woke to torrential rain outside. When it rains hard here, it rains hard. The hard rain had wondering if the boats would even be going that morning because we’re not talking about big, nice passenger boats here. We are talking about a 15′ small motor boat with no seats—everyone basically sits wherever. But, we’ve lived in PNG long enough to know that it doesn’t usually rain all day. And sure enough, the rain stopped around 9 in the morning.We left the house at 10am (to make our arranged time of departure) and travelled to the boat docks—in PNG, this is basically just a plot of land next to the ocean where all the boats park and wait for passengers.Our skipper, Taylor, informed us that he was waiting for his sister (‘susa’ in Pisin) to come and then we would leave. We checked again at 11:30 and were told that we were now waiting for his brother (brada). Finally, by 12:30pm, all the family was present and ready to go!All the luggage goes in the middle of the boat and the passengers sit in the front and back. Zach, Jeremy, and I all sat in the back of the boat. The ride over to the place we were going–called Saksak Basis—was a 2.5 hour uneventful ride excepting the plentiful flying fish and occasional floating log.Our seats, being right next to Taylor and the engine, had my ears ringing. I thought to myself, “I am definitely sitting in the front of the boat on the way home.” Little did I know, that would be the worst decision of the entire trip. But again, I’m jumping ahead.Taylor dropped us off on the beach — literally. See the below photo.
We were met by Andrew—a friend of our guide, Lucas, and one of the Nekgini people—along with a few guys from the tribe.They carried our heavy backpacks the whole way into the tribe. And because I wanted to respect their customs, I let them. Ok, so maybe there were other reasons I was okay with them carrying our backpacks.We started the hike around 2:00pm and hiked first through a lot of tall grass (kunai), which then turned into thick jungles. The clouds set in thicker as our hike (actually called a “wokabout” in Tok Pisin) progressed.
Once we hit the outskirts of our village (and by outskirts, I mean we still had another hour of hiking), we were met by a man who knew Lucas. He invited us to his hut for kulao, which is a young coconut. They take the young coconut and cut it open to drink. Much sweeter than the older coconuts and very refreshing.After a short rest, we continued our journey in a small sprinkle of rain. The last hour of hiking was maybe a little different from the rest of the hike. Here is what I think makes hiking in Papua New Guinea difficult: Picture a trail that you like to hike on. Now picture that every time you were to hike on this trail, it would be covered with mud and slippery rocks.That’s like every trail here.
Finally, we arrived at our destination—the village of Negkini. Upon arriving, we found that they have made a sort of wall out of palm tree leaves at the entrance to the village. When they opened the palm-leaf gate and let us in, we were met by the whole village—with everyone dressed up, guys playing guitars, children dancing, flowers being thrown in the air, flower leis being given to us, paint being smeared on our faces, and then we were led to an area with four plastic chairs.
After some introductions, we were shown to where were staying (with Andrew’s brother). And they also show us that they have made us a “shower” — which was pretty sweet of them to think of — and actually really wonderful to have after a day of hiking. It was a “room” with a pail for pouring water over our heads.After eating dinner, (sweet potatoes, some greens, onions, noodles, all in a coconut sauce with salt), we stayed up and talked for a bit before going to sleep. The place we slept was a room in the hut, and they were nice enough to put down a foam pad (which I don’t think anyone sleeps on) and pillows (which I also don’t think anyone uses).
Saturday – Water, A Council Meeting, the Bush Phone, and Stars
Saturday morning, we woke up and had a breakfast of biscuits (crackers) and coffee. The below picture is us just starting our breakfast. That’s the spot we normally ate. After breakfast, we hiked to the water spot. That is, the spot where they get their water, bathe, and wash their clothes.At this point, my feet are blistered and bleeding from my shoes so I opt to take the hike bare foot…after all everyone else does it — how hard could it be? Yeah — it was kind of hard actually.It was a thirty minute hike to the water spot and the trail was a little more steep and a little more slippery and a little more narrow. So there was a little more slipping. But it was well worth it! The water was something like you would find in Payson or Sedona. And there was a pool just like a large bathtub. We filled up our water bottles (filtering them with a UV light later) and then all took turns bathing. It was pretty refreshing.
When we got back, we met some people who were going to use the “garangut” to call all the other villages for a village meeting. The Garangut is basically a “bush phone”. It’s what they use to call everyone else. It’s a giant, hollowed-out tree that they strike with another log. The number of times it’s hit indicates whether a certain person is being called or a certain event is taking place.
We went to the place where they hold meetings and many people showed up. The picture below shows our perspective of the meeting. The guy sitting on the floor is the “bigman” or the village leader, or “kukarai”. He talked and Lucas explained why we were there: how ultimately, we were looking for a place to go to teach and translate God’s Word, but presently we were just desiring to learn Tok Pisin.This tribe is part of the “Nekgini” language and, as some languages in Papua New Guinea that are close to the coast or close to towns, their language is starting to fade away and be replaced by Tok Pisin. Much of the conversation that ensued in this meeting was the desire of these people to have a translation done so that their Tok Ples wouldn’t be lost. We mostly sat and listened throughout all of this.
When the meeting was over, everyone was now very clear that we wanted to learn Tok Pisin and that’s exactly what everyone helped us do the rest of the time we were there. Lots of corrections, lots of new words, lots of conversations. It seemed like everyone took the days off work to hang out with us. Communication with our wives was possible, but limited. As in, there was a place in a certain part of the hut we were staying in that if you laid down, you got a little bit of cell phone reception. Seriously.When night came, Zach, Jeremy, and I all walked up to the top of a “hill” in the village and looked up at the stars. It is cloudy pretty much every day here, and this night was the first night where there was not a cloud in sight. The stars were amazing.We prayed, talked about our time thus far, and then went back to the hut to go to sleep.The first day in the village was difficult for me because everything felt so foreign. It is and was so different even from Madang: no electricity, no running water, everyone speaking a different language. But by the end of the day Saturday, I was already starting to like it. Because though the place is so different, you start to know the people more and that makes everything feel familiar.
Sunday – Church and the Beach
Sunday morning was church in the village where we were staying and we were informed that we would each be preaching!What do you preach to people who you have no idea where they are spiritually knowing that you don’t quite know enough to communicate clearly, nevermind the fact that you don’t truly know their culture? In another situation, I would have felt uncomfortable preaching, but in this particular situation, we had Lucas who promised to “straighten” whatever we said.So I preached from Psalm 19. My three points were, “3 things That David Looked At” — He looked at the sky…and He saw God; He looked at the Law…and he saw God; and he looked at himself…and saw sin. The title and points were modified to use words I knew how to say.After church, we had lunch at a guy’s house whome we had visited the day before. He felt embarrassed that we had come to his place and he didn’t have any food prepared, so he cooked up some sweet potatoes, killed one of his chickens, and Jeremy, Zach, Lucas and I ate some good food.Even though it was Sunday, and we wouldn’t be taking the boat back until Monday, it was time to pack up and go. The boat was coming back to pick us up at 7am and we needed to be on the beach when it came. So, we began our hike down the mountain to spend the night on the beach.The hike back was clear and smooth and warm. We arrived at the beach around 5:30pm and dropped all of our bags off in the hut that we’d be spending the night in. Then, we all walked down to the ocean.The beach here was different than the one in Madang. Where we live in Madang, we are close to the ocean, but there is no beach—just lots of sharp coral rocks. But here, there was an actual beach — with waves…and sand! We swam for a bit in the waves, then walked to the river which fed into the ocean and “bathed”. This, by the way, where a river feeds into the ocean, is exactly where we had heard NOT to swim. But, hey, no one got eaten by crocodiles or sharks!For dinner that night, we feasted on all of our snacks—beef jerky, crackers, tuna, corned beef—that we had brought with us since our food had been provided for us the whole time we were in the village. We stayed up till about 9:00 “storying”. We each went around and told a story (in Tok Pisin). I told the story about the time Cameron fell off a 25 foot cliff and Lucas told a story about the time he was bitten by a death adder. About half way through storying, I started feeling achy, developed a fever, and was ready to go to bed.
The Last 12 Hours
If I were to give a title to the last 12 hours of our trip, I might call it something like, “the worst 12 hours of my life” or “the worst night of sleep of my life” or “the worst boat ride of my life”.All those names I think would accurately summarize the last 12 hours of our trip. To begin with, the hut we were to sleep in was used to store large bags of cocoa beans which the tribal people sell in town so there was a very strong smell of something like — almost chocolate. The smell was almost good—but it wasn’t quite there, so it really turned out to be just a very strong, not-so-good type of smell. Before we went to bed, we killed a spider about the size of my hand on the floor — the same floors we slept on.Now look, we just are not used to sleeping on a hard floor. We’d been trying our best for the last few night and that was with padding. By this night—and without any semblance of a mattress—our hips were bruised. We all tried, but none of us actually slept very much. I might have tried hardest because I was so achy from the fever.Throughout the night, I kept talking to Jeremy and Zach, and they were pretty much awake every time. Zach and Jeremy threw in the towel around 3am and decided to walk to the beach. But I couldn’t do it because I felt too sick. Around 6, we all packed up and went down to the beach where Taylor arrived around 7.This is where we made a big mistake.We sat in the front of the boat. I mean, you may think this was a good idea. The view is better in the front. You are further away from the engine, so it’s not as loud. But there are some other things that I—having not had much experience riding in small boats on the ocean—did not consider.Like, how is it going to feel when this boat starts hitting large waves in the middle of the ocean? Believe me when I say, it didn’t feel good. Once we got out into the ocean, the swells were big, and there were white caps everywhere.The boat would hit one wave, do a small jump in the air — we would all fly into the air about an inch — then the boat would slam against the next wave — and we would slam against the boat. This continued for the entire boat ride of 2.5 hours.Again and again, Zach, Jeremy, Lucas, and I would get tossed up and slam down into the boat. I held on tightly to the side of the boat as hard as I could with my right hand with my left hand behind, bracing me. When we would fly up and slam down, my right arm would slam against the boat, and my legs would slam against a wood plank on the ground, leaving bruises in both locations.And then, as the boat ride went on, the sun began to beat down on us. I was so thirsty—but I couldn’t let go of the side of the boat to take a drink for fear that I would fall out!Eventually, we pulled up to the city of Madang and the water started to calm down. I remember thinking “it’s good to be home”. Not because I knew I would sleep in a soft bed again, or because the painful boat ride was over, but because we were back to our home. It’s funny — this place which just a few weeks earlier seemed so foreign and new—felt like home somehow. The bus stop, the post office, town, it was all familiar.
The trip was a definite success. We learned how to take a boat, we learned what it was like to hike into the village, we learned lots of Tok Pisin.And we learned how much more we have left to learn and figure out before we go back out into the bush.Please pray for future trips that we take. This one we took a little early because it happened to be a great opportunity, but we will take more once we get a firm grasp of Tok Pisin, and those trips will determine into which tribe we will move. Which tribe we will preach the gospel to.But between now and then, there is much work to be done in scheduling helicopter rides, researching the tribes that are available to go to in the Finisterre Mountains, and determining where the greatest need is. Please, please pray that God would lead us to the right place.