It’s been almost four weeks since we left to go on our helicopter survey. Since we have gotten back we have devoted pretty much all of our extra time with talking over the tribes we have visited, praying about the tribes we have visited and meeting with our teammates, Cass and Zach to talk about the tribes we have visited and to pray about the tribes we have visited. So, even though it’s been almost a month, I figured it wasn’t too late to explain our last survey trip — the one we took in a helicopter! And since half our family is sick with strep throat right now, and some of our team-mates have gone to Ukurumpa to see a doctor, and we aren’t going back into the bush for at least another week — I had a little time to write it up.
We left Monday, April 13th for our second survey trip. The plan this time was to take a PMV bus to Ukurumpa on Monday and take a helicopter on Tuesday. We would spend the night in one language group Tuesday night, fly out early Wednesday morning to another language group and spend the night, and then leave early Thursday morning to fly to the third language group and then back to Ukurumpa later Thursday afternoon. We would spend Thursday night in Ukurumpa and then take a PMV back home Friday morning.
This was our plan, and as things go in Papua New Guinea — it didn’t actually work out like this. But, in the end, everything worked out great!
The Bus ride to Ukurumpa
We woke up early Monday morning to catch a bus at the bus stop in Madang. None of us had done this before, so we weren’t quite sure what to expect. There is no schedule of buses departing. As far as we knew, we were supposed to show up and just try and find someone gong that way.
So we arrived at the bus stop around 7:30am, and as soon as we stepped out of the vehicle some people came and asked us where we were going and directed us to the right bus. It turns out these people were the bus crew and some passengers.
Why were they so eager for us to hop on this bus? Well, here’s how it works: as buses show up at the bus stop, if one is going to the place you would like to go, you hop on. But they don’t leave until they’re full. So they drive around the bus stop area, and around town (in this case for almost 2 hours) trying to pick up more passengers. Once we were filled up, we headed to the bus stop close to Ukurumpa, Kainantu.
Here are a few pictures from the rest of the bus ride.
Overall — it was a really nice drive! Yes, some parts were a little hot — and yes there were some parts when we were driving up a steep road where I wondered if we were going to be able to make it all the way up— but overall it was a great bus ride!
Seven hours later, we arrived in Kainantu and took a bus ride to Ukurumpa where about 400 SIL workers live. This is where the pilot of the helicopter lives (Gavin — you will see him later), and also where the SIL airport is. There is an SIL guest house in Ukurumpa we stayed at, which was really nice. It felt to us kind of like we were at camp the whole time! They even had pine trees!
The next morning, we woke up early, had breakfast, and took a bus to the airport at 7am. Now, in Papua New Guinea, you never really know how things are going to go. One thing that impacts this is the weather. It could be a clear day — or it could be a rainy day — so rainy in fact that the helicopter flight gets canceled! This was the case this day.
We arrived at the airport around 7:30am and loaded our bags into the chopper. Just when we were about to depart, the rain came down — and it kept coming. So we decided to cancel the flight that day and try again the next.
The rest of that day we spent touring the SIL facilities, talking to some people, and reading the Bible and praying (just like you would do at camp!) Going to bed that night, we didn’t know what the next day would hold, but when we woke up Wednesday morning the skies were totally clear — save some fog around the hills.
Our original plan had us taking the chopper Tuesday and coming back Thursday, and our pilot was willing, since we were leaving a day later to come back a day later as well, so this was our new plan — which also would change as you will see.
Wednesday morning, we headed back to the airport in Ukurumpa and waited. The skies still looked clear. Our pilot, Gavin, informed us we would be taking off. So we loaded everything into the chopper and left the SIL airport around 8am.
The plan for our helicopter survey was to visit three different tribes which were spread out over the Finisterre mountains. Sinsauru is located in the South Western part of the Finisterre Mountains. We chose these three language groups because we knew very little about them, including the fact that no one was presently working in them.
We knew of two large villages in Sinsauru: Saipa and Biapa. Having the coordinates to Saipa (based on our information, a village of about 200), we flew over and saw about four huts — and lots of land slides all around the village. Several weeks ago, there had been major flooding(as seen in one of the above pictures from the bus ride) and this areas was hit hard.
We landed in Sinsauru and greeted the 7-10 people who lived there. We found out first that many people had left the village and moved closer to the freeway so that they could grow food, sell it, and pay for school fees. Many others had left the area because of the recent devastation caused by the flooding and rains to try and find some food closer to the freeway.
We asked the people still living there some questions and did some language use survey work, which you’ll see in some pictures below. We had heard that this happens sometimes to villages—that sometimes everyone in the village just up and moves to another part of the mountains — but here we saw it first hand.
We had originally planned on spending the night in this village, but because of the number of people present, we decided to move on to Yot Wom, on the other side of the mountain range.
We hopped back in the chopper and flew an hour to get there. Here are some pictures of the flight to Yot Wam.
Half way to Yot Wam, we thought it would be a good idea to fly over the Ndo area, where we had recently taken our nine day hike and try to see some of the villages from the air, especially the ones that we couldn’t walk to. We did so and here are some of the villages we flew over.
Flying over Ndo was slightly out of the way, but the whole flyover only took about 10 minutes. Yes, 10 minutes. For us to fly over the villages that it took us nine days to hike through — it took 10 minutes by helicopter.
We found Yot Wam. Initially, we were going to land in one village, but then we saw another village off in the distance which was a bit larger, so we decided to stop there. As it turns out, they refer to both villages as Yot Wam.
Now, a helicopter landing in a village draws some attention. I think the initial reception is the most difficult. You get out of the helicopter, you say hi to everyone, you ask how everyone is doing. It’s kind of awkward. Eventually you tell them why you are there, and ask to speak to the village leaders.
What we found in Yot Wam was that just about all of the village leaders were gone that day. One had gone to the beach, another had gone somewhere else. There was basically one guy left behind who didn’t feel comfortable answering the questions we had, but said he would convey our work to all the other leaders when they returned.
Yot was a little different from our other experiences because there weren’t any leaders so it actually seemed like the youth were the ones who showed us around, and looked out for us and answered all of our questions. We spent the night in Yot Wam and the next morning did some language data gathering.
Some of the information we gathered and confirmed from this survey was that Yot Wam is a small language group, about 150 to 200 people total in the two villages. It sounds like it’s closely related to the neighboring Domung language, but not quite the same, perhaps a different dialect. They said again and again they were the only ones who spoke their language. It’s important in all of this to have people actually want us to come back, and when we left Yot Wam, we weren’t sure how they felt. Days later, we did get a text from them saying that their leaders talked and they do want us to come back!
We left Yot Wam Friday morning and our hope was to finish the next survey that day and head back to Ukurampa. The weather in the Finisterre Mountains where Yot Wam is located is unpredictable and you often can’t fly past 10:30 in the morning, but it’s different on the other side of the mountains where we were headed. On the other side of the mountains, the sky is often clear on into the afternoons, so we hoped for an entire day in Ufim.
The flight to Ufim was pretty amazing. We flew from one side of the mountain range to the other. Departing from Yot Wam, we flew in circles to gain elevation until we could fly over the mountains next to Yot Wam.
Ufim, we knew, was located not as much in the mountains.
Of all the places that we visited, Ufim is the closest to a major town, as they said they could hike from their village to “a road” in two hours, and then catch a ride from there to the freeway, where they could catch another ride to Lae.
Ufim was by far our most welcoming reception.
The whole town came, brought out chairs, and we talked with them about what we were coming to do. You can clearly tell the villages that are closer to the towns from the ones that are further away.
In Yot Wam, if someone wants to go to town, you have to hike all day (for them), then catch a boat to Madang (much more expensive than catching a bus), so there aren’t a lot of housing materials from town. But in the villages closer to the large towns, you find things like metal roofs and other materials used for building houses, as well as a larger amount of supplies like sugar, salt, etc. These things are just hard to get in the villages in the mountains on the coastal side.
Probably the most surprising thing about this village was the guy who met us — and how well he spoke English. Apparently, he had gone to school and then gone to university and then decided to come back to his village to help it and his family. He has aspirations for a lot of community development in his village and he saw us as being a definite help in achieving those aspirations.
We gathered language data and took a tour of the village.
Then we came back and gathered some more language data and asked some questions of the village leaders. We were done by about 4 in the afternoon, and then flew back to Ukurumpa where we spent the night.
The Bus Ride Home
We spent the night in Ukurumpa, and got up early in the morning to hike down the road to catch a PMV into town (Kainantu).
On the bus ride, I sat next to a guy who said he was going to town to sell some chickens. I asked, “where are these chickens?” Here they were:
We got to Kainuntu about 7:15am and waited till about 9am to take a bus. You basically wait, and lots of busses come by, but most of them were heading to Lae. Eventually, one came and was saying Lae, but when we said we were heading towards Madang, they said, “Ok, we’ll go to Madang!” We were skeptical, so we said if they got more passengers and filled up let us know.
Sure enough, about an hour later, they were loaded and ready to head to Madang.
On the way to Madang, we stopped by Ramu Sugar factory to drop some passengers off, and pick others up.
At the Ramu Sugar factory, we drove around until we picked up enough passengers to head to Madang.
The trip to Madang was pleasant, though we did have to stop and fix the tire on the bus a couple of times:
After this we headed back to our house in Madang, and the bus dropped us off right at our front door!
So now here we are back in Madang, talking about all the places we have been, and where we should go next. We have been to five different language groups at this point and we are seriously praying about two of them.
As of right now our current plan is to go back to both Yot Wam and Ndo to do a second survey, and this time bring our wives and some kids. What this would look like is Zach and I hiking into one of these tribes several days before our wives and kids come in. The helicopter would bring our wives and kids in and we would stay the night in that tribe, and then fly to the next tribe the next day and spend the night there. The helicopter would then leave with our wives and kids, and Zach and I would stay behind a few more days and then hike out! Much has to work out for this plan to happen, and again it means more hiking and flying.
Ultimately, we want to go to a place where we can preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. Please pray for us as we think and pray through these tribes and seek to find a place to bring the good news. And please pray that we can come up with the best plan, and God would work out the details.