The Story of House Building Stage 2

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Today, we are planning on heading back out to Mawarero to frame and put a roof on the second house. 

So, I thought it would be an appropriate time to describe how it went the last time we did something like this.  Of course, last time we went with 12 other guys from the US, and this time it will just be Zach, Jeremy and me — so we aren’t planning on getting as much done.

A NOTE: this is a very long blog post.

Feel free to scroll through just to see the pictures from our trip if you don’t have time to read everything!

I described our last house building plans here, and then I described how those plans changed here.  One of SIL’s helicopters got damaged, and since they were down to one, they couldn’t help us with as much cargo.  We originally had an estimated 30 tons of building material, and they said they could help us with 18 tons.  Also, the dates had to change as well.

So here we were with decisions to make.  How were we going to get the guys from the US into the bush, and what were we going to bring, and what were we going to leave behind?

But one more plan would change before it was all over.  A few days before the building team arrived, we called the boat owner of the Manam, and he told us he would no longer be able to adjust his schedule to move our cargo to Billiau!  But…he knew a boat that may be able to help us.  We all prayed, and went to look at the other boat.

After checking it out, we thought it would work both for shipping all of the supplies and getting all of the men coming to help us build into the tribe.  The original plan had the guys going straight to the tribe to build, but since the supplies weren’t in the tribe yet for them to build because of the delays, the team from the US had a front row seat at how we move supplies (and some of them had that front seat quite literally on the boat).

We booked the boat to depart on Tuesday morning with 15 passengers, and all we had to do now was see how it went.

Here’s how it went:

Saturday August 29th

Zach and I picked everyone up from the airport.  This was pretty sweet.  Everyone brought building supplies, homeschool supplies, gifts for the team, and many other things…so there were lots of bags!

We got everyone to the SIL guesthouse, and the Lehmans’ house, and there they slept.

That night, we had dinner, and a brief orientation about Papua New Guinea, but everyone was pretty tired.

Sunday August 30th

I’m not actually sure what we did on Sunday — it’s been a while at this point.  This was an extra day, so we all basically hung out and got things ready for the following day.

Monday August 31st

This is when all the excitement happened.  The three of us–Jeremy, Zach and I–all went out to various places to get the materials and transport them to the boat dock.  We had talked to the boat driver about getting everything in and possibly leaving by Monday night.

First, we went to the truck company and I stayed with one of the trucks.  Then Jeremy and Zach went to go pick some things up from town, and Zach came back to pick up another truck.  I took one truck to the lumber yard, and the other truck went to the Lehman’s house to pick up the roofing iron, tools, and bins filled with building supplies that we had decided needed to go on this trip.  We had to cut out the solar panels and batteries due to weight restrictions, so we were really just bringing in what we thought was the bare minimum to work two houses through the roof (our goal and plan).

While the timber was loaded up at the lumber yard, I could actually see the boat dock where we were going to be loading everything across the water.  And so every once in a while, I’d check to see if the boat was there, but all morning it didn’t show up.  Remember, this was a new boat…so we had no idea if they even were going to show up!

Loading up the timber at the lumber yard

Loading up the timber at the lumber yard

While I was at the lumber yard, Zach and some other guys were loading things at the Lehmans’ house.  Around 11:30 or so, everything was loaded and ready to go, but still no boat.  We eventually decided to just go, and hopefully the boat would be there when we arrived…which it was!

Then the unloading began.

First, we backed the truck in and unloaded everything off to the dock and then we started unloading the timber.  Later, two more trucks with building supplies would come, and one truck with drums of jet fuel.

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Unloading at the boat dock with our friends who had come out from the US

We had the local butchery make cheeseburgers for everyone for lunch, and then we continued to work all afternoon.  We were told the boat would hold 34 tons, but as the day proceeded, we started doubting that number.

By night time, we knew we weren’t going to get everything loaded onto the boat that day, so everyone went home, and three of us (Tyler, Mike and I) would come back to sleep on the docks to help guard all of the stuff.

We put some of the plywood on some 2×3’s, and I’d say it was actually a pretty nice night of sleep (other than the mosquitos which started biting around 2 in the morning).

Sleeping at the boat dock

Sleeping at the boat dock

Tuesday September 1st

Tyler, Mike and I woke up with everyone arriving at the dock.  We continued to load everything up onto the boat.  The owner (“papa”) of the boat came and looked at where the boat was, and how much was left, and said that he would take everything that was loaded now all the way to Billiau and come back for the rest for the same price.  This wasn’t a bad deal, so we took it.  The only thing we had to figure out was what to do with everything left behind.

We decided to have Zach, Reed, and Omri stay behind with the second load and bring it to Billiau as soon as possible, while everyone else went in the boat to Billiau on Tuesday.

We left Madang around 11 am with the boat full of timber, jet fuel and 12 guys ready to build houses…and hopefully ready to move tons of materials from the beach to a field.

First class seating on the boat

First class seating on the boat

During the boat ride, I sat on the front of the boat the entire time.  I’ve learned this is one of two options you have for not getting sick.  The other option is to sleep.  The upside of sitting on the front of the boat is you get to see everything…the downside is you are in the sun the entire 5 hours.

But we saw whales, flying fish and dolphins — and got horribly sun burnt (I should have known better).

As we came up to Billiau I knew there were business transactions there that were unresolved from the last time we had gone to Billiau and that there might be some tension being there until we got it resolved, but it turned out that it was things we weren’t thinking about, that we didn’t even know about, that would end up being the biggest deal.

We anchored and immediately started unloading everything onto shore–the team from the US being shuttled to the shore first.  I stayed behind on the boat to help the crew unload everything else.

Unloading the fuel drums in Billiau

Unloading the fuel drums in Billiau

By around 7pm, it was dark and we were just about finished unloading everything.  I made sure everything was unloaded, and took the last boat to shore.  I was greeted on shore by Happygod and Tyler with a military ready-made meal — which was amazing.  At this point, much was moved to the field, but there was a lot left that needed to be moved to the field.  The guys on the team from the US that had come out to help were exhausted, so we sent them to the Lutheran guest house there to sleep, while some of us stayed and continued moving things.  I worked until around 11:30pm moving things and then went to the guest house as well. But Mawarero had sent out about 10 guys to come and help us in Billiau so they continued moving things even after I went to bed.

The next day everyone from the team would, Lord willing, fly into the tribe.

Wednesday September 2nd

The morning started with us going down to the field to start moving everything else to the field.  We got everything moved, and then waited for the helicopter to come.  All the guys from the US waited with all the people from Mawarero as we all waited for the helicopter.

When the helicopter came, our priority was to move in the guys and move in all of the tools and personal items they brought so they could start building the houses.  And that’s all we got done this day.

Everyone as the helicopter arrives

Everyone as the helicopter arrives

When we started helicoptering the bins with building supplies later on in the day after the team and their personal items had been flown in, which was the next priority after the guys and all their tools, the helicopter had to turn back because the weather made it impossible for him to land.  These are some of the challenges you must work with when flying things into a mountainous helicopter-access only location. 

The load of building supply bins ready to go

The load of building supply bins ready to go

This was kind of unfortunate because, even though all of the luggage and building tools that everyone had brought in made it into the tribe, this shipment actually had all of the food — but thankfully the guys from the US had enough food in their personal items to make it until the next day.

Also, at one point while moving, someone lit the field on fire next to us.  I kept looking at the flames, as I stood around lots of timber and drums of jet fuel, and asking everyone if they thought the fire would reach us — no one seemed concerned (and it never did).

The field on fire next to us

The field on fire next to us

After everyone else had gone into Mawarero, I alone remained in Billiau to wait for the next boatload of supplies.

At this point in the day, however, I don’t know when was the last time I had felt so tired. So though we were finishing early, I was hoping to get to bed earlier than the night before.  First though, I had to track down one last barrel of jet fuel which was somewhere in Billiau proper.

I fell asleep in Billiau around 9pm this night, and everyone else fell asleep in the village.  I had heard from Zach, Omri and Reed that they were planning on going to the boat dock that night to try and get the boat to leave sometime in the morning.

Thursday September 3rd

I don’t want to make this day sound bad, but yes, this was probably the most difficult day I’ve had in Papua New Guinea — you’ll see why.

The day started with me waking up and going down to the field to hear that someone had come and tried to steal some things during the night and one of the Mawarero guys had gotten hit with a belt or something.

We started making loads for the helicopter to fly into Mawarero.  Soon the boat, Matsama, arrived with the second load of supplies and Zach and Reed and Omri, and all the Mawarero guys went to help unload the boat.  About 2 minutes later, I saw all the Mawarero guys walking back looking downcast.  I asked what happened, and they said a fight happened at the beach and someone was saying we couldn’t unload anything.  I ran to the beach to check it out, and sure enough there was a drunk guy being held back by his friends.

Reed and Omri had seen the fight and were not sure what to do.  For the next hour or so, we had to figure out what was going on, and how to handle it.  I’ll skip some of the arduous and difficult details about how we figured it out and just get to what was going on.

It turned out there was a disgruntled person who we had hired to get some drums of jet fuel and bring back empties a few weeks prior.  There were several reasons that he was upset, but one thing we did, which we weren’t aware was culturally bad at the time, is that we didn’t talk directly to him in the business transaction. We hired him and paid for him through someone else (much like we would do in the US).  That’s something we learned not to do from this whole experience. 

This was the man who had started a fight on the beach, had actually beaten up one of the Mawarero guys, and then come back a few more times to the Mawarero camp and beat up a few more guys.  Eventually, he came back at a time I was there and I was able to intercept him and stop him from attacking anyone else. I walked with him for the next 3 hours to try and calm him down.

At this point, Zach was still on the boat unloading everything, and Reed and Omri were with the other items making piles for the helicopter to move to Mawarero.  God had really providentially worked it out so that the moving of materials could keep going on while I walked with this guy and tried to calm him down.  I kept saying to him, “ok, we’ll straighten this all out in the morning”.  Later, I learned that in saying this, I basically was agreeing to pay him the funds he felt he should be paid.  But, perhaps God providentially worked this out as well to keep him from attacking anyone else.

We eventually went back to moving everything from the beach to the field and the Mawarero guys helped too.  We got everything done around 10pm that night.

Because of the “heavy”(that’s Tok Pisin for ‘trouble’) that had come up, I had said earlier in the day that I would sleep out in the field with everyone to make them feel better, and Zach, when he got there would join me.  We went to bed that night outside–me on one staged pile of timber and Zach on another–and it was actually a very nice night of sleep (plus, no one got attacked that night).

Friday September 4th

We met in the morning with a Mawarero friend to discuss the situation, and then we went to the man’s house who had been upset the day before.  Our Mawarero friend informed me that apparently during the walk with the drunk man I had agreed to his demands, though I didn’t think I had.  So during the course of the meeting together we all agreed to pay him to resolve the heavy.

There was a moment as Zach and I walked to the house of this man where  I stopped and just realized we were walking next to the ocean with the sun coming up in a beautiful sunrise — and yet I didn’t even notice.  Here we were walking through the beauty of God’s creation, and yet it was almost like it was stained — because of the heavy created by one man’s sinful heart.

We made it to the meeting with the once-drunk man–Zach, me, our friend and another government official from one of the towns.

In this meeting, we learned another cultural practice.  This man was asking for 400 Kina(which would be like $400 to the people here, but only works out to about $150 in US currency) because of “wrongs suffered” even though he had actually wronged four guys in the process. To straighten things out with him, we agreed to give him the 400 kina, and then he would straighten it out with the four guys he hit by giving them money, and “shaking hands over money”.  Upon further counsel from a friend, though, we actually gave him only 200 kina, and then we would then take the other 200 kina and help him straighten things out with the other guys.

The meeting went great, and everyone literally “shook hands over money”, and — everyone was happy.  The four guys who had been punched, kicked and hurt — were all totally fine now — and we all were hanging out.

Heavy resolved.

We worked the rest of the day on sending as many supplies into Mawarero as we could, but it was looking like we weren’t going to get it all in.  Our helicopter pilot, Johannes, graciously offered to stay one more day to help us move (thanks Johannes!).

In the midst of this, we still needed to get one missing fuel drum, which we weren’t sure was going to be a problem or not, and also to figure out how to get the empty drums back to Madang (which caused the first heavy). In addition, we also had to work out the price of paying for the dinghies we charted to help us move everything.  

Really, this was just not a very good day. Although, in the midst of this not very good day, God still provided.

By the end of day, we had about 6 more loads left and two more ‘heavies’  to work out — and then we would be done with Billiau!

Saturday September 5th

We started moving the last six loads into Mawarero. 

Somewhere in here, I started to realize that many of the cultural differences or challenges we have had in Papua New Guinea have been over business transactions.  I didn’t even realize it, but much of how I think about how business should be done comes from an American mindset, and instead of asking questions like, “how do they do business here”, I instead just think, “business should be done like this and if they’re not doing it this way then they are wrong.”.

Oh, the challenges of living in another culture!  But we are learning that business is done differently here, and we are learning to adapt, and learning we need much more help to do so.

Really, the whole ‘getting everything into the tribe to build the house’ business takes at least as much time as actually building the houses. Navigating all of the logistical and cultural land mines that come with acquiring supplies, transporting them to Billiau, negotiating business in Billiau, and then getting them into Mawarero has been much more difficult and challenging than the building the houses themselves — but maybe that’s because we had 12 guys helping us build the house this time so it went pretty smoothly.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We sent Omri in with one of the helicopter loads since we were starting to get down to the last of it all — and because his luggage had accidentally been flown in a day earlier. 🙂

In the midst of moving things up to Mawarero, we met with the boat owners and started the conversation about how much to pay.  This time, we asked Honerike to sit in the meeting just to help us with cultural issues and explain things to us — which was extremely helpful again.

We also worked things out with the two boat drivers and made plans for the empty fuel drums to come back to Madang.

By around 12 on Saturday, Zach, Reed and I got on the helicopter to fly into Mawarero.  I couldn’t believe we had finally finished in Billiau. 

All the heavies were resolved, and when I looked back at the pictures I took, I realize there is a large gap between pictures. I took a picture of us leaving Billiau on the chopper and the last picture I took before that was two days earlier — before the heavies hit.

leaving Billiau

leaving Billiau

Praise God, though, for the resolutions!

After flying into Mawarero, we joyously greeted all the villagers, settled in, and started right up on house building!  The last couple times we did this, this was one of the happiest moments for me — being in the tribe.

Sunday September 6th — Friday September 11

I started working right away with Jeremy on plumbing.  First thing we did was put the bathtub in which I had never done before.  Then we brought all the fresh water lines into the house, also something I had never done before. 

Now, in a house in the US, much of this piping is inside the walls, but for our house, we built the whole thing by 2×3’s instead of 2×4’s, so the walls all were slightly thinner making it more difficult to put the piping in a larger space, so much of it we just brought through the floor.  Why did we do this you may ask?  These were some of the changes we made in the past months.  A 2×3 weighs significantly less than a 2×4, especially when you have hundreds of them.  Since we have to ship everything in by chopper, anything we can reduce the weight on, we do.  Especially here, where we aren’t working with pine, but mixed hardwood, which is stronger than pine.  So a 2×3 packs as much strength as a 2×4 any way.

While Jeremy and I worked on plumbing, everyone had different jobs to do.  A lot of the guys were finishing the floor on the second house, and much of the rest were up top working on framing on the first house.

At some point, Jeremy had to leave to go work on something else…and I was left alone to finish the plumbing.  I waited for a little bit hoping he would come back — but quickly I realized I was on my own.  Mr. Kais (one of our friends from Mawarero) joined me for much of the plumbing, and over the next two days we figured it out!  One of the challenges we faced with putting together the plumbing leaving the house is we changed our plans after coming to PNG. 

We had purchased all the piping before coming to PNG, but once here decided to have a grey water and a brown water piping setup instead, which meant another pipe and different connections.  But it all worked out in the end!  I mean — I never really tested it…but it looks right, right?  I guess we’ll see!

Plumbing plans

Plumbing plans

Water coming in the house

Water coming in the house

Jeremy working on the pipes that will go to the washing machine

Jeremy working on the pipes that will go to the washing machine

Plumbing under the house

Plumbing under the house

Ok…that’s probably enough plumbing photos for one post.

After finishing the plumbing, or at least as much as I could do, I started working with the guys on the roof.  For the roof, we had to lay down a layer of “insulation” which is basically like a thick role of tin foil, and then the metal roofing went on top of this. 

Smed and Dube putting the roofing on top of the foil insulation

Smed and Dube putting the roofing on top of the foil insulation

Omri and I worked on this — it was a little frightening.  Because on the roof, you can only step on the rafters, but we were covering them up so we couldn’t see them any more!  Really, praise God that in all of this no one got hurt — yes, I did fall off of a ladder, and so did Smed, and Tyler just about fell off — but other than that we had very few injuries!

Because the cell phone network wasn’t working when we first got there, we had to hike up a little ways to get service and were able to show our friends from the US that spot. Jamin, Tyler, Omri, Zach, Jeremy and I all made the 30 minute hike up.  This spot is kind of funny.  You basically have to stand or sit in one spot, and if you move 2 feet over, you lose your signal.  It was great to talk to my wife again!  And praise God, the cell phone network actually came back up in the tribe just a few days later.

Calling our wives from the "network spot"

Calling our wives from the “network spot”

At one point, seeing half the roof go up was pretty sweet.  It started sprinkling shortly afterwards, and it was so great to be able to stand under the roof.  A roof is something that really makes a house great!

Half of the roof done when rain comes

Half of the roof done when rain comes

We originally went in with the hopes and dreams of building both houses through the roof, but after losing some days in moving everything, and also realizing we probably weren’t going to have enough nails or wood to finish two houses, we decided instead to focus all of our efforts on just the one house, and getting it completely closed in.

After putting the insulation up, I helped Smed and John Dube with putting the roof up.  After this, we wrapped the whole house in black plastic.

Covering the wall on the roof with black plastic (this is where we started)

Covering the wall on the roof with black plastic (this is where we started)

One of the final touches on the house that John Parker and Jamin Dunn worked on were the stairs.  How beautiful are these steps?

the steps

the steps

By Friday, the team from the US had helped us put the floors on both houses, completely frame one house, put the roof on it, Happygod put all of the electrical in, much of the plumbing was in, windows were put in by Reed and Kevin Berry.  Many nails were hammered in, many braces were set.  And all in all, we got much of one of the houses done, and the entire floor of the other house finished.

We covered the house the best we could with black plastic to “try” and protect it from the elements.  Right now in Papua New Guinea, it’s probably one of the worst draughts they have had for about 15 years, but we have no idea when that will change.  When rainy season hits, it hits hard usually, and we didn’t know when we were going to go back to finish the second house.

house

house

Friday night we had kind of a “pot luck” and most of the village came out to celebrate with us, and give gifts to all the guys that came out.  Some got bows and arrows, others got necklaces, and one got a dead tree kangaroo.

gift giving potluck

gift giving potluck

Dead tree kangaroo gift

Dead tree kangaroo gift

Saturday September 12

Mostly everything had been packed the night before, sorted, and gone through.  Now came the challenge of who to ship when, and how to get everything back.  Sometimes when shipping with a helicopter, you run out of space before you run out of carrying capacity, and that was our challenge this time as we had so many large bags.

Leaving Mawarero, and the helicopter arriving

Leaving Mawarero, and the helicopter arriving

We took one load of guys to Saidor, followed by a load of luggage.  A Kodiak plane was waiting in Saidor to pick the first load of guys up, and they were all flown back to Madang. 

When the Kodiak came to Madang, the ladies put 11 of our solar batteries onboard the plane to bring back to us, since otherwise the plane would be coming back empty (and that’s not efficient).  James, the Kodiak pilot, helped move the batteries onto the helicopter with Gavin the helicopter pilot, so it was a couple hours before we saw Gavin again. 

Omri, Mike and I waited in Mawarero as the clouds became thicker and surrounded us more, praying that we would be able to make it out before the weather closed us in. 

Gavin did come though, and we put all of the luggage on the helicopter, and had just enough room for Omri and I to sit in the back and breathe a little. 

We hired both a Kodiak and a helicopter because the Kodiak can carry more weight, so it’s actually cheaper to fly all the guys and luggage back to Madang in it, but it was actually cheaper to just fly back in the chopper in the last leg, so that’s what we did.

It was great to be back. 

I can say that this was probably the most well-fed I have ever been on any trip to the jungle, by far, since we had learned from previous experience that village food doesn’t sustain us very well.  We purchased 120 bags of beef jerky, which I pretty much just ate all day, and the team from the US brought protein bars, military meals, electrolyte powders, not to mention some cookies.  As we contemplate going back today to do this all over again, we’re trying to do the same thing by bringing plenty of food!  We’ve learned it’s better building houses when you are eating right.

Sunday September 13th — Tuesday September 15th

We returned on a Saturday, and the team left the following Tuesday.  We hung out for those last days, went out to eat, ate dinners together, went to Jais Aben (a resort just outside of Madang), and worshipped together on Sunday.  It was a sweet time. 

Jais Aben after house building

Jais Aben after house building

Here’s a blog post I wrote shortly after everyone left : “Goodbye Friends”.

So, that’s the summary of what it took to build the house.  Today, we are loading up trucks to go back out to do the same thing. We’re going to attempt to do all of it by road this time since they are not washed out yet due to the drought. In theory, it should make things easier, but we’ll see. We are hoping this time to get the second house framed with a roof on it, but again, we’ll see.

And here are just a few more random photos from house building!

taking a break

taking a break

us preparing to work in the morning

us preparing to work in the morning

George making nails

George making nails

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the front of the house

the front of the house

After building, we moved all the remaining building materials inside the house

After building, we moved all the remaining building materials inside the house

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