Life in PNG: Moving and moving and moving
I had the opportunity to visit my parents in Papua New Guinea this summer, and it was an awesome trip. It gave me a chance to clear my head and get away from the constant stream of information and distraction that is so baked into life as an American technologist. It also gave me a chance to get a perspective on what missionary life is like.
One example of life overseas being just straight hard work is the sheer amount of moving that is involved. First, you have to pack up your entire American life. Every. Single. Thing. All your books, clothes, cars, shoes, plates, food and everything has to be dealt with in some fashion.
Then you travel halfway across the world, often in economy seats, as you’re already spending $2500+ a person just to get where you’re going. You take as much luggage as you can manage. The overall trip takes a bare minimum of two days, where literally half of that time is spent sitting in an airplane, trying to catch some sleep while the plane engines are roaring and it’s the wrong time of day for your body. Airports like DFW are entertaining, amusing places to be when you’re not stuck in a line, which helps.
Finally, after overnighting in a hotel and clearing customs 2-4 times in different countries, you end up in PNG. But you just finished the easy part.
Now you have to go and do third world shopping for your first few days in the country. The total selection at all the stores in town is roughly equivalent to the first half of 3 aisles at Lowe’s and a Save-a-lot. If, like my family, you’re on a gluten free diet, you options just went down to about a 1⁄5 of what they would have been.
Then you take what’s left of your day and make beds, pull dishes out of storage, and make supper, which has to be cooked from scratch 1. Exhausted after traveling and shopping and setting up house and cooking, you fade onto your bed and try to sleep in the humid night. You’re under a fan because it’s way too humid to try to sleep with sticky-tepid air.
Then, after a week in town to gather supplies and run town-based errands, you begin packing up your house there and getting ready to move out to the village. In my case, the village2 is only 1.5 hours away, but because all seven Owen family members are in country, we have to make two trips. Thankfully, this means that nobody is sitting atop each other. Life in the village was pretty good, but a bit awkward at times, as my Pidgin was rusty, and I didn’t know what to say to different people. Thankfully, people were glad to see me even when I was more silent than I had been as a child.
Another week later, we ended up taking a trip to an SIL3 mission station called Ukarumpa for some rest and relaxtion. Villages are noisy, busy places with people that have all kinds of sleep schedules, which may or may not coincide with yours. Sometimes it helps to get away from it all and recuperate. Ukarumpa has a much more structured lifestyle, with a nightly noise curfew. This helps with catching up on sleep. It is also at a much higher altitude than Uria, my parents village, which means that the temperature hovers between 40F and 70F, like natural air conditioning.
However, that means more moving. Ukarumpa is a five hour drive from the village, which means that the two trips that get you out to the village aren’t an option. So, you work out what’s essential: Food, pillows, bedding (not mattresses, thankfully), books, computers, the 10-odd books that make up that week’s worth of school, dog-food and Bananagrams 4. This is all loaded into the back half of the truck, on 1⁄3 of the floor of the front of the truck 5, and the laps of all the non-driver(s).
The end result of this packing and evaluation process is that all seven of us are in two rows of seats. In the front is (left-to-right) me, Mother, sitting in the middle with the stick-shifters and then Dad with the steering wheel and pedals. Thankfully it’s mostly comfortable up front, as each passenger has enough seat for both sides of their bottom. In the back is Abigail, with 1⁄4 of a seat, Hannah and Josie in between, and then Samuel with 3⁄4 of a seat holding our dog, Meggie. The back is hip-bone to hip-bone. Meggie, though she does travel well, is still fidgety and fussy on this trip, which makes for interesting commentary from my brother.
So, with the truck packed to the gills like the Clampetts, we go on the 5 hour trip from the village to Ukarumpa. After about 4 days up there, reminiscing and enjoying the cool, we start to go in reverse, traveling to the village again, except that this time I sit/swim in the back with the cargo. Then we spend a weekend in the village, saying goodbye to people who may never see us again. And then back into town for a week, with all the same shopping and unpacking that had happened the time before, and then we have to pack up and to redo that international travel.
Does it sound exhausting? Bear in mind, this is all before any translation or ministry can take place. It’s also top of whatever attacks Satan has lined up for you in a given time, which are never absent to those following God’s call.
My parents are as tough as diamond blades cutting through titanium. I thank God for the strength and grace that he gives to them as they follow his call, and live this difficult, transient life. It’s a blessing and an honor to be their son and carry their story in the USA.
How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of those who bring good news. - Isaiah 52:7
1: To be fair, I was able to eat at a restaurant the first evening I was home with my parents, which was nice.
2: The village where my parents work is called Uria, and is about 1800 feet above sea level. This means that it can get pretty cool in the evening, but it’s still pretty warm (up to 90F) during the day.
3: In the USA, SIL (Summer Institute of Linguistics) is known as Wycliffe. That took me a little bit to get used to when I came back to America as a teenager.
4: When you’re overseas and moving between different locations, you have to take anything that you’ll need for anything, including reading material and entertainment.
Bible Translators never travel light. - Mike Sweeney
5: My parent’s vehicle is a Nissan Patrol, which is a ruggedized station wagon with a mighty V6 diesel engine. It can take a full load up a 23% grade and show no signs of stalling. This is effective and needed in the steep mountains of PNG.