Archive for June 2006
Yesterday, I saw an active volcano for the first time in my life. I saw it from the air, smooth and conical, with a plume of smoke leaving the crater and drifting out over the sea, where another volcano protruded from the water.
And today, I saw the twin volcanoes that devastated Rabaul in 1994. The town swimming pool is filled with ash, and all that remains of the movie theatre is a concrete slab and the concrete steps out front.
A thick layer of fine, blackish ash covers the ground, but sugarcane and bananas have begun to grow. The saltwater is so hot it steams, and hot springs boil out of the ground around a dead and twisted piece of wood.
Both volcanoes were quiet today, save for a fine thread of smoke ascending from one crater. They will roar to life again someday as they have so often before. It’s only a matter of time.
A Shabbat service. Graffiti and razor wire. Broad, paved, well-lit streets. Young men drinking at 8 o’clock Saturday morning. A yacht club. Salons where girls straighten and color their hair — and boys prance in high heels.
A Christian music show for a little girl with cancer. Cool evening breezes and the harbor through the hills. Dinnertime talk of robberies. Betel nut. Fires. Marble, air conditioners, elevators. Tongans. Malaysians. Kenyans.
A planned trip fell through this weekend, so I’ve had a glimpse of the capital instead.
Friday, I was barred from the Parliament House because I was wore a T-shirt. In fairness, my collared shirt was locked in my bag with my toothbrush and everything else. We pried the lock apart later in the day.
My thoughts vacillate: I could get comfortable here. I could never stand it here. But it’s irrelevant, really; I’m leaving in two days.
There is a place where the mountains come down to the sea. Rivers descend from green heights to rush across black and stony beaches. Red-and-green parrots fly high, screaming. Dolphins break the water’s calm surface, and high islands lurk among the horizon’s clouds.
But I’m afraid to talk about the beauty of the place. If I do, you might not understand how hard life can be for the Taupota people. You might not understand what it’s like to go over the mountains in search of timber for a house, or carrying heavy loads of yams. You might not understand what it’s like to attend a church by the sea, but never to hear the Bible in your own language.
You might not understand what it’s like to leave your family for three months out of every year, because you want to translate God’s Word into Taupota. You might not understand what it’s like to depend on your community to support you in your endeavor.
That’s why I’m afraid.
I left Alotau today, but I won’t forget the place, or its people.
I’m sad to say I cannot keep up TTB regularly as I travel. Internet access is not easy to come by. Please keep me in your prayers. I’ll keep in touch as best I can.
Papua New Guinea home to more than 10 percent of the world’s known languages: roughly 820 out of 6912 (ethnologue.com). PNG is also home to more than 10 percent of the world’s known orchid species: perhaps 3200 out of 30,000 (orchidspng.com).
Brian Hodgkin, who has until recently served as the director of our work in PNG, has a seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of the world’s plants — and in particular, orchids.
He has a spectacular collection of orchids growing in his yard, from the extravagant and aptly-named antelope orchid (Dendrobium crispilinguum) to tiny, leafless species that grow like green threads on guava trees.
Many of PNG’s orchids are epiphytic. These plants are tied to tree trunks in our front yard.
Liparis condylobulbon produces spikes of tiny green-and-orange flowers. Each flower is smaller than a grain of rice.
By the time I wrote last night’s eBolt and sent some other emails, it was midnight. I headed for bed — and found this. I was strongly tempted to sleep in the empty room across the hall. So strongly tempted, in fact, that it’s exactly what I did.