Archive for November 2006
“Mate! Back again,” said the big Aussie. “The human yo-yo.”
Today was the third or fourth time I’ve run into Mike at the missionary guesthouse here in Moresby. His greeting sums up rather well the way I’ve felt for the last five months.
Since the first day of June, I have not been in any one place longer than 14 days at a time — usually much less. Almost every time I went back to Ukarumpa, somebody thought I was a visitor and asked if I needed any help. I’ve been in and out of Port Moresby at least seven times since June and suggested that the guesthouse managers should just charge me a monthly rate. I have hiked through mountains and swamps on my own two legs, and I’ve traveled by dugout canoes, small boats with outboard motors, a ship, cars, trucks, vans, taxis, public motor vehicles, bicycles, planes, and a helicopter. I’ve taken 32 flights in everything from a Boeing 747 to a Cessna 206.
Since April, I have seen every province in this nation save one, which I visited in 2005. I have visited at least 22 of Papua New Guinea’s language communities since March and talked with people from many more. If that sounds like a big number, consider that it is somewhere between 2 and 3 percent of the languages spoken in PNG.
In addition to Papua New Guineans, I have interacted personally with people from Korea, Taiwan, China, Japan, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, Tonga, Kenya, Canada, the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Poland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Latvia.
And why this marathon — why this yo-yo-like activity that sometimes left me too burned out to climb back up the string?
I was thinking again today about the Bamu people, whom I visited in July. The flow of the river on which they live changes direction four times each day, as salty tides rush in from the Gulf of Papua. Except for one, all of their villages are flooded regularly. Their world is one of mud and water, and if they can’t quite believe that God separated the sea from the dry land, nobody can blame them.
They live with malaria, fungal skin diseases, and at times, hunger. But even more oppressive is the spiritual darkness in which so many of the Bamus live. “Their base state is fear,” explain translators Phil and Chris Carr. Some of the Bamus have felt evil spirits come to them at night, pressing them until they couldn’t breathe. Many burn their hair and fingernail clippings, lest someone should find them and use them to work deadly sorcery. Fear of the spirits. Fear of each other. Fear because they do not know the freedom they could have as God’s children.
Sometimes, I’ve forgotten why I do this work. I need times like today when I remember.
In just a few hours, I will board a plane to leave this country. I’m eager to go home again, to see people, taste foods, visit places, and hear sounds that I’ve missed. I’m eager too to begin telling the stories of people like the Bamu when I pick up work in Dallas. And I have to be honest: I’m eager to leave some of the strains and discomforts I feel in a place so different from my own.
But I will miss the sound of praise songs by the fire, so beautiful that you almost ache. I will miss low flights over spectacular peaks and gushing waterfalls. I will miss many people whom I’ve come to know and love, and I will miss friendly smiles and eyebrows raised in greeting. I will miss cream crackers and pineapples, but I will not miss fried bananas.
What happens when you leave your heart in too many different places?