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Our landing pad in Ufim

Coming out of the sky in a mechanical bird not too unlike the days of World War II on this island, we descended on unsuspecting villages with a veritable artillery of inquiries and information.  In the span of 30 hours we surveyed four language groups, landing in three of them. And while the helicopter trip lasted less than two days, the journey to and from the helicopter was an adventure in itself.

Day 1-2: Ukarumpa

Matt and Jeremy on our 24+ seater bus before it was full.

Matt and Jeremy on our 24+ seater bus before it was full.

Matt, Jeremy, and I left Madang by bus on a Monday headed for the Wycliffe Bible Translators (known as SIL here) headquarters in Ukarumpa. We got to the bus station at 7:30 in the morning, immediately found a bus headed to Goroka, and then got a two and a half hour tour of the Madang bus stop as the driver rode around trying to find more passengers. We did not leave for Goroka until every seat in the 24 passenger bus was full (and then some). It was packed ride. Six and a half sweaty hours later, we got off the bus in a small town called Kainantu.

The Bus Stop in Kainantu with the standard van-busses known as PMVs (public motorized vehicles).

The Bus Stop in Kainantu with the standard van-busses known as PMVs (public motorized vehicles).

From there we found another bus—a 7-seater van parading as a 15-passenger bus—which took us to the front gate of Ukarumpa. Our plan was to stay a night at the SIL base in their guesthouse before our survey flight the next morning.

At least that was our plan.

Raining at the SIL aviation hanger

Raining at the SIL aviation hanger

But then it rained. And rained. And rained. And at 6,000 feet above sea level, we were not only caught in the rain but the clouds as well. It was wet, soupy, flight-canceling kind of weather.

We ended up staying an extra day at the SIL base, which was not too bad since the base feels more like America than anything else in Papua New Guinea.

Day 3: Sinsauru

Early morning at the helipad

Early morning at the helipad

The next morning we were back on the helipad. We took off with hardly a cloud in sight. It only took us 25 minutes to reach our first destination in the Finisterre Mountains: Sinsauru. We were looking for a village called Saiba. We found it.

Surveying Saiba in the Sinsauru language group.

Surveying Saiba in the Sinsauru language group.

But as we flew over, it looked like much of the village had been devestated by landslides.

When we landed a total of 7 people came out to greet us. They said the rest of the village had left in search of work and food since the rains had washed away most of their gardens. Given their current plight, we cut our time there short so as not to burden them with finding housing and food for us.

We spent about two to three hours with them sharing stories and asking questions about their language, customs, and communities. While our time was cut short, it was an informative survey nevertheless, and our time there seemed to encourage them.

The seven who greeted us in Saiba. The man in purple, Bullu, is a village leader who offered an invitation to come and help. Pray God would send more workers!

The seven who greeted us in Saiba. The man in purple, Bullu, is a village leader who offered an invitation to come and help. Pray God would send more workers!

Day 3 cont’d: Ndo

The village of Mawelelo from the sky.

The village of Mawelelo from the sky. We hiked here during our previous survey into Ndo.

Next we flew 50 mintues along the north side of the Finisterre range. First, we flew over Ndo area to see more of the villages from the air and to look for potential airstrips. In doing so, we flew over in 10 minutes what it took us 10 days to hike the month before. Praise God for helicopters! We did not land in Ndo, but the ariel survey gave us more information about the possibilites within that language group. You can read about our hiking survey into Ndohere.

Day 3 cont’d: Yout

After flying over Ndo, we headed onto Yout, a small language group of 150 people further east in the Finisterre Mountains. It is a remote place. It is probably a two day hike from Yout to the coast and then another day’s trip with a dinghy to reach Madang. We landed in the early afternoon.

Surveying the village Yout. There is only one village that speaks their language in the entire Finisterre Mountains.

Surveying the village Yout. There is only one village that speaks their language in the entire Finisterre Mountains.

About two dozen people gathered around us as we got out of the helicopter. Most of them were very young. They ran and got the one leader who was in the village at the time (the rest were in coastal towns for work), and we sat down in their small school house and started to go through our survey presentation and questions. The young people seemed excited to see us, but those who were older seemed more apprehensive and unsure.

We stayed the night in Yout and had a wonderful time sharing stories and gathering information with those who gathered in our dark and smoky room (most huts have firepits in the center of the rooms). Eventually all four of us (including Gavin, our pilot) fell fast asleep.

Some of the youth who showed us around Yout.

Some of the youth who showed us around Yout.

The young men in the tribe however told us they did not sleep a wink. They told us they just wanted to look after the helicopter for us, but I think it’s because they were so excited we had landed in their village. Our time in Yout was productive and encouraging. The only difficulty we faced was that we left without an invitation to come work. This was the only place that did not do so immediately. As of writing this, they have since texted us (that’s right… texting in the jungle) and offered an invitation. Praise God!

Saying goodbye to everyone in Yout.

A final group picture before we left Yout.

Day 4: Ufim

Gavin getting the helicopter ready for our early departure.

Gavin getting the helicopter ready for our early departure.

After a one night’s rest in Yout, we took off early for Ufim. It is on the south side of the range, which meant we needed good weather to get over the peaks (close to 15,000 feet up). The best weather is in the morning generally so we were in the air by eight o’clock. We made it safely through a small pass between some peaks and came down on the sunnier side of the mountians, which does not face the sea. We landed in a village called Yawa in the Ufim langauge group. As we surveyed their language, we found out that they speak a form of the Ndo language. Evidently, they had migrated over the mountains decades ago.

Enjoying time with the people in Yawa. Our goal was to not just collect data, but build relationships.

Enjoying time with the people in Yawa. Our goal was to not just collect data, but build relationships.

We also quickly noticed that some in the tribe knew English well, which is a sign of both education and proximity to towns and buisness. Sure enough, many in this village travel frequently to the port city of Lae, which is just a two-hour hike followed by a three hour bus ride away. This was probably the least remote location we visited.

Surveying in Yawa. Here Matt tell everyone what we're hoping to do in a tribe in Finisterre Mountains.

Surveying in Yawa. Here Matt tell everyone what we’re hoping to do in a tribe in Finisterre Mountains.

Our reception in Ufim was the best of all of them. I would guess close to 80 people ran to see us when we landed on their school’s “soccer field” (notice the quotation marks). The readily welcomed us to their village, heard us share our vision, and then promptly invited us to come, live, and work with them. Usually, many people leave when we start going through all our questions, which can be boring at times. However, everyone in Ufim was crowed around us the entire time, listening to our questions and trying to give us helpful answers. By two in the afternoon, we had finished all our survey work.

Some raw video footage of our departure from Yawa:

Day 5: Back to Madang

It does not happen often in Papua New Guinea, but we actually finished our work a day early! We flew back to Ukarumpa that afternoon, stayed the night, and then took the same series of busses back to Madang. Except for a crazy man throwing rocks at our bus (no picture of this event, sorry), some flooded roads, and a tire coming loose, it was a fairly uneventful bus trip home.

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Adding more bolts to the front wheel so it would not come off!

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Taking a break right before crossing one of the flooded roads. A recent storm took out a lot of the limited infrastructure in Madang.

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Flooded roads in the Finisterre Mountains.

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