So what happens between those photos of our take offs and landings in Kokopo? What is it like in the village? Hopefully we can explain just a small amount about what our village time is like. But before we get into that, here’s a glimpse of the process to get there!
We are based out of the Regional Center here in Kokopo, East New Britain Province. The center is relatively small, with only a dorm and a few two or three bedroom flats available. If the Center needs to rent the flat we are currently living in or we cannot afford to pay rent while we are gone, then we have to pack up every stitch of our belongings and completely move out of the flat. And we certainly cannot take everything we own to the teeny village house, which has no closets. So most of our stuff goes into a hot, dark, moist storage unit where its composition and smell are changed forever. Our first trip back in February was two months long, so we packed up everything into the center’s storage unit. Fortunately we were able to keep our flat booked for our second visit in September and pay the single month’s rent during our absence (thank you, able and faithful partners!).
So in August, we were only packing up what we would need for a month in the village, which is basically a few clothes, linens, toiletries, cleaning supplies and a great deal of food. We had received lots of protein as gifts from dear ones to pack, and to add to that I dehydrated about 14 pounds of ground beef and made about a bushel of trail mix. We usually receive lots of fruits and vegetables in the village, but hardly any protein.
As we pack we have to keep the weight of every single item in mind. We pay by the kilogram, and there’s only so much cargo our organization’s Kodiak planes can handle. Our home school supplies always make up a big portion of our weight. We pack into a combination of plastic bins, cardboard boxes sealed up with black plastic wrap, laundry baskets, bags, and buckets. The nonperishable food we pack depends largely on what is available in stores here in Kokopo since it can vary quite a bit from week to week. The only perishable food we would pack are snacks we plan on consuming the day of travel, since there is no electricity in the village. Dried lentils, beans, cans of tomatoes, oil, salt, spices, rice noodles, a little chocolate, and nuts are the bulk of what we take in.
This time around, the kids are buzzing with excitement to go back to Sivauna—a welcome and stark contrast to the first time, when it was more like we were making them walk the plank.
On the day of our departure, we leave the flat key with the center managers and then they take us to the airport, which is only a twenty minute drive from the Center. After driving right onto the tarmac next to the plane, we say hello to the pilot and any passengers he might have with him, load up and hug our sweet friends from the Center goodbye.
After our takeoff in Kokopo – which is an actual airport with an asphalt runway – we are in the air for only about 45 minutes. After gawking out the window at waterfalls and cliffs and sinkholes and gorgeous beaches and mountains, we land on a white gravel airstrip in the coastal town of Rano. Our ride has always been waiting and ready for us. Willy, the driver and our village brother, is fascinated by planes and never wants to miss the takeoff or landing. This time when we land there is a great crowd of people gathered carrying branches and flowers and wearing traditional tribal garb and paint. “Look! Look! Our friends are here to welcome us!” We say as we look out the window, tearing up and humbled by such a welcome. We get off the plane and Willy, our village Papa, Lawrence, and one of his other sons, Melki, approach and shake our hands and hug us. We exchange greetings affectionately, then turn to face the crowd. That’s odd. We don’t recognize anyone. We look closer. Willy casually informs us that all these people are waiting here for someone else. They thought he was on our plane, hence the cheering. Ah yes, of course. Aaron and I exchange looks of irony.
We unload our belongings from the plane into our ride (Sivauna’s ambulance), bid farewell to our brave and trustworthy SIL pilot and then make our way to the haus win, basically a gazebo, at the edge of the airstrip. The kids and I will wait there while Aaron and Willy make a run up to Sivauna to unload our belongings. Watching the Kodiak takeoff is always exciting. The ambulance makes a quick run to the market there in Rano to grab us some green coconuts (kulau) to drink and eat (did you know you can eat them?) while we wait. The kids and I stay in the haus win with Papa Lawrence and our brother Melki for a little less than two hours. Oh and I call Melki by the wrong name about 27 times, because I’m such a good missionary.
About the time we run out of kulau and other various snacks from my bilum (string bag), Willy arrives in the ambulance. We all climb in and make our way through Rano, then to the road that will take us to Sivauna. This is a blinding white, winding gravel road that is not quite wide enough for two way traffic. Did I mention winding? Willy is an excellent driver, but this is quite a leap from our family minivan with car seats and boosters and paved roads with stop lights and lines and signs and…no cliffs of peril. So I’m holding on for dear life and praying, while the kids are laughing and shouting in pure delighted delirium like it’s an hour long roller coaster. So when we finally pull up to the house we’re a bit out of sorts, but thankful to have made it safely.
As we jolt back to reality we are so excited! Seeing our neighbors waiting for us is so wonderful, we have truly missed them. What a gift to return to these people with their heartwarming smiles and laughter.
Watch this space for Part 2!