Archive for the ‘South Pacific’ Category

Jakarta Ho! A Somewhat Sagacious Soliloquy.

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

I’m currently in the capital of Indonesia.  It feels oh-so Asian.  And fairly Muslim too, though I don’t find the locals here as intimidating as their compatriots in the Middle East.

With over 10 million citizens, Jakarta is populous.  But Indonesia itself is populous: the 4th most country in the world (behind China, India, and the US, and only a fraction of the size of those three countries). 

I think they call Indonesia the “sleeping giant,” and I believe it: walking around here I’ve seen quite a number of people sleeping on the sidewalks.  One sleeping guy was sprawled across three motorbike seats!  Now that’s sleeping class.

Speaking of motorbikes, they’re everywhere.  Hundreds of them.  Thousands of them.  From what I’ve seen, it’s the same throughout Indonesia.  And from what I’ve heard, it’s the same throughout Asia.  Someone is getting rich off selling motorbikes.  Probably someone in China. 

Jakarta is nicer and cleaner than I was expecting.  It’s also quite Western in many ways.  You can even find sundry Western restaurants.  Such as McDonalds.  Another positive thing is that food here is cheap.  For instance, my supper last night was $6, but for that moolah I bought a lot: French Fries, a Big Mac, a Coke, a Chocolate Sundae, a Domino’s Pizza, and a Sprite.  (my pizza was topped with diced hotdogs which may help explain why it was so cheap.)

The McDonalds was 3 stories tall and packed to the gills with people.  I could only find a seat downstairs, outside, in the heat, amongst the smokers.  (there was a seat open inside by the bathrooms, but it stunk there something royal so after enduring about 30 seconds I moved down with the smokers to gulp in secondhand tobacco along with my Big Mac.)

Another odd thing about my McDonalds experience was being the only non-Indonesian in the restaurant.  Being a minority feels weird.

In fact, being a minority is one thing, but many places I’ve visited around the world (including Jakarta) I’m not just a minority, I’m an oddity!  It’s a little unsettling to be gawked at like an orangutan in a zoo.  Sometimes people even want my picture.  Like today, this random girl wanted her picture taken with me, which I consented (she was cute enough), but the odd thing was she was obviously Muslim, covered from head to toe in nineteen yards of fabric, with only her face showing… I wouldn’t have thought someone so modest would be forward to the point of trying to get her picture taken with a complete stranger.  But she did, and then I got my picture taken with her entire extended family (who were also there) and with her extended Jakarta clan (who were also there). Someday in the far future her great-grandkids will be flipping through photo albums and be like, “So who’s the white guy?”

In other news, I have roommates here in my hostel.  One of whom is a long-haired Russian about my age with a prodigious number of tattoos.  Another is an Indian (from India) and lastly, an Indonesian from some remote island. 

So the Russian and I talked last night.  I asked him what he thought about Putin, and he told me he thought Putin was a blankety piece of blank, but despite that, was great for the people, and he supported him.  Along the lines of politics, he also told me he once lived in Portland, Oregon, and his biggest observation from there was how he got weary of hearing so much anti-Bush sentiment.  And he assured me he hated Bush as much as the next person, it was just that after awhile it was like listening to a broken record. 

So today I visited the Monas, a massive monument to the independence of Indonesia.  It looks like some kind of gigantically anemic ice cream cone stuffed into the ground upside down:

The Mona in Jakarta

Note from the above picture there is smog here… not much, just enough for certain locals to walk around wearing dust masks.

At the base of the monument (underneath the ground) there is a vast open room, gloomy, filled with people, and exhibits lining the walls detailing the history of Indonesia gaining its independence. 

I noticed the exhibits weren’t all complimentary of their former Dutch occupiers.  For instance, one plaque read:

The Forced Planting (1830-1870)

The people in Java were forced to grow plants which produce commodities being much in demand in Europe with a view of overcoming the financial crisis suffered by the Dutch as a result of popular up risings in Indonesia.  Subsequently, the farmer had no time to cultivate their own and the result was general famine.  On the contrary, it helped to make the Dutch prosperous and secure.

Surrounding the Monas is a spacious open park, pleasantly landscaped.  Today there were thousands of people thronged there, primarily families enjoying a nice, relaxing outing. 

Unfortunately, there is litter all over everywhere.  To combat this problem, I observed numerous sanitation folks in orange suits sweeping up and bagging garbage. 

Cleaner-up Workers at the Mona

I wondered why there was so much trash on the ground in the first place, but once I got to looking I noticed there were hardly any trash cans.  I thought to myself, “Self, if they just installed some trash cans here, they wouldn’t have to pay all these cleaner-up people to fight this losing battle.”  But then the cleaner-up people would be out of a job, so I suppose the system makes sense at some level.

I also visited the Indonesia Ethnological Museum today.  I found the Papua exhibits most interesting, and even learned more about the Kotekas (mens “gourds”).  There was a helpfully informative exhibit:

Koteka Exhibit

The museum had a bunch of old golden crowns too (some even inlaid with diamonds).  They dated back some 500 years, and one had over 4 lbs of gold!  You weren’t allowed to take pictures in the “treasures” area, so I just have to remember what they look like up in my brain.  But seeing the headpieces made me wonder what sort of people wore them?  The plaques claimed old Indonesian rulers wore them, whoever they were (probably long gone by now).  But isn’t it interesting to try to imagine what type of pomp and ceremony those mysterious crowns must have seen? 

There were also exhibits of old bones that were supposedly “missing links.”  In America I’m sure there is a rule against displaying live skeletons in a museum, and especially out in the open like they did here!

Skeleton

Well, Jakarta Ja-smartuh, soon I’ll be in Tokyo, this stint here is only a glorified layover.  And my stint in Tokyo will be short too…

The bad thing about being somewhere briefly is everything is a “first,” which means there is a steep and frustrating learning curve for getting around and finding places.  For instance, now that I know where the bus station is and how to find the Monas (and McDonalds), it’s already time to leave!

I’ll end this post with a trivia question:  Can you guess what the sign below is instructing the reader NOT to do?  (it’s a sign from inside the airport)  

Airport Sign

Sorry this update wasn’t more spiritually uplifting… maybe it at least made you smile, and the Bible does say, “A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day.”  (Proverbs 15:13, the Message)

Luxury

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

I’m back in Sentani.  Good ol’ civilization.  Even if it’s third world civilization.  Even if it’s “wild west” civilization. 

Dave, who picked us up at the airport, told about how he got stuck in the middle of a local demonstration yesterday in Sentani, including having a guy in front of his vehicle wave a pistol around and shoot a few rounds off over his car roof!  Wow, pretty intense.  After dodging down a side street to safety, he holed up for awhile where he could hear military and demonstrators duking it out – he estimated a couple hundred rounds were fired.  With all that shooting, fortunately only two people were killed. 

Demonstrations like that don’t happen real often, and since one just happened it should be awhile before another happens.  At least, that’s my theory. I think what the ruckus is over is Papua wanting its independence.

So let’s see, besides all that excitement, which I missed, I’ve spent the afternoon and evening of today enjoying the finer points of luxurious civilization.  Such as…

A hot shower.  That is, for a good two minutes, before the heat gave up the ghost and the water turned cold again. 

Unlimited electricity, it even stayed on all day! they tell me it’s been spotty here of late (and since it’s always spotty, that must mean it’s been really spotty).

For supper I had a “western meal” of a chicken burger with avocado juice.  Delectable, even if the avocado juice wasn’t “western.”

Drove in a car again, now that I’m back in the land of such novelties as “streets” and “stores.”  Though not in the land of “traffic rules.”  That is, the only rule is: “There are no rules.” 

For expediency, my driver drove on the wrong side of the road for about a hundred yards, into oncoming traffic.  We survived.

Such luxury am I now enjoying that, unbelievably, I even have air conditioning in my bedroom!  And my room is even rat-free, I think (though definitely not ant-free). 

Being chilled again is such a delicious feeling.  Until I had to go back outside and was shocked by the heat and skeeters, which, hitherto, (before ten blessed minutes of air conditioning) I had been used to.

Drank deep from a can of Coca-Cola.  Ahh, wonderful Coca-Cola!  Used to never like the stuff, but since weaned off Dr. Pepper (it’s been like 6 months since I’ve had a DP – may its carbonated soul rest in peace) I’ve turned to Coke to fill the void.  But, I’ll say, it’s like the replacing of a favorite dog which has died with a new dog: though there is now a soft spot in my heart for the new dog (Coke), there will always be a deeper soft spot in my heart for the old dog (Dr. Pepper). But I don’t like dogs, and have never owned one, so am not qualified to make such crass comparisons.

As you can see, I’m drinking deep of luxury.  Even having the time to write this silly blog post is a luxury.

The conveniences we take for granted back in the States are, for most people in the world, over-the-top luxuries.  Even the air conditioning I’m enjoying right now would be pretty rare for the average person here in Sentani, but I’m in a missions guesthouse, which has its perks (and this is a mission known, rightly so, for it’s frugality).

Being with the Moi reminded me how dispensable the veneer of civilization really is.  I didn’t know it was possible to live without a supermarket down the street until I spent time in cultures with open air markets instead of supermarkets.  But the Moi take this to an entirely new level by eating only fruit and vegetables picked from the jungle or out of their gardens, supplemented by the odd rat, snake, or frog (and occasional chicken or pig).  Nary a plastic wrapper or rusty tin can to be seen.

That such disparity in living habits could exist on the same globe boggles my imagination.

For two off-beat examples, nowhere in my travelling have I seen the equivalent of a “drive-through” restaurant, or an automatic garage door opener. Those are distinctly American novelties. 

In Bali, I saw a few gated beach resorts, but even those gates were not automatic, but manual.  A bored guard holding a long rope operated them by hand.

And to think of all the things I consider a “need” (like a digital camera, a laptop, the internet, a car, several pairs of clothes, etc) … when in fact it’s quite possible for me to survive without even a shred of it!

Observing other cultures invariably leads to making fun of other cultures: “The way they do this or that is dumb!”  But, after awhile, you start evaluating your own culture a little more objectively too, and say, “Ya know, the way we do this or that back home is kinda strange as well.”

For example, “Why does everyone live so spread out and alone, by themselves, in the States?”  Good or bad, it’s not how most people in the world do it.  Even in the Moi, I saw a one-room hut that was a “bachelor pad” housing some five guys.  All in about the size of the living room of my old apartment, which by American standards was considered too small for even two people (I mean the entire apartment, not just the living room!).

The other day I heard someone say, “People think it’s expensive to live in America, but that’s not true.  What IS true is that it’s expensive to live like an American.”  I would agree.  As a case in point, I often see Westerners overseas living at standards below what would be considered average by American standards, but still far higher than nearly any local could ever afford.

The gap between what is required to keep a human being alive and the way many people live (particularly in the West) is a gulf so wide it defies my cognitive abilities to grasp.

And I’m not trying to be accusing of others here, I myself own two vehicles, two boats, a storage unit filled with boxed stuff, furniture loaned out to relatives, and a backpack full of products that alone probably holds more value than what nearly any single person in Ethiopia has to their name.

This morning on the flight out of Moi-land I read through 1 Timothy and was struck by where Paul said,

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.  For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  (1 Timothy 6:6-8)

Physically, when it comes down to it, all we need is food and clothing.  Everything else is extra.  And if you ask a Moi, they’ll say you don’t need much clothing, just a gourd and piece of string will do. Or for the women, a grass skirt.

I think for us in the West there is often a temptation to chase after extra, non-essential physical things in life to the detriment of working on other legitimate human needs, like those on the emotional or spiritual fronts.

In closing, I ask myself, “Am I sad to have left the Moi tribe?” The answer is: yes. But I think who I’ll miss the most are the Brown family. Especially the three young kids (8, 10, and 12 years old) – we had a lot of fun together over the last six weeks! Just this morning, before I left, we fit in a few last games of “modified-UNO” and a “crazy trampoline photo-shoot.”

As I was getting on the plane in the sticky heat, I stopped to pause and take one last look around, and would you know it? a bumble-bee bit my leg!! I kid you not it did, and it stung like crazy. Luckily, Steve Crockett was there, and since he’s a descendant relation to Davy Crockett, I let him dig the stinger out. Then I got in the plane before another bee could bite me.

Clashing Civilizations

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Often my most creative writing thoughts come at an inopportune time for recording said thoughts.  One such time is just before drifting to sleep.  Like now, but this time I gave in, got out of bed, and pulled out ye old laptop to jot down a few sundry thoughts.  I’m not sleepy anyways.

I’m still in Moi-land: a veritable rainforest if ever there was one.  Laying in bed underneath a mosquito net listening to the interminable rain drumming away on a tin roof above.  Think it’s rained every day since being here: usually starting in the evening or at night.  Then each morning wakes bright, sunny, and fresh (and blazing hot).

It’s so hot here, in fact, that sometimes I sweat prodigious quantities.  Like this past Tuesday when I went on a “picnic” down to the river with five other Moi guys (none of whom spoke more than 3 words of English, and one of whom, incidentally, killed another guy once). 

From the time I left the house to go on the “picnic,” until I returned, was seven hours.  Here’s a picture of my sweaty self after the first hour of hiking.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so sweaty before, but out in the rainforest there is simply no wind to evaporate the moisture:

Sweaty after Hike

Notice the flash had to be used, even though this photo was taken midmorning on a bright sunny day?  That’s because the jungle was so dense the light was murky.  I used sign language to instruct my obliging photographer to hold the button on the camera down until the “lightning” erupted.

To me, the hike down to the river (and back up) was grueling, even though it wasn’t a long hike, only about an hour each way.  Recently I re-read the incredible book, You’ll Die in Singapore, where the author, a WWII POW escapee, hiked for months through this same type of jungle while at the same time evading Japaneese patrols, fighting malaria, and living off local roots.  I can’t even imagine!

So the Moi guys cut out a walking stick for me shortly after we started.  This helped considerably as I attempted to keep up with them on the treacherously slick and steep terrain.  The trail varied between a 45 degree muddy angle and a 80 degree muddy angle.

Later, upon returning alive, I was given a compliment (through a translator) that they considered me a strong hiker and were impressed at how I kept up.  This cheered me some, until I was also told Supiah can get down to the river in fifteen minutes flat, four times speedier than we slowpoked it!  So my “fast” and “strong” rating was relative, and on the generous side.  They also said I was at a disadvantage in wearing shoes, unlike them, who go barefoot.

Some of the scenery enroute was stunning (if one could get enough sweat out of the eyes and enough air in the lungs to enjoy it):

Waterfall

Down at the rushing and frigid mountain river we spent a luxurious several hours splashing, swimming, jumping in, cooking food, eating food, and getting cooked by the sun and eaten by leaches.  It was a grand time.

The latter experience (the leaches one) was new for me.  With trepidation I pointed out my first leach to a nearby native colleague.  Unconcernedly, he reached down, picked up a sharp rock from the beach, and scraped the offending member from my leg, leaving a bleeding hole where the slurping head had been moments before.  Thanks, bro, for passing on that timely stone-age technique which, to this point, had hitherto been lost from my modern basemap of knowledge. 

Another serendipitous experience was watching the killing of several smallish bats (8-10” wingspread).  One Moi snuck under an overhang where he expected some of the dozing creatures might be lurking, whilst two others stood outside with sticks at the ready.  Sure enough: here come the bats, and *whap* went the sticks.  They got two, which were later roasted in the fire, and (to my wondering eyes) popped in the mouth whole (sans the wings) straight from the coals, the delicacy munched on with little fanfare, but much gusto. 

They could probably win on the “Fear Factor” show.  Though the chicken and rice grub they rustled up for lunch was far more appetizing than the bats, and indeed, an impressive concoction, considering it was made over an open fire. 

Chicken and Rice

The Cathay Pacific cutlery in the photo above is my own, compliments of an airline flight.  I was pretty sure they would just throw away that spoon, so discretely tucked it away into my carry-on.  It’s heavy duty plastic and I deemed it wasteful to dispose of after only one use.  I also saved a spare biscuit and butter pad, but later the butter pad squashed open and the biscuit crumbled to bits, and after mixing with the butter, created a sticky, messy meringue inside my pack. 

Wednesday evening after the hike I was totally shot, and retired to bed early.  Alas, no sleep for me, but a feverish night of tossing and turning instead… the incessant sound of rain smacking tin making my head feel like nails being hammered through the skull.  Or something like that.

The next day I could hardly drag myself from bed, feeling a sense of malaise in general and achy, nauseous, and feverish in the particulars.  Couldn’t eat breakfast.  Couldn’t eat lunch.  It was a miserable Wednesday, but that afternoon the fever broke and I slept soundly through the next night.

Thursday I was back to normal and worked on getting a temporary solar panel system setup for the new church building – also ran around playing “ball tag” in the rain with the kids.  I noted with incredulity how my body could have such violent swings of dispositions from one day to the next.

Working on the solar panels also reminded me how, around here, you can’t do anything without an audience.  For instance, I was filling new batteries with acid, a process that took some time, but one that a host of folks seemed to find undyingly interesting. 

When getting ready to open each next bottle of battery acid, everyone would stand clear several paces.  When I cut the plastic tip off the first bottle with a knife, a number of warriors with weapons in hand jumped back even further (lest a drop land on them?).  Perhaps someone had warned them battery acid was harmful, but what about poor me who was opening the noxious things?

Here is a picture taken later in the afternoon after I got the system setup, at least in a temporary state.  Later the panels will be more permanently mounted on the roof, but at least now it’s charging the batteries through the charge controller and surge protector.  (that little boy on the left watched me for hours and told me he never got bored):

Solar Setup

The awkward gourds the men wear seem, as I mentioned before, the antithesis of clothing, yet I’m told if one ever accidentally "slips off” they become extremely embarrassed at the wardrobe malfunction and will quickly remedy the situation so as not to be seen naked long.  One more reminder how the concept of modesty is ubiquitous the world over.  Standards vary, but the concept remains.

On an unrelated philosophical note, one of the things that boggles my mind most is how small the world is for these people.  How can they know about the outside world if they can’t visit it (because flying is expensive), if they can’t read about it (because there are no books in their language), if they can’t see it (because there are no TVs), and they can’t understand when people tell them (because they have no basis for relating)? 

It seems to me such a slow paced life as theirs would be insanely boring: they have no books to read, no world news to gossip about, no TV to watch, no internet to surf, no boats to sail, no Facebook to check, and no vehicular transportation because there are exactly zero roads.  Not even any stores or restaurants.  In short, no external stimuli.  Therefore, watching me pour acid in batteries becomes the local afternoon matinee.

In my opinion, these people are bored stiff, but don’t yet know they are.

Moving on… Friday (today) we were provided with the excitement of a plane landing, bringing back the second missionary family who live here, along with a special visitor for the weekend: Mark, missions pastor from Shadow Mountain Community Church in San Diego (where David Jeremiah is Sr. Pastor). 

Oftentimes in my travels I’ve wished I could record certain conversations.  Those would include ones we had today with Mark.  Having been a missionary himself for 20+ years in Pakistan, and having travelled extensively around the globe (including Africa and South America, but particularly the Middle East) Mark has a fair number of stories himself.  Topics ranged the gamut of cross cultural comparisons between animistic spiritism, religious fanaticism, eastern Hinduism, and American materialism. 

This entire trip has been one big eye-opening cross-cultural experience for me.  Each new location providing fodder for a new angle of thought.  Take being here with the Moi for example: When else would I ever have the luxury of devoting three weeks time to mull over the sticky business of culture clashes between modern and stone-age civilizations (like the Moi)?  Yet here I am, doing just that: reading books on the subject and observing the effects firsthand.  The Moi are an extreme exception in the world today: they were completely isolated from all outside influence until just several years ago, one of the last people groups in the world to be untouched so late in history.

My reading this past week has been on Captain Cook and his voyages through the Pacific, learning about his explorations and how he interacted with the natives, often being their “first contact” with Europeans.

The following excerpt shows how Cook realized, even in his own time, some of the negative influences Europeans were creating among Polynesians:

Returning to New Zealand in 1773, and again in 1777, Cook found the Maori prone to thievery, deploying Western hatchets as weapons rather than tools, afflicted with venereal disease, and eager to prostitute their wives and daughters in exchange for spike nails.

“Such are the concequences of a commerce with Europeans,” Cook wrote, in one of the most despairing passages he ever penned. “We debauch their Morals already too prone to vice and we interduce among them wants and perhaps diseases which they never before knew and which serves only to disturb that happy tranquility they and their fore Fathers had injoy’d. If any one  denies the truth of this assertion let him tell me what the Natives of the whole extent of America have gained by the commerce they have had with Europeans.” (Horwitz, 136)

Were the natives really living in “happy tranquility” before Cook arrived?  Hard to say, but I have my own local context with the Moi to bounce this idea off of.  There are about 1,000 Moi spread across a couple hundred miles of jungle, many whom have yet to see a white man.  Rich said there are even Moi within a one days hike who have never bothered to come see the “white strangers,” which is really unfathomable as a one day hike is no big deal for them.

The mortality rate among Moi is about 80%: roughly 4 in 5 dying before the age of one.  Fortunately, that number is improving with the introduction of modern medicines.  But even still, I’m told an anecdotal life expectancy estimate among those who live to adulthood is probably somewhere in the 30’s.  No official records have yet been taken.  The oldest man in the area is in his early sixties, a real anomaly.  A friendly fellow, here’s a picture I took of him:

Older Moi Man

Most common causes of death are homicide and sickness (but not necessarily “white-men” sickness, but other common things like dysentery).  Regarding homicide, tribal life is violent.  There is a boy here I’ve met whose father was recently hacked to death by machete in front of his very eyes.  I also met a man who killed his first and third wives.  Now he’s a Christian and his life has markedly changed: he doesn’t even beat his one remaining wife, which is a common enough practice here (a neighbor was just beating up his wife yesterday, I noticed her lips were all cut up today).

These incidents raise another interesting point: law and order out here.  Which is basically nil (they need Joe!).  Back in the States, if you killed two of your three wives, you’d probably get sentenced to life imprisonment, or worse.  But here, though you may get killed in retaliation, you may not either, depending. 

Back to Cook and lighter subjects: I was surprised at the writing style found in the journals of sailors on his voyages: Cook himself, but also Banks, Clerke, and others.  Well written prose, elegantly composed on par far above the ability of many moderns today.  They have inspired me to attempt waxing eloquent in this post (or at least using big words). 

For one small instance, Charles Clerke worded his report of Cooks untimely death in Hawaii in the following manner:

“The unhappy catastrophe which befell us I do think appears by no means the effect of premeditated intention [on the part of the natives], but an unfortunate string of circumstances tending to the same unlucky point, one action irritating another till they terminated in the fatal manner.” (Horwitz, 411)

I don’t believe there’s anyone I’ve worked with in the professional realm who would have put together a sentence in the preceding fashion.

Heck, I’m so ignorant I didn’t even know Cook met his untimely death by natives in Hawaii.  His end came through a lugubrious interchange on the shores of Kealakekua Bay – a clash of civilizations gone awry if ever there was one.

So it’s still raining outside… been pouring buckets the entire last three hours I’ve written this.  Isn’t it weird how it took me three hours to write something that will probably take less than three minutes for someone to read?

We caught our tenth rat, a small one shown below… #11 got it’s tail caught in a steel-type trap, then consequently gave a merry chase while dragging the trap behind him with human foes attempting to hasten his demise while brandishing such weaponry as a broom and wifflebat.  Finally, the rat freed his tail and escaped to Lamu, probably.

Rat Trap

I’ve ran out of things to say and it’s now past midnight so I’ll stop and publish this tomorrow when (if) we have internet. 

In the Moi Tribe

Friday, May 25th, 2012

I’ve been without internet for quite awhile.  Since writing last I’ve gone interior where I’ll be another couple weeks.  Our internet unexpectedly started working again (intermittently) so I get to update ye olde blog.

I’m staying with a missionary family out in the bush among the Moi tribe, helping them get set back up here after a year of absence.

Though I now have internet (via satellite dish), we truly are in one of the last remaining boondocks of the globe, I think.  It’s a strange mix of modern influence and stone-age lifestyle.  In many ways being here is like a time warp.

Our flight was May 14th.  We came in on a six-seater Kodiak plane early in the morning.  We had two flights chartered: one for us and one for the luggage.

The reason we flew in early became apparent to me after living here awhile: we get clouds and rain pretty much every afternoon that would make landing tough.  (there is tons of rain here, they don’t call it a rainforest for nothing, I guess.)

Even though the morning we came in was a clear, calm one, the landing still seemed intense.  After clearing the nearby mountains the pilot descended by circling several times to lose enough altitude for landing, then we shot in fast over the houses and landed on this short, sloped runway.  The end of the runway even has a hill, which is a new one.

The runway took seven years to build.  It is basically a smooth swathe of jungle notched right out of the side of a mountain.  The terrain here is ruggedly incredible. 

There have been outsiders here since the late 90s (when the tribe was “discovered”), and for the first number of years while the runway was still being worked on the only access was via helicopter, which is significantly more expensive.

Here are pictures from the journey:

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One of the MAF pilots was getting qualified for landing on this airstrip, so after we were safely dropped off the pilots did a number of practice landings.

Here are a few pictures and a video I took of the landings and takeoffs (the video is low quality because our internet is quite slow for uploading):  

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But before long, the planes left, leaving us physically cutoff from the outside world! 

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Below is a picture of some of our welcoming committee.  Though some men wear western clothes (shorts and tee-shirt), the majority don’t.  The men below are in native attire. 

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Seems to me the tribal clothing style for men does the exact opposite of what clothes are supposed to do: rather than discreetly covering, they draw special attention.  Their gourds are an enhancement.

So most the last week was spent getting settled in, fixing things, and cleaning, as the house had been sitting vacant for a year.  It was like going to Mound City: the yard needed mowed, the lawn mower fixed, bugs swept off the porch, etc.  Pigs had rutted around in their yard and pretty much destroyed that as well.  The whole place was overgrown and everything quite dirty. 

It was much worse than Mound City.  For one thing, their house is more like a “cabin” than a nicely insulated home.  It’s made from rough-hewn boards cut from local timber (via chainsaw).  No insulation, no glass windows, no concrete foundation, simple tin roof, etc.  The picture of their house (below) makes it look more modern than it is!  (I can see light through cracks between boards in my wall as I type this)

House

First thing needed fixing was water.  A PVC pipe fed water to their house from a spring up the hill.  The inlet wasn’t sucking water anymore (wasn’t even in the water for some reason) and needed adjustment, then primed, which required hauling a car battery and backup portable pump up the hill through the jungle to the spring source.  After a considerable amount of slip-sliding in mud, swatting half the known bugs in the universe, and sweating out 84% of my water content (among a few other sordid adventures) water in the house was finally running again!  This was good, because I was thirsty. 

PVC Going into Water Spring

After Rich and I spent the better part of several days troubleshooting the internet, we gave up on that.  Turns out it wasn’t anything wrong on our end because it just started working one day after fixing itself.  Well, it sorta works, it randomly switches on and off.

Fortunately, we also have a satellite phone which can be used to contact the outside world, but it is expensive to use.  We also have a radio and make contact each day with that. 

Check out the antennae on our sat phone!

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There has been some termite damage.  Ok, a lot of termite damage.  The little boogers got into books and all sorts of other jazz. 

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There are also rats (and spiders and biting centipedes and geckos and sticky flies).  So far we’ve caught no fewer than seven rats, all within about twelve feet of my bed!  One we caught underneath my bed.  There are still more though, just yesterday I was sitting reading a book and stuff kept falling on my head from the rafters above.

Some of the rats we’ve drowned, others gave to locals for food.  They eat that sort of thing, as well as frogs (saw a guy with one the other day), fruit bats, and spiders.  Apparently their diet lacks protein.  They have pigs, but not many, and just eat them on special occasions. 

Here’s a picture of my room (after being cleaned up):

My Room Downstairs  

There is a “frontier feeling” in this place.  Once the plane flew out we were left on our own with the locals – no way out until a plane comes to get us again.  There are no roads in.  All our power is via solar panels.  Our water is via mountain spring.  Foodwise we brought in lots of staples – complemented by local fruits and vegetables (such as taro, avocado, and papayas), but everything has to be cooked from scratch, which Karen does an amazing job doing, I might add.

Yet the family has lived here eight years so this is old hat to them.

For a few days I got sick with a cold and did a lot of reading.  One book I read was Guns, Germs, and Steel and found it quite enlightening.  The basic premise the author attempts to prove is the differences in the rise of technology on different continents being due more to geographic and environmental variables than inherit differences between the people groups themselves.  In other words, people living primitively are not doing so because they’re less smart, but because their native environment won’t support a higher civilization.  The book paid particular attention to the natural animals and food crops each continent had. 

For instance, North and South America combined only had one large mammal that was domesticable (the Llama of Peru), whereas Eurasia had 13 such large animals (like the cow for milk, leather, and meat – the ox for pulling plows – the horse for transportation).  This inherit difference alone was a major obstacle to the Native American Indians developing the same type of sophistication possible in Eurasia.

In a similar vein, looking at agriculture we find the Mediterranean zone had 32 of the top 56 large-seeded grass species (like barley, wheat, beans, etc) whereas Sub-Saharan Africa only had 2!  This means farming was less viable an option there. The advantages of farming are multiplous, including the opportunity for food surplus’s to develop, the ability for a greater population to live per acre, and the rise of specialized tradesmen who don’t have to spend all day gathering food for themselves. 

What I learned in the book hit closer to home as I see here there is no possible way here to do the type of farming we do back in Kansas.  I’ve never seen more rugged terrain in my life!  The Moi are highlanders; everywhere I look are sharp mountain ridges.  Any flat real estate is a rare commodity.  Even the house I’m sitting in is built on a hill. 

Everywhere I walk seems to be either up or down, and the walking is treacherous as the mud makes everything ice-like slippy.  I’ve had my feet slide out from under me when I was just standing in one place minding my own business!  Now that’s disconcerting.

Here’s a quote from the book I found interesting:

“New Guinea’s population is not only small in aggregate, but also fragmented into thousands of micro populations by the rugged terrain: swamps in much of the lowlands, steep-sided ridges and narrow canyons alternating with each other in the highlands, and dense jungle swathing both the lowlands and the highlands.

When I am engaged in biological exploration in New Guinea, with teams of New Guineans as field assistants, I consider excellent progress to be three miles per day even if we are traveling over existing trails. Most highlanders in traditional New Guinea never went more than 10 miles from home in the course of their lives.” (pg 306)

Can you imagine living your entire life and never travelling more than ten miles from where you were born?  All quite fascinating.

This morning I went out bird hunting with a couple of the younger guys.  We tramped around through the jungle for four hours.  I’d say half the time we were on what I’d term a “deer trail” (though there are no deer here), and the other half was purely “bushwacking” it through the jungle. 

We hunted with pellet guns; I was a little disappointed we didn’t use bows and arrows as every guy here has there own set and carries it around with them religiously wherever they go. 

Here’s a picture I took one evening last week of several guys when we were out walking on the airstrip.  They were playing a game of seeing who could shoot their arrows the furthest.  I marked off the distance they could shoot and it was about 100 paces (~100 yds).  The bows are a lot like the ones Joe makes.  They use a wood from a certain Palm Tree for the bow.  I watched a guy today shaving away on one using a piece of bamboo shoot for a razor.

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But they’re moving into the modern age now, bows and arrows are fine for carrying around the village, but when you’re ready to kill the birds it’s best to pull out the pellet gun (though I’m told they can shoot birds with arrows too).

While we were out hunting, I heard a lot of birds, and Sapiya actually shot one (of unknown type, but something like a quail).  To be honest though, I never even spotted a bird in the thick jungle canopy. 

Jungle

The “hiking through the jungle” part was kinda like slogging around the jungle section of the Sedgwick County Zoo, but off the path.  Also reminded me of some places Luke and I hiked around in in Oregon, except more dense with steeper terrain. 

I used the word, “slogging.”  That’s what I was doing.  But the two guys I was with (the younger one above and Sapiya who is a little older) waltzed along as if we were on a Sunday stroll.  In the four hours we were out they never once slipped, got winded, took a drink of water, or even seemed to sweat much.  They both were barefoot – thorns, vines and all.  In contrast, most the time I was out of breath, falling down, slipping, sliding, drinking liter after liter of water, and sweating so profusely I turned into a giant sweat blob.  I reminded myself of Po in Kung Fu Panda. 

And you know how in the rainforest section of the Sedgwick County Zoo your glasses always fog up?  That’s how it was for my glasses too most the morning: the steamy fog combined with the sweat of my brow turned my lenses into such a soppy mess I couldn’t see nuthin’ (like birds).

Nick in the Jungle

Enough about hunting birds, another book I’ve recently read is, Lords of the Earth by Don Richardson.  Don’t think if I’ve ever read so violent a book before, people are getting killed and murdered from the first page to the last page – a real page turner, to be sure. 

Lords of the Earth tells the story of ex-commando Australian turned missionary (Stanley Albert Dale) and his work among the Yali cannibal tribe in former Irian Jaya (now Papua). 

In reference to the title, “Lords of the Earth,” Don had this to say:

In their primal isolation, the Yali considered themselves “lords of the earth.” Now they are discovering that in the eyes of patrol officers, schoolteachers, tourists and traders, they are not “lords of the earth” at all, but only “backward primitive,” whose simplicity leaves them open to easy exploitation and abuse.  

A similar issue faces the Moi, who are only now being exposed to outside influence.  It’s quite intriguing to me as they are obviously quite more advanced than myself in regards to living in the wild.  I’m told they know every plant and tree, what’s edible and what’s poisonous, and walking through the woods to them is like walking through a supermarket to us.

Trying to keep up with them on their trails is pretty much a lost cause; I look like a clown.  But they don’t know much about computers or the modern age.  They had no written language until the missionaries gave them one, and though some can now read and write, there aren’t many books translated into Moi.  Not even the entire Bible.

It stretches my mind to think of what it would have been like to have been born into a culture like this.  To be a grown-up and not know how to do basic arithmetic or be familiar with world history or able to read?? 

Oh well, too much to think about.  At least their life is simpler and less complicated, which is a plus.

In other news, I’ve gotten in some pretty serious games of UNO with the three girls here (8, 10, and 12 years old).  I taught them additional rules which makes the game faster paced and more funner.  Unfortunately, it’s got to where they always beat me, they’re so fast I can’t compete!  But we have fun.

Ok, that’s the rambly brambly update from this end. 

Goofing Off in Papua

Monday, May 7th, 2012

I should enjoy these lazy days while I have them.

Haven’t been doing much around here… pretty slow this past week.  Just hanging around little ol’ Sentani, Papua.

Road Work

Helped missionaries some on road work in front of the mission.  Got bit up by bugs, but so far haven’t contracted the Dengue fever, which they say is common enough here.

Website

My good friend Pat put together Bible Study materials for the Gospel of Mark and wanted to make it available online.  So I got that all setup which took some time. 

It’s free, you can check it out here: http://markbiblestudies.com

Jungle Hiking

One afternoon I hiked around in the jungle behind our house up to a waterfall with a couple other New Tribe guys and their sons.  That trek was pretty sweet. 

Here are my hiking companions:

Hiking Buddies

Whilst hiking, I was remarking how similar the air smelled to the rainforest section at the Sedgwick County Zoo.  Course this was the real thing.  The terrain also reminded me of Red River Gorge in Ken-tunn-kee.

Hiking in Jungle

There were, in fact, many waterfalls and waterslides. 

Falls

Waterfall

Since it was hot as blue blazes and muggy as slime, swimming through the torrents was half the fun.  The trick was not getting swept away.

Swimming

Motorcycle Riding

Took a scenic ride with Rich on the back of his moto out to a nearby lake.  We hiked up this hill and got the following stupendous view.  Also got sunburned.

Lake by Sentani

Bush Flight out to the Jungle

Since I didn’t have much else to do, and since there was extra room, I took a flight into a tribal mission station (Nagi) with a family who was returning. 

Here is the plane we took in, a 6 seater Pilatus PC-6:

Getting Ready to Takeoff

Pilatus

The flight in was pretty spectacular.  About an hour and a half over dense forest and jungle.  Don’t worry environmentalists, there are still plenty of trees left.

Toward the end of the flight we crossed a mountain range (skimmed over is more like it) and landed on the far side in the middle of no-where-ville. 

The flight reminded me of the Imax show where you fly through the Grand Canyon.  Except it wasn’t an Imax, and it wasn’t the Grand Canyon. 

On the trip down we had the plane full with the family and lots of luggage and I sat in the back, but it was still comfortable and a great view.  Melissa, one of the returning missionaries, gave me a guided tour (transmitted in yell-format over the roar of the engine). 

Then on the way back to Sentani I sat up front with the pilot and tried having a conversation with him through the silly microphone.  You had to practically put that thing in your mouth to get it to work. 

After eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich “around” the mic, I felt sorry for the unfortunate person who had to use it after me.

Papua Forest from the Air

Flying over Star Mountain Range Papua

I learned (afterwards) the village we flew into had one of the most dangerous landing strips in Papua.  Reason being it is so short (about 1000’ feet) and always slick and muddy.  We splashed mud up onto the bottom of the wings in the process of landing.

Guess I should add they’ve been taking flights in and out regularly for several years without incident, so I guess it’s “safe” after a fashion.  I have a lot of respect for the pilots skill.

Landing

When taking back off, I started wondering if we were going to make it… but just before plowing into trees at the end, we pulled up and flew out!  Oh, what larks.

Nearing Sentani, I took the following picture of the lake I motorcycled to last week:

Near Sentani from the Air

So that’s the update here.

In short: I’m meeting many great people, having some interesting adventures, and eating more noodles than I can count.