Mubami Pre-allocation Trip, Part 4
*This is the fourth of a seven-part series on our pre-allocation trip to the Mubami people of Western Province, Papua New Guinea. The primary purpose of our trip was to discern God’s will in starting a new Bible translation project with the Mubami people.
Day 4, March 2, 2018
What a day! This morning we packed up our stuff again and ate breakfast. (You’ll never guess what we had for breakfast today…tuna and rice! Surprised?) This time, the truck came as planned and we took off down the logging roads in the back of a small pickup towards Sogae.
Thankfully, the roads were dry and made out of packed red clay, so they were surprisingly smooth! In fact, I think that outside of the roads in Port Moresby, this dirt logging road was the smoothest road I’ve been on in PNG! Granted, if it had just rained these roads would be impassable. But, so long as it’s dry, it’s smooth sailing.
We drove past Newtown and then kept going deeper and deeper into the jungle. We saw parrots and cockatoos flying overhead and someone even caught a glimpse of a red bird of paradise! The scenery around me was like something out of a movie. We were probably driving at 30mph for the majority of the time (a pretty good speed in PNG) and the cool breeze was a welcome relief from the heat. We must have driven for 30 minutes before I saw another human being, and even then, we only saw a couple men on logging company equipment. The thought occurred to me, “I wonder what we do if the truck breaks down or runs out of gas?” I was grateful that we had been able to get a SAT phone before our trip! Fortunately, we made it without incident, except for having to swerve around a large pile of dirt placed inconveniently in the center of the road. Who put that there?
As we were driving along, Rex told me, “Brother, I had a dream last night that you preached on Sunday.” I nervously chuckled. I thought to myself, “How in the world would I find time in this crazy week to prepare and deliver a sermon—a sermon in a foreign language, at that!” I didn’t quite know what to say because I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea for me to preach to a group of people whose culture I didn’t have a good grasp on yet. I’ve learned the hard way that such a situation is rife with potential cultural pitfalls and potential for misunderstanding. Before I had a chance to reply, though, Rex sealed the deal—“Yes, I think that’s what we will do. You will preach Sunday. The people will hear the gospel from the white man.” “Oh boy,” I thought, “I’m not sure if this is a blessing or a catastrophe waiting to happen!” But Rex had made up his mind, so that was that. I was preaching on Sunday, ready or not!
When we arrived at Sogae my first thought was, “Oh, so this is what Jesus meant when he said ‘…and to the ends of the earth’!” Sogae is literally in the middle of nowhere. Assuming the road is passable, it’s a little over an hour drive from the Kamusi airstrip (which is already pretty much in the middle of nowhere) and an hour and a half canoe ride from the other closest airstrip at Sasereme.
There were a number of homes scattered along a half mile stretch of the Wawoi River. Most of the homes are built right along the banks of the Wawoi. We were greeted by a number of people including the new pastor of the church at Palieme and his family. He and his wife are Gogodala missionaries and they had arrived at Sogae only a week before we did. He will soon take up his post as pastor at Palieme. He and his family were a notable exception to the PNG norm of quiet, reserved women and outgoing men. He was one of the quietest men I have ever met, and she was outgoing even by American standards! Plus, she spoke fluent English—better than any of the Mubami.
Rex Amadi, as the denominational leader in the area, was our primary “guide” during out time with the Mubami. He had happened to be at Kamusi for a denominational meeting with the Mubami pastors when we arrived, but his home is at Sogae. He showed us to his home, a simple home with two bedrooms and a larger living area. It was a typical construction for Mubami homes, as far as we could tell. It was built on stilts about 8 feet off the ground along the edge of the river bank. There was a makeshift ladder to climb up to the veranda to enter the home. Fearing that the ladder might not support my weight with my luggage, Rex motioned for me to toss my bag up to him before I climbed up. The roof was old, rusty metal with nail holes from where he had removed it from his previous home to reattach to his new home. The floor was off-cut lumber from the sawmill with nails sparingly and sporadically placed throughout. (Nails are expensive and hard to come by for most PNGans.) I had to watch my step in the home because many boards throughout the veranda and in the home were not nailed down at all and the opposite end would pop up if you stepped in the wrong place. Others were just much thinner and felt like they might break under my much-larger-than-your-average-PNGan-weight, so I just made sure to stick to stepping on the floor joists. The windows were simply framed holes in the wall, though the “master” bedroom had some spare roofing metal propped up in it to provide some privacy. There were, of course, no lights or electricity, no indoor plumbing, no carpet, no decorations, and no furniture or beds. Rex and his family moved their belongings out of the two bedrooms and into the living area to provide a room for Jennifer and I and the other room for Phil and Adau (Domai had stayed at Kamusi with some relatives). He and his family slept in the living area.
After setting up our bedding, we went outside to sit down and visit. There’s not much purpose to being inside in a typical PNG village house. It’s hotter inside and there’s no breeze, plus there’s no lights or electronics to entertain yourself with, anyhow. A house is a place for sleeping, that’s about it. So, most people socialize underneath their house where it’s cool or in their haus kuk (an outdoor kitchen.) I walked along the veranda, carefully hopping from floor joist to floor joist, watching for boards that wouldn’t support my weight. In my careful attention to my footing, I failed to notice that the roof of the haus kuk—which is attached to the opposite end of the house and veranda—was much lower than the roof on the house. That’s no issue for most PNGans, who are usually shorter than the average American, but I banged my head straight into the edge of the low hanging roofing metal. Fortunately, I had my hat on, so it didn’t cut my forehead. It only took me running into it once more for me to figure out that I had to duck to enter the haus kuk.
The haus kuk was of similar construction—up on stilts even with the level of the house and with lots of boards not nailed down. Actually, about half of the covered area of the haus kuk didn’t have any boards at all! So if you didn’t watch your step carefully, you’d end up falling into the cassowary pen underneath the haus kuk! (One benefit of this construction is that it’s super easy to feed the cassowary. Just toss your scraps over the edge of the haus kuk!)
The ladies busied themselves preparing a simple meal over the fire in one corner while we and the men chatted in the other. While in Kamusi, Rex had repeatedly and excitedly promised that once we got to Sogae they would give us “real” village food. Boy, did they deliver! Some of the village boys had been splashing around in the river with nets and had caught some freshwater prawns! So, the ladies roasted them on the fire along with some fresh greens and, of course, sago.
Sago is the staple food in much of PNG and is made from the starchy center of the sago palm tree. The tree is cut down, stripped of the bark, then pounded to get out the starch. That starchy pulp can then be prepared in a number of ways. The most unappetizing method is to simply boil it in water. This results in a very stringy, white, tasteless blob which I affectionately call “snot soup,” for obvious reasons… Needless to say, we’re not big fans of this method of sago preparation.
So, we were very pleasantly relieved to find that the Mubami people roast their sago inside of bamboo. Sometimes they roast it plain, but often they mix it with coconut, bananas, and other foods to give it a flavor. Sometimes they even mix in pork, fish, greens, or other savory foods, too. While the resulting reddish-brown colon-shaped sago still doesn’t look very appealing, it’s much more palatable than any other version of sago I’ve tried…if you can get past the rather unsettling resemblance it has to its digested version, that is…
After we finished lunch, we all made our way down to the dinghy. Getting into the dinghy from the muddy bank without falling into the water took a bit of effort. We took off south down the Wawoi to go visit Palieme. The new pastor and his wife came along, too, so that they could see the village where they would be working and living for the next few years.
We puttered along in the dinghy for about 15 minutes to Palieme, then got out and hiked up the hill to the village. It was a scorcher that day. We walked around the village for a few minutes and then the whole village gathered in the church building.
Walking through the church was an even more risky affair than walking through the village home. About 50% of the floor boards were rotted enough that they would not support pretty much anyone older than a child. The bottom step going up to the veranda of the church broke when Jennifer tried to climb up it.
About 40-50 people gathered in the hot, stuffy church to see why the white visitors had come, and after everyone got settled, Rex invited us to introduce ourselves and explain why we had come. We thought it best to let the pastor and his family introduce themselves first, so his wife introduced their family. Then, we explained why we had come. At this point, Jennifer was fairly confident that God was calling us to the Mubami, but still wanted a little more time to think it over and pray. When God calls a husband or wife into a ministry, he calls the spouse as well. So, even though I was confident of our calling already, I knew that Jennifer needed a little more time to pray and wasn’t quite ready for a commitment. So, I explained that we were here to prayerfully consider whether God would have us to come help them with Bible translation. I spoke in pidgin and Rex translated for me. Very few, if any, understood me when I spoke in pidgin or English. Their reaction was much the same as what we saw at Kamusi and Sogae. They passionately explained why they needed scripture in Mubami and explained that they thought they were the last language in PNG left that needed Bible translation. I explained that there were actually over 300 other languages in PNG alone that were still waiting for scripture, and many, many more throughout the rest of the world. As you might imagine, that was of little comfort to them, but it did help to know that they weren’t the last ones and that our organization hadn’t forgotten about them.
I asked them to pray for us to have clarity and promised to pray for them. It gave me great joy to be able to tell them that people back in America have been praying for the Mubami for three years now, and they were very happy to hear that, too. Phil and Adau explained that a Bible translation project is primarily the job of the people, not the foreign missionaries. Without a lot of commitment and local ownership, Bible translations rarely succeed. Phil and Adau explained that Adau and his wife, Domai—not Phil Carr—are the Bamu Bible translators and that if the Mubami wanted a Bible they would have to be willing to commit to the work.
The people seemed to agree with that and were enthusiastic about the idea of starting translation. We prayed and adjourned and cautiously made our way back out of the church and down the rickety steps and back to the boat.
Rex had told me that they had been working on building an airstrip near Palieme for several years now in preparation for a missionary coming to help them with Bible translation. It wasn’t finished, but they had all the plans made out for it and had started the work. We planned to swing by and take a look at it on the way back, but just as we were getting close to the airstrip we got caught in a torrential downpour. I attempted to shield myself with an umbrella, but eventually just gave up because there was no point. I was getting soaked anyhow, so I figured I might as well enjoy the cool down! I laughed to myself as I remembered an episode of Planet Earth II that we had watched just the week before our trip. In this episode, the film crew were filming freshwater dolphins in the Amazon River and got caught in a torrential downpour. I looked around us at the dense jungle on all sides, looked at Jennifer and said, “Hey, you remember that episode on Planet Earth?” We both laughed as we realized the insanity of where we were and what we were doing.
We got back to Sogae that afternoon, just as the rain was stopping, just in time to see a large tugboat pulling an enormous barge down the river piled high with logs. It was coming from Sasereme, another logging camp north of Sogae along the Wawoi, and was heading downstream to the ocean. It was a bit strange seeing such a large technological contraption so far out in the bush.
When nightfall came we again took bucket baths. We could have gone down to the river and washed in the river like they do, but it had rained in the afternoon and the path down to the river was a muddy, slippery mess. I imagine that it would have done more harm than good to try to bathe in the river! Plus, Jennifer was a little nervous about bathing in the river at night knowing that there are, at least occasionally, crocodiles in the area. The people had told us not to worry about crocodiles because “when they see black skin, they know not to come close.” Surprisingly, that didn’t give us much comfort. We didn’t vocally oppose bathing in the river, but I think they figured we were too clumsy to make it down and back without wallowing in the mud, so they just filled a five-gallon bucket with river water and brought it up to the veranda for us.
Bathing in a village setting is rarely a private affair—there’s almost always someone around who can see you—so, you have to stay partially clothed. Women usually bathe in shorts and a t-shirt or just a knee-length blouse, while men just bathe with shorts on. Still, for us Westerners, bathing out on the veranda where people can see you is, at best, an awkward affair. Two women took it upon themselves to stand there on the veranda on either side of Jennifer just to be certain that nobody watched her…except them, of course. The awkwardness of public bathing is just the price you pay for cleanliness and a little relief from the heat. Oftentimes, it’s the little nagging things—like lack of privacy—that wear on you in a village setting. Full immersion in another culture takes a toll, so every missionary has to figure out ways of compromising between the target culture and their own culture. For us, that’s probably going to mean me constructing some kind of outdoor shower stall to provide a little more privacy for taking a bath.
That night we had a good, hard rain. The metal roof amplified the sound so that the rain was deafening. Of course, the water found its way through the various nail holes to drip on us, but overall, it wasn’t too bad. Even though we got dripped on a bit, it was a more than fair trade-off for the coolness that made it easier to sleep that night.