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We're leaving on a jet plane…

7:50 AM Thursday, 22 nd January 1998

We finally lift off into a glorious Sydney morning after breakfast with Sister Humilita ( Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary ) – we'd stayed at their convent at Camden for our last three nights in Sydney. We had other fond farewells at the airport too: Adrian and Leonie from PALMS (Probably to make sure we got on the plane. It really did raise a few eyebrows having them personally escort us to our plane seats and buckle us in with a padlock!); and my brother Glenn (all the way from Wollongong!)

We had many fond farewells ringing in our ears that morning, and a lot of unknown ahead; but first, there was a wonderful send off for the things that we knew well.

The morning was bright and sunny, the view of Sydney harbour was stunning in its clarity. Everyone in the plane were out of their seats looking out of the windows on the left-hand side (I had faint memories of a ferry and an American naval vessel, but I quickly put them out of my mind!)

We continued to fly up the coast, thankfully, everyone sat down once the postcard had been left behind, up past the beaches, Broken Bay, and quite incredibly, past the Central Coast where my Mother lives. And there, before my eyes and many feet below, past Bateau Bay. Quite distinguishable with its two headlands, two separate beaches – one smaller than the other. There were the paths leading down to the beach, the park at the top – and there, one block back: My Mother's house! I thought of waving, but the pilot had other timetables to keep.

On we flew, past The Entrance lagoons, which looked beautiful at that height; past Newcastle (where Gayle and Paul live); and further on into areas of less familiarity. And suddenly the reality dawned: the pain of leaving the house that was our family home for the past 11 years, the effort of packing nearly everything into boxes, and what was left into suitcases; the vast sums of money we'd spent on doctors, reports and etc; the exhilarating experience of the PALMS orientation course; the tears and emotion, hugs, hand shaking and kisses of all the goodbyes; the 3:45am alarm clock that morning; the last minute sauna for our overweight luggage; my city of Sydney that had just become a postcard and vanished into the past; the vast, unending beckoning of the northern horizon: we had left the known, and were entering into the unknown.

Aircraft cabin crew have to deal with this all the time – they have the perfect solution: they serve a meal. This time, it was a selection of fresh fruit (aeroplane food is not all the same)! This unexpected pleasure was more of the unknown, and brought hope, which started to edge out the fear: the unknown can be pleasurable and exciting!

We stopped in Brisbane for 40 minutes waiting in a queue to get off, and 10 minutes trying to call Anne and Steve without much success. The flight into Port Moresby was equally stunning as our flight out of Sydney: lots of little islands floating on a white flecked emerald sea, fantastic views of Papua New Guinea as we flew up the coast of Papua. The outside temperature was minus 44°C, which was slightly encouraging. There was no holding pattern over the airport, so we flew straight in: the temperature increasing with every foot we descended. The altimeter stopped going down at 44m above sea level, the temperature stopped going up at 34°C (there was no mention of humidity – they obviously wanted us to get off the plane)!

The boys looked out of the window at the ground crew and said, "Look! There's a native!"

"National," I quickly corrected, "I'm sure you'll see many more!"

We planned on a 3-hour wait at Port Moresby for our connecting flight to Mt. Hagen. After checking our bags in again for the domestic flight, we went for a wander. Leonie (PALMS) had said that a Br. Friedolin may meet us. We kept our eyes peeled for a Brother with a white carnation, or any male personage who might be able to be mistaken for a religious. We sat the first hour and a half outside, sitting on a low wall. There was a small breeze, but the sun was hot. We put on sunscreen, to the general humour of those close enough to see.

This certainly was the unknown, we were the uncertain strangers.

We finally moved back inside the terminal. Outside it was hot, humid, with dried mud and dust everywhere; inside it was hot, humid with dried mud, dust and grime covering everything. The air was thick – you could almost see it move – with the horrid smell emanating from the public toilets. We swam, rather than walked, to some empty seats and surveyed the room. A coke machine that didn't work. A TV in the corner that probably hadn't worked in a long time. Ceiling fans that, judging by thickness of the dust piled on top of the blades, had not worked in a very long time. Everyone was waiting, the young PNG children amazingly calm (they must be used to it).

The PA announcements were in English and in Pidgin; most times they announced a delay, or sometimes a cancellation of a flight, to which all the assembled moaned. Our flight was announced as being delayed 1½ hours. It had taken most of our resources to wait the expected 3½ hours: many games of eye-spy, scissors-paper-rock, etc. One flight that had been delayed previously was then cancelled: this immediately inspired a prayer for our flight. In due course, without any to do, a man burst through the door and said, "All to Hagen." It was hard not to rush, the stench, the solid matter we were attempting to breathe, all pushed us out the door.

The strongest memory of that time was the four expatriates that sat along from us: their obvious dislike of the nationals which manifested as rudeness. I must admit I felt nervous of these brown people, all the bad stories tend to crowd your mind. There was the man who kindly helped me use a public phone (to ring the seminary and say we'd be late), he even warned me about the AIDS infested chewing gum in the mouth piece so I wouldn't get glued! His smile was so broad and white! The man who asked us to mind his bag while he went to the toilet, showing trust in strangers. I hoped secretly that those expats were not coming to Mt Hagen.

Click to go to the maps page The flight into Mt Hagen had everything: great views of the lowlands of the gulf; a great couple of cups of PNG coffee; and to finish off, a wild ride zigzagging between the mountains on our approach to the airport, that would rival anything at Wonderland (the turbulence, constant turning and seeing the trees on the mountains slipping past just beyond the wing tips – awesome!!) The national fellow sitting across the aisle took his bible out at this point, and clutching it very firmly said, "This is where we have to start praying."

We can hardly wait for the flight out – for the ride, not the leaving.

I came without expectations – it was all unknown really. We have been here a little over a week, some of the unknown has peeled away to reveal real human beings. People hold your hand; say. " Monin " and smile lots. Jesus is here too, smiling. The unknown is not very far away, but the reality of finding Jesus in a reed walled, thatch roofed church, sitting on a straw covered floor brings deep peace and grace. The offerings include fruit and vegetables from their subsistence gardens; the singing send chills up and down your spine. This is the known, the same God, the same trust and faith: it feels just like home – In fact, it is home.

Envelope3.gif (863 bytes)   We're leaving on a jet plane…

  7:50 AM Thursday, 22 nd January 1998

  Courtyard Sketch

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