The PNG Letters.jpg, 14kB

Papua New Guinea: A Land of the Unexpected!

Or so the advertising slogan says. It certainly is true enough though, but not always in the way that you expect. Funny, eh? You expect the unexpected to happen in an expected way! A few tales of the unexpected then&

I feel on top of the world, looking down on creation, and the only explanation…
Click to enlarge Mount Wilhelm is the highest mountain in Papua New Guinea. 4508m above sea level. Andy organised the climb. Also in the party were Karl, Andrew, Elle [German tourist and the only female], Gerard, Bill and Chris, two local guides and all the Mowbray boys. Traditionally this mountain is climbed in the dry season at 1am, which means you arrive at the summit at dawn when there is less chance of cloud. If the day is clear, it is said, you can see both coasts.

Click to go to the maps page We set off from the College in two cars. Well, one car and the College bus. Somehow all the Germans ended up in Andy's 4-wheel drive twin cab and all the non-Germans ended up in the College bus. This gave rise to the "You Germans are all racists!" comment that seemed to surface in a light-hearted manner quite often throughout the weekend (it is just so hard to consistently cross the language barrier!) The drive to Kundiawa takes a couple of hours, where we turn off the highway and head up to Denglagu (the site of the highest high school in PNG). Initially the dirt road is probably better than the highway, but after Golgmi (where we once went to visit a Ghanian priest) it starts to deteriorate. The bus had to be towed up one particularly slippery slope when we found, instead of moving in a forward direction over the wet stones, we were sliding backwards and sideways and dangerously close to the edge of the road and the long drop to the river. No safety rails here! The trout farm at Denglagu is our initial destination, it is at an altitude of about 3000m. We will leave our cars there and walk up to the lakes where the lodge is. The trout farm is nicely landscaped, many plants I am familiar with from Sydney: Cuphea ignea, Cotoneaster lacteus, Streptosolen jamesonii and the usual Hibiscus.

About 1pm, six hours after leaving the college, we start the walk up to the lodge in warm sunlight; somehow we had managed to skip lunch. Up through the garden, then through the carrot bed and follow the fence up the hill. For some reason – not easily explainable – the path criss-crosses the fence a couple of times, which necessitates clambering over the rusty barbed wire. Then the trail enters forest, and becomes a stair climb. The steps are made from bush timber; some parts of the path are poorly drained and muddy and most shoes end up drenched and dirty. The trees are of medium height, with dark green glossy leaves; not a great variety of species. The canopy is not entirely closed, terrestrial ferns and some tree ferns are scattered through the understorey with the bright red flowers from the canopy above lying on the ground and path. It's a warm day, but the sweat on our backs is cooled quickly in the shade of those trees, and our jumpers seem to be constantly put on and then off again as we fluctuate between too cold & too hot. The steps are a nightmare, they never stop, they always appear around every bend, over every rise: one step after another, after another… Such a shame to tread on those beautiful flowers, but I don't have enough energy not to tread on them!

Click to enlarge After a couple of hours climbing we collapse on a grassy patch for a rest. The stairs and packs have taken their toll. We eat beef biscuits and drink water. Kerosene has leaked out of the lantern all over my pack and clothes. Andy was later to say that he could smell me coming a long way away. One of the local boys points out a shrub he was telling me about. It has a white 5-petalled stellate flower and small, dark glossy leaves, in the Myrtaceae family I think; it is traditionally used ornamentally by the locals.

The landscape changes dramatically after our stop. The forest thins to scattered groups of trees set in grassland, with denser stands in sheltered areas. The trees don't look familiar. They have long, red tubular flowers that are unscented: not dissimilar to Correa reflexa, although bigger and waxier. The stamens are interesting: six stamens – partially adnate to the corolla – that were fused into two heads above the stigma. We walk up into a poorly drained valley, an "elevated bog": grasses and forbs with tree ferns growing abundantly. Click to enlargeThe path in many places, although on the better-drained valley sides, has become a series of deep muddy holes that have to be crossed on tree fern trunks. Our balance is not what it should be after the physical exertion, and some shoes disappear into the depths to reappear full of mud and a wet foot. The sound of the creek can be clearly heard bubbling over rocks not far away, and makes us think of the lakes: Oh how I wanted to stop and sit down at those lakes!

Click to enlargeThe lodge, at an altitude of 3500m, was finally reached at 4pm, after a total of three hour's walking. It is situated about 20m from the lake. Rocky cliffs rise out from the far side where a waterfall can be seen cascading down from the twin lake above. Short grasses cover the surrounding gently undulating ground, stumpy trees grow in groups. The lodge is a very simple structure: plywood walls and floor on tree stump posts with a corrugated iron roof. No insulation and lots of gaps, but amazingly, plate glass windows! The kitchen window has a gorgeous view across the glassy lake and up the trail to Wilhelm – very picturesque, if not a little daunting.

Three Israelis were there – Keren thought they looked like runaway terrorists – preparing to leave, when we arrived. They had been up the night before. The kettle was put on and pots of tea were made continuously for the next few hours. The owner had provided two kerosene heaters. They didn't burn at all well – we wondered if it was the lack of oxygen – they smoked and fumed and made your eyes sting and your throat sore. The Germans congregated in the kitchen out of the fumes, others were playing cards in the lounge room. We started preparing dinner: a huge pot of 2-minute noodles, powdered soup and bits of kaukau. We were aiming to eat about 6pm, get to bed as soon as possible after that, sleep until midnight then breakfast and climb to the summit.

Dinner was eaten standing, or sitting on one of the few chairs – the floor froze your bottom. I started cooking breakfast – porridge – as soon as dinner was served because water took forever to boil! We all bedded down on the thin mattresses provided and tried to sleep. As soon as I got comfortable, I realised that I needed to go toilet, but I refused that insanity, if my bladder can't tell me while I am fully dressed, then it will just have to wait until I am! Not everyone slept well, the kerosene fumes we terrible. Andrew said he only slept a few hours, Chris said he didn't sleep at all! I didn't have any problems once I dropped off&

Midnight, I woke before Andy, and got the porridge warming and water boiling for tea. Going to the pit toilet was not as cold as I expected, or remembered it was earlier that same night. The sky was the most awesome inky hue, the stars bright diamond pinpricks of light. Now this was the sort of night sky I thought we'd get in Papua New Guinea. At Fatima we must be looking through a haze most of the time, as the night sky is very dull. A lot of hustle and bustle as everyone is woken up: getting torches and batteries ready, packing packs, eating porridge and drinking tea. Nathanael decided not to climb, and stayed back by himself. A wise and brave decision in the end.

We started walking about 1pm. Out of the lodge, around the lake to the rocky cliff that separates the two lakes, and the climb proper starts beside the waterfall over rocks trickling with water. A very funny experience walking/climbing by torchlight. A pretty torch dance not altogether without danger. About halfway up the cliff, Bill decided that it was one of the silliest decisions he'd made, coming on a midnight climb, and decided to go back to the lodge. I was glad that Nathanael would have some company later during the day. Elle had asked if I was concerned leaving Nathanael by himself. I felt a little like Elijah, "But he's not by himself. He has Jesus and his angels staying with him."

The climbing slowly got harder and harder. It was mostly over rock, not much real rock climbing, that is, the vertical rock faces with narrow finger holds type, but more scrambling over boulders and ledges less than 1 metre. Sometimes the path was soil – red clay – that had eroded to a narrow ditch 150mm wide and 200mm lower than the original path. Eventually the group divided into two: the fast young group and the "older" slower group. The faster group raced off, Jesse at its head. We in the slower group plodded on, easily becoming short of breath. At one stage we couldn't see the first group at all – and we really should have been able to: they had taken a wrong turn in their haste and ended up at a WWII plane wreck, and had to double back. The faster group eventually caught up to the slower group (ala hare and tortoise), passed them, and raced off again, each one blaming the other, or defiantly insisting they had in fact decided to go and look at the plane wreck.

Not long after that we stumbled across Jesse feeling very much the worse for wear, standing and shivering beside the path. "I can't go on!" I had been encouraging Keren for some time, "Just put one foot in front of the other," we were walking slowly and taking frequent breaks, so I encouraged Jesse that we could make it together. Jesse had stomach pains and I was not feeling well either with nausea. We walked slowly on, stopping frequently, maybe about every 5 minutes. It was amazing how out of breath I became so quickly. I'd stop and wait for my breathing to normalise; then setting off, I'd take a few steps and I'd be puffing again.

Click to enlargeAt about 4000m we were travelling along a ridge, passing peak after peak. My goodness, how far can Wilhelm be? The view is spectacular! Madang is visible on the coast and possibly Kundiawa too (off to the right). You feel literally on top of the world: everywhere you look is lower. Except that blasted mountain! We caught up with the first group again, they had stopped and made Milo. It was delicious, and somewhat curious, to drink the creamy liquid in single file on the side of a mountain, the pot warming your half-frozen hands. Chris managed to forget it was a communal pot and hang on to it for a long time until we all complained. We set off again, walking very slowly, in 5-minute bursts separated by an out-of-breath stop where Jesse would cuddle up to me and shiver. Eventually we came across one of the local boys asleep in a sleeping bag, and just left on the side of the mountain at 4400m (apparently he fell asleep on his feet, so the first group put him in a bag and lay him down). Jesse, Keren and I decided to stay with him and watch the beautiful sunrise just beginning. Karl, Elle and the other local boy headed on up to the summit [see The Summit].

Click to enlargeJesse, Keren and I sit and cuddle close together – Jesse shivering uncontrollably, it is cold and my toes are going numb. Madang's lights shine brightly in front of the reds and yellows of the new day rising behind them. Above Madang the new moon hangs in the lightening indigo with the daystar shining in the void of the crescent. It was a beautiful picture. The Ramu River wound its way through the valley and over the ridge was the Wahgi Valley, overcast with a sea of white cottonwool clouds lapping at the mountains. We expected the sunlight to make its way down from the peaks, but it never did. When the sun's rays finally did hit us, they were gratefully received. Warmth: we slept and waited. About 9am I decided that we should make our own way down, when suddenly Andy appeared, hurrying, almost running. It was later than he wanted, and he wanted to start preparations for leaving.

The climb down was amazing for several reasons. First, it was hard to believe that we had actually climbed up the terrain that we could now see clearly in the sunlight. Some of it was really hard: probably a good thing it was dark on the way up! Second, it was so beautiful. Not that my legs appreciated that beauty very much. It wasn't long before they were uncontrollable. Jesse was feeling much better again and raced off, leaving Keren and I to descend together. Andrew caught us up and walked with us for a while before heading off by himself. I was feeling quite old at this point. We finally reached the lodge about 10am. Nathanael came running out down the path to give us a big hug. It was so welcoming. He'd made tea (I'd said the night before it may be a good idea), and we ate more beef biscuits and drank the tea on the grass in front of the lodge watching the descent of the others. Karl, Elle and Gerard were the last ones down. It was amazing to watch the three coloured "ants" descend the mountain as the cloud swirled about them. My legs were just starting to feel normal again, I could walk and bend my knees, when we had to pack and get down to the cars.

The walk down to the trout farm was as uneventful as it was long. I think I was last in – my poor legs, all those stairs! We finally got down about 3pm, toiletted, organised some smoked fish to be delivered the following Wednesday and left. We had a few troubles getting the bus up the steep and slippery driveway, but after that the "go anywhere bus" didn't have many problems. Chris was amazed that it managed to get there in the first place! We finally arrived home about 6pm after dropping Andrew off at Banz #1. Sandi, Iris and Peggy (the mountaineer widows) had cooked a delicious dinner of pizza and spaghetti, which we all shared in our house: 10 dirty bodies all in dirty clothes and looking tired, and me still smelling of kerosene. It didn't take long to finish the food and I think everyone's beds were calling just as loud as mine, because they all left fairly quickly.

Jesse was very disappointed he didn't make it to the top, infuriated that he was only 100m short, and is vowing and planning another assault. I'm happy to have got so far – further than I thought I would have – but sad it was so rushed. We seemed to have missed a lot of the beauty – but a weekend assent and descent is predestined to be rushed. I'm still wondering if we can coax Sandi up?

The Driving Lesson
Jesse has been learning to drive now for a few months now. I guess he will go for his licence shortly. They do not have a provisional licence here: no 'P' plates, straight onto a full licence: not applicable to Australia, but neat to take home anyway.

"Dad, can you take me for a drive this afternoon?" It was 3:30pm on Friday (16th July 1999). I felt exhausted, it'd been a long week… "OK. 5:30. Alright?"

We drove out the gate about 5:40. I suggested we turn left at the junction [see Mausrot Bilong Fatima] and drive a way down the unpaved road. Jesse hadn't had any real experience on dirt roads so I thought this was a good opportunity. There were a lot of people milling about. The market and other gathering places were fairly full. Across the Warakar bridge, and onto the dirt. I offer a quick prayer to Jesus for protection (we always do when we go driving).

Jesse is certainly driving well. He misses most of the potholes, and doesn't drive too fast. A little too close to the shoulder, and… whoops, we've slid off the road. Well, two wheels have. Jesse is handling it well, I grip the seat a little tighter, "A little more power Jesse&" The car bumps back onto the road again. I hope that doesn't happen too often.

We pass Bunimwo and the huge tea plantation. We drive through Kimil, which has quite a large market. Many young men are yahooing and shout at us as we pass. Not altogether friendly, but not unfriendly either. Just Friday revelry I suppose.

A wee way past Kimil we turn around and head back home. It's about 6:10 and we should get back before dark – Pat and Sandi from Bunimwo tea have had a few problems on this road. Jesse is driving really well. We round one corner and find three young men on the road. The one in the middle of the road seems to have a slight stagger to his walk, and is holding out a K10 note. Jesse slows down. "Pass him on the left", I say. You have to be a little careful in these circumstances, you never know which way a spakman will stagger. They can become quite lemming like on the roads.

Jesse has the situation well under control, and is passing him slowly. Oh, my goodness! He's reached his hand into the car for the keys! "Keep going Jesse!" Jesse stalls, or the fellow has turned the car off, it's hard to tell which. Jesse is trying to turn the ignition back on again, but the fellow has his big mitts all over the ignition keys.

"Get out of the car!" The fellow shouts. I reach across Jesse and try and prize the keys loose from his fingers. "Get going Jesse!"

"Get out of the car you #@*#$@!" He tells his friends to go around the other side. I lock my door. Jesse locks his, but his window is still down with the fellow leaning in. Suddenly the car spurts into life. "Go! Go!" I shout at Jesse. " Raus! Raus!" I shout at the fellow. Everyone seems to be shouting! Jesse's trying to get going, I can see him from the corner of my eye concentrating hard, but he isn't managing to get going very fast.

The man's got the door open now, Jesse snatches it shut and locks it again. The man lunges for the keys again, thank goodness that the ignition lock and the alcohol have confused him.

"Get out of the car you #@*#$@&#@#$+*%$@#@!" The car stops again, stalled or turned off. Jesse starts blowing the horn. The man leans back to throw a punch at Jesse. I deflect it up into the roof with my hand. He grabs the keys, wildly twisting them, trying to get them out. He turns the car back on by mistake and it kicks over. Jesse doesn't miss this opportunity and starts racing away in first gear. The man is still leaning in the window. "Just keep going Jesse!"

"Get out of the car you #@*#$@&#@#$+*%$@#@$@&#@#$+*%$@#@!" He is still hanging in the window trying to get the keys out or turn the car off, running along beside the car; we must be going about 30km/h. I'm still leaning over Jesse, trying to prize the fingers free of the keys, Jesse can't change gear. Finally the fellow falls out of the window and is left behind. Jesse changes up into 2nd. The dust is thick behind us; I can't see anyone. Was he still chasing us, or was he lying on the road with a cracked head, or were his friends making fun of him? We pass a small group who looked concernedly at us. They must have heard the ruckus. We don't stop. "How are you feeling Jesse?" He smiles weakly and says he's OK. "You can slow down now, Jesse." He was going a little too fast, our adrenaline was still pumping. My hand aches. I look down to see the skin has been taken off the back of the knuckles and is bleeding a little. Jeese's finger is a little mangled. The keys are a total right off.

Jesse drives for a little bit, I have to tell him to slow down again. Then says he's had enough, his legs had gone to jelly. I drive the rest of the way home, none too slowly, a cup of tea is sounding very comforting… and Jesse said it was a boring Friday afternoon!

Joe Ande
We were just finishing off tea when I heard the familiar and most disliked sound of someone stepping up onto the front porch. Knock, knock. Who can that be, I wonder, it must be the kitchen committee come to collect the scones. I am a little surprised to see Jack – out student cook – leaning against the wall and looking sheepish when I open the door. "Jack! Yu laikim wanem?"

" Mi kum wantaim pikanini bilong mi." I suddenly realise that three other people are standing on the steps. A man and a woman, with a little child playing in between the man's legs. The fellow smiles and holds out his hand, "My name is Joe." He goes on to explain that he is Jack's son, but that he came of his own volition and didn't need his father there at all. At this stage I wondered if this fellow was a little long long. He introduced me to his wife and son. His wife stood hunched against the wall looking embarrassed.

My face must have revealed my thoughts, because he said, "You don't know me and I don't know you. But at work today a very strong thought came into my mind that I had to come and talk to you." A religious nut? I wonder if he is a prophet and has come to deliver a message?

"To be honest," he said looking me in the eyes, "I've got dreadful domestic problems." OK, I thought, not long long, not a religious nut, but a man with problems. But why is he telling me?

He went on to explain how his wife (his second – concurrently), had left him and gone to Lae. He had recently gone to retrieve her, but has been using her as a "punching bag" since their return. She certainly looked bruised and battered. He looks at me sincerely, "I don't want to live like this. Whatever you tell me to do, I will do it. 100%"

I didn't know what to say, so I asked him what time he finished work. OK, "Come and see me tomorrow after work, at 5:30pm." I needed time to pray. I didn't know how to explain it to Sandi. I didn't know how to explain it to myself. We prayed that night, and all the next day I kept offering the whole thing up to Jesus, just a little nervous and not even sure Joe would turn up.

Joe turned up at 4:45pm ( PNG time strikes again!), and we sat down in my office. I'm no counsellor, I didn't know the correct approach or the correct things to say, so I tried to think what Jesus would do, "What do you want me to do for you?" I asked him.

"I want you to give me advice."

He told me his story and the first thing that came to my mind was taking the log out of our own eye first. He didn't seem too impressed, he just looked at the floor and went on with his grievances. I said that I thought he had trouble forgiving because he needed forgiveness, that he had trouble loving because his cup of love from God was empty. We talked about the family and the husband's position in it, and how everyone has a job to do and that not doing it can restrict the other in their situation. The ability to bind people into their sins and weaknesses by unforgiveness, about Hosea and his prostitute wife, about grace and forgiveness rather than the death penalty of the law (he had already bought a gun to shoot his wife and had already beaten up her brother). We talked about choosing to forgive and choosing not to remember the other's faults, like Jesus does with us.

And all the while I am wondering why this is happening now? When I am struggling with forgiving the Priest here who seems to be going out of his way to destroy the College, who has spent the past 18 months trying to destroy our position at the College; struggling with a leadership so compromised by philosophies they can't see a Satanic attack when it hits them in the face; grappling with religious orders who still are prepared to just move problems around rather than deal with them effectively.

Joe ended up saying that he could see it all now, his fault in the problem. He did want to take the log from his eye. We ended in a time of prayer where he dedicated himself to Jesus, problems and all. I ended up committing the whole dreadful situation at the College to Jesus again: truth and reality are sometimes very hard to see; which then requires much trust on our part.

Post P.N.G.
Joseph Veleba is our only student from Lae. His father sent him K20 in a registered envelope that I collected from the post office 4-5 weeks ago. Unfortunately, when Joe opened it, only the letter stating that the money was enclosed was in there. Joe brought the envelope back to me, and I took the envelope back to the post office. I didn't have much hope of recovering the stolen money though.

The first girl we saw there was very understanding, but seemed more concerned that we understood that it wasn't her that had taken the money. The envelope had arrived in Mt. Hagen with sticky tape, which she had initialled. "OK. I understand it didn't happen here, but what can we do?" She replied that we should see the postmaster, but he had just gone on a month's holiday yesterday; so the assistant postmaster was the one to see, but he was out, and she didn't know when he'd be back.

It took a couple of weeks to actually see the assistant postmaster, and he was very nice: he took the envelope and the letter, but didn't make any promises.

A couple of weeks and a couple of tries to find out how the assistant postmaster was going proved fruitless because he was out. This week we tried again and to our surprise he came out and gave us 4 x K5 notes and said that an internal investigation would follow. Other articles from Lae had been tampered with… "Do you want me to sign something?" I was amazed that all this was happening without any recording of what was being done.

"No. It's alright." It made me wonder where that K20 had come from and how the accounting was done!