Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Alphabet for Ma Manda: Part 4 (The way out)

After we had such a successful week in the village of Kesengen we were all ready to head back home to Ukarumpa. Friday night we celebrated by eating the rest of our snack goodies and watching a movie on Ryan’s computer. Shortly after going to bed it started to rain and not just the nice little light rain, but a torrential downpour that lasted for hours. There was thunder and lightning and I don’t think any of us slept very well. In the morning however it looked fine and the sky was clear and bright. We started the closing ceremonies for the workshop. The participants sang a tok ples song and had the words written out in the new alphabet for all to see. Each participant was presented with their own copy of the mini-dictionary that we completed. During this ceremony however, several people from the community came up to us to tell us that the road to get out was all messed up. We began to worry, but we let the ceremony finish before we really started to ask questions.

In Papua New Guinea you never really know what “messed up” really means until you have seen it with your own eyes. We asked if anyone had actually seen the bad spots in the road and most had not, but had heard it from some other people. Since we already had the car loaded to go home and we really wanted to leave we decided that we would at least try it and see how far we could get. Because of prior experiences in PNG we have learned that sometimes you can still make it through even if they all have decided that you can’t.

We left Kesengen and when we were barely out of the village we got stuck in some deep ruts carved out by the heavy rain. It took us about an hour to dig our way out and push though.

We kept traveling down the road and came across some other “bad” spots, but nothing we were not able to handle. At one point there was even a tree over the road, but when we arrived there was already a group of people cutting it out of the way. So after helping them a bit we were on our way again. Well at least for a few yards. Then we had to help get a PMV truck through some mud and turned around to get back down the mountain.

Once getting through all these obstacles and traveling about 4 kilometers we came to our first big obstacle - the big river crossing. This river crossing is notorious for high water and trucks getting stuck. Back in 2004 a large log bridge had been built so vehicles could easily cross, but it had broken a few years ago and was no longer passable. However, after the big rain on Friday night you can see that it isn’t even there any more!

We spent three hours sitting at the crossing waiting to see if the water would go down enough for us to cross. As we waited the locals that were with us began building a log dam to help fill in the washed out portions of the river. What this does is stops the rocks and sand flowing down the river and backs up the area behind the logs. This is a typical practice in PNG for fixing water crossings. As we continued to wait there were multiple times where we thought that we could probably get across, but the guys would be like “No, no, not yet. Let us fill in a couple more holes.” Well the holes kept changing as we went. Finally it started to rain and I had just about had it. The people all wanted us to go back up the nasty road we had just come down to go back to Kesengen to sleep and try again the next day. I really didn’t want to leave the car where it was since if another heavy rain came the whole road might go into the river. We opted to try our luck at fording the river. We piled the kids and ladies back in the car. I told the girls to pray and off we went. I “stood on the throttle” in third gear four-low and into the water we went. We crossed without too much trouble and came roaring up the other side of the river. We stopped at the top of hill on the other side and got out to see what the river looked like. People came running up to say that the dam that they had built had broken as soon as we were across and thus making the river totally impassible that night. We felt like God had truly sent His angles to watch over us as we crossed. We could just imagine a multitude of angels holding that log saying “When are these people going to finally go across” and once we were over were allowed to let go. Pretty awesome stuff.

Just five minutes walk down the road revealed big obstacle number two. There was a six foot wide ditch across the road! Since it was getting dark there was no way we were going to get across that evening so we loaded up enough clothes and supplies for the night and started hiking off for Tinibi (the next village about one kilometer down the road). About ten minutes into our hike the rain started pouring again. And this time it did not stop. With me holding a backpack and Susan holding Greg with a banana leaf over their heads as an umbrella we trudged down the road. It took over an hour in the soaking rain and dark to hike to Tinibi. In a couple of places we had to cross knee deep mud bogs that had flowed across the road in the heavy rain on Friday night. We arrived in Tinibe soaking wet and not sure where we might sleep, but we began to see what the wantok system can really do.

In Tinibe lives a man named Wesley who used to be a member of the PNG Parliament and is well liked by the local people. His house is where we would later end up, but first they had us “dry out” in a traditional style house with a fire. The fire was hot and felt good, but this is where we also learned that most of the clothes items we had brought with us were also soaking wet. The kids were crying and tired and we had quite the despairing moment. However, after about a half hour wait Wesley came to greet us and invite us to stay the night in his home. Needless the say we were shocked and wonderfully surprised to see our accommodation for the night. A first class home built out in this remote village with beautiful wood floors, electric lights (run by a generator), soft beds and hot food. The Papua New Guinean culture of hospitality and helping those in need is an amazing thing to see and experience. We filled our bellies with rice, tinned meat and 2-minute noodles and went to bed.

In the morning we devised a plan of attack on how we were going to get the rest of the way down the mountain. On the drive in we had calculated the complete drive from the highway to Kesengen to be about 30km and we had only driven 4km and hiked 1km to get to Tinibi so that meant that there was 25km more to go before we would see asphalt. Since we were running low on energy, kid friendly food, and the kiddo’s were starting to get sick we decided that Ryan should hike one direction to try and get cell phone reception and call back to Ukarumpa. He would try and get a helicopter to come and pick up the girls and the kids to fly back to Ukarumpa and also let them know that we were all still safe and sound. I on the other hand would hike back up the road and see what we could do about getting the car at least to Tinibi. (At this point we had no idea what the rest of the road looked like and we wanted the car to at least be in a safe place.) The girls would stay at Wesley’s and watch over the kids and rest.

As I hiked a few minutes up the road we can to the worst of the mud bogs. Me and three other guys started by diverting the now little stream to flush the mud away and roll away the boulders that had moved in with the mud. It took us three hours to clear the stones and wash away the mud using two spades an iron bar and a few hefty sticks. A few youths came to help too but it was still a big job. However, we were all happy to get it cleaned out and move on to the big washout.

While we were cleaning out the bog we thought that another group was coming down from Kesengen to begin work on the washout. On our arrival on the scene no one was there nor had anyone started the building of a bridge that we could use to cross the ditch. To make matter worse the rain the night before had washed it out more, so that instead of six feet to get across it was now eight feet and the narrowest part at a bad angle to build a bridge. So the four of us split into two groups, one to go cut trees to make a log bridge another to clear out brush from where we wanted to make a way for the bridge. We cut logs and hauled them down the creek pulling with jungle vines. We lay the logs down across the divide and marked out the wheel spacing on the car. We then dug out the area around the ends of the logs and made the tops of the logs were even with the road surface. Once the logs were together we lashed them together with more vines, filled the gaps in the logs with stone and sand and made a very strong and smooth road surface for driving the car over.

During all this time Ryan had finally hiked over a ridge or two and was able to get enough cell signal that he was able to send out some text messages to one of our friends in Ukarumpa. He told them that we were okay, but needed a lift out. Sadly though we found out that both of our helicopter pilots were out of the country and the one chopper that was at Ukarumpa was down for service. So needless to say we were not going to be flying out. However, the autoshop was willing to come in another vehicle and try to drive in to get us out. During this time they had also learned that the road below Tinibi was mostly clear except for one bad spot. So the Landcrusier with three men headed our way from Ukarumpa and arrived about 3:30 in the afternoon. They had picked up Ryan who had hiked back to Tinibi and had come to check on me. While they were at the bridge site one of the trees we had tried to fall earlier which had gotten caught in another tree decided to let go. We were standing next to the bridge and looked up at the sound of cracking and saw a massive tree falling right at us. Miraculously everyone got out of the way in time, but one boy did get hit by a few of the branches. The tree fell right between the last two logs we were laying in place and thankfully we hadn’t lashed them down yet or it might have destroyed hours of work. All it did was crack one of the logs, which we were able to brace underneath to make it strong enough to drive across.

Since the building of the bridge was going so well and we knew the road to Tinibi was pretty good Ryan and I decided to stay with the car and try to get it out, plus Jeff, one of the guys who came with the “rescue” crew, would stay too. The other two guys, the girls and the kids would drive out that night. (We later found out that they did not get back to Ukarumpa until 10pm because it was such a slow drive out and when they hit the main highway there was more rain. Driving in the dark in PNG in not advisable and in the rain is even worse.) It took us until about 6pm to finish the bridge and then try to drive across. As you will remember me saying earlier that the angle wasn’t that good. Well if we had a little Jeep CJ-5 we probably would have been just fine, but our long bodied Nissan Patrol proved more difficult. We could get the front half of the truck over the bridge, but the back tires would just not line up. Since there was a big bank and boulder next to where we were trying to cross we couldn’t get the truck straight enough to get all four tires on the bridge. We ended up using the tree that fell on the bridge to make it a little wider, but the success in crossing came when all the people that were there came and lifted the back of the truck and moved it over twelve inches while the front half was out on the logs. Oh did I mention that it was dark when this was all happening? Thankfully Jeff had brought a good flashlight as that was all we had to use to see the alignment of the tires on the log. Once across everyone cheered and hugged at the amazing accomplishment that had been made that day. Ryan, Jeff and I along with five nationals piled into the car for the slow drive back to Tinibi.

The last night out on the trail was most relaxing. Since it was dark we decided to stay one more night with our host Wesley and tackle the rest of the road in the daylight of Monday morning. We again ate greens and sweet potato for dinner, but we were so tired that we didn’t care. Plus Jeff had brought out a few snacks to help tide us over. Since Sunday had been sunny all day and the evening looked clear we were most hopeful for our Monday departure. After a good night’s sleep we were on the road at 7am. An early start, but we still were behind a few PMV’s that were on their way to Lae. We made it to one bad spot in the road where two PMV trucks were stuck. We too stopped and got out to watch the two trucks get through. It took about a half an hour to see the two trucks though the mud. When it was our turn I again hit the hole hard and fast (we got video instead of pictures so sorry to all of you as we can’t post videos) and made it through without problem. There was a third PMV that came up behind us that didn’t fare as well as us and was still stuck when the two trucks ahead of us pulled over to let us go by. Another hour down the road and we were back on the asphalt. Tired, hungry and dirty we were finally able to reach highway speeds again for the final two hour drive home. So after taking two days to do what it took us two hours to do going in we were finally back on the highway.

Thanks again to all who were praying for us on this trip. We know the Lord was looking over us the whole way and we are pleased that a trial alphabet is now done and ready for use in the Ma Manda language.

Oh and on Thursday this week I was down in Lae doing some department buying and I saw the PMV truck from Kesengen in town. So even though the road was bad at the beginning of the week it looks like they had it fixed enough so they all could get back out to town.


Shannon said...

What an AMAZING story! I'm glad everyone is safe. As challenging as it was, it sounds like quite an adventure!

Patti said...

So glad you had a good week and safely got home. You did some serious four wheeling in rather challenging circumstances. God bless you all!