In our area of the Gulf Province, there are no roads. We can only walk or fly. Flying is always the preferred method, but sometimes, you just can’t fly…
In our area of the Gulf Province, there are no roads. We can only walk or fly. Flying is always the preferred method, but sometimes, you just can’t fly. Usually, the problem is weather, and the airplanes can’t get to you. Sometimes, it is a maintenance issue and the planes are down. There have been stupid problems, too, like the air traffic controllers went on strike (that has happened twice now!).
I have walked to just about every airstrip in our area. Some of them take 2 or 3 days to get to. The farthest hike was four days. My first long hike was from Kotidanga to Kerema. I was on a “live-like-the-people” kick at the time; and two weeks later, I was in a hospital bed being treated for amoebic dysentery. The missionary cannot live like the people because if he did, his life expectancy would drastically decrease, just like the people’s. But, I was inexperienced.
My first night on the three day hike to Kerema, we slept in a bush house in a village called Anewa. The rainy season fog had settled into the area, and everything was damp and cold. I wanted to save weight in my backpack, so I had not packed any kind of blanket. That night, the fire went out in the house about 8 pm, and everybody was asleep. I tried to sleep, but without a mattress or a blanket, my body began to feel every ridge in the split-bamboo floor. The wind came up through the floor, and I began to worry about hypothermia on this 60 degree night. Well, maybe I wouldn’t die, but I might get frost-bite, or at least I thought I would. I tossed and turned for about two hours, and convinced myself that I could restart the fire and warm up the room.
I went outside and got a small log to put on the fire. Keep in mind that at this time, I was a green missionary. I had only been in the country for less than a year, and I had not mastered the art of starting a fire. (For those of you that think you’ve got it under control, try to do it without any lighter fluid.) I brought that log back inside and laid it across the open fire pit in the middle of the house. Either everyone was fast asleep, or else they wanted to watch in silence so they could have a good laugh together later on.
After putting that log across the fire pit, I tried to light it. I had a small box of matches, and they were quickly used up. Then, I remembered that I had a gas lighter in my backpack—the kind people use for lighting cigarettes. I took out that gas lighter and tried to use it to light that unsplit, damp log. I thought that, given enough heat, the log would eventually catch on fire. I held the lighter there until the lighter melted. That’s right—in a few minutes I had a melted lighter, some scalded fingers, and a wet log.
After giving up, I went back to lay down and shiver. About an hour later, someone else got up and started the fire—within seconds! (I’m wondering if they even used a match), and a mysterious smell of burning plastic wafted through the air. I lay there, acting like I was asleep, soaking up the heat.
Two days later, I came dragging into Kerema, covered in mud, but much more experienced in jungle living.