Thursday, February 7, 2013

My Conference Commute

Fact #1: Rivers that are flooded with mountain rains move very quickly.

Fact #2: Wearing a skirt when crossing a river flooded with mountain rains is like parachuting in a hurricane.

Some men listen intently to the speaker at the conference
It was Monday afternoon, and we were hiking our way to Siruwarang village, where we were excited to begin the first Markham Tokples (local language ) Scripture Conference. Church leaders from nine different languages had been invited to cast a vision for Bible translation in the Markham Valley of Morobe province, where many people still live without access to translated Scriptures. It was an unprecedented event in the area, and as is the nature of such things, we had already encountered many challenges that had threatened to shut the conference down before it had even started. But, by the grace of God, things had continued to move forward, and now I, a few children, and several of the other staff members were embarking on the hour-long (or so) hike through banana gardens and four rivers to reach the conference site.

Thanks to a tropical depression that had nestled close to PNG over the weekend, the rains had been steadily gushing over the Markham Valley every day, and while the first several water crossings weren’t bad, even now I could see dark clouds crowding over the mountains, upstream from where we stood. As a result, the river was over twice as wide and deep as it had been before, churning brown with mud and rushing in a frantic, panicked haste as if it was late to reach the ocean. The seven of us (and a dog) stood on the rocky shore in a rather dismayed resignation; we had no choice—there was no bridge and we had to cross. Most of us began gingerly feeling our way into the water, testing the current, and tucking our trousers and skirts above our knees, but the eight-year-old boy and the dog charged in with a bit more enthusiasm.

I was not taking photos at the time, but it looked kind of like this, albeit deeper, faster, and with ominous dark clouds (photo by Dan Bowman)
Suddenly, the laughing boy lost his feet, swept past me, rammed into his father (who caught his hand), and then streamed out behind him (who braced and twisted like a tree in a flood) as a chortling, blond-haired flag. Dropping my skirt, I lunged for the boy’s other hand, missed, and only just managed to keep my bilum (string bag) from slipping into the water too (which was now above my waist). Another man who had started downstream, forced his way towards us to snag the boy’s hand and the two men half-carried, half-pulled him to the far bank.  As I watched with relief the three clamber onto dry land, I realized that my heroic (but unsuccessful) gesture of attempting to catch the boy left me in a new predicament: I couldn’t move.

The water, in its turbulent, jubilant race down the river had encountered my fallen, calf-length skirt and turned it into a parachute worthy of stopping the Space Shuttle (or, if I took a step, hurtling me with gusto down to the port city of Lae). And so, there I stood, immobile, soaked to my armpits, and attempting to look dignified (which is hard to do when you’re stuck in the middle of a river due to your skirt…), until one of the other men on staff realized my quandary, sloshed back, grabbed my hand, and yanked me out of the strongest part of the current.  :-)

And so, that is how half the members of the conference staff (plus a dog) arrived at the conference opening soaked, covered in mud (the paths through the banana gardens were a mud’s version of Lightning Sand from the Princess Bride), and planning a new route for our commutes to and from the conference village for both the return that evening and the rest of the week (but that's another story)!

What is one of the more interesting commutes that you have ever experienced?