Friday, August 30, 2013

The Day I Ran Away from A Waiter

I was in Sydney, Australia, when I ran away from a waiter at a restaurant.

Early Monday morning I had started my travels of leaving Papua New Guinea and ultimately ending up in Sydney, Australia, where I had a 24-hour layover before my next flight on Tuesday night. So, instead of wasting all those hours in the airport, I had a lovely night’s sleep at a guesthouse run by my Wycliffe Korea colleagues (where I slept on a REAL MATTRESS!! It was glorious!!!), and on Tuesday morning headed down to train station to take me to the famous Sydney Harbor.

It was on the train that I first encountered the Smartphone Phenomenon: every man, woman, and child over the age of 14 was staring transfixed at a little shiny screen glued to his or her left hand, a reverie which would occasionally be broken as he or she swiped an index finger across the surface or chortled while readjusting an earpiece. I felt like I was sitting in a giant elevator. Never have I seen so many people crammed into such a small space and yet so entirely unaware of their neighbors!

After I left the Smartphone Zombies, I needed to cross the road to get to the Harbor, and so joined a group of business people standing at the edge of the street. And kept standing. And standing. Soon I was annoyed. Why are they all waiting? I thought. There were lots of chances for them to cross—why are they still standing there, blocking my path? Let’s go!

And then, suddenly, the light changed, the crosswalk flashed permission, and the whole herd crossed the street. Oops. I had forgotten about crosswalks and Western rules for pedestrians.

Eventually, I found my way to the water, where I spent the rest of the morning on a boat, watching humpback whales cavorting about just beyond the Harbor (it was the time of their migration). It was pretty awesome, albeit extremely chilly, especially for a girl just arrived from the equator (despite my wearing nearly every piece of clothing that I had packed!)

 And so, when I finally docked back at Circular Quay, I was not only hungry, but so cold my teeth were chattering—I am going to get hypothermia if I sit in one of the outdoor restaurants, I decided. “Please, sir,” I asked the information booth guy, “could you tell me where I might find a place to eat indoors?”

“Sure!” He gave me directions down a street and up some stairs. I thanked him and set off merrily, eagerly climbing those steps, opening the door...and staring with horror and not a little terror as I realized the oblivious information guy sent me to a culture-shocked missionary’s worst nightmare: a food court.

Flashing signs! Neon lights! Shouting cashiers, crying children, rattling bags, clacking heels! Red, orange, green! Chinese, Italian, Subs, Pizza! Rushing business people! Briefcases! Cash! Credit Cards! Out of my way! Zillions of choices! Now! Now! Now!

AHHHHHHH! Head pounding, hands shaking, I spun for the nearest door and fled. I was less than 24 hours out of Papua New Guinea, a third-world country where my only fast food option is the town’s lone kai bar where I could get a hunk of chicken and chips (aka French fries) and there was no way I could survive a food court. (Remember the grocery store post from last year?)

Nevertheless, I was still hungry. And so, I started roaming up and down the streets of Sydney looking for sustenance. But, since most of the restaurants had outdoor seating near their entrances, every time I approached a possibility, an eager waiter swooped on top of me and shoved a menu in my hands, delighted with the chance of ensnaring a new customer. Come here! Eat here! Try this! 

AHHH! Unable to handle the pressure, I soon found myself running to the opposite side of the street every time one of those hapless waiters approached. Finally, stressed, exhausted, starving, cold, and close to tears, I finally encountered a restaurant that had no scary waiters waiting to attack, and dove inside. I then had to navigate the five menus they dumped in my lap (I limited myself to the specials...only three choices), convince them that I really did want apple juice to go with my Italian meal (apple juice! such a luxury), and tried to remember how to use my credit card.

But, I survived, warmed up, calmed down, and went on to enjoy the rest of the afternoon wandering through historic shops, visiting a contemporary art museum, watching the sun set at the wharf, and finally trekking back to the airport to continue on my 48-hour Tuesday as I flew to Hawaii (landing in Hawaii before I had left Sydney, thanks to the International Dateline).

But never will I forget the time that I ran away from a waiter.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

An Airport Travelogue

An airport is both nowhere and everywhere, an in-between place where people from all corners of the globe are gathered together like a folded quilt, squashed shoulder-to-shoulder on hard-backed seats to wait, amid goodbyes and hellos and plastic-wrapped deli food. I find them fascinating places, and recently, when I travelled back to the US from Papua New Guinea, I spent plenty of time in eight of them!

Several of our Kodiaks in Ukarumpa waiting for the weather to clear

First, there was Ukarumpa. I’m pretty sure the sun decided to pull the covers over his head that morning, because our 7 am departure was delayed by several hours as we waited for the fog to reveal the mountain tops and the drizzle to dissipate. I chatted with my friends in two languages and wondered what was ahead.

Hanging out at our airstrip :)

Then, I sat in the Port Moresby International Airport which is strange mix of Papua New Guinea and the Western world, with a relaxed, slow, handwritten atmosphere, mixed languages, and the largest number of expatriates that I have ever seen all gathered at the single gate.
Port Moresby even had a mini restaurant at the gate!

This was the airport where I received my first introduction to “How to Start a Conversation with a Western Stranger 101.” Apparently, the very Papua New Guinean method, which includes a starting glance at the person and then staring out the window during the bulk of the talking, with only one or two glances back at the recipient (without strong eye contact, of course), results in the other person thinking I’m talking on the phone (which, of course, confused me to no end, because how could he think I was talking on the phone when I obviously wasn’t holding one? Later, I discovered the invention of the earpiece.)

This was also the airport where a fellow passenger thought I must be a nun (due to my work) and my seatmate was eager to share with this disconnected (and trapped...) missionary all the intricacies of American politics in the last two years. Oh boy.

Brisbane was an interesting airport simply because I not only got to spend lots of time in customs (and started listening to my voice automatically change into my Aussie accent until no one knew where I was from), but it was also where I ate lunch...a bacon sandwich. Mmm.

Actually, this picture looks a whole lot less appetizing than it did at the time. Well, hunger does wonders, I guess.

I had a 24-hour layover in Sydney (I’ll blog more about that later), which made for more fun adventures including whale-watching and forgetting how to use a crosswalk, but I think my greatest surprise in the airport was watching the fashions of the world parade past me. Let’s just say that PNG’s skirt and loose-fitting meri blouse (so loose that I could be 9-months pregnant and it would still fit) are a wee bit different from what my Western peers might wear.

He looks as lost as I was at one point...

My flight from Sydney to Honolulu was 10 hours—the longest leg for this trip, and I was more than enthused to depart that plane (though the flight crew did feed me yogurt and chicken and an apple and all sorts of delicacies, to the amusement of my seatmate). Honolulu was a pretty airport and perfect for the linguist once I discovered that every loudspeaker announcement was given in both English and Hawaiian.

Pretty Honolulu in the distance!

San Diego was the only time when I had to move from one gate to another, and thus I didn’t have to collect my luggage and wait in long lines (which also meant that I didn’t get to see much of the airport). It is a lovely city at night, though.

All right, so it's not that attractive. But, flying over the city at night was pretty!

In Orlando, travel between the main terminal to the gates requires boarding a train. It was so cool. I really liked that train. Orlando was also the first city where I felt decently warm—even Hawaii felt more like PNG dry season in the Highlands (our version of winter).

Looky! I'm going back to Minnesota!!

The Minneapolis-St. Paul airport is like a small city. If you didn’t see all these harried looking businessmen hauling their little wheel-y bags and touching their bluetooth ear devices like secret agents and children trotting behind parents with their Disney Princess backpacks, you would think you were in a mall. A mall with moving sidewalks, that is. Which, is also pretty awesome because it makes you feel like you’ve got some kind of superpower or seven-league boots that allows you to take a single step and bound past all those lowly, sluggish Earth People.

Back to Minnesota! YAY!

But the best thing about this airport was three waving, smiling people waiting at the bottom of the escalator before the baggage claim. ;)

Two weeks of traveling over 11,600 miles through 3 countries and, 8 airports. Welcome back, Catherine!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Seeing Green

A kina shell used for money in the past;
image courtesy of the British Museum
I stared at the paper in my hand in disbelief.

“It’’s...” I searched for the best word. “It’s so green!” 

The other people waiting by the cash windows in our Ukarumpa finance office chuckled at my amazement. I slowly fingered the first US money that I’d seen in two years. The texture, the images...and all so green! How would I be able to tell the different bills apart?

In Papua New Guinea, the currency is called kina (PGK). It’s named after the shell money that was used before Westerners introduced bills and coins. In fact, the K1 coin still has a hole in the middle (very convenient for identification by feel, I might add), to represent how the shells were hung on long strings; the longer the string, the higher the value. There are 100 toea to a kina, just like dollars and cents. Currently, the kina to US dollar rate is approximately 2:1, so K10=$5 US.

PNG money is quite beautiful, in my opinion. Not only is there a rainbow of colours, but each bill is engraved with cultural symbols that carry significance in this country. Finally, I find the sizing quite logical: the bigger the coin or bill, the higher the value with none of this weird dime business. :)

The coins are, from the bottom, 5, 10, 20, 50 toea and 1 kina; there is a K100 bill as well, but I don't have one :)

Of course, since the finance office incident a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been slowly becoming reaccustomed to US money and credit cards, but I’m afraid I still look in purse and the first word that comes to mind!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Where are the cows?

A couple weeks ago, I heard the dogs barking outside my house. When I went out to investigate, to my surprise I saw a whole crowd of people...and in the middle was a friend from the States! Katie was leading a GetGlobal team, and they had just arrived in Papua New Guinea (PNG) to learn more about Bible translation. It was a delight to be able to catch up with Katie and have dinner with the GetGlobal team, where I could answer their questions and hear their stories. It reminded me of my own experience with GetGlobal when I was in college!

GetGlobal is an opportunity for high school and college students to get a taste of Bible translation and the many opportunities where they could eventually become involved. These short-term mission trips can go all over the world, and often include a wide spectrum of activities, including village stays and ministry opportunities. Between my first and second years of college, I joined a GetGlobal team for a three week trip to Oaxaca, Mexico. It was an amazing experience and a great opportunity for me to confirm the call God had placed on my life to move into my current role as a Bible translator.
Of course, if you have read this blog for any length of time, you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I emerged from that trip with a plethora of stories...from my experience learning to make tortillas (which made me worth two cows and therefore eligible for marriage) to my adventure in fainting. But, the one that sticks out the most was when I lost the cows. Enjoy!

Agriculture and animals are an integral part of life of a Oaxacan village, so when Andrea, the daughter of my host family,  asked if my teammate Lauren and I wanted to help her grandmother Francisca take the family’s goats, burros and cows to the campo, or fields, we quickly agreed.  What Andrea neglected to mention was the shepherdess aspect of this job, and I began to be unsure of what I had gotten myself into when I saw her and her cousin packing far more provisions than needed for a ten-minute walk.  Undaunted, however, I gathered my skirt around my legs and began to help drive the twenty goats (chiv), two burros and two cows (ngo’on) through the mud.

Thus began a six-hour trek through the mountains of Mexico in what ended up being a constant pouring rain. We scrambled over rocks, pushed through thickets, forded rain-swollen rivers, chased after straying chiv and hollered “cha’a!” when the burros dove for grass.  All went well, until about three hours into our trek when I first heard, “Pa njo ngo’on?”  We had lost our cows.  In the mountains of Oaxaca, the valleys descend sharply, slicing like a knife through the landscape, and are filled with thick vegetation, perfect for hungry ngo’on.  While we attempted to keep the goats and burros gathered on high ground, the seventy-year old grandmother immediately charged into the underbrush, searching for her wayward cows. 

As I stood there on that mountain, water dripping off my hat and down my back, watching clouds rolling across the sky, I found myself thinking of the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18.  The shepherd immediately leaves his ninety-nine sheep in search of the one which was lost, rejoicing all the more when it was found.  Thos verses never meant so much to me as they did an hour and a half later when I saw the grandmother drive those cows over the hill – I don’t think I have been happier to see a cow in my life! 

That image of the tiny bent woman, with her tarp over her shoulders and her wide-brimmed hat searching for those cows without hesitation through the pouring rain, is a vivid illustration for me of the Father’s care, both in my own life and how He has searched after these villages hidden among the mountains of Oaxaca.

Interested in going on a GetGlobal trip? Check out the Wycliffe website for more details. There are also longer, 6-8 week trips for older college students, called Discovery trips, which allow for an even more in depth experience of the many many facets of translation. We’d love to have you join us!