Thursday, January 7, 2016

Sunglasses on Mars

Huge sheets were put up to watch the Jisas Film
I had always been a bit proud of my ability. When other people were popping Dramamine and ginger and staring out the window with that horrified look of please, when will it be over, I could read a book. Big planes, little planes, ships, dinghies, roller coasters, spinning rides at the county fair, stick-shift on mountain roads...and so far everything that Papua New Guinea could throw at me in the last four and a half years was not a problem. It was like a badge of my super-woman-toughness.

Motion sickness? Puh-leese. Although I might be riddled with strange health problems and fatigue, at least I don’t get motion sick.

You know where this is going.
Lots of people attended each class

It was December 23 and I, along with seven other people, had crammed into a truck to trek over the mountains to head to the Kamano-Kafe Tok Ples Krismas Kemp
(“Local Language Christmas Camp”). Christmas Camp is a big deal for the Kamano-Kafe community, and over 20,000 people had showed up, streaming in from all over the country to pitch their tents on the side of the mountain for a week of preaching and worship, as well as practical classes (everything from how to fix a car engine to planting brown onions to Biblical financial management to herbal medicine to parenting skills to marriage counseling). I was just attending for the day, a visit to encourage the community and the Kamano-Kafe translation team, who were busy selling Audibibles (recordings of the New Testament), translated New Testaments, translated hymnbooks, and SD cards with extras like the translated Jisas Film. (Since it was visitor’s day, they even had me give a spontaneous speech in two languages (neither of which are mine) in front of all 20,000 pairs of eyes, which was intimidating enough to make my hands start shaking.)

The camp attendees built temporary houses for themselves

But first, we had to get there.

We reached the first town in less than 12 minutes (it should have taken us 20), before the driver smiled jubiliantly, downshifted, and we careened onto a remote mountain track at 60 kilometers an hour. Saloming back and forth like an Olympic skier, the truck skidded and flew over tyre-swallowing potholes in the gravel road with more airtime than a dune buggy. The wasted roads themselves, of course, zig-zagged up and down volcanic mountains (once I think we actually went straight for a full 40 meters!), and the driver, in his enthusaism to not waste a moment (while still avoiding the pigs, the chickens, the dogs, the children, the grandfathers, and the other vehicles...), alternated between brakes and accelerater every 10 meters, shifting with the grace of one of those ancient wooden roller coasters that missed the safety inspection. Meanwhile, I and my seven other travelling companions ping-ponged off each other, as we attempted to balance, sitting sideways in the truck. For an hour and a half.

Suddenly, Dramamine didn’t sound so bad, and I fixated on the horizon, trying to breathe evenly.  Surely there was one thing on this earth that wasn’t moving.

“DON’T YOU WANT TO TAKE PICTURES?” shouted our guide over the rattling and banging that was probably something critical falling off the truck, “I LIVE AT THE TOP OF THAT MOUNTAIN OVER THERE!” His finger bounced up and down as he jabbed at the mountain range behind my shoulder. The girl sitting beside me tumbled into my back as I grabbed the edge of the seat. Taking photos would mean letting go (and the “shake” setting would be about as useful as sunglasses on Mars). “UH, MAYBE LATER!” I hollered back. Mi laik traut, I grimaced to myself. I feel like throwing up.

An eternity later, we landed at the camp, and we pulled our bruised, battered, and queasy bodies out of the truck, grateful for solid ground. Hallelujah! We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves at the camp, and the day passed quickly.

Too quickly. Our guide bounced up to us cheerfully, “You ready? It’s time for the drive back!”