Utilities Manager for Lapilo, Papua New Guinea
Tell about the country of Papua New Guinea and why you are there.
New Guinea is the world’s second largest island after Greenland, located just north of Australia and separated by the Coral Sea. Papua, an independent state, is the eastern half of the landmass. While there are steep mountains in the center of the island rising up to 15,000 feet, there are also lowlands and beaches on the shoreline. Unfortunately, the mountains have isolated the people from each other and the rest of the world and there is very little infrastructure in New Guinea. In Papua around 850 languages are spoken,;however, the official ones are English and Tok Pisin.
The people live in very primitive tribal societies that can number from 1,000 to 30,000. There are very few roads, no cars or bikes, just small vans. Out of eight million people, 115,000 are electricity customers. The vast majority live in grass huts and believe in spirits, both good and evil. Some people here in the U.S. imagine that they live a peaceful life in a tropical paradise unencumbered by western culture and pressures. The reality is they live in abject fear of the spirit world. They believe that if they can appease the spirits they can live forever and, of course, they are never successful in that effort. Sanguma or black magic, sorcery and witchcraft are all part of their world. The local witch doctor is their interface to the spirit world.
Women are treated as property and often blamed for unexpected deaths as witches and subsequently killed. The infant mortality rate is sometimes as high as 90 percent often due to unsanitary methods such as using a rusty machete to cut the umbilical cord or failing to wash their hands.
Missionaries go from tribe-to-tribe giving basic medical care, teaching reading, writing and Christian values. They live with a given tribe for many years learning the language and culture of the tribe. It often takes from 3-12 years to learn a tribal language. After they learn the language, they develop a written alphabet and teach the people how to read and write their own language. This helps preserve their culture as technology such as cell phones slowly creeps in and begins to eliminate it. Often the missionaries are the only medical care that the tribal people get. They also do basic sutures, give malaria medication, set bones and apply splints.
Tribes that do not have missionaries ask for them to come and live in their villages. The work is slow and difficult. Their goal is to eventually translate the Bible into the different tribal languages and let the people decide whether or not they are interested in it.
After retiring from Alstom Engineering/ General Electric, and due to inspiration from my Evangelical Free Church, I had a strong desire to help people live healthy, educated lives and understand Christian teachings. Thus, my involvement in Papua became a reality. I soon found that my engineering troubleshooting skills were still applicable to even the small power generators they had there.
My role in all of this is to keep the support base running with power and water so the others can support the missionaries in the bush. This support center is Lapilo, 13km south of Goroka in the highlands region. At this center we have a medical clinic, school, (Numonohi Christian Academy grades k-12), a tribal supply store, administrative offices, technology support, maintenance facility, and housing for pilots and aviation workers. I have been told that this is the only location in PNG where someone from the U.S. can drink water directly from the tap. The water system I maintain there also provides clean drinking water to several tribal villages around the center.
Granby is the town where I raised my family and I have lived here for about 36 years. These days I still maintain a residence in Granby and return home about every six months, (stay about six weeks), to visit my children and grandchildren.
Can you describe an event that occurred in one of the tribes?
At one point in time, several missionaries moved in with a tribe that was new to them. They began to notice that whenever the people of the tribe left for several days to hunt wild boar or harvest food from another area, there was always one family that remained behind. It took a long time for the missionaries to realize that tribe members felt that the missionaries were just plain dumb because they lacked basic survival skill knowledge. They didn’t seem to know what plants were safe to eat, what leaves were poisonous, how to build a fire with items from nature, how to cut down a tree and drop it properly, etc. The family left behind was there to “babysit” the missionaries.
The tribal people are actually very sharp in terms of jungle knowledge and survival skills.
What do you miss about Granby when you are away?
Of course, I miss the creature comforts. I can tell you though that I don’t miss the ice and snow. Papua has perpetual spring weather, low 80’s in the daytime and 60’s at night.
It is the people of Granby that I miss most when I am far away.