We had just arrived home from church when Dad’s cell phone rang. An invitation to join two other missionary families in an excursion to the river had arrived.
“The Wakefield’s and the Venter’s are going to the river and want to know if we’d like to come,” Dad announced.
Scarcely had the words been spoken than squeals of joy (largely erupting from me, I must admit) filled the room. A definite yes.
So with that decided, we prepared for our afternoon’s adventure. A hasty lunch was eaten; water, sunscreen, and towels were packed; and we jostled everyone out of the door. Anyone with a large family will appreciate how difficult even this small feat is.
Lucky for us, our friend Joel Smith had joined us for the day, and we all packed into the 4-wheel drive truck he had driven over.
“I’m in the back!’ I shouted, hoisting a refill jug of drinking water into the truck bed.
What’s better than the wind thrusting hair in your face, blazing sun, and everyone calling out to you? I’m not sure, but for some reason you just can’t beat the back of a truck for fun.
We joined up with the other family, likewise equipped with 4-wheel drive vehicles, and followed them to our destination. A cool pool of water awaited us. Several of the local children were already there, enjoying the warm Sunday afternoon.
Grace and I waded quickly in, laughing and shivering at the cold. Soon enough, everyone was in the river, though sadly, a large tree branch blocked the deepest part.
One of the young national girls was sitting on it, watching us rowdy white folks. I decided to introduce myself.
“Avinun,” I said, extending my hand. “Nem bilong mi Jenifa. Wanem nem bilong yu?” (Afternoon, my name’s Jennifer. What’s your name?)
“Miriam,”she shyly replied.
I told her we were from town and had come out to “wash,” as they call swimming, on this fine afternoon. Or at least the Tok Pisin equivalent. Her older sister Lucy soon came over to join in. She pointed out a deeper place up the river, free from any branches, where we could dive in, and offered to show it to us. So up we went.
Lucy was right: it was an excellent swimming hole. Right by a large rock on the bank was point that was about six feet deep. I watched as the two girls led by example, diving in like the little fish they were. Grace, with no qualms, quickly followed suit. I certainly couldn’t be outdone, so in I went!
Sarah, however, was a little less adventurous, not wanting to get too deep because of the current.
“Kam,” Lucy said, swimming up along side her, “bai mi helpim yu.” She stayed protectively alongside Sarah as they crossed the small channel, then she and Miriam assisted her up onto the ledge of rock. I smiled as I saw how they made a point of looking out after her.
After some more time of cannonballs, laughing, splashing, and general merriment, another wave of kids came down the river. We were taking a break, sitting in the warm sun, when they arrived. We started conversation with a few, asking them some questions about themselves. But before we knew it, every one of the children were gathered round, ears perked to hear what profound utterance we would make next. A little caught of guard, I couldn’t think of a story to share, so we ended up back in the river, and a small game of tag started.
Everyone tired again, so we went down the river to join the rest of the group and sun ourselves on the rocks.
Upon a couple of the boys whistling out bird calls, Joel tried to imitate. This quickly led to a hilarious scene with us trying desperately to create something more than loud blowing noises, while a whole cacophony of bird noises surrounded us. Lucy carefully showed me how to place my hands, but despite her best efforts, I was only able to make a whistle once, and then it immediately eluded me again. To this day I have yet to get the knack of it, and yes, I admit I’ve tried more than once.
Leaving the river, we walked up to the road, and one of the girls ran to scrounge up a vine long enough for a jumping rope. She returned successful, and immediately a round of jumping rope began. My nonexistent skills were quickly put to shame. You could pick out the local champions, as there were a few girls who remained in after elimination after every round. While Grace and I did little to hold up the name of white folk, Joel appeared right at home, joining in with the best of them.
However, the hot sun caught up with us, and so yet again made our way to the swimming hole. Grace treated everyone to being thrown from her shoulders, which set them all laughing, yelling, and calling out for more. Too soon, we had to leave. Happy, boisterous hugs and good byes were exchanged all around, and we were waved off.
Exultant and exhausted, we rode back into town. I can confidently say it was one of the best days of my life!