By Jonathan Ward
We left the hillside of Tsendiap around 1:30 in the afternoon, down clay steps carved out of the hillside and into Papua New Guinea’s Sepik rain forest. All afternoon we hiked up, climbed down, and forded streams.
Going through the rain forest with one-hundred percent humidity, malaria-carrying mosquitoes, and shoe-stealing bogs, this trail is not for the faint of heart. We continued hiking and came upon a village when the sun started setting, our guides explained that this was where we would sleep. The village had built a house for the people of Tumbugi, for when they hiked to Tsendiap. The next morning came with fresh mountain air, a treat after living in town.
After a quick breakfast of roasted sweet potato, we left for our final destination. Due to a heavy rain shower the night before, the trail was very muddy, and after just a couple minutes of hiking my pant legs were covered in mud and my boots were five pounds heavier. We crossed many more streams today and even a wide river. We came upon the river sometime in the afternoon. It was way too big to ford, but our guides brought over two one-man rafts that were frequently used in crossing. After an hour and many trips, the last raft came across, and we reached Tumbugi after just forty-minutes of hiking.
The village welcomed us with singing and dancing much like in Tsendiap. Then they led us to the village meeting place where the village chief or elder gave us a welcoming speech and refreshing coconut water straight out of a coconut. And after our special welcome we were shown our house, a true PNG house not influenced by modern technology. It is a square house on stilts with woven bamboo walls and floor. The roof is made from thatch, that needs to be replaced every six months. And believe it or not this house is all held together with rope.
In the remote areas no jobs or stores are available, so you will rarely find store bought food, and locals eat only what they can grow and hunt. During my stay I was served lots of greens, fruit like papaya, pineapple, and bananas, fish from the river were crossed, eggs, rice they grew themselves, taro, kaukau, pig, and other foods. They also eat birds, snakes, and eels when they can get them.
The purpose of our trip was to evaluate an airstrip that was being built by the village. I went with an organization named Rural Airstrip Agency or RAA, created by MAF to build rural airstrips and maintain the Those already built. RAA had come once or twice before to supply tools and measurements for the airstrip. We went to check the progress, and they had cleared, leveled, and compacted over seven hundred yards by hand in six months! And right now, they are sowing grass to finish the airstrip.
This airstrip will mean a lot to Tumbugi and to all the surrounding villages. It will bring medical help for routine check-ups and emergency medical flights. It will also provide easier transportation and all kinds of supplies too difficult to carry through the jungle paths.
When my stay came to an end the whole village lined up to say goodbye and to shake my hand. One of the village elders gave each of our team a gift and told us that we were welcome anytime. During my stay I saw how people can be happy with the simple things in life, and that relationships are what really matter. I got to see firsthand what it is like for a people only now being touched by the modern world.