Our 11th passenger was a very special one--Tiger, missionary cat to the Hewa. She deserves a blog all of her own, so I will save that for another time.
We arrived at Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) just before 7A, unloaded and weighed in with all of our stuff. The weather delayed our departure, but it wasn't long before we were piling into the twin otter plane. The pilots had to rearrange us a bit to make sure the aircraft was properly balanced--one passenger move forward three seats, and another move across the aisle. We were briefed on safety and emergency procedures, including where to find supplies that would help us survive in case of a crash. [Gulp.] A few minutes later we taxied onto the runway and lifted off. The plane climbed into the sky. The pilots put on oxygen masks when we reached our cruising altitude. That was a bit disconcerting. But I figured if anyone needed to well oxygenated, it was the pilots and not we passengers.
Our flight path took us west to Enga Province. The mountains are so incredibly beautiful. I only wish that a camera could show you how much so. I guess you will just have to visit someday and see for yourself. As we neared our destination, the plane began to circle into a valley and the Hewa airstrip became visible--a bright green stripe of grass cutting through the dense rain forest. There were a few houses scattered along the strip, and people began running when they heard our approach. The pilots did an amazing job bringing us down oh so smoothly, despite the poor condition of the runway. The plane slowed to a stop. We unloaded ourselves and all of the cargo onto the airstrip.
A helicopter was going to be along shortly, and would transport us across two more mountains and another deep valley. The 10 minute ride would take at least two days if we had to hike the same distance. The MAF crew had a schedule to keep, so they could not wait for long. Allan assured them that we would be OK and they took off for their next run.
It turns out that this particular village, called Fiyawana, was the Kopfs first Hewa residence. They lived there from about 2000 until 2006. We later learned that they had to leave Fiyawana because of escalating violence and tribal warfare. Soooo glad that I didn't know that before we were stranded there. Yep... stranded. The rain continued throughout the afternoon and the clouds never cleared. The helicopter was unable to fly in that day. We moved all of our things to the Kopfs old house and camped out in the cellar-like basement for a few hours since the main part of the house was locked.
When it became apparent that we would be spending the night, we decided that the basement just wouldn't do for a place to sleep. Matthew and Yoke, one of the locals who had taken upon himself to watch after the house, pulled off the door frame and broke in to the house. We hauled everything upstairs and were pleasantly surprised to find that the place was still in relatively decent condition. Thankfully Allan had packed a water filter, so we were able to refill our bottles. We pooled together our various travel snacks for a rather dinner--Pringles and beef jerky and mandarin oranges and cranberries and nuts. Someone found a 6 year old can of Coke in the cupboard that was still fizzy. There were two couches with cushions that became our mattresses for the night. The SP guys had brought a tarp that we spread out on the floor and a couple of blankets that we shared among us. The toilet even flushed! Not bad for being stranded in a hostile village in the bush. What an adventure.
Don't worry, Mom and Dad. We were completely safe. After all, we were in the Lord's hand! We believe that even our delay was part of His plan for the trip. Matthew connected well with the people in Fiyawana. We were able to build on that over the following week, as quite a few of them (including Yoke and his wife) traveled with us to the training. Matthew has such a burden for these people. He hopes to return there someday to train them in community based health care.
More adventures coming soon...
"Save us and help us with your right hand,
that those you love [the Hewa] may be delivered."
~ Psalm 60:5