By Jill Riepe
Living in America, you would think travel is simple. You want to get from Point A to Point B, alright, you get in the car and travel the right roads to arrive at your destination or if it’s really far, you take a plane. You make your plans and go. Generally, things go according to plan.
In PNG, travel is never simple. If your destination happens to be a bush allocation, the complexities are just multiplied. For example, my allocation among the Ap Ma people is in Painyton, but there are no roads that lead to Painyton. Driving is not an option. There is an airstrip in Samban not too far from Painyton, but the airstrip is grass which means it must be mowed on a regular basis. Fortunately, there is a tractor to mow the airstrip. Unfortunately, if the tractor is broken or runs out of fuel, it becomes really difficult to mow the airstrip. If the airstrip is not mowed, then the pilots cannot safely land the plane and effectively the airstrip is closed.
There is another option to get to Painyton. From Wewak, you can take a PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) over a mountainous road. During the dry season if the repairmen have had time to fix the road, it’s not too bad of a ride, but if it’s the wet season, you are in for a wild and prayerful ride. Of course you don’t quite make it to Painyton by road. You will arrive in Angoram at the Sepik River. Then you can take a motor canoe up a tributary of the Sepik River and find Painyton. If the river is high enough, you can make it all the way to Painyton. If it’s not, then you may be in for a hike. Generally, this route takes a full day.
Last July, we started having troubles with the tractor. We were able to get most of the airstrip mowed before the plane came, but as I was flying to Wewak, I knew that the tractor was in need of serious repairs. We needed parts for the tractor and since the tractor is from America, we couldn’t find them in PNG. Jesse Pryor of OIPNG (Outreach International of PNG) also works with the Ap Ma and it is his tractor that mows the airstrip. He is currently in America so he was able to send the parts. Sending and receiving the parts took most of August and half of September, but they did arrive and I sent them to the village over the PMV and canoe route. I had hoped to travel back to Painyton in mid-September, but the airstrip wasn’t mowed and the tractor parts had just arrived.
Since I had no reason to remain in Wewak, I flew to Ukarumpa where I have a house to wait for them to fix the tractor and mow the airstrip. I let the workmen know that I would be flying to Samban in about 2 weeks. While in Ukarumpa, I tried to contact the guys working on the tractor to find out if the airstrip would be mowed in time. No one returned my messages. A plane flying the same direction a week before I was supposed to go checked the airstrip and confirmed that no work had been done on it. I couldn’t afford to fly out and not be able to land so I worked with the SIL Aviation department to find another way. They had a helicopter flying out that direction the same week I wanted to go so they suggested I go on the helicopter. Flying by helicopter is very expensive, but you do get to land closer to home since you don’t need as much space as a plane. As we flew in, we noticed that the airstrip had been mowed. I found out later that they had mowed the airstrip during the previous night. The tractor is still not 100%, but it’s keeping the airstrip mowed at this point so I should be able to fly out when the time comes.
Jill is a Bible translator serving the Ap Ma language group.