I finally got myself out and about and spent a night in a far off Kovol village. Far off, in this case, is about 6km away, but that’s a 3-hour hike in these mountains.
I didn’t feel like doing it but it was time – it’s easy and comfortable to stick to learning from the guys that hike over to see us, but our language learning program is built around experiencing and living the culture.
We (I and 3 Kovol guides) left at 8am in the morning and arrived at our destination at 5pm. The mathematically gifted among you will realise that that’s way more than 3 hours later.
Well along the way we stopped to eat 6 meals! Kovol hospitality at it’s finest, felt like a grub crawl!
On Sunday one of the guys had come to visit and I mentioned that I was thinking of hiking over next week. “Everyone is busy planting yams, but I’ll let them know you’re coming – they’ll want to see you!” The result was everyone left their gardens and the entire village (and every hamlet along the way) were there waiting to see me.
I took the opportunity to sell bars of soap. On our last supply flight, we brought in 288 bars of soap. We buy them at 79 toya and we sell them at 50 toya. Add the transport costs and we end up paying about 8p per missionary couple for every bar of soap we sell.
It was our idea for a low key community project that we could start on immediately to help out in the Coronavirus crisis. We had no idea how it would go – our bright ideas might have gone down like a lead balloon, but it took less than a week to sell out of soap!
We’re happy to ‘shorten the road’ for these guys to get them access to soap. It’s our first ongoing community project and we’re going to not do anything else for a good number of months so we can measure how effective it is, what issues come up and generally observe the medium-term impact to the community and our relationship with them.
We’ve only just started and we’re already concerned we’ve embarked on an unsustainable venture… what happens when there are no missionaries to subsidize and transport the soap anymore? Should we raise the price so we make a profit so that later on it could potentially be managed by someone else?
Maybe we overthink things, soap is good – let’s leave it at that for now!
The village I went to speaks the Kovol dialect that we’re not focusing on yet, so that was a challenge! I’m being corrected constantly of course, but sometimes I say something right, but it’s the wrong dialect and I still get corrected 🙂 I filled pages of my notebook over the 2 days and now all of it needs checking against the dialect we live in. What a huge job this is going to be!
In the evening we settled down for (another) meal, but before we ate it they insisted that I get my voice recorder out to record a story. It was first spoke in Kovol (and it lasted 5 minutes) and then translated into Tok Pisin (which lasted 2 minutes). The story was the story of the light coming.
The light started in Australia, then Captain cook brought it to New Guinea. 3 minutes of the story is geography which sounds a little something like this: “some guys went to Lae, they slept in Lae. After sleeping in Lae they went to BilBil. After sleeping in Bilbil they got up and went to Bunabun and slept. After sleeping in Bunabun…”
It’s a real reminder of how concrete people are here!
The light came to Musupum (our neighours) and now it’s come here.
On top of this you, Steve, Rhett and Philip have come. You’ve come to save us and our worries and tears have finished.
The Kovol recording is filed for analysis later, but the translation in Tok Pisin seems to be the story of the Lutheran church spreading in the area. It’s not the first time I’ve heard this story (from this village again), and it really seems to be shaping up to be a key cultural story. Part of our culture study will be to identify and analyze these key stories and their effects on the Kovol worldview.
The next morning as I was preparing to leave a lady was talking to me in Kovol and a guy was translating for her. I suspected it was another reiteration of last nights story, and sure enough it was. What caught my attention this time was that the guy translating was emotionally effected by the story.
Tears ran down his cheeks and his voice broke as he said “we’re sinners, we’re in the darkness, but now you’ve come to bring the light”.
It’s incredible to be able to work on learning the Kovol culture and language so eventually we’ll be able to share the gospel with them – the first time ever in the Kovol language. Along the way we’re going to need to dig deep into this story and pick up the unspoken things that shape it. What do they think the light is? What are they expecting to happen when it comes? Do they think that if they become moral and upstanding and not sinners material wealth is an inevitable consequence? As a group and then individual to individual do they think the light is and what do they hope it will do?
In other news we can reveal that our coworkers the Stous family are back in the States. They were due for a Home Assignment next month, but with the uncertainty around international travel they decided to bump it forward a month and surprise their family 🙂 We’re expecting them back in a year or so.
In the meantime, we need to keep an eye on their house and we spotted a problem. Now they’re not using their water tank it’s constantly overflowing; and that overflow is steadily cutting away at the mountainside the tank is resting on. We had to engineer a way to take the overflow elsewhere. With spare parts and some Kovol guys, we came up with what I’ll call a bush aqueduct. Piece of PVC shoved in a hole and supported by sticks just doesn’t sound fancy enough for me!