Here We Go Adventuring

This is the first in a series of posts about my recent foray into the interior of Papua.

A few months ago, I met woman named Phyliss at the airport in Jayapura. She had been a missionary in the Yali region of the interior of Papua from the 1960s through the 80s. When we met her, she told my parents and I a little bit about her story – mainly that her husband was killed by a neighboring tribe – she said, “there’s a book about it – you should read it.”

A week later I was sitting in the MCC library in Salatiga, and I just happened to see the book she had mentioned: Lords of the Earth. I took it home and I started reading it about two weeks before I left on my trip.

One day during the week that I was reading the book, I was in my office translating a report from the P3W office in the interior. The report mentioned needing materials printed in the Yali language. HOLD ON. P3W works in the Yali region? Am I going to the Yali region?

I went home that night and checked the map in the book. There was a town called Anggeruk, which sounded a lot like the name of the town I’d heard mentioned several times in preparation for the coming trip. A day or two later, I got to a point in the book where the characters go to Anggeruk, where there was a missionary named Zollner.

Anggeruk was the first stop on our trip. While we were there, I heard Zollner’s name mentioned several times. I said to my friend, Mei, “he was the first missionary who came here, right?” She said, “Yes, do you know him?” Do I know him?? He’s practically a celebrity! No, I don’t know him. I do know Phyliss though, we’re practically BFF.

Thus began my time in the interior.

It was a two-week trip to do field work – visiting remote villages and putting on community development programs. We arrived in Anggeruk on a Thursday morning, having been flown in on a 10-seater plane by a fantastically Canadian pilot. On the way, I sat up front with him and we discussed our friend Phyliss and Lords of the Earth, which we agreed was a must read. I said the events described in the book made me nervous. He said, well yeah, it should. I hoped he wasn’t referring to the fiery, fatal plane crash.

Since there is no cell phone reception and certainly no phone lines in Anggeruk, they were not expecting us. Soon after arriving, my two teammates met with some community leaders and it was agreed that we would start our program the following day. The program lasted for three days, and all the women in the area were invited to come and participate in a series of workshops/sessions including but not limited to: gender relations and domestic violence, nutrition, sewing, government development programs and health.

From there we moved on to Nisikni, Wamena and then Polimo and back to Wamena to fly back to Jayapura – where I live. There’s too much to write about all at once, but I’ll be sure to write more soon about different aspects of the trip. To offer a brief summary: it was great. The experience of traveling in the interior was intense in a lot of ways and stretched and challenged me a lot – as an introvert with little opportunity to find some space for my Annie time, in relying on teammates to help me to both understand and to be understood by the people I was interacting with, and in learning about how to work with cultural ways of doing things to best present information and reach out to people.

It was amazing how much I was able to experience and pack into such a short amount of time. It was a blessing to be able to reflect and apply what I was seeing to what I’ve experienced in the past year, and in some ways, even in the past several years. And as with so many of my important life experiences – my time in Indonesia, in Argentina, at Chapman, with my family – I know the true meaning and importance of this trip will continue to reveal itself for a long time in the future as well.

Looking down at Anggeruk from the plane.

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