The first challenge is actually getting to the small town of Wewak on the Northern coast of Papua New Guinea. There are no roads linking Wewak to the distant Capital of Port Moresby. Not even to it’s closest neighbouring towns of Madang, Lae or Vanimo. If the airstrip is out of action, then the only way to get there is by boat. Or foot. Often flights are cancelled or rescheduled, so actually arriving in Wewak on schedule is a major feat indeed.
We took an overnight flight from Perth to Brisbane, then on to Port Moresby, paying the massively high excess baggage bill (the rules keep changing and in exasperation I zipped my lips and just paid the account!). While waiting anxiously to be united with Karen who was travelling up from Melbourne, we got a message to say she was stuck in Brisbane. Her plane had stood stranded on the tarmac while her connection took off for PNG! A team member down. Sigh… onwards to Madang, then Wewak. Each leg of the journey becoming more aware of the distance, lack of infrastructure, humidity.
It was wonderful to be greeted by our on the ground volunteers, Jim and Robyn Nottingham. Seeing a friendly, familiar face after such a long trip was a true blessing. Linda Tano, a PNG midwife had flown down from Goroka to meet up with us and join our outreach. It was wonderful to finally meet her after many conversations. We quickly took our bags to our neat and clean accommodation in the middle of the town of Wewak and then set off for a swim and dinner at Talio’s bar, right on the beach. It was refreshing to plunge into the water and just float for a while, taking in the surrounds and what we had achieved: arriving safely and on time! We slept soundly that night.
Sunday is quiet in Wewak. We rested, did a bit of shopping at the local store, sorted through all our gear, then excitedly collected Karen from the airport. She had made it. It felt good to have the full team together now. All so different, but all committed to helping the women and babies in this remote part of PNG.
Finally the morning arrived when we’d be travelling by road to the riverside town of Angoram. Everyone was excited, but also a little apprehensive as we contemplated being that much further from the safety of the ‘bigger’ town of Wewak with all its luxuries such as power, running water, shopping centres, chemist… It was a bit of a messy morning because vehicle arrangements had changed a few times, messages about fuel and boats for the next journey out to the village had been coming in thick and fast, expectations were high. Personally, I felt a little overwhelmed. The weight of responsibility leading a team was playing on my mind. I closed my eyes and tried to take some deep breaths, praying quietly under my breath for peace.
At 8.30 am the first vehicle was on its way loaded with 8 Living Child team members. We waved the others goodbye and were off. We were in the Samaritan Aviation 10 seater ambulance vehicle being driven by one of their pilots. Their float planes were not flying at the time and so they offered to drive us out to Angoram.
The climb out of Wewak is quite beautiful. About 30 minutes into the journey, our driver called out to us that if we wanted to have a last look at Wewak, now was the time to do it. At that same time my phone beeped and I looked down to see a message came through from Jim to say that the fuel for the boat journey had been arranged. I sighed with relief and thought, “God is good”. I had hardly finished the sentence when there was an almighty bang, screams, shattering glass and the scraping of metal reverberated around me. All I could see was a big truck sliding along the length of our vehicle. I thought I was going to see the end of our vehicle ripped open and mangled bodies laying everywhere.
After the noise of the impacting vehicles died down, the screams rose high. I looked back and saw that everyone was there. No blood. No mangled bodies. No twisted metal. “Are you all ok?” I shouted above the cries. “Yes”. “No one injured?”, I checked again. “No. All ok”. Thank God.
Our driver slowly edged the vehicle forward and reversed into a driveway next to the bend in the road. We all peered out of the windows and could see that the PMV had come to a stop, there was no obvious damage to it and no injured people. But then we saw an alarming sight. The driver of the PMV, together with a few other men, were running towards our vehicle, shouting and with arms raised holding metal bars, rocks and wooden planks ready to attack our driver. The evil hung in the air. It was thick and heavy. Start praying I called.