The roar of the engine made it hard to talk, but the beauty of the blue sky, clouds, mountains and trees and the dots of brown houses below made you forget there were others in the plane with you. As the plane went through one cloud, we came between two mountains and then saw a strip of green in the distance. I wasn’t sure what it was initially, but soon realized that was our destination. The pilot circled the airstrip in an attempt to get us down closer and closer to it. The closer we got, the dots of brown became bigger and bigger and the houses more clear and distinct, with specks of people moving around outside of them. A meandering river was seen on one side of the airstrip, and the tin roofs of the health care became evident as we circled around the airstrip. Stones painted white spelled out Sangapi, which could be easily read from the sky as we came down.
Soon we were bouncing along the airstrip, and when the plane came to rest, the fence surrounding the airstrip was lined with people who call Sangapi their home. Everyone was curious to see who would get off the plane, there were lots of kids with varying amounts of clothes on, moms with their small kids on their shoulders pointing to us as we got off the plane, and men with their bushknifes looking to see who arrived. Soon our luggage was unpacked and workers from the Health Center helped to carry our bags to the Guest House, my home for the next week.
For one week, I got to serve in one of our Rural Health Centers in a place called Sangapi, which is in Madang Province in Papua New Guinea. Sangapi is a health center that Nazarene Health Ministries runs, under the Rural Health Servcies Department. To get to Sangapi you can either take a 35 minute flight from Mt. Hagen, or you can spend 1-2 days walking, crossing a large river, going up and down various mountains to get there. We chose the easy route. Gabriel Mahisu, our Rural Health Director, his wife Emelyn, and a new surgeon Sheryl Uyeda, and a teenager Robin (from Sangapi area, but living with Gabriel and Emelyn) were my traveling companions. Sheryl got here just the day before we left and spent the week learning about PNG culture and learning Tok Pisin from Emelyn.
We arrived on Friday morning, and shortly there after I was at the clinic seeing patients who had already come. The staff had sent word out to all the villages near Sangapi (each at least 3 hours walk away), that a doctor was coming, so patients were waiting to see me. I only saw about 10 patients on Friday, and then we walked around exploring our new “home.” There isn’t a lot in Sangapi, there is the airstrip, the clinic, the staff houses, the guest house, the Nazarene church, the pastor’s house, the primary school and teacher houses, and then the local level government buildings and a little store. All of this is along the airstrip, and then the people have their houses in various directions out from the airstrip, with gardens that are fenced in so the pigs can’t get inside of them.
The people truly live off the land, surviving off of what grows in their gardens, the chickens that might be running around and their pigs. Their houses are made out of trees and blinds woven from trees, the roof from grass that grows nearby. The water comes from a clean water source by the airstrip, for those who want to walk that far, but otherwise, they get it from the rivers that we could see from the plane. They don’t have much, but don’t seem to mind. Kids run around without clothes, or only a pieces of cloth covering them tied on with a string. Their clothes are threadbare and torn, their feet are without shoes, but they all greeted me with smiles on their faces, thankful for a chance to see a doctor.
Many of the patients I saw didn’t need a doctor to see them, they had various aches and pains from their hard lives and the little bit of medicines I could supply would only last a week or two and then the pains would be back, but they were thankful I was there. For other patients, I needed to be there sooner, as their illnesses were too advanced and there was little I could do to change their symptoms. For one poor father, I needed to be in the village of Gebra, where he was from and had started out with his 2 children when he found out there was a doctor in Sangapi, only to have them die as they made the 4+ hour walk to Sangapi.
But for some patients, it was good that I was there. I got to care for a child who was burned just a few days before and debride his wound. I admitted a sick kid with pneumonia who we were able to watch in the clinic for 24 hours until he got better and went home. And most importantly I got to spend time with the staff, teaching them and training them how to better care day in and day out for the patients that they see (more in the next blog).
Since we were there, the church decided to have night services Sun-Tuesday, and made up a program which included Gabriel and I as speakers. On Sunday night, I got to share a little of my story of coming to PNG and tried to encourage them in their faith and trust of God. Despite the cold, the late start of their service, the church was full, men, women, teenagers, boys and girls, all listening to every word, which I was tankful to get to share with them.
As I write this, it is my last night here, we are packing up and I am happy to think about going back to Kudjip, but was thankful for the chance to come and serve in this place. Thankful for a chance to be reminded of what life is like for so many of our PNGian brothers and sisters, to understand a little bit better why the patients might not come in as soon as they should, or why they might not come back when we ask them to. I was reminded that for many, life is more about their health, they are just trying to survive today and need to work to do so, which might mean they can’t afford to go to the hospital, or can’t come to the doctor when asked because they have to build a new house. Their life in the bush is hard, and I can’t imagine living like they do everyday, but am thankful I can come and serve them here and thankful for smiling faces who welcomed me.