is truly worthwhile ever comes easy. This is a very worthwhile project so, sure
enough, we’ve had more than our fair share of challenges getting here. I first
heard of the Kapuna hospital rebuild after a time of prayer and fasting. My
beloved was struggling on many fronts, and I was struggling by extension. I
know the Lord is Good and his timing is perfect, and yet I called out to him
“how long Lord?”. When I saw the video calling for workers my heart was stirred
and I cried- “could this be the next thing for us?” I was afraid to give voice
to my hopes, they were too precious and I was frightened of misunderstanding.
What I found
was so surprising as to be miraculous. Mister Cautions, aka Mr
Worst-Case-Scenario was positive, more than positive, enthusiastic. You could
have bowled me over with a feather. And so we began making plans. The signs
seemed to be there, my clinic was closing after key people had left meaning my
work situation was in a state of flux anyway. A dear friend of Matt’s needed a
place to stay for a few months and was eager to rent our house. So we applied
to take our children and go and live in the tropical swamp.
excited about the possibility of having Matt on board. His wealth of experience
in industrial supplies, his technical ability and his ability to solve problems
made him just what was needed for this project. But me, well they already had
nurses, local nurses with the language, culture and experience. Perhaps I could
teach nursing? The training school would see when they met me. Registering me
with the PNG Nursing Council would be costly. It is not the PNG way to make
hasty decisions and despite having been here before, I was an unknown quantity.
Again, I sought the Lord “what on earth does this all mean?!, please help me
understand!” It was agreed that I would
be registered, not for ward work, but for wider nursing administration work.
Two days later we were handed a stack of $50 notes – exactly the right amount
of money to cover our registration costs. My discouragement turned to joyful
trust once again.
delays to our departure, and then more delays. The project funders needed some
changes made to the proposals and the rebuild would not be starting in
September after all. In November we found out our visas could take some weeks
to process and a couple of weeks after that we were horrified to hear it could
take until March before we had visas in hand. By this stage we had already rented
our house in anticipation of the move. Matt had resigned, and my own boss was
awaiting a formal resignation letter from me also. We were staying with Matt’s
parents who were gracious in their hospitality, but had not anticipated having
us for a long time. They were themselves retiring and moving house in early
January. But there was nothing to be done. We waited, prayed, and waited some
more. Finally I got the much anticipated call from the PNG High Commission, our
visas were available for pick up. It had taken every one of the 20 working days
of the suggested timeframe, but the March ‘worst case scenario’ never
eventuated. We could finally rest in the plans that we had made, the plan that
had been in my heart for so many years.
We took a long
holiday over Christmas to spend with family and friends. We stayed at Raumati,
the summer place, my turangawaewae from boxing day until the 12th.
We had restful days reading and swimming at the beach. We had the extended
family with us and we took the time we needed to settle ourselves. We had
Tayla, Matt’s first born, to stay with us and took our leave of her with tears
and the heartache of wishing that she did not have to sacrifice for our plan.
In the end, the timing was perfect.
We spent three
nights in Brisbane. The children experienced their first plane journey and did
very well, but not so well as to make us regret the stop over. We took the trip
of a lifetime to Morton Island off the coast of Brisbane and saw dolphins,
dugongs green turtles and other creatures playing. The conditions were perfect
and the sand island was a paradise on earth. Arriving into Port Moresby (POM),
though, we got back into the challenges.
“You’re not in
Kansas now Dorothy” I thought as I boarded the plane. I saw plenty of
Australian men – a homogenous group of balding middle aged oil company
executives, engineers with the occasional civil servant in the mix. I saw a few
PNGs, but only one or two women and only one other child on the plane. Stepping
out onto the tarmac the wall of heat hit me. Even after 3 nights in Brisbane
and all the mental preparation I was still not ready for it. We waited at the
terminal – the excruciatingly obtrusive tone of our skin and the presence of the equally pale children made
us a source of polite curiosity as we waited for the friend of a friend to pick
us up. We waited. And we waited. The children were thirsty. Mercy was crying. I
had no water. I decided that we had been forgotten and called the name of a
reliable taxi driver to come and pick us up. Then the friend arrived. She had
thought our plan was landing ¾ hour later.
POM is a
sprawling city reminding me every bit of Tanzania, or the South African
townships I had stayed in, but with more rubbish. It’s a crazy mixture of developed and
developing world all mixed together and shaken for good measure. There are
expensive hotels and shopping centres, and if we were taking another kind of
journey I may have seen more of that. But for the journey we were on it was the
back roads, past the ditches, the roadside stalls selling just a few items, the
children with bare feet, the hillsides without trees, the smouldering cooking fires, the graffiti and the gates
with ‘security guards’ posted at the entrance to any functional place of
business or residence.
Missionary Home is a unique place with a long history of serving ‘missionaries’
and Christian workers for decades. For us it was a haven, a safe place to land
and to rest. We ate together in the dining room with other guests, I played old
hymns and new songs on the piano, read a book or two and the hosts helped us
arrange ourselves and our luggage for the next leg of the journey, into the
bush. We were to fly out on Wednesday. On Tuesday we received word that we had
been bumped off our flight.
pumps crude oil out of the Gulf Province, one of the paybacks to the locals is
that they fly hospital and associated workers into the Gulf for free on their
aircraft. Sometimes space is available and sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes
the space that was there the day before has disappeared. No space for us on Wednesday, or Thursday or
Friday. On Saturday AusAid had charted and aircraft to pick up their officials
who had been attending the Community Health Worker Graduation Ceremony at
Kapuna. Fortunately for us we were able to be the ‘back fill’ on the aircraft
heading in. We had to be at the airport
at 6.30am for the 9am flight. Thunderstorms were predicted for our boat ride
after we disembarked. We packed our rain coats and our families at home started
praying about thunderstorms.
At 6.30am we
duly arrived at the Tropicair terminal. The security guard would not let us
enter the compound. We were too early – “come
back later”. We did. At 8am we e returned “Why are you here so early? The
flight is at 11am to Purari” they said, but we refused to be deterred. Some
others of our party flying to Kapuna were arriving. The securities took pity on
us and let us into the compound. We waited. They weighed our luggage. They
weighed us, and we waited some more. Past 9am, no sign of a pilot. It must be
an 11am flight after all. Then Isaiah vomited.
Isaiah has two
speeds: full on or asleep. If he is stationary there is usually a very good
reason and if he complains of cold in New Zealand, let alone a tropical morning
with the mercury hovering around 33degrees, he is sick. My medical bag was in
my pack and had already passed through to be loaded but I spoke nicely to the
official and went around the back and retrieved it. His fever was 39.7 and he
was lethargic. I gave him paracetamol and water. Isaiah was vomiting into a plastic bag as the
plane taxied down the runway.
Mercy enjoyed the
aeroplane ride, her third ever, in the 9 seater prop plane. We flew through a
couple of rain storms and she loved every minutes of it. Poor Isaiah though,
slept through it all. He doesn’t remember me pointing out the narrow strip of
grass amongst the jungle or the winding tributaries of the Purari river as they
snaked their way towards the sea carrying and immeasurable volume of water and
silt with them. Isaiah was unable to get off the plane by himself. Matt lifted
him and layed him down on the gravel near the plane. I tried to get his long
pants off him and put up my umbrella to shade him.
There was a
boy who had come up from Kapuna with the AusAid officials for transfer to POM
General Hospital. He had fallen from a coconut tree and impaled himself on a
sharp stick damaging his urethra and giving him urinary retention. He had a
catheter and was draining profuse haematuria. He had been brought up by stretch
and the pilot was reluctant to fly him out. Fearing that he might collapse en
route, the pilot was asking if medevac was more appropriate. Even without assessing him I could ascertain
that is injury was not very recent and that he was alert and able to sit up so
likely stable enough for the hour long flight.
I pointed this out to the pilot and offered to assess him. This seemed
sufficient and the small boy was loaded into the aircraft and Isaiah was loaded
onto the now vacant stretcher.
Matt and one
of the AusAid visitors carried Isaiah down to the Oil Company Purari base where
personelle come in and out to work on the pipeline. Like a great open garage built over planks it
offered all the necessary shelter in the jungle. We availed ourselves of a
water cooler from inside an air conditioned container and a flush toilet, like
alien things from another world amidst the verdant growth and the mud and the
warm clawing air. I checked Isaiah’s temperature again, 39.8 with resp rate
around 50. He would no longer take water. I started praying as he lay in the
shade. Aaron, the Oil Company guy, took Isaiah and I down to the boat in his
air conditioned 4 wheel drive. Isaiah lay on the back seat until the last possible
minute. Once everything else was loaded I took my place and Isaiah was brought
down by stretch and somehow we got him into the boat. He was in and out of
consciousness so he lay in the bottom of the boat and I sat next to him
covering him with my lap lap [sarong], wetting his forehead from time to time
and with my hand on his back, counting his resps as if I didn’t already know
how sick he was.
It was a
beautiful journey. The predicted thunderstorms remained a perfectly tolerable
distance off to the east and the canoe was fast. Our driver kept a good pace,
pausing only to change fuel or if we passed a dugout so as to not disturb our
fellow travellers with our bow wave. Traveling quickly gave us the first
sensation of being cool that we had had since arriving in POM and the natural
beauty of the place is astounding. The clouds were incredible, great billowing
cumulous, high wispy altostratus. I remembered Da Vinci’s cloud sketches and
promised myself that I would sit down and so some of my own one day.
wore on. I shared a papaya with my grateful boatmates. Manoa, who had travelled
with us from POM helped me keep Isaiah covered in the laplap. Mercy enjoyed the
fast ride, but Isaiah lay in the boat, unseeing. Finally we rounded the final
bend in the river and Kapuna was suddenly upon us. The tide was out. There was
a good stretch of mud to get the boat up before it could be unloaded. Everyone but Isaiah and I jumped out and
helped push the boat up the river. I felt a regal wave was in order, but I was
mainly just relieved to have finally arrived. Isaiah walked a few steps after
being helped out of the boat. He took a very little bit of water and then lay
down on the grass again. A friend retrieved a wheelbarrow and he was taken down
the path to our new house. I laid him
down on a thin mattress on the livingroom floor. The stairs were too steep to
get him into bed.
They call the
housing here ‘bush luxury’ and it is not too dissimilar to glamping, but with a
lot more heat and plenty of bugs. Out house
was two stories of unlined, diesel-stained wood, with shutters for windows,
cold running water, a flush toilet and even a washing machine and freezer to
use as a fridge with the 4 hours of
electricity daily in the evening. Having such a home, while surrounded by such
simplicity of living, feels immensely luxurious despite the challenges of
came. Not much to be done for Isaiah, he was alert enough when she passed by. I
asked for oral rehydration solution. He
would not take it. He wouldn’t take watermelon either, or pineapple. He slept.
The other doctor came around with dinner. I explained how worried I was. His
fever was still far too high, I couldn’t get him to drink. I was thinking it
was time for IV fluids and was well ready for a night in the hospital. She made
him a milo. A MILO!!! He drank it! His fever broke. He turned a corner and the
knot in my stomach unclenched. We had arrived, it was going to be ok.
down for the night in beds graciously made for us before we had arrived. Isaiah
called me every hour to change his bed. He had profuse watery diarrhoea and
couldn’t get to the toilet. I ran out of linen. I took him downstairs and made
up a bed with wet sheet over a thin mattress under the dining table so we could
hang the mosquito net over him. The power finished for the night. I came down
to him by torchlight. He dirtied both towels. My torch battery ran out. I
stumbled down in the dark and tried to clean his bed with the dirty towels. I
had no disinfectant. He dirtied my lap lap and my kimono. I blessed the friend
who had given me a small bottle of hand sanitiser. Finally morning came and
with it the light.
feeling well. I needed to get help. I borrowed bed sheets and bleach, rags and
towels. Someone brought bread for our breakfast, but no one could eat. I was
exhausted. I set up three mattresses with wet sheets in the living room to
nurse everyone close to the bathroom. I put stories on the ipod and hooked up a
speaker. I tried to keep each person’s identical cup separate somehow. I
bleached the dishes and the toilet. It was Sunday so the power was on for
Church. I didn’t go to worship with others, I stayed home to do laundry. I hung
things off our beautiful balcony. I rested with the kids. Matt cried. “Remind
me why we’re doing this again?” That night Isaiah was able to get up to the
toilet and I had head torches for us all.
On Monday the
toilet stopped working. Isaiah was still not eating. He was crying for home and
Matt had gone in to start work. I was exhausted. I went to find Matt and when
he couldn’t come I went to ask a friend to help find the doctor for Isaiah. I
vomited on the path at her feet. I staggered back to the house and lay down
with my sick son. Thankfully Mercy seemed to bounce back and was all but
recovered as I was coming down with the bug. Matt also got of relatively
lightly as well. He came home to look
after us. I lay in my mosquito netted bed sleeping feverishly in the heat, and
then suddenly cold despite 35 degree heat.
The doctor brought medicine and asked Mercy to be my 5 year old nurse.
Mercy took the responsibility very seriously. I rested.
The next day
the drain layers got to work to fix our plumbing. In the hot sun they worked with shovels
digging out the dense waterlogged clay from around our tank and digging a large
trench to sort out the overflow. The plumbing was restored and what a wonderful
thing plumbing is. I took some food, so did Isaiah.
The next day
we took Isaiah for a walk to see the village. He knew nothing of the coconut
trees, the paw paw trees, the pineapple patches. He had not met the village
boys who catch fish with bows and arrows they make from coconut fronds and was
incredibly homesick. We showed him the gardens, the jetty out to the river, we
showed him his school built out over the swamp. We took him to the playground.
It was all beautiful, hot, so very hot, and beautiful. We had finally arrived.
It was such a hard journey, but we had arrived.