3 Jul

Saksak, Waterfalls, Leeches and a delayed Pick-up
Story and Photos by Rickson Poki

Earlier this year, Rickson Poki, the Executive Assistant of MAF PNG’s Country Director’s Office, and Joseph Tua, a new pilot, had the privilege and opportunity to spend a few days at Bosavi village.

Rickson, who everyone is calling Ricky, spent most of his life growing up in Port Moresby where his father was working as a paediatric surgeon at Port Moresby General Hospital. Originally he comes from Mt. Hagen.

Joseph from Pangia in the Southern Highlands Province, spent most of his life also growing up in Port Moresby. Joseph got accepted to join MAF PNG as a low hour pilot and will be trained by pilots from the QLD based MAF Mareeba Aviation Training Centre to fly in Western Province, specifically for the Area Health Patrol Programme. He arrived in the programme in April and part of his MAF Orientation programme was a village trip in order to see first hand how a community profits from its airstrip.

As both, Ricky and Joseph, are more or less city-boys their time at Bosavi was a real eye-opener. Below, Ricky shares some of the highlights.

The missionary home at Bosavi where Ricky and Joseph stayed

Learning about Saksak
Tammy Maiyo became our local guide. He looks after the missionary home that we stayed in which was built and used by Australian missionary Keith Briggs and his family. Tammy previously worked as a Bible translator for the missionaries living there, where his wife Betty was the ’hausmeri’. Tammy is also a local church elder for the Evangelical Church at Bosavi.

EC PNG Church in Bosavi, the church Ricky and Joseph attended during their time in Bosavi

Tammy in-front of a kaukau garden, pointing towards the cloud covered Mt Bosavi

One morning, Joseph and I went with Tammy to his land in the bush where he keeps his pigs and has a plantation of ‘saksak’ trees (Sago Palms). He showed us how ‘saksak’ gets prepared and made. We took some pictures and about two hours later we returned home for lunch prepared by Betty, Tammy’s wife. Betty prepared some saksak for us; but to be honest, it was too dry for us. We ate it anyway.

Tammy’s saksak plantation

Ricky watching how saksak is made

Mowing the Airstrip
The next day, around 11 in the morning, Joseph and I decided to help Tammy with clearing up the runway in preparation for our Thursday pickup. Straight after breakfast, we got the old lawn mower out of the shed, which Tammy has used for 15 plus years now. We headed off to the far end of the runway and started mowing the patch of grass that was growing too high. After getting a rundown from Tammy on how to use the lawn mower, Joseph and I took turns working our way up and down the airstrip. We finished around 1 pm, had lunch and then headed straight to a watering hole nearby called ‘Wara Semen’. It was a good day!

Ricky mowing the airstrip

Enjoying the Waterfalls despite the leeches
The following day, Joseph and I decided to go and see the waterfalls of the Semen River. A local landowner, his name was Tonsi, took us to see the falls with his son Ali.
After a quick briefing about the walk we were to go on, including some information about blood-sucking leeches, I made up my mind that I was not letting these bloodsuckers get on me. Now, all dressed up and covered, we headed out to the falls. Joseph had a good wash under the waterfall and we took some amazing pictures there. Two hours later, we arrived home just in time for lunch which was already prepared by Betty. Then, to my surprise, I found a leech on my left sock! I was going to make sure is would not have any of my blood; so I gave it a good clean death – a fiery death!

Enjoying the beautiful scenery and waterfalls of the Semen River

Flying back to the city
Today, Joseph and I woke up really early. We switched the two-way radio on for MAF’s sched’ time. It’s been a week, and even though it’s been fun here, we were looking forward to heading back. There was a lot of rain last night and the clouds were still hanging fairly low, but we were hoping for fairly good weather today. Overall, God has been good to us!

Low cloud cover over the airstrip

Looking back, and reflecting on the various conversations we had with the people there and my observations, I learned a lot about my own country and people. Bosavi has taught us a lot during our week there. We learned many things about the people, their culture and way of life, their struggles, and how they can cope with the simple necessities of life. It was also a time for me to reflect on how truly blessed I am.
I also left with a burning desire in my heart: to see my fellow Papua New Guinean people – the Bosavi people – experience a better life and to see their lives transformed not only spiritually but physically also.

Reflections
The people of Bosavi are caught in between the highlands culture of the Southern Highlands Province and the lowlands culture of the Western Province. In the early years, before Western influences, the people of Bosavi were cannibals. Now, due to missionaries – one of the first missionaries in Bosavi being an Australian called Keith Briggs – they have changed their ways of the past and are now a peaceful, loving and hardworking community.

A traditional house in Bosavi: It is above the ground for ventilation purposes and to keep cooler because in Bosavi it is very hot

The Bosavi people are very simple people. They speak a native language called ‚Kululi’, meaning ‘language of the real men‘. They survive mostly on Sago or ‘saksak’ as their main source of food. The more saksak one has, such as a plantation of Sago Palms, the higher one’s status is in the community. Other food includes sweet potato, corn, banana, wild ferns and greens. Meat is very rare and only when necessary is hunted for in the wild. Water is easily accessible as they have many fast-flowing streams around their area.

The people of Bosavi are very peaceful and keep to themselves. Given Bosavi’s location – being in between the two provinces (Western and Southern Highlands) there is always a continuous movement of people back and forth through Bosavi. Travelers of all sorts come through – some traveling for days to go to the nearest store to buy food, others are looking for medicine at the nearest aid post, and then you have notorious gangs that travel from Southern Highlands to the Western Province to steal from the companies there. Because of this, the people of Bosavi are used to having unfamiliar faces pass through their community. This also poses a threat to the young folks of Bosavi as they can be easily influenced to join the gangs to look for an ‘easy’ life.

Money has little value. The people are content with their garden food and saksak, fresh flowing rivers and the wild animals they hunt for as meat. They do need a few store goods such as salt, oil, flour, noodles and tinned fish but these are not necessary if they cannot get them.
Contact with the outside towns is almost impossible as there is no network coverage in this part of the country. Their only way of communicating is through a two-way HF radio that is kept at the mission house near the airstrip. It’s used by agents to communicate with other agents near the area and call for medevacs or contact small airline companies such as MAF, SIL and NTM for booking requests.

The village’s basketball court

This week-long Bosavi experience was truly incredibly – at the same time quite challenging for me, even as a national Papua New Guinean. I am not used to seeing life so difficult, growing up as a city kid. Yet I see the people in remote areas are content. They do not complain for power or water or other things that we consider necessary; instead, they embrace what is available and make the best of it!

It hit me!
My final experience in Bosavi sums up what I think my MAF village orientation was supposed to teach me. It was Thursday morning, the day were we were scheduled to return to Mt Hagen. Joseph and I had gone through all our food stock that we brought with us for the week. We were looking forward to going back and getting home in time for the Easter celebration with our families.

The weather that morning did not look promising as we waited on the radio (two-way radio) for the MAF Mt Hagen base to let us know when the aircraft would come to pick us up. I was so looking forward to seeing our MAF plane land! At around 11:15 am, we heard a plane pass by over us, but it was too foggy and it was not possible to land. My heart sank as I heard its sounds getting smaller and smaller until there was complete silence – I was lost for words. I gave one last radio call to check, and sure enough, Reji, our Flight Scheduler and Logistics Officer, came back with the news that another MAF aircraft would be able to make one stop at Bosavi sometimes in the afternoon.

I remember watching as the fog was lifting. It was 2 pm now. What looked from afar like a big bird was all too familiar to me. As it got closer I felt my heart start jumping for joy as the engine roar of the MAF plane got louder and louder. As MAF joined the circuit, I could see the distinct colors on the aircraft.

There is the plane!

My heart felt like it was going to jump out my chest, but there was also an overwhelming sense of peace – something deep inside telling me that everything would be okay. That was when it hit me: „So that’s what they feel like“ I thought to myself. I thought of mothers in the remote villages, parents walking their sick children for days, families needing food supplies, materials and other necessities. I could finally see from their perspective – MAF is important to them, it is their lifeline, it brings hope, it brings life, it brings change; but most importantly it spreads the love of God through the help of aviation and technology.

Story by Linda Andresen. Photos Linda Andresen (LA), Andrea Rominger (AR), Camy Thomas (CT), Mandy Glass (MG)

When you come new to the PNG-program, the first thing you have to do is to learn Tok Pisin, the most common language of PNG’s 800 plus different languages. Some weeks ago, we went to Kompiam to do our language and village orientation. This meant that we would live for two weeks in a small remote place. People who work and live in the area of Kompiam hospital were going to teach us Tok Pisin and their local culture. I didn’t quite know what to expect. Luckily we got to stay in a house with a normal toilet. We had access to electricity 3.5 hours a day and most of the time there was water running out of the tap. After two weeks in Kompiam it was something completely other than the lack of amenities that had my focus.

Kompiam is located between mountains and deep valleys, it is an incredibly beautiful place just like many other places here in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The scenery and the surroundings made a strong impression, but what impressed most was the people we met and got to know.

One of them was Dr Camy Thomas (30 years old). She is an Indian dentist who came to Kompiam in late 2018. Camy really is passionate about what she does and she looks at her task with a long-term perspective.

In many developing countries there is a lack of dental health, but most people still have a tradition of cleaning their teeth regularly. Different methods are used such as salt, coconut shell, twigs and sand. In the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, there is no tradition for cleaning teeth regularly, the majority of the population has never heard of tooth brushes and tooth paste. With the introduction of soft drinks such as Coca-cola, biscuits and candies which contain processed sugar, there is an increasing need for fluoride based interventions to prevent cavities.

A common favourite among vast populations of Papua New Guineans is the chewing of Betel nut, which is addictive and contains psychoactive ingredients, causes erosion of enamel and destruction of gums and bone tissue, it is also carcinogenic, causing oral and throat cancers and has other adverse health effects on the entire body. Betel nut is mixed with slaked lime and mustard for flavour which results in the saliva turning red, thus staining teeth. Its anesthetic effect on the teeth and gums makes it all the more in demand for people with rotting teeth, and the vicious cycle of destruction continues. Cancer of the mouth is very common for both women and men in PNG, a country where cancer treatment is hard to receive because of no proper infrastructure or protocol in place.

Betel nuts on sale (MG)

Dr Camy is working systematically. Every fortnight she and the dental team accompany the medical team to travel on patrol to different communities in the area. It takes them 10 to 30 minutes to fly to the different locations in an MAF aircraft. If they had gone there by foot it would have taken a couple of days and they would have had to stay overnight in the jungle. With MAF this health service becomes possible and much more effective. When the group of health care personnel comes to a village, it can be anything between 40 to 300 patients they see. Dr Camy takes care of those who need dental care and she teaches children and adults how to brush their teeth. Educating communities on the adverse effects of Betel nut chewing, smoking of hand rolled, and store bought cigarettes and the harmful effects of processed sugars are the primary focus.

Dr. Camy told me about a patient whom she challenged to stop the everyday buying of biscuits and soft drinks for lunch for herself and her family and instead cook with the garden produce, which includes sweet potatoes, fruits, vegetables and leaves. A few weeks later, the patient returned to Dr Camy and said she was following the advice and had now not only improved the dietary intake of nutritious food for herself and her family but also ended up saving a considerable amount of money.

Seeing how Dr Camy and the other health workers work to make a lasting change in the lives of people here has really impressed me. To me it was a great experience and a privilege to be with these heroes for a couple of weeks.

Dr Camy in Action: Educating a Community
Story by Andrea Rominger

The Kompiam hospital’s dental team first visited Yenkisa in November 2018. On that visit, along with providing treatment and dental education, tooth brushes and Fluoride tooth paste samples were handed to children while educating them on how it should be used.

On a follow-up visit in March 2019, Dr Camy discovered that even though tooth paste and tooth brushes were handed out to the children in November last year, they were hardly using it.
So on this visit, children and adults were shown again how to brush their teeth as an activity. Two locals of the community, one man and one woman, were trained to teach more villagers the proper brushing technique.

Dr Camy and Dr. Kasper Puli explaining dental anatomy and hygiene at Yenkisa (AR)

Dr Camy teaching adults and children correct brushing
technique (AR)

“If it wasn’t for MAF, so many different doctors wouldn’t come to serve these people.
If it wasn’t for the doctors MAF couldn’t fly.
We would have to walk for two days here and two days back and would have been away from the hospital for four days.”
Dr Camy Thomas

We hope you’ve enjoyed Part 1 of the “What does a MAF pilot do?“ series.
Part 2 takes you beyond the flying job of Ryan Cole. The accounts below, written by his wife Siobhain, give you some glimpses into their life on one of MAF’s outstations.

Being an Excellent Handyman

Ryan is not only a highly capable pilot, daily dealing with challenging terrain and weather systems whilst serving the people of PNG. He is also an excellent handyman! Living in Telefomin, an isolated community, we receive plenty of support from the MAF PNG headquarters in Mt Hagen, but some support is just not regularly practical as we are over an hour’s flight away from them. After we moved into our little cabin in the mountains we made a long list of improvements and fixes which were needed. Anything non-essential (a desk extension for me), cosmetic (moving some wall-mounted cupboards and shelves) or urgent (like when our water tank sprung a leak after the big earthquake in February 2018) Ryan does himself, with a little assistance from me and our kind neighbours.

In the picture above, we are standing in front of our brand new, hand-made by Ryan, veranda GATE! Just a simple thing you might think, but as we need to be sure we keep our dog, Ray, safe and stop him from chasing the neighbour’s chickens or getting bitten by local dogs, it’s pretty important. When we moved in, there was just a board to block the way which we could just about climb over, but now we have a self-closing gate, with a latch! And Ryan made and painted it all himself! I’m a very proud and blessed wife!

Being a Hobby Gardener

Ryan’s been planting all sorts of flowers and vegetables in our garden. Tomatoes were some of our first edible harvests, sadly the tomato plants didn’t seem to last long in our soil. We’ve since planted cherry tomatoes which seem to be lasting better, we’ve had several crops so far and they are still producing.

We also have ginger, pineapples, beans, corn, rhubarb, strawberries and even avocado, a lemon and a guava tree, all of which Ryan planted.
The rhubarb is doing really well, we’ve harvested enough for a couple of crumbles (My fave!), but everything else is growing rather slowly. We’ve never had more than three small strawberries in one go, the bugs seem to get to them first.
Pineapples take a year to produce fruit and it’s likely to be at least four years before we see anything from the fruit trees.

However, we did have a pumpkin plant which self-seeded from the compost heap and has given us two small pumpkins, (one is pictured with our Haus Meri, Mama Cathy) so that’s not bad! One of the pumpkins we gave as a gift to our closest PNG neighbors, along with some cookies and some money, when their father died in early December. The giving of cash and food is traditional when someone dies as the “Haus Krai” (funeral) can last a week and many friends and relatives come to mourn during that time and they need to be fed.

As the fruit and vegetables available in our local market are limited and unpredictable, we wanted to plant a few things to supplement our diet and avoid sending too many veggies via the MAF plane. However, our gardening efforts aren’t really good enough to sustain ourselves, so we are blessed to have the option of getting a few items of fruit, vegetables, and fresh eggs, flown to us most weeks thanks to the MAF Papua New Guinea aircraft and our wonderful friends in Mt Hagen.

Being a Tree Surgeon!

In Telefomin, the three pilot families are all blessed to have a solar system paid for by some kind donors in the Netherlands. With a bit of management, this provides us with 24/7 electricity. A huge blessing! However, a few months after we moved in, our neighbour noticed that the lovely Eucalyptus tree next to our water tank cast a shadow over our solar panels in the mornings. This was preventing the panels from working efficiently and resulting in our system running out of power overnight a few times. Eventually, Ryan had the time and the weather to go up the tree and cut down the high branches. We didn’t want to cut the whole thing down as it is a lovely tree and it’s very close to the water tank, the house, and two fences, so it would be really hard to drop it without it breaking something. So Ryan got out his saw, climbed up the tree and solved the problem!

Being the Bin Man!

Just another thing that outstation pilots have to do: No government refuse or collection facilities here in Telefomin, so each family takes it in turns to drop the rubbish off at the local “dump” when it’s needed.

We do our best to reuse as much as possible. Any containers with closable lids get washed and given to our local friends who use them to keep bugs out of their sugar or for carrying water when they walk into the bush to tend their gardens.

We burn all paper, cardboard and thin plastic. That might sound bad giving the carcinogens that are released when you burn plastic, but everything that gets „dumped“ is just thrown into a valley and potentially washed into the river. So we really try hard to reduce the amount of waste we generate.

Being Part of the Local Church

Ryan even found the time to share his testimony in our local Baptist Church recently. We even occasionally join our MAF neighbours in singing a song together for the congregation on a Sunday morning. Contributing a little something makes us feel closer to our local PNG neighbours, and we are so blessed to be a part of this remote community in the mountains of PNG!

These are all the kind of things which every pilot living in a remote community, far from headquarter, is required to do on occasion. Well, baking bread is not a requirement, but as the next bakery is 20 flight minutes away we have to do our own and I am just proud that my hubby can use kitchen tools too!

“Flying airplanes to grassy, short and steep airstrips,“ is what probably most people answer to the question “What does a MAF pilot do?”
Well, this is true, but there is much more to it. The attached story draws a more detailed picture on the day to day work our pilots do and the impact their actual flying has.
Enjoy the read and some glimpses into Ryan Cole’s flight duties as a First Officer on the Twin Otter based at Telefomin

Sometimes I have been asked the question, “What does a MAF pilot do?” The answer is different for each country where MAF operates, and from one day to the next. In PNG, we do many things; on any one day, I could be a mailman, an ambulance driver, a hearse driver, a taxi, a delivery man, and many other things, including being a school bus driver!

Around the start of the year, one of our main jobs is getting students and teachers back to school. The school term in PNG starts at the beginning of February, so for the first weeks of each year we are busy flying as many students and teachers as we can possibly squeeze into our schedule.
Because there are so few high schools in PNG, many of them are boarding schools. We fly around and collect the students from all the smaller villages and take them to the larger villages where the high schools are located, like Telefomin or Tekin. Since there are no roads in this part of the country, and it takes days or weeks to walk between villages, most of the students will not see their families until the end of the school year, at the start of December. But they know that a good education is a key part of improving the quality of life for them and their families, so they are willing to make that huge sacrifice.
Usually around October, on a set date, the students are taking their final exams supplied by the Government. For the schools in the larger towns and cities, this is not a problem, but for the few remote villages that are fortunate to have small schools, they must wait until the exams can be flown in by MAF.
Last year, I had the privilege of delivering exams to multiple villages in October, one was Tekin, a village about 30 miles east of Telefomin. At Tekin there is a well-known high school that was started by a Missionary Teacher, Glenda Giles, who works there but is training local teachers to take over from her. Her students were extremely glad that the exams arrived! In PNG there are only enough high school places for about 50% of the primary school students, so to be able to go to high school and take the exams is a privilege particularly for students in the remote areas.

Another village I delivered exams to was Gubil, about 15 miles north of Telefomin. They only have a primary school but the students were so excited to get their exams that a dozen of them started celebrating by dancing in circles around the airplane!

One of the final villages that I delivered exams to was Fiyak, about 30 miles north of our home base. The students in Fiyak were not able to take exams in 2017 because they did not have a school, it did not exist. So you can imagine the excitement and celebration when I brought the exams for them! This generation of young people now have a way to better themselves and advance their education which was simply not available to their parents. At that school, 17 students were taking exams in 2018, many from the villages within walking distance of Fiyak. When I unloaded the box of exams from the airplane one of the village leaders asked me to stand about 10 meters in front of the airplane while a group of people performed a traditional dance, called a sing-sing, wearing simple costumes of shells, flowers, and birds feathers. This sing-sing group came out from the village and started to dance in circles around us while three village elders took the box of exams. They shook my hand and told me of their joy and happiness, and how much of a blessing it is to have their children receive an education and take these exams. I was extremely humbled at being able to perform this simple service of delivering school exams and seeing how dramatically it is impacting their small village.

I confess that I didn’t see my own school exams as that much of a blessing, they were always more of a necessary annoyance. But to see it through the eyes of these villagers in the remote parts of PNG, I thank God for the blessing of my education and the opportunities it has opened up. I hope that all students in the developed world recognise the blessing and privilege that their education is. I hope that you will share this story with a student you know so that they will see their education and their school exams in that light and that they will praise God for their many, many blessings!

MAF is the only option for access to education beyond grade 7 for most of the bush people in PNG. The support we receive from you, whether that be financial, practical, and/or prayer, allows us to continue to help people through flights like these. Thank you