Friday, August 15, 2014

The trees

On Friday morning, as I prepared our weekly fruit and vegetables for the fridge, I looked out of the kitchen window and contemplated an empty patch of sky I am not used to seeing. The thing is, our trees are gone and worse than that - we had them cut down. To me, cutting down trees is like burning books and so to say that it hurt to watch the trees fall, would be an understatement. But, the hard facts were that the trees were too tall and they couldn't just be topped without killing the trees anyway. A similar tree had fallen on a house in recent years and some were worried that that might happen again or that someone might be injured. People who know about trees said they needed to come down and so come down they have.

When our organisation moved to Ukarumpa 55 or so years ago, we planted trees in the valley that was just covered in kunai grass. Now, the centre is covered with trees and I am so glad, but they do get too tall...So we employed a team from our 'Construction and Maintenance' department to do the work and last Monday they arrived.

It is hard to find a picture that really communicates the height of these trees...
I watched in awe and quite a lot of fear, as Tama, the Papua New Guinean tree man, scaled the first tree (the one on the right) and began cutting off branches with an axe. Another man stayed on the ground and collected the branches after they fell.

As you can see from the pictures above, it is pretty precarious work, but amazingly skilled too. It was interesting to watch Tama prepare to go up the tree each time he had to re-ascend. He would approach almost reverently, stare up at the tree, take a few minutes and then finally begin the climb. Later, he told me that in the stillness before the ascent, he always prayed. Tama carefully created 'steps' for himself as he cut, and all his movements were very slow and considered. I hope he didn't mind me watching. 

Very soon, there was a very big pile of branches.

At the end of day one.
On day 2, work began on the middle tree. Half way up this tree, the trunk split into three separate trunks, so it presented some new challenges. At one point the man on the ground was holding a rope attached to the middle trunk and Tama was working on cutting it through. Unfortunately the wind blew in the wrong direction at the just the wrong moment and it fell towards the house, instead of away, as was intended. The man holding the rope fell on his face, but his actions saved the roof of our house. I happened to be outside videoing at the time. I dropped the camera in my surprise (fortunately, I was wearing the strap), but everyone was okay, if a little shocked.

The end of day 2.
After the excitements of day 2, it was decided that they would just cut the trees down without removing any further branches. So on day 3, 12 men arrived with chainsaws and more ropes and Reuben and I were asked to come out of the house so that we could watch from a safe distance. Tama climbed up each tree in turn to attach ropes and then all the guys held onto the rope to direct the fall of the trunk down the the road. Then he came down and whilst another man used his chainsaw, Tama used his axe to help as well. The three trees were safely felled and the trunks cut into 5 metre lengths and removed by a large digger, and all by lunch time! The ground shook as each tree fell, and friends all over Ukarumpa said they heard the noise as they hit the ground. It was sad, horrible and impressive all at the same time. When the first tree was about to fall, Reuben reached out his hand from the stroller to take mine. I don't know who was comforting who.

Tama and his axe.

Some of the team.


And so they are gone. I think there is a little more light in the kitchen. We might, perhaps, get more hot water because our solar panel won't be shaded at certain times of the day and we can plant something else. Suffice to say, we will miss the trees. Maybe I have read too many books about trees that talked and even walked. Maybe I have been too emotional about this, but I'll always wonder what they could have told me if they could talk...but now we can plant new trees and give them new stories to tell...

As I typed the paragraph above, Reuben took three steps towards me. HE TOOK THREE STEPS TOWARDS ME. I have my perspective back.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Losing my voice

When we first started blogging we had a particular audience in mind - people who didn't receive our prayer letter updates, but who wanted to follow our adventures in PNG. We imagined that only our friends would read it - people who knew us, our personalities, our senses of humour, our voices. We have both blogged from the different perspectives our different roles have given us and  tried hard to portray our lives here honestly.

Early on we realised that it wasn't just people we knew who were reading the blog. We were pleased and excitedly looked up the statistics page, enjoying how our readers seemed to be spread across the world. What I didn't do was think about how this would affect how I wrote and how it would affect how I would be understood. I didn't think about how our voices might change either, or the ears that might be hearing them. This is interesting because back in my university days, this is exactly the sort of thing I was fascinated by - I was excited by what happens to meaning when it is interpreted by someone else who has a different perspective. Now that we live and are heard in a cross-cultural community in the middle of a country with a very different culture to the one we knew, I often find it a struggle to feel understood, even by those with whom I share a language. 'Do you know what I mean?' is a question often on my mind and in my mouth. Most of the time I think I am blissfully ignorant to the oddities of how I sound to the people I meet. I assume understanding and when I realise I have been mistaken, it is hard. I have started to think that I don't know how to say what I mean out loud or through written words. I have been wondering if I have lost my voice. 

We love getting responses to our blogs, but some of the feedback I have received about the ones I have written has made me question myself because I have inadvertently implied things I didn't mean to. I have gone back and read over what I wrote to see how I could have given the impressions I have and am left confused. I can't hear my voice through all the different ears and make it say what I want it to, to them all. And so I have been silent. It's not as if what I am writing is particularly earth shatteringly exciting anyway - I seem to have been mostly concerned with laundry, washing-up liquid and cooking after all. So I have been wondering if it is better to stick to putting up photos of Reuben and the helicopter..

In the end it seems I can't resist having a go anyway and hoping it will be all right. I can't completely control how you will read me - how your experiences,  impressions, cultural context or emotions will influence, but I think I still want to risk the attempt to communicate and let the chips fall where they may. I can't deny that it is frustrating to feel misunderstood, but it is also enriching and refining. 

I suppose the truth is that this blog really isn't about whether you hear my voice as I want it to be heard, or Duncan 's. It's meant to be a glimpse into why we are here. It's God's voice that transforms everything and everyone deserves the chance to hear it in their own language. Perhaps you really don't know what I mean when I say that, but I hope you will keep reading, as I hope to keep writing.