Saturday, July 23, 2011

Transcending Transience

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 13)
In my twenties, I was part of several military communities.  In my thirties, we went to a church that not only had a high volume of seminary families, but also sent many members out as career missionaries.  In both of these situations, people came and went all the time.
Now in my forties, I am still immersed in a community where transience is a way of life.  New people arrive and/or people leave (some to villages, some on furlough, some leaving for good) nearly every week.  (
In the three or so weeks following the end of the 2010-2011 school year, more than forty families - all of whom lived only a few minutes’ walk from our house - left the country. 
Even last year, when we had only been here a few months and I didn’t know that many of them, it was in some ways a difficult time.  I think part of what made it so hard was knowing that these families were going where I wished I could go … home.  This year it wasn’t so bad from that perspective; I have adjusted to being here, and though I wish from time to time that I could visit home, I’m content.
However, I have found it very difficult to watch my children’s friends leave.  When they leave for furlough it’s bad enough – that has happened to both Andie and Evan - but when they leave for good … well, that can break your heart.  A year ago, one of our daughter’s good friends “went finish” back to Germany.  This year, another of her friends, one who she was even closer to, went finish back to Finland.  (Would that be called going “Finnish?”) 
A few days before this most recent family left, we decided to have a going away party and hosted all the girls in our daughter’s class for an evening.  On a Sunday afternoon, the girls gathered at our home and when the guest of honor arrived, they were there to surprise her (she thought she was just coming to spend the night).  First, the girls each got to make their own personal pizza (we’re still waiting for someone to come open that Little Caesar’s franchise).  Then they sat down to watch the movie, “Tangled,” and as the pizzas emerges from the oven, their personal waitress delivered them piping hot to their laps.  Once the move ended, they had dessert (popcorn, puppy chow, and mocha muffins – mmm!), and then worked it off with a “Just Dance” Wii session.  What a hoot!  The girls’ favorite teacher (besides me, of course … ahem) who had left six months earlier,  had returned to the country and was a welcome special guest for all of the festivities.
They had a blast, and made some fun PNG memories for this special girl.
On Tuesday, people gathered to say goodbye to the family.
Now, the community has come to call these weeks, “Cry Weeks.”  A couple months ago when I was cutting a friend’s hair, she told me about one particular cry week when her daughter was between grades 11 and 12.  (Paul suggested that these haircut sessions turn out, many times, to be my own form of Member Care … I think he’s right.)  Anyway, this woman was having to take her daughter home for her Senior year.  At that time, apparently, they would allow people out onto the airfield to say goodbye.  She said it was one of the worst experiences of her life … all her daughter’s girlfriends surrounding the Cessna, clinging to the windows and sobbing.  They had to force them away so the plane could take off.
Her story brought tears to my cry eyes.
Most families still leave via the airstrip, but I have not yet gone out to say goodbye there.  This family, however, left from our guesthouse via PMV (public motor vehicle) and went to Lae where they spent two nights before boarding a commercial flight.  It was hard to say goodbye, but the pain was definitely compounded by knowing that, though Finland is now on our wish list of furlough-routings, it’s possible my daughter may never see her friend again.  On top of that, this girl is very close friends with one of the Papua New Guinean girls in her class.  Seeing Evelyn’s tears made me realize something monumental – we travel around the world.  It is now part of our lives.  But this precious girl is likely to never set her feet on the soil of any foreign country, and possibly never even on an airplane.  Short of a miracle, she really will never see her again.
I felt a little less sorry for myself, all of a sudden.              

The upside to Cry Week is that it also coincides with arrivals.  In the four to five weeks between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next (we have year-round school here), many people also return from furlough.  Just fifteen days after this family left, we had the opportunity to welcome back an Aussie family who are good friends of ours.  They have three children including a girl in Andie’s class, and a boy in Evan’s class.  This time we did go to the airstrip.  About 8-9 families were represented on the impromptu welcome committee, and this time there were no tears.  When the Kodiak touched down, hands were waving wildly, expressing our collective delight to have them back.
They emerged from the plane, looking and feeling tired, but all smiles.

At one point in the movie, “Evan Almighty,” Evan Baxter’s hair grows out of control.  As he arrives at the Capitol building with his hair in a ponytail and his 14 inch beard held together with several rubber bands,   His assistant, (who would later ask, “Evan, what are you doing? You have a pony tail on your face!  What you gonna do next? Cornrow your eyebrows?”) responds with a look of shock. 
“What is that?!”
Evan’s answer to her, I feel, is fitting to how we need to respond to Cry Week and the transience of our community.
“Makin’ lemonade outta lemons.”   :)

1 comment :

  1. Your pizza is excellent by the way.



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