I have been planning to post this for quite some time, but somehow it hasn’t gotten done. So here it is.
A number of people pray for my travel on the road, so I’d like to fill out the picture of what that means. I drive 11 km to work every morning, and return by the same 11 km. For those of you who do not speak Canadian, that’s 6.835 miles. Now, most of you travel further than that, and very few would consider a 7-mile trip something to be concerned about. But this road is different.
First, most travel in PNG is by foot. All roads are considered to be sidewalks . I leave for work at 7:30 am, and that’s when all school children are on the road walking to school. Neither they nor the drivers have ever been taught etiquette regarding sharing the road [not to mention the addition of pigs, dogs, chickens, and the occasional scavenger bird]. But surprisingly, most people (drivers and pedestrians) seem to have figured it out. Yes, every year there are many children struck and injured or even killed by vehicles in PNG. There is no way of knowing how many, since there is no required reporting of such things. But given the number of hazards, the number seems fairly low to me. I think the fear of hurting a pedestrian is one of my greatest fears in driving the roads in PNG. Not only because I really do not want to hurt anyone with my vehicle, but such an incident would have far-reaching effects, particularly for other missionaries both of my mission board, and in the village of missionaries where I live. All of them would be seen as responsible by a culture that thinks by clan, not by individual.
Second; there is the issue of other drivers and vehicles on the road. Pretty much anyone who wants to drive can, and a car “inspection” is mostly avoided by bribing the local police. Many of the other vehicles on the road are not roadworthy, and some are just scary. Bits of the car are tied on with ropes, or a passenger is holding it on. I recently followed one vehicle whose wheel kept coming off. They had about a dozen people riding in the back. Drivers are often drunk. Almost all vehicles are severely overloaded with passengers. Add to that:
Third: there are no rules for the road. No lines, no speed limits, no barriers. This is mostly due to the condition of the road. All of us just try to find a drivable spot, and so weave from side to side. The one unspoken rule is that vehicles driving from the coast on the highlands highway have the right of way on a one-lane bridge (most bridges are one lane) or a part of the road that is only wide enough for one car to pass. The way you signal for the other oncoming car to go ahead is to turn your blinker on towards the shoulder. Furthermore, these are the highlands of PNG, so there are a number of blind curves and switch-backs. Add together these 3 hazards, and you can see why driving requires every ounce of attention and care that I can muster.
Fourth; the roads are only partly paved. Large portions of pavement are missing, leaving ruts and holes that are sometimes over a foot deep and sometimes yards wide, with the sharp edge of pavement on either side. Often these are full of mud or water, so it is unknown what you’re driving into. Sometimes there are landslides, which make me grateful for a 4-wheel-drive truck with a high wheel base. This brings me to the fifth issue, of weather-related hazards: heavy rain, fog, and thick dust thrown up by other vehicles (think complete white-out). There is thick, high grass growing right up to the edge of the road, that can hide a wash-out or large object. Every once in a while there is flooding with fast currents.
And finally, there is the occasional issue with robbers on the road. Here where I live that is a pretty rare occurrence during the day, but frequent in the evening or after dark. We’re talking armed groups that steal the vehicle and all personal belongings including shoes and jackets of the people in the car. That does not affect me, since I never drive after dark (I can drive after dark here on the gated center where I live). Along the highway just outside of town they recently held up an ambulance, and even stole medical supplies and all the belongings of the patient. For me, I only come across a few drunken men who try to wave down the vehicle to ask for money. I always wave back and just drive on. Most of the folks here have said there is a low risk for me driving alone these 11 km to town. That has been helped by the fact that most of these folks now know me and my truck by sight.
So, THANK YOU to all of you who have prayed for my safety while driving: the Lord has heard and answered your prayers!