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Hamena Village II --how it all ended

In March 2020 we were given the opportunity to stay with a Papua New Guinean family in their village as a part of a training and culture course. I wrote all about our experience in part I; this story will make more sense after having read that story.

This post follows up with more of the story of how we left sooner than planned and how the transition due to COVID looked for us.

There were several other families (and single women) that were a part of the same training as us, their village living was in a place separate from ours, down closer to the coast. Our experience was an experiment of sorts, to see if the leadership may want to put people in the highlands for future trainings. Because of that and the possibility of some cultural tension they decided they would check on us more than just halfway through our stay. So we arrived on a Monday and we were supposed to be visited the next Monday for a check in.

The leadership couldn’t make it to come to check on us, but we weren’t exactly sure of the reason.


At this point we had all heard about COVID-19 in other parts of the world, but we were looking at it from an outside perspective. Our community is multi-cultural with members from sending organizations in several countries. Our Center formed a COVID response team to start filtering all the statements from these sending countries and come up with a plan. There was no need to panic, we felt pretty safe knowing people were thinking ahead and making plans for if/when we got hit by the virus. 


By Wednesday we were told that our check-in visit would happen on Friday around 10am, a “midway” visit the day after the leadership met with everyone else down in the valley.


Thursday I started feeling unwell and I contacted a friend with whom we left a house key asking her if she could grab some vitamin c and send it with the guy coming to visit us. She mentioned that they may give us a choice to come back from the villages early.

I forced myself to pause and think about what I would do if given the choice to leave the village early. Sam is not the “slow-down-and-process” type, but I urged him to think with me about what we should do. We didn’t want to leave but I was coming down with something and was feeling bad, and the flea bites were only getting worse.

It was a hard choice. I didn’t want to give up and go home because things were uncomfortable, but if our classmates in other villages were going home as well it would be nice to battle out this sickness at home rather than while hiking up and down the mud paths. It was a really hard choice and I wanted to make it before they came so I could really think it through. I didn’t want to leave, but also I felt pretty sick. 


Friday, shortly after 9am, we got a message that we were required to leave the village and someone would be heading to get us at 10am. We had about 3 hours to tell our host family that we were leaving, pack up all our things, and say goodbye to these people we had grown surprisingly close to in a week and a half.

On one hand it was a relief, we didn’t have to make the choice I was wrestling with and I got to go home and handle being sick with a real bed and not having to walk down the slippery mud steps to the hole in the ground that was our bathroom.

The slippery clay-mud path down to the little outhouse

On the other hand it was really sad, these people had become dear friends and they were heartbroken. There were tears, hugs and gifts were given hastily, and we were whisked away before the rain trapped us up there on the mountain. 

The village gathered at the top of the hill to wish us (an emotional) goodbye.

On the ride home we learned what had been going on. Everything was still in the preparation phase of the COVID-19 response, so the country was still functioning normally, but our organization wanted to gather everyone who was out in more remote areas so that if there was an emergency or transportation bans everyone would be home safe here on our mission center. This seemed reasonable. No panic, just preparation. 

That’s how we ended up home 10 days early, dazed and drained. 

impromptu nap after his first warm shower in a week

Everyone else would be retrieved from the coastal villages on Monday, they took us out early so as to avoid a second trip in our direction and just in case there were more conflicts and they weren’t able to make the trip again. 

News came that there was going to be a travel ban implemented soon, so the others came home on Sunday instead of Monday, they had to leave some of their cargo in the villages, and they were told they were required to self-isolate for two weeks. 

After all of this I was feeling a rollercoaster of things. Gratitude that we got a warning from a friend and that we were able to bring our things home—and then guilt for the same reasons. Relief that I was home and could be sick in the comfort of my own home and sleep in a real bed, and then grief for the relationships cut short. Thankful that we were far enough from the confirmed case that we weren’t asked to quarantine, then guilty that everyone else was. Thankful that I had a group of people that I was sharing experiences with, but also this weird separation that I felt because of the differences in our experience. 

Then PNG got its first confirmed case of the Virus and everything began changing rapidly. The Country declared a state of emergency and issued a travel ban, closed boarders, and implemented restrictions on public gatherings. Our COVID response team started putting plans into effect, school and work got cancelled, our only store closed, we were mandated to self-isolate, the clinic said any non-COVID calls would be charged the after-hours fee, and everything locked down. It wasn’t a panic or even clouded by fear, it just happened. It was a really eerie thing for the normally close-knit beautiful community that is our center to get so quiet and to feel so distant in what seemed like an instant.

After the initial quarantine ended, there were still restrictions to public areas

My initial frustration was that those of us coming from the villages arrived over the weekend, once the store was already closed for it’s normal weekend closure. When we left our home we assumed we would be gone for a month so we tried to diminish our food resources before we left and we returned to a mostly empty food stock. Now that the store was shut down we weren’t sure what we were going to do. I’d say it was more frustration than panic, but it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. 

So, there we were, freshly returned from a very rich cultural experience that ended abruptly, isolated from our community as we tried to process the good and the hard of the previous few weeks.

BUT!! There was so much good and beauty in the midst of everything that happened and I wanted to share that as well. 

-First of all, some pretty awesome people had been working really hard and they worked out a way to take store orders, fill them, and deliver them to the community 3 times a week—and before they made this public knowledge they reached out to those of us who had just returned to make sure we had necessities. I’m very thankful for that thoughtfulness. They also made a team who used google forms to go to nearby villages and purchase garden food for us and they delivered our produce orders door to door until we were able to return to safe practices at market…and all of this was done with safe social distancing and cleanliness practices—just wow. 

Our little store worked so hard to deliver necessities to the community

-Also in the days before the community-wide required self isolation period we had a group of people prepare and deliver 3 meals for us after we returned from village so we didn’t have to worry about cooking. Which was SUPER helpful since I was sick. 

We were very thankful for those who brought us meals for the first days back from village

-I can’t express enough how thankful I am for the friend who warned me that we might come home early a whole day in advance of our evacuation—If I had to process all of that in only 2 hours while saying goodbyes and packing I would have had a much harder time processing things in the weeks following. 

-I’m thankful for the people who called or messaged to check on us as we navigated several transitions in only a short couple days. 

-I’m thankful for my Husband. Being stuck home with him was a beautiful blessing and I’ve fallen more in love with him than ever. We learned to love and support one another better and it was a blast cooking together, doing Bible Studies together, enduring movie marathons, playing games, and talking about our dreams and goals. 

Homemade Chinese dinner date night

I'm thankful for such a rich and beautiful experience in the village despite it's abrupt end. I'm thankful for the time the quarantine gave us to process the fast and unexpected transition out of the village. And I'm especially thankful for all the ways God provided for us as we returned dazed and confused.

We feel blessed by the relationships we made with our village family and have since been able to see some of them a couple of times. We are looking forward to when we are able to make the journey back to the village to reunite with all of our dear friends.


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