Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Walk to Work

View across the valley from the front door.
I’ve been thinking to write a description of Ukarumpa for some time, but it is a town which defies description. Wikipedia and Lonely Planet each make an attempt, but it is incomplete. Discussions on our internal bulletin board show that I’m not the only one with this problem. I’ve been here four months, but those who’ve lived here years also struggle and disagree.

Instead of a general Ukarumpa description, I shall tell you about my walk to the office each day, as a window on this world.

The house I’m living in belongs to an Aussie couple who are home on furlough, so I have their house, cat, car and sewing machine for a year. The comings of goings of furlough, village trips, medical leave etc make this a very transient community. Every week there is a string of arrivals and departures. Overlapping furlough dates can mean you don’t see someone for two years.

This house shares a driveway with an Aussie-German couple. They met here a few years ago when they came as a single primary school teacher and an aircraft mechanic and recently returned with their two small children. It is fun to be Auntie Hanna to those kids, who are growing up tri-lingual in English, German and Tok Pisin and who love being picked up and spun around.

As I start down the hill to the office, my neighbours on the other side are a Finnish-Aussie couple. They met and married at Ukarumpa many years ago- their two kids are both high school age and are also at least tri-lingual as they may also know the local language of the village where their parents work. They are translators on a small island to the north of New Ireland. Planning village trips for them includes planning a dinghy ride of several hours and praying for good weather for the crossing. When the parents go to the village, the kids stay at the Children’s Home with other high school students and the house parents. It’s rumoured that some students like life in the children’s homes so much that they encourage their parents to go to the village more often. As a general rule, primary school aged kids go to the village with their parents and the school sends material for home schooling. High schoolers stay here and attend class.

Continuing downhill I pass another Aussie family who I lived next door to at Kangaroo Ground when I was studying to come here. Their kids are often playing on the swing waiting to leave for school when I pass. Morning hugs from the kids make a good start to the day. Ukarumpa’s ex-pat community is at least 75% US citizens, but somehow I’m living on Aussie Ave.

The next house is a Columbian-US family, with another Hanna(h). My name is much more common here at Ukarumpa than in Australia. Oddly, I’ve met four families where two of their children are Hanna(h) and Luke.

Round the corner and I need to watch my step. At the first bend the water has eaten away at the road and caused undulations full of loose gravel. At the next bend the mud is treacherously slippery and skiing lessons would be an advantage.

By the time I can look around me again, rather than on each step, I am passing the three units where three single translator ladies live. Well, where they live when not in their various parts of the country working on their various translation and literacy projects. There are many single women in this branch, working in almost every department and role. We have a social email network called ‘the crowd’ which has events at least weekly. Being single is not reason to be alone around here.

Continuing downhill I am usually passing and greeting many locals who work as yard and house help around town. More on that another day, but from an Aussie perspective having yard help has taken some getting used to.  

Guest house with housing downstairs.
As I continue to the office, there are homes on the right and the guest house on the left. The guest house accommodates short term visitors and provides them with meals. New guest house managers arrived last week, but are only here for three months before the next lot arrive. Downstairs from the guesthouse is housing. Here my friend Jude organises tenants, billing, maintenance etc. Many Ukarumpa houses are privately owned and many are branch owned, but housing has the spare key to all of them, in case we get locked out.

Continuing my downhill wander, I cut across the lawn below CTS- Computer and Technical Services. Often I am passing at the time of their morning devotion, so can enjoy the sound of mostly male voices singing together. CTS deal with all things computing, electrical and technical. They are very patient and helpful with all the computer issues that simply stress me out. Hidden in their various buildings are also people developing software to assist with translation and literacy.

At the end of the CTS building is the radio room. All village teams have a HF radio set up and listen in to a daily sched. A few times a week each team must check in. Although mobile coverage is rapidly increasing across the country, the radio is free for a chat and good for bulk communication. Of course, your chat is also bulk communication, as there in no real privacy on the radio waves. This is worth remembering if you need to come up on the medical sched with the doctor!

Translators' Cubicles and LCORE
The next building is part of LCORE, which stands for Language Collaboration Opportunities Resources and Encouragement, and is basically the academic help desk. LCORE helps with literacy, translation, exegesis, anthropology, language survey, scripture in use and more. They provide materials, run training and are a great place for a coffee and a chat. The first LCORE building I pass has seminar rooms and the technical library. There are multiple libraries around Ukarumpa. This one is primarily for linguistic and theological books and journals. The second LCORE building I pass has offices for each of the sub departments. Elsewhere is another LCORE building which deals with computer training, literacy materials and scripture typesetting.

Surrounding LCORE are lots of translator cubicles- small offices for translators to work in. Many translators bring their teams from the village to Ukarumpa to work as there are less distractions, so more work gets done. Other cubicles are national translators working on their own as their ex-pat advisor is currently out of country. Sometimes it is just the ex-pat working in a cubicle, as they focus better than when working from home. They are little offices, generally quiet, but a very industrious space.

Looking up at LCORE and the start of the long hike home.
Finally I have reached the Directors’ Office, where the project office is based. Another day I’ll walk you through my office building and further around Ukarumpa. The route I take to work only passes a portion of Ukarumpa, but by my estimate it is about the equivalent descent as 16 flights of stairs. The walk home I won’t describe, as it is the same route and with 16 flights of stairs to ascend at 1,500m above sea level, I have little breath left for talking.

1 comment:

  1. I think I'll come back to read this many times this year! Thanks for sharing your walk to work - it helps to understand Ukarumpa better!