The life of a single, unassigned linguist is a varied one that involves rarely staying in one place for too long. Being unassigned to a language project long term, I am free to help with various projects and workshops in different parts of the country. Being single also gives me the freedom to come and go in a way that families and couples cannot.
May started and ended for me in New Ireland. At the start of the month I was at NITI and at the end of the month running a Sunday School materials workshop in Kavieng. In between, I had three weeks back at Ukarumpa. Three weeks in which to unpack, clean and wind down from the trip to NITI, to catch up with office work that had been left unattended, to relax with sewing and reading, to send out my newsletter, to welcome newcomers from orientation, to farewell a friend ‘going finish’, to enjoy the company of a visiting friend, to catch up with local friends, to attend a lecture by a visiting linguist and to prepare and pack for my next six weeks away. It was a busy time.
A common conversation at the store, church or along the road went;
‘I’ve not seen you in awhile’
‘I was away until about week ago’
‘We should catch up’
‘Yes, but I leave in a little over a week.’
Another comment I’ve heard more than once is that I’ve seen a lot more of the country in 14 months than many people have after years living and working in PNG. It is true that in assisting with various programmes and workshops in many places I have been exposed to all sorts of cultural and geographical variations. It has been a privilege, but it has a cost.
When I am away, I often work long days, up to seven days a week. When not working, but in a village situation, you are still in the public eye and not truly off duty. Being away takes a lot of planning and preparation. I am very thankful for the willingness of my neighbours to feed my cat in my absence. Communication is harder when away because email is slow and expensive, and phones may or may not work.
Coming and going has other challenges. This time I am going to three locations in six weeks with five different roles. Packing for each of these, without bringing the whole house with me, was interesting! In each place I learn a new set of greetings, make a new set of friends and then move on. Meanwhile, I miss out on the daily interactions of Ukarumpa life which hold together friendships there. I am thankful for my Bible study group who like to hear from me each week and email back their updates and prayer requests so that I am still connected.
Please don’t think I’m whining. I truly do enjoy the work I do and the privilege of helping so many language groups move forward in their work. I am just trying to paint a slightly more realistic picture of what life can be like. If it seems like my time at Ukarumpa is crazy busy… sometimes it is. If it seems like my time at Ukarumpa is ‘sindaun nating’… sometimes it is that too, as I catch up on weekends and rest that I could not have while away.
In the future I hope to find a translation partner and settle into long term work in a single language project. Then I will be able to learn the language properly and build lasting relationships. I will still come and go from Ukarumpa, but it will be to one place where I have an established base, rather than living out of my backpack. Until then, I will acknowledge the privilege I have in the varied work I do and willingly accept the challenges that go with that.