It was exactly 10 years ago, in the first week of January 2001, when my family stepped out of a 20-seater plane onto the rich brown dirt and sprawling green hills of the Papua New Guinea highlands. Many would describe the place we had entered as paradise on earth, a gorgeous country mostly untouched by modernity.
But I saw none of that beauty. As an American adolescent, moving to a third world country was, in my small realm of existence, the worst thing that could have ever happened to me. I have vivid memories of bawling my eyes out on my bed, both before and after we made the big move.
At point, one of the first days we were there, I remember walking with my family around the CLTC campus, through the cow pastures, by the smelly chicken sheds, across the sports fields where kids were kicking an old soccer ball. I turned to my mom and said “Is this really where we have to live now?” I didn’t think I was going to survive.
But 10 years later, and here I am… Happy, content, and grateful to be living again in the developing world. Back to being the only white face in a crowd, where kids wave excitedly to me as if they’ve never seen blond hair and blue eyes before.
Back to equatorial seasons with a constant sunny-with-a-high-of-75 forecast, tropical thunderstorms, and an abundance of clear starry nights. Back to eating bananas and pineapple for breakfast, sweet potato and cassava for lunch, with Cadbury chocolate and PK gum for snacks.
Back to church services filled with rousing harmonies and clapping choruses, but where prosperity gospel/cargo cults threaten the integrity of the gospel. Back in a land where AIDS, tribal animosity, and government corruption attack the roots of society.
And I love it all. I love living life in Africa. And it all started 10 years ago, when I first stepped off the plane in Papua New Guinea as a bratty 12-year old.
So thanks, Mom and Dad, for dragging me halfway around the world, even though I hated it at the time. Thanks, Papua New Guinea, for teaching me the beauty of living in a different culture. Thanks God, for the life you’ve given me to live. It’s far better than I ever dreamed of 10 years ago!