Friday, September 25, 2009

A Walk in the [Rain]Forest

“Blessed are those who … walk in the light of your presence, O Lord.” ~Psalm 89:15

“Those who hope in the Lord … will walk and not be faint.” ~Isaiah 40:31b

Last weekend we had four-wheel driving lessons. If you have never driven off-road (well, actually it was on-road, but on-road-PNG-style rivals some of the best off-road-US-style) in a 4WD, let me tell you that it really is a different kind of driving experience. First, there are two, count them, two gear shifts. Second, you must bring the car to a full stop before you can shift between 4W Hi and 4W Lo. Something about a gear ratio. Third, in some countries, you are supposed to do all of this, AND avoid the craters AND get through the rivers, all the while shifting with your left hand and staying on the left side of the road!

But, I digress.

The reason this is relevant to my story is that last weekend was the first time I had driven a vehicle since August 3.

Yeah, I know!

You think that’s crazy, you should have seen my driving!

Again, I digress.


So, what was my point? Oh, yeah. While we have ridden in vehicles many times (usually the open-sided sort with wooden benches that you try really hard not to bruise your hiney on after the Dyna hits a bump that sends you flying eight or nine inches off your seat) I have not driven. Instead we have been required to use that most burdensome mode of transportation: feet.

From walking up to the market on Saturday, to walking all about the town of Madang carrying purchases on your back, to walking miles and miles back and forth between the dining hall, the meeting hall, the dorm, the Haus Win, and the bathrooms. (OK, I exaggerate slightly, but sum it up over all these weeks and maybe …)

Not to mention the hiking.

Oh, yeah … that was what I was getting to. OK, so they expect us to hike every week. I know, that isn’t too much to ask, but for one who hikes on summer vacation five days a year in June, preferring terrain that, at least relative to recent experience, would be considered flat, these “wokabouts” are a bit challenging.

Remember, we live on a mountain.

Which means, if we want to get a shower, we have to make it back to the top. Using our feet.

Hike #1 was called the Community Survey Hike. We walked around to several villages in close proximity to the POC grounds. (Keep in mind, when a Papua New Guinean says “close” it may or may not mean the same as what most sane Americans would mean by “close.”) We hiked for two hours, up and down, but not too strenuous.

Come to find out, they were just baiting us so they could move in for the kill.

Weeks 2, 3, and 4 brought “real” hikes. Now we were beginning to understand just how difficult life can be for the people of PNG. We would hike through a village and then thirty minutes later, some distance down the mountain, we would come upon the garden that they walk to (often barefoot) nearly every day of the year. This season’s garden, that is. No crop rotation here … just land rotation. They work a new garden each season. The process is simple:

  1. Mark the plot of ground in some way – typically plastic bags tied to the top of six-foot sticks stuck in the ground
  2. Cut all of the bush on the plot. Whether it is shrubbery, tall trees, coconut palms, or plants that are bilas tasol (only decoration), it all has to go
  3. Let it dry completely. (This can be difficult in years like this when there is an unusual amount of rain during the “dry” season.
  4. Cut and haul all of the wood that could conceivably be used for fire wood or for building houses.
  5. Burn everything that is left. (Also difficult under unusually wet conditions.)
  6. Get rid of all the burned material and dig up the ground for planting (many times with nothing but a stick).
  7. Plant your garden. (This is not tossing grain out among the rows like we think of … this is planting each sweet potato plant or each pumpkin vine individually … with a stick.)
  8. Go back to check on your garden and harvest as each thing matures … hauling it back up the mountain in a bag on your back just like you did the firewood.

Yeah, I kind of feel like a wimp complaining about walking on these same trails, with good quality walking shoes, carrying only a bottle of water. Uh huh.

There is always a national guide and at least one staff member who accompanies us on these hikes. The guides (and sometimes the staff) prefer to hike in bare feet, or maybe flip flops. Don’t ask me how.

Please allow me to insert a sort of Public Service Announcement at this point: If your group is going to do the so-called “Week 4 Down and Up Hike” in the afternoon and you were nauseous enough that you had no choice but to skip lunch and sleep, it is probably not a good idea to actually go on the hike. It could be that you are worn out by the time you get finished with the “down” portion, which makes it rather difficult to accomplish the “up” portion without nearly passing out. And it might be that once you get to the first road of the whole hike (a whole half kilometer from your ending point), they may have to radio for a vehicle to come pick you up. And it may be that you may toss your cookies upon reaching your room.

I’m just saying.

OK, so week five brought us the infamous “Kamba Hike.” The village of Kamba lies some two or three mountain-tops away, depending on how you go. We went the three-mountain direction and came back the two-mountain direction, but you can do whatever you want. We left at about 8:20 in the morning and hiked about 6 ½ km. En route we passed a group of vines strong enough and in a perfect location for doing Tarzan imitations. Paul and several others indulged.

After arriving at Kamba at about 11:15, a POC truck came and met us there with lunch before it hauled the school children back to POC. The cheaters.

But I’m not bitter. After all, I got a ride home last week, right? Anyway, we left about 12:30 and finished the 5km or so back to POC at around 3:30. This was our first “all-day” hike. There were no casualties from this hike except for a pretty badly twisted ankle (not mine). Convenient, I’d say, for hoping to get a pass on the next two hikes.

So this past Monday week we (with the exception of the twisted-ankle-victim) did the “Gear Hike.” It is exactly as it sounds. Us. Hiking. Carrying Gear. Yep.

The goal of this hike, other than to satisfy the sadistic affinities of the staff (they did not go), was to prepare us for the “Three-Day Hike” next week. We had to carry our gear – whatever we planned to take on the hike next week, plus an extra kilo of water to substitute for the food we will carry. Paul carried my father’s frame backpack (think 1980s … now quit laughing) with 13 kilos. I carried a day pack with about 8 kilos. The thought was, if you had to toss out something, toss out the “water pretending to be food” and they would re-weigh the pack upon return to see how much weight you should plan to carry next week. Pretty nifty plan, eh?

My hiking partner, Donna, and I decided on that hike that we won’t really need a plate or a spoon or clothes or a towel or a mosquito net or a water filter. We’d just hike with food, a liter of water, and deodorant, sleep with the bugs, and pray. I’m thinking I may skip the food.

Not really, of course, but I tried to die. The first hour of the hike was in direct sunlight – no shade – and it happened to be one of the hottest days since we’ve been here. At about the 45 minute mark, I was wheezing and struggling for breath. Never before have I had any symptoms that presented like asthma, but I hear now that there is some phenomenon called “stress-induced asthma.” Ding, ding, ding! I think we have a winner! :)

But, after a good rest, I recovered and was able to walk the next 15 minutes into the cover of the bush. That made a world of difference. A few minutes later we arrived at a picturesque village called Ba’ap. It has an amazing view of Madang and the coast north of it. It made my near-death experience worth it. Almost.

No, seriously, it was beautiful. And, as in every other village, it was as if the Pied Piper had come to town. Children came from every direction to see us. They universally love to have their picture taken and with the advent of digital cameras, they can see their images immediately. What fun! On our way out of the village I noticed there were about six kids following closely behind us. I asked them (at least I think I did) if they were going to go back home with me. They giggled and nodded. I decided I would teach them a skill that would be infinitely helpful to them as they grew to adulthood: “Gimmie Five!” Oh, how they loved it!

At one point, one child tried to "gimmie five" up in the air, opening the door for teaching the additionally beneficial "High Five."

When at last we arrived (read: me dragging myself in by my teeth) at POC, we all, except for the water we had drunk and the weight we’d lost through sweat (I could literally wring out my clothes), had all of the kilos we started with. I suppose that would be what one might call a “success.”

The three-day hike takes place next Monday-Wednesday, Sept 28-30. Check back for an update after that.

Now, to figure out what I really can live without on that three-day hike.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Thoughts on Community

Ten ladies and eight children sharing one bathroom.

Three meals a day in a dining hall with 31 other students and staff, all of whom take turns doing meal prep and clean-up.

Very little privacy and nowhere to go to “get away.”

All sounds carrying right through the walls.

These are some of the drawbacks of communal living. I think, though, that our course is set up this way by design, and not just because of the limitations of the facility. They’re trying to kill us … er, I mean, make us stronger. And give us an appreciation for values that may be somewhat different from those we are used to. On October 9 we will be allocated out to our villages for five weeks, and one thing you must understand about Papua New Guinea is that life is lived in community.

Ennio Mantovani writes in his article, “Traditional and Present Day Melanesian Values and Ethics,” “The shape and size of the community varies from society to society in Melanesia, but the group of people which is necessary for biological survival, for emotional support and for meaning is always of the greatest importance for Melanesians. In fact, the community seems to take precedence over individual personal likes and dislikes.”

In our Western cultures, many of us, dare I say most of us, get up and spend our day either doing what-not inside our houses, or working or running errands away from home. When we return, we push a button and then drive our windows-rolled-up cars (because we value air conditioning) into the garage, the door of which closes conveniently behind us. Then we escape back into the security and privacy of our homes. We may have waved briefly to the neighbors, but we don’t know their names.

Not so here. The house is for sleeping. Life is lived outside.

Because people matter.

Working in the garden - which takes 45 minutes to walk to - with your sister-in-law and all the children while the baby hangs from a tree in a string bag. Sitting around chewing buai (betelnut) and making biliums. Storying - what we might call "shooting the breeze" - for hours on end. Cooking kaukau over an open fire and then eating in an open-sided veranda in front of God and everyone.

To stay inside your house, as would be so easy for us to do, would be considered rude – a definite sign that you are not interested in relationships.

Relationship is perhaps the primary cultural value in Melanesian society.

Storying is a must, whether you have something to say or not. Just tell the other person about what you did in the garden this morning, or what happened at the local rugby game on Saturday. Or you can “Once Upon a Time” it and share what happened when your grandfather first saw a white man seventy-five years ago. Or how you managed to kill two wild pigs in one day last year. Or how your brother fell nearly 10 meters out of a buai tree when you were seven and only broke one little finger.

Just talk.

PNG culture values reciprocity, as well. You help me, I help you. Or, I help you, you help me. It matters not how it started, but tabs are mentally kept and one is always either owed something or indebted to another. Or both. But, unlike in my culture where it is a matter of fairness, these accounts are maintained as a way of reinforcing that certain relationships are valuable to you. You matter and our friendship matters, so I will help you. I will give you some bananas. Or I will teach you how to make a bilum. Or I will help you sew morota for your roof.

Then you show me that you value me in return by giving me a ride to town, or watching my children while I go to the market, or giving me some buai. Even better if you chew it with me.

And so on.

Interestingly, even saying “thank you” and causing an offense require some kind of physical exchange.

As Ennio Mantovani states, “Gratitude follows the same rules. Any gift establishes a relationship. One cannot answer the first part of an exchange with words. One must do something. …[and] If one offends a friend, i.e., breaks the relationship, it is not enough to say “sorry,” one must do sorry and give a gift. Eventually a gift will be returned and that is the final sign that peace has been made.”

As much as this communal living can be grating at times, it is very much preparing us for life in the village. Yes, we will have our own house (which, of course, we must exit during the day so as to live life on the outside), and our own liklik haus (Would that be a little too much community? Not for them.), which will differ from here at POC. But, we expect to be almost constantly in the presence of other people.

It’s what we choose to do with that contact that counts.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Family Matters

One thing that is designed to help prepare us for village living is the “Wasfemili” program (“was” = watch, “femili” = family). During Week 3 of our course we were introduced to the people who would be our watch family at a dinner we hosted for them. All students were asked to bring a couple of floor mats from their rooms to the meeting room (which we had emptied of all furniture) and then decorate the walls surrounding their chosen area with flowers and such. When the families arrived, they were paired off with their POC family (or pair of singles) to go to the meeting room to get to know one another. We talked (somewhat laboriously considering we had only two weeks of Tok Pisin behind us), shared pictures of home, and played Uno (which transcends language barriers, apparently.) Dinner of rice and stew was served by the POC staff, followed by banana kek and hot tea (the way they generally like it: made weak and mixed with milk).

Our WasPapa is a man named Papa Ganig. He is also one of the workmen at POC and is also a “Papa Graun” of the property on which it sits. He has worked for POC since the program began some 36 years ago. Papa mows the grass, fixes things, and goes as a national guide on many of our hikes. He is a short man in his 70s but he can walk these trails barefoot with 500 mL of water (from which he rarely drinks) at a pace that would make a horse sweat. Meanwhile we’re huffing and puffing in our deep-treaded walking shoes and trying to keep up with him.

On one particular hike he was trucking along at such a pace that we caught up with the children (who always leave about 15 minutes before the various adult groups. The goal is to keep the groups small and intimate, and separate.) The kitchen coordinator, Missy, frequently hikes with the kids and has a great rapport with Papa Ganig. When she saw us puffing and realized how fast he must have been walking, she gave him a tongue lashing. If he didn’t slow down he would not get any bread, she told him. As he smiled impishly, the twinkle in his eyes said it all.

He’s a very good natured, easy-going man who, though he has spent his life in comparative poverty, has a great love for Bikpela (the Lord). He told us the story of how he went to the island of Karkar (just off the coast and slightly North of Madang) to find a wife. I questioned whether that was the reason he went there or if it turned out to just be a good perk, but he insisted (at least I think that was what he said) that that was his purpose in going. The traditional custom of marriage in PNG involves parents finding and deciding on a spouse for their pikinini (child), and also the groom’s family providing quite a hefty dowry (called a “bride price”) to the bride’s family – rice, yams, chickens … and especially pigs. These days, however, most men are finding their own wives and bride prices, if paid, are often paid in Kina rather than goods. Papa told us that he only had to pay a liklik (small) bride price. (Though I wanted to say that I was sure Maib was worth a big price, I was not sure how to say it, so I just smiled.)

Maib told me yesterday that her mother died shortly after she was born, and her older brother raised her and her two sisters. After coming to Nobnob with her new husband, she had to learn a new Tok Ples (local language). As PNG has about 860 different “Tok Ples,” I imagine it is not uncommon for women to have to learn a new one when they marry. An exception would be some of the southernmost provinces which work on a matrilineal system rather than a patriarchal system – the women own the land and a man joins the woman’s family when he marries.

Papa Ganig and Mama Maib have several children and even more grandchildren. We have not yet met their children, but as we have small kids, several of their grandchildren are part of our “Wasfemili.” Keti is 10 and her younger sister, Loreta, is 7. Beven is 12 and there are several younger boys as well: Josua, ______.

On one evening during week 4 Papa Ganig came and escorted us to his village where we had dinner at their home. We took along a pot of stew and a pot of rice along with a box of tea, some powdered milk, and some banana kek. Mama Maib also had made kaukau (sweet potato) and tulip (a very bitter green that has nothing to do with pretty cup-shaped flowers). We have found that they tend to eat later than we do, preferring to use all of the light they have (until 6:30 or so) to be outside doing other things. Then, once evening has settled in and they can’t see to be outside, they settle down for dinner.

Ganig’s village actually has power, which in their home manifests as one single fluorescent tube light on the veranda where we had our meal. Of course, anticipating the common failure of PNG power, we took along our Coleman lantern, which, of course, we lit about halfway through dinner. After dinner we played more Uno and talked some more, or as they say, we “storied.” In keeping with a culture that traditionally handed down oral history and legends, and though these days there are many literate people, they still love to tell and hear stories, both true and fiction.

Around 8:30 we headed home, somewhat relieved to be returning to the familiar, but grateful, too, for a good evening.

During week 5 (on Thursday night, September 10) we packed up a large frame backpack full of everything a western family would need to survive for one night in a Papua New Guinean village – a deck of Uno cards, four self-inflating ground mats, four flat sheets, four compressible pillows, a change of underwear, toothbrush and toothpaste, clean drinking water and dishes. In addition, the POC kitchen sent along a bag of rice, a tin of corned beef, some powdered milk, tea bags, coconut cookies, and the quintessential banana kek. Of course, compared to the sum of their possessions, we looked like kings entering the village. Gypsy kings, perhaps, but kings nonetheless.

When we arrived I asked Mama if she would be able to lainim me how to kuk antap long paia. She said she had already made dinner, but I could help her with breakfast. Pretty soon, the boys and Papa began helping Evan learn how to make a banara (bow and arrow). He very much enjoyed widdling the bamboo into sharp-pointed spea (arrows) and would end up taking home eleven arrows and two bows the next day.

I took the kids to the liklik haus (pit toilet), but we realized, after we had traversed the steep, muddy downhill to the thatched-roofed, woven-walled outhouse, that I had left the toilet paper behind. One of my children decided that he did not need it, and went ahead and used the facility while I went to retrieve the paper. As we heard during debriefs the next day, ours wasn’t the best, but it also wasn’t the worst liklik haus the students encountered. While one family had built their students their own, new, sheet-metal enclosed haus, others were wildly unproportional (read: the holes were large enough that it would have been easy to fall through and land in the creek 10 meters below. Though ours stood 10 meters above, not a creek but a swampy mess that I, at least, would not want to fall into, at least it was proportional and had an old toilet seat. And it had a great view. Seriously.

After dinner, while the kids played Uno and the men talked, Mama tried to teach me how to make a bilum (string bag very common in PNG). Bilums are the bags they carry all of their market produce in, as well as their babies. Frequently they carry these bags with the strap over their foreheads and the bag hanging down their backs. From the time they are small children, the girls are trained in carrying these bags so that by the time they are adults, they are carrying ridiculous amounts of weight with very little trouble. While I wanted to learn, her teaching method involved her doing it and me watching. I think I needed a bit more explanation, and I struggled to get it down. Mama had to straighten out my mess time after time, but she was very patient. Finally, I got the basic stitch figured out, but I still do not know how to start a new one or finish one, or move to the next row … you know, minor stuff like that. We still have one more evening meal with them next week, so maybe she can stretim me on the rest of it then.

They had an empty room ready for us to sleep in, but they did not show us until after dinner when, other than a small kerosene hurricane lamp we had brought along, it was pitch dark. It took me a while to help set up the mats and a large mosquito net over them. As I was tying up the mosquito net, I looked up and saw a pair of beady eyes looking at me. I gasped and stepped back to see a 14” lizard perched on the upright beam of the wall. This sucker was beautiful, but I was not really interested in finding out where he might go. Had the mosquito net been up already, I probably would have left him (one additional benefit of using the nets and keeping them well tucked in is they also keep out other critters!), but since I couldn’t keep my eye on him while I worked, and I really needed to tie up one part of the net to the pole he was on, I decided he needed to go. First I took some pictures of him, and then I told the boys so they could come rausim him from the room.

The kids went to bed close to ten and the adults stayed up a while longer. Papa said he typically stays up late, but I caught Mama dozing off while we talked. We joked with Papa about the roosters and how they begin calling out well before dawn. Just then, as if to chastise us for talking about him, a village rooster crowed. It was 11:30PM.

We slept pretty well, but woke off and on with the various noises. Mama let me help her make breakfast. She showed me how to get the meat out of a coconut and let me try it myself. I was more successful with that than the bilum-making. She put the coconut shreds in water and squeezed the water through the coconut making a coconut-flavored liquid. Then she showed me how they wash their rice and then use the coconut water to boil it. She had previously cooked bananas, kaukau, yams, and taro together in one pot. With the banana kek we had brought, breakfast was on.

After breakfast, they walked us over to their liklik garden – their larger garden being quite far away. They talked to us about the different plants, how long they took to grow, and how they would know when they were ready to reap.

After we went back to the house, Mama and I worked on bilums for a few minutes before it was time for us to head back to POC and the joy of a cool shower. Fortunately, in some ways, living in the village for five weeks will be easier. We will have our own home, and thus will not constantly feel the need to be social and engaged. If one gets bored, as Andie expressed several times, one can retreat to the shade around our own house with a book or a game.

Oh, and we will have our own, freshly dug and newly constructed liklik haus. :-)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Well, That All Depends on What Your Definition of ____ is.

BBQ Night – the POC meal every Friday evening, consisting of grilled hamburgers, sausages, and onions, accompanied by fried eggs, beets, and various salads

Bake-n-Fry – a heavy, rectangular metal pan, with lid and detachable handle, that can be used for baking in an oven or frying stuff on a stove, or doing either on a grate over an open fire

Birthday – a highly-anticipated day signified in the morning by a decorated dining room and in the evening with cake and ice cream in honor of the celebrant; the only days on which dessert is served

Bush Knife – a large knife used for cutting vines and trees or wood; also known as a machete

Dialogue – one of six written Tok Pisin conversations that students must memorize and say periodically during language class; helps to learn sentence constructs and practical questions and answers

Digicel – the PNG cellular phone service (one of two) that has the greatest area of coverage

Drum Oven – a container made out of a 5-gallon drum with a sheet metal cover; can be placed on a fire grate and used for baking over an open fire

Dyna – the open air truck that POC owns and uses to transport students; similar to some commercial PMVs

Expat – short for Expatriate; referring to someone with a foreign (from outside of PNG) passport

Fellowship Night – one night per week when small groups of students meet in the home of a staff member for fellowship, fun, and often food

Fruit bowl – a container consisting of pineapple, papaya, and banana pieces that shows up on the table three meals per day

Generator – a frequently-used machine that provides power when the PNG power fails

Hamburger – that thing Americans sometimes top with bacon and tomato, but that Aussies apparently prefer to eat topped with fried egg and beets

Haus Kuk – an outdoor kitchen made from narrow tree trunks, sticks, and bamboo; large poles are driven into the ground by hand; all materials are held together only with twine

Haus Kuk Weekend – five weekends during the course when students are expected to provide all of their own meals utilizing only their Haus Kuks, the supplies in their rat boxes, a fire grate, the drum oven, and whatever food supplies they bought in town

Hike – a two-plus hour event involving walking up and down and up and down through villages, over creeks, along steep drop-offs, and deep in the jungle; occasionally greatly complicated by recent rains that make the trail slick and treacherous

Hike, Kamba – a hike that lasts a full day, to Kamba and back to Pat

Hike, Three Day – a hike that lasts three days; the three-day hike for this class will include work to help finish a missionary’s village house

Jais Aben – a resort near the town of Madang where students are taken each Sunday afternoon to swim, snorkel, and/or enjoy a leisurely afternoon by the water (in PNG it is acceptable to utilize some resort facilities even if you are not a guest, but it is a good idea to patronize the establishment in some way in exchange for taking up space; for example, one might purchase a pot of coffee or an ice cream cone)

Kina – PNG’s unit of currency, equal to approximately 45 US cents

Liklik Haus – an enclosed outdoor toilet; usually a pit toilet

Martha – our hot water heater, similar in design to a drum oven; a fire is lit twice a day inside a “stove” to warm the water

Mausrot – (pronounced “mouse road” and literally meaning “the mouth of the road”) – where the winding, dirt, pothole-laden road down from Nobnob intersects the main, paved, pothole-laden road

MTV – the one PNG TV station, which students do not watch because we have no TV; rumor is that it has nothing to do with Rock and Roll music videos

Nagada – the lagoon where students do weekly swimming for exercise; a 100 meter rope is set up and students are expected to swim laps around the rope, one direction tends to be with the current and the other direction against

Nobnob - the hill on which POC sits, named for the language group that inhabits most of the area

Pat – the common name of the actual property on which POC sits

PMV – a vehicle used for transporting large numbers of people; typically owned by the driver and used as a business; a trip from the mausrot to town costs K1.50; a trip from Madang to Ukarumpa (in an enclosed PMV more akin to a 15-passenger van) costs about K35

Rat Box – a wooden box designed to keep out rats; each family is issued two rat boxes full of supplies, such as pots and dishes, to use during Haus Kuk weekends and Village Living

Rempi – a village along the coast north of Madang where the directors of POC have a small lagoon-front house; the cove boasts clear water and an amazing reef teeming with fish; one restful day during POC when students experience all play and no work

Shower – a cold stream of water that comes from the wall inside one of POC’s shower stalls

Shower, Bucket – a generally warmer alternative to a shower in which one runs warm water from Martha into a bucket and uses it to fill a second bucket suspended in the shower stall; the shower bucket has a valve on the bottom that opens and closes to control water flow

Tea – break time that occurs mid-morning and forces otherwise task-oriented students to socialize with the national employees of POC and practice Tok Pisin while building relationships; as a PNG custom, tea also occurs for nationals in the mid-afternoon

Tok Pisin – the trade language of PNG; literally translated, it means “Bird Talk”

Top-Up Card – a prepaid calling card for a Digicel phone; also called a “Flex Kad”

Wasfemili – a local Nobnob family assigned to a POC family (or pair of singles); the Tok Pisin word meaning “watch family”

Wasmama – the Mother figure of one’s Wasfemili

Waspapa - the Father figure of one’s Wasfemili

Wilma – the stove in the POC kitchen; a fire must be made inside it each morning and stoked periodically throughout the day

Village Allocation – the act of assigning someone to a village for the Village Living phase of POC or for permanent language work; the village to which one is assigned

Village Living – the phase of POC when families are assigned a village to live among for five weeks with little other western contact; a house and liklik haus are provided by the community for the POC family for the duration of village living

Village Overnight – a one-night stay with the students’ Wasfemili during week 5 of POC, in preparation for Village Living

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Tickets to the Circus

Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other. So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth …” ~Genesis 11:7-8a

Long fo wik nau, mi lainim neu tok planti! Mi lainim Spanish long tupelo Krismas long skul, na mi bin i stap long Germany long onepela ten eight mun, tasol dispela kain lain, huriap na mas mekim, em i neu rot. Tok Pisin (narapela nem bilong em i Melanesian Pigeon) em i no hard tok (planti tok long English na German), tasol sampela samting mi tingting kranki. Mi lainim em tasol. Mi ken baim kaikai long maket (“How much is that?”), mi ken autim tok save (“I am going to the market”), mi inap klia wanem taim bilong hairim sampela samting (“I’m sorry, can you say that again?”), na mi ken trai wokim dispela tok long Tok Pisin (“What am I thinking?! There are probably many mistakes!”)

Language learning has consumed much of the last four weeks of my life. I took two years of Spanish in High School, and I lived (and functioned reasonably well) in Germany for 18 months, but this kind of learning, quick and necessary, has been a new experience. Tok Pisin (also known as Melanesian Pigeon) is not a difficult language (it borrows much from English and German), but some of the constructs are not, at least to my mind yet, logical. I’m learning, though. I can buy food at the market. (“Em i hamas?”), I can relay information (“Mi go long maket.”), I can understand (most of) what I hear spoken around me (“Sori, yu tok gen?”), and I can even attempt to translate this blog entry (“Mi tingting wanem samting?! No save, tasol mi tingting i stap planti tok kranki!”)

Manmeri long planti ples klostu hia save mipela neupela sumatin i kam long Pat na laik helpim mipela lainim planti Tok Pisin. Ol i isi isi long mipela na sopos tok bilong mipela em i kranki, ol ken stretim mipela hariap. Tasol, ol i manmeri long marimari. Ol lukim mipela na ol i amamas na tromoi long taim mipela go long rot (“Look! Here comes a Dyna full of white people!”) Wanpela man bin tok, “Sopos yu inap go long ples bilong panipasin long givim nating, yu go tu, a?” Mipela em i longlong samting, tasol wanpela taim bipo ol lukim waiskin na gat planti pret.

The people of the surrounding villages know that we are new students here and take the task of helping us learn very seriously. They are patient with us and quick to correct us when we mess up. But, they are very gracious people. They watch us and smile and wave when we drive by (“Luk! Dyna em i kam nau na em I pulap long waiskin!”). As someone said the other day, “Well, if you were given free tickets to the circus, you’d go too, wouldn’t you?” J We are an oddity, I know, but things weren’t always so lighthearted.

Long wik i go pinis, mipela lukim piksa calim “First Contact.” Em i autim stori long tripela brata long Australia kam long PNG long 1933 bilong painim gold. Dispela taim em i pastaim manmeri long Hailans lukim waiskin man. Ol i pret and tingting waiskin em mas i stap god o tumbuna die tru bipo na kam bek. Ol waitpela man gat klos na manmeri bilong Hailans ken luk liklik skin bilong ol tasol. Ol waiskin gat naispela samting tomihak, sol, na masket.

Last week, we watched a film called “First Contact.” It tells the story of three Australian brothers who came to PNG in 1933 prospecting for gold. This was the first time that the people of the interior Highlands had seen white-skinned people. They were afraid, thinking they must be gods, or reincarnated ancestors. These pale people wore bright colored skins and hardly any of their own skin showed. They had wonderful things, like metal axes, salt, and firearms.

Behain, manmeri long Hailans klia ol waiskin bin i stap man tasol. Ol i man long graun tu.

Eventually the people of the Highlands understood that they were men just like they were. That they were human.

Mi no tingting manmeri klostu long Pat tok nau, “Ol waiskin i god!” tasol ol manmeri hia save SIL na save mipela kam long PNG bilong helpim ol – wokim neupela wok bilong tok ples na behain givim Tok bilong God long manmeri bilong tok ples.

I don’t believe anyone around here thinks that we are gods, but everyone in this area knows about our organization and knows that we are here to help them – to help with language development and eventually to bring God’s Word to them in the languages of their hearts.

Bipo mi pinis, mi ritim tok long Peace Child, ritim long Don Richardson. (Don bin go long hap bilong sundaun long New Guinea long 1960 samting bilong givim Tok bilong God long Sawi. Em pastaim ol manmeri bilong Sawi lukim waiskin na ol tinting em i stap god.) Don tingting long amamas taim em kam long Sawi ples, em ritim:

I’ll close this entry with a quote from the book, Peace Child, by Don Richardson. (Don was a missionary who went to the Eastern side of the New Guinea island in the 1960s to reach the Sawi tribe with God’s Word. These people had never seen a white man before he arrived and they, too, thought he must be a supernatural being.) Reflecting on their enthusiastic (well, once they got over their initial fear) reception of his arrival, he wrote:

“If I had not been there that day to trigger that salute as an emissary of Christ, someone else’s emissary would have triggered it later, possibly with quite different motives and results. Those who advocate that the world’s remaining tribal groups should be left to themselves do not realize how naïve their notion is! The world just isn’t big enough anymore for anyone to be left alone! It is a foregone conclusion that even if missionaries do not go in to give, lumbermen, crocodile hunters, prospectors, or farmers will still go in to take! The issue is not, then, should anyone go in, because obviously someone will! The issue is, rather, will the most sympathetic person get there first?”

This circus clown would agree.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Engaging the Senses

Living in Papua New Guinea is awakening my senses.

I’ve decided that when we live in one place for a long time, we begin take for granted familiar sights and sounds and flavors and such. Take, for instance, French fries. When was the last time you sat down and enjoyed – I mean really savored – some French fries? The warm, melt-in-your-mouth softness of potato that has been cooked just right, with a crusty layer of crispy, clog-your-arteries, vegetable-oil-induced yumminess, dipped in ketchup, or better yet, Pommes Frites spice and German mayonnaise … mmmm.

I miss French fries. Can you tell?

But, to get to the point … imagine dipping bananas in ketchup. Doesn’t it sound delightful? No? Well, I’ve learned that there is a difference between “eating bananas” and “cooking bananas.” Take some cooking bananas, if you can find them, slice them lengthwise, and fry them like French fries. If you weren’t looking, you would think you were eating fried potatoes. Who knew?

One thing we have had much of, and will have much more, is kau kau – otherwise known as sweet potato – of which there are several varieties as well. Taro is the root of what we would call an Elephant Ear plant. It has a very dense, root-ish texture and rather bland flavor. Aibika is a green that tastes much like spinach, and while pumpkin soup here is very good, did you know the pumpkin greens can be eaten as well? Kulau, the milk of a coconut, is a great source of electrolytes. Getting dehydrated on a hike? Cut a hole in the coconut and drink the milk.

Without passing judgment on any of the above, let’s just say that PNG has awakened my sense of taste.

Back in Fort Worth, at night we would frequently hear people racing down Everman Raceway … I mean, Parkway. Here? Geckos gather on our window screens and chirp the latest news to each other at night. Village roosters crow the coming of dawn … at 3AM, 4AM, 4:45 … I’ve even heard them as early as 11:30PM. But you know what? It doesn’t seem to matter when they crow. Dawn still doesn’t come until 6AM.

I hear children playing and giggling as they walk barefoot down the road. I hear languages being spoken around me that I will probably never learn, and yet I also hear a language coming out of my own mouth that I never knew before. I hear the sound of blakskins and waiskins laughing together when the language barrier has been broken and a joke is shared.

I hear wind blowing through the palm, banana, papaya, and mango trees. I hear rain pounding the corrugated metal roof above me at night before it drains, as drinking water, down into the holding tank.

Smell – now there’s an interesting sense. I’m sitting here trying to remember the distinctive smells of everyday life in America. Smog? Fresh French fries?

Fire is a part of daily life here – not for us, yet, but for these people who have no stoves or ovens or guaranteed clean water. Fire means smoke, and smoke has a very distinct smell.

Sea water, too, is a unique smell, as is the diesel fumes that come from the open-backed truck carrying 24 people, in first gear, up the mountain on winding, narrow, pot-holed dirt roads.

I think the smell that has captured me the most, though, is the raw odor of sweat. Masses of humanity baking in near-equatorial sunshine, with no running water and no air conditioning. I suppose I could list sweat under each sense category here – just yesterday we were hiking and I was covered in it. I could feel it draining down my neck and back, see it pouring down my arms, and hear it smacking the ground when I tried to wipe it off. I could taste it running down my face and into my mouth. Trust me – there’s little you can do about it. And the smell? Oh. There are no words. Inhale deeply early next Tuesday morning – unless you live very close to Detroit, you might be able to smell it from where you are.

What about sights? Do I miss the roads crowded with cars and trucks and vans and semis and motorcycles, etc., ad nauseum? Do I miss the neon signs beckoning me to “have it my way” or “drive thru?” (Ok, if it means French fries, maybe.) Do I miss the suburban neighborhoods with their cozy little homes where people hit the garage door opener at 5:30PM and disappear until 7:30 the next morning?

Here in PNG, houses are for sleeping. Life is lived outside, in community. Cooking, washing, gardening, playing, making the things needed for life is all done publically and corporately. Relationships are valued.

My eyes can’t get enough of the million dollar views from this hill called Nobnob. New varieties of trees and flowers, and especially insects, entertain me regularly. Seeing hundreds of flying foxes hanging from the trees in Madang, and watching these same bats spread their five foot wingspans in flight above the city in broad daylight … unbelievable.

Looking through my snorkeling mask at coral teeming with tropical fish and the occasional sea snake. Urchins with foot-long spines lining the sea walls. My son emerging from the water holding the latest starfish find, bright blue and 14” across.

The ladies sitting in the market place with their handmade clothing or bags, or selling vegetables, fruit, or peanuts.

PNG is a sight to behold.

In the States, I remember the feel of the steering wheel. I remember the fluffiness of freshly-dried towels and the static that comes when the clinging dryer sheet is peeled off. I remember the feel of carpet under my feet. I remember petting the cat.

I have not driven a car in almost a month now. Instead, I regularly grasp the wooden bench in the back of the truck so the potholes don’t toss me about too badly, and I feel the wind in my hair as we ride to town. Here, I miss fabric softener. Though the cold shower feels immeasurably more wonderful after returning from a hike coated in a 2” layer of sweat, when finished I reach for a clean, but rough and crinkly towel.

Carpet has been replaced by a concrete floor and a woven mat, and I miss the cat.

The feel of PNG money is different. Not only is it prettier and more interesting (as is the case with the currency of basically every other country in the world) than US dollars, it has a distinctive texture. There is a little window on each bill, too, made of a plastic-like material, that displays a near-transparent hologram. Their one kina coins have a hole in the middle.

Tucking in the mosquito net every time I get into or out of bed is a new tactile experience, as was making an outdoor kitchen last week (that’s another blog entry in itself). Pounding the poles, made from trees, into the ground with only our hands, and securing the bamboo and other materials, not with nails, but with twine, was something new for all of us.

There is one feeling that I am still looking forward to here. That is the touch of a Papua New Guinean hand - the clinging grasp that we’re told comes with relationship and friendship. Men hold the hands of other men; women hold the hands of other women, and for them it is not awkward. Instead, when they feel close to you, it is as natural as laughing together.

I’m looking forward to that.

We are missionaries serving God and the task of Bible translation by serving the missionary community in Papua New Guinea through Personnel Administration and MK Education. We thank you for your prayers!

For the Bibleless Peoples of the World ...

(Updated 13 April 2013)