Monday, November 30, 2009

Cooking Up Whole New Traditions

“If you ever have to support a flagging conversation, introduce the subject of eating.” ~Leigh Hunt

“Whether one eats a cat or not is a personal choice, and I don't want to sway anyone one way or another. But if you do, there is one obvious cooking tip: always remember to remove the bell from the cat's collar before cooking.” ~Mike Royko

Eight dollars a pound.

If you want to have turkey for Christmas here in Ukarumpa, you can order one, but that’s what it’s gonna cost you.

Gone are the days of getting a free turkey when you spend fifty bucks at the grocery store.

Many people have asked about food here, what we can get, what we can’t get. What’s new and different? How expensive are things?

I think just about anywhere you go in the world, you will find new and different culinary tastes and traditions. For example, go to Louisiana and you get hot sauce. Boston, cream pies. Kentucky, fried chicken. California, mixed nuts.

That kind of thing.

Things are like that here in Papua New Guinea, too. Different areas of the country have their own varieties of traditional and available foods (we especially enjoyed snake beans, fresh pineapple, and pomolo during Village Living). And now we are here at this missionary center where, because of the store trying to cater to eighteen different nationalities, foods from all over the world converge. Or, I should say, converge from time to time, for example when an infrequent shipment from America happens to coincide with one of the more frequent shipments from Australia. Black and Gold brand foods are imported from Australia, and Sunny Select from California, so, disregarding Vegemite, we do have many things available to us that we are used to.

There are, of course, some things that are simply not available. And some things that may be available today but you may not find again for four months. Everyone including the POC cook has been waiting for popcorn to arrive in country ever since before we did.

When we were preparing for Village Living, a shopping trip into Madang would take several hours. Not because it was all that far away, but because it just takes that long to shop. You may have to go to six or eight stores to find everything you’re looking for. And even then, you might not find all of it.

Here in Ukarumpa, we don’t have the variety of stores, so either we have it or we don’t. A few days ago, my husband came home with a wide smile plastered across his face. “It’s Christmas!” he announced excitedly as he shoved several bags of rolled oats and popcorn in my direction.

This is the stuff of fairy tales, people.

Many things are comparable in cost, but overall, prepared foods (canned vegetables, Old El Paso taco kits, salad dressing, cake mixes, etc.) are significantly more pricy than you’d find in the states. At the same time, fresh fruits and vegetables at the market, unlike your favorite produce section, are very affordable. Twenty-five cents for a large handful of green beans, sixty cents for five good sized potatoes, forty cents for seven or eight medium sized carrots, twenty-five cents for a large head of leafy lettuce. Basic kinds of meat – the cows, chickens, and pigs – being enrolled in entry level marketing classes led by the turkeys – tend to be expensive.

Many things here must be made from scratch, either because it is not available any other way, or because it is otherwise cost-prohibitive. We have made our own salsa, as well as our tortilla chips. Mmmmmm … the salsa is really more of a pico de gallo, and the chips are made from wheat tortillas rather than corn, but I tell you what: chips and salsa never tasted so good!

And I never would have guessed that a homemade wheat tortilla, topped with refried beans (canned, though I’m sure if you wanted to you could make these from scratch, too), and this very same pico de gallo would be just as good as any taco, without the cost of meat. Try it sometime!

One day Paul got a good deal on some meat, so we planned to eat that for dinner with mashed potatoes and gravy, and green beans. Just your good ol’ basic meal plan, right? Yes, until you find out that this particular meat used to be inside the tail of a crocodile. Evan didn’t seem to mind. Seriously, it wasn’t bad. It tasted like chicken. Tough, chewy chicken, perhaps, but chicken nonetheless.

Thanksgiving day was a normal work and school day here, but of course we Americans have traditions to uphold. Our (also American) next door neighbors, Wayne and Maggie, invited us over for spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, and steamed vegetables. We took carrot cake for dessert, which, of course, fell in the middle because of the high altitude. Now if that isn’t a traditional Thanksgiving menu, I don’t know what is! (Remember, eight dollars a pound, people.)

The food was scrumptious, the company fabulous. The kids watched the Peanuts Christmas special, and the adults talked and laughed.

And, though we missed our families, we have no regrets.

Just new traditions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009



By our son (age 7)

Trees, trees, and more trees -

They swing with the breeze

With ease.

Loved Ones

By our son (age 7)

The ocean is blue.

The sky is, too.

Some fish are blue.

My eyes are, too.

And I am blue

‘Cause I miss you.


Twenty-four Papua New Guineans

And I –

Sweat pouring forth from the sun

Up high –

All planting yams – I’m sure quite

A sight.

Then from the radio sitting

Close by

Michael Jackson puts a gleam in

My eye

Singing, “It doesn’t matter if you’re black

Or white.”

Sweat Sonnet

I go to get water and from all my pores

I feel drippy, sticky stuff begin to pour.

Working in the garden I start to sweat

And when I am finished, all my clothes are wet.

A quick trip to market, a wokabout,

The building of a haus win makes me shout.

I can walk to the beach or to the river

To cool off or bathe, but I will not shiver

For before I return I am again

Covered with sweat from toes to chin.

I can taste it on my lip, running down,

And hear it as it plops onto the ground,

But the worst of all, I think, really must be

Feeling it dribble down the, um, “backside” of me.


Before you move to a village

You must be very wary

For if your beard grows fast

It can be very scary

When you’re snagging all the spider webs

‘Cause your face is so hairy.


Sand flies, mosquitoes, and fleas.

Won’t you stop biting me, please?

When I no longer scratch,

I just get a new batch

Of sand flies, mosquitoes, and fleas.


Sofa, freezer, Smudge the cat,

The game “Zooreka,” a welcome mat,

McDonald’s fries and autumn leaves,

Weather prime for longer sleeves,

Stove and toilet, Frigidaire,

Oven, car, table, and chairs,

Washer and dryer for my clothes,

Nice soft tissues for my nose,

Air conditioning, my own room,

Fabric softener, Starbucks at noon,

Running water, electricity,

Showers, friends, and family.

Becoming Culturally Well-Versed

We have encountered many new foods here in Papua New Guinea. Some are quite delicious while others are, well, not so much. Though we rarely cooked kaukau or yams for ourselves, we’ve eaten plenty.

I am certain that persons from other cultures, should they spend any amount of time faced with burgers, pizza, tacos, and pasta, could write similar verses about their encounters with our food. Yes, including French fries. :)

Anyway, we enjoyed this poem in particular, not as an insult to PNG food, but because it is always possible to have too much of even a good thing!

In order to understand it best, you will need to know a little bit of Tok Pisin. Translation will follow. And yes, every fourth line rhymes. :)

Kaikai Tumas






Snek Bin












Kaikai Tumas = Eating Too Much

Muli = generic term for various citrus fruit

Melon = generic term for various melons

Ananas = Banana

Pomolo = a sweet citrus fruit that is kind of like a cross between an orange and a grapefruit

Pis = Fish

Snek Bin = “snake bean” – a cucumber-looking bean that can be two feet long or more –

very delicious!

Kakaruk = Chicken

Popo = Papaya

Pitpit = a stalk vegetable that, when growing, looks like corn, but tastes totally different

Kumu = generic word for garden greens

Marita = a kerneled seed pod from a tree that is used to make sauces; comes in red and yellow

Laulau = a tree fruit, some of which taste similar to an apple

Aibika = a green that tends to be on the bitter side

Yam = a dense, starchy cousin to our yams

Tulip = a green that is not on the bitter side

Kaukau = a dense, not-so-sweet PNG sweet potato

Traut = this word has nothing to do with fish; instead it is the Tok Pisin word for vomit :)

Almost every evening of our village time, one or both of us would sit with our wasfamili (and sometimes with others, as well) and “story.” This “shooting the breeze” could last well into the night, especially if we’d made tea. One thing that is ingrained in PNG culture is the value of relationships, and this is regularly demonstrated by the time spent storying with one another. A Papua New Guinean would never turn someone away for that would send the message that the person was not important or the relationship was not worth investing in.

However, occasionally, culturally appropriate or not, we would catch one of them yawning. :)


I make some tea, the sun goes down.

Soon at your house I will be found.

You cannot just turn me away

So we talk and drink ‘til the break of day.

And no one gets much sleep at night,

For want of trying to be polite.

Fat Cat

It was intended that we would be the only residents of our village house. However, for much of our Village Living time, we had one other tenant: our waspapa’s cat, “Pieces.” She was a sweet little cat, charcoal gray, and very petite. Until I found out differently, I assumed she was just a kitten, but as it turns out, the pusi (Tok Pisin for “cat”) was three years old.

She spent much time at our place, which, of course, the kids loved. She played with us, slept on our floor, and even ate our food. Typically, once our dinner was finished, she would run off to Papa’s house for a second course.

Soon she was visibly gaining weight, and we began to wonder if maybe the pizza and refried beans (among other things) were adversely affecting her.

But, soon we were able to write another poem:


Pusi, Pusi was a cat.

Pusi, Pusi came and sat

In our house upon a mat.

But soon her stomach was not flat.

We could see her getting fat.

As for the reason we did spat,

But then her belly we did pat

And there were kittens!
How ‘bout that?

Pieces was, indeed, pregnant. We were able to watch the kittens moving and kicking inside her belly, and soon we were wondering if she might have them before we left. We could tell they were a few inches long already.

The kids were praying she would have them before we left.

At our house.

In a box they’d prepared for her.

It was a long shot.

On the last Saturday before we left the village, we were all sitting outside talking after dinner. Our daughter brought Pieces outside, but instead of sitting quietly on her lap as usual, the cat jumped down and went back inside the house.

We could hear her crying in there, which was also unlike her.

Our daughter went in to check on her, and as she entered the house, the cat, who had been sitting at the top of the stairs, turned and went into her box to lie down.

“Mom, she’s acting funny.”

When I checked on her, there was no doubt that she was in labor. I know … I’ve been there. :)

With every contraction, as her belly would swell and harden, she would whimper in pain. Forty-five minutes later a foot emerged. Then a tail. Then the rest of the little black kitten was born.

And we got to watch the whole thing.

For twenty minutes Pieces cleaned the kitten and took care of all of the … er, unpleasant things associated with kittenbirth. Once kitten number one began nursing, labor quickly brought forth kitten number two. They were almost perfect twins of each other, black females with a spattering of gray hairs and a white triangular patch under each of their chins.

What a fun, unexpected blessing to liven up our last five days of village living!

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)