Sunday, September 11, 2011

Adventures in Bathing

(Adventures in PNG Series, Vol. 2)

The other day, the water turned on in the shower, and in short order we heard my husband singing “The Hallelujah Chorus” in a loud, exaggerated vibrato.

What is he doing?!” my daughter asked me, stifling a giggle.

I smiled.  “That means the water is cold.”

There are many reasons one might take a cold shower here, the two most likely being:
1. Lack of sun the day before, and
2. Too many showers taken before yours.

We, like many people in the world, have solar-heated water.  Lots of homes here, including ours, have an electrical backup heater, but it is quite expensive to run it, so most people do so rarely.  Some homes are fortunate enough to have water pipes routed through their fireplaces or wood stoves.  If the would-be bather is enterprising enough, he or she can start a fire that will heat the water in these pipes before it is delivered to the shower.  Enterprising or not, we are not so fortunate.

So, when the previous day has been particularly cloudy, or a child has taken a 30-45 minute shower the night before (ahem), we have a choice.  Pay for the hot water, or chill out – literally – by taking a slightly-higher-than-room-temperature-if-you’re-lucky shower.

When we were at POC two years ago, hot water was available via bucket showers (top left picture above).  Course participants were tasked with the twice-a-day chore of starting a fire in an outdoor stove.  Pipes passed through that stove and delivered hot water to spickets inside the men’s and women’s bathrooms.  One would fill a portable bucket with water from these spickets, lower the rope-suspended bucket in the shower stall, and pour in the hot water.  Raise the bucket back up and voila – a hot shower!  The flow was controlled by turning a wide shower-head/nozzle on the bottom of the bucket.  It was wise to close the nozzle while soaping up, lest you run out of water before you were rinsed clean.

If you did run out, or if you chose (like I did most of the time) to have a cold shower, there was a regular shower head emerging from the wall of the stall.  One turn of the knob, and from it would flow a glacial-brisk, refreshing shower that actually felt really nice on a typical, tropical Madang afternoon.  (Not such a good idea in the morning.)

In the villages, bathing takes place in the river.  On day one of our six-week village living experience, our village “brother” took Paul and Evan to the men’s bathing hole at the river.  Some girls took Andie and me to another part of the river, downstream from the men.  This was culturally intentional, as men would not want to be defiled by having women bathe upstream from them.  I suppose the women who must bathe upstream in a different village are of no consequence.  Maybe they assumed the contaminants were diluted by the time they reached this particular bathing hole.  Maybe the men never even gave the possibility a thought, but as we were on the coast, logic dictates that surely hundreds of women in dozens of villages do, in fact, bathe upstream from these men.

The other place to bathe was at the mauswara – the mouth of the river where it empties into the ocean.  Because the other bathing hole had an interesting set of complications (a steep, muddy bank to climb in and out of the river, and a 15-20 minute walk back to the house after you were finished – just lomg enough to get good and sweaty again), I preferred to bathe at the mauswara.

For a few days, anyway.

It was at that point that I discovered something very important: the mauswara was the place where I was literally being eaten alive by sand flies.  After about a week in the village, I had more than 300 sand fly bites. 

We counted.

For the next five weeks, I gave myself sponge baths outside our hut, wearing my tankini top and board shorts, of course.  I never set foot at the mauswara again.  Of course, that didn’t mean I never got a sand fly bite again.  They had gotten a taste of something sweet and spread the word to all their friends.  I was a certified smorgasbord of culinary goodness for the entire insect community.

Just as an aside, ocean swims supplied most of the kids’ “bathing” experiences.  :)

The truly frustrating part of living, doing laundry, and bathing the village way is that one never feels completely clean.  Who am I kidding … one never gets completely clean!  Seriously.  I cannot emphasize this enough.  It was probably my number one complaint during our time out there … just this constant gritty, grimy, grody feeling.  Dirt and sweat are a way of life.  The only real respite was the occasional downpour of rain.  On more than one occasion, I got up in the middle of the night to go outside (in my tankini top and board shorts) in order to stand under the gush of rain water coming off the thatched-grass roof.  I even took my shampoo.

It was the closest to a real shower … the closest to CLEAN … I ever felt. 

It was marvelous.

PNG is the first place that I have scrubbed my feet with a stiff brush nearly every day.  Even here in the highlands, unless you wear sneakers all the time (I almost always wear sandals) dirty feet are inevitable.  This pales in comparison to the unpleasant, yet constant, grime of village life, but it is reality.  And no matter how much I scrub, I can never get my feet completely, living-in-the-US-and-walking-on-plush-carpets clean.
Here in the highlands, living in our western-style house, we are still bathing in river water.  The only differences are 1) it’s not iron-smelting-factory hot outside, 2) the water has at least the potential to be warm, and 3) it comes in the form of indoor plumbing.

But, as I said, we rely on the warming presence of the sun, and during rainy season in particular, it doesn’t always make a significant appearance.

In addition to that, there is a constant struggle between wanting your children (and your spouse, for that matter) to be presentably, reasonably clean, and wanting your own hot shower.  I do get my share that are cold.

But I haven’t gotten a single sand fly bite. 

And for that (in addition to many other things) I am grateful.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Adventures in Driving: An Authorized Addendum

Someone in the US who is hoping to come here recently asked the question, “How are the roads in PNG, and are they safe to drive?”

A coworker posted this in response.  I laughed out loud at her perspective-rendering response, and hope that maybe you will, too. 

Posted with her permission [with a few clarifying comments inserted]

“Is driving in New York City safe?  Driving anywhere requires a set of skills unique to the environment.  For driving to Kainantu, Goroka, Madang or Lae (which I've done heaps of times in my bold red truck while locals shout "meri driva!" [means “woman driver!”  -sharon] in amazement or joy or solidarity or something), the special skills unique to PNG (as opposed to California or New York) are:

1. Pot-hole and land-slip avoidance
2. Raskol avoidance [“Raskol” is the generic Melanesian pidgin word for criminal, thief, carjacker, etc.  It may or may not be safe to assume that the homemade shotgun he’s holding has no ammunition.  :)   -sharon]
3. Pig- and dog- avoidance on roads (if you avoid deer on the road, you may already have this merit badge)
4. Pedestrian avoidance on roads with no shoulder and adjoining residences (if you've driven in Cairo or Bamako you may already have this skill)
5. Not running out of gas (if you live in the wilderness miles from town you may already have this skill)
6. Driving in loose mud (similar to driving in snow, so you may already have earned this merit badge)
7. Waving at people (a common small town skill) [may include gently waving down those would-be riders who think you’re a PMV  –sharon]
8. Occasional river fordings
9. Negotiating bridges with holes in the road surfaces [see photo above of the bridge you MUST drive over to get anywhere outside our valley; we’re hoping it gets repaired before it completely collapses (again)  -sharon]
10. Flexibility to address break-downs in the bush
11. Bush toileting skills [not to mention wisely selecting a location for such an activity  -sharon]
12. Passing large trucks (additional skill:  on roads without painted lane lines)
13. Convoy driving skills  [it’s true that there is strength in numbers  -sharon]
14. Tolerating being hot and uncomfortable and bounced around and dusty; varies depending on vehicle

And, the hardest one on the list in my experience:

15. Token security man recruitment skills [for when you’ve encountered raskols going into town, and need to get back out of town via the same road you came in  -sharon]

If you're from a rural area, the more remote the better, or drive off-road through rough terrain, you already have the balance of these skills.

-Donna Smith”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Adventures in Driving

As I started typing, I was about to say that there are limited roadways in this country.  However, as is the case with any serious journalist, I had to get my facts straight, so I turned to Google to find some statistics.  Encyclopedia of the Nations ( tells me that there is actually 19,600 km of roadway in PNG.
I admit, that’s more than I expected to see.  But the subsequent statistic didn’t surprise me at all.
Of that, “only 686 kilometers are paved.”
That’s about 3.5%.  Yeah, baby.  That’s more like it.
I found it further interesting that of the “492 airports, … only 19 have paved runways.”  That’s a whopping 3.9%.  Maybe I’d be better off owning a plane?

It’s not uncommon to start a road trip here with prayer.  The pray-er, if an experienced PNG traveler, usually includes a clause that goes something like this …
“… and as we drive, please guide us as we encounter pigs, pedestrians, and potholes.”
Driving here is very stressful.  Especially on the driver and whoever else feels a sense of responsibility for the people in the vehicle.  You have to be on guard at all times, constantly aware of road conditions that we all but take for granted in the US.
As is the case in many third-world countries (or, I suppose, any country where the motor vehicle to human being ratio is negligible), people use the roads as pedestrian thoroughfares.  Old and young, male and female, alone and in groups, people walk along the roads as if they would be shocked to actually see a vehicle driving on it.  Sometimes they will move out of the way when they see you coming, but it’s smart to not expect it.  Many of them are carrying something – a baby on the back, a cord of firewood on the head, large bilums (string bags) filled with garden produce, machetes.  It’s not uncommon to see gaggles of small half-dressed, barefoot children walking down the road carrying machetes (here called “bush knives”) that are almost as long as the kids are tall.
Pigs and dogs, too, roam the roads.  And should the unthinkable occur … should you hit one of these precious treasures … don’t even think about stopping.  That is very difficult for our western minds to compute … that you wouldn’t stop – that if you value your life, you SHOULDN’T stop to help in such a situation.  The response of the local community wouldn’t be any more tense if you’d hit a person – you have just destroyed something that belongs to them and you will pay.  If you want to get out of the situation with any hope of only paying monetarily, your best bet is to floor it and drive straight to the nearest police post (if you can find one).  Tell them what happened and trust that they’ll protect your life until compensation can be negotiated.
While I’m on animals, I suppose I shouldn’t neglect the bovines among us.  You don’t see them often, but in one straightaway in the lowlands, I recently saw a sign that read:
“Draiv isi isi.  Bulmakau wokabout long rot.” 
(basically, “Drive carefully; cattle walk on the road.”)
And potholes … I think if the powers-that-be were to go back and seriously evaluate those 686 km of “paved” roadway, they just might have to disqualify about 127.3 km for … well, pavement that no longer exists.  :)
There are no superhighways here.  No interchanges, no on- and off-ramps.  No odd-for-North-South-routes and even-for-East-West.  In fact, there is not a single road – no road - that connects the highlands to the capital city of Port Moresby.  The Highlands Highway – the only thoroughfare spanning the northern half of the country, consists of 2 lanes – one going each direction.  Bridges tend to be one lane, with right of way going to whoever is driving away from the coast (presumably so the few heavily-loaded tractor-trailers coming up from the port cities don’t have to stop as they’re driving through the mountains.)  Sometimes potholes leave a section of road as effectively one-lane.  Sometimes portions of road shrink laterally as chunks of asphalt gradually break off and plummet down the mountainside.
There are a few private vehicles out there, but not many.  Most vehicles you encounter on the road are PMVs (Public Motor Vehicles).  Those that drive long distances tend to be vans, while short-distance PMVs are generally open-backed trucks.  Of course, they’re always overloaded, often with several people following the one-appendage-in-the-vehicle rule: hang on, for example, with one foot on the back bumper and the other leg thrown over the tailgate.  Sometimes the people are sitting on heaping piles of burlap bags filled with copra, coffee beans, or buai (betelnut).  Either way, it’s a house of cards, and I fear woe to anyone who follows too close.
Roadside markets dot the highway.  Usually people are hocking sweet potatoes, pineapple, and mangoes, but in some places you may see a table lined with soda bottles.  On closer inspection, you will notice that though these bottles contain a dark brown liquid, it is not Coca Cola.  It’s motor oil.  Quite possibly slightly used motor oil, but with the lack of gas stations (you can drive hours and not see a gas station – best just to fill up in the major cities), sometimes that’s the best you can do and they know it.
On one two-hour trip, I counted no less than 15 skeletons of vehicles along the road.  That’s one every 8 minutes if you’re doing the math.  If your car breaks down, and you have to abandon it, be prepared to say goodbye.  If your car breaks down on my land, that makes it my car, and that bench seat in the back would be a great addition to my house.  If your biscuit-filled tractor-trailer breaks down, let’s just say our village will be sitting pretty for tea time for some months.  These “skeletons” are vehicles that have literally been stripped clean of everything that could potentially be useful, leaving, at best, only the steel frame intact.  In one location, I saw what used to be a bus, stripped clean except for a flap of sheet metal.  One small, resourceful child was using it as a trampoline.
If you ever do take a drive in PNG, please don’t focus only on the road and its hazards.  (Unless you’re the driver, of course.  So, sorry Dad … no matter how successfully you gawked at the sights while managing not to tumble off the winding mountain roads of the American West, I will have to put my foot down here.) 
If you’re not driving, enjoy the view.
This land that was once thought to be a homogenous mass of rainforests sports rugged mountains, vast grasslands, deep valleys, glorious rivers.  Eight foot tall kunai grass waves in the afternoon breezes.  Patches of the hillsides burn dramatically to make ready garden plots.  The higher vistas reveal mountaintops that seem to float in the clouds. 
And sometimes, if you’re lucky, there might even be a stretch of asphalt ahead of you as far as the eye can see.  :)

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Adventures in PNG

It’s time for a new blog series.  I anticipate that from time to time I may revisit the “Fun in the Remote Highlands of PNG” theme, but for now, I’d like to move on.


Most days here have some element of adventure.  Everything from experimenting with recipe substitutions, to vehicular encounters with pigs, pooches, people, and potholes.  From enduring showers of all temperatures, to racing home to snag the laundry from the line before the bottom falls out of the clouds.  From caring for the neighbors’ pets, to watching bow-and-arrow-wielding men in conflict.


I’ve been collecting topics, but if you have a suggestion, or something you’re dying to hear about, throw it out there!  Big adventure, or little adventure, I’d love to respond.


Stay tuned.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Transcending Transience

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 13)
In my twenties, I was part of several military communities.  In my thirties, we went to a church that not only had a high volume of seminary families, but also sent many members out as career missionaries.  In both of these situations, people came and went all the time.
Now in my forties, I am still immersed in a community where transience is a way of life.  New people arrive and/or people leave (some to villages, some on furlough, some leaving for good) nearly every week.  (
In the three or so weeks following the end of the 2010-2011 school year, more than forty families - all of whom lived only a few minutes’ walk from our house - left the country. 
Even last year, when we had only been here a few months and I didn’t know that many of them, it was in some ways a difficult time.  I think part of what made it so hard was knowing that these families were going where I wished I could go … home.  This year it wasn’t so bad from that perspective; I have adjusted to being here, and though I wish from time to time that I could visit home, I’m content.
However, I have found it very difficult to watch my children’s friends leave.  When they leave for furlough it’s bad enough – that has happened to both Andie and Evan - but when they leave for good … well, that can break your heart.  A year ago, one of our daughter’s good friends “went finish” back to Germany.  This year, another of her friends, one who she was even closer to, went finish back to Finland.  (Would that be called going “Finnish?”) 
A few days before this most recent family left, we decided to have a going away party and hosted all the girls in our daughter’s class for an evening.  On a Sunday afternoon, the girls gathered at our home and when the guest of honor arrived, they were there to surprise her (she thought she was just coming to spend the night).  First, the girls each got to make their own personal pizza (we’re still waiting for someone to come open that Little Caesar’s franchise).  Then they sat down to watch the movie, “Tangled,” and as the pizzas emerges from the oven, their personal waitress delivered them piping hot to their laps.  Once the move ended, they had dessert (popcorn, puppy chow, and mocha muffins – mmm!), and then worked it off with a “Just Dance” Wii session.  What a hoot!  The girls’ favorite teacher (besides me, of course … ahem) who had left six months earlier,  had returned to the country and was a welcome special guest for all of the festivities.
They had a blast, and made some fun PNG memories for this special girl.
On Tuesday, people gathered to say goodbye to the family.
Now, the community has come to call these weeks, “Cry Weeks.”  A couple months ago when I was cutting a friend’s hair, she told me about one particular cry week when her daughter was between grades 11 and 12.  (Paul suggested that these haircut sessions turn out, many times, to be my own form of Member Care … I think he’s right.)  Anyway, this woman was having to take her daughter home for her Senior year.  At that time, apparently, they would allow people out onto the airfield to say goodbye.  She said it was one of the worst experiences of her life … all her daughter’s girlfriends surrounding the Cessna, clinging to the windows and sobbing.  They had to force them away so the plane could take off.
Her story brought tears to my cry eyes.
Most families still leave via the airstrip, but I have not yet gone out to say goodbye there.  This family, however, left from our guesthouse via PMV (public motor vehicle) and went to Lae where they spent two nights before boarding a commercial flight.  It was hard to say goodbye, but the pain was definitely compounded by knowing that, though Finland is now on our wish list of furlough-routings, it’s possible my daughter may never see her friend again.  On top of that, this girl is very close friends with one of the Papua New Guinean girls in her class.  Seeing Evelyn’s tears made me realize something monumental – we travel around the world.  It is now part of our lives.  But this precious girl is likely to never set her feet on the soil of any foreign country, and possibly never even on an airplane.  Short of a miracle, she really will never see her again.
I felt a little less sorry for myself, all of a sudden.              

The upside to Cry Week is that it also coincides with arrivals.  In the four to five weeks between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next (we have year-round school here), many people also return from furlough.  Just fifteen days after this family left, we had the opportunity to welcome back an Aussie family who are good friends of ours.  They have three children including a girl in Andie’s class, and a boy in Evan’s class.  This time we did go to the airstrip.  About 8-9 families were represented on the impromptu welcome committee, and this time there were no tears.  When the Kodiak touched down, hands were waving wildly, expressing our collective delight to have them back.
They emerged from the plane, looking and feeling tired, but all smiles.

At one point in the movie, “Evan Almighty,” Evan Baxter’s hair grows out of control.  As he arrives at the Capitol building with his hair in a ponytail and his 14 inch beard held together with several rubber bands,   His assistant, (who would later ask, “Evan, what are you doing? You have a pony tail on your face!  What you gonna do next? Cornrow your eyebrows?”) responds with a look of shock. 
“What is that?!”
Evan’s answer to her, I feel, is fitting to how we need to respond to Cry Week and the transience of our community.
“Makin’ lemonade outta lemons.”   :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Graduation Festivities

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 12)
It was an incredible honor and joy to teach my daughter’s class this past year.  Not just because she was in it, though that was a pretty cool perk.  I said numerous times that I would take any or all of these kids home with me and adopt them if I needed to.
Yep.  They’re that cool.
While it is sort of silly, they make a big deal about graduation from grade 6 here.  I think it is part tradition, and part in keeping with the stages in the national education system.  After grades 6, 8, and 10, students in the PNG system must test to see if they qualify to continue on to the next level.  Only a small percentage make the cut, and consequently, many PNGns have, at best, a grade 6 education.
However, I think the biggest reason for the end-of-year-6 hoopla is that in just a few short weeks, these guys experience the big transition from the Primary Campus (Preschool – Grade 6) to the Secondary Campus (grades 7-12).
The class consisted of 6 Papua New Guineans, 16 Americans, an Aussie, a New Zealander, and a Finn.  They worked hard all year, and we wanted to make the last few days and graduation very special for them.
Several weeks in advance, the students began hitting me up to let them skip their last day of school.  Being the rule-follower that I am, I convinced them to give me time to garner some information, and set off to plan a “skip day” that was still a real “class” day, but also would become a special memory.
They were told that the day was a normal school day, and they would be reported to the office as absent if they didn’t show up to my house by 8:30AM.
At half-past-eight, everyone was accounted for. 
Badminton, basketball, four-square, Wii, and board games kept them busy at first.  After a while, we broke out the snacks and they all gorged themselves on cookies, popcorn, chips, gummy creatures, fresh pineapple, and the vegetables that I insisted on putting out.  (“OK, [insert name here], if you’re going to have seconds, you have to eat some veggies!”)
After a while, they were separated into teams and sent off on a photo scavenger hunt.  Over the next hour, the four teams would hunt down and capture images such as several teammates peeking out from behind banana trees, a word spelled with rope, all team members underneath a picnic table, the smallest team member standing with someone who is over six feet tall, a team member with a pink flower in his or her hair, a soda can pyramid with at least 21 cans, two team members literally stopping to smell the roses, all team members sitting in one chair, and the favorite, all team members standing in a shower or bathtub.
They loved it!  And the pictures were hilarious, so I got to love it too.  :)
We scored the results, awarded prizes, and then had lunch.  I found one group of kids with a stack of Pringles on the back veranda playing poker. 
With chips.
Since Pringles are a rare commodity, I’d say the stakes were pretty high.  :)
Eventually, we all headed to the auditorium for graduation rehearsal.  They did such a great job that we ended up releasing them about 30 minutes early from their last primary “school” day. 
Graduation was very nice.  Sweet stories from former teachers, character awards, student memories, and presentation of grad certificates.  No bouncing beach balls or releasing caged mice like at my high school graduation, but that’s another story.
After the ceremony, the kids were loaded up in a couple of vehicles and paraded around the center, hootin’ and hollerin’ the whole way.  When they arrived at the reception venue, snacks and a couple hundred cupcakes greeted them, as well as their proud family members and friends.  There was a chance for formal family photos, and then the kids quickly changed out of their Sunday best.
Families were invited to stay at the auditorium for phase 3: Australian bush dancing.  Bush dancing is somewhat similar to square dancing, but, frankly, way more fun.  There was much laughter – and sweating – as the parents, graduates, and siblings got into the, er, “swing” of things.  :)
After thirty or so minutes of bush dancing, most of the family members left.  Being a teacher, I was privileged to stay, and a few dads also stuck around to help supervise a campus-wide game of Capture the Flag.  I would get to be the jailer.
Of course, as if on schedule, at the exact moment of this transition, the clouds broke and the bottom fell out.  I have no idea how many inches of rain fell that night, but it was quite a downpour.
Did a little precipitation slow these guys down?  No, it did not! They played two full games.
And, in fact, the father who was in charge of the bonfire that would culminate the evening’s festivities was able to successfully get a roaring fire going, despite the rain.  As the kids stood in the thick mud and huddled, shivering and dripping around the fire, we decided to forego any attempt at marshmallow roasting.  Instead of being let down, many of the kids ran over to the nearest big hill and held an impromptu after-dark mud-sliding session. 
I don’t know if the kids will have great memories for years to come, but I certainly will.  :)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Step Aside Prom . We've Got Banquet!

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 11)
I can’t prove it, but I am quite certain that my niece’s prom dress this year was priced somewhere in the three digit range.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, a lovely eighteen year old girl beaming a smile while announcing that her dress was bought for $7 at a second-hand shop in the nearby town.
Now imagine futher, her date proclaiming with pride that his mother bought his entire suit online for under $10.
Another young lady reveals that she is the sixth person to wear her dress, as it has been passed around between attendees for several years.  In fact, her sister wore it last year, and she bought it for $5 on the For Sale board.
Allow your mind to envision a couple dozen girls, some on the arms of male friends, some in groups with other girls, donning with dignity wrist corsages that have been lovingly made by community members.
Envisage the lot of these kids walking into a building that has been transformed from skating rink/floorball court/periodic hamburger eatery/teen hangout into Elegant Banquet Hall with little more than butcher paper, paint, sheer fabric, and strands of Christmas lights.
Welcome to Banquet.
Yes, it may be because we have little else to do here, but for whatever reason, this iconic Ukarumpa event remains a community attraction year after year.  Literally hundreds of people bring lawn chairs, camp out in the grass, and stand behind the ropes to garner a view of high school Juniors and Seniors entering their long-awaited “Banquet.”
While most students arrive by car which, if not chauffeured by a parent (heaven forbid!) will be left with the volunteer “valet,” a few make it a priority to leave their mark in the Banquet history pages with some sort of unique arrival.
This year, six friends (three boys and three girls) arrived together sitting on couches perched high up on a flatbed truck.  The sides of the bed were lowered and a tent made with netting had been erected on top of the vehicle, encasing the couches in what amounted to a grand-scale mosquito-shield.  Once the conveyance utility came to a halt, one young man stood and stepped onto a small platform.  He then pushed a lever that slowly lowered the “elevator” he was standing on, dropping him gingerly to the ground.  He then raised the platform twice more to lower the two other guys and then the three girls.  (While it wasn’t really clear, speculation among the crowd was that the guys descended first so they would be there to catch the girls if they fell.  Fortunately we didn’t have to find out.  We’ve fulfilled our quota of medevacs for the quarter.)
Another enterprising couple chartered an organizational helicopter, and flew in from the airstrip just a couple miles away. 
While this approach is generally employed once every two to three years, they were definitely the don’t-miss arrival of the evening.
Sometimes, students arrive on horseback. 
Or on motorcycles.
Last year, one couple arrived in a trailer-bound speed boat, pulled by a truck driven by the girl’s father.
However, a few minutes later, the three guys that arrived in caskets stole the show.  One of their fathers had made three identical wooden coffins and mounted them in the back of a flatbed truck.  Once the truck stopped, the coffin lids opened one by one and suit-and-cape-clad teenagers emerged to the uproarious laughter and applause of the crowd.
The evening always includes an elaborately prepared banquet dinner and entertainment.  Usually, the attendees watch their parents putting on a 60-90 minute play that is aligned with the evening’s theme.  This year, the theme was “Life’s a Stage” and last year the play was a hilarious spoof of “Lord of the Rings.”  The script always includes numerous inside jokes, playing off of the habits, phrases, and foibles of the year’s Juniors and Seniors.  Also, in a couple of the upstairs rooms, numerous games and activities are elaborately set up for the pre- and/or post-dinner enjoyment of the students. 
In addition to preparing the entertainment, the parents and other volunteers will have spent a couple of weeks transforming the no-frills, utilitarian Teen Center into an elegant banquet hall.  Even the bathrooms look like they should be found in a classy, up-scale restaurant.
The Banquet theme is always a well-kept secret, never publically announced until students arrive on Friday night. For those of the community who are not involved in Banquet, but who are infinitely curious (or just looking for cheap entertainment), enter “Encore.”  Those who attend one of the two Saturday evening Encore time slots are able to view the décor of the Banquet and the games facilities.  And, though they may or may not get all of the inside jokes, they are also privy to enjoy a repeat performance of the play that was performed for the students the night before.  As a bonus, the Encore entry fees help offset the cost of putting on Banquet.
While watching the Banquet attendees enter the hall last Friday night, I spied the parents of a friend of ours.  This couple has been visiting for a few weeks and will, later this month, attend the dedication for the New Testament their son and daughter-in-law (our friends) have been working on for many years.  In the meantime, I approached them and asked if they were enjoying this little bit of Ukarumpa culture that was Banquet. 
The grins on their faces gave them away.
As surreal as the whole event surely must have seemed to them, they were definitely having fun in the remote highlands of New Guinea.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Who Needs Starbucks? Three Cheers to Ledcafé!

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 10)
“Making your way in the world today takes everything you've got.  Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot. Wouldn't you like to get away?  Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name and they're always glad you came.  You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same. You wanna be where everybody knows your name.”
In the great Aussie tradition, I hereby offer the standard three cheers to a great Ukarumpa institution … Ledcafé.
Hip hip … HOORAY!  Hip hip … HOORAY!   Hip hip … HOORAY!
This is not your local Starbucks. 
Ledcafé, open on select Saturday mornings, does, however, fulfill the coffee-shop cravings of many local expat residents.  Because it’s a small community, Ledcafé is actually a place where everybody generally does know your name.  (Sorry, no anonymity here.)
And yes, they’re always glad you came.  :)
Unfortunately, the proprietors of this fine establishment will be going on furlough in a few very short months.  So, if you want your coffee, your mocha, your cappuccino … your espresso or latte (hot or iced) … your hot chocolate … or any of the above with a flavor shot such as raspberry or cherry (or not, depending on availability), you’d better act fast.
Specials of the week have included such delights as “Fruited Pumpkin Muffins with Sultanas and Pecans,” “Danish Puff with Almonds,” “Strawberry Swirl Coffee Cake,” “Double Chocolate Almond Biscotti,” “Very Lemony Poppy Seed Muffins,” “Carrot-Apple-Raisin-Nut Oat Bran Muffins,” “Pennsylvania Dutch Crumb Coffee Cake,” “Cranberry-Orange Nut Muffins with Streusel,” …..
I’d better stop.  I’m getting drool all over my keyboard.
We watch our money, so Ledcafé is a treat, not a routine.  Therefore, I can’t vouch for the delectableness of most of the above-mentioned specials, but I will say the Frosted Strawberry Bread they had a couple weeks ago was a perfectly moist slab of sweet, fruity deliciousness.
(I just used that phraseology in an email to try to weasel the recipe out of the bakeress.  Clever, huh?)
In addition to special-of-the-week baked treats, Chocolate Chip Scones are a menu standard, along with cooked-to-order eggs, several varieties of oatmeal, a breakfast burrito (“Breakfast Burrito includes scrambled eggs with your choice of onions, green peppers, red peppers, mushrooms, sausage and/or cheese, all encased in a flour tortilla. Salsa available upon request”), and the Danish Garden, an “oven baked pancake with broccoli, green peppers, red peppers, onions, mushrooms, and cheese.”
(Seriously now …  I’m ruining the computer.)
You know, even if the offerings at Ledcafé weren’t fundamentally luscious, just not having to cook for yourself is alone worth the money.  The people who run the coffee shop (in their kitchen, living room, and veranda, incidentally), don’t do it to make a profit, nor is this their primary job here (one spouse works in publicity and communications, and the other runs a whole department.)  They do this as a ministry to the community.
And a ministry it is.
When we arrived a couple weeks ago, there was one couple sitting at the dining table enjoying their hot drinks and chatting.  A single gal was curled up on the sofa reading her Bible.
Soon, the room was filled with people.  Several other single gals joined the first and, between them, ordered a variety of menu items.  A father and young daughter on a “date.”  A mother and daughter just hanging out together, basking in the beautiful highlands weather over hot chocolate and scones.
All enjoying this unique opportunity to have fun in the remote highlands of New Guinea.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bargain Hunting, PNG Style

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 9)
If you’re a bargain hunter, you have probably experienced your share of second hand clothing stores.  PNG has no shortage of these in most major cities (“major cities” being a relative term, of course), but, of course, you have to be patient and willing to “dig through.”
And if you’re in a coastal town, you have to be willing to sweat. 
I find it especially interesting that most (if not all?) of the clothes are shipped up from other countries just for this purpose.  I, for one, never imagined “used clothing” would appear on an import list.
Some people have found great deals, though, and being  good little missionaries, many people think creatively when standing in front of, say, an XXXL floral tapestry skirt.
Hmmm … 80 cents?  This would make some great throw pillow covers!
Now, I am not much for shopping at these places (though, before we left the US, I basically pre-outfitted my kids for our whole first term at McCart Thrift.  It better still be there when we go back.)

Another source of bargains is the electronic “For Sale” board on our local Intranet.  Here are some deals that have been posted within the last week (all prices converted to US equivalent).  You may or may not consider them deals, but, as in the case of the ice cream, consider that some of these items are impossible, or all but impossible to come by over here.
Pack of 100 Latex Gloves, $4
Pampered Chef Stoneware Bread Pan, $4
Old Navy girls’ capris, brown, size 12, Free
Chicken Manure, $7 per bag
Christmas Gift Wrap, $1 per roll
McDavid lace-up ankle brace, size L, $1.50
Pyrex pie plate, $2
2003 Rand McNally Atlas of US, Canada, & Mexico, free
Package of 5, slightly squooshed Peeps, $1
Super Solar Shower, New!  $4
Kitchen Scale, 80 cents
Tray for making heart-shaped ice cubes, $1
$17.20 worth of Philippino Pesos, $17.20
Mango plant, 80 cents
100g package of poppy seeds, age unknown, make an offer
Homemade Ice Cream, several different varieties, $8 per liter
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, book, free
Vahki Keerakh Metru Nui Bionicle, $2
Set of 16 plastic chop sticks, $2
Pink Fuzzy Socks, 40 cents

Now this one gets me … upon inquiry, this person told me that he purchases this coinage from used clothing stores and their employees:
“100 New Zealand Dollars valued at US$79.43 for sale at only US$70.00.  This is current coinage that is very spendable in New Zealand, not the old stuff only good for collecting.  This money was recovered from the pockets of used clothing imported to PNG.”
Well, I have to admit, that is very resourceful!  And, hey, if I’m going to pay $3000 for a round trip from here to New Zealand, that savings of $9.43 could come in handy.

We have several annual activities where bargain hunters can fulfill their felt need for shopping.  The first is the Christmas Craft Fair, held at the end of November.  This past year, I tried to corner the market on “practical” and sold handmade hanging clothespin bags and grocery bag keepers.  I sold every one that I made, and later made several for people who found out about it after the fact and had to have one or the other.   My most popular item, however, was flannel-covered rice bags … the kind you heat up in the microwave and put on sore muscles, or use to warm up your bed.  That is an item I will be revisiting this next November.
Also for sale at the Christmas Craft Fair were CDs of acoustic guitar recorded by one of our teenagers (an amazing musician), ink pens, cutting boards, and clocks made from various PNG hardwoods, Christmas tree ornaments, handmade greeting cards,  crocheted, knitted, and cross-stitched items, handmade doll clothes, and plenty of PNG handcrafts as well.  Something for everyone!

A couple weeks later, our store holds the Store Christmas Sale.  Over the several preceding weeks, volunteer shoppers travel to Lae (and maybe other cities) and procure items for the sale.  This past year, patrons could purchase anything from several varieties of candy (who would have imagined Toblerone?!), to holiday décor, jewelry, housewares, stationery supplies, water guns, fru-fru scented soaps, craft kits, kitchen gadgets, ceramic mug sets, insulated lunch bags ….. well, just about anything.  The sale only lasts one day, so lines are forever long, but at least you’ve saved a 2-4 hour trip (one way) to a “real” store, right?  The only tricky thing is (considering that the sales floor is, perhaps, 500 square feet) keeping those nosy little people you’re buying for from seeing what’s in your basket.  :)

Each May, throngs of people flock to the “Top of the Hill Sale.”  This is a mass yard sale, held at dozens of homes of people who live, well, at the top of the hill.  We moved to the top of the hill in December, but decided against participating as sellers this year, mostly because I was scheduled to leave town at around noon.  We did, however, walk around and take pictures to share with our vast readership.  :)
Despite having the intention to not shop, we did purchase a set of books for Evan … basically if we can identify something that he is willing to read, we will try to get it for him.  You know what I mean.  At another home, I arrived just in time for the residents to decide that they were done for the day, and as a result, I walked away with 8 free books and a partial package of Christmas gift tags.
The TOTHS also includes many food booths, and even pony rides.  Andie participated with other members of the Pony Club, taking children (and some adults) around the block at 2 Kina per ride.

The Teen Center in our little town holds an annual “Everything Sale.”  The items up for grabs have all been donated by the community (including, I presume, much of what didn’t sell at the “Top of the Hill Sale” the week before.)  All proceeds of the Everything Sale go to fund the Teen Center and related activities for the youth of the community.  There is a 2 Kina entrance fee (about 60 cents), but inside you can find bargains such as a 5 foot Christmas tree for $5, hardback books at 15 cents apiece, and board games for 20 cents.  In general, the prices are much better than those at the TOTHS, making the ES most definitely a bargain hunter’s paradise.

While it’s true that we have no Wal-Mart, and even worse, no Target (gasp!), we survive.  A companion board to the “For Sale” board is the “Wanted” board.  This particular feature of our electronic bulletin board system is the one that best magnifies the absolute amazingness of our community.
Do you need a pair of size 10.5 soccer cleats for your teenage son?  Post on the Wanted board!
Are you completely out of ground cinnamon?  Post on the Wanted board!
Need a small amount of white acrylic paint for a school project?  Post on the Wanted board!
Need to borrow a French beret-style hat for the 8th grade play? ….

You get the picture.  :)
Every time I see a “wanted” post (and those above are real ones), and then an update, often within minutes, that the need has been met, I am amazed again at the graciousness and helpfulness of our community. 
It’s so Acts 2-ish.
And that, I believe, is one of the best bargains in the highlands of New Guinea.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Here Comes Peter Cottontail, Hopping Down the "Necessity is the Mother of Invention" Trail

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 8)
I have vague memories of shopping for Easter candy and other basket-stuffers back home. My mind is filled with foggy images of complete aisles full of baskets, buckets, stuffed bunnies, and plastic grass, and still more aisles containing jelly beans, chocolate bunnies, cream eggs, and other treats.  I even seem to remember something about a jelly bean-pooping … oh wait, that was a raindeer.
But it must be a hallucination, right?  Surely it couldn’t have been aisles and aisles ….
Not only do we not have seasons here to mark the passage of time, we also don’t have mega-stores blaring holiday music in October, and stocking red heart-shaped boxes tied with lacy bows even as the customer service lines begin filling with shoppers holding after-Christmas returns.  So, when, on Thursday afternoon (just an hour before the store would close for the next four days) I caught sight of the Easter candy shelf, it surprised me. 
Uh oh … Sunday is Easter.
From my place in the check-out line, I visually perused the meter-long shelf (yes, singular).  It contained stock of four different items.  I quickly decided I needed to make some attempt … for the children’s sake, right?  I reached for two 8” hollow chocolate rabbits, one foil-dressed as a boy, and the other as a girl.
So, this morning, when my son asked me for his, presumably well-stocked, Easter basket, I presented him with - without fanfare, mind you – a single bunny.
And some ideas.
He was a great sport about it.  He immediately unwrapped the bunny and gave it a thumbs-up even while chocolate goo oozed from the corners of his mouth.  He chewed delightedly while I suggested that we make our own chocolate/peanut butter “eggs.”  I had considered fudge, and a dear friend at home, upon hearing that I didn’t have much chocolate, sent me some recipes for peanut butter fudge.  But, I think with what we have we can even swing Buckeyes.  If the kids want to wrap them in foil and hide them around the house, or if they want to call them bunny poo instead of eggs, that will be fine with me. 
But that would have to wait.  First, we had breakfast to tackle.
Evan whipped up pancake batter from scratch (we assured him that with the mad cooking skills he was sure to develop, he would be the hit of the college dorm someday).  He asked for four bowls and dug through the pantry for the food coloring.  Soon the batter was distributed and colored and the creative juices began to flow.
And the way I figure it, at least there are eggs in pancake batter.   :)

Thursday, April 7, 2011

"I'm Glad it's Your Birthday . Yes, We're Going to a Party Party!"

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 7)
While I knew that having ten twelve-year old girls spend the night in our living room would not be without unexpected elements, I never anticipated the surprises that were to await us last night.
If I were reading this on your blog, I might automatically assume these “surprises” to be associated with drama related to petty tween girl stuff.  Be assured, these kids are most wonderful.  Not that there is no drama, but when it does rear its head it isn’t particularly ugly.  It probably helps that these kids are my students.   What can I say?  I love them.
At approximately 3:30pm, I began the pre-emptive dish-washing.  I think I spent 7 of the next 17 hours in the kitchen.  I have to say, my husband rocks … he was right there with me for almost all of it.
Once the dishes were drying in the racks (yes, plural), I began making the pizza crust.  I mixed and rolled and baked until twelve crusts were lying on tea towels the counter.  Paul mixed up the pizza sauce and started cutting up meat and olives.
In the midst of all this, at about 5:00, our home braved the onslaught of nine pre-teen girls, their overnight bags, sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.  Oh, and noise.
We were suddenly very grateful for the extra-large picnic table on the front veranda.  It came with the house, this monster … and by monster, I am not exaggerating.  This thing is made with 2x6’s and 2x8’s.  The former homeowners told us they had moved it a few times, but it took four to six strong men each time to accomplish the relocation.
While Paul and I baked pizzas, most of the girls had moved outside and were playing basketball or badminton.  Evan, who had seriously not been looking forward to the event (“But, what am I going to do with all those girls in the house!?  BORING!”), was invited to play with them.  Ten (ok, nine, because Andie probably was only nominally on board) 12-year old girls had invited an 8-year old boy to play with them?  I’m telling you, these kids rock.
At 5:45, I began carrying sliced pizzas to the picnic table.  Soon, the benches were filled with eleven (again, Evan was welcome) hungry kids, and the dog was camped out under the foray hoping beyond hope for falling morsels.  These people at nine pizzas.  Nine!
At one point, Paul all but offered to foot the capital for someone to open a Little Ceasar’s here before we have to host another birthday party.
Finally, we prepared one final pizza, and the kitchen slaves sat down on the front porch rocker to watch the badminton frenzy that was now going on in the dark.  (We have only 12-13 hours of daylight here year-round.)  We had just gotten comfortable when we were asked by several enthusiastic faces,
“Can we have a bonfire?!!”
So, once we finished shoveling in our food, everyone moved to the back yard and prepared the fire pit.  God had given us a dry day and a beautiful clear night full of stars, and soon, all 13 of us were sitting around the fire playing telephone, concentration, and telling progressive stories.  Once they got tired of sitting around, they decided to play “Ghost in the Graveyard.”  I turned off the security lights, established reasonable boundaries, and the game began.
It was my job to guard the little avocado tree.
They played until almost 8pm, when we moved inside for presents, cake, and a movie.
As Andie was opening one of the last few presents, Paul came in and quietly said, “Um, I think there’s some sixth grade mischief going on outside.”
Once the girls got wind of this, they were storming the doors and ran squealing into the night.  Several of their male classmates were in the process of, once again, taping (TPing) our yard.  The guys ran off into the darkness, leaving behind shoes and other identity-betraying paraphernalia. 
Eventually, the girls convinced a few of them to come back (after all, we had their shoes) and enjoy cake with us, with one stipulation.  They had to clean up the yard.  Four of the hooligans decided they were willing to trade their desire for anonymity for birthday cake and ice cream.  The others, well, too bad for them, right?  After the celebratory formalities were over and everyone was full, we shooed the boys out into the night and locked the doors.  The girls (and Evan) brushed teeth, threw mattresses, cushions, and sleeping necessities around the room, and settled down to watch “Bedtime Stories.”
After things got quiet, I took the dog out for a final potty walk, and found the boys trying to quietly re-distribute the already expended tape around the yard.  I told them I wouldn’t tell the girls what they were doing, but that they would need to come back in the morning and clean it up … again.    :)
Eventually, I guess, they decided since Mrs. B knew, it was no fun anymore, so they cleaned up the mess and moved on, but not before knocking on the door and asking for tweezers to remove cactus spines from some of their feet and hands.  Hey, that’s what you get for wrapping toilet paper around a prickly pear.
Once the movie was over, we put Evan to bed, and hit the sack ourselves.  We needed to rest up, for a busy morning of waffle- and pancake-making awaited us in just a few short hours.  I’m telling you, these girls can eat.
It is 11:15am now.  When asked a few minutes ago how long they could stay, I smiled and told them that they were welcome to stay as long as they wanted, but that the kitchen would not be opening for lunch. 
While they’re not looking, I think I’ll eat some cake.   :)

Friday, April 1, 2011

No Description Necessary

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 6)


Monday, March 28, 2011

An Amazing Race

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 5)
My tube of muscle rub has expired.  I don’t mean simply that the date imprinted on the crimp has passed, I mean, like really expired.  Like it’s completely ineffective.
That is the most important realization I had after last Saturday’s “fun.”  Actually, it may be the only realization I had, considering that my brain was as tired and as sore as my body.
“The Amazing Race: Ukaurmpa Edition” had been a dream of Toni’s for two years.  Saturday saw that dream realized.  Events like this are rare enough that we jumped on the chance to do something fun as a family.  We prepared ourselves for the toll that stressful puzzles, decisions, and challenges would take on our pre-existing relationships.
Twenty teams showed up at 8:30AM for preliminaries.  Teams (including memorable combinations such as “Elmo’s Biggest Fans” (four high school senior girls wearing Elmo t-shirts, “Café con Leche” (two expats from Spanish speaking nations and two Americans who speak Spanish with them) the “DoReMi’s” (a music teacher and his family), “Smoking Hues” (two fathers and their sixth grade sons, the team name created from their two last names), “SMACK 1” and “SMACK 2” (two teams of four women each – all of their names starting with S, M, A, C, or K) and “SMACKED” (four of their husbands)) signed in and had team pictures taken.  Rules, route markers, detour and roadblock signs were displayed and explained.  And the first wave of ten teams departed with their initial clue envelopes at the 9:00 start time.
Fifteen minutes later, after a just-in-case bathroom break, the second wave (which included “The PEAS”), took off.  We rushed into the shade of a tree to tear open our envelope.
The clue referred to “going bald” or “needing a new do” and “Milky white” who was “mooing at you.”  That was a tad bit obscure, and we weren’t really sure what hair had to do with a cow, but rather than asking for help from spectators (which was allowed), we, the independent, self-reliant team, tore off down the road toward the cow from whom we get fresh milk twice a week.  As we approached (not seeing any sign of a route marker), Paul reminded us that there are actually two cows on center, and the other one is located at the home of one of the other ladies who cuts hair. 
That made sense, so we turned around and made our way quickly (we’d stopped running as soon as we got away from the cameras – ha!) to these people’s home which lies at the bottom of a long hill.  They were hosting their Saturday morning café (the subject of a future “Fun in the Remote Highlands of PNG” post), but no route marker.  Knowing we had the huge hill to climb, I decided to inquire rather than continue our failed self-sufficiency test.  We were informed that we were not the first to try their house (turns out, about eight teams came to their house that day), and that “Milky White” was the name of a paper-mache’ cow in a high school play a few years back.
Yeah, like how were we supposed to know that?
So, we trudged back to the high school.
Yes, I said BACK to the high school … to the prop room that stands just a few yards from the starting line we had jogged away from so energetically fifteen minutes earlier.
It had been a long fifteen minutes.
Unfortunately, we did not successfully complete the challenge at that stop (finding a marked black ribbon hidden among the rows of costumes inside of a 12 minute time limit) and, in addition to the 15 minutes of confused roaming, the 10 minutes waiting for the team ahead of us to finish the challenge, and the intense ribbon search, we absorbed a 5 minute penalty.  We had now used up 42 minutes of our allotted four hours.  We’d used 18% of our time on the first 8% of our race.
Fortunately, the other eleven pit stops were not as difficult for us.  The only other one we did not complete had to do with bean counting (literal bean counting), and no one else accomplished it either.  Using sampling theory, we did come up with the closest answer of all the teams that attempted it, but alas, not close enough to avoid another 5 minute penalty.
The location clue we received at the prop room was a photograph of someone’s front door.  This led us to a roadblock where we had to choose someone who was “really hungry” to attempt the challenge.  “I mean really really hungry.  I really mean really really really really really really really really hungry.”
Well, on any given day that describes our son exactly, so, thinking he would be downing a dozen bananas, he agreed to take the challenge.
He wouldn’t let us talk him into any more challenges for the rest of the day.
Before he even unwrapped the foil-covered plate, we caught a glimpse of the hand-made poster-board “menu.”  It included such delicacies as “squid snack,” white jelly fungus, sardines, sago, lychees, jellyfish, and sago grubs.  Yes, grubs.
Our team took the three minute penalty for changing participants.
And Paul took one for the team.
The lychees turned out to be a fruit, sweet and rather tasty (I took his word for it) but having come out of a can, slimy and unrecognizable prior to being ingested.  The sago tasted like cardboard; no surprise there.  The grub (beheaded and fried just that morning by a brave 15-year old girl) he popped like a pill and downed with half a glass of water.
I didn’t ask for any more descriptions.
He said he didn’t feel sick, so we trudged on.
Our clue led us to a home where strains of “Eye of the Tiger” were wafting from the closed curtains of the living room.  When it was our turn, we entered to find that we had ten minutes to learn a dance, and then we would be judged on how well we performed it.  Suffice to say, we passed the test and did not receive a penalty, but two pit stops later, when given a Detour choice of “Assembly required” or “Performance inspired,” we chose to assemble.  (A good choice from what I hear because, among other things, we didn’t have to try to pantomime “Argentina.”)
The clue for Pit Stop #4 was a photo that took us back to the high school.  Paul had to sink 10 baskets from somewhere beyond the top of the key in a certain time limit.  He just made it, and then retrieved our next clue from a plan full of whipping cream … using only his face.
The kids were jealous and insisted on cleaning off the zipper baggie before it went in the trash.
It took a couple of minutes to figure out that the bold words in the otherwise very bizarre clue were an anagram for the name of one of the youth hostels.  It was at this location that we chose “Assembly required” and after finding twenty-four plastic eggs that had nails inside, I built a box using some wood and every one of those nails.
Pit Stop #6 required that we sink a plastic golf ball in a makeshift “hole” (made from half a margarine container) in eight or fewer swings of a club.  Everyone had to hit at least one time. On the eighth hit, a four inch putt, the putter caused the ball to go airborne and bounce off the top of the butter tub.  (I won’t say who that was, but considering that that person had ingested jellyfish, fungus, and a grub on our behalf, we didn’t hold it against him.)
We had to start over three times, with hitting the ball out of the fence, and into a flower bed being the other two no-no’s that sent us back to the tee.  We narrowly avoided a penalty as we sank the putt just seconds before the time limit was up.
Our next clue sent us to a home where our roadblock card said (sorry in advance for any offense that may be taken here), I quote, “Choose the one person on your team who really sucks!”
I ended up having to draw a huge bowlful of jello through a straw.  About half way through, I noticed that the rules didn’t say anything about having to swallow the jello, so when I asked, I was escorted into the house (so other teams wouldn’t get wise) and given a spittoon.  Yay for spittoons.
At pit stop #8, we found 100 plastic knives sticking blade-first into the ground in a space that measured, by my best guess, 800 square feet.  Again, a time limit was imposed for us to find the one knife with a painted blade.  Only one knife (per person) could be out of the ground at any time. I don’t know which was worse … crawling around on hands and knees or bending over repeatedly.  I did both. 
They both hurt.  :)
Once the embellished piece of cutlery was located (I think it was the 98th knife we pulled), we were given our next clue.  When we arrived, we again had a choice to make … either a 2- or 3-person challenge.  The route to this pit stop had been all uphill and the kids were worn out (oh yeah … waah, waah, waah) so it was up to the aging, but ever faithful parental units to choose the “two” option.  I was blindfolded and Paul directed me, using only verbal instructions, through an elaborate obstacle course while the kids sat back and casually enjoyed cups of lemonade.  (Had one child been willing to make it “three,” then two blindfolded team members would have been required to erect a tent based on the verbal clues of the third person.)
Pit Stop #10 was where we encountered the beans.  We figured, being “peas” we should be able to conquer some lowly “beans,” but, as described above, they conquered us.  We should have chosen the “paper caper,” whatever that was.
Pit stop #11 found Paul and I volunteering to be the participants again.  I told Paul I would be the one blindfolded because he did such a great job of leading me around the obstacle course earlier.  (I meant it, too!)  Turns out, the obstacle course this time was his face.  The lipstick broke in my hand, so I smeared it on with my fingers … between his lower lip and his chin. 
I won’t describe where the rest of the cosmetics landed; you can look at the picture.  At least the wig ended up perched on the top of his head.
With Paul’s face so bedecked, we hurried to our final pit stop.  “Cemetery Hill” is, as you might guess, a hill.  With a cemetery.  Beside the cemetery is a steep foot path that takes those fit enough to scale it from one section of housing to another.  (I’m pretty sure I made my parents climb it, as part of their introduction to life here.)
The rules were that all team members had to climb up the hill … on hands and knees.
Which brings me back to the expired muscle rub crisis.
I focused on the ground as I plodded my way up the steeply-graded slope.  My family had reached the finish line and was cheering me on when I decided I had to stop and rest for a minute.  I looked up to see that I was in exactly the same place that I, when I first started climbing the hill (on foot), had to stop and rest: about 2/3 of the way up.  I laughed out loud at the coincidence, and then forced myself to finish, all the while staring at the grass.
Having completed all twelve pit stops, it was time to return to the high school and jump on the mat indicating our team’s arrival.  Instead of the Amazing Race logo, the plastic mat bore a picture of Winnie-the-Pooh.
But, hey … whatever works, right?
With our penalties added in, our final official time was four hours and one minute … good enough for an 8th place finish and the t-shirt prize that came with it.
Not bad, I say.
I have to give some kudos to two of my students, Andie’s classmates, who tagged along with us … for the entire race!  They were our own personal cheering squad, even going so far as to make and wear a sign that said “Go PEAS!”  E and V, you rock!
My twelve year old described Saturday as “one of the best days of [her] entire life!” 
And as for the toll of stress on our family?  I’d say there was little to none.  The four of us worked together surprisingly well and, thanks to the hard work of many people here, enjoyed a day of “fun in the remote highlands of Papua New Guinea.”

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Celebratory Dining Options

(or, “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 4)
Today is my daughter’s birthday.  We told my husband as he was leaving for work this morning that we would be going to Applebee’s for lunch.  He told us to have fun.
We dream a lot here.  :)
Actually, I would have said “Johnny Carino’s,” but it’s been so long I couldn’t remember the name of the place. 
I said a few posts ago that there are no restaurants here.  That’s not exactly correct.  There is one restaurant in Kainantu.  Sometimes it is even open.  We’ve never been there, but we know people who reportedly have.  It’s about a 25 minute drive.
In the daytime.
When the bridge isn’t out.
But that’s not the point.  In other “big cities” (it’s all relative), there are restaurants … and some places even more than one to choose from.
But, here in our little township, we have the “Ukarumpa Kai Bar.”  (“Kai” is the Melanesian Pidgin word for food.)  This fine establishment is open when the store is open, typically Monday to Friday.  From 11am to almost 4pm, it usually even has food.  :)
Typical fare includes hamburgers (K7.50 … about $3.15), chips (also known as French fries – K4.50 … about $1.90; these are edible for the first thirty-six seconds after they leave the deep-fryer; after that, you must have the jaws of a cow to break them down), meat pies, and roasted chickens (sold whole, half, and quarter).
They also have hot dogs on the menu, but don’t be fooled.  These are not your typical American hot dogs. 
Now most expats would not see this as that great a loss.  However, I had a friend tell me a couple weeks ago that when she went home on her first furlough, her mother asked her, “If you could have any food you have been missing, what would it be?”  Her response?  A hot dog.
Now, while I am not the greatest connoisseur of the great American frankfurter, and that certainly wouldn’t be my first choice, I have to admit, I totally understood what she meant.  Throw some of that canned Hormel chili (no beans variety, please) on top and I’m there.  (Gross, I know.)  But, please … when we get ready for furlough, don’t everyone start stocking up on hot dogs.  At the risk of being rude, after about the third meal of them, I’d be heading to Carino’s.  But, again, I digress.
Ice cream, when available, is the best bargain in town: K1.70 for a two scoop cone … about 70 cents.  It is available in elaborate flavors such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, banana, toffee (which is bright yellow), coffee, and mango.  They even have blueberry ice cream from time to time, which is especially odd in a country that doesn’t have blueberries.
They were out of ice cream today, but back to the outing at hand.
I told Andie I knew this great little bistro that I wanted to take her to for her birthday.  Since we eat there about twice a year (with the exception of 70 cent ice cream), she was all in favor. 
She likes the fries.  Hmm.
So, we walked the 12 minutes downhill to the store and stood in line.  They were out of meat pies, her first choice.  I suggested we get a chicken (which is right tasty, actually, but you have to be prepared to rip it apart and eat it with your hands … fortunately they have paper towels.  Sometimes.)
She decided on a hamburger and chips … er, fries.
Which brings me to a rather humerous rabbit trail … that same friend who relished the hot dogs (no pun intended)?  She and I were headed to the store the other day.  She asked some of our co-workers if they wanted her to get anything for them.  To our American friend, she said, “Would you like me to get you some fries?”  Then, two minutes later, to our New Zealander friend, she said, “Would you like me to get you some chips?”  Didn’t even flinch.
As we walked to the car, I commented on how impressed I was by her cultural sensitivity.
She didn’t even realize she had done it.  :)
Anyway, back to today.  Andie and I had burgers and chips (I have to call them that, since, if you note the picture, we only had “tomato sauce” with which to garnish them), and Fanta “Creamy” sodas.  You may never have heard of Fanta “Creamy,” but let me assure you it is a delight that has made this entire international escapade worthwhile.  It is described as “strawberry ice cream flavor.”  Not really, but close enough. 
While we were sitting there outside, under the grass-roofed shelter, sharing a table with other people, some friends of ours came and sat down on the bench seat beside us.  When they found out it was Andie’s birthday, my friend Birgitta decided to serenade her.
In Dutch.
Lang zal ze leven, lang zal ze leven,
Lang zal ze leven in de gloria.
In de glo-ri-a, in de glo-ri-a.
Hiep-hiep-hiep hoera!
Hiep-hiep-hiep hoera!
(Let her live long in glory; hip-hip hurrah!)

The happenstance of the moment wasn’t lost on me.  That’s just cool.
Happy birthday, kiddo!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Play it Again, Sam. (And again, and again, and again, and ...)

(or “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea.” Vol. 3)
Almost every Sunday, after the kids have gone to Sunday School (there is no SS for adults here), Paul and I pull out the Scrabble board.  This frequently leads to visions of the two of us slowly rolling our wheelchairs into a common room and then moving our little wooden letters around with arthritic hands, while a kindly 20-something nurse hands us saltines and glasses of grapefruit juice.
I’m sure it will happen sooner than I think.
But I digress.
We used to play Cribbage, but after years of peg-moving and 15-and 31-counting, we graduated to Scrabble.  I won most of the time, until Paul caught on to all of my tricks.  It took a while, but within the last year he began to match me game for game. 
Of course, that meant we had to change the rules.  Couldn’t have him beating me that much, you know.
Last year, someone gave us one of those Scrabble sets with the turntable-style board and the little grid ridges that keep the letters in place.  Someone at Milton Bradley should have gotten early retirement with full benefits for that one.  But, even better than those upgrades, the set came with alternate rules. 
We adopted two of them at once:
<![if !supportLists]>1.       <![endif]>A player who has, or draws, a letter which is represented on the board by a blank, may, on his turn, substitute the letter and pick up the blank.
<![if !supportLists]>2.       <![endif]>A player, at the start of his turn and before adding any letters to the board, may replace any single letter already on the board with one from his or her own rack which will form an acceptable new word or words.  Any number of such substitutions may be made on a turn – but only one letter at a time, and only when correct words result from each individual change.
These changes shifted the balance of power.  I once again dominated the world of Scrabble, until he began to get wise to my strategies and implement them for his own gain.  The rat.  At this point, the scale still tips slightly in my favor, but it won’t be long before I’ll need to find some new rule adaptation that will again give me the upper hand.

Pinochle is a game that we played frequently before coming to PNG, but we have not met many people here who even know how to play.  We taught a couple several months ago, but they haven’t played since.  I think the complexity may have overloaded their circuits. 
In January, a new couple arrived (with our same last name, interestingly enough, but no relation) who enjoy pinochle as much as we do. One night in February, they invited six people over and introduced us to a new twist on the game.  I am not sure what the real name of this variation would be, but it was a rotational pinochle, where players play each hand with a different partner, and two games are going on simultaneously.  At the end, each player adds up all eight of the scores they helped attain to find an ultimate winner. 
Having nowhere else to go, Andie tagged along with us that night.  She took along a book and was looking forward to holding down the sofa for a while.  However, when we got there, the hosts were delighted because one of the players they had invited could not come at the last minute.  Now, Andie had never played pinochle before and she was less than half the age of the next oldest player, but she is a card shark.  She caught on very quickly, held her own, and had a great time.

Tonight, the first day of school term break, the four of us played a rousing game of Agricola (top picture above.)  Paul was introduced to this game at one of the numerous guy “let’s-play-games-and-stuff-food-in-our-faces” nights he’s attended over the last year.  Other G “LPGASFIOF” N activities have included classics such as Settlers of Catan, Dominion, and Carcassone.  No video games for these men, no siree.  Like I said, this is a community of academics. We are much too sophisticated for that.
Okay, maybe not. 
Anyway, this was the closest game of Agricola our family has played together.  After an hour of buying wood, clay, reed, and grain, sowing and harvesting grain and vegetables, expanding and upgrading houses and families, erecting fences and procuring cattle, pigs, and sheep, the scores were 20, 24, 26, and 28. 
I was declared the winner. 
That’s really all that matters, right? 
Oh yeah … and spending time together as a family, making our own entertainment here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea.
Yeah, that too.  :)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Horse Sense

(or “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 2)           
Unlike in most other places, the largest animal indigenous to Papua New Guinea is not a mammal.
It’s a cassowary.
I know, I know.  Control your excitement.  :)
Yet, yesterday morning, right here in our little hamlet, horses and their riders put on a community event: a gymkhana.  You see, though not indigenous, horses do tend to be a little more tolerant of the saddle than cassowaries.
Several members of the Pony Club have quite a bit of experience with horsemanship, and some even with this type of horse show.  Several others do not, yet they participated anyway.  Fun times for all!
(Though Andie is a member of the Pony Club, she chose not to participate.  The horse she cares for is a 32-year old, stubborn, grumpy old mare.
Hold your jokes; I’ve got Phantasie by a good ten years.)
The day’s events included in-hand leading through and over obstacles, dressage, Parelli games, barrel racing, pole-bending, and the ever-popular “spud-n-spoon” race.
I am not sure if the Spud-n-Spoon race is a traditional horseback skill set, or if it was an infusion of fun in today’s very formal (ahem) events.  Either way, in this balancing race, the eggs normally carried on concave cutlery were replaced by potatoes.
The store was completely out of eggs.
As you may have assumed by now, this horse show was definitely for fun, rather than a serious equestrian meet.  At the very last minute I was asked to be a turnout judge, if that tells you anything.  I told the organizers that surely there was someone there who had more sense about these things than I did, but they still wanted me to do it.  Let’s just say that every entrant passed. 
I mean, they pretty much all looked like horses to me.  :)

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(Updated 13 April 2013)