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.  :)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Slip Slidin' Away

(or “Fun in the Remote Highlands of New Guinea,” Vol. 1)           
Papua New Guinea is known for its rain forests, and precipitation is one commodity we certainly do not lack … at least during much of the year.  While we don’t exactly live in a rain-forested area, we still get quite a bit of wet.  Over the last 30 years, the average annual rainfall here in the Aiyura valley has been 2,156 mm (for those of us cursed to have been raised under customary measurement systems, that about 86 inches … more than 7 feet.)
I’m pretty sure that in 2010, we had that reached that amount by sometime in May.
I have pictures of my kids and their friends last year, “watersliding” down the concrete culverts in front of our house.  And we have the torn shorts to prove it.   :)
This rainy season has been much drier, but that doesn’t stop people from having fun with water.
Behind one of the youth hostels here is a long hill, just perfect for a slip-n-slide … the extra-extra-extra large variety.  Last weekend, under the burn of the tropical sun, the center youth group held a fund-raiser there. Thanks to several water hoses and a case of Palmolive dish detergent, kids of all ages (literally) enjoyed the fruits of gravity.
No, I did not indulge.  I had a responsibility to get good pictures for the blog, you know.
The youngest I saw flying down the black rubber tarpaulin was about 2 years old.  The oldest, a PhD-holding high school teacher from Great Britian … I am guessing in his late 50s.  To see these individuals throw themselves onto the tarp and suddenly lose all control (literally) was quite a sight.  Once they got going, there was no stopping.  At least not at will.  Several teenage boys were at the end with another piece of plastic, trying to “net” those who reached the end of the tarp still going top speed before they slid off into the rocks and/or mud puddles below.
They weren’t always successful.
But I never heard anyone complain.   :)

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Let Me Entertain You

We knew before coming to Papua New Guinea that we should not expect the same level of service and services that we were comfortable with back home.  After all, PNG is a third-world country.  If planting yams and telling stories over coffee in the dark is not your natural inclination, being here might take some getting used to.  (Understatement of the year, I know.)
I had a comment on my last post (Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow) suggesting that some people simply could not, or should not, as the case may be, give up professional hair services.  I suppose that’s true.  I’ve seen my share of “frumpy” missionaries.  Why, I may even aspire to become one someday!  (Okay, maybe not.)  But seriously … does it really matter?  In our Western thinking, in our resource-rich, idyllic Shangri-Las, yes, it does.  But here?  Not so much.  It’s all a matter of priorities and context.
Those that come here expecting too much, either from themselves or from the community, are setting themselves up for a great fall.  Expectations that are set too high are nothing but rich deposits of stress ore.
You do what you can with what you have and then you have to let the rest of it go, you know?
Some would look at our little hamlet and think that entertainment, in particular, is a rare commodity.  There are no movie theaters, no restaurants, no bowling alleys.  No malls, no department stores, no book stores.  No miniature golf, no state parks, no Starbucks. 
No fun, right?
I think the best justice I could do to the situation here would be to say, fun and leisure and entertainment is what you make it. 
Many people have others over for dinner.  (Of course, dinner might take two and a half hours to prepare, but that’s another post.)   Board and card games are all the rage.  DVDs are swapped around like germs. 
Every weekend you can see kids walking to each other’s houses carrying pillows and sleeping bags.  These are the same kids who play outside, explore, create, dig, and build, and otherwise make their own fun.  Think 1950s America.
In the great tradition of adolescent pranks, some (yes, generally teenagers) take it upon themselves to decorate people’s yards (see photo of our yard above.)  This is not your traditional TP-job.  No, sir. Toilet paper is too expensive.  This is old video tapes.  (Please tell me, why didn’t we think of doing this with eight tracks?)
So, other than planting yams and engaging in “vandalism lite” with reels of magnetic media, what is there to do here in the highlands of Papua New Guinea?
Well, I’m glad you asked.  Stay tuned.   :)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

“So how did you get into cutting hair?”
In the last year and a half, I have heard this question from nearly everyone who has sat in my kitchen chair sporting a stylish black cape.  The jury is still out on whether they’re just striking up a friendly conversation, or concerned about what they will look like when I’m done hacking away with my scissors.  But, I don’t charge for the service, so I’m sure it’s hard to resist.
To answer the question, I’ve cut my husband’s hair ever since we got married, and started cutting my own about ten years ago. I had recently had the best haircut of my life (thanks, Rann!), but at $45 for just the cut, there was no way this seminary student was going to be able to do that every eight weeks.  What can I say?  I’m cheap.  I tried several $12 chain-salon haircuts, but soon decided I could do just as well on my own.  And if I butchered my coif, I could always go running back to Rann to have it expertly doctored.
I also cut the kids’ hair, and the dog’s.  And fortunately for our current community, I had some friends in Texas (equally cheap, apparently) who were my willing guinea pigs before we came to PNG.  To my great surprise, they were all repeat customers, including the sixteen year old boy who generally refused to let anyone touch his curly blonde locks.
I knew that services like haircuts could be hard to come by here, being a community filled with academics, so I brought along my scissors and my willingness to give haircutting a shot, just in case.  I didn’t get past the first three weeks before requests were coming in.
Despite my lack of training, I routinely do anywhere between 3 and 8 haircuts in a normal week.  In the last two and a half weeks, I have had 21 haircuts and a couple of consultations with mothers who want to learn to cut their children’s hair.  Who would have ever guessed?
Last night I cut hair for my friend in the photo above.  The woman has piles of hair.  It had been a while since I cut it last, and, after I finished the trim, I asked her if we had thinned her hair last August.  She said, yes, she thought so, and yes, let’s do it again.  However, with the first snip of the thinning shears, she shrieked, “Sharon!  What are you doing?
I just laughed.  You’ll never miss it.
I convinced her to trust me and kept on thinning.  She swallowed her fears and let me do my thing.  The picture above was taken when it was all over and she had just gotten a glimpse of the volume of hair on the floor.  She’s laughing behind her hand … really she is.
Though she was happy with her haircut, not everyone has been.  I have had three notable situations over the eighteen months where the person was less than satisfied.  The first was a woman who came to me with super-thick hair, long enough to reach her waist.  She wanted to have enough cut off to donate to “Locks of Love,” and she was headed to the coast for four months of orientation training.  We discussed how stiflingly hot it is at the coast, and how she would want it short enough (and thinned) so that it wasn’t too hot, yet long enough to pull up in a ponytail.  I did what she asked me to do, so I choose to believe that it was the sheer shock of going from waist-length to just-below-the-shoulder-length that caused her very, very pained countenance upon completion of the job.
The second to-be-unhappy customer brought me a picture.  As if that’s not dangerous enough, her words to me were, “This is the closest I can find to what I want.”
That’s very specific, thank you.
I tried as best I could to figure out what she wanted, but apparently I overshot it significantly.  A couple weeks later she apologized for the way she had reacted when I handed her the mirror.  I must be a completely insensitive dolt, though, because I hadn’t even noticed.  Though short, yes, I thought it looked very cute on her. Then, and this is the funny part, she said she forgave me for the haircut.
I don’t think I’ve ever been forgiven for a haircut before.
At least not that I knew about.  :)
Last week, I cut the hair of one of my ten-year old students.  This boy had long, shaggy blonde hair which he had grown out for a school event.  Now that the event was over, Mom was the impetus for him to seek a trim.  Fortunately, she came with him, because he was rather tight-lipped about what he wanted.  That or he was embarrassed to see me in this capacity, one or the other.
Mom tried to glean from him what he was hoping for, and then interpreted for me, adding her own opinion into the mix.  I gave him what she wanted.
But, it was not what he wanted.
His tears broke my heart.
I never thought that a 10-year old boy would care that much about what his hair looked like.  I have cut hair for several teenage boys, many of whom, like my friend in Texas, won’t allow anyone to touch their hair under normal circumstances.  I always felt honored (albeit a bit nervous) that they trusted me to cut it.  But this kid is ten, and shorter in stature than my 8-year old.  I never expected that reaction.  He ended up having it buzzed short.  A bittersweet consolation prize.
Aside from these three dramas, most of my victims, er, clients are happy enough, especially, I suppose, considering the alternatives (no cut, self-cut, spouse-cut, or worse.)
After all, I offer a double-your-money-back guarantee.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Just Go With the Flow

Everyone knows that overseas missionaries are destined to subsist on a diet of roasted insects and fried monkey brains.  It just comes with the territory.
Well, if I’m going to be honest, I have to admit that the most exotic thing we have eaten here in Papua New Guinea is alligator, and we prepared that.  For sure, there are some nationals who eat items less appealing to our Western appetites.  For example, there is a common joke (or is it a joke?) around here that if you’re invited to a mumu (celebratory feast), the main course may very well be cat.
But, no.  Our wildest culinary encounters have not been cooked over an open fire.
They’ve come in packages.
Take crackers for instance.  If you were to walk through any PNG grocery store, you might led to believe that the diet of all PNGians consists solely of tinned meat and crackers.  No kidding.  Crackers make up an amazing percentage of the stock of every store I’ve ever been in.
You’d think that crackers would be harmless enough, right?  Well, check out the ingredients in the picture above: “Edible vegetable oil, Edible salt, Edible ammonium bicarbonate, Edible flavouring …”
As if the Commonwealth spelling wasn’t disconcerting enough, you also have to contend with several other uncertainties.  I mean, the list definitely begs the question: if these four components are edible, what about the other eleven?  Am I taking my life in my hands by ingesting Cream flavoured “1+1 Soda Sandwich” crackers?
And what is this Ghee oil thing?  I looked up the word “ghee” and found that it actually has a definition:  “Clarified butter used in Indian cookery.”  Even though these crackers were not manufactured in India, they do come from the same continent.  And I am very glad to know that this butter is clarified.  Edible or not, I certainly wouldn’t want to eat vague butter, that’s for sure. 
Sixteen months ago we were living in a village setting, complete with river bathing, water-hauling, and a grass and bamboo hut.  Interestingly enough, one of the most popular PNG-manufactured snacks is actually very reminiscent of a treat from back home.  The Twisties, cheese flavoured variety, rivals crunchy Cheetos in nearly every respect.  It seems strange, but I actually met someone who claimed she had to take a goodly number of Twisties bags home with them on furlough to satisfy their PNG-raised children.  Cheetos were, of course, inadequate.
Anyway, drinking the water we were drinking, and bathing in the water we were bathing in, we weren’t surprised that most of our, er, bowel movements were, shall we say, less than firm.  The problem actually plagued us for most of the time we were in the village, but near the end of our time there, we made a startling discovery. 
Twisties snacks come in several varieties, including Chicken flavor, Cheese and Onion, and Barbeque.  Those are okay, but the Pizza flavor had become a favorite.   Then we read the back of the bag.
The ingredients list contains enticing components such as “cheese powder, … natural & nature identical flavours, … and parsley granules food acid (330).”  (I do wonder if they’re missing a comma in last ingredient.)  The final item on the list, however, was at the same time somewhat frightening and surprisingly enlightening.
You ready for this?
“Free flow agent (551).”
I kid you not.  I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried. 
Yessiree, like the slogan says, “Life is fun with Twisties!”
Investigating the rest of the bag sheds no light on this odd discovery.  Instead it reveals even more quandaries … such as, “Why would a product made and marketed exclusively in Papua New Guinea be labeled in English and French?   (For those who are interested, the component in question is translated, “agent fluidifiant (551).”)
Fortunately, discoveries like this are not restricted to ingestible products.  Nor are they always frightening.  Occasionally we find one that provides hours of entertainment.
Take, for example, the shampoo bottle in our shower.  The one Paul is using.  (Me?  I lucked out and found some Indonesian-manufactured Pantene PRO-V, but considering the price and limited availability, have forbidden him to touch it.)
I can’t tell you where this product was made.  No, really, I can’t.  That information, if it is there at all, is in a language I do not recognize.  What I can tell you, thanks to the company’s fine interpreters, is that this particular bottle is of the following variety:  “Ocean Element Beauty fair.”   Where my Pantene bottle says “Smooth & Silky,” this bottle of mystery goo goes on to say, “Nourishment Moisture, Twinkling of Hair.”
Now, I ask you, who wouldn’t want Twinkling of Hair?  These people have secured a corner in a very competitive market.
Paul chuckled and was satisfied with this, and knowing that it couldn’t be all bad to have hair that shimmered like stars in the night sky, didn’t bother to read any further.  But had he turned the powder-blue container over, he would have discovered a great treasure trove of Engrish on the back.  And I quote …
“Contain the bright hair vegetable, vitamin of meek essence original b5, etc., can be overall the depth nursing hair at the time of go to a scraps, make the show deliver the meek and bright.”
Oooooooh … that’s good.
But, wait!  There’s more!
“All new negative ion essence, …”
(This is a relief, because I’ve heard that second-hand negative ion essence isn’t nearly as effective at containing the bright hair vegetable.)
“ … keep show hair from be subjected to the static electricity interference, be easy to comb, full of flexibility.”
Scraps-destined, nursing hair that delivers meek and bright.  Easy to comb, flexible, and not subjected to static electricity interference.  You know, I don’t even know what to say to that. 
How can one possibly improve on perfection?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Avacados and Self-Reflection

Several weeks ago, a Papua New Guinean friend of ours brought us three young avocado trees.  We had asked her for one, but she brought three, hoping that “at least one would make it.”  The smaller two had been attacked by some kind of parasite, and the laciness of their leaves indicated a probable transplantation failure.  The leaves on the largest (about two and a half feet tall), however, were unaffected by these bugs, and seemed to promise sure success.   Paul planted them, and since then has tended and watered them religiously.
Within just a couple of weeks, the middle-sized one (we’ll call it “Specimen B”) died a rapid, unglorified death.  Its wilted, black excuse for a twig still stands in our yard, mostly, I suppose, as a monument to our laziness.
“Specimen A,” the largest one, the one that seemed to hold the most promise, has stagnated.  It lost a few leaves (not unexpected, considering the transplant), and the top of its “trunk” blackened; the leaves it still possesses, though large and bug-free, hang limp and hapless.  It doesn’t change much from day to day, or even react to the sun as it passes overhead.
Interestingly enough, the smallest one (“Specimen C”), from the very beginning, has been the most courageous, the most curious, the most acutely inspirational.
Standing only about a foot high, this unremarkable twig bore about four leaves, or at least what was left of them, when Tina brought it to our house.  (The insects must have thought this one was particularly delicious.)  Once Paul put it in the ground, every morning, without fail, this pitiful young tree would stretch to its full 12 inches and bend its hole-laden leaves toward the burning ball of gas as it crossed the sky.  Every time I looked at it, I could just hear it urgently crying out in its squeaky little botanical voice,
“I’m trying!”
It made me laugh, that little stick.  By late afternoon, it was always sagging, exhausted, beaten down by the tropical sun.  But the next morning it would stretch again, attempting everything within its power to regain full health.
Despite its best efforts, however, its leaves dropped off one by one until there was just one left, hanging precariously near the top of the stick.
The day I saw Evan and his friends playing in the yard near the little tree, I didn’t think much of it.  Evan knows how badly his daddy wants the avocados to grow.  He wouldn’t do anything to hurt them.  His friend, Michael, however, wasn’t aware of the importance of this little tree.
In fact, he wasn’t even aware it WAS a little tree.
The boys were playing barefoot, in appropriate PNG fashion, and at one point Michael walked over to the “stick” and put his toes around it.
“Oh, Michael, be careful!  Don’t do that.  That’s Mr. Paul’s ….”
Even as he looked at me as if to figure out what I could possibly be getting onto him about, his toes, still gripping the feeble trunk, swept up and off the top of the tree … taking the last remaining leaf with them.
“… that was Mr. Paul’s tree.”   *sigh*
We didn’t know if a stick with no leaves would grow … it could get water, yes, but photosynthesis was now out of the question.  Yet, having observed that this tree was a fighter, we left it there to see what would happen.
Within days there were leaf buds, and now, a few weeks later, that little trooper has eighteen leaves – none of which have any insect damage.
As I was trying to figure out how to graciously and discretely re-enter the blogging arena, this saga caught my attention.  Because I feel like an avocado tree.  Or, I should say, over the nineteen months we have been in PNG, I have had times where I felt like each of the three specimens.
Occasionally I have been Specimen B … refusing to engage with the soil and water around me.  Choosing instead to be alone and lonely.  Only Grace kept me from blackening and wilting to nothingness during those times.
At other times, I have been Specimen A.  Pretty healthy when I arrived, but in some ways wishing I was still “back home.”  Only minimally engaged with my surroundings.  Stagnating.  Not dead, but not truly living either.  Droopy, pathetic.
I have considered my one-year absence from blogging from many angles, wondering why I have gone twelve months without investing in the art of creative writing.  Finally, yesterday, it dawned on me … at POC, I had no way to find out about friends back home, I had very little contact with family and loved ones stateside.  Over the few months following our move to the highlands, however, I realized the accessibility of Facebook.  Suddenly I was a part of things back home again, more or less.  I think that for most of the last year, I have been only nominally engaged with my immediate surroundings, at least emotionally.   Instead of insightfully putting into words snippets of life here, I have instead tried to live vicariously through the comments of people back home: who’s having a baby, who’s sick, funny things your kids have said, politics, quips that cleverly personify inanimate objects, Snowmageddon 2011, and the like.  I have frequently experienced a desperation to know what is going on back home, to feel connected, and have chosen to mindlessly read the status updates of a few hundred friends rather than invest what it takes to capture pieces of my life here in words for the many who will never experience this life, or at least for the few who care.
But, after watching this perennial woody plant fight its way through difficult (and, at times, seemingly impossible) circumstances, I now realize that I want to be more like him - not losing sight of where I’ve come from, and yet, fully engaging the soil and water around me.  Stretching my leaves to their full potential every day and soaking in the sun.
So, that said, after a year hiatus, I am going to do my best to spend less time on Facebook (missing everyone,  wishing I was back home, feeling left out, jealous of the snowstorms you’d rather not be having), and more time with my word processor, sharing pieces of my life in Papua New Guinea with you.

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)