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.

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)