Sunday, April 28, 2013

Week in Review: April 22-28

"I don't want to be stinky poo poo girl, I want to be happy flower child." - Drew Barrymore

“Somewhere there’s a landfill of unopened hot sauce.” ~ from the movie, “Kim Possible: The Secret Files” (2003)

“What I love about this course is how it takes barefoot guys from the bush and turns them into Bible translators.” ~ Kate King (link at bottom)

Each evening, a security guard is locked within our school’s perimeter fence for the purpose of deterring overnight crime.  Every once in a while a trained dog spends the night inside the fence with him.  Ideally, I would hope the guard would pick up behind said dog, but that is not always the case.  That, my friends, is why smart supervisors include “other duties as assigned” on their subordinates’ job descriptions.

This week I was called upon to pick up guard dog poo during recess.  “Because the basketballs keep landing in it,” said the eleven-year-old informant.

Well, why didn’t you tell me before the basketball became plural?

So, I picked it up … rather, I scraped most of it up with a plastic bag.  Happy flower child, I was not.

Dog poo prevention is one reason why we have a gate on the fence at the school, and it is one of my self-assumed duties that I try to train the students to keep the fence closed (to keep out the neighborhood dogs).  This week, however, I discovered another reason to close the gates.

Those of you who have been with me a while will remember that I am not all that fond of roosters.  Fortunately, there are not too many on our centre that roam free, yet I approached the school on Monday morning only to discover a rather colourful specimen hanging around the gate.  He was most definitely looking for a way in.

Speaking of annoying creatures, in response to my blogging about them last week, fruit flies are now trying to take over the house.  Not only are they in the bathroom, but in the living room, bedrooms, and laundry room as well.   I am getting my comeuppance.

Paul was on-call as the clinic van (i.e. ambulance) driver this week.  After such a medevac-heavy week last week, we were hoping it wouldn’t be too crazy.  As it turned out, he only had one evening that he had to spend at the clinic, and we're grateful that did not result in a medevac.

Stacey has participated in track this term, and Monday she went off for an early morning run with some of her teammates.  Apparently, however, she had left her running shoes at school, so she made the very reasonable decision just to run in flip-flops.  Now while I could never do it, that actually isn’t so outrageous here - a step up, I suppose, from running barefoot which she and most PNGns could probably do without flinching.  Yes, the team was in the final stages of preparing for a tournament on Friday, but still I found her determination so impressive that I hung around the front of the house hoping to catch her on film as she ran by.

Paul went to Goroka on Tuesday with a group who were needing to renew their PNG drivers’ licenses.  The licensing office located in our closest town burned down about a year ago, so now one has to drive to Goroka (90 minutes) or Lae (3 hours) to take care of this task. Of course, you never know what you’ll find (or not find) when you get there; office hours are not consistent, and if they do happen to be open, they may or may not have everything they need to issue a license to you. 

You know, like maybe they don’t have film? 

Such was the case on Tuesday.  The upside was that the person working was still willing to issue licenses, and Paul came home with a random piece of paper that supposedly gives him rights to drive for the next three years.  In addition, they were willing to add a motorcycle endorsement based only on his word that he knows how to ride.  (This, too, you can’t count on happening, as a road test is usually required … but don’t forget to bring your own motorcycle.)  

In addition to successfully renewing his PNG driver's license, Paul came home with these unique cookies that speak for themselves (except for the misleading reference to bourbon ...)

As one who likes to walk (and ride) on the wild side, Paul is the only one in our home who regularly enjoys a healthy dose of hot sauce.  Actually, he’s the only one who enjoys any dose of hot sauce.  But on Wednesday (after we had all finished our tacos) the kids decided that they would see what all the fuss was about.  One by one, all three of them put several drops of Tobasco on their plates and proceeded to lick it up.  Andie summed up the experience quite nicely:

“That’s not bad … oh, wait - my tongue is numb.”

These words were followed by a substantial sour cream chaser for each of the girls, and Evan trying to grab every cup of water remaining on the table whether or not it was his.

More than a week ago, a tree fell on a power line between our centre and the closest town.  Repair priorities in this country being what they are, our centre has been forced to use exclusively generator power ever since.

Wednesday night we received word that the maintenance department would be shutting down the generators for a while on Thursday morning for refueling.  Now I understand why this is necessary - it’s better than the generators running out of fuel and the power going out unexpectedly.  But as we had scheduled computer-based standardised testing with our youngest students, and setting up for them includes testing the audio on every machine, it meant I had to cancel the first session of testing for Thursday morning. They told me the generators would be back up and running before our 8:30 start time, but that didn’t take into account the hour that it would take me to set up the lab.

I rescheduled the 8:30 session for 1pm.

Then, since Thursday wasn’t crazy enough, I ran over to the Secondary campus from 10:30 to 11:30 in order to help out with the Grade 8 drama class rehearsals.  When I returned to the primary campus, I was met by my principal.

“Hey … wanna guess what you missed?”

Rooster invasion?

“We had a flood.”

Now, one of our campus water pumps had been dying a painful death for several weeks, and finally passed on to the great reservoir in the sky.  Our maintenance department installed a “new” pump (read: new to us) and departed claiming all was well.  The next morning, however, no (tank) water was making its way through the system. 

That pump, too, was no more.

Some time that morning, one of the third graders tried to turn on the water in the classroom sink.  When it didn’t come on, he walked away, forgetting to re-close the valve.  During the 20-minute morning recess, when the water supply lines were switched (so we could flush toilets, thank you) and (river) water suddenly surged through the pipes, the sink filled quickly.  By the time it was discovered at the end of recess, the water was more than ankle-deep throughout the grade 3 classroom.

I guess that’s better than a rooster invasion, which would have just left me picking up more poo.

Friday, as the first glimmer of light attempted to disperse the daily morning fog, Stacey left with the rest of the track team for the tournament in Goroka.  Fortunately, she remembered her shoes, and proceeded to place first in both of her events, the 400m and the 4x100m. In order to accumulate more points for the meet, the team decided to enter some additional events that they had not necessarily trained for.  Stacey and three other girls ran the 4x400m and took first.  Stacey also gave the triple jump a go and placed third.

In the end, our team won the tournament, beating out another mission school and several PNG schools for a rather large trophy and an even bigger swell of personal and team pride.

Now, despite all the craziness encountered in my everyday life this week, the work of Bible translation goes on.  On Thursday the 2013 Translator’s Training Course began.  For the next five weeks, these national men and women from around the country will be acquiring and/or practicing the basics of study methods, computer skills, and translation principles.  They will learn what they need to translate God’s talk into their own mother tongues.

My friend Kate has written a beautiful post about this training course and what it means for those involved.   

Since she writes from first-hand experience, and because she is much more eloquent than I am (never writing about poo), I highly recommend reading her account.  :)

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Week in Review, April 14-21

"There cannot be a crisis next week; my schedule is already full.”  ~Henry Kissinger

“Our whole life is solving puzzles.”  ~Erno Rubik

I mentioned in passing last week that Paul had worked on a medical evacuation as part of the training for his new job.  Well, someone must have thought he needed more practice.  Between Friday and Friday, our clinic and aviation department conducted a total of four medevacs, two of them in one day.  Interestingly enough, medevacs tend to “come in threes” (four is a bit surprising), but usually they are spread a bit further apart.  This has been a stretch for our aviation department, especially, as one of our planes was recently damaged on a bush runway and is currently out of commission.

So I wouldn’t feel left out by not having my own personal crisis, I discovered early this week that the network testing environment for our computer-based standardised testing had been completely lost in the recent “Catastrophic Network Crash of (March) 2013.”  A gentleman from our computer services department graciously worked with me to establish the proper folders and permissions so that I could re-download and re-create the necessary files. 

All was well until Thursday when we discovered that about half of our lab computers would not connect to the test taker interface.

Testing starts this coming Tuesday.  (Insert another frantic call to the network guy.)

Fortunately this problem turned out to be an easy enough fix – something we had skipped over (because it didn’t make sense) when re-creating the testing environment.  It still doesn’t make sense, but adding two lines of code on the server was easier than changing the pointers on at least 12 individual computers.

When I wasn’t handling crises at school (yes, there was more than one), I was running quickly through a 10kg bag of flour.  I am constantly amazed how the basic ingredients of baking consume such a significant volume of my pantry.  White flour, wheat flour, white sugar, brown sugar, powdered sugar, milk powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, spices, eggs …. I am not sure I went through even five pounds of flour while we were settled for three months in Washington last year, but here, between crescent rolls, French bread, muffins, pizza crust, tortillas, croutons, hamburger buns, cookies, pancakes, and waffles, we go through 10kg (22 pounds) every couple of weeks.

We’re especially thrilled when bags and their contents are found to be free of bugs.

Last night, I went to a ladies’ “puzzle night” (because I had not dealt with enough puzzles this week, of course) with a friend.  At the gathering, a long-time (since 1977) member of our organisation gave her testimony.  She has served here in translation and literacy, taught PNGns English as a Second Language, and taught Sunday School for the expat children for many years.  She taught “maths” at the high school, and claims at least two of our current adult community members as her former students.  She has faithfully coordinated our monthly “Mornings in Prayer” and has even been honoured by the queen (of England, her home country) for her service here in PNG (though she doesn’t remember wearing a hat to Buckingham Palace.)  Soon, she will be leaving PNG for good and returning to the UK to help care for her mother. 

Thirty-six years.  Wow.

When we were set loose on the table full of puzzles, our gang chose an adorable pair of collie puppies as our first project.  A mere thirty minutes later, everyone was appropriately awestruck when the four of us cheered our completion of the picture.  I proudly held up the box for all to see and admire.

“Junior puzzle, 100 pieces.”

My friend looked over at me from another table and said, “Sorry … I didn’t see any wooden ones … you know, the ones with the big knobs?”

Heh heh.

Yeah, well we don’t have to prove anything.

We completed two more hundred-piece puzzles, and with a sense of accomplishment firmly in place, sat back and chatted over coffee and finger foods while other tables slaved diligently over their 500-piecers.

Because the person in charge was medevaced on Friday, the middle school activity night scheduled for Saturday evening had been cancelled.  At the last minute, friends had invited our family over for a bonfire.  When I arrived home from the puzzle night at nearly 10pm and found the house abandoned, I leashed up our (fierce watch-) dog, grabbed and cocked the pepper spray, and briskly walked the four-house distance to join them.  The fire was still mightily ablaze, mostly consuming an endless number of hardwood scraps from the construction project that the family (of five) is currently undertaking - adding three much-needed rooms to their two-bedroom home. 

As I have done every Sunday since returning to PNG, this morning I trucked my way down the hill to help with Tok Pisin Sunday School.  This ministry to national children is conducted weekly in conjunction with the Tok Pisin church service that meets on our centre.  Despite what I am certain were grammatical errors, I managed to convey the "talk picture" (parable) comparing the kingdom of heaven to a man inviting people to a feast.  For the second week in a row, we floundered slightly as the person who directs the ministry was also medevaced last week.  (Are you sensing a theme?)  We’re hopeful she will be back this week.

As I type, Paul is out playing his weekly Ultimate Frisbee game with other die-hards who refuse to be put off by a little rain.  Or by a lot of rain, as the case may be.  Stacey has gone off to practice for an upcoming talent show, and major, minor, harmonic, and melodic clarinet scales are emanating from Andie’s room.  Evan has settled down with the Wii remote and Sonic the hedghog, and the dog has taken up residence with me on the bed. 

With the pitter-patter of rain on our tin roof, I feel a nap coming on.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Drosophila Melonogaster, and other Tropical Curiosities

“You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly, and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer’s heart.”  ~ Fred Allen

“What would be left of our tragedies if an insect were to present us his?” ~ Emile M. Cioran

“All insects with wings are unclean, so don’t eat them.” ~ Deuteronomy 14:19 (ERV)

The insects in PNG are amazing. While we were at our orientation course in 2009, I took countless photographs of all kinds of fantastical bugs.  Moths larger than your hand, beetles of all shapes, sizes, and colours, enormous gangly spiders (OK, I know those are not actually insects), creatures that mimic sticks and leaves … I am ever enthralled by the seemingly endless variety. 

Now that we live in the highlands, the species are more limited, presumably because of the cooler weather.  But we still have our share of moths and beetles, including the infamous rhinoceros beetle.  These in particular can be fun companions – knock them over on their backs and you can remain entertained for hours watching them try to right themselves.  Also, if you grab them by the “horn” there is not much they can do except wave their little legs about and attempt to scare you off with their ferocious hissing.

Also a result of the cooler weather at this elevation, the mozzies are not too much of a problem.  I’m not saying we don’t have mosquitoes – where there is standing water (which is everywhere here for about 5 months of the year), they shall breed.  But, they are not as likely to carry or spread malaria.  It is possible to get malaria here in the highlands, and people do, but it is rarer.  We faithfully took prophylactic regimens while we lived at the coast, but a few months after arriving at 5500 feet, we ran out of meds and decided to throw caution to the wind.

So far, so good.

Now, I recognize that this next confession may strip us of our missionary status, but I suppose I have to be willing to risk it in the name of honest journalism: we have never been offered any entomological delicacies at a meal.  Before we came to PNG, I expected that insects would be a plentiful, and therefore popular, part of the nationals’ diet, but we have not found it to be so. Many Papua New Guineans do eat insects, but it does not seem to be as common as in some other areas of the world.  I found a possible explanation in this article: “Orsak (1993a) laments that New Guineans, to their economic and nutritional disadvantage, are coming to believe that eating insects is "bush behavior" and something to be discarded in their progress toward development.  But it is obvious from the writings of researchers and educators who are familiar with the country that insects are an important part of the diet of Papua New Guineans.”

Interesting theory.

An exception to this diminishing insect interest is the sago grub.  In marshy areas of the country where sago palms abound, this plentiful, squishy grub is still a very common source of nutrition. Paul, having been privileged to ingest such a creature, would surely attest to its “slightly nutty flavor”… if he’d bothered to taste it.  But, I am pretty sure he swallowed it like a pill.

If only I had been so wise.

Last March, just before we went on furlough, the primary campus had its annual book festival.  Theme: “Don’t bug me; I’m reading” (aka, insects).  By way of incentive for the classes to each meet their reading goals, the principal promised that if they did just that, he would “eat bugs.”

That’s why I’m not the principal.  Just sayin'.

There is a certain beetle in this area that the people especially enjoy.  In the dry season, they emerge from the ground and swarm into the trees.  To collect them, the people put a sheet of sorts on the ground and wildly shake one of these trees, evicting hundreds of the little critters at a time from their lofty perches. 

But, March is not quite dry season.  And the beetles are not yet, well, beetles.  While definitely edible, the nationals don’t often eat the larvae because they have to dig them up out of the ground, a painstaking task compared to merely dislodging more mature (and crunchy) insects from their elevated colonies.  But, because book festival takes place in March, what choice did we have, really?  Our school custodian graciously agreed to unearth some of these creatures and prepare them for the big event. 

Boiled and fried, they were certainly well cooked, and Phil popped one in his mouth and swallowed like a pro.  Then he ate a couple more for good measure.

Can’t be that bad, I thought from the sidelines.

Then the chanting started.   Nevermind that I am a woman with delicate sensibilities, the students began asking for me to eat some, too.  And, looking back, wasn’t it nice of Dimeko to prepare not two or three, but a dozen or so of the creatures?  In the moment that the chorus began, it crossed my mind that by eating “a bug,” by engaging in “bush behavior,” I would somehow be inaugurated deeper into the missionary club; that surely our partners back home would be more impressed and touched by my global experiences if said experiences included ingesting something more exotic than fresh pineapple.

Considering I already had a clothespin on my nose as part of my Junie B. Jones (and the Stinky Smelly Bus) costume, and the fact that they had met their goal, how could I not do this for them?  Besides, the kids were just so darn cute.

The problem was, I tried to chew.

As fun as that experience was, my more typical daily insect exposure involves those who frequent my home: sugar ants (who aren’t picky and like many different varieties of food), roaches (yes, American cockroaches, which I assume came over 20 or 30 years ago in someone’s sea freight shipment), and fruit flies (which I learned in high school science do not actually emerge from rotting fruit, but which regularly give me cause to second-guess that conclusion.)

Now, I am certain you are slack-jawed in awe of the exotic life I am leading here.

Perhaps familiarity truly does breed contempt, because I detest them all.  The ants are just a nuisance, appearing in droves almost as soon as something capsizes onto the counter.  My favourite method to eliminate these is to systematically snuff out their little lives with my fingertips.

Die, die, die, die, die … die, die, die …

Maybe it is the sugar, but they tend to stick, and it is not unusual to have seven or eight, or twenty-two, smooshed little guys on each finger by the time I am done.

As for the roaches, I get all creeped out if I so much as hear them crunch, especially if I have to do it myself.  I am not afraid of much, and I suppose I am not truly “afraid” of cockroaches, but when I do see them (which is rare, since Paul made a batch of homemade “roach balls” and placed them strategically around the house), I much prefer to call out to my dear husband with a quivering “Paaauuuullll …. Will you please come be my hero?!”  With a grunt and a roll of the eyes, he appeases me.  Usually.

Fruit flies may not emerge from rotting fruit, but come to find out they don’t actually even need rotting fruit.  I never knew that.  No, all they need is ripe fruit.

Let me just say that I keep no fruit, ripe, rotting, or otherwise, in our bathroom.  So, why I had a fruit fly zipping around while I was curling my hair this morning, I may never know. 

I discovered something about fruit flies, though, that I never knew, or frankly cared about.

Fruit flies bleed when you smoosh ‘em.

My friend said, “are you sure it wasn’t some kind of fruit juice or something?”

Um … this was in the bathroom, remember?

The blood gave me cause to stop and consider … God created these pesky little flies (and ants, and cockroaches too, but we’ll have to have a chat about that when I see him next) … not just with wings and legs and fermentation-sniffers, but with respiratory systems and circulatory systems and excretory systems.  (Yes, all that fruit alcohol has to go somewhere.)  I am amazed to find intricate diagrams of fruit fly internal anatomy on the internet, meaning that someone somewhere (likely with university tenure and tens of thousands of dollars in grant funding) has done detailed research on these critters who at about 3mm long only live about two weeks.

I wonder how much time God put into creating the fruit fly?  Only for me to smoosh his teeny weeny brains out.

Not trying to be sacrilegious here, but it kind of made me wonder if part of Job 38 might have been edited out …

“Where were you when I gave flight to the Drosophila?  Who assigned 28 degrees Celsius as its optimum growing temperature?  Can you number the hundreds of embryos each female deposits in your aging fruit bowl?  Who wrote the male’s courtship song on his wings?  Tell me if you understand.”

I don’t.  I certainly don’t.

But after watching that poor fly bleed on my counter, I think God should have left that passage in there.

That would have given me something to chew on.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Week in Review: April 7-13

This time last week, we and another family were on a joint vacation, of sorts, in Lae.  While not a beautiful city by any stretch of the imagination, the port town is surrounded by lovely mountains.  It also boasts a few restaurants, and the guest house has a swimming pool, and those amenities coupled with the need to get outside the fence periodically are adequate to grant Lae status as an in-country vacation destination.

Though only about 80 miles as the crow flies, it takes a good three hours to drive the circuitous and potholed two-lane “highway” from our center to Lae.  We arrived just before noon on Friday and had lunch at the “elite” Yacht Club before stopping to get in a first round of shopping.  Among the bargains (it’s all a matter of perspective, I know) snagged were 500g packages of penne pasta for less than $2 each, 40oz creamy peanut butter for $15, 35g of Italian seasoning for $8.50, and 10.5oz cans of cream of chicken soup for $2 each. 

The real bargain of the day, though, was 1.25oz packs of country gravy mix for about 75 cents each.  Gold!

Traveling home on Monday, the car loaded significantly heavier than when we went down (including two 20kg bags of laundry detergent and a 25kg bag of milk powder), we came, too suddenly, upon a place in the road where the pavement had crumbled away.  As the rear tires dropped off the asphalt to the dirt and gravel several inches below, the spare tire hinged to the bottom of the van was dislodged. We were quite the circus attraction as we stopped in the road and the men worked to reattach the spare and its support frame while the women held the cargo to keep it from falling out of the open rear hatch, the only way to access the bolt mechanism.  By the time we were finished, we had garnered quite an audience.  You never quite know what to expect if you have vehicle trouble here, but fortunately the repair was minor, and none of our curious (and probably interminably bored) gawkers seemed to have any bad intentions.  We toodled toward home with a friendly wave and had no further incidents.

Wednesday saw the beginning of Term 4 at school.  Andie is especially excited by the upcoming Grade 8 play, an annual tradition she’s been looking forward to for well over a year.  Evan is thrilled because his best friend has returned from furlough in Australia and his teacher has put them at the same table group in class.  The primary campus Principal, Rachel, is relieved because the new Grade 3 teacher has arrived and she no longer has to do classroom duty in addition to running the school.  I, myself, am not so lucky, with the expected computer teacher held up in Finland with visa issues.  If all goes well, she will land in PNG in a few weeks, but until then I will continue teaching six classes of Microsoft Publisher when I am not playing Vice Principal. 

Paul started a new job recently as the Director’s Assistant for Personnel.  The position has all sorts of unexpected twists, and this week, in between learning how to handle a resignation and applying for an Australian travel authorization for someone involved in a medical evacuation, he got to have lunch with the US Ambassador and his entourage.  Be impressed.

One of the periodic entertainment venues here is a Friday evening adult-only coffee shop.  Paul and I were going to go with friends, but the men in both homes pooped out on us and stayed home to veg.  Though equally tired, my friend Pamela and I went anyway and spent nearly three hours talking, playing Sequence, and staring at each other with nothing much to say.  The mochaccinos helped somewhat, though I think we still sat around not talking and just looking tired as much as we did anything else, but it was worth it.  We left early so I could go home and make the cupcakes for Andie’s birthday party.

As the cupcakes were baking, Paul and I watched the season 3 finale of Downton Abbey.  As Matthew was driving home from the hospital and we began smelling slightly-overdone chocolate cake, we quickly came to two disturbing conclusions: 

1. We’re going to have to wait at least a year to see the next season of Downton Abbey; and
2. Our oven, lacking any capacity for temperature regulation, is not fit for baking. 

The oven got too hot, they cooked too quickly, and not one, not two … but all twenty-four cupcakes disintegrated on their way to the cooling racks.

This morning I turned the fancy cake into a trifle served in cheap plastic cups.  As if 14-year-olds cared.

The birthday party was held at our local water park … a long trench dug in the earth and lined with thick black plastic sheeting.  Hoses positioned at the top eventually fill up the “pool” at the bottom and help keep the tropical sun from heating the slide beyond usability.  We didn’t have that problem today, as it was cloudy and the rain came on and off through the afternoon.  But, fortunately, there were periods of dry that allowed me to get some great pictures of Andie and twelve of her classmates as they threw themselves down the hill. 

Also, at the scheduled food time, the clouds crossed their legs and allowed the kids to eat their trifles without getting soggy. 

After snacks, I decided I would try the slide too.  I have always thought it looked fun (and now that it is new and improved, and there is no chance of flying off the end into a veritable gravel pit, it is more attractive.)  But, despite appearances, I’m not a spring chicken, and though I really enjoyed it while it lasted, I’m being punished now.

But the highlight of the day had to be watching this precious group of students interact.  Four of Andie’s classmates did not make it, but the thirteen who did laughed, played, high-fived, and thoroughly enjoyed being together. 

They’ve grown up a lot since we did fractions, probability, and principles of flight together, but they still have a very special place in my heart.

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)