Earthquakes and Prayers

Maybe my Facebook newsfeed reads a little different than yours but yesterday I had lots of postings regarding the recent 7.7 earthquake in PNG.  (The earthquake as well as lots of people posting pictures from the Garth Brooks concert in Sacramento but that’s another story all together:-)  But anyways back to the PNG earthquake taking over my newsfeed, it started with a trickle of friends and family asking people in PNG if they were ok, what damage was done, etc.  But awhile later there were posts from people in PNG and other people home on furlough, etc who were asking for prayer, posting news stories and the like.


Earthquakes of all sizes happen often in PNG.  I felt one about every month or so while I was there.  Sometimes they were bigger, sometimes smaller but generally (where I was) the damage was usually minimal.  I spent most of my time in the highlands and I remember many the large earthquakes that I heard about in the area occurred underwater.  So while we might possibly feel them (or not), it’s the coastal areas that are often more subject to damage.  To give you some perspective, PNG is roughly the size of California.  So just like an earthquake in LA is often not a threat to people living in Sacramento, an earthquake near Rabaul (like this most recent one) does not even register in the minds of people living in Ukarumpa (roughly between Lae and Mt Hagen if you’re looking at the map above).

PNG Map Earthquake

However, earthquakes can still cause damage, especially in the coastal regions.  But not usually because of the earthquakes themselves but because of tsunamis triggered by the earthquakes.  Tsunamis have the ability to wipe out villages or even devastate an entire language group.  This has happened in PNG.  I’ve heard no news of large tsunamis yet and my friends in the Solomon Islands are not reporting any warnings but please pray for no ill-effects from this large earthquake.  Thanks for keeping this region in your prayers once again!

In Honiara

I had 4 nights in Honiara before heading back to PNG.  We enjoyed breakfasts and dinners with some of the Choate’s colleagues.  The Choates started the process of settling into their town home.  We had fun sorting and opening other Christmas boxes that didn’t make it out to the village.  We played Hand and Foot.  We rearranged furniture.  And we made our way into town one day in order to replenish the pantry, go to the market, buy some mementos and gifts for me to take home and have Frangipani Ice.

Frangipani ice is a ice cream place which boasts three locations in Honiara.  It is delicious, real ice cream made with local ingredients.  They also have a great variety of flavors including but not limited to mint chip, coconut, raspberry, lime, vanilla and chocolate.  And it’s very affordable- something like 8 Solomon Island dollars for a scoop which is roughly equivalent to a dollar.  What a treat!

Then on the 9th after a wonderful breakfast of coconut pancakes, the Choates took me to the airport.  They waited with me after I went through the check-in line and we said our sad good-byes when I finally had to make my way to the gate.

It was sad to leave but I am confident that the Choates will continue their great work with the Lavukal people and now I know better how to pray for the Choates and the people in the Russell Islands.  Maybe some day I will get to go back again.  But for now I have new friends, great memories, lots of pictures and permanent Aunt Joy status in the Choate household.

Back to Honiara

The Infamous Bikoi (Subject of: A Solomon Ship Adventure)

On Tuesday morning the 5th of January we were well on our way to being ready for the Bikoi’s arrival around 10am.  It had been pouring rain all morning (I mean really pouring, sideways wind-blow downpour) so we were reluctant to stack all our cargo outside on the porch and pouring rain isn’t exactly the type of weather you want to be boarding a boat in either.  So anyway we were getting ourselves ready to go, packing up the house, the final house cleaning, box taping, friend good-byeing etc. etc.  However, well before 9am we heard shouts from towards the water “Bikoi! Bikoi!”  At first we thought it was kids playing around but then some adult messengers came bearing the same news.    Meanwhile the clouds had parted and the rain stopped.  The Bikoi was early so it was a mad scramble to get the last things done.  But it was great to see the community come together in order to safely get all children, adults and cargo accounted for and loaded onto little canoes and boats to be taken out to the Bikoi.  Unfortunately this mad dash at the end didn’t leave sufficient time for proper good-byes so we resorted to quick hand shakes all around as well as quick parting words.  Melissa hung a necklace around my neck, smiling half-heartedly and another women hung a string of beads around my neck as well.  I climbed into the chiefs overloaded motorboat with the entire Choate family perched on top of the cargo and watched with tears in my eyes as we pulled away from shore and headed out to the waiting Bikoi.  Once at the Bikoi there wasn’t any more time for tears and we all climbed over the side while our cargo was transferred.  Katherine was handed to me and then a Solomon Island’s child was handed to me as well so that her father could have two hands free to help Aaron with the cargo.  Joanna bought some lelenga from her friends and continued saying good-bye to those who were out marketing the Bikoi while she went in search for a place for the family to sit down.  The Bikoi was a lot emptier than it had been on my way out to Marulaon but that didn’t make it any less crowded.  We eventually sorted ourselves out, children back with their parents and found a place to sit in the back of the boat.

Grace and Me

Once we were sitting down I noticed my friend Grace who had been with me on the ride from Honiara.  I called her over and introduced her to Joanna and we storyed a bit again.  Later on we shared yet another bonding experience of emptying our stomach contents over the side of the boat due to rough waters.

Joanna and Katherine

Other than the rough seas, the ride was quite pleasant.  We talked, Sarah and I took a walk (over sleeping bodies) up to the top deck, observed dolphins swimming alongside the ship, watched the islands pass by, the kids read, did puzzles, played with stickers and even slept.  And after just 5 and a half hours we arrived back, safe and sound in Honiara.

A Feathered Passenger

Benjamin Reading


How do I even begin to describe Melissa?  She’s great! Melissa is one of the ladies who helps Joanna around the house, in her garden and gives her Marulaon food tutorials.  She is in her 20s, has finished school and spent 7 years in Western province.  She speaks very good English (in addition to Lavukaleve and Pijin of course), is well educated and easy to get along with.  Her laugh is bubbly and contagious.  I had a lot of fun getting to know, learning from and storying with her.  I hope that maybe some day our paths will cross again.  The Choates are lucky to have friends like Melissa in Marulaon.

Have an Enjoyous New Year!

Splashing or squirting someone with water was completely acceptable as long as you said “Happy New Year!”

I think of New Years as a celebration for the evening of December 31st.  A celebration which could be very simple or much more lavish including but not limited to food, friends, games, maybe dancing, reminiscing, making resolutions and at midnight a countdown which culminates in a rousing shout, cheer and noisemaking for not more than 3 minutes.  Then depending on who you are the party continues or the party winds down and everyone heads home.

In Marulaon New Years is a week long affair.  Not knowing what to expect each day was typical and this kept the Choates on their toes trying to keep ahead of the activities and expectations.  Caroling took on yet another form which included various groups of kids or young people (I never observed any adults) walking through the village beating on bottles or pans and singing.  They would stop at houses and then would be sprayed with perfume.

Joanna Spraying Some Happy Kid Carolers

This caroling would usually start in the early evening and go well into the night.  Most of the time the carolers would visit the Choate house at dusk and then go off into other parts of the village later allowing the Choate household to sleep.  At around 8 on New Years Eve, when we were all moving towards bed there was a knock on the door.  The chief’s wife Janet had brought a bucket filled with 60 fish.  These fish were the Choates share of the net catch that someone had just made.  So Aaron and Joanna gutted and cleaned 60 fish before heading to bed so that they would be ready to prepare for the ‘family breakfast’ the next day.

We were all expecting New Years Eve to boast a raucous welcoming in of 2010.  However it lasted a bit longer than the customary American 3 minutes.  So Aaron went out to join the party, sitting by the church bell (since that’s where everyone seemed to be congregating) and wished everyone who came by a happy new year.

Chief Leonard

Wife Janet

His Youngest Son- I think they have 5 boys.

On New Years day rain delayed some of the village activities but we were still able to enjoy the ‘family breakfast’.  The chief’s family and Naris’s family joined us on the porch for a very yummy late morning meal.

Naris- one of the Choates neighbors


Each family brought food and so there was plenty to fill the table.  There was fish, lelenga, rice, fruit, umlau and turtle.

This is turtle that had been cooked on the motu.  Unfortunately I wasn’t quick enough to try it prepared this way but I did try it cooked with curry and onions which was very delicious.

Now I know some of you are not too happy with me for calling turtle delicious.  After all in some places, many species are endangered and being protected.  One such species nests on the shores of PNG near Madang and swims across the Pacific to feed off the shores of California.  I am all for protecting endangered animals from exploitation and from the irresponsible, unhealthy demands of the commercial market.  However, I have no problem eating turtle when it was caught for consumption by people who have always caught and consumed turtle.

New Years Celebrations on the 3rd:

Because it was raining on the 1st, the other New Years festivities were delayed until the 3rd and since they were delayed they were also cut short and made less formal.  What does this mean?  Only that the 5 or so speeches, that had been planned, were cancelled.  I can’t say I was too disappointed especially because in my opinion the activities were way more fun than listening to speeches.


First of all the day started with ‘sing roll’.  This seemed to be yet another version of caroling.

My Glittery Face

The village had already been divided into three groups for the delegation of responsibilities and activities so these three groups just gathered together under various flags and banners, dressed up in various degrees of crazy outfits, glitter and with assorted “instruments” (pots, cans, bottles- anything you could hit with a stick to make noise).

The Conch

Cross Dressing- In the US we recognize when men cross dress but women we hardly notice.  In Marulaon it was very evident from people’s reactions (ie. peals of laughter) that these women were dressed as men, shades wearing, t-shirt wearing, pants wearing men.

Wig Wearing- Mother and Daughter Wearing Crazy Wigs.

Soima Putting Glitter on Eileen’s Face.

More Glittery Faces.

Group 3

Then each group wound their way through the village singing, dancing and making merry.  The most exciting part was when the groups would cross paths and try to keep singing on beat with their own group as they passed each other.  It was an entire village affair from the children right up to the chief.  Very fun.


When the ‘sing roll’ was over I went up to rest a bit but when I came back the activities were once again in full swing.  Practically the whole village participated in round after round of tug-o-war, the little kids had flour sack races and it was perfectly acceptable and encouraged to throw each other into the ocean.

Aaron and the Men Pulling Against the Unmarried Men.

The Women and their Anchor Pulling Against the Unmarried Women.

Sack Races.

The Ocean Toss.

Swimming For Fun.


Notice where people are standing and sitting?

Every Sunday the Bikoi arrives on its way out west from Honiara.  This is the ship that I arrived on two weeks earlier.  Each time the Bikoi arrives people go out to market the passengers who are eager for a fresh snack or green coconut to drink.  The Bikoi stays anchored long enough to allow passengers on and off and then moves on.

Can you find me?

Our canoe didn’t go out for any particular purpose other than fun.  We sang, waved hi to people on the ship who shouted “Happy New Year Missus!”  Missus referring to me.  We splashed other friends in canoes, Sarah at some point hopped out of Naris’s canoe and into ours, then proceeded to squirt people saying the obligatory ‘Happy New Year’.  We rounded the Bikoi, Melissa shouting greetings to her friends who were on board and everyone spotting the one white man on board.  I don’t know who he is or where he was going but I waved and i’m sure he was just as surprised to see Sarah and me floating there in a canoe.

Paddling Back with Haris, Sarah, Pogo, Another Friend, Me and Melissa.

After the Bikoi was about to leave Haris and Melissa started paddling us back towards shore.  Since people simply climb over the sides of the boat in and out there really is no good system to see if everyone who is suppose to be on the ship has gotten on and anyone who is not suppose to be on the ship has gotten off.  As the Bikoi pulled away two young men dove into the water.  Whether they purposely stayed aboard and waited for the Bikoi to start or if they just got caught off guard, I don’t know.  But they eventually climbed into canoes with others and made their way back to the shore with everyone else.

Once we were close to shore Melissa asked if we should just capsize the canoe a la fishing trip (where Joanna, Melissa and I involuntarily capsized).  So we happily flipped the canoe which really isn’t that hard to do.  I personally find tipping a canoe much easier than keeping it upright and afloat.

Then since we were all wet already and the water was beautiful, clear and warm- we just stayed in swimming, singing, laughing and storying.

Pogo, Me, Melissa

Eventually we made our way out of the water and back to the house.  We were soaking wet of course but it had been a wonderful, very fun, happy new years celebration day.

A Walk to Mbaison

Mbaison is the village on the other side of the island from Marulaon.  It is a lovely walk across the island and not too far at all.  We went to visit Joanna’s friend Olivia, and it gave me a chance to see a little more of the surrounding area.

Fly Habour is the School where the kids from the surrounding villages attend.

They sleep at the school during the week and only come back to their respective village on the weekends.

Olivia and Olivia.

Olivia is a great lady who speaks beautiful English and is very proud of her accomplished children.  She has a sense of humor and laughs easily.  Joanna brought some food from her garden to share and Olivia sent us back with breadfruit and papaya.  We spent the late morning and early afternoon storying and just enjoying the people and beautiful surroundings.

Aaron and one of Olivia’s Sons.

Puzzles! I brought puzzles and stickers for entertainment.

Sarah and the view from Mbaison.

Swimming with Friends.

Katherine loves her friend Doris.

An American Christmas

Like many family the Choates love Christmas.  But unlike many families the Choates try to savor and enjoy all of the joys of Christmas instead of rushing through everything so that it is over too quickly.  Thanks to the gifts of candles and air fragrance- the Choate B&B smelled like pine and Christmas.  A tree was decorated and lit in the evenings.  The advent wreath was lit every night, carols sung and the meaning behind the season and celebrations discussed.  The reading basket was overflowing with Christmas themed books and the kids would look at them on their own or crawl into my lap so that I could read to them.  It was wonderful to be able to celebrate Christmas in so many little but meaningful ways.

Since Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were filled with Lavukal celebrations, the Choates decided to have their own more American Christmas on American time.  This included very yummy gingerbread waffles, reading aloud The Christmas Carol and unwrapping gifts.  I was not forgotten and received many Choate kids gifts made with extra love.

My Christmas Mask- Thanks Olivia!

Happy Christmas in Marulaon!

I commented to Aaron while watching some of the Christmas festivities that it was great to be sitting and observing activities that would have been going on even if we hadn’t been there.  So often in PNG (and I think the same would hold true in parts of the Solomons as well) people put on cultural shows, dress up and dance or sing because there is a demand for that kind of entertainment.  A foreigner comes into the community so the community responds with a feast, dance or some sort of display or show.  But Christmas in Marulaon was different.  The festivities started Christmas Eve and continued through Christmas day- all festivities included the mambu band (an amazing band playing PVC pipes of different lengths and sizes by pummeling the openings in rhythmic fashion with flip-flop soles. I wish I could post video so you could hear how cool it really sounds) and of course there were speeches and singing and dancing too.

The Official Schedule


The festivities began with people from other villages arriving in boats.  This was a well organized ceremony where the band played and the people from Marulaon sang, danced, sang some more, danced some more and even had men traditionally dressed appear to attack the boats and fight with the visitors.  By the sounds of the howling laughter this was all done in the spirit of fun.  And then there were speeches made from the boats as well as onshore.  Finally after awhile all the people were invited to come ashore and they had a chance to rest and get ready for the evening service and activities.

The Mambu Band (originally made from bamboo but pvc is a much more convenient and study modern improvement).

The Singing Dancing Welcoming Committee (can you spot Aaron’s white head?)

The Waiting Boats.

The Traditional Warriors.

Grandpa and Granddaughter enjoying the festivities.

Then at night after evening prayer we all gathered together for Christmas caroling.  Each of the villages who came had a choir that prepared Christmas carols to sing.  As each group sang, those who wanted to give gifts (money, flour, sugar etc.) could go up and put their gifts into the basket.  These gifts were eventually divided up among the families.  Christmas caroling in Marulaon doesn’t involve going from house to house and the songs also didn’t reflect what I would have classified as carols either.  Nevertheless it was very nice to see that they spent Christmas Eve praising and worshipping God and giving each other gifts in a very appropriate, very Melanesian way.  After the caroling the Choate family and I fell exhausted into bed.  What the rest of the community did?  I’m not sure.

The next morning there was morning prayer like always but this time it was followed by more mambu band playing, feasting and dancing.


Every family who came was asked to bring 30 parcels of lelenga and 30 parcels of fish.  Since Joanna and I caught only 5 fish between the two of us, we (see previous food post- it was a family affair) made extra parcels of lelenga to bring and share.  Once again the festivities took place to the upbeat sound of the mambu band. The food was collected and then distributed along tables fashioned out of sticks and wooden planks covered with large banana leaves.  Women and children stood around waving leaves to keep the flies off and everyone distributed themselves around the tables.  Then after a prayer giving thanks we all dug in.  There was plenty of fish and lelenga to go around- yum!  And afterwards clean up was simple because all the food had been brought wrapped in leaves and we all ate with our hands.  Everyone then settled back with full stomachs to listen to more speeches.

The Mambu Band.

Sorting the Food.

Eating the Food.

Yum. Fresh Lelenga.


Then came the time for custom dances.  While everyone was decorating themselves and getting ready I took the opportunity to lay down for a little nap.  But when I awoke the sound of the mambu band could be heard loud and clear.  I went back and enjoyed watching each village group take their turn.  Some groups were dressed more traditionally, others just dressed up for fun.  Some based their dances on more traditional dances or dances from other islands and others I don’t even know how to begin to describe.  It was all very entertaining.

Watching the Dances with Doris.

Skita all dressed up and laughing.

The Marulaon Girls.

The Marulaon Women.

The Marulaon Men.

All Marulaon Groups.

Then after the dancing was over there was a brief word of prayer and then the whole community gave three happy cheers*.  Hip hip- HOORAY! Hip hip- HOORAY! Hip hip- HOORAY!  Then they all cleaned up and those who had come from other villages were free to go home.

*Three happy cheers seem to be a very accepted, normal and important part of almost all official community gatherings.  Don’t believe me?  Look closely at the Christmas schedule- at the bottom: Three Cheers.