No More Fat Ankles

So guess what’s my favorite souvenir?

Yes, that’s right.  Medical Compression Stockings.  After a few days in South Asia, although the swelling had gone down tremendously, I still had puffy feet.  So I was determined to find a solution because a whole month of fat ankles wasn’t super appealing to me.  Leave it to South Asia to have a medical supply store just down the road.  I walked in, we measured my legs, determined I was a medium, I paid for them and that was it.  I figured that even if they kept the swelling down some then it was worth it.  The first test was about 5 hours into the flight, I had been sleeping and I got up to walk around and my feet still fit in my shoes!  And at the end of my flight everything was still pretty normal.  They may not be the most fashionable thing but I will take flesh colored stockings over swollen ankles any day.

Look at that!  I am safe and sound in Germany and you can still see my ankle shape even after 2 plane rides.  Don’t worry, I had my long jeans on so you couldn’t really even tell that I was wearing them.  At 27 I don’t quite want to rock the geriatric chic look yet.  But I will happily admit that these are definitely my new favorite travel accessory.

Traveling Makes My Ankles Fat

So here is some information I am sure you all wanted to know.  Despite standing up and walking around, despite self inflicted foot massages, despite lots of foot exercises and changing positions numerous times during the flight, I still have swollen ankles.  It is pretty typical that after international travel my feet end up looking like over stuffed sausages and don’t feel so great either.  This picture was taken after walking and taking a shower so they don’t look quite as swollen as they did once I got off the flight tonight.  I love that my ankles have no definition.

But swollen ankles and all, I made it safely to Berlin.  I have showered, eaten a pizza dinner and visited with three of my six German siblings.  Julia, Florian and Damian are all currently living in Berlin so it is a bit like coming home.  Florian met me at the airport and since I haven’t been in Berlin for many years, I was surprised at how familiar the stations and public transport still seemed as we made our way across the city to their apartment.  I am already looking forward to my week in Berlin.  It is definitely a fun city to explore.  But first things first, off to South Asia.  I am all checked in, I just have to drop off my bag and get to the gate before 9 in the morning.  Thanks everyone for your prayers, if swollen ankles are my biggest problem, then I think I am doing well.

To Shoe or Not to Shoe

US customs, trends and other cultural observations from a westerners third world perspective.

So I don’t normally research my posts.  But in this case I decided to google “Barefoot Running” and “Barefoot” because I just wanted to see what else was out there.  I searched for fans and foes and read through at least 16 different websites and this was only just scratching the surface.  Was I surprised?  Yes.  Should I have been? No.  Do I still think I have a unique viewpoint?  Yes.  So read on.

The Trend: Running barefoot and even living barefoot in a society that still says “No Shoe, No Shirt, No Service.”  Or if barefoot isn’t working for you, there are now many different varieties of almost barefoot footwear.

The Good: Running and other outdoor activities are great for healthy living.  These websites claim that running barefoot or even just switching to more minimal footwear helps return the body to its natural state.  This natural state can be seen in runners gaits and the impact their feet and joints receive and some websites even claim that certain cases of flat feet can be dealt with by just going barefoot.  They even claim that runners receive less injuries when running barefoot.  When the feet are engaged with the ground instead of shrouded in shoes, all the senses engage and this makes the running experience even better.  Our ancestors did it, why can’t we?

The Bad: Not everyone agrees with these claims.  Some claim that injuries increase without shoes and that barefoot runners are twisting the facts for their own agendas. Being barefoot is obviously not healthy for people with diabetes or with other foot problems that are more painful without supportive shoes.  It also depends on where you walk and run.  True barefooters claim that walking over rocks or hot cement isn’t a big deal but it might bother some people.  It is one thing to be barefoot on clay, grass or other surfaces that give.  From my own experience different surfaces really do make an impact on your joints.

The Reality: In my mind the jury is still out on being barefoot.  It seems, like with most things, that it is great for some people and it doesn’t work for other people.  That’s life.  Shoes are here to stay but they will continue adapting.  Running shoes no longer means only heavily padded, heavy shoes.  Now you can buy everything from thick socks, strappy sandals, vibram toe shoes to lightweight but still traditional running shoes, all the way to the very traditional heavily padded shoes that companies are not going to stop making anytime soon.  The more minimal shoes are great for many reasons.  I have a friend who uses them because they are lightweight and easy to just throw in her purse when she walks to and from work.  Minimalist shoes do change the way you run and depending on your body, this may help your gait and make your running experience more enjoyable.  But in the end it is an individual decision.

A PNG Perspective: PNG was traditionally barefoot and still is very barefoot.  Maybe it isn’t related to the barefootedness but the majority of people in PNG are flatfooted.  Being flatfooted in the US causes problems and trips to a podiatrist.  But in PNG, it is just the way it is. In cities or other larger towns most people wore flipflops, many wore a certain type of shoe (sorry I can’t remember the name right now) and some even wore work boots or rubber boots.  However, it wasn’t uncommon to see people with bare feet in stores, restaurants and around town.  In the villages the majority of people were barefoot or wore flipflops.  Footwear choices were based on lots of factors but mostly cost, availability and need.  Being barefoot wasn’t normally a problem but shoes were cherished and worn until they literally fell apart.  In Madang (on the coast) people preferred to wear shoes when walking on the roads because their feet were cut up less.  And in the Southern Highlands (in the mountains) I saw many barefoot people with thorns in their feet and other injuries.  This includes kids living with splinters in their soles.  They have super thick soles but that doesn’t completely protect the feet.  Papua New Guineans generally have no trouble running over rocky ground but that doesn’t mean they are impervious to injury.  A thorn can still go through the thickest sole and then (from experience) the thick sole makes it much harder to remove and it also takes longer for it to grow out on its own.  In general Papua New Guineans live with a barefooted reality but are thankful when they did have shoes to wear.

This Westerner’s Words:  When I finally settled into life in the village I was barefoot most of the time.  Every once in awhile I thought that I would do better with shoes for hiking but the mud always proved more powerful.  Shoes just stood as another slippery layer between my feet that the log bridges and clay hills.  However, when I developed a foot fungus brought on by the constant dampness and when the weather was constantly cold and wet, I found myself wishing I had shoes that would keep my feet warm and dry.  In Ukarumpa I wore shoes most of the time because the rocky roads weren’t foot friendly for me.  But lots of other expats and of course Papua New Guineans walked on the roads just fine.   However, in a heavy rain when things were wet and slippery or on wet grass bare feet still were best.  Now that I am back in California I am enjoying wearing the shoes that sat unused for three years.  My feet really aren’t soft but they aren’t tough and leathery either because although I did spend many months in bare feet I chose to walk on grass and clay and other softer surfaces.  I still enjoy being footwear free but shoes are a part of life in California and I am going to enjoy them while I can.

Some Websites with Various Perspectives:


More Shoes

And More Shoes

In Favor of Barefoot Living

Against Barefoot Running

In Favor of Barefoot Running

Want more information?  Just google it.


The V-berg Boys


Boys will be boys.  W and J are great kids who love their legos, juice and the men who work with Guard-dog, the main PNG security company.

Here in PNG the slightest thing, cut or otherwise, can get infected or progress rapidly.  And both W and J are prone to scraps and cuts just like every other little boy.  W and J had not-so-fun eye issues while I was here.

jesseeyeJ had a virus that affected his tearduct.

williameyeW had an infection that was complicated by a cyst under the eyelid.

Lisa is very thankful that there is a doctor from New Zealand working in the eye-ward here in the Madang hospital.  He was able to diagnose and treat the boys after the basic eye infection treatments were ineffective.

frogsLast night, the boys were feeling better and so they showed off their rokrok (frog) catching skills.  So far Lisa and Andrew have noticed no decline in the frog population.



The Eventful 3 Day Hike

Last week I hiked for three days through dense jungle, along beautiful ridges and slept in two very different PNG villages.  Papua New Guineans are very knowledgeable about the immediate world around them, generous and patient.  My hiking group got to experience all of these traits first hand.  During the first day, while experiencing the “bush true” part of the hike, it began to pour rain.  I had been sick earlier in the week and had not yet fully recovered.  So while we were all soaked from a mixture of sweat and rain, my body decided that it was done hiking.  And this was not a choice because we were in the middle of the jungle.  For the last section of the hike, our guide carried my pack over his and the rest of my group helped pull me up the steep inclines while helping me balance down the slick and muddy embankments.  We were walking at a snails pace but our PNG guides patiently walked in front of and behind us.  Another Papua New Guinean even joined us because he was concerned for me.  A little later the same day, before we had reached our destination, this same PNG man sprang into action along with our PNG guide when another man in my group, Derek, slipped and cut open two of his fingers with a large bush knife.  The Papua New Guineans found the right tree, shaved some bark off, packed it into the cut to stop the bleeding and then wound the bark around to protect it.  Once we finally reached the village at the top of the mountain, we used a cell phone (yes a cell phone works in the middle of the jungle where there are no roads) to call back to find out how to get help for Derek.  Knowing Derek had to get stitches, our guide, two other PNG men and the leader from our group walked him back the way we came in order to meet other nationals who would then take Derek all the way back to our home base.  The rest of us stayed behind in the village to make dinner and visit with our village host family.  I went to bed early because I was still pretty weak but after a night filled with prayer, I awoke the next day ready for the next part of the hike.  Compared with the first day the rest of the hike was uneventful but I felt very well cared for the entire time.  The willingness of complete strangers to climb a tree to get you a refreshing kulau or to accompany Derek on the hike back through jungle in the dark and the rain so that he could get medical help amazes me.

Getting Sick in PNG

Mixed in among lectures on language, history and anthropology are medical lectures.  These are designed to help prepare us for common illnesses or injuries that we might get here or that we might see when we are out in the village.  This will enable us, with the help of a medical handbook, to self diagnose and treat some of the more basic ones.  The lectures are actually very informative but at the same time can make you kind of queasy if you aren’t prepared for the topic of worms, tropic ulcers or bush knife wounds.  Strange bumps, bites, wounds and sicknesses are just part of life in the topics.

Our group has gotten to experience various bush knife and coral cuts but no sicknesses other than a couple of cases of strep throat until a few weeks ago.  Then the flood gates opened and the past two weeks we have had a stomach flu-like illness make its way through the entire group.  It started with the children, almost all of the 26 children got sick within 48 hours of each other.  Then slowly the adults got different degrees of the same illness.  My turn came on Saturday when I got home from a town market trip, so I just spent the rest of the weekend in bed. Certain staff members were also affected and now only about 2 of the children and 4 to 6 adults have managed to remain healthy.

We live in very close quarters so please be praying for the health and safety of everyone here!