On the 2nd of December I will make my way from Madang to Ukarumpa in the Eastern Highlands Provence. Village living was the last official part of my pacific orientation course and now I am excited to be heading off to the next adventure- Christmas in PNG. Actually I am more excited about meeting the McEvoy family who I will be working with. During the month of December, I will be preparing, along with the McEvoys to visit the village where they have been working and get to know another language and people group. This will be another great time of learning for me but I feel very prepared after my months of training. My next newsletter (to be sent out within the next 2 weeks) will be a more detailed update of village living as well as some information about the new village I will be going to with the McEvoys. If you are not on my mailing list and would like to receive this please let me know by emailing me (email@example.com). I look forward to sharing more with you as the next stage of my journey in PNG unfolds.
I really enjoyed getting to know Martha (pronounced Mata) during my village stay. I spent most of my time with her and we would chat or fall into comfortable silences while doing daily tasks or spending time with the kids. Each morning I would wake up and after a quick breakfast we would head down to the water with dirty dishes, clothes and sometimes kids in tow. I learned how to wash and scrub everything by hand. My pots blackened by the cooking fire would come clean when scoured with sand or if necessary scraped with a spoon and my clothes heavy with dirt and smoke would be cleaned with a bar of klina soap and a brush to scrub out the dirt. When I finished cleaning everything, I would change into my bathing clothes (a long elastic waste skirt pulled up to my arm pits) and head into the river to scrub myself clean. Sometimes I was followed by two dirty children who wanted to splash and play, other times I would just relax and contemplate how to float in the water and clean my feet, which so often seemed like such a futile task. After washing sometimes we would go to the garden or to the market, spend time working on traditional string bags or just hang out with whoever was around. Martha taught me many things, like how to light a fire using a plastic bag to help ignite the wood. She also taught me how to cook garden food like kaukau, taro, pitpit or kumu by boiling them in coconut milk made by straining water through freshly shaved coconut. Martha was sensitive to my lack of cultural understanding and often explained things to me when we were in a group of people or I just looked confused. Our discussions were usually practical but she gave me a lot of insight into the role of the woman in PNG and the different and very important family relationships. I enjoyed teaching Martha how to use the drum oven and make bread, scones and cookies. The “swit kai” (desserts) were always a special treat and were eagerly eaten by everyone in the family. I rarely cooked food just for myself because it was nice to be able to share and eat together. Most of my cooking was very basic but the family loved when I made tacos. Martha insisted on learning how to make tortillas. The seasoning over the rice and the store bought cheese were a special treat that everyone enjoyed even if the rice was too spicy for Beatrice. In the late afternoons before it got dark Martha and I would venture to one of our washing spots to get clean for the night. We would walked to a well and draw water to bathe, go into the bush and wash in a river while balancing on bamboo so we don’t muddy the water or if the tide was right go back to the beach and wash in the mouth of the river. I never thought I would have to learn over and over again how to wash myself but each place required a different technique in order to get clean. Martha was gracious and helpful even when I made some very silly mistakes. When we finished washing we would return home to either cook an evening meal or relax and story with the family or neighbors. I feel very blessed to have had Martha guide me through my 5 weeks in the village. She is a great teacher and friend.
Beatrice is a 5 year old with spunk. She loved to hang out with me and was a great source of information like “How to I sweep the walls of my house?” (It was a new house to the bamboo was always very dusty) or “Who is that person?” (I got many of the uncles mixed up because I saw them less than the aunties). She talks great Tok Pisin at super high speeds but would gladly repeat herself if I misunderstood or didn’t quite catch what she meant. As a five year old she is expected to help with certain chores like sweeping the dirt around the house and scrubbing pots or clothes. She was often sent with me when I went on little village errands like to the market or to fill up my water bucket. She laughs easily and loves to climb the laulau tree next to my house and help me cook or teach me songs. And of course she is great at antagonizing her little brother.
I was told before village living that it is the people who will make or break your experience. I was surrounded by men, women and children who were interested in getting to know me as well as patiently teach me about themselves and the surrounding culture. Patrick was a man with great depth of emotion who talked easily about almost everything. I simply needed to ask a question and we would sit and story in Tok Pisin, sometimes for hours. We had many conversations about the life and culture of the village of Karem, as well as raising and taking care of a family in PNG. We spent many evenings discussing the differences between America and PNG, from house and living styles to culture and world view. We discussed politics- he explained why people in PNG love Obama (mostly because of his skin color) and I explained how the American voting system works and some of the political views of both candidates. This led into a conversation about the place of gender and race in politics and comparisons to the PNG political system. We discussed history and gardens, healthcare and education. It was amazing to me how many of these conversations would lead back to Patrick’s personal convictions and his relationship with Christ. Many times Patrick and other men in the village would tell me about miracles and healings that had taken place around Sarang and other places in PNG. Patrick loves most of all to talk about God’s power and his ability to heal bodies as well as hearts. Religion and theology were common topics throughout my 5 weeks in Karem. I was encouraged by the thoughtfulness of Patrick’s faith and it was evident that he strives to follow the Bible and live his life in a way holy and pleasing to God. According to his wife (Martha), Patrick’s life has changed dramatically since he has committed his life to Christ. It was great for me to be able to observe how Christian’s live and act in a completely different culture and context.
Jerome, or JJ as many people affectionately called him, will be 2 years old in December and was a delight to have around for 5 weeks. He ran around “as nating” (naked) most of the time but had an affinity for shoes. It was not uncommon for him to come down the stairs of his house in nothing but little sneakers or his sister’s sandals. And adult flipflops were especially fun for him to tromps around in. Jerome would call out my name and get my attention so I could watch some of his many antics. He liked to be held up so he could hang from the beam of my house or a tree and when he came down he would declare that his hands were dirty, wipe them off and then hold his hands back up to be hung up again. This child loves to eat, anything and everything from traditional saksak (a gelatinous mass that took on the flavor of things around it kind of like tofu) to rice flavored with American taco seasoning. Jerome had the ability to exasperate his parents (like most 2 year olds;-) but at the same time they so often had to choke back a laugh when trying to discipline him because many of his antics were just so cute and funny.
This is the view that I enjoyed while on my way to the outhouse every morning. I have just spent 5 weeks living 50 yards from the beach- I was cared for by an amazing extended family who welcomed me into their lives with open arms. I fell asleep to the sound of crashing waves and awoke to roosters and crashing waves. I washed clothes, dishes and myself in the river leading up to the ocean and cooked and ate with my family daily. I have eaten plenty of food straight from their gardens and planted banana trees with them. I also enjoyed many nights and days of sitting around and telling stories. I feel very blessed to have been living with a family who openly professed belief in Christ Jesus and spent evenings worshiping with them and watched as they lived their Christian faith in a context so very different from my own. There are many more stories to tell but for now just know that I am happy and healthy and loving the people here in PNG.
For the next 5 weeks I will be living in a village called Karem in the area of Sarang 2, along the north coast highway about 2 hours from Madang. If you want to look on google earth, the approximant coordinates are S04 46.152’ E145 41.357’. This is the practical part of our training where we get to apply everything we have learned. The location is beautiful, right on the coast. I will not have electricity which means no lights or internet but more importantly no refrigeration. I will be cooking outside on the veranda of a house that was built especially for me and Sharon by our was famili (host family). They have even built a new liklik haus (outhouse) close by and we will walk to a near-by river to bath. This will be a great learning time for me and I look forward to getting to know my was famili as well as the other people in the village. I know there will be many challenges but I look forward to new experiences, language learning and relationship building. Here are two pictures, one of the house before it was complete and my was famili- Patrick and Martha with one of their two children.
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.
On Thursday I will be leaving with a group of 5 other students and two national staff for a three day hike. We will be hiking during the day and stopping at a different village each night to have dinner and to sleep. In preparation for the hike we were given a lot of information to consider about packing, teamwork, and cultural and language assignments. Because we have to carry everything we need on our backs, we were given the opportunity to pack our backpacks, weigh them and then to replace the weight of the stuff in our bags with wood and water bottles, in order to test how much we could carry. So last week we went on our gear hike which was designed to let us know how much we could actually manage, the water and wood allowed those whose bags were too heavy to leave something along the side of the trail in order to lighten their loads. My packed bag weighed less than 10 Kilos but I carried 12 Kilos for the gear hike. We’ll see what my bag weighs when I actually pack it for the hike! The less weight the better.
During our time in the villages, we have cultural and language questions to ask the nationals. This will allow us to work on our Tok Pisin as well as gain further insight into the surrounding culture. I am going to be trying to elicit stories related to Traditional PNG Culture. These stories will hopefully answer the questions like: What aspects of traditional culture have been abandoned? What reasons do the people give for abandoning these practices? What do they see happening to their culture in 20 years? In addition, the linguistic work includes finding out more about their local language- different words, sentences or phrasing. I feel a little out of practice since it has been almost two years since my last linguistics class but I am excited to start using some of those skills again.
As far as the actual hiking is concerned let me quote the sheet of paper given to us detailing the three days:
Day 1 “…Leaving the river, the trail becomes less well-marked. This section of the trail will give you a taste of “true hiking” in PNG bush. The trail is a bit overgrown in areas, and you may find the hiking to be a bit challenging…”
Day 2 “…Eventually, the track begins to descend quite a bit, and after about 2 ½ to 3 hours from the junction, you will arrive in the picturesque village of Betelgut. As you arrive, you will cross a small river, the first water you will have come to on today’s hike…”
Day 3 “…There will be several moderate to steep climbs and you will cross three or so creeks. After about an hour or so, you will arrive in Kamba. From Kamba, you will hike over approximately the same route you took for the Kamba hike…”
Although I am excited about this hike, many aspects are very intimidating. More so because our group did an all day hike to Kamba and back; and while we were coming back we saw some kids on the path who were coming home from school. The hike that was exhausting and took us all day was the same walk that these kids take to and from school. How’s that for a little perspective?
Land is super important to the culture and economy in PNG. Traditionally your life and your livelihood were tied to your land. Now, even though more people are moving into the city, land remains an integral part of PNG society. Even politicians or businessmen who live their lives in the city and are well traveled will retire to their home villages where they still have traditional claim to land. This land is not just important for building homes but also for planting their large gardens to sustain their families. The Nobnob area is very mountainous and so the gardens tend to be on very steep hillsides. This allows for the maximum sun exposure which is great for growing gardens but not so great for planting and working in your garden. Most people have small garden houses or at least shelters nearby so that they can rest during the hottest part of the day. No matter what food is potentially going to be grown in the garden, each garden starts out the same way. The men go through and cut the bush back so that the ground underneath is exposed to the sun and begins to dry. Then the men go through and burn all the dried debris- the ground and jungle in PNG are so moist that they are easily able to control these fires. Then depending on the crop the men and women take turns tending the garden. Women traditionally grow the food that feeds the family: starches like taro, kaukau and yam and leafy greens (kumu) like aibika, tulip, pamkin and sas. The men are the ones who tend the cash crops like vanilla, coffee or buai (betel-nut). There are also banana, coconut and buai trees. Buai Side Note: Both men and women chew buai, a mild stimulant. This can be mixed with other things such as lime power, the combination of which turns the mouth of the chewer bright red. The red mouth is a very distinctive PNG characteristic. Back to the Garden: In this picture you can see a new garden in the beginning stages of being planted. The woman in pink is preparing the ground for planting root vegetables. While tending the gardens they start at the bottom and work their way up. When we visit gardens the nationals are always very worried that we will fall down because we are not use to the steep and slippery embankments. As we walk along they continually say “no gut yu pundaun” which literally means “no good you fall down” but can be more accurately translated “be careful”. We like to joke that only in PNG could you fall out of a garden. In the US many people garden for fun but in PNG gardening is a way of life. Almost everyone is a subsistence farmer- they farm to feed themselves and their families. As long as subsistence farming remains the norm here, land ownership will continue to be an important part of life and society in PNG.
Papua New Guinea was the site of some major battles as well as Japanese occupation during WWII. Many of the older generation were young children during this time and have many remarkable stories that they have passed down to their children in the tradition of PNG story telling. On this particular mountain (Nobnob) Lutheran missionaries were already established long before WWII began. It is uncommon in PNG to have generations of Christians in one family but I have met multiple families from the Nobnob language group whose grandparents were strong Christian men and women. My tok pisin teacher Itbam’s grandfather was the first Christian convert in Nobnob and now Itbam is on the team of national translators who have helped complete the Nobnob New Testament and are making final revisions on the Nobnob Old Testament. Maria is the granddaughter of a man who was martyred for his faith during WWII. I will do my best to convey the story of her grandfather how Sharon and I heard it storied in the village house surrounded by Maria’s daughters and extended family. We were sitting asking questions to the young daughters about the stories they had heard from WWII and they began to tell us about their great grandfather who was beheaded because of his faith. It started in bits and pieces with them shy to explain the details because they had just been told the story themselves. So they asked grandma who was sitting in the doorway to tell more about her father. Grandma began by telling that he was a strong man and that he was killed alongside two Americans because he was a Christian. She said that he was made to kneel in his grave before he was beheaded in order to make less work for the soldiers once he was dead. Then grandma told us she was tired of telling the story and we looked to the daughters once again and they begin to fill in details of the church on the hillside that was spared from the bombing and how he was a man of great faith who wasn’t afraid of death. Maria’s sister then came and sat down and started the story again. She told of a man who had great faith in God, a man whose prayers spared the village church from bombing and whose prayers paved the way for future generations in Christ. Her grandfather suffered terrible torture yet he remained strong and continued to pray despite the physical threats made by the Japanese. His life ended with him telling the Americans on either side of him not to be afraid and then all three of them were beheaded and buried in an unmarked grave. All the women told this story in a very straightforward manner but with great reverence. This is their Christian heritage, a man who lived and died for his faith. This account of the life and death of Yot Begbeg can also be found in the book In the Valley of the Shadow…of the Life and Death of Two Witnesses of Jesus Christ by W. Fugmann. The book gives a more detailed eye witness account from two men who knew Yot and were with him during his last months, hours and minutes of life. I am humbled and amazed at this story especially having been told from the mouths of his family themselves. What a rich heritage of faith! My prayer is that this story and others like it will continue to be passed down as a testimony to the generations to come.
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!