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 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 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?