Thursday, March 29, 2012

Of Rats and Cats

This little ball of fuzz recently acquired the distinction of being our family’s first pet.  She comes from a long line (OK, maybe not so long) of aviation mousers.  Her parents help keep the airport’s cargo area free of rats.

012Right now our house is plagued by some of the rodents, so we hope she lives up to the family tradition and not her name—Bilas [Bee-las].  Bilas is the pidgin word for “decoration”.

Unfortunately, the rats currently outweigh Bilas, so for now, she has to content herself with just growing up.  It’s a hard-knock life to be sure—what with all the warm milk, love, and attention she gets from the kids.  I’d say she’s adjusting well, although her penchant for Jon’s work boots might indicate a little nostalgia for the smells of her previous home.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Owl and the Peanut Butter Soup

Once upon a time there lived an owl.  Owl wanted a job so he went to look for a job.  He saw a store.  He went inside and asked if he could work there, but the storekeeper said, “No.”

Then he went on looking for a job.  Then he saw a barbershop.  He went inside and asked for a job, but the barber said, “No.”

So Owl kept looking.  Then up in a tree there was a restaurant.  Owl flew up in the tree and walked in the door.  He asked if he could work there, and the restaurant keeper said, “Yes.”  Owl was so happy that he could be a chef.

Then the restaurant keeper said, “All we make here is pea soup.”  Owl learned how to make pea soup, and he also had to learn how to be kind, and to serve.

Three days later, a squirrel came in and said, “May I have a peanut butter sandwich?”  Owl said, “I’ll try.”  Owl had some peanuts and hot water, and a peanut grinder, and a bowl.  Owl ground up the peanuts to make peanut butter and put it in the bowl and put in the hot imagewater.  Then he stirred it and served it kindly to the squirrel.  The squirrel loved it, and he wanted seconds.

The End

Story by Claire (age 8).  Written for a home school assignment based on the character of “Owl” from Arnold Lobel’s book “Owl At Home”.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Happy Birthday?

My daughter celebrated her birthday recently, and I’ll admit that for awhile I dreaded it wasn’t going to be a happy one.  Holidays have become so stressful for me.  It must be that my expectations are set way too high, because I feel defeated even before the day arrives.  Obviously we can’t celebrate special days like we would in our home country.  It just isn’t possible.

For example:  We had hoped that the personal belongings we sent from the US via sea freight would be here by now.  We had packed special surprises and birthday presents for our children.  Unfortunately, the birthday came and went without the arrival of our crate, so Claire didn’t get her birthday presents.

And couldn’t we just skip the birthday cake?  A box of cocoa costs about $10 at our store, and they’re completely out of vanilla right now.  But my daughter has visions of elaborate doll-shaped cakes with flowers and pink frosting.  I, on the other hand, have to tell her she can choose between a rectangular cake or cupcakes.  Anything more will propel me into a nervous breakdown.

032Since we just arrived back in Ukarumpa, there was no time to plan a party.  There’s no place to go for a special outing, and I was afraid the day would be an utter disappointment for my daughter.

Fortunately, God reminded me (via my husband), that a special day doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive.  I did splurge on the $10 cocoa, but God arranged for strawberries to show up at our front door unexpectedly.  Daddy was able to continue his tradition of decorating the breakfast table with flowers (right from our own garden), and a picnic lunch gave us all something to look forward to.

Looking back, I realize that a lot of my stress stems from the delusion that even though I may readily accept the “sacrifices” that come with our life choices, my children shouldn’t be forced to bear the consequences.  Thus it’s so easy for me to feel guilty that my children might “miss out” somehow because of our calling to PNG.  It’s a bunch of nonsense, of course.  We are blessed beyond belief!  Our children have experienced more in their few years than many do in their entire lifetime.

So forgive me, Lord, for thinking (even momentarily) that you have anything less than your best in mind for all of us.  Amen!

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Little House on the Hillside


On March 7, we said “goodbye” to the muggy PNG coast, and flew back to Ukarumpa in the much cooler PNG Highlands.  <sigh of relief>  Waiting for us to take up residency, was this cute bungalow—our home for the next…well, however long we’re allowed to live there.

We’re very grateful to be able to rent such a beautiful home for at least the next year.  There are a limited number of homes in Ukarumpa, and most of them are owned by individual families.  Those who do not own a home (like us) sometimes end up moving frequently as home owners come and go from furlough or other assignments.  Fortunately, the monthly rent does not change since it is determined by family size and not the particular house you are living in.  Nevertheless, it is wearisome to have to move repeatedly.

Just a note on a couple of items you don’t usually see on houses back home….

1)  That table-looking thing jutting out of the roof is the the solar panels that provide our house with hot water.  Even when it’s overcast all day, we usually have some warm water, so it works pretty well.  The house also has an electric backup water heater, but we try to avoid using it since electricity is fairly expensive.

2)  That green mass under the right front corner of the house is a water tank to store our drinking water.  All the houses around here collect rainwater from the roof and store it in tanks.  When there is plenty of rainwater, we may use the water for everything—drinking, bathing, washing clothes and flushing toilets.  During drier times, we’ll usually just use the water for drinking and use piped in river water for other needs.

3)  Something you can’t see if that photo….  We have our own pineapple garden and have harvested six tasty pineapples already!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Graduation Day


We made it!  Six weeks of the Pacific Orientation Course completed.  The student council prepared a graduation ceremony for those of us graduating, and presented us with individualized awards of merit.  Jon was dubbed “Jon Due-Diligence Damon”, and I was named most likely to climb Mt. Wilhelm, the highest mountain in PNG.  (I’ve always wanted to climb that mountain….)

Claire and Isaiah were also presented with certificates.  Their teacher had wisely included them in the scrapbooks the kids had been working on to document their cultural learning experiences.  Those scrapbooks are very precious to our kids—a very tangible symbol of their achievement.  I’m quite proud of them too!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Gifts and Goodbyes

Time to say goodbye to our host family and their village.  To celebrate our successful visit and show how we value our ongoing relationship, we exchanged gifts.

Papua New Guinean women are experts on weaving “bilums” or string bags.  They are amazing feats of creativity and craftsmanship.  Our family was presented with three such bags.  They’ll be a constant reminder of our perceptive and generous “wasfamili”.  118We look forward to maintaining our relationship, and hopefully visiting them again in the future.

And while most of our friends realized that our time in the village had come to an end and we had other responsibilities, some were more reluctant to be parted from us.  <wink>

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Building Relationships with a Bucket Lid

057Papua New Guinean culture is very relational.  Building and maintaining relationships is of primary concern to most people, and one way to do that is through exchange.  Papua New Guineans exchange gifts of food, household items, money, work and knowledge to show that they value a relationship.  Our host family invested much time in teaching us about their way of life—even going so far as to build this little shelter just so Jon could try his hand at PNG style roofing—woven sago palm branches.


Before we arrived in the village, we were encouraged to think of something that we could teach our host family in return.  It was difficult to know what kind of knowledge they would find valuable.  They’re already experts at almost everything they need to know to live successfully in their environment.  In the end we stumbled upon an idea almost by accident.  View the clip below to see what it was.

Ultimate frisbee with a bucket lid and they loved it.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Five Days of Electronic-free Fun

What did the kids do all day without TV, IPods or electricity? The same things kids everywhere do…just with a PNG flare.

Make friends…of all kinds…


…play with toys.  These varieties were made from young coconut leaves.


…and play games.  Go Fish, Memory and Uno were a big hit with our host family.


Both kids told us they enjoyed our village stay.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Taking Care of Business

So maybe the next episode of village living isn’t so riveting…mostly we just learned how to meet our basic needs.

043The first question that came to my mind when we arrived was, “Where do we go to take care of business?”  Answer:  This fancy “liklik haus” (literally—little house).  Our host had just finished building these facilities, and we counted it a blessing that it had a roof, a wooden floor, and did not smell (yet).  We also thought the coral lined pathway to the outhouse a nice touch.  (I assume it was added so we wouldn’t get lost during the middle of the night.)  But, while I’m still admiring the nicest outhouse in PNG, the kids have moved on to more pressing matters—namely their empty stomachs.

065Our host family had their own larger version of a cooking house that we used as well.  Each evening we shared a meal of tinned meat and rice that we brought with us, and fresh greens from their garden.

Notice the kitten sitting by the fire trying to get warm.  After the sun disappeared over the horizon, it must have dropped to a frigid 87F.

Cooking is usually done in the evening or in the morning before the sun comes up.  At other times of day it was much too hot to light a fire, so we snacked on fresh nuts, papaya, sugar cane and crackers with Nutella.  You know, the kind of stuff you just find growing in the jungle.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Whiteskin TV, Episode 1: Meet the Family


Throughout the previous 5 weeks of our training course, we had progressively gotten to know our “wasfamili” (literally—watch family).  This is the family that we eventually lived with for 5 days and who was responsible for our well-being during that time.

Our particular family was quite young, and fortunate to have this beautiful house made mostly from materials they gathered from the surrounding jungle.  We shared this house with their family of five, and 1-2 other members of their extended family.  Our room was in the front left corner.  It was a tight squeeze for us four and all our cargo, but as we soon discovered the house is used mainly just for sleeping.  Most of the socializing takes place under the house in the shade.


Papua New Guineans value family and community above all, so much of our time in the village was just spent building relationships with those we met.  Members of both the husband’s and wife’s extended family lived nearby and it was a challenge to figure out how everyone was related.  (It was one of our course assignments too.)

The family took great pains to teach us about their way of life, and help us improve our language skills.  We were rarely alone, and I can imagine we offered endless amusement with our language blunders and curious ways.  We later joked that we must have been more entertaining than a reality show.  …Tune in tomorrow for the next riveting episode of “Whiteskin TV!”*

*Foreigners are usually referred to as “whiteskins” in the local languages.