Monday, March 30, 2009

Looking for joy

Today is a spiritual retreat day for the Papua New Guinea branch. As I spent time this morning in reflection and prayer, I found myself thinking about joy. Have you ever had one of those days when you just feel tired out by life, instead of full of it? When you just feel dry? I have had a few of those lately, and I’ve been wondering when joy escaped me and where it is hiding.

Being a word-loving person, I decided to look up “joy” in the dictionary. According to Webster, joy is “to experience great pleasure or delight; the emotion evoked by... the prospect of possessing what one desires.” The first part of that definition is pretty straightforward, but the second half got me thinking. Perhaps when I am not feeling joyful, I should pay attention to what I have set my heart on. If what I am desiring is God, there is no reason not to be joyful, for He is already mine, and has promised that when I seek Him, I shall find him. But when I find that my life is joyless, it’s probably because I have set my heart on something inferior, hoping that it will make me happy.

Joy isn’t the same as happiness, because God calls us to be joyful when we experience trials (James 1), and I don’t think most of us feel happy at those times. But we can find joy during even the toughest of times. I think of the hymn When Peace Like a River (If you don’t know the story behind the hymn, Google “Horatio Spafford” and the title of the song – it’s a good story!):

“When sorrows like sea billows roll –

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul."

Anyway, those are the things that I was pondering this morning. To go along with this thought, I was inspired to go and take a photo of the passion fruit vine in my back yard, because to me it was a good picture of joy. Joy, after all, is a fruit of the Spirit, right? And Brian and I are currently quite addicted to passion fruit, and when I look at the fruit and wait for it to ripen, I am filled with great delight at the prospect of eating it!

Monday, March 16, 2009


Here are some more photos from our Madang trip.

For the first two nights of our trip, we stayed at a place called Rempi, north of Madang. Some friends of ours own a little “vacation home” on the beach. When I say on the beach, I mean that you walk down the front steps of the porch, and you’re in the water. (This also means that at night, the ocean sounds uncomfortably close…as if at any moment a big wave is going to come and sweep you away.)

The house at Rempi is nothing fancy. It’s just a little run-down house in a typical Papua New Guinean village. Spare furnishings, intermittent electricity, and a countertop two-burner gas stove. But the location is amazing. This is the view off the front porch.

Stretching from that little island on the right hand side to the left of the photo is a reef, and inside of the reef is a great lagoon. It’s definitely the best snorkeling that I have experienced in PNG. Brian and I argue about whether it’s better than the snorkeling that we did in Fiji (I still hold out that Fiji was slightly better).

When not in the water, Brian, Joy and I read books, played cards, and cooked for ourselves. We even made some PNG-style s’mores! We had marshmallows (which you can only buy in Ukarumpa, by the way), but no graham crackers. Instead, we substituted little frog-shaped cookies with chocolate on one side, aptly named “Rokrok”. (Rokrok is the Pidgin word for frog.) Just keep the chocolate side on the inside, insert flaming marshmallow, and voila! It’s a s’more. (It’s a little hard to properly toast a marshmallow over a gas stove. It’s more a process of setting it on fire, then blowing it out, and then repeating the process over and over until the marshmallow is gooey enough).

The Road

I’ve finally gotten around to posting some pictures of our trip to Madang. Sorry for the delay. That’s the problem with coming back from a vacation – work just keeps piling up while you are gone, and you have to play catch-up when you get back!

A major part of our road trip experience was the road itself. After all, it took us almost 5 hours to drive from Ukarumpa to Madang. While PNG is blessed with a great number of wonderful things, it’s lacking a lot of infrastructure (like roads, and the means to keep them in good repair.) Some sections, recently re-done by a mining company, were very nice. But without warning, the roads could turn bad very quickly. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, here a few for you.

It’s hard to see in the photo below, but this shows one of the areas where you are warned by a sign that one lane is closed ahead, and when you round the turn, you see why – a whole chunk of the road has fallen down the mountain!

And this is probably my favorite, which I like to call “The Crack.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

PNG humor

Sometimes I just don’t get Papua New Guinean humor. Sometimes I laugh at the same things that make Papua New Guineans laugh, but perhaps not for the same reasons. Sometimes I find myself laughing simply because I’m taking part of something so completely unexpected that I don’t know how else to react. Let me give you an example.

First here are some brief disclaimers and background information. This is a story that involves nudity. For this reason (and also because I didn’t think fast enough to grab my camera) there are no photos attached. Nudity is much less shocking here in PNG than it is at home. Kids often prefer to run around naked until age 5 or so. While young women are usually careful to be modest, it’s not uncommon to see the breasts of mothers. Children are breastfed frequently throughout the day and are usually not weaned until they are at least two years old. During the 5 weeks we lived in Karmanang village, we probably saw the breasts of half of the women who lived there. “Susu” is the Tok Pisin word for milk. It’s also the word for breast, and the verb to breastfeed. Lastly, children in Papua New Guinea tend to play with sharp objects from a very early age. No one here freaks out if they see a two-year-old playing with a large knife.

This past weekend, Brian and I spent the night in the village where we lived for 5 weeks during our orientation. We spent the entire day Saturday sitting in the shade and just hanging out and talking with our was family and other village friends.

The baby of the family is Esther, a girl who is a little more than a year old. Much of the family’s entertainment involves playing with Esther. On this particular day, the game involved “chasing” Esther with a small pair of garden clippers with a curved blade, which actually did look like a sinister little mouth opening and closing as they slid it across the floor towards her, telling her that the creature was going to eat her. Of course Esther was frightened (though she knew it was a game and was enjoying it too) and everyone thought it was hilarious.

I had turned away and was talking to someone else when I heard Esther’s mom say in the background, “Esther! Susu!” Surely not… I thought to myself. But when I turned, sure enough, there was Esther’s mom, shirt pulled up and exposing her breasts, with the open blade of the garden shears around her nipple. With everyone egging her on, Esther finally got up the courage to come close, but as soon as she got near to the breast, her mom exclaimed, “it’s going to bite your mouth!” Brian and I exchanged a look of disbelief and laughed along with everyone, though I think both of us were worried that someone would make a sudden move and mom’s susu would be permanently damaged. No one else seemed concerned, and it didn’t seem to discourage Esther from breastfeeding later.

Only in PNG! Papua New Guineans love to laugh, and that’s one of the reasons why life here is seldom boring.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Is this the same mother that died last week?

Since Brian and I both work, we have hired a couple to take care of our lawn for us. Defa comes one morning a week to tend our garden and flower beds, and her husband comes and mows our grass every other week or so. Although it sounds nice to have your own gardener or house help, being an employer in Papua New Guinea has a whole new set of rules than it does back home.

For one thing, the employer-employee relationship is much more permanent than in the U.S. You can’t just hire and fire people willy-nilly. Once you hire someone, unless you have a really good reason for terminating their employment, you are expected to continue that relationship for a long, long time. The first day we arrived in Ukarumpa, people started approaching us looking for work. Luckily we had received some good advice about checking references first and not hiring someone right away. We also hired our yard workers on a trial period first, to make sure that we were happy with their work before we committed to them.

Defa usually comes on Wednesday mornings, and she showed up at 8:00 today not to work, but to tell me that her husband’s mother had died and to tell me that neither of them would be able to work for the next few weeks. Here comes another confusing part of being an employer in PNG. First of all, what she actually said to me is that “mama bilong Sika em i dai”, or “Sika’s mom died.” Seems pretty straightforward, right? Not necessarily. Because in Pidgin, “mama” could mean any number of aunties two or three times removed, as well as one’s “true mama.” This can cause some confusion if your employee tells you that their mother died, and you’re like, “wait – didn’t your mom die last month too?” Rather than try to delve into the complicated tangle of family relationships, I decided to just accept the fact that a female relative died and they needed to stay at home and mourn. I knew that it was especially important for Defa to stay at home, because it was her “tambu”, or in-law, who had died. In PNG, you must show a greater degree of respect if it is your in-law who has died – even more than if it was your blood relative.

Now we come to a second tricky point about being an employer here. Defa was telling me about her woes, and I was almost certain that she was indirectly asking for money. A good Papua New Guinean will not come out directly and ask for something. That’s seen as very bad manners. For example, in the village, our was papa would tell us how much his back was hurting him, and we were expected to interpret this as a request for Tylenol. But he wouldn’t dream of just asking us directly. In the case of Defa, I also knew that as her employer, I am expected to contribute something when a relative of hers dies. When Defa started talking about how she needed to buy rice and other things for the funeral, I knew for certain what she was hinting at. So I gave her a little money and she went away happy. I think I handled this instance ok, but sometimes situations can come up when I’m not at all sure what the appropriate way to proceed is. That’s when I call up a neighbor who has been in the country longer and say, “help!”

Road Trip

On Saturday we hitched a ride to Goroka with the parents of the High School boy’s basketball and girl’s soccer teams. They were going to a tournament, and we went along because I (Susan) had never been to Goroka. (Brian had been there once for work the previous week.) The 1 ½ hour ride up to our nearest “big” city was uneventful, as was most of the day. Brian and I had a nice lunch at a fancy hotel, but my plans for doing some shopping were thwarted due to the fact that most things are closed on Saturdays. But we had fun watching the sports tournament – especially the girls’ soccer, which was played on a field that turned more and more into a mud pit as the day went on.

On the way home, our van was way ahead of the caravan that included the teams and most of the parents. But then we got a call on our cell phone – one of the vans had overheated and was broke down on the side of the road. Since our van had Brian as well as two other mechanically inclined men in it, we turned around to go help.

We found the two buses and two or three vans pulled over on the side of the highway right in front of a village. Of course, the villagers were not about to miss out on anything exciting that might happen, so we had about a hundred people crowded around the vehicles watching. Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done for the broken down bus, though Brian and the other guys spent an hour trying. We finally loaded all of the kids and cargo into the other vans, and left the bus in care of two men who volunteered to stay with it until a truck could come from Ukarumpa to tow them back to Goroka.

So here a few photos of the muddy girls playing soccer, the caravan on the side of the road (with teenage boys being teenage boys and trying to get passing trucks to honk at them), and a bunch of villagers crowded around one of the vans.