Sunday, June 14, 2009

Fire wood in the tropics

Now many of you might think of PNG as a hot tropical place and yes it is, but it is also a cold and wet place too. Here in Ukarumpa we live at just over 5,000ft and even though we are only a few degrees south of the equator it still is cold. June, July and August are the “winter” months here in PNG and up here at 5,000ft it can get chilly. Thus we have a fireplace for heating our house. Some people here don’t have them and if you go to their home you remember to wear long pants and bring a sweatshirt. So now that the weather is cooling down (what I mean is it might get to 50 degrees at night) we are stocking up on fire wood. We have been just buying it from our local store here, because the wood I got for free turned out to be a bunch of work to split with an axe. So about every month or two we buy about five logs and on a Saturday I spend a couple of hours cutting and splitting it and stacking it under the house. It is nice that it doesn’t take too long to do, but buying wood every couple of month’s means our wood is always wet. Since we are just renting our house we don’t have any great place to store lots of wood to get it good and dried out before using it. However, I have gotten pretty good at building fires to get our house nice and warm.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Compensation is a word that you hear often in PNG. If you wrong someone, or use something that belongs to them, they will likely demand compensation in the form of money or material goods. If you don’t pay, you may run the risk of starting a fight. This becomes a big issue for the PNG government. Since every bit of land in PNG has a traditional landowner, it becomes very difficult for the government to build, roads, dams, etc, because you could very well end up facing demands for compensation not only from the current landowner, but their descendants as well. Land disputes are very common, and cause all sorts of hevis, or problems.

Imagine that you own a pig. Your pig breaks out of its fence and destroys your neighbor’s garden. Your neighbor demands compensation – either in the form of money, or perhaps he demands that you give him the offending pig. This is a typical compensation case. But it can get much more serious. Suppose you are driving along the road, and you accidentally hit and kill a dog or a pig – what do you do? First things first – you definitely do not stop! You don’t know how the owner of the animal will react, so you keep on driving and report the incident at the nearest police station, or when you reach home. Compensation can then be arranged. This is a difficult concept for us to adapt to, because in America, a “hit-and-run” is a crime!

While we were in Kundipoi we were able to witness a compensation settlement first hand. Young men from two Imbo-Ungu clans had gotten into a fight over local politics and one young man ended up with a badly broken leg. The clan of the injured man demanded compensation from the other clan. (You notice how quickly it becomes a dispute between clans and not individuals). They demanded an exorbitant amount – about 50 pigs and several thousand kina. The clan responsible for the injury arranged to make compensation on a Saturday, in the market, where everyone could see. A large crowd gathered at least two hours before either of the parties arrived. The group giving compensation paraded down the street, leading the pigs that they were offering, and carrying a T-shaped pole with 50kina bills stapled to it (shown above). They tied up all 14 pigs in a row, largest to smallest, and planted the pole displaying the 5,000 kina that they were offering for all to see.

The offended clan refused to accept the offered compensation. They didn’t even show up. They sent one person to inform the other group that they weren’t pleased with the offered compensation. They demanded much more. Brian and I spent about 4 hours in the hot sun, just sitting and watching the crowd as not much happened. We had originally picked what we thought was a good spot to watch from, but our friends kept suggesting that we move. When we didn’t agree, they finally explained that the spot we had chosen put us between the two disputing clans. They again strongly suggested that we move to the other side of the crowd, so that we would have a quick escape route “just in case” any fighting broke out. After four hours, we finally decided to go home. It didn’t look like the two sides would come to an agreement anytime soon. I’m glad we didn’t wait around, because we were told later that they didn’t come to an agreement until sunset!

We thought that 14 pigs and 5,000 kina was an awful lot to pay for a broken leg. We asked what the demand would have been if the man had been killed. They replied “a few hundred pigs” very matter of factly. Our friend Mathew is from the clan that was making compensation. He contributed one of the smaller pigs towards the settlement. He wasn’t very happy about it, because he thought it was just wasted money. However, he explained that he couldn’t refuse to help out his kinsman. If he didn’t contribute a pig in this compensation case, then who would come to help him out when he needed help?

Sunday, June 7, 2009


Pigs are a big thing all over PNG, but their importance seems to escalate the higher into the mountains you go. You find pigs everywhere, except for in Seventh-Day Adventist areas. The SDA’s don’t eat pork, and so when you see goats in a PNG village, it’s a pretty safe bet that there is an SDA church nearby. As I mentioned in an earlier post, pigs are not just a source of meat. In fact, they are usually only killed for special occasions. They are often used to pay bride price (the gifts that the groom’s family will give to the bride’s family when a marriage takes place) or to settle compensation claims (another post is coming explaining compensation). When we were on the coast during training, Brian used to jokingly call me his “10-pig wife,” because on the coast, 10 pigs is what a good, hard-working wife might cost you. However, in the Highlands, a 10-pig wife isn’t much of a wife at all. A good wife will cost you a lot more pigs than that!

In the Imbo-Ungu district, we saw some of the best cared for and most expensive pigs yet. We had seen other villages where the pigs just run around loose through the village, but the Imbo-Ungu keep theirs in specially fenced pastures that are far away from living areas and water supplies. We often saw men leading their pigs to and from the pastures. They build special pig houses for them, and when it gets cold, they even build fires to keep them warm. They are also very particular about what they feed them. They will only feed them select kitchen scraps, and they also boil sweet potatoes for them.

We were pretty impressed by the way the Imbo-Ungu take care of their pigs. We learned that a full-grown pig will fetch a price of up to 1500 kina (about $570), which is quite a bit of money. The Imbo-Ungu insist that their pigs are the best in the country, but they usually only sell to each other. I guess people from other areas can get cheaper pigs from their own wantoks.

Below is a pig barn that our friend Mathew showed us in his village, with individual stalls built to hold six pigs.

Friday, June 5, 2009

New 2 Kina Coin

On our drive out to the village we stopped in Mt. Hagen to eat lunch and to buy some vegetables at the market. Mt. Hagen has the nicest market that I have seen so far in PNG – too bad it’s 5 hours drive away!

Papua New Guinea recently released a brand new coin worth 2 kina. They’ve been taking out full-page ads in the newspaper for a while now, but there is a large percentage of the population that doesn’t read the newspaper. Gil had brought a whole roll of the new coins to do our market shopping, and we caused quite a stir. We had the privilege of introducing a new coin to that town (or at least the market).

Every person we approached had the same rection. They looked at the coin skeptically, not convinced it was real. Each time we went through the same spiel, showing them the “2 Kina” printed on the coin, and assuring them that if they read the Post-Courier they would see an official announcement about it. Everyone eventually smiled and accepted it, except for the potato lady (the one in pink in the first picture). She stubbornly refused to accept it, even after a large crowd had gathered, taking turns looking at the coin. Finally, one man told us to take the potatoes. He took the 2 kina coin and gave a 2 kina bill to the woman.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Haus Sik

Halfway through our second week in the village I (Susan) came down with a sore throat and cough that just wouldn’t go away. After four days, when my voice was half gone, we (meaning Brian, myself, and three Papua New Guineans who went along to take care of us) decided to drive to Ialibu to go to the haus sik, or hospital.

Ialibu is a small town, and the hospital is not very imposing. We only visited the outpatient clinic, though it also has areas for surgery, delivery of babies, and a communicable disease clinic. As we sat in a darkened hallway waiting our turn, our friends explained that the haus sik, like so many other things in PNG, runs on the wantok system. “Wantok” literally means “one talk”, but it refers to one’s connections (friends, relatives, etc.). First Mathew left us to see if his wantok at the hospital was working, so that I could be seen more quickly. Then Kerry left to go searching for her wantok. And then Rambe searched too, but it seems like everyone’s wantoks had the day off! Finally the teenage boys ahead of me in line saw that I was doomed to wait my turn and they took pity on me, volunteering to let the wait meri (white woman) cut in line before them.

I was attended by a nurse at a table in the main room of the clinic – little privacy. The chivalrous boys who let me cut in line got to listen in as I described my complaints to the nurse. I had to buy a health record book – something that every Papua New Guinean must carry with them when they go to a clinic or aid post. In America, the doctor is responsible for keeping your medical records, but here you’re responsible to keep your own!

The nurse didn’t check my vitals of peer down my throat. She unquestioningly prescribed me antibiotics and Tylenol, which I picked up in the next room. (The pictures show the entire supply of medicine and supplies that they had in the dispensary. I hope they had more somewhere else!)

My total charge was 5 kina (approx. $1.60). There is a flat K2 charge for medication of any kind. The health book cost me K3. Although it seemed so cheap to me, my friend Kerry insisted on helping me to pay the bill. The majority of Papua New Guineans don’t keep medicine of any kind at the house. So that means that if you have an achy back and want some Tylenol, you have to go to the clinic.

I snapped a photo of a price list that was posted outside. If your injuries were caused by a fight, there is a hefty K35 extra charge. But fillings for cavities are only K5, and delivering a baby costs only K15 ($5.70)!

Yes, health care in Papua New Guinea is cheap, but unfortunately many health centers are short of supplies and/or staff. It’s another one of the big hurdles that this country is struggling to deal with.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

good eats

Papua New Guineans are all about sharing – especially food. Giving food and other gifts is the way that they build and maintain relationships. We felt that we did a whole lot more receiving than giving during our time in Kundipoi.

Now I know we said that we would be eating tinned meat and rice (which we did), but pretty much every day someone would bring us some food. Kundipoi is at a high enough altitude that there isn’t much variety in the crops. The staples are sweet potatoes, cabbage and green onions. Some people also try to grow taro, potatoes and bananas, but the results aren’t always good. We constantly had a box full of sweet potatoes and an intimidating mound of green onions in our kitchen, which seemed to replenish itself magically whenever we used up any. We gave away as much as we could to the translation team. And Brian soon became frustrated with finding green onions in EVERYTHING.

The real blessing though came in the form of fresh meat. Papua New Guineans generally don’t have abus (animal) with every meal. It’s more for special occasions. One day a woman came to the house with a plastic shopping bag. Inside was a fresh rack of pork ribs. We were really surprised, and so was Kerry, one of the translators. Very rarely do people kill pigs just to eat them. They are usually only killed for funerals, weddings, and other big celebrations. Kerry couldn’t think of any reason why someone would have killed a pig. We’re still not sure if it was done on our behalf.

We were also given two live chickens. A live chicken costs 25 kina (about $9.50), which is substantial, considering that an unskilled laborer makes about K1.50 per hour. Jecobeth (who brought one of the chickens) and Kerry butchered it for us, right in the kitchen. Then we boiled it with sweet potatoes, ginger and greens, and invited some friends over for dinner.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Portable movie theater

On our trip to the village we brought along the equipment to show the JESUS film and some HIV/AIDS dvds. (HIV/AIDS is becoming a big problem in PNG). On 5 evenings we went out to different villages to show movies, each time in a local church, like the one above. Sometimes it was a thatched roof church with straw or pine needles on the floor. Other times it was a tin-roofed church with concrete and maybe even wooden benches. It was always packed.

The best experience that I had was on our 4th trip, when we visited a village that was a little more remote and where they hadn’t seen any of the films before. It was a drizzly evening, but when we arrived the church was already packed with people. As we were setting up the generator and projector, people kept coming in and somehow they seemed to find places to sit. But there wasn’t room for everyone, so we ended up stringing up the white sheet that served as our screen over the doorway of the church, so that the people who were willing to stand up outside with umbrellas could watch the movie from the back side, albeit a mirror image.

By the time we were ready to begin, there was no place left for Brian and I. Brian wedged himself into a corner where he couldn’t see anything and his leg got so numb he couldn’t move it. I ended up sitting next to the doorway, my back to the wall and facing the crowd. Although I couldn’t see the screen, it was really neat to watch the faces of the spectators.

There was one little boy in the front row whose mouth hung open the whole time as he took everything in with wide eyes. People jumped when they saw the snake representing Satan. They smiled when they saw the baby Jesus. And they almost cheered out loud the first time they saw the face of grown-up Jesus. They laughed when Peter, James and John caught a miraculous catch of fish. And they cried and hid their faces during the crucifixion scene. And through it all was a constant chorus of tsk tsk tsk sounds – they typical Papua New Guinean response to anything wonderful, amazing, tragic, or anything inbetween.

I’ve been in PNG long enough to know that the Tok Pisin in the film is sometimes stilted and unnatural sounding, but no one cared. Neither did they care that the film was dated and lacked flashy special effects. They were completely enthralled and moved by a film that would have bored most Americans. It was refreshing to see.

Back from the village

We arrived back home yesterday afternoon after two great weeks in the village. We’ll be posting more stories and photos in the coming days, so please be patient and check back soon.

Just to get started, here are a few photos. First we have the house where we were staying, in the village of Kundipoi. When we arrived there was a small group gathered to welcome us. They had made a decorative arch and garlands of marigolds. The children sang a song for us, and then we walked through the arch and they put the flowers around our necks. (Apparently the welcome was supposed to have been much grander, but we forgot to call them from the road to let them know we were close to arriving, and so the crowd wasn’t as big as they had hoped.)

The house had a rain water tank, which was used for drinking and showers. Every morning we had to use this hand pump to pump the water to the holding tank on the roof.

And here are some typical village houses, with Mt. Ialibu (Ya-lee-boo) in the background. The Imbo-Ungu language area lies between Mt. Ialibu and Mt. Giluwe.

The area is hilly with tall grass and occasional open areas that have been cleared for houses and gardens.