Sunday, June 28, 2015

Christmas in June

Last July we were in Cairns and as we wandered around the shops and looked at all the things it is possible to buy for a baby, we felt overwhelmed! How did we know what Reuben would like to play with this time next year? It was hard to choose and I remember thinking, "We live in PNG, we need to get this right now! Who knows when we will be here again!" In my 'I want my child to have the best of everything' head, it felt like anything less than instant access to a toy shop was a sacrifice.

So fast forward a year and as I have already written about, it's June and some dear friends and neighbours have just returned to their passport countries. I think I established in my last blog that this is a sad time. But this year, we have experienced a very surprising silver lining. The truth is that people who are leaving need to get rid of most of their things and Reuben (and we) have been the recipients of some incredible generosity.

Reuben is now the proud owner of his own little table and chairs, new books, a huge crate of 'Thomas the Tank Engine' Duplo, a box of about thirty cars and a bag of shoes in the next few sizes. I look back at myself feeling sorry for him and laugh. As he played happily with a friend in a muddy ditch this afternoon I laughed again. Covered in mud and grinning from ear to ear he did not look like a child suffering from lack of proximity to shops. So thank you, friends - for your willingness to share toys and things that have been precious to your children and yourselves. You have made a little boy and his parents feel loved by you and by a God who provides in ways we rarely have the faith to imagine.

Friday, June 19, 2015

For Kate

I woke up this morning with a familiar ache spreading across my face. Ah yes, I thought. Of course. From time to time this memory of old tears comes back to remind me that I'm grieving, even when I think I'm doing rather a good job of pretending I'm not.  It is hard not to marvel at how my body tells me what my mind is blocking and I know from experience that this is not a reminder to ignore. Perhaps you think that this is too personal to share with the world, but if you are really interested in what it means to be a missionary then talking about loss is essential.

One of my very best friends left Ukarumpa today and she is not coming back. Before she left, I considered publishing a blank blog. I thought the white space might serve well as a picture of how I feel - empty, unable to find the right words, but also hopeful for possibilities to fill and find. Yet today, having stood in drizzle and watched the plane taking them away disappear, I find that in place of the blankness I thought I would encounter, there is instead a surge of something else. As we said our goodbyes I felt my body literally convulse. Frankly, it was not very British. I barely held it together. It was overwhelming, intense, physical.

Before she left, my friend instructed me not to turn to chocolate and I will obey. So what now? What do I DO? I remember when my brother died, that I turned to a friend and asked her to tell me the procedure. I wanted to know how grief worked and what to expect. In this case, my friend has not died - God willing, I will see her again. But I know enough about different types of losses, to know that the days ahead will be unpredictable and there is no point trying to pretend otherwise. There is no procedure and everywhere there are reminders. My plan is to feel what I feel and try not to be too hard on myself, or those around me - we are all navigating our way though the same sea after all.

Do you know what the best thing is though? As I watched her walk away my arm was linked through the arm of another beloved friend. As I felt the physical wrench of separation, I felt the joy of connection at the same time. How's that for God providing in every moment and in every way?

So...for all the world to read: Kate, you are wonderful. You have lovingly encouraged me through my early days as a missionary and a mother. I will miss you dreadfully, and will pray for you every day as you walk through your new beginnings and beyond. 

Saturday, May 30, 2015


Bugs! That had been one thing we had been dreading before going on orientation. All manner of creepy-crawlies to come face-to-face with.

It started off pretty tame ... just an average beetle in the room.

 Then we had to run the gauntlet of this fella to get to the bathrooms.

We tried not to think about where the rest of his family might be!
Back in the room, geckos and small lizards were fairly common, but just outside we found this little guy.

Baby dragon?!
 Oddly enough, in the village the supply of wildlife was no less! We often had small tree frogs come and sit on Reuben's bath.

Their other favourite trick was to come inside our house and be on the ceiling above Trudie (always her for some reason). Then every now and again they'd fall off and make her jump out of her skin!

The greener-coloured tree frog also liked to come and visit...

but I wasn't quick enough with the camera to capture it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

In the quiet

Reuben and I are sitting in the window enjoying a rare moment of quiet. Mum left this morning and even my vivacious toddler is subdued. The hum of the aeroplane that carried her away is fresh in my memory and I imagine her looking out at the beauty of PNG at her feet. This is the season for goodbyes and it would seem that it does not get easier. Last hugs, whispered encouragement, snatched minutes before the miles gape between us again. And again I am struck by the sweet sorrow of these moments, of this life.

Sitting here in my patch of silence I reflect again on the cost of this being a missionary thing - for us and for our families. Gazing at my son, I glimpse future goodbyes between us and for a second a strange and frankly awful feeling grabs hold of me. I push it down. Those days are a long way off, but I wonder if this is how mum felt this morning, even after so many goodbyes. We had a great time together and with Duncan's mum when she visited us at Christmas - now we feel grief, but if there can be such a thing, we feel GOOD grief. The knowledge that we love and are loved makes it more painful and more bearable at the same time.

There are more goodbyes on the horizon too. The end of the school year means many are leaving for furlough or 'going finish' (not coming back). This time, some of our 'family' here are returning home for good and our hearts are heavy with the thought of losing them. For a moment I feel overwhelmed, but then suddenly strangely elated. We are so fortunate to have such friends! When we watch them fly away I know there will be tears on my cheeks, but much joy too.

It's still not quite eight in the morning and our world here is waking up. Reuben looks out of the window, spies a friend walking down the road and waves happily. This friend and her smile fill me with hope. Not everyone is going! My friend and haus meri is about to arrive too. I think about the stories of our week we will share and the laughs we will have as Reuben dances around us and tries to steal pieces of our snack. Again, I feel a surge of hope and gratitude.

Reuben looks at me and grins cheekily. He is he is trying to tempt me into a game of peekaboo....and who can resist?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Cooking from Scratch

People's ideas about what constitutes 'cooking from scratch' seem to vary. For some it may mean not buying a ready-made meal, for others it might require only using 'fresh' ingredients. The family we were staying with took it to what was, for me, a whole new level! They had a garden, but the food wasn't yet ready to be harvested, so instead their staple diet was cooking bananas in coconut milk. The bananas grew all around and the coconuts were gathered off the jungle floor.

Our 'Papa' with coconut he has just scraped out of the shell, and bananas behind him
However, whilst we were visiting, they also cut down a sago tree to give variety to their diet. Turning the tree into food is an amazing process...

The first thing is to find a tree which is ready and then fell it.

The trunk can be seen here lying on the jungle floor
Then the bark is cleaned and removed. The bark is pried off such that it can be laid as the basis of a bed on either side of the trunk. Linbum leaves are then laid on top of the bark bed
to catch the sawdust which will be produced. If a sack or tarpaulin is available, it too might be used.

The bare trunk with the bark and leaf bed being prepared
The aim now is to break the trunk down into pieces fine enough to be processed further. The main tool we used was a 'saw', though a mallet is also popular in other parts of PNG.

The two-handled saw with nails in to break up the sago
Then it was a team effort to saw through the trunk, with various members of the village taking their turns.

Sawing through the trunk; the mallet can be seen in use in the background
Once the tree had been turned into sawdust, the work was just beginning. The sawdust was loaded into bags and carried to the nearby water to be 'washed'.

The washing stand, linbum leaves and water buckets
The stand was constructed of a top layer of hessian bag, with two layers of linbum leaves underneath. Sago sawdust was scooped from the leaf on the floor into the hessian bag. Water was then poured onto it and squeezed back out again. The squeezing process was then repeated a few times before the sawdust was discarded and it all started again.

Back up at the house, the product is strained again to prepare it for cooking.

Straining through a sieve
Then it's finally ready to be cooked and eaten in any one of a myriad of ways: fried, baked or 'turned' with dry coconut or some other accompaniment.

'Turned' sago being served
Alternatively, it can be packaged and taken to market to be sold. A useful source of income.

Leaves were used to line a pot and form a case
Then the sago was packed down to fill the pot.
The leaves are tied over and cut off, then the package is ready
Whilst these formed the bulk of the diet, meat was a much rarer commodity. If the the family was lucky, maybe a bush rat or wild pig might be caught in a trap; though that didn't happen whilst we were with them. What we did see were tree-grubs, a kingfisher and (during a visit to a relative) some fish.

No food miles - caught in the water in the background and eaten right there

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stretched but safe

We're back! Hurrah! I remember promising you stories of our adventures and adventures we have certainly had. The knotty problem of how to tell you about them has been occupying me since our return. What to say?

Before we went to POC (Pacific Orientation Course) I was worried about hiking, bugs, being hot, cooking over a fire, washing in the river and physically making it back to Ukarumpa in one piece. We are in one piece and we did, or encountered, all of the aforementioned things and they were, yes, I am going to say (mostly). Don't get me wrong - I am VERY happy to be back in our home...running water, electricity (most of the time) and floors are things I will try never to take for granted again. I will never forget the thrill (yes, I mean 'thrill') of walking through the jungle and thinking, "I am in the jungle, I AM IN THE JUNGLE!", of washing clothes and bathing in a river with sunlight trickling through mambu and of seeing children running ahead of me down the winding path to the water. There are smiles and eyes that are lodged in my brain, sounds of the jungle and of people murmuring into the night...all seared into my memory, part of me now.

There are stories we could tell of sticks that were scorpions, gallant frogs and cheeky geckos. (They all have happy endings). But for the moment, they are not really what is on our minds. The truth is that Reuben didn't sleep much, so neither did we. A sort of fog descended over us as we spent endless night hours slumped over the side of his cot. We got very, very tired, and here, at the ends of the earth, we came to the end of ourselves. Do you remember that we asked you to pray for us? Well, we needed it and in those end places, we met God, just as we have met Him in every other place we have ever been. POC isn't really about hiking and learning a language, even though those things are a valuable part of it. For me, for us, it was about learning to trust God for every minute and to feel His presence with us, even when all seemed bleak. To be quite frank, I was right to be frightened about going to POC, but I am grateful that we did. We have been stretched and drawn out beyond our boundaries, and when the dust settles we will be the better for it.

Perhaps reading this will worry you. Well don't be! The scorpion didn't bite me (apparently he was put off by my white skin) and we are all sleeping better. We have learned a great deal about PNG, people and ourselves. It was good, but we are tired. Thank you for your prayers and praise God from whom all blessings flow. 

This is our outdoor kitchen where we learned to cook over an open fire

Our course

The river where we washed clothes and ourselves

Us on the verandah of our village house

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Faltering Forward

Sorry we have been a bit quiet recently, but we have had Duncan's mum visiting, been celebrating Christmas and preparing to attend a twelve week Pacific Orientation Course in Madang. It is on the east coast of PNG - think incredible beauty, incredible heat/humidity and incredible range of insect life... It will involve cultural training, outdoor living skills training, Tok Pisin lessons, hiking, swimming and a four week village living phase. We were meant to attend this course in January 2013, but Reuben came along and changed everything, so this will be our second attempt. We have been cleaning, sorting, packing, panicking...there is a long list.

In the midst of all of the above we are also trying to prepare mentally and spiritually. I have never pretended that I relish the thought of POC. In fact, when we first found out that it was a requirement, I told Duncan the whole being missionaries in PNG thing was off. In my high heel wearing, 'Hello' magazine reading, comfort loving, heat hating, bug hating, camping hating, risk averse mind there was no way in the world that I could survive. But, I was persuaded it was necessary, that I would get through in God's strength rather than my own,  that I might discover I was the female version of Bear Grylls after all, that it would be entertaining for others to watch, that in short I would survive and might even possibly enjoy it, or bits of it anyway. I felt ready, I was determined. Actually, I was still terrified, but somehow or other I got on the plane. And then out of the blue we weren't going anymore, because a miracle struck and suddenly Reuben was in our lives. So here I am, two years later, with a gorgeous, bouncing, teething boy in my arms and I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous... I have heard so many stories about the 'adventure' we are about to undertake that I am overwhelmed by possibilities. God has proved himself bigger than any of my fears so many times in my life and yet, prepare to be shocked - I am faltering. Panic is setting in. I know how I should feel, even what a 'good attitude' looks like, yet once again I don't have the words to explain in the 'right' way how afraid I am. I know, I know, I'm talking a lot about feelings and they are not necessarily reliable. But God is. God is. I am convinced of that, but as we head to a place and an 'adventure' that will prove it again, my knees are still knocking. I am craving peace - that sometimes elusive blessing that will help me put one foot in front of the other, that will quiet the panic and remind me that God is with me, with us. If you are a praying sort, could you ask God to help us? Thank you!

So there will be stories, no doubt many stories, but our internet access will be very limited, so don't expect to hear them until April. God is about to give us another opportunity to testify to how big He is and it looks like we have to take it. In fact, even though we are frightened we want to take it. There is a part us (yes, even me) that is...wait for it...EXCITED. Is it possible to be panicked, scared and excited at the same time?  It would appear so. So let's go! Bring it on! We will go: faltering forward, excitedly scared and panicked, but trusting our great big God.