Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Catherine Vs. Rambo-Kuka

They weren’t dead.

I stared at the bowl in my hand, where a dozen or more crabs suddenly convulsed and snapped in a wriggling pile of legs and pincers.

“You have to hold them right here,” my was-susa (host sister) pinched a crab (or kuka) by the legs and was poised over the frying pan, “otherwise they will bite you.” With a quick flick, she tossed him into the middle of the hot oil in the frying pan, where he wiggled, sizzled, then grew still.

“Okay.” I nodded, trying to look confident.

“But, make sure he lands on his back! Otherwise he will climb out.”

Right. I was still holding the bowl, conscious of eight pairs of eyes of my wasfemili (host family’s) younger children all curious as to how this white meri would cook. Live crabs. Not quite what I was expecting when my was-susa said I could help with dinner, but, hey—I wanted to learn the culture, right?

I aimed for a small one. Perhaps I could keep my fingers as long as possible. Grab, twist, flick. The oil caught one after another, and soon their shells turned bright red, ready to eat (which you do, shell, legs and all…they are quite tasty). I can do this, I thought to myself, only a few more left!

Except, I hadn’t counted on Monster Kuka.

And this one was traipela. Huge. His body was the size of my palm and his front pincers longer than my littlest finger. Just like the others, I reasoned, reaching for the prehistoric creature. Be quick. 

This is not The Kuka, but it's close to it!
I wasn’t the only one who was strategizing. As I attempted the flick into the frying pan, he turned into the Kuka version of Rambo sans machine gun. I swear there was a soundtrack! With a mighty twist, he flung himself out of the oil around and attacked my tongs, using them as a springboard to jump, pincers outstretched, for the side of the frying pan, and straight toward my leg. “Aiyahh!” I cried, “No! No! You must die!” I snatched at him with my tongs, flinging him back into the pan. He attacked them again, scrabbling over the top. “Die, Kuka die! Die!” I whaled on him blindly, smashing him into the bubbling oil. “Die! Die!!” Finally, the oil cracked through his shell and Rambo-Kuka's struggles ceased. I looked up, brushing hair from my eyes to see astonished faces around the fire. Then a slight chuckle set off an eruption of laughter as tears streamed from their faces.

Lots of kukas! Kukas everywhere!
Die! Die! The story rippled through the community, complete with actions and sound effects. And that, my friends, was how I earned the name Kuka Susa and embarked upon the Great Kuka War.

I don’t’ remember how it started. Perhaps it was when my 16-year-old wasbrata (host brother), Raphael, threatened to send kukas after me when I did the laundry, or perhaps it was when I dropped a large bug on his shoulder shrieking “Kuka! Look out!” and he jumped like a rabbit :-) Or maybe it was when we warned about the potential of finding hidden kukas in the other’s pillow or bilum.  Regardless, the rest of the five weeks were spend in continuous banter as we made kuka shadow puppets, tickled each other’s legs with a broom (running away before retaliation, of course), tied a rock to a string (so it could be dropped on an unsuspecting shoulder from above), and even discussed making orange-colored bilums (the color of a kuka, after all).

“Kuka, kuka, kuka! It will bite you!” my brother would sing out.

“Don’t worry!” I would shout back. “I’ve got my tongs!”

The Kuka Siblings. Beware!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Survivor: POC edition ;)

After a seven-hour ride in the back of the Hino, I’m now in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea, settling in what feels like absolutely luxurious accommodations at Ukarumpa (I’m renting a house along with several other girls, so I actually have a kitchen!). It’s time for another orientation as I learn to live where it is cold (yes, I have thoroughly acclimatized to the tropics, and thus, the chilly mornings are worthy of sweatshirts and pants under the skirt).

Actually, we sat on mattresses, making this perhaps the most comfortable vehicle ride yet.
Despite the large load of luggage swaying in the back, we all promptly fell asleep.

Welcome to Ukarumpa! I shake hands with one and all as my new coworkers greet me with delight. We’re glad you survived POC!

POC is one of those experiences where the stories are best told in whispers by firelight, as you hear creepy birds sing out from the forests and bats dart overhead. There are the rumors of the sharks in the bay, the grubs on your lunch plate, and the mosquitoes that could carry off a young child. While I won’t confirm or deny any of these previous stories…. I will give you ten of my own tips for surviving POC. :-)

  1. Never sit under a coconut tree, unless you feel like reenacting a Pacific version of Newton as gravity once again consistently works its magic on something rather larger than an apple…
  2. Klostu. (Pronounced: CLOSE-TOO. Used in the response of a Papua New Guinean when you want to know how much further you must hike.) You don’t know what it means. Ever. The sooner you accept it, the sooner you will be happy.
  3. Not all flipflops/thongs are made equal. Know where yours stand on the Ease of Destruction scale.
  4. When cooking over a fire, smearing the outside of your pots with dishwashing soap before use will make clean-up a cinch. On the other hand, if you accidently use kerosene, you might be scrubbing with steel wool for quite a long time… (Thank you to a fellow POCer for personally testing this theory!)
  5. All cooking ingredients are optional. Really.
  6. I always used to wonder why hundreds of frogs would be a plague in Egypt. Now I know: after the rain, beware the stupidity of frogs who jump into walls, legs, posts, doors, and who knows what else…
  7. Unless you were a champion at I Spy books, I suggest having a wide variety of photos in your album, as coming up with new conversation topics can be challenging when you flip through it for the 7,265th time.
  8. Your umbrella is your friend, and you would do well to give it a name, considering the amount of time you will spend together. Otherwise, you will stand there…watching…waiting…waiting… knowing that your dorm room is only 30 meters away, but you can’t see it for the blinding sheets of rain that must be leftover from Noah’s Flood.
  9. Hot showers are only available at the hottest part of the day.
  10. Forget the hiking boots. When you attempt to scale PNG mountain paths in the rainy season, I recommend ice crampons.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Stories, stories, stories!

In Tok Pisin (the trade language of Papua New Guinea),the word story is a verb.

Jess and I with our host parents, Andrew and Margaret
To story is more than simply talking. It’s to sit down with someone, to engage in his or her life, and share experiences, from the minor jaunt to the creek for washing clothes to the high excitement of seeing the Prime Minister to comparing countries (in everything from methods of growing corn to whether America had monkeys to differences in politics and voting). Every day throughout my five weeks of living in Silum, I was shaded by a guava tree or was invited onto a veranda or stretched out on a banana leaf or balanced on a log and storied with the Papua New Guineans of Aronis. Oh, yes, please come! Sit down! They shake my hand enthusiastically and motion to their neighbors. Come over! Let’s story!

For all the POC participants, the last five weeks have been filled with enough stories to put the Grimm brothers to shame. There were crises and climaxes, challenges and blessings, joys and pains. We faced dragons and fairy godmothers and saw God do amazing things when we could do nothing. We climbed mountains and laughed over our mistakes and cried and prayed.

What was it like? I know you’ve had to imagine a lot, and now I’m excited for the opportunity to take you beyond that and share with you some of the photos and some of the stories.

Right now, however, I am in the midst of packing (yes, again!), debriefing, last assignments, and preparing for yet another transition as I move on Tuesday to Ukarumpa. Ukarumpa (NOT Oompa-Loompa…those are the orange-skinned creatures from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is the main linguistic center where I will be living for the next couple of months (nothing is ever certain, of course…). It’s relatively close to Goroka or Kainantu when you look on a map. If you are curious to learn more about Ukarumpa, I suggest you check out my friend Wendy Johnson’s blog HERE, where she gives a great tour of the area.

Thank you all for your prayers, your notes, and your love (and thanks, Hannah, for your awesome posts—I hope you all enjoyed them as much as I have reading them now!). God has been working in your lives these past weeks too, and I want to hear about it!

So, let’s story. :)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Are you the artist?

By The Missionary Sister

Someday, someone is going to ask me what it was like growing up with a child prodigy. Actually, I bet it’s like James and Jesus. Did you ever think about that? Poor James. Jesus was able to do all this awesome carpentry and make all these cool things, and James, well, he was probably sent to go buy the nails.

In fact, I know just how the conversation went, because I've had it many times myself:

Enter James.
James meets Person.
James tries to be friendly
James: "Hi, my name is James."
Person [blank look]:  "James...? James who?"
James [sighing]: "Oh... You know. James. The brother of Jesus."
Person [grins]: "Of course. Right. James. I know you. You buy the nails. Hey, wow, you know, Jesus' carpentry is just amazing, isn't it?! You're so lucky to have him for a brother!"

Poor James. Poor me.

Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m irreparably scarred. But Catherine’s artistic skill was truly unbelievable, making her the most famous artist in Minnesota 4-H. And me? Well, I got to be the foot model. That was fun.

Until my feet got cold.

But that cold was nothing compared to when I would help Catherine take pictures of her art in the middle of the wind-whipped snow Armageddon tundra on our farm in Minnesota ten minutes from the Arctic circle. She would drag me out there to hold her paintings while she photographed them, and I would be shaking with cold while trying to hold the painting at the exact right angle and the exact right height while tortured by the horrible fear that an earthquake would hit or a tornado would strike and I would drop her painting in the snow and ruin it forever and absolutely destroy everything.

I was a sensitive child.

The worst of it, though, was the fact that, somehow, I looked like the artist. We could never figure it out—maybe it was my curly hair. But I was asked—always, constantly, all-the-time asked—“Are you the artist?”

And (while keeling over inside) I would smile very sweetly, and shake my head, and for the 10,000th time, say, “Oh, no, I'm sorry, actually, that’s my sister.” Everyone asked it. At church and at 4-H and on the street and in the library and at the county fair. (I even got asked it lying in the chair at the dentist’s office by the hygienist! How did the hygienist know!?)

Actually, I was this close to getting a shirt that said simply, “NO. I AM NOT THE ARTIST.”

“Hey, James, are you the carpenter?”

Despite not being the artist (the most art I ever attempted was a long-term comic strip running along the top of my math notebook consisting of a sarcastic stick-and-circle cartoon figure named Charlie Contrast), I am one of Catherine’s biggest fans. I’m proud to show off some of her art here. You can see more at her art website (, but I thought I’d share a few of my favorite pieces here—plus some background information you may otherwise not have been privileged to see.

That is, if you didn’t know The Missionary Sister.

Before we get to the paintings, you need to understand Catherine's humble beginnings: namely, the basement white board. This drawing was all Catherine'sI'm not sure why I'm in the picture. Make the unskilled labor feel better, I guess. She was very protective of her paintings. I think maybe I was allowed to draw the snow in that picture on the left. Yeah, go buy the nails, James.

Here is Catherine posing with the famous artist Wyland because she won his coloring contest at the Minnesota Zoo, the very first art contest she ever won. I entered the contest, too. I didn't win. Figures.

Here we are in Tennessee, celebrating one of Catherine's first (of many) national wins with her art. I entered with my photography. Photography that Catherine later used for her art.

Catherine had ample opportunity to study from life. She also always felt loved, at least by The Cat, anyway. Where am I in this picture? I don't know. Probably getting her pencils.

Catherine actually never liked painting with a brush, but she still did a good job of it anyway, obviously. Here, our two art styles got as close as they ever would when she painted big cartoon characters for our church Vacation Bible School. Although my cartoons were never photo-realistic. They weren't even in color.

It was always fascinating watching Catherine paint. Did you know she usually left the eyes until last? Most people think that's cool. They don't realize that that meant her paintings were seriously creepy until they were almost done.
This was one of my favorite paintings she ever did. Want to know a secret, though? I may not be the artist, but I am the photographer. I have taken so many of the photos Catherine has used in her artwork, well, I'm practically half The Artist.
What people don't know about this one is the background changed like 25 times. It used to be a horse in a field, and it changed, though I can't remember why. Water is cool, though. (My photo.)

Makana, our foal. Know something? My photo.
Super cute, even though not my photo. This was her favorite kind of background to do -- a little abstract.

Horse: my photo. I was also there the 10 million times we baled hay, so, the background, well, it's practically like my photo.
Having an artist in the family was kind of like having a dentist for your dad. The dentist's kids hardly ever got their teeth cleaned, and the artist's family hardly ever got paintings of their own animals. This was one of the rare exceptionsCatherine painted this of my mom's dog, Riley. (Sure is a great photo. Wonder who took it.)
One of my favorite dog portraits she ever did and also one of her first.
Dad and I would always give Catherine really good ideas on what to include in her paintings. We tried to convince her to have blood covering this pheasant and all over the ground, but that didn't fly (no pun intended).

Occasionally she did graphite (=pencil) drawings, but her favorite medium (as you've seen above) was pastel, which is a lot like chalk. Pastel paintings are still called paintings, however, even though they don't use paint. Don't ask me why. I'm not the artist.
Catherine was never much into abstract work. This was as abstract as she ever got. Pretty radical, huh? Good thing she used my photo, or else it never would've worked.
No problem, Catherine, glad to let you use my photo.
Dad and I were so great at helping her name her paintings. I'm pretty sure all our names for this one revolved around imminent death-by-tiger-attack...
...and our names for this one were all about imminent death-by-wolf-attack. That, or about Bambi mourning for his deceased mother. (It was our our mission to keep Catherine humble by not taking things too seriously.)

There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth revolving around painting that water.

This was one of my favorites. She would spend hours on that fura typical painting was 20-30 hours of intense work. (Caption: "Too much rabbit gives you a stomachache.")

I think these would be cute if they didn't remind me of opossums. And don't get me started on opossums.
Some of my favorites of Catherine's were scratchboard. Basically, it's like a glorified Etch-a-Sketch. You take a knife and scratch off black pigment that is on a board. Thereby, "scratch-board." Actually, you don't scratch Etch-a-Sketches. But it's kind of similar. Don't expect to understand. You're not the artist.
If you think the eyes on this one are cool in a picture, you should've seen them in real life. They were unreal. Or unbelievably real. Same difference.
And the best for last. This is my only painting of Catherine's, and it hangs on my wall all the time -- a drawing of my own horse, done before I even owned her. But that's a story for another day... maybe once I'm the artist.

Monday, November 7, 2011

On ravenous wolves, wild horses, and the Hay Baling Experience

By The Missionary Sister

When the average person says they were homeschooled, generally they don’t refer to their sister as one of the teachers. But that’s just, you know, normal people. As I generally err on the side of nonconformity, I placed Catherine squarely in the role of one of my instructors. Specifically, I was a student of Catherine’s School of Classical Dressage. It was an exclusive school, that’s for sure. One student. Me.

For those of you familiar with my horse training, you know I do some odd things. Namely, I have an unexplainable urge to ride horses without bridles. Racehorses, young horses, old horses, it doesn’t matter. I go on and the bridle goes off. What you may not know is that Catherine is and was one of my greatest supporters of that. Ever unflappable, she would amiably stand in the middle of the arena while I whizzed around her on my ex-racehorse sans bridle and give me lesson after lesson that no other instructor would, being that I had no bridle. Open-minded elitist single-student schools are the best.

She could train me because she herself was brilliant with animals and a fabulous rider. Her dream was always to compete at Grand Prix dressage (the level of the Olympics). She has set that dream aside for now, but I have no doubt she could have—and would have—done it.

When she wasn’t instructing me, we were riding together. We certainly shared a lot of adventures together on those horses—some that I’m still not certain we’ve ever told anyone. Sometimes it’s better not to tell anyone about one’s near-death experiences. They’re kind of private.

There was one equine-related experience, however, that I am surprised never killed us: baling hay. Have you ever baled hay? Baling hay is like this paradoxical blessing-curse. It’s great because it builds a ton of character. Being miserable will do that to you. But it’s also kind of a curse, because, well, it’s miserable.

For one thing, baling hay is not baling hay if it isn’t 10,000 degrees outside. And so humid you don’t even need to sweat, the air just practically condenses onto you. And rain is always imminent, so you’re always in a rush, so you’re usually stressed out. If those things aren’t in place, well, I’m afraid what you’ve done is a sad counterfeit to the Hay Baling Experience. However, I’m guessing that this was good preparation for PNG for Catherine.

What some don’t realize is that baling is a team sport. As Catherine was always the detail-oriented one, she got to stack the bales in the precise scientific modulating jigsaw pattern on the rack. The hay stacker is like the PhD of the Hay Baling Experience. Me? I was just the unskilled labor. I threw her the bales.

Despite being a PhD in Hay Baling, Catherine was kind enough to work with me, and we definitely bonded over the experience. As we were coughing out too much hay dust to talk, we found other ways of entertainment, all competitive, of course. We would compare the number of cuts and bruises we had, the amount of sweat, the number of places we’d torn our jeans, the size of our arm muscles (we calculated we would each throw a total of 8 tons of hay in a day of baling), the distance we could throw a bale, and the height to which we could lift one. Remember, hay baling is a sport. It’s about being stronger, faster, better, and lasting just one minute longer than anyone else before you die of heat stroke.

Thankfully, Catherine took care of me and we both more or less survived our hay baling experiences and all of our other near-death encounters. To give you just a glimpse of some of those adventures, I’ve compiled some of my favorite pictures of her (or she and I both) in our animal adventures…

This is our hay field, a deceptively idyllic picture. In fact, I was actually taking this picture with my very last dying breath, cruelly murdered by a day of baling.

Our earliest animal experiences consisted of being locked in cages with ravenous, man-eating wolves.

Mind melding with The Dog. Very difficult.
Mind melding with two dogs. Even more difficult.

One of the advantages of homeschooling is that you learn to concentrate under life-and-death situations. Life and death because you see that brown cat on the right? He had been known to attack your head -- your head! -- if you ticked him off. First it was The Bird, then it was The Cat. We just had real trouble with animals.

Catherine is second from the left (I'm on the right), as we compete in 4-Dog Team -- think military drilling crossed with dog training. Only with four less-than-rational creatures drilling with you who really don't care about being precise and would maybe rather just sleep instead.

You never knew who got more exercise in agility training -- the person or the dog. In the case of my dog, I always got more exercise.

Do you know why I always got more exercise? Because this was my dog. Sleeping was his hobby.

We always kind of hoped if we really stared down the dogs they would perform better. I'm not so sure it worked very well.

They say dogs' mouths are cleaner than humans'. Let's hope so.
Waiting for show results was always less stressful when you could be standing by your sister. :)

I'm not the only model in the family!

Did you know Catherine is competitive? Catherine is competitive.

In fact, Catherine is so competitive that, in this particular incidence, after getting thrown halfway off in a timed event, she held onto the side of the saddle until she crossed the timeline (thereby not being disqualified). Then she promptly fell off. That's dedication.

While usually Catherine and I rode together (and had our aforementioned brushes with death), sometimes my dad, did, too. I think Catherine had fewer near-death experiences with Dad than with me. I guess I was a bad influence.

Riding in the winter can be miserable, evidenced by both of their expressions. That's enthusiasm if I ever saw it. Thankfully this situation won't happen in PNG.
At our very first show. We never did grow into those helmets.

Catherine -- Minnesota Walking Horse youth equitation reserve champion! (And a proper-sized helmet.)

Makana -- our first, only, and last-ever foal. Take whatever amount of work you think foals are, then multiply that by a gazillion and ten, and you have a far better estimate of the time involved.
The night of Makana's birth. Catherine and I were on foal watch, and I still remember us drooping groggily in the living room watching Helen Keller at 2 a.m. when I went out for the hourly check and found our mare, Jewel, in labor.

Catherine and I convinced Dad to build an entire cross-country course in our woods. We were so proud of it!

If you didn't know it, you'd have thought she'd gone crazy. But if you're a horse person, you know she's just practicing her equitation pattern -- on foot. Turn right, circle left, right lead, flying change, begin again. (Kind of like the song, "Father Abraham," actually...)

Catherine got bitten by the horse bug young...

...and never recovered.