Monday, December 26, 2011

A Day in the Life...

Sure...they look cute and cuddly NOW when ASLEEP!

My eyes fly open at the screeching, ear-splitting squeals of the feeding, fighting piglets beneath my house, and my sleep-fogged brain struggles to remember where I am. A rooster leaps onto the veranda only a few feet from my head (never mind the bamboo-slatted wall) to shout a welcome to the sun, and geckos start croaking in disgust. I press my watch’s light—it’s 5 am and I wonder blearily where my earplugs are. I can hear my host family stirring and starting the breakfast fire, shouting at the kids to get up and get ready for school. Instead, I turn over on my air mattress, attempting to squeeze my eyes shut until at least 6 am, when I deem myself ready to sit up in my mosquito net and have my devotions.

It’s morning in Silum, Papua New Guinea.
My house!
 For the POC village stays, a staff member scouts out locations and meets with a wide variety of families to ensure the best fit. In this case, our five teams were all placed within the same language group of Bargam (in fact, most of us were within an hour’s walk from each other), which had recently received a translated New Testament. Our particular wasfemili (host family) had hosted expatriates in the past and was absolutely thrilled to have two “white daughters” join them at the last minute (our original village location had some complications). As a result of this quick change, our waspapa (host father) was still feverishly building the veranda when we arrived!

My waspapa was a talented carpenter and loved to invent!

Good morning—breakfast is ready! Sometimes my teammate and I make food, but more often than not, I am handed at least two full plates of food by our wasmama (host mother) and was-susa (host sister). Our practice of a hot drink in the morning is now a family favorite—especially now that they have been introduced to milo!  After breakfast, I curl up in one of my waspapa’s chairs and journal about the previous day, write a letter, or perhaps jot some notes for my assignments. 

In addition to learning Tok Pisin, we had multiple assignments to complete in the village, including cultural observations, learning skills, survey reports, and preliminary linguistic analysis and transcription.

My wasmama and her namesake granddaughter
Before the sun comes up and the “heat cooks you,” it’s time to do something! I might go to the garden, wash laundry, walk up (or down) the mountain, visit neighbors, work a bilum (string bag)… you name it!

For many people, POC’s village living can be a very quiet, slow, relaxing time that allows for reading lots of books. Not so with ours. Our family, with the zeal of tour guides, whisked us up and down the mountain, packing as much culture as they could into our very short visit! As a result, our days were extremely unpredictable and could vary at a moment’s notice—and we rarely had days where we just stayed at the house!

Time for lunch! One of the women will have prepared more gigantic, heaping plates of garden produce (for all meals it is typically a combination of taro, cooking bananas, and greens) for us. Eat up!

Also unexpectedly, my teammate and I ended up living in the same house with our family (although we had two rooms of our own); this continual immersion in village life was excellent for our Tok Pisin (and they did their best to help us learn Bargam as well), but it also had its own stresses as we were utterly absorbed into the family structure as daughters, sisters, aunts, and cousins, within the clan relationships. One way they showed this was by feeding us every meal—sometimes six times a day!

They even added a tarp-wall for privacy!

After lunch, the sun is brutal, and thus it’s time to nap, shower, and generally move slowly in the shade. Now is a good time to work a few more rounds on that bilum of yours.

Our waspapa was extremely inventive and constructed a shower for us out of an old hose, a coke bottle with holes punched in the end, and some twine! In fact, we actually had a tap near our house which served as the main water source for the whole village. We felt like we were in the lap of luxury!

Fresh bread rolls...yum!

The afternoon is full of possibilities and I’m never sure what will happen—if I’m at the house, perhaps I will hold a bread-baking lesson or play games with the children or draw their portraits or work on my bilum or try to make progress on my assignments. Often, we will have visitors stop by and want to “story.” However, plenty of times during my stay, I will still be off somewhere, continuing whatever activity I began in the morning. 

In PNG culture, isolation is not valued situation (especially for women), so everything that we did was accompanied by at least several children, if not a large crowd of adults as well. This was for our own safety (they took their jobs as hosts very seriously and wanted to make sure we were completely taken care of at all times) as well as so we wouldn’t be lonely.

Dark falls quickly in the tropics, but the evening meal will already have been started cooking over the fire. My waspapa lights a coleman lantern and soon our veranda will be full of relatives, ready to converse and story until the wee hours of the morning. Perhaps tonight is a fellowship meeting for the local church or my was-susas will want to sing hymns for hours (accompanied by a guitar or my penny whistles). Once my wasbrata (host brother) and friends discovered Uno, intense tournaments draw a crowd. Don’t forget the even later meal, brought by my “second” mama, just in case we were still hungry!
I know you are curious. Here it is...and we even had a seat!

Bedtime for us varied between 9 and 11 at night, though we were often falling asleep much earlier than that! Because of living in such continuous close proximity with our family (who were comparatively well-educated and thus knew a fair amount of English), Jessica and I had very limited occasions to debrief with each other. We soon found the best place to hold a frank conversation in English was our nightly trek up the slippery hill to the liklik haus (outhouse)!

We were serious all the time. Seriously.

When we left the village, there were many tears, speeches, and even hugs (physical contact was not common in our village). Even after five weeks, relationships went deep and strong--after all, potholder puppets (left photo) do make significant impressions! Eventually, if resources allow it, I would be glad to go and visit my family again, but for now, we keep in touch through letters and cell phones.

 It’s amazing how after a long day, a air mattress and mosquito net can turn into a luxurious four-poster feather bed with an artistically draped gauzy canopy. Sweet dreams!

Good night! (You can see just see the second net with the flower material)