Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I Missed My Wedding (or 5 Weeks in the Saidor Opera!)

[If you haven’t already read Popcorn Literacy then I highly suggest you do so in order for the following to make any sense…And finally, in case you are wondering, all events reported below are true and actually happened]

The Saidor Saga
Operatic Reviewer: Catherine Rivard

The primary cast of the Saidor Saga
The Saidor Saga was set in the tiny, humid town of Saidor, deep in Madang province in Papua New Guinea. During the entire five weeks encompassed within the opera, the lush tropical scenery was barely ruffled by a breeze (except what was caused by the hordes of mosquito wings). Known as a “5-car town” (only three were working, which apparently made little difference since the roads into the village are completely inaccessible), Saidor is the government seat of the Rai Coast and thus sported several metal–roofed buildings among the traditional sago-palm thatching. The story opened with the arrival of 9 literacy workers, both expat (including yours truly) and national, eager to begin a 4-week literacy course in the dilapidated Catholic youth centre building. Soon, 21 participants from 8 different local languages, along with a plethora of local talent, combined to fill out this generous and intrepid cast.

The building used for the classroom and dorm sets
Conflict is key, so they say, and this opera took it to heart! One day after another, the protagonists faced major power failures, extreme water shortage, disgruntled employees, village fears of local unhappy spirits, challenges with the facilities, a food scarcity, limited outside communication, missing supplies, a local leader’s death, village disagreements, and a local drug-and-alcohol-imbibing population!! Scene after scene, we barely manage to pull ourselves back onto our chairs before we were again teetering on the edge of our seats, waiting and praying alongside the cast for resolution, such as when we often wondered if they would have food to eat that night or the next morning… but the ingenious storywriting skill of the Director with His superb sense of timing never failed to deliver! While “nick-of-time” solutions in the hands of lesser writers often result in a farce, this Director was able to orchestrate it into a timelesss comedy!

Food mishaps are always entertaining!
Who could help but chuckle when we watched the male students blithely take over the weekend cooking…and discover through mishap after mishap that it’s not quite as easy as their wives make it look (salt, anyone?). And, we laughed until tears streamed down our cheeks when in one scene the new cooks accidently put eight meals worth of red-hot chili peppers into one night’s soup!!

Finally, what comedic opera is complete without a romance? Perhaps one of the most entertaining threads of the whole story was the local longlong man (an individual whose mind had been wrecked due to drug and alcohol abuse), who ultimately decided that Catherine, one of the staff members, was his beloved and long-lost wife! “Perhaps you missed the wedding?” one of the other staff members asked her in a memorable conversation. “It must have been by proxy!”

The vocal strength of the supporting cast members was remarkable—and was highlighted at every morning’s opening scene, as they shouted and sang loudly about their lives while waltzing about the soccer field in front of the youth centre (being under the influence only added to their vocal power). It was on this soccer field that the romance truly blossomed, when the besotted husband regularly shouted merrily about his so-called wife and her goings on during the course!

Twice-a-day worship time!
Throughout the opera, the energy and excitement exuded by the participants was tangible as they hungrily strove to learn life and classroom skills for their teaching. Perhaps some of the most treasured scenes were outside of the classroom, which included spontaneous worship singing, playing in the local river, and some amazing conversations between Catherine and the women students (read some spoilers here!). The tenderness and sensitivity with which the Director scripted these scenes certainly deserves a standing ovation!

Two thumbs way way up for the Director of this marvelous opera! He has demonstrated Himself to be an outstanding storyteller who handled every detail with divine skill. The multifaceted cast, each handpicked by this Director, worked together in a phenomenal rhythm revealing the human condition, resulting in a performance that allowed the expertise of this Director to truly shine through. Unfortunately, due to this Director’s continuous push for the new and the creative, there was only one showing of The Saidor Saga, but, I highly recommend you buy your front row tickets fast for this Director’s newest performance—it will be an opera you won’t want to miss!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Popcorn Literacy

Susan and the other Ngaing speakers trying to describe popcorn!
It was like nothing she had ever seen before. Susan reached back into the brown paper bag and pulled out another piece. What was it? She could feel oil on her fingers... and, was that salt? Her eyebrows pulled together in confusion, and she searched for the right words in her language. We were in the second week of the literacy course in Saidor, Madang, and Susan was sitting back-to-back with her fellow Ngaing speakers. They were trying to guess what she was experiencing. “Keep describing,” I urged her. “What does it look like?”

“It’s small,” she finally continued in Ngaing, “and firm, but still breakable. And there are lots of holes all over it. It’s white, with little specks of brown... and bumpy.” She put a piece in her mouth, her lips pursed in thought. “It kind of tastes like corn, but it’s not like corn at all. It’s really delicious!”

“It’s popcorn!” her teammates exclaimed, turning around to confirm their guess of the delicacy. Scattered around the hall, eight different language groups, were working toward the same delicious discovery. This was a creative writing class like they had never experienced before!

Our classroom!
For the month of August, 21 national teachers from 8 different languages scattered around the remote Rai Coast of Madang province, gathered together for an intense teacher training, led by myself and eight other expat and national staff. Our goal was to work alongside the PNG PNG Education department to help provide further training in using their own languages in children’s education, in contrast to using Tok Pisin (the trade language) or English (a foreign language). The focus of this course was on teachers who live in rural areas with minimal access to materials, funding, and support.

How does this relate to Bible translation, you might ask? Well, it goes something like this:

belief that the local language (tok ples) is not valuable = minimal opportunities for tok ples education
minimal opportunities for tok ples education = unable to read/write well in any language
unable to read/write = unable to read the Bible, whether translated or not

A group of guys from the Iyo language practicing reading Scripture
So, since we as Wycliffe believe that having the Word of God translated into your tok ples (or the heart language... the language that you have spoken since you were a baby, and thus the one that shoots straight into your heart) is critical in order to be able to vividly understand God’s love, we have as our goal to see all 830 languages of PNG have access to translated Scriptures. But, what good is it to have all these boxes of translated Scriptures if no one values their language enough to want to read, much less have the knowledge or resources to learn how to read it?

Thus, courses like this one have developed to help local teachers understand the absolute irreplaceable value of their own language and learning to read and write in it first (afterwards, children can then much more successfully make the step to English or another foreign language). In addition, it also met many practical, daily needs through such classes as principles and practices of literacy, fluency, storywriting (which included the popcorn), book production, curriculum creation, and materials development. Because many of these teachers are seen as leaders in their community, as well as have a strong influence among the next generation, we also taught classes on leadership and worldview principles, financial recordkeeping, disease prevention, raising community awareness, and personal Bible study methods. It was a busy four weeks!

Throughout the course, it was very encouraging to see the excitement and enthusiasm of the teachers build as they learned more about their craft and tools they could use in their classrooms. This course is one of four month-long modules that will be spread over the next two years, allowing the teachers to apply what they learn in their classrooms and then come back with reports, questions, and the chance to learn more skills. Who knows, maybe even the popcorn will return next year!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Magic Bullet, Magic Bata

What is green and brown and yellow and is creamier than a yogurt commercial?

A banana chocolate avocado smoothie of course!

Avocado? Did you say avocado??

But we make guacamole out of avocado!!
Yes, that‘s right... but I guarantee that the day you enjoy the heavenly rich creamy yummyness provided by this secret ingredient, you will no longer regulate the lowly avocado just to Mexican food!

So, because I‘m a nice person, and because I want to show off one of my most favourite kitchen tools EVER, I am going to pretend I‘m one of those fancy blogger cooks and share with you the recipe... complete with pictures!

First, the ingredients.

2 bananas
½ medium avocado (a small avocado here is the size of my fist, so you may need to adjust accordingly)
1 c. cold milk (I use powdered milk in my cooking here, so again, adjust for your neck of the world.)
Several large scoops of cocoa powder (we don‘t have cocoa powder in the store here right now, so I had to use some hot chocolate mix instead. As long as you remember chocolate and large, you’ll do fine.)

Place all ingredients together in your blender.

Now I get to introduce you to the star of the show... the Magic Bullet! It blends, it whips, it pulverises, it chops... and it does so in both individual servings and large quantities in only seconds! Poppyseed dressing, strawberry topping, honey-mustard marinade, breakfast smoothie, ice cream shake, you name it—the Magic Bullet can mix it (except whipped cream. I don’t recommend whipped cream...perhaps you remember that adventure here?) .

Mix until fully blended.

Taste. Adjust ingredients (basically, the real question is, is it chocolatey enough? If not, scoop more in and blend ‘er up!)

Look at how creamy it is! There is a reason why Papua New Guineans call avocado bata (or the bush version of butter.) Enjoy! I recommend you do so sitting under the shade of a favourite tree, a dog by your side, and a friendly book in your lap.

We have lots of avocados here in Papua New Guinea. What are some of your favourite avocado recipes?

Monday, September 17, 2012

On the Wings of a Mosquito and Other Scientific Discoveries

For the past week, we’ve had a significant internet outage here in Ukarumpa, which has brought all my ability to post my insightful and entertaining blogs to a grinding halt (as I'm sure you have already surmised). Never fear! My digimodem is now working again, and so, I will mimic my village email here in Ukarumpa... and while you wait for us to get back online, enjoy my internet escapades while in Saidor!


0.79, 8.22, 4.5, 3.6, 0.00, 0.00.

I wiped the sweat off my forehead and kept staring intently at the screen.

5.66, 1.9, 10.42, 2.16, 2.67, 0.00... “Come on, come on, you can do it...” I muttered, “just a little bit more, baby. Come on!”

The numbers flicked past at Matrix speed as the orange graph lines shot up and down, like a heartbeat monitor.

 1.44, 0.89, 0.22, 0.7, 5.72, 4.02, 32.7.

“YES!” I shot my fist into the area! “That’s right! There you go! It got through!” Skreek! A flock of birds chattered disapprovingly in the mango tree across the road at my outburst. Hmph. I tipped my chin. They obviously don’t understand the importance of this moment.

Victory achieved, I closed my laptop and began strolling across the soccer field, back to my room, grinning smugly to myself. I doubt nuclear reactor operators watching pressurized dials or pilots landing on slippery aircraft carriers or even top secret scientists measuring the distance of a killer comet to the earth would have felt such excitement as I did at the passing of numbers.

Of course, their numbers weren’t measuring kilobytes per second for upload/download speed of email on a portable modem... and 32.7 was a lightning fast connection!

I was on staff at a literacy course in Saidor, a tiny town in Madang province... and we were attempting email through our Digicel phone connection. In our desperate quest to receive information from the outside world, we discovered several important factors that your average computer geek probably is unaware of. Lest you belittle our scientific findings, let me assure you that the following have been field-tested extensively by yours truly and my fellow intrepid explorers, Mavis and Mark.

1)    The number of mosquitoes in the air is directly proportional to your internet connection. Why? The vibrating air caused by the wings of mosquitoes allows the digicel signal to travel more swiftly. Thus, more mosquitoes =better connection. As a result, email only works in early morning or late evening.

The early morning stroll. Put on your mosquito repellant!

2)    In order to collect all the available Digicel signal it is important to slowly move your computer, allowing the air (which holds the signal) to pass into your computer. Thus, stationary computers do not receive nearly as good a signal and instead use up all the little Digicel bits in that one patch.

Notice her expert technique in slowly shifting the computer. She's smiling! Just think about how much fun this is!

3)    The time that your connection is so slow that it will take half an hour to receive several text-only emails is the time when Gmail’s system will for some reason decide to resend all your emails from the last three months... which numbers in the many many hundreds!

Writing emails...reading emails... news from the outside world!

“It looks like she’s paying homage to the Digicel god,” remarked one of my companions dryly. “All she needs is a ceremonial headdress.”

“Well, it could be worse.” Barbara tilted her head philosophically. “When I do radio email, sometimes it slows to 5 bytes per second and then one email takes all night!”

Yes, 32.7 kbps really is something to celebrate about.. and I might even say thank you to the mosquitoes. :)

Fist pump to celebrate--the email went through!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Message in Red, Black, and Gold

Happy Independence Day! On September 16, 1975, Papua New Guinea (PNG) was officially declared independent from Australia. Just like in the USA, Independence Day in PNG is celebrated by food, sports, the waving of the flag (you can read more about the history of the flag here) and lots of patriotic colours!

While we were at the literacy course in Saidor, we had the opportunity to take advantage of this red-black-and-gold fervour to create wordless books that share the Gospel message through PNG's national colours! (Lest you think this is relegated to a PNG literacy tactic... I remember receiving this little book with the same colours and verses when I was a wee little girl in Sunday School. However, it did not link so slickly with the US American flag...)

So, thanks to some scissors, some glue, and a whole lot of clear tape (why glue and tape, you ask? Well, have you ever tried gluing something in the tropics? Humidity. Need I say anymore?), we made our own PNG versions of the wordless book!

First, the black represents sin.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Rom 3:23

The red represents the blood of Christ.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! Rom 5:8-9

The white represents forgiveness and being washed clean.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear. For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God's holy people.  Rev19:8

The yellow represents heaven and eternal life.

But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:23

Finally, green represents new life and growth as a Christian while on this earth.

At this point, we pasted the words to PNG’s national anthem and the national pledge.... our hope is that someday, the words of the song will truly be sung by hearts rather than just lips by all Papua New Guineans.

O arise all you sons of this land
Let us sing of our joy to be free
Praising God and rejoicing to be
Papua New Guinea.
Shout our name from the mountains to sea,
Papua New Guinea.
Let us raise our voices and proclaim
Papua New Guinea.

Now give thanks to the good Lord above
For kindness, his wisdom and love
For this land of our fathers so free
Papua New Guinea.
Shout again for the whole world to hear
Papua New Guinea.
We’re independent and we’re free,
Papua New Guinea.

Friday, September 7, 2012

God, Yu Gutpela Wasman... and a Newsletter

We are waiting at the Saidor "airport terminal" for our flight...
A year ago, when I first came to Papua New Guinea, I don’t think I had any idea how much I would travel within the country. In the last three months alone, I’ve been in two countries, seven cities, and have flown, driven, hiked, PMV’d, scampered, and been amazed at God’s continual provision. I’ve written about some of these adventures in my latest September newsletter, describing several of the courses I’ve been involved with (if you would like a copy emailed to you, email me). Stay tuned to this blog as I write more posts, especially about my most recent escapades while on staff at a literacy course in the village of Saidor.

As a result of all this travel and transition, one of my favourite Tok Pisin praise songs is God, Yu Gutpela Wasman. I think it might be the theme song for PNG missionaries!

Ladies and Gentlemen, please prepare to board...

God, yu gutpela wasman (God, you are a good watchman)
Yu was oltaim long laip bilong mi (you always keep watch for my life)
Long olgeta hap mi go (everywhere that I go)
Long olgeta hap mi stap (everywhere that I stay)
Yu was oltaim long laip bilong mi (you always keep watch for my life)

Taim mi kalap long balus (when I fly on a plane)
Taim mi ran antap long sip (when I sail on a ship)
Taim mi kalap long haiwe bas na ran i go (when I ride on a PMV/car that just keeps going and going)
Yu was oltaim long laip bilong mi (you always keep watch for my life)

The sense of was in the song is to look out for, keep watch for, protect. So, a wasman is a man who looks out for things, is protective, or keeps watch (in the manner of the old police watchman who made his rounds late at night carrying a nightstick and a clever bowler hat).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A Year In Houses

While I was in Saidor, Madang, on staff at a literacy course, I passed my one-year anniversary of arriving in PNG. As I looked around my room at the mosquito nets, piles of cabbage and kru sako (a kind of leafy green), and stacks of materials for the book production classes coming up, I could only shake my head at how different it was—and yet still quite similar—from where I was living when I first arrived.

Now that the course is complete, I’m back in Ukarumpa, and have internet again, I thought it would be fun to take you on a tour of where I have lived in the past own Parade of Homes, PNG style!

1.    It started off in Madang, on Nobnob mountain, at POC...
where I lived in this dorm with the remarkable Jessica for about 8 weeks, with the occasional overnight with my local wasfemili (host family).

2.    Then, we moved to the village of Aronis....

...where I lived with Jessica and my new wasfemili (host family) for 5 weeks.

3.    Upon conclusion of this time, Jessica and I moved back to the POC dorms...

grateful for luxuries like the POC bucket shower for 1 week.

4.    Now on to Ukarumpa, in the Eastern Highlands province where Jessica and I moved into this house...

...with the stupendous Donna. Later, the delightful Jill also joined us, for a total of 8 weeks.

5.    Then I was asked to go back to POC to be on staff. So, I trekked down to Madang once again...
...and moved into the Black House with my dear friend, Mandy. At one point, a short-term staff member, Valerie, also joined us during our 9 week stay.  (Note the number 9. It won't happen again.)

6.    While the POC students were in village living, I went back to Ukarumpa...

...and moved into yet another house on centre. All my future roommates were gone at this point, so for 5 weeks, I had the house to myself (not counting the dogs).

7.    But, I had to finish up my duties at POC, so I zipped down to Madang for 1 week...
...once again, taking up residence in the Black House, this time sans roommate.

8.    After POC, I went back up to Ukarumpa for a total of 4 weeks, where I joined the spectacular Jessie for the first time in my house.
Part of the way through, she left and my marvelous aunt Wendy joined me briefly.

9.    Then, my aunt and I flew to Cairns, where we stayed at the lovely TreeTops for 1 week...

(Okay, so this is a picture of downtown Cairns...but I forgot to take a picture of our room so it will have to do.)

10.    A change of plans sent me straight to Kokopo for 2 weeks (but not before I spent a night in Port Moresby at a fancy hotel)....
...where I lived with the amazing Robyn during this time!

11.    Once that course finished, I flew and PMV’d my way back to Ukarumpa...
... where, for 4 weeks, I joined Jessie and my new incredible housemate Melissa, who just returned from furlough.  (This was the first time I returned to Ukarumpa to the same house with at least one same roommate)

12.    Soon it was time to leave again, and I flew to Saidor, Madang for a literacy course...
...where I lived for 5 weeks with two lovely ladies named Mavis and Barbara.

And now I am back in Ukarumpa with Melissa! How long I will stay here in Ukarumpa before I go bouncing off again is anyone’s guess, but I’m glad for a bit of a breather. Sometimes that much travel and lack of stability can get exhausting and draining (notice that in the past year, I’ve only been in one place for 9 weeks, and the average is about 4 weeks), and I find myself pondering switching to a job that require staying in one place (like volunteering to be a human post in a house’s foundation or keying all of our centres’ doors to only open with my thumbprint). Even Jesus experienced the challenges of constant transition when He warned some potential followers that “foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Matt 8:20).

But, even as I look back on the past year, with its revolving doors and changing scenery, I am reminded that stability and consistency is ultimately not rooted in always carrying the same set of keys. Rather, it is embedded deep in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, whose love is unshakeable, and whose presence whispers “hello” every morning, and who has gone ahead to prepare a place for me, because my citizenship and passport is in heaven.

And that, I think, is a pretty incredible finale to my PNG parade of homes :-)