Thursday, January 31, 2013

Sherlock Holmes and My Life

“My dear fellow, life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable. …Depend upon it, there is nothing so unnatural as the commonplace.”
--Sherlock Holmes (as transcribed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle)

Especially when that commonplace is in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Although I got back from the village and the Markham Tokples Scripture Conference on Saturday, 12 January, you may have noticed that I’ve been a bit slow in returning to my usual blogging habits. That is because this crazy wonderful commonplace life in Papua New Guinea can be rather insane at times. To catch you up to speed, I thought a one-sentence-one-photo journal might help; later, I’ll flesh things out with some marvelous stories!

First there was life in the village where I helped some friends learn Tok Pisin, hung out with a marvelous family, and developed some great relationships, and ate lots of cooking bananas.

Cooking bananas is a staple food in the Markham Valley; they taste kind of like potatotes!

And participated in the Markham Tokples Scripture Conference! It was the first time in the Markham history that an event of its kind took place, and I have lots of stories about it to share with you!

We held the sessions under a mango tree (and under a tarp when it was raining...which it did daily!)
It's like Find Waldo, except Find Catherine! Some of the ladies and I were planning a skit.
Eventually, we travelled back to Ukarumpa, where I welcomed my roommate’s visiting brother, unpacked, started catching up on all 450 emails, wandered around like a zombie (returning from the village always takes some recovery time…please keep all knives and important decisions away from me), attended meetings and debriefs related to the conference, wrote reports, put out fires (not literally), hosted friends for dinner, created a conference slideshow, played Mafia-on-steroids with friends, and taught horseback riding lessons.

This is what we look like when we come back from the village...

The next week, I began by supervising workmen who attempted to fix our sauna’s chimney (so our house wouldn’t fill with smoke) and unclog a pipe (so our sinks would drain). I also did laundry, ran errands, cleaned the house…and did other various and sundry things that make up the foundation of daily life in PNG.
My house (which is much prettier than a picture of a backed-up sink)
On Tuesday, I cloistered with other families in a furlough/home assignment workshop (to tell me what to expect and plan for when I return to the US in August…which really only resulted in me starting an ever-growing list.)

Perhaps this guy is going on furlough too?

On Wednesday, I spent 12 hours driving to and from Lae (with numerous stops in between) to look at potential horses for sale (and was charged by a bull).

We actually didn't find any horses for sale at this time, but we took lots of photos of cows...

On Thursday, I went to a local village to sleep overnight and celebrate a belated Christmas with my friends Nick and Kandi (of course, this “quick” visit still meant hiking up and down a mountain—both there and back—in the rain and mud).

Inside a Highlands house with Kandi

Here Jessie and I are hiking up and down a mountain on our way back to Ukarumpa.

On Friday afternoon, 10 minutes after returning from the village, I alas had to deal with a horse medical emergency which resulted in the horse needing to be put down (she had been sick for some time). Then I went to Hamburger Night at the Teen Centre where I ate hot, crispy chips (French fries) made by our local teens as a fundraiser. That evening, my roommate and I thought we would relax by watching a movie…alas, we chose Shackleton, which, although it’s a great story, is filled with exhausting and frigid trekking, trekking, trekking…which isn’t particularly relaxing when you spent most of your past couple of days also trekking, trekking, trekking…


On Saturday, I attended more meetings and did labor at the horse paddocks.

I teach weekly riding lessons to both kids and adults in our Ukarumpa Pony Club

By now it was Sunday and I was exhausted, so I took a “mental health day,” which included naps, books, movies, and good food.

Emmy, our cat, joined me happily

Monday and Tuesday were consumed with spent writing, writing, writing as I wrote articles for our communications department, and then Wednesday was spent on the oh-most-joyous task of TAXES (both for PNG and US)!

Two countries = double the tax fun!

And that, I think, brings us to now. Yes, I think I have to agree with Sherlock Holmes, when he says, “My dear fellow, life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent….” At least, my life certainly is!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Sweeter than Stained Glass

Here’s a fun picture from my life in Papua New Guinea. Can you guess what it is?

Any ideas? I think it looks like stained glass...but it's not!


Well then, read on, my friend, and let me introduce you to the thrilling world of dehydrating! Back in the States, my greatest exposure to dehydrating was to beef jerky or those bits of fruit found in my trail mix. But, after coming to Papua New Guinea, I learned that there are far more possibilities than I ever anticipated in the art of dehydrating!

Dehydrating is an extremely useful village preparation task because it takes a huge amount of heavy, bulky, and easily-spoiled food and compresses it down into extremely light, portable, and long-lasting (think months or years!) cuisine. “Light” and “portable” are key since most everything we bring into a village needs to be hauled in by hand, and we pay by the kilo to either fly or drive into remote locations.

Look at the weight of this pineapple--over 1.2 kilos!
Here's that pineapple dehydrated...just over 100 grams!

In addition, because the majority of Papua New Guineans in the village setting are subsistence farmers, sometimes it can be difficult for us to find local vegetables or fruit for ourselves, especially when it is the ‘taim bilong hangre’ (or the “hunger time”). Dehydrating allows us to bring a larger quantity of our own food, which helps us meet our own nutritional needs without burdening our local friends.

I couldn't get back far enough to show the fourth dehydrator
In this house of three translators, I can always tell when a village trip is forthcoming as the dehydrators begin humming day and night. Earlier this year, several of us were going out to the village at the same time, so we turned our office into Dehydrator Central with four different machines going at once!

When I was preparing to go out to the village this last August, I took a bunch of photos of the dehydrating process. Let me take you on a tour of my village preparations! (This time around I didn’t dehydrate meat, but I’ve done so before and it creates VERY tasty jerky or mince perfect for cooking or snacking!)

YUM! Look at all that tasty food!
First, it starts with a large market trip to collect a large stash of fresh, ripe produce. You can dehydrate practically anything—cucumber, capsicum, pineapple, banana, strawberry, mango, carrot, zucchini…you name it! (Though, I have always wondered what watermelon would look like dehydrated…) Then, you get a crick in your back and a cramp in your hand as you proceed to peel, slice, and dice all these veggies and fruits into very thin, very evenly cut slices (the more uneven or the thicker your slices are, the trickier it will be to get everything to evenly dry and will cause more headaches down the road).

Then spread them evenly and without touching on the racks and place them in the dehydrater. Different fruit and vegetables dry at different rates, so be sure to check that out ahead of time. Higher temperature does NOT necessarily equal faster drying :) Instead, you could promote plastic melting!

While my fruit and veggie slices were drying, I decided to make some fruit and vegetable “bark.” It’s the non-preservative, non-sugar version of those Fruit Roll-ups you ate as a kid. Actually, you can puree a lot of different things and then pour the liquid onto the drying sheets—I’ve made corn bark and pumpkin bark along with fruit combinations; the vegetables just taste like chips!

The start of corn bark and strawberry fruit bark

It’s important when you’re making the bark to spread it evenly, otherwise some parts will dry faster than others, and then it will crack into pieces when you try to package it up. My roommates’ rolling pin has special rubber bands that lift the pin away from the surface and help control the even-ness of the rolling.

Be sure to keep checking on your dehydrating food, otherwise it might dry into rock-hard oblivion and all that work of preparing will be for naught!

Package it all up into bags and into rat-proof, ant-proof, water-proof containers…and voila! Remember all that food in the beginning? Look at how small and light it has all become!

And, can you guess by now what that picture was at the beginning of the post?

That’s right—strawberry-banana fruit bark.

I bet you never knew that if you hung it up in the window, it looks like stained glass! Except, this kind is far sweeter than the chunks you might find in a rose window.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Amazing Kitchen Ingredient of Awesomeness

Let’s play a game. I’ll say a word and you say the first thing that pops into your mind. Ready? Okay.


(peanut butter)

(Amazing Kitchen Ingredient of Awesomeness!!!)

Wait—you didn’t think that? Well, let me introduce you to why we here at the House of D32 love yogurt so much.

Say you have a recipe…any recipe. And it calls for sour cream. Or heavy cream. Or whipping cream. Or cream cheese. Or ricotta cheese. Or cottage cheese. Or mayonnaise. Or ranch dressing. Or buttermilk. And you don’t have any of those—what in the world are you to do?

Never fear—yogurt is here! You simply can pull out the container of yogurt that you made the night before and finish your recipe with a flourish. Not only a substitute, it’s also an incredible smoothie base , a soup-thickener, and the core of many sauces and dips.

Even more, yogurt is a great source of protein, vitamins, and calcium, is digestible for people like me who have sensitivity to lactose, and all those cheerful little bacterias living inside? Well, they help stop diarrhea, calm an upset digestive tract, and can help prevent various other infections (all of these things are, uhh, something to keep in mind here in Papua New Guinea…). Apparently, it’s also effective at relieving sunburn and pampering with facials!

I bet you never realized the humble yogurt is so helpful…and I also bet you never realized that it’s incredibly easy to make. Let me show you!

First, you need a yogurt starter. Once you have a yogurt batch started, you won’t need to replace your starter for quite some time (because you can just use a bit of the old yogurt), that is, unless you accidentally use it all up in a recipe or someone gets over-zealous in washing the dishes and washes the last of your starter down the drain… Then you’ll need some new starter. I don’t know where you find it in the States…but here, I just ring up my neighbor and go fetch some from her!

Then you’ll need some sort of container for the yogurt, a way of keeping the container in a hot water bath (a pressure cooker or a thermos work well), a thermometer, and some milk powder (and I like to use our electric hot water kettle to heat the water).

Combine all the ingredients together and whisk until a white, frothy mixture.

Now, place the container of yogurt mixture in a hot water bath of about 112 degrees F (it approximately feels like hot dishwashing water). My roommates and I have discovered that the temperature does indeed make a difference, so use that candy thermometer!

Screw on the lid of the thermos, and let it sit for 6–8 hours (I find it generally needs eight). Voila! Beautiful, gorgeous yogurt!

Mmmm, add in some fresh strawberries and bananas, and you have a marvelous morning smoothie :) with plenty left over for the day’s baking.

And that’s why yogurt deserves the title of the “Amazing Kitchen Ingredient of Awesomeness!”

Like most things, I imagine making yogurt in the States is a bit different than we do it here in PNG. Have you ever tried making yogurt and how did it turn out?

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

On Dune Buggies, Motorbikes, and the Yellow Submarine

“Mommy, why are there handles inside the car?” I bounced in the back seat of our Toyota and stretched up to hang on the protruding handle above the door.

“Because sometimes you might need to hang onto them, or help you get in the car,” she answered patiently (if not a bit absently) as she watched road sides and navigated towards the grocery store.

I was not satisfied. To my seven-year-old mind , it really made no sense why anyone at all would need a handle to climb into a car…I mean, they aren’t that difficult to enter! And as far as needing to hang onto them…well, that was just rubbish. We were strapped in, for goodness sakes, and the potholes weren’t that bumpy. I had, however, seen them used to hang clothes on to prevent wrinkling when we were travelling to Grandma’s…maybe that was their true calling? And, with that unequivocable logic, I turned back to staring out the window.

Oh the blissful ignorance of youth!

Handles inside the car, are, in my opinion, one of the most useful inventions that could have been added to improve comfort and security. Contrary to my early beliefs, they are invaluable for climbing into a vehicle (that happens to be jacked high off the ground, while you’re dressed in a skirt that drops well past your knees) as well as to maintaining an upright position while jouncing and bouncing and lurching and sliding and bumping down the road (regardless of wearing a seatbelt).

Yup, I’m a big fan of handles.

The assortment of vehicles driving around Ukarumpa roads is a strange and motley crew that have been shipped in or dredged up or patched together in ways that might give Henry Ford a run for his money. Most of these never find themselves off centre, but they faithfully provide for our transportation needs. Of course, you’ve already met the singles’ van in a previous post, so I’ve pulled together a few more of the strangest contraptions for your enjoyment!

Meet the ancient, put-putting, rusted-through, pretty awesome "Powered By Coconuts" truck!

Dune buggies aren't just for deserts...they work great on the hills of this tropical country!

Come one, come all, and pile into the Japanese Firetruck of Amazingness (those are indeed seats in the back)!

Haul your groceries home in style in your fancy cargo attachment for your four-wheeler!

Behold! The Sports Car of Ukarumpa! The first time I saw this (only recently imported), I did a double-take, and then merely gave into staring. These cars don't exist here... it's like...from the future!

This is not just any tuktuk, but it's the valiant steed of Ukarumpa's resident Knight in Shining Armor (or with a shining toolbox), David Smith!

This van claims it's the "Coolest Car in Ukarumpa." What do you think--does the Yellow Submarine top them all?

And last, but not least, is my fabulous roommate and her loyal canine heading off to a meeting on our hardworking little motorbike (which I'm still attempting to learn to drive...).

And then, when all else fails, there's what the rest of us do...and use our own two feet. Happy traveling!