Saturday, January 11, 2014

When Catherine Wields a Machete

Nothing is quite so effective as a machete in keeping your audience’s attention.

Secretly, it’s probably my favourite part of my presentation while here on home assignment—that moment when I announce to the group of 70 junior and senior high students that I will crack open a coconut.

And I will use a machete.

A what???!!  I pull the blade from its sheath (I always feel like Aragorn when that happens) and a collective gasp goes up from the group. Bored high school guys goofing off in the back suddenly jump to their feet in shock, and even the leaders’ eyes grow wide. Girls in the front row cower backward in delighted fear as I let the giant knife roll casually in my hand, glinting under the florescent lights

 “And this is pretty small and light compared to the kind we use in Papua New Guinea (PNG).” I say with a shrug. No big deal....except that inside I'm like "THIS IS SO AWESOME!!!"

Climb a tree and retrieve the coconut!
Of course, the whole point is the coconut. In Papua New Guinea, coconuts are an amazing staple of life. Young men and boys tie ropes around their feet and scramble up trees 60-100 feet tall to toss these remarkable fruits (yes, technically a fruit) to earth. Young coconuts (called kulau) are delicious drinks and old coconuts (called drai) are valued for their creamy white coconut meat which is shredded up into bits used to make coconut milk.

I'm drinking a tasty kulau--yum!

But first you have to get the drai open. After you’ve used a stake to pull off the outer layer of husk, then the simplest method is to take the back of a bush knife’s blade (hence the machete) and whack it evenly all around the coconut’s equator. If you are accurate in your whacking and the coconut isn’t too ancient, it should easily split in half.

Getting ready to make coconut milk.
Then, to shred up the coconut, you sit on a tool called a sigarap (a rounded serrated blade mounted on a tiny sawhorse) and scrape out the white meat. Next, you pour water over the shredded pieces and squeeze them until the water becomes milk white. Strain out the shredded coconut and repeat with more water...this creates the coconut milk. Now you can add it to your boiling pot of kaukau (sweet potatoes) and greens. Yum!

It all works so easily in PNG, so I thought, why not try it here in the US?

Except, Minnesota doesn’t grow coconuts.

Apparently, according to the Cub Foods and Walmart grocery aisles, Minnesota imports them from Puerto Rico (I bet the shipment came in a year or two ago). When I first went hunting for the coconut, I walked past the display four times...because surely, those tiny, lopsided, shriveled oversized walnuts, couldn’t be coconuts?!

But they were.  And so I gamely purchased two and went to my first evening presentation at my home church, where the first coconut promptly shattered in a gory rancid mess and second didn’t fare much better. It was enough to classify the whole thing as an epic fail.

Except, there was the machete. And who could give that up?

And thus began my quest to find non-rancid coconuts to hack open in front of unsuspecting audiences. Ending score?

Rancid coconuts: 6
Catherine: 4

But at least I still got to wield a machete!