Sunday, September 28, 2014

I’ll Fly Away (Tales from a Rooster Chaser)

Chickens trying to get out of the by Robbie Petterson
He crept up from behind the water tank, his neck craning around the corner. Careful. Cautious. This was how the game was played. He glanced at his finery, and for a moment, wished he was a little more plainly dressed.  But impressing females and being sneaky were two different wardrobes, and he had been busy all morning courting a special someone. No matter. This was his turf, and no one had a right to challenge him on it. He could go where he wanted, when he wanted, and anyone who thought otherwise would receive a beating or a slash from his blades. He straightened. Everyone knew he was king here. One step, then the other. No sign of the intruder...

Music started up from the market, and a few more children snuck to the outside benches to listen. How dare they! Without asking him? He threw his head back, ready to challenge their presence...

When suddenly, from behind the bushes, I leapt out in front of the rooster, waving my arms like a silent banshee as the bird sprang into the air, feathers flying. Around the water tank I chased him, past the sleeping cats and the squawking hens. Over the logs, through the mud, we ran until the rooster was safely in the jungle at the back of his house and silence reigned over that part of the village.

Until the next 50 roosters came stalking over...

You never imagined that rooster chasing would be on a translator's resume, but when my teammate, Rebekah, began working with the local youth of Maipenairu to record songs written in their language of I’ai during our three week travels around Gulf Province, I found myself employed in shooing the noisy flock away from the precious singers and the sensitive recording equipment. I’ll Fly Away suddenly had a whole new meaning...

The youth were very excited and in some places had been practicing
 for hours so the recordings could be perfect.
Throughout our three-week trip in Gulf Province, Rebekah recorded 34 translated worship songs in two different language groups. Some were translations of songs in English or Tok Pisin, but many were original compositions by these talented musicians.

The Kope singers were tireless, not wanting to stop for breaks! photo by Hanna Schulz
 By recording songs and writing down transcriptions, we were not only able to preserve these marvelous snapshots of culture, but it was also a process of encouraging local musicians, validating their use of the local language, and--since Rebekah left burned CDs and SD cards behind--helping spread the message of God’s truth that was so eagerly sung by these choirs.

 Undisturbed, I might add, by nary a crowing rooster.

photo by Hanna Schulz

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Great Bucket Adventure (or 48 Hours Before Village Departure)

Have you ever thought about the wonders of a Bucket?

Buckets are the translator’s best friend. Buckets are not only versatile, but they are ant-proof, water-proof, rat-proof, cockroach-proof and have handles! Buckets in boats can mean the difference between a ruined milky slush and milk powder for your breakfast. They are the protectors of the Pillow, the Hand-Written Translation Data, and the Electronics from the inevitable downpours and crashing waves that are drawn toward cargo like moths to a flame. Yes, buckets are indeed treasured like gold, and it is a rare and precious gift when you are given a hand-me-down bucket.

So, imagine our delight when our store advertised these magnificent 5 gallon buckets for sale! What elegance! What usefulness! And so, four of us on the team immediately each bought a bucket, thrilled with the possibilities for our trip.

Don't they look lovely?

Until it came time to put the lid on.

It wouldn’t. My friends and I began emailing each other... “Is your bucket lid going on? Is there a trick to it...?”

We pried and smashed and twisted and tore, but the lids wouldn’t seal (and then when one finally did, it wouldn’t come off). We emailed the store about the buckets, asking for help, and found out that even online reviewers were having trouble. Some suggested a rubber mallet. Another woman said as long as her husband was around to open and close it, it worked great.

We emailed the store back. Do you sell rubber mallets...or husbands?

Earlier this weekend, one of our guy friends came by to offer his assistance with “anything blokey” that we needed done around the house before we left for the village. We handed him a bucket. “We’ll give you cheesecake in exchange for you opening and closing those buckets,” we told him. Poor guy. At least he burned off all the cheesecake calories.

By the time you read this, the buckets will have been opened and yesterday’s frenzy of packing will have faded beneath the clouds, and I’ll be tucked into a life vest and strapped into a Kodiak, flying across Papua New Guinea to the province of New Ireland. My team and I will spend the next three weeks heading out to a remote island to work with the Tiang and Tigak language groups in workshops on Sunday School book production, Sunday School teacher training, and hymn recording. (I actually worked with both these people groups last June in a similar type workshop.) As with all village trips, I’m excited to see what the Lord has in store for the weeks ahead...

Here I am working with the Tiang last year

But first, I had to get through the Village Prep (cue Lord of the Rings theme music).

Hopefully, I started weeks ahead of time, dehydrating fruit, vegetables and meat, making granola (a bigger experiment than you might I can’t eat oats and nuts and seeds are prohibitively expensive in large quantities), getting the all important chocolate, and planning meals. If all went well, then my team and I would have already planned our classes and purchased the necessary supplies for the workshop (or sent our list ahead to the centre managers for shopping once we arrive). Supposing I was on top of everything, I’d spend the week before heading out finishing up those last details, so that I’d only have to pack it all in bags the day or two before...

Dehydrated pineapple and polenta along with some creative granola!

Of course, there’s about as much likelihood of that happening as for us to get a blizzard and for penguins to show up at my door.

So instead (and especially when you have such an unexpectedly chaotic week like we’ve had) village prep often gets crammed into those last few precious days, and you feel a bit like Noah’s wife must have when she started to feel it sprinkle. What is involved in this undertaking, you ask?


First, there’s trying to get the house ready for departure—and for us, this has included trying to order a new screen door from the US (which has become akin to the task of Frodo hiking up Mt. Doom...). We put up arc mesh over the plate glass window (and try not to fall off the ladder into the security plants all set to impale us with their toxic spines) and check the alarms (and make sure the neighbors have keys and codes) and leave instructions for our employees on where to find their tools and tea supplies (which were bought in bulk and stored in ant-proof, rat-proof, water-proof, raskol-proof containers).

Success! The arc mesh is in place!
We gather emergency numbers from everywhere and give our emergency numbers to everyone and log our travel plans with a dozen different offices and try to figure out why the sat phone isn’t working  (or the radio). We spend hours and hours installing long swatches of chicken wire to try to fix the fence so the dogs won’t escape (since the electric fencer exploded in a cloud of sparks during the last major thunderstorm), attempt to figure out why the one dog is suddenly deciding to throw up, and try to find enough entrepreneurial children to walk and feed our critters. We hand off duties and keys up at the Pony Club, transferring medicines and giving last-minute advice (praying no more medical emergencies will arise).

I know he looks innocent, but this is the face of a mastermind escape artist...

We send last minute prayer updates to supporters, try to write emails to preempt any possible problem that might occur over the next three weeks, attempt to put on an out-of-office reply that won’t spam the world, and try to make sure all bills are paid before we depart for a Land of No Internet.  We buy extra credit for our digimodem, plan for power surges and breaking generators, and try to guesstimate how much fuel we might want to bring. We charge up all our batteries, dry out all our silica gel, load up on water safety gear (and try to decide if shark bags are really worth it?), and bag up all the trash in the house to be picked up the following day.

We leave the kitchen spotless (dishes left out could fall in an earthquake) and clean out the fridge (including the heap of garden produce brought the day before by a village friend), foisting leftover curry on friends and offering cabbages as housewarming gifts. We finish the last loads of laundry and pray it will all dry in time (mold, anyone?).

Thank goodness it was nice and windy!

And then it’s time to pack.

Into the heap go everything from hammer and nails to tarps and headlamps, mosquito nets, medical books and solar panels, pens and notepaper and Bibles (in various languages) and the air mattress and sewing kit and enough medicines to treat an entire army. We ask ourselves, how much toilet paper will we use? How much money will we need? What kind of clothes are most appropriate (will sleeveless in this part of the country be scandalous?). There’s the mosquito repellant and sunscreen and backpack and hostess gifts and laundry powder and clothesline and pillow and knife and maps and enough IDs to let you into a whole host of countries.

The Great Packing Pile is starting on my bed.

And then, all it goes, into double and triple garbage bags and ziploc bags and dry bags and then again into backpacks and pelican case and buckets and boxes (not too big, since smaller boxes are more easily carried by hand or packed into the cargo bay of the Kodiaks) and taped up with the CLEAR packing tape, not the BROWN which is less waterproof, and it finally gets all lugged over the scale where we hope and pray it is still within the range of those few kilos of cargo that we booked months ago for the flight.

Will it all fit?

Finally we pile it all by the front door and set our alarm so we’ll be ready to go when the aviation bus appears at our door at 5:30 am--complete with all our buckets.

Don't forget to keep checking my blog for more stories about my adventures in Gulf Province! I look forward to talking with you all again in a few weeks.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Are you in or out?

This village was home to the debater's club! photo by Susie Pederson
Old men, teeth stained black from years of chewing buai (betel nut), gesticulated wildly amid the shouting, as the young nursing mothers chimed in with a few choice comments, and children mumbled their opinions through mouthfuls of sugarcane. The young men pretending to be bored crowded in close, before one of them burst out in a passionate tirade. Over thirty people were shouting at once in Urama language, until the entire open air shelter shook under the vehemence.

I glanced across the room at my teammates, and raised an eyebrow. Hanna gave me a small grin. I have no idea what they’re talking about either.

Suddenly, the whole group dropped into silence, and the most animated leaned back against the roof supports with satisfaction. One man stepped forward to where Hanna was waiting and calmly pointed to a laminated label. “This village,” he enunciated in English, “belongs in our red circle.”

Does the village name belong inside or outside the red yarn circle? photo by Susie Pederson

Everyone loved to be involved! photo by Susie Pederson

While Hanna, Susie, Rebekah, and I were in Gulf Province for three weeks this past August, one of our goals was to conduct a limited-goals survey through several languages. We wanted to clarify several dialect boundaries and the extent of local language use within the village. Not only would this information be useful for directing Bible translation and literacy projects in the future, but surveys like this are valuable for language research, documentation, and encouraging communities to think critically about their own languages.

Each of us had a different job to do. Mine was to note "unofficial" comments among the crowd. photo by Susie Pederson
Since 2010, survey in PNG has been utilizing specialized activities, which differ from the more confrontational and potentially invasive old survey techniques of questionnaires.These new, colourful, game-like activities create visual representations that invite discussion from all community members, often drawing huge crowds, while allowing the outside facilitators--me and my teammates-- to fade into the background.

The activities were easily led by community leaders. photo by Susie Pederson

This activity was a lot of fun and could easily demonstrate language relationships between villages. photo by Susie Pederson

For example, in the “stoplight” activity described above, putting a village in the red circle indicates that their language is difficult for the community to understand. If a village name is placed in the green circle, then they speak exactly like the community doing the activity. A village name in the yellow circle means they speak differently from the community, but are still understandable. Outside the red circle is not understandable at all.

(Since we had Australian, Canadian, New Zealand, and American English represented on the team, we often would use us as an example. For me, this would mean that the US and Canada would fit in my green circle, but Australia and New Zealand would find themselves in my yellow circle (and maybe even ya'll from the US Deep South). I'd put South African or Singaporian English into my red circle and other languages, like German or Swedish would be outside entirely.)

This activity involves photos and string to help the community represent what language a person from one age group might use when speaking to someone of a different age. photo by Susie Pederson
This activity tries to show which languages people use in different church activities with colored chips representing different languages. photo by Susie Pederson

Despite their great pride in their language and identity, many villages haven’t ever thought about it much, and discussions often lasted long after the yarn and pictures were packed away.

photo by Susie Pederson
photo by Susie Pederson
After all the discussion was exhausted and the questions silenced, Hanna pointed to the completed activity. “Are you happy with this?” she asked. “Do you feel this is correct?” Everyone, including the old woman with the necklace of shiny gold beads, nodded their assent. “Yes,” they grinned at each other. “This is us. This is our language!” 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

8-steps to Perfect Fireworks

It's Independence Day this week! In the US, we like to celebrate with fireworks...but fireworks are a bit different here in Papua New Guinea (PNG). Here are 8 steps to perfect fireworks--PNG style!

Steel wool fireworks! (photo by Craig Campbell)

 1. Make sure it has rained recently enough that starting a brush fire isn’t imminent.
2. Put on clothes that won’t melt if sparks happen to fly your way... Maybe pull your hair back too. And wear shoes. Welding faceshields wouldn’t be amiss either...

(photo by Craig Campbell)

3. Find an old metal coat hanger and bend it into a relatively straight stick.
4. Buy many packets of steel wool (without the soap...the finer the metal, the better).
5. Pull apart the steel wool until it is a fluffy conglomeration and bend the end of the coat hanger around it securely.

(photo by Craig Campbell)

6. Light a candle. Or two. Or three. And place it well away from buildings, people, pets, trees...
7. Light the steel wool from the candle (or a lighter). (Handy tip: If it doesn’t burn well, spray the steel wool with hair spray and try again...)

(photo by Craig Campbell)

8. Whirl the coat hanger with the flaming ball of steel wool in a circle perpendicular to the ground. Attempt to aim away from your body. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How Many Legs Does an Ant Have? (and other storybook translations)

Eileen and Eddy in the Maipenairu classroom; photo by Rebekah Drew
Eileen held up the picture of a rooster crowing loudly from the treetops. “I am a rooster, “ she said in her own language of I’ai. “I like to crow very loudly in the early morning and wake everyone up. Ko-ko-ro-ko!” The children gathered at her feet laughed as Eddy wrote the I’ai words on the blackboard.

Group translation results in community ownership! 
 photo by Robbie and Debbie Petterson
Teachers Eileen and Eddy along with over 20 children from Maipenairu, Gulf Province, were translating simple story books into I’ai to be used in the schools. Lack of basic materials, like books, is a common challenge for many rural schools, and so linguists here have created many picture books that range from simple to difficult that cover familiar topics in PNG life—from animal folk stories to health discussions to counting books (how many legs does a rat have?). Once the words are translated, they are easily plugged into the corresponding picture, and a book is complete. Because PNG is an oral culture, telling stories out loud, rather than first writing them down, often results in a more natural and vibrant translation. In addition, in PNG, people are often more comfortable working in groups to reach a conclusion, rather than individually.

In light of these principles, when I and my team travelled around Gulf Province in August for several weeks, we encouraged a translation process that was more than just pens and paper. First, one of our team would tell the story in English or Tok Pisin (PNG’s  trade language) several times, showing everyone each picture that corresponded to the words.

photo by Robbie and Debbie Petterson

Then, one of the audience members would take the pictures and retell the story in I’ai (or Urama when we were in Kivaumai village), with his or her classmates helping whenever the words were forgotten. Difficult translation concepts (such as the number eight when the counting system was only specific up to five) were discussed noisily by the whole group until they came to resolution.  Within only 2-3 repetitions, the translation would be complete, and they could then retell it for a scribe to write on a blackboard.
Here I'm working with a group of Urama speakers in Kivaumai
photo by Hanna Schulz
 Finally, as the whole group read aloud together, they could refine the spelling, punctuation, and phrasing until it met with their satisfaction and was ready for publication.

photo by Hanna Schulz

In the evenings, after Robbie checked the spelling and recorded the stories, Hanna, Rebekah, Susie and I would painstakingly create one copy of an A4 “big book” (our typeface was colored pencils and the binding was dental floss...) to leave behind. The plan is to print more A5 books to send back to the villages once we headed back to a land of printers and computers. We were able to create 20 books in total, which was a significant increase in their language’s corpus of literature!

photo by Hanna Schulz
A simple counting book: "An ant has 6 legs." photo by Hanna Schulz
“I am a rooster,” Eileen’s eyes twinkled as she turned to a picture of a smirking, preening rooster. “Hens like to follow me because of my beautiful feathers! Ko-ko-ro-ko!”

photo by Hanna Schulz

Monday, September 8, 2014

One Akora, Two Akora

Having fun with Uniskript! photo by Robbie and Debbie Petterson
The schoolchildren crowded in closer, intently watching the cards. Robbie scribbled a few more symbols, then held them up for all to see. “What does this say?” he asked. The children mouthed the sounds silently, some raising their fingers to make the signs to help them remember. “O’o!” they shouted in unison. “Right, now let’s try another one...” and Robbie began to shuffle a few more cards. The children grinned to each other—they were reading, and it was fun!

We worked with both students and teachers like these ladies
photo by Hanna Schulz
Robbie Petterson is pioneering the use of Uniskript in the Gulf Province to write down the local languages. Originally developed by YWAM (Youth With a Mission) to assist in literacy in developing countries, Uniskript is a phonics-based teaching method that creates a pictorial and familiar bridge into the strange world of reading. In 2013, Robbie and Debbie Petterson, along with Gulf Province teachers Roy, Nelson, Anna, and Esther travelled to YWAM’s school in Hawai’i for several weeks to learn how to teach Uniskript in Papua New Guinea. This past August, I, along with several other teammates, joined Robbie and Debbie in 3-week trip around Gulf Province, helping teach Uniskript and encourage local classrooms in many different villages.

photo by Robbie and Debbie Petterson
For many children in oral-based cultures, reading is a new and difficult concept, and the letters found in traditional Roman script (such as the English alphabet) have no meaning or connection to their daily life. Uniskript uses pictograms or icons of familiar, cultural shapes, such as arrows, fish nets, crab hooks and shells, to depict the way the mouth works when creating sounds. Illogical spelling, which is often a barrier to reading well, is no longer an issue, because the children can easily sound out words. Reading becomes enjoyable and accessible, rather than an insurmountable mountain, and later, students can more easily transition to Roman script.

This teacher was using Uniskript extensively, and taught all his lessons on the blackboard with the Kope symbols (listed under the Roman alphabet at the top)

I'm introducing Uniskript to a class of 7-8th graders who were struggling 
 with literacy; photo by Robbie Petterson
After watching and learning from Robbie, I thoroughly enjoyed working with a group of students in Akoma village, using the Koriki Uniskript to encourage them in reading. The kids caught on quickly (even though I didn't know the language) and by the end, were easily reading and putting together simple sentences.

How does it work? Wander over to a mirror (or find a friend) and say the first vowel sounds of “ee” in “eat.” Repeat. Watch your mouth. Now say the “ae” sound in “ate.” Say “ee.” Now say “ae.” Which sound makes your mouth bigger? If you don’t know, say them again.

photo by Robbie Petterson

You’re right—“ae” is bigger! Now point one of your fingers and hold it over your mouth while you say “ee.” See how it covers your teeth? Now say “ae.” The one finger isn’t enough anymore—you need two pointed fingers to cover your teeth.

We can translate this into symbols.

This is the symbol for an arrow (akora) that many Gulf children would recognize from carvings. It also is similar to the straight line made by a finger. So this symbol now means the sound “ee.”

To make the sound “ae” we need two fingers. So, let’s use two akora.

And so, we can progress through all the sounds in their alphabet, teaching the kids to become aware of how they make sounds and how they blend together.

(For my linguist friends, the card Robbie is holding is the symbol for "g" as in "gate" in Kope Uniskript. It shows the shape of a tongue rising to the palate and the dot in the middle indicates voicing.)

The boy on the left could already read short books in Uniskript
and his younger brother was starting to follow along! photo by Susie Pederson
We played matching games and relays and jumping games and races, until learning became fun and the sounds made sense. Some kids who had been introduced to the system earlier were already reading some books produced in Uniskript. This then makes the transition to Roman letters much easier, because the concepts of using books, of linking sounds to symbols, of the messages hidden in sentences are already present. It's like playing with hieroglyphics!

Did you know that September 8th is International Literacy Day? The literacy rates in Gulf Province are historically quite low, but this year, PNG's National Literacy Week is focused on this part of the country. This week, educators from all over PNG are gathering in Gulf to celebrate literacy and draw attention to literacy needs throughout the country. Robbie and Debbie are hoping to share about Uniskript and continue to test its effectiveness in local schools.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

When a Log Is Not a Log and other Gulf Adventures

The sleeping by Rebekah Drew
“Look! Look! It’s a crocodile!” Hanna, Rebekah, Susie and I all gaped in amazement at the giant creature lounged on the bank. He was over three metres long and smiled at us indulgently, as we kept a respectful distance. 
Look, Mom! Across the water is Australia! (I'm second from left) photo by Debbie Petterson
And thus began our three-week trip around eleven villages in Gulf Province this past August, where we were assisting Robbie and Debbie Petterson, the primary translation team in the province, with a whole slew of tasks. (Eventually we saw 10 crocs, from monsters ruling the riverbanks to smaller creatures cared for by villagers. And I discovered that yes, indeed, they look very much like logs floating in the river. But they are not logs. They have teeth. And a taste for, well, anything remotely edible. And those are very important distinctions.)

We travelled everywhere by river, so Susie (middle) got very adept at burrowing into her lifejacket and catching a bit more sleep (alas, most of the time it rained while we were in the dinghy, including a massive downpour for 2.5 here I'm enjoying the sun (left)); photo by Debbie Petterson
Those eleven villages up and down the Purari, Era, Pie rivers encompassed 6 different languages, where we trained teachers, did linguistic analysis, assisted with the Jesus Film back translation, tested hundreds of school children, translated storybooks, recorded songs, analyzed dialect and language use, typed up portions of a draft of Acts, and encouraged some local translators.

And we even built driftwood sea-monsters! photo by Debbie Petterson
It was a whirlwind trip, but God blessed it enormously, and I am so grateful I was able to be a part of the work God is doing down there!

The rivers were extremely smooth and there were lots of little channels everywhere

I look forward to sharing more stories with you about our adventures, but for now, enjoy some photos of the beautiful Gulf Province!

The villages were built right on the water, with canoes and boats as their version of "cars."

One village, Kivaumai, was right on the Pacific ocean (called "Deception Bay")
Houses are built on stilts so they don't get flooded when the tide comes in (rivers here are tidal--they flow both directions depending on the time of day!)

photo by Hanna Schulz

This little girl had a pet cuscus photo by Rebekah Drew
photo by Hanna Schulz

Everyone travels by canoe here, even the tiniest children. photo by Rebekah Drew

Look at this giant fish! It fed the whole village and was very tasty photo by Rebekah Drew

There were many beautiful butterflies everywhere; photo by Rebekah Drew

photo by Rebekah Drew

photo by Rebekah Drew

A hornbill! photo by Susie Pederson