Friday, 18 August 2017

Mud, glorious mud!

It is rainy season down here in Gulf. That means that a day without rain
is rare, and most days there is frequent, heavy rain. The product of all
this rain is constant mud. My gumboots are my primary footwear, as
everywhere I go I am walking very carefully, trying not to slip or sink
too deep. Even with gumboots I need to wash my legs when I get home due
to the splash factor. The locals are clearly used to the mud, as one
Sunday after I trudged to church in my boots, my neighbour turned up
with his shoes clean and dry!

When in Ubuo, I usually go to Goiravi each Wednesday for language class
and Bible study with the ladies. Most of the year I just walk there. It
is about a 15 minute walk, half of which is getting from my end of Ubuo
to the other end, and half of which is the distance between the two
villages. This is rather close, considering there is a change in dialect
between the two places!

During muddy season, I've been told that the path is too muddy for me to
go and visit. Never mind the fact that members of the translation team
come and go from Goiravi every day, it has been declared too muddy for
me. Instead, I have been organising a boat to take me there. Last week
this was a dinghy and motor. The little river cruise was quite lovely,
but there was a delay in my return as they tried to find a few kina to
buy some more fuel.

This week I insisted that a motor was not necessary, but that a canoe
with paddle would be fine. A friend came with her canoe to pick me up in
the morning. It was barely big enough for me to wiggle my hips into so
that I could sit down. I was expected to sit, while the four year old
was expected to stand up and help paddle. Kids here really do have good
stability when it comes to canoes! On the other hand, I am a known

The paddle from Ubuo to Goiravi was a nervous ride for me. I did not
want to tip the canoe, mostly because I didn't want it to be the last
time I was trusted to ride in a canoe, but also because I did not want
to tip the 4yo into the water, as well as not wanting to tip my books,
tablet and speakers into the water. As we use the Jesus Film as part of
our Bible study, I was travelling with water sensitive cargo.

We made it in one piece, and I managed to extricate myself from the
canoe without incident. Bible study went well, but by the time I was
ready to return to Ubuo, the tide had gone out and paddling was not a
good option, so we came back along the path. The last few days had been
less rainy and more windy, which had improved the road somewhat. A few
days ago, I expect that it was the kind of mud in which a slip would
swallow me whole, and in 5,000 years someone would dig me up as a
mummified corpse and comment that I had muesli for breakfast. The wind
had turned it into a squelchy and slippery clay route, with no puddles
deep enough to over-top my gumboots. I made it home in one piece, with
only the usual amount of mud on my boots and on myself.

While rainy season means endless mud, it is also the windy season,
making the weather much more pleasant. It also happens to be butterfly
season, so brightly coloured butterflies are a regular sight as they
drink the hibiscus nectar in the front yard. Still, I'll be glad when
the drier season commences and life is less muddy.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Layer upon layer

It has been a few months since I last posted on my blog, a few months that have been full of many and various things. The main feature of this time has been a chronic headache. If it lasted one day, it is the kind of headache I would ignore and get on with life, but when it dragged on day after day, it dragged me down.

In the meantime we have investigated potential causes of my headache and ruled out anything sinister. Instead, I have realised that it is likely the end result of doing too much for too long, of too many layers of stress building up until my body started to complain. There is not one stressor that I can blame, but layer upon layer of things that have combined to become too much.

Now I am faced with the challenge of peeling back these layers, assessing my commitments, deciding what I keep, and moving forward slowly and carefully. When there are so many good and important things needing doing, that I am capable of doing, it is hard to say no to some of them. I am also working on building better self-care habits to prevent this kind of thing happening again.

This blog has become one of the things put aside for now. I enjoy the process of writing and sharing, but had put myself under pressure to post something every week. At some stage I intend to return to writing out my thoughts and putting them here, but it will not be to a regular schedule, and I'm not sure when I will start up again.

Thank you for your patience and your prayers. I look forward to returning to blogging, but don't know when that will be. 

For now, I will leave you with a few pictures…


When working on our dictionary, it was often beneficial to take a photo, as well as to write a description.


Our kitten did not like anything other than him being the focus of attention, and kept trying to get in on the pictures. In the end, we just gave him his moment in the spotlight…

Monday, 27 February 2017


Wednesday: As is usual, we headed to the next village for language class and Bible study with the ladies there. For our Bible study we watch a portion of the Jesus Film in Kope, read the same story from the English Good News Bible, and use study questions from an Easy English guide to Luke. This week we looked at the story of the demon possessed boy in Luke 9:37-45. One aspect of the story which we highlighted was that while Jesus had power over demons (v42), he also was going to allow people to have power over him (v44). When we, like the disciples, do not understand what is happening, we still need to trust that God is in control and has a plan.

Luke tells the story fairly briefly. In Mark we are told that "Many times the evil spirit has tried to kill him by throwing him in the fire and into water" (9.22). Matthew says that "He is an epileptic and has such terrible fits that he often falls in the fire or into the water" (17:15). These details did not matter to me on Wednesday, but they came to mind soon enough.


Friday: As is usual, we started the day with language class followed by gathering on my veranda to translate hymns into the Kope language. This is always a pleasant way to end the week, as there is much singing involved and people are enjoying the task. Not too far away, a group of mothers were sitting in the shade making new thatch for the elementary school roof, chatting and enjoying each other's company while working for the community.

We were working on the song "Come to the Saviour*", which has the chorus "Happy, happy, happy we will be, when from sin our Saviour makes us free; and we shall gather, Saviour with you, in our eternal home," when a ruckus broke out. The mothers by the school started talking louder and louder, with occasional cries being mixed in. The noise and the crowd came closer, to the house across the path from us. This is when the wailing started, as the body of their recently drowned 14 year old daughter was returned to them.

Stories were flying, but from what I could gather, she was an epileptic, and it was assumed that she had had a fit while near the water, and that it had caused her to drown. When her younger siblings found her, it was too late to save her. The kind stories called her an epileptic; others called her a mental case. No one called her demon possessed, which I was thankful for after the story we had studied two days earlier.

For a dead teen to be brought home to the neighbours while we were singing a song about the joy of our eternal home was quite a juxtaposition. This juxtaposition grew greater when to close our work for the day we quietly sang "To God be the Glory".  This is a hymn that has been sung at many funerals in my family, so to sing it with wailing in the background brought the realities of life and death home in a very personal way. Yet the message of Wednesday remained true, that we need to trust God even when things make no sense, such as the drowning of this teenage girl.


Saturday: The village is quiet.

During the evening before, the girl's body has been moved from the house across the road to somewhere else, most likely the church, and we could not hear the wailing from our house anymore. While a village usually has the sounds of people chopping wood, kids playing and people laughing, there was the silence of respect for the dead. The only noise was the roosters, who respect no one. Late afternoon the wailing built in volume as the family, mourners and body came our way. They did not pass by to the cemetery, which is along the path from our house, but stopped across the road, to bury the girl beside her house. It was a brief ceremony, with the young men filling the grave and decorating it with leaves and flowers afterwards.


Sunday: Before dawn I woke to the sound of wailing, as someone from the grieving family sat by the grave and let out their feelings. In Australia we grieve quietly and wear dark glasses to hide our red eyes. Here feelings are expressed with much volume, and in many ways I think it is a healthier path.

Later in the morning, I sat on the front step of our house, enjoying the sunshine and waiting for the church bell to ring, indicating it was time to gather for worship. As I sat I watched a range of butterflies flit by, each one with its own beautiful and colourful design. Each butterfly reminded me of the brevity of life, the beauty of the hope we have in resurrection, and the unpredictable flight path of God's design in the world. Their life as beautiful butterflies is rumoured to be quite short, yet it is glorious while it lasts. I too should live out the fullness of the life I have, while I have it. They have gone from caterpillars to butterflies, while we go from broken humans to a perfect eternity. Butterflies rarely fly in a straight line, but weave their way about on a route that makes sense only to them. Just as unknowable are the details of God's plans in the world. When death has come so close, these were good reminders for me to have.


*Sing His Praise #101. This hymn book has revised and adapted hymns to have easier English, so that they can be better understood in the PNG context.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Pack lightly?!

I am always impressed by people who can travel with only hand luggage, as I always seem to carry half the house with me. As much as I value simplicity, when it comes to packing, I am not very good at it.

There are always reasons for the things I ship. Flying down to the village this time I had over 100kg of cargo. Maybe a third of this was fresh vegetables for my friends at the mission hospital, plus some for me. Another portion was books and resources for the translation team, which always weigh a lot. I'm booked for 25kg on the way home, as the food will have been eaten, resources left in the village and gifts distributed.

Even for an overnight village trip I do not pack lightly, but take two bags. The first bag is my office bag, with a small library of relevant resources and all the paperwork for the work we are doing, carefully wrapped in waterproof bags in case of rain or an incident on the river. This is always the heaviest bag. My other bag is the household bag. I pack the bedroom (mattress, mosquito net, sheets, pyjamas, fresh clothes), the bathroom (soap, toothbrush, towel), the kitchen (breakfast and snacks for me; tea, coffee, sugar, salt, rice and tin fish for sharing) and emergency supplies (a small pharmacy and first aid kit, satellite phone and locator beacon). I draw the line at packing the kitchen sink, but I do bring my own spoon.

On a recent holiday I was staying somewhere that bedding and towels were provided, and we could buy food locally. I was surprised at how light my bag was when these things were provided! I kept thinking I must have missed something, but after a few days it proved that I had not. The secret to packing lightly was not that I had previously been over packing, but going somewhere that I did not need to bring half the house. That makes me feel a bit better about the cargo I usually drag about with me. It is the cost of working off-grid.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Sunday Afternoon Sport

On a recent Sunday afternoon there was a friendly soccer match between one of the Ubuoo teams and a team from a nearby village. I say friendly, but as sport is basically socially endorsed organised warfare, I'm not sure there is ever a truly friendly match, as there is always rivalry.

I wandered down late in the afternoon to watch the game, once the heat was out of the day. Walking along the side of the field I was greeting people good afternoon about every three steps. Others can walk along and only say hi to friends, everyone says hi to me, weather they know me or not. Soon enough I found a friend, and sat down to watch the match with them.

As I sat down the place they had been happily sitting, in the shade at the foot of a coconut tree, was no longer deemed safe, in case a coconut fell. Someone was dispatched to get a mat and we were soon sitting away from the tree, on the mat, in the shade. Our place under the tree soon filled with people who had been concerned for my safety, but appeared unconcerned for their own.

I do not follow sport, so watching the game was a purely social affair for me. I suspect that the game was rougher than soccer is usually, as all the players were more familiar with rugby, and occasionally slipped into those habits. As I understand the rules to neither rugby nor soccer, I may well be mistaken.

I do know that the field was not exactly standard. We were in our drier season, when it only rains every second day or so, with strong sun in between. This means that there was only one significant mud pit on the field. The other mud spots had been 'improved', by packing them with logs and surrounding them with clay that the sun had baked solid. It is a good thing the players were built tough, as this was not a forgiving field.

The referee for the match was our paramount chief, and as ref and chief, he was appropriately wearing a shirt with 'BOSS' written across it. Both teams seemed to listen to him and his whistle. Along the boundaries were two umpires, with leafy branches to wave in place of flags. The ball they were playing with was very well worn, with the outer skin clearly peeling off in several places.

At one stage during the game, the ball was coming off field in my general direction. We'd earlier joked that we did not need to move further from the sidelines as I'd be able to defend myself from a rogue ball. I quickly discovered that there was no need to defend myself, as about six teen girls jumped between me and the ball to ensure it had no chance of injuring me. It was like I had my own personal security team! 

As the sun set, the game ended with the Ubuoo team winning 2-0. People scattered back to their homes in the village or to their canoes to paddle back to the other village. I wandered home, having enjoyed sitting with friends in the shade, even if I understood nothing of the game going on before us.

Sunday, 5 February 2017


"Ahu!" is a common word to hear as people get on or off a canoe. It is a word applied to me, more than to others, as in this context it means "Be strong!" which means to move carefully, not fall on the muddy river bank and to not tip the canoe. Locals are good at avoiding such slips and trips, I am still learning. With a basic meaning of "strong" ahu can also be used to describe ground that is hard/strong and work that is difficult/takes strength. A physically strong person is pupuo, not ahu, as the word has a different range of use to "strong" in English.

While in the village I am told to be ahu about slippery things, at home I am asked what verses and words are difficult to translate, or which things are ahu. The answer is that it is very hard to predict, as was proven to me with Luke 6:46-49; the story of the wise man building on a strong foundation and surviving a flood, while the foolish man built with no foundations and was wiped out by the flood.

I expected these verses to be easy as people here dig deep to make a strong foundation, to survive a flooding river. It seemed to me that the scenario depicted was familiar, so should be easy to translate. In fact, the day we started on it was a king tide, with the water coming all the way through the village to my house at the back. Yet, even with this illustration going on around us, these verses were difficult. The problem was mostly in the phrasing, not in the concepts. Sentences were written and re-written as not being clear enough, or not being natural enough.

Eventually we got a satisfactory draft, but a week later when we were checking all of Luke 6, it underwent another round of revisions. Two months after that, when I was back in the village and we read the end of chapter 6 to help us get started on chapter 7, it underwent another series of revisions!

While these verses proved themselves ahu to translate, I also had to be ahu. Sitting through yet another round of discussions of the same four verses yet again, tests my patience and endurance, and requires inner strength. I need to remind myself that it is good that people are taking the work seriously, and seeking to have the best translation possible. Rather than sitting and getting frustrated, I remind myself to be praying for the work. I cannot contribute the right phrasing for it to be clear and natural Kope, but I can be praying for wisdom for those who do have that ability.

Photos: My Ubuoo house during a king tide (which happens two or three times a year) and in normal conditions.