Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy (American) Thanksgiving

Happy American Thanksgiving everybody! Yes, I do have to specify "American" because Canadians have their own Thanksgiving and it was a month ago. When you live an expat life and have expat friends from other countries you learn about and celebrate lots of different holidays. We have celebrated Chinese New Year, PNG Independence, the Queen's birthday, and yes even Canadian Thanksgiving. 

We not only celebrate other nation's holidays we often adjust the ways or even the days we spend our American holidays. 

I remember having to teach classes on Christmas day when we lived in China and it was really weird and sad to me then. Now most of our holidays are not really that big of a deal and I probably would put no effort at all into celebrating them if we did not have children. When you live in a different country with a different culture it is very hard to maintain the traditions of your own culture even if just for a few special days a year. You just can't mold everyone into your thinking about how you want to spend certain days. And there are times that really important circumstances make it impossible to celebrate in the way you normally would. Just like the fourth of July this year when I was in the middle of making stars and stripes cookies and I heard the death wail coming from the trees behind my house. We ended up attending a funeral and not celebrating America's independence that day.

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that always has to be adjusted here because the star of Thanksgiving itself…the turkey, is absent. In fact, most of the traditional Thanksgiving dishes are absent, but we celebrate anyway because our kids need to know where they come from and the stories and traditions of their home culture. 

This year, we will be celebrating with our coworkers on Saturday. John Michael was invited to go with most of the Hewa village into the jungle to hunt for wild fowl eggs (yes, I see the irony of egg hunting on Thanksgiving).  He left on Wednesday and spent two nights in a lean-to shelter he and a friend made when they reached the top of the mountain. He ate grub worms for Thanksgiving while the girls and I stayed home and ate popcorn. 

We were not sad or disappointed. It is just the way it is. 

I frequently like to give advice for people planning to go into missions, and I think this is a big one. Learn to go with the flow on all holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, etc. These are often hard days on any missionary anyway since you are not with your family on days that you normally would be, and if you set your expectations too high trying to create the same atmosphere and feelings you would at home, then you are probably going to be disappointed and depressed. 

This is actually huge for husbands and wives especially. When you live in the middle of the jungle it is really just too ridiculous to expect your spouse to go all out for you on these occasions. Because a romantic candle lit dinner is only going to draw the bugs closer to your food and your face. Talk about it beforehand and agree to celebrate on breaks when you are out or plan small special things for that day in the tribe. And whatever you do, recognize that any small gift or event from your significant other took at least 5 times the effort and energy to accomplish in the middle of the jungle than it would if you were in civilization. 

Find ways to celebrate and spend these special days within the boundaries and capabilities of your new home. Create new fun traditions with what you have and use furloughs to let kids truly experience their own national holidays and the ways they are typically celebrated. 

Above all, be thankful for the life that you have and the privilege to get to know so many other cultures and celebrate so many holidays that you normally wouldn't. Focus on the uniqueness of your life and teach your children to appreciate that God has allowed them to experience things that most people won't ever get the chance to experience.

And whenever possible, wear party hats. 

That is all. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Episiotomy Eggs

I mentioned in a previous post (More Random News) that there is a season in our area where the people go out into the jungle and find huge mounds made by some wild fowl that are only slightly bigger than a chicken. The birds lay enormous eggs in them, and the people take those eggs and have a huge feast. I just wanted to post some pictures in case you thought I was exaggerating.

Here is a wild fowl egg next to what is considered a large chicken egg from the store.

See what I mean? How this bird accomplishes laying an egg this size is mind blowing.

After everyone came back we all had a big mumu where we cook a whole bunch of food in the ground, and the eggs were the main dish. After knocking a little hole in the top of the egg they poured it over some greens wrapped them in leaves and put them in the ground to be cooked.

When it was all over some kids put all the egg shells on a string and brought them to our house. It was an interesting conversation.

"John Michael, look at this" said little Ifonu. 

"Wow, that is really nice. What is it for?" John Michael asked. 

"Just decoration" answered our little friend. 

"Oh, ok, well thanks for showing me."

"Wait, I want to give it to you." 

"Oh, no, you keep it. It is special. You should really have it." 
At this point John Michael is really not wanting a long rope of cracked eggs with bits of slimy remains still inside. We know that in about an hour the sun will have them smelling like Satan laid the eggs instead of a wild bird.

"Ok" says Ifonu as he leaves.

We think we have escaped becoming the owners of the large rope of smelly egg shells when there is another knock at the door.

This time it is Ifonu with an adult and the eggs. He brought the adult because he thought John Michael wasn't really understanding him.

"The village really wants you to have this" says Mas.

"Ok, but what is it for?" asks John Michael again.

"Just for decoration. But we want to give it to you."

"Ok, well thank you very much." answers John Michael as he takes the long sting of eggs. 

We look around and see that many smaller ropes of eggs are hanging from tree branches and outside of houses, so we are relieved to know that we don't actually have to take this thing inside our house. We just hung it on a nail outside our porch and let kids come smash the eggs with their hands like a really weird piƱata for the next few days. When we noticed that other shell string decorations were taken down, we removed ours as well and threw it away. We didn't want to be "that house" that still has Christmas decorations up in March! That would be too embarrassing!

John Michael with the long rope of egg shells.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Crazy Stories from Mas

This is Mas. And these are his stories. They are crazy.

He is a friend from another village who comes to help us with language sometimes. He is a great storyteller and he has some pretty amazing stories to tell.

He was recently being courted (sued for pigs and money) by our neighbor, Jo, for shooting Jo in the leg with an arrow many years ago. It goes something like this:

JM- "Why was Jo courting (suing) you?"

Mas- "My wife was married before to Jo's uncle. But Jo's uncle never paid his bride price, so my wife's brother's hung him from a tree and he died. Then she was a widow so I married her.

One day Jo's uncle's mother secretly fed my wife some of her dead son's flesh*, so my wife became a witch. Once she got a taste of flesh she has to eat more so she eats people's insides and they die. Then some people came and killed her with bows and arrows.

Later, I shot Jo in the leg for the revenge of my wife, and now he is courting (suing) me."

*At this point from what we have understood from our coworkers is that in reality no one actually secretly feeds these women with human flesh, but that is the belief of how they become witches, and people sometimes just take a guess as to who supposedly fed human flesh to them. In this case what probably actually happened is that Mas's wife was marked as a witch because someone got sick and died. Then they just said, "I bet it was her old mother-in-law who fed her human flesh because she was angry that the family killed her son." We don't know for sure exactly, but this is our best guess.

The End.

Story number two:

We were all hanging outside Fato's house (Fato is one of our village and church leaders. You can watch a video of his story here. You can also see it in the background of the picture of Mas, and a lot of other pictures we have. We hang out there a lot). Fato comes walking up from administering medicine to a little boy with a very infected tooth. We were telling him how sorry we felt for the little boy because mouth pain is really bad. Fato said, "Yeah, when your tooth is in pain it shoots straight up to your head and makes you feel like your head is breaking open."

Mas said, "One time, my head was broken open and it hurt a lot."

JM, "What happened?"

Mas answered, "In nineteen ninety....(Mas is thinking long and hard)...EIGHT, there was this big fight in Pasife over a bride price" (can you tell that bride price is really important?) Someone hit me in the head with their ax. My eyes were going around and around and my brains were coming out and then I died (fainted). Then I woke up and got to the house and some men tried to get the ax out but they couldn't. Finally, one man put both his feet on my shoulders and pulled with both hands and got it out. After that, I grabbed my bow and arrows. I came out to shoot but my head was really hurting so instead I got shot in the chest with an arrow (points to huge circular scar in the middle of his chest). I have a big scar in my head too. Here, feel (takes my husband's hand to feel the long thick scar on his head). So...yeah it really hurts when your head is breaking open.

The End.

This has been crazy stories from Mas.

So do you remember what you were doing in 1998?

Good News Bad News

The good news is that my foot is healing nicely and I get to go home to my precious family on Thursday. The bad news is that we have a big email glitch all over the country, so I probably won't be able post on this blog for a while. I will try, but it may not go through.

So I am going to try and crank out several blog posts in the next two days. I apologize for bombarding you with them. Feel free to read at your own pace and leisure.

Today's post is about a little lesson I learned in language and culture about widows.

When we moved into the village we met this lady, Kale (pronounced KAH-lay). She lives in the house right next door to my coworkers with her brother and his family because she is a widow.

Kale or Kesi

 One day another lady came into our village all dressed in black with her head covered and the exposed parts of her skin smeared with mud. I asked another Hewa friend, "Who is that?"

She answered, "Kale." I just thought maybe these two women shared the same name because many people do in and around our villlage. It was only later when my coworker Susan told me that "Kale" just meant "widow" and when you become a widow then that is just what people call you. I later found out that my friend's actual name is Kesi. Go figure.

It is weird and a little morbid for me to say, "Hey, Widow", but that is the culture and they don't think anything about it. It is also a little helpful when other ladies come that are easily recognizable as widows because of their clothing and accessories (dark clothes, head covered, very specific shell necklace, and mud on the face- you can see on the pictures below) I can just call them "Kale" and don't have to be ask around to find out their names.

visiting widow getting medicine for her sick daughter

Another visiting widow and her kids

It is awkward to call someone "widow" but it gets much worse...

 One day John Michael was working with some guys and they were calling out for a man named Luk. Except they didn't say, "Luk" they called him "Yuno Nz Wa".

"Who are you calling?" my husband asked. "Luk", they answered. Many people in our village have several names because people need options for what to call you. Like if your name is "Mary" and they have murdered a lady named "Mary" then they can't say that name anymore, so they need another option.

So, my husband wasn't surprised that he had another name, but the name they were saying was weird. It meant "tree" and "your wife".

"Why are you calling him that?" he asked.

"Because a tree fell on his wife and killed her." they replied.

"Um, what?"

"It is short way to say a tree fell on your wife and she died and now you are a widow."

"Oh, ok." answered my husband while his brain exploded.

He then asked several questions about other widows, and why they are just called widow. They told him that those people's spouses just died of sickness or something, so they are just called widow. But Luk is called "A Tree Fell On Your Wife" because a tree fell on his wife and she died and now he is a widow.

I think I'll just call him, "Luk", he answered.

Luk or "A Tree Fell on Your Wife"

"Ok", they said, and everyone just went on with their work like they hadn't just revealed something mind blowing to the rookie white guy.

It is just so different from our culture where we try to avoid past hurts, and do our best not to remind people of the bad things that happened to them. It is hard for me to know that just by saying someone's name I might be calling them by some sort of tragedy in their past. But it really shows me the benefit of the two name system. Since I have never murdered anyone, and wouldn't be uncomfortable using a name like that I couldn't truly appreciate the practice. Now though, since I am totally uncomfortable calling someone by they way their spouse died, I am thankful that I will always have another option.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


Since I have been in town with internet and have mostly had to stay in bed with my foot elevated above my heart, I have had a lot of time to look at pinterest. I don't even have a pinterest account, but my husband does- you can make fun of him later. Anyway, I like to go on there and find recipes for things that are hard or impossible to get in this country. Finding home made leave in conditioner and home made Febreeze have been life savers, but I have to confess that the stuff on Pinterest is getting a little ridiculous. Like this recipe for home made snickers.

Um? Do you know that you can go to any gas station, grocery store, or Super Wal-Mart and BUY snickers for less than a dollar? *Are Snickers still less than a dollar in America? I don't know- I haven't lived there in 2 1/2 years. 

I also like to get recipes and ideas for kids games and crafts. My kids would have totally forgotten what Play dough was if it were not for the simple and amazing play dough recipe I found.

But even the kid stuff is getting ridiculous. There are now things like make your own glow-in-the-dark rainbow sculpting spackle. All you need is a little flour, baking soda, and ammonium hydrothygleroceramide. Don't worry, if you can't find ammonium hydrothygleroceramide you can order it online. Sure it will get you put on the no fly list, but once you instagram this craft that you did all by yourself with your kids then it will be all worth it!

And then I found this.

These are funny tags that you can put on all the home made gifts that you found on pinterest and you are making for people. So, instead of spending the money on real things they actually want, you can make something that will look really cute, but be totally useless and spend the money on these tags to make the gift even cuter and more useless.

I know this seems completely off the subject and completely random, but I am getting there I promise. I mentioned in a few posts back (Life Choices) a little foul Hewa delicacy called "kuka".

It is gross and smelly and takes a lot of preparation, and it just reminds me of the all this craziness on pinterest. After all the steps were complete, I really wanted to just tell my Hewa friends, "You know you have like 23 roosters running around this village right? Seriously, a little snap of the neck, pluck of the feathers, and throwing in the pot and you have a delicious meal full of protein...And much quieter mornings." To me it seems just as ridiculous as making your own snickers. Just saying.

Anyway, kuka starts with a tree nut. You gather lots of them, break them open and dig out the inside like this...

 Then you have to soak it in water for four weeks or it will KILL YOU. Seriously, it is toxic without the soaking process. 

After you pull it all out of the water you get this disgusting smelly goo...

Dividing kuka goo up to take home.

Big community goo mixed with greens to enjoy together

Then you can take it home and eat it and smell like a dead animal for the next two months. If you can't tell already kuka season is not our favorite time of year. And luckily it is only once a year.

But the kuka season did teach us many new language and cultural lessons. My favorite one is how to tell someone that you do not like something and do not want to eat it.

I am from the South where you eat it even if you don't like it because to embarrass someone else is WAY more embarrassing for you than it is for them. Even if you have an allergy, you politely eat the food and then sneak off to the bathroom to shoot yourself with your epi-pen so you won't have to embarrass your host or inconvenience them with a trip to the emergency room. But in most of the rest of the United States, you can say something like, "I don't care for any, thank you, though." And everyone is ok and moves on with their lives.

In Hewa it is culturally appropriate to say, "If I eat that I will throw up." And everyone is ok and moves on with their lives. In fact, most are silently singing your praises because it means "more for me!"

We actually found a couple of people who agreed with us on kuka and taught us this phrase. It made me really happy to know I was not alone and I laughed at the thought of getting to use that phrase next year!

So, maybe kuka season will be fun after all!  Way more fun than home made snickers!

Friday, November 15, 2013


I know I have been writing a lot about death, grief, pain, and all the difficulties we have been facing lately. Right now I am sitting at one of our mission bases because I had to come out for ANOTHER medical issue. And it is not even the leg I burned in the fire. That injury is a large open wound, but is healing nicely with no infection.
Burned leg. If anything would get infected you would think it would be this huge open wound.

A tiny little graze of a cut is what got infected and turned my right foot into the stand in for Barney-the-dinosaur's right foot. I am sitting here typing this with my huge purple sausage foot propped up on the desk next to me. I have cellulitis. It is a severe skin infection that actually happens a lot in the jungle. I have had it before on the same foot, but the previous time it was resolved very quickly with some antibiotics I had on hand. This time, those antibiotics did not work, so I had to fly out once again to be treated.

Seriously, this sore started out like a paper cut and it turned into this. The marker is to show how much and how rapidly the redness is spreading. There is now a third line above these first two.

The worst part of all of this is that our church leaders are finishing up the teaching of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and I am totally going to miss it. I am completely bummed out.

I would be terribly tempted to once again say, "Why God?" But I just read this really great book about spiritual warfare called, Spiritual Warfare. (great title, huh?) Anyway, I was a little hestitant to read on this topic because I did not want to waste any of my precious Kindle gift card money on some book that was going to talk about exorcism, or garlic, or salt rings or anything like that. But, this one was written by a Southern Baptist, so I thought it couldn't get too crazy right?

In fact, it was written by Jerry Rankin the president of the IMB. It was so good to read and hear all his missionary stories, but then to also hear the practical everyday advise that had nothing to do with being on the mission field. I am going to put one of my favorite parts in here, and since I don't know the rules about quoting other people's book on the internet and stuff, I just want to say again that I did not write this. Jerry Rankin did. So you should all go out and buy the book and become Southern Baptists and give a million dollars to the Lottie Moon Christmas offering. (Is that good enough? Please don't sue me Jerry Rankin.)

He talks about 1 Peter 4:12-13 which says:

"Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange
were happening to you.  Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world."

Rankin comments, "Don't be surprised when you suffer, as if God has let you down. It is a common experience for us in this world just as it was with Christ." 

I know this should not have been such a huge revelation to me...that suffering is normal, but with all that has come at us in such a short amount of time I have been questioning everything.

"What is going on here?"

"What is wrong with this place?"

"What am I doing wrong?"

"God, don't you want these people to believe?"

"Don't you want us here to love and disciple?"

And the Hewans are in the same boat. They are blaming all sorts of reasons and explanations and some have even moved away from our village because they fill like it is full of evil spirits. And honestly, right now I think my foot is possessed with an evil spirit so I am starting to see their logic. 

But what I never really realized this verse was saying is that suffering is NORMAL. Like breathing or eating. And yes, we may suffer even more as believers when we face a spiritual battle, but the truth is because of the fallen world we live in everyone suffers. It is way more in my face in my small village community, but my friends and loved ones in America have gone through tremendous suffering of their own. Loss of parents at early ages. Children born with debilitating diseases, children born straight into the arms of Jesus, children never born at all. Difficult marriages that end in difficult divorces. Death of spouses. Cancer. Suicide. Suffering is everywhere. It is common. Some synonyms for "common" are- usual, ordinary, habitual, average. Suffering is ordinary. Don't be surprised by it. Don't try to come up with a reason for it. The reason is already there. We live in a fallen sinful world. Jesus himself suffered because He came to this fallen sinful world to deliver us from it. "It" being the world and our sin- not the suffering. We will only be delivered from the suffering when we are with Him. Just like the verse says, it makes us partners with Christ and gives us the amazing joy of seeing His glory. 

So, even though suffering is hard. I know that it is normal, and inescapable. But we don't have to suffer forever. We can have joy in knowing that we are redeemed and can look forward to the day when suffering will not even be unusual- it will be nonexistent.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Trying to kill me

Can you guess what is trying to kill me? I don't think you can. 

You would probably say something normal and predictable for someone living in the middle of the jungle. Like malaria. Or dysentery. Or angry ax wielding tribesmen. 

All of those guesses are incorrect. I told you you couldn't do this. I don't know why you even tried. 

My skirts. That is the answer. My skirts are trying to kill me. 

I have mentioned many times in this blog how living a very physically demanding life in the jungle is made ten times more difficult in a skirt. I can't tell you how many times a day I get caught on some sort of tree or stick, or rock. And trying to climb up and over huge logs on trails in a culturally ladylike way is just absurd. I have always felt like the skirts were taunting me with every endeavor I undertook, and I  heard their mocking laughter in my head as they made me look like an idiot over and over again. But now, I am convinced that they are trying to kill me. 

The first time I became suspicious, I was climbing the ladder to my loft to hang up my laundry (yes, my clothesline is in my house and I always have laundry hanging from my ceiling. I call it my "tribal chandelier"). On this trip I was wearing a longer skirt and stepped on the end of it causing me to start to fall backwards because of the heavy bag of wet laundry I had slung over my shoulder. I quickly dropped the bag and threw my body weight forward, so I just sort of slid down the ladder landing in a heap on the floor rather than falling backwards and hitting my head on the various metal boxes containing our electrical system hanging on the wall behind me.
I was a little bruised up, but otherwise ok. I quickly gave that skirt away, but it must have shared its plans with the other skirts while they lay folded on my shelf, because two days ago, another skirt made an attempt on my life. 

I was outside burning my trash in a long flowy skirt. As I poked and stirred the pile to try to make sure everything thoroughly burned so dogs wouldn't drag my rubbish all over the village, I felt an intense heat on my leg and realized that the left side of my skirt had gone up in flames! The first thought that came to mind was, "stop, drop, and roll" but I was in a weird spot surrounded by tall weeds, cassava trees, and a large pile of scrap wood. So, I immediately stripped off my skirt and stayed squatted down so my neighbor who was chopping wood at his house just a few feet from me couldn't see. I was wearing shorts under the skirt, but seeing a lady in a pair of shorts here is like seeing a woman topless at the mall (Ironically, it is ok for women to be topless here.) Anyway, I yelled for John Michael to bring me a new skirt, and I immediately threw the one I was wearing into the fire. This skirt wanted to burn me alive? Well, look who got the last laugh... Me. I did. 

After I got inside and had a mini meltdown about almost burning alive, I looked down to see that I just had a small burn on my leg. It is now all bubbly and gross, but it is definitely better than it could have been. Since the skirt was flowy, most of the fire was contained to the outside layers and just a small portion that folded in actually touched my skin. 

I know I sound like I am exaggerating and being dramatic, but here is the proof that my skirts are totally out to get me (crossing my fingers that this picture actually works).

There, now you know. I am not making this up. I couldn't if I wanted to. Who would have ever guessed that the most dangerous thing in my life would be my skirts