Now’s the time to explain how everything worked, logistically. We know you’re wondering what we did all day. Some of the everyday things we take for granted in the West become difficult or impossible without power or running water. We were challenged in numerous ways, both expected and unexpected. But like most challenges, the Lord used them to grow and stretch us in ways that will be invaluable later on.
Basic household tasks had to be nearly completely relearned. We were blessed to have a stream maybe 40 yards behind our house, so at least carrying items back and forth wasn’t a huge ordeal. We only brought the essentials, so three times a day, all our dishes, pots, and utensils had to be carried and washed to be ready for the next meal. We became pretty good at stacking everything inside the big pot that we cooked in, so we would take everything we’d used, and our cleaning supplies down to the stream. Unaccustomed to these daily labors, Rebekah rotated between bending over, squatting and sitting on a rock. If the water was too deep, the food would just float around in the stagnant water. Finding a good spot with some current was essential to a clean rinse. Stones could be relocated to manipulate the flow, depending on how much rain we’d had. A deeper spot was advantageous for bathing or washing clothes (especially sleeping bags) as well as some of the massive pots Wasmama (our foster mother) would use when she was feeding more then 8 or 10 people. One sign of the value of a wife, in traditional PNG culture, is the cleanliness and shine of the OUTSIDE of her pots.
Much of Rebekah’s time was spent here at this stream. When there weren’t dishes to do, there was laundry or children to wash. We brought 3 changes of clothes each (that was the rule of thumb we were given: one to wear, one to wash, one to dry), so a load of laundry had to be done every day to keep up. We’d try to soak them in a covered, soapy bucket overnight so the dirt wasn’t quite as stingy. But we usually forgot this part, or we were too exhausted to fetch one more bucket of water, so the laundry brush was essential. We also brought our own soap. You could either stretch out your leg and scrub it there (so exfoliating!), or clean a large stone and scrub it there. Once cleaned and rinsed, the clothes were air dried on a line strung between two coconut trees close by the water. It only rained twice during the day while we were there, so the weather was almost always conducive to drying outside. While the monotony and required energy of completing these things every day, coupled with usual and unusual motherly tasks was exhausting, I (Rebekah) found this time to be energizing. This was the absolutely the main way that I connected with other women in the village. They laughed at my pace and efforts, but in a good-natured way. Always willing to step in and help, the women were also a joy to talk to. A significant part of my language and relationship building happened right there at the water. When I wasn’t with a group of ladies, the noise of the stream drowned out other noises (aka whining and fighting of my children) and the place was transformed into my prayer room (and a place of praise when coconuts crashed down and didn’t kill anyone).
The staple foods of the area we were in are cooking bananas (thick and starchy, not sweet), kumu (greens from a vine) and coconut. We brought dehydrated beef, lots of peanut butter, and other miscellaneous items to experiment with and to try to reproduce some family favorites. We had plenty of success and a few flops, but we were never hungry. We’re convinced that you could cook cardboard in fresh coconut milk and it would taste fabulous. One of the regular tasks men generally do is to open and scrape coconuts. Aaron would open one by whacking it with a bush knife (machete) around the equator until it split open. Then he would use a little stool with a sprocket-shaped piece of steel to scrape out the white meat inside. Once scraped, the coconut ‘rice’ could be ‘milked’ into a bowl or pot to be cooked with. Every meal and cup of coffee was prepared over a fire, using a handy fire grate we’d been provided. By the end of our time there, we were at least moderately competent at fire building and maintaining…maybe slightly below the level the average 4 year old in the village.
The liklik haus (outhouse, literally ‘little house’) set apart for our use by our wasfamili (foster family) was located just on the other side of the stream. This was challenging not just for the distance involved but because the kids were constantly wet from the knees down from crossing back and forth. We kept the smells under control by taking a shovelful of ashes over every couple of days and dumping them down the hole. The bugs and spiders that lived in the liklik haus were not a pleasant part of life, but again, it was great preparation for life in this part of the world.
Our highest stress levels probably occurred at bedtime, at least for the first week or so. Being so close to the Equator, daytime here is pretty much 6am-6pm. Without indoor lights, we really needed to start the bed process before it got dark. We started out with all the children sleeping in one bedroom, divided among three of our mosquito nets (malaria-bearing mosquitoes bite only from dusk to dawn, so that’s when we had to take extra precautions). The nets had to be hung from the ceiling or walls by strings, and they had to stay tucked under the bed mats so that critters couldn’t crawl in underneath. We brought some pieces of thin linoleum to rest the mats on, because we’d heard it was much easier that way, but the combination of slick linoleum, slick sleeping mats, slick sleeping bags, and active-sleeping children made keeping the nets tucked in impossible. So we would finally get everyone tucked in, prayed up, and settled down (this would be about 6:30pm, and no one would be quite ready to go to sleep)…then the potty trips would start. Aaron slept very little the first several nights, making the trip back and forth across the stream to the liklik haus with each child at least once. After a few days we resigned ourselves to having a potty bucket in a separate room for nighttime use, and once everyone got used to that routine in the dark (and after adjusting to our new sleep schedule) things got MUCH better. Our sleeping arrangements are the number one practical thing we know we need to improve our strategy on for next time.
We’ve presented a lot of our physical challenges here, but please know that these inconveniences paled in comparison to getting to live among such amazing, gracious, resourceful, and loving people. Our problems reflected OUR shortcomings as over-privileged North Americans, not any fault of the people or the society. Unlike most of our POC classmates, village living wasn’t a one-off survival test, but rather a trial run for the way we’ll be living much of the rest of our time of service here in PNG. At the end of our three weeks, we found ourselves not begging to get back to hot showers and Internet access, but wishing for more time to spend among our people.