A few months ago we wrote about preparing and getting to the village. Now we’d like to share with you about what day-to-day life looks like once we get there!
Once our family arrives in the village, we spend a good deal of time standing around, shaking hands with acquaintances, hugging our friends and just chatting. Our western minds itch to begin checking off the mental to-do list swimming around in our heads. There is so much to do to get settled, but we’ve learned how important it is to Papua New Guineans to just spend time talking with them for a little while first. So we stand and smile and talk. They love to hear Aaron’s limited Mamusi skills, and it seems to bring a fresh wave of pleasure every time. Rebekah and the kids have learned little more than greetings, but the kids’ efforts to speak Mamusi always receive quite the reaction. Our attempts are either completely hilarious or it brings them such genuine joy, they can’t help but laugh out loud and holler about it. Eventually the crowd thins out and they kindly order us to get our pikinini (children) settled, fed, and rested.
After a general and very superficial dusting and sweeping of the two bedroom house temporarily provided by the community, Aaron begins to assemble the bunk cots in the kids’ room while Rebekah arranges the food and school supplies. The kids put their clothes away and happily unpack the one cardboard box of toys and books. Everyone at this point is still developing their own routine for getting settled, but when the stuffed animals are unpacked, very loud happiness ensues from each child.
If you have kids, you understand how quickly and urgently needs arise to use the restroom. Many teams serving in PNG use a type of outhouse, called a liklik haus, like most of their Papua New Guinean neighbors. We are very blessed to have an indoor toilet that we flush with buckets of water we carry in, as well as a sink and shower inside the house! This government house was built recently to house medical staff (unfortunately, we have never known them to be fully staffed, but it’s given us a temporary house nonetheless). In addition to the two bunk beds, two Action Packers (plastic storage bins with locking lids) are pushed together with an air mattress atop them for the fifth kids’ bed. They take turns sleeping on this “special” bed, with lawn chairs serving as the rail. We (the parents) have our own room, and the double cot and air mattress do not take long to assemble. Aaron also has to set up the radio and its antenna for communication, a feat which deserves its own post, though our mothers might not approve.
After the first day or two, we settle into a general routine for the duration of our stay in the village. We enjoy breakfast seated together in camp chairs at our tablecloth-laden cooler inside our one main room. We have many great memories at this “table.” After breakfast, which is often oatmeal, quinoa, or leftovers from the previous evening, we work together to clean up and rearrange the rooms for school. The cooler/table is now laden with pencils, shared books, erasers, crayons, etc. Evie, Abel, Judah, and Zeke each have their own Action Packer that serves as a desk and their own plastic basket that holds their notebooks and textbooks. One trip in the village, we had a large picnic table in our main room where we ate and did school. This worked, but not quite as well as the Action Packer desks. However kind and peaceful you believe our children to be, they really despise doing their schoolwork when they are forced to look at, listen to, or possibly even be touched by one another. They still do not have much space with this Action Packer setup, but elbow room and offensive staring prevention are much better for us all, as compared to seated at one table.
After hand pumping water from the rain collection tank up into our header tank, taking out the garbage (it’s a bit of a walk) and fixing whatever structural, functional, or technical kink has occurred that morning, Aaron will usually head into the village. Often Silas and/or Zeke will go with him. Keep in mind if someone is sick with malaria or a skin infection, our entire day unravels and Aaron has to stay in to substitute teach or help with meals or nurse his own sick self in bed. If either Aaron or Rebekah are ill, the other will just buckle down and survive. Sickness is a fairly consistent and draining struggle we deal with regularly. By God’s grace, we have always been thoroughly counseled through sickness by our amazing medical staff back at our base in Ukarumpa. Shall we pause now and thank God for missionary doctors? Yes, let us.
Now let us imagine it is another normal healthy day. After rounds of lessons and initial instructions to her students, Rebekah carries the laundry up to a public tap to wash. Frequently joined by neighboring women or those visiting the nearby clinic for medical care, these laundry times are well worth the physical exhaustion. All the women in this section of the village share this one tap, but no one minds standing around and waiting their turn, as it gives ample opportunity for social time. After a week or two, Rebekah’s back and arms are a bit more used to the labor than when we first arrive. Occasionally, she ends up doing laundry alone, but the flowers, gorgeous mountain view, and being out of earshot of the normal bustle inside the house are still quite energizing.
After outdoor recess, the kids mostly finish their schoolwork before lunch. Aaron has usually rejoined us by then. Our lunch could be watermelon or trail mix or cucumbers, but typically some combination of those three things. Popcorn is a rare treat since we avoid starting another fire before dinner. We always eat lunch on the porch, rain or shine, since getting outside can be so refreshing when it gets rather warm inside. Aaron fills us in on his activities and interactions for the morning while we eat together.
Anytime we go outdoors, we slather on bug spray to ward off mosquitoes and small biting insects we call sand flies. We are not sure of their official name, but they are essentially a much hated combination of fleas and fire ants, whose accursed bites last for weeks. (Some of you just sent us several pairs of tall socks to help block these nuisances. Thank you!)
After lunch, we have quiet time so Silas, and often Zeke, can nap. Evie, Abel, and Judah will finish up schoolwork and read for a while. Aaron will study and work on his language data. Rebekah will work on laundry, grading schoolwork, dinner prep, etc. All of us spend some time recharging a bit in the relative quiet. Eventually, the kids wander back outside for soccer or an adventure either with each other or with our neighborhood children. We have good visibility from our house, giving them ample boundaries to play in.
For dinner, Aaron usually starts the fire in our haus kuk, which is a small building with benches and a fire pit. This one has several leaks, so lighting damp firewood has been a source of significant frustration. At one point we had a stove on our porch, but we ran out of fuel and weren’t able to find any more to purchase. So to the damp firewood we go! Our neighbors are always willing to help when we have to break down and admit defeat. Once the pots are on the fire, we often play games while we wait.
We usually have one pot for kumu (garden greens of many varieties) and another pot for meat sauce (using dehydrated beef with tomatoes) or starchy vegetables. All of our vegetables and fruits are generous gifts from the community. Join us in thanking God for using their generosity to keep us healthy, and in asking God to bless their gardens in abundance! The kids’ favorite way to eat kumu is sautéed with onions, and one of the kids’ most tolerated ways (favorite would be too generous a word here) to eat the starchy vegetables is cooked in fresh coconut gris (cream). Often, we reheat this very food for breakfast the next day, which the kids do not particularly care for. But the absence of refrigerated food storage leads us to this method so none is wasted. More often, we give away our cooked food to a neighbor, since they habitually give us hot food (sometimes we even receive cooked chicken or turtle, yum!). Our Southern partners will be delighted to know that we never return a dish to neighbors empty, nor do our neighbors!
Often at dinner we play games and amuse ourselves in various hilarious ways. As we wash and put away dinner dishes, the kids rotate turns getting cleaned up before bed. Showers are refreshingly, often bracingly, cold, but we’re very grateful that we can do it inside! With not much power to spare for lights, we generally go to bed by about 6:30 pm, fairly soon after dark. Since we all sleep in very close proximity, we can enjoy our nightly tradition of reading aloud and praying together after lights out. The frogs and insects sing us to sleep, as we recharge for another day in lovely Sivauna.
So there’s a quick summary of how life worked in our first two village stays. We are so excited that our new village house is now nearing completion. Our two sending churches, as well as many of you, have generously given towards this project. A crew of construction workers from Ukarumpa came to Sivauna twice and worked with Aaron and lots of Mamusi men to erect the structure. The Mamusi Translation Center is downstairs and our living quarters is upstairs. It took two of these trips, but the building now has a roof, exterior walls, doors, and plumbing! We still have a lot of work to do inside, but we will move into it next month, working as we go, so we can make progress on language and culture learning.
This post has been a difficult one to write because we have so much to say when everything is very, very different from our life back in the States. These days also involve, birthdays, holidays, and even losing a first tooth. As we struggle to make our kids feel loved and special in new unique ways, we often fall short. But God’s grace is abundant and His strength is mighty indeed when paired with our endless weaknesses. Praise God that He has chosen our family and a few hundred believers (many of you!) to invest in the Mamusi people. We certainly couldn’t do it without your prayers and financial investment!
Are there any burning questions at the front of your mind that you would like to ask us about our daily lives in the village? Leave a question in the comments and we’ll do what we can to answer it!