Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Anything Can Happen!

Why is this boy smiling? Because “anything can happen” – that’s why!

His name is Jesse and he’s in my 6th grade class this year. Last June, his family planned to take a short trip of about 8 weeks to the U.S. and return to Papua New Guinea (PNG) on August 28th. However, this meant he would miss six weeks of school. (Because we are a ‘year-round’ school, the beginning of our year was July 22nd.) No problem. The parents and school decided we could pick some core subject areas, like math and language, and send this work with him to the U.S., and his parents could teach him. This is, in fact, what I do for children who travel and live in PNG villages while their parents work on translation.

After I had prepared all his schoolwork and delivered it to his house, Jesse seemed kind of discouraged. It wasn’t because he had to take his schoolwork on an international trip; it was because he knew the trip would be just long enough for him to miss the Ukarumpa Int’l Primary School Sports Day! Jesse is very athletic and competitive. He was going to miss Sports Day – not just any Sports Day, but his 6th grade year Sports Day! Sixth grade is the top grade at the Ukarumpa Int’l Primary School. It was his year to be a “big kid.” After 6th grade… it’s on to the high school.

My advice to Jesse was, “Pray about it.” He just stared at me. Can God do anything? Yes. Does he care about you? Yes. Okay then, pray about it. Anything can happen.

Over the next eight weeks I had some email contact with Jesse’s parents, mainly just to clarify schoolwork stuff. But something else had happened in Ukarumpa: our school was without a PE teacher. The Sports Day is usually completely organized and coordinated by our full-time PE teacher. Without a PE teacher, we agreed, there would be no Sports Day. That wasn’t exactly the answer to prayer that we were looking for.

However, our principal let our community know of the school’s need for a volunteer to organize our Sports Day, and a parent volunteer named Deb bravely stepped forward to do the job. As Deb looked over what needed to be done, she felt there was no way she could be ready the regularly scheduled time, August 28th. We’ll have to post-pone Sports Day until September 11th. Ha! Jesse will be back in Ukarumpa by then! I couldn’t wait to tell him. I wrote him an email, first asking if he had prayed about missing Sports Day? I then explained that Sports Day was post-poned and he wouldn’t miss it after all! I finished off by encouraging him to pray about everything, no matter how impossible it seems.

Anything can happen. Especially with God in charge. And God is always in charge.

Here are a few more pictures from our Sports Day:

Picture 1 - The boys begin their race.

Picture 2 - Jesse does his best at the long jump.

Picture 3 - Some of my students get crazy during the 3-legged race!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Hiking in P.N.G.

The story you are about to read WAS NOT written by me. I know, it's probably bad to post something on MY blog that's not even really mine. (Or is it?) It's written by Rocky Dede, my friend and neighbor. He too, lives here in Ukarumpa and, from the sound of it, has quite a bit more "hiking" experience than me. He has given me permission to post his "story" here on my blog. You can learn a lot about Papua New Guinea just by reading his story. Enjoy.

On my first visit to Papua New Guinea, a large tropical island that nobody can pronounce or spell so they just call it "PNG", I heard that it was a land that was so "unexpected" that even monkeys became too paranoid to stay. After examining the absurdity of such a story I've come to believe it is true. As a case in point, kangaroos, which are naturally built for hopping on the ground, have been forced to learn to climb trees in this land. This is due to the frequency of earthquakes on the island, making it virtually impossible for any hopping creature to land without slipping a disc.

Aircraft is essential for travel in PNG, since nothing resembling a road can be seen anywhere in the country. From the air, one can easily see that the entire landscape is mostly overgrown by the largest species of broccoli known to exist, (granne broccolius arbor). This species is home to more kinds of biting ants than any other in the world, a discovery any newcomer will easily make when leaning against the broccolius while trying to escape the equatorial sun.

Speaking of the sun, the once-thought-to-be-fabled hole in the ozone layer lies directly over Papua New Guinea. I've been told that without sun screen a person with white skin visiting this beautiful land can get skin cancer in 30 seconds or less - if it weren't, of course, for the many native varieties of mosquito - which naturally block all but the most deadly rays. These daytime pests carry an assortment of local "binatangs" (sometimes referred to as "pathogens", or "wogs", depending on your education) that can be injected into even the pudgiest of skin by their sharp, tubular proboscises. And the nighttime ones are far worse.

Fortunately for PNG visitors, there are carbon-belching chemical plants in Australia that produce RID, which can be purchased locally. RID is a creamy substance that makes your body retain all of its heat, but none of its sweat. It is rubbed on skin to keep mosquitoes (called "mossies") from blocking all of the deadly Ultra-Purple rays (UP) from your body. Once applied, the UP rays must be controlled by sunscreen - excuse me - sun BLOCK. (Sunscreen is ineffective against UP rays). The difference between sunscreen and sun block is that sunscreen smells good, goes on smooth, and has cool names that imply tanning. Sun Block, on the other hand, smells like diaper rash cream and is applied best by a trowel. But once applied it lasts for either 5 hours or 5 minutes, depending on whether you have to walk to your destination or not. Since there are no roads, your choices are to re-apply every 5 minutes or burn to a crisp.

This brings me to the most celebrated and practiced pastime sport in PNG: Hiking -- also referred to some as either Nature Walking (if they have never been here before) or Falling Down Cliffs (if they have). After "hiking" in PNG twice and almost living to tell about it, I recommend all visitors follow my physical training regime, which will greatly improve their chances of survival, before they enter PNG. To start, you will need to pick up these items:

2 x large boxes of Velveeta cheese
1 x 5 gallon collapsible container for water
1 x large backpack 1 pair of shoes with cleats
1 large can of insect repellent 1 large bottle of sun block
1 pair of long, loose fitting shorts
1 tee shirt
1 small bottle of live fleas picked from a dog or cat
1 iPod-type device with headphones. It should only have the words, "Watch out, don't fall down!" recorded loudly on it in a continuous loop for playback. (You should get your boss or mother-in-law to be the voice.)

In preparation for your jungle hikes in the Land of the Unexpected, it would be good if you start out doing some basic physical fitness. This ideally should involve some cardiovascular training to increase stamina. This will not help you one bit to hike better in PNG, but you will certainly look better in your shorts and tee-shirt if you do this step.

Next, find a location in your country where there are hiking trails with a rated degree of difficulty 10 (most difficult) and walk there with all of your gear in your backpack. If you find such a location is too far away for you to walk to (as in several states or countries away), don't bother coming to PNG.

When you make it to your nearest high-mountain trailhead, coat your entire body with insect repellent and sun block (remember, not sunscreen). Fill your 5 gallon collapsible water container with water, squat down, and dump the entire contents over your head and body. If you find yourself soaked, dripping with goo, with most of your bug repellent and sun block washed off, you have completed this step successfully. This exercise is to simulate how much sweat your pores will produce in PNG as you turn into a human sprinkler system. Fill up your water container again and place it into your backpack (but not on top of the cheese, as this would make the next step more difficult).

Slip on your cleats and head up the trail. While on the trail, take note of any sheer cliffs that would be too difficult for a mountain goat to climb, and walk to the base of one of those cliffs, no matter what terrain you need to cross to get there (do not skip this step, as this is preparatory and necessary). If you have made it to the base alive, look up. The top of the cliff should be out of sight distance, preferably entering the clouds.

Next, remove the Velveeta cheese blocks from their packaging and set them side by side on the ground. Take a flying leap into the air (as high as you can with your heavy pack on) and plant your cleats into the blocks of cheese on landing. You should now have two heavy rectangular blocks of cheese firmly embedded into your cleats. This is to simulate the wet clay that will build up on your cleats the first three steps you take on any hike in PNG. Walk around and try to get used to the gushy, weighted feel. (I would strongly advise that you *not* fall down during this step, as it will be nearly impossible to get back up.)

Now for the last few preparatory steps. Empty the bottle of live fleas into your shorts. This exercise is a frail attempt to simulates the sensations that accompany the myriad of minute fauna that PNG has to offer you. Try not to scratch the bites, as they will get infected and turn into giant ulcers if you scratch them in PNG. Simply ignore the biting, keep your shorts on, and continue on to the next step.

Approach the sheer cliff. Don't even think about removing the 5 gallon water container from your pack, because in PNG you will drink (at a minimum) one gallon of water per hour while you hike. If you are worried about bathroom stops, have no fear. your bladder will not see one drop. It will all sprinkle out of your pores and fill up your cleats long before it gets that far.

Now for the last step. Look up at the sheer cliff above you, take a deep breath, put your headphones on and press "play" (to begin the important looped message). Check to make sure the Velveeta cheese is still sticking well, and traverse the cliff to the top. It may take several attempts to gain mastery of this step, but don't get discouraged. It helps to repeat to yourself that even a six-year-old Papua New Guinean child could do this blindfolded, carrying a squirming infant on one hip while balancing an entire stalk of bananas on her head.

After you have completed all of these steps several times, in different locations, you could theoretically make it from a bush airstrip to a village in PNG. However, do not attempt to hike the Kokoda Trail, which would take several more preparatory steps that no person since World War II has ever survived."

Happy Trails!


Saturday, August 15, 2009


The beginning of this blog coincides with the beginning of a new school year. Here at Ukarumpa International School (UIS) we have year-round school. It started July 22nd. Here is a picture of my class this year.


A few things I'd like to point out about this picture. First of all, that's the sixth grade haus win in the back ground. What's a haus win? A house-like structure made of bush material (bamboo, grass roof) in which the wind blows through, like a gazebo. Second, notice my class is mostly boys? So far, I have 11 boys, 2 girls. Sure it's a small class, and that's a blessing in some ways, but it makes an interesting... social structure. And if you look more closely, you'll notice that two of my boys have already broken their bones playing in the haus win. Yes, it's true. One broken arm and one broken foot - both happened while playing "Blind man's bluff" in the haus win. Let's just say that we've established a few new rules for hanging out in the haus win.


One other thing - I'm wearing a button up shirt and tie! Is that the teacher's dress code for teaching at UIS?! No. It's my choice - but only on Wednesdays! I have a large tie collection and so I thought, "Why not use them?" So I wear a tie on Wednesday just for fun, and it reminds everyone that the week is halfway finished! Interestingly, some of my students (boys and girls) end up wearing ties on Wednesday too!


This year I have students from America, Australia, Korea, Finland and Papua New Guinea. (Can you tell by looking at the photo?) Not quite as diverse as other years, but it doesn't really matter. In fact, most of these kids consider themselves from Papua New Guinea, no matter what their passport says. Some of them have only traveled to their passport country twice - that they can remember - and even then, only for short furloughs.


I guess that's a good beginning. Thanks for reading.



Friday, August 14, 2009

No Pictures?

I haven't posted anything on this new blog yet, because it doesn't seem to accept my pictures. My first post will be about the new school year and a picture of my class - mainly about the picture. So, it is frustrating to post only the writing without the picture. I've searched the "Blogger forums" and others are having similar problems, so hopefully it's not just me. Ha!