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Hamena Village-Part I

In January we began a 3 month training course focused on learning the history, culture, and trade language of Papua New Guinea. The course culminated in a 3 week stay with a Papua New Guinean family in their village.


2020 Field Training Course participants and facilitators


We left for the village on the 9th of March and went to an area called Hamena not too far from our community of Ukarumpa. Sam and I were the only ones to head this direction. We were a part of a test-run for the potential of doing village living training in the Highlands, so while everyone else headed down to villages closer to the Coast (another family went West, closer to where they would live full-time), we went up the mountain. 


We were allowed to be a part of this test run because Sam has already been through the training once -on the coast- and to have someone who could compare the two experiences would provide valuable feedback. It was awkward at times, having a different experience from our peers, but regardless, we were thankful for the new experience.


The day after we arrived, our village took us on a walk around the area to meet and greet locals.

During our village stay we had an awesome time. There were a few hard things about our time in the village, but we expected at least some discomfort in leaving a comfy home to step into the real lives of others whose reality is subsistence farming, pit toilets, and outdoor living. It was a beautiful experience and the hard just added to the depth of that beauty. 


Me and Sam with our Was Papa and Mama, their oldest daughter and her youngest son.

We lived in a large woven grass house with a Papua New Guinean family. We were hosted by a husband and wife who we referred to as our “Was mama and papa” because they watched out for us. Two of their younger kids lived with them as well as their 5 year old granddaughter. Then on any given night we were joined by a local translator’s wife, an elderly grandpa who was actually our Was Papa’s cousin, and the baby grandkids of our was parents. Meals were shared with anywhere from just the family to as many as could cram into the tiny kitchen space of the grass house. When Sam did village living for his previous training he and his roommate were given their own home during their village stay, so this was a completely new experience and we were very immersed in the family and community life. 


"Meals were shared with anywhere from just the family to as many as could cram into the tiny kitchen space of the grass house."

The house itself was long and rectangular. In the back was a small room separated by a woven wall and a little door. The family had graciously allowed us this room during our stay, It was just big enough for the airbed we brought and the cargo boxes of our food and clothes. Next was a middle section with rows of thin mattresses lining the middle walkway into the farthest square section of the home. At the front of the house, just inside the door, there was a small square room with a fire in the middle where we spent most of our time. They had erected two tiny outbuildings for our private use, one was for washing up and one housed a hole in the ground for excrement. 

Looking from the door of the back room of the house through the main sleeping area to the front kitchen-area.

(click to scroll through photos of--inside our little bucket-shower space, our pit-toilet, our hand-washing station, the outside of our little shower structure, and our sleeping space)


We were nestled up in the mountains so it was much colder than expected and we spent a lot of time in the home around the fire with the family. It was BEAUTIFUL! The days were structured around the weather and food. Chilly mornings were spent stoking the fire and fueling our bodies, waiting for the sun to come through the clouds.


Breakfast of "kaukau" (sweet potato) over the fire before a long day

When the sun was prominent the men and women parted ways and filled our gender assigned roles—which for us ladies meant walking to the garden…


Which for me specifically meant sliding up and down the slick mud paths to the garden while the kids raced ahead and the ladies held my hand so I didn’t fall.

I fell plenty anyway.


They taught me how to pick beans, dig up potatoes and kaukau (sweet potatoes), and cut heads of broccoli. I found it incredible how many types and variations of plants we could eat and actually tasted good (Sam would beg to differ). They would fill up their string bags and hold them on their heads with the strength of their necks and carry their haul back home.



Learning how to clean up a garden
This particular day they let me carry a little of my own load

They graciously let me help them dig up a harvest of potatos

This is Yosabel, she's 5. This, my friends, was the most humbling experience...

My "was susa" and her babies helping me carry produce home after a day spent in the garden

Often, passers by were impressed to see a visitor, a white lady, out there helping in the garden and usually sent me home with some gifts of the harvest—the funniest is when they sent the kids with the weight of my load because I just wasn’t skilled enough to carry/balance the weight and make the muddy climb and decent. At some point during our stay I opted to go barefoot because I could get a little more grip on the slick paths. It was certainly humbling to see the kids entrusted with the weight of my load, but I fell a few times even with a light load, so I was thankful.



Just around the time we made it home with the harvest, the sun was at it’s peak so we would grab more string bags, this time laden with dirty clothes, and make another slippery trek down to the water. There was a mostly secluded river with a spring of some sort spilling out of a homemade pipe like a waterfall. The ladies gathered here to hand wash the laundry and shower. It was cold, but the sun was hot and the water flowed fast enough to make it feel refreshing. Once we and the clothes were clean we would head back, start dinner and it would usually start pouring rain.



This little water outlet served as both a shower and laundry spot

This particular day I wasn't feeling well, after I slipped once my was mama carried both of our loads up the hill. Wow.

Learning how to hand-wash laundry outside

Meanwhile he guys went on long walks around the villages, taught Sam how to make and shoot wooden bows, and shared stories of the past ("Tambuna" stories).


What a gorgeous view!

Sam learning how to make a bow from the men of the house, what an honor



Here's the family's older uncle teaching Sam how to shoot his new bow.

A crowd gathered to watch the target practice

By evening we’d all make it back to our home and eat and then we would be visited and brought more food…and more food.


Was Mama prepping dinner

Thankfully theirs is the culture that while you shouldn’t refuse any gifts, you don’t have to finish what you’re given to eat…so you say thank you, eat what you can and pass it along to share with others. This cultural practice saved my stomach, it was yummy but I couldn't eat all of the food our new friends brought us. After dinner they would boil water and send us one at a time to the little tarp enclosure in the back to take a bucket shower- A bucket of water we would take to the shelter and use one scoop at a time to rinse and wash with. Evenings were COLD, so I was quite THANKFUL for those warm bucket showers. And then we’d sit around the fire sharing stories till bedtime. 



We spent so much time in community, eating together, doing life together, sharing stories, and learning new things…one funny thing about our stay was discovering that picking lice is a very common social activity. Having grown my hair down to my bellybutton I quickly realized making it through these three weeks without lice was going to be a challenge! But I embraced it, and thankfully I made it through without bringing any “new friends” home.

There were a few young kids in our "was femili"- they were between 1 and 5 years old and one of my favorite parts of our stay was when they started warming up to me. They started smiling and playing with me more courageously towards the end of our stay, and the one year old started saying my name a week in. It was so precious and definitely a highlight of my village stay. 


1 year old Nehman didn't say much, but by the end of the week he was saying my name.

One of the biggest goals of our time in the village was language learning. We are learning the trade language of PNG, a pidgin, because while there are around 850 different languages in the various villages across the island, this one is spoken throughout the country. So during our time there was no English. This was challenging and tiring, but even more so because they spoke so much more of their “Tok Ples” —mother tongue- than the trade language. The strength of their Tok Ples meant that I had no idea what was going on most of the time unless they were speaking directly to us using pidgin. I definitely learned a lot though not as much as I had hoped*. But this is so good—Their language culture is so strong and it’s thriving, which is an encouragement for those putting a lot of effort into translating the scriptures for this language group. 


In the midst of all the good I’d say the hardest parts were fleas, exhaustion, and the cold. 

I got tired really fast—rough cold nights, full and very socially-oriented days, and language learning wore me out after just a few days.


Shortly after we arrived I noticed I was getting bit.

An example of my bites after they had started to heal

At first it made me nervous because malaria is very prevalent here. We were using bug spray and nets, but I was still getting bit a decent amount. Eventually we discovered that the bites were from fleas and looking back I’m beginning to think I may be allergic, because they were pretty bad. As time went on the bites increased and by the time we left I looked like I had caught a case of the chicken pox-absolutely covered in bites from my chest to my ankles.


Nights were the worst because of the itching—I kept thinking of Corrie Ten Boom and her flea story** and thanking God for being able to use something like fleas to bring Him glory.


The last two days of our stay my exhaustion turned to fatigue and I could tell something was up, sure enough I started feeling ill. I don’t know if it was the difference in village sanitation, the chill and elevation, or the fire in the house flaring my asthma but I got sick. Thankfully I was able to battle that out back here at home.



All in all the rough patches were so minor in comparison to the beauty of our stay and I’m so thankful for such a rich experience. 


It's hard to fit such a full experience into one (or two) posts, so feel free to ask questions here or by email. We'd love to share more! There will be a Part Two following up with more of the story on how we left sooner than planned and how the transition due to COVID looked for us.


Thanks for reading,

Jess


*I recently started back at work and I had an encouraging Tok Pisin experience. The language part of the field-training course was the aspect I was looking most forward to. There were people, especially in my work place with whom I hoped to deepen my relationships, but I felt like my lack of Tok Pisin was hindering this. After the shortened village stay (language immersion) followed by a few months in isolation without adequate practice, I felt discouraged in my language skills.


My first week of work I had a conversation with one of the ladies at the hangar. She stopped by my office and we had a small conversation. She asked about my family and I asked about hers. she told me about a drs. appointment and a prayer request and I was able to understand and assure her that I’d be praying. She got excited and said “You learned Pisin!” of course I’m only inching forward, but this was a huge encouragement. Not only that I could keep a conversation, but that I have a tool to build relationships with the ladies at work.


**Click the underlined text or THIS LINK to read this story, an excerpt from The Hiding Place.

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