Village Living

After eight weeks of PNG culture and language instruction in a classroom, our family spent four weeks as the only waitskins (“white people”) in a very remote jungle village. We lived in a bush house, cooked over a fire, bathed and washed clothes in a creek, and learned about life in the deep bush of Papua New Guinea. We experienced the most basic of living conditions, dealt with sickness, saw God at work, witnessed syncretism up close, and tried to figure out how our family of five could survive without any of the resources we were accustomed to having.

God brought us through all of it. 

There is no way I can relay to you everything that we experienced during our time in the bush. However, I will try to give you a small glimpse of our month in the village of Bur (boor) in the coastal province of Madang. 

Our first day in the village was a bit overwhelming, as the entire village came to welcome us, helped us unload all of our supplies, then spent much of the day hanging around to watch what we would do. We spent the day getting to know our was femili (“watch family”; the family that was responsible for us during our time in the village), setting up our house, and learning where the bathing and clothes washing areas were. 
Two village children look on as we wash clothes

Our first night in our village house was quite challenging and, at the time, seemed to be one of the longest nights of my life. We lay on the floor on mats surrounded by mosquito nets, which proved to be a barrier against much more than simply mosquitoes. This is when the uproar began. Village night noises cannot be adequately described with mere words, but please know that the jungle at dark is anything but quiet. Neither can the darkness be described. If any of my Alabama friends have been to Rickwood caverns and experienced the utter darkness within the deepest bowels of the cave, you have a good idea. I slept with my flashlight beside me all night every night while we were in the bush. On clear nights, the moon and stars were more brilliant than I’ve ever seen them, but when clouds covered their glow, inky blackness was all that remained. At some point during that first night I drifted off to sleep, but was awakened well before dawn by the sounds of pigs squealing, roosters crowing, and our was femeli preparing for the day. I’d like to be able to tell you that I slept better on subsequent nights, but neither Jeremy nor I slept much during our month in the village.

The night sky in our village
“Building” one of our was femeli‘s pigs and a common source of noise before dawn

Our bush house was a typical nambis (“coastal”) style house situated on stilts about ten feet off the ground, with a large open area underneath. The houses are built this way in an attempt to make the house cooler, to keep animals from wandering in, and to stay dry during the rainy season. Dogs, cats, chickens, and pigs roamed freely throughout the area surrounding and directly beneath our house. Huge bilak bokis (“fruit bats”) feasted on the fruit trees right outside our windows every night, and enormous spiders both inside and outside did their best to rid the house of insects. Unfortunately they were unsuccessful. Centipedes capable of burning human skin with only a touch, poisonous millipedes, huge roaches, and a variety of insects I’d never before encountered sauntered through the house according to their own whim.

Our village house

Our was femeli  took great care of us during our time in Bur. They always made sure we had enough food and water, and provided us with plenty of information about PNG culture. Their sixteen year old son, Benjamin, befriended Sam and was such a blessing to him during our time in the village. Sam had the privilege of going to school with Benjamin one day (a “short” one hour walk through the bush), and Sam even spoke to the entire student body during an assembly. This was the first time a waitskin had ever been to their school, so they wanted to know all about him, his life in America, and his plans for the future. Our ten year old was brata (“watch brother”), Klaus, was a great playmate for Everett, and our was susa (“watch sister”), Joy, became a sweet companion for Olivia. One day during our stay in Bur, Everett and Olivia attended the village school, which was only a ten minute walk away, and they both thoroughly enjoyed the day.

Our was femeli

Olivia and Everett ready for village school
Sam sits in on Math at our was brata‘s school

For the most part, our stay in Bur was uneventful. There were only a few out of the ordinary episodes, such as the fact that two giant muruks (cassowaries) lived in the bush very close to our village and could often be found on the trails. It was a little scary to be walking down the bush road and see a six foot bird with giant claws towering beside the trail watching you. We just found out that the cassowary attacked a man in the village last week with its giant claws. The man had to go to the hospital to get the wound in his stomach stitched up, and the villagers captured, killed, and ate the cassowary. The man who was attacked is on the road to recovery, but elected not to eat any of the bird. As far as we know, the other cassowary is still on the loose out in the bush somewhere.

One of the cassowaries being fed coconut meat

Another unusual occurrence came in the form of illness. Olivia became very sick halfway through our stay. She had been running a fever off and on for a few days, then suddenly developed a very high fever, chills, an extreme headache, and was unable to move her head. She could barely even walk. Several people in our village had malaria at this time, and after speaking with the directors of our language school on the phone, we determined that she needed to see a doctor immediately in case it was a severe form of malaria or something worse. She and I (Kandy) took the very long trip into town to see an Australian doctor. Thankfully, it turned out to only be an acute middle ear infection, an outer ear infection (due to the dirty water we bathed in), a possible strep infection (he didn’t have any strep tests so we don’t know for sure) and lymph nodes all over her head and neck that were incredibly swollen (which caused the stiff neck). After reassurances from the doctor that she would be fine, we went back to the village that day. A round of antibiotics made her as good as new.

An interesting cultural observation was made during Olivia’s sickness. When our was papa found out she was ill, he offered to perform a ceremony that would make her better. He described the custom to us, but we told him that we didn’t think it was necessary. Interestingly, a little girl in the village became very sick with malaria during this time, and Jeremy and Sam went with our was papa to pray for the little girl. During this prayer time Jeremy was able to witness the ceremony first hand. It involved a strange mix of Christian and traditional Papua New Guinean beliefs. First, our was papa, who is respected as a leader in the local Lutheran church, pulled a bottle of water from his bilum (“string bag”), prayed, poured some of the water in a cup, and gave the bottle to the girl’s mother. The mother confessed all of the wrongs she had committed against the daughter over the past few weeks, then the father held the cup and did the same. This is an important part of the healing ceremony because many Papua New Guineans believe that if they don’t have enough amamas (happiness, joy) with someone, or if there is a hevi (problem) against someone, then sickness or calamity will result. Following the confessions, our was papa poured the cup of water on the ground, then held his bottle of water close to his mouth and prayed a long prayer in Marik, the local Tok Ples (tribal language). He handed the bottle of water to the mother and told her to let the sick child drink the water and she would get better.

The little girl ended up having to go to the hospital a few days later when she didn’t get better, but I believe it was providential that we were able to see a small picture of the syncretization which is so prevalent in this country. If there was any doubt in my mind that even those in PNG who profess Christianity need to be taught basic doctrine, it is gone now.

By the time we left the village, we felt much more comfortable with our language ability and our understanding of the pasin bilong PNG (“culture and customs of PNG”). We still have a lot to learn, and it will take years to understand some of our experiences, but we got a great start during our four week immersion into the culture.

Thank you for all your prayers and support during this time. Hopefully we can update you soon about what we’ve been doing since we got back to the mountains.

A villager gifted Everett with a bow and arrow
Our little homeschool in the village
Everett and Sam help put a new roof on a village house
Olivia learns to make a bilum

Olivia scrapes coconut
We cooked pizza over a fire in our pot oven

Our was femeli‘s house during a rain storm

Jeremy and our was papa

Storying at night with some of the villagers
Some of the local teenagers taught Sam how to weave coconut leaves into baskets

Our last picture in our village house

4 thoughts on “Village Living

  1. Incredible Kandy. So thankful God allowed you to see how much PNG needs truth and solid Biblical teaching. Had no idea what a cassowary was. I do believe that and centipedes that would burn skin and fruit bats right outside my door may have done me in. Thankful God continues to supply what you need in every way. Will keep talking to Him about you and the whole family. Please tell everyone hello!


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