Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Good Bye Tekin

I don't know where to begin. The end of our time in Tekin has come and gone as of a week ago. It is time to write about it. My heart is full and my mind is brimming with poignant memories. At this moment we are worlds away from Tekin, and yet geographically so close. I am sitting in a plush hotel room in Jayapura (a birthday gift from Eric's parents), just across the border. My surroundings are surreal. It is taking time for my heart and my mind to catch up with my body.

Yesterday a very nice man from the Sundaun Province Ministry of Education drove us from Vanimo to the border. The coastal drive was breathtaking. After clearing PNG customs in a little ramshackle building we strapped on our backpacks and carried the few other pieces of luggage we had down a strange path through no-man's land. I turned around and waved to the country that had been our home for so many months. The country ahead didn't look very different, except that the customs building was a little more upscale, and the cars parked outside a little newer and shinier.

Much has happened over the past three weeks. Eric's niece Kelsey came for a visit in Tekin... I had malaria... school finished... and we said many, many good byes. Before crossing the border into Indonesia, we spent a week in Vanimo (PNG coastal town) debriefing with our headmistress and friend Glenda Giles. We did not have any power or running water during that time. Both heat and humidity were high. We got bitten repeatedly by mosquitoes and other "bities". It was a hot, sticky, itchy last few days in PNG.

Let me begin with Kelsey's visit to Tekin. She came to PNG mainly to visit her grandparents on her mother's side, but decided to take some time out to fly into our area for a week-long visit, and to see where her father grew up. The night she arrived I began showing symptoms of malaria. Because Eric had already had it, we recognized it immediately and I started the treatment without delay. I still went through several rounds of chills and fever and was generally exhausted, but Eric and Kelsey helped me around the house and we managed to eat quite well. I was unable to join them on the hikes up and down the valley. I had to sit in a chair or lay in bed. I was sad about this because it was our last chance to see these places before leaving. School was winding down and we would soon have to pack up the house in preparation to leave. God was my comfort and was very near to me through this experience. I was not afraid and I was not alone. On day five of my treatment I did not have the chills and fever. I remained weary for a few days, but soon recovered fully.

Two days into Kelsey's visit, Glenda found out that her grade nine selection meetings in Vanimo had been bumped up by a couple of weeks and she would have to leave ASAP in order to make it to them in time. The good byes were beginning. Our good friend Mark Glammis (deputy headmaster) would be leaving on the same MAF plane as Glenda in order to attend a course for his masters in Madang. Thankfully we had already enjoyed a final meal together as a staff and expressed our appreciation to each other. I was in the clutches of malaria at this point and had no energy to make it down to the school for a final good bye. I couldn't watch them take off either, because Glenda and Mark ended up having to hike 11 km down the trail to catch their plane. The wind was just too strong for a plane to land the morning of their departure.

But a plane did land that morning. About an hour after Mark and Glenda headed down the trail, we heard the drone of an engine in the Tekin circuit. We shook our heads. Who was it? They were crazy. A Central Aviation PAC 750 came barelling in for a landing and managed it safely! Some representatives from Sustainable Development PNG had come to inspect the OLPC project (see a prior blog) that had come to the Tekin area a few months before. They had a quick look around, took some photos, had bilums presented to them, then got back in the plane for a nail-biting departure from the valley. We breathed a sigh of relief when the plane cleared the trees and mountains at the end of the airstrip. The tail wind was very strong that day.

The decision was made to close school early, now that two of our six teachers were gone. End of the year festivities began. There were good bye mumus (pig roasts) given by the primary school, the grade nine class (who pooled their money), and Oksapmin High School (provided from school funds as a gift to the grade nine class). We were invited to all of them. I didn't have to do much cooking in those last days. There were lots of speeches mixed with tears, and unfortunately given before the food was eaten, so that our delicious food was cold by the time it reached our mouths.

Somewhere in the midst of all the feasts, an SIL plane came to pick up Kelsey. Her Arsjo grandparents were on board. There was time enough for a quick hello and couple of group photos. It was a beautiful morning weather-wise, and the little 206 took off and rose up out of the valley with no trouble.

This was it. Only six days until our scheduled flight. It was time to begin the packing, sorting, and giving away. In the midst of it all, our Oksapmin neighbours and friends decided that it would be a good time to bring Eric all their little electronic gadgets to be fixed - things like portable DVD players, a keyboard, and a solar panel. He did his best to teach final classes and work on all these little technical problems while I worked up at the house on the packing, etc. We didn't see much of each other!

On Friday, the last day of school, Eric called me on our walkie talkies to let me know when the students were having their final assembly so I could come down and say good bye. As I approached the small patch of grass I could see the students standing in clusters looking up at the teachers on the knoll. Mr. Alieng was giving some final announcements about the next year; how much school fee would be, when the start day would be, and how much bush vine to bring in for the year! Then the teachers handed out the report cards and the students were dismissed. Quietly and quickly they shook our hands, murmured blessings and parting words, then disappeared with their few belongings. Some of them turned to give a wave and a smile. Others just quickly walked away, facing a long hike ahead and a family who would welcome them at the end of it. I could not believe that we would never see most of them again. They have left an indelible impression on us. We were privileged to be their teachers for this short time.

At Eric's last OLPC teacher training class, the same afternoon, the teachers presented us with many parting gifts. We received beautifully carved arrows, bilums, paintings by our artist friend Simon, woven laes, a penis gourd, a bilum cap, and a brand new Ok Tedi mining shirt with Matty's father's name embroidered on it for Eric. He was stoked! Various teachers stood up and gave encouraging words of thanks and teary farewells. Eric showed the class a video he had put together called "The OLPC Story", and they had fun watching themselves and their students on the screen.

The weekend was a blur. We would be leaving Monday morning. Clothes and food were given away to friends, and Oksapmins came and went to say their good byes. Many of them left bilums behind to add to our growing collection. They shook their heads and clicked their tongues, asking us if we would ever return. "We hope so," was always our response.

Saturday night we had a final meal with Susan Glammis (my close friend and bilum teacher) and her son Becher. Her husband Mark, had already flown to Madang as mentioned above. They were like family to us during our time in Tekin. Glenda's cat Handasa joined us too. We ate roasted chicken and vegetables, and tried to be as festive as we could in the absence of Glenda and Mark. It was hard. All of our minds were on leaving. Susan, Becher and their little piglet Nasse would be leaving on Monday too. They had been living in Tekin for four years. Most of Becher's childhood had been spent there. It was going to be a big change for him as they moved back to the lowlands where his mom and dad were from.

Sunday passed all to quickly. Our friends Simon and Matty helped us carry many boxes down to be stored for the next volunteers (none are in the works yet - any takers?). Everything was packed into our backpacks and large, expandable market bilums in preparation for our flight. Our arrows and spears were bound together and wrapped in paper. At midnight we finished. There wasn't even a dish left in the house, so we drank some tea in empty honey jars. Our last time sitting by the woodstove! It had been a long week of "lasts".

In the morning we awoke early and scrambled down to the school radio to listen to Patrick get the MAF report on our flight. We wandered back and forth to the school, waiting for word. We finally were able to determine that the plane would come for us some time after 10 AM. Simon and Matty carried our big pieced of luggage up to the airstrip shack to be weighed. We followed close behind, noticing that the wind was picking up. It was a tail wind. Not good.

After the weigh-in we waited up at the house, hanging out with Simon and Matty and others who dropped by. People from Divanap (up the valley where Eric grew up) came to the house to say their good byes and to give us gifts. Eric recorded some of them giving messages to his father. From our big dining room window we watched a procession of villagers walk by, carrying all of Susan's household goods in suitcases and boxes. Her little piglet was led up to the airstrip on her rope, and a carrier followed behind with her makeshift pen hoisted over his shoulder.

At about 12:30 we finally heard the Twin Otter plane roar into the circuit. My heart started to pound and my eyes well up with tears. This was really it. We grabbed our bilums and exited our brown house for the last time. No time for a last look. The MAF plane was landing on the strip and we had to run to the top of the hill to catch our flight. I tried to take everything in hungrily for the last time as we quickly made our way up.

There was a huge crowd gathered at the plane to say good bye. Susan was surrounded by crying ladies clinging to her. The piglet squealed violently as she was pushed and then nailed into her tiny box. Becher was standing with a group of his little friends with wide, scared looking eyes. What a moment.

Friends stepped forward for one last hand shake or hug. Little Jaya, Eric's special friend and daughter of one of our colleagues was standing there with a very sad and worried look on her face. She had been our enthusiastic greeter every day in Tekin, any time we ran into her. She gave us one last "Goho Eric! Goho Hannah-Lee!" and waved her little hand. It was painful and heart-wrenching. Our student Zulu stepped forward to give me a hug, and Eric a hearty handshake. Another hard good bye. I was finding it almost impossible to hold back the sobs, but knew that if I let go I would really "lose it". I swallowed them back.

All the cargo was loaded and Patrick was calling for passengers. I wanted to scream, "No! We're not ready!" but knew that we would never really be ready to make this break. It's something you just have to do. We turned and waved to everyone, and took in their faces for the last time. "Goherio!" we shouted. ("Good bye to all")

Robotically I climbed the ladder into the plane. I found a seat and did up my seat belt. There was none of my usual fear in me that day; no fear of the small plane or the increasing tail winds. My only thought was of our friends outside the plane and the separation that had already occured between us.

Patrick stuck his head in for a last good bye smile and then closed the door. It was final. We were leaving.

The pilots started the engines, did some checks, then taxied to the end of the strip, next to the mountain wall. More checks, then the engines slowed. I prayed for a safe take-off and for our pilots in that moment. The engines were revved. They increased power and began to roar. This was our moment. The pilots reached up and joined their hands on the throttle to strengthen their efforts during the take off. I always find this to be touching and in my emotional state this started my tears flowing. We began to shoot forward and pick up speed. We rocketed past all the waving Oksapmins and I cried as we waved frantically back. Then we were leaving the ground. Over the dip in the strip we went, and normally we would go shooting up at this point, but the pilots were going to have a fight with the winds this day. Down we scooped and barely skimmed the rest of the strip. The winds were pulling us down, as if to say, "You can't leave yet." I'm normally a nervous flier, but for once my heart agreed. Now I was waving to our house, to the church, to the school, to little Handasa down there somewhere. We skimmed over the trees, staying low. Through my tears I was barely aware of our precarious position. The pilots steered to the right over the river so that they could have a little more time to pull the plane up before approaching the ridge. At last we escaped the tail winds and rose up up over the ridge. Now they could turn to the left and steer next to Bald Mountain and over Mitikanap village. The terrain then became less familiar. We had had our last glimpse of Tekin valley.

We have said many good byes over our years of teaching overseas, but for some reason this one felt bigger and more final than any before. I will not be facebooking or skyping any of our Oksapmin friends or students in the near future. For now, there is no internet connection to this remote place. Staying in touch will be tricky. It will be only with great effort on our part that we will ever see them again in this world.

As our students sang at the grade ten banquet in their soaring Melanesian voices:

"...We know we'll miss you a lot.

Some time, some day, somewhere...

Bye for now, but remember that we will linger

As memories of you in our mind

It's sad to say good bye...to you all our friends."

Good bye Tekin. Good bye Oksapmin friends. God bless you all and may we meet again some day!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Oksapmin High School Graduation, Part 2

The ceremony began, and about ten minutes into it, the drone of an MAF plane engine was heard overhead. The plane, scheduled to take our Mianmin students back to their village, and one of our guest speakers from the ministry of education back to Tabubil was an hour early! Never mind, expect the unexpected right? The guest speaker was immediately ushered onto the stage to give a briefer version of his speech (Eric and I were secretly thankfulfor this), and then our four Mianmin students were called up one at a time to receive their certificates, medals and prizes. While this was all happening, the small plane landed on the nearby airstrip and was waiting for its passengers. Rather than going back to their seats, the students shook our hands, then reluctantly left the ceremony area; left their friends, teachers, and school that had been home for almost two years. They made their way up to the plane that would take them away forever. It felt abrupt and almost cruel. Were they prepared for this? I was not. My throat tightened and my eyes welled up with tears. This was likely the last time that we would ever see them. We had found our Mianmin students to be some of the most gentle and gracious ones that we taught. It was an honour to know them.

Back on track, the program continued. Prizes were awarded for the top three students in each subject area. One student, Danlee Ken, incidentally the boy wearing the biggest headdress, crossed the stage repeatedly as he took almost every top prize. He managed to crack a smile a few times, while most students remained serious.

In the middle of this we heard and saw the MAF plane take off, carrying with it our friends from Mianmin. I'm sure they were waving and enjoying the view of graduation from the air.

Glenda Giles, our headmistress gave her speech, as well as a representative from Baptist Union PNG. At two points in the program, a couple of string bands performed. They set up their equipment in front of the stage, portable solar panels used to power their keyboard and bass guitar batteries. They belted out their rhythmic, Polynesian tunes and for the first time I glimpsed a few smiles among the graduates.

Following the presentation of academic certificates by Glenda, Eric and I were called to the stage to present the school reference letters and medallions. I let Eric struggle with the task of fitting the medals over those big heads, expanded because of their poofy afros and large headdresses. Those were some memorable moments! Looking back I'm really glad that we had the opportunity to do this, because we got to shake each student's hand and congratulate them, something that we would not have the chance to do later.

Following a brief closing speech by Samuel, still looking and sounding every bit the warrior, everyone was dismissed and our ceremony had come to an end. Our students quickly disappeared, clutching their certificates and awards. We managed to catch a quick photo with Zulu and her headdress before she headed up the hill, but by the time we reached the school most of the students were gone. They had quickly changed, grabbed their bilums and then set off on the trails to their home villages accompanied by their proud family members.

"Don't worry," Glenda said. "We'll see most of them within a day or two. They haven't gone far."

She was right. As it turned out, Glenda had forgotten to sign the school certificates, so many of our graduates have returned since Friday to have them signed. Also, a few of them live close to the school so we have run into them from time to time.

What happens next? We will continue to teach the grade nine class until the end of the term. There is about six weeks left, then school is over for the year. Our graduates will wait to hear if and where they were selected to attend secondary school. In January it's on to the next phase of life for all of us!

Note: Eric & Hannah-Lee are now out of Tekin and will be within striking distance of the internet in a short time. Hannah-Lee will be able to give us a fresh update and tell us about their unusual end to the school year.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Oksapmin High School Graduation, Part 1

On Friday, October 15th, 2010, Oksapmin High School held its third annual graduation ceremony. At about twenty to one, Eric and I made our way down the hill to the soccer field. Two tarp-covered areas had been set up; one for the stage and teachers' seating area, and one for the graduating class. Hundreds of spectators had already gathered, standing under the shade of their colourful umbrellas, waiting for the festivities to begin. As we entered the field I looked up in renewed amazement. The tall, green mountains steeped in clouds were an awesome and imposing backdrop for this special event. How privileged we were to be experiencing this day, in this place!

Our forty-six graduates were lined up on the hill above, waiting to march down to their chairs of honour. They were dressed in their best. The girls were wearing rather matronly, but colourful, two-piece outfits and their hair was teased up into high, round afros. I barely recognized some of them! One girl, Zulu, was wearing a two-foot high traditional headdress, complete with fur and feathers. The boys had on their clean, crisp , collared graduation shirts that had been a gift from the school at the banquet the week before, and displayed an array of feathers and headdresses. Some students wore shoes that they had borrowed or kept aside for special events such as this. Most of them remained comfortably bare-footed. Eric and I settled into our chairs behind the stage, our shoes squelching into the soft mud of the soccer field. We were in for a surprise when our shy little colleague, Samuel, appeared on stage with his face painted in bright colours and an enormous shell and feather headdress on his head. He had been recruited as this-year's master of ceremonies, and was evidently taking his role quite seriously. Our eyes grew wide with wonder as he took to the mike and fervently shouted out some announcements in a strong voice. Before this day, I could never have imagined Samuel doing this. I had been dubious about him being selected for this, but he was proving me wrong.

It was time to begin. The graduates began to make their way down the hill, two by two, with great seriousness. I have never in all my years of teaching seen such solemn, almost sorrowful looking faces on a class of graduates. They were accompanied by - get ready for this - a traditional "snake dance". This chain of several mud-covered, bare-chested grade nine boys slowly twisted, turned, and slunk its way down the hill and across the field, leading the graduates to their places. Each boy had his head down, placed on the lower back of the boy in front of him. Hands gripped the belt loops of the pants in front, and as they made their way, the pants slowly shifted down, down, lower and lower, until we found ourselves looking at a chain of bare bottoms. I felt slightly embarrassed, but as I looked around, I realized that the only laughter was a few chuckles coming from the boys' friends. Bare skin is not an issue in this culture. The snake dance was as dignified as any "Pomp and Circumstance" march to these people. The boy at the head of the chain happened to be our little woodcutter, Lipex, and he was decked out with face paint, a whistle (on which he blew rhythmic chirps),and--prepare yourself--an enormous papier-mache penis attached to his pants! He bounced and gyrated across the ground, leading his pack, and there it was, out in front, bobbing along with him. The boy at the back had a long tail attached to the back of his pants and it slithered behind the chain as they went along. When the snake and the graduates finally reached their destinations, the boys scuttled off, eager to be out of the spotlight. I will never be able to look at them quite the same way again!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Whatever Happens in Wewak?

Wewak is the town in PNG that we flew through six months ago to get to Tekin and the place we have returned to every ten weeks to stock up on supplies for the next school term. It is a hot, steamy, dirty, coastal town. It has its charms, namely beautiful waterfront areas and beaches, but it is essentially covered in garbage and full of crowds of loitering, beatelnut-chewing people. The pavement is covered in rich red stains where chewers have spit out the juices of this mild narcotic. As we walk through the streets, we are jostled on both sides, and must hold tight to our bilums as we pick our way through the crowds and around the garbage and filth. Street vendors as young as ten approach from all directions trying to sell us batteries, cigarettes, phone cards, and newspapers. On the main drag there are no trees. The sun beats down mercilessly, the air is stifling, and we drip with sweat as we make our way from shop to shop, trying to gather enough supplies for the next ten weeks. The shops are stuffy, dingy, warehouse-like places with unpredictable stock.
After that description, you won't believe me when I say that, to us, Wewak has become a dream destination! Tekin is infinitely more beautiful, cooler, and pleasant, but after ten weeks in the "bush", we find ourselves craving a change, and looking forward to a taste of urban PNG. There is something extra-special about consuming cold, frosty drinks from the fridge, eating a piece of toast for breakfast, being served a restaurant meal in an air-conditioned hotel, and the opportunity to shop for groceries, simple as the shops may be. On our visits we'vealso enjoyed swimming, snorkeling, scenic walks, fresh tuna from the fish market and getting to know some great people through our headmistress Glenda Giles who seems to know everyone! The flats we have rented from CBC (Christian Brother Church) and CBM (Christian Books Melanesia) are comfortable and afford convenient access to the town and the beach.

We always return to Tekin feeling refreshed, well-fed, and well-stocked for another school term, even when we do have to hike eleven kilometres from the Oksapmin airstrip to Tekin. Don't worry Matthias (our MAF pilot), we made it, cargo and all! So to us, the grotty town of Wewak is a slice of paradise; our reward at the end of a term of "roughing it". We will always look forward to, and back on it, with fondness.

(Here we are in Wewak, with some friends of Marshall & Helen's.)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Carnivorous Cravings

Living in a remote part of the world for this period of time, we are learning what it's like to do without. Yes, all of our needs are more than adequately met, but when it comes to wants, particularly in the area of food, there are times when we feel irrationally desperate for certain things.

As we made our preparations for Papua New Guinea, Eric recalled things from his childhood like limited access to certain foods, and how there would be lengthy periods of time when we would have to go without meat, or at least meat that is not of the tinned variety. "No problem." I said, and "Piece of cake," I thought. I am the person that peruses a menu and more often than not chooses the vegetable curry or soup of the day. I am the passenger on a plane who almost always selects the vegetarian option, while my husband invariably chooses the beef or chicken.

Forever the optimist, I excitedly gathered recipes and dreamed about all the delicious lentil stews and vegetable dishes that I would create, imagining Eric's delight at how well we were eating and how satisfied he was. Eric, who is more of a realist, was anticipating the opposite, but I assured him that after a taste of my concoctions, he wouldn't even miss the meat.

Not surprisingly, I was wrong, not only about Eric, but about myself.

The first night we arrived in Tekin, our headmistress Glenda invited us to dinner at her house. She houses the small school freezer and is able to keep a small supply of chicken and/or beef on hand. The dish she prepared was a very tasty peanut chicken served over rice. She apologized that there was only a small amount of meat, and I readily assured her that it was okay since I didn't eat much meat and was practically a vegetarian. So far, so good.

About a month into our time, and many delicious vegetarian and doctored-up-tinned-meat dinners later, we hit a low point. One evening we had finished eating a particularly tasty curried lentil dish, served with flat bread and a side of stir-fried cabbage. Eric complimented the meal, saying, "That was awesome! Let's eat that again some time." I forced a smile and replied, "I know. It was good." I then gritted my teeth and enunciated the next sentence slowly. "But I just want a big, thick, juicy steak." Finally, with a desperate wail I cried, "Give me some meat!" I buried my face in my hands with despair. Eric lost it. Here was his practically vegetarian wife, having a dramatic hissy fit over a meat craving. An ally at last!

I did not expect that meat was going to be the thing I missed the most. I guess when you can't have it, it is harder to do without. We all appreciate at least having the option to partake of something. "Just give me some meat!" has become our new mantra at meal time. I doesn't help to satisfy our cravings, but it brings some humour and relief to our sometimes depressingly sparse dinner table.

Thankfully, we are able to eat one solid chicken meal every two to three weeks, as we have been given space in the school freezer. On our next term break, when we fly to Wewak to buy supplies, we're planning to buy some chunks of beef to bring back with us and keep on hand for a true meat fix now and then.

Until then, we are doing our best to be content. We continue to drool when we watch the Arby's and Applebee's commercials on the recorded DVDs that our friend Crystal sent to us. Our eyes get big and our stomachs growl as close-ups of char-grilled steaks and burgers parade before us. Attempts have been made by friends to send us ready-crisp bacon, but sadly, the packages were seized and destroyed at the border. One of our favourite pass times is playing the alphabet game with different categories like "Food we miss", or "Restaurants we'll visit when we get home", or "Snacks we crave". You would think that such an activity would torment us even more, but it actually seems to help. It gives us hope. What a pathetic pair we are!

On a more serious note, this time has taught me what I've always known, but have never been able to fully realize. We, as Canadians, are very blessed with an abundance of food and access to endless meal options. This is not the norm for many nations in our world. When I return to Canada, I hope that I will have gained a new perspective and the ability to be truly thankful.

One thing I have learned about myself: I am NOT a vegetarian. My unexpected carnivorous cravings have emphatically proven this to me!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Baking Day

Baking has always been an enjoyable hobby for me. Here, in Tekin, it has become a necessity. If I don't bake bread, we must go without. The muffins, loaves, and cookies that I produce help to take the edge off our hunger through the day, and make the painful absence of meat more bearable. This necessity has taken some of the joy out of it for me, but since I manage to create these goodies without the benefit of an electric oven, and since it makes our stomachs happy, there is also a rewarding aspect to it.

Our wood stove has become my best friend and my worst enemy. On most mornings, after tea and oatmeal porridge, heated quickly on the gas ring, I set to work preparing a fire for the day's baking. First I open the lowest hatch to check the tray for ash accumulation. If it's full, I remove the tray, take it outside and empty it at the base of a flower bush or tree for fertilization. I replace the tray, and start to lay my fire in the tiny fire box directly above the ash hatch. After meticulously arranging small pieces of wood, paper, and cardboard, I light a match and hold my breath as the paper, and hopefully the sticks begin to burn. At this stage, often I have forgotten to open the damper and side vent. If this is the case, smoke pours into the room and I hack and cough as I quickly remedy the situation. During this flurry, usually the fire goes out and I have to strike another match. The second one usually takes, and I close the fire box door for a few minutes to let things heat up. At this point I open the much larger oven door, make sure the rack is on the lower shelf, and place the oven thermometer inside.

Now, what will I make today? If it's a Monday, I usually bake whole-wheat banana muffins with bananas that we've purchased at the Monday market. I start to mash bananas and measure out dry ingredients. If I remember in time, I open the fire box again and add some small sticks to continue building the blaze. If I forget, I have to start again with more paper and cardboard. I can't tell you the number of times this has happened. After all, I'm used to "turning on" my oven and then forgetting about it until the baked goods are mixed and in the pans ready to be baked.

The fire is not the only thing to consider. Depending on the freshness of my current batch of flour, I sometimes have to first sift it through a very fine sieve in order to remove weevils, larvae, and insect eggs.

Speaking of eggs, they are surprisingly not an ingredient that we have consistent access to. I can count on one hand the number of times we've had the opportunity to buy eggs, or had them supplied to us through an egg program that a kind MAF family included us in. We have to ration them very carefully, and I try to find recipes that call for a maximum of one or two eggs. Our friend Glenda has discovered this handy, powdered egg substitute called No-Egg. She has generously supplied us with a couple of boxes via some friends in New Zealand. This product works well in baking, and I'm trying to make it last as long as possible.

Back to my fire. It takes a minimum of one hour for the fire to reach 350o F, if I have remembered to stoke it every five to ten minutes. When it reaches the desired temperature, I remove the thermometer and replace it with my baking tin. When I had a timer that worked, I used to set it for five minutes, turn the baking and stoke the fire, then set it for another five. In this way, I could avoid the back left corner of the baked goods becoming black from the intense heat of that part of the oven. If I turn the pan every five minutes, it gives me a more even browning, but this process quickly wore out my cheap, digital timer. These days I have to practically keep my eyes glued to my alarm clock to avoid burning things and to keep the oven hot. Unfortunately I am easily distracted from minding the time! It's just so tempting to work on those dishes, and before I know it, more than ten minutes have passed. Not good.

Despite the challenges of this system, I manage to churn out a pretty tasty supplyof baking every week. It's fun to try new recipes and make do with the ingredients that we have. Some of our favourites include the banana muffins I mentioned, whole wheat focaccia bread, peanut butter chocolate chip cookies, toasted granola, and pizza. I try to provide the teachers with a sampling of something every week, just for a little pick-me-up. They seem to enjoy trying new things. I also like to give my house helper a goodie bag to take with her after a hard morning's work. Eric is perpetually hungry and therefore reluctant to part with any of the baked goods. As a result, I have to be a bit sneaky about their distribution, particularly items containing precious chocolate chips. In reality, he has just as much fun as I do sharing, but in his own grumpy way. He is careful to monitor and make sure there is enough left for us to enjoy until my next baking session. And when will that be? Why tomorrow, of course!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Valley Developments - Part Two: New Airstrip

Eleven kilometres up the trail in Divanap (Eric's childhood home), the villages have teamed up together to plan an airstrip for their area. Community members have leased their bordering land for this purpose, and the measuring and surveying has been completed. We got to experience part of this last Tuesday, when an MAF pilot came to Tekin to survey the site and give his stamp of approval.

After Eric's morning classes, we set off with Glenda on the eleven kilometre hike to Divanap. The pilot had left earlier that morning to do the surveying. When we reached the area, some boys offered to escort us to the site. Little did we know what awaited us. After removing our shoes to slosh through the river, we hiked up a very long, steep, wooded mountain side. Then we emerged through the trees, through a flower-arch and approached a clearing. I gasped as we saw hundreds and hundreds of people sitting on the ground, waiting to greet us. They parted to create an aisle for us and began to clap in a united, rhythmic pattern. We walked through the crowd to a "stage" area that was covered with a tarp and had chairs for us to sit on. They gave us fruit, vegetables, and bilums for gifts, and invited Eric to say a few words. A man translated for him and they all cheered and clapped some more.

After we had rested, we went for a walk around the site. It is evident that there is a lot of work to be done. What will need to be a long, flat surface for planes to land on, is a series of ravines and uneven, tree-covered terrain. But the Divanap people are confident that they want this to happen and are ready to work together to achieve it. The pilot says that with no machinery to help them it will take about five years, but the people are saying ONE! Time will tell. Maybe in a few years we will be able to land there for a visit.

It is an exciting time to be living in the Tekin valley. We anticipate positive changes in the future as things develop and progress here.