Thursday, July 30, 2009

Linguistics conference in Goroka

Last week I went to the linguistics conference in Goroka with a group of people from Ukarumpa. The conference ran for two days and it was packed full of different speakers. There was quite a lot of speeches on language and education. It was all very interesting. The highlight of the conference was the food (yes, back onto food again!). They provided morning and afternoon tea and lunch each day, and dinner on the second day. You should have seen the amount of food. What they put out for morning tea would have been enough for lunch. There was just tables and tables of food for lunch. The amazing thing is that it was all free! We didn't have to pay any conference fees at all and we greatly benefitted, both our minds and our stomachs!

I am currently in Buka, but I didn't have email/internet access when I was in Goroka and Kokopo, so now I have to catch you up on what happened before I got here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Playing with knives

When we were in our village living at Madang, I didn't have a pocket knife, which I have discovered was probably a good thing since I had one on this village trip and I managed to cut myself with it twice! The first time, I was putting the knife back into its slot and the ants (at our very first house) were biting my ankles, so I was jumping around and that's my excuse for my finger getting in the way of the knife as it went in. It was quite a deep cut with blood flowing steadily.

The second time I cut a finger on the pocket knife, I was cleaning the blade, rubbing it with my fingers and a bit of cloth (my skirt), and in the process my finger pressed against the blade a bit too hard and the inevitable happened! Once you get a cut in the village, you have to be so careful to keep it clean so that it doesn't get infected. Sometimes I had bandaids on some pathetic scratches on my feet just to keep it healthy. Fortunately none of us got any infected sores, so that was good.

The Sos Kundi people learn to use knives at a young age. Here's Raylene (the two and a half year old that we shared a house with for two weeks) getting some experience with a knife.

I think it must be somewhat dull if she is able to carry the knife like this:

Monday, July 27, 2009

The toilet

The toilet was not our favourite place in the village. They had pit toilets, but the pit was not very deep. The surface was so close that if you dropped something valuable down there, you could retrieve it (not that you would really want to though!!). So with the shallowness of it all, it meant that the bugs (cockroaches, flies, maggots) were near the top and there was a very strong odor (I hope you're not eating while you're reading this!).

One time I was going to the toilet and as I stepped over the hole, a whole swarm of flies flew out and I made a quick exit! As I was walking back to the house, a young girl asked me, 'Yu pekpek pinis?' ('Did you already finish in the toilet?'). She asked because she had seen me go there and I came back so quickly, so I had to tell her that I saw all the flies and ran away. They must have thought, 'If it's that bad that they don't even do their business, we'd better do something' because later that day, the girl's father gave Correna the last of their fly spray for us to use when there was a lot of flies.

Another time I went after dark and there was a frog in the toilet hut…maybe you can ask me about that story. It doesn't seem right writing about it, too much detail that I feel strange about writing about on the Internet! Anyway, I generally avoided going to the toilet after dark, and maintained a constant state of under-hydration just so that I didn't have to go very often!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Our living situation in the village

When we arrived at Chikinumbu village we stayed in newly built 'bush house' (a house made out of bush materials), but after a couple of nights we moved to another house as this new house was full of biting ants, and we couldn't sit or do anything without being constantly bitten! So in Chikinumbu, where we lived for 5 of the 7 weeks, we stayed with a married couple, Peter and Fransiska. This the house we stayed in at Chikinumbu:

The village was quite big. There was a long path going from one end to the other as you can see in the picture below.

When we stayed in Mangijangut for two weeks we stayed with Kathryn and Patrick and their very active 2 and a half year old, Raylene. We didn't cart our food with us to that village, so we ate whatever Kathryn cooked for us - a lot of pumpkin, fish and sago, and the occasional meat as mentioned in a previous post.

The bedroom we stayed in at their house had a ceiling which was just about my height. If I stood up straight, my head touched the ceiling, along with the cobwebs, so I kept my head down mostly. We also had rats living in the ceiling and they got active after dark, squeaking and running around making loud noises. I was blessed with being able to filter the noises out and get a good sleep. Here's a photo of the house in Mangijangut:

When we were at Chikinumbu we cooked for ourselves mainly (over a fire) and sometimes we ate local food that someone cooked for us.

We had a nice big room at Chikinumbu. The picture below shows our beds, but behind me was quite a bit of space. The room was about double the size of what you can see in this photo. My bed is the one closest to the camera.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

It's raining!!! (Bathing story 2)

Oh how you would love some rain in Melbourne! We've had heaps in Ukarumpa lately, but when we were in the village it was entering dry season there and our nice bathing spot (which I haven't told you about yet) didn't have enough water for us to use, so we were bathing at our muddy bathing spot (mentioned in my newsletter if you receive it), which was getting less and less water and it was just difficult bathing there because of the mud, so we were really happy to get some rain. It filled up our nice bathing spot and we were able to use that for the rest of our time there.

We also took the opportunity to have a shower in the rain under the water coming off the roof of the house. It was so nice, we felt so nice and clean afterwards, perhaps because the temperature had dropped with the rain and we washed at the house, so we didn't have a walk back to the house to get us all hot and sweaty again. We washed our hair in the rain too and also washed our clothes while we were wearing them. Here's a picture of me washing in the rain:

Another thing we did when it was raining was catch rain water for drinking. The first time we had a good rain, we didn't have our tarp set up, so a few people got wet while hurrying to set it up and get as much water as we could. The water wasn't quite flowing the way we needed to either, so a young boy was sitting under the tarp directing the water into the bucket.

But firstly, we didn't have an empty bucket to collect the water in. All our buckets had food in them, so we emptied out the contents of one bucket so that we could collect water. A few days later we had nearly gone through all our water and we needed some more, so we prayed for rain and cleaned the tarp and the bucket, in anticipation of God answering our prayer. That afternoon we had another good rain. It was such a good rain that we didn't want to let it go to waste, so we emptied out another bucket of food and collected two buckets of water to last us twice as long. After that, it always rained often enough that we didn't run out of water.

The problem with emptying two buckets of food was that we had to find some way of keeping the food out of the reach of the rats. That's what the rat-proof buckets were for, but we hadn't gone through enough food to use two less buckets. We ended up putting the food into bilums (string bags) and tied the top so that the rats couldn't get in, the we hung them from a beam in the house. Gradually as we got through our food we were able to empty the bilums into the other food buckets, but as you can see, living in a village is not quite as simple as you may think, there are certain obstacles and challenges that you have to solve!

Here's our bilums hanging up:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Work or holiday in the village?

So far I have written a lot about food and the fun things that we did in the village, but no, I didn't go there for a holiday! I did actually do work. It's just that it's not as exciting as all the other things!

Elvira and I recorded stories in the Sos Kundi language about various things and we also recorded a rough Tok Pisin translation. When we had a person with a story to tell, we would first record an introduction saying, the language, the topic, the date, who was speaking and what village they were from. Then they would tell the story and when they finished the story we would say and record, "And again in Tok Pisin", and they would tell the story again in Tok Pisin.

Here's a picture of me recording a history story from an old man:

Some of the topics that we recorded were about:
How to make sago
Our fishing trip
How to make a dugout canoe
The frog and the rat
A spider that scared us one night
What we did in a language learning session
A personal fishing experience
A sago palm that fell and landed on a man's leg
A crazy woman
Dogs, pigs and sago
Our mango that looked like betelnut

We also recorded some prayers and life stories and stories about many other things. We recorded over 40 stories. As you can see, we often recorded a story about something that had just happened and made a good story.

Sometimes we (the three of us) sat down with somebody and transcribed one of the stories we recorded. I operated the recorder, pressing play and stopping it and the native speaker repeated what they heard and Correna wrote it down. Often I had to replay sections until Correna and the native speaker had heard it well and were clear on what the recording had said.

Correna will type up the text of these stories and will be able to learn more about the language and its grammar.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Off travelling again

Tomorrow I leave Ukarumpa again and won't be back for 4 months. I am travelling to Goroka by road with a group of SIL people tomorrow to go to the Linguistic Society of PNG conference. There will be various people there presenting information on linguistic research they have done.

On Friday I will fly from Goroka to Rabaul/Kokopo, stay there for 3 nights and then fly to Buka. I will be at Buka for over a month, and I will be visiting a couple of language groups to consider whether I would like to work there, plus I will be managing the kitchen during a two week workshop.

I travel to Melbourne next for a holiday, arriving on 4th September. I am enjoy my birthday there and being able to watch the AFL Grand Final live.

I leave Melbourne on 27th September and I go to Alotau to be a mentor at a translation workshop called VITAL, then I fly back to Ukarumpa on 9th November (I think that's the date).

For the next week or so, I won't have Internet or email access, but when I get settled at Buka I should have it, and I will have mobile phone reception almost everywhere I will be on these travels.

I am going to prepare some blog posts about my Sos Kundi trip this evening if I have time and I can set them up to post automatically every few days while I am not connected, so you can keep checking my blog as per usual. (I am hoping that what I am setting up will work and the posts turn up automatically as scheduled).

Friday, July 17, 2009

STEP Open House

This morning I went to an open house for the STEP course to see what the participants have achieved. The STEP course is for Papua New Guineans, teaching them how to teach literacy and prepare local language materials for their community. Two men from the Sos Kundi language are participating in this course.

At the open house this morning, I saw the books that the language groups had made and I spoke with the participants. There was one book that had animals in it and in the text, each animal made its animal noise, like 'woof' for a dog. The pig's noise was "Mmoo", but when the men said it, it didn't sound like the 'moo' a cow makes, it was more like the grunting sound that pigs make. They even had a sound for the noise that the sun makes! I have never heard the sun make a sound, but I guess in their culture, they believe that the sun says things like animals too.

Here are some of the books the Sos Kundi men made:

I don't understand much Sos Kundi, but the first two words on this page, 'wuna apa' mean 'my father'.

Me talking to a language group about one of their books. (Unfortunately the only photos with me in them were blurry!)

A couple of Papua New Guineans looking at some books.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Don't fall!!

There were several log bridges in the Sos Kundi area. Rather scary to cross!! In the picture below, I am crossing a big log bridge with a hand rail.

Not all log bridges are so nice! There are smaller logs with no hand rails!! One time when crossing one such bridge, I had a long stick to help with balance, however I put too much weight on it and it snapped! Fortunately I did not fall in - I managed to regain my balance and at the same time a strong hand grabbed my arm from behind to steady me. It was a man who had been some distance behind us and I didn't realise that he had caught up with us. This reminded me of God and how he looks after us. We don't always realise He's there, but when we need it, He puts out His hand and rescues/protects us.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The last farewell

About 5 months before we arrived in the Sos Kundi area, two women from Mangijangut village died. They mourn and bury them at the time, but then for the next several months they follow some practices, for example the relatives of the ladies didn't cut their grass, the men didn't cut their beards and the relatives wore black woven bands around their wrists.

The finishing of this mourning period happened when we were in the area. We were staying at Chikinumbu village at the time, so we packed our bags to stay overnight at Mangijangut village. The night before we went there, they had a night of crying, but we missed out on that.

The night we went there, there was some men from another nearby language group who they had hired to sing their songs about how everything came to be.

Here are the men singing the traditional story about how things came to be. They sat up all night doing that. We stayed there till midnight and then went to bed. The super strong, super sweet coffee that we were served at 10pm helped us to last to midnight. There must have been about a 1/4 cup of coffee and a 1/4 cup of sugar per drink!

It was all happening in one house, and in the house, there were grass images of the two women who had died.

Here are the grass images of the two women, plus some other grass. The women are in the centre, you can see one clearly, it is the tallest one with a loop at the top (for the head). The other image is immediately left, but it is hard to see the loop for the head on this angle.

The next day, they burned the grass images and looked to see which direction the smoke went. They believe that indicates something about their cause of death (eg where the person who did sorcery to cause them to die is from). I'm not too clear on that.

Taking the images out to be burned:

The fire:

There are believers and two churches in the area, but traditional practices also still happen. Not everyone is Christian, just like in Australia.

Thursday, July 9, 2009


We saw a lot of animals when we were in the village. Some were living and some were dead when we saw them (for example the snake mentioned here). There were cows, ducks, chickens, pigs and crocodiles that the people were looking after to either eat or sell. There were a few cats and lots of dogs and puppies in the village.

One day we went to the market and we saw some people carrying a baby crocodile, so we had a look at it and had our photos taken with it. They were just carrying it that, they weren't selling it at the market, but sometimes when they are bigger, they sell them, either at the market or to private buyers. They get good money for the skin. In our village, one family had about 13 crocodiles in a pit that they will sell once they are bigger. The bigger the crocodile, the more money they get when they sell it.

Here's me with the baby crocodile:

Close up of the baby crocodile in my arms. See, it's mouth is fastened shut. They took the band off after we held it, and it was snapping quite a bit!

Another day we were sitting under a shelter doing some work, when some people came back from being out in the swamps, and they had with them a large lizard that they had killed and they were proud to show it to us. Here is a picture of me holding the dead lizard:

And the lizard full length:

And now for the dogs. The poor dogs have a hard life out there, but they got a bit of love and affection from me.

Here's me with a puppy:

The two puppies in the picture below are litter-mates, but one was weak and rejected my the mother and wasn't getting fed for a while. Correna took that puppy under her wing and cared for him, giving him food and washing him. We saw a lot of improvement in him and the mother dog accepted him and let him feed. As you can see in the picture, there is a huge size difference between him and his brother. When we left, someone was going to look after him for Correna, but he was still so small, we don't know if he will live to adulthood.

The next picture is of a young dog, maybe a 6 month old. She was about adult size, but still a puppy. I really loved her, she had such spunk and energy. She had already learnt to be cautious of human hands, so it was often hard for me to get near her. I usually gained her confidence by patting the baby puppies first.

When she let me near her, she just wanted to play. Playing involved her mouth and my hand, but she was gentle and never hurt me. Dogs know how to control their jaws well.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Food, food, food!

Wow, so far almost all my blog posts about my Sos Kundi trip have had something to do with food! Well, now I am just going to write one more post about food and be done with it!

As already mentioned, I ate snake and cuscus in the village. Some of the other meats that we had occasionally include: bandicoot, pork, duck, beef and chicken. The people killed a cow and gave us about 2 kilos of the best bit - good lean meat. I also ate cooked sago grubs three times. They were rather juicy, but not something that I would choose to eat!

Here's a few pictures of the food/me eating the food:

Burning the hair off the pig:

Orphaned piglets! Sorry, it's a cruel world.

Close up of sago grub, cooked with sago:

Me eating the sago grub in sago:

Cooking the bandicoot:

Bandicoot on the plate:

Me eating a bandicoot leg:

Friday, July 3, 2009

"Red buai"

In PNG some people chew betelnut with 'daka' (a mustard/pepper) and lime and it gives them a bit of a high and a red mouth. If they just chew the nut by itself, it doesn't have the drug effect or give them a red mouth.

Here's a picture of a young person from my village living at Bunabun who has just eaten some betelnut.

When we did our shopping for the village, we saw some dried mango that we thought would be good to have and put on our muesli. I really don't know what we were thinking when we picked up the packet. I guess we didn't really look at it properly…

Does the colour of the mango in the packet above look like normal dried mango to you? I don't think so!

We discovered that this mango had this reddish-orange strange coating on it and when you eat it, it makes your mouth go red, just like when people chew betelnut!

We thought this was quite funny and Correna played a trick on the people by eating one of these mangoes to give her a red mouth and she was laughing lots too, so they thought she was high on 'red buai' (buai = betelnut in Tok Pisin).

We showed them the packet of mangoes that we had and we gave everyone a piece. They just thought it was so cool, and after that we frequently had people coming and asking us for some of our 'red buai'. It was heaps of fun, and they liked it too because their church denomination forbids people from chewing buai, so this was an acceptable pretend buai!

Here's a picture of me with my red mouth from the mango, looking as though my mouth is red from buai:

And one of the people attending the writer's workshop, sitting there doing some work, holding his 'red buai':

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"So glad to see you bathing!" (Bathing story 1)

Our bathing spot at Mangijangut village, was right on the 'canoe highway'. Yes that's right, we bathed on a log at the side of the river where everyone coming and going from the village would pass us in their canoes. So obviously we didn't strip down and wash, we bathed with clothes on!

Sitting on the log and getting wet:

So on the only day that we brought the camera with us to take bathing photos, a man comes back from being out somewhere and he sees us and says, "I'm so glad to see you there!" We thought, 'Okay…why is he so glad to see us bathing?'

It was totally innocent though, he had speared a snake in the swamp and was glad that we were there so that he could show us!

The snake:

Proud hunter:

The numbering of the photos on the camera shows that this happened in the midst of our bathing…the photo of me bathing above is number 340, the two snake photos above are 344 and 346, and this photo below of me about to get dressed is 347. So photos of the man and the snake are surrounded by photos of us bathing!

That night, two pieces of snake were given to the family we were staying with, but they were afraid to eat it and Correna and Elvira didn't want to eat it. I was the only one who was game to try. I didn't even have any psychological issues to overcome to eat it.

Here it is on the plate:

Me eating it:

So, what did it taste like? It tasted like…chicken!! It really did! It tasted like the meat on chicken drumsticks.