Saturday, May 28, 2011

Hello and Goodbye

That is kind of how this last month has felt: "Hello PNG ... oh - our month is up. Goodbye, I guess!"

It has been a fast, fast month. I am sitting on our couch looking at our suitcases stacked by the door (I triumphed over our packing yesterday and managed to stuff everything we brought here into two checked pieces, one carry-on, a purse and a back-pack) and wondering how we are already leaving. I am sad, but I am thankful to be homeward bound. Although even as I write that, I feel I am being disloyal to our little yellow Papua-Guinea House, which has definitely become home away from home.

I have two lists in my head. Things I'm looking forward to that I've missed doing while we've been here, and things I've gotten to do in the last month that I am about to start missing. Some of the items or experiences that showed up on each list surprised me. Without further ado ... here they are!

Things I'm looking forward to about going home

  • spending time with family and friends
  • owning a car
  • being able to go outside on my own after dark
  • grilling (ok - eating what Mark grills)
  • my bed
  • having the option of not-from-scratch cooking
  • our church that is in English and where people don't stare at me when I walk in
  • wearing shorts
  • not hearing the unearthly sounds that cicadas make - at 6am, very faithfully, each day
  • 21st-century internet speed ;)
  • things outside of our home/immediate surroundings that I can take Anna to do. We are not normally stay-at-home kind of girls!
  • getting things ready for the baby. I have begun mentally nesting :)

Some things I will miss

  • spending time with our new friends who have become like family already
  • the view from my living room
  • eating fresh fruit and vegetables from Dr Bill's garden just across the yard
  • Mark's lunch breaks every day
  • taking Anna for walks outside that are punctuated every minute or so by a cheerful "gud mohning", "apnoon", or "gud evening" from Papua New Guinean people wandering around the station
  • being able to send Anna outside to play with the neighbour kids!
  • listening to the heavy tropical rain fall on our roof while I go to sleep
  • hanging laundry on the line
  • going to a church where I don't understand most of the words being said or sung, but still see love for Jesus on the faces around me
  • a gas stove!
  • being forced to slow down the pace of life
  • talking to our neighbours over the fence (or across the path, or through the gate, or while our children climb to various heights in the tree)
  • the feeling of community; fellowship found in sharing a purpose and ministry here away from all of our homes

Neither of these lists are totally exhaustive. But ... it is time to get this little girl fed and dressed, and start loading up our suitcases!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Confessions of a recovering performance-aholic

The last week or so has been an exhausting one. Not because I've been out and about doing more than usual ... but because this baby is sapping my energy! I was bone-tired all through my first trimester with Anna, but by about 14/15 weeks I'd gotten my energy back and felt GREAT. This time round? I got past the 12 week point without feeling super tired; more nauseous than last time (which is a good sign that I kind of welcome!), but all of a sudden I guess it caught up with me. Or the baby had a growth spurt, or something. (I have felt it move a few times, which surprised me since I'm not quite 13 weeks yet. But hey - not complaining!)

All of that to say ... sorry for the absence of updates recently - my usual me-time while Anna sleeps has been spent napping and not blogging :)

We are in our last week in PNG (we leave on Sunday morning). It is hard to believe. It will be a sad day; while this has by no means been a vacation, we have certainly been blessed to spend a month surrounded by so much beauty - in the people we are living with, and also our surroundings. I have been reflecting on the last month and some of our experiences ... thinking about what to include in our update letter when we get back ... and I have found myself struggling.

Mark's 'role' here has been very well defined. He is a doctor. He works in a hospital. He delivers babies, performs surgeries, sets bones, sutures bush-knife injuries, performs manual life-support for patients who should be on ventilators. He has cared for many patients in the last month that would totally overwhelm other residents at his level, and he has done it well. (Not that he hasn't ever been overwhelmed; he just copes with it well and doesn't panic!)

That is Mark's part of our update letter. My part? Well .... I've spent a month cooking and cleaning....? Hmm.

When I was in nursing school in England, I was enrolled in a very unique undergraduate Masters program that was being piloted by the University of Nottingham's nursing department. That sounded pretty impressive when I got accepted. When I was in nursing school in the States, I was on an accelerated 14-month RN-BSN program that had a crazy drop-out rate because it was so intense and difficult ... but I did it - pregnant, and then with a newborn. I have never really struggled with the idea of being a stay-at-home-mom, and have never felt like I "just" stay home with our daughter or that I should be using my nursing license or building my career. But I think that somehow my education and recent school accomplishments still validated me. I have only been out of school for the last two years of my life (except for a couple brief interludes when I met Mark and when we got married), and I guess being in the academic environment and getting my RN and degrees was recent enough that I could still bask in their glow.

Here, though, I feel so far removed from any of that. This is a world governed by rainfall and harvests and hardship and superstition and manual labour and great physical (and spiritual) need. And it sounds much more worthwhile to say that you are stepping into that need as a physician, than it does to say you are keeping house all day! The myriad of simple acts that comprise keeping a family clean, clothed and fed take so much longer here than at home, and I have realised that even if I'd transferred my license and worked as a nurse during this month, I could only have worked a day a week without our home falling into total disarray.

I have been encouraged by a couple of things, though. The first is the affirmation from other wives that it takes everybody longer to do things here, not just me! I am not the only person who begins dinner preparations at 4:30 in order to have a meal on the table by 6:30!! When a family moves here long-term, they either agree that one spouse will work full-time while the other stays at home full-time, or they hire house-help so that both parents can work - and even then, they may both only work part-time.
The second thing that has encouraged me is the fact that as this slower pace, I am able to spend more time just being. Being - with Anna, but also with myself. I can't fill our days with little errands and playdates across town and library trips and aquaruim trips and going to the park and house projects and extra trips to the grocery store to pick up things I forgot and ... and ... And! So we play. Together. We pretend that the part of the living room between the door and the couch is the beach. We have picnics there. We cycle our fruit and vegetables through their two sinkfuls of water - together. We make stories out of the Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-themed playing cards. We make banana-leaf umbrellas and chase lizards until they escape through a crack. And I have journalled, and blogged and read books.

And I do spend most of my day 'just' cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, and fighting an eternal battle against ants in my kitchen. But when I feel mundane, I am reminded by a "big-squeeze hug" around my knees or a hungry husband who sinks into his chair at the dinner table after a long day, that what I do is important. And I am grateful that I can do it!

Our picnic lunch while Dada & Uncle Bill were having an adventure hiking up Last Mountain, details of which can be found here!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

My best girl

Here are a couple of her two-year pictures ... enjoy!

(As I took these I was thinking back to this time last year, and marvelled at how much easier it was to take this year's batch. Hopefully this bodes well for her two-year-old stage...!)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Our ordinary selves

Here is a little photo log (phlog...? Ha.) of the way we spend our time here when we're not having birthday parties or sliding down waterfalls :) It is taking about 10 minutes to upload each photo right now, so depending how soon Anna wakes up from her nap you may not see this till tomorrow! But hopefully you'll get a little glimpse into what our days look like, here in our home away from home.

Our "Little yellow Papua Guinea house", as Anna calls it

The lane we live at the end of

The bridge we drove our 4WD vehicle over to get to the nearby waterfall. Pretty unnerving, even for someone who's been in ... alternative off-roading situations ... before! But we made it and the bridge is still intact!

Checking out Dr Bill's fabulous garden while they were both off one Saturday. He grows pineapples, black raspberries, tomatoes, carrots, beans, lettuce, bananas, basil, cilantro, bok choi, green onions, corn, peas, pumpkins... Oh, and he's also a doctor on the side. Mark was in heaven!

How we get online here

How we make lemonade here

Where we get bananas

How we get vegetables (this is the market in our nearest town, Mt Hagen)

Who we play with every day - Ethan and Lexi and whatever bug they most recently caught!

What Mark spends his days doing

How we play peek-a-boo in our laundry tents

How we make new friends! Anna loves seeing all the little babies here ... and their mothers love seeing her

And speaking of seeing babies ... our newest one is looking good :) Dr Bill was my temporary OB today and let us take a little peek!

So that is what we are up to these days. There are plenty more pictures I could post, and probably will when we get back to the land of the high speed interwebs. But this post has taken 4 hours to upload, so I am done for now :)

Friday, May 13, 2011

Our big little girl turns two!

Yesterday we celebrated Anna's second birthday! It is sometimes hard for me to believe that she is already two ... but most of the time, it feels about right :) Not because she is exhibiting a lot of particularly 'two-year-old' behaviour (though this is starting to make its grand appearance), but because she has achieved so much in the last year. She has learned how to explore and interact with her world in so many new ways, and is becoming very adept at communicating not just needs to us, but also her thoughts, opinions and preferences. She is learning the art of make-believe, and spends much of her playtime pretending. Which is endearing and often amusing! There is one corner of our living room here that she calls the beach, and will sit there digging in the sand or having beach picnics with her baby several times a day! She is developing a very nurturing character, and can often be found rocking her sippy cup to sleep or filling her little toy cradle with playdough grapes and singing to them. She talks about our 'tiny baby' a lot and loves to hug and kiss my belly; she seems to be looking forward to teaching tiny baby everything she knows when it's "all done hiding mama's tummy" :)

She is also developing a little social circle. She LOVES to play outside with our neighbours over here - especially the younger girl, Lexi. "Play Yexi?" can be heard many dozens of times each day in the Crouch house right now...! She of course also talks about seeing Clover again when we leave our "little yellow Papua-Ginee house", and draws lots of pictures of herself and Clover playing. I think it's so awesome that she's starting to expand her circle of important people to include more than just her parents :)

I did wonder how her birthday would go being so far away from our normal surroundings and friends ... but we had an awesome day! The night before, Mark and I filled the living room with balloons so she had a fun surprise when she woke up. And I was actually able to find some syrup at the store the last time I went into town, so I made her some birthday pancakes - always a hit :)

Add ImageAdd ImageShe wanted to put on her birthday skirt and "happy birfay hat" as soon as she woke up

I brought a couple boxes of cake mix as well as icing and sprinkles, so while Mark was at work Anna and I decorated her cake and cupcakes. I had sketched a couple of cake designs for her to choose from, and she went with butterflies :)

She was more into licking sprinkles off of the table than putting them onto the cupcakes, but she did a LITTLE bit of helping too!

The plan for her party was to have a cook-out at the bonfire pit behind our house, and then head in for cake and presents afterwards. Typically it rains here during the late afternoon and evening most days ... but not this day! We had some sprinkles for a few minutes, but nothing like the torrential downpour of the previous day. Thanks, God :)

The little bit of rain gave Erin the chance to model banana-leaf umbrellas for us!

Anna and her new BFF Lexi in their matching pink raincoats!

Keeping an eye on dinner

Dr Bill & Marsha McCoy, longtime family friends who we have the joy of living next to!

Smores for first dessert!

Blowing out her candle (with some help from Lexi & Dada) before digging into her cake for second dessert

The traditional Kudjip birthday hat

Opening presents! One of which was this adorable highland hat from Uncle Bill & Aunt Marsha. Now if only it would cool down enough to be able to wear it...! :)

I was totally overwhelmed by the outpouring of love our new friends showed us. It felt like half the compound turned up to celebrate the birthday of a little girl they barely knew, and it certainly blessed this Mama's heart! I'm so grateful for the closeness and fellowship we can share with our new neighbours, and that they are willing to invest in us and welcome us into their lives and homes even though we are only here for a month.

Monday, May 9, 2011

A trip to the market, a trip around the world

The day after we arrived here, our wonderful hosts the McCoys took us into Mount Hagen, our nearest town, to the grocery store and the market to stock up on food for the month. As can be expected, this was quite the eye-opening experience!

We are living on the Kudjip Hospital compound, which is about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on the amount of recent rain...!) outside of Mount Hagen. We used one of the compound vehicles to get into town, and took with us a Papua New Guinean man named Peter to act as our watchman and stay in the vehicle guarding our belongings while we went into various little stores. We needed Peter because culturally it is not looked down on to steal, since the stolen article/money can better one's tribal standing. If you are caught in the act of stealing, however, you bring huge shame to your tribe and you will be beaten half to death right there in the street.

The grocery store surprised me; it stocked several varieties of many items, and was fairly clean and pretty well organised. Food is really expensive since most of it is imported from Australia. I definitely spent over $10 on a box of cornflakes. Admittedly it was family sized, but still. No tasty bells or whistles - just plain ol' cornflakes! We buy UHT milk in cartons that don't need refrigerating, and mix it with powdered milk (which is better than powdered milk in the US, but still needs 'real' milk to boost the flavour). MSG is apparently considered a delicacy here, and is sold in cute little tins labelled 'Pure Monosodium Glutamate', for all the world to see. Tuna is the colour of chocolate pudding (though it tastes the same), and when buying canola oil I had to hunt through several rows of bottles to find one that didn't contain a good two inches of mystery sediment. What is there in oil that can sediment out...!? Cheese and ice cream are going to be treats while we're here since they're at least double the cost as back home, and I couldn't bring myself to even buy one little pot of yoghurt ($4 per individual pot) so Anna is learning how to eat cornflakes and berries for breakfast instead :) Overall, though, the grocery store experience was not that different from shopping back home.

The market, however, was another story. Fresh fruit and vegetables grow very well in this tropical climate, and I think I spent about as much on two weeks' worth of delicious fresh produce as on my box of cereal..! I don't have any pictures of the market since we were advised not to try to combine shopping trips with photography trips (inevitably either the camera or the food money will go missing!), but hopefully I can post some later. It is an outdoor market with a roof, but still very muddy and puddley inside. Vendors lay out their produce on tables or the floor, and splash dirty-looking water over their wares to keep it looking fresh all day. Garlic cloves are the size of large peas (VERY finicky to peel and chop, I'm finding!), avocados are nearly as big as Anna's head, small children stand behind the pineapple tables wielding machetes to lop the top off your pineapple if you want, and everything I bought from the market had to be washed once in tap water to get the obvious dirt off, and once in filtered water to get the tap water off. (We don't do anything with tap water here except wash dishes and shower. And pre-rinse market purchases!)

Mama's little helper washing off veg :) And that is not a slight of camera hand. They are green onions, and they are as tall as she is.

The lemons are the same size as back home. The avocados (our sample of which was not abnormally large compared with its peers) are not. It took us three meals of very generous avocado portions to finish off one!

After the 4+ hours we spent going between various stores to collect a reasonable pantry for our little home, we were exhausted! Partly from just being on our feet for that long, and partly because being foreigners (with a small and cute child) we were of course the subject of much curiosity and attention. I did feel under less scrutiny here than on either of our trips to Africa, though. Which was kind of nice :)

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The 6th Continent

As I blog today, I am looking out of my living room window across a small valley made up of patchwork little fields, at mountains. My view is partly obscured by the branches of a banana tree and some other tree that I don't recognise, but which is covered in bright red tropical looking flowers. I can hear two or three birds calling back and forth (much more musically than the robins and sparrows I normally listen to!), and the occasional whirring plunk of a gigantic cicada flying into the corrugated metal on the side of our house.

Yes, we are in Papua New Guinea! I have now been to every continent on Earth except Antarctica (and that is one stamp I highly doubt will ever appear in my passport) - I'm thinking 6 out of 7 before I'm 30 isn't bad :)

We arrived 4 days ago, I think - my sense of time has totally taken leave of me for some reason! Our flight was long, but pretty uneventful and MUCH easier than I was expecting it to be. We flew Tulsa - DFW - LAX - Brisbane - Port Moresby - Mount Hagen. Looonnngg!

Actually - I take back the uneventful part. *Someone* didn't quite notice that the travel itinerary from our travel agent included not a two hour layover in Brisbane, but a one DAY and two hour layover. Those date changes can really sneak up on you...! So as we were going through our gate at LAX, the gate agent asked us why we didn't have visas for Australia. To which we replied, "why would we need visas when we're only there at the airport for two hours?" She pointed out the actual length of our stay, and was thankfully able to issue us visas there at the gate! So when we arrived in Brisbane at 7am, we rented a car and drove to Australia Zoo.

After feeding kangaroos, watching the crocodile show and looking at all the animals Anna won't see at the Tulsa Zoo (Galapagos tortoises, Koalas, Wallabies etc), we headed to the beach! Our departure from the zoo was the only time on the entire trip that Anna cried or fussed, and that was quickly stopped with the promise of seeing the ocean shortly (Seriously. She is a much better traveller than either of her parents!). It was her first time to see the ocean, and she LOVED it. She loves looking through our Bahamas pictures and talking about oceans and starfish and sharks, so she was super excited to be able to play in the sand and look for little beach treasures. Honestly, although it was a huge (but rather amusing, even at the time) oversight on my part, our extra day in Brisbane was such a blessing. It broke up the trip, gave us a day to get adjusted to the time difference before hitting the ground here, and was really fun for Anna.

Showing off my new baby bump :)

And now, we are mostly unpacked and turning our little yellow house into our new Papua New Guinea home. Life is a little simpler here; no TV (although we rarely watch ours at home), I line-dry our clothes (we do have a washing machine, praise God - cloth diapers by hand? No thanks!), no dishwasher, internet connection speed from dial-up days (which may limit the number of pictures I can post!), water than has to be filtered before we can drink it ... but we are happy :) Mark is really enjoying working at the hospital here; he said that in his first two days, he has already done more than he would have in a week at Hillcrest. Of course, that is a mixed blessing; his patients here are truly sick. One of his pediatric patients died yesterday due to sepsis after a very third-world-rural-hospital attempt at coding him. He is seeing a LOT of domestic violence; the day before we arrived, a young girl came to the hospital 20 weeks pregnant with her membranes ruptured - from a machete attack by her husband's other wife who could not bear children. A young man was pronounced dead when his family brought him here - his older brother, furious about his marijuana use but not actually intending to hurt him, had hurled a spear at him and severed his carotid artery. Yeah. Pretty different medicine from working in downtown Tulsa ... but he is making the most of his opportunity to minister to his patients and be Jesus to them in each of their situations.

Well, it sounds like it may have started raining. We have pretty tropical weather during the first half of the day, and then it cools down and usually rains in the late afternoon. Which makes for very lush green surroundings. And also means I should go bring my laundry in!