Saturday, December 31, 2016

In which we stride through swamps and mud and remain flexible...

"He'll revive their spirits, make them proud to be on God's side.  God will use them in his work of rebuilding, use them as foundations and pillars, use them as tools and instruments, use them to oversee his work.  They'll be a workforce to be proud of, working as one, their heads held high, striding through swamps and mud, courageous and vigorous because God is with them, undeterred by the world's thugs."
Zechariah 10:3b-5 (MSG)
Now that we are safely in Honiara and have a few nights of good sleep under our belts, I can look back and process the beginning of this week.  Our ship, the Kosco, is very regular and dependable, especially by "Solomon Time" standards.  Last week, the ship changed its schedule and planned to come out to only our area instead of going all the way out to Gizo in the western part of the Solomon Islands.  That meant, instead of us returning on Wednesday, December 28, afternoon or evening, we would be traveling back to Honiara overnight on Monday, December 26.
The teenagers have been practicing with Marulaon's choir since the start of Advent, putting in late hours almost every night of the week.  The choir prepared for leading the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services, but it also prepared for the Christmas caroling in other villages during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day.  And our kids were really looking forward to being a part of that experience.  For Sarah and Benjamin, this is their last chance, and they are fully aware of taking advantage of every opportunity.
Leaving Marulaon early on Wednesday morning
The Kosco's change in plans meant an end to our kids' hopes of going to carol in other villages.  Unless...we let them go on Monday night and the choir master (our good friend, Belza) promised to have them home in time for the ship's arrival.  We anticipated the ship no earlier than 1 a.m., and Belza thought they would be home by 10.  So, we decided to let them go and to trust our friends and our God to work out all of the details.  Our alarm went off at 1:00, and Aaron and I got up to start shutting down the house.  And realized that none of our teenagers were home yet.  At 2:00 they returned, full of stories and laughter and delight.  It didn't take us long to have everything ready for the ship - windows tightly shut and locked, mattresses and pillows stripped and piled under a dust cover, linens folded and put in a box to bring back to town to wash.
We began playing Cancellation Hearts, our new favorite family game, and our tiredness led to lots of giggling and goofiness as the night led on.  Finally, around 4:30, some of us decided to try and nap until the ship came.  We had made pumpkin muffins for breakfast on the ship, and they made a lovely breakfast.  Then we began to hear rumors that the ship had cancelled its trip.  We finally got an e-mail out to our colleagues in Honiara mid-morning, and they confirmed that the Kosco wasn't coming and didn't have plans to come until January 8.
Arriving at the tip of Guadalcanal on Wednesday morning
And now we were in a dilemma.  With only four months left before we return to America, we are praying to be a "workforce to be proud of...courageous and vigorous" because God is with us.  But lately it has felt as if we are "striding through swamps and mud", and honestly, we haven't felt very courageous or vigorous.  We plan to return to Marulaon on February 5, and we have tons to accomplish in Honiara in January.  And New Year's Eve is not our favorite time to be in the village.  Our only alternative was to hire an engine, driver, and canoe and come across the ocean to the tip of Guadalcanal, then take the SITAG truck back to Honiara.  Traveling this way also meant that we had to repack everything and take only backpacks and school books.  Leonard, our translation committee chairman, will come back on the Kosco and bring the few boxes we left on the porch (like our dirty sheets and towels - wow, that will smell good when we open the box!).
Coming across the ocean meant depending solely on the availability of the two remaining SITAG teams in Honiara.  We have the most amazing colleagues.  We arranged the transportation on our end, the two families, on the spur of the moment, got the petrol and the money we needed, and Wednesday morning, our family was down on the beach at 5:00 a.m. waiting for the canoe.  At 5:30, Leonard walked over to us to inform us that the original driver wouldn't be coming, instead, our favorite driver, Belza, would be coming along and bringing his son and nephew.  Leonard hopped in, as well.  We trust and love these guys and are so thankful that unexpected gift in the middle of the chaos.

The sea reflected the morning sun like glass, an answer to our prayers.  Twice, we approached a line of rain and watched it part, with rain on the left and the right, but not where we drove through in the middle.  The third time, though, we were pelted with cold, hard rain.  The kids laughed and considered the whole thing an adventure, and I'm so grateful.  Aaron and I were so sleep deprived that we were singing Sunday School songs from our childhood and causing our kids to look at us like we had lost our minds.
We finally hit the shore on the tip of Guadalcanal at 8:15.  Aaron had been trying to find a phone signal during the entire trip across the ocean, but never could find one to be able to contact our colleagues.  God worked out all of the details, though, and our colleagues had only been waiting for 15-20 minutes.  They brought cold juice and cookies and smiling faces to welcome us and strong hands to help our numb bodies out of the canoe.  They provided breakfast once we returned to SITAG.  They made up the beds before we arrived.  They nourished our weary bodies and minds.  They were the tools and instruments God used to breathe life back into us.  I felt like I had jet lag from flying across the Pacific Ocean.  Not only was I exhausted, but my body couldn't figure out what time it was.
After a few days back in Honiara, we are beginning to feel a little more steady on our feet.  We've started our puzzle of the Three Wise Men (one of them looks amazingly like my dad, so we call him "King Dan"), we've made Christmas goodies from the contents of care packages we found waiting in Honiara, we've listened to Aaron reading Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" out loud.  And we've slept long and well.  Thanks for praying for our transition back to Honiara, God is answering your prayers.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Christmas Day Celebrations

We slept lightly last night, listening for Eta's voice to call out that our fish were ready to be cooked.  A little before 3 a.m., Sarah woke up, saw lights and movement in Eta's kitchen, got dressed, and walked over.  Eta and her sisters were cooking our fish along with their own so they didn't have to disturb us.  We have the best neighbors!

The "rising bell" rang forty-four times at 4 a.m.  I think everybody in the entire village rolled over and went back to sleep.  But when the "swimming bell" rang at 5:30, we all popped out of bed.  At 6:10, one of our friends knocked on the door to ask if we had any candles the church could use in the service.  The tapers were already packed up with the Christmas tree, waiting for the Kosco, but we still had one unopened box, and Aaron was able to dig it out. 

The church service began at 6:45, and we couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day.  As we walked the few feet between our home and the church, a huge rainbow stretched almost the entire width of the sky, and I felt like God had given me a beautiful Christmas present.  After the church service, everyone was dismissed for morning tea.  Ezekiel walked by our house and called up to ask if we had any coffee. 
Since Aaron drinks coffee, Ezekiel has developed a strong preference for coffee over tea.  Over pumpkin raisin muffins (my mom's recipe) and coffee, Aaron, Ezekiel, and I sat on the porch and enjoyed visiting until the insistent bells called us down to the public area for the dancing.

Karumalun always has the best traditional dancing.  They are so fun to watch!  Olivia was fun to watch, too.  She and her small friend, Muna, giggled as Muna played with Olivia's hair.  Over and over and over again, Muna pulled Olivia's hair over her face, and Olivia blew it out of her eyes.  Muna thought it was the best game in the world!

After the dancing came the feasting.  Sarah and I went up to the kitchen to get the lelenga/cassava pudding, only to discover that our extra thick culinary masterpiece wasn't cooked all the way through.  Bummer.  We cut the edges off and took them down as our contribution.

And then began the long process of combining each family's food, making big piles, distributing the piles on the coconut leaf tables, then waving the flies away while we wait for the start of the feast.

An abundance of food, mostly fish and lelenga, filled up tummies, and then it was time for the speeches.

Aaron was the last one to give a speech, and he made an impact with an object lesson of a dull knife and the lack of God's Word in our lives.

The guests began heading home around 4:00, then the clean up from the festivities began.

What do you do with all of the food and leaf detritus?  You throw it into the sea, of course!  I'm super proud of my kids who played hard all weekend, then worked hard to serve our neighbors by helping to clean up.  We should sleep well tonight!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Christmas Eve in Marulaon

Christmas Eve here in the village is about as far away from Christmas in North America as you can possibly get.  Physically, we are obviously across the Pacific Ocean.  The weather is hot and steamy, too, so that by mid-morning, I'm often strongly suggesting that Aaron put on a clean shirt.

Hospitality looks different, as well, when you are preparing for hundreds of people to descend on the village for 24 hours and nobody has refrigeration.
Passport culture traditions get set aside as we embrace the traditions of our adopted culture.

So, today looked like Sarah scraping thirty-seven coconuts in preparation for cooking for both Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, while the rest of us peeled cassava, pumpkins, and potatoes,

gathered leaves and flowers to weave into garlands to decorate the church,

grated cassava on our maio (which still reminds me of a medieval torture device, even though it's really just a huge grater),

and grated even more (because two big baskets of cassava showed up on our porch, deposited by thoughtful friends who knew the cassava in our garden wasn't ripe yet),

working with friends to continue the long process of decorating the church,

and finally getting the fire ready and the potatoes and pumpkins stuffed with coconut cream just in time for the guests to arrive and Marulaon to welcome them.

We sang and danced as the guests pulled up to the shore in canoes,

and kept singing and dancing and waiting as all of the guests assembled.

Then the chief welcomed our guests and made a few announcements,

and the visiting chiefs responded with their brief speeches.  Then we went back home to finish the lelenga/cassava pudding while the teenagers prepared to sing with the choir during the evening service. 
The bell for church surprised us, and Aaron and I decided to wait until after church to put the pudding on the fire, and Aaron just heaped up coconut shells on top of the fire and stones to keep them hot.
After church, we finished preparing the pudding for tomorrow and pulled out the food for tonight to share with our visitors. 
When everybody had finished eating, the caroling began.  Around 9:00, Marulaon's choir started the festivities by singing five carols, followed by each of the other villages in our church district.  The custom here is to place small gifts on a table set up in front of the carolers, so we brought jars filled with unpopped popcorn as our gift for each group.  We finally straggled back up the hill around 10:30, anticipating Eta bringing our fish sometime in the middle of the night so we could cook our contribution for the Christmas Day feast.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Back in Honiara

We have arrived safely in Honiara!  Thanks for the prayers as we practiced our flexibility.  I'll be updating the blog soon...

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Travel Update

Any of you who have followed the Choates updates over their years in the Solomon Islands have probably seen their many references to “island time” and the flexibility it requires!

At the last minute, the Kosco’s plans to travel to the Russells this week were cancelled, leaving the Choates scrambling to find alternate transportation back to Honiara. There are not a lot of options when it comes to finding a boat capable of handling the open ocean, but God opened a connection, helping them secure a boat and a driver. This alternate plan will involve greatly scaling back on the luggage allotment, but it will also mean a two-hour boat trip (followed by about an hour of drive time) instead of nine hours on the Kosco, so that’s a blessing! If all goes according to schedule, they will leave Marulaon today (Tuesday) around noon CST, 5 AM Wednesday SI time.

How you can pray: Please pray for stamina after several nights of greatly reduced sleep due to Christmas celebrations and the anticipation of a middle-of-the-night Kosco departure. Pray also for a timely and smooth trip back and for the finances to fall into place to handle the necessary expenses related to travel adjustment. Finally, pray for energy as the Choates have a full slate for their brief weeks in Honiara before returning for another village stay.

Thanks for the prayers!

- Ann H.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Friday, December 23

A peek into village life right now:
Clean the walls with bleach water to combat mold. Count how many cans of diced tomatoes we have in the pantry. Go dance to prepare for Sunday's Christmas festivities. Check the house batteries in hopes that a little bit of sun is glowing through the clouds.
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Count how many rolls of toilet paper we have left in the house. Sing with the choir to make sure everything is ready for the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day services. Pause to use up the bubbles with friends. Check school books to make sure we have what we need for January in Honiara and pack them up.
Radio sched with our colleagues in Honiara and learn that the Kosco will be arriving at Marulaon in the middle of the night Monday night. Play a family game. Paint the church. Take inventory of the medicine box. Thank God that the rain tanks are overflowing.

Wednesday, December 21

One of our SITAG colleagues introduced us to the Great British Baking Show during our stay in Honiara in October.
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The show inspired Sarah to build a more elaborate gingerbread house than we usually attempt.
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The goal was King Herod's palace, a cranky King Herod, three Wise Men, and a camel.
The most fun part is the decorating, and everybody worked together with the bits and pieces of sweet things we had on hand.
We searched Honiara in October for powdered sugar (called icing sugar here), but we never could find any.
Thankfully, our willing colleagues sent some on the Kosco
to enable us to laugh and play and make memories together during Advent.
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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Tuesday, December 20

Today my Benjamin turned 16 years old. Our celebration was very low key. Sarah made cinnamon rolls, and Benjamin didn't have to do any chores.
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Aaron and Ezekiel had some loose ends that they needed to tie up before Christmas and our return to town next week, so they worked on the porch for almost five hours.
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The rest of us played games (Benjamin won) and cooked delicious things in the kitchen. Sarah made a spice cake and gingersnap ice cream that was absolutely amazing! We'll celebrate more when we get back to Honiara next week.
Benjamin wanted his candles to light like a row of dominoes falling, so he clumped the birthday candles on one side of his cake. He has a servant heart, so, of course, when it was time to eat birthday cake and ice cream, he wanted to scoop the ice cream onto the plates.
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From our chalkboard:
Benjamin is awesome because:
-He likes to sing and can sound really good
-He is a great brother
-He looks good except when he makes weird faces
-Good with little kids
-Likes to do what is right
-He loves his sibs
-He is a good snuggle buddy

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Monday, December 19

We've been needing some more kuma (tongs to move the hot stones on and off the motu) in our outside kitchen.
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Saturday afternoon, I asked around until I found somebody who could show me how to make them: my next door neighbor, Nancy. She pointed me to the right place to ask for the proper bamboo, and we made plans to get together today to make several pairs.
Just as our lunch was ready to go on the table, we got word that Nancy had started a roaring fire and was ready for us to come over with the bamboo. All of our kids came, too.
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Nancy's family is one of our favorites, and her kids are absolutely precious. In fact, Annie turned three today.
Nancy quickly split the bamboo in half, then continued to cut it into smaller pieces until each piece was the perfect width for the kuma.
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Then she showed us how to trim off the unwanted pieces, smoothing both sides and the edges.

Sarah and Benjamin took turns following Nancy's example, and she guided them through the process.
When each bamboo piece was smooth and ready, it was laid on the glowing coals and gently heated.
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Then the soft piece of bamboo was folded over a stick, and the two ends of the kuma were tied together to cool in place.

I loved watching each of my kids find their niche of service, whether it was watching little ones or chipping away with a bush knife.
The whole process took only an hour, and we were back home with several new pairs of kuma, ready to cook for the big Christmas extravaganza this weekend.
As we were walking home, Nancy requested some laundry detergent, and I happily filled her container as a thank you for the skills she had just generously shared with us.