Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Sunday, December 8

Sweet Sabbath

God purposes to build into us a quality of endurance...The people who will stay with their assignments through thick and thin are the ones who carry this record: “Discipline accepted.” These people are more concerned to guard their daily dying than their living rights. God’s people are the ones who accept the daily dying because it is indispensable and an integral part of accomplishing their mission. If we want to be able to say down the road, “I have completed the work you gave me to do,” let us welcome the incompatibilities that toughen spiritual temper and at the same time drive us to the resources of the life that was laid down for us. ~R. Arthur Matthews

All of the Choate ladies have succumbed to the village cold in varying degrees. Sleep has been a precious commodity because of late-night choir rehearsals and dance practices – all in preparation for Christmas. Olivia has jumped into village life wholeheartedly and loves singing and dancing alongside her friends. She also has the mildest version of the village cold.

In the midst of feeling rotten and being a little discouraged with the slow pace of the project, we’ve enjoyed some sweetness: our traditional gingerbread house construction. Except this year, the girls opted for a gingerbread canoe, and Aaron created a massive gingerbread turtle. We also included paddles and coral and a couple of gingerbread people to sit in the canoe. The canoe design was a disaster and fell apart completely. And the crushed candies on the turtle shell refused to melt properly. But we glued everything together with caramel, and it was delicious.

As we “welcome the incompatibilities that toughen spiritual temper and at the same time drive us to the resources of the life that was laid down for us,” I’m grateful for little sweet things that God sends our way. Like the gas cylinder that finally arrived, along with fresh eggs and snail mail. Not a single egg was broken, thanks to the careful packing of our SITAG colleagues. They even included a surprise – canned diced green chilies! We also got some rain today. A nice, long, soft garden rain. Not enough to refill the rain tanks, but enough to bring them up a little bit while gently soaking the ground.

(photo of grass skirt making)

Friendship sweetens our days, too. This weekend, Olivia and Katherine joined their friends to go hunt down some Mausa branches to make grass skirts. They tromped off into the bush, knives in hand, and returned to sit on the beach and scrape bark. Now the denuded branches are soaking in the ocean to soften the pulp and to make it easy to tear into strips for the skirt.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Friday, December 6

The Lavukal Translation Committee met in Marulaon today. Only representatives from four villages (instead of twenty) showed up, but Aaron went ahead with the meeting anyway. All three of the Choate girls are down with the “village cold”, so we stayed home and alternated between napping and school.

I contributed uncooked food for Kiko and her amazing team of caterers to prepare for the closing meal and also provided lemonade and popcorn for a snack break while the committee listened to the recording of Ruth. The committee made plans to meet again in January while we are back in Honiara for meetings at SITAG.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Thursday, December 5

Our rain tank is down to half full. We haven’t had measurable rain in more than two weeks. So after I finish washing our sheets today, we’ll begin rationing. That looks like no more mopping or washing windows. Since our louvers stay horizontal, and everyone cooks over an open fire and burns yard waste, it only takes a couple of days after washing windows for us to be able to write our name in the dust and ash that accumulates on the glass. And no more washing sheets, either. Since we have less than a month in this very short village stay, we can make this work without feeling the pinch too much. But we (and our sweet neighbors who can’t just pick up and leave) would still appreciate prayers for rain. #choatescandohardthings

Wednesday, December 4

Aaron walked “down” to Fly Harbour School again today. Although the path has a rise in elevation, when you go west in the Solomon Islands, “down” is almost always the word our neighbors use. And if you go east, you go “up”. My smart hubby learned from his last mistake and waited until midday to walk the two miles to the school. He found what he was looking for – a group from our village sewing up leaves to make “shingles” for the roof. And he also found Andrew Gesu and was able to talk to him about comprehension checking for Matthew. For several hours, Aaron worked side by side, serving the community so the school can add a grade next year. The longer that Lavukal students can stay in their language group, the better language and culture can be transmitted and the more likely they are to marry within the Russells, strengthening their tiny culture. We’re very excited that the school has long-range plans to expand over the next few years to include Form 3 (like 9th grade). Most students don’t go past that level of education.

In addition to shepherding school and home, my days have been full of handing out children’s pain reliever and bandaids; sharing yarn, material, thread, and beads; and cooking with hot stones in my friend’s kitchen. Lots of opportunities to build relationships and help ease life a little bit while weaving in conversations about how God is at work in our lives. This lively preschooler, Eric, surprises me with his constant joy and spunk and energy. He always makes me smile.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Marulaon Woman’s Daybook

Just for today...Monday, December 2

On my bookshelf… The Book Thief   I finished it, sobbing, yesterday afternoon. I usually don’t go for historical fiction, but this one is a keeper.

Pondering these words… “Most often, pride grows out of an incomplete focus on the wonder and majesty of God, and from taking for granted his grace and blessings.” ~Nancy Beach

Around the house...we decorated for Christmas this weekend. We only have a few things that have survived our many moves. I’m so grateful for the little Christmas tree we inherited when we moved into the village house.

From the kitchen...today is a day of leftovers. To use our propane gas tanks wisely, we always make sure the oven is full when we use it. Yesterday, I made gingerbread baked oatmeal while the pizza cooked. So today, we have oatmeal for breakfast, true odds and ends of leftovers for lunch, and cold pizza for supper. Our gas tank is extremely low. SITAG colleagues put a refill on a boat Saturday night. The boat hasn’t arrived yet, so I’m extra grateful for a day of not needing to use the stove or the oven except for heating water for coffee.

From the school rooms...after piecing together a few days of school last week (including some school on Saturday to make up for lost time) this week looks blessedly more normal. Olivia is learning about derivatives in pre-calculus, finishing up the 1960s in history, and delighting in acid/base chemistry. Katherine is learning about geometric measurement, discovering Alfred the Great in history, and reviewing the food chain in science.

Outside my window...Aaron learned how to repair our dugout canoe this morning. Using the very non-traditional materials of a mosquito net, pure petrol, and styrofoam, he and Hiva began the process of fixing the four holes in our canoe. Soon, Aaron will be able to paddle over to see Ezekiel again.

Sunday, December 1

Sweet Sabbath

I would have never had the wisdom, guts, or patience to choose this life for myself. I thought what I wanted was the path of least resistance. But God knew what I was made for – what I truly wanted – and graciously showed me, inch by inch, that I could trust him with my future, my hours, my debit card, and my kids. ~Shannan Martin

Last year, to help my college kids observe Advent, I sent care packages full of daily tags with small gifts or activities. This year, all they are getting for Advent is detergent. Thanks to Amazon (no, I don’t have any affiliate links), I can set up repeated deliveries and pay for them before we go to the village. Detergent makes me think of Malachi 3:2 – “But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.”

When I watch my neighbors pummel their clothes and fling suds all over the place, I feel a little bit sorry for the shirts and skirts. Until I see the results. Then I think about how sometimes I feel a little bit pummeled and scrubbed in life, about how I would never have chosen to live in a remote village in the tropics. I know that God is purifying and refining me. And I can trust Him.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Friday, November 29

I’m not even sure how to begin describing today. It is appropriate in this culture to commemorate the one-year anniversary after a death. But this day was bigger and better and longer than any we've seen before. It began with the expected early bells clamoring repeatedly at 5:00 a.m. and proceeded to the communion service around 6:30 a.m. But one of the things I didn’t expect was the number of Mother’s Union members who came to pay tribute to the woman who brought that organization to the Russell Islands in the early 1960s. Today’s service marked the one year anniversary of Mary Nose’s death (actually, next week marks a year, but it falls inside Advent, so the celebrations were held today). The church overflowed with family, friends, and members of Mother’s Union. After the service was complete, we walked down to the cemetery where the priest blessed the newly cemented grave and the headstone.

(photo of Haircutting Procession)

Marulaon offered the traditional “light breakfast” of tea and cakes (including our banana muffins) to the honored guests. Quickly, the feasting followed for the whole community. Aaron and I were slow because we snuck back to the house to try and quickly finish some laundry and hang it out to dry before the festivities began. Thankfully, one of Olivia’s friends snagged some parcels of fish, pig, rice, and root crops and stuck them in the box that had once held banana cake. When we got done and to the shore, the girls were already gnawing their way through the goodies. We sat in a corner and unobtrusively ate, and it was really nice not to have to sit in a place of honor, but to just be part of the community.

(photo of Haircutting Foursome)

Then the haircutting began. Four family members had been chosen by extended family to grow their hair out for a full year in sign of mourning: Nose’s sister, daughter, niece, and grandson. My anthropology-loving husband really enjoys days like today that are so full of symbolism and meaning. Family and friends brought small gifts to fill a huge plastic bin with goodies to present to the four. We contributed some laundry detergent, tea, and noodles. Around noon, family brought the bins to the four who were waiting under the shade of a tarp. Family members with meaningful ties to each of the four then cut hair with scissors, dressed the participant in new white clothes and jewelry, and painted traditional white decorations on their faces and arms.

This all took a long time, and I moved around on the fringes of the crowd taking pictures of the ceremony and holding babies. Olivia and Katherine stayed with their friends, and Aaron stayed near the shore. Near the end of the haircutting, I whispered to him that I really liked just being part of the community and not being singled out. I know it’s my American egalitarian culture shining through. Not thirty seconds after the words left my mouth, one of the family members, who was giving a speech, mentioned his thanks to our family. And when one of the priests gave his speech, he effusively thanked us for always participating in community events and supporting the Lavukal.

(photo of Haircutting Olivia Killing Flies)

After the last round of speeches, it was time for the “party favors”. The family had compiled huge amounts of uncooked food to give back to the people who had helped with the special day. It was more than just “you brought food or a present, so you get to take something home.” This was also recognizing the support of family and friends during the last year. First heaps and heaps of root crops and cooking bananas were spread out, then vast amounts of uncooked pig were wrapped in a leaf and placed on top of each heap. Hundreds of heaps. We were all called into action waving the flies away while the piles were assembled. For at least two hours, we waved leaves over the piles and visited with our neighbors.

Finally, Leonard began to read the names on the list. They were in order of importance, beginning with the closest family members. One by one, people began to retrieve their pile of food. By this point, I was cooking in the sun and needed to rest, so when the pile I was protecting was gone, I went up to the house to drink water and lay down. Aaron and Olivia stayed to the bitter end. They finally got home just before six, carrying two big baskets of potatoes, a massive stalk of cooking bananas, and a leaf full of pork. We opted out of the dancing and partying all night long.  Instead, we grabbed a bite to eat, drank copious amounts of water, and washed the dishes that had been accumulating all day.  I happened to glance at the thermometer at 7:00 as we were putting the finishing touches on the kitchen, it read 102 degrees.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Thursday, November 28

Like grooves on a record, God’s good gifts are designed to draw us closer and closer to the center, to draw us closer and closer to eternity and Him” ~Hannah Anderson, “All That’s Good”

Our “Thankful Turkey” has been growing feathers of thankfulness for the last few weeks. I don’t remember when or where we picked up this tradition, but it’s one of my favorite things all year. The things for which we are thankful reflect our personalities and continually turn our thoughts and our hearts toward the Giver of all those good things.

(photo of Thankful Pumpkin Pie)

Thanksgiving comes in the middle of a very busy season for our family. We kept the day simple: our traditional homemade mac and cheese, green beans, and my mom’s recipe for pumpkin pie. I’ve been saving a small container of UHT (ultra high temperature – which means shelf stable) cream so I could whip it to go on top of the pie. We played Settlers of Catan because we didn’t get to play it last Sunday, and Olivia snuck in for the win at the last moment.

(photo of Thankful Turkey)

We’re definitely missing our two college kids, but I know they had multiple offers of places to spend their Thanksgiving break. So many friends and family members love our young adults and are willing to open their homes and lives. I’m so grateful.

Wednesday, November 27

My status in the village has changed slightly since we returned. More gray hair, older children, and friends who are grandmothers mean that I’ve bumped up a tier. I’m also making more babies cry, since many of them are too young to remember us living in the village. Yesterday, I walked by a house, and the toddler burst into tears. The young mama’s immediate response was, “Tutua feo!” It’s just a grandmother.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Tuesday, November 26

Yesterday, Mik and Lynn to us to an island near us that had some personal history. In 1999, just before the ethnic tension broke out in Honiara, a friend suggested that they and their three young children spend some time on his private island in the Russell Islands to escape the unrest. So they did. Yesterday, they went back to the same island to try and find the local guy who looked after them twenty years ago. As we sailed, Mik patiently trained his two new apprentices.

(photo of Blessing Apprentices)

When we arrived, Mik and Lynn found the son of the man for whom they were searching and asked for permission to anchor and swim in the area. Like every part of the Russells, this area screamed God’s glory. Even when Katherine cut her toe on a clam shell standing upright underneath the water. Mik took her back to the boat and left Olivia and me on the shore. When nobody returned for us, Olivia decided to swim to the boat. Eventually, I asked the two kids to paddle me in their dugout canoe. I almost flipped us over several times, but we made it!

(photo of Blessing Island)

Katherine had a deep cut, but Mik and Lynn had her patched up in no time, and Katherine was a trooper. She helped me peel and chop and prepare lunch as the rest of our group swam and storied with the few people (a total of six adults and two kids) who lived on the tiny sandbar of an island. When everybody got back, fisherman Mik quickly seared some tuna steaks, and we sat down to a feast.

We finally returned home just as the sun set and Evening Prayer got started. Lynn wanted some fresh veggies to take along with her on the next leg of the journey, so I asked a couple of my friends if they had anything close to their houses I could buy so I could pass along the food to Lynn the next morning. My neighbors are so generous and willing to help.

Sunday, November 24

Last night around 7:00, one of the catechists came by and asked Aaron to preach this morning.  So he spent the evening looking at the lectionary and texts selected for the Sunday before Advent. The first series of bells (only 116 this time) rang at 5:00 this morning.  Two bells rang at 5:50, and one bell rang at 6:10, which meant “get yourself out of the door and on the way to church.”  Aaron was preaching and Olivia was singing, but I hadn't finished cooking breakfast yet, so out the door they went with a slice of papaya.  Katherine and I scarfed a quick breakfast burrito and followed closely behind. We left a filthy kitchen and dining area because everything had been so rushed.

Fast forward to the end of church...around 8:30, we're standing and singing the last hymn when I see the necks of all my friends in front of my swivel to look underneath our house.  There is a white woman standing there, obviously waiting for us.  Then my friends' necks swivel to look at me.  As soon as church got out, Aaron and Olivia went to listen to the outside announcements, and Katherine and I hustled home.  An Aussie couple who has volunteered on and off in the Solomons for twenty years was sailing their yacht from Australia toward Honiara and stopped to see us. Surprise!

We sat and visited on the porch with a fresh press of coffee. A couple of “big men” stopped by to meet them, including the District Priest who held a plate of cassava pudding in his hand! We only met Mik and Lynn briefly in 2016 when they volunteered to fill the role of SITAG’s Operations Director for several months. So it was fun to learn more about them and their family and their history with the Solomon Islands. Most recently, they have been distributing Roviana Bibles out in the western Solomon Islands, and they are looking forward to helping with transportation needs at SITAG.

(photo of Blessing Katherine Fishing)

After lunch of our traditional pizza (including one with a potato crust for gluten-free Mik), we trundled off in their little dinghy to tour their cute little sailboat, the Blessing. It was like an RV on wheels, everything so tiny and compact with no space wasted. Olivia decided to stay on land because the choir was singing for Evensong and had practice afterward. After eating a delicious supper of mackerel (caught as Mik and Lynn sailed towards us) and watching Katherine try her hand at fishing, we headed home in the dark, brought a huge tuna head back for Chief Hensi, and prepared for the next day’s adventure.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Friday, November 22

Yesterday was a full day for me.  Before school started and the sun got hot, we started hauling dirt to fill the broken canoe (functioning as a raised bed) so I could transplant my tomatoes. Then my friend Sylvester and I went out to try and find my garden.  We didn’t really get “lost”, but we did have to backtrack so we could look for the path because so much has changed in the 2 ½ years that we’ve been gone. The bush knives came in handy. My garden is badly overgrown.  Like trees, not just bushes.  And my poor pineapples. Their long thin leaves are reaching for the nonexistent sunlight, and the plants aren’t bearing any fruit. I think I'm going to try and hire the Sunday School again before Advent starts (which is in ten days - yikes!) and no work can be done.

When I got home, I started prepping lunch, but a married-in came by and needed to talk for a while.  After she left, I had just enough time to grab a bite to eat (yay for Team Choate who finished lunch prep) and gather everything for a class on how to make a birthday cake (which must be chocolate), as well as a motu of umalau and greens.  AND some people had been working to fill a huge ice chest with fish, so I bought two beautiful fish to motu, as well.  Aaron got high praise for his rumit (think coconut cream with little to no water). It was a lovely afternoon of cooking and deep conversations about things like authenticity and marriage. Plus answering lots of questions and showing pictures from our time in America.  They were particularly interested in pictures of my brother’s wedding last year and every picture of Benjamin and Sarah I could find.

Thursday, November 21

There are few things more humbling than taking compost to a neighbor’s pig and having the neighbor inspect the contents and ask you questions like, “What did you scrape the coconut for?” At least my friends were pleased with my answer, “For pumpkin leaves.”