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.”

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Wednesday, November 20

We continue to work toward getting our house and our yard back into shape after being absent for more than two years. Aaron has been rebuilding the rain tank stands for the two smaller tanks on the front of our house. He was able to salvage enough good timber from the old stands to get the smaller stand rebuilt and stained yesterday. This morning, Katherine climbed inside the empty tank to clean it out from all of the “gifts” small children have been leaving inside while the tanks have been underneath our house.

Aaron got the tank set up and ready for action before he left for the workday at Fly Harbour School and a visit with Gesu about the translation workshop next week. The only way to communicate with people around here is to go find them! He headed out mid-morning with a hat on his head and bush knife in his hand in anticipation of being home by supper. After he left, I watched a huge, dark cloud build behind our house (between Marulaon Village and the school), and Olivia hurried to bring our clothes off the outside line and move them to underneath our house to dry. The girls and I began working on lunch, and around noon, a sopping wet husband walked through the door. Surprise!

One day, we will understand the timing of things like workdays. Seems like this is a cultural thing we just can’t quite figure out without asking lots and lots of questions. Aaron walked all the way to the school and didn’t see anyone working in our village’s area. So he kept walking to Baison Village, but couldn’t find Gesu. Then he came back to the school, where there was still nobody from Marulaon Village, so he decided to walk home. When he had almost reached home, he began discovering some of our friends on their way to work. And then he got caught in the pouring rain. So the afternoon plans changed into typing the handwriting translation of the gospel of John and putting it into a digital format.

Tuesday, November 19

“What we see as God’s recklessness is his way of putting into human hands an instrument of victory that he has carefully chosen and wondrously shaped for defeating the enemy and bringing glory to his name. God’s way may seem to be the hard way, but it is the winning way.” ~R. Arthur Matthews

(photo of Marulaon boys and a canoe)

I don’t like the last part of that quote, but my experience has proven that quote to be true. When I think about the times we’ve had the most meaningful conversations with our neighbors or the opportunities we’ve had to build deeper relationships, the way has been difficult.

I remember when I got cellulitis in my leg, doubled with malaria, for the third time during our first term and how discouraged I was, yet that opened the door for more language learning and for friends to come sit down on my porch and rub my leg with coconut oil. They saw that I have physical weaknesses, too.

I remember when my grandfather died while we were in the village and how I grieved. My neighbors held my hand as I cried, and we talked about our eternal security and abundant earthly lives.

So as I remind myself that #choatescandohardthings, I know that God has “carefully chosen and wondrously shaped” my circumstances to bring Him glory and that He equips me and grows me along the hard but winning way.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Marulaon Woman’s Daybook

Just for today, Monday, November 18

Outside my window...rain. And lots of it. It’s been pouring since 6:00 this morning. In an effort to conserve our solar powered batteries, we told the girls no piano practice today. And we can’t check email in the rain because the BGAN unit needs to be outside with a clear line of sight to the satellite.

On my bookshelf… Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith. Sarah gave me this book from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and it was the perfect light read to begin our village stay.

Around the house...members of the Sunday School are raising money by doing work for people in the village. We’ve hired them to bring fresh “coral gravel” (broken, bleached out coral that has washed up on the shore) and pour it underneath our house to keep things clean. Even in the pouring rain, people are bringing bag after bag. I left a huge bowl of popcorn down there to refresh them as they work.

From the learning rooms...Katherine is reading about Charlemagne, learning about the parts of plants and how they reproduce, discovering geometry basics in Teaching Textbooks 7, and creating a plot diagram for Black Horses for the King; Olivia is studying the 1960s, reading the classic Cry, the Beloved Country, discovering polyatomic molecules in chemistry, and working on Analytic Geometry in Pre-Calculus.

Delighting my ears… “A Feather on the Breath of God” by Hildegard. The 1000s are just around the corner in history for Katherine, and I love the word picture of my life yielding to the slightest breath of God.

Pondering these words… “Discernment does not change the challenges we face; it changes our ability to face them.” ~Hannah Anderson, All That’s Good

A few plans for the rest of the week...Aaron wants to walk the two miles to the other end of our island to help with the school workday on Wednesday. He also hopes to find Gesu, the typist for the translation team, and talk to him about Baison hosting the team next week for a workshop. Whenever we get sunshine and the ground dries out a little bit, our family will haul some dirt from the soccer field to fill up the busted canoe we just got from friends. It’s a new “raised bed” for the tomato seedlings I started in Honiara.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Sweet Sabbath

Sunday, November 17

Sundays are for worship, rest, play, and, at our house, dessert. It’s the one day of the week we splurge on something sweet. But when we are in the village, we ration our eggs and butter carefully. So finding a recipe that contains ingredients we have available and that still delights our senses is a challenge. Even though I’ve had this cookbook for more than twenty years, I’ve never tried this recipe. Until today. It was worth using some of our precious walnuts.

Brownie Pudding Cake

(from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, 1989 version)

½ cup all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
¾ teaspoon baking powder
¼ cup milk
1 tablespoon cooking oil
½ teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup chopped walnuts
1/3 cup sugar
¾ cup boiling water

Stir together flour, the ¼ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon of the cocoa powder, and the baking powder. Add milk, oil, and vanilla. Stir till smooth. Stir in nuts. Transfer batter to a 1-quart casserole. Combine the 1/3 cup sugar and remaining cocoa powder. Gradually stir in boiling water. Pour evenly over batter. Bake in a 350 degree oven about 30 minutes or till a toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean. Serve warm. Makes 4 servings.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Friday, November 15

Today the bells began at 4:41 a.m. We had a triple wedding to celebrate! First the church ceremony, then light refreshment of tea and breads. Since our outside kitchen is still in shambles, we didn’t bring cassava pudding as our contribution to the potluck feast. Instead, we made seven dozen banana muffins and brought them down right after church. It was a good choice and well received.

After the breakfast, we walked back to our house and found Ezekiel coming up the hill toward our house. He and Aaron visited on the veranda while the girls and I finished up morning chores. I gave them the day off from school, and they thoroughly enjoyed the chance to play with all of the older kids who were also enjoying a day with no school. The bell soon rang again to call everyone down to the feasting.

(photo of Marulaon Wedding Kitchen*)

I made my way to Kiko’s large kitchen, which was the center of activity. Aaron laughed that every woman he knew would like a kitchen big enough to fit fifteen of your friends inside. They ladies parceled rice into leaves, and food began trickling in from the community's contributions. Rain was delaying the big feast, but Aaron sat underneath Kiko’s house and visited with Leonard. I got shooed out of the kitchen with the comment, “Go sit down or your legs will hurt!”

The rain finally stopped, and the feasting began. I helped my friends arrange the tables and the plates of food while Aaron waved the flies away. Our family was invited to join the other big men and women in the wedding tent. Aaron always has to sit with the big men, sometimes I can slide into the crowd and sit with the other mamas. Today, I deemed it best to stay with Aaron under the tent, but the girls chose to eat beside their friends. After the feasting, there was one last break, then a bell called us back down for the gift-giving and speeches.

Our family had already tucked our small gifts of soap, laundry detergent, noodles, and rice into a huge bowl designated for each couple. The aunties and cousin sisters danced and sang their way toward the couples as the bowls were brought under the tent and set before the newlyweds. Then the festivities concluded as we heard speeches from the chiefs of their clans. We when walked in the door, I looked at the clock and realized why I was so exhausted. We had been celebrating for almost twelve hours!

*Our data traffic is limited from the village, so pictures will need to also be limited. But there are many pictures to share! So, if you see a note like this, consider it a place marker for pictures to be uploaded upon our return in January.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Thursday, November 14

“If the voice of God is drowned in the noise pollution of the good thing I am doing, then the greater need is to pull away from earth’s feverish impulses and with God in the quiet of the soul’s solitude to capture for myself a conviction of what his imperatives are for me.” 
~ R. Arthur Matthews

One of my favorite things about living in the village is waking up while it’s still dark and going out on our veranda. While I spray myself with mosquito repellent, Aaron puts the kettle on to boil so we can have a nice, fresh French press of coffee. While I watch the sunrise, he brings me a cup of coffee. Bible in one hand, coffee in the other. It’s the best way to start the day.

Wednesday, November 13

My neighbors provided a bountiful market this morning, even in the rain, and I'm so thankful.  Our physical health directly corresponds to the amounts of fresh fruits and veggies we eat in the village.  I was able to buy long green beans, pumpkin leaves, slippery cabbage, bananas, one pineapple, cute little peppers, long skinny eggplant, lots of papaya, sugar cane, local nuts, and freshly cooked fish and cassava pudding.  It can be awkward when I'm the only one buying.  At one point, I asked my friends if I had skipped anyone, and they pointed out patient Rube (it's hard to believe he will be nine next month - I remember when he was born!) who brought a parcel of green beans.  It's important to buy at least a little something from everyone who comes.

On my way to visit a friend yesterday, I walked behind our house and heard the beeps of the BGAN.  When I looked up, I saw Aaron checking email on our veranda, which I've affectionately named then "Marulaon Internet Cafe".  We don't have internet, but I make sure we get the coffee!  Aaron has affixed a piece of wood to the porch rail and traced around the BGAN unit with a Sharpie.  Every time we want to check email, Aaron takes out the little BGAN box, plugs in all the right cords, and lines the box up with the Sharpie marks.  The box needs a clear line of sight with the satellite, so we can't check email when it's raining. I'm going to really make the most of the Marulaon Internet Cafe
experience, maybe I can even turn it into a little bit of a date!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Tuesday, November 12

The Solomon Islands is in the middle of a census, and today the census workers came to our house. Aaron had gone down to talk with Leonard about rebuilding our rain tank stands when the guys showed up, so I hustled down to grab him so we could answer their questions. The guys had a huge packet of papers with boxes to check and questions to fill out about us. It was fun to ask them where they were from and to discover that they are local guys who got to come back and survey their families.

One of the benefits of Aaron’s chat with Leonard is that we discovered Leonard’s family has a pig. They will be happy for us to come give our compost to their pig to supplement its diet. We’re thrilled to have a useful way to dispose of our waste! We eat a lot more fruits and veggies than our neighbors do, and I don’t think they realize just how quickly our compost bucket fills up.

It rained all day yesterday, so our big rain tank in the back is doing well. The two rain tanks on the front of the house have been taken down so they can be cleaned and the rotting stands can be replaced. Watching the rain come out of the spouts and hit the ground just to be wasted made me sad, but soon we will have hundreds of gallons of nice, clean water again to share with our friends. We’re coming into the rainy season, so it won’t take long to refill the tanks. The new small rain tank we brought had white sticky letters on it to identify the company that sold it. Those letters have slowly disappeared in the last few days, and over the weekend I saw several letters affixed to the faces of children.

After school, I went down to take some laundry detergent and bath soap to Voella, who just had the new baby. Her house is only feet away from ours. She was asleep with the baby, but I enjoyed a visit with my friend, Ofoaen, while the girls played.

Monday, November 11

I’m so proud of Olivia. Last night after church, she was invited to join in with the other youth and practice singing for the upcoming triple wedding on Friday. She didn’t hesitate but jumped right into the opportunity. She knew it would mean lots of sitting around doing nothing (which is difficult for us Americans) and late nights. She knew that she would have to quickly learn new songs. And she chose to do hard things anyway.

Hard things make me think about something else...Aaron and I are still trying to figure out what exercise looks like for us in the village. This morning, we got up while it was still dark and guided our way to the overgrown soccer field with our flashlights. We tried to move through the wet grass and vines and attempted to navigate around the frogs and holes before the bell for morning prayer rang. We got just over twenty minutes of tripping and twisting ankles and doing our best to get our heart rates up. And now my shoes are the color of mud. I also had a lavalava wrapped around my athletic shorts so I would be decent, and it was soaked and covered in grass seeds.

Today was our first day back at school, and the girls did a great job of jumping in with both feet. Our kids have always been the reason that homeschool works well for our family. Olivia did get some comments about her friends hearing her “making that thing cry” (practicing her violin).

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Sunday, November 10

The bell started ringing at 5:00 a.m. It clanged fifty-six times to remind everyone that it was time to wake up! Two bells rang just after 5:30 to announce it was time to go bathe, and a few minutes after 6:00, one single bong of the bell quickly followed by the drum let us know that we could start walking to church. One of the best things about our early start is that we are finished before the heat of the day kicks in. At the end of the service, everyone went outside and sang while they filed through and shook our hands. Two and half years in a long time to be gone, and I have a lot of new babies to hold.

After our traditional lunch of pizza accompanied by Settlers of Catan (Mom wins again!), the girls and I prepared to go outside and catch up with our neighbors. Aaron had just started working on one of the many house repairs when Ezekiel stopped by. Sunday afternoons are such a great time to visit, and those two guys had a lot of planning to do. I took my phone with the Lavukaleve app, and I was determined to share with anyone who was willing. I love that it promotes literacy by highlighting the words as you listen. I played through all of Ruth for Leku’s extended family, and they were delighted by the translation. (Although, one of the ladies didn’t recognize it as being from the Bible at all.) They said it sounded “straight”, like good Lavukaleve. In between each chapter, I kept stopping and asking if I was boring them, and they kept encouraging me to keep playing it. This area had one young lady with a smartphone, and I tested my technological skills by sharing the app with her – it worked!

Then I walked over to Margaret’s house. She was rolling out little cakes made of flour and coconut cream and her granddaughter was frying them over an open fire. They were yummy! I helped Margaret make patterns and designs on the cakes while we listened to Ruth. Her husb
and sidled into the kitchen (which was super hot, so you know he was interested) to listen. I started writing words instead of just poking holes on the cakes using the stick of a lollipop. I wrote “tutua” on one of the cakes, which means grandmother. It was supposed to mark the cake for Margaret, but it’s what all of the kids call me now. Nobody in this area had a smartphone, which makes sense. We get little to no signal, and the tower that sends it has only 2G, so very little data can move through the air.
When I went to find Ofoaen, her husband informed me that she had gone to the clinic with her daughter who had a baby girl that day! I was so excited for her. Since she wasn’t home, I popped back in at our house for a drink of water and found Ezekiel and Aaron still going strong after a couple of hours. Then I headed over to find Kiko, who read the part of Naomi. She and her sisters were delighted to hear the recording, but again, nobody in this area had a smartphone so I could share the app.

I walked over to where the girls were playing and found another group of ladies who had participated in the recording. Josephine’s husband, Derek, read the part of Jonah, and I wanted her to hear him read. So I played a little bit of Jonah and part of Ruth so the other ladies could hear their voices. They also were very complimentary of the translation and said it sounded like proper Lavukaleve. I love the look on people’s faces when they hear their language coming out of the phone.

The girls and I finally headed up to the house at 5:00 because we knew the bell for Evening Prayer would be ringing soon and we were all stinky and sweaty. We found Aaron and Ezekiel wrapping up their chat after four hours. I relayed all of the good things I had heard about Ruth, and he ducked his head and said something like, “That’s good because that’s the one I translated.”

I’m hopeful that Bible literacy will improve now that we have recordings of Ruth and Jonah. I’m also hopeful that people will view their language as something important and worth saving. Most of all, I’m hopeful that in the books of Ruth and Jonah, my friends and neighbors will see Jesus.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Saturday, November 9

I don’t know what we would do without our SITAG and Marulaon families! Around 3:30 on Thursday afternoon, our SITAG family began showing up and hauling our red plastic-clad boxes into the truck and trailer. Soon, we were on our way down to the wharf: three men, four kids, and I.

We found the Nutoli sandwiched in between wharves with two ships on one side and one ship on the other. We chose to cross over one ship instead of two. Several other trucks were also transferring their cargo onto the ships that were leaving that evening, and we saw lots of bags of rice and boxes of noodles.

First we unloaded the truck and lined up all of our cargo on the wharf, then when it was our turn, we made a chain and moved all of our boxes, window louvers, rakes, and the water tank onto our boat where the crew would later pile it into the hold.

They have a great system of where everything in the hold goes so they can unload efficiently as they go from village to village around the Russell Islands (I’m laughing as I type this because nothing here would be viewed as “efficient” through Western eyes!). We also unrolled our mats to hopefully claim a small space where we could stretch out on top of the hold.

Quickly, we headed back to SITAG to wash off the heat and humidity, load the frozen food into the ice chest, and grab the last few things that we wanted to keep within reach – like the seventy precious eggs we will carefully eke out during our stay. By 7:00 p.m. a SITAG caravan was rolling down the road, with a quick stop at the roadside “barbecue” for supper. Chicken quarters and cassava cooked over a fire on a grill or hot plate count as barbecue here, and we had invited anyone who wanted to join us at the wharf to BYOB (Bring Your Own Barbecue).

Our spot on the hold was still there when we returned with our colleagues. We ate supper and visited for a while, but by 9:00 our friends needed to get home and get kids in bed. Olivia and Katherine expressed how lonely and deserted they felt at that point, especially making this trip for the first time without Sarah and Benjamin.

We were quickly distracted when the crew needed to remove all of the boards that were covering the hold because they had some large items to load. Board by board, the space on top of the small hold disappeared. The whole boat wasn’t more than twenty feet wide, and it definitely wasn’t made to haul passengers around. As soon as the boards were replaced, there was a mad scramble for everyone to claim a spot for the evening. Personal space is not a value here the same way it is in America. By the time we left at midnight, I had become the body pillow for a young girl about the same age as Katherine, and Aaron laid down on the floor.

When the sun began to rise, we saw the beautiful edge of the Russell Islands. We broke out the hard boiled eggs and banana bread and stretched our aching bodies. The rest of the day alternated between snacking and trying to doze as the ship stopped at every little place where somebody wanted to unload.

Sometimes we stayed for quite a while, like at Yandina where much cargo needed to come off the boat and where one of the crew members disappeared for a while. By the time we reached Marulaon it was 4:30 on Friday afternoon, and we were very ready.

The crew carefully unloaded all of the boxes over the side of the Nutoli, then we climbed down into the canoe. Smiling faces and helping hands met us on shore, faces I hadn’t seen in two and half years. All of the cargo was quickly brought up to the house – many hands really do make light work.

We’re out of practice, and we forgot to make a “first things” box this time. Things like clean sheets and towels. So as I heated up water for a soup mix for supper, we began to hunt through the forty-seven red plastic covered boxes for the linens. We finally found the last sheet in the next to last box!

Even as we pushed through our fatigue, I was reminded of just how privileged we are. We have a small fridge and stove powered by propane, I didn’t have to build a fire. We have a solar shower bag, soap, and privacy to bathe that help us get as clean as possible for good skin health. We have foam mattresses and clean sheets for a good night’s sleep. My neighbors don’t have any of these things, yet they aren’t discontent or in need of pity. In my relative abundance, I have a lot to learn from the sweet people that live around me.

Monday, November 11, 2019

Safe and Sound!

Hi, all! I'm running a little behind (computer and login issues), but I wanted to let you know that the Choates did make it to Marulaon late last week after a long, long, long trip on the Nutoli.

Here's the e-mail message that arrived from Aaron late Friday evening CST:

Hello from Marulaon,

The trip from SITAG to Marulaon house took a long time, for us at least.  The sea was nice and calm, and we are very thankful.  The experience on Nutoli was not too terrible. But not conducive for sleep.  We are getting out of all the boxes and remembering how to do things in the village.

I hope we can get our "thankful turkey" on the wall soon.  The best November I remember was the one we went all out in sharing our gratitude.  I am wanting to make the most of it here.

Thanks for your prayers and support.  Give us a little time and we will find a new rhythm.  We will get Joanna set up with the e-mail system soon too.

More later


More about their trip coming soon!
- Ann H. for the Choates

Wednesday, November 6, 2019


"Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice.  Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.  Remember the wonders he has done, his miracles, and the judgments he pronounced."  1 Chronicles 16:10-12

Nutoli has delayed until Thursday night.  Seas were beautifully calm tonight, and we're praying the same for tomorrow.  Although we were ready, the delay is a huge blessing.  It means we got to watch as Sarah and Benjamin performed on a student recital (yay for friends and technology!).  

They also carried the Solomon Islands flag and blew the conch shell for World Awareness Week at JBU, which brought back some sweet memories.  It means we were able to finish the FAFSA paperwork for financial aid next year.  It means we got to feed sweet old Blackie one more time.

This trip will be hard physically.  Not much sleep on a hard deck of a rolling ship.  We feel keenly the absence of 1/3 of Team Choate.  So, I'm focusing on the action verbs in the verses above...glory, look, seek, remember.

My big Bible is already packed, so I've been enjoying She Reads Truth "Give Thanks" plan in the mornings with my coffee:

Nehemiah worked from a place of trust and thanksgiving (Nehemiah 2:17-18).  He didn't know that one of the gates he rebuilt would mark the spot where Jesus would one day enter Jerusalem, riding on a donkey as the people shouted "Hosanna!" (Matthew 21:1-11).  We don't always know precisely what work we are called to do or for what purpose; I find that I rarely know.  But we do know we are called to do good work, and that we are called to continue our work faithfully.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Nutoli Update

As the time for our departure draws nearer, I find myself listening to Rene Clausen's "Prayer" over and over and over again.  With lyrics by Mother Teresa, this beautiful setting expresses my feelings of what my perfect attitude in the village (or anywhere) would be.  

"Help me spread your fragrance wherever I go.  Flood my soul with your spirit and life.  Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may be only a radiance of Yours.  Shine through me and be so in me that every soul will feel Your presence in my soul.  Let them look up, look up and see no longer me but only You.  Amen."

Nutoli, our little copra tub, originally scheduled Tuesday night as the departure date, but yesterday when Aaron went to the wharf, no Nutoli.  So he called and discovered that the ship had gone to Auki and wouldn't be back in time for a Tuesday night trip.  Now we're scheduled (and I use that term very loosely) for a Wednesday night departure, which gives us just a little bit more breathing room.

We closed down the kitchen yesterday with baking for the ship and for our first breakfast in the village.  Today we cooked and drew on our eggs for the ship.  After spending all night on the rolling deck, I anticipate we will need a little bit of joy in our lives.

Just a reminder that we will be off the grid while we are in the village, so no internet.  For the first time, we'll be using satellite email, our only option for staying in touch.  Please remember to keep messages short and not to include any attachments since we'll be paying by how much data goes back and forth.  My kind friend, Ann, will keep the blog up and running for us as I can send her email updates.  Thanks for your prayers and encouragement!

Monday, November 4, 2019

Birthday Cake

Friday morning at tea time, a sweet friend asked me to make a birthday cake for her grandson who was turning one on Sunday.  In this culture, to say no would have shamed her and broken our relationship (even though I'm packing up my kitchen), so I said yes!  Plus, who doesn't like an excuse to bake and celebrate and share joy?!?

I asked her what time she wanted the cake on Sunday, and she responded with "Evening."  I felt comfortable enough asking for a clock time, so she said three o'clock.  Perfect.  Saturday afternoon, I took a packing break and baked the banana cake she requested.  I planned to stop there, but decided to go ahead and finish the job while I was on a roll.  I haven't leveled a cake in ages, and I desperately missed Sarah and her skills.

Thankfully, chocolate buttercream covered a multitude of flaws, and I felt no pressure for a Pinterest worthy presentation.  This was a labor of love.  And I'm glad I had it ready early.  Because Sunday afternoon at 1:30, my friend showed up for her cake.  Gotta love Solomon Time!

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Generosity and Goodbyes

In the next few days, five units (some families, a couple, and a lovely single) will be leaving SITAG.  Some will be going to the village, like us.  Some will be leaving the country.  That's a whole lot of transition and grief and change for our tiny group.  And in the midst of it all, we strive to love each other well and the ease the hard parts.

Right now, it sure feels like we don't have a lot to give.  We're grieving all over again the absence of our two college kids.  We've never been to Marulaon Village without them, and they are super pros at loading boxes and making the transition easier.

So we enjoy a rainy afternoon break of beading and hot chocolate.  We invite people over for simple meals to help ease transition.  We give what we have, even though it feels barely enough for ourselves.  And God stretches it.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Musical Surprises

In almost eleven years with SITAG, we've never seen anything like it.  A recital where every family with children participated in some way.  We heard scripture recitation, piano performances, and string pieces, too.  And our entire SITAG family showed up to cheer on each child and to bring food for a delicious potluck.

In part, all of this musical goodness was due to this lovely piano teacher who comes to SITAG each week to encourage her students.  I'm especially proud of Olivia, who isn't taking piano lessons but is continuing on her own and tackling progressively more difficult music.  In addition, she has just graduated to Suzuki Book 3 on her violin after only playing for 18 months.

This is just the beginning.   Each of these kids is only going to keep getting better, and it's going to be so much fun to watch.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Stuffed tomatoes

When Aaron or I go shopping for tomatoes at Honiara's beautiful Central Market, we find cute little grape or cherry tomatoes 99% of the time.  But every once in a while, I can find larger tomatoes.  These were about $0.25 USD each, and I knew exactly what to do with them - fill them with tuna salad.

This refreshing meal reminds me of our sweet sending church in Memphis.  The sweet ladies there introduced me to stuffed tomatoes at our Wednesday night fellowship meals.  So not only does this meal make my mouth happy, it makes my heart happy, too, as I remember all the times we shared meals with our church family.

This meal was extra special because we waited to eat until Aaron got home from the village.  He decided that the best stewardship of our time, energy, and money was to take a few hours to come back in a motor canoe instead of riding on a copra ship for two days.  The house immediately brightened when my tired, sweaty, and sun-kissed husband walked through the door and sat down at the table to catch up with his girls.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

While Daddy is away...

Sometimes we struggle when Aaron is gone.  He brings strength and stability to our home.  And much joy.  He's our problem solver and our steady rock and our comic relief.  Since he has been my best friend for thirty years, I miss sharing life with him when he is away.

So while he was gone, we continued to follow the routine we have established to steward our days well.  We still began our days with Jesus and coffee, made space for exercise, and chugged our way through school.

But we also took some intentional time to play.  We played many rounds of Phase 10 (which Olivia always won) and Dutch Blitz.  Olivia and her many helpers started renovating a treehouse that Benjamin built at SITAG.

We welcomed friends at the wharf and enjoyed riding in the back of the truck (I think this might be every Third Culture Kid's joy and delight!).

We listened to lots of praise and worship music (although the girls weren't sure what to think about my choice of the oldie but goodie Four Him Hymns) to help us keep our focus in the right place, and we pulled out the facemasks I had hidden away.  We laughed so hard that we disturbed our neighbors!