December 17, 2014

Christmas in Papua, or All I Want for Christmas is some Quiet

Thanksgiving has come and gone, and I think I'm over my recent bout of Seasonal Delusional Disorder.  It's a good thing, because now it's time to face Christmas.

I long ago stopped trying to recreate American Christmas in Indonesia.  Our first Christmas in the country, way back in 2001, taught me that it wasn't possible, and not even desirable, to make it "feel" like the kind of Christmas we were used to.  We found a happy compromise of incorporating some of our traditions from our home culture into the local Christmas culture.  It worked for us in Kalimantan.  But here in Papua, I'm struggling.

This summer I read an enlightening article about Highly Sensitive People.  Apparently, according to the quiz I took, I am one.  You can check it out for yourself here and see if you, too, are an HSP.  I guess up until I had my unofficial HSP diagnosis, I thought I was a bit weird for getting so bothered by loud noises, freaked out by violent movies, grossed out by the tiniest smells, and I'd wonder, how can David take all of that in stride?  How does the constant noise/puppy smell/etc. not bother him? What's wrong with me????

Well, apparently, nothing.  According to one website, HSP'ers cry easily (check), feel things deeply (double check), get upset when hungry (isn't that called being 'hangry'?), have a hard time saying "no" (me? no...I mean yes), consider noise to be a mortal enemy - and they are perfectly normal people.

The Christmas noise is what I'm struggling with most right now.  Papuans have a tradition of setting up pondok Natal every December.  These quaint, wooden Nativity structures disguise a hidden evil within - a sound system - that blares out the worst variety of Christmas songs, 24-7.
Pondok Natal

Up until this Christmas, I had only observed them from afar.  But since our move up to Pos 7, we're right smack in the middle of Pondok Natal Central.  There's no rhyme or reason to what is played (right now, it sounds like one is blasting out a movie and another is playing Vince Gill's Christmas with Donald Duck - I swear that's what it sounds like), or when it's played.  We've heard it through the night, early in the morning, at supper time.  The only respite we get is if it rains hard, or the power goes out.  The power went out yesterday and I actually raised my hands to Heaven and thanked the good Lord for power outages.

One Sunday afternoon the noise was starting to make me batty, and David brought his new noise-canceling headphones over and lovingly put them over my ears.  It was nice, but that's not how I want to get through the next few weeks, with headphones on my head, shouting "what?" at my kids when they try to talk to me.

I've tried to make light of it, to laugh about it - but friends, at 6 a.m. when I get up and just want a few minutes of peace, my sense of humor is nowhere to be found.  Even stopping to ponder the irony of "Silent Night, Holy Night" played at volumes that can be described as neither silent nor holy, won't bring a smile to my face.

After struggling through the first few days of Noise Assault from the pondoks, I thought, "maybe I'm missing something culturally.  Maybe there's something behind it all that I'm not understanding."  Seeking insight, wanting to be culturally in-tune, I started asking different Papuan friends what was the deal with the pondok Natal.  Did they like it?  All the people I asked responded, usually with grimaces on their faces, that they were too loud, that they couldn't sleep at night, that it was the young men who do it, that they ask them to turn it down but they won't listen.

So it's not just me being a culturally insensitive American.  And it's not just the music from the pondoks.  There's also fireworks, and bamboo cannons, and the worst, the carbide cannons that guys set off and make it sound like we're living in a war zone.

My nerves are frayed.  And my Christmas spirit - well, I'm having to dig deep and the well is still dry.

So it's back to the internet to find coping mechanisms for HSP'ers like me.  I've already tried most of the suggestions I've seen: headphones, barriers (we hung quilts over our windows one night to try to block out the sound so we could hear our movie), having a quiet place to retreat to (my English classroom).  Other suggestions aren't feasible, such as approaching the local authorities about noise ordinance violations.  Yeah, that won't be happening. 
Trying to block the noise with quilts

There is one other approach I'm trying this weekend: escape.  Our family is planning to head interior to the village of Mokendoma where our friends the Wilds serve.  How does this sound: 7,000 feet elevation, gorgeous mountain views, and nary a pondok Natal. 

But enough about me and my issues.  Here's some fantastic news: our beloved helper Orpa gave birth to her second child last week, and named her Natalie!  It helps that my name means "child of Christmas" and it's almost Christmas.  Isn't she beautiful?

This is how awesome Orpa is: she went into labor, hopped on a motorbike to ride to the midwife's house, gave birth, and a few hours later got back on the motorbike with the baby and went home! 

And if one namesake isn't enough, my lovely cousin Lindsay went and had a daughter a few days ago and also named her Natalie. 

Babies at Christmastime are so special; three of my kids were newborns during Christmas and I remember snuggling them, spending lots of time contemplating what it must have been like for Mary when she had Jesus. 

And look at those babies now:

 And their mama - despite her struggles with noise - is still able to find something to laugh about:

Merry Christmas dan Selamat Hari Natal from the Holstens!

November 21, 2014

Something to Smile About

Get up. Cook. Get the kids going.  Go to school. Teach.  Come home. Cook.  Repeat.  Repeat. Repeat.

That pretty much sums up the past few months for me.  Throw in bouts of fatigue and a traveling husband and it's easy to find myself soldiering through the monotony of day-to-day life, head down, forgetting to remember the blessings.  Here are a few things that made me laugh, sigh, or say, "thanks, Lord!" in the past few months:

 I finished the "scarf" and who knew? All along, it really wanted to be a blanket for Zoe's babies. People, I try, I really do.  But I am just not meant to be crafty.  I'm sorry, Mom, but you won't be getting a scarf for Christmas.

 This beautiful orchid bloomed in my yard.  Not a huge deal, but it has brought me joy for a few weeks, and I am thankful for the beauty of it.

 A new Kodiak arrived in Sentani, and this one is especially cool since it was assigned the registration letters "MAF."  

 We made a trip recently to the picturesque "Base G" beach.  Love the blues of the water there.

 This bit of English on a bread wrapper particularly moved me.  "Return the nature."

 David had the opportunity to go to Tarakan a few weeks ago for some meetings, and was able to visit with Orpa, our lovely friend who is like a daughter to us.  She's expecting her second child and is doing really well.  

Zoe turned 9, and to celebrate she wanted a party where she could dance with her friends.  She was insistent upon dancing the Virginia Reel, which I felt was a little complicated for younger kids.  But she was determined, and it ended up being really fun.

 A really cool aspect of being part of a larger expat community is the concerts that happen twice a year.  The junior class puts on a classical concert in the spring, and in the fall the senior class puts on a themed concert.  This fall the theme was songs from Disney animated classics, and it was a blast.  I dressed up as Jessie from Toy Story and sang "When She Loved Me" while Grace and Zoe acted out the part of Emily.  It was fun to do it together, though I heard from more than a few moms that we made them cry.  I'm always amazed at what the community can come up with far from costume shops, thrift stores, and other places you might get props and costumes.  

 What would you do for love?  David probably wrestles with this every time I ask him to dress up in a goofy costume.  He agreed to be Woody so Jessie could have a cowboy date, but he went the extra mile by shaving his beard into a handlebar.  Isn't he great?

 Words cannot describe how beautiful, how exquisite this road is to residents of Pos 7.  The road before was mostly pothole, and driving it wrecked your car's suspension and could possibly have even shaken teeth loose.  It was awful.  But then a few months ago a paving project began and with joyful anticipation we watched it progress.  It's officially finished from top to bottom.

 I'm feeling a bit more part of the neighborhood since we've been graffiti'd. 

As much as he drives me crazy, I have to admit that our puppy Charley is cute.  Especially when he gives us this face.

September 08, 2014


At the start of every school year, the whole high school heads off to the beach for a retreat to get to know one another, be challenged spiritually, and frolic in the sand and waves.  The kids look forward to it, and so do I, since it’s two days off from teaching.
David preflights the plane

For one of those days, I went flying with David.  I’ve been flying with him several times since we’ve been in Papua, but it had been a while since my last flyalong.  It’s always good for me to break out of my two-mile radius world in Sentani and connect with what David does.

The passengers on the first leg of our flight were several ladies who had been in Sentani to do supply-buying for their families.  We had a bit of a delay in Sentani, waiting for permission from the air traffic control tower to take off, but these ladies and their kids took it in stride.  I don’t know many little babies that would tolerate being strapped down in a hot airplane for very long, but these babies did great.  We were soon airborne and the little ones fell asleep.
Satisfied customer

I have such complicated feelings about Papua.  Sometimes it really scares the yahoohoo out of me, but other times the beauty of this place is breathtaking and I could just give this crazy bird-shaped island a kiss on the cheek.  On our flight to our first destination we passed loopy rivers, rugged mountains, and huge waterfalls.  We wove through valleys until David pointed out Bime, a short airstrip carved into the side of a mountain.

I’ve heard there’s a show called “The Scariest Places to Fly” and that Papua has been featured in it.  People, that would be one reality show you can believe.  As David – calm and collected as ever - was circling over the airstrip, a mountain loomed large in front of us.  David must have sensed my anxiety because he calmly said, “Don’t worry, I will turn the plane.”  Of course, of course, I told myself.  He knows what he’s doing.
Can you spot the airstrip?

He did indeed turn the plane, with air to spare, and then deftly landed on the airstrip.  He hopped out of the plane to handle the second most challenging aspect of his job – sorting out the next flight’s passengers and cargo.  There are airstrip agents (often the pastor of the village church) who help with this job, but David still has to count money for tickets and verify the weight of the cargo.
The villagers surround the plane as David preps for the next flight.  Almost everyone wears a nokin, or net bag, even if it's empty and they have nothing to carry.

Some of the cargo: sweet potatoes, sugar cane, and a bow and arrows

While he was doing that, I wandered around the edge of the village.  I tried talking to some of the people, but their Indonesian is limited and my command of the local language is limited to one word of greeting - "telebe."  I made a few babies cry, from the sheer whiteness of my skin.  It’s hard not to feel like a bit of a freak show when going interior.

It was a short hop to our next destination, where some passengers got off and I found a bathroom.  Then it was on to the final village, which was down in the lowlands and had a decidedly different feel.  When David shut off the engine, he turned to me and said, “Stick close to me here.” I peered out of the window and quickly saw why.  Some very rough looking characters emerged from the jungle to check out the plane.  They were all friendly enough, but when one sidled up next to me to get a photo, David said no. 

On our way home, David got clearance to do a low pass over the beach where the kids were.  I’ve been to these beaches many times, but never seen them from the air.  Oh, the blueness of the water!  The kids were on the beach and appeared to be having fun.  This mama was relieved to see that.
"Middle" beach is one of our favorite spots in Papua

The high schoolers at "Outside" beach

When we landed in Sentani David practiced a short-field landing.  We were in the Kodiak and it must be what a dragonfly feels when it zooms in, hovers for an instant and then lands, because that is what we did.  Okay, we didn’t hover, but he brought that plane to a complete stop in less than 300 feet. 
Home sweet home in Sentani

Like I said, I’ve flown with David numerous times, and every time, I am amazed at what a darned good pilot he is.  On the days he goes and flies, so often I just sort of dismiss it, and don’t really think about what it is he’s doing.  Then I fly with him, and the coolness of it, the scariness of it, the “oh yeah, this is why we’re here” of it hits me again.  This is what he does.  And he rocks it.

July 14, 2014

Quick Recap

I was looking through pictures and realized there were some significant moments over the past few months that I would be remiss not to share.  

With David's new position with MAF, he travels quite a bit, which mostly stinks for me and the kids.  We never like him to be gone. I mean, who wants to fill his role as Gate-Closer and Cockroach-Killer when he's away?  Not me.  (Just kidding - I miss him for way more important reasons than that.) But, a perk of his job is that occasionally I get to tag along.  In April I was able to join David for management meetings on the island of Flores, which is in the southern part of the Indonesian archipeligo.  
It is a beautiful, undeveloped part of the country, known for its coral reefs, volcanic mountains, and yes, those fierce creatures known as Komodo Dragons.
Okay, this one isn't looking too fierce, but they can be if they're hungry. 

The major highlight of the past few months was my parents' first visit to Papua.  We made some fantastic memories with them.  Dad got to fly with David one day and goof off in some villages.
We did a beach trip to our favorite beach, where Mom surprised us all with her enthusiasm for snorkeling.  In the photo, she's holding up the snorkel.
On our beach trip we took along our two young Papuan friends who attend Sekolah Papua Harapan and spend one Saturday a month with us.  Nelsea got to try her first roasted marshmellow and pronounced it yummy!
Mom, Dad, and I went with Luke's class on a field trip to a small village on Lake Sentani that is known for its clay pottery.  After hearing about how the clay is dug up, cleaned, shaped, and fired into pottery, they got to try their hand at making something.
There was a most unusual pulpit in the village church.  Pak Yohanis, the kids' Indonesian teacher and native of this village, explained that the locals eat a starchy porridge called sago every day, like we might eat bread or pasta, and they cook and store sago in clay pots.  The big sago pot is a symbol of the Word of God, which is supposed to be our daily bread, or sago in this case, and so it's a reminder to the preacher and the congregation that every time the Word is preached, it's to be their daily spiritual sustenance.  Pretty cool.

A rite of passage at our kids' school is the 8th grade banquet, when the 8th-graders "graduate" to high school.  The kids got all spiffed up, and we had a lovely celebration with them.  Our 8th-grader is on the far right. It's hard to believe she'll be in high school this fall!
After school let out for the summer (could you hear my cries of joy all the way from here?) we headed to Bali with my parents for vacation.  Ahhh, Bali.  We had some good times, eating, exploring, and just relaxing.
Nana loves waterslides!
Some post-breakfast buffet silliness.
Apparently, my mother and I are easily amused by oceanspray.
This view. I thought the hotel's website was lying to me until I saw this view for myself.
It was sad to say goodbye to Mom and Dad, but being in Bali was a bit of a balm for our souls.  Too soon we were back home, settling into a summer (non)routine.  And then it was Fourth of July, the one holiday that feels like it's supposed to - hot and humid!  No seasonal delusion needed!  Despite the fact that my kids have spent most of their lives in Indonesia, they are still fiercely patriotic, as evidenced by these cookies:

Reading books, playing with neighborhood kids, and trips to the pool have helped us fill our days.  
Zoe, lettin' it go.

June 22, 2014

When You Can't Call 9-1-1

A week ago Friday, I had just laid down for an after-lunch rest when I heard my next-door neighbor Steve at our door, his voice frantic.

“Where’s your fire extinguisher?”

Luke showed him where it was, and he was out the door as I was emerging from the bedroom, wondering what the emergency was.  One quick glance out the door and I could see it was bad.  Flames were shooting out of the storage room of Steve’s house next door. 

In the U.S., you’d pick up a phone and dial 9-1-1 then stand back and let the professionals do their job.  But there’s no 9-1-1 here.  I thought briefly about trying to stretch our water hose to their house, but I could tell by the size of the flames that it would be worthless.  David grabbed a bucket and ran next door.  I ran closer to the Richards’ home in time to see Jodi and their two kids emerge, walking calmly through the yard.  Steve came out of the house and threw down the fire extinguisher, which had proven totally useless.

I got out my phone and called our MAF program manager, Mike, and quickly told him what was going on.  David had just run out of the Richards’ house and asked to talk to him.

“Mike, we’re not going to put this out.”

And then I realized we would be watching a house burn down.

Earlier in the day, the power had gone off, as it frequently does.  I suspect it's because I had decided to do a meal in the crock-pot that day. What’s up with me and the crockpot? Every time I use it, it’s like I’ve called the power company and said, “Hey, mind turning off our power all day? Awesome, thanks.”

So I had turned on our generator at lunch time so the kids could use the toaster, and to give my crockpot some time to come to life and simmer.  Apparently the Richards had also turned on their generator and were just finishing their lunch when they noticed the power went off.  Steve went to check on the generator and was met with an inferno.

Our yard became the safe hangout for kids.  The hordes began arriving – curious Papuans, other expats, our MAF guys loaded to the gills with fire extinguishers, even a few of the local drunks.  Everyone wanted to help, but the fire quickly raged out of control.

The Richards’ house was part of a duplex, and one of the oldest buildings on Pos 7.  Constructed from ironwood, it dates from World War 2, and was one of the first houses used by missionaries up here.  The other side of the duplex was a guest house for two families currently on home assignment.  Acting quickly, many helped to empty the other side of the duplex of its furnishings before the fire reached it.

It’s worth noting that I am probably NOT the person you want with you in a crisis.  I try to do my best to hold it together and do what needs to be done, but what I really want to do is crawl into a fetal position and cover my head until the crisis is over.  I’m wimpy that way. 

After my call to Mike (my major contribution to the firefighting effort), I stood on the sidelines and offered drinking water and wet towels to the men battling the fire.  I don’t know how we got through with no major injuries, but thankfully we did. 

Eventually a fire truck did show up.  I don’t know who tried to call them, but I heard that the number they used was out of service, so I think someone had to physically go to the fire station to report the fire.  And there are no fire hydrants here, so once the truck is empty of its water it has to go back down the hill and get more.  So time-consuming. 

Workers from the international school came over with a water tank and hose, and they seemed more efficient than the fire brigade.  Eventually, I think everyone saw that efforts to stave the fire were hopeless and we stood and watched it burn to the ground. 

Through the afternoon and evening, people kept stopping by to take a look, to offer sympathies, and to shake their heads at the sheer devastation. 

Amazingly a few items were saved from the Richards’ home: their refrigerator, tv, and stove got pushed out in time, and when Steve sifted through the ashes the next day he found some of Jodi’s jewelry as well as some ceramic Christmas decorations.

But that’s it.

The Richards have had a phenomenal attitude through it all.  The expat community has been wonderful in reaching out to them, providing food, clothes, and household items.  They are starting over from scratch.  If you’d like to help them, you can go here to donate.

April 15, 2014

Name That Relative

My yard guy, an ancient Papuan man, came to me recently with a request. It went something like this:

Pak Aki: “Ibu, saya minta ijin tidak masuk, karena ada keluarga meninggal.” (Ma’am, I ask for permission not to work today, because a relative has died.)

Me: Siapa meninggal? (Who died?)

Pak Aki: Itu kakak punya anak ipar saya (My older brother/sister’s son/daughter-in-law – OR my brother/sister-in-law’s uncle/aunt/older sibling - OR perhaps something totally different)

Me: Jadi itu saudara kandung Bapak, nggak? (It was your sibling – literally – of the same womb?)

Pak Aki: Ya, kakak punya adik dari sepupu saya (Yes, my older sibling’s younger sibling’s cousin)

Me: [Still quite confused but feigning comprehension]  Oh jadi itu saudara Bapak (so it was your relative)

Pak Aki: Ya itu saudara saya (yes it was my relative)

And so concludes another round of “Name That Relative,” a little language game I get to play frequently with my Indonesian friends and acquaintances.  

Oh, how I sometimes yearn for the precision of English family terms.  We don’t just call someone our “saudara” but our second cousin by marriage on our mother’s side.  I loved it when my grandmother would refer to her “double first-cousins" who were not to be confused with the regular first cousins. Why are we so precise?  Why the detail?  Why is it so important for me to nail down the relation of the dearly departed to my yard guy???

I have yet to hear a word for “half-sister,” “great-grandparent” or “double first cousins.” Indonesians seem content with their family words.  They are liberal with their use of saudara (sibling or relative), kakak (older sibling or relative), adik (younger sibling or relative), sepupu (cousin), and tante (aunt).  In fact, I have been called all of these at some point by Indonesians, despite the fact that in Indonesia I am related by blood only to my children.

Indonesians, on the whole, are a gracious people.  Arms open wide, they’ll take you as a saudara.  And their language and culture make a beautiful allowance for forgetting or not knowing someone’s name.  Can you determine the person is older than you?  Call them kakak.  Is it a child?  Adik will suffice.  Your neighbor lady?  Ibu works wonderfully.  An old man? Kakek (Grandpa), or Om (Uncle) will do. 

Doesn’t matter.  You’re family.

March 08, 2014

This Week in Pictures

Zoe holding the newborn baby of our friend, when we took a meal to them.  Zoe declared, "I want to have triplets when I grow up!"

On Sunday, Luke's bike and scooter were stolen from our yard.  We put out the word in the neighborhood, and by Wednesday, someone had located it.  The bike had been painted a lovely shade of green.  We're hoping the scooter also turns up.

The sweet little hellions angels I wrangled this week.  This is Zoe's class, and their teacher was on Outdoor Education as a team leader with the high school, so a few moms stepped in to help teach.

Grace had a basketball game (that's her going for the pass).  
International Day at the school. Each grade studied a different country and gave presentations to the other classes. Here, Grace explains South Korea's economy to Luke.

Zoe describes Australia's animals to Luke and friend Marc.

As part of Luke's class' study of Indonesia, they made batik.

Carter came home!  This was definitely a highlight of the week.  Carter and the rest of the high school spent two weeks in mountain villages doing ministry.  He had a great time, was full of stories, and CAME HOME HEALTHY!  That was a huge praise.

Every Day This Week
All week, the West Wind of Papua has been messing with me.  It blows incessantly, and two of my glasses, a picture frame, and my beloved tea pitcher have fallen victim to its forces.  It blew me across the road when I took my motorbike out today.  The trees all around our house (including the ones above) groan and creak and more than once the kids and I have discussed our plan of action should we hear one start to fall.  But just within the past two hours, it has stopped, inexplicably. So I'm just going to finish typing this very quietly in the hopes that it will just forget there's a place called Papua that it likes to blow on.  Shhhh.  And good night.