Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Preparing for call

Part of a doctor’s life is being available for emergencies that come up any time of day or night. This week, I start taking call for surgery here at Kudjip Nazarene Hospital. As with starting any new job or a position at a new hospital, the emotions inside are elevated: excitement, anxiety, fear of failure, and comfort in knowing I have excellent partners backing me up. I mentally go over my “on-call checklist”

1.     Doctor’s bag (containing stethoscope, surgery cap, headlight, etc) – check
2.     Keys to the Operating Theatre – check
3.     Working telephone – check
4.     Mission vehicle reservation for night on-call – check
5.     Driver’s training – check

Yes, the list looks a little different from my list in the U.S. Note the lack of a pager and the addition of #4 and #5. Due to security rules here on station, women are not allowed to walk alone at night. We must either drive a vehicle or be escorted by a male missionary or security guard. Most of the female doctors reserve a mission-owned vehicle for use while on-call.  
The mission vehicles are mostly land cruisers… manual transmission land cruisers. Prior to coming I never learned to drive a stick shift. Oh, and did I mention they drive on the left side of the road? Enter #5 – Driver’s training. Over the past two weeks, I’ve had 3 lessons with Tim (pictured below) and Karla Deuel, one of the awesome long-term missionary couples on station. They have guided me through the awkward starts, killing the engine many many times trying to figure out this clutch thing, and teaching me the essential off-road driving skills needed on the rural roads of PNG. Yesterday, Tim took me up a very rugged mountain dirt road with several little plank bridges. The view from Konduk church at the top was amazing, but I’m glad it wasn’t raining or muddy on the way back down. I’m happy to report that I have been deemed road ready, at least on station (we’ll leave the highway for another time). I even got a PNG driver’s license and feel quite official. Now, let’s just hope I don’t run into the mailroom in the middle of the night (it has been hit before by many a new driver). 

As far as surgery goes, I'm not too nervous because I have been in the OR quite a bit the past few days. On the other hand I am nervous that something might come in that I've never seen or treated before. But as I mentioned before, I have great back-up, a great team, and a great God who will never leave me or forsake me. I rest assured that He will see me through anything - no matter how hard. BTW, for those who were curious, my first case at Kudjip was a c-section for placenta previa. I got to help bring this little guy into the world. Seeing the wonder of new life never ceases to amaze me! 

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Language learning

       Much of the past three weeks has been devoted to language and culture learning.  There are over 800 native languages in Papua New Guinea. Official languages include English (which is taught in school...for those who go to school), Hiri Motu, and Tok Pisin. Tok Pisin is a type of creole (a new language created when different languages interact with each other) with influences from English, German, Latin-based languages, and some of the regional languages. Even though you can hear the English influence in many of the Pisin words, the grammar is unique and there are several words that don’t translate the same. For example, if you try to compliment someone and tell them how much you like their bag by saying “Mi laikim bilum bilong yu”, they are likely to give you the bag! What you really said is “I want your bag”, and theirs is a very obliging culture, honoring relationship above all other things.

      Kudjip Nazarene Hospital operates in English, but the majority of patients speak Tok Pisin in addition to their own “tok ples” (local language).  My language skills are advancing rapidly thanks to my language tutor, Emelyn. She lives close to station with her husband, Gabriel, the Rural Health Director. While we were in Sangapi, Emelyn and I would have “skul” (school) every morning. I would read through a set of primer books while she corrected my pronunciation and explained the words or phrases I didn’t understand. She understands English, but would only talk to me in Tok Pisin so that I would learn faster. 

         In the afternoons, we would “wokabaut” (walk) to different places each day and engage in conversation with the people to practice conversational skills. In those conversations I learned about Emelyn’s family and told her about mine. We discussed what fruits and vegetables grow here compared to what grows in the States. Some of our Sangapi friends also told us about the customs in this area of Papua New Guinea. Now, after three weeks of language learning, I can understand a large amount of Pisin (when spoken slowly without a thick accent) and can say quite a few phrases. 

          This past Sunday, while visiting a bush church with several other missionaries, I was surprised to find out 10 minutes before the service that I would be sharing my testimony. Thankfully, Emelyn and I had started writing out my testimony in Tok Pisin. Although I was only half done writing it out, I was able to give an abbreviated version on the fly and the church loved it.  During the service they sing many songs that are new to me, but some are familiar songs that have been translated into Tok Pisin (see below). 

       Next week when I start working in the hospital full time, I hope I will have enough handle on the language to understand my patients and make myself understood. I’m sure many funny misunderstandings will come up, but so far God is blessing my ears and my tongue as I continue to learn. Mi laik tok tenkyu long Bikpela na litimapim nem bilong em = I want to say thank you to God and lift up his name!


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Celebration of Life and Friendship

 Flying over the lush green mountains, the rivers swollen with rainwater, and the thatched houses with their garden clearings hewn from the dense surrounding forest, I truly began to appreciate the beauty of this isolated land.  

Landing on a grass airstrip in a seven-seat plane was a new experience for me. But as we bounced to a halt, we were greeted by the smiling, inquisitive faces of the local people of Sangapi. 
Over the next week, some of them would become my friends and my teachers as I learned the language and the culture of the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. 

         Life here is very different from America. The people truly live off the land, living in houses made of local karuka trees or thatched with kunai grass, growing fruits and vegetables in their gardens, raising “free range” chickens and pigs, cooking over wood fires, making almost everything they need from “bush material” which is in plentiful supply and biodegradable, leading to very little waste.  


      Time seems almost to stand still in a place without seasons, where it seems to be perpetual spring. But life here is difficult. It is hard work to clear land for gardens, fence in the gardens to keep the pigs out, build houses from scratch, and gather and prepare food daily without the conveniences of refrigeration or electricity.

 Clothing varies widely with some young children running around without clothes or with a simple loincloth, others wearing the same tattered shirt day after day, and still others with impressively stylish wardrobes. Most of the adults are well clothed with women wearing skirts or dresses. I’m told that some people living in the bush just prefer to wear the traditional coverings of bush materials despite having access to western clothing, only wearing clothes when they come to town.

Despite the hardships of living in such an isolated place, the people here have a deep-seated joy and appreciation for life.  In this culture, they do not live to work, rather they work to live, and their very survival depends upon it. Life is to be celebrated. Smiles are contagious and everyone wants to shake your hand and welcome you to their community.  Everyone shares whatever they have. Many people brought us fruits and vegetables from their gardens, but the ultimate celebration that they honored us with was a traditional mumu, a pig feast.

Here in the highlands, pigs are the most valuable assets that families have. They are sold for anywhere between 200 and 2000 kina depending on the size of the pig. A mumu is typically reserved for very special occasions, so I was very excited to experience one. It is a full day event to prepare a mumu.  


    Nathan, one of the workmen at the clinic, showed us how he killed the pig with a bamboo spear shot from a limbu wood bow.  He even taught Erin and I how to shoot the bow (much different from the bows I’m used to shooting).

     Then I watched while Nathan, Amos, Maurice and Max butchered the pig, removing the internal organs and preparing it for cooking. Meanwhile, the ladies prepared the vegetables: kaukau (sweet potato), taro root, pumpkin (their name for any squash), pitpit (a grass with tender inner shoot), kumu greens (mostly pumpkin leaves), beans, and banana. 

        They dug a large pit and heated stones over a large fire. Then, the pit was lined with hot stones and layered with banana leaves. Next the root vegetables were placed in the pit on a bed of fern leaves.

After another layer of ferns and hot stones, the greens, pitpit, and banana mash were added. Then the pig was placed on top. Everything was quickly covered with banana leaves and grass to seal in the steam and heat.

Two hours later, everything was cooked and ready to eat, served on banana leaves. As you can imagine this feast can feed dozens of people. It is a huge celebration of family and of community. In PNG, sharing a meal with someone is a sign of friendship. I was greatly honored to share in this celebration with my new Sangapi friends.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

A Kudjip Welcome

       Only a week after receiving my Visa and booking flights, I was off to Papua New Guinea. The last week seemed like a whirlwind. On Tuesday, I found out my Visa had been approved and processed at the PNG embassy in Washington DC. On Wednesday, after ensuring my passport was in the mail, I booked my flights to PNG. Thursday and Friday were a rush to pack and finish all the necessary business stateside – closing accounts, finishing new hire paperwork, etc. On Saturday, my parents and I drove 8 hours to the desert of southern California for my grandmother’s 90th birthday  celebration and a family reunion.  I praised God for the opportunity to see most of the family before my departure. 

 On Monday, we drove the 8 hours home again, dodging rainstorms and road closures from flooding and mudslides. Then on Tuesday, exactly one week after my visa was finalized, we made our way to the San Jose airport with three 50-lb checked bags, a carry-on and a personal item. We arrived super early because 3 of the 4 routes connecting my hometown to San Jose were closed due to flooding or mudslides, and Mom and Dad didn’t want to get stuck  in rush hour traffic on the only highway (which was closed to one-lane only) on the way home. 

     After 4 flights and 27 hours of travel time (via Los Angeles, Brisbane, and Port Moresby), I arrived in Mt. Hagen and was greeted by my missionary orientation mentor, Dr. Susan Myers.  


      Upon arrival at Kudjip station, a colorful banner made by the elementary school kids greeted me from the porch of my new home. A group of missionaries gathered too to welcome me to the community. I am blown away by the time and energy everyone put into building, decorating and stocking my new home, affectionately known as “The Blue House”.   


After a much-appreciated shower and a good night sleep, I was off again in the morning for the next adventure: Cultural Orientation. Dr. Erin, a long term medical missionary; Gabriel Mahisu, the Rural Health Director; his wife, Emelyn, my language tutor; their friend Robin; and I boarded a small MAF (Mission Aviation Fellowship) aircraft headed to the rural village of Sangapi in the rugged mountains north of Kudjip. We would spend the next week there, Dr. Erin working in the health clinic, and I learning language and culture through emersion. More details to come in the next blog post. For a sneak peak, check out Erin’s blog.