When we went back to Canada, I tried to find ways to explain our life here and I would always come up short. I could explain the big things. The different language. The different culture. Living in a small community in the middle of two villages in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea vs living in the suburbs of Langley, BC. Buying our produce at a market at 6am three times a week instead of going to the grocery store 7 days a week. Teaching in a Christian school vs a Public School.
I could explain some of these things but, I realized that, unless I share more of our day-to-day life, that a full picture of our life here would be incomplete.
It’s the myriad of little things that make our life here so different and I’m hoping that, with each little piece of the puzzle that I share with you this term, that, slowly, the picture will come together for you in a new and clearer way.
One of the unique challenges of this place lies in the cooking – and by this, I mean cooking from scratch.
Before we moved to PNG, Jon was already a pro at cooking – primarily thanks to his awesome mom passing on great skills early on and the Food Network that he watched repeatedly during our University years). He was doing the majority of the cooking in our house and, with Great Nana living upstairs, I had no reason to bake. I would bake some brownies once in awhile (read this as ‘put box mix brownies in a bowl, mix with egg & oil and bake in oven’) but, other than that, the kitchen was a place that was pretty foreign to me and and an unnecessary place for me to reside, except during football season when Jon was coaching and getting home after dinner ?
Fast forward to 2016 when we moved to PNG and all of that changed in an instant. We went from Langley, BC, Canada to Madang, PNG where we learned to build our own kitchen outside and cook over a fire.
We then moved from Madang to Ukarumpa, Eastern Highlands Province and it became very clear that food prep in PNG was going to be a bit more extensive and it also became clear that making food for friends & youth in this community and hosting them in our home was going to be a big part of our ministry here in PNG, alongside our roles as teachers at Ukarumpa International School.
I began to bake – first in an effort to combat the homesickness and maintain a connection to our Canadian home and, more specifically to my family but, it moved beyond that and became a way to create spaces for connections and relationship – both with new friends and with the youth we had come here to serve.
I began baking my nana’s recipes and then began to search for my own and that’s when I realized that baking here was going to be a challenge.
We have a great store on centre that works really hard to bring in items from Australia (shipped sea freight from Brisbane), the USA (shipped sea freight as well but it takes a lot longer) and locally from within PNG (major PNG items that we bring in are crackers in all sorts of beef, chicken & savoury flavours, instant noodles, tuna, sausages & eggs). But, despite their best efforts (and I do REALLY APPRECIATE the store staff!!!), there are just so many things that we don’t have access to here.
Our store has about 8 aisles and it just isn’t possible for those 8 aisles to contain the contents of a Canadian Costco, Superstore or Walmart.
I would frequently look at a recipe and find two or three items that we couldn’t get here which would lead me to one of three options – I could search for a new recipe, search for a DIY (do it yourself), homemade version of the missing ingredient or potentially ask my mom to ship the needed item, in which case, I couldn’t be certain that it would arrive safely, escape the rats en route from Canada to PNG or get here before I no longer cared about making that recipe ?
Baking and preparing food here has taught me patience and improvisation and I’m becoming more ok with that, with each month we spend here.
It’s becoming normal to me to wait 24-48 hours for our yogurt to set in these strange, magical thermos contraptions.
First, we mix milk powder, some ‘starter’ yogurt from the last batch (or from a friend when we are first making yogurt upon arriving back in Ukarumpa), and some boiling water, then whisk it all together and put the containers inside of these thermoses and wait. We have plain yogurt after 24-48 hours depending on the temperature and humidity in our kitchen. Sometimes it’s really thick and sometimes it’s kind of runny but it tastes good.
It’s becoming normal to treasure the Costco sized chocolate chips my mom sends me especially if they haven’t melted into a giant chalky clump.
It’s becoming normal to not have chips in the store and, when we do, to have to check them for the nibble marks indicative of a rat.
It’s becoming normal to not have access to fruit snacks and numerous other packaged fun treats and to just treasure them all the more when they arrive in a care package.
It’s becoming normal to shop for my cheese in Aussie terms and decide between ‘Vintage,’ ’Tasty,’ ‘Colby’ and ‘Edam‘ while no longer being shocked at the price of cheese 🙂
It’s becoming normal to smell my eggs before I buy them and to add eggs one at a time to a recipe lest you waste $14 worth of butter (yes, 454g of butter here costs about $14 CAD).
It’s becoming normal to see crackers in savoury flavours like ‘beef and tomato’ and ’chicken.’
It’s becoming normal to only buy cereal as a treat because the cereals they import from the US are just a bit pricier than cereal in Canada 🙂
It’s becoming normal for me to have to make one or two of the items myself before I can get started with a recipe and, when it doesn’t annoy me, it kind of brings a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment – like an ever-changing puzzle that ends with a (hopefully) delicious result. I have no patience for real puzzles but give me a puzzle that ends with a cheesecake and I’m all in.
So, we get creative. We share recipes. We share homemade kitchen hacks. We share ingredients that the store has run out of or hasn’t had in months. We let each other know when our favourite item is back in the store and sometimes we wait and that’s ok.
I am learning that, the waiting is a gift too. It’s not that this life is harder than our life in Canada but just that it’s different. It’s unique. It’s beautiful and God is here in the moments just as He is there. I’m simply noticing that He shows up in different places here and sometimes He shows up in the waiting.
Some of my go-to recipes for items that we make regularly from scratch!