Friday, 31 January 2014

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Mr Rosenblum's List

 Mr Rosenblum's List Or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman by Natasha Solomons was a wonderful read.

Mr Rosenblum arrives in England with his wife and small daughter in the years leading up to the second world war.  He is German.  Jewish.  And desperate to be English.  With a capital E.  And so when he is handed, on arrival, a pamphlet entitled, While you are in England: Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee, he grasps it, studies it, annotates it and follows it religiously.

He does well in London; his carpet business flourishes.  He wears Saville Row suits (on the list) and drives a Jaguar (on the list).  But membership to an English Golf Club (on the list) is elusive.  He doesn't understand why (they won't let you in with that schnoz says his friend Saul Tankel the jeweller) and is confused by an English friend who doesn't understand what the fuss about golf is anyway.  His wife doesn't understand the fuss about being English and steadfastly refuses to have a purple rinse (yes, on the list) or to forget to grieve her loss.

So he takes his wife and follows his dream into the English countryside.  Follow them... it's a beautiful journey of friendship and belonging.

This story speaks volumes about the meeting of cultures and friendship across cultures.  No matter how hard he tries to act like an Englishman, dress like a Englishman and speak like an Englishman, everybody always knows that he isn't.  Just like no matter how hard I try to act, dress and speak like a ni-Vanuatu, it's always perfectly obvious to everyone that I'm not.   In the end, you can't become what you're not but true friendship reaches across the divide, takes hold of your hand and squeezes your heart.

This book was a delightful surprise in our post-box.  I've had no success finding out who sent it... if it was you... thank-you... it is a treasure.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014


My husband is currently racing around the house trying to catch a frog that jumped inside when he opened the door.

He doesn't like frogs.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

family holiday

We have enjoyed the slower pace of life at Talua over the summer break.  We've had a couple of short trips away with friends.  But there's nothing like some time away as a family.  Just us.

There are both advantages and disadvantages of holidays in off-season.  Even rain has its ups and downs.

Oh, you want to eat at this restaurant?  You've arranged to have a vehicle and driven all the way up the coast to visit this beautiful place in the glorious sunshine?  You're children are starving?  But the staff didn't come in today... big rain this morning.  Didn't think anyone would come.  Off-season.

Our Thursday night Buffet and Bonfire on the Beach?  And you want to kayak up the river first to the Blue Hole?  This is the family outing you've been looking forward to for months?  Ah, but our kayaks are ridiculously over-priced, and you need three as you're such a big family... and there's no bonfire tonight.  No... not the rain, it's off-season, you-know?

The children are screaming and bombing in the pool?  Relax... no-one's here to be bothered.  And it's raining anyway.  Besides, the building equipment drowns it all out anyway.

You, a mere day visitor, want to use the kayaks reserved for guests of the resort???  No worries... no charge... no-one else is going to use them.  As long as you don't mind the rain.

Despite the setbacks, we had loads of fun together.  And with some clever crafty purchases at the variety store the children could be occupied for hours while the two of us played network computer games.   Uninterrupted.


Sunday, 19 January 2014

hint #2: give them the microphone

Here is my second hint on "how to host a missionary at your church". Your questions and suggestions are welcome!

There is no point, absolutely none, in having a missionary come to your church if you don't let them speak.  If you can't trust them with the microphone, then you shouldn't have them come to your church, let alone be supporting them.  The sooner they speak to your church, the more beneficial and encouraging their visit will be for everyone.  So, give them the microphone.

A formal speaking event early on in the missionary's stay with your church is really helpful. It reminds people who the missionary is and what they do.  It gives them time to think and digest and then approach the missionary with informed questions about the things they have heard that interest them.  It avoids the same repetitive and awkward introductory conversations the missionary is obliged to have. There is nothing worse than sitting down to dinner with a group of people are too frightened to say anything because of said missionary's spiritual glow *cough* *splutter* or because they've forgotten exactly what it is they do and don't want to appear ignorant.

Informal chatting is more meaningful for everyone after having heard from the missionary in a more formal setting first.

Hints on what makes a "missionary event" run well to come.... (eventually).

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Friday, 17 January 2014

more on language

As I said earlier, Loki speaks a funny mixture of Bislama and English.

But none of the others have done this.

Sophie was two and a half when we arrived and speaking English already.  She picked up Bislama after a while and soon was speaking without an accent and never mixed up the languages.

Bethany was only six months old when we arrived.  She spoke Bislama as her first language.  Even though we always spoke to her in English, she would speak back in Bislama.  It wasn't until after a lengthy visit to Australia that she began to speak English.  Even when she was speaking English words, her sentences followed Bislama word order.

Matthew, who was born while we here (though not actually born here, if you know what I mean), learnt to speak in sentences.  'It's a ball'.  'Where's the car?'.  He learnt both languages at the same time but always kept them distinct.

Loki, like Matthew was born during our stay here.  He, as I said, speaks a mixture.

What would the experts make of all that?

in da lish

Loki speaks the funniest mixture of English and Bislama.  Occasionally I try to straighten some of it out into one language or the other.

This morning he said,
"Mummy, you put on shoes blong mi."

I said,
"In English, we say, my shoes.  Put on my shoes, Mummy."

He said,
"Not English, Mummy.  In-da-lish*!"

Well, now I know.  That's the language he speaks.

* This reflects the tendency in the pijin language to insert vowels between the consonants in English language blends. For instance, ants becomes anis, box becomes bokis and chance becomes janis.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

children and making decisions

My mother-in-law does a brilliant job of keeping reading material up to our children.  Every few years she scours the local primary school libraries and sends across loads of discards.  Most of these end up in the Talua library or in the library at the local school. The bonus for us is that they pass through our house first while they are sorted.

So we end up reading lots of books that were on the shelves in when I was at school.  One of the big issues in children's literature then seems to have been broken families.  I was reading one today, Better for Everyone, by Penny Hall that explores that very issue (otherwise I wouldn't've mentioned it).  In this book, Meg, about to start high school, is asked to go and live with her Father and his new wife and her teenage children.  She leaves behind her mother, her elder brother and twin sisters and begins a new life in the city.

She is asked to make the decision about whether to leave her mother and family by herself.  She is able to talk about it with different family members, but in the end it is up to her.   Later, when holidays come, she also has to make the decision about whether to go home or to stay during the holidays.  She struggles with the responsibility of these decisions, trying to do what is best for everyone.

The author, I think rightly, criticises the tendancy to leave such monumental decisions to those so young.  As difficult as they are for parents and step-parents to make such decisions, I think it is their responsibility to make them.

It's started me thinking about how we teach children to make decisions.  First, parents just make the decisions.  Then there's a period of leading and guiding and counselling.  Finally, they will be able to make the decision themselves.  For instance, when my eldest was a baby, we dressed her.  She had no part in the decision making process what-so-ever.  Now, she dresses herself, although she follows rules we have set.  One day she'll have left home and be dressing herself with complete freedom.  We hope she'll follow certain principles... but she'll make those decisions herself.

But the significance of the decision will greatly affect when they move through those stages.  For example, deciding what one has on a sandwich at lunch-time is of much less significance than whether one joins the family for holidays.

There are so many sorts of decisions we are preparing our children to make.

I wonder at what ages children are old enough to make them?  What do you think?

How do we know when they're ready?

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

5 family traditions I really miss

I'm not a very self-aware person. I takes me a long time to work out what I don't like or what I do like or what I am missing or that I really am bored with counting fruit flies (it took 2 whole months to work this out... I'm sure most of you would've got it sussed in... maybe... 2 minutes).

It is now almost twenty years since I first moved out of home.  I have put my finger on five traditions I really miss.  We didn't have many; we weren't a very organised family.  But here they are:
  1. Sunday morning tea at Grandma's after church.
  2. Beginning each birthday by clambering into bed for cuddles with Mum; squeezing between brother or sister; fidgeting around until there was room. Somehow beginning like this made birthdays so special. I even miss the grumbly rumblings from Dad who generally slid out the other side and disappeared.
  3. Saturday pizza nights.
  4. Charades on Christmas eve (and even the inevitable Christmas shopping row).
  5. Arriving ten minutes late for church every week.  I don't know how we did it.  It involved lost keys, lost glasses, lost handbags, lost shoes, lost sleep, lost sheep (that was us)...  The first time Dad lead a service he had no idea how to begin!
They're not very profound, I know.  And 'traditions' is a bit of a glorified word for it...   But they've been heavy on my heart and are part of many great and treasured memories.

Monday, 13 January 2014

scenes from yesterday: December 2013, mata-mata

Video now attached! *Whoops*

Not so very long ago we visited Malo to see some friends. We enjoyed a very special Malo custom: Mata-mata. Mata is the Malo-language word for snake. We didn't eat snake, we ate snake-shaped laplap. Here's how ordinary grated wild yam is turned into snake-laplap:

The leaf being used to hold the wild yam inside the bamboo is from the Natangora Palm, the same leaf used for thatch.

Then the bamboo packages are roasted on a fire. The open end must be roasted first. The wild yam swells and forms a plug. If roasting began at the closed end, the wild yam would be pushed out the opening as it cooked and swelled.

After roasting, the bamboo is split open, the natangora leaf peeled off and the "snake" served on a platter with coconut milk.


Saturday, 11 January 2014

Songs from the Women's Program

I've mentioned before how important song is to life in Vanuatu.  So last year, I tried (in a small way) to incorporate song into our lessons (introduction to the bible) in the women's program and gave them an assignment to write and perform a song. This is what they came up with:

Books of the Old Testament (in English):

Books of the New Testament (in Bislama):

We had loads of fun practising and recording (really sophisticated... single iPhone held aloft in classroom) and I was really proud of the effort they had put into their songs.

It had a curious and unexpected (for me) effect when we broadcast these songs on the Talua radio. My intention was pedagogical; to help the women (and others) remember these songs so as to learn the books of the bible. I was afraid our little effort would be mocked for its poor sound quality, its amateurism, its DAG chords. But then again, I was thinking like an *Australian*.

Instead, I discovered we had (accidentally) done something much more profound. It didn't matter about the tinny sound.  It didn't matter that most of us didn't join in until half way through the fist line of each verse. Even the DAG chords weren't important. It didn't even matter that the words weren't exactly original.

What we had done had something to do with honour, with respect and with having a voice. To be honest, I'm not quite sure what it was, and I definitely can't articulate it.  In God's providence (for it was accidentally done) and by his grace, it was right and brings me joy.

Friday, 10 January 2014

N-O No!

Here's a little poem my nine-year old wrote a while back. Interesting, don't you think?

N-O no; there's no way I'll chose a boy.
N-O no; you're treating me like a toy.
N-O no; why can't I have my way?
N-O no; I want to shout hey!
N-O no; I want to hang out with my friends.
N-O no; whats the rush, I'm only ten?

She says it doesn't have any particular meaning; that she was just making up rhymes whilst playing with Barbie.


Thursday, 9 January 2014

holiday fun

... simple platform games on a local network...

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

burnt and fallen

On the road to the farm there is a Nambangga (Num-bung-ga).

There was a Nambangga.

Towering and spreading, Nambangga dominate their landscape. Creatures shelter in them. People navigate by them and gather around them. People have lived in them. John Paton hid in one when he fled for his life.

They begin life as parasites. A bright orange, acorn sized seed falls into a crevice on another tree. Roots and shoots spread downwards, upwards and around, enclosing the host. Slowly, surely, steadily, the Nambangga grows and slowly, surely, steadily, the host suffocates, dies, rots and the central hollow is filled. By the time the host dies the Nambangga is strong enough to stand on its own.

These photos were taken at the beginning of 2010.

The Nambangga has grown around a Nandao ("Nun-dow"). You can see the leaves at the top are different, slightly darker.  The Nandao is still alive and well.  As far as Nambangga go, it's not a very big or old one.  But aren't the roots just fantastic?

Now, Nandao is excellent firewood. On New Year's Day, our Nambangga was found sprawled across the road. The centre had been burnt out. It had fallen.

We walked down this morning to have look.  It was still smoking.

I know that it's just a tree.  But there's something moving about their greatness and majesty that makes their falling like this unsettling and upsetting.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

climbing for mangoes

Sophie and a friend climb for the last of the season's mangoes. It's been a good season.

scenes from yesterday: Christmas 2012, cousins

Christmas, 2012. We were in Australia. Our Taylor cousins were home from Tanzania. It was a precious time for us. Our attempt to capture our joy at being together didn't produce an awarding winning photograph, but makes for cute footage.

Not long afterwards, two more cousins were born. In February 2013, Isabella, sister to Harry, Miri and Sammy; and then in March, Benjamin, brother to Jack.

Monday, 6 January 2014

Yumi stadi long buk ya Mak - 8

Blong dowlaodem stadi ya (seven pej evriwan):

  • Klik long raet saed blong maos long pej ya antap. Nao klik long toktok ya "download linked file" mo bae stadi ya i download i go long komputa blong yu.
  • Narafala rod: yu prestem "command" mo klik long pej ya antap mo bae stadi ya i open long wan niufala pej long internet browser blong yu, mo afta yu save "save" o "print".

Sunday, 5 January 2014

tastes of home

There's nothing that reminds me of home quite like damper...

... and roasted marshmallows.

But this scene was distinctly ni-Vanuatu in flavour...

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Mount Marum

Last August Glen and I attended the PCV Annual Assembly. It was on the island of Ambrym, on the northern side.

I had a great time.

Best of all was catching up with former students.  More about that later (perhaps).

Second best was climbing the volcano, which was "klosap nomo". Well, all distance is relative, and compared with, say, London, it was. It was worth every step.

Ambrym is only a small island but has a pair of active volcanoes in the middle, Mt Benbow and Mt Marum (here's a great photo taken from space, click on it to enlarge it). It has a third peak in the north, Mt Vetlam, which may or may not be volcanic. I can't remember any of the local people calling it a volcano, only the visitors (meaning ni-Vanuatu from other islands).

Actually, technically, Ambrym has a 12 km wide "caldera" which (I think) is what geologists call the site of an old eruption (see here). In this case, the eruption occurred around 50 AD, not long before Mt Vesuvius. Within that caldera are two volcanic "cones" where the molten lava is open at the surface. These cones are called Mt Benbow and Mt Marum. There was also a huge eruption in 1913 which buried the hospital and turned the large harbour into an inland lake!

We climbed Mt. Marum.

Were were accompanied by our friends, Pastors Robert McKean and Sophia Joses and led by a local guide.  The landscape was incredible.  We were driven 5 km to the end of the road, most of which was steep climb through tropical forest.  Then we continued on foot another 3 km south...

...and onto the old, weathered and worn lava crust from the 1913 eruption, with 6.5 km to go (there are some good pictures of the caldera plain here and here).   Then it was like walking on a crumbly tarmac road lined with predominantly with wild cane and dotted with pink orchids, the vegetation thinning until there was none.

Then there was the rise of the cone itself. Imagine the ground having been folded into a concertina fan and then the centre pulled upwards to form a point.  Except that the folds start at that central point and branch many times as they extend outwards. We walked upon the tops of those folds. The crests were narrow and the sides steep. Hair-raising!

When we were close, it became cold and windy. Our hair and clothes were damp with cloud. No, it wasn't smoke; it was just like being caught in mist on the top of Mt. Victoria.

The photo above shows (from the right) our guide, Glen, myself and our friend, Ps. Sophia Joses, on the last climb before reaching the rim of the crater.  (Above photo from Robert McKean)


And here we are, at the top. The crater was filled with cloud. We couldn't see a thing.

But we could hear.  It was like listening to the sea in a storm. Or a pot of vigorously boiling water.

And we could feel its heat.

Still disappointed, but not wanting to offend our guide, we sat down (cheerfully) to eat our snacks. Not ten minutes later he called us over. The cloud had lifted.

And there, down... down... down.... (500m down I found out later), was the churning lava. Have a look...

Our return to the village of Ranvetlam was little more than an enforced march as our guide did a brilliant job of getting us back just as the sun set. The truck had been unable to meet us at the end of the road because high tide blocks the road at a certain point and it (the truck) was needed at the Assembly site on the other side.  We arrived back onsite well after dark, having walked a very long way.  We slept well that night.

Bon Ani

Yesterday, a Bon Ani group came and sang for us at Talua.

One of the things I have come to cherish most in Vanuatu, is that every group is also a choir.   Singing, and singing together, is integral and important in everyday life.

This group came from one of the local villages. Based around a cell group, and including anyone from their village who wanted to join in, they sang songs for the new year and danced as they sang. There were the elderly, the young, the lame and even those great with child.

You might notice from the photo that they are not dressed in particularly flash clothes, or even in uniform, but are decorated with flowers and leaves. They carry "Christmas bush", the flowers of which fell as they danced, forming a red carpet.

You may not be able to notice the instruments.  Those playing the bush bass and the guitars are in the middle of the group.  The singers form concentric circles around them.  Many traditional dances also have this pattern, often with the men on the inside and women on the outside.

In the photo below you can see two women bending over. They are women from Talua, showing their appreciation of the songs by rubbing sweet smelling oil on their legs. You may also notice the powder around the back of some necks, another custom of honour and welcome.

An unexpected pleasure.

Friday, 3 January 2014

a photo at dusk

Not a great photo... but it gives you an idea of how the children are going and growing.

Thursday, 2 January 2014


This is the waterfall which is a few kilometres walk from here.  Beautiful.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Happy New Year

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all your ways acknowledge him
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6