Day one back in PNG, time get back in gear and get to work. Today’s task was a trip around town buying supplies both for ourselves – food, toothpaste, cleaning supplies etc and for our upcoming Kovol happy meal.
We’re going to be throwing an ‘amamas kaikai’, or literally happy meal, also known as a ‘wanbel kaikai’ or one stomach meal. The Kovol people have been hard at work with us for months now in house building. The men have been carrying all the wood we’ve milled back to the construction site, the ladies have been cooking for us and in general the community has been very, very hard at work to show us hospitality and make it known without doubt that they want us to be with them.
Every single day we have people turning up to help still, and they’ll get involved in whatever way they can to help us settle in and build houses.
A culturally appropriate thing to do when a house is finished is to have a feast to celebrate the working being finished and also honour those who have helped, and so that’s exactly what we’re going to be doing.
While the general idea is crystal clear to us the specifics have been like stumbling through a minefield. We need to make sure we don’t over do it, but also we can’t under do it.
If we overdo this meal we’re setting the expectation that any time they get involved in helping us a similarly grand feast will happen, and most damaging of all would be an attitude of “well I wonder what I’ll get this time!”.
Our goal here is to plant a church and see it grow to maturity. If a culture of expecting material goods from the missionaires grows up around us that we can expect the seed of God’s word to be choked by the weeds and cares of this life.
After all in the end we want to be appointing godly elders who are willing to suffer for and serve the Church for sometimes zero earthly reward. We don’t want to start our ministry here with a big ‘payout’ after house building that reinforces the hidden hope that we’re here to show the road to gaining material possessions.
At the same time we can’t underdo it. We need to make sure that we don’t misread things and give what is percieved as too little – which would shame the community that’s been so enthusaistically helping us.
These sorts of things are hard within our own cultures with people who are similar to ourselves who have both grown up with the same ‘rules’ and subconciosuly understand how the game is played.
Our problem is that we have no idea what’s too much or too little. Things that seem like token gestures to us can be recieved as more valuable that we every imagned and on the flip side there are times we try our best to impress and offer something we feel is valuable, but it’s not recieved that way.
So what to do?
First of all we’ve decided to majoy most of our budget on food 🙂 Eating meat together is how the Kovol show relationships are doing well. That’s why we’ve been eating so many pigs with them 🙂 So we decided to buy 200kg of lamb flaps, 60kg of rice and 20kg of salt.
The value of the food to the Kovol people is increased because it’s all town food that they don’t often (if ever get to enjoy). Delivery by helicopter is going to set us back the regular $3 per kg.
Then we’ve added some extra.
We bought 60 flat files for sharpening axes and machetes. We’ll say “your machetes and axes built these houses, so here’s some files to sharpen them” We wanted small items that would be easily divisible. Another minefield we’ll have to navigate on the day is how we distribute them out.
Then we bought 30 cheap (the kind that’s used here commonly) cooking pots. These can serve double duty by helping with cooking all the meat and rice, then becoming gifts – hopefully there’s enough for one for each family/clan that helped out.
Then to top it off we bought a football (soccer) for each of the 7 villages because they love footy in Kovol.
Is it too much? Too little? We have no idea -but most of it will be eaten and gone a week later, each family should get one or two items they can point at for years to come as ‘The missionaries gave us this’, and the footballs will last a few months or so.
We feel safe in the fact that this should be the only time we’re doing the enourmous project of building houses, and thus if we do err on the side of generosity at least we can point out that building houses was a unique time 🙂
We felt the familiar feeling of being stinking rich as shop staff are running after us carrying a village worth’s of cooking pots around, but this time we can feel good about it – they’re for the village.