It’s that time of life again – the preparation of suitcases for an international move. We follow a repeated pattern of:

  • Pack our suitcases as ligtly as possible
  • Arrive somewhere new
  • Gradually buy or find the essentials for our new home (pots and pans, towels, spices, bedding…)
  • Over time accumulate luxuries (books, decorations, toys…)
  • Store a few things for next time we’ll be back
  • Get rid of most of what we’ve accumulated to get down to our luggage allowance for the flight.

The cycle repeats itself. I think this is the 7th or 8th time we’ve done this, but that doesn’t count moves within a country (like moving to a different area of PNG or the UK).

Baby clothers.. there are always baby clothes to sort

Right now we’re in what I’ve come to think of as the purge, the getting rid of phase. We don’t have a definite luggage allowance for our intended flight to PNG yet, but from our early investigation of routes, it looks like it will be 3x 25kg suitcases and hand luggage.

So what essential things are coming with us? Since we’re already set up in Kovol, having built a house there, we were able to store lots. We don’t need to bring everything, but in our suitcases, we’re hoping to bring:

  • Clothes.
    That’s obvious, but we also need to bring clothes for our kids to grow into. It’s easy to find adult clothing in PNG, but clothes in all the sizes our children will grow into can be more of a challenge. Gerdine’s organisation skills are being tested as she packs clothes for little girls for the next 2-4 years. A subset of clothes is…
  • Shoes
    I have big feet. Finding decent footwear in PNG can be hard so I need to bring shoes and shoes to replace those shoes when they wear out. Children’s feet have a tendency to grow too. Shoes are a bit of a nightmare!
  • Dutch books
    With so many American missionaries in our mission it’s not hard to get our hands on some second hand books for our kids, plus there is the mission library we can use. Dutch books are a bit more niche though.
  • Home school material
    Oscar starts school next September. We’re heading into the homeschool phase. We hope to (roughly) follow the UK’s national curriculum and so we’ve got a hefty bundle of tightly bound and plastic wrapped (water proofing) home school exercise books, teacher’s manuals and activity books. Enough for the first year at least and we’re counting on being able to have subsequent years posted to us as we assess how well things are going.
  • Special treasures
    In all the ‘efficient’ packing we’re doing we can’t lose sight of the fact that our children have bonded to different items that they want to bring. Unfortunately Oscar’s didicar is too big to come, he’s sad about that 🙁 There’s a large dollop of wisdom needed as we guide Oscar into filtering his collection of toys and teddies a bit.
    As adults we know he’ll find new things to bond to when we arrive, but for now his world is his toys and teddies and we need to guide him through the grief of losing some of it.
    It also means we may end up packing a toilet roll with some felt tip squiggles on it – kids bond to the weirdest things!
Oscar and his faithful Didicar
  • Laptops and what not
    Electronics are easy peasy to get in the UK. In the bush it can be difficult or impossible to replace things that break. Gerdine got a new laptop, but mine is still working pretty well. Should I replace a laptop just because it’s 4 years old even if it’s working just fine because the tropics are so hard on electronics? We’re not going to this time… we’ll see how that turns out.

The list goes on of course. The weight and space limit needs to be respected though and that’s where the purge comes in.
First to go is the food of course. This stage of our life usually involves weird meals as we use up the esoteric ingredients we’re accumulated. This time round we have a lot of turmeric to use up…
Discharge papers from the hospital for our twins? Sorry Gerdine, that’s recycling (I’m so mean to my wife and her sense of nostalgia for things that bring back memories).
My electric guitar? I’ve had it for 15-20 years. This is the guitar I learned to play with, but the last 2 times we’ve gone to PNG it’s just been sat in storage. I’ve not played it this year home (thanks babies)… time to say goodbye.9ïppppppà⁰qq
My mountain bike? …maybe next time. I need time to get over getting rid of the guitar – that can go into storage again.

Last week I was on a recycling and selling frenzy. The guitar went 3 hours after posting it on marketplace… what else can go? (Eyes a baby speculatively)

Again I’m struck by how much time is involved in getting and then disposing of things. Part of our lifestyle is this regular shedding of our extra things (and an aversion to getting them in the first place), and yet it still feels like we’re losing the battle against accumulating more and more and more.
Part of that is Ok though. We’ll be returning to the UK and do we really want to be on the hunt for another set of saucepans AGAIN?
I guess we’re in this weird compromised place of trying to have as little as we comfortably can, while at the same time maintaining a stash of household items in the UK, Netherlands and Papua New Guinea.

It’s been interesting to me to see how it affects my hobbies. Guitar and mountain biking were huge hobbies for me, but over the years both have been gradually stripped away. A mountain bike needs a place to store it and a whole collection of tools to keep it maintained. I’m getting tired of all my tools, lubricants, and spare parts taking up half of one of our 3 UK storage boxes though. The bike survived this purge (Actually this bike is my old bike; my pride and joy bike was given away years ago), but the spare parts didn’t.
I’ve got an acoustic guitar in Kovol (which needs some gluing – note to self, pack wood glue), but everything else is now gone.
In its place, computer games and tinkering with programming languages have become more and more important. Arguably not as healthy as mountain biking; but digital purchases don’t weigh anything and since I have a laptop for recording language data; why not also depend on it for entertainment and the satisfaction of creating things?

Reading is all through kindle ebooks – again weightless. It’s weird for me whenever I visit someone’s house and see their bookshelves bulging with books. They’re able to point out favorites and can lend them out to people… It’s a homey, comfortable thing, that conveys a sense of someone’s journey. I’m not quite sure what the feeling is I feel seeing someone’s physical book collection. After 11 years of trying to shed as many of my possessions as possible, buying all my books for kindle, it’s not jealousy I feel, I’m glad for them. I guess it’s incredulity – I can’t imagine ever having that.

I’ll return to the catchphrase I was taught during training: “It’s not wrong, it’s just different”. They meant it to apply to culture… and I guess that is what this is. Reflections on living life in a missionary culture.

This was wrong… my attempt to use up our red food colouring

1 Comment

Lois S. · 10/11/2021 at 11:48 pm

Thanks for sharing. Such a challenge to be “in the world yet not of the world.” And to live as “strangers and aliens” when everyone else seems to have settled in. Praying for you!

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