Life in Kovol goes on and we’re starting to get used to the annual rhythms. We only have 2 seasons here: wet (Oct-Apr roughly) and dry. I remember our first years in PNG felt a bit like a timeless sameness. I missed the 4 seasons and how winter going to spring, to summer, to autumn and to winter again gave a sense of the progression of time. With just 2 seasons which should be renamed as wet and wetter rather than wet and dry, all year round felt the same.
That’s not so much the case anymore and I’m finding my sense of time adapting and figuring out the annual routine here in Kovol.
I’m very much aware of the wet season now and the mornings and evenings are spent bundled up in a warm fleece out of the wind. For the Kovol people, the yams are in the ground and the big work of planting the big yam gardens is done and there is time for other things.
One of those things is gathering and eating marita fruit, which is a super weird fruit… is it a fruit? I don’t know. In Kovol they call it an “esee” which is the same word as for pineapple. Imagine a gigantic pinecone-looking thing that reminds you of a pineapple. I don’t know; it’s weird. It feels solid like a rock and weirdly enough, unlike most other foods, you’re not interested in the inside of it. If you crack it open to get to the inside it’s just fibrous.
The food is actually on the outside – and it’s not all the little seeds sprouting out of it; those too are hard like stones.
What you’re after is the juices in the seeds. The first step is to cut it up (usually with an axe, which again tells you how strong it is), add a little water and boil it. After boiling it for a while you take a bamboo segment and use that as a mortar to crush and bash until you’ve got all the goodness out. Oil flows out and turns the water dark red.
Lots of stirring and crushing later, you’ve got a red liquid ready to be strained.
Our guys grab a “tagul” leaf (and saying that I struggle to remember what’s English, what’s Kovol and what’s Tok Pisin) which is a strong leaf about a meter long and half a meter wide. This leaf is actually the quintessential packing/liquid-carrying leaf for the Kovol people. They put some ferns at one end of the leaf and pour the liquid in; the “tagul” leaf is curled up a bit so that it all sits in there. Then they take a rope and roll it up and tie it into a tube. The whole thing is then lifted up and tied to the rafters with a pot underneath it. The fern leaves filter out all the solids and the liquids fall down.
This red liquid is oily, fatty and (the Kovol people think) tastes good. I don’t like it myself, because the oil sticks to my throat and is all scratchy, but people here love it. This is kept and used to flavour some of the staple foods and give it a little “gris” (that one is Tok Pisin :))
So it’s the time of year when we see kids running around with red fingers and red mouths as it’s “esee” time. There’s a little longer for this before, in around April, it will be time to start harvesting the yams and feasting on all-you-can-eat yams. I think that’s the highlight of the agricultural calendar and it’s nice we’re starting to catch on to all this and get an idea of what people are up to as we’re day in day out transcribing Kovol text and doing our best to learn it.
It feels as if being able to teach is still light years away and some days we wonder if we’ll ever get there. I did have an encouraging little time with one of the guys though. He came to me complaining of pain when he urinated and the symptoms lined up with an STD. He let me know that he had in fact been sleeping around and that confirmed it for me.
Our medical policy is to not provide medicine for these sicknesses unless they become life-threatening so I was directing him to go to town and get treated for it.
As we talked through the implications of the sickness — what might happen if he doesn’t get it treated (As best I know from the articles I can read. I’m not a doctor!), the fact that it is highly transmissible and so he could give it to others, that it would be best to tell his wife (I wouldn’t unless she came and we diagnosed the same thing), and lots of things like that.
I was able to tell him “you’ve done a bad thing. You sinned and there are going to be consequences for your health and your family. You made a big mess, but I don’t think less of you for it. I’m not ashamed to be your friend and I’m not mad with you, even though I won’t be giving medicine for this. There are consequences for your actions, but I still see you the same. Do you know why? Because I’ve sinned and made a mess too, in other ways but it’s still true and God didn’t cut me off and judge me. He made a road for me to be right with him again, and he’s made a road for you too so that we can be saved from the mess we’ve made. We came to tell you about this road and we’re really looking forward to teaching you about it as soon as we’ve mastered this language”.
He was excited to hear this and it’s an encouragement to me to keep my focus and keep going — one interview at a time, one day at a time. Little by little this language is making more sense and I’m looking forward to being able to use it to put God’s grace forwards for everyone to understand clearly.