We took a week’s break for Christmas, and better late than never on Jan 16, it’s time to write about it! We spent Christmas in Kovol, attempting to hide in our house as much as possible to get away from “work” which is learning the Kovol language.
I say as much as possible because there is always a steady stream of opportunities for community engagement. For example, a friend came to us in the evening on the very first day of our break to report that a lady had given birth in the village, but that the baby wasn’t nursing and hadn’t been for a full day. This was concerning, but we didn’t think we could do anything for the little one and decided to wait till morning to check it out. We didn’t have formula we could give, and we couldn’t think of anything we could do, the only option was for the little one to work it out on their own.
The next morning we went down expecting to attend a burial, but to our delight, we heard that the evening before, just after that friend had left to come and tell us of the problem, the baby had started nursing 🙂 We reminded the mother to stay hydrated and not to push herself too hard. The baby is very small, but otherwise seemed healthy and is still healthy now 3 weeks later.
We had no other big issues over our break and could enjoy some naps and times with the kids. One really exciting thing we did was to go down to the stream and dam it up. Making use of a fallen log, sticks and some plastic sheeting we made a dam which raised the water level to my thigh height. Ta-da, a Christmas swimming pool for the kids! After a bit of splashing about the dam started to leak around the edges and we decided to break it down all in one go to see what happened. Watching the water level slowly drop isn’t as exciting as starting a flash flood after all! Unfortunately, we didn’t warn Alice and Millie and the mighty whooshing of water terrified them! So it seems the start of a new Christmas tradition now, creating a bush swimming pool.
Christmas day was nice. My family had sent gifts in a package and our children were delighted with a good haul of gifts. Being so remote we get new things quite sporadically, and visiting a store to buy something new happens once every 6 months or so. To have so many gifts all in one day was almost overwhelming for Oscar, Alice and Millie but we’ve had many days of playing, reading and building Lego since then.
Our New Year’s day was taken up with community meals. 3 different villages wanted to kill a pig, cook a meal and eat it with us. The problem was that this takes about 5-6 hours each time, so we had to split up. Rhett went off to a nearby village to be with them while we stayed and ate with guests from a different village in the morning (from 7am!) and our village in the afternoon. It was pretty exhausting, but it’s good to be popular. One of the exciting things about getting to work in Kovol is how keen they are to hear and be taught God’s word. It can sometimes be a bit too much for us to keep up with though!
Rhett drew the short straw and ended up getting sick from something he ate in the other village, so the Stous family had to spend a week fighting off a stomach bug.
Now in the new year, it is back to language study. Culture interviews are progressing and I’m brushing up on the vocabulary and grammar patterns that our language test showed needed a little more attention. The phrase “this happened long ago; I’m not talking about now; it was long ago” is an important one to memorise! It’s been a real battle with motivation to get back to it after a short break. It’s hard work, and it goes glacially slowly and I’m finding it hard to get back to the productivity I had before Christmas.
One side project that came up was a hike to a village an hour or so away to give chainsaw lessons. The community was given a chainsaw and Alaskan mill by the district development office but didn’t know how to use it. We hiked over to show them and to help them cut some planks. After 6 hours of work, we cut two 1×6 planks and managed to break the mill by having the chain cut through one of its bolts. Oops. With no spare parts, we had to tie the mill together with a bush vine, and it worked, but it wasn’t very solid. The experience became what seems to be quite typical for us, which is about 1 hour of using the chainsaw to cut things and 5 hours of faffing around and fixing the chainsaw.
After a day’s instruction, the chainsaw is out of action because all the bar oil has been used up. I’ll be curious to see how things develop going on. Having seen how hard the work is and how temperamental chainsaws are, will they invest in more fuel, oil and a replacement bolt? Or will they conclude that it’s a money sink?
Our two big hopes are that 1. no one hurts themselves and 2. it doesn’t become a regular event that we need to hike over to fix their saw and teach them more. It’s not a bad thing, but it could potentially be quite time-consuming for us.
Our village provided an escort of town men to hike with us. The hamlet we went to is part of a village which has just fought with another people group. A land dispute turned deadly this weekend when two Kovol teens took catapults and arrows and shot two troublemakers from another language group. They impaled them through the stomach with a sharpened and barbed piece of concrete rebar, and the latest rumour we heard was that the men died.
Our village warned us not to go because of the potential for violence, but the hamlet we went to is part of the main Kovol village which caused the problem between it and the other language group, so we felt well- removed enough to be safe.
Our friends in that hamlet are worried though. Revenge killings are very possible and some people have abandoned their homes for their garden houses expecting their village to be burned down soon. It’s a messy situation with bad behaviour on both sides and we’re praying for a peaceful resolution. We’re so remote that justice is in the hands of the people who live here. We hope the communities get together for talks and agree on a fine for the Kovol people to pay (which will be a large sum of money and pigs) to say sorry and finish the problem. The potential for violence is there though and it’s the talk of the village right now. It’s something we can be praying about. This is all an-hour-and-a -half-or -more hike from us and doesn’t concern our village, which means our village is not threatened.