Our coworker’s cat Cookie is a kitten-making machine. She’s been having 2 to 3 litters a year for as long as we’ve been here. At 4 to 6 per litter, it’s incredible the number of kittens she’s produced and young kittens tumbling around outside our houses is the norm.

We’ve finally given in after a long time of ignoring them and we’ve taken a kitten for ourselves. After many days of umming and aahing, we finally said why not?
The first step was to gather all 4 surviving kittens (2 went… on holiday with a village dog) and look up Google images of how to tell males and females apart. We were sure we wanted a male kitten so we don’t end up doubling the flow of kittens around here!

A pack of kittens

With a male picked out, we needed to discuss names with Oscar. He lands on Presto, because it rhymes with Pesto the name of the Stous cat. We’re not thrilled with the idea, but he’s insistent on the name. We batted names about for a while and ended up with the first name Oscar agreed to that wasn’t Presto, Twixy. A Twix is the name of a chocolate bar from home.

With a rubber band around his neck, it’s time to remove the 3 unchosen kittens from our house. Since it was a Saturday, we’d been relaxing inside for a while. I bundled the kittens into my arms and went outside holding them to go and spend time with the group of people who had seemed to have been waiting for us all morning. We can’t tell when people are here to see us and when they’re here for no reason, and this time it was the latter.
“Here hold these” I say and pass out some kittens. That job’s done and the kittens are out of the house. People seem to enjoy holding the kittens and aren’t letting go even as they wiggle and squirm. Looks like they are not going to be released. Then I see a kitten going into a string bag, a clear “this is mine now” action. Huh, looks like I just accidentally gave the kittens to new owners. I had only intended to get them out of our house.

Oscar enjoying the fluffiness

An elderly lady in our village has been taking care of the kittens. The Hansens have her feeding and looking after their cat and so this lady has inherited responsibility for looking after and giving out any kittens that come along. Oops, I hope I haven’t just trodden on her toes. I explained that I hadn’t talked to this lady yet and that I didn’t intend for them to keep the kittens, just hold them, but the deal was done.
I did get the chance to ask this lady for permission to keep our own kitten and secondly to apologise for giving out the others without checking with her and she said “It’s fine, all good. It’s your stuff; you can do what you like with it”. Ok, so no problem then and just like that we’re down from 4 kittens to just the one we’re keeping.

Our house is now enjoying a bouncy, energetic kitten. Oscar is giving him lots of cuddles. Twixy loves to nap on my lap while I’m working on the computer and Alice and Millie, well, Alice is now not allowed to pick Twix up anymore after several yowls and the one time she swung him around by the tail. 2 year-olds and kittens, what could go wrong?

Twixy has become a school companion for Oscar, settling in next to him while Oscar reads and does schoolwork. It’s fun.
We were a bit confused when we found a fluffy tail on our porch. I had to go inside and check that Twixy still had his tail. The Kovol people identified it as a sugar glider tail, so the mother cat must have caught one.

Easter egg painting

With a kitten added to our guinea pigs, we seem to be building a menagerie. The guinea pigs are still a popular tourist attraction and I’ll look outside to see small groups sitting by the cage watching them. Sometimes they like to reach in and take hold of them so they can splay them and show their private parts to each other… you know, just normal bush things, as you do.

the rat that was not welcome in our menagerie

Items for culture study this week have been taboos and fears, oratory and what makes a good speech, employment and wages, written or verbal contracts and agreements, social stratification and gods and spirits. I’m listening through the boatload of interviews I gathered for those topics and am starting to write summaries. I’m taking more time on topics which are more relevant for our ministry. Gods and spirits is getting a far more careful check than employment and wages, for example. Gods and spirits is going to take me a while and follow-up questions are needed.

Employment was an interesting topic. People don’t have paid employment here in Kovol but most of the guys have experience working in town. They cut grass at coconut or cocoa plantations opened by the PNG nationals. The work is hard and they are not treated well. They work Monday to Saturday sun up to sun down, with very few breaks, no food provided and being told off if they’re ever seen not swinging their machetes with vigour. Wages are paid every 2 weeks with good employers giving K100 (£20, $23) for the 2 weeks and bad ones half of that. The Kovol people have agreed among themselves that it just isn’t worth it and tell their children to never do that sort of work. The pay just isn’t fair. Vanilla is the cash crop of choice with beans being sold by a family once a year. Vanilla is a much better source of income (if you can avoid the thieves waiting on the road). People receive K200 – K2000 for their beans, most commonly around K500 (£100).

Once I get a little deeper into gods and spirits I’ll write up some of the things I’m learning, just for now though here’s something. A spirit is a “hubi” and clothes are “hubi hogu”, spirit skin. This looks like a strong indication that the first time Kovol people saw white people and their western clothing they thought the white people were spirits and would have been terrified of them. It’s nice that they’re not terrified of us now, well, except for small children whose parents tell them “if you don’t listen, the white man will eat you!”

Twixy settles in for a session transcribing Kovol speech


Wim Evers · 05/04/2024 at 11:32 pm

Fun to read. But also serious. I must say that I truly admire the work you’re doing there. May the Lord bless and keep you. We do pray for you! With love from the Netherlands, Wim

Frederique · 05/04/2024 at 11:49 pm

It is now clear to me why cats get neutered in the west: otherwise they would produce too much offspring!

Rosemarie Baghurst · 09/04/2024 at 12:52 am

Hey – if you leave the kittens with the mother for four months a) they are able to catch food for themselves and will not starve and b) there will only be two births each year (since they are pregnant for 2 months). We never had a problem finding homes for our kittens, but we did want to keep them to ensure they could feed themselves if need be. Also, please can you email me your praises and prayer requests each time you write a blog, that would be helpful for printing and praying. Thanks!!

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