Mirim, marim, merum, merrem, melrim?... How do you write something that
you've ever only heard spoken through multiple accents? Very
difficult. This plant is the new wonder sweeping across the Sepik.
It's a plant that grows into a large bush, roughly two meters tall and
wide. Once it has reached a large size, the people that are purchasing
the leaves have sent out harvesting instructions. They are very clear
that you must take a scissors and cut off each leaf, don't tear it off,
then you place the leaves in the sun until they're nearly dry and then
pack them into the small 1Kg rice bags and bring them down to the
factory that is being built in the lower Karawari river. The reason
this plant has generated so much attention in the last six months here
is that the rumors say that for just one of these 1Kg bags of dried
leaves you can earn K1,500, or even up to K3,000. When I'm told this
story, my first reaction is to say, maybe 1Kg of the finished product
might be worth that, but no chance that your silly dried leaves are
worth that much. Most people here don't agree with my sense of
skepticism... Though if they can't count, maybe they think they're
getting multiple thousands... ;-)

So, what does it make? No one seems to know, or really care, they all
see Kina signs and that's good enough for them. I was brought a sample
of this plant because I was so curious as to what it could possibly make
and I smashed a few leaves in my hands and smelled them. It's got a
smell that I would expect a female perfume to have, somewhat sweet, but
with a hint of old person... Think of the good parts of the smell of
grandma's house, without the apple pie in the air... Now you see that I
am not a perfume expert as I have no idea how to classify this smell,
but it was a very light scent even with the handful of leaves that I
had. (Might have something to do with my more than burned out nose from
years of hog buildings and welding smoke, but I digress) The water from
the leaves just barely showed any hint of oiliness, which also explains
why the scent was so weak. All in all, it was a pleasant scent, but not
something that I would directly say was intended for perfume.

So, my questions remains: What does it make? What is the real name of
this plant? Unfortunately my picture isn't the best, and the specimen
had been chewed on pretty thoroughly by some insect, but hopefully you
can zoom in and get an idea of the shape of the leaves, even with the
poor resolution I'm forced to use currently... Oh, and for the record,
I heard from a somewhat more reputable source that the actual selling
price is K100 for 10, 1Kg bags of leaves, or K10 per bag... That I'd



Perhaps I have a banana fetish... I'll have to look into what that's

You know when you have those mini-wedges in an orange? Well, I found
the equivalent in bananas, only much funnier. I can just see the
cartoon image of a giant stepping on this mini-banana skin and tumbling
to the ground in a heap.

On the bottom of the stock of bananas was two or three perfectly formed
mini-bananas and it required that I take their picture before devouring
them. I don't think the candy industry was original anymore with their
'bite size' products. Nature obviously beat them to the punch, and the
packaging is easier to open as well. ;-)

And yes, the baby banana was quite tasty.


Stubby Bananas

Yeah, they're rip and they're stubby... I thought they were big beetle
nuts at first glance. I can't keep track of all the varieties of banana
here. There are several different kinds of sweet banana: one with very
light colored skin, 'regular' ones, some that don't turn yellow when
they're ripe. Then there's many more cooking bananas. Some they throw
directly in the fire and later scrap off the outside, others they boil.
Always interesting to see what kinds are around, though these short
stubby ones still make me laugh.


Bone Yard2

Shoot, forgot the word of the day... 'opulent'... oh well.

And before you ask, yes, I had help pulling these out. My father showed
me how to loop a chain so it bites when I was younger, even though this
was a choker chain, some were too small, or short, for it to bite
alone. Then there was me, myself, and I because all the boneheads
around here disappeared into the bush again so they can hold 'court'
this afternoon. But I'm in a much better mood today. Something about
busting your knuckles on a logging chain and ripping defenseless trees
from their homes that makes me smile.

Bone Yard

Gentlemen. Welcome to the Bone Yard. You are here because you dared to stand in the way of progress. Doubtless many of you thought you had escaped eradication when the first wave of axe men came through and toppled your most formidable towers. However, now you see that such thoughts were extremely dubious. You were given the chance to come out with your roots up, but in your refusal to do so, you have been forcefully removed from the sanctuary of ground and your (insert mocking tone) precious (/mocking tone) nutrients.
Having given you a moment to consider your new location, you will see that you are now surrounded by razor sharp switch grass laced with stone on a high and dry location, all designed to inhibit your progress and remove all doubt that your root structure will ever see the safety of the darkest solitary soil locations. Those of you who are lucky may find themselves removed to other locations where you will be put to work exuding heat for cooking sago starch or sweat potato. Those less fortunate individuals shall be summarily put to death by cremation.Make no mistake, your time at the Bone Yard will not be a pleasant one. The heat of the noon-day sun shall dry out your moist veins and make even the most virulent of you weep like sapling willows. From this point forward you have ceased to be trees and are now considered, at
best, fire wood.


My Great Fear for Humanity

This is going to be quite the rant if my anger last night is any
It all started Saturday afternoon when two of the local kids here at
Kaiam were hanging out at my house. The younger one, who looks to be
about 10, though no one here knows how old they are which I can forgive
because it's hard to tell when one year ends and another begins, asked
how many individually wrapped items come in the box he was looking at.
Nice thing about packaging is that I didn't have to know the answer to
that, just look at the box, and as I was sitting just out of reading
distance of the box, I told him to look at it and tell me. So, he and
the older boy (probably 12) started poking their fingers furiously at
the box.
"Is that a number?"
"That's a 'G'."
"That's a bird of paradise."
In short, no clue. Well, they haven't seen too many printed items in
their lives, perhaps it's just too busy for them to identify a number in
all this noise. So, I covered up three-quarters of the box with my
hands and said to try again.
"That's a 'G'."
You can see where this is going... By this point I'd told them that the
box contains 36 individually wrapped items and I wanted them to find the
'3'. Lather, rinse, repeat.
Eventually the older boy found the '3'. Good, yes, that's a '3', now
find the '6'. Several seconds pass with more furious stabs until the
older boy locates the '6' conveniently placed right next to the '3'.
Now, there used to be a school here, until it mysteriously fell apart
with starving kids, so most of them can rattle off 1->10 verbally. Ok,
good, you just can't read it. That's fine until you realize that PNG is
now a cash society and the numbers are stamped on all the bills: K2, K5,
K10, K20, K50, K100. We've just found a small issue.
We also run a small conveyance store out of the house here for the
locals to get useful items like soap, bush knives, fishing hooks,
batteries, etc. Usually we don't sell food items that are transported
for ourselves, which is quite the ordeal. Given costs, a 'D' cell
battery sells for K2 here and they're one of the first things to be sold
out. I usually don't get involved with the transactions, but happened
to overhear a recent purchase of a single battery (they like to throw
away one dead battery of a set, and replace it with one good one... they
seem to think that gets them more for their money). The kid, roughly
20, pulled out a 100 Kina note to pay for the K2 item. Not very
convenient for us because we don't have that much change around to break
that kind of a bill.
For the record, I should point out here that money is not hard for them
to come by. Generally they can find bush materials that sell down river
for a pretty penny and they do so frequently. They never have any idea
what these things are being used for ultimately, and have little desire
to find out, yet they continue to export all these less useful items to
people who would are willing to pay for them.
Back to the change for K100: We eventually found K98 for his change, and
handed it to him, much to his dumbfounded look. He was overwhelmed by
the number of bills now in his grubby little paw. Turning to his other
clenched hand, he opened it to help sort through this newly acquired
disaster and we see a fistful of K2 notes, then he proceeded to ask us
to count back the change we handed him as he was unable to do so. Here
came the realization that he was unable to recognize the value of the
notes he currently possessed as well.
Now we've realized a *very* big problem. If these guys are going down
river to sell their wares, and aren't able to identify the monetary
value that is received for their transaction they are extraordinarily
susceptible to deceit from any number of sources. Imagine if someone
said they were going to pay you K1500 for 1Kg of dried leaves (don't
balk, there are rumors of these transactions that are widely accepted by
the community) and when you go to collect your fee, they hand you K200
and you have no knowledge to verify any different. I have no proof that
this is happening, but the widespread lack of number recognition among
those aged 20 and below is staggering.
But what about older persons? Well, there are several people that I'd
guess were 35 and older that are able to read, granted at a third grade
reading level, but well enough to read in public and understand the
content. My guess is that those between 35 and 20 have some degree of
both reading and number recognition... So what happened to the younger
kids? It appears that we are rapidly backsliding in the rural education
level in PNG. Could this be any indication of the inadequate ability of
this government to govern when power was benevolently handed over in
1975?... I digress.
To combat some of this degradation, I thought, given that it's rainy and
there's nothing else to do, a good project for a Sunday afternoon would
be to count from 0 to 9 with the kids. I had them find/make short
sticks that could be written on with my permanent marker the required
numbers, and made sure that they could individually point to the correct
number when spouting off their counting. With a few of the more able
kids, we even tried writing them down. What I discovered was both
rewarding and exasperating. About three quarters of the kids (ages ~5
to ~13, in a group of 15 kids) could say the numbers in order without
help. Half of those point to the numbers as they walked up the counting
stick, and a quarter (generous quarter as the number was three) of them
could identify numbers when I randomly pointed and asked them to tell me
the number. This last group could also write the numbers unaided on
paper (cardboard in this case) indicating that their parents were active
in their education. These were the oldest of the group, but they were
also boys. The girls of similar age were inconsistently able to point
to a number and tell me what it was except by counting in their head
from the beginning to where my finger rested, so no number recognition.
What seemed like several hours later, every kid that was roughly 7 and
up could point at the numbers and count their way up to nine
consistently, and the two or three that were younger were looking at
their sticks and scratching things into the ground as instructed to
practice writing them, or had lost interest and were throwing dirt clods
at one another, so I didn't get around to testing them.
Another thing that struck me when a few of the elder kids tried to write
was that they were quite unable to recognize things that were the same
and things that were different. If I let them draw a 7, and it faced
the wrong way, then I drew one, they couldn't tell which one was
different. There's one boy I'm positive is dyslectic, but was able to
correct his writing when instructed, however, others would draw the same
incorrect figure dozens of times in a row despite repeated corrections
and coaching, and even hand holding to draw the symbols. I've noticed
this lack of pattern awareness in adults as well. Such as lining up the
stripe on a battery the same way, it's simply not a sensory input that
gets charted. The only way some of them can install batteries is by
finding the 'nub' and putting it in correctly, and if they miss the
'nub' you've got a 50% chance of the radio/flashlight not working when
they're done messing with it.
Now at the end of the day, I was feeling pretty good about helping out
the community when a man came to buy some things from our store. He
looked to be in his late 20's and I'd give it 50/50 if he was able to
identify the value of his notes as he purchased and received his change
for one item at a time (this happens for every transaction... You can't
just purchase a bar of soap, a couple batteries and a fishhook. You
must first purchase the bar of soap, receive change, then request the
batteries, wait for your change, the ask about fishhooks, then pay with
the same change we've been trading back and forth and suddenly the K20
you started with paid for everything but all transactions necessitated
the repetitive exchange of change instead of a single efficient
The next item he asked for takes the cake: He asked for a piece of metal
to put on his arrow to kill a man. Really, just like that in a very low
voice so that I couldn't hear him. Boaz, of course, told him we had
nothing like that and were unwilling to try to sell something like this
and the conversation died out in a minute. While this was going on, I
was talking with his daughter and niece (both about 10) and counting
some of the items they just purchased and showing them the numbers on
cardboard, to no avail. Within ten minutes of this man leaving there
was a huge commotion next door and people started running and yelling as
this guy had tried to kill someone.
Here's where my anger is kindled... Not just kindled, perhaps we'll say
it's gone nuclear... These people would much rather hold court to
discuss who's baby a newly pregnant mother who's been sleeping around
belongs too, then figure out who's going to marry her, then demand
compensation for her out-of-wedlock impregnation, then discuss bride
price. If they happen to get through that one without shooting or
stabbing one another there's another 'court' held the very next day
discussing a young lady that was "kidnapped" from the neighboring
village under the claim that they were getting married and were going to
pay bride price that had already been agreed upon, but the recipients
were unable/unwilling to receive it until the death of a relative was
compensated when someone stole a gun that had been in possession of the
groom was used against their line. If they get through that one, the
next day there's 'court' do discuss the 'magic potion' that was obtained
45 miles down river, secretly brought up and used to poison a man from
another neighboring village when he came down to buy smokes and beetle
nut causing small boils that our health worker identified as a simple
bacterial infection and provided medicines to cure if he'd take the
required dose... Which of course he disappeared back into the bush
before completing and the boils (surprise) got worse! If they complete
the compensation claims for these then you get guys that have the gall
walk right up to someone in the community and ask to buy a weapon to
kill a man not five minutes from now and then have 'court' to deal with
all the fun compensation and retribution that would follow that exciting
They would rather do all of the above than spend even a fraction of this
time teaching their own kids how to count to ten and identify a K2 note...
How can you help people who are unable/unwilling to help themselves? I
am nearly convinced that an airstrip will not help them. A 2x4 to the
face may not either, but would decidedly improve mood. It's been said
that "it's a wonder they made it into the stone age."... I'm surprised
they stayed that advanced... I'm at my wits end...


Hydraulic Fix

So, I'm really failing at this blog posting stuff. I posted the wrong picture in the last email, so I'm going to have a bunch of posts to edit when I finally get back to the Internet to do so... Anyway, I trust you're all smart enough to take the picture from this post, and apply it to the previous post, then take the picture from that one, and read the
Fixed it (2011-06-03)
We had several pressure and wiper seals failing all at once on the little tractor, so we figured we'd gotten some sort of containment into our hydraulic oil supply. Upon looking at the in line oil filter, it was discovered that the ends had cracked, and the filter it self glistened in the noon-day sun. Not a happy sight. Unfortunately a replacement filter could not be found, so we decided to make our own using a piece of plate steel and an off the shelf oil filter.
The process started in Mambis with Anton receiving the sizes of fittings that everything down here attached to, then he took his piece of plate steal and affixed it in the lathe. Many hours later, he emerged with an immaculately crafted filter assembly, minus mounting brackets, and proceeded to braze fittings together and then shipped it down to Kaiam where I had the pleasure of installing it into the existing system, replacing the fouled unit.
All in all, a good fix, and now our oil comes out as clean as it went in, unlike before when it looked like used engine oil. It has been pointed out that these are plumbing fittings, not hydraulic fittings, which would burst at most hydraulic pressures. However, this is an open system reservoir, and here it's only under the pressure of the oil and the atmosphere, so a little bit of thread tape makes the world go round.



Really, this says it all...