A Promise Is a Promise

Posted in Mixed Nuts on February 5th, 2011 by MadDog
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How do you eulogise a loved one in three or four lines of text? It’s impossible. A few months ago I fretted over the words for a couple of days and finally sat down and wrote them in ten minutes. On the black granite slab the size of a large coffee tray I had only three lines to tell of her. The words flow from her priorities – God, her man and everyone else. She had enough love to serve us all a healthy portion.

So, finally, I have assembled everything I need to fulfil my promise to her. She wanted to be buried on Kranket Island in the little cemetery full of the last remains of decades of missionaries and Kranket residents. The small field sits next to the island’s Lutheran Church only a hundred steps from the quiet harbour.

A couple of days ago, my friend Mike Cassell took me to Kranket Island to inspect the site and make final arrangements with the head man. As it turned out, Bill Koi, the fellow we went to see, had just left for Madang to see Mike. Crossed paths! Mike is a lot like Eunie was. He knows everybody and can get anything done. If it’s at all doable, he can make it happen. Friends like him you need. I asked him if he would handle the negotiations for space in the cemetery and smooth the way for me. It was absolutely painless.

Here is a shot of the approach to the long defunct docks at the harbour’s edge:

This is a familiar sight to any resident of Madang.

Since the docks are no longer functional, Mike left some kids to tend the boat while we walked inland:

We soon found what we were looking for, the last resting place of Bob Peaker:

Bob was a pilot for Missionary Aviation Fellowship, a world-wide organisation of Christian workers who provide aviation services to churches and missionaries. Bush flying is dangerous business. Bob lived with his family next door to us. Over the years we lost two next-door neighbours to bush flying incidents. Eunie was very specific. I don’t know how many times we talked of it. I had elaborate plans for my cremation and the subsequent spreading of my ashes over the quite waters of Madang. Eunie was less demanding, “Bury me next to Bob.” It was that simple.

Another friend, Gary McGowan of Lae Builders and Construction, is working on the marker stone. The engraved granite slab is shown here in its place before the cement is poured. The slab of concrete will be covered by ceramic tile:

When the marker is finished it will be carried to Kranket and set into a hole which will then be filled with concrete to hold it in place.

If everything goes as planned I will be accompanied by a small band of friends to the island on the twelfth of March (UPDATE:  Whoops! That’s the twelfth of FEBRUARY.) to put Eunie’s ashes in the ground in front of the marker.

I don’t know how long I’ll last. I don’t know how long I will remain in Madang. Much of it is not up to me. Much of my future is going to be determined by others. It seems that is the way it must be for now. All that I know is that if I leave Madang alive it will be very strange for me to leave Eunie behind and never be able to visit her resting place. I agonised over this for weeks. Take her ashes back to Illinois? Keep them with me? How can I deal with that final parting?

In the end it was the promise which led me to decide. Only the past speaks for her now.

A promise is a promise.

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Bush Pétanque

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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It would be fair to say that Madang is the home of one of the world’s more peculiar sports. The game of Pétanque is played around the world. The rules and regulations are established by a couple of governing bodies, one of which is F. I. P. J. P. (or Fipjip, as it is fondly known). Here in Madang we dispense with most of that and keep it simple. Our speciality is Bush Pétanque.

The rules are fairly simple. You have to stand in the circle, which is drawn by the first player wherever seems to be the most fun. That player throws the “jack” (a special little white ball or a golf ball, in a pinch) wherever whim dictates, except in the water or down a crab hole. Each player in turn tosses the heavy steel boule at the jack, trying to get as close as possible. The score is determined for each round (until no players have any boules remaining) by counting the number of boules of one team which are closest to the jack. One starts at the jack with the closest boule and counts each boule further from the jack until a boule of the other team is found. It’s that simple.

I may have forgotten a couple of rules, but they probably don’t matter. What does matter is form.

Here we see “Master Mike” Cassell demonstrating the epitome of Bush Pétanque style and elegance:

The shot shows Mike in mid-toss.

And this is the “release”, or the “toss-off” as we call it. Note the position of the fingers which allow the boule to glide smoothly from the hand (the underhand toss is the most elegant and effective) and impart the ever so necessary back-spin to prevent the boule from rolling upon impact with the sand, mud or tree stump or whatever it lands on:

Executed to impart sufficient back-spin, the toss should result in the boule landing ker-plunk and not rolling so much as a centimetre. This is, of course, supposing flat ground, of which there is none. This complicates matters considerably.

Nevertheless, Mike’s form is superb. His pièce de résistance  is the amazing “levitating release” during which both of his feet leave the surface planet momentarily. Though he demonstrated it several times on Saturday, I was not able to capture it digitally:

The shot above is as close as I got.

Michaela was in excellent form also. Here she approaches the circle with a knowing smile:

Mental preparation is the key.

In the Chinese practice of Pétanque this stance and release is called “The twittering bird of joy lofting from the firm foundation of reality”. It’s characterised by the open-handed release and the firm planting of both feet flat in the circle:

Leaning at a seemingly impossible angle without actually falling down is impressive but hazardous. Some people are just fun to watch when they are having fun.

My approach to Pétanque is very straightforward. A brief prayer of thanksgiving for the game and a fervent request that I not appear too foolish prepares me for my turn:

Really, it only takes a couple of seconds. Geneviève toasts my sincerity while Trevor stifles a giggle.

Now spiritually prepared, my back-swing is relaxed and confident:

My slightly bent knees act as shock absorbers and aid balance. Falling down during the back-swing is very poor form.

My release is casual and sans souci:

And my boule goes straight down a crab hole.

Fortunately, nobody cares who wins.

Note the Orang Utan like length of my ridiculous arms. Really, they are positively simian. Curious about that this morning, I got out a tape measure. Sure enough, my arms are nearly five centimetres longer than my legs. This is not mormal. What’s going on here?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I’m happy to report that my “run” at the Country Club with Geneviève and Michaela and some other nice, young ladies seems to have done me no damage. I could not find my running shoes, which was no surprise, since I have not seen them for years. I had to make do with some funky old sandals. That was my excuse for poor performance. I knew that I had zero chance of keeping up with these very fit and well toned women, who quite frankly appear to be children to me.

I propelled myself possibly four or five kilometres in total, maybe one kilometre running (okay, okay, jogging) and the rest walking as fast as my stubby legs could carry me. I kept thinking to myself that I would not be able to get out of bed in the morning to feed Sheba. “What am I doing to my dog? I have to stop this right now!”

I’m amazed and profoundly touched by the kindnesses, warmth and caring which has been lavished upon me by these ladies. I think there is some kind of “be nice to your kindly grandfather” thing going on here.

All I know is that I’m not asking any questions.

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Sympathy and Remembrance

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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I have been feeling as if I have been concentrating here a great deal on current events concerning Eunie’s passing and neglecting to feed myself and my readers with enough variety of ideas and images to keep us all distracted. After all, aside from being a personal journal, Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  is intended to be a minor but useful distraction from the vagaries and vicissitudes of the daily grind. However, as I look back over the last couple of weeks, I see that there is still some variety there and I may not have strayed as far into my navel as I had thought. Pardon the existentialist humour.

So, as I have not completely disappeared into that dark, furry place (though it was a close call), I’ll tell you what happened on Saturday.

As those who have been reading MPBM and holding my hand on this journey will already know, this is the second Memorial Service for Eunie. The first was held in Gympie, Australia. Having survived that one, I felt reasonably confident that I would make it through once again. It is so strange just how much one can exaggerate, as such an event approaches, the magnitude of the suffering which will be on offer. I imagined having a stroke and falling down dead, an idea which leaves me thinking, “Eh! What would be so bad about that?”, aside from the horrible mess it would leave behind for my friends. And then I think, “Remember what a Drama Queen you are, stupid!”

The sad part of this is that I get so caught up in self-pity (not for the first time in my life) that I completely miss the point of what’s going on. Well, that wasn’t the case on Saturday or at least I think it wasn’t. I’ll get to that in a minute. First, let’s lighten this up a little. I need to let the sad face rest for a bit.

It my entire long and mysterious life, I do not recall ever having anything at all to do with a mayor. This seems a little odd. One would think that it would require active avoidance to have escaped the attention of or never have had the need to interact with a mayor. But not me. I take the road less travelled. Until now:

What you are looking at is a Sympathy card from the Mayor of Gympie, Australia and his good wife. This arrived in my mailbox one day and caused me to scratch my head. Does the funeral director notify the mayor’s office when someone is processed through on the way to the final destination? Does someone in the mayorial chain of command read the death notices? Or, as I suspect, did my friend Val Jerram have something to do with this? Hmmm . . . Busy, busy, busy.

Okay, here is another puzzle:

I believe that, by any standard, this could be called an incomplete address. The town name is implied, providing you know the geography of Papua New Guinea, as is, of course, the country. However there is no street address or P. O. Box. Di Cassell is well known, but not that  well known. When Di gave it to me, we both engaged in a little head scratching. We agreed that it was worthy of a slot in a post on MPBM. I’d say that someone at Australia Post was really on his toes that day. [Please excuse the use of the masculine pronoun to cover all of those Postmen and Postettes. English sadly lacks multi-gender pronouns. His/her, just doesn’t cut it.]

On Saturday, the crowd was not as large as we thought it might be. That was neither a disappointment nor a source of concern. Every person who needed to be there was there. It’s just the way it played out. I don’t estimate very well, so I won’t bother saying how many. Here’s a shot that includes most of the group which came to, as the expression goes, pay their respects:

Early in the service a group of ladies from our office and from the Country Women’s Association sang Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,  one of Eunie’s favourites. For the first time since I returned from Australia, I dissolved in a flood of tears. I had been waiting for that. It was good:

The group included our haus meri,  Juli, who has been managing our household for twenty-seven years, freeing Eunie to concentrate on her work. I also invited Sisilia, our next-door neighbour, to sing with the ladies.

When William Butler, one of the senior members of our organisation and a friend who knew Eunie far better than most rose to speak about Eunie’s work, I fell apart again as he began to read John 3:16  in Waran, the language in which he has been working for over thirty years. I can not imagine a more fitting way to represent the focus of all of Eunie’s efforts, bringing the message of the Gospel to the people of Papua New Guinea in their heart languages.

William was his usual eloquent self. Through my sobs I heard him speak with admirable skill and the great passion of a true friend. When he was finished I was exhausted for the moment and feeling very grateful to him for such a beautiful tribute to my wife.

I wish that I had an image of Mike Cassell delivering the eulogy which he wrote for Eunie. A great number of the Madang “family” were present on Saturday. I know that all who were there appreciated Mike’s honest and loving portrayal of Eunie’s life and her many contributions to the welfare and happiness of the community. Again, I was overcome.

Paradoxically, some good things are made more powerful and meaningful because they are hard to endure. Saturday was a hard day for me, and for my friends. It freshened the wound of our loss and brought back anew the sadness we feel when denial is subdued and we realise once again that we will never again see the radiant smile and hear the joyous laughter of our Eunie. And yet, there was benefit for all of us. We had our opportunity to collectively remember and celebrate a life well lived. We could pool our grief and leave some of it in that place, ready to proceed with our lives while carrying Eunie home in our memories.

It was a good day.

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The Snake, The Pussycat and the Rower

Posted in Mixed Nuts on July 13th, 2010 by MadDog
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As you may have gathered from the title, today’s post is a bit of a mash-up of unrelated (or possibly not so  unrelated) items which, no matter how much I chatter on  about them, are not sufficient alone to be of much interest. So, be prepared to have your consciousness expanded in several directions simultaneously.

We’ll start with a phone call from good mate Mike Cassell yesterday morning. Mike started off with, “You’re interested in all those natural things, aren’t you?” (I may be paraphrasing here. Exact wordings no longer stick in my brain.) I answered cautiously, “Hmmmm . . . yeah.” You see, Mike is the guy who has, on a couple of occasions, spotted a big saltwater crocodile a few hundred metres from my house. You want to be careful how you answer his leading questions.

Anyway, Mike was down at the Madang Lodge, which he and his wife, Di, own. He said that there was a big green snake in a bush just outside the coffee shop. I said, of course, “I’ll be right there!”  Sure enough, there it was, a beautiful Green Tree Snake (Morelia viridis)  wrapped around some branches sleeping off a huge meal of at least one large critter, possibly two:

These snakes are so incredibly beautiful that you just have to say, “Wow.”

Here’s a close-up if its head:

The appointed snake attendant, who had been guarding it from molestation kept calling it “She”, but I have no idea of its gender. The snake requires a guard, because many local people will kill any snake which they see without even pausing to think about it. Snakes are almost universally considered to be very, very bad, for a variety of reasons. Nobody seems to know that there are non-poisonous snakes which are not only harmless, but very beneficial. Sadly, I have seen many beautiful, harmless snakes killed here because of simple ignorance and superstition.

Nevertheless, this story will hoepfully have a happy ending. I gently hooked my fingers around the head to give you a better look and and idea of the size of the snake. These are very docile snakes. I’ve handled them on many occasions and none of them have shown the slightest inclination to bite:

This one was so sleepy that it hardly noticed.

So, what does the snake have to do with this pussycat? Absolutely nothing. Meet Dory, The Ocean-Going Cat:

Dory sailed across the entire width of the Pacific Ocean  on a tiny nine metre sailboat with her original companions (cats don’t have “owners”) Kyle and Kathy Harris. At no time did Dory consider this an insane proposition, as did many of K & K’s friends.

What is she doing in my IT Dungeon? Well, what cat’s do best – napping. When her current companion left her in my charge for a few hours we made friends again and she wandered around meowing pitifully for a while, as cats are wont to do. Then she discovered the cat’s delight, an empty, cat-sized box:

So, that takes care of the snake and the pussycat. What about the rower?

I finally found my mis-placed USB cord for my Olympus SP-590UZ super-zoom camera and was able to look at the shots which I got when I motored out to try to find Roz Savage as she rowed through Astraolabe Bay  to Madang. Of the frames, this is the one which I like best:

So, there is  a connection between to of the living beings in this post. Two of them have transited the entire breadth of the Pacific Ocean  in tiny boats.

I think that Dory had the easier passage.

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Leapin’ Lizards!

Posted in At Sea, Mixed Nuts on June 7th, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m glad you asked. I’ll tell you when I love life the most. It’s actually two times. I’ll let you guess when it’s not. No, I’ll tell you. It’s not when I’m making money or doing something “important” or “supporting a cause” or “being responsible”. All those things are good to some extent or another.

One of the times during which life settles over me as a fine, cool mist of euphoria is when I’m sitting quietly with my woman, enjoying the sweetness of nearly a half-century of friendship, affection. and passion. The other time when I feel very close to heaven is when I am with beloved mates who share my lust for life and welcome both the benefits and burdens of true friendship. I am blessed beyond comprehension with an abundance these moments.

My supply of words is running short today. I planned to make this my “Sunday” post so that I would not have a hole in my calendar. So much for dedication and self-discipline. So there’s a hole. I’ll flagellate myself later.

Right now I want to show you lovely Marleen and her dolphins:

Of course, they are not really Marleen’s dolphins. Nobody should own dolphins. However, Marleen had the best seat in the house as we travelled up to Blueblood on Mike and Di Cassell’s Felmara  on Sunday.

Now for a simple question:  What do you get when you take a bunch of clowns out to a floatie thing and give them a tennis ball? Well, you get Leapin’ Lizards:Here is Eddie “The Dancin’ Fool” with a picture-perfect catch. Richard Jones seems to be saying “What the . . .  How dare  you!”

Did you realise that if you Google “Leapin’ Lizards” (with the quotes) you will be about 368,000 hits. There’s a message in that somewhere.

Not to be outdone, Rich came on with a beautiful grab which ended in a spectacular splash:

Rich is one of the most physically competitive friends I have ever known. He has bicycled insanely, triathloned, climbed Mt. Wilhelm  and dived every chance he gets all despite having a great leaky hole in his heart. No, I mean his actual heart. No wonder he is so skinny. You do not want to get into a game of Twister with him. He will beat your socks off.

And, if you need incontrovertible evidence that man descended from the apes, you need look no further:I rest my case:

The next act was our scary local Frenchman, Pascal Michon, A.K.A. “The Prince of Pursuit”:Here Pascal is throwing down the gauntlet. “Bring it on!”, he challenges.

There followed what I think was a near miss, but there was so much water being displaced that I couldn’t see whether he actually caught it or not:At least it was a valiant effort, worthy of the flag.

The next attempt was evidently successful. Please note that the ball was firmly in his hands before his toes left the platform. The only way he could have surpassed this accomplishment would have been if he had managed to get back on the platform before ditching in the drink. Now that  would have been something:Rich is making his way back to the beach after exhausting his supply of red wine.

We have taken to calling Pascal “The Flying Frenchman” in honour of Clément Ader, Pascal’s countryman who was the first man to construct and pilot a powered aircraft in 1890. It reached a height of 20cm, and flew uncontrolled approximately 50m. Here is a picture of Clément Ader:

Don’t you see the resemblance?

After a flaming postprandial of Black Sambuca, we made our way back to town. I like this nice pensive shot of Brioni sitting on the stern of Felmara:Never a cross word was spoken. What a day!

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ANZAC Day 2010 – The Celebration

Posted in Madang Happenings on April 30th, 2010 by MadDog
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If there was ever such a thing as a “Just War”, then World War II was probably it. I can’t imagine a sane person who would say that the world would be a better place if the Allied forces had not prevailed. Hundreds of millions of people died in the spasm of ghastly violence that accompanied this tour de force  of human folly. In the wake of war the vanquished inevitably mourn and the victors celebrate. Both regret their dead and honour them for their sacrifices.

I covered the memorial service which commemorated the courage of those who protected us and finally prevailed. To me it seems quite proper that a memorial of courage should also include a celebration of life. Otherwise the sacrifice is cheapened. We did celebrate life and remember the sacrifices on Sunday at Blueblood. Here is Mike Cassell’s Felmara  with Group Captain Tony Behm at the helm and the appropriate array of beauties on the bow:No small craft should take to sea with less exuberance.

My first task upon arrival at Blueblood is to document the beach for posterity. Future scientists will study this series of images for evidence of ancient sea levels:All that you see here may be submerged.

The usual suspects gathered for lunch joined by some new honoured guests:

On the near end in front of Trevor Hattersley is Lt. Colonel Simon Watts on one side and his lovely wife Sue on the other. Down at the end in blue is Group Captain Tony Behm.

The usual after lunch activity is hanging in the water and drinking adequate quantities of delicious Australian red wine while laughing like a convention of comedians:As I seldom get into the water unless I have my diving gear on – I can’t swim very well – I usually end up being the photographer and wine steward. Constant demands rise up, “Bring us our wine!” I sometimes long to reply, “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1969.”

Between my wine runs to keep the revels going, I wander with my camera. I search for “odd shots”. Here’s an example:A perfect hibiscus blossom superimposed on fishing boats with the Kar Kar Island  volcano in the distance.

It’s a sad fact that every good party must end. Here we see Felmara  cruising back to Madang with a load of happy people:And a pensive soul:Karen silhouetted against the setting sun.

I wonder what she’s thinking?

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Christmas Day at Blueblood

Posted in Mixed Nuts on December 29th, 2009 by MadDog
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Christmas Day started off with a beautiful sunrise. No, I lie. It was a cloudy day that didn’t promise much and didn’t deliver either. The weather threatened to dump on us all day, but managed to hold its water. The morning sky didn’t look anything like this:Arriving at the beach house, we were greeted by the establishment’s cheery welcome sign unceremoniously nailed to a roof beam. There is a thatched roof over the lower deck. As you can see, it is made of palm leaves. In this case, they are the leaves of the Sago palm. The material, after it is ‘sewn’ into long mats, is called morota:The mats are then laid down across the rafters starting at the outer edge of the roof and moving toward the centre. Each mat is laid over the one below it. The result is that rain flows down the leaves and off the edge. Inside, it stays nice and dry. Before we get into the images of Christmas Day at Blueblood, I’ll show you what’s been happening with Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. I don’t dig around too much in the statistics, but at the end of the second full year it seems appropriate to have a look. First, who is reading? Here are numbers from December 1 – 26 of 2009:

Countries Pages Hits
United States us 35583 298614
Australia au 11241 70207
Netherlands nl 7259 17353
Great Britain gb 4655 40234
Canada ca 3633 42595
Russian Federation ru 2171 4509
India in 2037 16155
Germany de 1652 15347
France fr 1112 10451
China cn 1007 3471

I listed only the first ten countries. Papua New Guinea is 39th on the list. There are a few surprises. What is Netherlands doing way up there? I know far more people in Austria than the Netherlands, but Austria is 56th on the list. I know nobody in Russia or China, but there they are. The only way that I can explain this is by looking at the content of the journal. Though I try to appeal the broadest audience possible, I do have a lot of specialised content here and that makes for a lot of search engine hits. In fact, about 30% of the traffic comes just from Google, much of that from Google Images. You tenacious readers out there are giving us some healthy numbers:

Unique visitors Number of visits Pages Hits
25573 32718 (1.27 visits/visitor) 87556 (2.67 Pages/Visit) 700320 (21.4 Hits/Visit)

That’s not bad numbers for less than one month for a puny little site such as this. It’s getting up around 1,500 unique visitors per day. I can remember a year ago when I was doing cartwheels if we hit 200. I was rather pensive on Christmas Day, not my best time of year. Therefore, I didn’t take many pictures. Here is a cheery one of nearly the whole gang out swimming around the floatie thing:And here are two little angels in a rubber duckie:I like this one of Mike Cassell, as fine a mate as a bloke could have, and his grandson, Josh:As the day progressed and a little wine began to take the edges off my melancholy, I did sally forth with camera in hand to snatch the soul of this perfect hibiscus blossom:That’s me. The soul snatcher.

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