Tuesday, May 28, 2013

A Childhood in Papua New Guinea

Where to begin this post... My childhood in Papua New Guinea could fill a whole book, so writing one blog post about it seems next to impossible. Here is my feeble attempt.

(My family at our first Village house, which was later overtaken by a landslide. Little brother wasn't born yet.)

A friend recently asked me for some pictures and stories from my childhood in Papua New Guinea. Her class unit is studying that part of the world, and she wanted them to be able to connect the place with pictures and stories from someone who had lived there. As I dug out some of the few pictures that I have, it got me thinking about this post.

 (The building of our second village house. It had half tin roof and half grass roof. The walls were woven bamboo.)

Where you grow up really shapes who you are. It affects your personality, morals, beliefs, and molds you into a certain kind of person. I was born in southern California, but only a few weeks after I was born my family headed back to the jungles of Papua New Guinea (PNG). Both my older brother and my younger brother were born in PNG, but my family was able to come back to the US for my birth which allowed my grandparents and aunts and uncles the privilege of seeing baby Ellie.

(A village celebration of sorts. Can you find the little white girl? That's me.)

 My time growing up in PNG was from a few weeks old until I was about 12 years old. During that time my family alternated living in two different places. One place was the missionary center where my parents worked with other people and where my brothers and I attended an international school. The other place was our village, nestled deep within the jungle mountains. In our village we were the only white people around. My parents worked closely with the village people to translate their language into an alphabet and then into books which my parents taught them how to read, the Bible being one of them. During this time my brothers and I were home schooled by my mom.

 (Having a snack in the village house. I definitely looked like a little boy.)

As a baby being raised in a PNG village I was often taken care of by village ladies. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if they gave me their breast a time or two. It is like the saying goes, "It takes a village to raise a child." Village babies were also carted around in woven bags that the ladies would hang on their heads. My parents had one of these bags that they would put me down for naps in. Who says a baby needs a crib?? As long as you have a solid woven bag you are set.

(Demanding the village boys around...and already at such a young age!)

From what I remember, my daily schedule in the village went something like this:
6:30am - My dad listened to the transition radio to hear the news from other villages. The sound of the static radio was comforting and I'd slowly start to wake up.
7:00am - My mom came into the bedroom to get my brothers and me up.
7:30am - We would have breakfast together as a family while still listening to the radio. I think breakfast was probably toast from homemade bread my mom made and powdered milk that was mixed with water to make a watery form of milk for drinking.
8:00am-11:00am - My dad would go work with the villagers and my mom stayed at home to home school us. We would have little group lessons and then each of us would have our own work to do.
11:00-12:00pm - Free time before lunch. We'd go run around the yard to burn off some steam.
12:00pm - Lunch. My family would eat together. Lunch was probably sandwiches made from my moms homemade bread and fruit or veggies from the village market.
12:00pm-5:00pm - Free time. My mom would go join my dad working on language with the villagers and my brothers and I had free roam of the village and surrounding jungle. Our afternoons were spent climbing trees, building forts out of sticks and leaves, eating oranges until the juice ran to our elbows, helping the villagers in their gardens, playing marbles with village kids...and other endless adventures.
5:30pm - Dinner. My family sat down to a soup dinner under low lit lights with electricity produced by the two solar panels that my dad rigged on the roof.
6:30pm - Bath/Shower. My mom would heat water on our wood stove to make a warm bath or shower for me and my brothers. In the background we could hear my dad playing the guitar or banjo.
7:30pm - My dad would read a chapter out of whatever book we happened to be reading as a family.
8/8:30pm - Bedtime. Often it would rain and the sound on the tin roof of our village house would lull me to sleep.

(Me with my dolly in the village storage room for food and supplies.)

This is just a sampling of my life growing up in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. A childhood in the jungle creates a lot of good stories and memories that I will hopefully jot down one day.

(Wearing my favorite dress and already showing so much personality at a young age.)


  1. such a cool, unique experience for you! you should write a book :)

  2. How awesome! You're so right about the environment you grow up in and its effect on shaping you. Why did your family leave PNG and where did you move to? i grew up in Jamaica (til age 10) and the 12-5:00pm part of your day made me smile. My 12-5 was essentially the same.. except I climbed mango trees and licked the juice from the fruit off my elbows when it dripped :)

    1. Nice, growing up overseas is definitely the best! My family left because our village began losing interest in what my parents were doing and my parents didn't want to force it. My parents also wanted us to get a better education for highschool.

  3. Kind of reminds me of my childhood in the mountains of central Japan. By the way, what's a 'transition radio'? I don't think I've ever heard of one of those.

  4. "Transistor radio" -- I remember growing up in Guatemala, and my dad used the transistor radio to find the news.

  5. thank you for this Ellie....I ran into this while trying to look for something on how growing up in PNG as a white child affects later in life. I live in Surabaya, come from Australia and have had 3 sons who have grown up here in a slummish area of the city, plus they were all homeschooled....but that is not why I was interested. A lovely young lady is here now who grew up in Ukarumpa - a daughter of missionaries - SIL too....born there and lived there up to the age of 17. She seems "other" worldly and more so that all the Aussie children (now adults) that I have known who have grown up in PNG (She is from the USA). What do you see as the challenges of life in general due to your upbringing?

    1. Hi Heather! Sorry to just be responding to you now. I often don't see it when people post a comment. Thanks for your comment and question though! Oh boy, I run into a lot of challenges in life due to my upbringing. I would say my biggest challenge is lack of commitment. Though I don't know if that is from my upbringing, or if it is just me. My family moved between Ukarumpa and our village about every 4-6 months. Then we were back in the US ever few years. Having moved ALL the time as a kid, I have a really hard time staying in one place and being committed to one thing. I also have an insatiable desire to know other places, cultures, and people. My husband has such a difficult time understanding that, but he is slowly coming around. :) Those are probably my largest challenges at this point in my life.