I went to a cooking class today. What’s that, you say? A cooking class in a tribe in the remote mountains of Papua New Guinea? Yes.My language teacher has been talking to me about teaching me how to cook like a tribal Papua New Guinean and today was that day.After market, I strolled on over to her house (and by ‘strolled’, I mean hiked, because, let’s be honest, that’s really more what it is and by ‘house’, I mean her area, a flattish piece of ground with several huts on it).She took me to a small one in the back and told me to hang out and rest while she got everything. So I climbed up into the hut and waited.
Then she came in, followed by a bunch of other people and kids who either sat in the small hut with us or looked in through the doorway and/or windows. She spread out a tarp-ish looking bag on the floor and brought in a bowl filled with sweet potatoes, cabbage, green onions, and other greens.Then she grabbed a vegetable peeler and began peeling some massive sweet potatoes, dropping their peels onto the bag on the floor. After all the sweet potatoes had been peeled she cut them up and put them in a bowl, pouring water on them.
Moving onto the cabbage and greens, she cut them up and put them in another bowl.All the while, she’s telling me how if I eat like this, with all these sweet potatoes and greens, I’ll get fat (which is a good thing here!) and then my mom will see how fat I’ve become and think how great her daughter is eating in Papua New Guinea!I looked at the sweet potatoes and greens and had my doubts, but decided to keep them to myself.
Finally, she handed me a bowl filled with dry coconut and poured water over the coconut and told me to milk it. That’s right—the word for this activity in Tok Pisin is ‘milkim’.After I stared blankly at her for a few seconds, she showed me what she meant. You scoop up a handful of the coconut immersed in water, lift it out of the bowl, and squeeze the water out of it, creating a milky white liquid. This, I learned, is what they cook all of the veggies in.
She then handed me a pot and instructed me to layer the cut up sweet potatoes on the bottom, followed by half of the greens and cabbage, then more sweet potatoes, and then the rest of the greens. Then the coconut water was added to the pot and the soup was ready to be cooked. She told me to come back in two or three hours and to bring Matt, my kids, and plates for each of us (since dishware is limited here) and we were done!Going into the cooking lesson, I wasn’t entirely sure I would learn anything new, but I did.I learned that this meal is considered a big meal for them (most days, there is a meal in the morning and a meal at night that consists of everyone getting a sweet potato or taro with perhaps rice and anything else that was available in their gardens on that day–sometimes bananas or onions, etc.).I learned how to milk dry coconut so that some of the coconut oil is secreted into whatever you’re cooking.I learned that watching me cook their way is a pretty good source of entertainment on a Saturday, especially for the kids of the village.And I learned that God has given these people of Mawarero everything they need to live on these mountains. They have food—if not abundant, then enough. And they have water.And they are willing and desirous to share with us and allow us to be a part of their community which, if that was all I learned today, would have been the best part of my day!