One of the bigger adjustments that came with moving to Papua New Guinea from the US was learning to live somewhere where our resources were limited.For thirty years, my knowledge of running a household did not include contingency plans for things like running out of water. Our resources were seemingly infinite with the electricity, water, and gas all supplied by various companies, limited only by how much we wanted to spend every month.Elsewhere in the world, take PNG for example, life does not function that way.In Madang, we had two resources that were more or less limited: water and propane. For all of our water needs (drinking, dishes, showers, etc.), we had water tanks that we shared with our co-workers, the Canns, that God would graciously fill from time to time with rain. And for all of our propane needs (cooking on our gas ovens and stoves, heating water for showers, etc.), we used good ole’ propane tanks–items that, before coming here, I had been pretty terrified of and only associated with our BBQ grill which we used maybe once a week.But in the city of Madang, there were contingency plans that the town’s infrastructure already had in place should those resources run out that looked much like our every day life in the US.Electricity was solely supplied by the city and we just pre-paid for a certain number of units and kept an eye when it was getting close to running out. When we ran out of water in our tanks (which we definitely did during last year’s drought as God saw fit for it not to rain for two months!), we would just switch the water supply to the town’s water supply and, presto! We still had running water.But these resources were still far more limited then they were in the States due to their inconsistency. Propane was by far the most reliable, as it was just up to us to switch out the tanks whenever they ran out.But electricity wins in the category of ‘least reliable finite resource’ as we could expect in any given week a minimum of a handful of power outages lasting anywhere from 30 minutes to 11 hours. Some seasons were worse than others for the electricity. We never quite figured out what caused the ebbs and flows of the city’s power; we just appreciated it when it was there. The city’s water supply was similar, but not nearly as inconsistent. There were times, especially during the drought, when we were on city water that we would turn on a faucet only to have nothing come out. Our solution? When the city water was working, fill the water tanks! It was very much a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ situation. And that was how we lived in Madang: one day at a time.But here in the village, we find that our resources stratagem has shifted once again. Here, there are no built-in contingency plans. We are our own contingency plan. That sounds far more hard-core than it actually is on most days, but the fact still remains.
Here, we have a water tank, just like in Madang. In rainy season, our water tank is overflowing most days, but now that we’ve entered dry season and the rain doesn’t come every day, we’ve begun to practice strict measures of water conservation, i.e. navy showers! For those who may not have had the joy of such a thing, you simply turn the water on to get all wet, then turn it off and apply the shampoo and soap, and then the water back on to rinse off and so on and so forth until you’re done! Saves a ton of water and makes you appreciate those long showers from yesteryear in a whole new way. 🙂 Also during dry season, we take care with how often we flush the toilet and how much water we use to wash our dishes and laundry, etc..
Propane here is also finite, more so than in Madang. We bring in new propane tanks every six weeks with the helicopter and that’s all we’ve got for the next six weeks. So we make decisions about that every day (i.e. if we’ve frozen a casserole, we don’t cook it from frozen…too much propane!)
Our electricity here is actually a much better situation than Madang, on most days, primarily because, unless it’s broken, we never have a power outage! After living in a place where sometimes long and sometimes frequent power outages were part of life for over a year, this is a huge relief! Of course, there are times when there are cloudy/rainy days for multiple days in a row here and our power levels drop to where we can’t use some of the appliances we have (we have a microwave that we use when there is plenty of sun and an electric tea kettle for heating water, etc.) until the sun comes out again. Also, when the system breaks altogether, as it did the other day when the breakers on the roof were tripped, it’s a bigger big deal as we don’t have any long-term back-ups. But most days, the power situation is great! Most days, there is enough sun to recharges our solar batteries and, hopefully, in dry season the electrical system will be the most non-finite resource of all.These are some of the practical ways that living here is a bit different than living in the US. Our resources, all of them, are finite. They are in the US to an extent as well, but their finite-ness is not felt the same way it is here.We are thinking each day of how much water we have, how much electricity we’re making, and how much propane we’re using and make decisions in light of the finite-ness of these resources with every shower we take, every light we flick on, and every meal we make!It’s not always easy, but it is a small thing, a light thing, compared to the weighty possibility and privilege of one day getting to declare the good news of the gospel to the people of this village!