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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fish Bones...It's What's for Dinner!

Warning: This is a bit long, but I think you'll like it. Read on.

I've eaten a lot of strange things over the years. From Brazil, to Alaska, to Papua New Guinea and now Indonesia, there's never a shortage of local "delicacies." Let's see, among other scrumptious treats, I've savored the mouth-watering flavors of snake, monkey, alligator, boiled porcupine, raw fish (not sushi--big river fish,) raw and dried bear and moose fat, beaver tail, fish ice cream, grubs, sloth, unidentifiable partially-cooked meat...well, the list could go on, but you get the point. (Below, the little brown things are fish, fried up whole--crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside!)

I actually enjoy trying new foods. And most of what I listed above, (note that I said most, not all,) were actually quite good. Back in college my roommate used to like to drag me to little "hole-in-the-wall" restaurants where no one spoke English and the menu was indecipherable. Then we'd order some unknown delicacy, and try to figure out what it was that we had eaten--but always after the deed was done. Trust me, it's better that way. :) Again, I figure if someone else can eat it, then I'm always willing to give it a try.

Well, here in Borneo, I've had many tasty treats. When interior, we almost always get to dine on various types of cooked or boiled jungle pig, buffalo, deer, and fish, as well as little muddy snails from the rice fields. A few weeks ago I had my first pig liver. I liked that about as much as my mom's liver and onions--still wake up in a cold sweat every once in a while, having nightmares about that spongy, bloody organ that filters out the bad stuff, all sizzled up with onions and staring me down on a cold, white plate. Sorry mom. I'm sure you're the best liver cooker out there, but I'll leave the liver and onions eating to dad.

None-the-less, like always, I smiled and grinned and swallowed the generous helping of slippery pig liver chunks one after another, all the while saying how it was the best pig liver I'd ever eaten. (You can always say that the first time you have something, and maintain both your politeness and your honesty. After that it becomes trickier.) And then there's the fish. I've had all types of fish here. Most of it is really tasty. Again, a few weeks ago, while having a quick lunch with a friend from a village interior, I had a bunch of little river fish. There's been times when I've been a little confused as to how to eat the fish interior--for example when they're really too small to pick the meat off of, but too big to eat whole. And so I have to sort of stall a bit to see what everyone else will do.

But this time, it was obvious. These little guys were meant to be eaten whole--head, fins, bones, tail and guts...golden crunchy on the outside, chewy on the inside. I gotta tell you, they were actually really, really good! I had several helpings. In fact, I tried to convince Joy to whip me up some of those crispy fishies here at home...but that didn't happen yet. :)

Anyway, all that to say, I ran into a new one the other day, that really threw me for a loop. While sitting down to eat with a pastor friend, I was surprised to see the size of the chunks of fish that had been cooked. "Well finally," I thought. "A fish that I can actually pick the bones out of and still have some good sized meat." So that's what I did. And it was delicious. I know that people interior don't waste ANYTHING! So I had those big fish bones licked totally clean! Even the stray cat that marks our yard every night would have been proud.

So I was a bit confused when we were all done, and I realized there was some chuckling going on--in my direction. I paid a little closer attention to what they were saying to each other, and couldn't believe my ears. Looking around at everyone's plates confirmed my fear. They were totally clean--not a single bone in sight. So I just bypassed all cultural norms and came straight to the point. "You eat the bones too? These are big bones!" And they said, "Oh ya! Just be careful when you chew them. They are can be really hard and crunchy, and they're sharp, and can get stuck in your throat."

No kidding!!! That's why I don't typically eat fish bones on purpose. But then, slowly, I saw my fingers pick up a long, slender fishy bone from the neat pile on the side of my plate...and slowly it moved towards my mouth. I had flashbacks to liver and onions, lima beans, stuffed peppers! Cold sweat beads formed on my brow! Could I swallow them one-by-one, whole, like I used to do with the giant, steaming lima beans? Or focus all my mental energy on imagining a juicy taco, while trying to slip them down with a swig of water like I had done with the liver?

No, this was a whole different ball game. These suckers were dangerous! And so, one-by-one I carefully crunched up each bone, trying to keep from piercing my tongue and lips, and finally swallowing with a nervous gulp, hoping that I wouldn't find myself keeled over hacking like my old Siberian husky used to do when he swallowed a fish bone. Finally, it was over. And my smiling hosts excitedly asked me what I thought? "Wow, those were the best big fish bones I've ever had!" Here's to hoping I'll never have to make that statement again. :)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Happy Valentines Day!

Joy, you truly are my one and only love! I know you don't get into Valentines day a whole lot, but none-the-less, I had to take the opportunity to tell you and the world (well, at least the little world that reads my little blog,) how blessed I am to have you in my life. Besides being the world's best mom, and an encouragement and blessing to so many, you truly are an amazing helpmate!

There's no question--I couldn't be who I am, where I am, and doing what I am, without YOU by my side. Thanks for being my best friend! I love you. Happy Valentines Day!

(In case you're one of the only people out there that reads my blog, but haven't yet found Joy's, you can check it out here. She shares in a very transparent and compelling way. I think you'll find it both challenging, encouraging and interesting.)

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Medevacs Galore!

It's been a wild week of mission flying. Sunday I got called in for a medevac flight. Since there was room for an extra person, I took Britton along.

We try to rotate through the kids, giving each one a chance to ride along as the opportunity arises. It's a great opportunity to see what Daddy does out there, and I think it makes it more personal to them when they pray for the "orang sakit" people that I bring to the hospital. Plus, if we're empty going out to pick up the patient, like we were this time, then they get a chance to "fly" the plane!

Monday I had two more medevacs. Tuesday was a full-mix of missionary type flying. Along with the usual passengers and stuff that I carried, I also had a group of pastors going to a conference, a body flight to an interior village (died in the city and wanted to be buried in the home village,) two more medevacs, and 20,000 fish! The fish were little minnows, being delivered to a village to raise for food. I've carried tons of dried fish to villages, along with rice, sugar, and other food supplies, but I can't say that I've ever carried 20,000 live fish before!
Wednesday and Thursday saw more of the same, with several more medevacs, pastors to villages, food supplies etc. I also managed to kill three dogs this week while landing. Wow! It's been a full week.

One of the neet things to see and be a part of is when the local village pastor leads everyone in prayer for the medevac patient before we take off for the hospital. That's what's going on in the picture above.

Friday, February 6, 2009


That's right, I got stuck again...but in a different way. For the first time since I've been here, I got "stuck" interior b/c of a mechanical issue. While doing a pre-takeoff check at a very marginal strip interior, I noticed that one of the engine's two magnetos had died. Since it was already mid-afternoon, I made the appropriate radio calls to folks at the hangar, and then secured the airplane and got ready for a night interior. It was a thirty minute walk from the airstrip to the village. (Above)

Along the way, I enjoyed the jungle scenery. These yellow, flowers are very common here.

We passed by numerous rice fields that are almost ready to be cut. This is what the rice looks like on the "stock."

I really enjoy staying interior. However, to be honest I usually like to plan it in advance, rather than getting suddenly stuck like this. However, it was very humbling to see how totally excited my friends in the village were, that I was stuck with them. In fact, they didn't view it at all like I initially did. Rather than an inconvenience that the flight couldn't happen today, they viewed it as a blessing from God, that we had time to visit together. When I showed up unannounced at the pastor's house, he went nuts. "Duduk, duduk! Minum kopi dulu. Adu, Tuhan sudah memberkati kami sebab Captain Dave akan menginap di sini! Pujih Tuhan!" (Roughly translated: "Sit, sit! Drink coffee first. Wow, God has definitely blessed us because Dave is going to sleep here tonight! Praise God!") Seriously, he was that excited!

And thus began the marathon of visiting and drinking coffee, and eating, and visiting with others, and drinking and eating MORE, and then moving to another house again and visiting more while EATING and DRINKING EVEN MORE and ON and ON and ON and you get the idea!!! Yikes. I think I'd have had the same basic effect if I'd have been hooked up to several IVs pumping a solution of 50% sugar / 50% dark coffee straight into my veins. Wow! I was so incredibly tired by the end of the evening, yet my eyes seemed to be popping from my head, the result of caffeine and sugar saturated blood pulsing through my body.

While walking from house to house, I took a few random shots like this one of a jungle armadillo skin hanging out on the front porch. Not only do they use the scales for various things, but they can also sell the skin to people in the city who make traditional medicine of it.

Kids love to have there picture taken and then see it on the camera. Even better, is when a few weeks later I bring them each a printed copy. It's likely the one and only image they will have of themselves, and obviously something they will treasure.

Well, after a not-to-restful night, I got up early to start working on the plane. I got it all opened up, and took the bad magneto off before Alan arrived in another plane with a new magneto and extra tools. (Below)

It's certainly easier to do this in a hangar, but things are often not ideal in the life and work of a missionary pilot. This is exactly why we have our maintenance licenses in addition to all the flight stuff.
After what seemed like a very long time under the scorching tropical sun, I had the new mag installed, timed, torqued, and the engine closed back up. I did a run-up, then an RTS (Return to Service) flight, and then came back and re-inspected the new mag. Everything looked good, so finally, 24 hours after getting "stuck," I finally headed for home.

I didn't come home empty handed either. Remember that sleepless night? Well, just as the caffeine effects were starting to fade around 1:00 AM, my drooping eyelids were startled back open with the sound of screeching, buzzing and thumping just outside the window. For a fleeting second I thought maybe they were coming to eat the fattened pilot. But remembering that headhunting has been abandoned here for the past 50 years, I determined it must be something else. The epic battle taking place in the dark outside my window continued uninhibited for probably 15 minutes or more, ending only after the pastor got up and intervened. Apparently it ended in a draw--the large, black tomcat unable to capture and kill his prey, a giant cicada. However, the poor cicada got caught in a bag, and flown a hundred miles back to Tarakan, where it was befriended by my son, Britton, before being released back into the wild.

If you haven't caught on yet, there's never a dull moment around here!