Plotinus in the Jungle

First Week of First Grade

We arrived back in PNG on Saturday 27 January. Anastasia started the first day of a new school year on Monday the 29th. She’s in first grade at Koroboro International School.

Anastasia’s classroom is up the stairs — it was a rainy gray day due to a typhoon off the coast.

Her teacher’s name is Ms. Asimi, and her teacher’s assistant is Ms. Malkati.

Reading aloud to me while waiting for class to start

She gets on the bus at 6:20 am and arrives back home by bus at 4 pm, a long day and a new schedule we are still adjusting to.  Her bus friend is a 6th grade boy from India.

The bus drops her off right outside the door of our temporary housing on campus

Tuesdays she has computer class and dance class — she is thrilled about that one. Wednesdays she has two periods of music class, another favorite. And Fridays she has PE.

Wearing her school uniform

She brought home a scholastic book catalog this week, with instructions to triple the prices to convert them to Kina. She’s made friends named Lisa, Kailani, Faithful, and Priscilla. We have a parent-teacher meeting next Wednesday. Anastasia says she loves school and that it is so fun, but she misses her parents.



We are moving! (Or have moved?  It’s complicated by the fact that we went for home leave in the middle of the process…)

Brandon has accepted the position of Dean of Studies at Catholic Theological Institute in Bomana, Port Moresby.

CTI is the major seminary for Papua New Guinea, located in the capital city. It has a six-year program in philosophy and theology studies. There are 10 member colleges, that is, houses of formation for 9 religious orders and a house of formation for diocesan seminarians, which send their seminarians to CTI for studies. Lay people also attend CTI.

So we have left the cool highlands for the hot city. Maybe our blog title should be read as “Plotinus in the [Urban] Jungle” now…

On CTI Hill looking down at the campus

He was announced as the new Dean at CTI’s 2017 Graduation, pictured here processing in with the faculty.

Blurry photo by Anastasia

Students dancing during the graduation mass

Rebecca will work part-time in CTI’s library. Anastasia will attend Koroboro International School. We will live in staff housing behind Holy Spirit Seminary. 

Looking down at CTI from on top of the hill

We are excited about this new opportunity for our family and sad to leave behind the community of friends we had in Jiwaka. After our home leave we will jump in to our new lives at the end of January.

Tobiah is Two!

We celebrated with a joint party (…which happened a month ago now…) with our neighbor Jodi, whose birthday is the day before Tobiah’s.

Blowing out their candles together

We had our now-traditional backyard party with games at the basketball court afterward.

Miriam and Tabitha singing Happy Birthday

Party guests

Jodi enjoying her cake

Anastasia loves ‘babysitting’ Jodi

Tobiah and Miriam walking to the basketball court for games

Lined up and ready for Red Light, Green Light

Portrait of a toddler boy

Opening a present… what’s inside?

A handmade bilum birthday present

Tobiah, we love you, and we’re so glad you’re in our family. It will be great to see you grow more and more this year — we are especially looking forward to hearing you talk in sentences.

Halloween in the Jungle

We went trick-or-treating around the seminary for the first time this year.

Daddy’s office

Brandon briefed the staff members on what Halloween was and passed them some candy to give out first, though!

Stella, the dean’s secretary

The students were just confused. “A queen! Are you in a drama? No? Then… what…”

The library steps

A few staff members who had gotten masters’ degrees abroad knew what was going on, though.

At Mr. Yambe’s house… nothing says PNG halloween like bananas in the bilum

My costume was a brown skirt and a white shirt with a big label of the locally produced tea. The seminarians found this even more confusing. “…What does a princess and a teabag have to do with each other?” I tried explaining that we were dressed as things that made us happy.

photo by Anastasia

The girls had fun. The staff members were amused. Tobiah enjoyed getting some “Lollyyyyy!” as well.

Examining some of the bounty

Fruit of the earth

We’ve been keeping a garden for the past few months, with a lot of help from Miriam.

Preparing the raised beds

Our friends the Crouches helped too by giving us basil seedlings and cuttings from their orange kaukau (sweet potato) plant.

Setting the sweet potato cuttings in the bed

pizza made with fresh basil, yum

Miriam brought us some bean seeds she had saved from her own garden, and for a few weeks when they were ripening we had a veritable festival of beans.

bean picking

so many beans!

We also planted corn from seed the seminary had saved, and I bought cucumber seeds in the Banz market from a lady who had diligently dried them from her own plants and brought them to sell in various containers (I declined to buy an entire coke bottle full of cucumber seeds!)

Corn harvest

The advantage of planting your own corn is that you can pick it at the more tender stage preferred by Americans, rather than the starchier stage usually available for sale.

One day’s bean harvest – reaching for a cucumber

The cucumbers grew well, and almost managed to satisfy the children’s incredible appetite for cucumbers. It is rare in the picture above that one made it out of the garden! They would take them off the vines and sink their teeth into them.

We’ve also been enjoying other bounty from the highlands climate. We have a papaya tree about 5 feet from our front door, good with lemon juice from the lemons growing by my office or the student dining hall.

Cutting up a papaya, picture taken by Anastasia

Bougainvillea, picture by Anastasia

Bougainvillea arrangement by Anastasia and our 13 year old neighbor Elijah

The first person to tell us to come to Good Shepherd Seminary advertised, “You’ll have your own house, a good climate, and many fresh fruits and vegetables.” It was all true. We are thankful for the good things that grow from the rich highlands soil. Blessed be God forever!

What is the Gospel?

Feel free to respond critically.


What is the Gospel?

The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ.  It is the message that God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son to suffer and die on behalf of the world, such that all those who believe in the Son may become dead to sin and alive in Him and thus able to participate in the life of the Trinity in this life and in the hereafter.  The content of the Gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ himself.

From our own experience, we find a gap between, on one side, the purposes of nature and our own desires and, and the other side, the usual reality.  Nature is oriented towards life and perfection – for instance, every seed from every tree has the trajectory to become a full-grown, healthy tree, thereby actualizing a certain determinate mode of being.  We, too, have great dreams of accomplishing good things, a general knowledge of what is right and wrong, and a desire to partake of the infinite.  However, nature is hobbled by death and disease.  All things die, most seeds fail to grow, most living things fail to perfectly actualize their form.  We experience this failure in our own life and we see it reflected in human history.  We run out of time and energy to accomplish our dreams, being weighed down by our own finite abilities, our bad habits, and our tendency to be distracted by lesser goods.  We do what we know is not right, what is destructive for ourselves and others, and we do it repeatedly.  Practically we set our own desires as the arbiter for what is right and wrong.  No being that we experience, whether person, or book, or fact, or food, or pleasure, satisfies.  We are always left wanting more, but fearing that life is learning to settle for less.

This gap manifests itself in philosophy and in the Old Testament.  From a philosophical perspective, we can establish that there is a perfect first principle of all, but it seems remote and impersonal.  Perhaps a life lived in intellectual pursuit of that principle would result in happiness, but such a pursuit is possible only for a privileged few and seems beyond what is naturally possible for man.  From a philosophical standpoint, one can practice Stoicism and withdraw one’s interests, desires, and emotions so as not to be so troubled by the evils of the world and to limit the evils within one’s self, but such a life seems more like death.   The Old Testament Jews hold up the possibility that this first principle is not impersonal but desires to dwell with men in the Temple.  However, it is impossible for every individual of every nation to actually come experience the glory of the Lord in the Temple, which is itself a perishable thing.  Even those in sight of the Temple, still turned to idolatry.

We desire to be with and to love our fellow man, but we also desire to dominate him and bend him to our will.  We divide humanity into our friends and enemies.  We love the world and admire its beauty and bounty, but we also desire to dominate it and transform it into commodities that satisfy our bodily desires.  We love ourselves and seek happiness, but we hate ourselves for our mistakes and for falling short of what we feel we should be. We find ourselves alienated from God, each other, nature, and our selves, and we perpetuate this alienation through our imperfect actions.  This is sin: ever falling short of the mark in every category.

Jesus Christ establishes the kingdom of God on earth.  In the Incarnation, human nature and God are eternally united.  In his teachings, Christ reaffirms and clarifies the natural law and makes the amazing claim that through grace, we can imitate the moral perfection of the Father.  All flesh is grass.  All earthly treasures and accomplishments waste away.  Human fulfillment is not found in such things but in establishing upon the earth the kingdom whose foundations were not made by the hands of men.  Christ sets us free of the unhappiness of trying to find happiness in earthly things.  We rest in the knowledge that this world as it is presently is not our home.  All nature shall be redeemed; all things shall be reconciled in Christ.  Christ’s sacrifice both teaches us to love and shows us that we are lovable. Alienation between man and God and nature shall come to an end.  Death and corruption have no dominion.  Suffering, especially on behalf of others, is a means of imitating God who has revealed himself as love of which there is no higher expression than laying down one’s life for another.  No human being is truly our enemy, but is, whether he or she acts it or not, our brother or sister, for we are all children of the same Father and called to the same eternal destiny.  The power of evil is broken, for nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.  Happiness is not found in dominating others or in self-sufficiency, but by the free admission of our weaknesses and through mutual service within the body of Christ and to our fellow man.

We live in the transition time of partial fulfillment, of a presence not fully manifest, of a foretaste of future glory and peace.  Partaking in this redemption is our joy.  That its fulfillment is not up to us frees us from worry.

This is the Gospel: the Kingdom of God is at hand and cannot be prevented.  Heaven and Earth shall unite, God has become man so that humans will become godlike, the matter shall actualize the form without fail, the fullness of beauty/the glory of the Lord shall be fully manifest, we shall see the face of God and thrive.

  1. How does one become a Christian?

This is a great mystery.  St. Paul asks what do you have that you have not received, Jeremiah says that to hope in a human is to hope in vain, and St. John says that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us and loved us first.  Salvation is not primarily the work of any man.  It is entirely the work of God, but it is achieved through human and material instruments.  The normal way to become a Christian is for one to hear or read the Gospel and then to repent of one’s worldly ways, accept the Lordship of Christ, and enter into the community of believers which is the visible sign of the invisible communion of the saints.  In order for one to hear the Gospel, there must be a community dedicated to the preservation, propagation, and explanation of the Gospel message.  Without the institutional Church, (which St. Paul describes as the pillar of truth), handing down the message of Christ and the testimony of the Apostles, how could one possibility know the meaning and significance of the Gospel?  Therefore, it is by the Holy Spirit working through the Church that a person can have the opportunity to learn about Jesus.

To respond to the Gospel with faith and submission is not within our natural power.  All humans are enslaved to sin.  By the force of habit, we are in love with our chains.  Our sin stems from ignorance of what is truly good and how to achieve it, but also from an impure will which habitually chooses the lower good over the higher and which is abetted by an impure reason that rationalizes our poor choices.  But how can we will to surrender ourselves to Christ, if the will itself is in bondage?  Therefore, even as we hear the Gospel through human instruments, the Holy Spirit must be at work in us to free our will to assent to Good News which ought to be irresistible—in the same way that seeing a beautiful landscape ought to irresistibly fill us with awe—but which humans resist all the time.  To say yes to the Lordship of Christ is the beginning of our participation in the life of the Trinity, for we manifest in our own souls the yes that Christ eternally makes to the will of the Father, so that we might be emptied of our fallen humanity and filled with the redeemed humanity of Christ.  To have faith in Christ is the sign that the Holy Spirit is at work in one’s soul.  Whether only some are given grace sufficient for the yes or whether sufficient grace is given to all humans but some still somehow resist the irresistible is something I do not know.

In order for one’s whole being, body and soul, to join the body of Christ one must normally be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit by someone representing the Christian community. Through the waters of baptism and the invocation of the Trinity, the convert participates in Christ’s death and resurrection, becomes a member of the Church, and is saved in hope.  The sacrament of Baptism is the beginning of the Christian life.  For adults, it is accompanied by Confirmation, in which the Christian is sealed by the Holy Spirit, and anointed prophet, priest, and king in imitation of Jesus.  The Christian must seek to serve the Lord in good faith by praying for the grace to live a virtuous life, by striving to develop the virtues (above all, faith, hope, and love), by transforming his mind through the study of Scripture and of the exposition of the faith by the Church, and by faithfully partaking in the sacraments of Eucharist and Confession.  The goal is full conformity to Christ.  We are made in the image of God, Christ is the visible image of the invisible Father; therefore the more we become like Christ, the more we because our true selves and live in abundance.

The Sacraments are the normal means of grace, given by Christ to the Church to be visible signs which mediate the grace that they signify.  The Sacraments initiate us in the Christian life and sustain us.  The Incarnation shows that spiritual salvation can be brought about through material instruments.  Are the sacraments strictly necessary for becoming a Christian?  The example of the good thief’s act of faith on the cross suggests that they are not, but to abstain from the sacraments is like living on hard tack and water when a full meal is available.  On the other hand, following the ancient custom of the Church, baptized babies are members of the Church, though they must grow up to accept the Christian faith and make it their own.  Following the example of the early Church, one’s whole family can be Christian; there is no need to consider one’s children as living outside the grace of God.

Whether those who never hear the Gospel can be Christians in essence even though they lack the knowledge of the One they actually serve is something for which I hope but about which I am not certain.

School 2017

For this year we’ve been homeschooling with Mater Amabilis™.


It’s a Catholic Charlotte Mason curriculum, setting a rich feast of living books before the child, with a focus on narrating, telling back, the material to help the child remember and make connections.

We have many bugs to observe closely

Science has lots of nature study and detailed observation.

Bug! Bug! Bug!

We started in January with prep level and worked our way through an abbreviated version. Now we’re on level 1b. For math we’re using Math Mammoth because I can download the workbooks and print them, rather than having to ship them here.

We’ll do this one next in preparation for home leave

For phonics we’re using Explode the Code, which is going pretty well, except Anastasia doesn’t get the baseball references.

two-syllable words are coming soon!

Anastasia has her own desk in my office to work at. The lessons at this level are supposed to be short- 10-20 minutes of math and phonics each, and then the day’s read alouds.

lives, homes, and favorite foods of kids around the world

Since Annie’s favorite book from prep was Children Just Like Me (1997 edition), we added a world geography book to 1b, A Life Like Mine.

based on the rights of a child document from the UN

One of the texts used in level 1b to develop the skill of narrating is Aesop’s fables. Anastasia enjoys retelling the fables in tok pisin, and giving the “as tingting” (moral) at the end. She also likes looking at pictures of all the unfamiliar european animals (like storks) that feature in the fables. At Sunday school she’s been excited to answer questions she remembers from her catechism lesson.

Playing Dragonwood

In the “gameschooling” arena Anastasia enjoys Set, Sushi Go, Splendor, Carcassone (with no farmers), Dragonwood, Game of the States, and Crazy 8s.

I didn’t expect to be a homeschooler, but the options for grades 1-3 in english are limited in Jiwaka. I do appreciate getting to see Annie’s strengths and weaknesses up close. She is good at math – my favorite homeschool quote from her is looking at a math problem and saying “that is hard. But I can do it.” The short school day allows lots of time for her other interests, like digging in gardens, babysitting our 11 month old neighbor Jodi, and climbing trees.

Tabitha shares these interests

I highly recommend the Mater Amabilis Facebook Group for getting started. And a hat-tip to Katy Carl, Tobiah’s godmother, for recommending the curriculum to me. 

Story time with the Archbishop

A few weeks ago, the priests of the Archdiocese of Mount Hagen had a retreat at the seminary.  We were planning to take the Archbishop on a hike on Saturday morning, but it was raining, so we had a delightful story time instead.  We were all read the following stories in an urbane Australian accent:

We’re Going on a Bear Hunt

A Small Miracle

Horton Hears a Who

The Miracle of Saint Nicholas

My favorite comment was when he switched from A Small Miracle to Horton Hears a Who: “Now we go from the sublime to the ridiculous . . .”  As a token of our appreciation, we fed him chili.


We had Bishop Young over before for reading.  I think the first book I tried him out on was Fox in Socks, whose successful reading he took up as a personal challenge!

A marvelous outing – Kimil waterfalls

Dear Reader,

We apologize for the dearth of posts of late.  Way back in January we went on hike that may be my (Brandon’s) favorite PNG excursion.  I told our neighbor John Ding that I was interested in going up a mountain behind a nearby town called Kimil.  John said that he would make arrangements with people at a village called Kondapina to take us up.  One Sunday a man from Kondapina came to the seminary and after mass, he guided us to his village.

They prepared some fruit to give us and some of the small children dressed up a little in traditional garb.  We told them that we wanted to go to the top of the mountain, but they decided that we should go see some waterfalls first.

On our way through the rolling foothills


This is the cascading stream that we followed. There was not really a trail, but we had a small village along to help us.

By the stream was a ‘bone cave’ a traditional place for hiding the bones of your ancestors.  This man is holding a human remain.  They were very eager to show them to us.

First waterfall

Our guides helped us get our children up the steep spots.

Some slight obstacles

Waterfall 2 from below

Waterfall 2 from above. My family did not attempt to scale the waterfall like this man did!

I left the family to enjoy waterfall 2 while I scrambled with some of the young men to the most remote of the waterfalls.  There was one place where they basically passed me to each other along a rock face.  I was able to get a good view of waterfall 3.  They went into it and a took a picture for me.

Where no white-skin has gone before . . .

Group picture

Our guides decided that we should go back by a different way and so proceeded to cut a new path through the jungle for us.  They said they would call it the “Brandon Road.”

CC enjoys the Brandon road

The road goes ever ever on, over rock and across gully . . .

Victory photo!

We then went back towards the village and met the progenitor of these happy people.

This papa ground told us about some bombs that landed in the valley in WWII.  One apparently made a small lake!  He said that he had four wives and I think almost all the people on our hike were related to him by blood or marriage.

We then returned to the cluster of houses where we left the car, only to find that the women had prepared a small mumu for us – chicken, pig, some vegetables.  They gave us the backbone to snack on and then loaded the truck with fruits, veggies, and a half a roast pig.  I was very touched by their generosity.  They explained that no white people had ever come to their village before.

Once back at the seminary, we divided up the pig among our neighbors in true PNG style.

Max the Cat

Starting Set-up

1 Game Description

A co-operative children’s game, which the box says is for 1-8 players. Players control a bird, mouse, and squirrel (the animals) which are trying to get home to their tree before Max the Cat eats them.  A player’s turn consists of rolling two dice, each of which has 3 green faces and 3 black faces.  The player then gets to move any animal of her choice one space forward for each green face showing and the cat forward one space for each black face showing.  In other words: 2 green=move two animals one space each or move one animal two spaces; 1 green + 1 black=move one animal one space and move the cat one space; 2 black=move the cat two spaces.  Movement is always forward.  The player chooses which token to move first.

Each animal has its own shortcut.  If the animal lands on its picture, it moves to the second picture (like a latter in Chutes and Latters).  If an animal is moved two spaces, you can chose to skip the shortcut.  If the cat lands on a shortcut space, it also takes the shortcut.  If the cat is next to a shortcut space, and two blacks are rolled, it automatically skips the shortcut.

When an animal reaches the end of the board, it goes to its home the next time it is moved and is then safe.  If the cat reaches the end of the board, then it sits there the rest of the game, waiting for the animals – who can jump over the cat if two greens are rolled.

At the beginning of a player’s turn (and only at the beginning) a player may place a cat treat on the board, which causes the cat to go back to start.  There are four treats.

Players win if all three animals get home.  Otherwise, the cat wins.  With children, the game takes about 10-15 minutes, unless a mistake is made and you decide to end as soon as an animal is eaten.  In that case, the game can be over in just a minute or two.

2. Strategy

The basic strategy is to use the spaces between the shortcuts as safe places for the animals.  Hopefully the cat will take the shortcut and then the animals can safely follow it, using a treat before the cat gets to the end of the board.  Players need to work together to come up with a strategy for moving the animals and using the treats.  This strategy must also be adapted to the dice rolls.  Luck is a big factor, since you can roll 2 greens thrice in a row or 3 blacks thrice in a row and have to use your treats.  You can think for sure that you are going to win or going to lose and then a string of rolls completely changes things.  The unpredictability can make the game exciting.  If all the cat treats are used and if only one animal is left, then players cease having choices and simply carry out the results of the dice roll, which is not as interesting.

Players simply take turns playing the game.  The game does not really play differently with one player than with two or more, since more players do not add new mechanics to the game.  The game is harder with multiple players, because new and younger players may not understand the strategy and everyone can lose if a player makes a poor decision.

The cat now waits for the bird. No choices are left for the players to make.

3. Theme

My daughter (6) identifies with the little animals and is distraught when the cat eats them.  The playing dynamic creates some anxiety and you often have to take risks regarding what is likely to be rolled.  The unpredictability of the die roll fits with the unpredictable nature of a cat.  Presumably, the same board design could be adapted to other themes, such as a zombie chasing victims and being lured away by brains or a dragon chasing dwarves and being delayed by hoarding its treasure or a Nazgul chasing hobbits who can call on four different allies to distract it, etc.

4. Components and set up

A small board, two dice (that you stick the faces on), three animal and one cat token, and four treat tokens.  I believe the games are handmade by a family in Canada.  The production value is amateurish, but is fine for an inexpensive children’s game.  I prefer the simple drawings to glossy CGI.  Set takes one minute or less.

5. Interaction between players

This is probably the weakest part of the game.  Players do not have to cooperate.  Players have nothing to do while waiting their turn.  I think that playing this game with more than 4 would be dull, though it is possible that the children could become invested in the animals.  There is the danger in an old or bossy player just ordering the others around.  I think the best way to play the game is for an adult to play with 1 or 2 children and help then to understand the possible outcomes of the dice rolls and to make choices.

6. Fun and what happens if you are losing?

The dice rolls and the cat not necessarily following the shortcuts make the game exciting.  Animals that you thought were safe suddenly are not.  Even if one animal is eaten, you can keep playing to see if you can save any.  As mentioned before, sometimes at the end game there are no longer any choices to be made, which is not much fun, though there can still be a surprise, as when an animal manages to jump over the cat and reach home.

7. Improvements

The game has a flaw in that the cat just sits at the last space and waits for the animals.  Perhaps under some circumstances, the cat would advance backwards up the board, chasing the animals from the other direction.  With the simple game dynamic, I am not sure how to make it more cooperative.

8. Whom is it for?

Max the Cat is a good teaching game.  The play is simple enough for young children (4) to play, though they will not understand the strategy.  The game teaches children to plan ahead for multiple contingencies – they need to think what will happen if 2 blacks are rolled, or 1 black is rolled, and then decide whether to give the cat a treat or maybe risk an animal being eaten.  Thus the game teaches risk management, which is a key concept for more advanced games.  This teaching aspect is what draws me to play this game with my daughters (6 and 3), who generally enjoy it.

  1. Family with kids – Recommended because the players have real choices. 3.5/5
  2. Casual gamer – Would this game be desirable for people without kids? No. 1/5
  3. Hardcore gamer – No, but this is a good game for training children some basic strategy 2/5
  4. Social gamer – It would be silly to get a game of Max the Cat  in between your Balderdash and Dixit. 1/5
    Bottomline: A not-very-cooperative cooperative game that can teach children elementary board game strategy.