AN IN-DEPTH, OVER THE TOP ABOUT ME:
My earliest memories are of growing up in are remote jungle tribe called Dahamo in the Western Province of Papua New Guinea as the son of nondenominational Christian missionaries.
I could swim before I could walk, and would often spend hours on end exploring the jungle, hunting with bows and arrows, slings shots, bamboo pressure guns or fishing spears fashioned out of nothing more than a wire coat hanger, a sheet of rubber and dried bark rolled into twine.
If we had none of those handy a large branch rolled around in strong spider web worked great in a fast moving stream if we got hungry and wanted to cook fish. Even starting a fire was done using a piece of twine rubbed against a dried out piece of wood and a pile of dead leaves.
It was a different time for me, one that was more carefree and adventurous than in any other places I have lived in the world. The Konai lived a stone age lifestyle that hasn’t seen much advancement to this day.
None of my friends wore shoes, few even wore clothes. Just a grass skirt and loin cloth to cover the basics. We celebrated events with pig feasts and caught bats to serve as a side dish. Crawfish grow to the size of lobster in that part of the world and more than once I lost my best catch of the day to a freshwater crocodile when I went fishing as a kid.
Our home had to be elevated on stilts to even survive the torrential downpours of an unpredictable rainforest, not to mention wild boar, crazed bush dogs, muskrats and various other wildlife that would venture into the small clearing that served as our village.
My father had sought out an unreached people group to bring the gospel to. The Konai were about as unreached a people group as you could ask for. That said Konai is how I walked, talked, thought, hunted, what I ate and all I really knew of the world until I turned 13. I was Konai, and America was some place my parents would try to explain, but a concept I could never truly grasp.
We were the first white people they had ever seen which meant every meal our family had was a source of entertainment and an event for the entire tribe to see, I was constantly poked so my friends could watch in amazement as all the blood in that area left leaving a pale spot that quickly turned pink and back to freckled tan again. Hands were run through my hair at all times and my friends were amazed how my skin would turn red and peel off if I spent too much time in the sun.
I had a friend who was a cannibal, expertly taught by his uncle how to do this using witchcraft. I remember watching young girls, barely older than myself being dragged off into the damp quiet recesses of the jungle after a dowry had been agreed upon. None of this was anything out of the ordinary for me. The bizarre, strange and still foreign was always the place my parents referred to as “home.”
We moved to America in the early nineties after my parents had established a church, built an airstrip, medical outpost, school and small trading post in order for the government to recognize Dahamo as an official location on the map. A Swedish couple who had devoted their lives to translating the bible in unwritten languages took over the church and translating the bible from my parents, living there and translating the bible until this year. After working for 11 years, the dedication ceremony to present the first book written in the Konai language was held Easter Sunday 2015.
My parents took us to live in my father’s home in the outskirts of Atlanta, Georgia for the first couple years before moving to Orlando, Florida where they continue to live and work. Orlando is where I spent my teenage years and the place I refer to as “back home” now. Before settling in my folks, wanted my brother, sisters and I to see I mean really see America.
The goal was Atlanta, but we started in L.A. on a road trip from the west coast to the east coast, camping in KOA sites along the way. That road trip was an epic family car ride worthy of rivaling a Griswald family adventure considering my siblings and I had extremely limited experience when it came to riding a car, wearing shoes, seeing tall people, white people, so many people…
The punk scene in California, the Deadlands, the Grand Canyon, Air conditioning, big screen movies, snow-capped mountains, they did their damnedest to show us America the beautiful from sea to shining sea. We even went to a Meet the Flinstones theme park and saw the horses that starred in Dances With Wolves.< We saw the purple mountain’s majesty, drove through amber waves of grain under spacious skies and as though to make up for the parts of the song we could have possibly missed we later went to Niagara Falls, the to the top of the two towers and visited lady liberty… Now that I think back on it, we did the whole trip in a station wagon with faux wood panels just like the Griswalds… ‘MURICA!
We settled in Red Oak, Georgia, a suburban area just outside of Atlanta.
My sister and I attended Landmark Christian School where our Granddaddy had been a teacher, it was also where our father had attended school as a kid.
Everything was new. I mean everything. From having to put on shoes before going outside for anything. To the necessity of adhering to a set schedule, relying on a car to go wherever we wanted it was all new.
My first year at school was fun, though. The founder of Chick-Fil-A’s grandson was attending the school at the same time and to my delight Chick-Fil-A sandwiches were an option on the cafeteria’s menu. It was 7th grade where I learned how to make a hornet using a tightly rolled up and folded in the middle piece of a 3×5 card and an industrial strength rubber band.
Every time the teacher left the room that was our cue to resume the perpetual war in which alliances were broken before they were even brought up as a possibility and every man for himself was not merely a mindset but an essential code to live by if one wanted to survive the school year. I also discovered just how hilarious putting a whoopie cushion to use could be and joined the school’s wrestling team.
What I enjoyed most about my first year living stateside however was the time I spent as a member of the wrestling team.
The first few days of tryouts were sheer raw torture, and I loved it! Running the stadium stairs, bleachers, track, sprints on the basketball court. Learning the basics of pinning an opponent and taking turns being pinned by the varsity team while being informed to abandon all hope of escape, victory or even the possibility of qualifying was a constant reminder by older classmates who had already been on the team for several seasons.
After meeting the minimum standards of making the team which I’m fairly certain were established so many eons ago in Sparta during it’s most formidable years I was informed that I had barely passed and made the team.
The feeling of triumph and elation of qualifying for the shortlist of those who had survived tryouts was a short lived mountaintop experience. Not too long after that moment Coach started snorting and grunting something about uniforms and cups.
I had no idea what he was banging on about and was actually a little surprised his voicebox was capable of making any other noise than shouting. Curious, but nonetheless just as excited as the rest of my team members we moved as one, more like a herd of spastic baby goats than a unit of elite warriors about to be versed in the time honored tradition of hand to hand combat toward the box Coach had snorted and just pointed his chin at while simultaneously barking “Uniforms, hustle! Hustle! HUSTLE!”
I was awash with dismay and repulsion as I realized the “uniforms” Coach had just nearly given himself an delighted aneurysm over were by my definition, not uniforms at all. The only articles of clothing I could see in the box at all were as far as I could tell nothing other than maroon women’s bathing suits from the 1950’s. They looked more like something Marilyn Monroe or Gidget would have worn than anything I …a freshly forged soon to be combatant who had recently qualified for the shortlist of my middle schools elite-lean-mean-killing-machines should ever have to even consider wearing.
I just stood there, staring blankly, hoping it was a joke. It wasn’t. To add insult to injury apparently the white plastic bowls with holes in them were the “cup” Coach had mentioned earlier. Aaaaand the cup was to be held in place by the wrongest looking pair of whitey tighties I had ever seen. The underwear was missing all of the essential components required to constitute a pair of underwear… And worst of all there were no superheroes on the front.
Feeling like an idiot and knowing for certain that I looked like one, but seeing as I wasn’t alone in that assessment of the situation we hesitantly donned our uniforms and double knotted the laces on our ballerina shoes that the assistant coach kept insisting were wrestler’s shoes we shrugged it off and headed upstairs to learn how to wrastle!
As we anxiously piled into the musky weight room above the locker room the first thing we noticed was a space had been cleared for a few thin blue mats on the floor. We lined up on the wall next to the door we had just walked through and watched for the next fifteen minutes as the battle-hardened spartan like giants of the varsity team clashed and contorted one another.
They fought with an epic relentlessness as though each movement might be their last and it would be better to die trying than to show even a microexpression of hesitation or weakness in front of the Greensleeves.
The display of sweating, crushing, wrenching and demolishing themselves and their opponents alike always ended with someone left a shell of their former self, a barely recognizable lump of pathetic, helpless agony forced to tap out teammates jeered, and shouted out taunts about the near-dead victim’s mama and how they had personally seen a variety of cute defenseless animals with more heart and determination.
By the end of the demonstration my head was filled with delusions of grandeur, instilled with an unjustified sense of honor and untested capacity for complete and total domination I would personally raise the bar of wrestling as God’s gift to this brutal sport.
After a long-winded speech about how any decent wrestler worth his weight in spandex and spit cups would only tap out as a last resort moments before an inevitable death it was our turn to start putting theory into practice.
Coach sent all but one of the members of the varsity team with his assistant coach out to run drills. As they were heading out the door he apparently determined they lacked hustle and spirit which was confirmed by a couple of guys finding time to crack a couple of jokes between gasps of air. Barking something about how he couldn’t even get mad since that would require him getting past such an astronomical level of disappointment he felt he might just die of a broken heart. The coach continued shouting about how everyone on the varsity team needed to run bleachers under the hot Georgia sun until they had an epiphany as to just how they might possibly regain even a smidgen of their honor. …Or a muscle exploded from the attempt, either would do his broken heart some good.
And with that… They dissapeared from the room, the only evidence they had been there was a sweat soaked mat and the sounds of running and shoes scuffling heard through panting, and gasps of air as coach continued to “motivate” them. The sounds continued to echo and reverbrate off the cinder block walls of the locker room then all fell silent for a few seconds once the door closed behind them.
The silence only lasted a few seconds before we heard them burst through the basketball court doors with a now muffled hoarse sound that that could only be coach hot on their heels chasing the poor bastards all the way to the football field and utimately the stadium stairs determined they pay for thier crimes of husltelessness and complacency. Soon enough they were far enough that no real sound was distuinguishable from the other, somehow it seemed as though we were listening to something like bears on a YouTube video through someone else’s headphones while sitting on the other side of a dentist’w waiting room.
The 7th grade boys middle school wrestling team was alone! …Alone with the start member of the varisty team whom we had just watched annihaliate each and every one of his opponents with the precise methodical ease of a sociopath on a rampage.
The bohemoth had a quirky grin on him that would have made Ralph Macchio the bully from Karate Kid uneasy. He was pink, sweaty, and smelled like a two-day-old vegetarian Subway sandwich or Gyros that had been forgotten in the back seat of a smoker’s car in the middle of July. Our Sensei breathed in, proceeding to give us his best pubescent impression of Coach. Screech-bellowing about how he had to teach all of the “maggots to not only survive, but thrive” by running drills.
As he paced and jumped back and forth, his voice ranging between a false barritone and hitting high pitched decibles so shrill even members of a castratti chior would envy he assesed the group. Eventually chosing the smallest, most frail, and least muscularly definded of the lot.
The ill-fated runt never had a prayer, as he stood hapless, aware that his fate did not bode well he simply gulped and accepted that the impending challenge before him required to fufill his dreams and take charge of his destiny.
As the Guinea Pig assumed the posistion to demonstrate what it looked like to be taken down by a champ the pungent, sweaty, pink, pubescent monstrocity of a man-boy left in charge squeald and growled verbal abuses laced with directions.
Walking us through how he would take down his first unworthy opponent, he lumbered into posistion with the finess of Hodor from Game of Thrones.
The Guinea Pig now on all fours groaned under the giant’s weight and perspiration the moment his back was forced to bear the load. The in a flash it happened…
Hodor squealed “First you sweep the arm!” As his mighty bear-like arm disabled the Guinea Pig’s entire support system in one fell swoop they fell in unison landing in unison on the mat with an eerily loud CLAP! The first thing we noticed was that the Gunea Pig’s entire body had completely dissapeared as if by magic he was gone along with what had to have been the remaining shreds of his dignity and self-respect.
Hodor lay there, unmoving for a second just as suprised as the rest of us at how efficent, quickly, and effortlessly complete the takedown had been. As he rolled off the wad of flesh formerly known as our classmate and team member his expression turned from one of confusion to that of absolute horror.
Like his namessake Hodor’s vocabulary was reduced to one simple word at that moment. …”No! No! No, no, no, no.” …“No” is all he could say. My team and I looked on, befuddled and wondering exactly what it was we had just seen. As the crumpled shell of a kid in a maroon one-piece leotard stood to his feet, turning to face we saw it. The Guinea Pig’s petite, feeble excuse for an forearm had been snapped lie the frail twig it resembled.
The Guinea Pig didn’t know it yet, but his forearm now had and “L” shape to it with his hand almost effortlessly able to rearch out and grab his lack of bicep region. If he kept it like that he could have made a career as a sideshow freak using the arm to dip into a bucket of soapy water to make the most disturbing bubbles ever seen.
There was a moment of stunned silence in which the team and Hodor later acknowledged that time stood still, making the shock and the entirety of everything that just happened seem clearer, better, fascinating, almost beautiful. That moment was only a moment, because as someone shouted out “Your arm!” the Guinea Pig caught sight of the broken abomination that was now reduced to nothing more a useless meaty appendage that somehow still slightly resembled what had once been up the this point his arm.
The shock and screaming set in, someone sprinted off to get Coach and not long after a team of paramedics arrived. We were ushered downstairs to await further instructions in the dim light and humid stank of the locker room.
I can still remember listening to the echoed screams as they reset the Guinea Pig’s arm. We watched, no longer aware of our stupid uniforms as the paramedics carried our freshly fallen comrad on a stretcher through the locker room his arm now reset to it’s origonal, less disturbing appareance. As this occoured, watching with a detached interest only one thought was running through my mind.
..I had made the team!
Sadly, I never got the opportunity to see the season through and earn the trophy I deserved. A couple of months later our family was driving back home from a trip to Richmond, Virginia and we were in a car accident.
The traffic on the car ride home was bad. The driver behind us had gotten bored, started fiddling with the radio to find a more entertaining station and as he was looking down inadvertently rear-ended our car totaling it in the process. I had a fairly severe case of whiplash and, as a result, had to quit the team and spent the rest of the year visiting chiropractors’ offices instead.
My sister was more fortunate sticking with her jump rope team which I considered the dumbest activity on the planet. I loathed every second of every minute of being dragged along to her jump rope events. A lot of the reason for being so frustrated was the fact I had to quit my team and she didn’t, but in reality I hated it so much because I was born without rhythm and jumping rope has always gotten the better of me despite my best efforts.
Even though I had to give up my first extracurricular activity almost as I had started it I wasn’t too heartbroken considering I no longer needed to wear a woman’s swimsuit, keep track of the cup and take care of the ballerina shoes anymore.
With my newfound freedom and excess of free time, I started to focus on exploring my surroundings more.
My Grandmama’s property was on a huge lot of land, she and Granddaddy had built their home on. With woods to run around in, a rope swing, a garden to help maintain and a constant slew of cousins to play with I was never bored. Grandaddy had built a wooden go-kart designed to last the ages. The thing was old, solid, weight about the same as a golf cart and would give you splinters from just thinking about it too long, but the beast was perfect for the massive hill in the back yard.
The hill was steep enough, dotted with such obstacles as massive pine and oaks, life-threatening boulders, patches of poison ivy, and a ditch at the bottom ensured that each ride was not only worth the struggle of dragging the go-kart up the hill, but each ride was sure to be an epic source of fun and adrenaline.
Grandmama grew lemongrass and mint in her garden which we would use to make fresh tea, picking fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs for lunch or dinner making some kind of awesomely unique sandwich with pita bread in her toaster oven. Pretty sure all of the cousins loved doing that every time any of us went over to Grandmama’s place.
After staying with our grandmother for a brief period, we moved into a neighborhood not too far away wich also had lots of woods, red Georgia clay, rolling hills and a myriad of new places to explore.
Most of the houses were painted in some obscure color scheme that somehow looked like it shouldn’t work but did. Purple with yellow trim, green, blue, with a few traditional red brick buildings thrown in the mix it was a beautiful neighborhood unlike any I’ve ever seen since. A lot of the neighbors drove old cars like a Saab, Buick, Oldsmobile, or Cadillac that seemed more like boats on wheels than cars due to the sheer size of them.
Everything remained fresh, new and exciting that first year living Stateside.
Growing up our home always had music playing somewhere in the background.
My father tended to play a lot of stuff by Luthor Vandross, Dolly Pardon, Amy Grant, Kenny Rogers, and his favorite musician Alan Jackson. Whenever I think back to growing up an Alan Jackson song tends to come to mind. Alan Jackson’s parents lived fairly close to Grandmama’s home where my dad had grown up. He had met them a few times, and would point out landmarks mentioned in some of the songs as we drove around our new hometown.
Whenever extended family got together we would visit the original Chick-Fil-A or go to Stone Mountain where my great grandmother lived. Sometimes we would do both in the same day. All of the cousins, aunts and uncles piling into a happy rambunctious convoy we’d head off to some adventure in Georgia. I loved going to the original Chick-fil-A which has a small red door for “the dwarfs.”
We also went to the CNN Tower, Atlanta Braves games, The Varsity, The Underground, and Olympic Park downtown pretty frequently. The best part of going to The Varsity was this towering guy would stand behind his cash register shouting “What’ll ya have! Whaddya have! Whaddya have! Whaddya have! Whaddya have!” The pressure was intense for a kid and as far as I know they only serve chili dogs, curly fries, and an Orange shake. Loved it, though.