My Adventures Before Writing

Man driving a brightly colored dugout canoe on a tropical river.When I was a child, we didn’t have a television. This was because we were living in the jungles of West Papua, Indonesia. There were no television broadcasting towers or television stations, and we only had electricity at night.

I didn’t really miss it–

Life was this huge adventure, with something new and different to see and experience every day!

For most of my years growing up, we lived at Senggo, a government outpost comparable to a county seat in the United States. There were two villages at Senggo: Tamnim, which was Asmat; and Senggo, which was Citak (pronounced, “Chee-tuk“). The two tribal groups are very closely related. Citak sounds like Asmat spoken with a lisp, and has the same grammatical structure.

I hardly learned any Citak or Asmat because both languages were very complicated. We joked that you had to fit everything you wanted to say into the verb: where you were going; how many bends up the river you would be traveling; who you were going with; were they men or women; what time of day it was; and even what the weather was like!

The verbs would grow very long. My parents had to work with a tutor for years to learn the language well enough to speak it in public. Since I went to boarding school, I didn’t get in on those lessons.

Most of my friends didn’t speak Citak either. We had people living at Senggo from eight or nine tribes and language groups. Javanese, Bugis (pronounced Buh-geese), Dani (donny), Biak (Be-ahk), and Sentani comprised the largest groups of transplants to the local area.

My friends and I spoke Bahasa Indonesia to each other, as that was the national language and the one in which we knew the most words in common.

An airport in West Papua, IndonesiaWe went on a lot of adventures. One day, we would be playing in the deep cutting behind the teacher’s houses at the end of the airstrip, where fat little pitcher plants grew. Another day, we’d be over in the heart-shaped ravine on the other side of the airstrip. I loved the dark glossy green ferns that grew there, but I quickly discovered that the younger brothers of my friends didn’t appreciate them in quite the same way. They ripped them up and had a fern fight–

We also built roads and tunnels in the sawdust from the sawmill when it wasn’t in use, and created imaginary towns. When it rained for days, as it sometimes did, we would play in the rain for hours. We also built mud slides and turned ourselves pasty white sliding down them.

We went swimming and canoeing in the rivers, or hiking in the jungle. We also built bamboo cannons and blew in them until we were dizzy, before touching a match to the blow-hole and making them roar. Bamboo cannons can’t shoot anything; they just make a lot of noise, and they’re great fun on New Year’s.

After Dad shipped in a Quad Runner (like a 4-Wheeler), we went for rides on it in the moonlight on the airstrip before he put the governor on (a part that regulates speed), so that it would be harder to run it into the river.

My best friend and I would often go hunting for wild orchids and find the prettiest ones, and sometimes, we would get all covered in ants. She taught me how to garden and to steer a canoe. She also tried to teach me how to fish, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at it.

I tried to teach her English and how to water ski.

All of this was great fun, but for several hours every afternoon in the heat of the day, our adventures would stop while everyone took a nap. I didn’t like to nap, and so I would read books. It didn’t take me very long to discover that I could have almost as big of an adventure reading a book as playing with my friends!

Some of the books I read then are still favorites of mine today. My most beloved books were C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, and J.R.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

Although I read a lot of books, I wasn’t really interested in writing my own.

It wasn’t until years later in 1999, when I read Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, that I was inspired to begin writing my own books.