When my kids learned about my adventures from before I began writing, they turned green with envy.

Man driving a brightly colored dugout canoe on a tropical river. Many of my adventures before writing happened on the rivers of Papua, Indonesia.

Many of my adventures before writing happened on the rivers of Papua, Indonesia.

When I was a child, we didn’t have a television.

We lived 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 are 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 traveled; who accompanied you; men or women; what time of day; and even the state of the weather.

The verbs would grow very long. My parents worked with a tutor for years to learn the language well enough to speak it in public. Since I attended boarding school, I couldn’t sit in on those lessons.

Most of my friends didn’t speak Citak either. People from eight or nine tribes and language groups lived at Senggo. Javanese, Bugis (pronounced Buh-geese), Dani (donny), Biak (Bee-ahk), and Sentani (Sen TAHN ee) comprised the largest groups of transplants to the local area.

My friends and I spoke Bahasa Indonesia to each other: the national language in which we knew the most words in common.

An airport in Papua, Indonesia. Some of my adventures happened at airports or on flights to and from school.

Some of my adventures before I began writing happened at airports or on flights to and from school.

As kids, we went on a lot of adventures.

One day, we would play 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 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. My brother and I along with our friends also built mudslides and turned ourselves pasty white sliding down them.

We swam and canoed in the rivers, or hiked in the jungle. Our friends also built bamboo cannons and we 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 Eve.

After Dad shipped in a Quad Runner (like a 4-Wheeler), we took 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 at full speed.

My best friend and I often went hunting for wild orchids.

We found the prettiest flowers, but sometimes, we would get all covered in ants. She also taught me how to garden and to steer a canoe. She even 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 my favorites 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.

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