Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Settling Down in Ba

We finally got our truck, final instructions, and well-wishes from the Mission Office staff in Suva and left for our assignment to Ba -- perhaps the only "non-beautiful" sounding name in all the islands.  Here's some of the countryside in the area which is a beautiful farming community revolving primarily around the sugar cane industry.  Cane grows for 6 months and then is harvested (mostly by hand) for 6 months and then the cycle starts anew.  There are fewer tropical trees around than on the east side of the island but still lots of coconut palms, mango, breadfruit, and some papaya.  Here we are standing in front of a harvested cane field:

 The Ba river borders the south side of town.  Yesterday when we were driving over the bridge there were fish leaping a foot or more out of the water in some feeding frenzy.  It was strange & exciting.

A cane field is dense and tall (perhaps 8 feet or so).  Very little machinery (we've heard some farms use them but we have yet to see any), and most of cutting is done with a wicked "cane knife".  The picture below the field is of cane trucks lined up at the factory which runs 24 hours a day.

The area is hot and humid, we feel "sticky" all the time.  In some ways, Ba feels like we've moved to India with a few Fijians living in the area.  The town is 80% Hindi and all the shops and industry seem owned by or run by Indians.  That means that when you're downtown, most stores have Indian music blaring in them (a strange custom to us since you can barely hear yourself), incense smells, and to us, an odd assortment of goods.
Today is Diwali, the biggest Hindu celebration of the year.  The town is decked out in lights, people walking in beautiful sarongs, and fireworks going off endlessly (that's been going on for days leading up to this festival.  Ba is a small town filled with small shops that sell things designed to not work or break down immediately.  The saying goes that if any manufacturer anywhere makes a defective product, it is shipped to Fiji for sale.  But we think lots of things were never really defective, they just plain aren't made to work -- they look like they might work, but alas, they don't.  It's very strange.  We went to buy a mop and the worker asked us if we wanted one that would be good for 2 or 3 uses.  What?  We also bought a scrub brush but found out it wasn't designed to work at all.  We see in the markets lots of food but little that is recognizable with the exception of the open market where fruits and a few vegetables are available.  Look at those heaps of red and green hot chili peppers!
 Since the water is not reliably clean, we use a multiple phased filter system provided by the mission home for each apartment.  Before using the fresh produce, Annie soaks everything we purchase in bleach water, then rinses them in tap water and then the  filtered water before we use it.  The tiny bananas are fabulous as is the pineapple, the beans were not, the grapes, oranges and carrots (best in the world) are imported from New Zealand.  The squash/pumpkin is an experiment, we'll see what it really is when we cook it.

We have had very blue times and needed all the help and prayers we can get.  Everything is new, everything is difficult, everything is dirty -- Oh, did I mention this is a 3rd world country?  That explains why most of the people, particularly Fijians live in desperately poor villages.  We have just never really been exposed close up before.  Homes are corrugated tin shacks or cinder block.  Many have no facilities at all, or very little.  Members of the Ba ward are few (about 30-40 active) and they have had no bishop for over a year.  In the parking lot on Sunday, there is one car (ours) and we feel chagrined at the fact that we can drive but by Church rules cannot take anyone with us.  The people either walk (most barefooted) 30-90 minutes, or they hire a "transport," which is a small Toyota truck that goes along the highway and you jump in until you get to the general area you're going.  But most cost $3-10 (Fijian dollars)per person per trip and few Fijians can afford it.  Public transportation is cheaper but does not run on Sundays except on the major road. By way of understanding one Fijian dollar is worth about 56 US cents. The challenges are immense -- it is difficult for people to come to meetings during the week, and cannot stay too late on Sundays.  There is really no leadership structure and no base of knowledge to make that work anyway ("organization and efficiency" are not words found in the structure or cultural experience of Fiji).  Our inactive Relief Society President was a member for 4 months when called but never previously heard of RS, had no counselors, and no training (she's been inactive since shortly after the call).  So this will be one of the great challenges we have and a place where we might make some contribution (leadership training).

But for all our challenges, they simply melt away into insignificance when we are with the people.  They are smiley and happy in the midst of nothing, and they freely share everything they have with you.  Here's some of the beautiful people we have visited:
 The Ratu family are amazing.  Sister Ratu is the seminary teacher, defacto RS, YW, and Primary leader.  She immediately recognized the Spirit and truth of the gospel when taught.  Her husband went years before he joined and one day while sleeping and in a dream, an angel appeared at his bedside and said three times: "Are you going to be baptized or no?"  He arose and told his wife to call the missionaries and was shortly thereafter baptized and quit his 20 year smoking immediately. They fixed us a meal of Roti (grilled chewy tortilla type bread), fish cooked in coconut milk, curry chicken, some sort of greens, and plantain type banana.  All was cooked outside on a fire, the common method here (when this family heard we had a gas stove they offered their propane tank which they said they couldn't afford the $45 fill up cost which lasts 3-6 months). As is their custom, they sit there and watch you eat what is likely more and better food than they ever have themselves, and then when you're done and leave the men eat, then afterward the women and children eat if anything remains. Their 3 older boys are preparing for missions.
 Some neighborhood kids followed us into a chapel in Tavua where we travelled for a District meeting.  Everyone comes and goes as they please here.  When at a home, kids from the village wander in and out when they hear the singing or note that visitors have come.  These kids just came off the street and sat down in the Church where the missionaries were having a training.  They seemed to love the singing.
Last night we visited a home of an inactive member and his wife who wants to be baptized but since they are not legally married and he was married previously they have been unable to proceed.  No electricity, no facilities, an extremely humble  but welcome home -- it was hard to even walk into and sit down (our Americanism some times takes over momentarily).  But oh how sweet these people were.  The husband works each night and reads scriptures on his breaks, then when he returns in the morning he shares what he learned with the family and they all practice bearing testimony to each other.  We hope to help them work out their legal problems so she can be baptized soon.

So what have we to complain about?  When we are reminded that much of the world lives this way, we are  quickly "put in our place."  On Sunday we were listening to General Conference (they just received the DVD's).  And after listening to the talks about trials and difficulties and being loved by Heavenly Father, Annie turned to me and said: "You hear these things differently here don't you."  Indeed.


emily a. said...

I can't tell you how wonderful it is to see you guys out with the people. It's so cool to see you guys with your name tags, Dad's skirt (can't remember what it's called) and Mom holding those cute kids.

Ditto Family said...

So amazing to read! Thank you for taking the time to post. We all look forward so much to seeing the pictures of you guys and hearing about what you are doing. Thanks for not sugar coating it too--I'm sure there are things that you are not sharing but it is nice to read an honest entry. Where do you even start with the church leadership? I can't think of two people more cut out for doing some training.

Ditto Family said...

I loved the pics and your words. What an amazing and challenging experience. One can see pictures and hear of how others live around the world, but until its experienced first hand...

I want to see a photo of your truck, your apartment, and the church building.

Thanks for your inspiring example!



Matt said...

What a wonderful post. Thank you for the pictures and description. Seeing you with the people and those adorable little kids brings back a flood of memories from my mission...how you love the people. It helps you see through clearer eyes how God sees us all.

Jan said...

What an amazing experience you are having. I can't imagine life without all of our "conveniences", but then, they have whats truly important; the gospel, friends, and family. Thanks for the update...keep 'em coming.

Romrells said...

Our hearts go out to you and we are reminded of our time in Africa. The poverty was staggering but the spirit was strong. You will use all you have learned to bless their lives, adapted of course to their circumstances. We pray for you daily. Love Romrells

bestgrandkidsever said...

Thank you so much for sharing all of this with us! The two of you were made for this experience with all the love you have to share! Enjoy some mangoes for us. We loved them in Taiwan and can find nothing to compare here! (the Hassells)

Strahls said...

Thanks for sharing with us. I am truly amazed at your love for the people and the new perspective on life that is felt as I read your words. We are thinking of you and please know there is lots of love and support coming your way from Corvallis. :)

sixmoores said...

I am so happy you are quickly loving Fiji and your assignment. The people there are so humble and happy. There is such a sweet spirit there. I love the pictures and enjoy reading about your experience. Keep up the great work!

50 Toes Photo said...

Wow. What an amazing and humbling adventure. The people of Fiji are so blessed to have your leadership and love. They will learn - and thrive as they come to understand "organization and efficiency". Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful trials with all of us who love and miss you. xoxo