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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

From MTC to Suva, Fiji

Is it required of all missionaries to stand in front of the world map at the MTC and point to their mission?  Probably not, but it seemed like a good idea.  There it is, east of Australia, north of New Zealand, and west of Tonga -- the Fiji Island group!

 We were introduced to Fijian by our tutor, Elder Vuikadavu, a native of Fiji who is going to school at BYU and working at the MTC.  A smiley, spiritual, wonderful guy - he helped us begin to see that Fijian is a beautifully complicated language which we're glad we don't have to have command of to do our mission work.  We know the people will appreciate all our effort to speak in their language but allow us to depend on English -- the official language of the islands.  Our mission includes many other countries and languages across a broad expanse of ocean.  Languages spoken in addition to Fijian include: French, Bishlama, Gilbertese, Rotuman, Kiribati, Tuvaluan, and Lifou.  The only languages taught at the MTC are Fijian and French so missionaries going to other language islands must learn to speak after they arrive.

We flew all night to Aukland and awoke to this beautiful sunrise . . .

We then flew to Nadi, Fiji and later in the night arrived in Suva where the Church has a complex of buildings which include the beautiful temple, mission home, patron housing, mission office, distribution center, and "service center" which manages all the Church business and buildings in the mission area.

 The temple and Suva itself is on a peninsula with ocean views on each side of the temple. Across from the temple is patron housing and out our window we look towards the ocean.
Down the same street on the right is the Church sponsored elementary school with a little over 100 students (the Church also sponsors a middle and highschool).
 Pretty nifty to go to a school where you have a banner declaring; "I Am A Child of God".  And these beautiful happy children certainly radiate their divine nature.
 She has on her school uniform (common at most schools and distinguished by colors).  Barefoot is the norm.  Below is the principal of the school.

The mission staff has been generous with their time and training.  While doing errands we stopped at a large open market with hundreds of vendors and an endless variety of local fruits, vegetables, and imported goods including fabulous Indian spices.  The bananas are cute little sweet treats and the pineapple is fabulous!
 The currency is the Fijian dollar and the exchange rate is very favorable (.56 cents of US currency buys $1 of Fijian money).  Since Fiji was formerly a protectorate of Britain, the money reflects it's roots and the British Queen Elizabeth.
 We will finish our training and other preparations in the next few days and then be off to our first assignment on the northwest side of the main island in a town called Ba.  In the meantime we love being near the temple and learning from those around us here.  A highlight for Tom has been adopting the common Fijian and missionary daily dress of a nice skirt (called a "sulu" in Fijian) -- it's all he'll wear while serving.  And we both wear sandals without socks to keep as cool as possible in this rainy warm climate, particularly as we head into the hot summer months ahead (seasons reversed here from America).

"Moce" for now! ("good bye" in Fijian, pronounced something like "mowthey")