Sunday, November 27, 2011

Journal Entry

It’s 5am and I’m up in the dark listening to the Myna birds begin their daily welcoming of the morning (they are joined by roosters, dogs, and some other critters whose identity I can’t quite discern).  One blessing which has been completely new to my adult life is that I have been consistently sleeping very well – almost 8 hours a day.  Today is an exception but still I’ve had nearly 7 hours.  It’s the first time I can remember being regularly rested and feeling good as I approach a day because for years I have slept very restlessly, getting up several times in the night and logging an average of 4-5 hours sleep.  Don’t know why it’s different here but it’s just been a wonderful blessing.

We’ve had a blues crisis recently where Annie broke down in tears again over the frustration and lack of fulfillment at being on this mission.  Since the very beginning when we received the call, things have never seemed “right” for her.  More than once she has felt she could not go on, but what do you do – quit and go home in shame?  It’s been a terrible time in that regard.  At home she has “her world” defined and in control.  She has all her creative outlets in the home, sewing, making things for kids and grandkids and for many others in need.  She can decorate and visit, bring relief and love to others, and have a calling that is defined and measureable in completing tasks and being successful.  And we can clean things, vacuum them, wipe them down – and they largely stay clean (everything here is perpetually dirty with a coat of soot over everything daily from the continual fires in the cane fields, sugar plant emissions, and back yard burning that goes on regularly). But here on a mission everything in her life is upside down.  We control so little, we have nothing except the basics of living, and it’s endlessly and monotonously hot and sticky and dirty – with bugs and critters everywhere.  We live in a very noisy area with trucks, busses, and people passing by all the time and with endless bands of barking feral and domestic dogs – so loud you can’t do anything, let alone sleep (and you can’t close your windows because it’s too hot).  But the worst is feeling that we only make a narrow contribution that is frustratingly slow and questionably long lasting.

The culture here is simply made for failure.  Very few phones, so you generally can’t confirm a visit and we often go somewhere or wait for someone who never shows.  Time means nothing and people are regularly late to everything if they do come at all (no clocks or watches).  And travel is so frustrating, time consuming, and expensive for the Fijians almost none of whom have cars (we don’t know a single one).  Annie struggles each time we do a lesson to feel adequate in her preparation and delivery – and of course, she’s always measuring herself against me.  I’ve had a lifetime of teaching and study and it must be so intimidating to her, so even in this one arena of satisfaction and meaningful activity she feels less than successful.  She actually does a great job and I have felt the Spirit many times as she has taught and born testimony.

In the Church, we are starting from scratch with the most frustrating set of circumstances I can imagine.  We came to a “ward” (small struggling branch, really) that has had no bishop and no officers for 16 months.  It has been run by a high councilor and EVERYTHING is a shamble.  No records, no success, progressing inactivity (314 people on the rolls and 20-30 attending), and NO preparation for any Sunday meeting.  You’d just arrive, the high councilor would walk over to someone and ask them to teach a class or give a talk and you’d have a pathetic Sunday experience.  People often can’t read or understand the materials, have no background in understanding the gospel, and can’t get anywhere for training because of the time and expense involved (and who would train them anyway?).  Most members have a Book of Mormon but few have read it (Fijian version is in an old language and is very difficult and the English is also difficult for them to understand), very few have even heard of the Doctrine and Covenants or Pearl of Great Price, and fewer yet have read them – perhaps none.  So you have members who were baptized because they experienced a miracle or felt the Spirit testify to them but with so little to build on that they really don’t progress.  Most have never heard of Home or Visiting Teaching and weekday activities to strengthen the youth are non-existent.  In the villages, there is a little Christian church of some sort nearby  (usually, Methodist), and it serves people well because it’s right there and people just walk a little ways to it but for us, everyone has to travel.  The only affordable travel is public busses, but they don’t run on Sundays so that leaves Taxis, “transports” – which are little Toyota trucks with a cover over the back that bunches of people huddle under, or, walking 30-90 minutes.  It’s common for people to do both, walk out of the village to a main road, and then catch a transport for part of the way.  It is, by comparison to their meager incomes (0-$100/week), so expensive to take a taxi or transport that people must make deep sacrifices to come to Church even semi-regularly.  So how do you extend callings?  How do you know if someone asked will even show up – or remember?

Annie and I decided to clean up and organize the clerk’s office the other day to help our new bishopric get a good start.  The bishop is a wonderful humble, hard working man but with little education of any sort.  His only counselor has been a member one year but inactive for 7 months of that year.  These brethren know little about any Church organization (what is Primary, YW, YM, RS, etc?), and have never seen the Church “work.”  They have no leadership experience, have never seen a handbook, don’t know how to interview or extend callings, and can’t begin to grasp how many interviews they should be doing (regular youth interviews, adults in trouble, welfare, transgression, etc.).  I have been meeting with them to help out and we do things like “how to plan a sacrament meeting and fill out an agenda” (doing one planning sheet took us over 20 minutes the first time).  I love helping them but we are starting from absolute ground zero.

So anyway, we thought we’d help out if possible by starting with the clerk’s office, which is the only location for storage of any kind.  It has a computer, which no one knows how to use, a printer that has no paper, one filing cabinet that someone forgot to order file folders and a hanger apparatus for so everything has just been thrown into the drawers, and a few shelves.  We removed boxes full of old things that never got passed out, used, or have become outdated.  We tried to clean the dirt, dust, and gecko poop off of the shelves and counter (people in Fiji don’t really clean up things – they live in dirt so they don’t have much of a concept of cleanliness).  Fijians also own very little, so they generally have no need to learn organization and the Church shows that.  File drawers had old records shoved together with tithing slips that had either never been processed or never returned to members, and stacks and stacks of things that were intended to be passed out to members but never were.  Since people don’t use computers everything we know about Church record keeping is different and they have long, drawn out procedures to keep track of things – so by and large nothing is actually done.  There has been immense waste of Church funds in our opinion and mismanagement of others.  But who knows how to manage anything?  And even if they did, when would they do it?  They travel with their families into Church on Sundays and afterward can’t really stay to do much because the kids all need to get home and they can’t afford to go separately (the average Sunday experience with travel is already 5-7 hours for most with no added meetings).  And most can’t afford to come back during the week.  So when do you clean up, learn your duty, perform a calling, or get training???  Even if they could get to a training, who would do it – since the members we have exposure to have never seen the Church work and stake leaders have the same challenges as all the rest of the members.

Well, enough of the problems and challenges.  You’d think with all these circumstances we should be happy knowing that whatever we do it will be a contribution.  But we often still find ourselves in the “Laman and Lemuel” stage of spiritual immaturity and murmuring.  The only thing that brings us to our senses and ameliorates the concerns is when we are with the people and reminded of how little they have and how much of everything we have (wealth, education, opportunity, etc.).

Two days ago we went to visit a less-active member who is 36 years old and has no arms (one finger grows out of his right shoulder).  He was so humble, and so sweet as we invited him back to Church.  He lives so far away that if he were to return to activity he’d likely have to move in with a relative somewhere nearer to town.  Think of the irony of our invitation – “Oh, you can do this even though you have no arms, must depend on others for food, and to succeed you only have to pick up and move to someone else’s home!”  But as we shared with him the invitation, we felt to promise him that the Lord would make it possible if he desired to return (we read 1 Nephi 3:7 and other similar promises).  As we shared with him, we were pricked in our own hearts with the scripture; “physician, heal thyself.”  We need to have more trust in the Lord, more faith to accept our circumstances, and less egocentric complaining about difficult things.  More than others, we need to apply the great advice President Hinckley’s father gave to him in a period of missionary discouragement: “Forget yourself and go to work.”  We often feel like complaining children who need to be taught a few lessons about the difficulties of life and about pulling up the boot-straps and trudging forward.  In that regard, our mission has taken all of the “accomplishments” and supposed spiritual maturity we thought we had and shaken us to the core with the reality that we have much to learn.  Things are more tenuous than stable, more difficult than pleasant, and our missionary success and happiness more fleeting that we could have imagined.  We are prayerful that we will succeed and aware that it will only happen with the Lord’s help, but that He is unlikely to give it while we are focused on our own difficulties.  We need more of the simple faith and dogged determined attitude of Nephi.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Natural Beauty

Even though Ba is not in a lush part of the Fijian country, it still has plenty of natural beauty.  Here are some plants and trees we walk by each day on our morning exercise routes -- they make life here more joyous.

A variegated Bougainvillea bush

Papaya trees are in most yards, called "Pawpaw" in Fijian

Beautiful Plumeria

We're finally getting educated on using coconuts and are loving them!

Banana trees are plentiful with various types available -- a large bunch at the open market sells for a little over $1US

We asked the Indian home owner what this large fruit was, he gave us a wonderfully long Hindi name which we couldn't begin to remember.  But these fruits are about the size of a bowling ball -- and very heavy.

A lovely Indian lady out in the early morning by her Jasmine bush

Every school has their uniform colors.  These young Fijians and many others pass by our home each morning on the way to  one of the 3 schools near us.

This lovely tree graces the downtown round-about

We're just coming into Mango season which is late this year due to bad weather during the blossom season

Another of the many varieties of Bougainvillea
Not pretty, but as we have commented before -- everything is on "Fiji time" here.  That means that you never know when something will really happen, begin, or end.  We figured this must have been a very long "Fiji time" lunch break for the drivers of this truck and the fast growing flora took over before they could get back to work!

Mango trees are big and we wonder how they harvest them before they fall and become bruised.  We see kids in trees but wow, these trees really tower above many of their neighbors.

Star Fruit

One of the bushes by our front door.  What's amazing is you see many plants which your recognize as relatively little "house plants" in America and find that in Fiji, they grow wild and are on steroids!

More front yard plants

Another beautiful Plumeria tree - we just love these

What beautiful creativity the Lord blessed us with

Every once in a while we pass by what appear to be some kind of cactus succulents -- they always seem out of place in Fiji
And finally, one of the thousands of Myna birds which dominate bird life here.  These rather plain looking birds are anything but plain in their beautiful LOUD and varied chirps, whistles, and ever changing calls to each other.  They are so loud that when we are on the phone or even talking with our kids in the US over the computer people can hear them in the background and they can make it so we have difficulty hearing who we're speaking with.  There are always lots of them (no loners in this bird group) and one day at Church they were so loud outside the building that we literally could not hear the speakers.  They might be pests to others but we just love them.  They are goofy in the way they lope along, sometimes up and down, sometimes sideways and they can walk sideways on a wire like nobody's business.  They also change up their sounds - like they are experimenting and mimicking other sounds they hear.  Their only flaw is that they don't seem to know when it's time for others to sleep and they often begin the cacophony at 4:30 or 5am.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Nairoqo Family

One of the really sweet experiences we're having is teaching the preparatory lessons for those who are wanting to go to the temple for the first time.  Families are EVERYTHING in Fiji -- and when these wonderful people accept the Gospel and learn that their families can be sealed in the temple and then exist together in the afterlife, they are thrilled.  Here's some shots of this extraordinary family and a little about our experiences with them.

Saimoni and his wife Elenoa built their home on 8 acres deeded to them by the chief of the village about 20 minutes from Ba by car.  They are tremendously hard workers, farming their own sugar cane and vegetables as well as Saimoni cutting cane full time for the 6 month harvest period (he earns about $100/week and 15-20% of that goes to the transport trucks to get them to church on Sunday). In spite of the drain on their finances, they are determined to not only go to church but be there on time; "We want to be the first family there," said Sister Nairoqo.  Yesterday was Sunday and there they were when we arrived.  In speaking to them, they related that they had left the house in two waves, the kids wanted to get going and left earlier walking towards the church several miles away.  The parents left 15 minutes later and when they got to the main road to meet the kids, they had decided to walk all the way and were out of sight.  The night before we had taught them about tithing worthiness for the temple and Saimoni commented that he had just been talking to his wife about "being honest with the Lord" in paying a full tithe.  We had talked about the Lord blessing them for their faithfulness and then the next morning, when they arrived at the main road to catch a transport carrier, there was a friend driving by who picked them up and brought them all the way to church; "right to the front door," exclaimed Elenoa!  Annie said to her, "that's a blessing from paying your tithing." The kids had been so excited that they must have walked fast as they were there on time as well.

When we came this day, Elenoa was out in the cane field dressed in several layers of old ragged clothing and with a sock over her hand because both the cane and the weeds have sharp "saw-like" edges (she was barefoot).  She had gotten up at 4:45 am to the sound of her husband listening to and singing hymns.  She was so joyous over that since her husband is a relatively new convert and usually listens to "worldly" music before he heads off to the cane fields.  He commented to her that he was only going to listen to hymns from now on because it brought such a wonderful spirit to him before he goes off to work.  They sat together and sang for a while before she they ate something and fixed his lunch.  Fijians eat very little in the morning (likely because of expense) -- they often have something to drink and hard-tack breakfast crackers. After Saimoni left,  Elenoa fixed all the kids something, did the laundry (by hand, of course), hung it out, and then headed for their cane field to weed.

This is Emily, their niece at the kitchen just behind the home.  They have run out of kerosene and can't afford to buy more so they continue to cook with wood - the almost universal scene at most homes in a village.  Next to the kitchen is a 3-sided "shower" area for taking a bucket bath/shower.  They currently have no running water so they purchase water from a neighboring home (about 100 yards away) and carry it in jugs home each day. On the most recent night we came, they were having boiled sweet potatoes for dinner (very fibrous, dry, and not really sweet).  They wanted to share with us but we declined so they sent us home with a large potato which we ate with our dinner.  Elenoa put it in her husband's lunch box, we assume because it was the only "take away" container they had.  Annie fixed some cornbread and filled the box to give back to them the next day.  They never had cornbread before and all seemed to enjoy it.

Since there are very few entertainment things available, the kids endlessly create games from whatever is around.  Here Simeon has found a skate - it doesn't really fit, no laces, and one wheel kept spinning off but hey - you can do a lot of tricks balanced on one of these!

Above and below are two of the kids in the mango tree next to the house -- they all love to climb trees and are great at it.  No one seems to worry that they climb really high regardless of their age -- if they can do it then let 'em go!  This brought life to the scene in the movie, "Other Side of Heaven" where the little boy falls out of the mango tree and is healed by Elder Groberg.  Since there are no addresses in the villages, here's a sample of directions to the Nairoqo home: "Go to Vesaro village, pass the pine trees and take a right at the large Mango tree, then go left at the yellow flowered bush and travel through the cane field until you see some coconut and mango trees on a little rise, their home is under those trees."

As is almost always the case, many kids from the village gather at each others homes to play. Below are some shots of us teaching the kids how to jump rope ("hose" in this case).  They were so joyous at a new game!

Lili is the youngest Nairoqo and is a pure ray of light.  In the first picture of the family, we are all seated on a woven matt brought outside from the house so we could sit and teach in the cool breeze (well, slightly cool that is).  The evening was coming on and that brings out the toads and geckos, all hopping and scurrying around with the other insects, rats, and mosquitos which freely go in and out of the open homes.  They are very proud of their home which Saimoni built himself and they take great pride in keeping it as nice as possible along with their farm area -- it's all beautiful perched up there on a little hill.  Below, Annie sits with 15 year-old and Lusiana.

On this night and one previous, everyone sang their hearts out as is the custom here.  We continue to be surprised by how many hymns they know by heart and they want to sing an opening and closing hymn every time you come.  After we had the lesson, they chose to sing; "I'll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord."  Both Annie and I could not contain the tears as we sang the hymn, particularly the line: "there's surely somewhere a lowly place in earth's harvest fields so wide.  Where I may labor through life's short day, for Jesus the Crucified." There we sat, in what is by American measures, a very "lowly place" but it was divine to us.  We both shared our testimony with the family that when we were called to Fiji we knew nothing about it and had a difficult time adjusting, but we had promised Heavenly Father that we would go wherever he sent us.  There in the Nairoqo home, we came to know that the Lord had sent us here and we felt blessed beyond expression.  This Sunday, the same hymn was sung and later I was visiting with the parents and they said: "Did you hear your favorite hymn?" Then Brother Nairoqo looked at me and quietly said; "I'm glad you kept your promise."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oh the signs you see in Fiji !

Our giggles these days often come from the "English" signs along the way.  We thought we'd share a few with you:

We hope Mama knows about this.
"Mega Choice" above this  store that was about 10'x 12'  and has the same  5 choices as any other store.

This made us wish for some pizza which is not available.  What IS on their menu?

  Like Mark Twain said, "I feel sorry for anyone who can't spell a word more than one way."


We'll be shopping here for Christmas.

There are no bears in Fiji but who cares?

Not quite the shopping center you may be used to but a lovely option in Ba.

Finally, one that makes sense.
We knew our Physical Therapist son-in-law was talented but we had no idea his field included all these specialities.

And if the signs don't keep you laughing, you can always read the manuals for your appliances:  In trying to diagnose an icing up problem in our refrigerator we had to first determine if we had "the first, or the second kind" of refrigerator -- no explanation as to what models were available but the manual stated that "this serial refrigerators are unanimous."  Later we learned this sage advice -- "the food kept too long in the refrigerator will taste less original.  Spoiled and stink food must not be kept any longer."

And speaking of things that "stink" - we were reading the users manual for our new DVD player provided by the mission.  Under the section designed to caution you regarding power issues we read: "Please do not bind the power line is too high will arouse the unstable of the voltage and damage to the equipment.  When the DVD have unusual sound and smell such as splintering and poop, please witch off the power line as soon as prossible."  No kidding - that's a direct quote!

Chears frum Figi !!! ?