Sunday, January 29, 2012

Water, Water Everywhere -- but none to be found

After 3 days of no power we gratefully had the electricity restored -- what a relief.  Hard to imagine how much we depend on electrical energy, but especially to enable communication.  Continuing without water has become a major problem for everyone in the community.  We thought we'd take you through some of the scenes here in the last few days and the circumstance we find ourselves in now.
LDS Church parking lot.  No plans yet for where Church services will be held in the long run
or whether repairs here will be done.  Perhaps a new site will be preferable after 3 such floods.

Rescuing the computer!
Bishop Ratu finding some water to wash the mud off our feet
Here's the devastating problem for our Church location:  Just behind us to the south is Namosau Creek.  In the two shots below, you see the aftermath of the flood plain.  The second picture tells the story best as the flood level was over the top of the bridge railing.

Nomosau creek is small by comparison to the Ba river which lies just to the north of the Church about a quarter mile.  With many inches of rain falling daily for three days, a new moon creating very high tides, the conditions were just too much as all the creeks and the river rose together many feet above flood level.  The Church was caught in between.
Ba River during the flood
Now to some shots downtown.  The first three are of one exit route out of town with the last being the same location after the water receded.

One entrance to the open market, bus station, and main shopping area and serves as one exit out of town
Elevuka creek running through the middle of town - after the flood level receded
(note the green tarp, then see the same area during the flood in the picture below)
Here's the green tarp area under several feet of water.  That "New World" sign is about 10 feet above
ground level.
Looking into the main shopping plaza.  Some employees were still in these stores trying
to put things up when the flood closed in -- they were stuck there for 3 days (but had access to
all the store's goods, including electricity from the generators)
Another view of Elevuka creek (post-flood) further into town.  These fishing boats follow the creek to
the river and then to the ocean each day.  Note the tell-tale signs of the flood level in the
brown line up in the trees.
Nice legs!
View into the central portion of town.  The picture of us in the previous blog post standing in the
water was taken down on the main street.
Not a river! Normally, this is grassland at the base of the hill we live on.
The family stayed in this house, though moved what they could upstairs.  This view is looking
towards the central town area.
Koula street would have been our 2nd possible exit out of town -- but not on this day!
Note the "head gear" to preserve their health -- just plain strange.
P.S.  That boat belongs about a half mile down the road.
And here's our last exit route out of town.  Needless to say, we didn't leave town.
The inimitable Fijians!  Our friends, Iva and Ana Mateiwai were out playing rugby in the rain
with their family and neighborhood friends enjoying their rain bath.  Little did we know that
after the flood, the one thing we would all be looking for is water to bathe in.
These were my last "dry" clothes.  If it looks like my right shoulder and hip
are sagging -- they are.  I had just taken a hard fall and was grateful not
to have been taken to the Ba hospital -- a place of no return (everyone tells us
to NOT go to the Ba hospital because "you die there")
Happy Fijians on a rescue mission
In the next few shots, you'll see the market area and main anchor stores.  They were in the lowest area with water depth varying from 8-10 feet deep.
These stores really took the biggest hit.
Note debris level about one foot down from red siding
The "butcher" had just finished a new restaurant next to his meat shop.  It was a complete loss.  We asked him about it and he said: "It's just business -- always a risk."  He said it with a reserved smile
 and he'll probably be back at it again soon, perhaps with a revised plan of building a second level.
Scavenging for anything of value in the rubble which was swept out of a market 
Drying out all the loaf pans at one of the many "Hot Bread" shops
Not sure what they will be doing with all the garbage and damaged goods from stores
Shop owners lost anything they did not evacuate or couldn't get up on shelving higher than the water level.  The worst was the mud which caused land slides and took lives as well as business. All over the hills you see great areas where the earth gave way and sent tons of mud down onto roads and villages.

But with all the heartache, the Fijian saying is still: "Saga nalaga" - no worries.
We met this smiley fellow along side the road as we talked about the impact
of the flood on his village. "No worries - we can go up the hill to the stream
to bathe and the government brought  drinking water. We're fine!"
With no electricity, Annie got creative in a night time peek into the fridge.
Strangely, it wasn't until we were groping around in the kitchen that we
realized she'd left the candle in the fridge!
Ironically, we ate better during the flood that ever before because we knew everything was going to go bad soon.  The refrigerator was most vulnerable but gratefully the freezer kept things good for 3 days as long as we didn't open it but for a lighting quick retrieval of some goody to cook.

Some of the heart warming things we witnessed included:
* Our faithful ward clerk made his way to the church just in time to get most of the valuable things like computer, copiers, records, check book, stove, fridge, etc. up on creatively elevated stacks -- he saved it all.
* Fiji water being passed out through the Red Cross.  We joined them in line and could tell we weren't the only ones who were missing a daily bath.
* The flooding knocked down a lot of trees.  That's good news for all the villagers
who depend on wood for their daily cooking.

His grateful share of the harvest
* Our nearby corner store had a generator and was able to keep the store going, including refrigerated items.  The owner supplied all of the people stuck up on our hill and never hiked up the prices even though he was only one of the few who had supplies.  He was so kind and let people charge their phones (and we - our computer, phone, and camera).  A beggar came in one morning and he quickly reached over the counter handing him a couple of sweet treats.
* Our friends, the Nairoqos have been able to find work helping in the clean up.  That's been a blessing for cash strapped villagers like them.  On the way into town from their village, they had to swim a swollen creek that had become a quick moving river.  After Brother Nairoqo crossed, the police asked if he could go back and help a boy who was badly burned.  They made a litter, placed a float on it and then had the boy lay on that.  Tying a rope to the contraption, Brother Nairoqo swam across pulling the litter and the boy.
Saimoni and Elenoa Nairoqo
* Two people on our hill have their own wells.  They have been non-stop sharing their water with all who bring buckets, barrels, and bottles.  I'm sure they've given away thousands of gallons of precious water at no charge over the last few days.

And that brings us to the final and most difficult issue for everyone these days.  The daily search for water and quest for water conservation consumes both individuals and families.  It's just amazing how much we depend on water.  We do have drinking water but cooking, bathing, toilet, and laundry all require more.  The Fijians are washing clothes in the dirty rivers and streams and walk everywhere with buckets in the search for water.  Today the Nairoqos invited us to come to their home in the country to bathe at their open well -- how sweet of them.  It's under the Mango and Tamarind tree and partly hidden by the sugar cane.  A nice cozy place where they go early in the morning or evening using their sulus to cover themselves for privacy.  We love these people.  While taking them back home a couple days ago, we were concerned about the integrity of a bridge still under a few inches of water (formerly a raging river flowed through this).  Brother Nairoqo hopped out and waded around on the bridge to test it out and said it was fine.  While driving across he smiled and playfully offered: "Car wash?"

As for us, we have gotten very creative about water conservation.  In the kitchen, we boil a small amount of water for dishes and then sparingly rinse in a bowl.  The rinse water next becomes tomorrow's heated wash water and the old wash water gets poured in the toilet tank for flushing.  For our evening bath, we scoop out of a small bucket of clean water just enough to get the job done -- and we can do it in about 3 cups!  No hot water but we're quite used to the cold.  Long hot showers and regular toilet flushing are over rated anyway.  Water really is a problem of significant proportion and we have no assurance it is coming back soon.  Today, we even heard a report that it could be up to a month -- let's hope not.  More hard rain is forecast on Wednesday (about 6 inches expected) and flooding may reoccur.

We do want to assure everyone that we are well fed and safe.  We are assisting Church leaders here to organize visits in all the villages to check on the welfare of members.  They always have scant supplies but we know the Church will provide for members in special need and we're grateful for that.  We thank you all for your expressed concerns and we know you would help in anyway possible.  The Church is experienced in both local and international emergency relief and we're sure it will be available if needed.

Our love to you all ~ Annie & Tom

Monday, January 23, 2012

Where Does Fiji Water Come From?!!

Rain always makes us feel more like we are back in Oregon plus it tends to keep the temperatures more comfortable, but today the making of Fiji Water took on a new meaning.

In sharing what has been happening here in Fiji the last couple days, we are aware that it is a mix of happy and tragic times -- depending on where your business or home is located.  The Fijians have a way of making the best of things with their "no worries" attitude. We've been having some wonderful rainy days lately and last night it REALLY came down all night.  This morning we were enjoying a quiet morning at home for our preparation day when we got a call from the Ba Elders, "Have you been out today?"  "Well, not really."  "Maybe you should, we'll be over soon!", they said.

". . . but the house on the rock stood still."

 At the beginning of our exploration we were rather cautious as we waded up the street amidst the many who had come to see the extent of the flood.
Walking down the main street of Ba
However, we soon found the streets full of Fijians playing in the water.  Many Fijians don't have running water and a good rain is their chance to bathe and have fun. They were floating on anything they could find, including a refrigerator and diving under the water, playing games and having a particularly jovial time.  At this point, the rain and splashing threatened our cameras so the Elders thought it best to take them back to the truck.  That was a shame because the scene became more and more interesting as the waters rose and the current became so strong we couldn't walk back up the road without holding on to storefronts and parking meters (where the water was up to the meter itself).  We did our water aerobics and high-stepping to get back to the truck and found our way home.  Ironically, we would never swim in the Ba river due to health concerns, but here we were joining the Fijian hooligans having a great time in what must have been a very unsanitary circumstance.
Another view of main street
One of the funniest things we witnessed was a person wading chest deep holding an umbrella over their head.  What?  They were soaked and we just couldn't figure that out until one of the Elders informed us that in Fijian lore, keeping your head dry helps protect your health!

One side note: There are literally millions of frogs in Fiji.  When it's hot and sunny, they come out during the evening hours and gratefully "harvest" the multi-millions of bugs.  
A crack in the foundation at the Bishop's house provides a great day-time hiding place for the
frogs before they begin to emerge in the cool of the evening - we counted 19.
Every evening frogs are hopping everywhere and the streets are littered with little frog bodies being eaten by ants every morning where they errantly determined to cross the road amidst traffic. Recently we were at the church building for a baptismal service and the rains had brought the frogs out early in the day.  Here's a scene of Annie walking through the grass around the church:
Herding Frogs from Tom Sherry on Vimeo.

On that day, the rains threatened the church building with minor flooding. . .
. . . so we found some shovels and tried to improve the drainage:

In 2009, Ba suffered a bad flood and our Church was submerged in at least 4 feet of water (see related video at:  The members suffered greatly from this and had to travel to a distant town for Church during the 6 months of repair.  We were very concerned today and when the tide went out, alleviating some of the flood depth we were fortunate to have a church member who works as a fireman arrange a ride over the river to inspect the church.  To our surprise, it had been spared damage and we count that as a miracle given the surrounding damage.
Who would have thought our day would have ended with a ride in a
At the end of the day, rain was still coming steadily.  We know the big clean-up will start soon but we guess that the rains and tide will keep that at bay for the time being.  The town was alerted early enough that some store keepers had moved stock up to higher shelves or storage and people had evacuated vulnerable areas so we're grateful for that.  However, the main commercial and transportation center including the open market that feeds so many and provides what little income the vendors make appears submerged under the highest water and time will tell what the outcome will be.  This is the town hub and apparently the lowest elevation level situated between a creek and the Ba river -- a terribly vulnerable location.  We can't help but compare our situation here to the tragic flooding going on concurrently in our own home town of Corvallis, Oregon.

For now, we have little communication capability to check on the welfare of community members or to travel out to their villages. Gratefully, the people are experienced and most villages are situated on sloping hills presumably to avoid this very thing. The town is cut off by it's lowland geography from getting to other towns and we are confined to foot travel in our little area (a hill overlooking town which has been spared the flooding).  The rains have continued and are forecast to become worse so we'll wait and see. Annie and I take a walk in the mornings to gauge the level of flood waters in town and we hope that we can be of help to others as soon as the opportunity permits.  We have extra food, cooking gas, and all the "Fiji" water we need!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcoming the New Year

Our holiday remembrances wouldn't be complete without sharing with you one more event from our Christmas Conference held at the LDS Church College in Suva.  All the zones were asked to prepare an "item"(Fijian for a talent presentation).  Our leader, Elder Key (to Annie's right) is Samoan and was a patient teacher and choreographer of our Meke - a traditional island dance.  You'll notice that he also is the most natural and best dancer!
This handsome group of missionaries represent the western side of Fiji  .  They are hard working, dedicated young men plus they were good sports about us dancing the Meke with them.  It is an honor to serve with them. 
Enjoy these shots of the LDS Church College campus and our performance!  This represents a lot of sweaty practice days...

The highlight of our Christmas day was a sweet experience with an elderly Indian member, Sister Naicker.  She has been bed ridden and wheel chair bound for months from a hip/leg injury and her niece asked if we could find a walker for her to help her gain strength and walk again.  We have looked everywhere (Red Cross, the hospital, clinics, etc.) in both Ba and a nearby town and walkers just don't seem to exist.  Finally we located one and took it to her after Church.  When we brought it in, her niece wheeled Sister Naicker right up to it and helped her to stand up.  When she took hold of the handles and stood, she just bowed her head and began to weep and pray for several minutes (in Hindi).  Then she would grab our hands and kiss them and then pat our cheeks and kiss them. This went on for some time and we felt we had done so little but had been profoundly humbled by this sweet woman who only wants to get well enough to make a long trip to the Suva temple and be sealed to her husband and children who have passed away. It was a joyous moment.

Between Christmas and New Years, we enjoyed two particularly vigorous rain storms.  During the first, we went for a wonderful walk to visit the Mateiwai family (sorry for the blur):
When someone sees that you're going to walk home in
the rain, they say: "Oh, you're going to take a Fijian rain bath!
 During the second, we just enjoyed the rain bath on our own bathroom:
For three days we either went without water
or turned on the water briefly to stock up while the bathroom pipes sprayed water everywhere, filling our bathroom.
And did we mention the same thing was going on in the kitchen?  From ceiling to floor, fridge to stove we had
water spraying out from broken pipes (caused by a not so savvy "handy man").
Our son Seth and his family live in very similar circumstances in Africa and he commented the other day that there is simply no good that comes from calling a "repair man."  How true.  The first handy man hired by the land owner looked at the leaking sink and then took out his only two tools -- a screw driver and a pair of wire cutters.  He looked up and down and then started to pound away at the faucet.  After breaking the handle off he looked curiously at the sink and said, "I'll have to come back."  He never did.  The next repair man took a more vigorous approach by shaking and twisting the sink basin.  That didn't seem to fix the leak but soon after he left the pipes failed altogether and we soon had about 2 inches of water in our bathroom (which thankfully is a step down version with a drain).  Night time trips to the bathroom were a joy for the next few days -- wading through who knows what in the dark and hoping the Geckos were not taking refuge on the toilet seat!

Whether we're speaking of the rain, the plumbing, the heat and humidity, the sweat running down your forehead and back, or the occasional hot flash -- we're wet much of the time.  Our only cool reprieve is a shower but the towel fibers don't seem absorbent so you can't actually dry off anyway.  We go through the motions of drying off and "pretend" that we are accomplishing the intended purpose but to no avail. Each element gives us a daily opportunity to laugh or cry, so we mostly laugh.

On Thursday we went to teach Eloni, one of our wonderful investigators.  Before arriving we stopped in a nearby village to take a picture to Tuliana and Olivia.  As we left, Tuli asked if she could accompany us and on our way out she picked a beautiful multi-colored orchid and gave it to Annie to put behind her ear (pink, purple, white).  It was so delicate and lovely.  When we arrived at Eloni's home about 8pm, it was still very hot and as often is the case, there were many mosquitos and bugs crawling everywhere.  We taught him of the Savior's life and atonement and of His invitation to for us to be obedient to the commandments.  At one point when Annie was sharing her testimony, I looked over at this beautiful woman I am so joyed to be serving with and she had sweat running down her forehead and back, but over her ear was that beautiful orchid and combined with her testimony the whole moment seemed divine to me.

When New Years Eve came along we decided to attend a party at the Assembly of God church nearby as an expression of respect and interest we have taken in a fabulous young married man we have met and who was "on the organizing committee."  It was all in Hindi and really wasn't that fun, so we sweated our way to the street party at the town center but didn't last too long before we went home.  The blaring Indian music and aromatic heat waves coming from the crowd just didn't seem too enticing. We were feeling kind of tired and blue and were happy to retire to our air-conditioned bedroom.  We heard later that in Suva their street party ended with a surprise at midnight with 2 fire trucks spraying everyone with fire hoses as a way of sending everyone home!

Today we had church at the regular time and just before starting, our bishop arrived completely soaked from sweat.  It was a very hot day and I asked if he had walked, to which he said "yes," because it was a holiday and no transportation was running.  We didn't initially understand the ramifications of this.  No transports means that you have to walk if you're coming to church and that meant a 60-90 minute walk for most of the members (added to the fact that they were fasting).  They all came in sweaty and wilted.

I noticed that Brother Nairoqo was walking a little funny and he light heartedly showed me his flip-flop which had broken (1/4 of the back was broken off and the toe piece had pulled through the base).  They live particularly far out in the country and he had ingeniously fixed one sandal by putting a clothes pin on the underside of the toe piece to keep it from slipping out and on the way home he added some stout plant fiber to enforce the other.  We joked with him that he would be a great shoe repairman:

The most humbling part of the day though, was a testimony of a widow during a discussion on service and charity.  She commented that a couple days earlier a man in the village had taken ill.  She decided to cook some fish and taro for the family and take it over to them.  The next day, a boy from the family came asking if she had any money to help them.  Few Fijians have much money and she said she didn't really have any cash but a few dollars she was saving to go to church the next day.  However, she decided to give the money anyway and when they left this morning to come to church and no public busses were running, her son said; "I think we should just go back home."  This faithful woman replied; "No, I think it would be better for us to just walk to church."  They did and like most everyone else who showed up today, they each had come at great sacrifice and effort.

Nani (age 73) lives about 15 miles away and is always at church and on time every week.  Today we were able to take her to the central bus station in Ba where she could catch a bus home.  As we walked her to the bus, we were astounded at the step up that was up to the middle of her thigh.  She laid her purse down and hefted her leg up and nimbly boarded the bus.
After church many members were sitting out on the cement under a shaded overhang.  We asked them what they were up to and how were they going to get home?  This was about 1:30pm, and they said they would wait until the sun went down and it was not so hot so they could walk back home.  How could we ever complain about the difficulties we face? There we were, about ready to get in our air-conditioned truck and drive away and we just couldn't do it (insurance rules for church vehicles "preclude" transporting non-missionaries).  So we told them that we would be the transport today and we went back and forth to different villages with a truck-load of happy members.  We were happy too and wish all of you the same as we embark on a new year.