Monday, April 30, 2012

Following the Flood

As almost a month has passed from the most recent flood, we wanted to reflect on some of the days and events that followed.  For 3 days after the flood we could not contact one set of elders in the northern town of Rakiraki.  Three other elders from another town had made their way to Ba for "safety in numbers" but we were worried about the set in Rakiraki whom we knew were out of money, electricity and water. With no electricity, their cell phone was dead and their apartment was oozing water through the walls.  During a low-tide recession of flood waters along with a prayer and a few hours of break from the rain, we took a risk to drive north and find them if possible.

Not knowing if supplies would be available, we shopped locally amidst the throngs at the only non-flooded store and set off for the 90 minute drive with rice, sugar, oatmeal, bread, tuna fish, bananas, carrots, potatoes, eggs, and some cookies ("biscuits").  Our hope was to find them and bring them back to Ba, but just in case, we would leave the food at their apartment.

Headed north from Ba between tides & rain
This was the one "good" stretch of road.  When we asked a policeman
if we could get through to Rakiraki he said with a smile, "You can try!"
 We had nearly made it to Rakiraki when the Elder Church miraculously noticed a "white arm" of a missionary sticking out the window of a transport van.  He yelled out that he thought that may be the missionaries so we did a quick U-Turn and ran down the van.  Sure enough, it was the only transport to get out of Rakiraki and the Elders we were looking for had boarded the van hoping to get to Ba. After a welcome reunion, we returned and were able to watch the LDS General Conference broadcast with a happy group of missionaries.

May we just note that the big Fijian was actually sitting
between two pretty good sized Samoans!
You'd think this big guy couldn't move around much but we
are told that he is amazingly nimble on the rugby field
Besides being happy to be all together and safe, Annie fed these guys royally and they loved it.  Nothing could compare with fresh cinnamon rolls with freshly grated coconut -- mmmm!
In addition to watching Conference and eating, we all teamed up to wash the church chairs -- again! After squeezing through the church gate  . . .
 . . .  we waded and skated through the muck to load up chairs. Big Elder Diloi could not make it through the gate but wow could that guy load chairs into the truck! Intending to wash the chairs in our "customary location" at a river, we were surprised to find that the bridge no longer existed and the river had changed course due to a fabulous tree (which had already been partially sawn up by the locals):

"Where did this come from? It wasn't here yesterday!"

Even Elder Diloi was dwarfed by this tree.
Just how high was the flood water?  It varied, but in the critical downtown area, you can see the debris line above the heads of the missionaries . . .

A Fiji Sugar Company Office - note the beam through the window
Everyone was cleaning up and coping with the aftermath.  Here are few houses near the Church where roofs became a safe haven despite the rain.

Trying to save the desks.  Later firemen went in to help with the clean up
Colorful and ambitious. We understood this to be the home of a store keeper who was
salvaging his goods and trying to clean and dry them out. 
While the store owner above was trying to dry out his goods, we were
striking matches trying to light our stove.  Note the mold growing
on the heads - they had absorbed so much water that they
crumbled when you struck them.  But little matter since the sand-paper
striker strip on the box was soggy anyway.
Good thing we were able to get a couple candles burning with those soggy matches because we really did need to see those bloody mouse traps!  We caught four in the early days as they migrated indoors. No way to have known that initially but when Annie picked up a cardboard envelope with some teaching aids in them she was -  let's just say, "surprised" (and not happily so) - when a little fellar (or gal?) lept out.  He/she was apparently studying the 2nd lesson on the Plan of Salvation -- it didn't work as she/he was promptly dispatched to the "other world" the very next day along with a few other buddies.

Our elaborate water-filter system shows visually why we filter our water (when have it, that is).
The brown filter on the left started out as white as the one on the right.
 A couple days after the flood, when the waters had receded enough to visit the villages, the bishop and his wife, along with the Relief Society president visited homes and assessed the damage.  The next day, we received a call asking us to bring the truck and help transport groceries.  We found the bishop with an entourage of children and young adults buying $6000 (Fijian) worth of groceries in the midst of an overcrowded store. Several trips later, we had moved the load to the Relief Society president's home where we were joined by other ward members to assemble the allotments for 33 families in 15 different villages (we have since delivered several more, along with household goods such as 3" foam mattresses, plastic floor covering, blankets, pillows, etc.).  Included in the food packs were 10K of rice, sugar, and flour, 12 liter bottles of water, spices, soap, yeast, mosquito repellant rings (a must after floods), canned mackerel and corned mutton, potatoes, onions, garlic, powdered milk, oil, cocoa, breakfast biscuits, and one roll of toilet paper for good measure.  
Sister Ratu (bishop's wife), and Iva package onions for distribution
Barely a member for a year, Sister Matewai is our Relief Society
President and has now been through 2 major flood relief efforts.  She
sat on a bucket calling out to the workers which commodities and how
many to place in each allotment.
15 yr. old Lusiana Nairoqo - capable and willing
14 yr. old Peni Nairoqo - a hard worker
The bishop's son, distributing spices
"Tough" but sweet, 8 yr. old Epa Matewai and 7 yr. old Simione Nairoqo
Where Fijian men get their muscles
Propane and plastic bins of Breakfast Crackers. Hard-tack & unsalted - and not very tasty in
our opinion but they are universally eaten here.  They are filling and improve when
dipped in home made lemon-leaf tea or Milo (hot cocoa).
Mid-way in a steamy hot and long night -- that "sweat-glow" is our signature.  Along with Annie,
Saimone Nairoqo joins his kids in the distribution just days after his exhausting
and heroic trek from Suva.
Talei Matewai keeps Iferemi happy with a rain bath
while we assemble and load allotments.  That bucket of water
in the foreground became the life-line for everyone as they
collected water for every use while our city water supply was
was lost for days.
A long night of rainy deliveries didn't go so well for Tom when his
flip-flops did more "flipping" than flopping as we tromped
through the water and mud in the villages (and in the dark).
Bishop Ratu and a happy and grateful Sister Mate who was completely out of supplies.
While asking for directions to a home the next day, we met up with
this man who not only knew the location but demonstrated his creativity
by crafting a shoulder bag from a plastic-woven flour sack.
Remote and isolated but well kept by Asena and her family
Petero (13) and his mom, Asena
Remember that raging "last river crossing" Saimone made?  Here it is days after the
flood and all back to it's placid pace and narrow width.
In many ways the floods are now only a memory.  But the reality of their impact will be broadly felt for months.  In the inimitable Fijian way, we ran across this next site just one day after the mud on a road was cleared and piled along side.  All those sticks are Casava starts - one of the main staple of the daily diet. Yes, the  flood took it's toll, but it is never too early to start thinking about tomorrow!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Blessings

Sharing the Easter message with our Fijian friends causes us to feel increased gratitude for the Savior, all He endured and all He gave us.  As the beautiful hymn reflects: "Such mercy, such love and devotion, can I forget? No, no, I will praise and adore at the mercy seat until at the glorified throne I kneel at His feet. Oh, it is wonderful that He should care for me, enough to die for me.  Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me."
A newly released Bible video excerpt from the Life of Christ tells simply and movingly of the last days of Christ's life.  It ends with the glorious resurrection, which after all, is the reason we have an Easter celebration:

We're grateful that Shawna Edwards gave us permission to take this beautifully written and performed song about the miracle of Jesus's atonement with us as we visited many homes today on our Easter Sunday.
We send you our love on this Easter day and are reminded of this passage in 1 John 4:19: We love him, because he first loved us."

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

For the Love of Family

Our hero - Saimone Nairoqo, arrived Sunday night in Ba at the heigth of the flood.  He had travelled barefoot 215 kilometers from Suva in a colossal effort to get to his family in Ba under dangerous weather related conditions.  His boss said, "Saimone, don't go."  His wife said, "Saimone, it's not safe, you can't make it through the floods." Saimone said: "God will help me."  When we later asked him how in the world he thought he was going to make it when all the advisories said it couldn't be done, he said: "I could see it in my mind how I would make it."
Saimone has been away for the past month working at a good paying job to save money for his family needs -- the most important of which was to take them to the temple to be sealed on April 28th.  He had not planned to be home this weekend but with the floods, he was worried about his family and did not want them to be alone.

He awoke at 5am and had a prayer about the route he should take.  There are only two ways around the island and both had very bad flooding.  Our phone rang at 7am  with a determined Saimone on the other end, "I'm coming home." We couldn't believe it since the "coconut" news was reporting flooded highways, washed out bridges, and landslides.  All day we were anxious for his well being.  At one point we called and he sounded a little weary.  "Siamone, are you okay?"  "Yes, but I am wading the streets in Nadi trying to find a way through to get to the other side because it is too deep to go the rest of the way." Nadi is a major international airport town about 70km from Ba. At our next communication, he was on another transport and now closer and would call us once he was nearing Ba.  About dinner time he phoned and had just waded through Ba downtown and was headed our way.  What a sweet sight to see this faithful father and husband safely here!  We expected just Siamone, but as you can see he had hauled 20 pounds of scriptures, church manuals, and a hymnal in his brief case.  His backpack had started with about 15 pounds of dry clothes and arrived with 25 pounds of soggy belongings.  Dripping wet from his 11 hours of trekking, swimming, wading and riding, we offered him a "shower" (we're back to 3 cup bucket baths), some dry clothes and a hot dinner.

Between bites we asked more about his incredible journey.  He told us of washed out bridges, landslides, fallen trees over the road, and badly damaged villages.  He described wading and swimming through streets that had become rivers.  At one point, a police boat took pity and ferried him to the other side of town where he could catch another transport.  Each leg of the journey had unforeseen challenges of similar nature and somehow through it all, he kept his scriptures and church books dry.  We had all been fasting that day for his safety and as we ate and listened to saga of his journey, we were grateful that this dedicated husband and father had made such a great distance and against such odds.

As it was getting dark and he had yet miles to go before he would be home, we ferried him to the last river crossing.
The Crossing (picture taken the day before)
Taking only his phone in a zip lock bag and changing back into his wet clothes, he offered a prayer and dove into the rushing waters.  If only it hadn't been so dark we would have loved to capture the sight. This courageous and determined man knew he had to make it through the river's fierce current to the island before he could then cross to the other side. We kept the truck lights shining so we could make sure he had crossed over successfully. Once he had safely made it across, he briefly bent down in the cane field and we wondered if he was just resting or offering another prayer of gratitude -- or, perhaps both?  He then triumphantly raised his arms in the air and set off into the dark for the final leg of his trip.  About an hour later our text was answered with a short, "I'm home!"

At one point during the evening Annie had said to him; "Saimone, you're the man!" In his always humble way, he shook his head and pointed towards heaven.  We have endless admiration for this wonderful young man and his family.  They are all an example of commitment to family, faith, and self-reliance.
An earlier picture of the Nairoqo family with cousin Emily (pink blouse)