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!


Matt said...

Wow...its just incredible all the damage that the water did. I'm sure the people are so grateful for your efforts in food distribution! Lastly, how big is that guy...he is massive!

emily a. said...

One thing is for certain, you'll never have reason to think you weren't needed every day of your time in Fiji.

Leah said...

1. That Fijian elder is HUGE!!
2. The cinnamon rolls look amazing.
3. Now I see why you don't want to be called moldy (matches).
4. Nasty water filters!
5. Such an inspiring thing to see your ward community coming together to help others in need.
6. Mom, let me know if you want some Felsnaptha for dad's shirt.
7. So gross about the mice. I'm not a fan.
8. We love and miss you.

Ditto Family said...

I feel such a connection to these people!! So fun to see pictures and have such a warm feeling for each of them. I still wish I had had a chance to meet the Bishop.

Jade said...

Wow, those cinnamon rolls do look good. I swear, yummy food (especially if it's from home) is one of the quickest ways to make missionaries happy. I bet they were on cloud nine, listening to conference with you.

We love reading about all of your adventures and especially the stories about the faithful people in Fiji.

Running Rinnes said...

Is there anything more amazing than seeing the Gospel in action? Hard work, but the rewards can really be seen in the faces of the people you've photographed. BTW, could you have guessed that this is what you'd be doing when you put in your papers for a mission?