Monday, October 1, 2012

A New Home in Taveuni

It was an overnight boat ride on a ferry from Suva to Vanua Levu island, or a short hop on this cute little 17 passenger plane -- we'd take the plane anytime, although it meant scaling our luggage down to the 15kg allowed.  During our time in South Africa, other belongings had been ferried up to Taveuni and the missionaries had kindly placed them in our new home.  The flight was a beautiful panorama over the aqua sea, past little islands and reef barriers to Savusavu, where we joined about 20 other missionaries for a 2-day conference before going to our new assignment on the neighboring island of Taveuni.

Looking out at the beautiful harbor at Savusavu, we could tell we were going to adjust just fine to our new home if it looked anything like this.  It didn't hurt that we enjoyed a delicious meal at a little restaurant with the mission president, his wife, and two other stalwart senior mission couples on that island (one of the men served as a young missionary in Fiji 50 years ago).
The Sofie?
Owing to our proclivity towards sea sickness, we ate no breakfast on the day of our departure and obediently arrived at the dock at 6am in our new truck to board the much maligned "Stinky Sofie" ferry for the 5-hour ride to Taveuni (the missionaries had warned us to arrive on time).  But the Sofie was on Fiji time and didn't arrive until about 8:30am.  All the bad rap and just look at that ship above, how did she deserve her reputation?  Problem was, that cruise ship never came to dock but some of the tourists held their noses high as the real Sofie pulled into view.

A bit tattered and rusty, but how do you like those tarp covered
"first class" passenger decks on top?
All the baggage being "carefully" loaded, as well as cars and flatbed trucks hauling
every imaginable commodity from Viti Levu to the outer islands
Cheeping chicks on their first and last boat ride
Enjoying the opulent accommodations with purse as a pillow
(right next to the life boat which had rusted solidly to the side of the ship)
Prepared for the worst and delighted all went well! 
Taveuni coming into view.  Rain clouds almost always cover the central mountainous
spine of the 26 mile long and 7 mile wide island.
Unlike many other islands where the Methodist Church is dominant, Taveuni has a very large Catholic population with a large educational and religious compound.
Taveuni is a beautiful island, with little development, few stores, one branch bank, one post office, and one road that circumvents about 2/3 of the island along the coast with little branch roads and trails peeling off to the villages and farmlands.  Most people farm Dalo (Taro root), and vegetables in the hills along the edge of the ocean.  The interior is highly mountainous with lots of rain which bleeds down to the coast in varying amounts.  Beautiful flowers, colorful parrots, and coconut plantations greet you everywhere and the only downside of "paradise" is it is also paradise for bugs and creepy crawly things of every sort.
We live in the Taveuni Estates, Soqulu Village
Vale nei Katherine is our lovely home - much nicer than we need but very few options here.  From the deck, we gaze out over the Somosomo Strait towards the island of Vanua Levu and the yard has, among other lovely tropical plants, lots of coconut, banana, papaya, mango, and breadfruit trees.

Hand woven palm fron panels line all the ceilings.  We don't like to dwell on just
what "Fijian friends" might also be living up there.

Your bedroom when you come to visit (we'll be sure to have the ironing done before you come)
Our lovely bedroom opening out to the deck.  How nice to have the shutters open,
with the sea breeze and ocean surf always present.
Pretty nice place for Pilates each morning . . .
. . . and sewing!
Beautiful views from the deck beyond the banana and coconut trees
Looking across the Somosomo Strait at the northern end of Vanua Levu Island
"Katherine" gets most of her energy needs from solar panels but not enough to power much more than lights and our occasional wash (though we have a small gas powered generator if needed).  Ever seen a propane powered refrigerator?  As strange as it seems to see a flame at the bottom of your fridge it still somehow creates cold air (well, not real cold).  But that's OK since we're fairly isolated from the two stores that exist which carry very little food anyway, so the fridge is never overloaded.

We're a little jumpy about rain after our two floods in Ba, so when it rained heavily during one of our first nights we just enjoyed the assurance that it doesn't flood in Taveuni.  However, in the morning we awoke to a thunderous sound that seemed like an angry ocean surf right next door.  About a block away we found this sight . . .
Looking downstream
Looking upstream
Only a few hours later at this same lava flow run-off location after the volcanic mountains had shed their excess, and all was calm with hardly any evidence there had been a storm.

Our home is on the western coast about right in the middle of the island and no matter where we're headed, it's always on the coastal road -- since there is no other.  While there are a few kilometers of appreciated pavement, most of the road is rough -- bone rattling rough.  Keeping your eyes on the road is needed but a challenge because of the beautiful views.

At the right tide level, there are always people out net fishing . . .
. . . and little girls following their example by net fishing in the rivers & streams
Beautiful land and sights everywhere can take your breath away, but as always, the people capture your heart.
Learning early from a good dad on harvesting coconuts for the family
Another attentive father returning to the farm after a visit with granny
Plants obscure the little girl to whom Annie is giving a mint to -- instant friends!
 Among the 4 LDS church congregations on the island is a little "start-up group" in a "start-up chapel" in Vuna, the southwestern tip of the island.
The outhouse is awaits water hook-up.  That sounds more sophisticated than it really
will be as the water will flush from the toilet to a pit behind.
 Just beyond the outhouse is the chapel and when they break for classes, the children stay on a mat, the youth go to the house behind the chapel, the ladies meet under a tree just to the left of the chapel, and the men are invited to "meet under the breadfruit tree" (no mention of the class for dogs, hence the lost look).
The kids were invited to sit on the mat so adults would have a chair 
 The chapel works great for dry days but unfortunately the wind blown rain from the mountains can make wet days unpleasant, particularly if you're seated on the mountain side of the structure.  Tarps are promised, but "on Fiji time".
Primary (children's class) was just finishing when we snapped this photo
In preparation for the upcoming Primary Program, Sister Jale timidly asked if we could obtain "one foolscap" for them.  It took some deciphering before we understood that she was asking for a piece of paper ("foolscap" is the old English, 1800's referent for paper).  She hoped to have something on which the children could write their feelings about the gospel to be shared in the program.  It melted our hearts (again) to realize how few resources these wonderful people have or expect.  We've since put together a box of supplies for the children to use in each of the churches here: some paper, scissors, glue, crayons, and home-made play dough.

Missing some of the personal connection we had with friends in Ba, we are particularly grateful to have opportunity to share the gospel with Ela (21) and 17-yr. old Ana.
Beautiful sisters
Meet Taam (pronounced Tom), a baby fruit bat that had fallen from the nest and couldn't yet fly, but he surely could hold on tight with his toes.   He was rescued by this same family we were meeting with and had become a house pet. Not so creepy when up close and personal and on your own terms and did you know bats like their ears scratched? When the phone rang, he immediately started squeaking and wouldn't stop until the phone was quiet again.  Wish we spoke "batinese" so we would know if the sound hurt his ears or if he was just joining in the chorus.  If Taam meets his full potential he'll grow very large but right now he's about 10" long with a wing span of 12" or so.
Tiny Taam
There's no "instruction book" for us to follow in our work so we move along discovering how to best help the Church and members in this area. In addition to teaching and mentoring leaders, we've spent much time helping to organize and sort through stacks of outdated church resource materials.  Lucky our backs are strong because the Fijians have no "throw away" ethic.

When we heard "Meke" at our favorite "one stop shopping center", our ears perked up and we got the details of a pending celebration of the 149th anniversary of Catholic missionaries landing on Taveuni.  The celebration actually focused on whole villages presenting themselves to the priest along with their annual $5/christened person levy for the year (this year they hoped to buy a new van with the money).  Has there ever been such a happy people all joining together to pay their religious contribution?

Among the hundreds gathered, we found this native costumed group awaiting their turn to perform.  Coconut oil shined on their rich brown skin, ash marked their cheeks and dried fern wreathed their arms.  Traditions of so many kinds unite this culture.

Cuteness comes in all colors!
Ice cream cones seem to be in many hands as we drive through town.  Wondering why, it dawned on us that since there are no public utilities on the island, a scoop from the generator-powered freezer at the store would be the only source of such a delightful treat for all ages.
 After finishing their treats, perhaps they'll make a visit to the country club?
Charming and warm, Marika Lesuma is the presiding Church officer on the islands of Taveuni and Vanua Levu.  He seemed apologetic when inviting us over for dinner as we would "only have fish and vegetables."  The Lesuma family was seated in a circle on a mat when we arrived, waiting for us to come with a Family Home Evening lesson.  Focusing on the "plan of salvation" (where we came from, why God created us and sent us to earth, and what happens after we die) with this loving family, we shared Because They Love Us, a book Tom wrote for the grand children last year.  The book includes pictures of our family and grandchildren and they loved seeing them and hearing  about each family.  President Lesuma then asked 3 of the children to share their testimonies, and then each person shared any concerns they had on their mind or help they felt was needed which the whole family could be prayerful about -- so loving and uniting!

Fijians take special pride in sharing meals with others and we had no idea that his wife, Aqela, was a professional chef.  The meal was absolutely delicious and they insisted we sit at a table and eat with utensils - something we rarely do in Fijian homes where the norm is floor sitting and eating with your fingers.
Two kinds of delicious fish cooked in batter with onions and covered with a coconut cream sauce served over a bed of water cress.  Yummy yellow Dalo (lots of varieties of Taro on the island), steamed pumpkin, and sautéed cabbage with tomatoes and onions.  Fabulous feast!

Lesuma family with two house guests.  We found it's a rare meal with only their
family - they regularly invite others over.
For an activity after dinner we had checked at every store on the island for dice to play a game with.  As none were to be found, stones, styrofoam, and wood were all experimented with -- necessity is the mother of creativity, and they worked just fine!

A few days later, we joined President Lesuma and another senior couple to tend to some Church business on Rabi island, about an hour away by motor boat.  We left sea sickness worries in the boat wake and absolutely loved the opportunity to skim across the sea, visit another island, and meet with some dedicated church leaders.
Joined by 10 year old Joe Lesuma who earned this trip after
doing exceptionally well on a math exam
Elder Muir and his wife returned to Fiji 50 years after serving his first mission
On their peaceful way after a day of fishing
A true dugout outrigger --
on land
and on sea

Heading for shore
Welcoming committee
Court was in session
Main road and only road
LDS church in Rabi-spacious and adequate for now
Lovely laundry and most always hand washed
On the way home we enjoyed a delicious meal provided by members --
fried fish, dalo, and breadfruit all cooked over an open fire with a wonderful smoky flavor
Flying on the high seas
Departing in time to make it back before low tide, we skimmed along until the captain cited a school of giant manta rays swimming just beneath the surface over the reef with their mouths wide open.  A storm was coming and it was perfect hunting conditions for them.  We had hoped to see some of the famous "spinner dolphins" as well but no luck on this trip.  It was a unique and amazing day -- how could we ever have imagined such richness of experience? That night we joined the Muirs at the resort they were staying at for dinner and watched the evening show:

A beautifully decorated post at the Garden Island Resort
Did you know that the 180 degree "dateline" meridian runs through the middle of Taveuni?  Were it not for some benevolent soul who orchestrated a "fudging of the line", our island would literally exist in both today and yesterday simultaneously.
Holding hands "across time"
A few flowers and the almost daily sunsets to wish you well on your journey -- we send our love to each of you:

Beautiful and fragrant plumeria are everywhere - white, pink, cranberry, and apricot colored
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handiwork." Psalms 19:1


emily a. said...

Oh my goodness, I'm so in love with the beauty of your island. It looks so amazing. It's so nice having a peak into your home and life after a month or so of wondering.

Loved your post. You both look fantastic too.

Ditto Family said...

I agree with Emi -- we've been so anxious to see where you are at especially since we have not really even been able to talk to you for a month. You sure know how to tempt me : ) I'm dying to see the apricot and cranberry colored fringipani. Mom, love your outfits. I don't recognize several of your skirts and shirts...and I LOVE them. Dad, I love the picture of you flying at the boat's helm. Can't wait to hear more about your adventures!

Leah said...

Thanks for likely sitting in a hot car for hours to get this post up!

Mom-your calves are massive as usual in the sewing pictures. Such a thoroughbred.

The house is beautiful as are the island views.

Dad-you are getting quite good with your videos. Love the added sound effects!

The bat-so disturbing/awesome that it's name is "Tom".

Love you guys!

Robyn said...

Aren't you so glad you're not in a little cottage in Ireland? :) It would be so dull. Seriously! This is much, much better. What a grand, enlightening, rich adventure!

The Fijians are so blessed to have you. Thank you for setting such a good example for all of us.

Matt said...

How incredible!!! Once again, I'm amazed and humbled at your service and dedication!

Robyn said...

p.s - those sunsets are perhaps the most STUNNING sunsets EVER.

MamaBear said...

I lived the pictures and story. It is so beautiful. The people seem in love with life...I find it inspiring!

MamaBear said...

I lived the pictures and story. It is so beautiful. The people seem in love with life...I find it inspiring!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for such detail in the description of your new life there - and the pictures are amazing! I'm sure you miss Ba, but what an upgrade in scenery!
Jared Clavin

Vicki Rinne said...

Although I'm late in leaving this comment, I can't resist agreeing with the others--the pictures, the scenery, the people, all of it wonderful. The bat does not worry me, but that raging water, well that looked scary. Thanks so much for sharing!!

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