Thursday, March 29, 2012

Deeper Than Before ~ And Still Rising

Who needs an oven when the cab of your truck is 121 degrees?  Well, maybe hotter but the thermometer quit working at that temperature two days ago so you can imagine how relieved we were yesterday for a cool breeze and overcast skies.  Normally we would have been wading through water getting to the family's home where we were going to teach last night but instead we were only dodging the horse manure and mud holes using a "torch" (flashlight) to light our way and avoid stepping on toads.  During our lesson the wind began whipping up and blowing through the home while an outside tarp flapped like a sail.  The father commented that a tropical depression was on its way.  Being removed from local news sources, that was new news to us.  In fact, all news is new to us!

It was lovely to go to bed with the windows open and the breeze wafting through.  Dare we admit that we actually felt cool?  Somewhere in the night we became aware of the constant pounding rain and wind howling and we woke up to soaked curtains, water on the floor and no electricity in the "power points" (Fijian for outlets).  Anticipating our appointment this morning with Tuliana and Olivia, we turned on our phone to touch base and found this message from Tuli: "Bula! Wel hope u 2 r fine, me a little bit cause my house is full of water its almost touching the roof.  just getin things out of the house so i dont think il mak it today.  have a nice day."  By the time we got her on the phone, we found that she was sitting on a table -- on the roof we think -- watching the flood waters rise.  She said the water just came up all of a sudden during the night and her whole village was flooded.

How we wish we could get out to the villages to help but again we find ourselves isolated on the hill where we live - safe but feeling somewhat useless.  How bad could the flooding be after less than a day of sustained rain?  No way to know without driving to each of the view points so we picked up the young missionaries who live nearby just to check things out.  What a shock.  The flood waters were already much higher than their highest point in January and the forecast has another 15" of rain predicted over the coming days.

We're so sad for all the families, homes, market vendors, and stores who are still reeling from the previous flood and its long term impact. "Slack time" is the term being used to describe the post flood period where market vendors/merchants are back up and running but the people have little work and even less money so everything is depressed.  How can they do this again?  The bigger stores have just recently been opened and they have the benefit of insurance but the family shops absorb all the loss.  The most affected are the market vendors who barely subsist on a few sales per day of food they harvest at home or buy from middlemen.

So it was with sad hearts that we drove around taking the following pictures comparing January's flood to today -- and who knows how much worse it will get.  We are cut off by the river from getting to our chapel which we were scheduled to return to just next week.  We tried to encourage the Church to purchase a new location safe from the floods but they had determined to repair the existing one and the work was nearly finished.  How sad for everyone here on top of their more important personal losses.
January 25, 2012
March 30, 2012
January 25, 2012
March 30, 2012 at Rajendra Foodtown, the one big market that stayed open
all during the previous flood but closed today.  That leaves only one small neighborhood
market available for supplies on our side of town. 
January 25, 2012
March 30, 2012
January 2012 - normally this road leads across a little bridge connecting a distant small
village to the main town.  We have several members who live out this direction.

March 30, 2012
 The forecast is not optimistic (, and the cyclone season normally runs through April but these dear people need a reprieve.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Tale of Tuliana

. . . and we thought we were shopping for a stove/oven.  Blaring Indian music almost kept us from walking into an appliance store that first day in Ba back in mid-October.  We were determined to find an electric unit which apparently does not exist in Fiji.  Had we not been warmly greeted by a great Fijian smile with an offer to assist us in the search, we might have given up.  But there was Tuliana, a 19-year old sales assistant who, though new to her job, brought her natural gregarious personality to help us adjust our "American" expectations to a Fijian reality -- "there are no electric cookers!"
Tuliana Lewaseni
As we were signing papers and making arrangements to have it delivered to our flat, we realized we would need help obtaining a gas line and getting it all hooked up.  Tuli offered, "Don't people in your church help each other with things like that?"  Hmmm, I guess they just might do that  IF we knew any of them here in Ba. She went on to say she had some relatives who were members of the LDS church and that she had visited church before.  Being very new to this ourselves, we sprung into action, " Tuliana, would you be willing to let us share a message about our church?"  "Sure", she responded.  What?  Really?  Did we understand you correctly?  And then we added an invitation to attend church the next Sunday as well.  Too simple, too perfect, too easy, buy a gas cooker and meet our first investigator who has now become a dear friend.

People frequently move around and live with other family members here and it's no big deal for either party. This was the case for Tuliana, she was living with her sister, Olivia and family.  Directions to her home meant nothing to us at this point in time since Ba was a completely new location for us.  We carefully followed the landmarks: bus stop, two little stores, tall coconut trees and very steep rocky road.  There we found Tuliana waiting and her married sister had prepared an amazing assortment of treats to welcome us with.  Such gracious hospitality.
Olivia & her children with Aunti Tuliana at our first meeting
Thinking Tuli was the only one interested we shared our message with her and then scheduled a return appointment.  She wanted to walk us back to our car and on the way we inquired if her sister might be interested in learning as well.  Tuliana responded, "Actually, she does want to learn, she just didn't know if she was invited!" Later we learned that Olivia just "felt something special" when we were there and was drawn to it.

And so began our weekly teaching appointments with two sisters we've grown to love, and they have grown to love the gospel.  Along the way we've had setbacks in scheduled meetings with unexpected work conflicts, injuries, flood, missed rendevouz locations, holidays, etc.  However, each meeting has brought heart to heart sharing of mind and soul and there's never a shortage of jokes and laughter.  On the day we taught them the "Word of Wisdom" (health code advising against the use of alcohol, tea, coffee, drugs, etc.), we asked Tuli if giving these things up would be difficult.  "No," she replied, and then received a big scowl and small punch in the side from Olivia who protested that they all would be hard!  For the most part though, they have loved the teachings we've shared.  After we had taught them about the "Plan of Happiness" (where we came from, why we are on the earth, and what happens after death), we asked how they felt about these truths.  Tuli answered: "We have never heard these things before -- but we like them." In fact, she came to like them so well that many weeks we'd find that Tuli had invited a friend or two to join us for the lessons.

Not long after going to Fall #7, Tuli expressed her desire to be baptized on her 20th birthday (March 6th), and become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Olivia felt similarly but her Muslim husband is not supportive of the idea.  She shared that she has fasted and prayed for his change of heart but as yet things remain the same. They have been partners through this spiritual journey and Olivia was right by her side on this special day for Tuli.
On the morning of her baptism, Annie sent a text message wishing her a happy birthday and asked how she was doing.  Tuli texted back: "Wel, wat greater gift cn  be than babtised on yor birthday anywayz its a wonderful morning. i like the weather i told Oli i wish it rains ths morning n it did.  we just see the rainbow, am so happy" (guess text talk has made it to Fiji!).
Baptismal day on the banks of Namosau Creek

Off to the "changing room"
What a great day for all of us!  Tuli is an endless reservoir of wit, humor, and joy and we have loved our relationship with her.  We were looking forward to the next Sunday worship service when she would be confirmed a member of the Church and receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost but just before then she called to explain that she wouldn't be coming until the following Sunday.  Concerned, we asked what the problem was.  She shared that unbeknownst to us she had been serving as the "youth captain" (sort of a youth minister), and treasurer of her Methodist congregation and she agreed with her parents that she should attend the Methodist Church that Sunday to formally resign her position and explain why she was leaving.  We hadn't known that her new-found faith would come at such a cost but we had complete confidence in her and she shared that the meeting went well and she was now prepared to move forward.  Last Sunday she was confirmed and was called (appointed) to be a Sunday School teacher of the 12-18 year-old youth.  This Sunday she has been asked to speak in church.  She'll do great and we're sure the kids will come to treasure her as we have.

Guess we weren't really shopping for a stove that day after all.  We were on the Lord's errand and He was in charge -- a fact for which we have become profoundly grateful.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ascending Fall #7

Fiji: White sandy beaches, azure blue waters, with soft ukelele music playing as you swing in a hammock . . . Oh wait, we're in Ba and haven't seen that Fiji yet, but we did have the wonderful fortune of spending the day with some great people exploring a natural beauty in the interior mountains overlooking Ba.
Our trusty Toyota truck was recently named "Vosota" by Fijian friends.  It means "patience" and how we put her to the test on our way up the winding, rocky, pot-holed, and deep muddy roads to Fall #7.  Have we mentioned it rains in Fiji??  Each downpour has a marvelous accumulated affect on the roads.
Looks beautiful but this road through the cane field was just the beginning
of testing Tom's 4-wheeling agility.
At several points, worried about the welfare of Vosota as well as ourselves, we would yell back to Lalesh (owner of the land & falls who was riding in the bed of the truck): "Do you think we can make it?"  His reassuring response: "Don't worry, I have bullocks that can pull us out!"  Great, no worries (saga na laga - in Fijian).

Prizes go to those of you who can figure out why this fall is named, "#7"
After arriving at Lalesh's mountain farm home (a deceptively quaint title), we caught the horse, grabbed a large cane knife, and headed to the river flowing down the mountain from the falls.  Lalesh continually reassured us, "hiking up the river is probably safer than bush whacking through the jungle."  Thanks Lalesh.  Later we learned that Lalesh was worried about our ability to make the climb "due to our age" (most people in Fiji die before age 60).  Tuliana, our friend who arranged the trip, assured him we were "fit."

Tuliana's constant cheery playfulness made everything fun

Tuli's friend, Mere, was a wonderful addition.  Along the way she kindly (but unnecessarily)
 worried about Annie's climbing safety.  On particularly steep slopes she would give a little
bum boost to "steady the aged grandmother." Such sensitivity!
When our movie camera quit working (water, battery, or . . .?),
Mere's faithful assurance was; "Don't worry, I had a prayer and Heavenly
Father will bless it."  And by the time we returned home, it was working.
Our first full-view of the falls
Our faithful and fearless guide, Lalesh
Tuliana was first into the falls
Tuliana's father, Tuvusa, joined in the fun

More about Tuli in our next blog . . . 

Ginger "on the hoof". We also dug fresh curry root.

All cleaned up and ready to enjoy. Soon gingerbread aroma was wafting through our
apartment and for just a minute we thought we were back home.

We hated to leave #7 but the weather was changing and Lalesh
got uncharacteristically concerned about our welfare.  Soon, we were dodging
lighting bolts and raindrops as we munched on fresh sugar cane stalks. 
Before coming off the mountain, we helped Lalesh retrieve a "hand"of bananas which had been
ripening in a little hut.  Pretty handy to be able to grow and harvest your own bananas to
be sold at the family store.  We also stopped by a bread fruit tree where Lalesh and Tuvusu
handily used a bamboo pole to harvest several ripe ones.  
A great adventure, special friends,
and a fresh perspective on our side of the island.