Monday, March 18, 2013

Along the Way

The uniqueness of life on Taveuni never seems to become commonplace to us so we keep camera in hand everywhere we go.  We don't feel like tourists but perhaps appear that way to our Fijian neighbors when we pause to snap a shot.

We recently took "the big boat" across the Somosomo Straits to Vanua Levu Island for a missionary conference:
We weren't the only ones on the boat, but gratefully we didn't travel tethered to a post!
Now that requires patience!
The deck on the "Stinky Sofi" smelled better than the gathering room so we stayed
out there most of the 5 hours playing Skip Bo ~ a fun game!
Apparently the young missionaries didn't get the word that we could travel in P-Day clothes,
or did we just make that up?
On another boat were our friends, the Batarua family who were headed to Suva to secure visa papers
for daughter, Lusi who just received her mission call to Ghana and was so excited!
Who needs the ferry when you've got bamboo!
Each day we see men and boys coming back from the hills where their farmland is located.  Always with a big cane knife (often the only tool they really own), they return carrying something for dinner when they arrive home.
Amazing how many coconuts this guy had ingeniously
threaded onto a stick for easier transport
Visiting the farms is so interesting.  The Ranama family are wonderful church leaders in Somosomo and work hard to grow dalo, cabbage, cucumber, tomatoes and other vegetables to sell at the local resorts.  Their farm is impeccably cared for and the little house is sufficient.  The farm produces enough to meet their needs and help pay for 3 of their kids who have, or are serving missions.

A creative "cucumber house"
Beautiful Cacao (= chocolate)
Our dear friend, Timoce was returning back from the farm when we passed him on the road.  We are constantly amazed at their ingenuity for carrying things. Here, he had woven a palm frawn basket to carry bananas wrapped in dalo leaves, and you just have to bring home some coconuts!  Son, Jone had more leaves, a mainstay for "green food" in their diets.  When cooked properly, the leaves are fairly tasty.  Not fully cooked, they cause an intense itching choke in your throat so we always hope the mother is not in a hurry when we come for dinner!
While the men were off working at the farm, Losana was in labor at the hospital and by the time they arrived she had already given birth.  On the day of our visit, we asked the baby's name.  Timoce indicated that his wife had chosen the first name of Saula.  He then motioned to Tom and asked; "What your name?"  "Tomasi", he replied.  "Then that will be his name, Saula Tomasi" -- pretty cool to have a namesake on Taveuni!  Annie already had a little girl named after her in Ba so now we are both represented in Fiji.
No matter where you live, clothes washing is a universal need so while the men are at the farm, women are often seen in the rivers brushing, scrubbing, and slapping the clothes on rocks or with sticks.  Water is always warm and pleasant so it's a great social time.

Trying to reach new heights in Vuna
This is the most lovely LDS chapel on Taveuni where the Somosomo Branch meets.  Because of it's size and central location in the village, it is a gathering spot for many happenings in the community and a place we have spent much time.
On this Saturday morning Annie met with the young women to teach them how to weave bracelets.  It was a simple craft and yet it worked with what supplies we have to work with here.  The next day at church their leaders told us they couldn't stop -- it's kind of like a disease once you get started.
On any given Sunday one never knows where you might be needed.  No Primary leaders came this week but just in case that should happen, we had prepared something.  The kids are starved for anything we might offer them and loved a few activities that went along with the teachings that day.  By the time Sacrament Meeting came along we had several new friends joining us on the pew.
Beautiful children that warm our hearts
Gathered together in celebration of the 171st birthday of the Relief Society (oldest women's organization) the women and young women
joined for the commemoration. 

We were honored that an aspiring chef/baker would volunteer his time to make this
special cake that served 32 appreciative partakers (including some wandering Primary children)
"What is this?", you might ask.  A pomelo of ginormous proportions.  Finally, the promised "grapefruit" of Taveuni was found!   

  With no small amount of effort, we worked our way through the burly peel,
and were rewarded with its citrus yumminess.  Paired with fresh avocado, the two make quite a duo.
In the absence of robins and sparrows, our papaya trees feed the local parrot population as well as the giant fruit bats.  Color is their forte, not their unpleasant squawking, but we wish you could see their iridescent blue wings as they dip and dive around the yard.

Beauty comes in so many different forms, from nature to the people who work, live, and play here.  Most any afternoon when we pass by the beautiful Catholic compound we see youth of all ages engaged in sports.  Never hearing what might be said, we are still struck by the symbol of unity in their circle.   

We feel the same way about our circle of friends in Taveuni.  Included among them are Sam and Ana from the nearby village of Soqulu.  Our first meeting was around the breadfruit tree as they visited and wondered if we had enough to share.  Over time we became friends and were especially humbled one day to find Ana on our deck when we returned home.  Seeing our clothes hung on the line, she feared someone might take them so she had spent the afternoon sleeping and waiting on the deck to protect them until our return.
Radiant Ana and husband Sam have known great sorrow when their oldest daughter at age 3 died from a boil on her foot.  Health care is so minimal on the island.  Sharing the Plan of Salvation with them was particularly meaningful.  On this night, little 2 year-old Lui, sat on the floor with his plate of casava and cup of water until full, then neatly put things away and crawled into daddy's lap for bed time.
Ana loved the skirt Annie gave her
Vuna members gathered in the "Relief Society" room (young Pai loved his guava so
much that he didn't want to give it up, even for the photograph)
Eight of the members pictured above have all been baptized since we arrived.  It's a joyful day every time we gather by the sea for another ceremony.  Sister Loma has been a long time member of the Church but her husband had been a Pentecostal minister and the kids followed his lead.  Blessings and divine timing finally came together recently as his heart changed and he was thrilled with the message of the restored gospel of Christ on the earth.
After a long wait and overcoming many challenges, Muri and Mele were also finally baptized.  Muri is an expert spear-fisherman and often provides the fish for branch celebrations.  We love it cooked in coconut milk (lolo)!

Dear friend, Ela
Along the way we've loved the sights of Fiji. Our minds have been captured by them and our time together with friends will forever be etched in our souls.  What a blessing.
"And all things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth . . . and also all the planets
which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Life on Taveuni

Welcome to our world -- off to teach a lesson
For the last 6 months, our life has been pretty much defined by the sea on one side and villages on the other side of the single road that runs north to south over about half of this 26x7 mile island.  Most of the eastern half of the island where all the water falls run into the sea, is not people-friendly with extremely dense vegetation, sharp drop offs into the ocean, and therefore no roads.

Up and down, up and down, always jostling and bouncing in our seats, we travel this road each day in one direction or another to the four main church centers in Qeleni, Matei, Somosomo, and Vuna, and to many villages in between.  Along the way we've captured some sights and memories that typify life on Taveuni.

The Kids
Smiles, always the smiles.  They seem to love life, love each other, and love social life and play time. They constantly hang out on the road, sitting and laughing together.  It always appears to us that they were on there way somewhere and just decided to sit down and laugh awhile.
Fijians have their own version of "bad hair" days -- but don't seem to care
In families and villages there's a fluidity in child care, everyone seems to take care of each other whether in or out of the nuclear family.  The "olders" are often caring for the "youngers".
Rosana patiently practicing the art of plaiting
Brothers back from bathing in the river -- how fun!
Jyoti ~ an exceptionally bright young woman who wanted to learn about the Church.
We appreciate her sincerity and inquiring mind that always has questions about
life and religion which seem well beyond her years.
Erik Watakini's kindergarten ("kindy") graduation.  His Mom,
Atelini, lovingly made the whole outfit.  We went to the ceremony
and kids were treated as though they'd all graduated from Harvard!
The smiles from graduation were short lived as Erik also "graduated" to circumcision age.  The dreaded but free "circumcision-mobile" visits annually at this time.  We shouldn't laugh but how can you not when large numbers of boys are walking around during the school break with a sulu tied up just as you see below.  They all have their sulus constantly pulled out in front, hmm - to avoid the rub?  In the camaraderie of misery they trapse up and down in the village and on the road headed for the ocean for their daily prescribed sea bath.
Creativity in so many ways.  Young Aisea had made himself a home and was just stirring up a batch of "curry"in a discarded chip bag when we passed by.
The Culinary Milieu
Speaking of curry, welcome to our local fast food dining option where menu decisions are easy.  It is either chicken curry with bones or chili chicken with bones.  We noticed it wasn't listed in the Frommer's guide to Taveuni but then maybe they missed this hometown spot.  When you're seated inside it is difficult to know if you are sweating from the heat in the food or the heat in this little metal trailer, either way the one fan is a special addition.
There's room for four, want to join us?
Guess who got the coveted seat? 
"Camping" is often in our thoughts when we think of describing how many of the local Fijians live day to day.  The Koy family invited us and about 15 others to their home to celebrate the 21st birthday of a much loved elder here.  Can you imagine preparing meals year after year under these circumstances yet they think nothing of it?
Sister Koy was pleased to demonstrate the art of making her delicious roti.  Each one in the
huge stack was beautifully crafted and cooked on the green kerosene stove.
Elder Mabunga was honored on his 21st birthday with a beautiful
home made lei and a chocolate cake made in his honor
A wonderful meal and a wonderful family who has gone out of their way
to love the missionaries.
Although no photo to document, we have vivid memories of enjoying post dinner conversation when a bird, a small plane? - no it was just a humungous cockroach flew into Annie's face. Hitting her forehead first and then somehow it's foot struck her eye, giving it a nasty scratch.  Struggling to recover, she heard the mother say of the intruding king of ugliness; "Oh, it's because the rainy season is coming."  Poor little cockroach, can't stand a little rain? Well, perhaps so and we noticed a lot of his "friends" who had already settled in for the night and they seemed to be welcomed guests.

Chocolate cake seems to be everyone's favorite no matter where you live so recently we have spent several Saturday afternoons with young women who wanted to learn how to bake them.  In contrast to Americans who stand and use counter tops, the Fijians generally prefer the floor, presumably that would be because they have no cabinets in their kitchens.  This group baked in partners and each went home with a cake for their families.  As young Joyti (center in pink blouse) proudly carried her cake home, she melted our hearts when she exclaimed, "This is the best day of my life!" Her mother promised her she would be able to bake her own birthday cake this next month so we gave her some candles to dress it up.

These girls from Vuna really got into it.  

This was a new technique to me but one tried and true to her.

We introduced them to German Chocolate Icing made with
freshly grated coconut, and it was a BIG hit.
One reported, "It's even good on bread!"
All ages enjoyed this activity.  The first young women activity ever for this
newly formed group.
Making French Bread brought this lovely group together.  With only one oven all were very patient in getting a turn to bake.   
All were experienced bakers but none had made French Bread so they
loved adding this to their repertoire
Sometimes we feel kind of sorry for ourselves when it comes to our limited food options.  One morning we were noticing a tree near by our deck that had large green balls on it. What could they be?  Hallelujah, we have avocados!  Now if only tortilla chips didn't cost an arm and a leg here.  Avocados are in the same league as chocolate cake so it has been fun to gift them and also discover some new recipes.  Ever tried avocado bread?
Local beauties from our own tree
Mangos grow everywhere here so we did what seemed like a provident thing to do and made a small batch of jam.  The excess we froze for smoothies which seemed like a good way to use the local produce. 
 Crafting Corner
Most of the women love to get together to create and visit.  Each church unit here owns one sewing machine and a few women have their own so by combining resources we can have 3 machines and do quite well.  Every few weeks we have gathered together to work on some simple quilting techniques.  Last December we found a school uniform making factory in Suva that was willing to donate a rather large bag of fabric scraps which has been a godsend for these projects. Table space was limited but that was no obstacle as you can see.  Each brings a little something to contribute for a light lunch- cucumbers and tuna, guavas, canned meat and bread or perhaps some pre-cooked dalo from home. Sharing something we've baked from home with simple ingredients they have access to is always appreciated and they often ask for a copy of the recipe to try at home.
While Annie works with the women, Tom helps get the generator started for enough electricity to run a couple sewing machines and the computer where he trains leaders on Church software.  Unfortunately, there's not enough power to also run the iron so when it comes time for that, we shut all the other machines down.  It's ok though, we all need time to wipe the sweat off and swab the mosquito bites.  Just before we met, the branch president had sprayed for cockroaches and it was a lucky thing because all those foraging worker ants carrying a big dead roach up the wall to their home would have otherwise had nothing to eat.  It was truly an amazing feat. Ok, enough of life in paradise, now back to the sewing . . .
Found foam insulation will serve as batting for the hand bag
Two Lusi's waiting to serve their missions soon and making bags to take
Sister Bibi was perfectly happy on the floor with a hand-crank machine
And so is he!
Craft supplies are a bit limited here but potatoes were in our cupboard so Annie was set to be able to cut stamps and print.  Imported acrylic paints from our December trip to Suva allowed us to proceed with plans to make banners for each of our Primaries.  No paint brushes, hmm... Tom's whisker brush for his electric razor worked great taped to a pencil.  Lest you think we were wasteful, we were able to cut off the painted parts of the potatoes and cook them up for dinner but that does mean these are "limited editions".

Finished product after the kids added their prints
Always trying to bring added variety to the teaching options for the Primaries, we recently received home made flannel boards made by our talented mission nurse.  They fold up and will travel easily to church.  Kind and generous friends from the US brought flannel board pieces we divided up for the 4 Primaries.  No need for computers when you have access to these.
Sights along the way
The smoke drifting through the heavy rain caught our eye one day as we drove north.  We'd been wondering what this odd shaped shed was for so we pulled in to get a closer look.  With all the smoke and rain you wouldn't think a fly could survive but we were swarmed as we got out of the car and neared the "processing plant."  Guess they like coconut too!  Turns out, this is the village copra drying operation that precedes the pressing out of prized coconut oil.

Though we've been here for nearly 18 months, we are daily reminded that here on Taveuni we not only live in a different time zone, but perhaps in a different century.

After the day's work on a copra plantation, our friends Teivita
and Loma head out for some spear fishing
A family out for some net fishing in the early evening
Headin' home after a long day -- what a joy to be together!

Goodnight Taveuni