Thursday, December 31, 2009

Christmas at the Beach

Our version of white Christmas this year was white sand not white snow!
And you will notice it was enhanced with a beautiful blue sky!
Nothing I am used to but definitely how it is done when Christmas comes around in the summer instead of the winter. We found it was very easy to adjust our traditions!
The real reason we went out to this beach was for a Christmas lunch buffet. We were invited to a Fijian feast called a LOVO. This is a traditional method of cooking all the food in the ground.

And here is our chef de jour -- Elder Fitch!
He is an amazing cook and he had been planning this get-together for weeks.
He and a few other Elders got to the beach at about 8 am, dug a 2 or 3 foot deep hole in the sand and filled it up with hot stones and lots of food wrapped in coconut palm leaves, buried it all and by the time we arrived at about 11:30am, served it all right off the trunkbed of their truck -- quite the production.

Here is a little closer look at the buffet table which included roasted chicken and roasted squash.

This meal was delicious!!! Honestly, the chicken was so moist and tender and the squash was the best I have ever eaten. Now, the stuff just below my hand is some kind of tomatoes and corned beef and onions wrapped in some kind of native leaf. I avoided eating it after I heard from some of the other Elders that that green leaf makes your throat sting when you swallow it. I'm not very adventurous when it comes to some of the native dishes.

There were lots of other Elders (probably about 12) and a set of Sisters and 9 senior missionaries so we had lots of company to enjoy the holiday celebration with. Here is one of the local Fijian missionaries. I wish I could remember his name. I am terrible with the Fijian names though Paul can pronounce and remember them, thank goodness! There are about 25 local young men and women serving their missions here. We really enjoy their company and I'm especially grateful for the name badges they usually wear (oops, I forgot to wear mine too!

After the feasting, there were other activities taking place like volleyball, rugby, ukelele strumming, singing, visiting and laughing. It was great to hang out with these hardworking,
hard playing, dedicated representatives of the Gospel.
We stayed for about an hour and then we needed to get back to our computer so we could Skype with our kids and grandkids on their Christmas eve. That was truly the highlight of our whole Christmas. All our family was together laughing, playing and we even got them to sing Christmas carols to us. We loved being able to participate in two totally opposite special events on totally opposite sides of the world! Amazing!

But as the sun set on our unique Christmas experience with our "missionary family" we were grateful to be where we are, doing what we are doing and knowing that this is just a small moment in time and before too long we will be back home and these days will just be precious memories.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

"Oh, Christmas Tree..."

...Fijian style, that is. Yes, this is considered the official Fijian Christmas tree because it is in full bloom in December just in time for Christmas. I have heard it called several names: Flame tree, Flamboyant tree but everyone agrees it is their Christmas tree.

And to accompany that lovely Christmas tree is the only snow that I have found so far in Fiji. His name is Bishop Edward Snow and he is that tall man in the middle of the picture, just behind me. What a fun surprise! Here we are with him and his Bishopric. These men are really wonderful, dedicated leaders of their ward in the Lautoka Stake.

It wouldn't be Christmas without a Christmas tree in the center of town. Suva is no different. They have this huge, beautifully decorated tree in the park right in the heart of downtown. I love to drive by especially at night when it is all lite up and twinkling. I was afraid that the cyclone that blew through here a week ago would have totally destroyed it but it is still standing.
It did better than alot of the banana and bread fruit trees!

Gift giving is not a big part of Christmas over here. When I have asked our friends how they celebrate Christmas, they all tell me that it is a day they get together with their whole family- aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, sisters, anyone else that shows up and just spend the day together. There is always a big meal involved. On special occasions like this, they like to prepare their big feast in their "lovo" which is their "oven in the ground". They dig a big hole in the ground, heat up rocks and cook pigs and veggies wrapped in big palm leaves for hours and hours. We are going to a lovo feast (at the beach!) on Christmas day so I'll share that with you later.

Since we haven't really gotten into the gift giving much this Christmas, the Senior Missionary couples decided to do a little service project. The public hospital here is called the Colonial War Memorial Hospital and it is really old and, from what I hear, kind of scary. The mission nurse has been there many times with the young Elders and she mentioned that the patients are not provided with any simple supplies that you would expect to need if you were staying there. You know, things like toilet paper, soap, wash cloth, bottled water, etc. Even meals have to be provided by the patient's family. (I guess the hospital provides one meal a day but that meal is not very appetizing). So each senior couple put together 5 or 8 or 10 zip lock bags with just some simple, basic items and we were planning to go to the hospital to sing Christmas carols and pass out our gifts but once again that darn cyclone came through the day we had planned to go so we ended up just dropping everything off and letting the hospital pass them out.

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without a Nativity scene. I love to collect nativity sets from various places that I have traveled over the years. The very first week that we arrived here, I met a man that hand carves nativity sets and I immediately ordered one. Our apartment is so small that I took this into our office and set it up above my desk and I have really enjoyed it.

But then we got to experience our own real-life nativity last weekend. Our mission president's son and his family came to visit and just in time for our Senior Missionary Christmas dinner. These sweet grandchildren were perfect as Mary, Joseph and a shepherd. It made each of us feel like we had gotten to go back home for Christmas eve and share the true meaning of Christmas with our own grandkids. I'm sure we were all substituting our own grandkids in their faces. Dave Seare was our accompanist for the program.

Let me just send out my love and best wishes to each of you for a special and memorable Christmas whether you are at home or away. This year I have found so much peace and comfort from focusing more on the "Christ" part of Christmas and less on the "mas" such as masses of decorations, gifts, parties and crowds. Let me share a quote from Pres. Ezra Taft Benson, "Without Christ there would be no Christmas, and without Christ there can be no fulness of joy. . . . And now, my beloved brothers and sisters, what must we do this Christmas season--and always? Why, we must do the same as the wise men of old. They sought out the Christ and found him. And, so must we. Those who are wise still seek him today."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Home Sweet Home -- under construction

This is more like "Home Humble Home"

Here is the sweet family that lives in this humble dwelling. Along with them are the Stenlunds. Stenlunds are one of our senior missionary friends. They have been assigned to attend the branch of our church where this family lives. One Sunday they went out to visit this family and we so shocked and disturbed by their living conditions that they decided they had to do something. A couple of weeks later we accompanied the Stenlunds on one of their visits and we decided we needed to be involved in this worthwhile endeavor also.

It didn't take them long to come up with a plan. Another one of the senior missionaries, Elder Hatch, has made it his "hobby-to-pass-away-spare-time" to help build some better houses for quite a few locals out in the more remote areas around Suva so the Stenlunds contacted him and he was on board in a flash!
After a few minor obstacles, like Elder Hatch having to take a quick medical trip to New Zealand to check out a blocked artery, people were recruited to show up this particular Monday morning at 7am.
They began by tearing down the scary dwelling, chopping down a coconut tree that stood in the spot where the new dwelling was going to be built and started digging the holes in the ground for the stilts.

Paul & I arrived about 11 am and this was how far they had gotten in just 4 hours!

Things were moving along just perfectly with everyone measuring, sawing, nailing and having a great time! Even the two oldest boys (about 10 and 8 years old) of this sweet family were right in the middle of the action. I think it was the first time they had ever seen electric saws or hammers! The tool of choice over here for everything is a bush knife!

This dear woman gets the "hardest worker" award! She is the aunt of the mother of this little family and she was the one that had actually built the previous structure. She worked like a trooper! She was cutting down trees and brush and hauling wood and tools. I think she sat down only once or twice the whole day!

By 4:30pm that day the framework had been accomplished! Everyone was so pleased and proud of their results! After this, the only thing that needed to be done was to put the corrugated tin on the sides and the roof, hang the door and install the louvered windows -- yes, actual windows and a door! What an upgrate! We actually haven't been back out to see it finished but we have been assured that all the tin was installed and they are enjoying their new digs!

Various extended family members came by to watch the progress throughout the day. I loved this mom and her sweet little twin girls and her creative backpack. So adoreable!

Here is the baby girl of the family who's house was being built. She is sweeping up around the building site. This broom is a typical sweeping device that is used over here by everyone! It is hand made using the center stem of the coconut leaves. They are really effective and do a great job. Never too early to teach children how to work.

We did feed the workers. Here are some of the guys enjoying their ham sandwiches and their 15 minute lunchbreak. From the left is Elder Hatch, then Elder Stenlund, then Elder Kasteler, then Brother (we can't remember his long Fijian name). He is a neighbor and a high councilman from the Nausori Stake. The 2 young boys were really enjoying those sandwiches and the homemade chocolate chip cookies Sister Stenlund had prepared.

Here is the best use of a wheel barrow I think I've ever seen! He was just enjoying a quick, power nap!

The women of the family and some sisters from the Branch laid down a mat on the ground and put together a huge Fijian lunch. It made our ham sandwiches look pretty pathetic though this group helped devour the chocolate chip cookies so we felt like we had made a contribution.

Meal time is very labor intensive. The woman on the left hand side has split open fresh coconuts from the coconut tree they chopped down, grated it up and now she was squeezing it to get all the liquid released from the "coconut flesh". Her granddaughter was tearing the leaves from the stems of whatever those green plants are called.

Then she mixed the greens with the coconut and took it up to the cooking shed and boiled it and stirred it and added some canned fish and some fresh chilies and that was her version of lunch. I enjoyed watching this whole process. I can't imagine having to cook every meal, every day over an open fire but when you don't have electricity, you don't have much choice.

I also watched her open the can of mackeral with her bush knife and she didn't have any hot pads either. Seriously, I am such a whimp!

Sister Stenlund and I thought we were really being tough by sitting on the mats while we made our sandwiches and ate our lunch. After sitting down for about 45 minutes, we both had to get up and walk around. We didn't want to be rude but we told the sisters that it was too hard for us to sit like that for so long. The next thing we knew, here came 2 women ....carrying out a bed frame and a foam mattress and a blanket and set it down in front of us so we didn't have to sit on the ground! We really felt like wimps!!! I think most of those women sat on the ground for 4 or 5 hours straight!

After lunch, the women began pulling apart the leaves from the coconut tree that had been cut down and stripped the leaves from the center strand. Still sitting down, by the way!

This was beginning to be more like a Relief Society activity as much as a home building project.

Now the fun really began. This woman began showing us how to weave a tray using the inside strands of the coconut leaves. She said that she had learned how to do this from a Filipino woman. Sister Stenlund and I were so fascinated and just admired this handiwork.

Just this week, Sister Stenlund came by my desk at the Service Center and presented Paul & me with these beautiful, handmade trays as their appreciation for our involvment in the new home for her daughter and her grandchildren. I'm pretty sure these baskets took about as much time to weave together as it took those men to build that framework for the house!

We are so grateful we were able to be involved with this life changing experience! I think it is safe to say that not only was their life changed by now having a strong, stable and safe home especially as Fiji heads into its' rainy season but that our life has been changed by being included in such a simple but powerful project.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Welcome to our World

Paul & I have just passed the 3-month-point of our mission. I am constantly amazed how fast time is flying by. We feel quite comfortable and settled in by now and are realizing that things that seemed so foreign to us just a short few weeks ago seem almost normal now (i.e. the left-side of the road driving). I thought you'd might be interested to see some uniquely Fijian aspects of our daily life.
The photo above shows our water filter system (the 3 white cylinders) and our "hot water heater". We have been instructed not to drink the tap water. But in each missionary flat the Church has provided us with these unique filters systems. We keep our toothbrushes here next to the kitchen sink so we can use the filtered water. We don't have any hot water except in our shower so we use this pot that is sitting in the sink

One of my favorite TV shows at home was "The Biggest Loser" and guess what, I am actually playing that game over here -- which I am not excited about at all. The office where we work came up with this project and included us on one of the teams. I'm not sure if I should be offended or happy that they included us. It is a 3 month experiment and it began in Oct and will end sometime in December. I committed to losing 1K (2.5 lbs) which I think I have actually gained instead...which is information I am not interested in knowing!

Fiji is quite humid and salt does not do well in storage. I have noticed that if any restaurant serves salt it is either in a small packet or in an open dish like the photo above. It does not do well in a salt shaker even if you add rice to absorb the moisture. Just one of those things you live with.

Thank goodness for modern technology! It makes life liveable over here. Have you heard of the handy little device called "Magic Jack"? Heidi & Eric discovered this fabulous gadget when they were living in China. You pay a small amount to purchase the device and receive a US phone number. We just plug in our landline telephone in one end of the Magic Jack and plug the other USP plug into the computer and we immediately get a dial tone and can make a "local" call to anywhere in the US for free. We video Skype also but sometimes it is more convenient to just pick up the phone and have a regular conversation. It has saved our sanity more than once!

Here is our soup bar. We love this place! We discovered it in the back of our local grocery store and we probably take away soup for dinner at least once a week. There are about 10 different soups to choose from and they take your order and have your soup ready in about 10 minutes.

Our favorites are won ton soup and sweet corn chicken! It costs us $2.50 to feed both of us!

Grocery shopping is always an adventures. It is always interesting to see what is available over here and what they just don't carry. This was a unique way to purchase frozen veggies. You just scoop up how much you want, put it in the plastic bag that is provided and you are good to go!

The flowers over here are stunning and so unique. I love to see the beautiful arrangements that are created using these colorful tropical blossoms and leaves. Most of the flower arrangements hold up for quite some time, like over a week. These are some of the arrangements that are on display in the reception area of the Temple Patron housing.

Here is our local butcher shop. This is called Walley's and they sell the best meats around. They sell mostly lamb, chicken and pig heads. I mostly stick with minced beef (hamberger).

Oh, and they do eat a lot of FISH! Here is a young boy that stands out in front of his house in our neighborhood and sells what his father catchs that day. My grandkids had a lemonade stand in their neighborhood but over here, there are produce stands and fresh fish for sale.

Here is the Deacons Quorum one Sunday a couple of weeks ago. Paul was very impressed with how well put together these young men looked that day. Sulu's are the style of choice. All the males from toddlers to businessmen wear this apparel everyday. They look very handsome. Paul has bought a sulu but he has yet to wear it. They don't really look as good on "white" legs.

Rugby is the sport of choice! Everyone plays rugby -- rain or shine! And since it always rains here, that does not even matter. The mud just makes it more fun.

Here are the local shoe shine boys. They sit in the same spot every day in downtown Suva next to the high rise office buildings and wait for anyone not wearing flip flops to come by and then they put on the pressure for shining your shoes. They actually do a really nice job and it costs about $1.

And if you have shoes that needs any repairs, here is the place to go and have the repairs made while you wait. I think people here tend to repair instead of replace their shoes and boots. These repairmen are constantly busy.

Here is our local car wash. I think this was our first and only time we have had the car washed since we arrived bacause it seems pointless when it rains so much. But somebody must be washing their cars alot since most all the car wash places are open 24 hours. These 4 men did a super good job and it only cost us about $4.

There was even an oil change bay here....

Suva is all about traffic round abouts! We have learned to appreciate them and how they keep the traffic moving. There are very few stop lights around town. The round abouts were quite intimidating when we first got here. We couldn't quite figure out which way to look and who had the right of way but now we know to just look to our right and if no one is coming we are good to go...the faster the better!

Before we came on our mission we had heard from many friends that they had never worked so hard as while on their mission. We have been finding this to be very accurate information. Sometimes we just have to take a quick break and then we are good to carry on....
and Paul thought he had retired from working at a desk!
Don't let me fool you, life in Fiji is fantastic! We wouldn't want to be any where else right now!