Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A day at Sea

Ahoy Mateys!!!
Welcome aboard the Coongoola!!!

When we were in Vanuatu a couple of weeks ago, our last day there was a National Holiday so we weren't able to schedule any meetings for training as everyone was busy enjoying a day off with their families. So we decided to go for an all day sailing adventure. Our sailboat was this 23 meter sailing ketch (whatever that is) that held 50 passengers. We took off at 8am and returned to our hotel at 5:30 having had a very delightful and relaxing outing.

The sea was so calm and so warm and so clear. We even put on some snorkeling gear and checked out the colorful fish and corals below. The tour provided another dinghy to take divers out to a nearby reef but we just stayed close to the beach where we could walk in and out of the water or just lay on the beach in the soft, warm sand.

Another highlight of the excursion was a stop they made at a "turtle conservation rookery". This is a place where newly hatched turtles are brought and raised for 9 months to a year and then released into the sea when they are old enough to survive on their own. There were probably several hundred turtles of various ages and sizes being cared for. We had fun watching them and holding them and just being up close with nature.

The turtle conservation place was just beside this scuba diving "resort". It is called the Tranquility Island Dive Resort and if it looks quite rustic you have got it right. The accommodations were very austere but I'm sure the "tranquility" word was very accurate as there was not much more than a grass hut and a small generator for any power; forget an internet connection at this resort! But the up side is that the scuba diving here is supposed to be spectacular. Our ship picked up and dropped about about 7 or 8 guests that were staying there and they said it was great. So there you go, something for everyone!

Here is the trail between the "resort" and the turtle sanctuary. Quite a well constructed pathway.

With signs to keep you going where you needed to get...to take advantage of all the facilities...

I think Paul agrees with the "tranquility" part of the name... he'd have been happy to spend hours at this location.

The girl in the white shirt was our tour guide on the ship and through the turtle conservatory. When she first saw our missionary badges, she told us she was also a member of the Church. Always a fun coincidence!

I think this photo could be sold as a postcard for this beautiful country of Vanuatu. This is looking out from the turtle sanctuary to the Coongoola. We had been brought ashore on the small tinghy; just a short 5 minute trip.

I thought this was just an interesting relic that had been left on board to make the ship look more authentic but turns out this is what they still use to steer the ship.

Here is the small, off shore beach in the "sun and moon bay" of the enchanting Moso Island they took us to. We spent 4 or so hours here and they even provided us with a delicious BBQ steak lunch complete with salads, bread and fruit.

In case you weren't familiar with the word dinghy, here is the dinghy. Basically it is just a small boat that toted about 20 passengers at a time from the shores to the ship.

So as the sun set we were relaxed and revived and pleased with our holiday outing.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Diwali holiday

Today is the 3rd Monday in a row that we have celebrated some new (to us) local holiday. On Oct. 5th it was Unity Day in Vanuatu, then last Monday, Oct. 12th it was Fiji Day and today, Oct. 19th is the public observance of Diwali. This is one of those holidays that goes on for multiple days however. It began last Friday when all the sisters in the Service Center, where we work, decided to dress Indian/Hindi style to fit in with the tradition observed by all the Hindi women here. A couple of the women in the office had extra suras and loaned them to those of us that don't own suras. In the picture above, there is only one woman who is Indian. She is 3rd from the right.

Let me introduce you to all my friends: (beginning on the right)

Diana, Sarah, Sunita, Eileen, Mele, Sister Erickson, Melika and me!

The Indian/Hindi people take this holiday very seriously. It is considered their New Year. For weeks before this date they clean, repair and tidy up their homes and belongings. Our landlord is Hindi and he has been cleaning and repairing ever since we met him back in the middle of August. Last week he was working non-stop to have everything in order before this date. He was even power washing the gate and the driveway and had his cars cleaned and repaired also.
Many people decorate their homes with lights and decorations similar to what we do in America at Christmas time except it is only for one or two nights of display. But the highlight of the whole celebration is the setting off of FIREWORKS NON-STOP FOR HOURS on Saturday beginning at dusk.

Two of the senior missionary couples live in a duplex situation and have this wonderful, large wooden deck behind their two flats and it is used very often for our monthly family home evenings and our pot luck dinners. On Saturday night we just happened to have scheduled our monthly dinner out on the deck and we were lucky enough to be entertained by the most amazing fireworks displays being put on by the surrounding neighbors. These fireworks are not the legal kind that we in the US put on in our neighborhoods on the 4th of July and New Year's eve... oh no! they were the kind of fireworks that you would see if you paid a lot of money to attend the "Stadium of Fire" or some other official fireworks show. There was a lot of serious money going up in colorful, breathtaking, nonstop bursts of glitter and glitz and sparkles! These fireworks displays were going on all around Suva (and probably all of Fiji) well past our bedtime even!

Note to Jason Perkins: Thank you so much for your amazing and informative comments! I would love to be able to connect with you personally and the Scherns would love to invite you to their personal blog. They are the couple serving in Luganville and who visit Ambae monthly. They have even better stories that you would relate to than I do. Send me an email at skasteler@hotmail.com and I'll hook you up with them.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Paul's Adventure

Welcome to Ambae!

Here are the passengers departing the flight that took them from Santa Espirato island to the island of Ambae. Elder Kasteler and Elder Schern were two of the dozen or so passengers. This was another "first" for Paul... first time landing on a grass landing strip!
Sister Schern and I were not needed on this training session so we graciously stayed behind though Sister Schern makes this trip about once a month when they go over for Seminary and Institute training.

Here is the mode of transportation all over Vanuatu. Just pile in the back of any truck and you are good to go anywhere...shopping, to work, even to church. On this island, like on most of the more remote islands, this is it.... or walk. Paul was told that there were about 14 vehicles on this whole island! Now, age has it's advantages...because Paul was the oldest guy, he got to sit in the cab with the driver instead of in the back as they bumped and jerked and rocked and rolled everywhere they went.

This tire looks like it has been around the island a few times. It is not like there is a local repair shop anywhere. If they need a new tire, or ANYTHING, it has to come by air or by a boat and it takes a long time and it costs a lot of money so they use everything as absolutely long as they can! Paul was keeping his fingers crossed that this tire would last a few more hours.

Here is another version of a Branch meetinghouse. It is always fun to see what the church house will look like. We have seen a wide range of designs and structures. This one has woven bamboo walls. It is perfect for this area and this climate.

This was a really wonderful training session. There are 5 branches on this island and they had at least one leader from each branch. These leaders are very committed and dedicated and take their callings very seriously as evidenced by their dressing in white shirts and ties and making themselves available on a Tuesday morning.

The Scherns were just back to Ambae this week and they sent us an email to tell Paul that during their training one of the Branch leaders got up and started to share with everyone some of the principles and topics that Paul had used in his training. It was really rewarding to hear that the things that Paul shared with them had actually gotten through. Paul looks forward to going back in a few months to visit them again.

Here is the guesthouse that was their accommodations for the night. It looks really nice, doesn't it. Paul said it was very descent. There was a light on the porch and a restroom out back and he said that he didn't even hear the rats that run around on the roof all night long. He must have been really exhausted!

Here is the view of the "freeway" from Paul's perspective in the cab of the truck. Who knows what lies around each curve and incline...probably not another vehicle, just cows or pigs or dogs or people on foot.

Here is a group of boys that were playing around this fishing boat that was just sitting on the shore on the rocks since the tide had gone out. Fishing is a main stay of their lives. No one goes hungry in these areas because anyone can catch a fish or grow something in the ground. It may not be fancy but it is definately sustainable.

One more interesting piece of information that you might not know. James A. Michner wrote a book called "Tales of the South Pacific" while he was in the military back in the 1940's and he was stationed in Luganville, Vanuatu (it was called New Hebrides back then instead of Vanuatu). What he calls Bali Hai in his story is really the island of Ambae. So now Paul can say that he has been to Bali Hai!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Each picture is worth a million words...

... so I'm going to let the pictures tell most of the post.

One Saturday afternoon while staying in Luganville, we took a quick 15 minute boat ride over to the next island to enjoy lunch at the Aore Island Resort. The boat held about 10 passengers and all of us were visitors from other foreign countries. Everyone was asking everyone else where they were from... some from Ireland, some from New Zealand and when we responded that we were from Utah in the USA, another group pointed to this woman and said "she's from Utah too!" Now, I have yet to meet any other American tourists -- everyone has been from Australia or New Zealand and this woman from "Utah" had a very distinct Aussie accent. As we continued to chat with her we made the most amazing connection...her husband works for the same company as a niece of ours and she knew our niece very well! What a fun, unexpected coincidence!

When we flew to the Island of Malekula for some training with the Branch leaders, here is the cute little guest house that was our accommodation for the evening. It was decent and clean but the cockroaches running around the shower area kind of freaked me out.

There is a peek at what one of our training meetings looks like. Three local Branch leaders come to our guesthouse and the meeting was held on the front porch. We weren't able to get on the early morning flight over to Malekula so we didn't arrive until about 5 pm and it was around 6 pm before the meeting began. One of the the men had come from an even remoter outer island by boat so as to attend this meeting. The 3 men in the while shirts are Elder Kasteler, Elder Schern and Brother Stephen, who came with us. This picture is much to clear for you to see the hords of black bettles that were flying around and attracted by the light on the porch and the nice, white shirts. I choose to sit just off the porch in a less lit area. The meeting was really productive and what a priviledge to meet these dedicated, committed leaders.

On the remote islands, there is not usually a gas station so you just buy the petrol in these 2 or so liter jugs and fill your vehicle tank by hand!

Here is the highlight of those small airplane flights... the views out the windows are spectacular! It is so fun to see these islands from overhead. Some are really small and others have volcanos but all are covered in lush, green foliage and surrounded by beautiful blue ocean and lovely white sandy beaches.

Here is the Norsup Airport terminal on Malekua Island. Here are all the people waiting for those arriving or they are waiting to take off on the next flight. It is really nothing more than a small, tin shack. The original building was burned down about 10 years ago and it just hasn't ever been rebuilt. The baggage is always very interesting to observe. There is everything from live chickens and pigs (wrapped up in a cloth bag with their heads sticking out) to tires to root vegetables wrapped in big leaves that have been woven together to whatever someone needs to bring along to survive in this far-flung setting.

Now this is a confidence building experience. Yes, that is me on the weigh in scales. First they weighted in my check-on bag and then I got to get on the scales along with my carryon bag and purse and whatever I intended to take on board! I have got to learn how to pack lighter!!!!

This was a really fun experience. Elder Schern had driven us out in the bush to the Palon Chapel to meet with the Branch President there. When we drove on to the church property there were 2 young men (the one on the left and the one on the right) who were sitting on the grass and playing the guitar and singing "Armies of Heleman". Paul walked over and immediately asked if he could play the guitar. It was a really nice, 12-string guitar. I stepped back to take a picture and one by one each of these extra people appeared and wanted to be in the picture. I ended up taking about 5 pictures before everyone near by was able to join in the group. The locals here just love to see the pictures on the digital cameras! It is fun to print them out and take copies back to them next time we go over!

Our experiences here are so unique and our visits with the members are priceless. I hope you can get even the slightest glimpse into some of our experiences because words just can't express and pictures can barely portray them completely!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Survivor: Vanuatu

Did you see the Survivor: Vanuatu tv show a few years ago? I did but I had no idea where Vanuatu was... now I do!

Paul & I just got to spend 2 weeks in that absolutely wonderful country! We not only survived; we thrived! We were encouraged as soon as we got to Fiji to schedule a long visit to Vanuatu. We were told that the leaders there needed some serious training. No one would give us much detail as to what to expect or how to prepare, just that we needed to get there.
Thankfully, someone did mention that we should start taking Malaria pills several days before we headed over and every day while in the country and continue for a week after we left the country. Now, that was helpful information!
We contacted the only senior missionary couple in the whole country, Elder and Sister Schern, and asked them if they would help us out. Thanks to them, our trip was a major success! We owe them big time!!!! Thanks to Elder Schern I now know how to put more than 3 pictures on my blog! I am so appreciative for his tutoring he gave me as well!

There are lots of islands that make up the country. We got visit 4 on this trip! We first went to Espirito Santo Island where the Scherns live in the 2nd largest city in the country called Luganville.

Vanuatu was originally governed by a joint partnership between France and Great Britain and called another name (I can't remember, New something). In 1980 the country became independent and changed their name to Vanuatu. The locals are referred to as Nivans and they speak Bislama. That is Elder Schern's missionary badge with the name of the Church in Bislama. Let me translate in case you aren't familiar with the name of our Church: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Luckily, Elder Schern has aquired an excellent amount of the language which was hugely beneficial for us. He and Paul spent 3 whole days preparing and creating all the training materials into Bislama and then he came along to all the meetings and helped out tremendously!

Luganville is a very working-class city (really more like a very small town). The main street is about 3/4 of a mile long and that is where all the main stores and businesses are. The US military had a huge presence there during WW2 and the main street in town is very wide and nicely paved. I guess the military needed to be able to drive tanks along this road so it was well built and is still in good repair. There is quite a bit of left behind effects of the military's presence including their only hospital which was also built by the military and it still looks like it is 1940 up there! Seriously, never get sick or injured enough for a hospital experience in this town...that was very scary!
Luganville had a wonderfully interesting and active fresh produce market that we enjoyed wandering through. People from far out in the "bush" and even from neighboring islands come into town each week and bring their fruits and vegetables and plants and fire wood and coconuts and tabacco and set up stands to sell their produce. A lot of them stay right there at the market, 24 hours a day until all their goods are sold. They eat, sleep and just stay there under their stands until all their food is sold. And the fresh foods are unbelievable inexpensive! I don't know how these people even make enough money to pay for their transportation to and from their villages.

This is the produce market in the capital city of Port Vila which is the largest city in the country. After spending 9 days in Luganville, we flew to Efate Island and spent 6 days here. But I'll talk about Port Vila later.

We knew when we came on this adventure that we would be taking a lot of airplane flights between several different islands. Turns out we ended up visiting 4 different islands (I actually only went to 3; there was 1 island that was a little too rustic for Sister Schern and I so we stayed back and let the Elders go -- I'll do a post on that trip later). All told, we took 10 airplane flights in our 2 weeks. We had quite a few new flight experiences: everything from small 17 to 22 seat planes to tin shack airport terminals to getting weighed in on the scales along with our baggage! I did quite a bit of praying while in air! Here was our first small plane. Thankfully this was a paved tarmack!

First time I have ever been able to watch the pilots during the flight. No door between them and the passengers on this flight! No snacks or drinks but we did have seatbelts!

There were 2 rows of seats on one side of the plane and a single row on the other side. I think we weren't the only "first timers" on this flight because when we touched down, everyone on board clapped to thank the pilots!

I have referred to "the bush" a few times and here is a picture of what I call "the bush". One Sunday afternoon, Elder Schern drove us our to visit 2 remote branches of the Church that were about an hour's drive away from Luganville. This was in a village called Fanafo. This is one of the most simple "chapels" that I have ever seen. But the people are happy and dedicated and there were about 50 people that had come to Church that morning. The Branch President's family lives right next door on this same property so that is one of their 6 children and their dog. The young missionaries that work in this area live just across the dirt road there. It is quite eye-opening!

Here is the road that we drove on to get out to visit this Branch. This is the main road. People drive, and mostly walk, this road everyday of their lives. It is just their way of life.

We passed this group of people just hanging out along the side of the road so we stopped and asked if we could take their picture. They were soooooooo excited and all began to laugh and gather in together. After we snapped the picture, they flocked over to the truck to see what the photo looked like. Every one was laughing and squelling and poking fun with each other. I remembered that I had a bag of candy in by backpack so I handed it out to them and you'd have thought that they had just struck it rich. It had just made their day... and ours!!!!

If you EVER get the chance to go to Vanuatu, don't pass it by! It is so worth it!

to be continued......

Thursday, October 8, 2009

A REAL internet connection at last!

Where do I even begin? So much has happened since my last post and things just don't seem to slow down long enough for me to catch up!

We left Suva on Mon, Sept 21st for a 2 week assignment to Vanuatu which was a wonderful, productive and exciting new experience! I keep hoping to get some time to share some of our pictures and stories here but between Tsunami warnings and internet interruptions I just haven't been able to get it all together... hopefully this weekend!

I just wanted to make a quick connection with you blog readers to let you know we are safe over here. You can imagine how surprised we were to hear that there had been a huge earthquake near Vanuatu yesterday and that they and Fiji were all under a Tsunami warning. I'm sure everyone is taking these Tsunami warnings alot more seriously since the terrible Tsunami that hit Samoa. Even though Suva is on the totally opposite side of the island from where the predicted Tsunami would have come from, all precaustions were activated. I had been in downtown Suva yesterday morning at 9:30 am for a haircut and color which should have kept me there until about 11:30 but my hairdressed and I decided that I could wait another few weeks for the color so I was done with the haircut by about 10:15. I got back to the Service Center by about 11:15 and that is when I found out about the Tsunami warning. Within about another hour we heard that all of downtown had been closed down and there were cars and people all headed to higher ground. Our landlord is a professor at the University of the South Pacific and that campus is right at the sea wall. He said it took him an hour and a half to drive home -- a drive that usually takes about 20 minutes. His (and our) home is up high on a hill just like the Church Service Center and the Temple so we felt very safe and secure.

Our greatest concerns through this whole scare was for our new friends we had just met during the previous 2 weeks in Vanuatu. The people in that country are so wonderful! We truly fell in love with them. They are humble and kind and gracious and friendly. They definately don't deserve such a potentially disasterous event.

We spent 9 days with another Senior Couple, the Scherns, who live in Luganville, on Santo Island, Vanuatu which is very near where the earthquake hit. While we were there they told us that they feel earthquakes quite often but it doesn't concern them. When we got the news about the earthquake we immediately called to check on them. They told us they were out in "the bush" and had just gotten out of their truck and everything started to shake like crazy. They just considered it another day in Vanuatu and went on with their business. Luckily, where they were was far away from the sea and uphill on higher ground.

So this is all I have time for right now. I need to get over to the mission president's home and help cook lunch for today's Zone Conference. I just wanted to reassure everyone that we are safe and sound and even though you haven't heard from us for quite some time, we are still here and anxious to keep in touch!