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."