Monday, February 15, 2010

Taveunia -- the Garden Island of Fiji

Paul & I just returned from a great weekend of visiting and training with leaders of the Taveuni District over on an outer island called Taveuni. This was actually our 2nd trip over there but I never did get around to blogging about it after the first time so I figured I'd catch up and write about it now.
Taveuni is only a short 1 hour flight from Suva aboard one of those 18-passenger, double-propeller airplanes. We have absolutely fallen in love with this destination!
Here is how they welcome us at the hotel! Fresh coconut juice! Now, I have to admit I really don't like the taste of coconut juice but I do love their hospitality!

Here is kind of the "down side" of staying at this resort... there are trees full of great, big FRUIT BATS! Yikes! Yes, there are 3 large trees just behind the hotel right between the swimming pool area and the open ocean just a mere 10 yards from the dining room (which has no walls and is fully open to the view of the ocean and the pleasant breezes) where we eat most of our meals and the trees are full to the brim with these freaky creatures! During the day they are mostly just hanging upside down and sleeping but about dusk they start getting noisy and screeching and flying in every direction. It is quite the sight to see!

This photo doesn't do any where near the justice of the actual scene but they are way too quick for my camera. Thankfully they aren't interested in humans at all so other than the fact that they look creepy, they are pretty much harmless. However, at about 5 am they come back to those trees (which are also just outside the hotel bedrooms) and announce their arrival with the same screeching and squealing! Ahhhhh, Fiji!!!

One of the highlights of our travel is that we get to see so many different locations of the branches of our Church. Here is one of the most humble, basic structures we have seen so far. This is the Qeleni Branch. It is the right-hand side of that home. Yes, that is a member's home and the Church just added on a small area where the branch can meet each Sunday. The family uses it during the week and then they set it up for Church service on Saturday afternoon.

Now, if you thought the outside looked humble, here is what the inside looks like. It is a small branch but it has been growing and it is up to about 50 members that come to church each week. When we came last November, we were shown the piece of property where a new building was going to be built for them and this trip they were so excited to tell us that the building project was going to begin on Monday of this week! We plan to go back again in April. The new building will probably be completed by then. They so deserve a nicer location. They have been very patient and committed and now it is paying off for them.

Here is our training group: from left to right - Pres. Batarua, 1st Coun. in the District Presidency (remember the woman that made the mat for me? This is her husband), me, Paul, Branch's Pres. young son who just was curious about what we palangies (white skinned people) were doing here, Qeleni Branch Pres. Aumaile and the clerk named Thomasie, who is now serving a mission California himself. (this picture was actually from last Nov)

Here is the Batarua family who live in this house. (the clerk and us a just extras) You might notice that even in this rather simple existence, they have their priorities -- see the satellite TV dish standing up behind everyone!

Here is another family from the Branch, Brother & Sister Lai. Brother Lai was our transport driver. Such a great man! He took such good care of us. He has a couple of other children and about a month after this trip, this family came to Suva to the Temple to be sealed. We were in New Zealand that week so we missed it but we got back just before they left town. We are really happy for them.

Here are a couple of the young men that were attending church this Sunday. He is holding The Book of Mormon, in the Fijian language.

Here is the 2nd of the 3 Branches on Taveuni. It is the Matei Branch. It is right next to the airport... literally. The landing strip is about 50 yards behind it. It almost sounds like the plane is going to land on the drive way!

Here is the newest and nicest Chapel on this island. It is the Somosomo Branch building. It was built just last year. The Open House was held around May of last year and it hasn't been dedicated yet. We have been wondering why it was taking so long to get the dedication taken care of. When we were there this weekend, they announced the dedication will be held in April so we booked our hotel room to come back over for that. The Somosomo Branch is growing and doing really well too. We attended Church here on Sunday and there were 120 in attendance. Lots of families and youth and children.
We did get invited to each speak for 5 minutes or so and Paul also was asked to play the electrical piano and accompany the hymns. This chapel does not have air conditioning but they do have about 12 ceiling fans that keep the air flowing. As Paul began to play the opening hymn, I noticed he was struggling and skipping notes and when I looked over, I noticed that he couldn't keep the pages of the hymn book from flipping around due to the fans so I jumped up and hurried up to be his page holder! Such simple things we just take for granted.

This picture is deceiving because I don't want you thinking that we just "sit on the dock of the bay" all day long! We did go for a walk one morning and this is where we ended up. So pleasant!

Here was our big adventure! We actually did this when we were here last Nov. There is a beautiful set of 3 waterfalls called Bouma Falls that are a have-to-see experience. The day we planned to go to check it out, it was raining pretty heavy. The falls are located in a State Park kind of location where they charge a fee to enter. There are actually 3 waterfalls and if you hike to all 3 of them, it would take 3 or 4 hours. We only intended to go to the first falls but when it was raining so hard we weren't sure if we should go at all. But we decided, "hey, we are here -- let's do it!" Sister Lai and Sister Batarua agreed to accompany us. We were glad we went. The waterfall was spectacular!

We were quite surprised when Sis. Lia took off and the next thing we knew she was waving to us from over there behind the falls! I was really scared that she was planning to jump into the pool. Thankfully she just didn't because I don't think Paul or I would have been up for jumping in to rescue her! Great experience, none the less.

So here is where we plan to visit on our next trip. There is a pearl farm on one of these little islands. We heard that you can go over for a tour and they show you how they cultivate and raise the pearls and then you can snorkel around the farm area and see everything "up close and personal". We didn't have time to do that this trip so we will have to hope to work it in next April.

Taveuni Island sits right on the International Date Line, the 180 degree meridian. I forgot to download the pictures we took but we asked our transport driver to take us to the exact spot which is really close to where our hotel was located. It is on the edge of a rubgy field and over looks the beautiful, turquoise sea with lush green foliage all around and various islands out on the horizon. Not everyone can say that they have experienced today and yesterday at the same time! One side is where the day begins and the other side is where it ends!

So we did have to bid farewell to this wonderful getaway! We boarded our 32nd flight after spending our 63rd night in a hotel in the past 6 1/2 months and look forward to coming back soon. But in the meantime, we have trips to Vuana Levu and Kiribati... so many places, so much to do as we continue on the Lord's errands.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Tales of the South Pacific (my version)

Welcome to Vanuatu 2010!
Paul & I just spent the past 2 weeks over in wonderful Vanuatu. We had some very fun, interesting and unique experiences. We were walking down the main street in Luganville one morning and we came upon this bushman who had come to town to sell some of his products to this grocery shop. So amazing to realize that people still live like this. I'm sure he has dressed like this his whole life. I'm sure he looks at us and wonders why we wear so much clothing in this heat and thinks we are the strange ones!

I had brought along a copy of James A. Michener's "Tales of the South Pacific" and it was such a great book to read as I was visiting the very place it was written about. I could relate to what he was describing as far as the locals and the islands and the climate (hot & sweaty!) and a lot of the customs. Other than every person on the street has a cell phone, I don't think things have changed much since he was there!

As usual the main purpose for our visit was to do training with the Priesthood leaders over there. We knew there was going to be a very unique satellite broadcast leadership meeting and all the outer island leaders would be coming to Luganville to attend it so we planned our training to coincide. We enjoyed hours of individual meetings with 13 Branch Presidencies over about 6 days. Here is a group photo of all these dear men and Elder Schern (the white-faced man). Elder Schern and his wife are the only Senior Missionaries in the whole country! They live a pretty isolated existance. We really enjoyed getting to visit and spend a lot of quality time with them. In truth, they just really take great care of us with food, company and some evening entertainment of DVDs and Skipbo competition!

Here are most of the same men as in the photo above. This picture was taken after our audit training meeting and individual Branch audits. That's what we do: train, train, train!

After our week in Luganville, we moved on over to Port Vila which is the capital city of Vanuatu. All the leaders from the island of Tanna had come there for the same satellite training and they were available for us to meet with them before they went back. Here are the Branch Presidents from 3 Branches and one Unit. It is always quite entertaining to be involved with these discussions since these men mostly speak Bislama or French and we only speak English but somehow we seem to make it work. They were very receptive and had lots of questions and concerns for us to discuss. They really want us to come to their island next time. It has an active volcano and they are very proud of this and want to show it off. I'm hoping it can be one of those over and back in the same day flights!

Here is a really great guy! This is Saksak (sock sock). He is a member of the Branch Presidency in Luganville. This is his mode of transportation. Most people just walk or take a taxi or a transport (definition: sit in the back of a pick up truck) so he is pretty high class with his bike! It may be minus a few parts but that didn't seem to be of any concern. Saksak is a jack of all trades! He plays the piano "by ear" for the prelude music in Sacrament Meeting. And at the Branch Christmas party at the beach, he went into the ocean with his fishing spear and ended up spearing a 5 foot shark!!! I heard all of the members got to take some shark home with them for dinner!

Here is Saksak's family: his wife (right side), 2 daughters and 2 grandchildren. This is their home. We stopped by one afternoon for a quick visit. Saksak was off fishing but we visited with these dear folks for a little bit. Mind you, it is hotter than blazes right now since it is the middle of summer. They were all just sitting outside in the shade just hanging out. We could only stay a short time before we needed to get back to our a/c in the car! We are such wimps!

We noticed this rusting vessel along the highway and Paul wanted to stop and take a picture. This looks like it has been rotting out there in the waves since WWII but it actually just ran aground and was abandoned there and not a casualty of a battle. Just as Paul got down close enough for a shoot, these kids came walking by as they were heading out to go play in the water. They were very willing to get in the picture also. The cute baby had no clothes on. The perfect way to spend the afternoon.

Here is a local seamstress. In fact, this is her handicraft shop at the airport. She just sits here all day long, on the floor, and sews clothes to sell to the tourists. Notice her sewing machine is hand powered! I had no idea people still used hand-powered sewing machines! For some reason all the island people prefer to sit on the floor. I would not last very long in that situation!

Now, this is how I prefer to do my sewing. Sister Schern and I have alot in common. First and foremost, we are avid quilters. We got to spend some time together working on our projects and discussing everything we could think of about quilting!

We just passed our 6 month mark! We are amazed how quickly time passes. We are still having new experiences each and every day. We came across this flower which we had never seen before. I thought it was amazingly beautiful. We love where we are and we love what we are doing! We are trying to make the most of each day and each new opportunity and just trying to take time to smell the "roses".