We always look forward to our trips to Vanuatu for many reasons! First and foremost, is to be able to visit with our dear friends that we have come to know and love but secondly, is because it is usually sunny and bright! Not this time!!!
Before we took off from Suva, it had been raining for several weeks. We so looked forward to drying out in Vanuatu for a week but as luck would have it, the rain seemed to follow us. This was really a heavy downpour...so intense that as our jet began to descend to land in Port Vila it suddenly shifted up and caught everyone off guard. The pilot then told us that we'd have to be in a holding pattern until the downpour subsided which took about 15 minutes. In all of our flights, this had never happened before. Another first was everyone getting handed an umbrella as we stepped out of the plane and headed to the terminal. Oh well, what's a little rain! It took about 5 days before we finally got a totally clear, sunny day. We couldn't complain as we kept reading warnings that were going on in Fiji regarding a potential cyclone that was headed their way... now we were really glad we were in Vanuatu! (thankfully, the potential storm never did increase to the cyclone level! Though we did get to "enjoy" a tiny, little earthquake one afternoon while in Port Vila!)
After 4 days in Port Vila, we went back to the airport and caught a flight to Luganville. This is the domestic terminal. It is really very entertaining to sit and watch all the various people coming and going. Their tourism must be growing because they are reconstructing and remodeling this area which serves as the check-in location, the waiting room and the snack bar.
We were in Vanuatu the middle of October and did training in Luganville on how to keep track of Branch budgets. The District Presidency was very anxious for us to come again as soon as possible. They wanted to bring the Branch leaders from the outer islands over to Luganville to have this same training. I didn't think this would work because we seemed too close to the end of our time but it all seemed to come together and here we were, back in Luganville. There were Branch Presidents and clerks (if they had one) from 11 Branches from 2 outer islands. Paul did 2 separate sessions for each of the individual islands. It took the whole Saturday. These men are so willing to be taught and are anxious to do what they are supposed to do. Sometimes the language is a challenge but everyone seems to work together and it all gets explained. The young Elder on the far right of the photo, in front, is the new Branch President on one of these outer islands. What an experience he's having!
This mission assignment is just perfect for Paul! Numbers, adding machines, checks and reports!
That took care of Saturday... so Sunday after Church, the sun was finally shining so we decided to go out and about to 2 remote Branches in "the bush". Palon and Fanafo are about a 40 minute drive (along a rocky, bumpy, pothole-riddled dirt road). There is a new Senior Missionary couple, the Albrechts, who are serving in Luganville now so they were our transport.
Life is pretty simple here in the bush. So is the usual attire. We drove onto the property of the Fanafo Branch President's home and he and his friends and family were out playing a little volleyball.
Here is the Branch "meetinghouse". This structure is also on the Branch President's property. He told us they had had 43 people in attendance at Church that day. I think they are going to out grow this facility very soon!
As it is, they hold Primary here in the Branch President's home. I admire them so much. They just make do with what they have! Actually, there are plans to build a R-85 (rural Chapel) for them on the property just beyond the volleyball court.
I didn't do a very good job of getting very many pictures of all the people that came out to meet and greet and visit with us but I thought this baby was so cute!
The Branch President's wife, Sister Stevens, came around handing out some refreshments -- pieces of breadfruit. I have never eaten any breadfruit. It seemed to me that I had been told it was not really very good, just kind of tasteless and so I have never really tried to check it out.
They had trees loaded with huge bundles. Very accessible. She just cut one off and sliced it open and started pulling out chunks and passing them around.
There are these huge seeds inside that they just pull out and toss away and then extract the flesh that surrounded the seed. It was actually quite nice. It had a very soft sweet flavor and was about the texture of a piece of cantelope before it gets soft. They don't eat all the insides, just the part around the seeds. The probably do lots of other things with it but that was just how they were serving it to us.
These guys were caught on the paved portion of the road as we drove out to Palon. Elder Albrecht told us that he sees them all the time. So this time he decided he wanted to stop and catch a couple of them. They were not happy to have been caught and put into a plastic bucket. But they were very entertaining. I think they are called Coconut Crabs. I wasn't sure what Elder Albrecht was going to do with them if he took them home. Maybe he wanted some pets. We stopped at the Luganville Chapel before we went back to the Albrecht's flat and we met up with another set of young missionaries. When we showed them these crabs, they told us they had a big bucket full of them that they had caught that afternoon and they were taking them home for their dinner. We decided to give them these 2 as well. We declined their dinner invitation.
Here is Elder & Sister Albrecht. They have been on their mission for about 10 weeks now and are getting adapted and settled in to this unique part of the world. They are CES (Church Education System -- or something like that) or S & I (Seminary & Institute) missionaries. He just retired as an Elementary/Middle School Principal so they are perfect for this calling. They teach English classes 4 times a week and teach Institute 2 times a week and then they do Inservice Training with all the Seminary teachers on 3 islands in this area. He is picking up the Bislama language and starting to feel at home. We admire them so much! They are the only Senior couple on this island.
We just never know what we will run across. Did you know there were Boy Scouts in Vanuatu? And girls that also belong to the Boys Scouts? This group was waiting for some special person at the Luganville airport. I was impressed with how formal and serious they were taking this event.
One of the highlights of our Vanuatu trip was getting to have an almost normal Thanksgiving dinner! There is an American woman that runs a cafe in Port Vila called "Jill's Cafe, the American Way". When we heard that she was serving turkey, dressing and cranberry sauce, we made sure we got there for the special event! It tasted SOOOOOO good! We missed not having any sweet potatoes or yams or pumpkin pie but we were not going to complain about anything!
We even got to share our meal with 3 other Americans! Sister Allen and Sister Sewell are missionaries serving in Port Vila and the young man is Christopher who served his mission in Vanuatu about 5 or 6 years ago. He had just come back to Port Vila the day before so he was happy to be included in the celebration!
So we finally had to pack up and call our dear taxi driver, Pierre and accept that we will probably never be in Vanuatu again. We have made some really dear friends including people at the hotel we always stay in. The cleaning maid knocked on our door one morning and when I opened it, she said "oh! you're back!" I told her this was our last trip and that soon we would go back to America. She then surprised me by hugging me and telling me that all will be well with each of us as God has a plan for us and he watches over us! I appreciated how much she respected our work as missionaries.