Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blog #19 – September 22, 2011

Time is winding down quickly for us now. We have just 2-1/2 months to go, and I’m still trying to get this blog up to date. Five of our kids and two spouses, Macae and Kelly, Kimmy, Frank, Janelle, Kelly and Kevin, are coming to visit us next week, on September 30th and will spend a week trying to see two to three weeks worth of Samoa. We had the same problem when our son Benj and his wife came several months ago and I think we really wore them out. Gratefully, all of our children will have been able to come down, even though some of the spouses couldn’t make it. We are so excited to see them and are cramming hard to get many things done ahead on our mission duties so we can spend time showing them around. I was hoping to get this blog segment out in the next two days so maybe Kelly will have time to send it off before she takes off herself. I realized that I probably don’t have time to finish it, and Kelly, who’s trying to get her four kids arranged for while they’re gone for 10 day, probably has less time than I do. Since it won’t happen before the trip, it will just have to happen after. I’ve certainly been this far behind before.

Since we wrote last time we’ve put miles and miles, or kilometers and kilometers, on our little car taking trips up and down the coast several times a week visiting families, collecting and distributing missionary mail and packages and transporting missionaries back and forth to the hospital or the wharf, etc., when the vans from two different zones were in the repair shop for over a week at the same time, and of course, teaching piano classes. On one of our trips north, we decided to stop at the black sand beach to pick up a couple of pretty round rocks to use as stepping stones by our porch, only to discover that the black sand had just disappeared since we had been there a few months ago.
This is the picture we took there a year ago with John playing in the sand and surf with a little girl visiting from Provo. Notice the beautiful smooth sandy beach.
This is the very same beach a year later and all of the sand has been washed away. We were just shocked when we saw it. I’m sure there must have been a huge storm with monstrous waves that took out the sand and a few more palm trees that had survived the tsunami two years ago.

The day we took the picture of the rocky beach, the wind was blowing hard and the tide was all the way in and what a difference from the time Dad and Benj fished off that very same, dry point several months ago.

On that day back then it was very calm and the tide was way down. We were astounded at the change with the sand gone, trees down and huge waves. Nobody knows if the sand will get washed back any time soon, or ever. We continue to have enormous respect for the power of that ocean, and are so disappointed that there’s no black sand beach to show off for now when our visitors come.

The senior missionary population on Samoa has made a radical change over the last few months. Many of our dear friends had completed their missions and headed back home and have been replaced with more new couples that we’re getting to know. Two of those new couples have had to turn around after only a couple of months and head back home because of serious health issues that just couldn’t be dealt with here. We lost the new mission nurse and husband, the Curries, as well as the new institute director and his wife, the McDonalds. We understand they are both doing a little better now, even though neither one is completely out of the woods yet. I guess, when you have missionaries our age, health problems are not too surprising, even though I’m sure it was very disappointing for them to have to leave, as it was for all of us. Those two couples had to up and leave in such a hurry because of their emergencies that we didn’t even have time to get over and say goodbye, and there was certainly no time for a farewell party, like they usually throw for the outgoing seniors.

Over a period of a month, we had big farewell celebrations for the Kellys, the Eves and our outgoing mission President, President Halleck and his wife. We were able to get over to Pesega for those parties, even though it meant an extra couple of trips across on the ferry.

The Kellys were in the MTC with us and it was really hard to see them go. Sister Kelly was the mission nurse, and Elder Kelly was her right hand man and ran the medical office.

This picture of us with the Kellys was taken at some other celebration, but I can’t figure out what it was. I thought we looked so pretty in our flowers, but I can’t even remember why we were wearing them. That doesn’t matter; it’s a good picture of the four of us. They’re going back to eastern Canada, so I’m not sure we’ll have much chance to see them again. We’ve actually discussed getting together at a Palmyra Pageant sometime, which we’ve never seen, so that will be a good excuse to get back to their neck of the woods.

The Eves are from St. George, and were in charge of keeping up with all the missionary fales (houses) and ta’avales (autos) and were continuously travelling all around all three big islands to keep up with the cars and lodging of all the missionaries. I think they probably travelled more than we did. They live in Laverkin, down by St. George, near two of the couples who are here now, the Gouldings and Merrills, and hopefully a trek down that way won’t be too far afield after we all get home.

This picture was taken at the celebration for the Eves and Kellys, where those two couples are lined up with another good friend of ours, Wayne Shute, who was in the mission field with John years ago, and has also been mission president and Temple president. Wayne compiled the book that has John’s plane crash story in it and it was so good to see him again. He was just in Samoa for visit. His wife passed away a few months ago, and he was travelling with another ex-Samoan missionary, pictured with them and who we did not know.

The last farewell celebration held that month was for President and Sister Halleck, the now-ex Mission President and his wife. President Halleck is a native Samoan, even though he claims his name from a German Grandfather I think. He served a mission in Samoa under President Wayne Shute and went on to BYU/Provo, where he met and married his wife, Peggy, from Orem. They’ve lived most of their married life between Samoa and Hawaii. President Halleck was just recently called to the Quorum of the Seventy and they are now living in the Salt Lake area.

Elders serenading Hallecks

President Halleck farewell speech

Sister Halleck farewell speech

Farewell gift

Sr. Samoan sisters performing

OCTOBER 28, 2011

Well, here I am again after a few weeks. Sorry for the big delay. It’s been over a month since I started this blog segment and probably almost that long since I last wrote. We have just over 5 weeks left before we go home and still could use a couple of months to finish up some projects we’re working on. We won’t have those two months though, so we are cramming really hard to move ahead on everything, as we’ve been doing since after the kids left on October 8th.

Their visit to Samoa was just a wonderful time for us. We worked so hard to get ahead on some of our activities before they came and then filled that week they were here to the very brim. I’m not going to spend a lot a time on the details, because there is just so much to tell and also my camera ended up in the Wanberg camera bag when they left, and I have no pictures to add. The kids took plenty of pictures while they were here, and I’ll try to figure out how to get some of them off the files they shared on line and I’ll add them later.

We had everything all scheduled before they came and had reservations for three different hotels around this island. We had made arrangements to swap our little car for a large 15-passenger van over at the mission car pool. When we went to pick it up that morning before we went to the airport, someone had forgotten to reserve a van for us, even though our name had been on their calendar for almost a month. I was totally panicked, since our little car will hold 5 adults and maybe a little luggage. We needed space for 9 adults and all our luggage for a week. The car pool sent us back over to the mission office to see if they could come up with something for us. After the Mission President, the office manager and the Senior missionary who’s in charge of missionary autos put their heads together, they came up with a van for us. It was a lot smaller than what we had planned, but compared to our little car, it seemed like a bus to us. It was only a 12 passenger van and had absolutely no extra room for much luggage. When the mission office manager was helping us load all the mail and boxes for the missionaries over on Savaii, like we do on every trip we make over and back, it became evident that there was no way we could take all of that, plus 9 people and their luggage, so he insisted we unload all those boxes. We at least kept the small box of letters to deliver to the elders, and Elder Merrill said he’d make sure the other boxes got over some other way. It was still a tight fit once we picked up the kids at the airport, but we made it work at least until we got back over to Savaii and left some of the luggage at our house while we toured around that island.

When we went to the airport to pick up the kids, their plane was about 2 hours late, which became a potential problem for us, because we had planned to have some quick lunch somewhere and then head straight back to the wharf so that we could catch the 4:00 p.m. ferry, which was the very last one of that day. If we hadn’t been able to make that ferry, it would have thrown a huge kink into our plans. We’d have had to find somewhere to stay on Upolu that night; and there was a family, in one of the wards over on Savaii that we worked in, who had planned a large feast for us that evening, and they had probably been cooking all day to be ready. Gratefully, the kids were able to get through customs fairly quickly and we were able to get back to the ferry with a little time to spare. They’d had no lunch on the plane and we’d not had time to stop, so we grabbed a few munchies at the snack shack by the Wharf to carry us over the water to Savaii. That ferry ride on an empty stomach isn’t all that comfortable. We gave them all some motion sickness pills and I think everyone was okay.

While we were on the ferry, John got a phone call from Elder Merrill, the mission office manager, and he had arranged for a zone of elders over here on Savaii to trade vans with us for the few days we were going to be here. They had a big 15-passenger van and were kind enough to do with a smaller van for a few days so that we could use the big one. Elder Merrill was really our guardian angel that week.

We spent a lot of time in that van and went all around the island in it over about four days and we really appreciated having the use of it. We spent several days at beach resorts, so there was a lot of sand in the car when we traded back with the elders, but the floor was vinyl and there was a small broom in the van, so we were able to get it pretty well cleaned out by the time we turned it back over to them. We loaded everything from the big van back into the smaller van that last day on Savaii, headed back to our place to load up the other luggage and made it back to the Wharf in time to get on the 2:00 p.m. ferry for our trip back over to Upolu. Once we got back to the mission compound in Pesega, we were able to unload the luggage into the house and just take along those things that we needed for each day, so it wasn’t quite so crowded.

Of course, we had more things than we had time to do on the schedule for those days, and in spite of getting lost a couple of times, where we ended up way off our intended path and had to forego some of the sites, we were able to see the most important ones. I hope the kids have a good memory of that whole trip, even though they were dog tired and we had a few little setbacks along the way. We loved being able to share this beautiful country and her delightful people with them. We’ve said so many times over the past two years that we wish our family were here to experience and enjoy it with us. It was a dream-come-true to have it finally happen.

We were fortunate when we went on over to Pesega at the end of the week to have the use of a large 4 bedroom home on the Church compound for those three nights. It worked perfectly for us. We had two bathrooms, a large living room with TV, dining room, kitchen, laundry facilities and internet hook-up. There was even a nice piano in the house, but I’m not sure anyone even had time to sit down and play it.

It was such a joy to have them here and show them all around the two big islands, to share our love for snorkeling (first time for some of them) plus having them meet several of our special new Samoan friends. It went by so fast it made our heads spin, and I’m afraid it left us a little ‘trunky’ after they left (‘trunky’: a condition that affects missionaries right before they go home, so they just sit on their trunks instead of working). We didn’t have too much time to sit on our trunks however, and plunged right back into our usual schedule of visiting families, teaching piano classes, delivering mail and packages to the local missionaries, taking care of their medical needs, giving emergency rides during auto breakdowns, reimbursing all their extra expenses, for which we were also reimbursed when we went back over to Apia, not to mention arranging for and paying for (also reimbursed) catering of a special Zone conference with the Mission President and Area Seventy and all island missionaries. While John went to the zone meetings that day, I had the privilege of escorting the Mission President’s two daughters, Rachel, age 21, and Pearl, Age 16, plus Elder Pearson’s 13-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, all around the island to see sights and spend some time at the beach for a picnic and snorkeling.

We actually had a wonderful time and I think I enjoyed the day more than the missionaries did, since Elder Pearson was apparently very bold in calling to their attention several areas where they needed to make improvements.

All in all, I guess you could say that we are the Savaii Senior Missionary Banking Co., ambulance and hospital pharmacy, chauffeur, mailman, member support missionaries, piano teachers, grandma and grandpa, etc. Every day is a new adventure for us and we never know what to expect. That, coupled with what we do have planned and do expect, makes for some very long, interesting days. Since we are apparently not going to be replaced over here when we leave, because there’s quite a shortage of senior missionaries all over the world, it will be a puzzle as to what the mission will do without a mailman, banker, medical advisor, etc. on this island. They have made that comment to us several times, and jokingly asked if we’d be interested in a two-year extension. I think we are ready to come home, however, and will leave them with the opportunity to work it out; but we are at a loss as to how it will be done, unless some new senior missionary couple just pops up from somewhere. Miracles do happen in the mission field. There is one other senior couple here on Savaii, the Gouldings, but they are pretty much pinned down up at Vaiola teaching classes, and only have access to a car part time. We could never have done this job without a full-time auto, and we are on the road a big percent of the time.

The piano classes and lessons are still going strong, and we teach at least one, and sometimes two, per day Monday through Thursday. Because we’re a little worried about two of our piano classes which are lagging behind, we’re planning to double up on their lessons and try to have two a week instead of one. Several of the students have gotten behind because of their big year-end government school exams and have had little time to practice. The other class, which is mostly non-English speakers, has been very slow from the start because of the language barrier. The two elders in that area, who could both play piano and speak Samoan and English, were transferred out a couple of weeks ago. They were a huge help to us, and we have really missed them. The two new elders don’t play any piano, but might be able to come and help us translate a little. We’re going to add another class for that ward on Saturday morning each week until we go. Unfortunately, that class is our longest drive during the week, and now we’ll be doing it twice. If we can just get these two classes to the point where they are reading music fairly well and playing a little on their own, we’ll feel more comfortable leaving them. School is out for all of them for their Summer Vacation next week and that will help a little in the time for extra classes and practicing. I’m just not so sure how we’re going to make the time for too many more classes. We’ll need a miracle too, I guess, for which we pray daily.

In case you’re wondering if we are actually doing any real missionary work, we feel really good when we go back to some of the wards we’ve visited before and found some of those families who started going to church are still attending. Unfortunately, there are others who are not. We try to visit them again, but think it’s almost hopeless for some of them at this point. We are especially happy about some progress that has been made with a couple of families we’ve worked with for several months. I think we told you early in our mission about the twin brothers, Liai (Lehi) and Nifai (Nephi), who were both inactive and we had several visits and family home evenings with both families, but no luck with reactivation. Their bishop had finally suggested that since they’ve all been working with them for a long time with little success, we might use our time better in another area. Gratefully, the ward didn’t give up on them completely and Nifai and his family have become pretty well activated. He is now in the Elder’s quorum presidency and their family went to the Temple last month. We haven’t worked in that ward for quite a long time and were delighted to visit recently and learn about their progress. That made us want to try working with Liai a little more. His wife and kids have been going to church quite a bit, but not him, probably because of his smoking. We had a really wonderful family home evening with them this past week, where Dad courageously told them about his own Father’s reactivation when Dad was about 12, when Grandpa stopped smoking and drinking and began to set a better example for his family, and the results were a fully active and happy extended family, because of his change of heart. Liai seemed very touched by the story and recognized that it was certainly meant for him, and promised John that he would work hard to overcome those habits and set a better example for his 9 children and become more active. We were so excited when we left, and will keep close tabs on them for the next few weeks, not to mention alerting his ward leaders and members of the need for further fellowship.

The other family we’ve been working with, mostly teaching 7 members of their family piano lessons twice a week, is made up of several adult non-members, as well as two inactive LDS members, Sineva and Kalila, who have 5 children. They all live in the same little compound around Grandma and Grandpa and have been very welcoming to us and appreciative of our efforts in teaching them piano. They invited our own family to come and visit during their stay in Samoa and performed a lovely little piano concert for them, as well as feeding all 9 of us. Last night during our piano class at their fale, Dad took Sineva aside and asked if he’d like to come to church with us on Sunday, along with his wife and any others who wanted to. He didn’t get an answer right away, but we noticed him talking to his wife about it. This morning we went back for a short visit and invited the non-member Grandma and Grandpa and a couple of other adults, and they all accepted, except for the grandpa. He’s had a stroke of sorts and has what appears to be Bell’s palsy on one side of his face and is embarrassed about meeting strangers; however, he has really warmed up to us since out first visit there many months ago. We’ll pick them all up Sunday at Noon and are praying for a good set of meetings and a welcome reception from ward members. We hope we’re not pushing too hard, too soon, but our time is running out and we’d at least like to see that ward members can begin to help with the friendshipping process before we leave. All of a sudden our time is moving along way too fast, and even though we’re anxious to be home with the family, we feel we’re leaving some unfinished business behind. I guess that’s what most missionaries feel when they go home. We’d be a lot less concerned if we knew we were being replaced like most missionaries are. Hopefully, we’ve done our part and will have planted some seeds that will sprout and grow without us. I just wish that it would be easier to communicate with them here in Samoa from the USA, since practically none of them have computers or do emailing, and just getting a letter to and from them in the mail, takes forever, if its possible at all. They have no addresses, other than their village name. If a letter does get to the one post office on the island, they somehow have to check there once in a while to see if there is any mail for them. There’s no delivery of any sort. Hopefully, we can keep in touch with the missionaries to see how these families are progressing.

I realized that I’m making this sound like our last blog from Samoa. WE still have 5 weeks and expect plenty to happen in that time that we’d like to share with you all. It’s possible that if things get really cramped up toward the end, the actual last blog will have to be finished when we get home.

This last paragraph was written when we had 5 weeks left. I’ve written another segment already that was supposed to be part of this blog, but when I discovered how many photos I had to add, I realized that I had better quit now and let that next section with all the photos from our family’s Samoan trip follow along a few days later.

Here’s a little sneak preview of our family get-together in Samoa. More to follow.

Krogh family tourists

Snorkeling in Piula cave pool

We send our love to you and all your families and hope that you are all looking forward to the upcoming holidays.

Much love,
John & Karen

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Blog #18 – June 30, 2011

(yes, that is the right date, you'll see why later)

Here we are at the end of June already and looking ahead to only 5 more months on our mission. It’s hard to believe we’re that close. We still feel like we have so much to do in that much time, but guess we can just do our best. Each new ward we move into is so unpredictable in terms of how much time we will spend there. We’ve just started the first ward in the third stake and hope to finish that stake before we leave. Some wards say they don’t need our help at all, so we just move on, and others are excited to have us help them with their inactive families and we stay as long as we’re needed. We are starting to have to travel quite a way to this new stake and soon I think we’ll have to start staying up there a couple of nights a week instead of making the long drive back to Lalomalava every night. We thought of moving up there for the last few months, but we are so settled here and everything is so convenient for our busy lives, that we’ll just commute and work hard for the few days we’re up there and then come on back and get caught up with laundry, shopping, missionary mail, etc. and the three piano classes we still teach in this stake.

Our work with struggling families continues as usual. We feel privileged to have assisted in the reactivation of some wonderful families, but we’ve had our disappointments as well. Not everyone feels ready to make the changes that they need to make in order to return to activity and fellowship, and we are saddened by that, because we’ve made great friends with them. Hopefully, we’ve made some little contribution toward planting a seed that will sprout at some later time, when other missionaries or ward members touch their spirit.

Our piano classes continue in full swing and we are pleased with the results. We’ve finished one class completely and two more will wind up the middle of July. Not everyone who started the class has stayed around to finish it up. I think many thought they could take a few lessons for a month or two and be ready to play. What they found out was that they were required to work hard and practice every week and attend every class if possible, and they thought it was just going to be fun and games. We are so proud of those who’ve stuck it out, most of whom are playing in any of several church meetings and baptisms and doing a good job. It’s been such a pleasure to see the joy they feel in their accomplishments and their families’ as well.
This picture was taken at the final class, and party, with the McKay Ward kids who finished up the whole class. Lin is on the left, then Mao, then Lin’s sister Sisi, and then Star. You may remember me telling you about Star in an earlier blog. He was the young man with quite a bit of talent, who just wanted to fool around on the piano in class and didn’t seem to be paying attention when I tried to get everyone quieted down. One of our friends from Wallsburg Ward, Helen Hall, suggested after reading our blog, that maybe he was hard of hearing. I’m still not sure about that but I did find out that his mother has a pretty severe hearing loss and it’s possible that Star has inherited it. You’d think with my inherited hearing loss, I’d me more sensitive to that. Star just quit coming for awhile and when he did come back for a class, I commented to him that with his natural talent on the piano, if he would work hard and learn to read music along with playing by ear, there would be nothing he couldn’t do on the piano. He actually listened, or heard, this time and started coming to all the classes and worked really hard to catch up on his sight reading. Often he was at the church practicing before any of the rest of us got there for the class. Pretty soon, I found out he was playing in priesthood meeting and I’ve since heard him play in church several times. He obviously loves it and is doing so well. We are just delighted about it. The real icing on the cake was on the day we gave him his own keyboard and he thanked me for being so patient with him and telling him what I did about learning to read music. He said, “now I understand what you meant. I feel like if I keep practicing, I’ll be able to play almost anything someday.” Wow!! That was worth all the stress of teaching these classes.

The great thing about this piano program the church has is that any one of them who are willing to work, practice, have good attendance and commit to serving in the church with their newly acquired skills and even be willing to teach others what they’ve learned, can earn their own personal keyboard, free of charge, for their efforts.

These photos were taken on the day we delivered the first keyboards that had been earned by some of our students. The first one is of Misimoa, a young single adult in a ward way up north, who already plays the piano, but wondered about our coming up there to teach a class. It was not possible for us to do it at that time, but we suggested that if we got him a piano and the lesson books, he could surely teach it. So he did and has been having pretty good success. When we explained his situation to the people at the Church Music Department in SLC, they were more than willing to give him his own personal keyboard to use in teaching others. The other four photos are of the kids in the McKay Ward class, who are in the picture up above, receiving their own personal pianos. Both Lin and Sisi qualified, but I felt that one per family was enough, so that there will be other pianos available for other deserving students somewhere else. I’m not even sure if that’s a rule, but it feels right to me. Pictured are Mao, Star, Sisi and Lin and their mom, and Ane. All these kids are playing in church, primary and priesthood now and hopefully they’ll help some of the other kids catch up who didn’t stick with the class.

We’ve had the great fun of delivering 12 of these keyboards to deserving students already and will deliver 4 more tomorrow. I’ll be adding those photos in the next paragraph and later in the blog. I’m sure it’ll be boring for you to see all these different pictures of people you don’t even know, but since this blog is also our journal, each of those photos with their names on them will mean a lot to us someday. Those days we deliver the keyboards to them have been great fun. It,s just like Christmas for us all. They are so excited to have their own keyboard piano and we are delighted to see them earn it.

This young girl was 10 when her class started. We probably wouldn’t have allowed her to stay in the class because of her age, but her aunt Seminari was helping me teach the class and promised she’d help her keep up. Well, she didn’t just keep up. She surpassed everyone in the class and was playing in church before we knew it out of the Hymns Made Easy book, probably after about three months. At that time, she was the only piano player they had in that ward, Saasa’ai, and they were pleased to have her. Besides having her aunt encouraging and helping her, she just plain loved to play the piano, and her parents told me that when she wasn’t in school or doing her homework, she was practicing. She’s 11 now and is able to play most hymns in the more difficult green hymn book. We are so proud of her and were delighted to deliver the first personal keyboard in her ward to her. She speaks excellent English and is a top student at school.

I’ve probably mentioned before, but I’m not sure, that the Church sent 8 practice keyboards for me to use in these two classes, so each student had access to a piano, if they couldn’t get to the church, which is a long, long walk for some of them. They mostly shared the keyboards with others who lived nearby, so most had access to a piano at least half of the week. They brought the keyboards to class and then we kept them for one day for our next class, and then delivered them back to their homes for the rest of the week. We put plenty of mileage on our car moving keyboards back and forth, but feel it really paid off.

Feisi joined our class in Moesavili Ward, who also had no one confident enough to play in sacrament meeting. He already knew how to read music but was not comfortable playing out of the green hymn book. I gave him a copy of the Hymns Made Easy book and he just went to town on that. Very soon he was playing in church and has been ever since. He stayed with the class for awhile and then became one of my helpers. Now that the class has finished, he’s agreed to help other students who didn’t finish the first class.

JULY 30, 2011

HELLO AGAIN - I’m ashamed to say that it’s been exactly one month since I wrote in this blog the last time. We now have only a little over 4 months until time to return home. I’m not sure why I’ve had such a mental block about getting back to the blog. Maybe because I know that once I sit down to it again, I’ll spend more time on it that I should. Also, I realize that so much of what we are doing is so similar to what we’ve been writing about for the past 19 months, it’s hard to come up with new experiences.

Well, I got my pictures out to find out what the last ones were that I sent, and realized that I quit before I was really finished on the last blog segment because I had described in detail the funeral of Nelson, the boy who was killed falling from a coconut tree. I remember feeling so drained after that, I just had to quit and save the rest for next time. Now that I’ve discovered where I’m supposed to be, I realize how much further behind I was than I thought. So I’ll plunge back in and finish up what didn’t get done on the last blog.

These students were all in the Saasa’ai class and progressed at about the same rate and are all playing in church, primary, etc. They were very faithful coming to class and doing their practicing. Veronika, who lived far up into the bush where they had no electricity and had to carry water from town to have any at all, purchased batteries for the piano because she could not plug it in. She practiced by night by the light of a small kerosene lantern, their only source of light. She’s done so well and we were so happy to deliver her piano to her, as was she to receive it.

Those two piano classes in Moesavili and Saasa’ai have finished up now and we had a final combined concert, where each student prepared a hymn to play as a solo, and then again as accompaniment for the audience to sing along. They all did so well and we felt so good to have had some positive results from the stress of keeping up the classes. Both classes started with many more students, and we had to double up on pianos for awhile; but as some students hadn’t realized how hard they would have to work to learn to play, many stopped coming and both classes diminished to manageable sizes. I had to crack down on the students who were not attending faithfully, and just kept moving ahead. In the first set of classes I taught in McKay Ward, I tried to catch everyone up if they missed a class, and so some of the students who were keeping up started to get bored going back over what they had already mastered. We changed after that and let the students know that we couldn’t back up any more. If they missed a class, it was up to them to find out how to catch up. It sounds harsh, but we’ve learned that we must keep the class moving ahead for those who are making the effort to keep up, and thereby kind of weed out the lazier students.

We’ve since started three other piano classes, one in the first stake we worked in where we live, and two others in two different stakes. We tried to keep the numbers down from the beginning. We started in Fataloa with about ten students and it quickly dwindled down to six, because we wouldn’t back up for those who missed class and weren’t practicing. We started with only four in the Sili Ward and all are still doing well. In fact, they are moving ahead of the Fataloa Ward who’ve been going almost a month longer.

The third class we teach is up in Sagone Ward, in Sagone Stake, almost an hour and a half drive from here. The stake president called us at home and explained that he’d heard about our classes and wondered if we could teach one up there. There were two wards and one branch who had no piano players at all. They were all fairly close together, so we suggested that we would be willing to teach one class, with about two from each ward, and they would all need to be over 12 yrs old and speak good English. We set up a time for the first class, assuming that the message about English and a small class had been understood. We’re not sure what happened, but when we got up there that day, with 6 keyboards, there were almost 30 people waiting for us, many of them young children who did not speak English. We had to spend quite a bit of time trying to kindly break the news that we could not teach them all at this time, especially since I couldn’t speak Samoan and the lessons were written in English. There were some adult parents there who did speak English and asked if they could help their children keep up with the class. We finally were able to whittle the class down to about 15, some of whom had parents who would help with translation. The two young elders working in that area both play piano and have been helping us also. The kids we had to turn away, wanted to stay around and watch the class that day and we told them they were welcome.

When we finally got that first class started after almost an hour of discussion and decision-making, setting up tables for keyboards, and moving the two existing pianos nearby in order to put three students on each of those pianos. Two other students had brought keyboards from home, which helped a lot. That class actually went amazingly well, with all the helpers and extra pianos we had. My heart rate had slowed significantly from the beginning of the class when I first saw all those people waiting for a class, many of the them young children. When we came the next week, however, thinking it would go as smoothly as the first one finally did, we had the same 15 students, but none of the parent helpers. The two kids who had brought keyboards from home did not have theirs and didn’t seem to want to bring them again. We discovered that the one very large keyboard had been brought over from the branch many miles away. It was a full size keyboard, very heavy and was brought over in a car, but would have to have been carried on a bicycle after that, an obvious impossibility. We pushed ahead putting two kids on the small keyboards and 3 on each of the pianos and that part worked okay. We were slowed down considerably because of lack of individual translation help. After teaching that class that way, we had two other mothers come along last week and agreed to take the class along with their kids, in order to help. This week they were not there, so we had a discussion with the elders after a slow and frustrating class about maybe having to cut the class down to only English speakers in order for us to be able to move the class along far enough in the time we have left here in Samoa. Gratefully, we will be receiving 8 more practice pianos from the church to assist in the piano shortage in our classes, and that will alleviate a little of the stress, and give kids a chance to have a piano at home to practice on during the week.

We are 19 months into our mission and are still trying to learn about and accept the fact that cultural differences still play a big part in what we would call success. Just because someone has said they would be there last week, doesn’t necessarily mean they will be every week after that. Often when we tell them all we’ll see them next week, they’ll say “what day?” We have to explain each time that it will be the same day as it has been every week at the same time, Wednesday at 2:30. The Samoans are just so laid back in their schedules, and certainly don’t live their lives by the calendar and the clock like we’re used to. It’s actually quite amazing what they accomplish anyway, in spite of our frustration.

We still have a couple of other wards who want us to start some classes, but because of the short time we have left, we had to suggest that they need to find one adult English-speaker/piano player in those wards who will be willing to work with us to start a class, assist with the class, and then take over when we are gone. Hopefully we can make that work for them. We’ll be scrambling around the next four months to find people to work with us on the existing classes, who’ll be willing to take over if we aren’t finished when we have to leave.

Even though this seems like a major shift in subjects, it does show a perfect example of an astonishing part of the Samoan culture. The first picture should have been one of several people handing gas cans out of the bus windows to be filled at the gas station, where the bus had stopped just for that purpose. I had to run and grab my camera in order to take the next two pictures of those gas cans being filled by the worker at the gas station, while other cars waited to be served. The cans were then taken to the back of the bus and placed in a compartment there and money was collected through the window for the purchased gas and then the bus moved on. I’m guessing it was sitting there about ten minutes, with a busload of steaming passengers patiently waiting while that transaction took place. My guess is that the same bus probably stopped at a couple of roadside stores along the way for other passengers to run and purchase something and then get back on the bus, again while all inside waited patiently. Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.? It seems so amusing to us, but is so everyday Samoan in nature. I guess when you consider that so few of them have cars to get into town, they all feel so privileged to be able to ride the bus to get their errands done, and are more than willing for the bus to take it’s own sweet time on many stops and starts. The only people who might have a problem with that occurrence would probably be any palagi tourists on the bus. I’m sure glad we have our own car to get around in.

Since we’ve been here, there have been three different American Senior couples working as missionaries up at Vaiola College. The vans they use in their off hours, have to be used for transporting students back and forth during the school days, and then the missionaries have the use of it in the evenings and weekends. They are asked to chauffeur other teachers on into town on Saturdays and families to church on Sundays. They don’t have to pay for gas unless they use the van for their own purposes. It’s so funny to hear the missionaries talk about their chauffeuring experiences when they first get here, and discover what it’s like to take a dozen busy females all over town to do their shopping. Even if stores are only 100 ft apart, they don’t understand why the Samoans don’t all get out at one spot and walk to the nearby stores, instead of waiting patiently in the car until the one is finished in the one store and then the car can move on to the next one just a few feet away. We explain that it’s just like the bus they’re used to. I think Elder Goulding has refused to do that and finally insisted that if other stores were close by, he would wait in the car while they all did their shopping at the same time and then come back and the van would move to another part of town. The nice thing for the missionaries is that they don’t have to pay for the gas on those trips and they can get their own shopping done as well. He feels that he’s teaching them a lesson about being more efficient. That is his job, I guess. He teaches classes to the teachers up there at the college on how to be better teachers and become accredited teachers with a degree. Elder Goulding was not only a high school principal for many years before he retired, but also spent considerable time in the military, so he doesn’t mince words and every experience is a teaching experience. Sister Goulding teaches an educational psychology class to the teachers, trying to help them to learn new methods of discipline and motivation. Most teachers, all Samoans but educated elsewhere, respond at first with the notion that the existing method of smacking a kid with their hand or a stick gets the best results the quickest. It’s like pulling teeth to get them to accept the new ideas of positive motivation and more constructive discipline. She grits her teeth and keeps at it, but says it is really frustrating. She was a Special Ed teacher in Utah, and you can imagine that she must have wonderful patience usually. When they unload on us about these cultural differences, we just nod or shake our heads and say “welcome to Samoa.”

The first of these two pictures was added to our blog several months ago, telling the story of the man who had received a much-desired truck from his children overseas, and when he died just a few months later, had his truck entombed in Its own little “garage tomb” attached to his own fancy tomb. Last month, as we were taking the Gouldings out for their first trip up that side of the island, we stopped to let them take a picture of the tomb with the garage and were shocked to notice that the front wall of the “garage tomb” had been knocked out and the truck was sitting out in the yard nearby.

It’s been sitting in the yard for weeks now, and the last time we went by we noticed the truck was still out but the front wall had been repaired and a regular-sized door had been added. We don’t know how they use the building now. It could be they were preparing it as a tomb for the next person who died, possibly the old man’s wife. That’s a total guess on our part, but we still see the truck in the yard and don’t know if someone is using it now. We need to ask someone who lives in that area for the details so we can satisfy our curiosity about it.

As we started work in a different stake, we visited in a small branch, Satufia, which still meets in a Samoan fale, as pictured here. The Bishop’s office and restrooms are in newer little buildings on the grounds, but the congregation uses this large fale here, and the classes use the smaller fales around it. Those small fales have large gravel floors and it is interesting to try to maneuver a folding chair around on the rock floor, or even just sit straight for that matter. They seem to get along just fine in those circumstances. The last few times we’ve driven past this branch, there has been a large tent set up right next to the big fale. We wondered at first if they’d had a funeral or wedding, which situations often require a tent for extra seating. Since it’s still there after several weeks, we’re guessing that they have just grown out of the big fale and needed more space to seat the increasing size of their congregation. We’ll have to visit someone there who can give us some details, instead of guessing. We’re usually in a hurry to get somewhere else when we go by there and don’t have time to stop.

We see these poinsettia bushes in full bloom in certain parts of the islands this time of year. After I had taken this picture, we drove by that same bush a few weeks later and there were twice as many blooms, with much larger and brighter red petals than before. I didn’t have my camera, or you can be sure I would have had another picture to show you.

Last month, Elder and Sister Weber, from Elk Ridge down near Payson, came over to Savai’i to set up a dental clinic at Vaiola College, where there were some 500 people to treat. He’s a dentist, obviously, and has had a free clinic going on over in Pesega for several months now, treating all the Pesega students and teachers, missionaries, and any other Samoans, members or non-members who are willing to stand in line each morning starting before 6:00 a.m. in order to get an appointment for that day. They can only take so many each day, since they only have one dentist and two chairs, and the others all have to be turned away, but are back the next day. Samoans do not have readily available dental care, and many just let their kid’s baby teeth go bad, because they figure they’re going to lose them anyway. Unfortunately, when their second set of teeth come in, they’re not cared for any better and Elder Weber and his wife have been astounded at the amount of work that needs to be done in the mouths of some of the Pesega and Vaiola students, and also the families that come from the surrounding villages, many of whom have never been to a dentist. Teeth are an interesting situation here in Samoa. There are many older people who have lost almost all of their teeth. Whenever there was a serious toothache or other obvious problem, the solution was just to pull the tooth out. It’s not unusual to see a pretty young woman or girl with one or two of their front teeth just gone. When some of the people have come to Weber’s clinic with a bad toothache, they just ask to have it pulled. Elder Weber explains to many of them that the tooth can be saved with a little bit of work, or a lot in some cases. At first, they are reluctant to do anything but the usual treatment of tooth pulling, but after an explanation many allow him to go ahead and work on them. He can do some miraculous work on teeth that just need to be cleaned, or maybe a filling and resurfacing of a front tooth that is starting to decay. That’s his favorite kind of job to do, and will literally transform their smile. They have to be cautioned that they must keep brushing the newly fixed “teeth” or the pretty white new surface will stain and discolor the same way again. They give toothcare classes in all the schools, teaching kids how to brush and how often and give them all a toothbrush. The non-school patients from the villages are given a short toothbrushing demonstration right there in the clinic, as they come for their appointments.

These are pictures of the portable dental clinic being set up in the resource center at Vaiola College, where the Webers came for over a week and examined and treated hundreds of patients. They have two portable dentist chairs that fold up into their van, along with all kinds of sterilizing, drilling, cleaning, lighting gadgets that are needed for their work. We helped them get unloaded and set up for that first week in Vaiola and were amazed at the volume of things they had to transport around in order to set up a temporary clinic. The Webers work a long, hard 8-plus hour day, with seldom a lunch break. Sister Weber is firm about not making appointments outside of their usual hours, except for extreme emergencies. She explains to people who tell her that it’s not convenient for them to come during regular hours, that she is trying to keep a very tired dentist alive to treat more patients the next day. This is supposedly a humanitarian effort, but you’d be surprised at how many wealthy people come to the clinic for their free services. Most of those people are not willing to stand in line each morning with the other patients who come as early at 6:00 a.m. to try to get an appointment. The clinic is first come, first serve, and they pretty well know how many patients they can treat each day, and make appointments for the first ones in line to be treated that day and the others are asked to come back another day and wait in line. One women, who has a pretty important government job, came in the middle of the day to make an appointment for another day. (She had tried to have her secretary call for an appointment, but was told that the patients must come in themselves to make their appointments, like everyone else.) When this woman showed up partway through the day, Sister Weber explained that she would have to come early in the morning to get in line to make an appointment. The woman very authoritatively told Sister Weber “You don’t seem to understand. I am a very busy person with a strict time schedule and I don’t have time to stand in line for an appointment.” Sister Weber is beautifully ruthless with these people, many of whom already have a whole mouthful of gold and $1000’s of dollars worth of work already done in their mouth. She firmly says to them, with a smile, “YOU don’t seem to understand. This is a humanitarian clinic, first come, first serve, and we also have a very strict schedule to keep in order to offer this free service to the deserving people of Samoa who have no means of transportation or enough money to pay for dental care by one of the few dentists in the city.” That will usually shut them up and they almost give up by saying they’ll just have to go to another dentist. Sister Weber smiles and says “that sounds like a really good idea. Thank you for coming in.”

The Webers have many stories to tell about their experiences at the clinic, some that make them sad when they see the lack of dental help the average Samoans have, and some that make them really angry. They’ve actually had patients come from as far away as Australia, New Zealand and even the U.S. to get free dental work done, because the plane fare is cheaper than their dentist at home. They are reluctant to stand in line, but when confronted by “General Sister Weber” realize they have no choice, since they’ve come all this way for the service. The Webers are not allowed to turn anyone away, but it really makes Elder Weber burn when patients open their mouths and he sees how many thousands of dollars they have already spent on their teeth. He still does the work, because they did follow the rules. He’s a very kind man and would never say anything negative to them. Sister Weber says that’s her job. He’s the dentist and her job is to make the days as easy for him as possible. She’s such a hoot. We just love them both. They have raised 14 children, 5 of their own and 9 adopted from several different cultures. They have some very interesting stories to tell about all these different children and some of their problems. Someone needs to write a book about the Webers. I suggested it to her, but she says “I’m not sure I want to go through all that again.” They felt getting away on a mission was the perfect way to help those adult children learn how to fend for themselves, and will probably serve more missions when they are finished with this one.

Sister Weber is also a gutsy missionary. There is a beautiful colored chalk diagram of The Plan of Salvation on the blackboard that the patients face from the dental chairs. They treat many non-members at the clinic, and many will ask about the diagram. Just about the time they open their mouth to be examined by the dentist, Sister Weber will explain the pictures to them. They are a truly captive audience and when they are finished she always has pamphlets and Books of Mormon to give away for any who have more questions. It’s amazing how many investigators she has turned over to the missionaries. She keeps track of how they’re doing and continually encourages the missionaries on their behalf.

This is probably a good place to stop for this writing. I’ve found that if I get many more than 20 pictures on one blog segment, my email just won’t handle it. We sure hope this little old laptop will survive the last few months of our mission. It’s running out of space and has a couple of other quirks that we pray over sometimes, hoping to keep it working. Fortunately, we have a good automatic back up system and we do it quite often to make sure we don’t lose important stuff.

Hope all is well with you and your families.

With Love from Elder and Sister Krogh

Monday, June 6, 2011

Blog #17 – May 17,2011

Welcome to the next segment of our blog, which is being started as we get down to about 6-1/2 months left in our mission. It’s hard to believe we’ve been here for over 17 months now. Elder and Sister Kelly, who we were with in the MTC last year, will be leaving to go home in less than a month, since they opted for an 18 month mission. We hate to see them leave because they are extra special friends, and we’re not sure when we’ll ever see them again, since they live way over in Eastern Canada. Sounds like a good reason to take a trip that direction, I guess.

So much of what we are doing these days is a repetition of what we’ve been doing for the last 17 months except that we’ve worked in about sixteen different wards in two different stakes. We’ll be finishing up with the second stake this next week and we’re just waiting to meet with President Haleck next week to find out where he wants us to move on to. We talked to him a little last month, knowing we’d be finishing up in that stake and we discussed some different options. Any direction we go means we’ll have to make a big decision about housing, because the other stakes are so much further from where we live now. Our place is about dead center in the big area of where we’ve worked so far and we’re travelled both directions many times, probably over a half hour drive to the two furthest wards in each stake. We’ve talked about moving completely to a new place in a completely different area, which we’re not too excited about because we’ve done so much to this place to feel settled and make it livable. It’s very comfortable and convenient, has handy laundry facilities, and is in a secure setting on the grounds of this small hotel. We’ve been quite happy here and will miss the owners and workers at the hotel, who we’ve grown attached to. We also see so much of the people in the other wards we’ve worked in just along the road as we travel back and forth. Until our piano classes are finished in those wards, we at least get to see some of them every week. We’ve made some great friends in those wards and feel that maybe we’ve helped make a little difference in some of their lives. The nature of this mission is that we just sort of get started making visits in each ward with local leaders, encourage inactive members to remember the blessings that can come from being close to the Lord and His Church, see some of them come back and then we move on and leave the fellowshipping up to the local members, which is as it should be, of course, but we really miss those new friends we’ve made. If we do move out of the area, we won’t even get to see them along the road and wave and greet them all along the way like we do now.

Either direction we could go on to the next stakes will be over an hour drive each way almost every day. That may not sound like so much to people who are used to commuting from Wallsburg to SLC everyday, winter or summer, but if your gas prices are going up by leaps and bounds like they are here, it takes a pretty good bite out of the budget. One option we’ve discussed is to maybe keep this place and then find somewhere to stay for 2 to 3 days a week close to the area we’d be working in and then come back to this area for the other days, where we are still teaching piano classes and have to keep track of the missionary mail and meds and be close to the internet cafĂ©, which is our only connection to the outside world. WE do know that there is one little missionary house in one stake that is empty right now and we might be able to use it sometimes. There are also people in the different wards who have possible places to stay overnight. Either of those options wouldn’t add much, if any, to our housing budget. Well, there’s not much we can do but speculate about it right now, but will hopefully know our plans by next week sometime.

(Here it is a new week and we were able to meet with President Haleck yesterday. We’ll be moving on down south from where we are to the Sagone Stake, which is over an hour’s drive from Lalomalava. For now, we’ve decided to keep our current little house, and commute down that way and probably spend two nights and three consecutive days working in that area, and then come back home to do laundry, our piano classes, etc. We haven’t found for sure where we’ll be staying for those two nights in that stake, but that will be up to us to start asking around to see what’s available. It may cost a little more in terms of our housing budget, but we’ll be spending a lot less on gas, and time on the road, if we don’t go back and forth every day. Our life and schedule will definitely change once we start on that routine and it will just be another new adventure to try to make it all work.)

As I was going over the last several photos we’ve taken, I’ve noticed several that just kind of jump around from place to place, but are things we’d like to share and have in our permanent record.

These first two pictures are of an amazing bush that is in full bloom everywhere right now. John just calls it the Christmas tree plant, because he doesn’t really know the name and each bloom looks like a little coral-colored Christmas tree almost a foot high. The flowers here in Samoa never cease to amaze us. We think we’ve seen them all and then something else shows up in a new season or a new area.

Something we see a lot of are the new elders coming off the ferry on transfer day, which happens about every 6 weeks. They are usually in for a new experience here in Savaii, just because it’s more isolated and they’ll have fewer conveniences than they’ve had on the other two more densely populated islands. They will find that this is the Real Samoa though, more quiet, fewer cars and stores and less noise and some very special people, many of who remain close to the old strict cultural practices within their families and villages. Coming straight to Savaii as new green missionaries, can be quite a challenge for some of them, if they weren’t born and raised somewhere else in Samoa, because there aren’t as many English speakers, not as much Palagi food and housing, etc. Some jump right in with both feet, and others struggle a little at first as I did. If they are fortunate enough to get a Samoan companion, they will pick up the language much quicker, even though it can be frustrating at first.

This is Elder Tuala, who is all dolled up because he is going home. He’s been the zone leader in a very difficult area and has done a fine job. He’s Samoan, but grew up in New Zealand, has excellent English and a lovely New Zealand accent, similar to British and Australian, but a little different still.

This is Elder Barnes, from Alpine, Utah, along with Elder Tuala. Elder Barnes will be replacing Elder Tuala as Zone leader and seems to be capable and enthusiastic enough to deal with that difficult area. We’ll really miss Elder Tuala. He’s such a pleasant and spiritual young man and has the most beautiful and infectious smile. I doubt we’ll ever see him again, which makes us sad, just like the other elders we’ve said goodbye to that have gone back to Australia and New Zealand.

Shifting gears again, this is just another beautiful example of the picturesque clouds we see here. If we were to see something like this in a painting, we’d probably not believe they were even close to being real. But here in Samoa, they are unusual but very real, and I never get tired of taking pictures of them, as you may have noticed by the many examples that have been included in our blog over the months.

Another shift takes us back several months to John’s beautiful and thriving tomato tree on the front wall of our little house here in Lalomalava. We’ve had months of wonderful tomatoes off that tree, although they’ll never compare to those we can grow at home.

Here’s a more current picture of that same tree with the last three tomatoes struggling to survive the end of the season. All three of our big tomato plants look about the same and we’ll soon have to start buying tomatoes, if we can even find them.

John spent the better part of a morning taking this old plant down, along with all the cords and nails that were helping it to grow up the wall. It looks so bare now, just like the ground where he had all his pumpkin plants, which have stopped producing. The vines were still growing wild and had lots of blossoms, but just didn’t produce fruit anymore. We thought we’d get it all cleaned up like it was when we came last year, so that the grass would grow back and the hotel groundskeeper wouldn’t have to do anything but cut it when he does the rest of the acres of grass he cuts with a weed eater. John still has a few cabbages that he’s nursing along, but I think he’s had enough of this particular garden and is already starting to make plans for his new garden back in Wallsburg next Spring.

This beautifully decorated and maintained fale belongs to a family in Moesavili Ward, who have three girls taking our piano class. We pick up and drop off their pianos every week, moving them back and forth between piano classes, and then we pick the girls up for class on Fridays. I don’t know why I didn’t get a picture of the outside of this fale and the accompanying one the family lives in, but I was so intrigued with the ceiling that’s completely covered with fabric all pieced together almost like a big quilt. We see that a lot, but this is one of the nicer one’s we’ve seen.

So’onalofa, pictured here inside the fale, is the oldest of the girls in that family and is a beautiful statuesque young woman taller than I am. She goes to Vaiola College and has great English and is coming along quite nicely on the piano. I wish I had a picture of the youngest girl in the family, Mesepi. She is about 11 years old and absolutely gorgeous, and will probably be the best piano player of the bunch. She’s young and has learned fast and is willing to practice a lot. Actually, I just remembered that I had taken a couple of pictures of her several months ago at a stake primary program. I had recognized her as one of the 16 kids in my new piano class last year and had to snap a couple of shots of her. I don’t remember if I’ve included this in the blog before, but I’m happy to find it now that I know her so much better.

Here she is front and center in her ward primary group.

This is a closeup of Mesepi in the same group. She is actually just as sweet and serene as she looks and I don’t think she has a clue that she’s one of the prettiest girls around. I wish I could see her all grown up and find out how far she went with her piano playing. Wow, it’ll be hard to leave these kids behind that we’ve gotten so attached to in our classes. The closer we get to the end of our mission makes me realize more and more that I really want to come back in a few years and see all these wonderful people again, if it’s at all possible.

This is a picture of a dear friend we’ve made, Sa’eu, and her handsome 16-year-old son, Nelson. She is the sister-in-law of our tutor at the MTC, Papaloa Ete, and he asked us to look her up when we got to the Saipipi area where they lived, and where he was born. We’ve had some good visits with her and have been instrumental in helping her to make connections with her two older daughters, who live with Papaloa and his family in Utah. We contacted Papaloa and asked if it would be possible to get pictures of the grown-up girls sent to us by email, which he did. We were then able to have copies made and put into a little booklet for Sa’eu to keep. She had not seen them for several years and was delighted to see them all grown up. We were also able to take pictures of Sa’eu and Nelson and their Saipipi family and sent them along by email to the sisters in Utah. I won’t go into her sad story now except to say that they were all separated by a divorce, and Sa’eu was left alone in Samoa with Nelson. Then her story gets even more tragic.

We received an email from Jennifer, Papaloa’s wife in Utah, telling us that Nelson had been killed in an accident, where he had fallen out of a coconut tree, which he had climbed up to collect coconuts for his family. We were just heartsick when we heard about it, and made an immediate trip up to Saipipi to see Sa’eu. Unfortunately, she was not there when we arrived, but we spoke with her brother, the Bishop, who told us more about it. We didn’t want to spend too much time hanging around on that sad day, but asked some people as we were leaving about when the funeral would be. They told us it would be the next morning at 8:00 a.m. This was the Friday before General Conference in April, so we got up early the next morning to go to the Stake Center to watch the first session at 6:00 a.m. and then slipped away toward the end so that we could make it up to the chapel in Saipipi, where we assumed the funeral would be held. As we were driving past the hospital on our way to Saipipi, we were surprised to see Sa’eu walking up the hill by herself, quite a long way from where the church was. We pulled over to greet her and give her a big hug and asked if she needed a ride somewhere. She quickly asked us to wait for her and she continued up the hill to the grocery store. We were so perplexed, wondering what she was doing down here, when the funeral was supposed to be starting right away up in Saipipi. When she came back out of the store, she got into our back seat, and as we started toward Saipipi, she asked us to stop and let her out at a small non-denominational church by the hospital. She asked us where we were going and we told her we were on our way to Nelson’s funeral. She said “Okay” and then walked toward the building. Still puzzled, we pulled over and parked and went toward that building, but didn’t see where she had gone. We noticed a funeral service going on in the church, but didn’t recognize any of the people in there. Another friend of ours from another ward saw us and asked which funeral we were there for. We told her Nelson’s and she informed us it would be next after this one was completed. I won’t go into nearly as much detail as I did for the family, other than to tell you what an incredible experience it was for us to participate in that funeral that day. The Samoans pay great homage to their dead relatives and the funeral is very much a part of that. We’d been to part of one other funeral earlier, of the uncle of a friend, but weren’t able to participate the whole time because of other obligations.

As the other funeral before Nelson’s finished up, we noticed that everyone came out and loaded onto a bus that was waiting in front of the church and then lined up with other cars behind the pickup truck that was carrying the casket and the pallbearers from that first funeral. As they all pulled away, another van pulled up to the church and parked there and another busload of people, who had been waiting out on the road, pulled in and they all went into the church building. We recognized several people in that group and knew now that the first part of Nelson’s funeral would be held here. We were going by the seat of our pants at this point and just followed everybody else into the little church. Nelson’s pallbearers were members of the boy scouts from his ward, all dressed in their uniforms. After the group was seated inside, the casket was carried in by the pallbearers and placed on a table up front, where the scouts stood guard around it for the whole service. There was a lot of singing by the congregation from out of the hymn book and a talk given by the Bishop, his uncle. I had asked someone if it was appropriate to take pictures, because I wanted to be able to send some to his family back in Utah, who could not be there. It was told it was okay, and I tried to be unobtrusive. Since we were the only palagis there at the funeral I was afraid people would think we were just tourists being irreverent by taking advantage of a family’s grief just to get some pictures. I argued with myself about it, but decided that it was more important for his sisters back in Utah, as well as his father who lives in Salt Lake, I believe, to be able to participate in some way in Nelson’s final services. I took many pictures that day, but will only post a few in order to show you how the Samoans pay tribute to their loved ones who’ve died. It was all quite heart-wrenching, but beautiful to see all the preparation that had taken place to honor Nelson. I hope his family will forgive me if I share some of this with my family back home, because it meant so much for us to be a part of it.

These two pictures were some of the ones I was able to take discreetly inside the little church, where the casket sat up front surrounded by the scout honor guard, and the Bishop giving his talk.

After that service, the casket was carried out and placed into the back of the awaiting van, along with the pallbearers. The rest of the people left and went out to get back on the bus that had brought them there. Notice how all are wearing black and white, a big part of the custom, which I’d had no idea about and showed up in a colored blouse. John was in his usual black and white attire, so I guess I really stood out and hoped the family would forgive my ignorance of their traditions. The van pulled out to the road and was followed by the bus and all the other cars and made their way slowly caravanning up to Saipipi. I assumed, again, that we were going to the Church, but instead, we pulled into the family compound, where there were many people waiting to welcome us, including all of Nelson’s classmates who were all lined up in their school uniforms, carrying long streamers of white and colored fabrics.

As the students waited for the casket to be carried into the big family fale, followed by close family members, they were an impressive sight.

Once the family was settled inside, the music started and the students began to march carrying all the funeral flowers and their colored banners on into the fale, where they reverently walked past Nelson’s casket and draped the fabrics all around it, almost like a protective nest. It was very touching.

Then they took their places on the floor of the fale, facing the family, as they prepared to pay their tributes to Nelson with wonderful music and speeches from teachers and classmates. We were so kindly invited to join the family inside the fale around the casket and felt privileged to be there. Most of the ward members and villagers were standing outside the fale and watching the school kids perform their wonderful music.
There were a couple of small groups of friends who performed some musical numbers accompanied by a young man with a guitar. After this lengthy program, the faculty and students stood up, filed past the casket one last time and then marched outside and made their way back to the school.
As soon as the school kids were gone, the youth from Saipii Ward filed in, carrying more long banners of fabric which they also draped around the casket and then took their places with all the ward members and villagers who had followed them into the fale, and they all sat down facing the family, as the students had done before them. Now it was the village and Ward’s turn to pay tribute to Nelson.
The youth group started with a special musical number, which was followed by more music by the Ward Choir and congregation, mixed in with speeches from ward members and family, including Sa’eu herself. I was so impressed with how brave she was. The whole service was so up beat and much was said about what a good student, athlete, priesthood holder and seminary student Nelson was and of course much comfort was drawn from referrals to gospel principles and the hope for the reuniting of families after this life. Because I could not understand the speeches, John shared their content with me later as he wrote in the letter to the Family in Utah and shared what was said. A lot of the music was in English, which helped me participate a little. Once the program was over, the lid was taken off the casket one last time, and close family members came close for a kiss or a touch.
This last view of Nelson in his casket, looking so peaceful, with Sa’eu sitting next to him the whole time, will be an image I’ll never forget. My heart just ached for her and still does.
The last picture we took before we left was of the whole family and ward gathered around the casket to get one last look at Nelson’s sweet face and give comfort to Sa’eu and each other. They stayed huddled that way for quite a while. Since we had been at the funeral for four hours at that point, we had other duties we needed to get away for and it seemed like a good time to leave the family to themselves. I’m sure they had a big family and village feast, as is the custom, and there was some sort of burial service at some point. As sad as the experience was, we felt fortunate to have been included and to witness the poignant tradition of these humble, Godfearing people.

After the conference weekend was over, we were able to download all the pictures from the funeral onto our laptop and then sent copies of them all, along with a detailed description of the services by email to the families in Utah. John was able to repeat what had been said in Samoan for them to share as well. The kind and heartwarming responses we received from them all a few days later were worth all the worry I had over being an obnoxious tourist snapping pictures at an inappropriate time. Also, you know me, when I start describing something, I don’t leave anything out, as you’ve noticed in my lengthy blogs, but they were so appreciative of all the details and said it almost felt like they had been there and certainly helped them to obtain some closure from so far away. We were so happy to be able to serve them in this way at such a difficult time. We were also able to have copies of the same photos printed and put in a little booklet for Sa’eu that we gave her a few days before mother’s day. It was a joy to know how much it meant to her. We had given her a copy earlier of the same picture of her and Nelson that I showed at the beginning of this section. She asked if we could possibly get her another copy when we gave her the funeral pictures. We found it that very day and had it enlarged to 8 X 10 and printed, and placed it in a nice frame for her to have. She is still being so brave. She’s gone back to work and we see her in town a lot more that we did before. We assume that being home alone without her son to watch and fuss over is still extremely difficult for her, as it would be for any of us in the same circumstances.

Sorry for that little bit of sadness, but we so wanted to save the memories of our experience and share it with our own family. We actually have some other happy things going on here too, but we’ll catch up a little later. I’m certain this is probably a good place to quit for now. I actually feel drained and you could use some relief as well. I think I’ll take a little breather before continuing on with the next blog segment. We hope your lives are all going well and that your families are doing the same.

Here’s wishing you all our love until next time from Mom and Dad, John and Karen