Sunday, September 19, 2010

Blog #11 - September 9, 2010

It’s about time I got back to this blog. It’s been weeks since I last wrote and it’s been hanging over my head that I must get another segment done while I still remember what needs to go into it. Fortunately I have my pictures piled up to remind me what I haven’t written about yet. Today is a perfect day for this project. It’s been raining on and off since we woke up and then our Zone meeting was cancelled so we are free until about 2:30 this afternoon. We never know when to expect rain, and when it comes we have no clue how long it will persist. Many mornings when we run, the sky will be almost clear when we start, but before we get back we’ve been caught in a real cloudburst that soaks us to the skin and more. We really don’t mind running in the rain, because it’s so much cooler, but our feet get muddy and our poor shoes are totally filled with water. Thankfully we bought washable running shoes, which were meant to go in a washing machine, so the water doesn’t hurt them.
Here’s a look at what the weather’s like out there today. This picture was actually taken about a month ago, but it looks exactly like that right now. It’s just like a lake out there. You’d think it would flood, but the ground is so full of volcanic rock that everything just seeps through it and in an hour it will all be gone except the mud. The mud on the road is so full of sand and small rocks, that you can’t get stuck. It’s quite amazing really.

Speaking of rocks, there has been a huge project taking place along the seashore in front of the hotel and all along the coast here in Lalomolava. They are building a seawall to keep the ocean from eroding away the shoreline. Several feet have been slowly washed away from the Hotel’s shoreline. They’ve been hauling tons and tons of soil and rocks in for months to extend it back out again. There are some places where the hotel land goes almost 30 feet further out from the main building than it did when we first got here. Once they had the shore built out again, they started bringing in load after load of huge rocks, probably averaging about 3 feet in diameter and piling them close to the edge. Then they put down a membrane sort of like landscape cloth about 12 feet wide and pile the big rocks on top of that to keep the soil in place and I’m guessing to keep the plants and weeds from growing up between the rocks. I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s costing the government to do it, after seeing all the 100’s of dump-truck loads of dirt and rock carried in and then large bulldozers and backhoes to move the dirt around and set the rocks in place. We saw a notice in the Apia paper last week that was asking for bids for another huge seawall to be built in another area. We think they’ll go all around both islands before they’re through. Many of the more highly populated areas have had the seawalls for years. We’ve really enjoyed watching the progress on the hotel seawall and think that they are pretty well done except for the final landscaping, which will probably be up to the hotel. You know how we love to landscape with rocks and we would love to have some input on what to do here. That’s not our project, however, and it will be fun to see how they finish it up.

These three pictures show the rocks being dumped, just one of hundreds of loads, rocks being positioned by backhoe, and rocks being laid out on the membrane right down to the water’s edge.
This picture gives you an idea of how far they’ve moved the shoreline out. The edge of the grass by the building on the right and the palm tree in the center of the picture, furthest to the left, were right at the edge of the water when we came in January 2010. John estimates that this one ‘small’ project here in Lalomolava stretches along the shoreline for about 200 yards, give or take a few.
This last picture was taken just as we finished a late evening stroll along the seawall and the clouds formed a beautiful backdrop for the silhouette of the rocks. I’ve never seen clouds like we see here in Samoa. Sometimes they don’t even look real, they are so spectacular.

Our weeks are really filled with all sorts of missionary activities that keep us moving most of the time. We have no real specific schedule, except for running/walking every morning but Sunday, zone meeting every Thursday Morning and I teach a piano class on Thursday afternoons. Most Friday nights we help with the MTC class, especially if there are missionaries headed for English-speaking missions, and then we work with them on the lessons in English. Most other days, we are either visiting with the Ward Mission leaders in one of six different wards, planning and preparing for family home evenings that we set up with some of the inactive members we’ve visited, or calling back, on our own, on some of the families we’ve been working with in other wards, just to keep in touch, even though we aren’t formally working in their wards right now.

The last two weekends we’ve joined with the full time elders and sister missionaries from two zones (plus the two of us and the ward mission leaders and ward missionaries) to do a full canvassing of one ward each week, visiting every house, meeting members, inactive members and nonmembers and inviting them all to a missionary fireside the next day. We do all the visits on Saturday morning and then have the fireside the next evening on Sunday. We do some long distance traveling to get to some of those areas, and find ourselves driving home Sunday night after dark and half-way around the island. The problem with night driving in Samoa is that not only is everything pretty dark, but you never know what’s going to be walking along the narrow road or across the road—pigs, dogs, chickens, horses, cows and lots of people, who like to walk after dark because it is so cool (as in temperature). We’re always greatly relieved to get back home after one of the long dark drives at night.

We’ve had a little success with some of the families we’ve invited back to church and feel happy when they seem to be enjoying it. Others have come a time or two while we’ve worked in their ward, but kind of fizzle out after we’ve moved on. The real key for us is to have the help of the members to keep up the fellowshipping and friendshipping, home teaching, visiting teaching, etc., after we’re gone, so that there is a continual positive connection maintained with them. That works really well in some wards and others just don’t seem to get it yet. We can’t expect success every time, but it sure is satisfying when we feel we are able to help make a difference in some way. If nothing else, we’ve made some really great new friends and even if we don’t see them at church, they all greet us out in the villages or in town. In Savaii the people are so friendly and everybody waves at us all the time. Each time it happens one of us will say “do we know them?” and if we do, we’re not sure where from. We are in so many places all the time. We’ve learned to always wave, just in case it is someone who knows us and we’re not sure we know them. So now everybody waves, and so do we. We drive the same road back and forth every day and see a lot of the same people, even though we may have never met them. I’m sure we’ll really miss that back home.

We’ve had to learn to schedule ourselves carefully, or we end up getting too tired. We have to remember that we are 75 and 72 years old and we can’t keep up the pace that the young missionaries do. We learned not to schedule more that one other activity on the days that we go visiting with the ward mission leaders. We’ll visit from 5 to 7 families, walking quite a distance and mostly sitting on the hard floors of their fales (houses). We’re always happy when we are offered a chair to sit on, but we are usually on the floor. Our poor old bones, joints and muscles can take a real beating on those days. We’ve had some days when we had visits all morning, a mid-afternoon class, visit or ward activity and then a family home evening that night. We’re trying not to do that any more if we don’t absolutely have to. We especially like to keep a day free from the visits between the other days just to let our bodies recuperate a little. We usually visit three to four days a week, and schedule other types of activities on the off days. We seldom take a real P-day, but just spread our duties of shopping, cooking, laundry, emailing, recreation, etc., on those off days during the week. We still put in a little time studying language every day. John, of course, is getting better and better and I’m still studying, forgetting, not hearing, memorizing, forgetting, etc. I have some things that I have committed to memory, but so much of what I need is to be able to carry on a conversation in normal Samoan, and my big problem is that I can’t really hear what native Samoans are saying, they talk so fast and many so softly that I’m at a real loss. I smile a lot, especially at the children. Even when John is helping me and speaking sentences that I know how to say, he has to repeat them a couple of times before I really hear all the vowels and consonants correctly. When I listen to talks and lessons at church I am hearing and recognizing more and more words, but still can’t put them all together to make a complete thought. I’ll hear a word I know and think, “oh yeah, that means so and so” and by the time I figure that word or phrase out, the person has spoken several other words that I didn’t catch at all. I think I’m better than I was at first and seem to advance a little more every week. Maybe by the time I go home, I’ll be able to actually carry on a conversation in Samoan. I get by with what little I do understand and some pretty good translations, and gratefully there are many English speakers here. At least it doesn’t discourage me like it did before and I guess that’s progress of a sort. I remember when Benj was on his mission and every letter for a while had something about his language not being up to what he’d like. Then we got a letter telling us he had been carrying on a conversation with a kid at a park or something and realized he was speaking Spanish without thinking. We never heard about his language after that. I can’t imagine me getting to that point any time soon.

Last month we had a special treat. Another missionary couple from Apia, Elder and Sister Squire, who were coming over for a few days to teach some classes at Vaiola, asked us to join them on a little two day trip up to the north of our island to stay in a hotel at Vaisala and do some great snorkeling. When we were here 5 years ago, several of us came over to Savaii for three days and stayed in a hotel right on the ocean and planned to snorkel. One of the other missionaries had served up there 50 or more years ago and said it would be spectacular. When we got there, however, we discovered that the shoreline had been hit really hard with a hurricane a few years before, and it had really devastated the trees, the beach and the coral. When we went snorkeling back then in a lovely little lagoon close by, it was like a graveyard on the ocean floor, where all the coral had been torn up and it just looked like it was covered with a layer of ashes. We were all quite disappointed, especially the couple who had made the arrangements. We actually had a pretty good stay in spite of the bad snorkeling. Ever since we’ve been back, we’ve tried in vain to find that little hotel again and figured it must have just closed down. To our great surprise, when we went back to Vaisala last month with the Squires, it turned out to be the very same hotel. All the trees and brush had grown back in again, and even though there was a residue of the old “ashes” still apparent, the ocean floor was just covered with new living coral and all the sealife that lives around it. What a delight it was so see the rebirth of that area.
When we checked in to our little cottage right on the beach, we were greeted by these towels arranged on the bed with fragrant natural flowers. It was a nice little room with a bathroom and hot water shower, and a lovely little porch out front with chairs and tables.
This is the view from our front porch.
This a view of the porch itself, with John sitting and reading.

We ate lunch in the car on the way up, so that we could start snorkeling as soon as we got there about 1:30 p.m. Now-----the Squires are diehard snorkelers. When they set out from shore, they are gone for 2-3 hours. It’s not like it is for us at Aganoa where we go out a little ways and paddle around for an hour or so and then come back in to rest or eat lunch and then go back out for a while. I was a little nervous about going out too far after a bad experience I had back in February at Aganoa Beach. I guess this is as good a time to tell about that as any. It was so terrifying for me back then, that I didn’t want to tell the family about it for fear of worrying them. Anyway, we had been having a wonderful time snorkeling and moving on out toward the reef. I felt like I was almost flying because the current was carrying me over the coral so fast. I remembered then about the warning signs on the beach about the dangerous undertow and realized we were probably caught in it. John was just ahead of me so I called out to him that we needed to go back. We turned around and he headed back to shore, not realizing that I wasn’t right behind him. I could not fight the current. I was really in over my head, literally and figuratively. I fought and fought to make some headway and only got pushed further toward the reef, where the big waves break and all of a sudden the ocean gets ve-e-e-r-r-r-ry deep. I was mostly just treading water, which gratefully was quite easy for me back then with about 45 extra pounds of fat on me to keep me buoyant, and the sea water helps to hold you up as well. I saw that John made it to shore and when he looked back for me, he couldn’t see me. I called “help!” and waved at him, so he headed back into the water to come to my assistance. About this time I realized that I had better put my face and mask back in the water and just paddle as hard as I could. I had already said a couple of prayers, because I knew I was in trouble and wasn’t sure I’d survive. I put my face back in the water only to discover the dark navy blue of the deep ocean and realized I’d been washed out past the reef. It frightened me so much that I ripped my mask and snorkel off and I guess in my panic I let go of it, because I never saw it again. I still had my fins on, but couldn’t really swim well with my face out of the water. I thought I was done for. Then I saw John swimming toward me--wow was I happy to see him. Unfortunately, he had worn himself out swimming back in the first time and then back out to help me and didn’t have much strength left. We battled together for awhile to no avail and I was pretty sure we weren’t going to make it. Suddenly I looked toward the shore and noticed the wife of the resort owner waving at me, and pointing off the other direction. When I looked over that way, I saw her husband running into the water with his surfboard. I remember saying “Thank God” as he was quickly making his way toward us. My prayer had been heard. When I was able to put my hands on the surfboard, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven…. Hmmmm, well actually I think I realized we probably weren’t going to go the heaven just yet. We still had to work really hard to paddle behind the surfboard, but we were at least making some progress. Instead of taking us straight in, he took us off to the left quite a ways where the current wasn’t so bad and then on in. His son came out with another surfboard. They put John on that one because he was so tired from two trips out and back he could hardly stay up, and he has not one ounce of fat on his body to help him like I did. When we were in close enough for me to put my feet on the bottom, I felt a huge sense of relief but also horror at how close we had come to not making it back in. We’re almost sure we couldn’t have without their help. When I was almost to the shore, I was so worn out I had to just sit in the water for awhile to get my breath and strength back and to calm down a little. Another thing I’ve learned about myself is that I can get seasick snorkeling and floating on top of the water with the waves gently rocking me. Well I’d had more than just a gentle rocking on this trip and had swallowed several gulps of sea water, so I was really sick. John was ready to go eat lunch, but all I wanted was a Sprite and maybe a couple of his salty French fries and that did help me feel a little better, physically anyway. At that point, I didn’t care if I EVER saw the ocean again and I’ve always loved the ocean. Not seeing the ocean becomes a little difficult when you live only 500 feet away and the road you drive every day skirts it all the way around the Island. I ended up having terribly bad dreams about that experience and relived the terror of it over and over for several weeks. It was almost like I was suffering from post traumatic stress. That, on top of the isolation and homesickness I was experiencing those first couple of months, sent me into a tailspin of depression. John and Elder Montgomery finally gave me a blessing and at least the dreams subsided a little. After working with the mission nurse and Benj over the skype, I was able to get some help with meds and was able to finally pull out of the depression after about six more weeks. If I hadn’t known what a dream this mission had been for John for 50 years, I’d probably have insisted on going home. I was able to work my way out of it with prayers, meds and a lot of positive thinking and talking to myself. On top of all that, I had stomach pains that kept me awake constantly for weeks and I could hardly eat. I don’t know if it was anxiety or just the total change of diet and some dehydration, but I lost 25 pounds during that first month after the ocean scare. Not that I didn’t need to lose twice that much, but I’d not want to do it that way again.

I’ve continued on with my morning runs and watched the diet after that and have lost another 20 or so on purpose. I’m feeling just great physically and mentally now and feel that I have really adjusted well to this crazy life we’re living, including being able to share that “washed out to sea” story without plunging back into despair. Anyway, that’s why I was so nervous about going to a new place to snorkel. I’d been back to Aganoa beach a few times and was able to stay close to shore and have a nice time. This new adventure with the Squires scared me a little, but they assured me there was no dangerous current there at all. We stayed pretty close to the rocky shore at first and then went on around into the little lagoon that had looked so bad when we were here years ago. It was all grown in again and was just so beautiful and peaceful. Somehow or other we lost John when we went into the Lagoon, so I stayed pretty close to the Squires the whole time until we found him again, but not until we’d been gone more than two hours, clear out to the reef and swimming in 12 to 15 ft. of water. I didn’t want to head back in by myself, even though I was getting a little seasick again and was pretty tired. Sister Squire recognized that I was wearing out, so she suggested that she and I head back in and leave her husband out by the reef. I gladly accepted and hadn’t realized how far out we were until I noticed how long it took us to get back in. There was no undertow though and I felt pretty much in control, to my great relief. John was waiting for us on shore and getting a little cold in the breeze, so Sis. Squire suggested we go over to this other little area of the beach that was really shallow and calm, so it was like lounging in a nice warm bathtub. We just lolled around there talking, and feeding the fish that swim right up close to shore, for quite a bit while we waited for Elder Squire to come back in and join us. That was probably a little more difficult snorkeling that day than I would have chosen, but it was actually very therapeutic for me to master it after that first scare. After we had a nice warm shower and got dressed again, we wandered along the beach taking pictures and headed for the Dining room for supper.

These are some of the pictures I took that evening of the sun rays through the clouds, the warm, shallow little beach where we went to lounge around and get warm, a view from a hill above the hotel, with our cottage on the immediate right, and another picturesque shot along the way to the dining room. It’s re-e-e-a-lly a sacrifice to be serving a mission in such an out-of-the-way place, but then SOMEBODY HAS TO DO IT!!!! RIGHT???. Actually the isolated part does make it a little difficult at times, but being able to take a couple of days like these at Viasala once in a while, certainly does make up for the other more stressful parts.

We had a lovely dinner on the balcony of the hotel dining room where we took more pictures (181 – 183)

and then went back to the Squires porch and played games until bedtime. We got up early and went snorkeling again and had a great day and then had to start back to get the Squires on the 4:00 Ferry headed back to Apia. All in all, it was a wonderful break from our usual duties as missionaries. That’s the nice thing about being a Senior missionary. We have fewer restrictions and more opportunities for recreation than the young missionaries do. We don’t even tell them about our snorkeling trips, because they are not allowed to go in the ocean at all.

Seeing these pictures today made us want to go back up to Visaula again. We realized that the MTC class had been cancelled for Friday night and we were planning to go snorkeling at Aganoa on our P-day on Saturday, so we decided to head back up to Visaula tomorrow afternoon (Friday) and stay over until Saturday afternoon. That will be another nice break after several weeks of some pretty stressful days.

I mentioned a piano class I’ve been teaching for several weeks now. It started out very simply with me teaching one inactive teenager who didn’t seem interested in going back to church with her parents. We had taken my little roll-up piano to a family home evening we had with their family and she was quite taken with it. Her mom told us she had had to give up her piano class at school because of the need to take another class and she had been very disappointed. Knowing I had been sent with some conducting and piano keyboard teaching aids by the missionary department because of my music background, I volunteered to teach her once a week. I had already sent for another couple of roll-up pianos, because the first one was such a hit with all the families that I feared it would be worn out soon. I had given her about three lessons, when one day the Bishop’s wife came to their house visiting teaching while I was giving Tu’i her piano lesson. Sister Fuga saw me teaching and asked if I would be willing to teach her three teenage girls as well. I was really enjoying these lessons, so I said an immediate ‘yes’ before I realized that I had only one book and I was leaving that with Tu’i to practice with every day. It turns out the Bishop’s family had a keyboard at their home and if the Bishop was willing to make copies of the first few lessons in the book for his daughters to use, we could probably make that work until I could get ahold of more copies of the lesson book. Two extra girls came to sit in on the next lesson and wanted to continue, then several others in the ward asked me also. I had a talk with the Bishop and the Ward Music Chairman and said I would be willing to teach all 11 of them if I could get some help from others in the ward who played the piano already. Also, we had to let others know that there was not room for any others in the class. A couple of the kids brought their little brothers and sisters to join in, but I had to tell them I couldn’t handle any of the younger kids this time around. As soon as this class is over, I may try another one if I’m still around. One of the reasons I really needed helpers was that it’s possible I won’t be here to finish the class, and they would probably be able to carry on without me. Besides not having enough music to go around, we needed more pianos, so we asked around and were able to find another couple of portable keyboards, so I teach the class with the Primary Piano, three other keyboards, and my two little roll-up pianos. The kids have to double up during the class, but it seems to be working okay. Kimmy had told me that she does group lessons, and the kids seem to try a little harder to keep up with the others. It seems to work that way for me too. Because Samoan schedules are so lax, it’s a real challenge to get everyone there on time, if they show up at all. I’ve had a couple of days with no helpers at all, so I’ve taken to reminding them each week on the day before the class. I have to go to their houses to do that, because they have no phones. Then I have to pick up several of the kids on lesson day, because they live quite a ways away from the church and they are bringing their keyboards. Today when I went to pick up the first girl, she was asleep, so I had to wait for her. The next girl was not home at all and no one seemed to know where she was. When I went to pick up the third girl, she came out to the car and said, “oh are we having class today? I thought it would be cancelled because of the rain.” She did go back in and get her keyboard and came along with us. I’m learning some patience I never knew I needed before I was confronted with the Samoan culture. There’s just no big rush for anything. Samoan time is almost always late, if you remember at all, and if you miss this week, you’ll just come next time, even though you’ll end up behind in the piano class. I had to let go of perfection a long time ago, and now I’m just accepting whatever comes. That helps with the stress. Some of them are doing pretty well and others are struggling, because they miss so much class. I’m trying not to let it bother me and I’m getting better each time. I hope we’ll actually have some piano players capable of accompanying simple church hymns by the time we’re finished. I don’t think there’ll be 11 of them, but maybe 3 or 4 who really keep it up and practice regularly. I’ll feel good about that.

I think I mentioned in our last blog that we were giving up the English classes, because the Mission President wanted us to move on to other wards now, and it would make it too hard to get back for the two classes each week. We’re actually quite relieved to be finished with them, even though we did make some good friends among the kids in those three wards. Now, here I am trapped into a piano class, but only for one afternoon per week, and because all of the kids speak English, it’s something I can do to contribute something to the wards without knowing Samoan very well.

One day while we were in Apia, we had some extra time and decided to go visit the Aggie Grey hotel, where we had stayed 5 years ago. It is a beautiful place and is decorated with Samoan décor to the hilt.

The landscaping is like the garden of Eden with exotic flowers everywhere, some we’ve not seen before.
As you walk from the main building back to all the fales and the swimming pool, the whole path is covered with this beautiful carved ceiling and posts. It just goes on and on.
The main dining fale is huge, where they have continual buffets all day long and great entertainment in the evenings. We had great memories of our two-week stay there when we came for the Temple Dedication.
In the large dining fale the whole ceiling is intricately woven and painted with native Samoan carved wood, cords and art. All the support posts are hand carved. I can’t imagine the number of man hours it took to complete the whole thing. It was so fun to have a chance to stop back and see it again. Before we came to Samoa this trip, Kimmy gave us a copy of a book called “Aggie Grey of Samoa, the First Lady of the south Pacific.” She was the founder of the hotel and built it up from a tiny hamburger stand for the American soldiers during world war II, to the incredible luxury hotel that it is now. The history of her life closely parallels the history of Samoa before and during those turbulent war and post war years. I read it before we came, but had to read it again a couple of times after arriving and being more familiar with all the stories and places talked about in the book. The book has made the rounds of most of the Senior missionaries, who’ve enjoyed it as much as we have. Thanks again Kimmy, it was a perfect gift and has been well used.

JOHN - Our visits have taken us into two new villages along the coast, Moesavili and Sasa’ai. I actually lived for several months back in 1956 in Moesavili. None of the people there now were even alive or old enough to remember much of those days. The road was sand or rock, there was no elecrtricity, no toilet paper (they used coconut husks), no septic tanks--their outhouses were positioned along the beach out over the water and the fish took care of cleanup, practically no one wore any shorts or pants (all lavalavas) or t-shirts, and people bathed out in the open. Elephantitis was rampant, with many old folks having enlarged arms or legs. The Samoan houses were all thatched roof construction. The houses today are still the same open style, but the roofs are mostly galvanized tin. Houses used to be built using a thin rope material made from coconut husks. The old matais would sit and weave this rope (sennet, or afa) for hours on end. They all still sit cross legged on the floor much of the time. We have met some great people who have not been active in church for long periods of time. Every one we have visited has stated that they still have a strong testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel but for some reason they have not been able to keep coming to church. We have had some absolutely wonderful visits, with old chiefs, widows, young couples, and children. Much of the time we tell them how much we love the church and how we know that our families can be sealed in the temple for all time and eternity because of the great sealing power that was restored through the prophet Joseph Smith. We declare our faith in our living prophet. We met a family with three teenage girls who attend the church’s Vaiola school and who have been baptized into our church. Upon entering their home we found out that they speak very good English, and the father is a minister of the LMS church and teaches at their church college. We knew the parents were non-members when we went, so we tempered our remarks accordingly and kept our testimonies fairly generic. The father and mother sat rather stoically as we spoke and we felt they were a little uncomfortable with us there. When the father began to speak, he thanked us for coming, and went on to say, to our great surprise, that they were very interested in the Church. We were also made aware that he has been reading the church magazines that his daughters bring home from school. Each student at Vaiola has a subscription to the New Era and he’s read them and been so impressed with the messages contained in them that he has just about decided that he and his wife also want to be baptized and become members too. He went on to explain, however, that this was going to be a real challenge for him, being the village minister of another faith. He wants to leave that position without harming his family or causing too much trouble for the village, and he would probably lose his teaching job. We keep copies of the Liahona in our car and we left him several different issues, including one complete conference report from last year. We have taken other reading material to him at his request. This will be an interesting story as it unfolds. We are planning a family home evening with them this next Monday night, along with the sister missionaries who have been working with the girls. We’re really looking forward to it.

We have also had several people come back to church, and we have met them on our Sunday visits to those two wards. Just this morning we saw a young father and his two sons in church. We had a very emotional visit with him this past week after which he said he knew he needed to stop his smoking and drinking and get back to church. I related to him how my dad was having the same problems when I was very young – smoking, drinking, and not attending to church activities. I explained that my dad was a good, honest man who loved his children very much, and when I was 12 years old and ready to be made a deacon he realized it was time to set a good example for me. He came back to church and quit his smoking and drinking. I felt that this Samoan man also loved his boys very much and that, he too, probably realized that he needed to make the changes my dad made 62 years ago. With tears in his eyes he said he would come back to church. He did, and so this is a measure of the success that we are experiencing, and it is a wonderful thing to behold. I had a recurring dream a few years back that I would someday be back in Samoa, and that I would have an opportunity to teach the gospel in the home of a high chief. I have actually had that happen, and in fact it happens a few times each week.

KAREN - These two pictures were taken at one of our fale visits. The first one is of an old chief, who hasn’t been coming to church because of a bad leg. He and John had such a fun visit along with Malala, the ward mission leader. The other picture is of his daughter and her children. Notice the babies have no clothes on. That’s pretty typical except in town and at church. The children are so beautiful, but a little wary of these strange looking Palagis (whites) at first. When John invited the old chief to church and suggested we could pick him up if it was too hard for him to walk, he readily agreed. When we went to pick him up on Sunday, he had already left and walked to church on his own. He did allow us to take him back home again, however.

On that same morning we had made arrangements to pick up another family. We had visited them for the second time the week before and had such a moving visit. The mother, Paula, is a young widow of about three months. Her husband died playing in a rugby game, where I think he broke his neck. She has 6 children, ages 2,4,6,8,10 and 12, all boys, except for the darling baby girl. Her oldest son has gone on to the U.S. to live with her brother and go to school. She hasn’t been coming to church for obvious reasons—she’s pretty depressed and the kids are a handful. Also, the in-laws she lives with are not members and have their own opinions about her attending church. When we were there this past week, she was telling us about her worries of supporting her family. She’s asked for financial help from her own family who live in New Zealand and the U.S., but so far hasn’t had much help. Her in-laws provide her a little house and help with food, but she has no money for anything extra. She told us about trying to start up a baking business, where she would bake cakes, breads, muffins, banana bread, gingerbread, etc., in this really primitive, by our standards anyway, oven.

The oven itself is made with a 55-gallon barrel on it’s side, on top of a little rock wall that is open at the back to load the wood for the fire underneath the oven. The whole thing is then covered with about 3-4 inches of concrete. The shelf is added inside and the lid of the barrel is used as the oven door, with a piece of cardboard inside the door, for insulation, I guess, and a couple of sticks to prop it closed. When she told us that she made gingerbread, we were both surprised, saying that we’ve not seen any in Samoa yet. When we asked if we could buy some from her, she told us she was sorry but she had no money to buy ingredients to bake with. We asked if we could pay for it up front and gave her some money and made an appointment for a couple of days later to come and pick up the finished gingerbread. When we came back that afternoon two days later, the gingerbread was still in the oven, but almost finished. I asked her how she was able to control the temperature (she speaks some English), and she just said you either add wood to the fire, or take some out. Okay…..sounds like true precision to me. We watched her father-in-law test the gingerbread by plucking a tiny little stick off a nearby bush, about the size of a toothpick, and testing it the way we would. When the gingerbread muffins came out of the oven they looked really dark, as they should, and I wondered if the bottom closest to the fire would be burned. They were perfect. She spread a little butter on one for us and MMMM-good. It was wonderful. It’s just amazing to me that she can have that kind of control on the oven. She had already received a big order that morning from the local women’s committee for a large pan of Coconut buns and was really acting happy. The coconut buns are just like you would bake hot rolls in the oven, but the dough is put into a coconut milk pudding in the bottom of the pan and baked in the oven. We didn’t have any of hers, but we’ve tasted them before and they are yummy. When we went back to pick her up for church the following Sunday, she had all the kids ready and spruced up. I had baked some pumpkin bread the day before so we brought her a loaf, along with the recipe. She makes a lot of Banana bread, and this is something she hadn’t had before and hopefully she’ll be able to make some and sell it. The pumpkin is readily available and she could probably grow it herself, like we have.

Their version of pumpkins here are more green than ours, but the taste is the same. You can’t believe the size of the pumpkin plants and how they spread. This is the second one from our garden in the picture and there are several more in varying degrees of ripening. We eat it quite often just like squash but John has also made a few pumpkin pies--MMMMMM again.
This is a picture of Paula, the young widow, with her kids in front of the cookhouse. She is a beautiful, happy-faced woman, in spite of her circumstances. She really seemed to have a nice time at Church and everyone warmly welcomed her. We made arrangements to pick her up again this next Sunday. I hope she enjoys it enough to keep going after we move on and she has to walk about a mile with her kids. She asked us while we were there last week what she had to do to get ready to go to the temple. The Ward mission leader just told her she’d need to attend church, visit with the bishop, and would also be expected to pay tithing, which could be hard, but she’d be blessed for it. We have great hopes of being there if and when she is able to go.

These next pictures were taken at the home of Miriama and her family. I’m pretty sure we’ve talked about her before. Her husband. who was blind in one eye, went to the doctor for treatment of his other eye, and somehow or other lost the sight in that eye as well. He was also deaf, and just decided he didn’t want to live with all that, so he took a pair of scissors and stabbed himself in the temple, with obvious results. She is a handsome woman of about 55 or so. She’s had a hard life. Not only has she lost her husband, but her only daughter died a few years ago from breast cancer, and Miriama is raising her daughter’s four children, plus another darling little boy, Pelese, who belongs to one of her other sons, Letoa. He’s the object of a pretty heavy custody battle between the son and ex-wife, but so far still stays with the family. She really has her hands full, but always has a smile on her face and a happy disposition. She’s just barely active in the Church, but always sends the kids. We had a family home evening on this particular night, because her other son, Ula from American Samoa, was visiting and we had met and befriended him when we first came.

Another family we’ve visited off and on is the Auano family. The mother has been coming to church with the children, but her husband is very resistant. He’d had his feelings hurt years ago and has stayed away ever since. He has what appears to be a paralysis on one side of his face and is probably embarrassed about it. He’s a kind and hard-working man who obviously loves his family and has said that he knows he should be going to church with them. It’s not happened yet, but we keep hoping. We had a fun family home evening with them where we played games and showed them a DVD on our laptop of the Savior’s life, death and resurrection. It’s a beautifully done film and can be played with the Samoan language. They all seemed very touched by it.

The first two pictures are of some games we were playing and the third one is of the family, including an aunt and several cousins from next door, watching the DVD. The mother is on the left in the paisley blouse, the father in the far back (as usual), with the aunt in front of him.
these pictures were taken at a primary program in the ward we live in, McKay Ward. As you can see, it took place on the parking lot/basketball court and all the kids did some sort of native Samoan dance.

The final two pictures were taken of a primary teacher off to the side who just couldn’t sit still when the music was playing for the kids. She put on a wonderful show, and seemed to ham it up more when she realized I was taking her picture. These folks are so spontaneous and full of fun. Many of these children were in our English class and have found a special place in our hearts. We love being associated with them and their parents, and they welcome us with open arms like family. The refer to us as their spiritual parents, and we love them as if we were.

Since writing the earlier part of this blog segment, we did make another trip up to Vaisala last weekend and had a joyful and lazy time. It was quite rainy both days and nicely cool. Poor John couldn’t keep warm after snorkeling for awhile. I had just stayed on the beach, under a fale because of the rain and spread out my blanket and pillow and read and napped. It was just luxurious. When John came back in from snorkeling, he was too cold to go back in with me, so we just got dressed and went for a long walk in the rain, with an umbrella for each of us. We met some delightful villagers as we walked and stopped to watch some children jumping rope. I asked if I could try, acting at first as if I didn’t know what I was doing and then just took off with some of my old time jump-roping. It was such fun and they were really surprised to see this old woman jumping rope like she thought she knew what she was doing. I tried to show them how to do that cross-over thing you can do with the rope that I was so good at as a kid, but all I did was about fall on my face, so I quit trying before I embarrassed myself and John any more.

We got these pictures of the kids, but gratefully John didn’t think about taking one of me until later and I was just fine with that.
We saw these kids rolling in the sand on the beach later, and tried to catch them before they ran back into the water. They were all cleaned off, but when I asked if they’d roll again so I could take their picture, they gladly granted my request.

After a lovely dinner on the dining balcony, we went to bed early and slept in the next morning. We went for a leisurely breakfast about 9:30 and then went back out and snorkeled for another couple of hours, until poor John, who had worn two layers of t-shirts this time, just got too cold to enjoy himself. I must really get some fat on that guy. Ordinarily, it would have been much warmer, but the sun did not come out at all that day, and it sprinkled rain off and on while we were snorkeling. All in all, however, it was a very relaxing break from our very hectic schedule during the week.

Today we spent another busy day with visits to about 6 families up in Sasa’ai, with our umbrellas again. The Ward Mission leader up there is just a super young married guy and speaks good English. He really knows his ward people and just makes them and us all feel so comfortable. At our last stop, we came to a fale with a whole bunch of people in the yard and the little work fales. They were all members of the local ward performing a service project for a family whose thatched roof needed mending. The men had cut down several of these very large bushes and had gathered up hundreds of very long, thin leaves, probably 2” x 50” long and were piling them up in the fales for the women to weave them into thatched mats for the roof. They take about 3 leaves, fold them in half over a rigid stick about 3 feet long and then stitch them in place, overlapping each set of leaves, with twine and a strange looking needle, about 1/2” wide, 1/8” thick and almost 6 inches long, made out of some different brightly colored plastic material. When we asked to see the needle up close, they informed us it was made from a toothbrush handle with the brush cut off and then sharpened. It had a hole in the flat end for the heavy twine and they could really handle it well. I never cease to be amazed at their resourcefulness. Here was a whole group of people, men and women, making the thatch for two Samoan fales and spending practically nothing but time and elbow grease. I was so disappointed that I didn’t have my camera with me, but after we got back to the car, I grabbed it and we went back to take pictures.

Most of the men had gone by then, but the ladies were still there stitching the mats together. Notice how the women are sitting Fa’aSamoa (crosslegged). They’ve probably been sitting like that for hours on the hard wood floor in one fale, and on rocks in the other fale. A couple had woven sleeping mats on the rocks and others were sitting right on the rocks. We’ve sat in plenty of fales just like that, but they always put a woven mat down for us to sit on. (Like all Samoans, they love having their pictures taken. The great thing about digital cameras is that we can show them the pictures right on the spot. They love that.)

Those women had a huge pile of thatched mats all finished and stacked to dry out before the men would come back later to “reshingle” the fales.

I am determined to quit writing now and get the pictures in place, before we have another busy day and a new adventure to add. I see I’m already over 12 pages long and it will be more once the pictures are added, so that’s more than enough for now.

Thanks for joining us on our Samoan odyssey. We realized that we’ve been here 8 months already, a little more than a third of our mission. We’ve had so many unusual and moving experiences and expect there’ll be many more. I think I mentioned before that when President Nelson set us apart for our mission, he told us after that he felt this was not going to be an ordinary mission. So far, he’s right on, and I’m sure we’ll see more of the same. We love it, and it’s going by too fast.

I think I said something about quitting a couple of paragraphs ago. Sorry……All our love to everyone. We really do miss you all and truly do wish you were here.

From Elder and Sister Krogh, John and Karen, Mom and Dad, Grandpa and Grandma


Silvey Mothership said...

So good to hear from you and all the new adventures, experiences, your growing testimonies of missionary work, and just fun! I'm so glad you take lots of pictures and the time to post a blog and share with all of us. Our thoughts and prayers are with you both!

farfler said...

I love reading of your adventures! I know Karen, that you and John are makeing a great difference in the lives of these choice people, and that the church will be stronger there because of the both of you. I am not surprised that you were told this would be no ordinary mission because you are both extra-ordinary people in our book.
Keep writing......we all love reading it and it strenghens our testimonies! Love and prayers.....John and Patty

farfler said...

Should have checked my spelling before posting!

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