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


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