Sunday, November 29, 2015

Pictures, Port Villa

Sister Leben in her bedroom/living room.

Elder Leben in the kitchen.  the front door is there on the left next to the window.

After our Thanksgiving meal out on the deck.  I think that is Elder Stevens? or Elder Leben on the left; Stevens is financial secretary to the Mission President; Then the president, two daughters and his wife.  The nurse is on the far right.

Another unusual flower.
Sitting near reception you can still see the beautiful water.

We saw these unusual flowers in Ghana.

Our abode for the next 3 weeks.

Port Villa, Efate, Vanuatu Islands

November 29, 2015

I had a record sleep last night of 10 hours—jetlag no more… We departed Auckland just after 9:40 AM and arrived in Port Villa on Vanuatu Islands group 3+ hours later.  We waited for E/S Leben, who were just arriving one hour after us, coming from Tanna, where we might go for part of this visit. 

NZ Airlines treats us as though we have lots of miles with them; we have a Frequent Flyer number but not many mile points.  We asked for bulkhead seats when we were in LA and got them.  If they don’t sell them for $100 a seat, they do give them up on the travel day.  We also have bulkhead seats coming and going from the islands—nice.

I was surprised as we walked down the stairs off the plane that we got hit with a stiff wind.  It was refreshing in the humidity, which still seems different to me than the climate of West Africa—it has a tropical feel to it. 

Even though they say that they are in a drought, the island is quite green and beautiful, very rural and not ‘city-developed.’  On the plane we saw islanders, aid workers, and vacationers.  The people of this island remind me of Haitians.  They apparently speak a sort of pigeon English that we might be able to figure out a little bit.  If they are a chief or a pauper, they all dress the same, in casual and sometimes holey clothes, so we’ll make sure that we’re respectful of whomever we meet!  No more insulting chiefs!  As we got off the plane we saw two men who identified themselves as members.  They have come to bury the contents of a container that the church had sent that got stuck in red tape and rotted in port—this happened to us in Kenya and it is such a waste.  We also met a man in the airport who was a taxi driver who said hello and introduced himself as a member. 

Our bungalow is roomy, and very close to reception, food, the water and the Internet.

E/S Leben, who are from Germany, are quite enthusiastic and fun to be with and their English is quite good.  They have a truck to drive, and say that there is little traffic with no stops signs.  They informed us that there are no dangerous varmints or snakes or even mosquitoes that would give us malaria (just itchy bites).  A big surprise—you can drink the water!  We saw on our drive to our bungalow downed trees here and there, but otherwise did not see the destruction from the cyclone.

Our bungalow has tiled floors, is roomy, and has some amenities.  Internet is out by where one eats and Leben’s say the food is good.  As we sit near the reception area we can still see the water.  It is more like a very wide river here.  They have a small pool, and both the waters we dipped our hands in felt inviting.  We were told that if we used their fancy air conditioner it would cost us money each day.  So whether we use it a lot or a little, it is paid for by the day.  Electricity here you see, is very expensive.

The small pool, pleasant water.

They dropped us off so we could unpack and get settled, and came back to pick us up for another Thanksgiving dinner later that afternoon.  By car from here they are only 5 minutes away; walking takes 15 minutes.  It is lovely here but I already know that I’ll be longing for a quick swim at the end of each day! 

As I walked out on the deck I saw several star fish lying near the shoreline—so awesome! 

The dirt path winds around each bungalow and is edged with beautiful flowering plants.

The water next to the eating area.  Inside this little lagoon shown here there were several star fish, all differently colored. 

Mathias Leben picked us up at 3:30, we visited, and then went next door to where another couple lives to have yet another Thanksgiving dinner.  The places they are staying in, in this complex, has an electronic gate.  The apartments appear to be quite new, with tiled floors; they sit right on the water and have a generous deck.  There is a bathroom of course, a closet, and a small kitchen, but the bedroom is also the living room.  They have enough room for a small table at the side or at one place, a couch and TV. 

We were surprised at the number of people at this dinner: the couple that owns the complex, who have been working for months to restore the place since the cyclone destroyed the structures near the water; they are just now about to fill the swimming pool.  There was a young couple that had just moved here from Spain, another tenant who was from Germany, and then several mission couples: one nurse, the Mission President, his wife and two daughters, an education couple, the couple that takes care of the mission president, and a missionary couple.  It was quite a feast, with some friendly people.

During the cyclone everyone stayed with the mission president till it was safe to return to their little homes at the water’s edge.

When we got back to our bungalow I showered—the water finally got hot, for a few seconds, went back to cold; I moved it back and forth from hot to cold, and then the hot water would come on for a few seconds, long enough to shower off or soap up.  I think we have to talk to the manager…but at least I managed a good shower, just in very short spurts….

There’s no TV so we went to bed early.  They do have a library here though, but then I brought my own.

Love, from Vanuatu (Otea Island)

Friday, November 27, 2015

Thanksgiving in Auckland

Auckland, Saturday, November 28, 2015

Dear Family & Friends,

We took a shuttle to the airport at 4 PM Thursday, turkey day.  Since we’ve traveled on Easter and Christmas in the past this was not entirely unusual.  Normally we get someone to take us to the airport, but since we figured they’d all be eating pumpkin pie, we made other arrangements.

We took a 13-hour flight on New Zealand Air from LA directly to Auckland.  It is a great airline with comfortable seats, good food, great service, and all the amenities that you never get while flying in the U.S.  We even got a ‘real’ pillow—large, soft and fluffy, and a real blanket--and of course the now famous Men in Black rap video explaining the safety features of the plane.  You can look those videos up on U-Tube.  They have others, but the rap is my favorite.
I slept some on a flight that left at night and arrived (flying over Friday) Saturday early morning, E/S Winters picking us up.  When Gary stopped for gas he said it costs $100 to fill up his tank since fuel is about $8 a gallon!  I just stopped complaining about the cost of gas in CA.  They dropped us off at the hotel, but we only had time to unpack a few things and take a short nap; we had a breakfast meeting across the street from the church offices at a cafĂ©.  The food was healthy and looked like it came from a ‘cooking show’.  We met with Gary Winters and Hans Sorensen to discuss what they wanted us to accomplish while in Vanuatu.  We leave tomorrow morning at 7 AM.  Jim said that we are supposed to get done in 3 weeks what would normally take 3 months, but then they’d hoped for a longer trip from us and we can see why.  We’ll be teaching locals how to build shelters; this will give them skills so that they can possibly get a job with a contractor, while at the same time getting the shelters built.  We will also be looking at water projects on the two main islands of Otea and Tanna.  The shelters are basic--a roof and wood structure, just framing, which the people are supposed to complete themselves.  They will need to put in floors and siding.  The church donated two portable saw mills, and will be using the wood from the fallen trees (from the cyclone last March) to build the structures.

It was nice to be recognized as soon as we walked into the Spencer Hotel; all we had to do was sign and go up to our room, this time on the 17th floor—they have 20 floors—with the same arrangement of two TV’s, full kitchen, washer and dryer, and a living room separate from the bedroom.  Nice.  There won’t be TV’s on Otea in the Vanuatu Islands group.  They don’t have Internet if we get to Tanna, the other island we will be visiting.  We were instructed to bring a water filter for Tanna.  Interesting.  We are expecting heat and humidity, just like West Africa—it will be hot and humid and sometimes more hot and humid—and they are approaching their summertime.  E/S Leben have been frantically busy since they first arrived a few days before the cyclone.

I zoomed in to see people swimming in the hotel pool.  The next picture is taken without a zoom from our window on the 17th floor. 

Susan Winters is always so thoughtful.  She often buys things for people, and today she gave me a bag of things to take to Sister Leben and added two huge candy bars for us.  E/S Winters will finish their mission here at the end of February, after which our daughter-in-law’s parents will take their place—Dave & Anne Maughan.  We are good friends so it will be fun working with them when we lose Gary & Susan Winters.  Gary asked them to take their place since they had met while Maughan’s were serving a humanitarian mission in Serbia.  They are hard-working, knowledgeable, and really fun.
The weather, while still overcast and sometimes dripping rain, was not nearly as cold as it was last month, which was a pleasant surprise.  Still, I seemed to be the only person in a sweater—everyone we saw were wearing flip flops and shorts.  We saw people actually using the hotel pool, which we can see from our 17th floor.  Last month the water was rather frigid.
We had time to rest up a bit after the breakfast, in time to shower and freshen up for the Thanksgiving dinner at 2 PM.  We always feel pampered when we are here.  They had a huge variety of foods and desserts.  They had a few fun activities afterwards all about Thanksgiving trivia and music.  We are still amazed at how many couples serve here.  We were back at the hotel by 4:30, in time to relax and get to bed early before we depart for yet another new adventure.

Elder Whidden, who helped organize the activities including the order of getting food; Sister Winters organized the whole dinner.  About 50 people attended, all so very friendly and welcoming. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

Love, E/S Greding, Jim & Karen, Mom & Dad

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Last Days in Auckland

Monday & Tuesday, November 2-3, 2015

Monday: We walked to the office on a fairly sunny day and went over the trip reports with Gary Winters.  We went to lunch and then went back to the hotel to work on them.  We finished it for the most part but still have to decipher which projects we might want to do and rate them according to need and feasibility.  There are not as many in Samoa to have to worry about but there are in Tonga.  So, there is still so much work yet to do.

Tuesday: We got to bed on time and got a full night’s sleep, the first in at least a week.  We leisurely got up and went to the office to meet Gary and Susan who took us to a high spot where we could look out over Auckland from all directions, after which we went to a huge park that was donated by a wealthy man many years ago.  They have the most interesting variety of trees—it is quite magnificent.  We checked out another monument in this beautiful city and then got some lunch.  I am so adverse to cold and wind that I wasn’t so sure I liked it here despite its wonderful attributes; but later we went to a couple of beaches and the sun had come out and it wasn’t so windy and I could enjoy how breathtaking it is here.  They said that there is no place in NZ that is ugly—I believe it. When we return it will be a bit warmer, more like this afternoon.

One of the beautiful beaches in the afternoon, warmer later.    

These trees are on a huge donated piece of land and to me they look like Halloween, sort of craggy.

Sir John Logan Campbell donated a huge parcel of land to NZ.  The trees are there, most beautiful.  This is a monument to him.  We also saw another monument for Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labor Prime Minister in NZ. 

We fly out tomorrow afternoon on November 4th, a Wednesday.  We’ll be in Hong Kong on the 5th on Thursday, but we’ll be home on Wednesday the 4th late in the evening.  A bit of a time difference!  We have been invited back so won’t be home for long before heading back here, this time going to Vanuatu Island and Tanna, part of that island group.  This time we are to help build some simple houses for those who lost their homes in the cyclone last March and to teach others how to build them.  This was a surprise and a different assignment.  I thought it would be a place where we have to rough-it because of the cyclone, but no, both islands have resort housing.  Elder and Sister Leben are the humanitarian couple there.  They are from Germany and arrived a few days before the cyclone hit and have been working at recovery ever since.  This time we will be hot…


Mom & Dad.  See you in a couple of days. 

Some beautiful flowers at the old rock restaurant.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Just Pictures, of paradise

President Hinckley's tree that he planted at the church.

Jim gave these little girls a sucker, and they loved hamming it up for the camera.

A cruise ship in the bay by the church.

A buffet for about 20 people--they ate nearly all of it.

They would put their produce in these woven baskets and give them to us after looking at projects.

This is a lousy picture, but China built this road for them--there are many Chinese workers here on the islands.

Cargo ships are always in the bay delivering containers of goods needed on the islands.
Some pump houses are pretty cute, some not so much...

Ana Ika, Sister Murdock and the Edwards' about to leave on our island trek.
Sister Lata and me on the island.
Vava'u eating near the water.
Hotel pool, Vava'u
Liahona House, our bedroom.
Liahona House, the family room.
Liahona House, the kitchen.
Liahona House, the dining room.
Liahona House, the living room.
Liahona House, master bedroom, for special visitors like the prophet. 

We see many ancient boats around these islands.
They say that coconuts have eyes--this one sure does.  They also say because they have eyes they won't fall on your head (one of the locals said that he knows of someone that got bonked--there goes that theory).

This tree grows the stuff you find in your pillows and some blankets.

A budget ride between islands.
The resort where we checked out a project request, without bathing suits or snorkels--pure torture.
I've never seen so many huge clam shells; they have a clam farm out by the reef where they snorkel.
The resort; cruise ships keep this place alive.
They have the most beautiful shells here--we found some too, just not quite as large!
Our first boat ride--it was a bit slow loaded down with a man and his 3 sons.
Just another beach.
Squid anyone?
Do you think they ought to clean this up?
The Tonga Temple
Our hotel in Vava'u.  We heard that they are in arrears.  
Vava'u hotel--the furniture was pretty.
Largest tanks we ever saw on main island of Vava'u.

We see Japan donations signs everywhere.

We saw one of our very large church buildings on this island; it even had a basketball court.  They said that it was 40 years old but that it had recently been renovated.  It was immaculately clean.

This is the church's boat out to the islands but it was broken at the moment so we had to hire another boat.

From our hotel room on Vava'u.  It was a beautiful, calm day.

We worked on these two islands, the third obscured by the clouds.  I wouldn't have known this until I saw a map.  There was one project request on the furthest island and two on the one closest in the picture.  We had to take a boat from one part of the island to another.

A group of islands and reefs that I thought looked like a whale.

These are the graves of the poorer people.  I wonder how they take care of them when it rains.

A cute young and friendly girl who came out to talk to me while we were checking out a project.

As we traveled about we saw many beautiful sightss.

Just pretty...
I have never seen so many pigs--there are so many that they run all over the place like doggies. 
Above and below: this is not typical of the islands, and in fact about 99% of them were Western toilets with TP and clean--there is always one exception though...

This is the ramp built by this village with donated materials from India.  This is from the top looking towards the dock.  It was quite a feat. 
This dock was made with cement bags that were also stuffed with rocks and covered in burlap--get them wet--it becomes a dock. 
Can't help myself...I just keep taking pictures.
Do the beautiful spots ever end?  The water is so clear. 
An island water source...
And island fisherman.
This is a paddle board on our boat; the kid did not know that you could surf behind a boat so Jim showed him pictures.  He said that he'd take Jim surfing if we came out again.
The water turns turquoise as it gets close to shore--the water in the bay is a deep blue.
Swallow Cave.
Swallow Cave.

Sister Murdock took this picture of the Swallow Cave.  It was so beautiful that none of us felt we had captured the beauty that we saw.  Too bad they have spoiled this beautiful cave with their graffiti.