Tuesday, December 22, 2015

"The first shall be last, and the last shall be first..." or a Tour of Efate Island

**This is the blog post that would not load.  Now that we're home, it was easy.
Monday, November 30, 2015

Going to bed so early makes me an early riser.  I was up at 5 AM, dressed, and went to reception, which was closed, to get the Internet.  After a long while the owner’s wife came downstairs to greet us.  She was so accommodating that in the end she had me sit at the reception desk, got me a plug adaptor, and unplugged something or other so that I could keep my computer from dying till I got all my e-mail taken care of.  The gal from the day before said how fast the Internet was—the only explanation to that would be that things and people move so slowly around here that it appears to be fast to them.  It is not.  If I have plenty of time I eventually will be able to send an e-mail, some pictures and load my blog.  I was up so early this morning that I had time to do this.  

A complimentary continental breakfast is served at 7:30 AM.  By 7:45 we inquired as to where it was—well, we have to order it, even though it comes with the room.  If you want a hot breakfast, you have to pay for this.  You just have to learn the rules, you see…

In talking to the owner’s wife, who is from Auckland, she said that her husband was a leader in Rotary for the Pacific Area.  They are building cyclone shelters that people can be safe in during an impending storm, or at other times use them to make their wares or other such uses.  According to Leben’s though, they have not joined the other large group of NGO’s working on the cyclone recovery and drought to coordinate their efforts.

At 8:30 Elder Leben picked us up and we went to their place to discuss our strategy while we are here.  Even though they have asked us (the office) to work on the structures, Leben’s have it well in hand and so we will be concentrating most of our efforts in developing water projects to assist them with their drought.  

I was so tired still from waking so early, that afterwards we came back and I took a nap and Jim went swimming in the ocean and in the pool.  The ocean was like a ‘bathtub’ he said.
Leben’s met us for a late lunch here and afterwards we traveled the entire distance on the road that goes around the island.  We saw many trees that had been downed and some with new leaves that had grown back after having been stripped by the cyclone, but most of the destruction was quickly cleaned up by everyone.  We got going a bit late so we got home at dark, about 7:00.  But we saw some beautiful beaches and learned a lot about the island.  We also learned that it was a big holiday here so we could not do business with others today.  This holiday has something to do with ‘unity’.  Just as in Kenya, they try to unite the tribes by teaching English and Swahili.  Here, they teach the one local language just like they teach Swahili in Kenya—here they teach their pigeon English; Sister Leben took some lessons and she is quite good at it and Elder Leben also is not so bad.  They simply spell everything just like it sounds in English.  Jim says that since he is a terrible speller, he could get used to a language like this…

E/S Leben at our hotel for lunch.  He is a former pediatrician and she a housewife, from Hannover in a rural area of about 100,000.  They are both very capable people and have done a great work here.  They are tireless workers.

While walking along one beach we couldn’t help ourselves once again and picked up more seashells.  There are so very many and so beautiful!  When we discussed building bases for rain catchment they say that they just go to the beach, pick up all the coral that washes up for free, and use that under their tanks.  It compacts, it is free except for the transport, and it drains.  You just make a frame for it to keep it in one spot.  This is as simple as it gets.  Besides rain catchment there could be a possibility of drilled wells and spring capture.  There is a range of mountains that we drove up to and at a look-out spot saw the islands unattached from this one—it was quite a view.  One man has a well that has been servicing his whole community for over 30 years.  If they want rain catchment during a drought, it would seem that if it didn’t rain, there would be no rain to catch, so we’ll try to find other sources if it is possible.  

We stopped by a couple of structures that the church had donated to people that had lost their homes in the cyclone.  The people are pretty self-reliant.  Above is one of the makeshift repairs that they had done in the emergency (the people, not us).  Below is one of the donated structures—we give the materials and teach them how to build it.  This one was built incorrectly, but in the end it was just fine and sturdy.  After this, they are to prepare their own bases, add windows and a door, and put some material around it to enclose the structure.  This works very well in this culture.  They are happy, do not want for anything, eat off the land, and do not desire for a ‘better life.’  There is a lesson here…

This structure, shown in 2 pictures below, is the larger of the two designs.  It depends on how many people are expected to be living in one home.  This one was already being enclosed.  The father said that it will be plastered.  They built this one correctly and we could see that they were going to be strong.  They were working on it as we visited.

Till tomorrow.
Love, Jim & Karen, Mom & Dad, E/S Greding

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Last Days in Paradise

Friday & Saturday, December 18-19, 2015

The company holding our rain gutter and other materials for the catchment here, have twice claimed to have tried to deliver the order but couldn’t find the right place [truly, there are no addresses].  Eventually Matthias just gave up on that, and went to the supplier to pick the previously paid-for order up and deliver it himself.  When he got there they couldn’t find his order for a very long time, left a few things off the order when they did find it, but eventually it was found and loaded onto his truck, and Matthias delivered these supplies to the jobsite.  Because of these types of problems here on these islands, we wonder how on earth they will build a few hundred shelters or repairs or rain catchments here, let alone on Tanna, where the situation is even worse.  This is so commonplace that Jim remarked how he’d end up with a coronary and how calm Elder Leben is compared to him, and that he can handle it so much better.  It would be daunting enough without all these everyday problems.  We marvel at how long it took to get all the supplies here on Efate, and how still, they are waiting for the roofing materials and the poly tank on Tanna.  And these were for just one catchment on each island!

A picturesque village on Tanna where the rain catchment will be built. 

A hut with a solar panel, for a little bit of light.

Yesterday after a short time Jim came home from working at the catchment site with Elder Leben.  They decided that they needed a break.  It is very hot, the hottest time of year.  It was about 90 degrees today, and with the humidity one just melts.  Their faces were beet red.  I looked at Jim’s shirt and asked him if he had taken a bucket of water over his head, thinking what a good idea that was so as to cool off.  No he hadn’t.  You know how in the movies that they put fake sweat on someone with a wet ring around their chests and armpits to show that they have exercised?  Well, Jim’s did not look like that, just solidly wet on the whole top 3/4 of his shirt.  Every time I think I’m done washing clothes, I have to do it all over again. 

Elder Leben’s suitcase: he went back to check on his lost luggage; he had previously filled out a form for that purpose.  Since they never called him, he went back to find out what had happened; they had lost the form also, and had no record of it!  He said he consoled himself by going to the French pastry shop.  He was coming over here to swim to cool off and then realized that his trunks were in his suitcase!  (Just go have another donut…)  We suggested he find some shorts and swim with us anyway so he did.  The pool water had warmed up so much that it was just like swimming in a bathtub; we began swimming at dusk and swam till after dark and then ate our dinner here.  It was truly heavenly.  [The next day there still was no sign of his luggage, and even though Leben’s claim that no one steals much around here, it is becoming rather suspect that someone took off with his stuff; he lost the cords to two of his devices, which won’t do a thief any good at all, his shaving kit (after 3 days he needs a shave), and some underwear—none of these things would be much use to anyone else.  Perhaps they can use his shaver, and his ugly, red suitcase.]

They dye their local, natural materials and weave them into baskets, purses, bowls, mats, etc. 

One girl wanted her picture taken so was ‘sawing’, but this girl stayed with it and sawed and sawed—she worked right along with the men on the job.  (Tanna).

Yesterday Jim showed up with wounds on his body from a tripping on the jobsite on Tanna, so he cut a sock up to go over the one on his hand so that he could keep it clean while working—there was also a large popped blister between his toes.  He looks like a sweating, wounded warrior. I tripped one day while walking for exercise (klutzes). Elder Leben’s face (he is rather fair and used to be a redhead) looks quite pink all the time now, making him look like he just might expire at any minute!

In the meantime I write reports, try to catch up on my blog (success at last!), take naps, swim, read, exercise, and hand wash our clothes.  Since I use a bar of soap to scrub them, I have whitish nails.  Life is tough for me here (ha, ha), and I had 3 days of this!  Life couldn’t be better for me.

Saturday: Elder Leben’s family returned last night but they still had to finish the work here.  Matthias picked Jim up at 6:15 AM this morning to drop him off at the jobsite in hopes today, our last day here, they’d be able to complete the work.  And, miracle of miracles, they actually have all the materials that they need!  But this morning, in this terrible ‘drought’ we’re experiencing, it was raining, and raining hard and steadily.  Jim was not gone for long.  We ate breakfast and at 9:30 he went back to work.  And finally, yes, after our 3 weeks here, they had enough men to help and materials and they finished their work!  Whew!  It shouldn’t be this hard, but here it is!

Today the staff, are off, with just a skeleton crew to take care of breakfast for those staying here at the resort.  Today is the celebration given to them by the owners, Richard and Ursula.  They usually go to the beach, but the staff decided that they wanted to celebrate here, and so we will got to be part of the celebration.  They relaxed, visited, swam in the pool, laughed, giggled and danced.  The men just sat and talked, but the women really had a great time.   Last night it was the last day of work for many so we could hear partying from all around us with shouting, laughing, singing, dancing, and fireworks, which has resumed again tonight.  But we had a lovely time with the staff—such sweet women work here. 

Finishing touches; I think Elder Leben has worn those clothes for 3 days.  His wife is home now, so maybe they can be washed!

 Usually I am quite ready to go home from a trip, but this one has been unique.  Our surroundings are so beautiful, and we appreciate it every day.  I don’t even think I would forget to think of the beauty if I lived here a long time, how very lovely everything is and how much I appreciate God’s creations.  I feel the same way when I am in Mammoth, or when we travel and I see beautiful scenery, even the same scenery, I still marvel at our Creator’s work. 

They had a lot of help today, the day that they finally finished!  Such a small structure, really, but so much trouble getting the materials to build it!

We fly to Auckland tomorrow and will be there just one night, then home on Monday morning the 21st.  I have grown rather fond of this place.

That’s all folks.  Love, Jim & Karen, Mom & Dad, E/S Greding

Just part of our sweet staff, some of the ladies, enjoying their day off and Christmas Party.  The men let the women swim because they have no suits, they just swim in their clothes.  They were having such a great time and we have enjoyed them so much.  They had a Santa exchange and enjoyed music and a fine dinner tonight, which we are invited to.


Friday, December 18, 2015

Me Happy, Others, Not so Much

Wednesday & Thursday, December 16-17, 2015

Today Petra and her children left for Santo Island and won’t be back till Friday night.  [I found out later that the plane left very late and will be coming back very early so as to shorten their whole trip.  I think I am the only one that had a good day.] The guys got back in way later than I thought, long after dinnertime.  Elder Leben, poor guy, was on his own without his family, but he’ll be able to join them for much of their stay when they return in a couple of days.  His wife left him with a list of things to do that we were unable to finish—so his family is gone and he is left with a ‘Honey-do List’. 

The Tanna report: On Monday nothing got done—no materials to work with and had an extraordinarily frustrating day; Tuesday they got timber and were able to work; got stuck in the mud for an hour; had to wait till well after dark to get picked up; Wednesday completed the work without the roofing material that was promised but not shipped; came back without Elder Leben’s suitcase.  The whole trip was frustrating.  They will have to finish the roof without them; we’ll be gone.

On my own, I was not at all bored: I washed (had it hanging all over the place), worked on the report, tried to fix the blog problem (nothing would load till evening when I decided to load other blogs instead—it just didn’t like November 30th—it will take a long time here even so to catch up), read, swam, and ironed (there is no ironing board in the room so I use a towel and iron on the counter), and exercised.  I even changed my room at the owner’s suggestion without looking at it, and changed it back again—packing and unpacking left me sweating profusely in the humidity—no problem, I just took a swim.  I finally cleaned myself up in the afternoon so as to be presentable, but not before relaxing and swimming and reading by the pool.  It was a good day. 

Out to dinner one night in a beautiful place; Breakers Restaurant and Resort

We got our shower finally working right.  For half the trip we had to turn it on, then off, then on, to keep the hot water coming, which lasted only a few seconds at a time.  We also got our bed fixed—it was a bit too hard; so when the owners were visiting with us one day, Jim just happened to mention it.  So, no problem, they brought a pad to add to it and now we have a better bed. 

Yesterday Petra and I worked on our reports for the Area Office together, as there are many questions that they had asked and only the Leben’s can answer them.  There is a lot going on here with the recovery shelters and rain catchment tanks, and there are so very many of them here on Efate and on Tanna and very few have been constructed.  Another couple will be coming to live on Tanna for 6 months next year so that the Leben’s won’t have to fly back and forth so much.  For a 40 minute flight you could get a better deal flying from coast to coast in the U.S.  Sister Leben is worried about accommodations for the couple for a long-term stay—there are overpriced tourist places, and then huts…it will be interesting if they can find a good place to stay that doesn’t cost so much for a long haul. 

Thursday: I had another day at the resort typing up our trip report, washing all of Jim’s clothes, and having time once again to go to the pool and read my book, while Jim and Matthias get frustrated while trying to purchase supplies (takes forever) and suffer while working in the heat.  I do hope Petra and her kids are having a good time on Santo Island even though their trip got cut short by the unorthodox and changeable plane schedules.

We can’t go almost anywhere without seeing beautiful views.

I should mention the flies.  While on Lelepa, the only problem was that there were so many flies.  They even followed us in the boat while driving around or kayaking.  They had bug spray, which helped a little bit, but no one can do anything about it because you see the mangoes are coming on and then the flies join everyone to their dismay.  Even here at the resort where we are staying, we often shoo with one hand and eat with the other.  We finish a plate and move it away in hopes to attract them to the other plate so that they leave us alone.  It is also apparently the hottest time of year here on the islands.  Even so, we are quite used to everything so that nothing much bothers us.  It is odd how things begin to feel like home when we are away from our real home.  I guess also that is why I liked my first room.  I had gotten used to it, you see.  The other had many advantages--Wi Fi in the room, a large covered outdoor balcony, great views of the lagoon, windier up there from the windows (upstairs to access it), etc., but the air conditioner didn’t seem to work as well, the room really was smaller, the shower looked older, etc., but in the end I thought if I couldn’t regulate the air conditioner it would not be good.  Such a silly thing really.  If we’d gotten that room first we would also have been happy and it would have felt like home too. 

Elder Leben being silly…this seems totally out of character to us!  Elder Stevens looking on.  He and his wife work in mission office with the President.  Sister Stevens actually brought her sewing machine with her.  She remakes Sister Leben’s clothes (when the local members give her ones that are too big) and sews all kinds of things while here.  I’ve also seen her swimming in the lagoon—she is an excellent swimmer. 

 Elder & Sister Stevens at lunch after snorkeling one day.  Elder Stevens is a brilliant accountant, we hear. 

Me happy, others not so much.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Sunday in Efate (Mele), just pictures

Mele Branch Building

Two rain catchment water tanks supply water to the toilets, in room shown behind.

Pretty tree on Church property.

After Sacrament Meeting, people have to meet outside; Sisters get to meet inside for class.

Primary, YW in background, meeting for classes.

Sisters with blond hair.  A phenomenon in Micronesia.  Sometimes when they get older their hair turns brown, but they have golden tinges on the top, as if kissed by the sun

Brothers, taking care of their little brother.  Notice the young man on the right; some have less curly hair, softer curls.

Playing on the sand after church--they were putting this on the path over the coral.

I think they got parts from other cars..ya think?

Frustration, the Name of the Game

Monday & Tuesday, December 14-15, 2015

I am glad to know that Vanuatu is in a drought right now.  It was hard to tell today with the downpour all night and most of the day and flooded streets.  Now to be fair, I should say that the other side of Efate really is quite dry-looking and while on Lelepa saw that it was even worse.  Tanna, where they are so worried about the drought, is quite green and Jim said it rained a bit every day that they were there last time.  But I heard great news from our resort owner—he said that this was a widespread rain, so much so that almost every island got a decent rain, the first in many months!  This is such good news. 

We dropped Jim and Mathias off at the airport this morning to go back to Tanna so that they could finish the water catchment there.  We heard later that the ship that delivers the goods didn’t show up—it decided to go elsewhere first.  They had no timber at all and Jim said it was a ‘journal entry day’ (not good).  By Tuesday they had some of the lumber and could get a little work done.  Life in these countries can be very frustrating sometimes.

Jim showing the Pikininies how to whistle using a blade of wide grass--on Tanna. 

 Crazy ‘chief’ working on project on Efate.

This leaves me to say why I ended up not going.  At the hotel where they are staying there is no Internet (the router is broken); there is no pool; the beach is a long walk away; there is no TV.  I could go and watch them build their rain catchment, which is an hour away, and sit there all day in the heat of the village.  I could have gone to the volcano all by myself for a lot of money on a long drive on dirt roads (there are no paved ones on Tanna), seen the volcano, have the long drive back; or I could on my own do some expensive tourist trip.  It did not seem all that appealing, and it costs a lot of money for the church to fly me there.  I decided it was better to stay here.  Jim can take pictures for me! If they had just one thing for me to do there, I would have gone.  I don’t like being bored. 

Jim and the men enjoying a giggle while setting posts in concrete for the rain catchment on Efate.

So instead Sister Leben and I are running errands.  She has a list of things to do every day, but then it never goes according to plan, so we change our plan, and we get half done what we wanted to do.  This afternoon she picked up 3 of her 6 children who came to spend the holidays with them.  Tuesday we will still be working, but on Wednesday they will go to Santo Island.  Late that afternoon the men will come back, and Brother Leben will pick up the truck at the airport and then they’ll be home again.  It is working out just fine. 

A happy Sister Leben enjoying a visit from 3 of her children.  She rented a nice, roomy home for them to stay in a very short distance away.  It has a large barbecue area outside next to the lagoon—what a lovely place.

For the Leben children they rented this lovely home just up the road about 100 feet.  It is really nice and is on the water just like Leben’s place is.  

I am happy to be in a place where it is not overly crowded to drive downtown.  We can always find a parking place no matter the number of people, probably because many just walk there.  You can always tell when the cruise ships are in the bay because there are lots of foreigners (foreign to this place) dressed like tourists off the boat, walking around the streets and going into all the shops and eating establishments.  This is very good for the recovering economy since the cyclone.
Tuesday: Just to show you a typical day—

The Plan: 1.We were to leave just before 9 AM to attend the WASH cluster, where all the NGO’s get together to discuss what everyone is doing for recovery to coordinate efforts.  2. Then we were to do one home assessment to see what damage has been done to see if they need any repairs or a re-build.  3. We would drop off the check to the building materials company, which she had signed and had in hand with the right amount, so as to pay the bill; then they could deliver the materials that are needed for the rain catchment. 4. We would come back to her place to answer the bullet points report for Hans in Auckland, the Area Welfare Manager.  5. And then she could join her children for the later afternoon and do something fun with them, me included.

Reality: 1.We were passing by the building materials place so why not drop off the check on our way to the cluster meeting.  The girl said we ought to check to make sure they had everything on the list.  This took a long time.  They had everything except one thing.  This meant that Sister Leben needed to change the amount on the check.  Her husband, who is on Tanna, has the credit card, which could have been used, but he is gone.  2. So we had to go back to the house and get another check and then she had to get two signatures.  Then we went back to the place but it was wrong again because the girl figured 3 boxes of nails when we had only ordered one.  To save repeating this scenario, we had her add the two boxes of nails so that the check would be right!  They are to deliver it on Wednesday—we’ll see. 3. It is now lunchtime and we missed the WASH cluster long ago and the house assessment we had planned.  4. Then we went to a couple of places to buy the missing rain catchment pieces.  It was lunchtime and these places were closed till 1:30.  5. She ran a personal errand, we had a snack in town, and then came back to her place to get our work done there.  6. But we called the man whose area the timber and tank were supposed to be delivered to, but they hadn’t arrived as promised.  So then we had to visit the two places to make sure that they were going to deliver what we paid for already.  7. We were finally back after 4 PM to do the computer work, which we did till dinnertime.  8. Sister Leben finally got to be with her children but they didn’t have any time left to have fun together.  She dropped me off at 6 PM. 

“The impossible we will do right away; for the miracle we’ll have to wait a little bit longer…”

Tomorrow is a free day for me and I’m not going anywhere.  What to do?  I made a list and now wonder how I’ll get it all done!

Onward and upward…