God created Fiji on one of His happiest days.
-Elder Glen L. Rudd
Sunday, July 14, 2013
First week in Fiji
Here I am in Fiji! Man is it different here. And I have so much to talk about, I don't know how to get it all down. How bout I just start from the beginning.
Saturday, July 6: My intake split into two groups and flew out of the Salt Lake airport at two different times. We were the later ones. As we waited at the airport, we decided to go to Cafe Rio, because they have that there. It was so delicious, and thinking about it now makes my mouth water. They don't have Mexican food in Fiji. We flew from Salt Lake to LA, where we had a gazillion hour layover. I used pretty much that entire time to talk to the folks back home. It was so great; I love them so so so so much :) <3 Then we got on this massive Fiji Airways plane. It was super nice because Fiji Airways is brand new. We spoke to the stewardesses in Fijian, which was fun. All the other passengers were fascinated by us, so we talked to a bunch about what we were doing, and where we had learned to speak (a little bit) of Fijian. A lot of the other passengers were part of different volunteer organizations that were on their way to help build schools or clean water sources in Fiji. It was good to talk to them about the different kinds of service we were all doing.
Monday, July 8: We arrived in Nadi. As we landed, the sun was barely peaking up over the horizon. It was beautiful, and I cried because holy cow I was in Fiji. So much happiness :) We were greeted by a group of Fijian men playing Fijian music. After we passed through customs (which was so much easier than anywhere else in the world) there were a bunch of Elders that were there to get us to our bus. They had cheese rolls and coconut cream rolls for us. Yum. One elder that I had become friends with before both our missions (through Facebook...I'm a pretty good stalker...) was Elder Spackman. Pretty sure that's his name, but not positive. He was speaking the language to us and acting all smiley and bright. I hope to be as good at the language as him when I've only been out a couple of months haha. Our elders were jealous of these more seasoned elders because they were wearing sulus. Man, our elders were so eager to get out of their pants and into some skirts hahaha.
They got us on our bus and on our way. We sang a bunch of hymns and primary songs to pass the time. The ride from Nadi to Suva is four hours. About halfway, we got a flat tire. Took them about twenty minutes to get that one figured out, but then we were off. Man, Fiji is beautiful. The drive was long but not boring, because we were all looking out the windows and waving at every person we saw, and commenting on how weird it was that there were so many pine trees mixed in with the palm trees. EVERYTHING is green. Just drenched in green. And it didn't take long for us to drive along the coast. Stinks that we can't go to the beach, but at least we can look at it and appreciate the beautimousness of it all.
When we got to Samabula (smaller town near Suva) and to the Mission Office, we were greeted by a bunch of new faces. The AP's are named Elder Palmer and Elder Ledoux. The elderly couples that are involved in our upkeep are the Whitings and the Hogges. Fantastic people. And of course there's President and Sister Klingler. Love them so much. President Klingler is an amazing mission president. But anyway, the first thing that the AP's did was feed us lunch: greasy Chinese food from a place called Georgie's or something like that. A delicacy to the elders, but it was so heavy. This was just the beginning of the food-eating marathon upon which I had just embarked. Since that time I feel as if I have been eating nonstop. And the food has always been greasy. Without fail. I have resigned myself to an inevitable future of chubbiness :(
We went to town and changed our money and the elders bought sulus. Then President Klingler started interviewing all of us. Sort of a get-to-know you. We waited.
That night Sister Tuahivaatetonohiti and I went and stayed with the Sister Training leaders: Sister Fanene and Sister Lavatai. They are known as the Samabula sisters. They've been here a year, and they are fantastic. I really love them. That night they took us to the bishop's house for dinner. My first time eating real Fijian food. I don't even know what it was all called. There was rice and fish and curry and dalo and other things. I piled it onto my plate. And I ate and I ate and I ate and I ate half of it and felt so full. But Sister Fanene told me that it was rude not to finish everything on my plate. Man. So I ate and ate. And then one sister was going around filling up people's glasses, and mine was still three quarters of the way full. Sister Fanene said hurry and drink that, she wants to fill your cup up. So I drank it and the sister filled up my cup. I was going to die. And then Sister Fanene cracked up. Hahaha.
Truth is, the food is hard to get used to. You have to pick the bones out because they will just chop stuff up and throw it in the pot. I will admit that it's not my favorite. Mostly I just pile a bunch of rice on my plate. I do love the homemade donuts that they make. Back at the flat I eat toast and crackers and hot cocoa. And that's it, and I'm ok with it. We need to shop soon and get some real food, but they took our fridge away to get fixed.
After we went to that dinner, we had FHE at an investigator family's home; the Johnsons. We had a short lesson about the Sabbath day, and then we played a bunch of games. I taught them how to play signs. It was so much fun, and I felt such love for these people.
Tuesday was a day of waiting for our assignments. We had a delicious American dinner at the mission home. Sister Klingler is a fabulous cook, and I found myself stuffed once again. Ham and funeral potatoes and salad and homemade rolls mmmm. And then brownies and ice cream.
The next day we received our assignments. Sister T was called to Suva 3rd and I was called to Suva 1st, which put us in the same district. Suva 1st was the first ward in all of Fiji. It felt appropriate that this would be my first area.
When I got to my flat, there were two sisters there. Sister Tiakia, and Sister Bechu. According to my paperwork, my companion was Sister Raloka. So I said, "E vei na noqu itokani?" (Where's my companion?) And they laughed. Sister Bechu, a native to Fiji, was my new companion. She had just changed her name to her family name. Apparently in Fiji you don't necessarily get your family name. Still confused about that. Sister Tiakia was her previous companion who was going home to New Zealand. They were very close.
I will admit that it was hard at first. These two were like real sisters. So so close. And even closer because Sister Tiakia was leaving. So I kind of sat off to the side while they had three days of goodbyes. When she finally did leave, Sister Bechu cried and cried. She told me she hadn't wanted to be a trainer. I felt kind of dumb. If I had a brand new companion straight from the MTC I'd try and make her feel super welcomed. But I kept this all inside as we worked.
And we worked, though not in the way that I expected. Sister Bechu is very involved with the members, especially the YSA's. We visited so many less-actives and recent converts. It felt like we weren't focusing enough on the investigators.But then I realized what she was doing was actually really smart. If we help the YSA's plan activities and then tell them to bring their friends, this could actually be a pretty effective way of finding. So that's one thing that we do. There are FHE's on Mondays. Volleyball nights. Game nights. Movie nights. We watched some Esther movie the other night. It wasn't an LDS one, and I'm not sure how I felt about it. I just sort of sat there.
Some cool experiences: we went and saw a recent convert named Sera. She is disfigured and walks with a limp. But she is very sweet and loves the missionaries. She was especially excited to meet me, because I am a nineteen year old sister. She told me a story about how she went to a YSA campout, where a seventy was presiding. Apparently he came up to her, put his hand on her shoulder, and told her that she should go on a mission. So this is her plan, because "A man of God told me he would help me get it done." But she asked me if someone that was handicapped like her could really go on a mission. I told her about the elders that I saw at the MTC that were in wheelchairs, and the ones that were even missing legs. She got teary eyed and was so happy to hear it. The Spirit was very strong.
We have also visited multiple less actives that would go to church if it weren't for the fact that they were missing a leg. This is a common thing here. People with diabetes tend to end up losing a leg. It's heartbreaking, but these people are still so good and have so much faith. Their testimonies are amazing.
There is one recent convert named Silipa that is especially close to the missionaries. She often comes with is when we proselyte or to the activities or what have you. She has two little daughters that are absolutely adorable.
The older one is named Sovaia and the little one is named Emele. She had them with her ex-husband who was very abusive. She divorced him and then a couple years later the elders found her. She is amazing. And she really is hilarious. Spending time with her and her daughters has been some of the most fun I have had here. On Saturday there was an eight year old baptism. It was fun to see him in his little white sulu.
Here is a picture of the outdoor font.
At church there was a group of American volunteers. Apparently they have spent two months here in Fiji helping with various things like education and finances with the Fijian citizens. Man it was good to see white people. I'm not even ashamed to admit it. It's hard to suddenly find yourself immersed in an alien culture with people that are so different from you. Church itself was so good. One of our investigators, Asaeli, came with us. He was very very shy, but afterwards we taught him a lesson and he bore his testimony of the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. Next week I get to extend the baptismal invitation to him.
During training with Sister Bechu on Sunday, she asked me if I had anything to say, and I broke down. I said how I had felt like she didn't want me, and that I was sorry that I'm no Sister Tiakia, and that I felt useless during different lessons because I understand and speak so little Fijian. She cried too, and talked about how her family had run her out of the house and she had lived at a church chapel for a bit, and how her parents had said she had no mother and father anymore. They didn't support her decision to come on a mission, but she did anyway. She has often felt discouraged and wanted to go home. She said that she didn't want to be a trainer because she felt inadequate. She said she didn't want to be that trainer that people talked about years later, saying how bossy and bad of a trainer she had been. So, I decided to be open with her. Talk about my feelings. Together, we had a good cry, and we grew a lot closer. I'll have to remember that having a cryfest is a good way to connect with your companion in the future haha. Things are much better now.
What do the people think of me? According to my companion, the Fijian people automatically assume that I am strict and unkind to my Polynesian companion because I am an American. Because of experiences they have had with previous white sisters. Not sure how much of that is true, but whatever. I'll just earn their trust. The little ones are either fascinated with me or scared of me. I love the little ones.
Some other miscellaneous thoughts:
The flat is pretty gross by American standards, but nice by Fijian standards. This morning I spent the day scrubbing away at mildew and mold and mouse droppings. Yes, there are mice. And a rats and geckos. We're working on it. Things were slack when it came to cleanliness before, but that's going to change now that I'm around. After we are done emailing I'm going to buy cleaning supplies. We don't have very many back at the flat.
It's amazing to me how I am not even bothered by this. I am not revolted by it like I would be back home. I tell you, it's weird. I'm not freaked out by the fact that there are a dozen little geckos living in our curtains in the kitchen, and mice and rats running around the flat at night. The bathrooms we use are more gross than a lot of gas-stations restrooms back home that I would never use, but I have no qualms using them here.
Holy cow I have a lot more to say but my time is running short so here's some spiritual stuff:
I know that the Lord is blessing me with enough strength to deal with a lot of extra stress. He is blessing me to be able to work harder than ever before. He is blessing me to have more patience than I ever realized I had the capacity to have. And I pray that he blesses me to become a part of Fiji, and that Fiji will become a part of me. Because it is going to take some getting used to, and I know that I will need the Lord's help to do so.
An assignment for everyone: send me CD's with all the church music you can find. Gospel music, The Prayer, whatever. I want it.
I love you all and I want more time to write but now I need to send pictures.
Playing guitar at a member's after doing service.
PS - If you want to mail packages to Sista Wright (church music CD's) use the address for packages to your right. Otherwise, if you send something snail mail, plan for it to take at least a week, probably more. Also, the packages will take anywhere from 2 weeks to 3 months, so please don't send anything perishable. Sista Wright says that the mail is really unpredictable. Best way is either email or Dear Elder, using the mission home address. Thank you!