Monday, August 20, 2012

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I’m impressed with Cayla and myself for consistently waking up on time in the wee hours of the morning.  We joined the sisters from Rosiena for morning prayer and mass.  After breakfast, Sr. Rosa took us to the United States Guadalcanal war memorial.  The memorial sits on the hill in Honiara and recounts the heroic fighting of the US Marines and Navy.  It was humbling to learn details about the battles and the sacrifices of both Americans and Japanese.  Cayla and I had driven through and stayed in places where battles and bombings took place during the war.  At the gate to the memorial, there was a book for visitors to sign.  People from all over the world have come to show their respect and pay tribute to the honorable deeds of thousands of men.

After our little excursion, we carefully packed gifts we received and bought for our families and friends, crossing our fingers that customs wouldn’t confiscate our treasures.  Laurel, the sisters’ English teacher from New Zealand, had Cayla and I do a little Q & A with the sisters at the end of their lesson.  We enjoyed lunch together, and then we were given more gifts.  I’ve been feeling uncomfortable when people give me things here.  I really appreciate the generosity and thought, but I feel so guilty accepting things from people who have nothing.  However, it is part of their culture to send a Solomon memory with visitors, so I will proudly wear and use everything that has kindly been given to me here.  

I drove to the airport in my new Solomon Islands tee shirt from the sisters.  Sr. Catie and Jennifer were waiting to say farewell.  The heat of the Honiara airport was suffocating.  We checked in and said goodbye to our friends.  We got our baskets and souvenirs sprayed at the quarantine desk.  The flight boarded on time, but didn’t leave for another half hour - surprise, surprise.  Since there was a delay, Cayla and I rushed through the Brisbane airport to catch our connecting flight to Sydney.  We ran off the plane and caught the train to the domestic terminal without a second to spare.  The two of us must have looked nuts (my neat cornrows were quite frizzy at this point) speeding through security and running to our gate.  We were in our seats just a few minutes before takeoff.  Whew. 

Christine and Rick Vosila were waiting for us in the airport.  It was a relief to see them, and felt like I was home.  We talked the whole ride home about some of the things we encountered.  At their house, I ate a sandwich.  It was heavenly.  While I chowed down, I watched tv with the Vosilas.  The Kardashians came on, and I seriously considered hopping on a plane back to Solomon Islands.  It’s unbelievable that two people are both humans and live in such a drastically different way.  I took a luxurious, hot shower and put on some fresh clean clothes.  It feels wonderful, but I already miss my Solomon family.

Lookim yu mao Solomon Islands!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

After early morning mass and breakfast, Sr. Rosa, Cayla, and I went to visit our first friends in Solomon Islands - Sr. Catie and Sr. Stephanie in Tenaru.  We bumped along the familiar road and saw Sr. Catie waving out the door of the clinic.  We all congregated in the house, and Sr. Catie immediately scolded us for losing weight.  It was 10:30 a.m. and she made a full lunch for us.  Cabbage, rice, meat, potatoes, and cucumber.  I think we gained back anything we may have lost during that meal.  Our friend Jennifer stopped by the house for a quick visit before we returned to Rosiena.

When the sisters finished their English class, they took us to Central Market and a few stores to get last minute gifts.  Cayla and I got everything we needed and treated the group to ice cream.  It tasted delicious in the tropical heat of the city.  Yet again, we recruited another sister for exercise.  I showered then heard the voice of an angel.  Sr. Vero came to Honiara to visit us!  Cayla and I were so happy and excited to see her.  She filled us in on life in Visale.  The library is in use and looking good!  Students have been studying and taking books out.  It’s a great feeling to know that the work we did in the school is appreciated and being utilized.  

We joined the other sisters who live in Panatina house to celebrate Sr. Matrina’s feast day.  It was a feast, and the company for our last evening in Solomon Islands was wonderful.  Singing and dancing their way into the room, the sisters presented us with hats and Sr. Matrina with a gift.  Cayla and I spent a while speaking with Laurel, the English teacher from New Zealand.  It was late before we walked home again.  It’s hard to believe tonight is our last night in Solomon Islands.  The four weeks flew by!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Farewell Auki

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

It was an early morning wake up call for our departure.  I brought my bags into the living room before morning prayer.  Cayla and I shook hands with everyone after the service.  Richard gave me one of his drawings to be used for “Serengetee” fabric.  He’s an excellent artist and his work carries the flavor of the Solomons.  I’m excited to feature his work!  Phillip helped us get in touch with Liborio and joined our breakfast.  Soon we were in the truck and at the docks.  We arrived very early, so we got a good seat on the ship.  Ben, Ben’s nephew who is studying medicine in Cuba, and Father Julio traveled with us.  Fr. Julio was very entertaining. 

Liberio met us at the boat and gave Cayla and me our paintings.  Cayla’s is a picture of the chapel at Fanualama.  Mine has the image of a Solomon Island Mary and Jesus.  They are bright, colorful paintings with a distinct style.  It is quite a treasure.

Sr. Loretta, Sr. Matilda, and Agatha waited with us until the boat left.  It’s really hitting me now that we said goodbye.  The three of them are kind of people everyone loves to be around.  I will miss them so much.  When I hit lotto, I’m sending them plane tickets to America, and then I’ll return to Solomons with them forever.

The boat was hot, and the trip took six hours.  Luckily, the medication did the trick.  Cayla and I slept most of the way.  Sr. Maria and Sr. Mary Lewis met us in Honiara.  We drove to their home, Rosiena.  They have internet access at the house, so Cayla and I checked our emails.  They have fans in the bedrooms and a real bathroom.  I have no problem with the bucket shower, but water pressure from the shower head felt divine. We’re feeling very spoiled.  We had dinner together and got to watch a few clips of the Olympics.  I’m exhausted and looking forward to a comfortable sleep.  

Monday, August 13, 2012

Our last full day in Fanualama began like all the rest.  We celebrated mass together at 6:10 followed by a breakfast of navy biscuits and pineapple.  Cayla joined Sr. Loretta and I for the morning at Aligegeo.  During morning assembly, the two of us were called to the front of the dining hall.  The administration said thank you and we got to share a word of thanks with the students.  Cayla came to my classes with me.  I had the students play a few games - unscramble the words, word finds - and of course gave out the nutritious prize of cookies.  When I ran out of food, the students asked us questions and vice versa.  Cayla and I tried rapid fire questions, and we learned about the students’ goals after schooling, their favorite sports, number of siblings, and favorite foods.  It was an interesting dynamic because I am the same age as some of the students.  It would have been easier to be friends with them than act as their teacher, but everything worked out really well.  Cayla took two class photos for Form 4 Blue and Form 4 Yellow, one serious and one crazy.  Before I left each class, the prefects stood up and thanked me on behalf of their classmates.  I learned a lot about myself and the culture by working in Aligegeo, and I can only hope they learned a few English skills from me.

Cayla headed off to Kilu’ufi while I organized a few things in the staff room.  Sr. Loretta and I stopped home for a snack before catching the bus to town.  We had two major objectives: get sea sickness medication and refund our boat tickets.  The ship that was supposed to bring us to Honiara had mechanical issues so we made a few travel adjustments.  Luckily another boat had tickets available and is leaving tomorrow at 9 a.m.  We returned to Aligegeo for a thank you meal together with the staff.  We tracked down Cayla at Kilu’ufi by making several phone calls.  When she arrived, everyone gathered in the Home Economics room.  There was a spread of pineapple, cucumber, and biscuits.  The principal made a speech of appreciation.  Cayla and I then shared how much this experience has meant to us and expressed how important the teachers are in the students’ lives.  A teacher presented us with beautiful hand woven baskets, and a necklace, bracelet, and earrings set made in Lilisiana.  It was very generous of them, and I am so happy to have such a beautiful reminder of the people and experiences I have had at Aligegeo Secondary School.   

At home, Patrick helped Cayla and I with Pigin, using the iPad and app that Bro. Rob left with the community.  I learned a few key phrases: “mi lovim you,” (I love you)“mi baebol/mi carriem pikininny” (I am pregnant), and “Spaka!” (drunk).  We teased Sr. Matilda and Sr. Loretta with the last two for the rest of the evening.  We had some more fun showing Patrick and Agatha the wonders of photobooth.  It got to the point where we were falling off the hammock with laughter.  There is something about stretching, squeezing, and contorting your facial features that simply never gets old.  A fun house mirror may be in order for my apartment at school.  

Sr. Matilda gave Cayla and me a tour of her garden.  She grows tomatoes, cucumber, popo, casava, and pana.  It is very hard work weeding and clearing the bush daily.  Sr. Matilda spent the day making casava and coconut pudding for our “last supper.”  It is a labor of love, and we certainly appreciated her kindness.  I took a final “swim” in the cold shower before evening prayer.  It was only the sisters, Cayla and me, and two pickininnies to say the rosary.  But it was very appropriate that the four of us would pray together for our last night.  

We spent part of the night tracking down Liborio, who was making paintings for us.  We had no luck trying to contact him so just hoped we would get in touch with the artist in the morning. 

Dinner was delicious.  Chicken, fish, pudding, cabbage, cucumber, and sweet potato.  We abided by Sr. Matilda’s sarcastic mantra “eat more, exercise less.”  The sisters gave  us a necklace, bracelet, and earrings.  They also presented us with a gift for our mothers.  Agatha gave us lavalavas and gorgeous necklaces from Are’are in south Malaita.  Not only does every village have its own language and dances, it also has a distinct style of jewelry.  Necklaces from Are’are are long and have a large shell or bead.  My necklace has the swirl of a white shell, and I absolutely love it.  These three women have been a major part of my experience in Auki.  They are all selfless, welcoming, kind, loving, and hilarious in their own ways.  It’s hard to believe that I just met them, and harder to believe that it might be a very long time until I see them again.

Disciplining the class is clearly my forte
We played cards after cleaning up.  Agatha plaited my hair with cornrows while Sr. Loretta spoke every thought she had about her hand of cards.  The World Series of Poker is most definitely not in her future.  After finishing my transformation into full on Solomon Island woman with my hair, it was time to pack up.  I made piles of things I was leaving behind, and strategically packed with gifts I was given so they wouldn’t break.  It was late by the time I went to sleep.  It was a wonderful day in Fanualama to finish my first experience here.  I wish all of my family and friends could experience the beauty of the landscape and people I have encountered.  The world can seem so large and overwhelming until a few friendly faces make you feel at home in a place 9,000 miles away.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

I enjoyed every minute of sleep last night post madness in the dining hall.  At breakfast, Sr. Loretta gave us some very important details that everyone failed to inform us of.  Apparently the brothers who kicked the speakers and injured the teacher have a brother who is a teacher.  It’s against his religion to dance, so the teacher was upset that the school was allowing the students to dance.  Thus, he sent his brothers on a sort of mission to destroy the equipment.  In their attempt to ruin the speakers and computer, they hurt Lucy.  So that was the source of action that unfolded into a huge disaster.  Lucy was doing better today, icing her mouth and taking Motrin.

We walked and sang all the way to church, carrying our flower crowns and necklaces for the procession.  I was absorbed in every second of the mass.  The ceremony is so beautiful and the congregation takes such care to make it a special tribute.  The Aligegeo students sang like angels in the choir.  There were two processions with traditional music and dancing.  Fr. Moses said the mass because Bishop is traveling.  During the closing announcements, Cayla and I were called onto the altar.  Phillip and Simon presented each of us with a wooden cross inlaid with shells.  I love it, and the cross will serve as a perfect reminder of my time here.  There was kai kai (food) for the students after mass, so we joined our friends.  

I walked home to Fanulama with everyone.  We ate pancakes and peppers before our excursion to Buma.  Fr. Moses drove Cayla, Sr. Loretta, Sr. Matilda, Agatha and I to Buma, a village in the south.  It was a bumpy ride in the pickup truck to our pristine destination.  There is a church, school, clinic, and several religious communities where we stopped.  We met Daughters of Mary Immaculate sisters, and the Sisters of Charity.  The Sisters of Charity, founded by St. Vincent de Paul, are Croatian.  The three of them, Sr. Kathy, Sr. Martha, and Sr. Clare, arrived last year and all work as nurses in the clinic.  Their kindness was overwhelming.  They hugged us and held our hands and it was like they were squeezing love into my soul.  Sr. Kathy gave us rosary beads, which was so appropriate.  We pray the rosary every night and I don’t have my own beads here.  The rosary beads are from Medjugorje.  It is really special to have a token from these women who I only spent a few hours with.  It’s unbelievable how someone can affect your life significantly in the shortest span of time.  I would love to return to Buma some day.  

Cayla and I made fast friends with Pius (Pio), a little boy, who was full of energy and surprisingly not afraid of white people! He gave us a full tour in his birthday suit.  He collected a variety of sticks for me, showed us the baby Jesus in the church, and munched on beetlenut the whole time (so basically this 2 year old was high the entire time).  We also met Fr. Lorenz Samani, who spent six months in America during which he spent time at Kellenberg and at Providence.  Buma is on the water and the scene was picturesque.  All too soon, it was time to leave.  We said farewell to our new friends.  On the drive back, we belted the hymns out the window and Cayla captured the madness on her camera.  We just watched the videos and got instant six packs from laughing so hard.  Fr. Moses bought us each a soda on the way home.  
We exercised when we got back to Fanualama.  A whole crew joined us in the conference room.  Cayla and I finished preparing a dinner of breadfruit, eggplant, peppers, chili taiyo, and pineapple.  We invited Christina over for dinner.  All of us enjoyed ourselves and the meal.  Cayla and I gave Christina a gift for being so kind to us, and also it is her birthday on Tuesday.  We compiled a necklace from the market, one of my Serengetees, a skirt of Cayla’s, a few scrunchies, and a note.  

When she left, Cayla and I showed the sisters pictures of our family, friends, and home.  Then I had the brilliant idea of testing Photobooth out on them.  The camera distorted their faces and uncontrollable laughter ensued for the next hour.  Every shot is a gem, and if I am ever sad I will look at these ridiculous pictures.  

Feast of St. Clare

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Weekends are wonderful at Fanualama, and especially this one.  Today is the Feast of St. Clare, so it’s sort of like my birthday.  Bishop taught about her life during his homily this morning.  St. Clare lived in Assisi, Italy and enjoyed a comfortable life of luxury.  She heard St. Francis preaching and felt called to his lifestyle of poverty and prayer.  Against her family’s wishes, she cut her long, golden hair (I hope this wasn’t an implication that I should cut my hair) and joined the Franciscans.  Clare lived a life of prayer, and many people, including popes, would come to her for advice and spiritual guidance.  After mass everyone shook my hand and wished me a happy feast day.  The smallest things are appreciated and remembered here.

At 7:30 a truck load of people were driven to the market by Bishop Chris.  Traffic cops in the US would have a field day if they came here and saw how many people pile into vehicles.  I love it and make sure i get to sit in the bed of the truck every time.  Sr. Loretta, Sr. Matilda, Cayla and I took the market by storm.  When I think about using a shopping cart for about five items at home, I feel like a major diva.  Using two baskets and two plastics, we stocked the sisters up because we’ll be leaving Tuesday (trying not to think about it).  They should be set in the food department for the next decade.  We bought cabbage, cucumber, pineapple, ginger, breadfruit, taro, bananas, peanut butter, bread, pineapple jam, navy biscuits, chili sauce, taiyo, chicken, tea, and coffee.  It’s fun to shop with the sisters and let them go wild throwing things in the basket.  It’s a small gift for their tremendous generosity.  

Cayla and I stopped at Telecom on the way back.  We’ve been getting internet access about once a week, so I feel kind of important when I have a lot of emails.  But then I realize it’s mostly junk mail, and I’m brought back to reality.  After getting in touch with the world outside of this tiny Pacific island, we walked to the cathedral.  Aligegeo students were rehearsing for mass tomorrow.  We joined the practice and walked home with the crew afterwards.  During lunch, we discussed our ideas for giving back to the places we’ve visited.  Our favorite idea right now is to create a scholarship fund that Sr. Loretta will be in charge of.  Many students cannot pay their school fees and are often forced to drop out of school.  I think that it would be an effective way to support the people here if an monetary award was established.  Students can write an essay and submit their grades for consideration.  If it is done in this way, it will be something for them to earn and not a charity case.  Also, it’s hard to help some students and not others because most people here are struggling with finances.  

At 1:00, we left for our excursion to Liliciana.  A few of our new friends, Richard, Gabriel, Phillip, and George live there.  We wound around rugged roads, and I really felt like a local, although I definitely didn’t look like one.  Liliciana is right on the water, the houses are close together, and the road is sand.  It is absolutely beautiful, but clearly very poor.  We met Richard’s family, and sat outside his home on small benches.  His niece, Gema, was adorable.  It was nice to see where he lives.  Richard and the others who live in Liliciana wake up at 4:30 a.m., study until 5, then walk to Fanulama for morning mass. Every day.  
We walked through the village, past the sandy field where the kids play soccer with the new ball we bought Richard, and arrived at the lake.  Children were splashing around the lily pads, getting relief from the heat.  I went in the fresh water with Richard, Patrick, George, and a few girls.  We made necklaces with the white flowers to be used for the procession at mass tomorrow.  It was fun to make them and fun to just be with everyone.  They were singing and splashing, and a few little boys kept sneaking up on me with leaves covering their heads, trying to scare me.  Midway through my second necklace, the boys decided to tell me that crocodiles are in the water.  I figured that if I died right there, they could just use the flowers at my funeral - and they better look pretty.  So I finished my necklace before carefully going back to safety.  The group of us paraded around the streets decorated with flower crowns and necklaces.  At the main road, we said good-bye and split up to go north or south to our homes.  

We had a little bit of time to shower and relax before evening prayer.  Ben’s family welcomed Cayla and I to dinner to celebrate their nephew visiting home from Cuba, where he is enrolled in medical school.  The feast was very satisfying.  Sr. Loretta brought us to the Aligegeo talent show after dinner.  After a bunch of random and interesting acts performed, the teachers decided to play a few songs so the students could dance before bed.  And that’s when the fighting started.

***Mom and Dad, stop reading here***

There was a panel of teachers on the stage where the computer and speakers were set up.  Two brothers from North Malaita kicked the speakers over during the second song.  One of the large speakers hit Lucy, a favorite teacher who was holding her 6 year old daughter, square in the jaw and shoulder.  Chaos ensued as Lucy hobbled to the side of the room holding her mouth.  Boys started going after each other on the dance floor, and a small swarm formed around Lucy.  Sr. Loretta was shouting at the students and instilling some order.  I grabbed Lucy’s daughter Katie.  Patrick, Simon, and several boys related to Lucy quickly surrounded us and led us outside.  We all walked back to Sr.’s house together to check out Lucy’s injury.  Lucy is Sr. Loretta’s niece and also has cousins who attend Aligegeo.  On the walk back, we saw one of Lucy’s nephews.  He had a machete (apparently there are more purposes for them than chopping vines and bananas) and was planning to get revenge on the boy who shed the blood of his family member.  Sr. Loretta talked him down while Patrick and the other boys pushed him back to come with us.  One of Lucy’s other nephews tried to explain the situation with customs and rivalries to us.  For some people, when they see blood, it is their instinct and obligation to hurt the one who harmed their blood relative.  

Lucy’s injury wasn’t too bad.  She took Motrin, and since we didn’t have ice, we wrapped the frozen chicken in a towel and put it on her jaw.  Meanwhile, the troops assembled outside.  I delivered food to the boys, and when I walked out the door, the amount of people had multiplied exponentially.  All were related to Lucy somehow.  The boys who caused the trouble paid $100 to one of Lucy’s relatives so that the cousins would not go after them.  They agreed that the families from each group would decide a compensation price outside of school.  It’s a relief that no one was seriously injured.  The wantok system and family loyalties are fierce.  The people are very defensive of their family.  Sr. Loretta just got off the phone with Deputy and the two boys will receive their expulsion letters tomorrow.  She explained to me that no one at the school likes the brothers who caused the problem.  Lucy is from South Malaita, so the students from the south defend her.  She married a man from the north so most north Malaitans respect her.  The brothers were from an area of North Malaita, so they have students from the north and south extremely angry with them.  Regardless of blood ties, Lucy is a beloved teacher at school who really cares about her students.  This earns her the respect and admiration of everyone.

I wrote the first half of this blog post in the afternoon before the havoc.  Weekends have been wonderful, but tonight was a taste of reality.  While the culture of welcoming and entertaining is rich, the culture of violence and revenge when a family member is violated is fierce.

Friday, August 10, 2012

UNDP Speech Competition

Friday, August 10, 2012

I rolled out of bed exhausted, but ready for an exciting day.  Sr. Loretta and I hurried to get ourselves organized for the contest after mass.  The dining hall was beautifully decorated, and the Aligegeo students were prepared with their speeches and courage.  Over the course of the day, twenty-six speeches were given by secondary students on the eight goals of the UNDP (United Nations Development Project).  Distinguished guests were in attendance, and the event was a big deal.  Judges travelled from Honiara to sit in on the speeches.  It was difficult to sit still in the stifling room, but it was interesting nonetheless.  I admire the six students from Aligegeo who competed.  They worked diligently, and took great care to compose, review, and deliver their ideas.  I can’t imagine participating in a speech contest using my third language.  Christina won third prize for her talk on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Belinda, a smiling, sweet Form 2 student, won second prize for the junior essay contest.  Both were very happy about their accomplishments.  

I got back home around 4:00.  I washed some clothes and showered before evening prayer.  A group of women are staying in Fanualama for the next week.  They travel to villages throughout the Solomons and speak with women about their own experiences as a Solomon woman while instructing on how to establish peaceful relationships in the home.  The program has expanded and adapted, covering a wide range of topics that are relevant to women.  Sheila is from New Zealand, and had lived in Solomon Islands for ten years while her husband did medical work.  Alice, Betty, and Immaculate are native to Malaita and run the workshops.  I had dinner with them at Bishop Chris’s house.  They are fascinating, and Cayla and I had endless questions for them - from bride price to their own marriages.  I look forward to spending time with them during my last few days here.