Monday, July 20, 2015

FIJI Week 1 - Bumps and Blessings

For the first week of July we were immersed in making plans for another island adventure - this time we would be traveling to FIJI!

Larry and I first experienced Fiji in 2001 when we did a trip with some of our family to the remote island of Nacula in the Yasawa chain for a week of scuba diving, snorkeling,  and general relaxation.  While I am not a diver, Larry and his sons had some amazing sights to see.  I thoroughly enjoyed the snorkeling and just spending lazy time in a hammock reading books, looking out over the pristine views of paradise.  It was an incredible experience I've never forgotten. So I was very excited when I learned we would get to go back to this lovely Pacific gem, even though this trip would be spent entirely on the main island of Viti Levu. 

Monday 13 July

Fiji was every bit as beautiful as I remembered.   However, our trip got off to a bumpy start.  We flew directly to Nausori via Fiji Airlines.  It was a very crowded plane with barely enough room to squeeze into…our knees were tight against the seat in front of us the entire time.  But we arrived safely and found our Avis rental car with no problem.  We were not given a street map, but the clerk sketched out general directions to Suva and described how we would find our way to our hotel.  We were a bit nervous, but grateful we had arrived in daylight.  We said a prayer and we were off.

Driving in Suva is not for the faint of heart!  According to World Population Review, the city has a population of 87,000 people with double that if you count the surrounding suburbs. The streets were very narrow and traffic very congested.  Pedestrians would randomly step into the busy street to cross over with no regard to oncoming traffic. Buses would abruptly change lanes or make broad turns, swinging mere millimeters from our car.  I closed my eyes and prayed most of the way through town.   Fortunately, between the skill and confidence of Elder Bennett as a driver and the watchful care of our guardian angels, we made it to Holiday Inn with no problems.

The hotel was lovely and the staff there very welcoming.   We stowed our luggage and got freshened up Then we headed off on foot to get familiar with our new surroundings.  Elder Bennett exchanged some of our NZ dollars for Fijian at Western Union and then we walked on down the road toward the library.  On the way a local man greeted us and noted our name tags. He was eager to have a conversation, but since he spoke only marginal English, we had a very difficult time understanding him.  He led us over to the nearby wharf to show us something.  I was paying careful attention to the man to try to decipher what he was saying.  Unfortunately, that meant I was not paying attention to where I put my feet.   There was an abrupt raised area in the sidewalk I had not noticed.  I tripped on the edge of the rough sidewalk there and went sprawling.  My camera went skittering on the concrete and I fell hard.

My automatic reflex was to try to catch myself with my right hand.  I knew immediately when I landed that I was hurt bad.  As I picked myself and took stock of the situation I noted both knees were bloodied and my shoulder was throbbing.  But it was very apparent the worst damage was to my right wrist.  It began to swell immediately and was deeply painful.   We had barely arrived in country and now I was in serious trouble.  We had no idea where to go for help.

We knew the most sensible thing to do would be to get ourselves to the LDS Service Center.  However, we had absolutely no idea where that might be.  What we did know was that it was right next to the temple. At first we went back to our hotel to ask where to go, but with no street names to guide us they were pretty vague on explaining how to get there.  So we stopped people on the street to ask for directions telling them we were looking for "Big white building with gold man on top!"   This elicited smiles and nods, but at first we couldn't find anyone who we could communicate with.  Eventually we found someone who spoke enough English to point us in the right direction.

As we made our way up a winding road that traversed a hill overlooking the harbor, my hand really began to hurt.  We were both very relieved when we finally saw the gleaming white spire of the Fiji temple with the statue of Angel Moroni and his trumpet confirming we were at the right place.

We were so grateful to have guidance of Sister Knight, the mission nurse.  She took us to Fiji private hospital  and provided support throughout the ordeal.   She was such a blessing!  We also met her husband, Elder Knight, who is responsible for managing the mission finances.  They both were such great folks (from Texas, USA).  Getting to know them was the first of several blessings that came to us which never would have happened had I not been injured.   Over and over throughout the time we were in Fiji we saw evidence of how ALL things, even painful and difficult experiences, could be used to bless our lives

Sister & Elder Knight

After a long wait in the hospital  I was examined by a doctor and had my hand x rayed.  He said that the wrist was fractured and small bones in my hand above the wrist were dislocated.  He made a plaster half cast which was tied on with gauze wrapping which would keep my hand stable but also accommodate the swelling.  Our next decision to make was whether we needed to get right back on a plane to return to Auckland or if we could go ahead with our assignment.

 The following day we were able to get a CD with digital images of the xrays from the hospital.
I emailed these to a hand specialist back in New Zealand.  The doctor said it would not cause further damage to delay treatment, so we opted to remain in Fiji do the best we manage in finishing what we had been sent to do.

Tuesday- 14 July

Tuesday morning we returned to the Service Center to meet with Brother Senikuraciri to discuss our schedule.   On arrival we were very impressed to find the family history center there bustling with activity.  Members from Suva North Stake were there busy searching records.  Many were using the microfilm machines and the computers were put to good use.  The FHC was neat as a pin and very well organized.  The director and consultants were eager to assist patrons and much good work was taking place.

Suva North Stake FHC

We then traveled to Nausori Stake where we did a training for Family History Consultants.
Sister Senikuraciri met us there.

Brother and Sister Senikuraciri

Nausori Stahe Consultants

The training about the 15-15 goal was well received.  We identified 4 basic skills that many did not know how to do  1) screen capture using the snipping tool   2) merging duplicates in FamilySearch, 3) Using online MyFamily book to select languages  4) how to add photos in the memories section of FamilySearch.   Everyone was eager to practice these skills and were very appreciative.  At the end of the training they sang us a Fijian farewell song so beautifully it gave me se na vutoqu  (goose bumps).

Everyone was very appreciative of what they  learned and there was much laughter throughout our time there.  At the end of that session one of the sisters presented me with a beautiful bouquet from her home green house.

Later that evening we went back to the Nausori Stake  Center for leadership training.

Stake President Alipate Tagidugu and first counselor Manasa Cava work hard to promote My Family 15 in 15 in the Nausori Fiji Stake halves of the blessing.. Each ward in their stake has been assigned specific days to come to family history center. Every month stake leaders follow up. These are inspired leaders who understand importance of getting both halves of the blessing.

Pres Tagidugu on right wirh Pres Cava
Wednesday – 15 July

On Wednesday morning we returned to Nausori FHC to give further training to consultants.  We focused on the skills we had identified, making sure everyone there knew how to do each task and could demonstrate them to others.

That day Sister Senikuraciri accompanied us.  Her husband was working.  At mid-day the three of us went to lunch at a local fish and chips shop.  We then took her home and returned to our hotel.   We rested for a while and then spent much of the evening checking through our email and making plans for upcoming trainings.

Thursday – 16 July

On Thursday morning we went back to the FHC at the service center next to the temple.  By this time we were getting into a rhythm of how to present to the Fiji saints and were more confidant in finding our way around.  That day we would be meeting with consultants from Suva North Stake. We got to the FHC early and spent some time working with a non member family who had come to research their family until the arrival of the consultants. We were able to introduce them to FamilySearch and show them basic research tools which was much appreciated. The consultants arrived about 10:30. As with the Nausori consultants, we found those from Suva North had great enthusiasm for the work but limited technical knowledge.  They were attentive, eager to learn, and grasped the new skills quickly.  They were very pleased to have their individual photos taken which they added to their FamilySearch memories.  Of particular importance was teaching them how to sign on as a helper to assist patrons who had forgotten their user name or password or to prepare pedigree charts for leaders from the 15-15 spreadsheets.

Elder & Sister Bennett with Suva North consultants

Suva North consultants proudly display their 15 in 15 pedigree charts
While we were at the service center we were able to meet the mission president and his wife, along with some of the other senior missionaries.  It was fun to compare notes about each other’s assignments.

Bennetts with Fiji Mission President and his wife, LaMar and Lynette Layton from Draper, Utah
Thursday evening we gave the leadership training for a big group made up of both stake and ward leaders.  It went great!  We were particularly impressed by the first counselor in the Suva North stake presidency—President S. Anil Bhan.  He had formerly been Area Family History Abvisor for Fiji so he was very knowledgeable and had a strong testimony of the work. 

Pres. Bhan on left, Stake Pres Vito Qaqa in center and second counselor Sakiusa Maiwiriwiri on right

Friday – 17 July

We had no appointments on Friday morning, so we walked over to the Fiji museum and spent some time walking through the gardens and viewing the displays there.  Of course, as an entomologist, Elder Bennett especially appreciated the bugs and butterflies!  Because of my background in sociology I loved learning about the various elements of Fiji culture.

While in the museum we watched a demonstration of a woman making traditional ceramics.  I asked her how she learned to make the things she had laid out before her. She said her mother had taught her.  I gave her a MyFamily book and encouraged her to record stories about her family so that future generations would know about the way her culture had been passed down through the generations.

Fiji LDS Church College

That afternoon we had an appointment to see the Fiji LDS Church College (High School). We were  met by the vice principal, Salote Maiwiriwiri, who gave us a full tour of the school.  She talked with us about the way the school has incorporated the MyFamily book into their curriculum.  We also met with  English teacher Thelma Racule who explained how she uses the book as the basis for pre-writing, proofreading, editing and re-write exercises.

English teacher Thelma Racule
We spoke with some of the students and viewed the computer lab which the school has begun opening to wards in their stake for working on the 15 in 15 goal

 Students are  Opeti Salaba on left who is Head boy for the school. On right is Baleibau Duilomaloma

Head girl Savaira Veikoso smiled with joy as she talked about learning stories about her grandparents' lives.

Saturday – 18 July

On Saturday morning Elder Bennett and I got to visit a local park and take a drive along the coastline, spending some relaxing time appreciating the beauty of Fiji.

That evening we did another large group training – this time for Suva stake leaders and consultants.  It was the most powerful of all our sessions.  We felt there were angels in the room with us!

After the meeting the consultants and stake president went with us to the FHC in their stake center.  I trained the consultants on the key skills while Elder Bennett worked with the Stake President, Kamoe Varea, on his pedigree information so he could complete the 15 in 15 challenge.  There were many duplicates to be cleaned up.  Once that was done, however, key ordinance work that had been missing from the chart finally showed up and family information was more complete.  President Kamoe beamed with joy and said over and over how happy he was.

 Pres Varea on left with counselor Jese Kama     
Sunday – 19 July

On Sunday morning we got up bright and early to prepare fpr 8:00 am church services.  We went to church in the Senikuriciri’s Fijian speaking ward which meets in the LDS Church College.  We both spoke in Sacrament and then were called on to help with the temple preparation class.  I was also asked to speak briefly about family history and the 15 in 15 goal in Relief Society.

After church we went home with the Senikuraciris for a lovely feast they had prepared.  We had a nice visit with their family and then went back to our hotel to get packed up in preparation for leaving the following day.

That evening we spent some quiet time reflecting on all we had experienced and feeling very grateful to our Heavenly Father for the blessings he had shown us

Monday – 20 July

Early Monday morning we checked out of our hotel.  We then headed back to the school where we were scheduled to offer a devotional message for all the teachers and administration.  After that we returned to the service center where we met with Elder Adolph Johannsson.  He is the Service Center manager and the Area Seventy for this region of the Pacific.  (Elder Johansson assist Church leaders in Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands in his ecclesiastical position)We were very impressed by him.

Once those were done we were ready to hit the road…time to travel to the west side of the island (about a 4.5 hour drive) to begin our trainings in Latoka stake.

There are two other things that I do not want to leave out from our record of this magical first week in Fiji:

 First, I noticed early on was that whenever I was teaching I would forget all about my injured arm.  I had quite a bit of pain in the evenings and much trouble sleeping as every time I moved would send shooting pain that woke me up.   Even during the day it was a struggle.  There were also times when I got frustrated and discouraged by the awkwardness of not being able to do much of anything without help.  Fortunately Larry was kind and patient in helping me.  I was very humbled with appreciation for my sweet companion.  When I was teaching, however,  all the hardship just melted away and would lose myself in the zone of what I love to do best.

The second thing is the miracle of finding information about Dallas Olsen’s family.  I have written of that in an earlier post, so I won’t repeat all the details of the story here.  Still, I want it to be part of this record so I can never forget the absolute certainty we felt that the Lord was watching over us on this trip.

1 comment:

  1. These are wonderful experiences and life long memories for many. Beauty, struggle and faith. Powerful stuff. Thank you for sharing.