Sunday, February 27, 2011

Shawnda's thoughts

So here’s a few thoughts from my womanly point of view...

We are starting to get adjusted to our new life in the village. Man, it really is a different life, but we’re enjoying it thus far. I haven't yet experienced any "culture shock" and I thought I would. I figured it would be harder to get used to living here than it was to get used to living in Vila at first. But, I think since we've lived in Vanuatu and spent time in villages before, we kind of knew what to expect? I don't know....that's just my guess. Anyway, the things I thought would be hard haven't proven that difficult. Except washing clothes by hand...I do it at least twice a week and it takes me a good 1 1/2 to 2 hours just to get them washed and rinsed. Then another 15 minutes to get them hung. Takes up a big chunk of the morning, but I try to think of creative way to keep the kids occupied while I do it. That's probably the hardest thing for me personally - it's physically exhausting. But, I can't complain (I shouldn't anyway) - the lovely ladies here do it all the time and have never had the blessing of using a washing machine! :o) Anyway, so that's probably the hardest thing for me. Cooking has been much easier than I expected. I enjoy trying to come up with creative ways to use local food anyway, so it's kinda fun. It's time consuming and a little hot, but it's just how it is.

It helps that Eric has gone above and beyond to add things that will make my life easier. He built a counter with shelves underneath in the "kitchen" and put shelves up above the counter for the pots/pans, plates, cups, etc. He also brings in a full water jug (about 25L with a little spigot in the bottom) every morning and uses ratchet straps to keep it suspended over the sink so that I can have "running water" in my kitchen for cooking and washing dishes. That has made a HUGE difference. Plus, it allows us to wash our hands under running water and that really helps.

I have a two burner gas stove and it's been working just fine. I've already used my "dutch oven" (a large aluminum cooking pot that I've put sand in the bottom of and then heat up on the stovetop and stick the cake pan or cookie sheet on top of the sand and cover it and bake). I've already made several cakes - apple cake recipe using naus (a local fruit similar to an apple) and a chocolate one too. I’ve also made hamburger buns a couple of times and banana cookies and kumala (sweet potato) cookies. As far as fresh meat goes, we figured out that with one block of ice in the cooler, we can have three days of fresh meat...which leaves only 4 for canned meat. Not bad...much better than we expected actually. And if any of you keep up with our previous updates through the years you know that we do weekly fajita nights with the mission team. Well, Eric and I have decided that there’s no reason we can’t still have those in the village. So, one of the fresh meat nights will be reserved for fajitas. (We just had them today...yummm-o! - makes those tinned meat days more bearable!)

Oh, and people have been beyond generous with us from their gardens......corn on the cob, cucumbers, green beans, snake beans, papaya, bananas, kumala, manioc, taro, etc. We have an abundance of fresh produce now and I enjoy figuring out what to make with it.

The kids:
Well, let's just say that transition is never smooth for our kids. They have both had a little bit of a hard time adjusting. Titus most of all...but we expected that. For one thing, there's a whole different set of rules than what we have in town (out of necessity). Like they can't walk on their beds (they are on the ground - their feet are filthy!), they can't have food in the house, we eat on the ground, so they have a hard time not touching their feet or the ground, etc and we have to constantly stay on them about that. We don't want them getting worm or something! They also can't change clothes during the day - with me handwashing everything, I say one set of clothes a day is plenty! :o) They also don't have an endless supply of snacks, juice or toys here like they do in Vila (and they don't have a ton of toys compared to other Western kids even then) but here they each have a couple of things and that's it. They are having to learn to make their own fun...which they aren't great at yet, but they'll learn. I do have several more things hidden away to bring out a little at a time but I definitely didn't want it all out at once. Most kids here have 0 toys, so the few my kids have are still a lot compared to the other kids. But, being half Western/half Vanuatu raised....they have a little of both worlds. :o) The other thing that's hard for them is the constant attention/touching that people here give them. They are used to a little personal space. Thankfully they have been around Vanuatu and had people staring/touching them their entire lives...but it's a new experience here b/c we live among the people instead of just visiting. Especially b/c most people here know them but they don't know most people. When we walk anywhere it's like a parade...but we're kinda used to that. If I hadn't lived in Vanuatu for almost 6 years already, I think it would drive me nuts, but it's just how it is. :o) After two weeks though, I am beginning to see a difference in both kids. They are getting more used to living here and are starting to enjoy the slower pace and small pleasures of life. I really think it’s going to prove to be a wonderful experience for both of them (all of us!).

The Christians:
Being here and seeing the sincere and solid faith of these Christians is a breath of fresh air!  I'm telling you, the Christians here just "get it.” Their worship is so pure and going through the motions. If I closed my eyes, I could imagine being in the 1st century and worshiping with the early church in Rome or Thessalonica or Ephesus. That's how pure and unaffected by the religious world they are. When Alsen shared before the Lord's supper on Sunday, I thought....this is probably exactly what the Christians in the first century did before they took the Lord's supper. He talked all about why Christ came, how He died, how He rose from the dead, and how we can have life through Him. It wasn't just a speech either, it was straight from his heart because the blood of Christ is so real...he knows he's been saved by that blood. I could just imagine the 1st century Christians reminding each other of this each time they met to worship God. "This is why we're here....this is the whole reason we worship. Don't think about the persecution we suffer, think about Christ and His amazing sacrifice!" It's just a breath of fresh air to be among these young Christians who absolutely, without a doubt get the fact that their life is hidden in Christ. That before they obeyed the gospel they were on their way to hell and that now they are washed with the blood of Christ and walking in the light on their way to Heaven. What a blessing.

The ladies:
There are 5 ladies in the congregation here and I am really enjoying getting to know them. We had a ladies fellowship yesterday and it was wonderful to have that laid back time with them. Along with just visiting, we talked about ways to reach out to our friends and family members, and how we can help each other grow. It was so encouraging. They are amazing ladies and I really look forward to working with them in the coming months and years.

I think that’s it for now. I could probably ramble on for pages and pages about any number of things, but I’ll stop for now and let you all take a breath. Whew!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

House pics

** Read our "Home Sweet Home" post for more detailed info **

kids' beds on the floor (bunk beds to come!)

bathroom - RV "cassette" toilet and bathtub

back porch, including 1100 liter water tank

2 90watt solar panels - turning the sun into a cool breeze!

our washing "machine" - done 2-3 times per week

tea for breakfast on the back porch (eating inside invites critters)

kitchen (we've since hung curtains under the cabinets)

What's Happening

During my first couple of Sundays in Tulwei Village, I couldn’t help but notice how many kids were present, especially several boys between the ages of 9 and 13.  I began thinking of a way to reach out to them, specifically with a view towards getting them firmly grounded in the Bible.  Some of them are even coming without their parents, which means they are likely not receiving any biblical teaching at home.  I talked with the leaders of the congregation about starting a “Bible club” to teach these children Bible facts, stories, and principles - about which they were very excited.  While my initial focus was on those boys who would soon reach the age of accountability, the first Sunday we met ended up having many more younger children than I expected.  That first meeting went well, but if any of you have ever tried to teach kids ranging in age from 3 to 13 in one group, you know it can be a challenge.  So, I think that we will now focus on the younger kids during the Sunday meetings, and begin having the teens/pre-teens over for lunch one day per week, to give them a more advanced study.

I’ve mentioned in a previous post that several months ago I met a man named Bernard [photo] at the airport here in Malekula, as I was waiting on my flight back to Vila.  He showed great interest in studying the Bible and has since completed our Bible correspondence courses (in both English and Bislama).  I have been able to meet with him briefly in town on two occasions, and our family is now scheduled to travel to his village this coming Monday.  I am excited that our entire family will be able to travel together to Rano Village - I am far more effective when I have Shawnda, Titus and Alexis with me, as they all three can “connect” with some people that I otherwise couldn’t.  One of the Christian men from Brenwei Village will also accompany us on the trip (having a local gives us more credibility, provides local knowledge, and will be an effective opportunity for training him).  It will be a relatively short trip, only two nights, but I have found that it tends to be more effective if initial exposures to truth are given in smaller doses.  I will spend as much time as possible with Bernard, and hope that perhaps he will obey the gospel during this trip.  Such would provide a great opportunity, as he has “started his own church” in the village, and is known as a religious leader.  He specifically told me that he wants to know how to correctly lead this group of people.  I have spent a significant amount of time this week studying up on the doctrines and practices of the United Pentecostal Church, as that is the background from which he comes.  Their main doctrine is known as “Jesus only” - they believe that there is only one person in the Godhead, and that baptism must be administered only in the name of Jesus (never in the name of the Father and/or the Holy Spirit).  They have several other common denominational beliefs and practices as well.  Please be praying that our family can be effective as we share God’s word and love with these souls.

Lastly, Shawnda is going to begin meeting with the ladies here in Tulwei Village on Wednesday mornings for fellowship and study.  Their first such meeting is this week, so you can look forward to hearing more about it in the near future.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Home Sweet Home

Our house sits on a portion of Flexon’s ground (a Christian in Vila).  He has allowed us to use it with no strings (money) attached, which is very gracious.  He has also given the local church permission to erect a building on the other half.  We are just south of the main road, with the primary school located on the north side of the road.  Jean Claude and Leisande live just a stone’s throw further south, as do several of Jean Claude’s brothers (with families).  They have taken us in as part of the family, and it is neat to experience that sense of community and camaraderie.  It’s very different from what we’re used to, even in Vila, but we’re starting to warm up to the idea of communal living (what’s mine is yours and what’s yours is ours).

The house is approximately 18’ x 18’, with a small porch in back.  We plan to have a large, thatch-roofed veranda on front, but that has not materialized just yet.  The inside of the house is divided into two rooms - one a bedroom and the other a kitchen/everything else room.  The rooms are divided by bare studs for now - I have paid for masonite but the truck hasn’t had a chance to deliver it yet.  The house has a concrete floor, with the exception of the bathroom which is dirt, then sand, then large stones.  Our walls are half cement block and half woven bamboo.  The bamboo allows some airflow, and we have four wide windows that swivel to open either out or in.  We quickly learned that a fully-open window was actually an open invitation for the entire village to come stick their head in and look around, so now we only prop them half way open most of the time.

We have a small bathroom at the end of the back porch.  We have an RV (cassette) toilet, that has to be emptied about once a week (not my favorite job, but someone has to do it!).  We are in the process of building a “long-drop” local style toilet that we will use as much as possible, but the RV toilet in the house will be much more convenient for the kids and any night-time urges (too much information?!?).  We have a large, round plastic tub that the kids bathe in (like a bath tub), while Shawnda and I stand in said tub and pour water over us with a tea mug from a bucket. 

We have a corrugated iron roof, which serves to fill our 1,100L water tank in back (at least in theory, as it hasn’t rained in the village since we arrived).  For now I have to carry water in 25L plastic jugs from Jean Claude’s house, as they have a tap that is fed from a fresh water spring on top of a nearby mountain.  Carrying in the water makes me realize just how much water we use.  We are very conservative and easily use 100L per day, more on clothes-washing days (40L/day on cooking/dishes, 35L/day on bathing, 25L/day on drinking, 50L/week on clothes and 20L/week on the toilet).  Makes me wonder how much we use in Vila, or worse yet in the States!

The life-saving feature of our house is the two 90-watt solar panels on top.  This provides us with enough power for our two lightbulbs and an oscillating fan.  We turn on the fan during the kids’ afternoon nap and for an hour at night before we go to sleep.  It feels almost like we are cheating, as we turn the sun’s heat into a nice, cool breeze.  We are also able to charge my laptop, cell phones and batteries with the system.  We do still have the generator I used to power my circular saw and drill during the construction, but I am thinking about selling it once everything is in order.

I had enough timber left over from the house to make a bed for Shawnda and me.  We have two 15cm foam mattresses that lay side-by-side on top.  I made the bed unusually high so that we could fit all of our Rubbermaid containers underneath.  As soon as I can get some more timber cut, I will make the kids a set of bunk beds.  For now, their mattresses are just on the floor.

Last but not least is our kitchen.  I made cabinets in Vila and shipped them disassembled to Malekula.  We have a sink that empties into a 20L bucket.  Our “faucet” is a 25L jug with a plastic tap.  All of our food has to sealed up, so as not to invite any unwanted guests (rats, cockroaches, ants, millipedes, etc.).  I will mention here briefly that we have been very richly blessed by our neighbors, who have given us lots of fresh produce from their gardens - corn, peanuts, snake beans, green beans, cucumbers, lemons, bananas, tomatoes, papaya, and nous (similar to a green apple) just in the first week.  Shawnda made a nous cake in her Dutch oven and shared it with several neighbors - it was a HUGE hit and they were all very impressed with her culinary skills.  Closely akin to the kitchen, we have adult soursop and mango trees in our yard, along with some very young orange and papaya trees, and a watermelon vine.

The Long Road Home (2.10.2011)

I went out to the road about 5:30am to catch a transport to town (recall that I had been in the village a week working on the house, and the rest of the family were flying in today).  I was the first passenger, which gave me the distinct honor and pleasure of sitting in the cab of the truck with the driver - such results in a MUCH smoother ride along the bumpy roads.  We went to the east end of the village to pick up a few people, back to the center of the village to pick up a few more, and then to a village just west of ours to pick up a doctor who works at the clinic in Norsup.  We headed back east through Tulwei, and picked a few more stragglers.  The truck has a cage over the back, and I noticed in the side mirror that one man was standing on the edge of the truck bed, hanging on to the outside of the cage, with just the ball of his feet and big toes actually touching the truck - he road like that, over the bumpy road, for the entire hour in to town.  All said, there were about 15 people and loads of produce (to sell at the market).

We made it to Lakatoro by about 8:00, and the plane wasn’t scheduled to arrive until 11:15, so I headed to check out the “internet village” - the local phone company has installed these in several larger villages throughout the country over the past year, and we are VERY blessed to have one close to us (it’s the only one on the island).  The only other alternative for internet access would have been a dial-up account where we would have to beg a local company’s phone line.  One hour of internet access is 500 vatu, about $5.00.  I was able to check email, bank accounts, stocks, and sports in about 30 minutes, but since the allowance expires in a week, I had to go ahead and use the other 30 minutes or they would go to waste (we only go to Lakatoro once a week).  During that second 30 minute time frame, an Australian man (“g-day, mate”) sat down at a computer near me.  We chatted for quite a while.  He is overseeing a cacao plantation in central Vanuatu and has been here since December.  It was pretty obvious that we was starved for some Western communication, and I too enjoyed getting to know him.

Next I headed to the grocery store, to buy our needs for the upcoming week.  I knew Shawnda would have wanted to have the opportunity to scope out the store (she had yet to even step foot in one of the three small grocery stores), but I wanted to go ahead and get everything we needed in case the transport was ready to return to the village before we had another chance.  I bought cooking oil, corned beef, spam, onions, salt, toilet paper, dish soap, sugar, and flour for 3,850 vatu ($38.50).  I loaded it all into my backpack and went back to the open market to wait for the truck to the airport.  I spotted the truck driving by and waved him down.  It was still a couple of hours before the plane arrived, but it was more comfortable to ride around in the truck  than sit on the ground at the market.  We went to the airport about 11:15. 

The plane was 15 minutes late (i.e. on-time), and it was great to see my family again.  The kids literally ran to me from the plane.  Titus has been asking us almost daily since Christmas, “are we going to Malekula today?”  He and Lexi are both very excited about our new work.  We loaded up and headed back to town (there were several people who needed a ride from the airport (Norsup) to town (Lakatoro).  One of the things on Shawnda’s list that I hadn’t bought was eggs because they sell them individually here, and thus I could not really carry them without breaking them.  She had brought an egg carton from Vila, so we stopped briefly at a store and bought a dozen.  When she came out she said that she was pleasantly surprised by the store.  While she did that, I tracked down the Big Sista agent (a ship that services the northern islands), as he was holding a gas bottle for us that Shawnda had sent from Vila on Monday.  As soon as I found him, he said, “you need your gas bottle.”  I have never seen the guy before in my life, but there aren’t to many white people here, so most people already know me.  I got the bottle and carried it to the truck.  An empty bottle costs 9,000 vatu in Malekula, and another 5,750 to fill it, so sending a full one from Vila saved us quite a bit. 

Much to my delight, we were ready to head back to the village by about 1:00.  While each truck normally only makes one round trip to town per day, since our truck had carried so many people in the morning, and had even more to take back, he decided to make two trips.  The truck usually doesn’t head back to the village until 3:30 at the earliest.  As we crossed through the center of the island, the rain started to fall.  Rain is a blessing and a curse in Malekula - a blessing for obvious reasons, but a curse because the roads become impassible (especially the two-wheel drive truck we were in).  As we had completed about half the trip, we came to a slight incline in the road that was already quite muddy.  The driver stopped, got out, and said we would wait here until another truck came to take us the rest of the way (at which time he would return to Lakatoro to get his other passengers - he only wanted to have to maneuver the mud once).  We waited 30 minutes or so with no trucks to be had, so we just all headed back to town. 

With plenty of time on our hands, we went ahead and had lunch at the market, where there are stalls that offer plates of rice, vegetables and meat for 300 vatu.  There was also another positive to coming back to town - the butcher was open (it is closed from 11:30-1:30).  Shawnda had brought our small ice chest on the plane, so we now had the opportunity to buy ice and fresh meat.  We figure the ice will last for two dinners and a lunch.  After that we’ll use tinned meat until the next Friday.  We found a grassy spot in the shade and settled in, assuming we’d head back to the village in an hour or so (it was now about 3:00).  We waited there a good two hours - the kids each found a plastic bag and picked up trash while we waited, totally unprovoked.  Not sure where they got the idea, but we counted it as our community service project for the week, ha!  While we were waiting there, Bernard walked by.  I met him back in October (?) of last year at the airport.  He is the one who started his own church and asked if I would come and help him.  I sent him a full set of our Bible correspondence course, which he completed in about a week.  We had talked on the phone several times since then, but this was my first chance to see him.  We visited for a while, and set up for our family to go and visit him in his village at the end of the month, probably for a couple of nights.  His village in on the northeast side of the island.

By now it was 4:30, and I would have been worried except I saw some of our fellow passengers walking by, so I knew the truck hadn’t left without us.  About 5:00 the truck pulled up, and we got on ready to head back to the village.  We had to first go to the market and the government compound (Lakatoro is the provincial headquarters).  I knew it wasn’t good when no passengers got on the truck - they weren’t ready to go.  So, we went back to the market house to wait.  After about an hour there, we loaded onto the truck again, picked everyone up, and were finally headed home about 6:30.  In the back of the truck there were 16 people, 9 pieces of masonite, 3 bags, 2 ice chests, 5 bags of cement, and 1 gas bottle.  Now I know how cattle feel when they are transported!  The rain from earlier had stopped, but the damage had been done.  We traversed the road  quite slowly, being careful not to stuck (though if we had we would have had plenty of people to push!).  We finally arrived at the top of Snake Hill, the last leg of road before you hit the west side of the island.  The driver got out and walked down to inspect the road.  There was lots of dialogue between the passengers (in local language, so we didn’t understand), and it was decided that we would all walk down the hill, so that only the driver’s life would be in danger should the truck go careening off the side of the hill.  We all mud-skied down the hill, and the driver did a great job of making it down as well, though I must say that I was a bit concerned for him. 

We finally made it to the village about 8:00.  Thankfully, I had already asked Jean Claude and Leisande (two Christians who live near us) if we could eat with them on Thursday night, knowing that our kitchen would not be ready to serve a meal.  We had kumala and Ramen noodles, and headed for the house.  We gave the kids baby-wipe baths, threw our mattresses down on the floor, and got a much-needed good night’s rest.  It was an eventful day, but one in which God met our every need and then some!

PS - I had intended to include several photos with this post, but the internet is too slow today.  Maybe next week!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Here we go

I have been in Malekula for a week working on the house (not finished yet, but livable!), and am now in town awaiting the arrival of the rest of the family.  They are due to fly just a few minutes from now.  Though we have been planning for this move for months, now that we are here it is a bit overwhelming.  We rest assured that God is with us and that many are praying for us.  I remain very excited about the potential for the work here, and am optimistic about the future of the church.  I had the opportunity to worship with the brethren here on Sunday, and meet again with them on Wednesday night for prayer.  I continue to be amazed by the spiritual maturity they exhibit.

Sorry for this being such a short post, but I do not have my computer here yet and am therefore "on the clock" and need to get off the computer here as soon as possible.  Thanks so much for your prayers and kind expressions of support!  We will plan to post again next Friday, Feb 18.  Lukim yu...