Sunday, January 5, 2014

By Golly, Its Dewali!

Almost half of Fiji is Indian and Diwali is certainly the biggest and the brightest of all Hindu festivals. It's the festival of lights that's marked by four days of celebration, which literally illumines the country with its brilliance, and dazzles all with its joy. Each of the four days in the festival of Diwali is separated by a different tradition, but what remains true and constant is the celebration of life, its enjoyment and goodness.

Historically, the origin of Diwali can be traced back to ancient India, when it was probably an important harvest festival. Each day of Diwali has its own tale, legend and myth to tell. The first day of the festival Naraka Chaturdasi marks the vanquishing of the demon Naraka by Lord Krishna and his wife Satyabhama. Amavasya, the second day of Deepawali, marks the worship of Lakshmi, the goddess of wealth in her most benevolent mood, fulfilling the wishes of her devotees. Amavasya also tells the story of Lord Vishnu, who in his dwarf incarnation vanquished the tyrant Bali, and banished him to hell. Bali was allowed to return to earth once a year, to light millions of lamps to dispel the darkness and ignorance, and spread the radiance of love and wisdom. It is on the third day of Deepawali — Kartika Shudda Padyami that Bali steps out of hell and rules the earth according to the boon given by Lord Vishnu. The fourth day is referred to as Yama Dvitiya (also called Bhai Dooj) and on this day sisters invite their brothers to their homes.

One week before Dewali, we attended an event sponsored by the Fijian Hindu Society.  There we were treated to an evening of dance, song and food.  Most of the women were wearing the beautiful ‘sari’ or wrap around traditional gown.  The food was delicious.  I got this photo of a girl all dressed up and she let me take her picture.

A sari is a very long strip of unstitched cloth, which is worn over a similar colored petticoat. Its length ranges from four to nine meters, depending on how an individual wants to wear the sari. The blouse worn with it is also known as Choli.

The most common style of wearing a sari is by draping its one end around the waist and neatly arranging the other over the shoulder baring the midriff. However, there are many variations in how women wear this dress in different states of India. There can also be a lot of variation in the designs of the choli or blouse of the sari. For instance, for daily wear, the blouse can be a normal one with quarter or short sleeves. Sleeveless or embroidered blouses are worn to give a dressy feel.  Similarly, for occasions like wedding and parties, some Indian women also wear backless or halter-neck blouses with their sari. Women in the armed forces don the sari with a half-sleeved shirt tucked in at the waist. Sari is a very popular form of clothing in India. So, one will find various type of the clothing being sold in the market.  Every state of India excels in manufacturing a certain type of sari. Thus, you will find plain or patterned georgette saris, heavily golden-zari embroidered zardozi saris, silk sarees with heavy pallu, and so on. The prices of the saris also vary greatly. The cost of a sari differs greatly.  We have seen saris in the store with a price of over $450 US while others of under $50.  We went shopping after Dewali and found some beautiful saris discounted for quick sale and bought some up for our granddaughters to use for Halloween or dress up.


The Monday before Dewali, all the senior missionaries including the mission president and his wife and the temple president and his wife, got together for a FHE dinner and Dewali celebration where we ate curry and had a Hindu Indian Fijian speak to us about Dewali. 

      Senior couples at our Dewali celebration

Sunday, Nov. 3rd, the biggest day of celebrating, we were invited to our neighbor’s home to eat and enjoy Dewali with them following their time of prayer.  It was an amazing cultural experience.  Though originally a religious celebration, like Christmas, it has become commercialized. The most noticeable parts are the non-stop fireworks that begin before dark each night and continue until midnight and the lighting of their homes.  People will spend hundreds of dollars on fireworks and decorations.  Since it is a wet land, there seems to be no restrictions on the size of fireworks for sale.  Many set off from homes were like you would see a city do in the USA. 


                                Our neighbor Sarita in her Sari



 Pastries made with powdered milk but no flour.  These are not baked but shaped in a mold.
Sarita's husband and son with their kava pot.  Kava is a narcotic drink made from pounding a plant and making it into a drink.  It is a huge past time in Fiji used in celemonies and social settings. 
Here are sore shots of the lights


We celebrated by making snickerdoodles and chocolate chip cookies and taking them to our friends.  That was really fun for us.  There is a lot of taking around ‘sweets’ here during Dewali much like we do at Christmastime. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lots to Learn

Oh what a lot there is to learn as a new missionary! 

My computer went on the blitz soon after I arrived in Fiji.  It took 2 1/2 weeks for them to figure out that my hard drive was bad.  One of the senior couples here was expecting family to come and visit.  I emailed Paul the night I found this out and when I awoke in the morning and called him, he had already purchased a new computer and delivered it to the family just an hour before they left for the airport.  They delivered it to me about 18 hours later.  What service that was!  The computer is a touch screen Lenovo with Windows 8--the program that is all APP's.  It has been a very sharp learning curve for me but I am finally getting it down and it has some wonderful features. 

One of my responsibilities is to be aware of the medical facilities and providers in Fiji.  As part of that, my companion and I took a three day drive around the main island, Viti Levu.  Viti is the actual name of the nation. That was so much fun and was so educational.  We toured several hospitals and met a number of physicians.  There is national health care here in Fiji which is free for Fijians.  Recently they started charging non-residents.  Since the British left in the 70's, the infrastructure throughout the country has suffered, including the hospital buildings.  There are two large hospitals plus small hospitals in many of the towns.  We found out that there are only two actual cities in Fiji--Suva and Lautoka--where the two large hospitals are located.  There is also one private hospital in the country and it is located in Suva and provides most of the care for our missionaries.  All the hospitals have xray and sonogram and most lab tests.  The large hospital in Suva also has CT scan and MRI.  There are some specialists but no neurosurgeons so serious cases must be life flighted to New Zealand.  It was great to see the rural countryside with their sugar cane fields and the many little villages where life moves at a slower pace and many live off the land and the sea.

A traditional building

Lots of livestock on the roads

Cane field

Sugar cane is the main crop on the north and west of the island.  Evidence of it was everywhere.  The East Indians were imported to work the cane fields in the 1800's.  Now there are some large plantations requiring trains to haul the cane and many small plots run be individual families.

These trains run on very narrow tracks and move the cane


Huge trucks like these were all over the roads
house on stilts
Houses were humble and often pretty

Traditional greeting post made from the roots of a plant and put in front of a home

common housing
more common housing

The scenery was stunning as we drove along the coast on the east side coming back to Suva

The next week we had a huge intake of new missionaries--22--which increased the size of the mission by about 20% all at once.  Lots of time and planning went into it and as a result it went very well.  New areas needed to be opened up.  If the president wants to open a new area for proselyting, he must visit the chief of that village and go through a very formal ceremony of offering a whale's tooth.  That happened in one area and the chief started to cry.  He had joined the church years before when living outside of the village and had given up on the idea that the church would ever be in his village.

For three days we were arranging or preparing meals, dealing with lots of luggage, getting missionaries oriented, helping them purchase sandals and sulus (the wrap around skirts that the elders all wear, pairing them up with a companion and then sending them off.  Some were sent to remote islands, reached by boat.  Some of the islands only get a boat in monthly or less often.  For one of the meals we did a brunch and had them make their own French toast and syrup.  It was a good teaching moment.  There was a lot of excitement and energy.

During that same week we were saying goodbye to two senior couples and two young missionaries.  Again there were lots of meals and photos and tender moments.

The Terrys, Elder Smith, the Kennerlys and Sis. Lewenatotoka (between the Kennerleys)

There have been lots of medical issues to deal with.  We have had three hospitalizations, two needing MRI's, one needing IV antibiotics on an outpatient basis, some rather serious boils, as well as the usual injuries and illnesses.  This has all been very interesting to me and has kept me really busy.  It has been really satisfying to be connected with medicine again.

We got our piano program started the week after the large intake.  Once word went out, we had  many applicants from a total of 8 wards.  About 16 had some experience already.  Another 45 or so were beginners.  We teach three classes on Sunday, one beginner class on Monday afternoon and one more advanced class, and a beginner class on Thursday with more advanced classes before and after.  It is going well and is very rewarding.  We have received enough keyboards from the Harman Grant Program to allow us to teach classes of up to 10 students at a time.  We use the more advanced students to help us during the beginner classes so we can teach that large number of students.  I think that they learn more that way anyway.  The teacher always learns more than the student. 

These are some of our piano students holding Flat Stanley who is explained later

Our Mission President asked us to start attending the Tamavua ward, held at the LDS College.  We are both working in the primary and visiting teaching with separate partners to less-active sisters.  I am one-on-one with a four year old autistic boy in primary.  His family has been very appreciative of information I have been able to give them about autism and some techniques for behavior modification.  It will be a challenge but should be very rewarding.

Julie's second daughter, Natasha, has received a mission call to Korea and entered the MTC in Sept.  Her father, Brock, has recently completed all but his dissertation for his PhD in rural development.  He has been applying at various universities.  The university who was most interested in him was one in Korea.  They accepted the offer of a two year professorship and will move to Korea in February, returning to Nauvoo Illinois in the summers.  They will not be living in the same mission as Tashi will be serving in. 

Pat's granddaughter had a class project where they colored a large paper boy named Flat Stanley.  He could then be folded up and mailed off to various places in the world.  Her granddaughter sent Flat Stanley to Fiji and we got to take him around to a number of places to get his photo taken.  We had so much fun with that and we drew a lot of attention as we tried to tape him to light poles and various other places around Suva so we could photograph him.

At the sea wall

In the children's library

An intersection in downtown Suva

A classroom of 8 year olds at the LDS Primary School

This is in our office with some missionaries.  The Islander missionary is the only one I've found with Windows 8 knowledge

At the post office

With the coconut vendors

At the produce stand

The stake Relief Society had a big fair with a wonderful musical program on "The Woman at the Well" and then lots of talent from each ward.  Afterward there was an opportunity to browse through rooms decorated by various wards where they displayed and sold crafts and food.  It was so fun.  I bought a huge sea shell which was all decorated up with Fijian flowers.

That's all for now.  Hope you have enjoyed the tour of my world.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013


It didn't take us long to get right to work.  There were no other options.  There was work to be done!  The first month was a little challenging as we tried to learn our duties, how to drive, how to get to places, where to shop to find the foods we like, how to communicate effectively with family and friends-- but the process has been so much fun. 

My biggest challenge has been electronic.  My computer broke soon after I got here.  It took two and a half weeks to figure out that it was truly kaput.  Paul was able to get me a new Lenovo idea pad with a touch screen and Windows 8 and send it with visiting family of some senior missionaries.  That was slick.  Learning to use Windows 8 and the touch screen has not been slick.  No one here had seen Windows 8, much less know how to work it until last week when an Islander missionary from Keribati said he knew.  That has been a tremendous help.  Now I can finally blog some more and I am excited.  I also found out that Elder Christiansen (he and his wife are new here as temple missionaries) has Windows 8 and he has been a big help.

 We live just 4 blocks from the temple and our office, and that is nice.   We have had fun discovering our neighborhood.  Most of our neighbors are Indian. Here are a few shots:  Notice the colors!

 This is the house across the street with its colorful car.  Next is the colorful house next door  and below that is a little store and Kava House.
Little store across from our flat

Kava is a narcotic drink made from a plant here

House next door

This is a beautiful Asian looking house.  There are a lot of Chinese here and their homes are always immaculate.

These are  photos from the LDS College  (High school).  It is also where we attend church.  The campus is on quite a slope and looks out over the bay.  it is gorgeous location.


My companion planned a surprise birthday party for me.  That was so much fun.  It really was a surprise.  She found a cake and the Assistants found me a clothes hamper that I needed.  The
 video I tried to attach won't work so you will just have to take my word for it--we had a good time!

I have several additional tasks that are separate from my nursing.  I am the BYU application specialist for those missionaries trying to apply to any of the three BYU campuses.

Elder Sancho is from English Guyana.  He just completed a
mission to Vanuatu.  To get home he had to travel through the
 US and so had to have a temporary visa.  While he was
 waiting, I was helping him apply to BYU Hawaii

I was asked to teach a first aid course to the Young Women of one ward in preparation for their upcoming Youth Conference.   That was a lot of fun for me and the girls were so great.  They are so friendly, gentle and appreciative.


 I put together and print the 'Come Follow Me'  program monthly for the youth that live in the branches since most do not have access to the internet.  For the first one, I printed and shipped about 22,000 pages but the second time they decided to do it on a smaller scale had me cut it back to about 20% of that.

Here is the first printing of Come Follow Me

Our front office

My companion Sis. Newsom in our office

I am in charge of ordering supplies and stocking the store room in the basement and the shelves up in the office.  I have two missionaries who come in on Thursday morning to help me with that task as there are a lot of boxes to open, put away,  and carry upstairs.  I am amazed at the volume of supplies we go through--Books of Mormons and Bibles, the six basic discussion pamphlets, DVD's, resources books such as "Out Heritage" and "True to the Faith", the paper work that the missionaries use for reports, etc.  Most of the materials are stocked in both English and Fijian and some are also in Hindi. 

We have gotten acquainted with most of our neighbors, made a lot of friends at church, and of course, we have met many of the young missionaries.  How refreshing these enthusiastic, dedicated young people are.  What a pleasure it is to serve them.  They are sooooo appreciative of everything I do for them.

This is our 4 year old next door neighbor from Sri Lanka.  She is learning English and comes over every chance she gets to play on my ipad or just visit. 

Many of the Indians continue to wear their traditional clothes as do the Muslims.  It is not uncommon to see veiled women, some with only their eyes showing.  Here is a photo of our friend at church, Sis. Singh

This is the one Fijian family who lives close

I was asked to cover the Fiji-wide Youth Conference and that was so fun.  There were 600 youths from all over the Fijian Islands.  I went down once or twice a day to check on the sick kids.  I was really impressed with the organization and program that they had for these kids.  It was held at the LDS College (high school in the US) and this was taken in the gym. 

Youth conference youth off on a service project

One of my very favorite things is being so close to the Temple.  Here is a shot of the temple I took one night at sunset just out the door of our office..

My daughter Jill and her daughter Kate traveled to Croatia in August to picket up Jordan from his mission.  What a wonderful trip they had.

One of the biggest celebrations of the year in Suva is the Hibiscus Days.  We went to the parade and my companion was pick-pocketed.  She got her wallet returned by a taxi driver with all the cash in it.  That was a blessing.  She didn't have much cash in the wallet.  The taxi driver found her through her temple recommend which has the picture of a temple on it.

Well that wraps up August.  September is soon to come.  So long for now.