Saturday, June 28, 2014

Lae and Ujae Island #3 - The beautiful island of Lae

LAE ISLAND!  We finally made it!

Lae Island, oh what a beautiful sight!  Now that's what I call a tropical island!
Nothing can prepare you for the experience of being on a remote Island in the Pacific.  And when I say remote, I mean REMOTE. Nine-hours-by-boat remote.  Many friends and family have been on vacations to exotic places in the Caribbean, South America, and even the South Pacific. They talk about how they experienced the wiles of an exotic tropical island.  Yes, you may have had a tropical vacation, but this does not come close to describing what we experienced on Lae Island.  This island reminded me of the movie "The Other Side of Heaven."   If you haven't seen it, then I recommend you do.  It is based on the true story by John Groberg when he was called to serve a mission in the Tongan Islands in the 1950s.

When you step onto Lae Island you truly take a step back in time.   A place unadulterated by the outside world (for the most part).  A place where there are no resorts, no pools, no air-conditioning, no paved roads, no cars, no refrigeration, no stores, no running water, no ovens, no phones and internet (OK, occasional access at the NTA "office"; more on that later).  It kind of reminded me of living on a perpetual camping trip.  For some, it's not much different than what they have on Ebeye, except there are no stores.  It was one of the coolest things I have ever done in my life so far and I can check it off of my list of things to do someday.  Remote island?  Check!
Diana Seremai (front), Sister Tafili, and Sister Becker being towed in to shore on the small boat.  After nine hours on the boat and we are still laughing and having a good time!  It's always a fun time with Sister Tafili (she says she is the female version of Elder Becker! so funny!)

After our nine hour boat ride from Ebeye Island in the Kwajalein Atoll we finally sailed into the Lae Atoll.  The atoll is too shallow for large boats to dock, so we dropped anchor a few hundred yards off shore.  We ferried to the island via small motor boat from our "large" 50 ft. fishing vessel.  As we approached the island our eyes were busily taking in all the sights.  The clear clean water, the white sand, palm trees swaying in the breeze, the scattering of buildings up on shore, and a long line of islanders waiting to greet us on land.  The women were dressed in colorful Marshallese dresses and many of the men and boys were dressed in white shirts, ties and pants.  As we approached shore our ears detected the beautiful melodic Marshallese singing, accompanied by a ukulele. There began our adventure on Lae Island for the next five days.

Welcome to Lae Island!  Now this is what I have dreamed of!  The women and girls were in front singing with flower leis in their hands, and the men and boys in the back of the line.

Elder Becker shaking hands with the children of Lae.
Fine looking young men of the Lae Branch waiting to welcome us and shake our hands.
Here I am with my beautiful (and oh so fragrant) flower lei and a fresh coconut to drink.  I don't think I look too bad, if I don't say so myself, after our 9 hr. boat ride! Behind me is the church building and to the right is the Elder's apartment.
Our time on Lae Island ran from Friday night to Tuesday morning, May 23-27, 2014.  Our time was filled with various meetings and a little relaxation thrown in for good measure!  We had our regular Church meetings on Sunday (Sacrament meeting, Primary, Priesthood Meeting), and then we held a fireside, a Family Home Evening, and leadership training.  I visited the local people with the Sister missionaries and we also spent time cleaning up the church membership records.  We also distributed clothing, toys and other goods to the members on Lae.  The men spent most of Monday in a boat to Ujae Atoll with the purpose of opening it up to missionaries (that will be post #4). And then, who can resist walking on the beach looking for shells, playing a game of volleyball, watching them shinny up the trees to collect fresh coconuts, watching the women prepare local fare, or watching them catch a live pig for our dinner?  Nary a dull moment!

Come with me as we stroll through our weekend in pictures.  I hope you enjoy it as much I did!  I will try to explain it a little as we go.  I must warn you, though, this is a LONG post.  There are just too many pictures.

All of our belongings, tools, food, and supplies had to be ferried, a boat load at a time, from our fishing vessel. Including about about a thousand pounds of rice and flour.  These men worked hard!

 After all the supplies were unloaded from the boat, we were fed royally!  They had tables set up in the church building and they served us food in freshly woven baskets made from the palm leaves. OK, now I am living the good life!

Fish, pork, sea clams (front), breadfruit (fixed 2 ways), rice, and fresh coconut milk
Feasting on our dinner as Branch President Phillips welcomes us.

This is about all I could eat (I was still rocking from the waves) .... until they brought me this warm coconut pudding-like goodness (front right).  Heavenly!
All of the cooking happened inside and around the outdoor cooking huts.  This is where all the food was cooked and served.   The food was cooked over a fire primarily stoked by old coconut shells.  The short walls let the air/wind circulate through the hut, while keeping wandering chickens and children out!

cooking hut

Hot chocolate?  No thanks, too hot for me!

Cooking breadfruit in the coals.  They cooked the fruit until it blackened, then they scraped off the blackened skin with broken bits of glass.  Then it was returned to the fire to cook and repeat the process.   Notice the women just sit right on the coral!  They are tough women!

Pres. Kajai and company fixing dinner

with the Elders in the cooking area

fresh catch grill
view from the cooking hut, Chapel on left, Elder's apt and bathrooms
the main road away from "town"

The Kwajalein District, lead by Sister Seremai, brought many items for the members on Lae.  Clothing, toys, sandals, flip-flops, candy, treats, toiletries, sheets, towels, and many other items were all donated by the caring sisters from the District.  These were carefully and systematically distributed to the children and women.

children waiting for their goodies

this little girl cracked me up.  I don't think we were ever able to make her smile.  I don't think she liked our white skin.  Somehow she managed to snag an extra bear as well!

Sis. Seremai reading letters from her preschool children to the children of Lae

sorting the clothes

 It was fun helping Sister Seremai distribute the items.  Everything they received was so appreciated.

We "kicked" the Elders out of their apartment, so this is where Elder Becker and I slept.  I purchased an inflatable mattress for the trip enabling us to get a half decent sleep.  We primarily used the apartment to sleep and to shower.  Every time we went into the apartment there would be little children standing outside trying to get a look at what we were doing.  They would stand and just stare for what seemed like forever until we would shoo them away.  

The Elder's apartment, with slatted glass windows.  That, folks, is island air-conditioning!  The building on the right holds the toilets (only for the Elders) and a storage room. Not sure what Sister Tafili and Elder Becker are doing looking into the bathroom?? Did they spot a spider or something?
The sister missionaries slept in the Primary room, just off the chapel inside the church.  It was a nice and secure place for them to sleep and study.  They also had an inflatable mattress to sleep on since we had purchased one for Pres. and Sister Weir.  Since Weirs couldn't come the sisters gladly slept on it. 

little piggies running around all over!
The water catchment system for the shower.  The green barrel was full of water, then you had to pump a lever (about 100 times) to draw the water up into the small grey barrel.  This fed into the small shower stall inside the apartment.  The water came out of the pipe, similar to water out of a garden hose.  Cool and refreshing!

inside the Elder's apartment

The kitchen.  The Elders have a sink, a couple of drawers for their dishes, a butane hot plate for cooking and a table with 2 chairs for eating and study.  That's about it!
"our" bedroom. wood floors, slatted glass windows, the bed against the wall.

Cleaning up the common area in the morning.  The hut in back was where the Elders slept.  Top picture shows the inside of the hut (made for Young Women meetings) with woven palm mats to sleep on.  The fresh green mats are surprisingly soft and cool.

The sisters were helping to sweep before they took their "bucket" showers.  They opted not to use the "real" shower in the Elder's apartment. tough girls!

A glimpse at some of our meetings.....
waiting for a meeting to start inside the chapel

Priesthood brethren

Primary singing time

Speaking at the Fireside.  James Jelke, left, was our interpreter.

 Saturday night we held a fireside for the Branch.  We have about 95 members of the church on Lae.  There are about 300 people on Lae Island, so about 1/3 of the island attend church.  Several of us visitors from the District were asked to speak and share our testimonies.  Elder Becker and I talked about the temple and our love for the temple.  The other speakers spoke on prophets, the priesthood, the importance of family, and the Book of Mormon.  We each talked for about 15-20 minutes.  Each meeting was a spiritual experience.  The fine leaders of the Lae Branch are doing a wonderful job leading the congregation.

After the fireside we ate a typical late dinner, about 9:30pm.
Sunday meetings went as usual, almost as if we were back home attending Sacrament meeting in the states.  We had Sacrament meeting, followed by classes for the Priesthood and the Primary.  The Relief Society women adjourned to the cooking hut where they had to start preparing food for the large group of people.

Beauties on the beach!  Sister Tafili, Thelma Ned, Sister Butler joined by a little islander
shelling fresh coconuts

They love to pose for pictures!  And what an amazing backdrop!

After dinner we visited and played games, and I even joined in the fun, making funny animal sounds and dancing.  They told me I was a pretty good dancer!  Not sure about that, but it was fun! 

the front of the Lae church, with water catchments on either side            

walking on the beach with these beautiful sisters and Elder Becker. (notice my plastic bag for shells!)  I can't walk on a beach and not collect shells!

sailing in the lagoon
the only way to cross was to wade through
walking the beach

We wandered through the rest of the island, escorted by our missionaries.  We visited with members, met new friends, including a doctor, and took in all the sights.

empty airport building
this is the runway for when the planes are flying

medical clinic; they have a doctor, but no medicine

frying breadfruit chips.  Yummy!

new elementary school to open this fall!

current elementary school room

school buildings, old and new
NTA - the only place to make a phone call and get internet access!

The NTA "building"

coconuts drying
basketball court - with solar panels!

Protestant church, the only other church on the island.

 And we were treated to the most beautiful sunset for us to remember Lae by!

 And then it was almost time to go home to Ebeye before we knew it.  But first there were a couple of things to do before we say goodbye to our new found friends.....

Fisrt, they kill a pig for our final dinner......
Then the women sang to us at our farewell Yokwe.  So, touching! I shed tears as they sang their good bye songs

clowning around with our new friends. such wonderful people!

sending us home with lots of new jewelry, all lovingly hand stitched

Farewell to our wonderful friends on Lae!  God be with you til we meet again!  A finer group of people could never be found.  It is so true that no matter where you go in this world you will find true and valiant people who share your same values.  These people have firm testimonies of the gospel of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  They have the same faith, as do I, that if we live righteously then we can live once again with our Heavenly Father and with our families.  And when we do, I hope to be there with these fine people once again.  I love you, my friends from Lae.  You will ever be in my heart.

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