Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Fire, fire, everywhere!

In recent days I have been disheartened after reading story after story of wild fires that are burning up parts of my homeland.  Fires primarily started by nature (lightning strikes).  Fires out of control.  Fires fueled by dry grasses, trees, strong winds and hot temperatures. And, unfortunately, fueled by wooden structures and homes (which makes me sick to my stomach).  We had our own little fire on Ebeye Island this month, too. On July 9.   It was nothing to match the power of these wild fires, but it burned all the same! It seems I just can't get escape the powerful grasp of this act of nature.  Even on a little island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by water.

I grew up in a small town in the United States of America.  More specifically, out west in the small town of Ephrata, Washington.  (Yay, go TIGERS!)  It is smack dab in the middle of the state.  I still say it's one of the best places to be raised as a kid!  Small town, USA.  Central Washington.  I lived there for all 18 of my growing up years.  It was a town surrounded by farming land and fresh air (some of it country fresh air, if you know what I mean!).  Right now that little town is surrounded by wild fires.  Thousands of acres burning out of control.  Thick smoke hazing the skies, turning the sun into an orange orb, and polluting the air.

 The worst fires are further north just off the Columbia River where homes have been lost and lives have been forever changed.  Firefighters are desperately fighting the flames (kudos to the gallant and brave people who work so tirelessly and put their lives on the line).  Despite their best efforts those fires continue to spread, and the thick smoke works through the land for miles and miles and miles.  Even if you don't live close to the fire, it feels like you do as you choke on the thick polluted air.

There are also fires raging near the town where I have lived my entire married life (except for the past year that we have lived in the Marshall Islands).  Boise, Idaho.  That is still in the western part of the United States, but a little further south and east.  Fires there are raging in the desert and in the mountains.  Friends complaining of the poor quality of air, being cautioned to stay indoors.   It seems like fire is touching lives of many loved ones, near and far.

Then, just this month, we experienced our own little fire on our little 80 acre island of Ebeye.  We have very few restaurants here on this island.  One, is at the Hotel Ebeye, the second is the fast food area in the Triple J Department store, and the third WAS La Bojies, or the "Sit N' Eat", as we referred to it.
In front of La Bojie's restaurant.  The 2nd floor was where a church held it's meetings

Whenever we had visitors from Kwajalein or Majuro we would often go out for lunch or dinner, and we usually ended up at the Sit N' Eat.  You could order a large variety of items, including Yakisoba noodles, Chow Mein, Sashimi, Lumpia, sandwiches, and yes, hamburgers and fries!
lunch with some of the Kwaj ladies, Kathy Skinner, Terry Edelen, Hillary Whatcott, and Alison Sok
Whenever the Marshall Islands Majuro Mission President, President Weir, and his wife came to visit, we would end our Saturday activities dining at this restaurant.  I even had the "pleasure" of a little mouse running back and forth behind me next to the wall while I was eating my dinner.  It made it a little hard to finish my meal, to say the least. And to not shriek!  In fact, I think that's about when I lost my appetite.  But I did not yell or make a scene.  

Sad to say, we were woken up early one day this month by our sister missionaries, Sister Tafili and Sister Chamings, around 6:30 am.  The fire started due to an electrical short, and the whole building went down in flames.  All two stories. July 9, 2014

Miraculously, there were no injuries. And even more miraculous, it was the only structure that burned down!  I thought for sure the whole neighborhood was going to burn down.  The houses are built so close together, often with no gap in between with portions made with dry, dry wood.  I felt certain the fire would take off and make it all the way to our apartment complex, which fortunately is a concrete structure. Fortunate for us, the wind was blowing west into the lagoon.  If it had been blowing south we would have been doomed!  We have no fire department, so most of us just watched it burn to the ground.   Aided with a back hoe, a water tanker, and a few hoses, they were able to contain the flames to the single piece of property.  Farewell Sit N' Eat!
View from the roof of our apartment building, with a sea of houses in between us and the fire.

Going up in flames.  The rain was pouring down and the wind was whipping!
Street view of the fire.  You can see what's left of the entrance.

Bull dozed with nothing left to salvage

Our hard working missionaries helping with the water brigade on the lagoon side.
still smouldering hours later.
 That evening  we decided to take a walk down to the site of the fire.  It hadn't even been 12 hours since the fire started.  What we saw was amazing.  They had bull dozed the fire to the back of the lot, along the lagoon side.  Fire was still smouldering in the back, but that did not stop their progress.  They had put down cement barriers and were moving in a silver trailer (one the King owned) on a crane for those displaced by the fire.  AMAZING!  This just shows you, when the right person wants something done, things can happen fast. 

I'm not sure what is more crazy.  The fire or bringing in the trailer!

strapping it on!
here comes the trailer!

swinging it into place!  yikes!

Watch out for that house!
can you spot the fire still smouldering, right behind the trailer?

Mission accomplished!  New home for the fire victims delivered less than 12 hours after the fire started!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Lae & Ujae Island #4 - Ujae Island Trip

Sister Becker and I went to Lae Island for five days back in May and I am finally getting around to writing about an additional excursion I took during one of those days to Ujae Island.  The reason for going to Ujae Island was to open it up to missionary work for the church.  A few months ago the District Presidency, High Councilors and me went to see Iroij (King) Mike Kabua, who lives on a small island just a couple miles north of Ebeye.  We needed to get permission to go to Ujae Island and open that island up for LDS Missionaries to proselytize.  One has to get permission from the king of the island in order to go there and do this type of work.  Iroij Mike Kabua was very polite and granted us permission to do what we requested.

After spending the first three days of our five day trip on Lae Island doing church related work it was time to head to Ujae.  The District Presidency, High Councilors, three elders and me (about 17 brethren) woke up at 2:00 AM on Monday, May 26th for our one day trip.  By the time we all got on board the 50 ft. boat and were ready to leave it was 3:00.  The trip to Ujae was rather uneventful.  The stars and moon were so beautiful.  It is amazing when you are out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a dark and clear night how many stars one is able to see.  It reminded me of the beautiful starlit sky at night while camping in the mountains back in Idaho.  It does make one believe what I have heard that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on the earth.  What was supposed to be a three hour, 30 mile, boat ride to Ujae in reality took five hours.  It actually did take three hours to get to Ujae from Lae, but what I didn't know is that one has to go past Ujae for another 10 miles before one could find safe passge for the boat into the Ujae Atoll.  It was very sad to see Ujae and then lose sight of that island for one hour before entering the atoll and heading back for one hour to the island. 

All of us brethren had worn comfortable casual clothes while on the boat, but once we reached Ujae we changed into our white shirts, ties, and dress slacks since it was missionary work that we had been asked to do.  Upon arriving at Ujae Island the pilot of the boat had to blow the fog horn in order to get the attention of the people.  Within a few minutes we saw a few men get into a small motor boat and head our way.  It took a few trips to haul all of us to the island along with all of the supplies we had brought.  We took with us gifts of rice (always), ramen, crackers, chicken, etc.  We were greeted by approximately 100 islanders and were adorned with leis around our necks.

Elder Becker pictured here with several of the brethren on the boat as we approach Ujae Island.

 After a three hour boat ride we passed beautiful Ujae Isand on the outside of the atoll and returned two hours later on the inside of Ujae Atoll.

 We approached the shore in a small boat where a few people were waiting to greet us.

After arriving on Ujae Island we followed Brother Joel Jeik and one of his nieces around the island.  Brother Jeik is a High Councilor in the Kwajalein District and was raised on Ujae Island.  He has a few siblings and many other relatives still living here.  His father, who now lives in Nevada, owns a few houses on Ujae and he has offered to rent one of the houses to our two missionary elders once they arrive on the island.  Our main goal in going to Ujae was to visit with a few of the people, let them know that LDS Missionaries would be arriving soon, and find appropriate housing for two elders.

 Typical housing on Ujae island.
 This is a view of Ujae Island on the ocean side of the island.  You will notice that there is very little sand and mostly very shallow corral which makes it impossible to land or unload a boat.  This is why we had to go an hour past the island and find a place to enter the atoll.

 Joel Jeik holding hands with one of his nieces and leading us as we begin our tour of Ujae Island.

 Several of the brethren and a couple of women on the main path.  There are no cars on Ujae.

 Carlson Kilma, Johannes Seremai, and Stimpson Kejai

 Johannes Seremai, Rafael Abaya, unknown islander, and Elder Becker

This is a picture of most of the brethren that went to Ujae Island.

After walking for about 45 minutes from the northwestern end of the island to the southeastern end we reached the area where Brother Jeik's father owned several homes.  Brother Rafael Abaya (Marshall Islands Church Facilites Manager) and I along with the others inspected the first house.   We soon discovered that conditions inside and outside the home were not suitable for elders to live in.  The house itself needed a lot of work, the water catchment for drinking was green, slimey, with no cover and definitely was unsuitable for drinking (even using the church water filtering system that we have), and the outside toilet was a community toilet.  The Church requires that missionaries have their own private restroom facilities.  There was also a large 4 inch spider that had taken up residency in the toilet.  Brother Abaya and I mentioned to Brother Jeik that this house was not going to work and that we would like to look at another house.  He told us that this was the only empty house that his father owned and that there were no others to look at.  We asked him if there was anyone we could possibly talk to on the island that may have a suitable house to rent and he did not know anyone that did.   Brother Abaya and I both talked and came to the conclusion that we had just taken a five hour boat ride to Ujae only to get here and not find a place for elders.  We figured we would just have to report to President Weir (Marshall Islands missionary president) that we had been unsuccessful. 

 The water catchment container at the first house we looked at.  Notice that there is no cover plus the water is green and slimy.  I don't know about you, but I don't think I would drink the water.

  The outside toilet with the large spider that took up residency
We started the discouraging walk back towards the northwestern end of the island with Rafael Abaya and me leading the way.  We had only walked for about five minutes when both Rafa and I stopped and looked on the right side of the path at a small pink house.  We both said look at this nice looking place.  It has nice paint, the interior is clean, it has two bedrooms with a large living room, the restroom outside is only for this house, there is a nice covered cooking area outside, the water catchment container has a cover on it and the water is clean, and finally the patio cover outside would be ideal for church services and meetings until the church grows and a chapel could be built.  We both agreed now if this was the house then there would be no problem having missionaries stay here.  We had no sooner said this when up walks Brother Jeik.  He asked why we had stopped and we explained to him that the house we were looking at right now was the kind of place we were looking for.  He looked at both of us and said, "Okay that is fine.  You can have it to rent for the elders."  We explained to him that it looked like it was already occupied.  He said that it was and that his sister and brother-in-law lived in it.  He proceeded to tell us that they would fix up the one we had previously looked at and that they would move into it and the elders could move into this one.  Neither Rafa or I could believe it.  We tried to explain to Joel that the last thing we wanted to do was to upset people on Ujae and have them spread rumors about the LDS Church and about how mean we were to force people from their homes.   Joel Jeik then told us that he was the eldest sibling in the family and the Marshalleise custom is that the younger siblings have to respect the decisions of the eldest sibling.  Later we also found out that the islanders believe that if they do anything nice for missionaries (or spiritual leader) of any religion then their own lives will be blessed.  We met a little later with Joel's sister and brother-in-law and they both smiled and agreed that they would be more than happy to move.  This event that had just taken place increased my faith and testimony.  The Lord was not going to let us leave Ujae Island without having us complete our mission of finding suitable housing for two elders.


 Bill Albert standing under the patio of the house that we are renting for two Ujae Elders.  Standing in the back in the yellow shirt is Joel Jeik's brother-in-law and that is his son standing by Bill Albert.

There is a covered water catchment container next to the right of the patio that will be used for the elder's drinking water.

After having completing our mission of finding suitable housing on Ujae Island for two elders it was time to head back to Lae Island.  We had been on the island for three hours and it was now 11:00 AM.  It took about an hour for us to board the large boat as it took a couple of trips to load everyone using the small motor boat.  We were surprised upon boarding the boat for the return trip to Lae that there were already nine people (also a large live pig) on the boat that had not come with us from Lae.  Come to find out that if a boat arrives on your island and it is going where you want to go then it is okay to get on whether there is room or not.  

The five hour ride back to Lae Island was not nearly as smooth as the ride to Ujae Island earlier in the morning.  Once we left the atoll the weather turned bad.  The wind picked up creating huge waves, some clouds moved in and it rained for a while.  The waves were so large that the front of the boat, where I happened to be seated, would lift up out of the water and slam back down causing water to splash everywhere.  In fact the waves were so large that a couple of the men that were seated in the bow of the boat were lifted off their seats back and onto the floor of the boat.  I then chose to wedge myself between the edge of the boat and the holds in the front of the boat.  I did get wet, but at least I wasn't going to get get thrown out of the boat.  I had taken enough Dramamine before we left Ujae that eventually I was able to fall asleep.  Once we entered the Lae Atoll the lagoon was nice and calm.  It had been a great trip to Ujae and our mission of finding suitable housing for the elders had been accomplished.

A picture of the beach and palm trees on the lagoon side of Ujae Island.

 Stimpson Kejai and Elder Becker

Looking back down the path as we are leaving Ujae.

The next morning, May 27th at 8:00 AM we boarded the boat one last time for our nine hour boat ride back home to Ebeye Island.  The return trip had about 47 people on board along with two live pigs and one live chicken. The nine people from Ujae plus some additional people from Lae boarded the boat.  They attempted to get approximately 60 people on board, but that was too many.  We found out later that the occupancy for the boat is not to exceed 25 people, not counting the pigs and chicken.  The weather on the return back was rather calm and the waves were not too bad.  Joel Jeik caught a yellow finned tuna and Carlson Kilma caught a mahi-mahi.  Once the fish was gutted and cut up the people pulled limes out of their pockets and consumed most of the fish right then and there.  Brother Kilma offered Sister Becker and I some of the raw mahi-mahi to eat but we declined and said that we would love to take some home.   He proceeded to cut off a huge piece and gave it to us. We took it to our apartment and cooked (not raw for me) it the next day.  It was by far the best fish I have eaten in my life.  

After being gone from Ebeye for five days Sister Becker and I were so happy to be home.  The trip was one of the best trips we have ever been on in our lives both physically and spiritually.  The beauty of the Pacific Islands and the wonderful friendly people that we met and associated with is difficult to match anywhere in the world.  We have come to love Ebeye and indeed it has become our home.  As we went to bed that night after a long shower, in an air conditioned apartment with running water, and internet (we emailed all of our children and let them know that we had arrived safely back on Ebeye) we said our prayers to Our Heavenly Father and thanked him for the memorable and  safe trip to Lae and Ujae Islands.

As a side note we have already placed two elders on Ujae Island.  Elder Price and Elder Tui'tupou hopped on a boat on June 13th and arrived there the next day.  It is unbelievable that after opening up that island to missionaries only nineteen days earlier we already have missionaries there.  This week we received an email from the missionary office in Majuro that the two elders there are in need of baptismal clothing.  The Lord's work moves along quickly and in the right direction when He wants things done.