Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Constancy of Change

We are experiencing what all missionaries experience. We’ve said good-bye to people who are and were an integral part of our mission. It will be impossible for us to think of this time without thinking of Sonny and Karen Ho-Ching, Chuk and JoAnn Fife, who were here for us when we arrived. There we other missionary couples who have since left that gave us a sense of home and familiarity while we adjusted to being immersed in another culture. Now we find ourselves, out just 6 months, being there for others.

Yesterday we had the unusual opportunity of picking up the new temple missionary couple from the Faleolo Airport. Normally this would fall to the temple presidency or the temple recorder to do, but circumstances placed them away on other assignments.  Elder Robert and Sister Peggy Lamoreaux from Orem, Utah, arrived at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 21st. It so happened that President and Sister Leota of the Samoa Apia Mission were there waiting for the same plane to arrive, bringing their daughter, Sister Rachel Leota Leulua’iali’I, home from her Utah Provo Mission. They were there with other family members holding large posters of welcome. We had written Lamoreaux on a piece of paper and I was holding it in front of me, standing next to reps of several resorts with signs of their own for arriving guests. President Leota came up behind me and said, “Sister Crowley, I don’t think the sign is necessary.Your [missionary] tags are all you need.” Earlier we had followed him up the stairs to a long bank of windows and looked out on the Air New Zealand 767 which held our missionaries. We watched the ground crew bring the stairs out and place them at the front and rear exit doors of the plane. Soon the doors rolled up and passengers began disembarking.  We spotted Sister Leota. Not long after, we saw our missionaries. They were easy to spot. Who wears a suit coat, white shirt and tie to a tropical island? Right behind Elder Lamoreaux was his wife. Even with my poor vision, I spotted their tags.

Elder and Sister Lamoreaux

So the Lord has provided once again. The Lamoreaux’s are seasoned missionaries, having served two years in Romania and eighteen months in Mongolia.  Prior their missions, Elder Lamoreaux served as a trainer in the Provo Temple. Temple service will be new for Sister Lamoreaux. As parents of fourteen children, she had plenty to do at home.  These people are stalwart. We will be so blessed to serve with them. The Lord hears our prayers.  (That part about fourteen children? It was not a typo.)

We love ‘our’ Pesega Lima Ward. (Lima means 5). Every Sunday the sacrament meeting program lists families by name, who are assigned to clean the chapel. Each area of the building is assigned to a different family, and one family every week is in charge of the grounds.  On the same page is a list of families assigned to feed the missionaries for the next seven days.  We found our name listed in last week’s program for Monday night.  We thought we would be feeding the two assistants to President Leota. As it turned out they were on splits. Elder Amituana’i (assistant) and Elder Fuatimau, who is staying in the mission home for a while due to a broken collar bone from a bike accident, were our guests.  

Left, Elder Fuatimau; right, Elder Amituana'i

Such good young men. As is their custom, after dinner, Elder Amituana’i shared a spiritual thought and a scripture with us.  He told us his own conversion story.  He said that he was not attending church after a certain point in his teen years.  When his younger sister sent in her papers and received her mission call, she said to him, “It makes me sad that when I am set apart, you can’t stand in the circle and lay your hands on my head.”  Her words cut him to his heart. He said sometime later, the sister missionaries were in his home one evening and as they were preparing to leave, they also wanted to leave a spiritual message with the family. One of the sisters asked, “What is the job of a missionary?”  He rather flippantly gave the standard answer – “To bring souls to Christ, to baptize people”.  

It was probably more the way he said it, than what he said.  At this point in telling this experience, Elder Amituana’i lowered his head and was very quiet. Finally when he was able to speak, he said, “I can still see her face. She looked down and finally said,’ You say it like it means nothing.’”   Those words were burned into his mind and heart. It was the beginning of change - a change of heart that resulted in him joining his sister in the mission field. He says of his parents, “They were the most patient people. They never forced the issue, never wavered in their love for me”.  I have heard him say that if it were possible, he would extend another two years. We don’t really know when he will finish his mission. He doesn’t like to talk about it.  He is one who will “waste and wear out his life” serving the Lord and His cause. 

There was a baptism in the ward a week ago on Saturday.  We had not previously attended a baptism here, but felt a connection to both of the candidates, so we went.  We are so glad we did. Seventeen year old Dolly Keil was the first to be baptized.  The Keil family is everywhere.  There were nine children and they are successful business owners of various businesses in Apia. Tragically, the parents of this generation of Keils were inactive, and the legacy continues. We are so impressed with those we have met. Dolly is a granddaughter. Her father, Clint, is Orlando Keil’s brother. We home teach Orlando and Rita’s daughter, Daphne. Are you with me? I’m just telling you we care about this family. 

The other candidate was Amaramo Alesana Sialaoa (he goes by Ramo).  This ten year old boy comes to church alone every week. We have substituted in his primary class a few times. He brings his scriptures, answers correctly the questions, is attentive and participates.  His father brought him the Sunday after his baptism, but they arrived late, as the sacrament hymn was being sung. After the sacrament, the bishop called him up and was voice for his confirmation.  The blessing he received spoke of education and accomplishment of his goals. It was quite amazing. His father stayed through sacrament meeting.  We taught that class again today. Fifteen kids, about half and half boys and girls, They were engaged and participated throughout.  The Roth’s (dentist) say how much they love this class. We understand.


Today, Sister Caroline Kamerath, the new mission nurse, invited the Lamoreaux’s and us to dinner. Honestly, it felt like coming home.  It was a lovely Sunday dinner, set on a beautiful dining table of inlaid wood. There were fresh flowers on the table, and wonderful people to share it with. Our visit in her comfortable living room was interrupted when a phone call gave her an update of a sick elder suffering the effects of food poisoning, which necessitated a call to Dr. Anderson, who advised drinking a flat coke. Nothing else has stopped his symptoms and hospitalization is being considered. Hospitalization is a last resort. It isn’t where you want to go even when you’re well, but especially when you’re sick. That is our nurse’s professional opinion.

Our mission nurse, Caroline Kamerath

Like the missionaries before leaving a home, I will leave with you a spiritual thought from our sacrament meeting. The Kelemete family spoke. The entire family speaks when the invitation is given by the bishopric. Six speakers, an intermediate hymn, and we ended on time. The subject was LOVE. From the youngest child, to the father, their words were taken from the scriptures and carried by the spirit.  The thought I want to share was given by the mother, Sister Leilani Kelemete. She taught us that when we forgive all, we qualify to be called friends of Jesus Christ.  She said when we refuse to forgive, we are in effect negating the Savior’s atonement and the gospel he preached. We are in effect saying we never felt his influence upon us to forgive others. It is worthy of pondering the critical importance of forgiving others, not only the problem of not forgiving, but the purifying power of a forgiving heart. To be called a friend by Jesus Christ is worth striving for.  

May your week be full of blessings and your heart full of gratitude.

Alofa atu ia te oe.
Sister Crowley

Monday, September 9, 2013

Lupe Ieremia and The Village of Falelatai

Lupe Ieremia was born in Falelatai, a beautiful village around the west tip of Upolu toward the south, a good way past the wharf. Her father and mother, Lo'i and Fetua'i Vaatuitui were the first members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a village predominantly LMS (London Missionary Society). Her family endured persecution but remained faithful. Lupe was one of nine children. The closest LDS chapel was (and still is) 2 1/2 miles from their home. She remembers as a young child how very long the walk to church was for her little legs. Her father carried the twin babies in baskets woven of coconut leaves. The baskets were attached to opposite ends of a pole which her father carried across his shoulders. Her mother carried similar baskets full of food which the family ate under the trees in the church yard between meetings. Many other families did likewise.

Her father traveled daily to Pesega where he cared for the grounds at the CCWS where Leon taught from 1971 - '74. The drive today takes over an hour. Lupe discovered later in life how little he actually made. How he provided for his large family and allowed her mother to be at home with the children was a mystery to her until she realized that it was only possible through his faithful payment of tithes.

When Lupe was 12 years old, her older brother had the opportunity to sit a test that would, if he scored high enough, grant him a scholarship to attend school in the United States.  The information given to his parents instructed their son to bring with him a #2 pencil. Not having heard that term before, they were concerned that he needed a very special pencil. When another of their children explained that they had several #2 pencils around the fale, their son had already boarded the bus with the hope he could purchase the special pencil before the test began. Lupe was given the assignment to catch the next bus and take the pencil to her brother.

When she entered the classroom where the test was to be given, she looked all around for her brother. When she didn't see him, she found a seat and took the test herself.  Sam Atoa was an administrater at the school. When the results of the test were in, he found her father, his first cousin, working on the grounds and asked why he had allowed Lupe to take the test when she was too young to participate. He answered that he had no idea Lupe had taken the test. It seems her brother had no intention of sitting the test and spent his time playing rugby with his friends while the test was being administered. Then Sam told her father that Lupe had scored the highest of all the students. Having the autority to do so, he granted the scholarship to Lupe which allowed her to attend Granite and then graduate from Highland High School in Utah. While there, she lived with her mother's youngest sister, Auntie Toe Freeman. Yes, her aunt is the wife of Joseph Freeman Jr. whom you met in an earlier post.

Her father was a humble and faithful bearer of the priesthood and was given authority to organize several branches of the church during his lifetime. He died at the age of 50. People came from all over the island to pay their respects to this faithful servant of the Lord. Buses lined the street in front of their home. Each busload of people from other churches as well, not just LDS people, came to sing. His wife was very ill at the time of his death, dying within the next 2 years from undiagnosed cancer of the stomach.  Lupe, who was still living in the family home, was grateful for Sam Atoa that day, as he was her advisor in how to handle this overwhelming crowd. She asked incredulously why so many had come. Sam said that obviously her father had touched all of these people in some way. The buses began to arrive at 4:00 pm and the last one left at 2:00 a.m. the next day.

There is a custom which is strange to us, but very old. The village of Salelesi plays a role in funerals. They are irreverently referred to as dogs of the high chief. A representative of the village comes by ancient privilege to funerals, enters into the fale to howl or wail. Mourners bring gifts to the bereaved family and place them near the coffin. The tradition is that this Salelesi is allowed w/o objection or interference to choose one gift and take it with him when he leaves. At her father's funeral, such a man arrived and entered the fale. He was smoking a cigarette, and was not wearing a shirt. Both of these things were forbidden by her father in his fale. Lupe, who was in her early twenties, took this man by the arm and escorted him to the road in front of their home. She told him that his appearance and behavior were offensive to her father and he was not welcome. She then instructed her brother to carry to the man two boxes of corned beef from the many food items given to the family.  As she was walking out with this man, several of the neighbors chastened her, discounting her behavior as being ignorant of Samoan tradition, presumably from her years in the U.S., and in very poor taste.  As she returned, she told them that her father was Tongan, not Samoan, and she didn't have to follow faasamoan tradition, but rather honor her father.

It is true. Her father is Tongan, her mother, Samoan. Both have passed away. Her father in 1993, her mother two years late. Lupe and her youngest daughter, Breanna, who turned 12 yesterday, and Lupe's brother Toia Vaatuitui, are the only ones that live in the family home today in Falelatai. We had the extraordinary pleasure of traveling to Falelatai on Saturday to visit their family home.

Lupe and her cousin Gail led the way in her Toyota pick-up. She took us over an inland route where we saw coconut and taro plantations planted by Germans on land they traded for rifles and ammunition that I am reading about in the historical novel, Samoa, by J. Robt. Shaffer. From here to the sea is all coconut palms.

Where the land isn't cleared and planted, it is lush jungle.

We stopped for a photo op near the crest of the hill before descending to Falelatai and Lupe's home.

From left to right: Breanna, Lupe's adopted daughter, Breanna's sister Kathy (living with her birth mother), Sister Crowley, Lupe, Gail.

Fuel for the travelers, Leslie's famous oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Nobody can eat just one.

The view of Falelatai from the crest of the hill...and inexplicably, Lupe's truck. We need photoshop:

Both Lupe and her brother Toia work in town, Lupe in Apia and Toia at Pesega. Before we visited their village and their home, I felt sorry for the long commute. Now I know it is worth it. What a place to begin each day.

The family home.

The open air fale where the nine children slept. Originally the floor was small pebbles covered by layers of banana leaves and then mats to make a softer bed. Now gleaming tiles cover the floor.

The cooking fale is separate from the house.
In the center is where the umu would be built up on the circle of  rocks. In the foreground is a carving block and work space.
The large drum we think may be a bbq.

Behind the house is a family cemetery that we regret not photographing. Her father is buried there. Her mother, having sought medical help in the states, was buried in Utah where most of the children are living.
Out past the little graveyard and through a fence is the beach, all part of the family property which has been theirs for generations. The family name, Vaatuitui means 'knock on the boat'; vaa=boat, tuitui=knock. Tradition is that when Tagaloa first came to Samoa, he sailed his canoe into this bay and knocked on the side of the boat, signalling his arrival. It was according to family tradition, the first of the grandfathers to claim this land after immigrating from Tonga, who went out to meet Tagaloa.  I must investigate further this tradition because according to my limited understanding, Tagaloa was the name of the Samoan god of the sea

Toia accompanied us to the beach while Lupe and the girls prepared sandwiches. With him is one of their three ridgeback pups, 3 month old Skittles.

Lucky pup.
Toia explains that before the last cyclone in December, it was a beautiful sandy beach front. Now many rocks have been exposed which previously were covered with sand. You can walk to the reef w/o getting your shorts wet.  Below is a fisherman preparing to place his nets in the water.

We took the beach road home, past the wharf and the Faleolo Airport. We made note of the chapel where the Vaatuitui family attended church. It would have been a long walk for a child.  From here we could see the small islands of Manono, Apolima, and the big island of Savaii. In the last photo you can see far off in the distance, the last ferry from Savaii heading to Upolu. 

Lupe is one of those strong, immoveable souls we are so privileged to call our friend. What a blessing it is to have seen her lovely village and the family home. Little by little we are learning her history. Always I am anxious to learn more. 

Thank you for allowing us to share with you this amazing opportunity to serve the beautiful people of Samoa. Tofa Soifua.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Cultural Arts at the Teuila Festival

Last week was the annual Teuila Festival.  We picked up a schedule from the tourism office, looked it over, and decided what we wanted to see and do. The most appealing event to me were the cultural arts demonstrations. We hoped to see the pao pao races (outrigger canoes) but missed that. We also marked our calendar for the 'Dream' competition in which the students from the various high schools compete for cash prizes awarded to winning schools. We weren't at all sure what to expect. We definitely got more than we ever expected. These were original productions involving sets, costumes, music, drama, and story-telling. We were so proud of our Pesega kids. It was truly impressive in every aspect. Of course we had no idea what the plot was since it was all in Samoan. But musically, artistically and in every other aspect, the  level of excellence was impressive. Leon took a movie of it on his phone, but no still pictures to share with you.

On the other hand, the cultural arts center offered so many demonstrations of traditional Samoan culture, and we do have pictures to share.

Here's where it all happened. To the left of this view is a large malai (grass field) with many fales like those in the picture below, located around the perimeter. In each of the fales was featured a different aspect of traditional skills and crafts.  For now, we'll start with the most important: traditional cooking of some of the best food you will ever eat.

So many delicious entrees begin with coconut milk. First step: split the coconut in half. With a rock. 
Or buy it in a can at a local grocery store. No one would argue that fresh is best.

Then the white meat of the coconut is scraped into a bowl. 
If you're expecting a crowd, use a large bowl. This is the meat of 20 coconuts.

Extract the milk by wringing it out of the meat, using sennet, also derived from the coconut palm tree and used to make rope.

Coconut milk is used in one of our all time favorite Samoan foods: palusami. It is combined with onion and wrapped in young taro leaves, then banana leaves, and finally breadfruit leaves as shown here:

Like love and marriage, you can't have palusami without taro. The outer covering of the taro is scraped off before cooking it in the umu. It can be cooked alone, or wrapped with coconut milk and onion. So good. It is starchy like a potato, but with its own distinctive flavor.

The umu is prepared by heating river rocks and placing the food on the rocks. More hot rocks are used to cover the food and then everything is covered over with banana leaves. Taro and palusami, fish, pigs, shell fish, bananas, yams, and other staple foods are cooked this way, even now. If you've eaten dutch oven cooking, you have an idea how delicious foods cooked this way would taste. We dreamed of palusami through all the years in between. The fire is burning, the rocks are heating. Soon the food will be placed in the umu and covered over with hot rocks and leaves.

These offerings will also be added to the umu, though I imagine they will have to wait their turn. The pigs will be filled with hot rocks as well.

That's squid next to the lobsters. Somewhere we know there was also albacore. We were there, remember?

Thanks for letting me share a part of the culture we enjoy every chance we get. Thankfully, local people everywhere sell taro and palusami. I don't think the temple president would be happy to see us making an umu in our front yard.

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Walk to Remember

We've enjoyed early morning walks together for years. I can picture in my mind the neighborhood landmarks, the kids walking to the corner to catch the school bus, the backyard fences on 4800 West where we brace ourselves for the robust barking through the slats of a particular yard, the sounds of traffic and the occasional siren, the otherwise peaceful feeling of a new day beginning. But the walk along the sea wall of Apia harbor is a walk I will never forget.

Going west from the bus station is a walking path atop the sea wall. This was our first time, and really just a sampling. It extends far beyond the length we walked, and someday I hope we will walk it end-to-end. Come, walk with us.

Looking back towards Apia, the one city on the island, you can see the bus station and beyond that, but not really visible from here is the fresh fish market.

What's that in the water? What the .... Is it a man's shoulder and arm? Maybe it's an elephant's trunk.

Wait .... where are we? That looks like a hippo!

Back to reality.  Good morning, world!

On the land side of the sea wall is a lovely park way with foot path.

Moving along, now we have a clear view of the road.  This theme is repeated 
on signs here and there along the roads and byways. I'll take this over graffiti any day.

                                      And the rest of the banner:

Left is a reminder of a bloody time in Samoan history; a time of civil war and foreign interference. Thankfully, America supported the rights of the people to govern themselves, while Germany and England manipulated and fanned the fires, flexing their political and military power to serve their own ends. It would take far more space than a simple marker to list the fallen Samoan warriors.

The building on the left below is the location of last Sunday's Christian churches choir concert.
It also marks the end of our first walk along the sea wall.  

It won't be our last. People travel farther to the local gym at home. 
This is truly a walk to remember.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Home Is the [Fisherman], Home from the Sea

At the west end of Apia harbor, next to the bus station is the Fresh Fish Market, an open air pavillion with a high ceiling, cement floor, and long end-to-end steel tables with lipped edges. It is here the fishermen bring their night's catch to market.

To experience the fish market you must arrive before dawn.

Brothers, cousins, watch and wait, ready to help.

Fishermen haul their catch to the pavillion in iced coolers. As early as it is, you can see that before long the ice is melting.  They display their treasures with the eye of an artist. Splashes of brilliant color are placed among the dominant shimmering silver-blue and grey.


They're waiting for restauranteurs and grocers to come and empty their tables and fill their pockets.  
They do not wait alone.

And come they do. The painted fellow is here to purchase albacore to roast in a traditional umu (hot rock oven) as part of the cultural arts demonstrations at the annual Teuila Festival going on all week. The only 'paint' is what you see on his face. The rest is painfully permanent.

Folks like us also buy. We have no competition this early in the morning. Luckily, we found a few cross section cuts of albacore for sale. We bought two at $20 tala each, which translates to less than $10 American each.

Home are the Missionaries, Home from the Market.

I hope to remember this day for a very long time. Everything about this experience was spiritual. The breaking dawn over the harbor, throwing delicate colors across the water; the boats at anchor, the fishermen hauling the night's catch to market, and knowing they will be out on the sea again soon. How many times has this scene been repeated? How many generations have fished these waters, living by, on, and from the sea? I am touched by these people and their connection to the past. 

I mentioned that just west of the fish market is the bus station. In other words, this is where it all begins for the buses. There is no terminal. Just a designated place where they line up, all decked out in the colors of the rainbow. Soon they will be jam packed with people sitting on top of each other and hanging out the windows. But for now, there are plenty of seats.

Oh, Samoa, I never will forget you!