Tuesday, August 9, 2011


The next best thing to rest and relaxation is exhilaration. No matter which one you are experiencing at the moment one always makes the other better. Today we had both. One of our favorite things to do while we are at Sonaisali (aside from the lovely rest) is to Jet Ski and snorkel. Both are absolutely lovely here. Today we got to do both.

The morning started out beautiful. I remember sitting in the hot tub on our deck looking out at the ocean and not being able to distinguish the sky from the ocean. Both were the most beautiful shade of blue. The water was calm and a perfect shade of blue glass.

We ate our breakfast and met our guide Vetta who would take us out to some of the neighboring Island groups. We rented the Jet Skis for several hours and packed our snorkeling gear. The sun was warm on our backs and the water the most gorgeous shade of turquoise as we set off.

We headed off towards Plantation Island, which we can see from our deck each day. On the backside of the Island are the most beautiful sandbars and coral reefs so we parked our

jet skis and headed off to snorkel. Here we thank God for His kindness to us…the fish are the most stunning colors and so very abundant. Some of the fish boldly swim towards us and touch us and we are excited and lost in the moment of being in this place.

As we swim back we know that we have experienced something beautiful and are a bit reluctant to leave. Fresh pineapple and muffins await us on our jet skis and we feel ravished after our swim.

We ski amongst the Islands where I daydream of their beauty. I am so happy to be here at this moment and fully appreciate the beauty of Gods creation.

Suddenly the wind kicks up and Vetta tells us that a storm is coming our way and we must head back soon. We gear up and sure enough it hits us full bore. It is the most exciting thing ever. We ski through four to six foot waves and hit them head on. The salty water splashes across our faces and often times I am not sure where we are heading. I am reminded of the time we rode a tandem bike in Spain where I had to trust my driver so here I sit, hitting the waves full on with my eyes closed…and loving it! I open occasionally to see the rain and the blue of the sea. Vetta tells us there are giant turtles out here but I only see the sprays of water as they head towards my face.

We have made it back, exhilarated by our experience. I have filled our hot tub with warm water where we will still and soak up the rest of the afternoon. The rain pours off our roof as the waves crash on the shore and we are content in this moment.

I think a good nap is in next!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Our Home away from Home

At last we are at our resting place. Sonaisali literally means “resting place” in Fijian, so it is on this little Island that we will sit and rest awhile before returning home. This is also the place we recap the trip, discuss what could have made it better, follow up with the contacts we have made and plan for our next years trips.

This is also the place I get lost in my thoughts. Daydreaming about living in the South Pacific with easy idyllic days and cool nights.

Daydreaming-period. Sitting on the balcony each night just to watch the sunset into the water and waking early to bathe on the deck while a gentle breeze blows through the palm fronds and the waves hit the shore. Here is where I miss you the most... It is in the stillness and quietness that I think of you and know that you would enjoy this spot also. I take solace in knowing that your heart is next to my heart so in a way your are here with me…I know that I am blessed beyond what I could ever say...
and you are my blessing.

We will see you soon... in all the old familiar places. Love you so!

Shopping in Lautoka

Today we caught the local bus from Nadi and road into Lautoka. For $2.40 Fijian we had the ride of our lives! The bus stops are not well marked but we gathered where everyone else was and asked before boarding. We figured if we were heading in the right direction we couldn’t go wrong. And we didn’t. In fact we made it up and back a couple of times and began to feel like pros at it.

Today I am going have a new Sulu Chamba (traditional Fijian dress) made. My first one came from Lautoka and I hoped to have another one made. Although I would not be able to recall the exact location of the tailor I was sure I would find someone who could help me.

We met some ladies at a church picnic and I asked where I might find a seamstress. They were all quick to help and soon the consensus was the lady past the BSP bank on the road that curves to the right. No one remembered her name or the name of her shop but assured me I would find her with out a hitch. Sure enough, we did.

The shop was filled with hundreds of rolls of fabric and I could see the selection was going to be difficult. My favorite part was when she asked me to draw what I wanted and she would make it. I sketched it out and after a few loose measurements we were set. I said I would be back in a day and a half and she said no problem.

The completed dresses were beautiful and custom fit and the total cost was about $26.00 USD.

I have received many complements on the dresses from the local women just as Tom does when he wears his pocket Sulu and Bula shirt out. They appreciate that while we are here we are truly Fijian.

Favorite day

For the last two years we have been traveling with a wonderful young man named Josh Reeves. He is the Senior Pastor of a small church in Pollock Pines near Sacramento. He

has the wonderful gift of…wisdom. Wisdom well beyond his years of thirty- something. A conversation with him provokes deep thought and before you know it you feel as if he is a long lost friend and soul mate. He has taken the position of clinic manger/administrator for the last two years as Tom is now providing health care with me in the clinic. He does a wonderful job and we are so thankful for him.

After our workday we have a several hour bus drive back into the village where we are staying and often chat about our day. On the last day he asked me which was my favorite clinic and I had to think for a minute. There is always one place or event that captures my heart. Sometimes it is making a house visit to see a newborn baby or sitting with an elderly woman while she is dying. I can never predict what it will be but I thank God for the imprint on my heart.

We were in on of the poorer areas doing clinic in a lean-to just made by the local church. It faced the ocean and a cool breeze blew on us all day. The floor was just machete-cut grass and smelled sweet.

It was the next to last day of clinic and the day I began to feel a little tired. I remember that , for them, this is the first day that they have ever seen us, so I work not to let my fatigue show. A beautiful, strong looking Fijian woman in her fifties came in. She was wearing a beautiful red Sulu chamba; her finest I am sure. Many years ago I figured out that the women will wear their finest dresses to the clinic and so I too try to wear my finest Fijian Sulu chamba. I know that they appreciate this. I remembered that her health was relatively good and our visit went pretty uneventful until the end. I held her hand and asked if I could pray with her about anything and I felt such power and strength in her grip. We both began to weep and hold each other. I am not sure what was spoken between us but I felt such a strong bond with her. She also wanted the eye exam so I sent her over to see if we could fit her with a pair of glasses. Suddenly I heard a loud squeal of delight and looked over and saw the women in the red dress. She had found a pair of glasses that fit her perfectly! And then, she began to sing. Strong. Powerful. Very moving.

Her head held high she sang to us the song of her village and giving thanks to God for her blessings today. Upon her face sat a pair of donated eyeglasses, someone else’s discard. It was incredibly moving and we stood in awe as she sang out loud.

How many times I wonder, do I stand up and sing praises? Thanking God richly and boldly. Do I remember to be thankful for my life, my job, my health, my family, and my home to name a few? Do I dwell on the busyness or do I dwell on the blessing.

I will not forget her…I will not forget the sound of her voice. I pray never to forget my thoughts at that moment.

Why the Solomon Islands?

When people asked us where we were going this year after our medical mission in Fiji, most were surprised to hear it was the Solomon Islands. One might conclude that it was because of Tom’s family history of serving in the military. His father and uncles all served in the South Pacific during WWII thus sparking Tom’s thirty seven year Navy career. Even with this history the Solomon Islands are still not a place one would normally have on their travel itinerary. However, tonight we realized the real reason we are here.

It really began a few years ago with conversations we had with a friend of ours from Fiji. Pastor Villi (aka Pastor Bill) is a powerful man, and I don’t just mean his 6’6” stature, which is even big by Fijian standards, I mean his heart. This is a man works endlessly to help the people

in his region better all aspects of their lives. Spiritually and physically he validates the importance of their education, and works to instill hope in their future.

Pastor Bill has talked with us about the need to travel to the Solomon Islands. He feels that this area struggles far more than even the more remote spots in Fiji. So when it came time to travel this year, this was the area that was heavy on our hearts. We were given the name of a man in this area that Pastor Bill had met a year or two before and off we went. He assured us he would send a word of introduction and we would contact him when we arrived. Well, not really to our surprise Mataiasi Lomolomo did not know to expect us (the ability to communicate is always questionable around here) but received us warmly.

He is actually here on a long-term peace keeping mission with the Regional Assistance Mission Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and is the assistant to the Special Coordinator. A powerful, gentle, Godly man who chose to give up an easier job to serve here to help restore the infrastructure of the country. The earlier part of this century brought ethnic tensions and violence to the area. A coup left the country in shambles with widespread poverty everywhere. At this point Australianformed a coalition called RAMSI to bring peace and restore the rule of law to the region. Mataiasi works village-by-village to help restore stability and teach sustainability. He does it as a Godly man and has been able to reach many communities.

Masi (short for Mataiasi) was very excited that we came and immediately contacted some of the local pastors. In our last meeting we meet with a Fijian pastor who is now a pastor in the Solomons. He had been in Fiji a couple of years ago when we brought a medical team to a village near his village. He said the local pastors have been praying for someone to bring a similar team to the Solomon Islands and that they and the government will assist us in any way possible to make this happen.

In our hearts we feel like this is an open door to an area that desperately needs help. We left with a sense that we will return in the future as God opens the door.

Amazing Where You Learn Things

I rather like to think of it as a blessing…my ability to chitchat with anyone…anywhere. I find that genuine conversations and questions can provoke valuable information and insights into lives that are different than our own. And, I love this.

I was sitting in the bank waiting for Tom to conduct his business when a woman from the Island of Malaita sat down next to me. I didn’t know that was where she was from until I asked her. And I wouldn’t have thought to ask her until I saw the makings on her face. Malaita is an Island East of Guadalcanal and is still considered one of the last unexplored frontiers.

And, as I learned while chatting in the bank, facial scarring and tattooing still occurs to identify the Malaitian tribe members. It seems that while the infants are young a distinct pattern is cut into their face and ink from a particular bark is spread into the open wounds where it will permanently stay. The markings represent the village that they are from and the fact that they do it identifies them as Malaitains.

As we chatted I learned so much more about their tribal life. I also know they are very connected to their wantooks (clansmen) and each person is given a piece of the family history. It is only when they are together that the entire history is known. Each member having only his valuable piece to contribute thus ensuring the continued connections and legacies being handed down. There is no written account.

I was brought up to speed on some other local customs…the chewing of betel nut for example. The nut is grown on trees and cracked open by mouth to obtain the most potent amount. In combination with the juice of a lime and the leaf from a local plant one can receive an instant jolt of energy. It often turns the teeth red and then black and this becomes a permanent stain. We see everyone doing it and we were told that often people do this instead of lunch…refreshing them for the rest of their day.

Education and health care are almost non-existent and the average grade completed is about the 5th grade. Our friend Tony who drives a cab is an exception to the rule as far as being an entrepreneur goes. He comes from a family of nine sons where only the first four could receive any education.

He worked very hard to learn to drive and then drove for six months without pay for the opportunity to buy his own cab-which he now owns. He cares for this car like a mother cares for her infant and drove us whenever we needed a lift. He filled us in on the history, customs, social problems, and life in general on the Islands. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him.

We received a couple of invitations to visit and to stay with their wantooks and who knows…we just might sometime.

Tour of Guadalcanal Providence

Today we took a tour of the Eastern Providence of Guadalcanal known as the Eastern Battlefield. This area was infamous during WWII and stories of the battles fought here still evoke passion in the Solomon Islanders. The locals recall from their grandparents the sudden invasion and then destruction of their country. Many Solomon Islanders fought in this war and many were heroes.

We had read and studied about the battles that had taken place here but until we walked the grounds we did not appreciate how difficult it must have been.

When we arrived in Guadalcanal we landed at Henderson field, which was one of the big objectives of the war. The side that controlled the airfield controlled the fate of the battles on Guadalcanal. We went to the site of one of the amphibious landing where there are still a large number of amphibious assault vehicles that were left sitting on the beach and now have trees growing through some of them. We traveled to Bloody Ridge and then to Red Beach. One can just picture the

challenges the men faced with the hilly terrain, the dense jungle growth, the heat and insects. When you add to that the fact that many people are trying to kill you, it could be overwhelming.

When we took our hike to Mataniko falls we took a break on Hill 54 and then climbed to Hill 57 where the Allied forces finally put a large gun, after many battles to own the hill. On the ridge where the trail goes, we had to be very careful because the foxholes were right beside the trail, now filled with grass.

A step off into one of them would have been disastrous. The trail to the falls takes a 1000 foot almost vertical decent down a slippery slope where you literally have to hold onto vines and roots to keep from sliding to fast. The falls were beautiful and we swam in them to cool off. At the falls we thought about the men
from Hills 54 and 57 who would come there to get water and a dip in the pool. We went in with a camera and a bottle of water; they carried full packs and weapons. What an effort to have a cool drink, fill you canteen, and maybe a quick swim and then to ascend that hill to go back to your post. You would return hot, sweaty and dirty just like you left but you would have had those few minutes of "pleasure".

When you walk around here, you can see what it took to fight in this area and it is easy to see why the men who returned from WWII were and are so resilient and hard working as a generation. We felt it an honor to walk these grounds and pay homage to those who were here before us.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Other Side of the Wall

Today we caught the local bus (van) and went to a place on the White River that we had heard about. There is a little restaurant called The Raintree cafĂ©, which is run and owned by some of the local women. It features home grown/organic food and we have been craving some familiar fruits and vegetables so we decided to try it out. It sits a stones throw from the beach and is a beautiful place to sit, eat, and relax. They are also famous for their barrel-cooked pizzas, which are cooked over a 44-gallon wood-burning drum.Their specialty is eggplant and pumpkin pizza, which we heard, was to die for. Unfortunately the fire wasn’t burning when we arrived but they were willing to start it for us if we cared to wait an hour or two. Everything takes longer than usual so we ordered the fish & chips and a large salad instead. It was perfect. We watched the young men and women along the coast catching our fish and we basked in the warm weather and cool breezes.

We were leisurely enjoying our lunch when we began to hear the sound of children playing. As we looked through the lattice wall we became caught up in the life right next door. We watched as the children hung the clothes out on the line and then a little girl carried a baby to the middle of the village. She looked no older
than seven and I watched her care for the baby for the longest
time. It was so very endearing and heartwrenching at the
same time. They were all partially dressed and barefoot so she carried the baby whom I assumed was not of walking age. She fanned her with a palm frond and then slowly began to rock her to sleep. The other children played around her and she seemed content to be charge of her ‘little one’. She would scold the little boys if they were too noisy and then sat with another little girl and chatted after the baby fell asleep. Like a little
mother. I don’t think she thought she had been robbed of her childhood she was just doing what was expected of all young girls her age.

I stood captivated by this scene. The lattice wall was the only thing that separated our worlds. I am not startled by this scene…I have seen it many times all over the world. I am just reminded of the life I have. People often ask me if I feel bad after seeing these things knowing that I have a far easier life. I always say that where I was born was God’s call, not mine. And to whom much is given, much is expected. In these moments I hope I am doing what is expected of me. I know that my life will not change the endless injustices all over the world but hopefully I can make a difference in some way. I do not know their names or even their stories but I do know them by heart.

I think of all the people who have impacted my life…some in little ways and some in big ways. Most of you reading this are those people and I am thinking of you and thanking God for you.

Kinugawa Maru

Today we went to Bonegi Beach where we heard the snorkeling is fantastic. The remains of the Japanese transport ship, the Kinugawa Maru, which was beached during WWII still remains near the shore. This ship, along with other Japanese supply ships, came under attack from the U.S. forces.

In a desperate attempt to get the supplies to their troops before they were sunk, they purposely beached their ships and tried to offload what they could even though they were still under attack. One of the things I have found amazing is that nothing has been moved from the place in which it landed. This ship has sat on this beach since 1942 slowly deteriorating from the ravages of time and salt water. What remains today is the hull under the surface with parts of it still above the surface. Coral, schools of fish and other living organisms have made this hull their home for years. For us, it was a lovely site to explore, dive through, and watch the endless array of beautiful fish and sea life swim through. And, only a short distance from the shore.We do not have an underwater camera but this was the moment we wish we did. The outline of the ship gave the appearance of Greek columns and we could watch the fish swim in and around them. The shades of the sea would change in color as we went deeper out and on this very clear day we felt as of we could see forever. We could float for hours and always see new things.

When we were done we sat on the beautiful beach. Around us the locals were diving for fish and we were content to be a part of life here. This was our first attempt at diving/snorkel over a sunken wreck and we were hooked. We look forward to doing it again.

Bucket List

Today we had the most awesome day! We had read about some of the “untamed” areas here on Guadalcanal and talked to our friends Stella and Ellison at the Visitors Bureau (which by the way is one of the best we have ever been to) and decided to hire a guide and hike into Manatiko falls. Our travel book gave a description that made it sound like a fairly moderate hike with the end point being the falls themselves and then, after cooling off in the pools of water under the falls we would float lazily down the river to our starting point. Ellison, an older gentleman suggested we take the easier start, which would eliminate some of the distance. We were sure we could make it either way so we hired a guide to help us through the jungle and into the falls. I love the way they do things here in the South Pacific. A guide was contacted, Nati, and he was to meet us between 8:00 and 8:30 at the church over the bridge in Lelei village. Easy to find Ellison said, just go toward the end of the main road and turn right on Tuvaruhu (not really a street but an area) just past the second turn about. We thought we might catch the bus as it is less expensive and we always love doing what the locals do but at the last minute decided to get a cab as the directions seemed a bit vague the following morning. We had the nicest cab driver, a young man who owned his own car, and he knew exactly where we wanted to go. Certainly worth the $30 SD ($3.50 US) we gave him. As we pulled up to the bridge, our guide was nowhere to be seen. Our taxi driver gave a quick call and we were instructed to drive a little further up the road. Not that Honiara, the capital here is terrible sophisticated, but we were suddenly deep into the rural village life. No surprise really, having just spent a week living in Fijian villages this felt like home to us. Here we met Gabriel. It seems as if Nati couldn’t make it and had asked another guide to take us. We haggled for a few moments ensuring there was no change in the price and then began our hike. For just a fleeting moment we wondered if he knew we were not taking the most strenuous hike but gave up on that idea as he began walking through the village and over the river. We carried a small bag with water and a camera and he carried a waterproof container and two small inner tubes. We crossed the river where the women were bathing and washing clothes again remembering the Fijian village life. Soon we were trekking up the mountains in grass thigh high and the early morning sun beating down on us. Gabriel walked a decent pace and we kept up with him. I remember thinking as the grass and rocks scratched our legs that he was bare foot. I asked him about this and he said that this was how he always walked and was really much easier than with shoes.

One of the reasons we chose the Solomon Islands to visit is that Tom’s father and Uncles had served in this area during WWII. He had often heard the stories as a young boy of this area and that had partially influenced him to join the Navy. So hearing the history, seeing the battlegrounds and walking where the soldiers had been was quite an experience.

Our ascent was over Hill 54 and then onto Hill 57. During WWII numbers named the hills and it remains that way even today. When we reached the top of Hill 57 we could imagine what it was like during wartimes. Incredibly hard, hot, insects swarming you with every step, sharp blades of grass cutting you as you passed and then, the enemy shooting at you from…everywhere. I remember at one point having to stop and take a potty break. Leaving the 8-inch trail and stepping less than one foot away I was completely unseen. I was glad we had our guide, as we would never have been able to do this without him. The foxholes that the US soldiers hid

in were still evident although covered with long grass. We had to be careful along the narrow path as one false step and we would suddenly be in one of those foxholes. We were quiet as we hiked, recalling all we had read and learned about the war in the Pacific. When we reached the top, Gabriel pointed out strategic locations and essentially how the war was won by being in control of these areas. You could block off the water source, the top of the hill gave a great vantage point etc. He was very informative.

In the far distance on yet another hill we would take a rest break. It looked like we had not even made a dent into the distance we had to travel but on we went. Gabriel said that often times people get to this point and turn back knowing that they still had a greater distance to travel. We smiled. We had already come this far. He said that Tom was strong and I was sturdy so onward we went. At the top of the hill was a small house and a family lived there. There was no one or anything else in view and we imagined how isolated they must feel. I will never forget the moment it struck me that we were out in the middle of nowhere with a guide we had just met this morning sitting in an isolated home where all of the kids had machetes.They offered us coconuts and we said yes of course and thank you very much. (Was there any other answer?) In a matter of minutes a young man and two children scurried off, climbed the coconut tree and brought us fresh coconuts. Then with great skill they shucked the green husk off with their machetes and cut the top off and we were drinking the cool sweet milk of the nut. It was awesome. Tom lay on the small tube with his head on the waterproof container and napped while I took pictures ofthe kids. They loved seeing themselves and I realized that this was certainly a novelty for them. I sat with the mama trying to make small talk for a while and then it was time to proceed onward. We thought the hardest part was behind us…

Onward we went, silent in our own thoughts about what it must have been like for the young men here nearly 70 years ago. It certainly gave us an appreciation of how hard the men must have fought and how scared they must have been. That war was fought so very differently than the wars of today. It was hand-to-hand combat with guns and bayonets. We meandered deeper and deeper into the jungle and here is where I get to check off an item on my bucket list. I have

always wanted to travel to the Amazon River and drift down it. And suddenly, I was there. Everything I have ever seen and imagined was right before my eyes! I didn’t even have to leave Guadalcanal! It was lush and dense. You could smell the plants and moisture around you. At times I would look up and not even be able to see the sky because of the greenery surrounding me. The sounds were …unique and I tried not to imagine what I had thought it might be. The ground under our feet suddenly turned red and slippery and we would grab onto anything to hold us steady. The spider webs were huge and strung across the narrow path with some of the most beautiful spiders I have ever seen (thought about you Mike!).

We would now begin our decent to the falls and the trail went straight down! One thousand feet and we could not even see the bottom. We turned around and went feet first holding onto vines and roots as we went. There were times I would grab onto…anything and small lizards would run across my hands.
Dragonflies would buzz in front of my face and I could see nothing else. The ground was red and slippery and soon we were too. One false move and we would be off the trail and I am not sure if we would have made it back on.

Soon we were able to hear the water below but never able to see where it was coming from. I will never forget the moment I turned around and was able to see he falls and cool jade colored water. I was the first down so I set my stuff down, shucked off my mud and sweat coated clothing and jumped into the water.

It was perfect. Now, for the next part of my bucket list and things I have wanted to be able to do. I have always had a little water issue and I have always wanted to get over that. In my mind I am sure there are always leeches, snakes, piranhas…even in my own swimming pool at home (I had asked the guide about this earlier in the trip and was assured there were no such creatures in the water). So, for a moment I hesitated and then, the voice of God. “No worries Nancy, you are safe. Stay in this moment and don’t let your thoughts wander off. By being in this moment and experiencing this now, you will be OK”. So at that moment I was swimming under a beautiful waterfall deep in the Amazon jungle right on the Island of Guadalcanal. It was awesome! I didn’t once think of leeches etc but swam around contently absorbed in my surroundings. I looked up and saw…butterflies. The biggest and most beautiful ones I had ever seen and in a variety of colors that I cannot even define. Some were the size of small birds in the most beautiful shades of purple. There were red ones, yellow ones and even orange ones.

We enjoyed our swim and drank the juice from our last coconut and then would begin our river drift back.

We had envisioned a rather lazy stroll down the river allowing ourselves time to relax after the grueling hike. When we started off towards the river I wasn’t exactly sure where we would begin this venture. All I could see around me were large boulders and more waterfalls. Our fearless guide hopped across the rocks and water and waited for us to join him. Here is where I got to practice living in the moment. Don’t speculate on all that could happen, keep focused on this moment and go on. So we did. To give some perspective, Tom had thought he would rinse off his sweat soaked hat when we got to the river but as we climbed down the falls the water rushed over his head and soon his hat was completely washed! The rocks were wet and slippery and at times we clawed and slid down them until at last we found the river about 120 feet down. The water was cool and again the most beautiful shade of jade. We could see small fish swimming around us as we began to meander down the Manatiko River. Not a soul in sight just the sounds of the jungle and all the beauty that it brings with it. I thought of many things and thanked God again for the blessings in my life. I also realized that if I met a leech…I would be fine…no worries. In fact, comparatively speaking, that worry seemed quite small.

Six hours after we left we walked back into the village. A little worn from the experience but so very happy we had done it. I likened this to running a marathon… there are a few moments when you hit the wall and wonder why are you doing this. And then you remember…Because you can.

We got back to our hotel, swam in the pool, showered twice and ordered room service to our cool room. We chatted for hours about the day so very happy we had made this trek and vowing to do it again when the opportunity arises.