A lot of interesting things happen when your life gets turned upside down. Each passing day brings to us a greater appreciation of these good people. To talk to them, you wouldn't know they had just lost not only a great portion of their worldly possessions, but for a lot of them, they have also lost their ability to earn a living. They still look at life as something wonderful and as something to be enjoyed. They are working very hard trying to put their lives in order. First comes food and water. Then shelter. After that, we'll see.
First, the story of the bananas. Not too far from our house, there was a huge tree. I called it an umbrella tree because it's branches spread out and provided shade for an outdoor market. I didn't think to get a picture of it before the storm -
but this is what it looks like now. There were 15 or 20 ladies selling their produce every day, and we would stop there often to buy bananas, pineapples and other fresh produce. A couple of the ladies are members of our Branch in Etas, so we liked to buy from them. One lady always wanted to give us something extra. The first time, she gave us a cucumber and we insisted that she let us pay for it. We didn't feel right about accepting something that would take away from her livelihood. Later, we realized that we were wrong in not letting her show her love and generosity toward us. After that, we always graciously accepted her gift and also learned about some fruits and vegetables we were unfamiliar with. After the storm, there was no market and no one had anything to sell. We had commented that it may be a long time before we would eat a fresh banana or pineapple again. As we were leaving after church on Sunday, this sweet lady walked up to us and gave us a bunch of bananas
Although we have seen a few bananas around, I'm sure she could have used the money she could have earned from the sale of these bananas, but we have learned our lesson and gratefully accepted her gift in the spirit it was offered. Never have bananas tasted so good, and I am sure I will never eat another banana as long as I live without thinking of and remembering our dear sister.
The story of the tree: Not far from where we live, there is an old stadium. We would get up at 5:30 every morning and go there to walk. (VaLynne's idea)
It was always a beautiful walk at about sunrise. We would look up on the hill and know there were some nice houses up there but we never could see much of them because of all the vegetation. We were told this stadium was built sometime in the '90s so Vanuatu could host the Pacific Games, but it hasn't been used since, and it has fallen into a state of disrepair. There was this one tree -
We took this picture just before the storm because we knew there was no way this tree would survive 160+ MPH winds and we wanted to be able to remember this tree. We thought it was unique and kind of cute
After Pam we finally got to see the houses up on the hill
It's alright that the roof is coming off the stadium. They already had plans to completely rebuild the whole complex in order to host the games again in 2017 (They now have it fenced off to start tearing it down, so we don't get to walk there any more)
But what really surprised us was that our special tree didn't seem to notice the Cyclone
There really isn't a story here, but you have to see this. On our way to downtown, there is a roundabout next to this huge cut-away. When we first arrived here, we used this as a landmark to help us find our way, because it can be seen from quite a ways away. As we were driving in to the office the other day, we noticed something you will never see in the U. S.
Vanuatu is over 90% Christian and they are not ashamed to show it. They know who their Father in Heaven is and they acknowledge his hand in all that's good in their lives.
The next morning, there was an addition
Quite a billboard
We've been painting a picture of how wonderful we think these people are but they still have some of the same problems and faults as people anywhere else in the world. Whenever you hear of a disaster
of this magnitude, you will always hear of corruption, looting, and other crime. Sure enough, we did have some looting here. We did find out however that the neighbors caught the guy and made him put all the stuff back.
We have been asked to tell about our living conditions and how they have changed.
We wouldn't have been able to show this scene before the Cyclone because of all the vegetation that was in the way. At the top of the picture is the Emton lagoon. In front is the top of the Erakor lagoon. We live about one quarter of the way down on the far shore of the Emton lagoon in a small but comfortable bungalow.
Each building has two units. Ours is the one on the right. All together, there are five buildings with 10 units, three of which are occupied by Senior couples. They are small, but comfortable. We have a laundry facility with a washer but no dryer. We have no oven, but we do have a small microwave.
We had a pool that we hadn't found the time to use,
and beautiful views.
As we mentioned before, we spent the night of the storm at the mission home with President and Sister Brewer, Elder and Sister Leben, and about 40 Elder and Sister missionaries
This is Elder and Sister Leben, from Germany. They are the newly arrived Humanitarian and Welfare missionaries. They arrived on Monday, Pam arrived on Friday. Needless to say, they went right to work
While the storm was raging and before the power went off, we all watched "Meet the Mormons"
The next day when we had a chance to go back to our home, we found two or three inches of water. We had known we would probably not be able to keep the water out with so much wind and rain, so we had put everything up high and well protected. A couple of the Elders were with us so we swept out the water and were able to move back in the next evening as soon as running water was restored to our part of town. Initially, we didn't think much damage had been done to our house, but then we noticed....
The sea wall that had protected the underside of our buildings had been demolished. It used to come almost to the front edge of our balcony
On the far right is where the pool is. The sea wall is gone and the pool now has nothing holding it up and it has to come out
Notice, no awnings which were very useful in keeping out the sun
The far end with the small roof is the pool area. You can see why it has to go. We did seem to acquire a new boat though
One last story
I mentioned that the only damage to our Etas Chapel was the loss of rain gutters.
behind the building are four large containers to capture and filter the rainwater, but without the rain gutters there is no way to get the water to the containers. We'll get back to this later.
Again, this is the mission home where we spent the night of the storm. Notice in the lower left there is a swimming pool. In the two and a half years they have lived there, the Brewer's have never been able to use the pool, because it was broken. There was only about two feet of yucky water in the bottom of the pool. It is a 8 foot deep pool, so that means that Pam dumped about 6 feet of water on us that night. Now here is the miracle. Even though this is the rainy season, we didn't get any rain for the first two weeks after the storm. That gave people the opportunity to find their clothing and other goods, dry everything out, and start trying to find enough materials to build some kind of shelter. The down side is that their drinking water was contaminated by the storm and I have spent a lot of time and miles carrying food and water to some of the outlying villages. Mostly Etas and Paonangisu (which is on the other side of the island). This week it started to rain again, but it wasn't doing the people of Etas any good because the rain gutters were not there to send the rain the newly cleaned out tanks, so I have still been hauling water to them.
Now, back to the rain gutters. Today, Friday (Pam plus three weeks), we took our second load of water and this is what we found.
He decided to help me out by engineering a way to get water into the tank. All it takes is some broken rain gutter, a forked stick, a little creativity, and now Elder Stoddard can spend more time helping someone else.
The sisters were pretty happy with him too
We just love these people
With Pam came a change of focus for the Missionaries. President Brewer told the Elders and Sisters the day after the storm that now they would be spending a lot of time doing physical service rather than proselytizing, in order to help people get back in their homes. But after two weeks schools started back up and students needed to get their tuition paid. Sister Stoddard needed to return to the work of helping those who had applied for PEF loans to get their money before late fees applied to their tuition. It's been a busy time for her as she works in the office and also tries to help with delivering of water to Etas and Paonangisu.
There is a lot going on here, and we feel privileged to be here and be a part of it. We know a lot of you have been concerned about us and have been praying for us as well as all the people here in Vanuatu. We have felt your prayers and are witness to miracles almost every day. We appreciate all of you and will try to keep you posted.