I wrote this on June 14 but am just posting now (June 17) because I haven’t had internet access – s/o to the guy at the school who let me use their internet cord! At this point I’ve been in Solomon Islands for almost a week so I have a lot more to tell you, but it’ll have to wait ~ enjoy these rambles for now 🙂
I have been in the Solomon Islands for only 3 days and feel like I could write a novel. Don’t worry, I won’t. But what an adventure! *she types as she swats a mosquito off her arm as she is very much enclosed in an apparently ineffective mosquito net* Seriously though, I am so excited to see where this part of my journey takes me.
I touched down in Honiara Tuesday afternoon and looked out the airplane window to see, you guessed it, Daniel Arteaga and Tommy Heavren holding up the Providence College banner on what I am pretty sure was the roof of the airport. And I use the term airport loosely. Dan and Tommy were joined by Sisters Teresa who greeted me with a beautiful handmade lei of freshly picked flowers. We drove to Henderson where the Dominican sisters live. I got to meet the other sisters and novices, two of which are around my age. Beautiful, beautiful ladies!!! After dropping my stuff off, Sister Teresa drove us to Holy Cross, where Dan and Tommy are staying. I finally got to meet Archbishop Chris! Archbishop Chris Cardone, O.P. was the bishop of Auki for years and was recently ordained archbishop. He is from Long Island and a graduate of Providence College. We didn’t get to talk for long, but there are so many connections I’m excited to chat about. His brother is a priest at Kellenberg HS on Long Island where my roommate Tara went (hi Tara miss u), he was on Friars Club for all 4 years at PC, and he was in the same class as Fr. Shanley! While at Holy Cross I met another PC alumni named Sam who, after his December graduation, traveled to the Solomon Islands and has been teaching science in a village outside Honiara. After I introduced myself to Bishop Chris, Sr. Teresa took Dan, Tommy, Sam, and me back to Henderson for dinner. Before eating, Sr. Teresa brought out her guitar and I assumed prayer was going to be done in song. She said that before we prayed, she and the sisters wanted to welcome us. She began to play and I immediately recognized the lyrics:
“Welcome to the family, We are glad that you have come to share your life with us, As we grow in love, And may we always be to you what God would have us be, A family always there, To be strong and to lean on”
I couldn’t stop smiling because we sang that song during most of our morning assemblies at St. Lucy’s. At St. Lucy’s we signed the words as we sang and I almost instinctively started to do the same at the dinner table! It was such a beautiful way to be welcomed and a sweet reminder of St. Lucy’s (which I miss VERY much).
This blog is called Here I Am because I believe two of the most important things are being present and using every moment to grow closer to Christ, specifically directing our will to align with His. Being present is something I struggle with a lot. My mind wanders to other things, I find myself staring at my phone, and I wait impatiently for whatever is happening next. But I am working on being fully present wherever I am with whoever I am with. At dinner, Sr. Teresa shared her story of being a Dominican nun. She explained, sometimes you get sad or want to go home, but your call from God is so much greater. Going where He sends you is so much more important. She told the story of when her mom was dying, she told her, “If you aren’t around, your prayers are all I need. God has you where you are for a reason. Stay.” I’ve been reminding myself of her stories for the past 3 days. The power of prayer is above all else and I need to trust in God that I am here for a reason regardless if I understand. Either He is going to use me or He is going to use my time in the Solomons to change me. Hopefully a combination of both. I know I am here for a reason. God has a big plan and I am a little part of it, so I trust that there is an answer to my question, “Why?”
The next morning, I woke up for morning Mass with the Dominican Friars down the road. When we returned, I helped Sr. Teresa by typing their schedules and some prayer books and then we were on our way back to the airport! It was an interesting experience to say the least. When I checked in, they had me stand on a luggage scale, which was a few feet off the ground, with my backpack. Before boarding we were called to wait inside a room that looked like how I imagine a holding cell. BUT, a very nice man sat next to me and started up some conversation. Turns out he is an Anglican priest and the head of the Department of Justice, on his way to work on a reconciliation project in Northern Malaita. Oh, and Archbishop Chris is one of his closest friends. I tried not to laugh when we walked on the runway and up the steps of the plane to board. I wasn’t asked for any form of identification nor did I have to show my ticket to anyone. The plane ride was great. There were about 10 of us very close together and I honestly didn’t even realize we never had a safety briefing until way after we landed. Because the flight was only 30 minutes, I could see land or sea the entire time so I didn’t take my eyes off the window. We landed smoothly on the runway, which was actually just a path of dirt and stone connected to the water, and I was greeted by Sister Lorreta. Side note, I never went inside anywhere so I don’t think there is an actual airport building in Auki. She introduced me to Brother Humphrey who drove us back to Fanualama where I am staying. I am living in the St. Rose of Lima Convent for the Dominican Sisters of Auki with Sisters Lorreta, Clausina, and Rebecca. The sisters are awesome. They are so sweet, love the Lord, and laugh a lot. My kinda people. They also make some pretty delicious food- and a lot of it. The food here is fresh and I take thirds at almost every meal. The pineapple is the best thing I’ve tasted in my life, the watermelon and sweet potatoes are beyond fantastic, and you can never go wrong putting chicken and rice in front of me. Today I was in charge of making the veggies, so maybe they’ll let me cook a meal for them before I leave! Side note, the heat here is so insane that every time we eat hot food (which is every meal) I feel like I am in something way hotter than a sauna.
I was planning on being in Auki from June 13-20 and back in Honiara June 20-26, but like I said in earlier blogs, you don’t have plans in the Solomons! When I met Archbishop Chris, he mentioned that there is an ordination in Auki on June 23 that he, Dan, and Tommy are attending. I told him I have a flight back to Honiara June 20, but he suggested I change it so that I can see the ordination. Sister Lorreta took me to the Solomons Air office (I think) today and I changed my flight to June 24. Despite my history of bad luck with flights, I should be back in Honiara June 24 until my June 26 flight back to Brisbane then Sydney. The funny part of this whole thing is that after I paid to change my flight, Sr. Lorreta told me she is flying out June 19. It’s all good though- the other two sisters will be here and Archbishop Chris and the guys will be get here eventually! And update: a priest named Father John from a neighboring diocese in Malaita just came over for dinner and said I could stay with him for a few days (he mentioned the ocean so obviously I am SO down).
On my first morning in Auki, I woke up for 6 am Mass and ~so much for good impressions~ had to leave before communion because I was sick. Don’t worry Ma, I’m alllll good. I took a quick morning nap and was at Aligegio Secondary School by 8:30. I was under the impression I would follow Sr. Lorreta around and help in her class, but hey you know what happens when you make assumptions…
*** Quick culture lesson – People in the Solomon Island speak English, Pidgin, and their tribe’s language. Pidgin sounds like broken English so it is easier to understand it than to speak it; however, if two people are speaking it and I am not part of the conversation I have no idea what they are saying. When they speak English they speak softly, have an accent, the sentence structure is a little different, and my hearing is awful so I often find myself nodding in agreement to things I don’t necessarily understand. Because of that, I have been thrown into many situations very clueless as to what my role is. ***
I was introduced to a teacher named Mr. Kailie (not sure if that’s right) who needed someone to give an exam for him. When Kailie said he needed help giving an exam I thought he meant at least in the same room as him, so I was surprised when he dropped me in front of a classroom with 80 high school students and a stack of exams on Solomon Islands government. I started the clock at 9 and supervised until it was over at 11. My job was to monitor talking, stop cheating, and answer questions… I was honestly a little intimidated by the students at first. It is obvious that I’m from halfway across the world and totally new to their country, but once they started asking for help I became a lot more comfortable. They all throw white out across the room when someone needs it which wouldn’t fly in the US but was super entertaining for me to watch. I quickly realized that high schoolers are high schoolers and we will get along just fine. We are so culturally different, but there is so much I can learn from these students. I can’t wait to actually get to know some of them. After supervising the exam, I helped Kailie with grading. I flew through the first stack and was so proud of myself, thinking wow I know how teachers feel, and then the stacks kept coming… and coming… and coming… Then I finished for real and the math teacher asked me for help with his grading. I talked with Kailie for a while about the lack of resources at the school, and in the Solomon Islands in general. Before asking how long I was staying, he quickly asked me if I could teach classes. There are not enough teachers for the amount of students. It takes the teachers days to grade assignments and exams. There are many students with lots of potential who don’t do well in school because they don’t have the opportunities to obtain one on one help if they need it. They also don’t have enough textbooks. Further, they use one laptop for the whole school. It can be difficult for students to complete assignments if they do not know how to start. One teacher was asking me to help students with a research project because they don’t know how to find sources. I felt bad talking to Kailie at first because I felt like I couldn’t help enough, but I realized that if I am really here to serve I will do whatever they need when they need it. Supervising exams and grading papers are what the need is right now, so that’s what I am happy to do.
I felt like I was doing a lot of sitting and waiting at the school, and felt uneasy about it because I wanted to be doing something, anything to be useful. I quickly realized my fault. I was making this service about me. I need to remove myself from the situations I find myself in and accept that this is not about me. This is about the need and it is about saying “yes.” I know I have only been here for 3 days, but this is so extremely different from anything I have ever done. I have traveled a lot without my parents, but I am always in the company of friends or classmates. And if I want to, I can always escape to my phone to talk to my family or other friends. Even in Australia, I had Adrianna. I had my host family. I had my family and friends on the phone when we were both awake. In Honiara, I had Dan and Tommy. But here, I am alone. Of course, I have the sisters. But before I met them, I really came here without anybody else and without a well-informed idea of where I was going. This is a challenge of independence and let me tell ya, it is humbling. This is something I needed. My naïve self really thought I was this independent girl without a comfort zone, and normally I am, but here I’ve realized what it’s like to be uncomfortable. And I don’t mean the bugs, heat, or showers. That’s the easy part. I mean being truly forced to be present. No crutches. No friends, no phone, no familiarity. I was reflecting on this earlier today and within just a few hours my perspective has been entirely changed. I am quickly becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable. I am giving everything up to God. Whatever happens, happens, and I know I will be fine. And when it comes to the whole phone thing, talk about first world problems. I miss my friends and my family like CRAZY but I need to focus on being here, now.
Today I helped another teacher supervise an exam with well over 150 eleventh graders. She had me monitor the side of 50 ‘boys’ who looked like they could be 5 years older than me. I think we all realized how funny it was that I was there to supervise them. The students at Aligegio are funny, very clever, and thoughtful in every interaction. I have to stay in the exam room until all the students leave, so it was hard for me to meet anyone. Today, however, on my walk back to Fanualama I walked past 3 students who asked me my name. The small gesture was so kind and definitely encouraged me to take more initiative in starting conversations at school. I am not sure what my schedule will be next week or if I will be back at Aligegio, but wherever I go it is my goal to make some friends and build some relationships.
I decided that my favorite things about the past few days are the abundance of flip flops and the abundance of Jesus. Everybody here (literally on the entire island) is either barefoot or wearing flip flops at all times. As someone who shamelessly wears flip flops as soon as it hits 50, this brings me an incredible amount of joy. I should have left my Nikes in Sydney. And living at Fanualama rocks because I have 3 nuns as roommates, in a convent. We have Mass at 6 am and Evening Prayer at 6 pm every day. We pray a rosary after every night prayer, which I am so grateful for. I have tried and failed praying the rosary daily in college, and it is something I am going to make time for once I leave Auki. The spiritual zeal here is inspiring. Thanks to the lack of technology, I have been spending most of my time sending thoughts up to God. I have been starting all of my prayers praying that I will grow closer to Christ and His will for me. The people here and their way of life are inspiring & it blows my mind that I was given the opportunity to grow alongside them.
It is a blessing to be able to serve these sisters and teachers. Beyond grateful as always J Sending all my love to my friends and fam who I miss so much. Happy father’s day to the best dad in the WORLD. I love you! Sis, have a blast at Camp Heart I am so proud of you (as always). To my wonderful brother Matthew, hope you have the best time in Italy – don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.
I’ve eaten more pineapple the past 3 days than I have in my entire life. Not mad about it
Also, this heat is unreal so I’ve been trying to document it. On a scale from fine to passed out, I’ve been a solid ‘about to pass out’ since I stepped off the plane. Internet won’t load my pics but I’ll get them up eventually!!