My time in the Solomon Islands is coming to an end. Yesterday, I flew from Auki back to Honiara. It was a day of mixed emotions. I was sung farewell songs that had me close to tears, but we celebrated the time we spent together. I am leaving Honiara tomorrow and flying back to Sydney (hopefully I don’t get stuck in Brisbane again), then I will be flying home on Friday! This fellowship has been a ride and a half and putting it into words is so difficult for me. But here ya go ~ my last week in Auki!
On Monday, Sisters Clausina and Rebecca took me to Auki Primary School (APS) with them. They work there every day as teacher assistants. Because students went on holiday (break) last week, it was their second to last day of school. When we got there, I found out there was going to be a farewell ceremony for a family from the Netherlands! A family with two daughters moved to Auki about 3 years ago and is moving back to Netherlands this week. The parents were very involved with the school; they taught some classes, improved some infrastructure, and donated funds for a few projects. They meant a lot to the APS community and the ceremony was even emotional for me! It was a few hours long and filled with speeches, presents, song, and dance. Quick Solomon Island culture lesson – Solomon Islanders are very open, honest, and curious people. It’s not taboo to ask someone one what religion they are, their age, etc. But I was taken back when the headmaster gave his speech thanking the family. He reminisced on the day the family first arrived at APS. He said, “In Solomon Islands, education is bad. Other countries are smarter than us so we were intimidated by you. But you showed us kindness.” I saw the mom shaking her head in disagreement, then smiling when the headmaster said, “We think that we are not as smart here but that is not true.” He went on to talk about how they learned from one another and built an incredible friendship. When the family first came, the two daughters only spoke Dutch. In the Solomon Islands, they speak 3 languages: their mother tongue, Pidgin, and English. He recalled that although they were intimidated at first, the people at APS worked through the language barrier with the family. They helped each other, and the headmaster understood that neither was superior to the other. He emphasized the importance of people working together and giving more than you receive. It was a beautiful ceremony that celebrated gratitude, culture, and friendship. I took a lot away from it. I became more aware of the way Solomon Islanders view and understand the rest of the world. I’ve realized that it mostly comes down to language. It’s interesting because Solomon Islanders speak their mother tongue in their villages sometimes, but they speak Pidgin (kind of like broken English) most commonly; however, their classes at school are in English and they study English. Many students I’ve talked to say they are nervous around visitors because their English isn’t that good. I always want to jump in and say, “It’s your THIRD language! I don’t care! I barely even speak two languages!” I am always so impressed by the effort the students and teachers put into speaking English. Because the students were finishing up exams, I’ve spent a lot of time with teachers. They’ve all expressed to me that because English is their third language, they have a lot of trouble teaching it. One of the teachers at APS asked if I would be able to teach a few classes when school was back in session, and I had to tell him I was leaving on Sunday. I expressed how sad I was to be leaving so soon and that only 2 weeks was not enough time. He joked around saying, “Next time come for 3 or 4 months… Then a year… Then a few years… Then forever!” **If anyone’s down for a 3-4 month adventure to Auki in the next few years hmu** When I was saying goodbye to the headmaster, he said, “We love having foreigners here. Please come back for a longer time.” He said he loves having foreigners here!! What a beautiful statement. He, along with everyone else I’ve met, is so incredibly proud to live here. They’ve graciously welcomed me, a stranger, into their communities with excitement and curiosity. To them, they are getting to know a sister in Christ from another part of the world and are able to share their culture with her.
Earlier this week, a group of girls from Aligegio, along with Peter who spends a lot of time with us at Fanualama, came over and taught me a bunch of Solomon Island dances! Although I lack balance and coordination, dancing with them was so much fun. They asked me to teach them an American dance and I didn’t think I had anything downloaded on my phone… BUT I remembered one and then, yes, I taught them the Cotton Eyed Joe. They wanted to do it for the entire song so they were super dizzy but I was entertained. I have a video and it is simply amazing. I mentioned Peter taught most of the dances. He’s in 11th grade, is less than 5 feet tall, and has enough personality to light up an entire island. He is one of the funniest people I have ever met and makes me and the Sisters laugh uncontrollably every single day. Today we had a long conversation and he talked all about what Solomon Island culture means to him. He said, “When outsiders come, I show them respect because that is what we do in Solomon Islands. We say ‘Hellloooo’ and want to make sure you enjoy your stay. We welcome you into our villages and schools and even into our homes if you want.” This guy’s character is beyond admirable and his faith is inspiring. He doesn’t stop singing and always picks up the guitar when he comes into the convent. Today I asked him to play “Oceans” for me and he absolutely killed it. As we were waiting for Bishop Chris (and Dan and Tommy) to arrive late Friday night, Peter just taught me 2 new dances! To answer your question, yes, I’ll be hosting lessons in Cunningham 303 in the fall.
The other day I met two boys named Everesto and Chuck. Whenever volunteers are here, they give them a tour around their village! They are both in 12th grade, very smart, so much fun, and true disciples of Christ. We walked from Fanualama first to a lake, then to their village named Lilisiana, which Bishop Chris apparently calls “The Promised Land.” It took me about 2 seconds to figure out why. This place is unreal. Beautiful beyond words. The photos don’t do it justice. Lilisiana is a Catholic community on the water with a church at the end of it. The sea is on one side and the lake on the other. The houses are on stilts. There are kids. Everywhere. Like so many tiny kids just running around loving life. I wanted to hug every single one of them (don’t worry, I didn’t). It is a beautiful community, but like most of the country it is very, very poor. Families of 12 live in 1 room houses and there simply is not enough space to live comfortably. Faith, however, holds Lilisiana together. Archbishop Chris always says how the Diocese of Auki is so special because they have the gift of faith, and that is so evident in Lilisiana and its people. The church is awesome. The entire time Everesto and Chuck showed me around, I was in awe of how gorgeous it was everywhere I looked. I told them that I could just sit on one of the wooden boards on the back of a house and look at the water forever. They laughed, but I was so serious. I said I would be back for Christmas, and they laughed again. Won’t they be surprised when I show up with bags to stay hahahahhahaha. Just kidding. Kind of. But man that’s the life. A bunch of barefoot islanders who love Jesus are the people I wanna be around. Also, I think it’s so cool that it’s a Catholic village. And they’re so welcoming. They would welcome anyone with open arms. Another quick culture lesson: Solomon Islands is a very religious country. There are mostly Christians; atheism isn’t easily understood. Village life often revolves around churches. Solomon Islanders embrace their religious zeal; meetings often start with a prayer, religion can influence politics, etc. Despite the many different religions throughout the Islands, there’s an understanding that we are people under the same, one God. In the few hours I spent with Everesto and Chuck, they made a huge impact on me. Chuck joked around hinting that he thinks Everesto will become a priest, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s where the Lord is leading him. He truly lives by faith. When I asked what he wants to do after high school, he quickly and confidently responded, “Only God knows.” He does his best day by day and rejoices that God has a plan bigger than ourselves. He takes his studies seriously, loves his neighbor, is a devout Catholic, makes everyone around him laugh, and could probably do anything he wanted to do. But he knows he is on earth to act as God’s hands and feet. As long as he walks with Jesus, he says, he will be okay. We can all learn a lot from Everesto. If we lived a little simpler and worried a little less, we could allow God to fully guide our lives. Romans 12:12 seems to be a popular bible verse, and for good reason. “Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.” I have been letting those words lead me since I got to the Solomon Islands. But I think the verse that precedes that is often overlooked. Romans 12:11 says, “Do not grow slack in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.” OOOO yeah that’s what I’m talking about. Everesto lives that out. That’s how I want to live. Being joyful in our call to discipleship, evangelization, and service. Doing all things with love. Doing all things with and for God. Seeing people in Auki live this out has been changing my heart.
Although Sister Loretta left for Sydney on Tuesday, I’ve been having a blast with Sisters Clausina and Rebecca! We dance, sing, laugh, and eat SO much. Best roomies ever (don’t tell MB & Tara). We’ve also been watching the World Cup. Everyone is absolutely obsessed with it, but it’s hard to watch it for a few reasons. First, we are 15 hours ahead of the US and 9 ahead of Russia. Second, there is only one Solomon Islands TV channel. Luckily they replay most of the games! Aside from all the dancing, singing, and watching the World Cup, I’ve been spending a lot of time grading papers for the teachers at Aligegeo HS. I’ve graded hundreds of History and English exams, and it’s still not finished. Grading them is hard for me because I can’t always understand the writing, mostly due to the exams being in English (it’s harder for them). The teacher to student ratio could definitely be improved. The teachers have too much grading and responsibilities to give students the help and attention they need. It’s sad because many teachers are looking for ways to improve education at Aligegeo, but there needs to be serious education reform. Also, there is a problem with teacher attendance. Teachers do not always show up to school, so the ones who do have even more work. I’ve exchanged emails and Facebooks with some of the teachers, so I am happy I can stay in touch with them. A few of them are interested to see the notes I’ve taken in different high school and college classes. Another wants to see pictures of my classrooms from high school and college to compare with those at Aligegeo. I am excited to hear from them about the progress of education in Auki!
Friday night we welcomed Archbishop Chris, Dan, Tommy, and Samuel (a French Canadian volunteer) to Fanualama! They had a bit of a rough boat ride getting here from Honiara and arrived a little past 1 am. Just late enough that I could watch the entire Brazil-Costa Rica game!! Saturady morning we attended the ordination of Deacon Johnson. WOW I cannot describe how beautiful and fascinating this service was. Watching this man of faith receive the sacrament of Holy Orders was such a blessing. There were dancers who processed in with the dozens of priests and danced during other songs throughout the Mass. The dancers were dressed in traditional costumes, something I wish everyone could see. A few men played guitar with a huge choir of people. By the way, the ENTIRE country of Solomon Islands sings beautifully. And that is an understatement. They sing all the time and when they sing together, it is unreal. At Mass, every single person sings their heart out and I get chills every time. The music at the ordination was spiritual and faith filled and, when accompanied by dancing, was mesmerizing.
Like I said, I had to say my goodbyes yesterday. Auki is a very special place. They really do have the gift of faith. Throughout the time I was there, people practically planned my return trip for me. I am hopeful that it is part of God’s plan for me to go back for a longer period of time. For my last couple hours at Fanualama, Dan, Tommy, Brandon, Peter, and Everesto joined me and the Sisters in the convent. We practiced the dances Peter taught us for a while, then it started to sink in that I was leaving. Peter knew Oceans is one of my favorite songs, so he told Everesto does a really good job singing it. Then I realized that Everesto goes through life praising and worshipping, and is an unbelievably talented guitar player and singer. By my request, he played Oceans and I could feel God’s presence in that room with us. I have a video so I will try to upload it when I am back in Australia. After he played Oceans for me, Peter sang me a farewell song. THAT was hard. I spent so much time with Peter and him singing the words, “Now you are leaving to where you belong…the times we had together, how could it be over, but our memories will live, will linger in our hearts,” pretty much ripped my heart out. It was so sweet and he was so excited to sing it to me. He kept warning me, “You’re not allowed to be sad during it.” I miss him already. After the first emotional rollercoaster, Everesto picked up the guitar again and started playing another farewell song. He sang, “Separation will come, so we sing you a song, a song of farewell, a song of our hearts. Though you leave us now, let our prayers be with you, and in Heaven we’ll meet again.” SAAAAAAD. All the boys came to the “airport” to send Archbishop and me off which was lovely. I spent the 30 minute flight back to Honiara chatting with Archbishop about my experience in Auki, Friars Club, and my roommates from Long Island. He is an amazing Dominican and I understand why he is like a celebrity in Auki.
When people ask me where I’m from and I say USA, “Wow! Far!” is a normal response. It is pretty far, and I realize that this a big trip. Because it is a big trip, sometimes it feels like I need to be doing something big. But this big trip is a lot of small acts of service with a lot of love. It’s humbling. I’ve been observing, watching, listening, and learning so much. It’s very difficult for me to put my experiences in the Solomon Islands into words. There are many seemingly small, yet very personal events and conversations that have deeply affected me. Because I traveled here alone, I don’t have anyone to share these experiences with or reflect on them with. It’s a lot to process and I wish I could articulate the things I’ve seen and learned better, but thanks for reading my rambles 🙂 As always, I am so grateful for the support and prayers.
I fly back to Sydney on Tuesday (in 2 days), and my host family is taking me down the coast to their holiday house. We have plans to go Wed-Thurs morning so after seeing some wild kangaroos, I am going to visit St. Lucy’s Thursday afternoon!! AH!!!!!! I miss being there every day like craaaazy and cannot wait to see my class again. Friday morning Adrianna and I will be flying out to LA then Newark! Because of the time change we’ll actually be getting home Friday evening. Time zones are weird. Anyways, I’ll have about 24 hours of travel time to write a new blog reflecting on my last few days and the fellowship as a whole.
Wifi isn’t strong enough for me to upload photos, so I’ll dedicate a post to “Solomon Islands in Pictures!”
Pineapple consumption is getting concerning. Still sweating. Love yall