Visale

Alex and I took a boat back to Honiara on Tuesday to make sure that we were back in time for our flight to Sydney on Thursday. We spent the day Wednesday taking a look around Visale School, which is located in a village about forty five minutes outside of downtown Honiara. The campus was gorgeous! As soon as we got there, Alex and I were given a tour around the neighboring village by Sister Veronica, better known as Sister Vera, who teaches Home Economics at the school, and Sister Hilda, who drove us. Sister Vera took the two of us up what she called Snake Road which is a narrow street that winds up a steep mountain along the coast. We got a breathtaking view of the dense forest as we climbed the hill with care thanks to Sister Vera’s expert driving skills.

When we got back from our tour, we ate lunch together and then were able to take a walk around the campus and explore a bit. We wound up spending a great deal of time down by the water. I am pretty sure it is the most beautiful place that I have ever seen – on one side of the campus are these beautiful rolling hills and on the other is the ocean. While Sister Vera ran to check on something at the school, Alex and I put our feet in the water and took some final bits of Solomon glory. The entire campus was so calm and peaceful, which really took Alex and I aback a bit. I could have stood there for five hours taking it all in.

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Before we finished our tour, Sister Vera, a Dominican Sister, remembered that one of the DMI Sisters who have a convent right on the same beach in Visale was originally from America so we went and knocked on her door. Sister Terese came right out and greeted us with open arms! She was a wonderful woman with a great sense of humor who had also just celebrated her 90th birthday. She has been in the Solomons for over 60 years so even though she is American born, she identifies more as a Solomon Islander as it is there that she has spent the majority of her life. We sat on the porch talking to Sister Terese for not long before a whole bunch of the Sisters came out on the porch to join us with juice and cookies. They were all so great to talk to and we got caught up swapping stories for so long that Alex and I nearly forgot that we had left Sister Hilda back at the house to clean up lunch! On our way back to Sister Hilda, we made one final stop at Sacred Heart Church, the most colorful church that I have ever seen. It was bright pink and yellow with touches of green and blue, far different from my home parish, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, but no less welcoming. All in all, it was a great way to spend our last full day in the Solomons!

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Final Days in Auki

Monday was our last full day in Auki so Alex and I tried to make the most of it. As usual, we started off our morning with daily mass. Had I not known better, I would have thought that the reading was hand-picked for our departure. The passage from the book of Ezekiel was about a young man who follows all of the commandments and asks God if there anything else he should do. He is told to give up all of his possessions to achieve happiness and the kingdom of God, however, is saddened to hear this advice. During his homily, Bishop Chris spoke to the congregation stating, “I bet if you asked Kerry and Alex who is happier, the rich man or the poor man, that they would respond saying the poor man without hesitating for a second”. This is undeniable. Immediately upon stepping foot in Auki, Alex and I began to experience the joys of a simple life that revolves around God and His loving community. Deeply rooted in their faith, the people of Auki have a love for one another that is overwhelming, which they kindly included the two of us in on. They spend their time and energy on what is important in life, rather than material items, which is something that I hope to translate back to the too busy life at home.

Later in the afternoon, after spending some time down at the market and getting our boat tickets, we were able to spend some time hanging around Fanualama. It was nice to be able to spend some time with everyone on our last day. One of the high school boys who is normally pretty quiet, Patrick, even stopped by to show us his 20 page geography report. It was an extensive report with a lot of Excel graphs and charts that he had typed up in town about the waste dumps. As a part of his assignment, Patrick had to dig through the trash to survey its contents and determine how much of it was biodegradable. Due to the lack of central city planning, people can dump their garbage anywhere so people either set fire to their trash on the sides of the road or just let it sit there. Patrick’s assignment was to list few consequences of the garbage problem and come up with some reasonable solutions. He made some great arguments, which were enlightening for Alex and I to read about. We were also really excited that he felt comfortable sharing his work with the two of us as he is normally shy. Later, we had our final lunch with the Sisters in which we exchanged our appreciation for one another and a few small gifts. We were so blessed to have met and been supported by them so it was nice to share one last meal among the five of us.

That night, Bishop Chris hosted a farewell dinner for the two of us. He invited a bunch of the people who we have met over the course of our two weeks in Auki so it was really special. The food was delicious, as always, but the highlight of the night was the singing and dancing that ensued shortly afterwards. Everyone stood in a big circle as we sang a few popular Christian songs while one of the local girls played the guitar. There was not one person who did not enjoy themselves. The enthusiasm and joy was contagious and it did not matter one bit that Alex and I knew none of the words or set dance moves. Our friend Veronica stood by our side and coached us, which helped too! We had a blast! As per Solomon Island tradition, the night ended with speeches by people from the various groups with whom we had great contact: the youth, the Dominicans, the DMI Sisters, Aligegeo, the youth ministry, the Dominican Sisters, and the Fanualama community. Bishop Chris gave the final speech before Alex and I each shared a few words of appreciation and gratitude. We were once again awe-struck with the love we felt from everyone and at the end of the night, our faces hurt from smiling so much.

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I will hopefully cherish and continue to reflect on my time in Malaita for the rest of my life. The outpouring of love in Auki is incredibly moving and I have no doubt that it comes right from God. There is no way that I could possibly repay the people of Auki for showing me this love, however, hopefully I will be able pay it forward by extending it to others. In Auki, everyone embraces life in every way imaginable, they exude happiness and care about what truly matters. It is with this in mind that I will return home to the Providence College community extremely appreciative, humbled, and transformed.

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Second Weekend in Auki

Friday was Malaita Day so everyone had off from school and work to celebrate as an island. After morning mass and breakfast, Alex and I sat down with Richard to teach him how to paint. Richard is very artistic and had never had the opportunity to use paint before so we were happy to show him how – Brother Henry even joined in on the lesson. We listened to our music that we painted and found out that, surprisingly, they really like country music. No one was in a rush to get anywhere because it was a holiday so the morning was quite relaxing. Richard ended up teaching us Pijin in return. We learned a few key phrases like, “I don’w know,” “Good morning,” and “I like”. Then, we walked down the Futsol court to watch more of the tournament. The boys are all really skilled and I was amazed to see that some of them do not even wear shoes when they play, despite the hard ball and the hot concrete. To celebrate the holiday, Telekom, the phone company, hosted a big music competition downtown. One group of boys who helps with the maintenance around Fanualama had entered into the contest so Alex and I went to town to watch with Bishop Chris and Sister Saniella. Each of the ten groups was challenged to sing three songs, including one about the Bible, one about Malaita, and one of the group’s choosing. All of the music pieces were original recordings and lyrics so it was interesting to watch. There was a lot of talent, but the group we knew, Veritas, stole the show and ended up winning second place!

On Saturday, we were able to watch the soccer team that we had been rooting for play in the Semi-Final and Final matches. Unfortunately, our team lost in the finals even though the put up a tough match. Later in the day, Alex and I joined Bishop Chris at the Cathedral for the vigil mass for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. All of the women, including Alex and I, processed in singing “Ave Maria” while holding candles. It was moving to see all of the women from all of the villages in town join together in celebration. The women of the Solomon Islands work very hard all day so this is one of the few weekends all year that they are able to take time off for themselves away from the cooking, cleaning, and yard work. Following mass, Bishop Chris gave an hour talk about the history of the Church as a part of the women’s program. The women had a series of talks scheduled for the rest of the night and slept at the church before the big Sunday mass with everyone.

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Yesterday, started off with mass for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The women did all of the readings over the course of the mass, sang, danced and even acted out the Gospel reading. Dressed in blue for the celebration, each woman seemed to embrace the day. It is rare in the Solomon Islands that a woman would be comfortable enough to do a reading, therefore, yesterday was a bit empowering. At the conclusion of mass, during the announcements, Alex and I were surprised with a gift from the parish. To thank us for our time in Auki, the church presented each of us with a wooden cross with a black and white shell decoration. I was incredibly touched by this kind gesture and know that it is something that I will have for the rest of my life. The church also gave Alex and I one additional cross to present to the president of Providence College, Father Shanley, a former classmate of Bishop Chris, upon our return to campus.

 

After mass, Alex and I joined Bishop Chris for his pastoral rounds at the hospital with a few of the local students again before returning to the cathedral for lunch with all of the women. The women had all cooked a huge feast to share with one another, which we were happy to join in on. The celebration would continue on until about 6 PM ending with a soccer match, which apparently is always a riot. About an hour after we got back to Fanualama, there was another meal for us. The boys who won second in the singing competition on Friday had cooked all day to thank Bishop Chris for all of his support. They had used some of their prize money to buy the food and express their appreciation for Bishop Chris. Even though we could not eat a morsel because we were stuffed from earlier, Alex and I were happy to be there in good company. We have grown comfortable with the friendly faces around Fanualama so it was fun to just be around everyone. Later, we had finally digested enough to have a small dinner with the Dominican Sisters. After the meal was over, we stuck around to play some cards. It was a really fun game called Phase 10! I still do not fully understand the rules, but I know that I almost won, which was cool. It is starting to sink in that we only have one more day in Auki and Alex and I are already sad to leave. We will surely miss spending time with everyone and enjoying the simple, yet joyous life here.

Present Every Day

On Tuesday, Alex and I went for pastoral rounds at the hospital with Deacon Patrick and Sister Matilda. The two of us handed out Rosary beads that Alex brought with her from one of the priests at school. Most families only have one set of Rosary beads that they share amongst themselves so everyone was incredibly grateful.

On our way back from the hospital, Alex and I had a wonderful talk with Deacon Patrick. We talked about how life is so much simpler in the Solomon Islands. Very few people have cell phones, refrigeration, and even indoor plumbing in some areas, however, everyone is content. No one is in a rush as time is an abstract concept – you get there when you get there and enjoy every second of the journey. Deacon Patrick told Alex and I a bit about his time in Australia and how shocked he was that you could ride on a bus or a train next to someone for twenty minutes without ever saying hello to them or acknowledging their presence. Too often he found that people were too caught up in the chaos of their own lives to engage with one another. This is not the Solomon way and nor should it be the way of any human beings. In the eyes of some, the Solomon Islanders appear backwards in a few ways, but they do seem to have gotten this right. One’s presence should be beyond the physical and every moment should be optimized. Material things are nice, but at the end of the day, they cannot keep you company. My twin sister Molly spent five weeks in Haiti last summer on her own Father Smith Fellowship and above her bed it read, “Be present every day,” a motto that Alex and I have taken on as our own.

When we got back, after Alex and I ran to town and did a few errands. We spent some time doing our part around Fanualama by weeding in the garden. It was a hot day, but the two of us did not mind at all as we talked on with one another and Bishop Chris finding the labor to be relaxing.

Wednesday was another great day. We started off helping out Sister Loretta by covering her Form 3 English class while she is in Honiara for a few days. The students had recently learned how to write a business letter expressing a complaint so Alex and I were tasked with reading and correcting each student’s letter about the school’s water problem. The students brought up many eye-opening points for Alex and I. What was most difficult to digest was that the students genuinely want to learn and are challenged by exhaustion and thirst each day. A few times a day, the students walk over a kilometer to the nearest stream to collect water for drinking, bathing, flushing the toilets, and cooking and, therefore, end up tired in class from waking up early and having walked so far. Students run on little energy throughout the day and there is starting to be a few hygiene issues as many students have resorted to going to the bathroom in the bush instead of trekking for water to flush the toilets. I have never fully appreciated the convenience of running water until now and admire the strength of these kids whose nature isn’t to complain.

After Aligegeo, Alex and I went with Bishop Chris to talk with people at the primary school to plan a visit and on our way back stopped at Auki’s only restaurant. We learned a lot about the daily life in the Solomon Islands over coffee. Alex and I decided to walk down to the hospital when we got back to check in on a few of the patients. The patients were much more open to us this time as they have become used to seeing our faces around with Sister Matilda and Deacon Patrick. Even though Alex and I usually do not say much when we visit due to the language barrier, most people felt comfortable chatting with the two of us. One of the men, Stephen, who has been sleeping or resting from weakness for our previous visits was awake and alert this time. He asked Alex and I about ourselves and wore a smile from ear to ear, his progress was incredible!

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Wednesday was a double header for mass with one at both the beginning and end of our day. Bishop Chris or one of the other parish priests usually makes an effort every Wednesday at 6:00 to go to Lilisiana, the fishing village, to say mass in the Sts. Peter and Paul Church on the water. We arrived in the village about an hour early and slowly meandered our way to the church stopping and greeting friends along the way. The kids from the kindie recognized Alex and I so they ran to greet us. Alex and I had the honor of being welcomed into the church during the greeting announcements and doing the readings. It was a wonderful mass, full of life and enthusiastic singing by the kids. The kids from the kindie all sat right on top of us and dove across the pews to shake our hands during the Sign of Peace. Their parents were just as welcoming, introducing themselves and sharing their evening meal with us after mass.

Thursday, Alex and I went back to Lilisiana to visit the kindie one final time. When we got there, Alex was looking around the room at the artwork and realized that there was no class photo. She asked the teachers if we could take one for them to print out and send to them and they were beyond pleased with the idea. We collected all the students and brought them outside for Lilisiana’s Kindie’s first class photo! With the help of Liborio, a man who helps out the Diocese a lot, we were able to organize the kids enough to snap a few pictures. Everyone was so grateful and to repay us they took us on a class field trip to the lake that is over a half mile away. As soon as the water was in sight, mayhem ensued as the children stripped down and sprinted into the water. They were thrilled to cool down from the hot sun and we even walked to the beach afterwards.

 

At the end of the school day, Alex and I walked to the primary school down the street, Alota’a, to work on the art project that we had helped the kids with in Sydney. The Year 3 students were excited to see all of the pictures that the Australian Year 3 students had drawn and happy to reply. We were happy to be able to facilitate the connection.

Once back at Fanualama, Alex and I got to help make dinner. It was the birthday of one of the local boys, Richard, a couple of weeks ago when Bishop Chris was away so his celebration was moved to Thursday night. We lent a hand to Brother Henry at the grill and cooked the fish and chicken for Richard’s party. Before the party, we stopped by the Futsol court where some of the local boys were playing in a tournament. Futsol is soccer played on a hard court with fewer players, like indoor soccer outdoors. The team we were rooting for won the game so they advanced on in the tournament. The celebration for Richard’s birthday later in the night was fun. In attendance were the Sisters, Bishop Chris, Liborio, Deacon Patrick, four of Richard’s friends, Alex and I. We were all happy to celebrate Richard’s 21st with him and each had to make a little speech at the end about him, which made it special. Richard had gone out of his way to befriend Alex and I when we first arrived in Auki so we were happy to take part in this Solomon Island tradition. Bishop Chris even baked a cake for the occasion which tasted delicious, especially because it had chocolate icing – what a treat to be included in on!

Auki Weekend One

On Saturday, we got to celebrate St. Dominic’s Day again! The feast day is the 8th, but the Fanualama chooses to celebrate each year on the closest Saturday. We started off the day with morning mass followed by tea and coffee with all of the students. Even though it was rainy and just past 6 in the morning, the church was filled with students from Aligegeo as per usual. Alex and I got a special shout out in mass as Bishop Chris spoke of the many aspects of the Dominican tradition. Surrounded by all types of members of the Dominican Family, we joined together in celebrating the man who brought about our common roots.

As I have since my arrival in the Solomon Islands, I wore my Dominican Cross around my neck for this special day. This past spring, I was able to check one more item off my PC Bucket List when I went on a religious retreat called Encounter. The weekend had its basis in the Dominican tradition of contemplation and was fruitful in many ways. Towards the end of the retreat, Father Cuddy, our school’s chaplain, sat us all down to tell us that all across the world this weekend people had been praying for us. There was not a single minute that someone was not sitting in our chapel on campus praying for each of us to encounter Christ. All over the world, people had offered up palancas in our names. The concept of a palanca is to lower oneself in order to raise up another. It was truly touching to hear all of this. Father Cuddy chose to read aloud a few of the many letters he had received in our support, one of which had come from none other than Bishop Chris himself. Bishop Chris, a Providence College graduate, and former member of Friars Club, is, therefore, someone with whom I felt connected long before my arrival. The Dominican cross that I wear today was given to me at the conclusion of the retreat. Although Father Cuddy jokingly picked on me for not having it around my neck at all times at school, it was being saved to wear in the Solomons as a reminder that this foreign place has a bit of home in it.

Saturday night, we all joined together again in celebration. There was a big gathering at Fanualama in which all of the students and friends of Bishop Chris and the Dominican Sisters took part. After a day of preparation, everyone was excited to join together in food and fellowship! We were able to catch up with many of the friends we have made since our arrival as well as form a few new friendships.

On Sunday, we woke up and went to church. The service was beautiful as people took time to fully celebrate the Eucharist. No one was in a rush as care was taken in each part of the mass. The choir sung beautifully and some of the local schoolgirls danced up the aisle during the presentation of the gifts. Not one person seemed to budge when the mass ended after an hour and forty minutes. As it should be, mass was the main event of the weekend for everyone in the church. Too often at home do I find myself caught up in my busy schedule to give mass the attention that it deserves and is given here in Auki. One of the main points that stuck me was when Bishop Chris reminded everyone that God loves us not because we are good, but because He is good. After mass, Alex and I joined Bishop Chris on his pastoral visit to the hospital with about ten local kids. It was nice to see all of the kids, alongside Bishop Chris, living out the motto of the Auki Diocese which is Serve The Lord with Gladness.

After lunchtime, we headed to the beach. The weather was a bit gloomy, but I think that worked out in my own fair-skinned favor. We all road to the beach in Bishop Chris’s truck whose trunk was fully loaded with local kids of all ages. The kids here really look out for one another and get along quite well. They played soccer on the beach and waded in the water, looking out for the two very little ones who hopped in the car at the last minute. The water was so warm that Alex and I stood in it for the entire time we were at the beach. There was a dolphin sighting and one of the girls, Veronica, found us two royal blue starfish that she gave to us to keep! It was a nice relaxing day as a whole, which concluded with a pasta dinner at Bishop Chris’s house with the Sisters.

Yesterday, I went back to Aligegeo to help out with the Physical Education class again. Even though our time was shortened due to an abbreviated school day from the water shortage, we had fun playing soccer. I also had the opportunity to talk with the Form 6 and 7 Coordinator, who called out to me across campus inquiring about the American system of education. He was really kind and very interested to hear what I had to say. When I left Aligegeo, Alex and I went back for lunch and then went to visit one of our new friends who works in the hospital as an administrative coordinator. He is an Australian man who started out as an OT and now has moved more into the business side of things, working in remote areas helping hospitals to set up strategic plans and become more efficient as a whole. This is something that Alex might want to do later in life as she studies Health Policy and Management at PC. It was all very interesting stuff for me to hear as well as someone who is interested in working in a hospital one day.

Settling In

Wednesday morning around 5:00, right before I was supposed to get out of bed to get ready for morning mass, I experienced my first earthquake! I was so excited, even though it was just a little tremor, that I jumped out of bed and ran to Alex’s room to ask if she felt it. I thought it was so cool, but the Sisters all thought I was crazy when I told them so at breakfast. After breakfast, Uncle Ben drove Alex and I to Lilisiana, the local “kindie” or preschool to introduce us to the teachers and set up a visit for the next day. On our way back from Lilisiana, we stopped and town to buy a soccer ball to bring with us to Aligegeo for the Physical Education class Alex and I helped with that day. The teacher had been waiting for some money from the administration to buy a new ball, but there was a delay in the funding because the school lost water last week when its dam broke. Alex and I lead the stretches for the Form 1 class that we joined that day. Form 1 is the equivalent of seventh grade and the class consisted of about 40 thirteen to sixteen year old boys and girls. We split them into two teams and began to play. The kids were shy at first, but I broke the ice when I slipped on the mud within minutes of the starting whistle. It was quite the workout as the class lasted about an hour and a half in the blazing heat. We had so much fun and were happy to be able to talk to the students. When we first got to Auki, we were given advice to speak slowly and ask the students a bunch of questions because they can be shy and a little self-conscious when using English to a native speaker. Alex and I were, therefore, thrilled when the students began to feel comfortable with us practicing their English.

Later that afternoon, after we ran a few errands and helped around the house a bit, Alex and I went for another walk with Sr. Saniella, but this time we were joined by about five of the high schoolers. It was nice to be shown around by the kids and get to know them a bit. On our walk, we saw a group of four boys carrying a large, live pig hanging on a stick up the road. Sr. Sani told me how pigs are very important to the Solomon Islands culture and can be used for things like compensation or bride price. Bride price is paid to the family of the bride by the family of the groom just before the marriage so having many daughters is seen as a gift in the Solomon culture – I am sure my parents feel the same way in America ;)

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On Thursday, we went to Lilisiana after breakfast. The kids ranged from age three to five and were so cute. When we first got there, we were a bit early so Alex and I sat down outside the classroom and waited while the neighborhood kids all came and stared at us. Lilisiana is a tight-knit village on the water so word traveled fast that there were two new girls in town. There was a language barrier so every time Alex and I tried to talk to them, they would just stare back at us. Once we got inside the classroom, the students quickly warmed up to us. Within minutes, I was completely surrounded by kids blowing bubbles. The teachers introduced themselves and told us that there were “stacka teachers for stacka kids” (stacka is Pidgin meaning many). There were about 60 children in one classroom for about three teachers who each took a portion of the class for a small lesson. With limited supplies, the teachers more than “made do” to make the experience a positive one for the students. We made a collage of leaves that each student cut out, decorated and pasted. One little girl named Emma wandered over to me somehow from another group and did not leave my side for the rest of the day. At recess, I got to throw a small football around with a couple of boys whose energy reminded me of my campers at home. After recess, Alex and I each got to teacher the entire class a bit. We went over phonics and the different pronunciations of the letter A. The teachers said it is helpful for the young kids to hear pronunciations from native speakers so that they learn properly. At the end of the class, before the final prayer of thanks, the kids had a chance to sing. Alex and I listened and watched intently as the kids sang and danced along to common Solomon Island nursery rhymes and songs. They sang songs about things like three monkeys sitting in a tree and a getting fish for dinner. The teachers then asked Alex and I to think of a few songs that we grew up singing and to share them with the class. After some thought, Alex and I were only able to come up with “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” but we reassured the teachers that we would think of a few more for next time. Luckily, the kids really enjoyed the songs, which also taught them some more English.

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Later in the day, Alex and I were able to help a few of the local high school girls with their English homework. In return for the favor, the girls came with us on our nightly walk. They walked us around the hospital grounds and filled us in on the life of a Solomon Island teenager. I am so happy that the girls were able to warm up to us a bit.

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On Friday, Alex and I went to Aligegeo again. This time we separated. Alex went to an English class to help out because the teacher has been out on holiday for the past few weeks. The other teachers have been filling in and covering a bit, but this is especially hard to do for an English class because sometimes a class can have 40 or more students in it, which means 40 more paragraphs, summaries, or assignments to grade. There is no such thing as a substitute teacher. I went with the Physical Education teacher from the other day to help out with his math class and ended up teaching the entire forty minute lesson. We went over Horizontal Bar Graphs, Vertical Column Graphs, and Combined Bar Graphs in the Form 1 class (Grade 7). I love math so I was happy to help, especially when I got to walk around and work with them one-on-one while they did book work for the second forty minute class session. They sit two or three students to a wooden desk and share books by table, so at the end of the class when the teacher assigned homework, the students had to sit and copy the book, graphs included so that they would be able to complete the assignment in time. The limited classroom resources do not deter students in their desire to learn. They are impressing to say the least. They shot their hands up for me to check their work. They might have been shy with their words, but their enthusiastic actions gave their desire to learn away.

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After math, Alex and I met back up for a brief break and then went to the Form 3 gym class. We played soccer again, but this time it was much less embarrassing. I am slowly recovering my old skills and managed not to slip even in the rain! Because the school is out of water and the students have to walk far to get it from the streams, some students sat out without penalty due to the warm, exhausting weather. The game was also, therefore, a bit calmer as students were a little less willing to overly exert themselves. When we left school, Alex and I were drenched from the rain so we decided that it would be a good time to go for a run and explore the town a bit more. We ran about 3 miles in total and found a nice area down by a river with beautiful scenery. After our run, we helped to prepare some food for dinner which was to be a celebration for Uncle Ben’s grandson’s first birthday. While we waited to go over and join the rest of the Fanualama community in the big grass hut behind the bishop’s house, Sr. Saniella braided mine and Alex’s hair. Bishop Chris had come back from Honiara earlier in the day so he was able to make it to the birthday party. Alex and I were happy to be included in on the festivities and they even made a special introductory announcement for the two of us and made us be the first to get food. Alex and I were able to catch up with Bishop Chris a bit and talked a bunch about the huge Providence College network and its many connections.

 

AUKI

Alex and I made it to Auki by a few minutes after 10:00 on Monday after leaving Honiara at 4:00! We were accompanied by Deacon Patrick who will be staying in Auki at Fanualama, with Bishop Chris and the Dominican Sisters, until December. Alex and I definitely had cabin fever after the first few hours on the ship and, because I am my mother’s daughter, I was queasy for hours 2 thru 4. By the end, Alex and I were entertainment for all of the passengers in our cabin on the bottom of the ship. We were too hot to remain seated so we sat on the backs of our seats to get more air from the windows, which was coincidentally also when we thought that it would also be a good idea to listen to our ipods, lip-sync, and dance along to the music. We were far too excited to sit still.

We were greeted at the dock by Bishop Chris, Sr. Matilda, Sr. Sani, and Uncle Ben, all who live in the small Fanualama Community. We were too excited to wait for the ship to dock completely that we climbed out the window and hopped onto the platform where our greeting crew threw handmade leis around our necks! We soon made our way the mile down the road to Fanualama, which is a compound with a small chapel and about six houses houses, including Bishop Chris’s house, the Dominican Sisters house, the guest house where we are staying, and a few others for various house workers and friends, including Uncle Ben. Alex and I got a brief tour and then went to Bishop Chris’s house for some water and a quick rundown of important information.

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We woke up early yesterday for morning mass in the chapel at 6:10. Deacon Patrick, Alex and I got a special welcome by Bishop Chris before mass. Afterwards, he asked that the entire congregation, which consisted of many of the students from the school across the street, come up to the three of us to introduce themselves. I felt like I was on the end of a very joyous receiving line and remembered about three of the names when I left, but could not stop smiling. Alex and I then said goodbye to the bishop, who will be in Honiara for a few days, and went to breakfast with the Dominican Sisters at their house. There are three Dominican Sisters here, all of whom come from the same home parish, Sr. Matilda and Sr. Sani, who picked us up at the boat, and Sr. Loretta, who has been here the longest. The three let us jump right into life here without any hesitation! We went along with Sr. Matilda on her pastoral visit to the hospital where we talked and prayed with the patients alongside Deacon Patrick. While we were there, Sr. Loretta spoke with a few of the other teachers at the school across from Fanualama where she teaches and set up hours for Alex and I to be in the classrooms for the next two weeks. As of now, we will be helping out in the middle/high school with Physical Education and possibly Math and in the Kindergarten down the road once a week. This may change a bit depending on need, but Alex and I are willing to help however and wherever we can!

After the pastoral visit, Alex and I came back to Fanualama where we met and were reintroduced to a few people. We hung out in a huge hand-made grass hut reading our books and chatting, where we met a few of the high school boys who were dismissed early from school to finish up some of their work. They were all super friendly and even knew some of the Providence College students who visited in the past so they were asking us for updates on everyone (who they still keep in touch with). I quickly started to appreciate what a special community I was in. In a way, I feel at home here already as there is some intangible that makes it feel so familiar – I have a feeling it is the same intangible that sets Providence College apart from the rest. Everything seems right: the people, the faith, the sense of community, and the love.
Sylvesta, the housekeeper, went out of her way to make Alex and I lunch because she did not want us to go hungry waiting for the Sisters to get back from work. Sr. Loretta and Sr. Matilda then took us to town where we stopped at the phone company, bank, and market. At the phone company, Alex and I were able to get internet access from our phones. My entire extended family managed to make a scene on the other side of the world when they all Facetimed me from our family vacation and disturbed the entire cafe! I would not have had it any other way. When we got back, Alex and I went for some exercise with Sr. Sani. We went through town again and up to the top of a hill that had a breath-taking view out to the ocean! When we got back, Alex and I showed Sr. Sani the cardio workout that the two of us have been doing on my phone. We played music and made fools out of ourselves as all of the high school students could peer in when they were passing by on the way back from the stream (the water dam at the school broke last week so the students who dorm there use the stream on the Fanualama property to wash their clothes). We laughed away and soon after Sr. Sani left, I heard a faint knock at our door. I opened it to find a little girl, Juliet who came to say hi! I grabbed a playing ball from my bag and went outside to play with Juliet, her older sister Carishma, and cousin Linma. We had so much fun!!! The girls all warmed right up to Alex and I and eventually we were joined by two other older girls Judith and Veronica. Juliet was so young that she kept calling Alex and I by the name of a British girl who had been here for three months, Isabella, it was so cute. We then joined the Sisters for evening prayer and dinner. I was shocked to find out that they really like country music, which I had no clue they even have here! We bonded over Celine Dion and Shania Twaine and even started a sing-a-long. What great company! I already feel like I have friends in the Sisters and cannot wait for what the rest of our time here has to offer!

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