Aug 19, 2006

The Long Journey Home

The blog is back! I know it’s been a long wait for a tiny but faithful following. We’ve been so busy traveling and then getting settled back and home and ready for the start of school that I haven’t had sufficient time to put up a new entry. Sabbath afternoons, we’ve been taking the new teachers around to see the island and that’s normally when I update the blog. But this Sabbath afternoon, we opted out of the weekly adventure in nature, and with the added benefit of our brand new high speed wireless internet connection, we’re finally ready to bring you up to date.

So herewith, a photo essay of our long journey back home to Saipan!

The last few days in Ohio were pretty relaxing. On Sunday, July 23, we went out to the countryside around Xenia, Ohio and spent a delightful afternoon with Barbara’s Uncle Jean and Aunt Betty and their children (Barbara’s cousins) as well as assorted other relatives. We went to Barbara’s cousin’s Karen’s farm and had an old fashioned cookout with mouthwatering homemade burgers, hot dogs, mounds of potato salad, corn on the cob, green bean casserole, and all the rest. It was a really nice time and I really enjoyed getting to know more of Barbara’s family.

With the Brock's (Barbara's dad's sister's family).

Barbara's cousins. In back Bobby and Tommy. In front Connie and Karen.

We said a tearful goodbye to Mom and Dad Leen early Weds. Morning, July 26 and the journey began. We had a layover of about three and a half hour layover in Minneapolis and Jenny, Barbara’s sister took the opportunity to come and see us. We went out for breakfast and had a nice visit with her.

Babs and Jenny in Minneapolis

We arrived in Honolulu on the afternoon of Wednesday, July 26. It felt good to be back in the tropics. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I got back in the warm air, amidst the flame trees and coconut palms, the brilliant blue sky, and the water. Both Barbara and I felt a real sense of coming home. And Hawaii is gorgeous, even overdeveloped, high-traffic Honolulu. The plant life here is unparallelled, just the most beautiful plants you've ever seen in your life, just growing everywhere. Even the "not so nice" neighborhoods (like the one we were staying in) are dressed up by the gorgeous foliage that just seems to grow naturally in Hawaii. It also helps that even the low-income housing is professionally built, where often in Saipan the lower income housing is shacks thrown together with wood and tin and maybe some concrete blocks which tends to give Saipan a more ramshackle appearance. In Honolulu, even the ugly old block apartments have a certain bohemian quality about them, as if they're all inhabited by bum surfers living off of odd jobs.

Walking up to the entrance of Hawaiian Mission Academy

Here's a close-up shot of flame tree blossoms which I took on the walk back from the flower shop and Safeway near Hawaiian Mission Academy where we were staying. These trees are actually very common in Saipan as well, but I didn't have a good picture of the trees here so I took this one while in Hawaii. When the trees are in bloom they light up the roads and hillsides with bright, fiery orange color.

Thursday, July 27, was Barbara and I’s 9 year anniversary. We celebrated by her being in meetings all day and me reading and going on the internet. Last year it was the Ritz, this year it was this:

Note I did buy Babs some flowers that brought some class to the dorm chic look of our love nest.

We did go out for dinner though. With about a dozen other people! Keith Rodman, the Education Director for Guam Micronesia Mission took all the principals and their families out for dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory. However, so that we did have some sense of specialness, we sat in fancy magenta wing chairs at a separate table next to the main one (Also, they didn’t have enough room at the main table). We capped off the evening with a lovely stroll through Wal-Mart.

All told, a very romantic number nine!

Anniversary Dinner at the Old Spaghetti Factory

Friday morning, July 28, Babs was in meetings and I was on the internet. From Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon we were on our own. We didn’t realize we would have this great swath of free time during the midst of our work in Hawaii, and all the other principals departed to do their own thing. So Barbara and I hastily rented a car for the weekend, and spent a pleasant afternoon driving around Honolulu looking for Barbara’s Holy Grail of the summer—Art Museums. We found a couple, one of which pictured below was basically in the lobby of the First Hawaiian Bank in downtown Honolulu. We also lounged about at a Starbucks (another Holy Grail of Babs’), and went to Barnes & Nobles (Barbara’s Shroud of Turin) before going out for dinner at a Mexican restaurant that night.
Babs in contemplation at The Contemporary Art Museum
Babs at the entrance to the Contemporary Art Museum located in the lobby of First Hawiian Bank.

Sabbath, July 29, was a day to enjoy the true spirit and beauty of Hawaii. We got up early and went down to Ala Moana Beach, just minutes from Hawaiian Mission Academy, for a leisurely Sabbath morning breakfast on the beach. We then went to church on the windward side of the island, at Kaialua Seventh-day Adventist Church, and that was one of the spiritual highlights of my life. I’ve never had a church experience like this ever, but I certainly hope to again.
Pictures from our Sabbath morning breakfast on the beach in Hawaii.

The drive out to Kaialua.

First off the church was small and humble yet physically gorgeous (see photos left and below). It’s left and right walls were a series of wood and glass doors which, that Sabbath morning, were all open allowing the beautifully landscaped tropical greenery outside to become part of the sanctuary. A gentle Hawaiian breeze wafted through the worship and white ceiling fans whirred quietly. The interior of the church was done in white and warm, tropical looking wood. But the beauty didn’t stop there. As we arrived (late, of course) the platform was full of people of all ages from young children to older adults, playing guitars, ukeles, etc and singing a song of praise. The service continued in a reverent yet singularly joyous fashion. I’d been told that this was the “young” church popular with the youth of the island, and yet I saw many white heads. But they weren’t the stereotypical Old Adventists. These people were smiling, open, welcoming. I saw the dreaded Earrings in wrinkled ears, and right then I knew this was no ordinary SDA church. For special music, one of the elder ladies was introduced by another woman as a lady who had once sung in swing bands in Honolulu when she was young back in the 1940’s. Together they sang a version of Amazing Grace in English and Hawaiian. When we all joined in for the final chorus, I was moved to tears. The pastor, an avuncular, gentle fellow preached a beautiful sermon on the 23rd Psalm. What struck me about this church was the unforced, genuine, Christ-like spirit of the people there. I’ve been to so many churches where everyone is strenuously trying to show how progressive and “loving” and “unlegalistic” as they are, with every one desperately strumming their guitars and banging their drums and really making sure we know that they’re not stuck in the old ways. And I’ve been to so many churches righteously holding on to the good old hymns, piously remembering that so-called love is no replacement for a good old “Thus Sayeth the Lord.” This church was neither place. This was the love of Jesus, plain and simple. People worshipping in spirit and truth, with joy. That’s the word that stuck with me about Kaialua Seventh Day Adventist Church. Joy. Not excitement, or entertainment, or rightness or good-old-anything. Just joy. And you can’t fake joy.

After church we were eagerly and sincerely welcomed and urged to the front of the potluck line where a bountiful feast awaited us. I watched the kindness and care that the members showed one another. One older lady with a walker was at our table, and several times members would stop to greet her and make sure she had all she needed. And she beamed.

It was a small piece of heaven.

So Babs and I are thinking that when we move back to the States we want to move to Kaialua, Hawaii and teach at the SDA School next to the church there. Just letting you all know!

Views of one of Heaven's regional offices on planet earth, Kaialua Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

On Saturday night, we foolishly decided to go have dinner in Waikiki with the principals of Palau and Majuro and their respective families. Babs and I drove around for 45 minutes (I'm not exagerrating) looking for parking. We'd probably still be out there looking but our friends were able to show us a place where they'd parked illegally and I was able to nose our rented Chevy Malibu Maxx in between the parallelled parked van belonging to the principal in Palau and a truck. Imagine two vehicles parallell parked with a third, nose in first between them. Course our time driving around looking for a spot wasn't wasted, because our friends had been waiting in front Cheeseburger in Paradise the entire time, waiting to be called for a seat in the overcrowded restuarant. Ridiculous.

So, folks. Don't bother with Waikiki. It's not worth it and there are so many much more wonderful places to be in Hawaii.

On Sunday, July 30 the 90-odd teachers going to Micronesia (most of them 10 month student missionaries) arrived in Hawaii. We spent the next three days giving them a crash course in education. I use the term “we” loosely. Barbara attended all the seminars and taught several, while I lounged about and read and surfed the internet. My official job was a sort “veggie cop.’ Me and another teacher working in Pohnpei were supposed to guard the classrooms where the teachers were staying. We had keys to all the rooms, and made sure they were locked when everyone was gone and unlocked during breaks. Unfortunately we were not given nightsticks and police-style belts and walkie talkies to help give us a false sense of power. We did have matching shirts though (the same as all the other principals and GMM staff). I did teach two seminars though, on presenting lessons and teaching English. So I wasn’t totally useless.

The gang gathers for the first of many pictures together. These guys are TIGHT! From left to right, Mai Rhea Odiyar from Canada, our Grades 3/4 teacher; Britni Gleason, an SM from Southwestern Adventist University in Texas teaching Kindergarten; Michelina "Missy" Chamberlin, an SM from Michigan working at the Pre-School and assisting Barbara with fundraising etc in the afternoon, Heather Tucker, an SM from Andrews University, teaching Pre-School; and Jaribeth "Jari" Carmona a.k.a "Jersey", from New Jersey by way of Southern who is teaching grades 1/2. And in front is the luckiest guy in all of Micronesia. He is Grant Graves a.k.a "G-Rant" a.k.a. "Mr. Incredible", the only man amongst all these beautiful women. He graduated from Southern and is teaching grades 5/6 homeroom.

On Wednesday, August 2, we began the final leg of our journey back home. Babs and I flew through Japan (as did Grant and Mai Rhea, though, strangely on a different flight. They went through Osaka, we went to Tokyo and we landed in Saipan five minutes apart). I experienced my 33rd birthday briefly while in the air (where the flight attendants wished me happy birthday and presented me with a bottle of champagne which I accepted with Christian gratitude, and which, with Adventist rectitude, I currently have in my cupboard at home, unsure of what to do with it). When we landed in Japan, my birthday was almost over as at it was Thursday evening, August 3, due to the international dateline. We celebrated at the gate to our flight to Saipan and Babs presented me with a great coffee table book about U2! And then it was on to Saipan; we arrived in the early hours of Friday, August 4.
The new teachers receive a warm welcome. This was the 1:20 A.M. arrival of Grant, Mai Rhea,Barbara and me. Heather, Missy, and Britni had arrived on a different at a more reasonable time earlier in the evening and were already fast asleep. Our new pre-school director, arrived later that morning at 3:30 A.M.

We came back to find Saipan struggling along. Since we’ve been back we’ve had some “real missionary” experiences like regular blackouts (including a 12 hour one last Sabbath), occasional bouts of no running water, a 100% increase utility rates, and generally dire predictions about the downward spiral of our company (for example, the papers have been saying that 1200 government employees are going to receive a mandatory, unpaid “vacation” for the month of September because the gov. needs to save money). Our enrollment is as low as it’s ever been, and all the other private schools are struggling too while the public schools are grossly overcrowded. But we’re praying for 20 more students and we believe that God can make it happen! Join us in praying for this!

Our group of teachers is nothing if not energetic. Their boundless appetite for adventure is infecting even veteran layabouts like Babs and me, and we are getting out there and enjoying more of this broke-down paradise we call Saipan. The first Sabbath back in Saipan we took the gang on the Standard Saipan Tour. We were accompanied by “Beautiful Dentists” as my friend Dan, refers to them--our good friends Ken and Crystal Pierson, our buddy John Moreno, and fifth grade student Natalia Paez—the youngest girl in the Paez tribe. We hit all the key hotspots—Last Command Post, Banzai Cliff, Suicide Cliff, the Grotto, and culminated with sunset at Mt. Tapochau, the highest point on Saipan. It wasn’t the finest sunset ever, since the it was bit cloudy and overcast, but the peak wreathed in foggy clouds had it’s dramatic beauty and we enjoyed our time there (at least until it started to get dark during the overlong worship I conducted and the mosquitoes started coming out). After worship, we went to Coffee Care for a boisterous dinner at Coffee Care where we celebrated the birthday of Virle, our secretary and all-around goddess of the school.

Babs introducing the team to the church on their first Sabbath in Saipan, August 5. Here we are at Suicide Cliff.
The gang at Bird Island (Sabbath, Aug. 5).
Ken and Crystal Pierson standing on top of the world (or Saipan anyway). Sunset at Mt. Tapochau, the highest point on Saipan, Sabbath, August 5, 2006.

Jari, Britni, and Babs on Mt. Tapochau

So we’ve added another member to the family! No, Barbara’s not pregnant (yet). . .sorry, everybody. Actually we’ve adopted Jesco, the dog belonged to our former teacher and good friend Tin Tin. When we got back to Saipan Jesco hadn’t been seen in days, and we he finally turned up maybe five or six days after we got back he was skin and bones, filthy, crawling with fleas and ticks, and looking about as sad sack as they come. Well, last Friday (August 11) we took him to the vet. He had about a million things wrong with him—tick disease, hookworms, heartworms, etc, but $272 later we had some medicine for him and a plan to bring him back to health. Unfortunately, Jesco was not inclined to cooperate with his healing. I took him home and bathed him, Frontlined him for fleas, and he spend the night in our house where he slept like a rock right next to my side of the bed. But the next day, when we let him out to go to the bathroom he went straight for the gate, wriggled his body underneath the closed gate and took off. This would be his pattern. He’d come to eat, and even in sleep, but the minute he got outside he’d hit the road. Calling or going after him would only encourage him to pick up the pace of his exit. After the second time bathing him, we decided to to take a different tack. When he comes around (which is every few days) we feed him and give him his medicine, and eventually we’ll get him back to the vet for his next checkup. But at least for now it appears he is destined to be an outdoors-and-often-absent dog. One of the things on our rather expensive checklist for him is to get him fixed. The vet believes that Jesco keeps running away because he’s off looking for girl dogs to hook up with. In fact he suggested that a lot of his sad-sack appearance and lethargy is because he’s not getting very lucky. Which wouldn’t surprise me at all. Jesco is not exactly an alpha-male, if you know what I mean. He’s rather cowardly (he’ll usually approach you butt-first and half cringing). Poor fella. Not the sort that’s going to be much of a hit with the ladies. At any rate, hopefully getting him fixed will encourage him to stay around the compound more. We do worry about him being out on the streets and gone for so long.

If this story has inspired any heartfelt doggy-pity in you and you would like to help us care for Jesco, please let us know! It’s going to cost us close to $1000 to get him fully taken care of (additional vet visits, neutering, and heartworm treatment regimen) and this was not a planned expense for us. (We haven’t even paid the $272 yet. They were willing to bill us. We have to wait till the end of the month when we have some money!) So we welcome any donations!

The newest member of our family, "Cousin" Jesco, the sex-starved dog flashing a classic sad n' pathetic look.
Barbara’s birthday was the day before school started. She celebrated by going to the spa at the World Resort with her good friend Carol. In the afternoon, I met them at our Favorite Restaurant in the Whole World, Coffee Care, for a late lunch, or “linner” before heading back to the school for our day-before-school-starts open house. There we surprised her with a birthday pie (since she doesn’t much care for cake) and then went to the Spicy Thai Noodle next door to the school for a late supper. The plan was to have the new teachers experience the novelty of eating on the floor, sitting at the low tables on the raised dais next to the window but unfortunately those tables were taken. So we had to sit at the regular tables like regular Americans.

On Monday school started and it was all downhill from there. I was sick on the first day of school, and after valiantly attempting to ignore that fact for three days, I finally succumbed and stayed home from school this Thursday. But I’m on the mend, and looking forward to a much better SECOND week of school!

Barbara and her birthday pie. We partied in Britni's kindergarten room.