The following week brought with it many emotions, probably every emotion a human body can possess. The end of our current adventure was on the horizon and no matter how many times we turned our heads or prayed for cancelled flights, we were facing the inevitable: leaving our Fijian family and the land we had all grown to love.
Sunday, we worshiped at a Methodist church in a neighboring village called Loa. This was the 3rd of 3 main churches on our side of the island. The entire service was in Fijian, but to our pleasure different groups presented special music.
The new group of doctors for the week had arrived by the time we walked back from church. The MNC had once again taken on a new look. An eye team took over the surgery and prep room. From floor to ceiling, the walls were lined with new supplies and various medications. Even the refrigerator stocked with cold drinks had a new addition: 2 corneas and a little vial of amniotic fluid for eye repair. Many rooms, even the holding area outside of the doctor’s office were used for all the various types of eye screenings. In the midst of all of this, the gynecologist found a home in Dr. Anibal’s office. The pediatricians set up their area in the worship room. Nestled on the other side of the clinic, in a room set up to host 4 dental patients, another dentist prepared himself to work alongside Dr. Grandpa, a 94 year old patron of the MNC.
Monday was a very busy day. Nani requested the 3 of us split up and offer our assistance in the areas of gynecology, eye screening, and eye surgery. Hundreds of patients from all around neighboring villages, towns, and even islands came prepared to stay for the whole day or even over night. Hallie assisted Dr. Ackerman and a group of Pepperdine students to see a range of gynecological patients. In the bustle of the day, Hallie even found herself assisting him to remove a fatty tumor from a patient right there in the doctor’s office. Sarah and another group of students divided and conquered the daunting task of eye screenings. This was necessary to prioritize the patients in dire need of eye surgery. Ashley had a long day in the operating room. Some of the tools necessary to ease the cataract procedure did not work requiring the doctors to go about the surgery using the older, longer method. In the OR she learned so much from the doctors performing the surgery and the nurse, Giana, assisting them.
After spending every waking moment together in and out of the office for the past 2 months, a day apart called for a night of sister time.
As mentioned in our last blog we had once attempted the volcano hike, but turned around shy of the crater. With Hallie leaving this day, we only had one obstacle standing in our way from a proper send-off. At 0411, 6 hours before the departure of the bus we would take into town, the 3 of us alongside our jungle men and Marta Tooma set out on a mission. Under the cloak of dawn and the low beam of 3 flashlights we filed into the jungle. The Fijian to set our pace served mostly as the path clearer/ bore spotter. While he seamlessly glided up the steep dirt walls, those of us trailing behind (Sarah and Ashley) fought to keep up. In the time it once took us to make it halfway, we had reached the summit and were the first in the world to watch the sun rise (or so they say). Seeing that we would be able to make it back in time for one more worship service we kicked it into high gear. Each taking a “hand hold” or Fijian, we all slipped, sled, and slammed our way down the mountain. In an area heavily populated with bamboo trees, one of the jungle boys, Saula, produced a Fijian trumpet or simply a hallow stalk of bamboo. Our hiking crew instantaneously became a one pitch band. Our favorite tune: seeing who could blow into the bamboo the longest. With everyone around us now awake, we rejoined everyone back at the mission. As a final salute to Hallie, she found herself being the ‘someone’ in a game we liked to play called “someone’s going in the pool.” Worship was conducted outside on this day and lead by some of the Pepperdine Students.
During our whole time in Fiji, we have been amazed by just how super human Fijians truly are. During this last worship with Hallie, we were faced with the Fijian kryptonite: saying goodbye. With tears in everyone’s eyes the Farewell song was sung to Hallie. “See you laters” were shared and another busy day got underway. The 10:30 bus rolled around all too soon and we embarked our last journey to town together. By the time we arrived, we only had time for our farewell treat: toasted coconut ice cream. After saying goodbye to many sweet friends we made during our weekly trips to the market and being assured that we would always have a place to stay in Fiji, we boarded the last bus out of town and set out for Hallie’s final destination, the airport. After a quick goodbye on the side of the road, Ashley and Sarah looked back, sad to see one sister go, but happy for the new adventure that was starting for this European angel.
Life back at the mission was just not the same anymore. As mentioned before, Hallie was our designated terminator. Without any warning to Ashley and Sarah, as soon as Hallie was out, the wildlife had moved in. If the cockroaches the size of rats or the near traumatic experience Ashley had trapped in the bathroom with the LARGEST spider she had ever seen and a lizard wasn’t enough, the “spider eggs” (later to be determined rotten timber scratched away from the rugby players above us) on Ashley’s bed really put us over the edge. With our emotions already frazzled and our can of bug killer empty, Ashley and Sarah had no choice but to scream, cry, and shoe anything and everything that moved out of our house. During all of this commotion, Siwa ran over expecting to see a cow in our yard. Questioning our sanity and survivability out in the jungle without Hallie, he decided Ashley and Sarah shouldn’t be left alone, so he let his daughter Mila slumber party with us for the rest of our time there.
Wednesday was another busy day in the clinic. Sarah spent the afternoon in the OR with the eye team while Ashley spent her day between the OBGYN and the doctor’s screening eyes. Sarah had a fun day in the OR with a future nurse from Pepperdine. Sarah and Giana were able to walk her through her first IV! The last patient of the day, Ashley and Sarah left for this new nurse to take on from start to finish. With another successful IV under her belt and her charismatic personality, Ashley and Sarah knew the clinic would be left in good hands. At the end of the day, the doctors de-stressed from a busy day by taking turns on the zipline.
Thursday Sarah and Ashley rotated their time with the doctors. Sarah was with the OBGYN and Ashley, once again, scrubbed in for surgery. The flow of the clinic was as steady as the first day. New patients were in and out making bookings for the next group while other patients were leaving the clinic feeling happy in the restoration of their health.
Thursday evening was a fun cultural experience for all. Villagers from Loa came over and sang traditional songs while men carrying spears decked out in tribal paint and grass skirts performed Fijian rituals. Later, our Fijian meal was pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of the “Natuvu warriors” from a day of battle defending the mission. The sons/ friends of the MNC workers performed a Fijian dance. To no surprise, this battle dance was followed up by a unique performance from the “Kipe warriors of Southern California.” The night ended in an uproar of hysterical amusement as Siwa was finally thrown, fully clothed, into the pool. Not going down without a fight, Siwa chased and carried Ashley to the pool with him. Suddenly it was a free for all. Who went in the pool? It started with an E and ended with veryone.
After a very emotional worship Friday morning filled with encouraging words, advice for the future, pleas to return, and special music Sarah and Ashley found ourselves lying on the concrete floor of our house emotionally exhausted. Shortly, Raijeli came over to retrieve us for the surgeries for the day. Reluctantly, we got up and headed over to the clinic. Once we got there Raijeli confessed that actually the doctors were packing up to leave today and she just wanted our entertainment as she cleaned. To this point, Ashley and Sarah had discovered a new song, a theme song for the duration of our trip, called “Coconut Tree.” From the moment the two of us heard this song, it never left our lips or the ears of those around us. Forgetting our emotions of sadness, joyful dancing and much laughter ensued for the rest of our day.
Saturday we all boarded the boat with captain Serino and set out for Kioa Island. We were graciously accepted on the island and each given a headdress of beautifully and intricately woven flowers. After a quick tour of the village and the new Kinde school, the women of the village hosted a lunch for us all. A table as wide as the room itself was loaded with all kinds of meats, fish, vegetables, fruits, and other Kioan delicacies. There was such an assortment of every type of food. Many of us played the game “try everything” or “try each type of fish” while others were playing “take a bite of the hottest pepper in the entire world and try to survive.” Ashley and Sarah were able to meet the wife and family of one of the workers, Pese, who only travels home to Kioa on the weekends and lives at the mission during the week. In order to live on the island, one must have a family or friend that lives there. Yes, Ashley and Sarah did attempt to use their connection with Pese to attempt to stay in Fiji longer. After lunch, the ladies turned the meeting room into a shopping area displaying their impressing hand-woven handicrafts. We hit the volleyball court after for a quick round of games before we departed from the island. One the way home, Serino docked the boat in a good area for snorkeling. The rest of our day was spent swimming and flipping off the boat.
Just as we hiked the volcano with Hallie on her last day in Fiji, Ashley and Sarah couldn’t leave without one last adventure. Accompanied by our Fijian friends, we set out for Buca Village to hike the “Cannibal Caves.” According to Siwa, the skeletal remains found here were left behind from his cannibalistic ancestors. The hike was just as intense as the one up the volcano with 30-foot rock wall to scale. After many slips, trips, and dips we reached the top to enjoy one last look over all of Buca Bay.
After a morning full of adventure, we decided that we wanted the rest of our time spent at the mission doing something we all loved: playing volleyball. After many laughs we shared one last lunch with everyone. As the time for the taxi’s arrival was drawing nearer, we began saying our goodbyes.
There are no words to describe the impact the past 2 months have had on us, the relationships we have made, and the times we shared together. We all truly became a family and no amount of distance will sever this relationship. Though we were departing with contact information and sure of our promises to return, saying goodbye for the time being was so difficult. All of the encouraging words shared by MNC staff and Pepperdine students have stuck with us and helped us to make the transition to this next journey in life.
Thank you all so much for being a part of us on this journey. Thank you for your support to help make this adventure happen and for the prayers daily. We truly felt your support and could not have done all that we have without such great support from our friends and family. The Mission at Natuvu touched all of our hearts and changed our lives and we hope that by this blog, your heart may also be touched.