Sunday, April 22, 2012

Health care, cleaning day and two beautiful women's smiles...

I DO NOT ever want to get sick..I fight illness like a plague..[a little play on words], I fight vomiting to the point of ridiculous and for the most part, refuse to allow my body to succumb to any stray virus it encounters.  I am SO grateful my Heavenly Father has blessed me with a relatively healthy body...I get a rare head cold but can honestly say I VERY rarely am ill.  Well, my friends, I have made one decision for sure...I DO NOT WANT TO BECOME ILL AND HOSPITALIZED IN THIS AREA OF THE PHILIPPINES!  

Two weeks ago, we had a sweet sister who had been ill and confined to the local hospital.  Elder Shaner and I decided to visit her on one Tuesday afternoon and were appalled at the conditions in this 'health care facility'...and I do use that word very loosely.  The patients here are required to [if they want to use them] bring their own sheets to put on the split vinyl mattresses, blankets, pillows, and they must also bring all their own food, water, etc.  We entered this room that was probably 30x40 where there were set up, in two rows along the walls, 20 beds.  Each bed had an ill person in it and another to attend to them.  IV's were hung on poles and inserted into the arm of each patient.  There was NO privacy!!  [this will come into play in a minute]  There was one FILTHY CR [bathroom] that had no door and one toilet.  While we were there, a 'nurse' came in wearing a mask to check on her patient.  Everyone in the room stops and after observing, knows everything that is happening to that particular person.  The air was stifling hot and not a breath of wind.   

Well, Sister Marco's health declined so they transferred her to a nearby city to a 'modern hospital' and last Tuesday we decided to take our district Relief Society president with us as we visited her in Ilagan. That had to be better, right????

Sister Saddul told us that in Ilagan, the hospital also required the patient and family to bring their own food.  We decided to stop at SaveMore [the local grocery store that is as close to an American store as we can get] and pick up a few things but also, to let Sister Saddul help us choose some things that Sister Marcos and her husband might need.  We bought a huge bottle of water, some bread, cheese spread [like Cheese Whiz] a couple of cans of fish, fresh fruit, etc.  After walking up the three flights of stairs to find her 'ward', we were so disheartened to find the same type of set-up.  Her room was smaller, maybe 20x20 and only had 8 beds but it was as 'sad' as the one in Roxas.   Our hearts were broken to see the situation in this facility.  One area of the 'hall' had 9 beds stacked along the wall-these were patients that could not afford the 'ward'.  

When she saw us, her face lit up and she said her hubby was getting her final report so she could leave.  What a blessing we decided to come right then-we could give her a ride home instead of the hour-long Jeepney ride that she expected...she would have been riding in a bumpy, hot, crowded, congested jeep!!  After picking up the x-ray that was on the nightstand and not being able to see anything,  Sister Saddul went to the nurses station to get the report.  [no privacy policies here!].  Her hubby appeared and the orders were confirmed..she could go home!  A nurse came in to remove the catheter, [now remember this room is filled with probably 25 other people and NO curtains to pull] and we were on the way.  It reminded Elder Shaner and me of what we supposed health care facilities would have been like in the late 1800's or early 1900's in the US.  There are modern hospitals in the Philippines, but most Filipinos would not be able to afford to go to one of them.  What they have is what they can afford. I will continue to drink my Zija every day, get my sleep and continually use my hand sanitizer!!!!  I will NOT get sick....I will NOT get sick...I will NOT get sick...
The ward in Ilagan

dark photo but you can probably sense the crowded condition..this was the medicare
ward across the hallway
In July, when the Russell's go home to Oregon, I think I told you in an earlier post that our responsibilities will change some-they are now in charge of the missionary housing and upon their return to the US, that stewardship will be ours.  In the past few months, we have helped them with a few issues but this past week, after Sister Russell had battled a virus for three weeks and they found themselves behind on their apartment checks, they asked us to help bail them out and we were very willing.  They did the check of the Ilagan Zone and we did Roxas Zone.  Because there were eleven apartments to be visited and the driving distances were great, we decided to do it in two days.  We started with the farthest apartment and worked our way back.  It was actually a good experience-I was so surprised at the cleanliness of most of the apartments.  Sister Russell has these cute little 'awards' that she gives depending on their preparation for our visit and most received a 'Celestial Apartment' award.  The few that received 'needs improvement'  were sad and I think a little surprised.  I also took sweet treats and the Celestial Award Elders/Sisters got three from that box whereras the Needs Improvement companionships got three from a different box.
They are all great missionaries and we felt the spirit in each of the apartments.

Elder Cuartel and Elder Roceberte have their food set up like a little 'tindahan'
on their table-we teased them about their extreme organization and cleanliness...
A great companionship for sure!!!

Elder Bean and Elder Makiling showing off their Celestial Award-these are
mighty great guys!!!  Wonderful missionaries...

When we arrived and President Carlos assigned Elder Shaner to be a counselor to President Agustin in the Roxas District Presidency. He had no idea how he would come to love and admire these men.  They meet weekly and work together to learn the handbooks and make changes to conform with what they learn.  They also discuss how they can strengthen individuals and families, how to help the branches follow the handbooks, and in doing so,  they are finding success as the branches follow their counsel.  They visit each of the six branches in the District monthly on a rotating basis, participate in their meetings and providing training to their branch councils.  They hold regular training meetings with the Branch Presidents to help them understand and fulfill their responsibilities.  It has been a great experience for him and he has learned much as he works in his leadership support assignment.
Notice this cute white face?? I always thought HE was dark...haha!
We have known Elder and Sister Breese since 1977 when they first moved to Omaha.  At that time, they were young, [weren't we all!] had a growing family but were not particularly active in the church.  They had not 'caught the vision' so when we moved back to Omaha in 2003 and saw them again IN THE TEMPLE we were very surprised but happy for them.  Since that time, they have become precious friends and we were so happy to share this mission experience with them.  Since August of 2010, they have served faithfully as the 'mission office staff' for President and Sister Carlos.  When they first arrived, it was only them and the Carlos' and they became each other's support system.  As other senior couples were assigned to this mission, the workload became more manageable as they spread the blessings around.  Well, it is now their turn to return to their family in Colorado and they will be missed!  Last Friday night, we gathered for a farewell dinner and they will fly away home next will be bittersweet for sure-they have left their footprints on the hearts of many of these wonderful people and they will take so many great memories with them to cherish for eternity.

Farewell dinner at Ryka's..(picture taken by Elder Shaner)
I want to tell you about Sister Imelda...when I first came and was asked to direct the district choir, I met Imelda.  She was, without a doubt, the most positive and cheerful person I had ever met in my life.  She is a single lady, the age of our oldest daughter, and is dying.  Last year at this time, she was sent home from her work assignment abroad because she was found to have breast cancer.  After having surgery, radiation and chemotherapy in the local hospital, she was in remission and we all rejoiced!  During the choir performances, she was wearing a hat because she had lost all of her hair and a few months ago, I encouraged her to 'strut your stuff, girl', and remove that hat-her hair was so cute and reflected her perky personality.  I even offered her some of my 'goop' to spike it up but she passed on that!!

On Friday the 13th, she was told that her cancer was back and had spread to her liver with a diagnosis of stage 4 liver cancer.  Being single, the only member in her family, and close to her siblings, she had decided to not get further treatment and impose on her family so has a projected lifespan of 4-5 months.  The day after she got her news, she wanted us to come visit so we sat in her cute buhay kubo [outside covered seating area] as she described her diagnosis and her plans.  I wept...I LOVE this woman and as I write this, tears are streaming down my cheeks as I project myself ahead to her funeral. 

She is a very creative lady-at Christmas time she made Sister Carlos and me this hanging star made from straws and since that time, has designed many other fun hanging and sitting decorations from straws.  I showed one to Sister Russell and after talking to her branch Relief Society president, invited Imelda to come teach this skill in her branch.  Last Saturday was the planned day and after picking her up, we traveled to Cabatuan for a fun activity.
Sister Imelda teaching the sisters...what an awesome woman!!

Sister Russell and others struggling to make a flower
As we sat in her buhay kubo, she told us of her desire to attend the temple for her own endowments.  She had never 'made the time' before and that was on her bucket list.  Genealogy has been something she has recently had an urge to do...last month she took a long bus ride to the place where her parents were born and gathered names and dates from living relatives.  She showed me her list and we were thrilled for her.  Enter President Carlos...

We love this man...we have known him for almost 10 years and never before have our hearts been so full as this past week when we found out that after visiting with Imelda to give her a temple recommend, he took action and within 24 hours had all of the arrangements made for her to be accompanied by her branch president, her Relief Society president and two other escorts for a quick trip to Manila!  When we saw Imelda on Saturday and she told us of her marvelous experience the previous week, we were so happy for her.  What a glorious experience she had and all thanks to a great man who listened to the Lord.  Her plans are to return next month if she is still feeling good to do the sealings but she was able to get all of the other work finished during her stay.  She was is so wonderful and humbling to see the Lord's hand in so many of these people's lives..

Sister Fema was finally baptized!!  I have told you about this sweet sister before.  She is amazing...she has been a member of MANY churches in the past years, always searching and trying to find truth.  Each had some truth but she knew, in her heart, that something was missing. 

When we first met her, she had just begun her journey and the culmination of her study led her to the waters of baptism last Saturday.  Never before has anyone been more prepared-this is a very smart lady and sometimes the intelligence gets in the way like it did with Elder Shaner.  After study and an awesome confirmation experience, she knew the path that the Lord wanted her to take and being an obedient spirit, she obeyed.  We were so happy to be part of her story and look forward to many more shared experience with this great saint!
Sister Fema with Joseph (in white and a great family friend)
and her brother on the other side who goes into the Manila MTC on May 19.

Sister Fema with Elder Velez and Elder Griffin, the elders who taught her.
You all know that in July, we will be moving across the street.  Our home was only a one year lease and the home across the street [where the Russell's currently live] has housed senior missionaries for years.  It is a nicer home, cleaner, the grounds are nice and comes with a three-day-a-week housekeeper!!  YIPEE!!

I was visiting Sister Russell yesterday and look what I spotted!!  There are four pineapple plants outside the back door...I have only seen these in Hawaii when we went with the Thorpe's in 1992 so I was totally shocked to see them growing along the side wall.  Another benefit I guess.  There is a nice garden space along that wall and Stephanie is including some American sweet corn and slicing tomato seeds in the box with the crochet hooks.


And speaking of crochet hooks....I LOVE WENDY LUNDY from Wisconsin!!!  Last week I received this package in the mail from a person I didn't know...I recognized the last name because Elder Lundy is one of my favorites!  He arrived here all alone-the only missionary in his batch because of the closing and renovations of the MTC in Manila.  His attitude is so great-always a huge smile.  He was assigned to Ilagan and because we were going there frequently and it was close to us, we hand delivered many packages to him over the past months.  Well, apparently his mom was a follower on this blog and when reading of my plight with the hooks, took action!  I love people who take action-and I do love surprises!  Well, Sister Lundy, you blew me away with your generosity and your compassion.  I texted the sisters in San Pedro [they have been begging me for months to teach them to crochet] and told them 'I HAVE HOOKS!'  I will visit them later today and bring them a color board showing samples of purchased plastic bags for them to order if they want-I will purchase them in Ilagan and deliver them when we have our class in May.  Thank you so much, you sweetie you!!!!  You have made the day of 15 sisters in a little branch who are praising your name!!

Another week has come and gone and we are still plodding along-not as quickly as before because of the extreme heat.  Last night at 5 p.m. it was 97* outside on our porch and 94* inside-we just sit around in our undies and drip...oh, by the way, call before you come.  Don't want you all catching us in our all-together!!!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

We had another marvelous week and ended it on such a fun note-there is this cute little town south of Cauayan named Angadanan.  The Breese's have served there since they arrived Aug of 2010 and will miss those people when they go back to their families in a couple of weeks.  Last year, Sister Breese and Sister Carlos went to the Fiesta street dancing competition and really enjoyed it.  When we heard it was last weekend, we all piled into cars and drove to experience this event.  Last year there were five schools competing for the coveted prize money but this year, all of the competitors dropped out at the last minute except one school from Alicia, a city close by.  However, their dance made the trip worthwhile totally!  It was so fascinating.  I have shared with you about the clever people here in the Philippines.  They are so creative and this event proved that point-their dance was so spectacular!!  They acted and danced out the growing season of rice...we could follow the progression of the rice by watching their actions and their costumes.  Everything is designed and made by them.  It was wonderful!  They were awarded the grand prize for their school of 100,000 pesos [around $2000 US].  That is a huge chunk of cash for these folks-the average worker here would work for about two years to collect and save that much money. 

Last year Sister Carlos met the mayor and spoke at a conference with her.  She recognized us, came into the crowd to get us and moved us to sit in her viewing area, which was air-conditioned.  When she was making her opening remarks, she acknowledged our presence and even invited us to her office after the performance for meryenda and to her home for dinner that night before the cultural dance festival. It would have been a late evening so none of us chose to go-Sunday's are our busiest days here as missionaries and starting sleep deprived would not be a grand plan..

the worms that threaten the harvest

drum made from 55 gallon drum 
Before the parade and dancing started, we visited some of the shops that I call the 'gypsy' shops-they set up under portable tents and move from city to city as the festivals in the different cities are celebrated.  Some of the vendors are local to the individual city and we found the most interesting flower vendor.  She and her husband actually dry, preserve and dye real flowers!  Sister Carlos and I each bought enough for an arrangement..her's in the sunset colors and mine in the sunrise colors.  I hope to bring these home.  Laying on the table at the base of the arrangement is bundled and dyed rice. 

This is is my new love!  It is a root vegetable [they all insist it is a fruit] and it is actually VERY close to our hicama.  Sycamus is a little sweeter but has that familiar crunch and texture.  I buy a huge string at the market with probably 30 sycamus and it costs me a whopping 30 pesos...about $.75!!  What a deal!  I eat one of two every day, usually in my salads.

left is before it is cut and right is sliced sycamus...yummy!!

Lots of riders on this vehicle

This Jeepney is packed!!  Those are bags of rice on the back.

I say no wonder these people are so short-they compress their spines with the things they carry on their heads!

I think I have mentioned the plastic bag purses we are making over here-I say 'we' loosely because the real 'master' is Sister Russell.  She has gone online and has found patterns, researched the techniques and has taught many Relief Societies this craft.  It is relatively simple but the obstacle is THE HOOKS!!  The patterns call for a size 'K' hook and in the Philippines, the largest hook available for any project is a 'C'.  I even had one yarn store in Manila check with their supplier and they were able to get a few but I needed at least 100 to be able to introduce this to MY district..drum roll...enter my sweet daughter-in-law Stephanie.  I sent an email to my girls and my in-law girls and she was the first to respond with a rousing 'I would LOVE to do this for you' what you ask????  Receive the shipment of hooks that I was able to find online at JoAnn's.  They will arrive at her home, she will unwrap each one, removing the bulky cardboard and repack them into a Post Office box and send them 10,000 miles for these wonderful women.  When I told them on Sunday that she was shipping them in the next couple of weeks, I saw a few tears of joy.  They have seen the purses I have made and want to learn...they are motivated people and I believe that by teaching them a new skill, I can help to empower them to earn extra income for their families.  Many women that Sister Russell taught have been earning additional income and that is so helpful for people who are trapped in poverty.  

I also told Stephanie 'don't send us any air-we have all the air we need here!' other words, if there is room in the box after she has loaded it with the hooks, I gave her a few ideas of other things she could use to fill it up.  We are excited and so grateful for her time-she is one of the busiest women I know-eight children and a hubby, a dog and a cat makes that little home hummmmmm...thanks Steph!
Some of Sister Russell's purses

This is one of my favorites

My friend and current neighbor, Sister Russell from Oregon.  They go home this summer and I am already
missing them-great people!!
That pretty well wraps up our week..the life is good, the weather is incredibly HOT!! [low to mid 80's at night and mid 90's during the day with 75-80% humidity]  Like July/August in Nebraska..hydration is the name of the game-water, water, water....gulp!  Awfully glad we have a/c in the bedroom!!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Duck, duck, goose!!! and so much more....

Duck, Duck, many of us remember this game???  I remember playing it in the snow on the playground during recesses in Nebraska in the 50' THAT was a lifetime ago!  I bet most of my grandchildren and children have never played but Elder Griffin must have picked up the rules somewhere along the line because at our Branch Farewell Party last week, he got the whole group involved!  It was so fun to watch these people learn a new game and enjoy themselves so much-they are game people for sure!  The party was in honor of our beloved Zone Leader Elder Rausa who headed home after serving an honorable two year mission and two young men, Elder Emerson Ulep and Elder Mark Prince Munoz, who left last week for the MTC in Manila to start their two year missions, and also for Sister Queenie and Brother Alex Diaz who will leave in May for the MTC.  Everyone had so much fun and at the end of the festivities, the honorees were seated across the front of the room and each person there, if they wanted to, could come up and either tell the individuals how their lives had been changed as a result of their association or give them a little advice.  It was a touching time, especially as the parents/siblings of these four young people whose lives will drastically change as they serve the Lord came up and shared their testimonies.  It was also wonderful for Elder Rausa to hear how he had impacted this Branch-he has been such a great leader and teacher.  We will miss him for sure..

Elder Griffin chasing Elder Rausa around the circle.

A little 'fatherly' advice for Elder Rausa
Before going home, I asked Elder Rausa if he wanted any special treat and he requested my cinnamon rolls.  The entire district loved his request and on his last Tuesday here, I baked and brought two pans of rolls and juice.  Everyone [including my sweet Elder Shaner] enjoyed the breakfast...we will miss this great leader.
Elder Rausa enjoying his 'last treat'
When Mark Prince and Emerson got their mission calls, we all realized they would be leaving together.  Some of the members have wanted to have a Family Home Evening at the Ulep home and with the timeline in place, planned it for last Tuesday.  The Ulep home is very humble with no electricity so we decided an afternoon would work best.  Sister Ulep invited some family, we brought a truckload of members and everyone enjoyed the afternoon.

Elder Munoz and Elder Ulep..they are happy, excited young men.

A little treat was enjoyed after the lesson.
Old MacDonald had a farm...e i e i oooooooo...I remember loving this song and I especially loved to hear our oldest daughter and her then 2 year old son sing it-she is a great singer and would start whereas Nicolas would answer with the animal sounds...he was such a cutie and LOVED to perform..

Growing up in Lincoln Nebraska, I never had the opportunity to visit a farm until I was in junior high.  One of my friends had an aunt and uncle who had a farm in rural Iowa and one summer while she was there, she invited me to join her for a week.  I took a bus to northern Iowa and we had the time of our lives!!  I probably learned to love the outdoors as a result of that week.  Randy's older sister Laura and her husband Neale live on a 'farm' in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska and my children all have fond memories of visiting there when they were small.  Well, the farms in the US are VERY different indeed than the farms here and this past week, in honor of Elder Breese's 80th birthday, we were invited to the farm of Brother and Sister Ramos.  They live a few miles from Cauayan and we all traveled to experience farm life as well as have a carabao ride!  All of us wanted to actually get close to a carabao and knowing this family and their animal, it was a great opportunity for us to have photo ops!!  Elder Breese was the first to hop on and he actually rode it as the carabao pulled us down the trail.  They have a great farm with lots of various business ventures but the ride was the highlight for sure.  One interesting note-the skin of the carabao is loose on it's body-as some of the shorter-legged women got on, the skin rotated and they felt the 'falling off' sensation.  Being tall and with long legs, I just got on the stool, lifted my leg over and sat down so I didn't have that falling was a fun experience indeed!!
Brother Ramos-the 'farmer'

The birthday boy ready to ride

This sweet couple will be going back to 'life before' soon-they will be misssed indeed

Getting ready to go-Sister Carlos has a tendency to scream, and I mean SCREAM
often and when this cart started to move, she squealed and of course, that
only startled the carabao more and away we went again-it was
a real experience for sure!!!

The farm group...we had such fun!!

This country is so beautiful...a tropical setting for sure...HOT AND HUMID!!

Isn't this a face only a mother could love??

Atop the tractor of the Philippines

I made it, mama!!!!

The farmhouse..very lovely indeed.

A mama with her 6 day old piglets...they were SO cute!!

In the Philippines, you can't just 'go visit' a person without being fed!
These people love to eat-this is Sid's birthday Meryenda-fried chicken, chicken
ingsal, pancit with boiled quail eggs, and my favorite-dessert sticky rice.

another mama with her baby

These are coconut trees getting ready to be planted-they produce their own little
trees bundles from starts and plant them into groves.
When we came home on Monday, we needed to go to Mabini to finalize an apartment move for a set of Elders.  These little girls were riding ahead of our truck and I loved the fact that the one on the back was responsible for the 'roof' of their vehicle.  

A cute couple of girls..

Children [and adults] LOVE to have their pictures taken..
With Elder Rausa's release and his return home, we had a transfer meeting last week and Elder Velez joins Elder Griffin as our new Zone Leader.  I teased Elder Griffin that 'this one won't fit in your pocket as well as Elder Rausa did!'  Elder Griffin is VERY tall and most Filipino's are not so the height difference is always noticeable with his companions.  I think you all remember the pictures I have posted in the past of Elder Griffin and Elder Rausa...Elder Velez is a little taller in body and equally tall in spirit.  We are very lucky to have his leadership in our district and look forward to learning from him for the next few months.  

Yesterday we had our first Zone Meeting with the new leaders and they did a great job!  One activity that I especially enjoyed was conducted outside in the parking lot-they all carried chairs and set up an obstacle course.  With each set of companions, one was blindfolded and they lined up on one side of the course-by listening carefully for the voice of their companion, they were 'led' through the course with verbal commands and it was amazing to watch as they each discerned the voice they knew and followed the instructions.  Some were more successful than others but it was a great lesson on following the familiar voice...their lesson was on Divine Companionships and the necessity for unity.  Elder Shaner and I were asked to tell a little about how our divine companionship has helped us on our mission.  46 years together is a big help!!!

Elder Velez and Elder Griffin..a new 'divine companionship'

Preparing for the obstacle course activity
I told you about my 'funeral' last week and to my surprise, this box arrived in the mission office on Tuesday!!  My dear friend and dentist, Kathy, sprang to action after last week's blog, when I posted that, I NEVER IN MY LIFE expected this reaction!  I was just sharing my week with you and when she emailed me to tell me what she had done, I WAS MORTIFIED!!!  Not only the expense of the unit [which embarrassed me totally as she had already given me one!!] but the postage to get it here and within a week!  I begged her not to do it can see she didn't listen too well.  I am so grateful for her and the friendship of that couple.  They are precious are we treasure their love and support.

One of my favorite times of year occurs twice actually-the first Sunday in April and again the first Sunday in October.  We have the General Conference of our church and it is a great opportunity to sit back and bask in the spirit as we are taught for 10 hours over the course of the Saturday and Sunday sessions about the things that are important for us in these latter days.  Our beloved prophet addresses us as well as other apostles and leaders.  Because of the time difference, the Philippines will broadcast the conference the weekend after it actually occurs and this past weekend was our conference, coincidentally landing on Easter Sunday.  The talks will all be remembered but the one that really hit me hard this spring was given by President Uchtdorf.  He talked about the importance of ceasing the destructive behaviors that plague each of us...destructive to our spirit, destructive to our characters, destructive to our relationships but most important, destructive to our progress in this life.  Our goal in this life should be to uplift, support, strengthen, revere, love and serve our fellowmen and by implementing his philosophy, we can become better servants for our Father in Heaven by helping His children to achieve their utmost potentials.

Thank you President Uchtdorf...I needed that!!!