After arriving back in Sydney we caught a ride home from the airport from Kate’s homestay mom, Mrs. Bell. Then the homestay families of Ryan, Kate, and myself and Sister Rosemary and the rest of the Solomon team met at The Coffee Warehouse restaurant for dinner. It was so nice to have everyone together and I was so excited to see half of the Wood’s family in attendance (the other half had already left for their holiday in Malta)! We filled two long tables, one for “the kids” and one for the adults and spent the night eating lots of Italian food, telling our homestay siblings about our time in the Solomons, and just joking around. After dinner the Solomon/Sydney team presented Ryan, Kate, and I each with a beautiful aboriginal style cross that was handmade for us. It was such a special gesture and while Ryan made a speech thanking everyone I immediately started tearing up as the reality of the end of my fellowship hit. I expressed to everyone my gratitude for opening up their homes to us and for making me feel like I have a family across the world now.
Ryan and I decided to spend our last day (Monday) in Sydney touring around the city one last time. We met Kate at the café her homestay family owns in the late morning for brunch. They own a cute café called bar Cortina that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner and is run by the family with Mr. Bell as head chef and his children helping out waiting tables. We began by ordering “proper coffees” as the Australians would say and then I enjoyed a delicious omelet made by Mr. Bell himself. Full of food and energy we got on a train to Miltons Point, located on the opposite side of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I had such a nice afternoon walking over the bridge, shopping around The Rocks for souvenirs, and sneaking into the lobby of the Sydney Opera House with Ryan and Kate. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed into the theaters but it was still so cool to just stand inside!
Taking a train home, I then experienced my favorite night in Sydney yet by going out to dinner with the Pow-Pooley’s. We went to a Chinese restaurant and it was really cool to see Mr. Pow order the food in Chinese. Our first course, a full pig, came out on a cart and the waiter cut it up in front of us and then served it to us in small pancakes. My favorite part of the dinner was just getting to know the family and to learn more about Australian lifestyle while sharing bits about life in the US as well. They had tons of questions about what it’s like going away to college, especially since Sarah will be attending SJSU in the fall on an exchange program. I had both Mr. and Mrs. Pow-Pooley go around and say one talent of their daughters and we all laughed when Rachel was declared talented at essay writing and computers. While they don’t know me well they insisted that my talent would be “flexibility at fitting into new situations” … I’ll take it! We stopped at the supermarket on the way home to buy Tim-Tams and when we got home the girls taught me how to melt and sip out the inside of the cookie by sticking it in a hot drink. They also MADE me try vegemite, declaring that I couldn’t leave Australia without doing so. They spread butter and vegemite on a cracker but I couldn’t taste it on my first bite. I should have left it at that … but when I told them I couldn’t taste it they added a lot more. I started tearing up and downed the cracker with a few classes of milk, disgusted by the super salty taste. That will definitely remain a once in a lifetime occurrence!
This morning Ryan, Kate, and I met and went for a run to the Sydney Olympic Stadium. It was so nice to spend the morning together and to get some exercise before a long plane ride! I’ve never experienced a feeling like this before in which I’m encountering a huge loss in leaving the time spent on my fellowship behind. I have a mix of grief over the ending of a series of life changing and unforgettable weeks and a feeling larger than happiness and gratitude over the opportunity to have had this experience. Amazing company has surrounded me through the entirety of my travels from my travel partner’s Ryan and Kate, the communities in Fanualama, Alegegio, and Auki, and the homestay families in Sydney. I thank all of them for making my fellowship such an enriching time and for making sure I felt comfortable and welcome. Not a day went by when I didn’t feel like I had learned and received so much from my hard work and the contributions of the communities I was so blessed to become a part of. The anxiety I feel in having to give up the reality of living in the moment and instead turn these moments into only memories proves extremely hard, yet I feel so lucky to bring all that I have learned and gained as a person back with me to my life in the US. Thank you Providence College and The Father Smith Fellowship for the journey you have given me.
From Sydney to the Solomons to Cairns and back!A few months ago I would never have guessed I would have one of the best vacations ever in a place I knew little about and with two people I barely knew. However, Cairns was an unexpected surprise filled with relaxation, beautiful views, delicious dinners, and amazing company. Kate, Ryan, and I couldn’t have been more on the same page than we were this weekend and we all had an unforgettable time. The plane from Sydney to Cairns flew by as we shared pictures from the past few weeks. Our very blunt taxi driver dropped us off at our hotel where we were welcomed by a large room with a king size bed and two singles. My favorite part though was the balcony overlooking the breathtaking ocean and mountain views. We arrived at the hotel at the perfect time just to see the sunset behind the mountains. As we ventured out to see Cairns we enjoyed a walk along the Esplanade, the boardwalk along the water, and checked out places for dinner while admiring the colorfully lit walkway of trees and the fire show going on. We settled on Barnacle Bills where Kate and I indulged in daintree barramundi fish and Ryan in crocodile and kangaroo.
Our early morning walk to the wharf the next morning presented the most beautiful sunrise over the ocean and mountains. We arrived to check-in for our Ocean Freedom Reef Cruise at 7:15 and we’re greeted by a friendly, energetic, and attractive crew. It was a calm and sunny two-hour ride to and from the reef and then we spent about two hours at each of the two different spots on the reef. At first we were disappointed to hear that because our first cruise booking had fallen through we would not be able to scuba dive unless we paid an extra 100 dollars but it worked out for the best. The snorkeling let us take in everything on the reef as the water was shallow and the scuba divers swam only a few feet below us. In our flippers, wet suits, and masks we jumped into the water with free range to swim around. The rainbow and parrotfish were my favorite and at times I could have reached out and grabbed a black and white stripped fish that I called the PC Friar Fish, from the school swimming by. At the first spot I saw a medium sized shark swim by at a distance away so I popped my head up to alert Kate. After that, we were back on the boat. But I didn’t let this stop me and at the next spot I was back in the water. This time I saw another shark and got only about 2 meters away from it to take a few pictures. The crew said I was “lucky” to have seen one… I’d say I’m lucky to still be here today. Especially when the shark was directly under me near the boat and Kate and Ryan threw a handful of prawns into the water to get the fish to surround me!
Friday night we visited a few spots recommended by one of the members of the crew and realized how much larger Cairns is than we thought! On Saturday we decided to spend the morning doing a quick jog down the Esplanade and then the afternoon by the lagoon, a large public swimming pool right on the ocean. I finally got my turkey sandwich I’ve been craving for the past five weeks (there wasn’t any turkey in the Solomons and Australians don’t really eat it) at a café next to the pool. A market of different vendors was set up along the lagoon, live music played all day, and everyone was out lying by the pool and on the grass. Kate discovered a food market on her walk and came back to the pool with fresh passion fruit, watermelon, and coconut water! Later in the day we all went back to the market and I got ingredients to make guacamole, which we enjoyed on the balcony at our hotel. Saturday night was one of my favorite memories of the trip. We had the best dinner at a seafood restaurant called Tha Fish, right on the pier overlooking the marina of beautiful yachts and sailboats. We shared stories of our best and worst family vacations and reflected on how extremely lucky we are to have this experience. Dinner started off with crab bruchetta and then we all ordered the Red Emperor, because if you’re at the Great Barrier Reef you need to eat a reef fish! We topped it off with tiramasu and coffee’s. Then we ended the night with a peaceful walk down the boardwalk admiring the city lit up at night and the stars above.
We woke up early Sunday morning to enjoy an hour by the pool and then left at 10:30 for our flight back to Sydney. I realized that Cairns conveniently fell at the end of my fellowship and allowed me time to stop and really reflect on how lucky I am to have experienced the last few weeks. If I had gone home directly from Auki I would have had to immediately talked about all I did and learned and would have felt overwhelmed. These past few weeks almost feel like a dream and Cairns allowed me time to myself to piece together all that has happened and to grow in gratitude. For all I have seen, the relationships I have made, the hard work that has been done, and the greater appreciation I have for my life, I thank the Father Smith Fellowship.
Ryan and I arrived in Sydney last night at 9:30pm after a layover in Brisbane. We were met at the airport by two of the girls from my homestay family, Sarah (20) and Rachel (22) Pow. I met Rachel when we went out in Sydney a few weeks ago but I was excited to be staying with a new family, even though the Wood’s were such good hosts! We dropped Ryan off at home and then the girls asked if I was allergic to dust as they warned me that they were having some construction done on their house. I walked in with my carry-on bag and backpack and immediately noticed how warm and homey their house felt, while they noticed how lightly I had packed for a month trip. Their dog reacted to me as if I was just another family member; not jumping or barking but enjoying the belly rub I gave him. I have done so much traveling around and staying in different homes that it seemed normal and comfortable to be in a strange home. I stayed up chatting a bit with the Pow-Pooley’s and then enjoyed sleeping in a queen’s size bed in my own room, cozy under the blankets! It also felt great to see the suitcase I had left at the Wood’s was brought over and I recovered my debit card from it.
I woke up, picked up Ryan, and we headed to the Rosary Lodge at Santa Sabina School to meet with Sister Rosemary, Anne, and Jane for a debrief session on the Solomons. It was a great chance for me to learn how to begin talking about my experience and putting it into words. Sister Rosemary seemed very pleased with the hard work that was done on my fellowship. I was happy to hear that the team wanted to continue my efforts on the library by sending books over. We discussed the type of books the students need and enjoy reading and some different methods of shipping the books over.
Around 3pm Sister Rosemary took Ryan and I to the Strathfield train station to pick up Kate, who was getting off a train from Newcastle. Kate has been in Australia for the past four weeks on her fellowship. She was so excited to see us waiting of her, dropped her bags, and gave us a huge hug! We went back to her homestay family’s house, the Bells, and secured our reservations for diving at the Great Barrier Reef. Then we had a chance to catch up about our trips so far but we left knowing there was so much more to tell each other and that we would have plenty of time in Cairns to do so.
Back at the Pow-Pooley’s, Mrs. Pooley made me a wonderful Italian dinner. My favorite part was the salad because I didn’t eat any in the Solomons. During dinner the new prime minister was announced. He is a man who challenged the current prime minister and essentially kicked her out of office. I was interested to hear about their political system because it is very different from the US. Then a big rugby match was on and after a bit of a run through of the rules during dinner I sat down with Sarah and Rachel to watch the game. It was New South Wales vs. Queensland and the second of a three games series between them. Unfortunately, the New South Wales team lost but they had won the game before so the series will continue. While watching the game Mrs. Pooley served us a delicious apple crisp. This was reminder to me that it is winter here! I tried to give Sarah some comforting advice because she will be attending a semester at San Jose State University in the fall on a study abroad for her junior year. Since the university students in Sydney commute and live at home this will be a completely new experience for her. We researched some clubs she can get involved in and played out hypothetical situations for meeting friends. I know she will love it! Climbing into my comfortable bed I am so excited for my trip to Cairns tomorrow! Stay tuned to hear about my next adventure to come J
The day and a half spent in Honiara gave us time to relax and get prepared to leave the Solomons. This was the first morning we did not attend mass in the past three weeks and it felt so strange not to have to jump out of bed at the sound of my alarm. This was probably the first shock to me that my time in Auki was really over and that I would have to transit into a different lifestyle. After a nice breakfast Brother Roger showed up and took Ryan, Sister Rita, and I to the Honiara market. As we walked around doing some shopping for souvenirs and groceries, Ryan made a comment to me that Brother Roger was like our bodyguard. It was so true! He kept a distance away from us so that we could do our shopping but was always looking over to make sure we were finding our way around all right.
We had made plans to meet up with some of the students from Auki in the Honiara market because they are there on holiday. I was disappointed when we didn’t see them because I figured Ryan and I would be easy to spot. However, when we arrived home Sister Rita received a phone call saying they would be stopping by. I was SO happy to see them, especially Betty, Wendy, and Myboy. This was our final goodbye to our friends from Auki but it meant a lot for them to make the long walk to the sister’s house to see us. Meeting up in Honiara showed that I had developed a true friendship with these students.
Next, Brother Roger took us on a 15 minute drive to Tenaru, where Saint Joseph’s secondary school is located. He have us a tour of the school because his parents used to teach there so he lived on the grounds when he was younger. The students were all on holiday but it was nice to see another boarding school that I could compare to Alegegio. In the back of the school was a large rice plantation that the students help harvest. Ryan and I stepped inside for a quick picture and then saw what happens in terms of drying out the rice seeds and breaking them open with a machine. Then Ryan attempted his coconut tree climb … but lets just say it didn’t help his self-esteem.
After lunch at the friary where Brother Ryan is currently living as he waits for his visa to return to PNG, we returned home for a rest. As I was sitting outside reading a group of eleven white people, yes I counted, ran up the street next to the sister’s house. This was the largest amount of white people I had seen in a month! I ran inside laughing to show Ryan and we got a boost from their effort at exercise that we both decided to do some of our own. We took Ryan’s laptop down underneath the sister’s house to the cement landing below and did a P90x kickboxing video that he had. The self defensive skills it taught from “hook jab kick” left me a bit sore and feeling ready to protect myself in any situation.
Sister made us a wonderful farewell dinner with plenty of good food and she invited the Pilipino missionaries who are currently spending 2 weeks in Honiara to join. She cooked a reef fish by scaling it with a fork and then baking the whole fish. Then she just cut it into pieces and we had to take a piece and try to dish out the meet for in between the many bones. Despite the effort at not swallowing a bone, it was delicious. You can ask Ryan.. I’m pretty sure he was out of breath and sweating from eating so much, so fast. Brother Roger and I called a halftime to digest and then went back for more.
The next morning I got a chance to finally Skype with my family for the first time since I have been to the Solomons. My Mom was a little too excited and asked me if I had seen any shells in Hawaii… Hawaii? Really Mom? Then Brother Roger showed up at 9am with fish and chips for Ryan and I. I guess its never too early and we had to have some before we left! Then we left for the Honiara airport, walked right up to the check in counter, said goodbye to the Sister’s and Brother and walked through the doors to security. Security was one bag check on a conveyer belt and then we were led into a small waiting room with a souvenir and duty free shop. When the sliding doors opened we were asked to board the plane. We walked outside and Ryan took my picture walking up the stairs onto the plane, waving goodbye to the Solomon Islands. Leaving Auki was definitely more of an emotional time because that is where I had become a part of the Solomon community but I still had a small sinking feeling as the plane took off the ground. Aboard the plane I got my first taste of air conditioning in quite a while and from there on the two flights to Sydney went smoothly and comfortably.
With Sunday mass not starting until 9am and my body clock waking me up nice and early, I went for an early morning run to the Lilisiana beach. It was the perfect way to begin my last day in Auki as I sat on the beach admiring the beauty of the island, watching the sun begin to rise, and thanking God for the countless blessings I have received over the past few weeks.
At Church, the statue of Joseph was carried up to the altar and Bishop commented that in this year of faith the Pope has declared that a recognition of Joseph be added to the mass. This was really special to me because on the day I left for my fellowship my Mom took me to the Shrine of Saint Joseph and today I closed my stay in Auki with this news. As Saint Joseph is the saint of hard work, it confirmed the hard work I have accomplished on my fellowship so far. The mass concluded with Bishop presenting two beautifully crafted crucifixes to Ryan and I. While all the generous gifts I have received mean so much because of the memory they hold of the person that has given them to me, I feel like I am receiving much more than I deserve. The people of the Solomon Islands have already given me so much love, knowledge, and faith that what I could have possibly contributed to their lives could never match up.
After our belongings were set to go we rode in Bishop’s truck to the wharf. The Discovery ferry was already there and we spent a few minutes saying our last goodbyes. As I gave Sister a long last hug I wished I didn’t have to let go and as I looked back I saw Agatha wiping tears from her eyes. I told Agatha it was not goodbye but lookim you behind (see you later). Standing on the top deck of the boat so many different emotions rushed through me and my heart and stomach turned. Ultimately I am sad to have to leave the family I have created but extremely happy and would not change a thing about my experience, blessed to have been given the gift of this fellowship, aware of an increased growth and confidence in my faith and myself, and enriched with all that the Solomons has opened my eyes to as I discovered a place a world away from home. Pulling out from the wharf and seeing all of Auki and Lilisiana spread out there were no words. On the beach of Lilisiana I saw a small white cross-positioned on the sand and I took this as my last image of Malaita Island. I knew from this the strong presence God has had in my life the past few weeks and the protection he will provide for the people I am leaving behind.
The ferry ride was enjoyable as Ryan and I sat outside discussing all we hope to accomplish in terms of self-improvement and admiring the scenic landscape we sailed past. I took Ryan’s picture along side a “Children must be supervised by an adult at all times” cracking up because we both know how much I have taken care of him J You’re welcome Mrs. Frazier and Father Robb! We stared into the ocean realizing that in less than a week we would be in Cairns diving into the Great Barrier Reef! Living so close to the water this past month and all the swimming, the long canoe trip, and the ferry rides, might have helped me conquer my fear of deep water. We’ll see! After a four-hour ride we were met by Sister Rita and Deacon Roger at the Honiara wharf and drove back to Rosalina, the Dominican Sister’s house. I currently feel like I am living in a palace, as the house is very spacious and gives me the option of a hot or cold shower. I still chose cold though because a shower here is more than just a way to get clean. It’s also a way to cool off! Dinner was delicious and now Ryan and I are sitting at the kitchen table relaxing and catching up on writing our posts. I’m holding onto the fact that I still have over a week of my fellowship and so much to still see and experience!
Pulling out of Fanualama at 6am Bishop joked that hopefully we wouldn’t hit traffic on the way to Dala. I told him I felt like that was something my Dad would say as we left bright and early for a trip down to the beach. We were on our way to Dala to celebrate the closing mass for the inter-religious youth rally that had taken place there this week. Dala was situated right on the water as many villages in the Solomon’s are. It was great to meet up with Phillip and Gaby again after they had been away at the retreat. It only made me think however that if I missed them after not seeing them for 3 days I would really miss them after I leave tomorrow. While we ate breakfast at the priest’s house in Dala, we joked with the boys about “going fishing” for girls at the retreat and Bishop commented that they were on more of a honeymoon than a retreat. Gaby threw back that there were no good fish in the sea!
On the ride home I definitely would have fallen asleep but the bumpy road kept me awake. Bishop commented that it looked like I needed a good nap, and probably some R and R too (rest from religion).
Back at home I spent the early part of the afternoon helping to wash down and sweep the chapel with Joe, Simon, and Bishop. On the ride back from Dala I had told Bishop that I loved to clean and I think he really took that to mind when he put me in charge as “expert cleaner”. I gave credit for my cleaning skills to my mom for always leaving me a list of chores to do when I came home from school. Then I wrote a few letters to those closest to me in Fanualama that I would share later in the night.
At 2pm we piled into Bishop’s truck and drove down to the river to wash the truck and have a swim. It started raining as we got there, a common occurrence whenever we go for a swim it seems, but we all had so much fun. While cleaning Joe, one of my students, kept throwing buckets of water on me. Then we all went for a swim and jumped off the bridge again into the river. Joe found a raft that had been handmade and Agatha and I floated around on it, letting the river drift us away. Seeing Sister covered in soap was probably one of the funniest moments of the day and I joined her to wash up. This is the typical shower for the Solomon people and I was happy to participate!
When we arrived back at Fanualama I finally got that nap in and then it was time for our farewell dinner. Sister and Agatha had worked very hard preparing the kai kai as well as Issac and Simon. The dinner began with Bishop welcoming everyone and giving us an outline for the night (a tradition in the Solomons). First, Uncle Ben gave a small speech, mostly acknowledging the Bishop for being the one to bring all us together, and then he said grace. After devouring rice, barbequed tuna, sausage, pana pudding, beans, cucumber, and melon and washing it down with a solebrew, several people stood up to give speeches wishing us good travels and reflecting on our time here. It is customary to give speeches and to apologize in them if anything was done to hurt or offend the visitor during their stay. Phillip took on that role in his speech as he spoke on behalf of the students. We received more than generous gifts of jewelry from Agatha, John Baptist, and Phillip and a handmade t-shirt from Gladys and Ben. Whenever you are given a gift in the Solomons the giver immediately puts in on you. Then Ryan and I said our own speeches. I had prepared mine ahead of time because of my tendency to cry. So much for that, because I still cried as the boys sang a farewell song to us that they had composed themselves. It was beautifully done, biding us “Separation will come, so we sing you a song, it’s a song of farewell, it’s a song of our love. Though you leave us now, may our prayers be with you, in heaven we’ll meet again”.
Before bed Sister and I stayed up talking a bit and she told me how as a teacher she makes about 900-1000 Solomon Dollars every other week. This would convert to about 150-175 American dollars. I was shocked but only respected her even more for the hard work she puts into her teaching and the simple happiness which she lives her life. I can only expect a restless night tonight as I anticipate having to say goodbye to my family here in Auki tomorrow.
The morning started off with mass and then stacka (plenty) of sliced bread for breakfast with the priests before they all left. I learned that the pidgin language they speak came from the natives attempt to communicate with the US marines. They refer to it as “broken English” and they say stacka to mean plenty because there would be stacks of boxes lined up… makes sense! After breakfast Ryan and I made a quick trip to the telecom, bank, and market.
When I arrived home I found Agatha about to leave for the cathedral to visit the shop there and buy a Mother Mary statue to send to another village. I walked down with her so that I could see the “store” which was really just a closet of religious items for sale. On the walk Agatha explained to me that jewelry from her area, Ari Ari, uses small shell money but jewelry from Langa Langa, where is Auki is located, uses a more extravagant style. Then we took the statue to the wharf so that she could put it on the discovery ferryboat. At the same time Sister Loretta showed up at the wharf with the Deputy and one of the teachers to wait for some supplies that were arriving on the boat from New Zealand for Aligegio. Of course, the boat was running on Solomon time and after waiting around for about 45 minutes we decided to “walk about”. In town, Sister said she was hungry and pulled me into a small restaurant where Agatha, Sister, and I enjoyed greasy but satisfying fish and chips for lunch. Back at the wharf the boat still hadn’t showed up and we stood around the bettlenut tables chatting with some of the priests also waiting for the boat to arrive. Many of them tried to convince me try the bettlenut but I responded that I liked my white teeth (the bettlenut turns your mouth red).
I left Sister to wait for the boat and drove with Uncle Ben back to Fanualama. The students were there cooking lunch in Sister’s kitchen hut and I spent time with them. Wendy braided my hair into two Solomon braids and I tried the student’s lunch, sandpaper bush cabbage, which was just leaves they took off a bush and boiled with salt and chicken flavored noodles. Mercy told me that she would remember me when we left by playing the limbo game we had taught her.
While I was dancing outside with the students Bishop called me up to his house and Lebo presented the painting I had requested he make for me. Lebo is a very talented artist who not only did all of the artwork within the chapel and cathedral here but also built the chapel as well. I asked for a painting of the chapel with the Solomon sea in the back… the perfect souvenir! Afterwards Bishop made me Gaby’s favorite drink, water with freshly squeezed Mandarin juice and loads of sugar, and he gave me a tour of his house, commenting on the fact that he gets hot water for his showers…even though a hot shower is never really needed in this weather.
Sister summoned me to the school and when I met her there she was in the library surrounded by about six boxes of books and a table full of 5 new computers sent over from New Zealand!! I was thrilled to see that they had actually received the computers the deputy told me about. It was also a great chance for me to teach Sister how to shelve and catalog the new books that arrive.
During the evening I attended my last aerobics class with Agatha. At class the music flash drive fell into the speakers and I got handy by unscrewing the back of the speakers using tweezers that one of the ladies had and shaking it out. I also got to lead opening and closing prayer and the aerobics teacher, Angela, said she would meet me at the wharf on Sunday to say goodbye. Part of my excitement for this fellowship was that my time here would be longer than any other trip I had taken before and I could really immerse myself in the community. I definitely felt a part of the Auki community as I left class today, realizing that I am not only saying goodbye to a spiritual community at the church, but also an academic community at school, and a social community at aerobics and with the students.
Over dinner Ryan and I dominated the conversed about our days as he explained the excitement from his last day at Kiliuffi where he held pressure on a woman’s face for 45 minutes after she had been stabbed and was loosing blood. I told him saving someone’s life wasn’t a bad way to end his time there! We stayed up late watching Bridesmaids and Friends and then headed to bed.