Monday, July 6, 2009

Happy Independence Day America!

We're pleased to report that the Philippines celebrate America's Independence Day also. We didn't really expect anything; the Philippines received their independence from the United States many years ago, and as you recall, they celebrate Independence Day on June 12th. Well! We were surprised and delighted when the celebrating started on Friday the 3rd. Such a fireworks show as you can hardly imagine! We had just wrapped up our work day and were looking for a little supper. As we walked toward a restaurant community we were amazed at the lights in the sky! We stopped to watch--explosion after explosion--and after 10 minutes we decided to eat at an outdoor restaurant facing west so we could be entertained by the fireworks as we ate. Interestingly, they didn't seem to draw much attention from the locals; I guess we were appreciative enough for this million-plus city?

We couldn't imagine a better show on the 4th, but sure enough. Could it have been created for these six expatriates who were spending the weekend on Camotes Island? Where the show Friday night was toward the mountains, this one was over the ocean! It lasted for two hours! We were returning from our explorations when it began, and we finished watching it from the balcony at the hotel. Spectacular! I know--you're wondering where the pictures are to prove it. It was such an intense show that we were glued to it--couldn't take our eyes off it even to prove with pictures what we were experiencing.

Well, they were both lightening storms, but it seemed fitting to assign our Independence celebration to them. We, being true westerners, have not experienced electrical storms like those who've lived, say, in the mid-west. It's good to be wowed. The storm on Saturday night was a bigwow.

We giggled about writing a fireworks spoof as we ate our pizza on Friday night. The funny thing is that as I write this we're having yet another great storm. I'm sure for all the thunder that's shaking our office's stone floor, there is lightening out there somewhere, but from the office windows, just rain. I see blue sky to the east, and the rain has slowed from a turn-on-the-shower to vigorous-steady-sprinkle. No, it's still raining too hard to want to dash upstairs for lunch. This would definitely be considered a respectable rain in Boise.

At either end of the precipitation spectrum are these criteria: can we make a dash for it without getting soaked (light rain) and, can we still see the line down the middle of Salinas Dr. (torrential downpour).

All this "free" precipitation is noteworthy to desert creatures like us. I bet we've had more rain since we got here than Boise gets in a whole year. The Filipinos grumble about it--always carry an umbrella--are tormented by it, especially those whose homes aren't built to withstand the elements. I'm sure a lifetime of wet gives them a completely different perspective than ours. The missionaries go about their business very matter-of-factly in it. Most of them have "work shoes"--not very attractive--rubber--but very practical for the elements. If they will just wear their polishable leather shoes to church and zone meetings...

Our week's labors had a wonderful carrot out in front of them; Camotes Island. Scurry. Complete. Wrap up. Finish. Leave the office details taken care of for a few days. Not that we spend much time in the office on the weekends anyway, but it just felt right, and besides--who wants to return from a weekend away to last week's work?

Our ferry port was an hour's drive north in Danao City, and we needed to be ready to board an hour before the 5:00 departure. Now do your math; we didn't get much sleep Friday night, but our excitement seemed to generate energy enough.

Here we are, six senior LDS missionaries in our missionary-type Toyotas ready to load. It's a process here. In case you've take the ferries in the Seattle area--not quite like that. As you can see, we are still in full darkness at 3:45 am. I am snuggled under our pillows sleeping in the air conditioned car. Kevin will be off with the other fellows making the arrangements. Look what I missed for that quiet, snuggily sleep:

We've only seen one other complete sunrise since we got here because an unblocked eastern horizon is miles away.

Could sleep be better than this?

If you supervise the sunrise you're guaranteed an extraordinary day. I believe this so completely that on mornings at home when we're out walking along Mountain View Dr. as the sun is about to crest, I insist that Kevin and Sandi and I stand and wait to see that diamond of light come over the mountains.

I slept through this. We'll probably have to go to Camotes again.

Our 3-hour ferry ride included a new friend who turned out to be a savvy Camotes consultant. MonMon, "short for Emmanual, a Bible name" was in class 4 and knew a lot about his island, including where we'd want to buy souvineers, that there were small crocadiles in the lake, and even where the missionary's apartment was. He was lively and full of chatter, and would have been our tour guide all day (?!? definitely NOT a suspicious American child!) if we had just said yes. He declared himself a Catholic, sang us some songs about Jesus, and even got us singing the ones we knew. He liked Wurthers candy, but not banana bread with raisins. By the end of our trip he was feeling pretty comfortable with me--kind of snuggled up right next to me--hand on my shoulder, hand on my knee. I know. You're horrified. If it has been my first month here I'd have been horrified too--all that close touchy business with a stranger. MonMon was one cute, smart kid, and he sure helped the trip to Camotes go fast.

Thinking about MonMon, Filipinos are good at close; much better than Americans. Notice their close proximity in some of the jeepney pictures. Or picture this: one of the elders was notified this morning that his mother had passed away. He's come into the office and is sitting waiting for the City Zone Leaders to come. When the Zone leaders arrive, the Filipino ZL plops down beside him and puts his arm around him and hugs him as natural as could be. There is plenty to be learned here.

We pause now for our regular features of plant and jeepney of the week:

You probably recognize this fella from the plant section of Fred Meyer, or maybe you have a lone, spindily one in your livingroom that started its downward spiral the second you brought it home. This is a Croton from the Euphorbiaceae family. There are over 1200 species, and as you can see, what grows in a tropical climate is a far cry from what grows in a warm, dry, low-light home. It's the color--we love the vivid red and yellow leaves! I give you permission to put yours out of its misery. Just throw it out and get a plant that will thrive in indoor Boise conditions!

We see Crotons some in Cebu, but on Camotes they are planted along the sides of the roads like hedges. They might all be the same species, or there will be a variety. Either way it's like driving through an alley of plant fireworks for all the vibrant color. Could these shrubby splashes of color really be what you've seen around Boise?

Jeepney of the week: Oops! This isn't a jeepney, but a another mode of transportation on Camotes. Couldn't resist this Barbi boat.

Now for the real jeepney of the week:

Quite sporty, don't you think?

One gift that many Filipinos have is that of making you feel like royalty. Our hotel was, as you can see, most pleasing, but it was the people who took care of us that made it a treat. They were quite concerned about the lightening storm which knocked out the power, and were very sorry to have to move us to the 3rd floor for electricity purposes. No problem, and thanks for the bucket to wash our beachcombing treasures in.

My Little Island Hotel sits on a hill overlooking the ocean. Sorry, the high clouds make it hard to tell where ocean meets the sky, but trust us, you're looking at a breathtaking view of both out there beyond the green.

It seems a shame not to hang out and enjoy a nice resort like this. Look at that pool! It begged for a little attention from us, but no, MonMon had given us a vigorous tour itinerary for the day, so following breakfast we headed right out and didn't return until bedtime. We saw the lake--a little disappointing if your idea of a lake is cold, clear and pristine. No crocadiles either. This cave though--enchanting. We could walk right down into it, and the water in the pools was crystal clear and about knee deep. Sister Morgan and I hitched up our skirts and went wading. Unfortunately those photos could be used as incriminating evidence against highly respectable senior missionaries so they were edited out of this blog entry. Don't worry! We were completely respectable, just not very pretty about it. Oh talk about cool and refreshing though! Not cold by any means, and of course the air down there was thick with humidity, but still cooler than outside. I think I could have laid down and just floated around for a few hours. Kevin was taking the incriminating pictures.

Camotes is part of an ancient volcanic system. There are no craters, etc., but lave. I mean LAVA. Remarkably, they raise lots of corn there, planting between the lava sheets and boulders. Needless to say, there aren't rows of corn, but the fact that anything grows at all on that rocky island is something.

The shoreline alternates between black lava cliffs and white sand beaches. We experienced both; this very charming cliff park where we ate lunch, and Santiago Beach, which needed a good, American combing. You don't know what ocean treasures Mother Nature has left for you if you just walk out to the water's edge and stand looking at the horizon. You've got to mozy along--don't step on the starfish--head up to the high tide mark if it seems like there are no goodies at the water's edge. Do you need a piece of the ocean? There are plenty to share drying on our kitchen counter at this very moment.

The cliff park included slides and platforms for a quick ocean entrance, like this teenager. We behaved and just watched.


A Sunday morning photo shoot while we waited for breakfast to cook. Left to right--Elder & Sister Morgan, Elder & Sister Watkins and yours truly.

The sweetest part of the weekend defies a visual image; worshipping with the 30 church members and investigators in the Camotes branch. No matter where you are, there are probably church members meeting on Sunday morning to renew the covenant of baptism and grow in the gospel. Such was the case here. We met in a member's home. The music director sang the introduction and we all sang acapella. The Spirit obviously didn't mind our humble circumstances, because it was there in rich abundance. Testimonies were eagerly shared; it was a spiritual feast.

Then it was time to go home. Sigh. That's a sigh of utter contentment and gratitude for dear people to share a fine weekend with; beautiful, interesting sites to see, the ocean's treasures generously offered, souls filled.

The three amigos sitting on the ferry bench in front of the three amigas.

And as you can see, the sunset on the return

and pink clouds the welcomed the night, ended our weekend in Camotes as spectacularly as it began.

I think of you as I write, beloved family and friends, and tear up for knowing without a particle of doubt that we are God's children, here experiencing mortality for important eternal purposes. That we share this experience to learn from and teach each other. That we are most precious to Heavenly Father, who wants us to return to him more than we can imagine. That He has provided every tool we need to succeed in this mortal sojourn. We know this is true. We're grateful for the gospel and the opportunity to serve in the Philippines. Blessings on you and all you love. Elder and Sister Reed