We are settled into our apartment, our truck, and our branch. It is time to get to work, but first I’ll tell a little about our living arrangements and events of the past week. Gaye and I are still sort of dazed. Are we really doing this? What have we got ourselves into? Now what?
|2013 Toyota Tacoma 4WD|
We departed Salt Lake on Monday morning (November 19, 2012, for the record). We were almost late, but almost doesn’t count. The flight to Atlanta was about 3 hours, we had about 50 minutes to get from the A terminal to the E terminal and down a very long hall to our gate to board for San Juan. Then we sat on the tarmac for another hour+ as mechanics replaced a leaking oil seal in one of the engines on our 757, which made our arrival in San Juan one hour later than planned. We were met at the airport by Elder and Sister Tower from the mission office in two cars. There was also one YTFM (young full-time missionary) on our flight. We did not see him on the plane or in the Salt Lake airport, but he popped out and asked us if we were headed the same place he was. Name tags have already proven helpful.
Elder Tower drove our vehicle, Sister Tower drove the Peterson’s, who are assigned to the same mission and have become our friends from the first encounter at the MTC, and we wove our way through the streets of San Juan to the Mission Home, only getting lost twice. There we met Sister Alvarado and President Alvarado, our new mission parents. They are both native to Puerto Rico and fluently bilingual. He has been an area 70, stake president, and CES coordinator in his 39 years. He was also a consultant for Franklin/Covey, so I am sure we will be focused on organization and plans, etc. That is good. We had a nice bowl of soup and fell into our bunk beds. The mission home is a beautiful large home in a gated community (with locked gates and an armed guard) where the Alvarado family lives and President has an office. There are three beautiful children in the family, two girls and a boy. Kerrianne, the oldest, is learning the ‘cello and when I mentioned that I play the violin she asked me if I could help her tune her instrument. Happily I assisted her.
Tuesday morning we were up and fed a nice breakfast of something traditional, then off to the mission office. There we met most of the staff and had a few hours of training from Elder Tower. Hs is an interesting guy, a former attorney for 18 years and a judge for 20. He is a counsellor in the mission presidency and travels with his wife every weekend to a different island to visit the branches, check with and interview the missionaries, and be the eyes and ears for President for that part of the mission. He talks like a judge, sort of rambling and exploring every corner of a discussion. Bless his heart, he took about 3 hours to discuss what I think I would have done in 30 minutes. We had a nice light lunch, learned how to submit vouchers for expenses we would be reimbursed for, and were taken to the airport for our flight to our assigned island.
|From inside our apartment|
Tortola. We are going to the British Virgin Island’s main island of Tortola. It is about 3 miles wide and 15 miles long, a 30 minute flight from San Juan, very close to the USVI island of St Thomas. The Peterson’s are going to St Thomas. The flight was to leave at 1640 in the afternoon (that is 4:40 pm to most Americans, but I like to use the military 24 hour clock designations, so get used to it). We were there plenty early to get checked in, but I was a little concerned because we were a couple of pounds overweight but winked through at Salt Lake. The airline rep said the scale was not working, hefted our bags by hand, and said we were fine. Whew! There is about $100 charge for a bag that is 51-70 pounds, which one of ours surely was. Then we went directly to gate 17 to board and fly.
Schedules are sort of relative here, according to the “old-timers” so I was not concerned that there was nobody at the gate but us. Time passed, we made a few last-chance phone calls because we would be outside the reach of our AT&T phone zone, 1620 passed, then 1630, and then there was an announcement on the PA: “Will Peterson party of two check into Gate 16 and make your identity known. We are in the final stages of boarding. Peterson party of two.” I thought that was interesting that the Peterson’s were late. Then I felt that I should go over there and make sure they meant Peterson and not Patterson. (I am learning to recognize those little feelings better. I am very grateful for those promptings from The Holy Ghost.) The gate attendant looked at me, asked for identification, and responded to my query, “Oh, I meant Patterson. I announced the gate change some time ago.” I thought, “Not since 1600 you didn’t.” but I said nothing. We were the last ones on the plane, for the third time.
The story goes on and on. We enjoyed the hop to Beef Island where the airport is located, next to Tortola. Head for the customs gate, (No photos allowed! Put that camera away!), get in a line, pass through customs, how long will you be staying here, what is your purpose for coming to BVI, what will you be doing here, where will you be staying--any traveller to another land knows the routine. No problem with most of the questions, but I had no idea where we would be staying, except in an apartment somewhere on the island. The official at the window was not about to let us through until we told her where we would be staying. She called her supervisor over for a conference. She told us and the official we lived at some place called Rocky Point. OK, fine. We passed through, met our new branch president and Elder Bob and Sister Terri Bonilla, who will be headed back to Southern California in two days. It was a warm welcome and we are anxious to get to know these people and other members of the branch. We have since learned that nobody on the island has real street addresses. We will live at Whelks Point, Denise Stoutt’s apartment building, #3. Everybody knows Denise Stoutt, our landlord.
The apartment is beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I was sort of expecting something between the campout experience of Peru and the resort of IRTRA in Guatemala where we stayed on some of our dental humanitarian visits, but more on the primitive side of the scale. It is a two-bedroom with a commanding view of the ocean and several islands a couple of miles away. Right below us is Paraqueet Bay, a designated safe harbor for boats to come into when there is a hurricane. We have air conditioning in every room, cable TV (which I think is a waste adn a distraction but Gaye needs her Fox News fix every night), a modern kitchen and bathroom, and internet access thanks to a neighbor’s wireless zone. He doesn’t mind us using it, but it is rather slow. I think we need to upgrade that if we can.
Since our arrival we have been taken on a tour of the island by the Bonilla’s and participated in Mutual at the church. We have met and worked with the YFTM's who are assigned here. They are good boys and act like they do not get enough to eat but are very well-mannered and gracious. They also drive a 4WD Toyota Tacoma, but ours is brand new and theirs is a few years old. In fact ours has only 160 miles on it! Really brand new. More about driving on the island later. There are some strong members here, like Frank and Tau Kalama and their two teenage kids. Frank has been the branch president for almost 10 years and there is nobody to take his place. They came from Laiea Hawaii 13 years ago and stayed. Tau has a very good job working in an off-shore banking operation. Frank is a RM and very strong in his testimony and commitment to the Church here. We also met a few of the youth and some of the other adult leaders. Three families went to the temple in Dominican Republic last month and the branch has two missionaries out with one more about ready to go. We will need to help him get clothing and things he will need for his mission. The general state of the people is not abject poverty but not much extra, either.
So here we are. The Bonilla’s have departed and we are on our own. The truck is an American model but traffic drives on the left side of the road, so the driver is over the left edge of the very narrow highway. There is a road along the edge of the beach that goes around the island but most of the terrain is almost straight up and down. Streets are barely wide enough for one-way traffic but it goes both ways. The climbs up and down the streets are like driving the jeeps at Moab, but with dense foliage and very sharp turns and lots of traffic.
Stay tuned. There is lots more to come.