Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving Altar


This is a picture taken of the altar in the church where Eric has been preaching for the past few months. All the fruits and vegetables on the altar are fresh and grown locally. It was truly a beautiful
Thanksgiving display!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since catching a flight back to the Micronesian islands for Thanksgiving isn't an option for our students due to the cost, the staff brought the dishes for a huge Thanksgiving feast. About 100 of us gathered in the large teaching room at PIBC. Karyn and the girls had purchased Chuukese skirts for the event. These are the traditional skirts most of our female students wear at ALL times (playing basketball, football, swimming in the ocean, etc.). The new outfits were met with broad smiles of delight. Unfortunately, Katie (ten years old) had the flu and so she stayed on the floor of Eric's office watching DVD's on his laptop. All the traditional fare was represented at this feast; but interestingly, the students didn't seem too thrilled with what they saw. It was funny to watch them gravitate towards the HUGE dish of white rice and the platter of fish heads and tails. Perhaps this is how it was at the First Thanksgiving when the Indians and Pilgrims shared a meal. Perhaps each gravitated towards the food reminiscent of childhood and yet all gathered together in a spirit of thanksgiving.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Scorpians, Snakes, and Spiritual Emphasis Retreat

It was the Spiritual Emphasis Retreat for the students. PIBC rented a private campground on Rios Beach and the students and some staff spent all day Saturday and Sunday at the seashore. On Saturday morning there was a three hour time of silence and solitude. We wanted the students to experience this spiritual discipline because it is COMPLETELY foreign to them. You have to remember they come from tiny villages and sleep with up to forty people in two-bedroom huts or concrete “houses.” There is no such thing as privacy or solitude. The solitude was definitely an act of discipline for them. On the other hand, they were thrilled when told there was “plenty of spam” for the weekend. They were not so happy when told there would be no shower facilities. Our Micronesian students shower three times a day (yes, you read that correctly). This retreat was a time for staff to build relationships and have conversations that wouldn’t happen in the classroom. There were profound discussions that took place that we will write about another time. After the evening time of fellowship, the Sorenson clan had to head home because Eric had to preach Sunday morning and the girls had to sing.

Eric had left earlier in the evening to work on his sermon. As the kids and I headed home, we decided to stop at PIBC to pick up some boxes that had FINALLY arrived from the states (sent six weeks ago!). Unfortunately, because of the students being at the campground, the front gate to the college was locked. Fortunately, there was a guy who works at the college sitting in front of his house inside the grounds. I yelled, asking him if he would open the gate for us. The girls both got out of the car and were hanging on the gate and saying they could climb it for me. (I shudder as I think about this because there was a snake lying on the top of the gate!). The worker walked across a small field and let us in. Two minutes later we were leaving the campus with the boxes in our trunk. As we were about to drive out, I stopped the car and told Christian (sixteen years old) to hop out and lock the gate behind us. At that moment Noelle (seven years old) yelled, "Look! There's a snake!" We all looked and saw nothing. (A brown tree snake is skinny and this one was lying flush with the chain-link gate). I asked, "Are you sure?" "I'm positive," she retorted. With my headlights still on the gate, I hopped out and walked toward the gate and sure enough, there was a brown tree snake (a venomous menace to Guam which was accidentally brought in from the Solomon Islands--see article excerpt below). I shouted to the worker, "Hey, there's a brown snake here, do you want to kill it?" The worker jumped up so fast your head would spin! He was grabbing whatever was handy--which happened to be a flimsy plastic rake. In the meantime, the kids had all hopped out of the car and the snake was now nervous, so it started heading down the INSIDE of the chain-link pole of the gate. Fortunately, the thing was four feet long so it gave Christian and me time to think before it was going to COMPLETELY disappear inside that pole. And then, Christian exclaimed, "I'm going to grab it by the tail so it can't get away." Sure enough! He grabbed the serpent’s tail and held tight. Once the worker had reached us with the rake, Christian pulled the snake out of the pole and flung it to the ground. The worker began stabbing the snake with the flimsy plastic rake but this didn't stop the snake; it only ticked it off. The serpent was shaking its tail at us like a rattler! I ran for my camera, and at one point, as I was focusing on taking the picture, I noticed the dumb thing was heading straight for me (got to about 2 feet from my flip-flop clad feet!) and, of course, I started screaming which made Noelle promptly declare, "This is scary, I'm waiting in the car!" The guy again trapped the thing with the rake and instructed Christian to lift the snake up by its head, which Christian accomplished successfully (thus the somewhat cool picture I was able to take of him holding the live snake). Then the worker told Christian to hold the snake's head on the ground while the man proceeded to step on it with his foot (he too was wearing flip flops). This, of course, only managed to injure and annoy the snake, not kill it. Finally, Christian came up with the bright idea of running the snake over with the car (which was idling a few yards away). The man tried to stay the snake with the rake while I proceeded to go forwards and backwards over the snake. Still the snake would not die; it only got thinner!!! So, they instructed me to drive the car on top of the snake and LEAVE the tire on it for a while. That finally did the trick, and the vile viper was vanquished.

When I relayed our snake story to the staff the following day, they told me, “Two female students sleeping in two different tents, were bitten by scorpions during the night because they left their tent flaps open; but this is better than last year when a brown tree snake bit one of the female students during the night.” Sure hope next year, during the Spiritual Emphasis Retreat, Eric will be obligated to preach Sunday morning so we “can’t” spend the night!! By the way, don’t let this deter you from visiting us.

The Brown Tree Snake, Wildlife Services, November, 2001 (aphis.usda.gov)

The brown tree snake was accidentally introduced to Guam in the late 1940s or early 1950s, probably from the Solomon Islands. A native of Australia, Papua New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands, the brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) is a dangerous threat to the economy and ecology of Guam and is the subject of a cooperative program to control snake populations on Guam and prevent its spread throughout the Pacific Rim.

Biology

Brown tree snakes are about 15 inches at hatching and may reach 10 feet in length as adults. Most brown tree snakes are 3 to 4 feet long. This snake is a rear-fanged semiconstrictor and is mildly poisonous. Both constriction and venom are used to help immobilize prey.

The snake's venom trickles into a bite victim along grooves in the rear fangs. Because of the relatively small size and position of the fangs, a brown tree snake must chew to allow the fangs to penetrate the skin.

The brown tree snake is extremely abundant on Guam, with localized estimates sometimes reaching 20 or more snakes per acre of jungle. These population density estimates are among the highest snake densities ever recorded.

Damage

The brown tree snake has caused extensive economic and ecological damage to Guam. It is responsible for numerous power outages across the island each year. This species is an opportunistic feeder and has eradicated most of Guam's native forest birds.



Monday, November 12, 2007

Jungle Golfing

Our son, Christian (16 years old) LOVES to golf. Since we have been on Guam, he has not played because it does not fit in our budget. Poor Christian! Consistently he takes his golf clubs into the backyard and swings them to and fro. When he has saved enough money, he goes to the driving range. Unfortunately, although he’s been on Guam for three months, he has yet to golf.

To our delight, we discovered a “cheap” place to golf on Guam. $18.00 for 18 holes and a golf cart! Yippee! Now, on special occasions, perhaps Christian would have his golf game. Well, Veterans' Day came along and I (Mom) said, “Christian, how about we treat you to a game of golf to reward you for your 4.0 this quarter?”

With great excitement Christian packed our Hyundai not forgetting huge bottles of water filled to the brim with ice. Additionally, we did not forget the hand-held water mister, also filled to the brim with ice. This would be a great day for golfing—only 82 degrees with 82% humidity (cool for Guam). I should have realized I was in big trouble when, by the time we finished the first hole, all the ice had melted. Not to be deterred, we pressed on. The course was wide and fairly straight which made it “easy” (Golf easy? Sounds like an oxymoron, I know!). Let me tell you, though, if your ball veered outside the rough, there would be NO POSSIBLE WAY of EVER finding it. The edges of the rough were lined with jungle so thick a sane person would NEVER venture into them!

During the first three holes you could hear the occasional shouts as I yelled, “Aaahhh! I beat you on that drive!” Or, “Ohhh!!! Did you see that putt?!!!” (I have been told by some that I am rather competitive). By the fourth hole, I was concentrating so hard on keeping the golf club from flying out of my hands due to the sweat running down my arms that it was too difficult to talk. To my relief, God must have felt sorry for me because He sent a torrential rain storm that lasted about 15 minutes. Oh, did that feel good! (Guam averages about 100 inches of rain a year compared to San Francisco’s 20 inches, just to give you a visual).

Quickly, we headed for a cement “bunker” (a tiny building with cement overhangs on each side) where we had a “lovely” conversation with two Asian gentlemen who explained where I should buy fresh fish and how to fix tilapia. Furthermore, they kindly explained,

“If you ever get stung by a “rabbit fish,” be sure to urinate on yourself since the alkaline in the urine will counteract the acid in the sting. For that matter, you should do the same thing if ever you are stung by a centipede.”

“Excuse me?!” I asked as the mosquitoes munched away at me and huge banana spiders loomed overhead, “Are you talking about the little three-inch-long brown things that I find in my house all the time?”

“Oh yes”, they responded. “They have quite a sting and the ones that are larger than six inches have enough venom in them to kill you. You’d probably live through it, being an adult and all, but a
child would be killed. The big ones live in places like this,” they instructed pointing to the jungle bordering the rough. (You better believe we won’t be going after any stray balls!!!).

After this pleasant encounter I noticed the other ten golfers also huddled under the bunker. What were they wearing? No shirts (literally), tank tops and tee shirts. Immediately I snapped at Christian, “The
next time we go golfing, I’m wearing my bikini!!!” To which Christian promptly (and a little too loudly and with too much vehemence and with one of the most ghastly faces I’ve seen) replied “Ewwww!” (Don’t worry! I don’t even own a bikini—but I do own a tank top, which is what I’ll wear next time—IF there’s a next time!).

Now, we were somewhat cool and sopping wet as we continued on the back 9. “What kind of birds are those on the fairway?” we wondered. Nope, not birds but six-inch long frogs--not to be outdone by the large crab meandering by, and the wild chickens flitting here and there. Ten minutes later (no longer wet or cool), we were trying to maneuver around water puddles on the fairway. It rains so much on Guam that there is no way for the earth to absorb the rain quickly. It took us a couple of times of landing in the “sand” bunkers to realize that it wasn’t brown/red dirt in the bunker as we had thought, but sand completely packed down from all the water, making it like concrete. There were some 18-inch-deep open trenches around some of the bunkers to help the water drain. Every cart came equipped with a ball cleaner AND a club cleaner which we needed after EVERY stroke. There is no way you can imagine the mud and water all over the ground, the
clubs, the balls and our bodies!

By hole 14, Christian’s query of, “What d’ya get?” was met with, “Anything you want to give me—is there
ice anywhere?” By hole 16 I had only enough energy to swing the club and I could have cared less where the ball landed. As far as I was concerned, the balls flying outside the rough were my donation to the centipedes, banana spiders and brown tree snakes of the jungle. By hole 17, I was catatonic, no longer speaking or playing golf—only desperately seeking the meager shade of palm trees. Additionally, I have naturally curly hair and between the rain, my sweat, and the humidity, my hair looked like a rat’s nest and for that matter, I honestly looked like something the cat dragged in. Christian was grinning from ear to ear declaring, “That’s the best game of golf I’ve ever played! I scored a 96!” This was met by my catatonic stare.

I can hardly wait to go back and play again! (meant to be read with extreme sarcasm).

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Price of Freedom

A couple of Sundays ago, while Eric was still State-side working on his doctorate, the kids and I visited a local church that had a significant number of military families in attendance. Towards the end of the service, there was a time of open prayer. A mother with children approximately two, ten and 13 years old began to pray. She prayed that God would be with her husband (who apparently had been recently deployed). As she prayed she broke down in tears. Following the prayer, the congregation sang, "Faith of our Fathers" and we watched as this family clung to each other and cried. The 13 year old boy, in particular, was having a really hard time. It was a very painful and yet poignant reminder of the price that is paid for our freedom. Here, in flesh and blood, not on a television screen, was a real family--a Christian family, painfully separated by war. That picture has never left my mind. It was a disturbing picture; one that upset my own children and prompted a lot of discussion around the dinner table. I know I have seen pictures of families distraught because of having lost their "daddies." However, I had never witnessed (or pathetically, even thought about) the loss, fear, and loneliness these families face on a daily basis when a parent is deployed. I hope I never forget that disturbing and painful picture of that family's suffering. I hope that this will make me more grateful for my freedom and that I will pray more diligently for the military men and women AND their families.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

It's a Bird! No, It's a Plane! No, It's. . .

There we were on Andersen Air Force Base, 85 degrees, Halloween night, dressed in shorts, tank tops, and flip flops. Our memories of Halloween have always been bundling up in the warmest clothes possible because, without a doubt, we were going to be cold (and this was in California, mind you!). One of the greatest feats was trying to make sure the kids would be warm enough in their costumes. This Halloween, we had to try to figure out what costumes wouldn’t cause heat exhaustion! We had to be sure to bring water bottles with us, knowing how quickly one dehydrates in Guam’s heat no matter the time of day or night! And, this was definitely the first time we’d seen ice water offered at various points along the trick-or-treat trail!

The girls (seven and ten) were begging to trick-or-treat. How would this be possible on an island where there are no sidewalks, where boonie (wild) dogs are EVERYWHERE, where there are no fences to hold in the pervasive, dangerous domestic dogs freely roaming the streets, and where many live in houses made of tin and shared by four families? This picture definitely didn’t coincide with our idea of safety. How would we tell the girls they wouldn’t be able to trick-or-treat this year? Suddenly, we thought of a couple who volunteer a significant amount of time at PIBC. He is a pilot and they live on the base. After a quick phone call, arrangements were made to trick-or-treat at Andersen AFB. In military style, the cavorting for candy began promptly at 6:00 p.m. and ended promptly at 8:00 p.m. With palm trees, the ocean, and military police as a backdrop, the girls flitted from officer’s home to officer’s home summoning sweets. And, let me tell you, we have NEVER seen such organized trick-or-treating. “Trick-or treat, please!” were the required words or you could be certain no candy would be forth-coming! To our delight, suddenly, in the sky, it was a bird! No, it was a plane! No, it was a two billion dollar Stealth B-2 bomber that circled the base and then disappeared into the graying sky. It was an amazing sight! Guam is one of only three military bases in the world that can accommodate these impressive bats. By the end of the two regimented hours allotted for trick-or-treating, each girl proudly held seven pounds of candy!!!

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