Thursday, February 28, 2008

Samoa Part 14: Dengue

One night, three months into my work in the Salelologa, Savaii, I woke up with a start. It was 4:20 am; I was drenched with sweat; my body was wracked in aches and feverish chills. I tried to think back sequentially through the previous day to identify something that may have caused such a sudden onset of illness.

I figured that I ate something that disagreed with me. My mind caught hold on the possibility that my aches and fever were caused by either the pigs feet I had for dinner or the sasalapa, or soursop fruit, that someone had given me; both were firsts in my culinary repertoire to that point. The only hole in my foreign food theory was that I wasn't vomiting.


Soursop fruit

I quietly got out of my bed and changed into dry clothes. After getting back into bed, I stopped shivering and I fell back to sleep. I didn't bother getting up at the usual 6:30 am time, which is standard for missionaries. Elder Seumalii asked if I was doing ok and I told him of my fever. Upon feeling my forehead and a "Dang, you're hot," Seumalii decided we should get ready and go to our morning meal at the bishop's house in the Salelologa town area. Afterward, we would try to contact the mission nurse stationed on Savaii.

I alternated between intense fever and sweaty chills all morning long. At breakfast, I had no appetite. The bishop's wife thought I ought to eat something, and, bless her heart, she kept having things sent to me as I stretched out on a couch in the living room: Sprite, toast, Eno. I didn't want to have any of it.

Seumalii was able to contact our mission nurse, and we were fortunate that she and two elderly sister missionaries were in town with the zone leaders to do some shopping. I moved from the bishop's couch to the uncomfortable interior of the mission van. There I stayed for at least an hour's time while the nurse shopped. The van's air-conditioning tortured me with its relentlessness. Because I couldn't help the situation any I simply took in the experience. I found it a little ironic that the chorus of the first song I heard from a radio that morning was, "Feeling hot, hot, hot."

The zone leader took me and Seumalii to the nurse and elderly sisters' house. Once at the house the nurse began making phone calls to the Upolu mission office. For the first time that day I heard speculation as to what I had: dengue fever, also known as breakbone fever because the pain in the bones can be so severe it feels as though they will break.


Dengue virus

Fear immediately struck my heart, for I had heard from other missionaries that once a missionary is transferred away from Savaii, he or she never returns. I had just decided that I wanted to stay in Savaii for the majority of my mission. I didn't want to leave my area. I loved the people. I loved my trainer, Elder Seumalii. I was just getting the knack for everything. I couldn't go now.

The nurse insisted I take a cold shower to see if my fever would break. I couldn't force myself to do it; I took a hot shower instead. The nurse didn't want me to have any sheets to cover me while sleeping but I couldn't stand how cold it was in their air-conditioned house; I complained until I got a sheet.

Nurse Paialii was scheduled to fly to Upolu to visit her cousin, the mission president's wife, the next day. She instructed me that I would accompany her and be admitted into the hospital there. The next morning we went to the Maota airstrip but found out that the flight was full. Paialii was adamant that I go to Upolu so she gave me her ticket and stayed behind.

I was so sapped of any strength and vitality that my usual excitement at seeing more of Samoa from different perspectives was reduced to nil. It was nice, though, to see an aerial view of Manono and Apolima, the small islands between Savaii and Upolu. My frustration at having to leave Savaii was tempered by my fever-induced malaise.

The flight didn't take long and I soon arrived at the Fagaliʻi airstrip. There Nurse Morgan, a Kiwi turned Aussie, met me and immediately transported me to the MedCen hospital in Vailima. No other rooms were available so I was put into the birthing room, the walls of which were covered with posters illustrating the various stages of embryonic development.

Dengue fever, I found out, is spread by mosquitoes, or mozzies if you're Australian. My symptoms included fever, lethargy, pain, and sleepiness. My head ached. My bones ached. I sensed pain from hair movement in their follicles. Light hurt my eyes. Sound hurt my ears. When I felt feverish, I sweat profusely; when the chills set in, the sweat and air-conditioning and plastic-covered mattress combination intensified my suffering.

The nurses put an IV into a vein in my left hand. Over the next four days in the hospital, I took in 5.5 liters of fluids via IV. My fever hovered around 103 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. All the doctors and nurses could do was administer fever-reducing drugs, antibiotics, and IV fluids. As long as I was hydrated and kept from secondary infection due to a suppressed immune system, I would be ok, that is, unless my brain was cooked beyond repair.

I slept most of the time in the hospital. I only woke up when the nurses changed my IV, gave me antibiotics or fever reducers, and when meal time came. None of the meals had any Samoan food. But even though it was more like food from home than any food I'd eaten in the past three months, I still didn't have much of an appetite.

My mission president visited me and informed me I would stay on Upolu to continue my service rather than return to Savaii. I was too weak at this point to feel anything more than a fleeting disappointment. Nurse Morgan visited occasionally as did an elderly couple from Idaho. My most frequent visitor was a Samoan hospital custodian. He and I spoke exclusively in Samoan. Both he and I were amazed at my abilities in the language. Perhaps my inability to stress out over anything helped me to realize that I'd made more progress in the language than I had previously thought.

Four days after being admitted to Medcen, I was discharged and taken to the mission home where I rested for the next three days. Dengue was grueling, but I didn't have as bad a case as I could have. Indeed, some people die from dengue fever.

Having no opportunity to say goodbye to hardly anyone, thus ended my time on the big island of Savaii.

Links for more information on dengue fever:

CDC Dengue Brochure

CDC Dengue Fact Sheet

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Samoa Part 13: Island Tour

Once, in conjuction with a zone conference on the big island of Savaii, our mission president took us on a taamilosaga, or circumnavigation, of the island to see some of the sights.


In the map above, you can see some of the major villages we visited. We started at Salelologa and drove in our white mission vans to the Taga blowholes, pictured below. Without a doubt, Samoa is a gorgeous set of islands. Previous to this trip, I had spent my first three months in Samoa almost exclusively in the area of Salelologa. Seeing additional evidence of Savaiian beauty further convinced me that Savaii was where I wanted to stay.


Our journey continued to the westernmost tip of the Western Hemisphere, Falealupo. Legend has it that just west of Falealupo is located the Fafā, the entrance to the Samoan underworld which is ruled by a half-man, half-eel named Saveasi'uleo. At Falealupo, we visited a bridge spanning the distance between two aoa, or banyon, trees. Banyons are monstrosities; and the bridge was located a fair distance up in the air. The bridge led to a lookout over the rainforest which was preserved from complete devastation in the early 1990s through the efforts of Dr. Paul Cox, an ethnobotanist and Samoa Apia Mission alumnus. Dr. Cox's book, Nafanua: Saving the Samoan Rainforest, is a great read. I'd suggest it to anyone interested in Samoa or cultural and ecological preservation.


Looking westward from Savaii's western point.

Most of the north shore side of Savaii we saw from within our vans. As we traveled, I listened to the stories of older missionaries from when they served in various villages we passed: Fagamalo, Lefagaoalii, etc. Elder Pakesi played on his ukulele and was acompanied in singing by Elder Seumalii. By the time we got back to Salelologa, I was ready to rest. Elder Seumalii and I went to our fafaga, or meal, and finished the day with some studies in our little fale.


A typical spread at a meal.
Items pictured: fish (far left and upper right), lobster (notice the lack of pincers; very characteristic of Pacific lobsters), breadfruit (big and round), baked green bananas (next to breadfruit), eel (lower right, coiled in banana leaf with coconut milk), and chicken with greens (upper left, mottled brown bowl).

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Samoa Part 12: TV Repairs

I discovered that in the small village-setting of Samoa, it is relatively simple to quickly make a reputation for oneself. For example, while visiting a family in Salelologa, I accidentally fixed the reception of their TV. Subsequently, other families heard about it and I was thereafter labeled as a competent TV repairman.

Not long after my initial stroke of luck, I was asked to fix another family's TV, and this time it was actually broken. As the mother brought the TV to me, I felt like melting into my shoes because I don't know a thing about a TV's insides or the least about fixing them.

I saw a wire that appeared to be missing its connecting plug. I said that that was probably the problem but that I couldn't fix it unless I had another plug. But then I saw a fuse inside the TV and decided to check it to see if it was broken or not. I reached in to take it out, and Whoa! The fuse was live! My hand jerked back out of the TV casing faster than lightning. Elder Seumalii, who up to this point had been enjoying a succulent Samoan pineapple, rolled on the floor laughing at my misfortune. Afterwards, Seumalii and I laughed about the episode for a long time. I later learned that I was fortunate that the voltage in Samoa is 240 rather than the standard 110 in America.

On yet another day, another family asked me to fix their TV. Apparently, my most recent lack of success hadn't resolved the initial success that I'd had. I looked at the TV and poked in the insides and finally said that I couldn't do anything for it.

But a few days later, we saw the tiny daughters of the family (maybe 3 and 4 years old) and they said that the TV was fixed. I asked the older of the two girls, "O ai na faia lau tivi?" ("Who fixed your TV?"), to which one of the girls replied, "O Iesu" ("Jesus."). I was stunned. I knew that Jesus saves, but I had never thought that Jesus fixes electronics. Later, I found out that nobody had fixed the TV--it was still as dead as I had left it.

It was much later that I figured out why the little girl had told me that Jesus had fixed their TV. Samoan parents very frequently ask their children, "Who created you?" to which the children are taught to reply in one of two ways: God or Jesus. The word which I used for fix, faia, is the same word a parent would use to say create. Thus, the little girl probably couldn't understand my broken Samoan enough to realize that I was asking about her family's mysterious TV repairman and not about her Creator.

Fortunately, my unsuccessful-attempt-at-TV-repair-number-2 killed the villagers innocently false characterization of me as a skilled TV repair technician. I liked it better that way. I much preferred anyway to teach the people about their loving Creator and His gospel message--the message that fixes lives.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Samoa Part 11: On Socks and Showers

I began my mission with around 22 pairs of socks--all identical. When I got to Salelologa, Savaii, I found out that the only method of washing clothes was by hand in buckets. So after being there for a little while, I came up with a nice plan as to how I could cut down on the loads of laundry.

It was sheer genius for me to decide to wear each pair of socks three days in a row before switching to another pair. That meant, if you do the math, 66 days of good wear before laundry day.

Now you must remember I wasn't all that far from the equator so it was hot and wet. We went without shoes while inside houses so we picked up a lot of dirt throughout the day. You can only imagine the "wonderful smell [I] discovered" after wearing a pair of socks three whole days. I kept this up for umm...about a week and then I had to call it quits. I just couldn't keep up the sheer ingenuity of it all. It was too good of an idea to not let it go.

Showering in Salelologa was another exciting experience. Twice each day, at 6:30 am and 9:30-ish pm, I traipsed down to the shower room located next to the janitorial-closet hut within the same compound in which we lived. At that hour of the morning Samoa experiences beautiful sunrises and I witnessed many breathtaking scenes. Salelologa faces east so we were perfectly situated to see the daily grandeur of the rising sun. At that hour of the night Samoa is pitch black.

The shower consisted of a tiled room with a half-inch PVC pipe hanging over the top of one wall. We only had cold water which at times proved very refreshing, but at other times, e.g., when it rained, it was shockingly cold. There was no light in the shower room so it was often dark, very dark. I quickly became an adept at shaving with no mirror or light.

Because it was dark inside the shower room, shower time was always filled with a little angst. Occasionally, one of the very large flying cockroaches got inside and crawled all over my feet. But worse yet, I had terrifying visions of spiders and centipedes being all around me and especially at my feet.

The spiders in Samoa are terribly large but harmless. However, the centipedes are ridiculously big and pack a nasty bite. Fortunately, though I saw a number of centipedes in Samoa, I was never bitten. I was told, however, that the surefire way to cure a centipede bite is to write, with a pen or finger, the name of the centipede's mortal enemy, the chicken or moa, on the site of the bite. Because I was never bitten, I cannot tell you if this little piece of magic actually works, but the Samoans swear by it.


A typical sized centipede, or atualoa

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Update

If there is a single posting that you especially liked, you can now email that posting directly to a friend or family member. Just click on the little "letter-with-an-arrow" icon at the bottom of the desired post and follow the directions. Thank you, to all you readers; the fact that anyone besides my own mother and my wife would read the things I write is encouraging to me.

Monday, February 18, 2008

How to Receive and Recognize Answers from God

A reader, Siente, posted a comment on Samoa: Part 9; in Siente’s comment, a number of very good questions were posed which concerned receiving answers from God about religion. I feel that Siente’s questions are so important that I will address them in a post rather than a follow-up comment.

Siente asked, “[Since] there are so many churches out there, and they disagree in some important ways, how can a person know for really [sure] when they are in the right religion?”

Siente’s question is very important “for God is not the author of confusion, but of peace” (1 Corinthians 14:33). The New Testament also speaks of “one Lord, one faith, [and] one baptism” (Ephesians 4:5).

Siente’s comment continued, “…I've thought about this [a lot]. At first, I thought, Well, if a person is in the wrong kind of church, and that person prayed really hard and talked to God [a lot] and stuff, God would maybe tell them that they were in the wrong church, and maybe even tell them which one was the right one.”

Siente, I couldn’t agree with you more. In another time and in another place, a young boy named Joseph Smith had questions similar to yours. He described his experience as follows:

Some time [in my fifteenth year], there was in the place where we lived an unusual excitement on the subject of religion. …Indeed, the whole district of country seemed affected by it, and great multitudes united themselves to the different religious parties, which created no small stir and division amongst the people, some crying, “Lo, here!” and others, “Lo, there!”

During this time of great excitement my mind was called up to serious reflection and great uneasiness; …still I kept myself aloof from all these parties, though I attended their several meetings as often as occasion would permit. In process of time my mind became somewhat partial to the Methodist sect, and I felt some desire to be united with them; but so great were the confusion and strife among the different denominations, that it was impossible for a person young as I was…to come to any certain conclusion who was right and who was wrong.

I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?

While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible.

…I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I…came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.

So…I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of [1820]. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

After I had retired to the place where I had previously designed to go, having looked around me, and finding myself alone, I kneeled down and began to offer up the desires of my heart to God.

Soon, Joseph was nearly overcome by the dark power of Satan who tried to prevent Joseph from praying to God. But Joseph continued in his efforts to call upon God and found that he was delivered by an approaching light.

…I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. … When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join. … I asked the Personages who stood above me in the light, which of all the sects was right…and which I should join.

I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight…. (Joseph Smith—History 1:5, 7, 8, 11--14, 16--19)

Joseph Smith was privileged to speak with God and Jesus Christ, but not until after he was tempted by Satan to stop praying.

Most of us won’t have spiritual experiences as dramatic as Joseph Smith’s, but all of us can receive answers to our prayers. All of us can follow Joseph Smith’s example and “ask of God.”

Answers from God come in various forms. Scriptures speak of men and women and even children hearing the voice of God, receiving inspired dreams and visions, and feeling warmth in their hearts often described as a “burning in the bosom”. Sometimes angels come to deliver messages from God, sometimes prophets are sent with similar messages, and sometimes our answers from God come by the “still, small voice” of the Holy Ghost.

Siente, you expressed a very valid concern in your comment. You said, “But then I thought, no, it [probably] doesn't work like that, [because] if God DID try to talk to the person (or have someone else talk to them, or send some stuff in their way for them to read or whatever), they would [probably] just think it was a test from the devil.”

Just as Satan tried to keep Joseph Smith from praying to God, so will Satan try and keep you from seeking out the truth. But God has given us a clear picture of how He will make us feel when He is trying to communicate with us. The Apostle Paul wrote, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, [and] temperance” (Galatians 5:22--23) In other words, if you are feeling God’s Spirit, then you will feel joy, peace, etc.—you will feel good. The devil cannot make you feel at peace. The devil will not give you joy. The devil can only try and confuse you, or try and make you feel darkness, or tempt you to do wrong.

Siente, your concern continued, “And the more someone is really [trying] to follow God, the less likely it is that they are going to pray and ask him if their religion is wrong.”

I agree with you wholeheartedly. I don’t think that most people pray to know if what they are doing is wrong. But those who are sincerely trying to follow God often pray to know if they are doing the right thing. And God will not be offended or angry when His children pray to know if they are living the right way, or attending the right religion or anything like that. Remember what the verse in James said? It said that God will not upbraid those who come to Him seeking wisdom. To upbraid is to scold or chastise; and because God loves His children, He is pleased when they come to Him with questions and problems.

One of my favorite scriptures which concerns your question is, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you…” (Matthew 7:7). I have asked God for many things and He has given me many of the things I have asked for. He is good to His promises.

Furthermore, if we pray with the intent to do God’s will, and not with the intent to merely know God’s will, then God is more likely to answer our prayers. The Apostle James put it this way, “But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:22).

Finally, if a friend or anyone else (including me) gives you advice about religion, you are never obligated to simply take that person’s word for it. You can pray to know if what you are hearing or reading is true. One of God’s ancient prophets promised, “And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). You may not immediately know all the tiny details, but you can know whether something is true or not by the feelings you get which I described earlier: joy, peace, longsuffering, faith, etc.

If someone’s words or writings are mean-spirited, if they are derogatory toward any religion, then you can know that that person is not speaking or writing by the Spirit of Christ.

Let me finish by saying that I know that God answers our prayers. He answers them in His own time, and in His own way, but He does answer them. If you would like some additional information to any of your questions please visit Mormon.org. Additionally, feel free to post more comments or questions on this blog. Thanks, Siente, for this opportunity to share with you some of my feelings about religion.

I gratefully acknowledge my wonderful wife, Deb, and her helping me outline the thoughts expressed in this post.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Problem of History

In my free time, I love to read. When I read, I like to read pieces about history. I find that a study of history is at once very important, yet most difficult. As I see it, the field of history has problems which make it difficult, if not impossible, to come to many sure conclusions about anything.

First, history is terribly incomplete. We do not have an accurate record of every event that ever occurred since time began. If we did, then perhaps we might be able to make some accurate conclusions about all those events. Chroniclers are inherently limited on how much they can report or record; they are forced to include only the “most important” details and leave out all the “inconsequential” ones. To chronicle all that ever happened in the lives of all human beings would be painstakingly impossible. Thus we are left with a very truncated version of history which is hardly adequate.

As mentioned, the more mundane details of every-day life are not included in most ancient records, thus leaving historians, archeologists, and anthropologists to reconstruct those details by conjecture. The story is told of a group of archeologists who, upon finding an intact skeleton with an ancient pot delicately placed over the skull, began to reconstruct the significance of the supposedly ancient practice of covering a deceased person’s head with a symbolically significant earthenware pot.

The archeologists’ newly formed theory quickly fizzled, though, when the farmer, on whose land the dig was taking place, explained, “Well, I found that there pot and then I found this here body. I figured I oughter tell somebody ‘bout it. But right before I left fer home, it began ter rain. So I put the pot o’er that feller’s head to keep the rain off ‘o it.”

I fear that in many instances there isn’t a farmer to advise our learned scholars on the actual circumstances of things; so probably much of what we hear concerning ancient civilizations and history is to some extent fabricated. To say that many good guesses aren’t made and that many of those good guesses aren’t close to the mark would be unjust. But the public would be wise to take with a grain of salt all that historians, archeologists, and anthropologists say (for that matter, the same probably holds true for most scholars’ utterances).

Additionally, much of once-recorded history is now lost. For example, historians tell us that there was once a great library at Alexandria in Egypt. I suspect that this library had a fair number of volumes, if we can call them that, which contained many great and important accounts concerning the ancients. However, and scholars can’t even agree on the details about this, at some point, the great Alexandrian library was destroyed. Its records were lost. What a boon it would be to us now to have those old scrolls, papyri, and parchments.

Moreover, the types of materials used for record-making in the ancient days disallowed the long-term preservation of records. No doubt the Dead Sea Scrolls is quite the treasure trove, but, unfortunately, some of the scrolls are so delicate it is impossible to unroll and read them. Clay tablets break and crumble into dust. Papyri decay. Paintings flake. And so on and so forth. Only metal plates that do not oxidize extensively have managed to stand the tests of time.

Furthermore, many ancient languages are difficult to decipher. If we can decipher texts, often we do not understand them because we are so removed from the original cultural context in which they were written. For example, the reason why the Egyptian Book of the Dead makes no sense to us is because we are not ancient Egyptians. Anything taken out of its organic, living, breathing context is rendered practically unintelligible.

Second, and probably more problematic than the incompleteness of historical records, is the degree of bias inherent in recorded history. Ambrose Bierce once said, "History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools." Always, it is the powers that be which decide what constitutes "official," "orthodox" history. Chroniclers and historians in the employ of the Sate must always portray the powers that be as benevolent, victorious, and larger than life. Dissenting opinions were never vogue in the ancient world; dissenters generally met with the greatest resistance from those in charge of maintaining the status quo.

Much of history is passed through the lenses or filters of individual experience. We are reminded of the story of the blind men who each examined a part of an elephant and then gave a description of the elephant based on his observations. “An elephant is like a tree,” explained the man who examined the beast’s leg. “An elephant is like a snake,” said the man holding the elephant’s trunk. The man at the elephant’s tail remarked that the elephant is like a brush. The man at the tusks exclaimed that an elephant is like a spear. “An elephant is like a fan,” reported the man holding the animal’s ear. And so each man left the elephant with a very different concept of the exact same animal.

Such is also the case with reporting events in history. Feminism interprets history in one way; Communism in another. Environmentalism sees things yet differently, and so on with all the other ideological “isms” which abound.

In some instances certain interest groups falsify record to meet their needs. The Communists in the Soviet Union expended monumental efforts in expunging any trace of Stalin after his death, once he was viewed as unpopular. Who’s to say that such a practice never occurred in ancient times as well as modern? Was the embarrassment of Pharaoh so great after his encounters with Moses and the Israelites that he had most if not all the accounts changed to ignore the issues altogether?

Along the same lines, many of the extant records are forgeries. Take the Pseudepigrapha, for example. Many texts claim to be gospels and other accounts written by the earliest of Christians. However, many of these texts are actually falsely named, hence pseudepigrapha, that is, the names that the texts bear aren’t the names of those who wrote the texts.

Lastly, there is little objectivity in history, though its professors claim strict, dispassionate objectivity. The problem here is not the lack of objectivity, but the historians who affect the airs of objectivity. One of the strengths of good history is its subjectivity, or its admission that not all ideas or philosophies, theories, hypotheses, or ideologies are equally valid or true. There is Truth and then there is that which masquerades as truth. If every idea is of equal value and equally True, then all ideas are relative, nothing is absolute, and history (as is our present and future) is meaningless. Hitler, and Stalin, and Pol Pot couldn’t rightly be considered evil unless their particular ideologies were inferior in some way.

We do ourselves a great disservice by our efforts at maintaining strict objectivity. Truly, facts are facts, but the person (or media organization) who claims objectivity in interpreting the facts is probably lying. No one and no organization is without some type of agenda, whether good or evil. And so we needn’t be lulled by anyone’s claims of objectivity.

And so you see, in accurately interpreting humankind’s history we are confronted by a great many challenges. But rather than giving up altogether, we can learn the real reasons for studying history, a discussion of which will comprise a future post on this blog; so stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Samoa Part 10: Culture Shock

I served in my first area of Salelologa, Savaii for three months. My time in Savaii was characterized by a tremendous amount of learning. In many ways, I feel sorry for my trainer, Elder Seumalii, for the enormity of his task. But he approached the challenge with vigor, with love, and with optimism.

Elder Seumalii and I quickly became friends. I found that I could trust him; he didn't needlessly or maliciously embarrass me in front of people. He gently coaxed me to come out of my shell and speak the language as much as possible. Of course, I was terrified to say much at first. Indeed, for the first year and a half of my mission I felt inadequate in Samoan conversation, but the language did come to me.

Having never lived outside my native land and culture, my immersion into Samoan culture brought with it culture shock. Culture shock is an interesting phenomenon. I didn't know I suffered from culture shock, but looking at my responses to certain situations I can tell now that I was genuinely shocked.

One thing that I didn't understand at first was the Samoan concept of hospitality. In America, hospitality is applied gently, and, unfortunately, sparingly to strangers. But in Samoa, hospitality comes unsolicited and almost with militant vigor.

For example, Elder Seumalii and I could be studying in our small living quarters and some well-intentioned Samoan would appear bearing plates or baskets of food. It didn't matter if we had already been fed multiple times that day; we still graciously accepted the offering (to refuse would be extremely rude).

Food was practically thrown at us all day long. I once read that an average Sunday afternoon meal (which, for the Samoans--not missionaries, is larger than most week-day meals) consists, on average, of 5,300 Calories! I figure that I probably ate somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 Calories every day of my mission. Is it any wonder then that I gained 25 pounds? In defense to the Samoans, however, I must admit that all my weight gain was not fat. I came back from Samoa and found that I was much stronger in the weight room than I was before my mission.

But for an American who, while growing up, only et three square meals and regular snacks per day, regularly getting fed 4+ meals and multiple snacks seemed like a significant alteration in lifestyle. If I had been playing football still, I would have rejoiced at having food so readily available. But since my physical activity was limited to mostly walking, of which we did a lot, I felt that we ate in excess of what we needed.

Because I didn't understand that the Samoans weren't maliciously feeding me--cannibalism was only a very limited practice anciently and was officially stopped by one of the Malietoa line--I grew angry and decided to show the people a thing or two. I thought I'd beat them at their own game.

When we were served dinner, as missionaries we were always served first; and we were always served a lot. Customarily, one does not eat everything one is served (because there are others who need to eat), thus indicating that the hosts' hospitality was more than sufficient. However, as one eats, one is always given more, creating, thereby, the sense that there is a never-ending supply of food.

I decided that the best way to show the Samoans that I meant business was to violate custom by eating everything that they gave me, thus ruining dinner for everyone else (remember, one who is in culture shock does not think rationally or nicely). I figured that by doing so I would ensure that future meals were smaller, more sparing in their portions.

The food came and I dug in. I ate and I ate and I ate. I ate more than I probably had ever eaten before in my entire life. I ate more than I would at Thanksgiving dinner. I ate more than I would during our youth group eating contests at the hometown smorgasbord. But the food kept coming. As the host's wife filled my tray--not plate--for the umpteenth time, my spirit broke. I nearly wept; I was defeated. Never again would I consider besting the Samoan capacity for hospitality.

My culture shock eventually did pass. I learned to eat as heartily as any Samoan, save for those instances when slimy, raw, non-fish things made their way from the reef to the dinner table.

During my time in Samoa, I realized that I had a lot to learn about being kind, loving, and hospitable. I found that I benefited from supplementing my native culture's idea of hospitality with a good dose of Samoan hospitality. Samoan's are generally not only willing to feed a guest, but they will lodge guests, give gifts to guests, heck, if you needed it, a Samoan would even give you the shirt off his back.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Samoa Part 9: Samoan Sayings II

A Samoan proverbs reads E mana’o i ufi ae fefe i papa. A direct translation of this refers to one who wants to obtain yams but is afraid of the rocky obstacles that are in the way. We may apply this adage to one who wants all the blessings of the Gospel but is afraid to pay the price of discipleship. All too often we are able to talk the talk but are found lacking when asked to walk the walk. The pathway to exaltation is the same for all. One must live according to the principles and ordinances of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and endure to the end or one cannot obtain that which the Gospel promises to the faithful—eternal life in the presence of our Heavenly Father.

Another proverbial saying of the Samoan people reads Seu le manu ae taga’i i galu. Literally, it comes as a warning to one setting out to sea to catch sea birds: that as he nets a bird he ought to keep an eye out for approaching waves. Warning signs are readily seen on American coastlines cautioning us to be wary of “sneaker” waves; and the Samoan who goes to the shore to catch seabirds knows, as does the beachgoer, that any negligence on his part to watch out for “sneakers” may result in disaster.

In life, Satan is trying to sneak up on us with hopes that we are unaware of his insidious advances. He uses every conceivable method to conceal his approach—even going to the extent to label that which is evil good, that which is dark light, and that which is bitter sweet. We must be familiar with Satan’s catch-phrase temptations of “eat, drink and be merry” and protect ourselves by donning the whole armor of God.

Another saying goes like this: Toe timata le upega. Literally, it means to repair a fishing-net. However, in a Gospel context, one may relate this saying to the blessing of repentance. Each of our lives is a complex set of circumstances woven together like a net. When we err, or sin, we make tears in the nets of our lives. Some tears are small and others are large. A torn net is unfit for use in the fishing industry; so are we unfit for entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven when our lives are torn with sin and transgression.

Fortunately, there is hope and a glorious prospect of redemption. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). “Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ” is the first of all principles and ordinances of the Gospel, and faith is an action word. Faith leads those who are the possessors of it to good works such as keeping the commandments of God. More specifically, faith moves us to repentance for our sins so that we may become more like Jesus Christ and that through the Atonement of Christ our lives may be made whole; our nets may be mended.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Consequences of Atheism

When atheism prevails, moral behavior has no basis. Atheism, the denial of God's existence, licenses its adherents to disregard maxims of moral behavior such as:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or

Love thy neighbor as thyself (Matthew 22:39).

Rather, the guiding principles of atheism are:

Everyone fares in life according to the management of the creature;

Everyone prospers according to one's genius;

Everyone conquers according to one's strength;

Whatsoever a person does is no crime; and

When we die, that is the end (Alma 30:17-18).

How could the principles of atheism be otherwise? In a previous post, I mentioned that without God, there is no inherent sanctity to life. If there is no God, then we must account for our existence in some way other than creation. If there is no God, then we truly are no different than the brute beasts of the field. Our laws and governments, and morality, and our systems of accountability are all arbitrary and artificial constructs. If there truly is no God, then the only law is the law of the jungle, much of which is articulated in the previously listed guiding principles of atheism.

The only answer to unbridled atheism is for governments, established by the majority (or in some cases a very powerful minority backed by a duped majority), to increase in size and power and dominion, and extend their tentacles of control and domination into every facet of their citizens' lives.

Without any precedent for internal self-governance, which precedent can stem only from the actual existence of God, powerful, external governmental controls are the only means of securing and preserving the so-called "best interests" of society.

And who is to say what our best interests are? If there is no God, then there is no clear right or wrong in any circumstance. One person's opinion is just as valid as the next person's. The only logical solution to this dilemma is to dissolve all forms of government and let each man, woman, and child live as he or she truly desires.

However, anarchy always gives way to tyranny, thus perpetuating the dilemma and giving way to a vicious cycle of anarchy and tyranny ad infinitum.

Our founding fathers, with profound belief in a Supreme Being, penned these words, and, by so doing, formed a government intended to break the anarchy/tyranny cycle.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Such a Union can only stand so long as its citizens believe in God and act in accordance with that belief. To do so means living virtuous lives. It means looking out for the welfare of one's neighbors. It means to stand up for that which is good and right and true. This is the standard which was set for us by our Founding Fathers. They did not fight for freedom and spill their blood in the hope that we would lose our freedoms to the tyranny of addictions. They did not establish our Constitution in the hope that we would set it aside for popular yet false ideologies.

Rather, our Founding Fathers sacrificed everything they had and were so that we could be free from all forms of tyranny. Their vision of freedom for all God-loving Americans can be extended to people of all the nations of the earth; for we still "hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

The time has come for all believers in God to gently but firmly push back against the swelling tide of atheism and all it entails. "United we stand, divided we fall!"

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Samoa Part 8: Samoan Sayings I

In the Samoan culture, many sayings are derived from the material culture, everyday tasks, myths and legends, and the various trades of Samoan men and women. As missionaries, we would often use these sayings, or proverbs, to enrich our teaching about Jesus Christ and His gospel. The following examples I penned after my mission but represent the spirit in which we used ancient Samoan wisdom to connect with the people we served.

One such saying or proverb reads E ui ina poto le tautai ae se lana atu i ama. It means literally that although the master fisherman is skilled, [sometimes] his bonito fish will wander off to the outrigger side [of his canoe]. In fishing from a Samoan outrigger canoe, one desires to pull the fish up the right side of the craft to make the retrieval of the fish easy. If the fish strays off to the outrigger, or left, side, the risk of losing the fish is greater.

A master fisherman isn’t likely to lose many fish but remains, nevertheless, fallible and subject to losing an occasional few. We are all prone to making mistakes in our earthly sojourn. One who has truly mastered himself here in mortality possesses not the ability to be perfect. Rather, it is his ability to recognize his mistakes and correct them that makes him a master of himself.

God, our loving Heavenly Father, knows the fallibility of mortal mankind. In His infinite wisdom, He knew with perfect clarity that we would make mistakes in this life. NO system subject to the telestial laws of mortality can maintain a state of flawlessness. Mortal systems all experience entropy, sin, and failures of one sort or another. But in His ultimate love for His children, in His greatest act of mercy extended to mankind, God provided the means by which all the effects of mortality would be overridden. He provided the way whereby corruption is raised to incorruption, and fallible men and women can aspire to become infallible and like God. In giving His Only Begotten Son as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all mankind, Heavenly Father brought an eventual and complete redemption to the system that He created. Therefore, we needn’t be so concerned with being perfect in this life as we should be concerned with the one thing that we can do perfectly: namely, repentance.

Another saying goes like this: O le vaivai o le fe’e. The implied meaning of this particular proverb is that although an octopus appears to be harmless and weak, it is actually incredibly strong. While serving in Samoa, I once had it explained to me that men who fish for octopus like to search for the smaller ones. I asked why they do not like the larger octopus and was answered that they are too dangerous. If a larger octopus caught hold of the leg or arm of a fisherman and also held onto the reef with another of its many tentacles it would most likely spell the end of that fisherman’s life.

I relate the subtle strength of the octopus to that of temptation and sin. We are confronted daily with opportunities to sin. Oft times, the things that tempt us appear to be harmless and quite tantalizing, as a large octopus might to a fisherman concerned with feeding his family. However, we cannot afford to flirt with disaster. Experimentation with sin can only lead to a life of misery and, ultimately, disappointment when we finally realize the truth of Alma’s words to his son: Wickedness never was happiness (Alma 41:10). The Apostle James put it this way, “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14-15).

I'll share some more of these in the time to come.

Monday, February 4, 2008

How to Save Money

My wife and I are stereotypically poor college students. I'm working on an M.S. degree, whereas Deb is about to finish her B.S. Between the two of us, we don't have a ton of income so we work hard to make the most of what we do earn. I'd like to share a few tips that have helped us to live within our means.

First, we use a budget. We project the month's expenses based on what we spent during the previous month. We anticipate earning approximately the same income as we did the prior month as well. Setting up a budget helps us to see where our money is going. Are we in the red, or are we in the black? So far we've done pretty well. The first thing we do when we are paid is pay our tithing: 10% of our income to assist in building God's kingdom on earth. Then we figure in some fast offerings, which are voluntary donations we give each month to help the poor and needy. We also make sure to put some money each month into savings. After that we pay our bills: rent and utilities, cell phone, and truck insurance. By using a budget, we are able to wisely manage our monthly expenses and avoid unnecessary debt.

Deb and I enjoy food; we enjoy food a lot. Last Valentine's day, Deb bought me The Joy of Cooking cookbook. Additionally, we have purchased or been given (primarily the latter) a number of other cookbooks. We love to spend time together in the kitchen cooking up good eats. One way Deb and I limit our expenses is by cooking most of our meals at home. Because we like to cook, we eat nice meals and we save money that many spend on frequent fast food purchases.

For breakfast we eat mostly oatmeal, yogurt, toast, wheatberries, and eggs. Because we both go to school we take a lot of "brown bag" lunches with us consisting of sandwiches, homemade burritos, fruits and veggies, and granola bars and crackers. Dinner is where we really excel. We have perfected an Indian dish called saag--pureed spinach with onion, garlic, and spices--that we eat over rice. We always cook extra rice so we can make fried rice on a subsequent evening. We also like to make pasta and use it in a variety of ways.

I think that oatmeal deserves its own paragraphs. I don't want to offend my mother (because she will be reading this), but I hated oatmeal as a kid. It wasn't until I visited my brother, Josh, that I discovered the virtues of oatmeal. If you are also an oatmeal hater, try some of these suggestions and see if your hate doesn't dissipate.

First, Deb and I use the rolled oats from the large tube canister. We're not into those prefab oaty packets that come in a box. There really is no substance in those (though they are handy for camping). I put 2/3 cup of oatmeal in a bowl. Then I cover the oatmeal with 1/2-1 centimeter of liquid. If you want creamy oatmeal, use milk. If you're planning on using brown sugar, use milk or water. I found that by using some 100% juice my oatmeal is both sweetened and exotic; but even when I use juice, I will occasionally add some milk after cooking. Then microwave your oatmeal for 2-3 minutes on high. Once cooked, your oatmeal is ready for some mix-ins. Deb and I regularly use nuts, dried fruits, applesauce, wheat germ, coconut, and chocolate chips, and spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves to create uniquely perfect bowls of oatmeal. If you try this technique and still don't like oatmeal, then I can't help you.

The last tip that I'd like to share about saving money concerns spending money. Deb and I are fortunate to have what I like to call "low-spending personalities", or LSPs. We are not driven to own things. I see many fellow students who have VERY large movie and CD collections and wonder where they get the money to buy such things. Many have vast collections of electronic games and toys. Not discounting the possibility that they could have gotten these things as gifts, I often wonder about the fiscal responsibility of some of my peers.

Admittedly, I am a self-described bibliophile: I love books. I once had a difficult time walking through the campus bookstore without buying a book. However, I came to realize that if I didn't curtail my spending, I would never have any money for the times I really needed it. So here's what I did. I bought a computer program with over 3000 books on it. In one small purchase I satisfied much of my desire to own books for many years to come. Now, most of the books I get are required texts for classes and gifts from friends and family. If I really want to read a book that I don't have, then I go to the library (ours has over 9 million volumes to choose from) and I check out a book for free. The best part is that as a grad student I get to check books out for three months at a time, thus saving me money in two ways: not having to buy the book, and not having to pay late-fees.

Some would have us believe that spending strengthens the economy. That may be true; I'm not an economist. However, I don't believe that it is wise to live beyond one's means. Occasionally, legitimate reasons arise to go into a little debt, namely, purchasing a home, getting loans for an education, etc. But for the most part we could all do a little better, live a litter simpler, and save a little more for that rainy day.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Samoa Part 7: Food

No discussion of Samoa would be complete without mentioning the food. When I arrived to my area in Salelologa, Savaii, it didn't take long before I was acquainted with the local fare. Not long after I unpacked my bags in Elder Seumalii's and my 15x15 foot "house", a local youth appeared at our doorstep to see the new palagi, white, missionary. With him came a few freshly baked breadfruit which we presently consumed.

Traditionally, Samoans' diet consisted of starchy foods, meat, and tropical fruits. The starches consist of five main types: breadfruit, taro and its cousin taamu, yam, boiled green banana, and sweet potato. Since post-European contact, rice has found its way into many Samoan meals. Initially, except for the rice, most Westerners won't really like the Samoan starches. They're usually perceived as too bland. But in time, the palate adjusts and each of the five types is as delectable a morsel as any that can be found in the States.

Meat is also a dominant theme in every Samoan meal. Many are locally produced, while others are imported. Samoans raise their own pigs and chickens, catch fish in the reefs and the deep sea, and use imported meats like canned corned beef, salt beef, sausages, mutton, chicken leg and thigh pieces, and turkey tail.

Turkey tail deserves special mention. If you have ever cooked a turkey in the states, then chances are that you have never actually seen a turkey tail. There is a reason for that; up until 2007, turkey tails were sent to Samoa where they are considered a real treat. Despite the Samoan enthusiasm about this particular "choice" meat, I must confess that it was with great effort that I ever was able to eat a single one. The reason for my distaste of turkey tail was two-fold: it has a token amount of meat, and it has chewy "sheaths" that housed the tail feathers of the live turkey. Fortunately, Samoa awoke from its culinary slumber and banned the importing of turkey tails due to their high fat content and negative impact on health.

Bananas and the ubiquitous coconut are two of the most common fruits used in Samoa. Mangoes, papaya, guavas, oranges, limes, pineapples, and Tahitian apples are also important, and delicious, fruits, many of them non-native, however. Occasionally, one will run across some family with an avocado tree.

I quickly adjusted to the food in Samoa. So quickly, in fact, that within a couple of months I packed on about 25 pounds. I mentioned once that Samoans are naturally hospitable; well, that trait is taken to a near extreme with missionaries. Because missionaries of any faith are highest in the social hierarchy, they receive the best that Samoan hospitality has to offer.

In addition, the Samoan members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fiercely vied for opportunities to feed the missionaries. Accordingly, our meals were kindly provided for us: one in the morning and one in the evening. In truth the meals we ate, by Western standards, were feasts. And the word that I came to detest the most during the course of my stay in Samoa was tausami, eat.

Furthermore, we not only ate our morning and evening meals; most families that we visited during the day, whether Mormon or not--it did not matter, fed us something. Feeding guests is the most fundamental means of being hospitable in Samoa. In fact, the Samoans are so good to guests and each other as a matter of social policy that I am certain that if anyone in the whole of Samoa goes to bed hungry, it is his or her own darn fault.

In time, I became so adept at eating that some of my later American companions relied on my prowess at the table (or on the floor, whichever we ate at) to divert our hosts' attention away from their meager dining efforts.

Not all Samoan foods suited me, however. Over time I developed a policy that if a food item consisted of "non-fish, slimy, raw things from the ocean," I would not touch it. For example, in Samoa, one can readily find Coke bottles filled with pale-colored, ribbon-like things and sea water. These are sea. In other words: sea cucumber entrails. I managed to make it out of Samoa without offending anyone by refusing sea. How did I manage such an escape? I quickly discovered, and subsequently used to my advantage, the fact that many Samoans don't even touch sea. That and the gusto with which I devoured more appetizing foods like fish, and lobster, and taro, kept me from any undue embarrassment.

I was not so lucky when it came to tuitui: raw sea urchin guts. While visiting a family, my fellow American companion and I were offered tuitui, an offer we couldn't rightly refuse. I watched as a child took a golf ball-sized urchin in his hand and swiftly applied to its underside a firm whack with a spoon. Then, after scooping out the orangish, purplish ooze, he gleefully presented me with the spoon and its prized contents, intent that I eat them. It took all the guts I had to eat the guts of my late urchin friend; and even then, I almost lost my unfortunate lunch right onto the mat that I sat upon.

But apart from the tuitui, I fared quite well with the Samoan fare. I highly recommend to any who read this that you find some Samoans, befriend them, and go eat with them. You will never forget the wonderful experience it is to share a meal with the Samoan people.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Samoa Part 6: First Area and a New Tongue

The first area of the Samoa Apia Mission to which I was assigned was Salelologa in Savaii, which constitutes the warf and town area of the big island. Savaii is the most traditional of all the Samoan islands. There the Faasamoa, or Samoan way, reigns supreme.

My trainer, Elder Seumalii, was a kiwi from Aukland, New Zealand. He was Samoan by blood but had to learn most of the language during the time of his mission. Like most Samoans, however, he was kind, generous, and filled with laughter. Seumalii taught me much of the Samoan language and culture. He showed tremendous patience when I struggled with both.

The Samoan language is related to Tongan, Hawaiian, Tahitian, etc. When Westerners hear it spoken, they often comment on the large quantity of vowels. Every Samoan word must end in a vowel; additionally, every consonant is separated by a vowel. Thus, to the Western ear, Samoan is very musical.

Grammatically, Samoan is not a complex language. It has no genders, no to be verbs, and no conjugation of verbs. At first I struggled with its simplicity; I felt that a language needed all of the aforementioned elements to be effective. I was wrong. Samoan is very effective within its own realms of communication. Where it struggles is in describing modern technology.

In some respects Samoan is superior to English. For example, in English we have the words we, you, and they. If I were to say, "We went to the store," you don't know for certain who we are save that there were at least two of us. But in Samoan, we, you, and they pose no such ambiguities. We has dual and plural forms which are further subdivided into inclusive and exclusive forms. You has singular, dual, and plural forms; while they has dual and plural forms. Thus in Samoan it's very clear who we, you, and they are.

Most of the difficulties in Samoan come through cultural interaction. The Samoan social hierarchy is very strong in many parts of the islands, and one must know one's place and act accordingly. As a missionary I found myself thrust onto the very top of the hierarchy alongside other ministers of religion. If I had been Samoan, I would have been expected to know much of the higher registers of linguistic discourse, but because I am white the expectation wasn't there.

However, I never felt that I could or should let my "whiteness" trump the need for learning the intricacies of the higher registers of language. Samoan chiefs are the guardians of the Samoan cultural language to which I am referring. They use it daily in governing the villages. Much of this language is metaphors; obscure allusions to important events in ancient history, myths, and legends; and even references to everyday material culture.

For example, if I told you that coconut trees don't lean for no reason at all but lean because of the wind, you might congratulate me on making such an astute observation. But to the Samoan chief, this type of saying means that there is a logical explanation for everything that happens.

Or if I explained to you that even though it rains a lot, the sea is still salty, again you may praise my understanding of nature, but the Samoan chief hears my undoubtedly inadequate thanks for his generosity.

The chiefs thrive on this sort of language, and it is generally organized into a strict order of speeches which are made for various circumstances. If I entered into a house for the first time, I would be greeted with a speech to which I would respond with a speech. Then I would give a speech to introduce myself and ask if I could share a message about Jesus Christ. After sharing said message, I would give a speech in which I would announce my departure and give any due thanks. The chief would respond in a speech accepting my thanks. Lastly, I would give a very small speech and finally make my exit.

There are speeches for funerals, speeches for marriages, speeches for great occasions, and speeches of thanks. Speeches for entering a house, speeches for leaving, and speeches for not entering the house at all when invited to. Speech-making is the official past time of Samoan chiefs and it is a lot of fun to watch and listen.

But for the new missionary with little grasp on even the common, everyday language, speech-making was terrifying. Fortunately, the Samoans oohed and ahhed over my rudimentary speeches thus bolstering my confidence to continue making them. In time, while I could never match a chief, I became quite proficient in the formalities of much of the Samoan language, speech-making and all.