Maurice’s grandfather, Don C. McBride, began or ended many of his missionary journal entries during his two missions to Samoa with the words, “Today was a day never to be forgotten,” or words to that effect. Today’s events will rank high on our own "never-to-be-forgotten" list.
The day began with what we thought would be a rather simple, if time consuming, assignment: Drive the van to the sisters’ house in the village of Vaovai on the back side (south side) of the island and pick up their broken bicycles; travel on to the village of Leagiagi at the eastern end of the island and deliver some much needed cleaning supplies to the elders there; then make the drive back to mission headquarters in Pesega (a suburb of Apia, on the north side) and drop off the broken bicycles in the repair shop.
The whole trip should have taken 3 hours or 4 at the most – except that many roads and landmarks have changed or been added since Maurice was here 50 years ago, especially after the 2009 tsunami. We got lost repeatedly. Several times we had to stop and ask directions, back up, get lost again, and find ourselves heading in the wrong direction. Heavy rains from time to time did not help.
But the scenery along the way was breathtaking! The rain did stop from time to time, and we could take a few pictures. This one is in the garden of a family we saw along the way:
The first part of the trip – getting to Vaovai – should have been pretty straight forward, but we had been asked to make a couple of side detours to a few other villages first. Then finding Leagiagi proved even more difficult. We now realize it, too, was pretty straight forward, or at least it will be next time.
Throughout the day we stopped and asked directions, and frequently we came across young men and young women with name tags reading “Elder” or “Sister” someone. We enjoyed stopping and visiting with them and – when they saw we had cleaning supplies, mosquito nets, fresh water jugs, and other missionary supplies – we enjoyed playing Santa Claus and distributing needed items to them.
One such encounter was with the elders serving in the area of the scenic Sopoaga Falls. The picture at the top of this blog is professionally taken of the Falls; the one below is ours:
At one point we stopped for gasoline and saw a large group of nicely dressed men and women walking from one fale to another. In the large open yard was a newly prepared gravesite. (People here are often buried in the front yards of their fale.) The gas station attendant informed us that it was a group of LDS members attending a funeral. It was interesting to watch the ceremonial giving of gifts (cans of beef, fine woven mats, and money) conducted by two Samoan “talking chiefs.” We saw no one else taking pictures, so we did not, either.
By late afternoon we found ourselves somewhere in the vicinity Leagiagi, but we kept going in circles. We were totally lost. The Google Map on Maurice's iPhone can work well here sometimes, but as we were looking for small villages on recently created small roads, the GPS was useless, as it did not have the names of the villages we needed.
We then saw a lovely young woman walking on the road, and stopped and asked her for directions to Leagiagi. “Please,” she said in excellent English, “let me go with you and show you the way. I am LDS, too.” We readily accepted, after which we insisted on driving her to her own home. She said her name was Mele, and explained that she was walking home from the local school where she is teacher. Her English was good, she said, because she had graduated from the LDS school in Pesega.
As we came to the turn-off into the road that would lead through the tropical forest to her house, she said she could walk from there. We refused, recognizing that her kindness to us warranted a little assistance from us. The van bounced and bumped as we made our way through the green wonderland, over a shaky-looking bridge, and into a lovely grass yard with a Samoan fale. At times we wondered if we had made a wise decision.
Along the way the young woman told us that her widowed mother serves in the LDS Samoa Temple two days a week. She takes a bus into town, stays overnight, and takes the bus back. We took time out to come into their house and introduce ourselves to her mother. Maurice asked the elderly lady how many years she had worked in the temple. “Since 2008,” she said. He explained to her that his sister served as a temple missionary here about five year ago. “Perhaps you knew her,” he said. “Her name is Sister Anderson.”
The elderly woman’s eyes welled up with tears. “She is my best friend. I love her,” she said in English. She immediately went into the back room of the fale and came out with a picture – the same picture that hangs today on the living room wall of Maurice’s sister. Hugging the picture to her chest, she said, “Sister Darla Anderson. She is my best friend.” There were tears all around.
As we left, the family brought us four papaya and a cup of Samoan cocoa (“koko Samoa”) mix to use at home. We made our way back to the main road, and had no trouble after that finding our way back to Pesega.
On the way home, we stopped and took in the view of one of the most beautiful scenes in Samoa, the Le Mafa pass.
We can’t help thinking that if even one of the distractions and delays today had not occurred, we might never have met the young woman at that particular time to ask for directions, and we would not have met her mother. Truly, a day never to be forgotten.
Dateline 15 October 2015, Apia, Samoa: Today Sister Alicia McBride, recently called as a missionary to serve in the Samoa Apia Mission, got behind the wheel of a 2014 Hyundai Tucson (not the "nice big van") and drove for over one full hour. Her faithful companion, Elder Maurice McBride, was seated at her side (her left side), and he struggled manfully to stop trying to step on the brake (because it is not located on the left side). Sister McBride managed to avoid dogs, chickens, little children, and oncoming trucks and buses. Good job, Sister McBride!