July 25, 2012

How Big is Your Neighborhood?

One of the great things about a career in the Foreign Service is that you get to travel the world—that includes living in several different countries. When most people talk about possibilities of living in different sections of a neighborhood or a city—for Foreign Service Officers we visit a country and we talk about the possibility of living there someday—truly keeping life a mystery.

As you know, Lady Hiva and I have been living in Manila, Philippines for the past year. We are here on a two year assignment so they try to get us assigned to our next post early so they, and we, can prepare. So way back in June the “bid list”  or a list of all the available positions around the world next year, came out. The first two tours in the State Department are what they call “directed tours” meaning you rank a list of countries from high to low and they assign you from that list. It is our second tour so we had to do this one more time. It is kind of exciting…you put the list together, send it in and then stew and speculate over it for a few weeks while Washington, DC decides, then you get an email of where you are going.

Lady Hiva and I spent hours and hours looking through all the countries, research what it is like to live there, what kind of job I would have etc. Then we sorted and listed, listed then sorted. Sorted. Sorted. Listed, and sorted some more. Eventually, after bartering with each other which order we wanted the list (not an easy task by the way…not only do we both have to agree but we have to satisfy all these detailed rules of bidding too) and we sent it off for assignment.

We based our criteria on three things: 1- It was a post a family could come (some posts don’t allow family because of security or health concerns) 2- I would have a management position and 3- that I could learn another language if possible. We made the list based on that, knowing full well that I was lucky enough to get Tagalog so chances were I may not get a language and if I did it would be an easier language like Spanish. But we were both alright with that.

So our top 10 of 30 looked something like this in the end:
1.      Bern Switzerland, German
2.      Geneva Switzerland, English
3.      Guatemala City, Guatemala, Spanish
4.      London England, English
5.      Auckland New Zealand, English
6.      Brussels Belgium, English
7.      Istanbul Turkey, Turkish
8.      La Paz Bolivia, Spanish
9.      Brussels Belgium, English
10.  Montevideo Uruguay, Spanish

We knew that realistically we would not get the London or Auckland or Brussels as they are highly competitive, but we added them anyway. Of the top ten 1,2,3, and 7 were management positions. Turkish is a hard language and German training is long too, so I really thought we were going to Guatemala. I would have bet money on it (although I don’t bet, thankfully because I would have been wrong)

We submitted our list and whisked off to Hawaii and Florida to be with our families. That was a great distraction from constantly conspiring about what will happen. There are so many folklore stories about if you do this you will get the post you want, or if you do that you will at least get something high on your list. We just waited.

In the midst of all of this is when we found out Lady’s brother died. So we landed in Manila and then four hours later took the exact same plane back to Hawaii. (Little did we know when we had left June 15 that one or the other of us was going to be in the States from then until July 23! YIKES)

The long awaited email came when we least expected it. Our phones have email, however they are not American carriers so if there is no wireless we cannot use the internet. We happened to be in a conference room choosing a burial plot when I saw a sign in the corner with the wireless password to the building. I logged in and VIOLA! The email was there! I was SO excited…but kept my excitement to myself due to the situation we were in. I even had the self-control to wait to tell Lady Hiva until we went outside.

We are going to ISTANBUL TURKEY! So I guess I will learn Turkish now. Hopefully this time Lady Hiva can take classes with me. Over the last few weeks we have been constantly excited about the assignment. Some of our really good friends are from there and they were the ones that introduced us to Turkish food when we lived in Washington, DC and there seems to be plenty of people that have either been there or are going soon for a holiday. There is a small congregation there so we can go to church, that made me happy. Lady Hiva has been doing research and gets REALLY REALLY excited about “all the things we can do there” I have to reminder her we still have almost a year left here in Manila, plus the training time in DC…we will not be in Istanbul for quite some time! HAHAHA…but I am glad that she is happy. That makes moving her around the world again easier.

So here is to another adventure! (I say that too much I think)….Well, in a year anyway! HAHA

July 08, 2012

The Worth of A Soul is Great…

As you all know, Lady Hiva and I are here in Hawaii for the second time in three weeks for a funeral. I normally would LOVE to have a chance to be here but it is sad that we are here for this reason. Lady’s older brother Moana committed suicide unexpectedly. We had just been with him a week ago and he was so happy. I am thankful that we do have those memories. I am also thankful that I am nosy and asked several questions about his truck, insurance, work, and life in general. Little did I know those answers would become really important this week as we sorted through paperwork stuff to find out what the situation is.

Moana was a good man, compassionate, kind, and a friend to all. He was the kind of person that would give you anything if you needed it and he could help out. Stories abound about him sending packages of goodies, notes, or phone calls to tell people that he loved them. He is a man that will truly be missed. Lady Hiva and I have been on the receiving end of Moana’s love several times. Service, chocolate, a note, you name it, he was always watching out for us.

A few years ago my brother, Trevor, also committed suicide. Finding out that Moana did too brought back all of the questions from Trevor’s death. Questions like, “Why did they do that?” “Why did they not talk to someone?” “Why did I not tell them I loved them more?” “Why did I not see this coming?” “Why?...Why?...WHY!?” The questions are endless and they never have answers

As I have thought about Moana and Trevor over the last few days, there is one theme that keeps returning. LOVE. Trevor’s and Moana’s situations are quite different, but where their situations ARE the same is that both of them did not understand how loved they were and that ANY of us would have jumped at the opportunity to help if they would have said how much pain they were dealing with. Hind sight is always more clear and we wish we would have seen the signs. Even now after 3 years of Trevor’s, we still talk about how we wish we could have done more, said more and loved more.

Then there is the realization that most of us are too prideful or too depressed to admit to someone that we need help. To quote one of my favorite Hymns, “In the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see.”  Yes, it would have been easier if Trevor or Moana would have waved a red flag to get everyone’s attention and yelled “I NEED HELP!” However, that does not happen. It would be too easy. Whatever challenges people are lugging around in their emotional and physical suitcases are so heavy  they are blinded by the myopic view of struggle and they miss all the love and positive aspects of their lives. It is sad to think that someone was so down they did not think they were worth living. But that is not true. There is always something you are needed you for. Each of us have a purpose, we all have worth. And that worth is great. Sometimes we just need someone to remind us of that worth—and it cannot be AFTER it is too late. Today in Lady Hiva’s talk during the funeral she said, “The worth of a soul is great. We need to invest time in our relationships with each other so we all know the love we have for each other.”

So what do we do?

We listen, we reach out, we understand, and we love. We listen to what is being said and what is NOT being said when we talk with people. We reach out to those that are in need. I once heard a saying when I was young and it still is true today: The hardest people to love are most often the ones that need it most. It is true. So showing love all around is always a good way to start. We understand that although a person or a situation may be frustrating, that people are only trying to do the best they know how. And we love. We love openly and truly.

In our doorway there is a sign that greets visitors who enter our home. It reads: Speak Love. A simple, but powerful, command. It is only by SHOWING our love, not just ASSUMING people know we love them, that we are able to communicate to those we love that, yes, life is hard, and yes, we may disagree and be frustrated at each other once in awhile, and yes, we all have challenges to work through, BUT we are NOT alone! There is help. There is healing. All you need to do is ASK. If we show love now, when people DO need help they will let us know. They may not have a red flag  boldly waving for us to see, but in their own subtle ways they will make us aware that they need our help. We have to be ready to provide that help when the time is right. Not tomorrow, not in five minutes. BUT NOW! It does not have to be big, it can be a smile or a hug, but at least it is acknowledging their worth…their personal worth.

For three years I have dreamed of Trevor and having conversations with him. In some I am angry with him, in others we cry together. In day time I often think, with sadness of the last conversation I had with him and wonder if I missed his hints that he needed help. Or with Moana I wonder if he knew that I, or Lady Hiva, or any other sibling or cousin, love him SO much that he could have come to any one of us to talk so we could share his burden.

But for them it is too late. We now need to resolve to do all we can so we don’t lose any more people that we love. For today there are people to love, things to learn, and service to do—we MUST do it today, for tomorrow may be too late. My resolve is to be more meek and humble—more prone to speak love, more prone to show kindness and patience, to forgive more, serve more and most of all, to listen to that small voice prompting to me reach out to a friend in their time of need.

July 03, 2012

ANOTHER Free Day in Japan

As I said in my last blog, this is the second time we have been in Nagoya Japan in the last 10 hours! We literally have been on the same airplane three times! We flew on it from Detroit to Japan, then Japan to Manila, then got back on it a few hours later to fly BACK to Japan…YIKES! We had an 8 hour lay over in Japan so we decided to once again explore the new city. This time we ventured farther away from the airport to visit Osu Kannon Temple and shopping district in Nagoya. It was raining—of course. Actually I think Lady Hiva and I have bought more umbrellas in Japan and left them as we finished the day that we have in the last few years total! HAHA!  Yet it was still beautiful.

The temple grounds were not as expansive as the temple in Narita Town, but it was still clean and ornate. What we enjoyed the most was the shops and restaurants that branched out from the temple. The walk ways were covered so that made taking photos on a rainy day quite a bit easier. We stopped and watched the cooks in the bakery windows making their delicious treats—that of course we had to go in and try. Our favorite was the fish shaped waffle filled with Azuki beans.

We wandered through the Kimono shops and admired the beauty of the silks. Lady Hiva decided that she loved the funky style of bright clothing that seems to be popular. Too bad we did not have more time because there was street after street of quaint shops and cute restaurants to explore.

We decided to eat at one of the local restaurants before we headed back to the airport. We chose one that looked good in the food photos that are iconic of Asian restaurants. We went in and sat down. The staff was really friendly, they greeted with smiles and friendly greetings—even though we could not understand what they were saying, it still was a warm greeting. We sat down to eat and they handed us a menu…despite all the road signs being in both Japanese and English, the menu was ALL Japanese! NOT even photos! LOL…Lady Hiva asked if we should go, because we could not understand what anything was. Luckily one of the cooks came out with a small photo book and we picked something to eat! What an adventure.

The Restaurant where we ate

It was interesting to see different cultures interact with each other. As we came off the plane from Manila there was a group of High School students going to Ohio for a choir competition. As they stood in the line they decided to practice. As I was going through customs the officer said, “Who is singing?!” And after he gave my passport back he jumped out of his seat, ran across the room and yelled, “Stop it! Stop that singing!” HAHAHA! You should have seen the faces of those kids…they were not sure what to do. Again at the restaurant the cook came out and told a family that was playing a game together to be quiet…wow! SO different from the many noises in Manila!

It was a great way to take a rest from sitting for hours. Next stop…Hawaii.

Unknown Blessings

Our “Rest and Relaxation” holiday is over. Two weeks of being with family—it was anything BUT rest and relaxation! Lady Hiva and I were talking about it and we have not had a decent night’s sleep for the whole two weeks. Between the time differences and the staying up late to spend time with family we survived on a few hours of sleep a day.

We left Florida early in the morning and made the first leg of our LONG trip half way around the world to home. However, when we landed in Atlanta for our lay over, we got to the gate and the jet way door was shut! Not a good sign. We were there an hour early so I knew we were not late, but the lady said that the flight had been overbooked and it was full. We were not making it on the flight. How frustrating. We have work to get back to. I decided to not get upset during this experience. It was stressful for us, stressful for the poor customer service staff that had to deal with us and stressful for those are expecting us to be home.

After an hour in the customer service desk we had made some new friends, had a hotel scheduled for an overnight in Atlanta, some money in return for the inconvenience (which is always nice), and off we went. We checked into the hotel and grabbed a map of Atlanta to see what we could explore in the city. I turned on the internet to tell our families that we were staying one night in Georgia and when I did there were two messages from Lady’s family saying it was an emergency and we needed to call. Hiva called right away and found out that Moana, her 34 year old brother that we had just spent a week with in Hawaii, had passed away. SHOCK!

Needless to say we did NOT go out and see Atlanta. We spent the day in the room making calls to family and trying to get hold of work in Manila to let them know. But then we realized it was a Sunday morning there so nobody would be at work. With the help of Google Voice, Skype, Facebook and the hotel phone we were able to contact both our bosses and let them know and contact some good friends to help us out. This is where we started to count the bounty of blessings that continually flowed.

The first blessing was that we did not make that flight. Had we made the flight we would not have known about Moana until AFTER we were in Manila. Knowing now made it easier to talk with family and we were able to get the process started for tickets to Hawaii.

Next was the money we were given for being forced to miss our flight. That money turns out to be almost the exact amount we need to buy my ticket back to Hawaii. Lady Hiva qualifies for a fund from work that helps people go to their families in a time of need—another blessing.

One of the biggest blessing to us during this time is all of the people that are willing to help us out. I read a quote in one of the many airports we have been into the last few days—“Good Friends are like stars, even though they are far away or sometimes you cannot see them, you always know they are there…” Here we are, stuck in Atlanta, supposed to be going to Japan, home is in Manila, we are needed in Hawaii and we cannot do anything. We called Jim, who works in HR at the Embassy in Manila and even though it was Sunday morning we started making calls to Washington DC to help us get the process started for our tickets. We had to get on a flight the next morning, so I sent Jim my credit card number and told him which flights we would like. He was willing to go beyond his work duty and when we finally landed in Manila 15 hours later, he had arranged our tickets, a car to pick us up and a car to take us back to the airport to catch our flight a few hours later. Being able to describe how valuable Jim’s help was during this time is impossible. We literally could not have done this without his help.

And it was not only Jim, our bosses have been extremely supportive and willing to help us be with our families in a time of need even though we have already been gone for two weeks. There was also Junjun in the travel department that issued our tickets and because he knows us personally he was able to issue knowing I would sign the necessary documentation when I get back. He waited up until almost one in the morning until we made it so he could make sure the tickets were correct.

Then there was Caroline who is one of those stalwart, trustworthy, genuine-you-see-what-you-get friends. Lady Hiva and I have grown close to her over the last year. She is a special Lady. When we realized we had arranged to pay our car insurance when we returned, but now we would not be returning, she was the first person we thought of to help us. I wrote her a quick note on Facebook to ask her if she would be willing to pay the insurance company if I left her the money. She said she would—as we knew she would—but then that one request became several more. When we arrived in Manila finally one of our bags had been lost. We will not be in Manila to receive it, so we gave the airline authorization to deliver the bag to Caroline. (Literally we are dumping all our baggage on her at this point!)…Again, words cannot express the blessing it is to have friends like this who jump at a moment’s notice to help when we cannot do it all ourselves.

So I am writing this as we fly back to Hawaii. In the last 32 hours we have been in Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Nagoya Japan, Manila for  four hours while we washed clothes and repacked, back to Nagoya Japan, then finally to Hawaii…I am not sure what time it is, or when I am supposed to be awake or asleep. But because of all the blessings we have been granted, we are going to be with the family at a tender time. I am sure there will be many more blessings come, we will keep you posted.

Deseret Ranch and Indian Shores Beach!

We left Disney early in the morning after all the kids had chosen their souvenirs. We drove East to the Deseret Ranch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Beau-D and Kalani really love the ranching lifestyle they experienced in Wyoming so they wanted to see what the ranch looks like in Florida. The Church owns over 300,000 Acres (500 square miles) of land that they farm for profit. They raise cattle and other livestock and fruit orchards. It was really interesting to take the tours. Having grown up on a farm in Utah it was novel to see that one of the two problems they have on the ranch is alligators in the watering holes and wild boar tearing up the fields. So different from what we worried about. By the time we were down Beau-D decided that he wanted to sign up for a job.

We met Gramy and Grandpa there and as always it is good to see them. We went in a caravan of cars to the Gulf Coast where we stayed in Indian Shores. The Gulf was not as clear as Hawaii waters are, but that could be due to Debbie trying to level the homes and rearrange the shoreline. We had so much fun! Madre and Kell rented a stand-up paddle board that we all used—some easier than others. Lady Hiva seems to be a natural. They also rented a platoon boat that we took a ride up the channels off the Gulf. We were able to see several birds and dolphins. The cutest ones were the baby dolphins that were swimming with their mothers. I tried to take photos but is was hard to know where they were going to come up again for air.

Beau-D, Kalani, Lady Hiva, and I all rented jet skis for an hour. We took them out on the Gulf and had SO much fun. Beau-D and I constantly were trying to see how fast we could take them. Sadly, Lady got scared when I got up to about 45 so I had to slow down. I knew she was nervous when she said that if I did not slow down she was going to jump off and swim to shore, she does not like to swim so that was evidence she was serious about that threat. Ironically, when she was driving she went just as fast…when I asked her what the difference was she said that she feels safer when she is in control! HAHA

The rest of the time we spent building sand castles, swimming and laughing with each other. I was able to talk Lady Hiva, Beau-D and Kalani, Lightening, and Pickles all at separate times to swim out to the buoy 300 yards of shore. That was fun, although all of them started to talk about sharks half way out and I had to beg them to swim AROUND the buoy not just to it, as if there was some invisible barrier that they knew if they crossed they would be bitten right away! HAHA We even got in some Wii Dance Competitions. We all had a good laugh when Lightening informed his dad that he danced like “He had to go pee!” HAHA, but despite how it looked, Nate scored higher than any of us!

It was such a great time. We have loved being back in the U.S. and with our families. Leaving Florida and Hawaii we both felt like we could have used more time. It is the small things that you forget about and are in awe to experience again—like not having to calculate exchange rates at the restaurant or store (it was funny when we landed in Los Angeles I was at the sandwich shop and the sandwich was $10USD and out of habit I calculated it into Pesos and thought “Wow, that is almost 600PHP!” Wait!? Why am I calculating??? Or being able to see stars at night, or a wide open field full of green grass, or a road with us being the only car, or Taco Bell…..I can go on and on.