Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Transportation and the lack thereof

The people of Samoa and the missionaries that serve here, employ a variety of transportation modes to facilitate their movement within and between the islands of the pacific.

This blog is about Elder Jacob Anderson and our efforts to transport a small package over to him on the island of Ofu.  Ofu and Ta'u are known as the islands of Manu'a and are located about 70 miles East of Tutuila where we live.

Traditionally we picture missionaries doing a lot of walking which is certainly true of the missionaries of Samoa.  I've included a picture of Elder Anderson's shoes to help prove that point.  But to be honest, missionaries also take advantage of the buses, member vehicles and occasionally even the taxis that operate on the island, and since our elders have not been too successful at walking on water they travel between the islands either by plane or ferry boat.  Since this is a blog about transportation, or the lack thereof, you might think that it was Elder Anderson's shoes that gave-out on him but this is not the case.  Actually it was his left leg.

January 4, Monday:
We receive a phone call from Elder Anderson, who is serving on the island of Ofu - the smallest of the Manu'a islands, population 200 or so,  He has a large boil on his left leg.  It is red, stuff is oozing out, and his ankle is becoming quite swollen.  We advise him to pour hydrogen peroxide on it and apply hot water to draw the infection.  We notify Dr/Elder Olsen, the area doctor in New Zealand, who tells us that this kind of infection in the leg can turn gangrenous very rapidly and we need to get him started on antibiotics as quickly as possible.  
Back to transportation.
The M.V. Sili ferry travels the 70 miles / 8 hours  from our island of Tutuilla to the larger island of Ta'u and then to Ofu where it then returns to Tutuilla. However, there are no set days and times.  Our understanding, from the ship's operators, is that the boat goes only when there is enough demand and only after the ship's mechanic deems it able to make the voyage and then only after the Coast Guard declares it seaworthy!

Polynesian Air flies to Ta'u three days a week but only flies to Ofu (Elder Anderson's island) on Thursday.

The Manu'a islands have few roads and even fewer vehicles and no buses.  Although people with vehicles are generous in offering rides,  there just aren't that many driving around Manu'a.  The pickup shown below is quite typical of the way people travel around the island.  As I recall, we too traveled in the back of a pickup when we were here in 2007.

On with the story.
Elder Anderson says there is a small clinic on the island so we tell him to walk/limp the 45 minutes there on Tuesday.  We also learn that the M.V. Sili is sailing on Tuesday night and the Church's Facilities Management Group (FM) is sending a worker along with building supplies to repair a mission house on Ta'u (perfect).

Since we have a supply of the prescribed antibiotic we arrange to send a box of pills along with requested foods and other supplies with the FM on Tuesday night's sailing.  We go to the wharf and put all of the supplies on pallets in preparation for the sailing.  We leave the wharf early in the evening only to find the supplies and the FM worker sitting at the Church office the next morning. The ship had been chartered by the Power company and they had taken all of the space so our shipment would not go until the next sailing. The antibiotics could have been given to a passenger but thinking outside the box is not the mentality of many of the island people.

Tuesday afternoon Elder Anderson calls and says the clinic wasn't open but would be open on Wednesday.  Okay, make the hike again tomorrow.

The following day, Wednesday, we spoke with the nurse at the clinic and she prescribes the same antibiotic that Dr Olsen recommended.  However, she only has enough pills for two days! (welcome to island life)  I informed her that we were sending the full regimen of pills on the plane on Thursday, so that should work well.

Thursday morning we arrive at the airport and recognize a couple of young schoolteachers we had met at the wharf while preparing their boxes of school food to go on the ship the previous day (their supplies didn't go either).  They said the Elders volunteered at the school and they knew them very well and would deliver the antibiotics to them (success!). We notified Elder Anderson to meet them at the airstrip.

Yup, Elder Anderson calls back and said that the plane didn't arrive.  Polynesian Air confirmed that the winds were too strong to land so the plane returned to Tutuilla (this is becoming serious).

We are now informed that the M.V. Sili will be making a second voyage on Friday because of the amount of supplies that are sitting at the wharf (wonderful!).  However, our last box of antibiotics are wandering around the island of Tutuilla in the hands of a school teacher. We drive to the pharmacy at the hospital and talk our way into the inner sanctum to speak with the pharmacist.  Although very sympathetic and working hard to help, she finds that Elder Anderson has not been registered in the America Samoa medical system so there is no way she can dispense anything for him.  We leave and call Sister Lematu who is on the same drug and has half of her prescription left. (she can get more from the pharmacy).

On this voyage, the FM supplies are loaded in our mission van which is being transferred to Manu'a in preparation for a new senior couple.  We load the packages of food and supplies and the half regime of antibiotic that we got from Sister Lematu and instruct the FM to put these items back on the ship to go to Ofu when he off-loads the van in Ta'u (no problem).  We assume the schoolteacher will deliver the full dose of drugs when the plane goes.

Friday evening Elder Anderson calls to say that there are no packages on the boat.  We call and confirm that the FM didn't take the boxes out of the van and put them back on the boat. (unbelievable!)  The boat will spend the night on Ofu so we tell Elder Anderson and companion to be at the wharf early on Saturday to come to Tutuilla for treatment. DO NOT LET THE BOAT LEAVE WITHOUT YOU ON IT!  We arrange and pay for their trip with the people in Tutuila.

No, your wrong, they DID make it on the boat and we got him to the hospital on Saturday evening where he was given two pills by the E. R. Doctor to last until the pharmacy opened on Sunday morning.  Elder Anderson and companion spent a couple of nights with us where we put them to work harvesting and juicing lemons from our tree.  They then worked with other missionaries until we could get them on a plane the next Thursday.  Oh, at the airport we met the schoolteachers who were happy to give the antibiotics to Elder Anderson.

One other note about Elder Anderson,  The photo is of Elder Anderson standing in front of the painting depicting his great grandfather Joseph Dean's arrival in Samoa as the first mission president.  Oh, we took Elder Anderson to the store where he bought new shoes, but he refused to part with his old ones as we wanted to take them home as a keepsake.

Because of Cyclone Victor at the end of the week that Elder Anderson was with us, neither the plane nor the boat traveled to Manu'a.  He spent almost two weeks on Tutuila before we could get him a flight to Of'u.  Welcome to island life.  His leg is healing and he is back in good missionary form.

1 comment:

  1. We are so grateful that there are Senior couples who take of our missionaries. We are so grateful that Elder Anderson had a mom in Samoa that would love him and nurse him back to missionary health. Thank you for being so persistent in such an unpredictable world.

    Thank you so much for your service and love,

    Sister Debra Anderson