Thursday, August 23, 2012
Not an End, But a Beginning
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Well, it is easy to say that this was the longest day of my life. I left Australia at 1:40 PM on August 21st to arrive in New York at 9:30 PM August 21st! I can’t believe that this journey has come to an end, but I like to think of it as more of a beginning.
I left off describing my time in Honiara before departing for the plane. Thursday morning brought early mass again with the sisters. Clare and I headed home to pack out bags reluctantly. Sister Rosa suggested that we visit the Guadalcanal memorial. After hopping in the car with Emmanuel, about 30 minutes later we arrived. At the top of a huge cliff was the memorial, including many stonewalls engraved with battle descriptions. There was a guest book to sign in and I saw that so many visitors were there that week, including some from California, Norway, and Singapore! The scene was truly humbling. After a few more stops, we headed home to make a guest appearance in the sisters’ English lesson taught by Laurel. The sisters asked us questions in English about our family, hobbies, and studies. After some good laughs and a farewell lunch, Sister Mary, Saniella, Maria, and Rosa gave Clare and I each a T-shirt. Mine is red with “Solomon Islands 2012” printed on the front. They were tearing up as we were saying goodbye and I was heartbroken. I seriously didn’t want to leave this country.
We made it to the airport and saw Sister Catie right away with Jennifer. They waited for Clare and I to check in and we said our goodbyes. I felt upset to leave but I was also excited for the fact that I would get to see my family so soon. That was pretty much the only motivating factor pushing me up the stairs to the plane.
Christine and Rick Vosila picked Clare and I up from the airport and we tried to recount as much as we could of our trip in the short car ride home from the airport. I couldn’t believe I would have to try to explain my experience now! I was so happy to see the Bells and we stayed up late sharing pictures and stories.
On Friday morning, I woke up so early due to my usual 5:30 AM mass schedule. I was certainly ready by the time it was my 11 AM meeting with Sister Rose Mary. Clare and I met with the leadership team at Santa Sabina over coffee. After the meeting, Sister Rose Mary, Clare, and myself headed into Sydney to see St. Vincent’s hospital. This hospital is affiliated with the Solomon Islands. They have a program where each year they take 15 or so patients with a treatable condition and offer them care and stay at the hospital. We talked about the program with the nurses there and also met a man from the Solomon’s on dialysis. Unfortunately he was too sick to return and they are trying to grant him refugee status. We also heard the story of a young girl from Papua New Guinea who stayed courtesy of a doctor who found her there with a melanoma the size of a grapefruit on her face. She received surgery and chemo that cured her completely. Her case was truly a miracle and she is now home in PNG with a child of her own.
After we retuned, Clare and I headed out to a restaurant with Marcella, Rachel, and 3 of their friends. I enjoyed a salmon meal whole-heartedly but felt a little out of place in a room crowded with people. The next morning, Sue, Marcella, Bernie, and myself grabbed a bite to eat at the café. Bernie was heading to “The Shire” for a birthday party. This is essentially like “The Hills” and is one of the nicest areas I have ever seen. We drove her down and got a tour of an amazing mansion right on the water. It seemed extra large to me especially coming from the Solomon’s. Sue, Marcella, and I decided to walk around Cronulla, which is a downtown right near the beach. We had some coffee and lunch and headed home because Marcella and I needed to attend a 21st birthday party that evening.
Marcella and Sue dressed me in a fancy outfit and we headed off to the party. The birthday girl was a family friend of the Vosila’s so Clare and Rachel would be there as well. In Australia, 21st birthdays are like sweet sixteens. I was greeted at the door with a drink by a waitress and offered samples of French cuisine throughout the night. I had a great time on the glass dance floor over the swimming pool and headed out with Marcella and her friends after a few hours.
I was exhausted on Sunday morning but woke up for mass and got ready for a barbeque at Anne Gibbon’s house. The event was a celebration for all the work put in to make the fellowship happen and a thank you to the homestay families for being such great hosts. I received a beautiful aboriginal art cross from Sister Rose Mary, Anne, and Jane Sulis. That night I also participated in “Night Patrol” which is a program run by St. Vincent de Paul charity. Every day a truck goes to various places around Sydney to hand out sandwiches and snacks to the homeless. On Sundays Santa Sabina girls participate so we joined. It was humbling to see the many homeless and also quite sad. The group of 15-year-old kids who came for food particularly upset me. It was a great program nonetheless.
On Monday morning, Clare and I had our final debrief with Sister Rose Mary about suggestions/ideas for next year. We had a wonderful discussion and recounted many parts of our trip that were incredible. I don’t think the fellowship needs many changes, especially with Sister Rose Mary in charge. She has put in endless hours of organization and planning, trying her best to work with Solomon time and schedules! She is a remarkable woman and I am so grateful for her work that made this the best experience of my entire life.
I headed over to the convent where Sue Bell works as a nurse. Clare and I shared our pictures and stories with the sisters, many whom have met some of the Solomon sisters. I headed home to pack after that, because the Bells wanted to take me out for my last night. I told them not to make it an extravagant outing, but of course it was! Stephen, Sue, Marcella, Bernie, and I drove to Sydney and had a drink at an upscale bar based on the 1920’s. The inside was amazing and our waitresses were flappers! We then went to a remarkable French restaurant named Felix where Mr. Bell was friends with the chef. The interior was beautifully decorated and so fancy! I tried oysters for the first time and enjoyed my meal. I am seriously going to miss the Bells. We laughed so much over our time together and it is safe to say I was treated like a queen. When I departed for the airport the next morning, Marcella, Bernie, and I said our goodbyes. I said a “see you soon” to Sue because she is coming to my house in two weeks while she is in NYC! Stephen carried my suitcases to the Vosila’s car and I was officially off to the airport.
The flight was long as expected, but I caught up on some movies. Clare and I were getting so anxious as we approached New York after the 6-hour flight from LA! We made a friend sitting next to us and probably overwhelmed him as we explained our trip and showed him pictures. I think we were a little overexcited! After landing, I ran to baggage claim where my family was waiting. I was so happy to finally see them and we hugged for 10 minutes! Collin and Dad carried my bags as I started talking a mile a minute to my mom. We met Clare’s family and said our goodbyes. We will be seeing each other at PC in a week!
On the way home as I looked out the window and caught up with my family, I felt a sense of peace and happiness that I had never experienced before. I was not devastated to leave the Solomon Islands, but so grateful to have been able to experience my time there. I don’t feel like my journey has come to an end at all. Part of this mission is relaying the story to family and friends. I know that I will not lose touch with all those I have met in Sydney and the Solomon’s. The sisters have truly helped me more than I have helped their country, and I cannot believe how much I have learned in 7 weeks time. From hiking mountains, scuba diving, and performing surgeries, it is safe to say that my dreams have come true. Each day was a challenge, yet also an opportunity. I will not forget the sisters who made me double over laughing or the children in the hospital. But most importantly, I will not forget the feeling of tranquility that surrounded me each day on the Islands. This is how I will now live my life, and how I will perpetually preach the Solomon gospel.
Thank you to all who have made this journey possible. Thank you to Father Robb and the Smith Fellowship Selection Committee and the generous donors. Thank you to my friends who have supported me since the day I found out about my trip. And thank you to my family who has been my anchor through the ups and downs of this journey. I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog as much as I have loved writing it!