Sunday, June 10, 2012

Where Can I Turn For Peace?

For the first time on my trip, I don't want to write this post.  In fact, I've been dreading it now for about 3 days.  I didn't know how to explain what has happened here in the last week.  I don't know if I understand it much myself.  In fact, if it weren't for a series of sensationalized and oddly inaccurate stories being put out by ABC4 news, I would probably have avoided addressing the topic all together.  It's not my story to tell, and I feel very hesitant to offer my own version, but since a few people seem more concerned with blame and fault than accuracy and truth, I almost feel a need to offer some sort of objective information to my concerned friends and family.

So here goes....

Last week, my directors met with our landlord to discuss getting our deposit back after decided to move to a bigger house.  The one we were in wouldn't hold 27 people, so it was necessary to move, but the landlord was incredibly upset by our decision to move out.  Legally, we could move whenever we wanted, there was no contract, but I think he was mostly upset by the fact that he had managed to extract a large amount of rent out of us for that house, and knew he probably wouldn't be getting that kind of price out of anybody else.  That's guess #1.

Anyway, Katherine and Candice went to meet with him and the real estate agent.  Candice had a bad feeling about going, and didn't want to get in the car with the man because he was upset.  Katherine told her she could meet them there, but that she didn't feel endangered and was going to go with him to make sure he showed up to the meeting.  Candice decided to get in the car, and that was her choice, but was very upset about it.  And again, she felt threatened even then.

What happened at this meeting is the first of the he-said-she-said problems that arose.  Candice got into a verbal altercation with the landlord.  There was a lot of yelling between Candice, the landlord, and the real-estate agent.  It's another guess, but I'm betting Katherine was overwhelmed by all of it, and in an effort to kind of check-out, she started trying to speak with one of the real estate agents, kind of tuning out the argument between Candice and the landlord.

And here is where things get sticky.  Candice says she was threatened directly by the landlord.  That he made threats to harm her.  Katherine did not hear those threats.  Candice left the meeting, trying to get Katherine to come with her.  Katherine did not understand why she was so upset, and decided to try and resolve the rental situation at hand.  I'm guessing Candice assumed Katherine heard the threat, and was disregarding her safety and the volatility of the situation.  Considering how much those two have struggled to have accurate communication in the past, it wouldn't surprise me if that's what it was - a total breakdown in communication.

Either way, Candice came home crying and incredibly upset about what happened.  Understandably so.  She felt threatened by a very intimidating man, disregarded and disrespected by her co-director, and probably frustrated with herself and the situation for things getting so out of hand.  Now, here again, is the he-said-she-said.  Candice called Help and told them she was having problems with Katherine and about the situation at the real-estate office.  Help told her to not make it public with the rest of the team.  Whether they were saying not to make the threat public or to make the fracture in Katherine and Candice's relationship public, is kind of the current debate.  Communication breakdown #2.  Either way, nobody addressed the argument with us, but Candice did tell me what happened with the landlord.  I wish I would have gotten a direct quote out of her now because I think it would help me better understand what happened, but it's a little late for that, and probably futile in the grand scheme of things.

So that evening, we all sat down to dinner.  Hilary, the same girl I expressed concern about earlier, was absent.  Kylie informed us that she was at the internet cafe just down the road and had 40 minutes or so left on her time, so Kylie left her there and came back by herself.  One more problem that shouldn't have happened.  In the Help handbook it specifically tells us that we should not be going places alone, but rather keep it to groups of 2-3 or more.  In daylight, many of us had disregarded that guideline.  A few of us would go on runs by ourselves, I'd go get bread from the hot-bread shop down the road by myself, and a few others would go to the internet cafe alone or come back alone as well.  Granted, the internet cafe was pretty sketch after dark, and most people didn't like going there alone.  But it's not far from our house, and I'm guessing Hilary didn't feel it would be a problem to walk back by herself that night.

Unfortunately, it was a problem.  A very very big problem.  After dinner, Hilary had still not returned, and Candice and I went to look for her.  We stopped by the internet cafe, but they said she had left almost an hour before.  Trying not to panic, and hoping she was just walking around talking to her mom or boyfriend on the phone (something she has done before), we walked back to the house to see if she was wandering around there.  When we still didn't see her, we decided to walk to the other side of the lot and see if she was over there.  She had taken us on a walk that way one evening, so it seemed quite possible.  This also happened to be in the direction of the police station, so when we didn't see her in the first half of that loop, we decided to head there.  The idea was at least we could get a patrol car and more efficiently try to track her down.

When we were just a few hundred meters away from the station, we got a call from home that Hilary was home, and had been attacked.  Candice and I started booking it to the police station, reported the attack, though we had no idea to the extent, and at the same time, Candice decided to file a report about the landlord in case they were related.  The police took us back to the house, talked to Hilary and Candice, and I called the US Consulate to report the attack.  The next morning, Hilary and Candice headed to Suva to meet with the consulate security.  The consulate sent the FBI into Lautoka to investigate, and advised the team to get out of Lautoka for the day while the investigation was going on.

It took about a week to get the story on what happened to Hilary.  The details of the situation still seem a bit convoluted, but essentially, 3 men grabbed her on her way home, she's pretty sure by knife-point, took her to a dark and rather deserted area of the lot, beat her up, molested her, and attempted to rape her.  Somehow she got away, and ran back to the house.  It's amazing to me that she wasn't killed, and miraculous that she wasn't raped.  But she fought them, fought them the whole time, and I'm so happy that she did.  Not only because it probably saved her life, but because I know she's going to have a rough road trying to recover from this, I hope he feels empowered and strong because of it.

As for the investigation, it sounds like the FBI thinks we're safe in Lautoka.  I'm currently in Suva, but I'll get to that story in a bit.  While there is currently no evidence linking the landlord to the attack, many people, including some of the officers, believe that they might be related.  If they are, then certain legal issues arise.  Should the team have been informed about the threat?  Who should have informed them?  Is it Help's fault that Hilary wasn't informed of the threat before going to the cafe?  Is it Hilary's fault she disregarded the Help handbook and walked home alone?  Either way, I don't really like it, and it feels like some people are channeling their anger about the situation into how Help should be held accountable for it.  I just don't trust anger - in any direction or form.  I don't think it's going to help Hilary heal, and I don't think it's going to help the people of Fiji and various other countries where Help is invested.

If Hilary does feel like she needs to take action against Help, that's definitely her prerogative, but based on what little experience I have with those who have been victimized and abused, I doubt it's going to help her cope with everything.  Putting the guys who attacked her behind bars might, but I'm not sure this blame game with Help is going to make Hilary's healing any easier.  It won't serve the people of Fiji, nor will it bring peace to any members of the team, worried about their own safety and potential problems in the future.  Perhaps I just don't understand the objective of making Help responsible for the team not being informed, but it feels like some people are just swinging punches, hoping to make contact with somebody they think deserves it.  And the drama that has arisen from it is palpable...thanks especially to ABC4 news and their awful sense of journalistic integrity.

For those of you who saw the story, I'm sorry you had to find out about things that way.  As awful as the story is in reality, the report isn't exactly accurate.  I could name 4-5 major discrepancies between the report and reality, which make me think ABC4 is more concerned with sensationalizing and pointing fingers at Help than providing an objective account of what happened and whether or not parents should be worried about their children's safety.  Like I said, the FBI says we are safe to stay, so I'm not worried about it myself.  My plan is to keep working on my projects and not going anywhere by myself anymore.

Anyway, after arriving in Suva and meeting with the consulate, Hilary and Candice flew back to the states.  The pretense under which they flew back seems to now be perpetuating drama.  Help gave a couple of different accounts, which makes them look like they're trying to hide something, but I'm not really sure as to what.  Maybe they are trying to legally cover their tracks, maybe they are trying to keep info on a need to know basis for other reasons, or maybe they're just confused themselves by all of the different accounts and stories going on right now.  Criminalizing Help doesn't do me any favors, and I've decided I have enough on my plate right now that that part of the drama is probably not worth worrying about.

You see, as if Hilary's attack was not enough, one of our other girls had a potentially fatal accident about 36 hours later.  Anne and Annie were paired up as a team to go and teach music education in one of the villages near Tavua.  After waking up early, they went for a walk, and happened upon what apparently was a very cool tree, and decided to climb it.  Anne was about 20 ft up when she called down to Annie to join her up there because there was a break in the branches that made for a beautiful view.  Annie moved up to join her, and on the way a branch she was pulling herself up with broke.  Gravity did what gravity does, and on the way down she was knocked unconscious by one of the branches.  In hindsight, this probably helped her immensely because, besides slowing her fall down, it also made her body go limp, which may have saved her from more complicated injuries.

Either way, she was out for about 5 mins, pretty bloodied from the branches and the fall, and I'm sure Anne was absolutely terrified.  She did come-to, had some minor amnesia that subsided as the became more coherent, and was taken to the local hospital in Tavua immediately.  In case I didn't have enough appreciation for western medicine and modern healthcare before this incident, I do now.  Tavua is a small town surrounded by several small villages.  Tavua hospital is really nothing more than a building with several small, rather grimy rooms and one doctor.

When I arrived at the hospital, I was terrified for this girls life.  If she had any brain hemorrhaging or internal bleeding, there was nothing we could do, and no way we could know about it until it was too late.  I called a helicopter service to see if we could move her to the private hospital in Suva (the only hospital on the island that even begins to meet western standards), but before booking it, wanted to check with the doctor to get her assessment.  She felt like Annie was stable and that the best move would be to send her to Lautoka hospital for X-rays and CT scans.  I was satisfied with that, especially since moving her to Lautoka would only take an hour and moving her to Suva would take 3.  We had hear rumors about the sketchiness of Lautoka hospital, but they had CT's and X-rays, and sketchy as it may be, the machines might be her best ticket.

So we moved her to Lautoka, got the X-rays done and her chin stitched up, and found out that the CT scan was down.  Ugh...yeah apparently that's not uncommon, but it sure was frustrating.  The doc checked her for a concussion a few times, but due to her coherent nature and normal pupil activity, decided it was only mild.  The X-rays showed that she had 3 pelvic fractures, one of which they couldn't tell how serious it was, and since the main orthopedic doctor wasn't there, they decided to admit her for the night.  The next morning, the orthopedic doc came in, said the same thing, that he couldn't tell how serious the pelvic fracture was, and when we asked him to do a CT, they THEN informed us that it would be down for the whole week and it wasn't possible.

Well, Annie needed more information than that.  She needed to know how urgent it was for her to get home, and with no CT scan, we had no way of knowing if she had a break that should be surgically treated in the states, or if rest and relaxation was the only prescription and a flight home could wait until she would be able to endure it more comfortably.  After hitting one dead end after another, we finally got her to Suva to get the scans done.  And I'm so glad we did.  We got the CT scan of her head and pelvis.  Her head is fine (big phew), and the main fracture in her pelvis wasn't involved in her joint and was actually quite stable (another big phew).  A few of her wounds had become infected because Lautoka didn't feel they merited stitches, so the doc in Suva gave us some better bandages and antibiotics.  Thank goodness too, because Annie had been puking up the other antibiotics.

That was Friday, and since she got the all clear, Annie and I got to go to the temple on Saturday.  That was definitely the highlight of my week.  The session I was able to attend was full, and I felt so strongly of the faith of those in the room with me.  I then got to spend some good time reflecting on the events of the week, assess what my next move should be, and found some much desired peace about whether or not I should be staying in Fiji.  I also got to participate in a sealing, and it was a really neat experience.  It was me, a few Tongans, and some Fijians.  Despite how different everybody looked and even the different languages spoken, it was nice to be reminded that we are literally, all part of one big family.

After getting out of the temple, I got home and was immediately hit by the dramatic aftermath of Hilary's attack.  With Annie being my focus for the last few days, I somehow managed to miss most of it, but it did catch up to me.  Without wanting to get in too deep, I decided to make my trip into town and pick up my phone.  Oh yeah, also forgot to mention I dropped my phone after Annie got her CT.  Luckily, or should I say thank God because I'm pretty sure he's the only reason I got it back, the woman who took my phone home had a change of heart and wanted to return it to me.  She said after she took it home she felt a strange need to make sure I got it back.  I'm incredibly glad she did because it had all the numbers of doctors and contacts I had made.  And I guess it was another good reminder to me that as crazy as things get, God still has influence over his children and can inspire them to do the right thing.  I definitely needed that.

So the current situation is this.  I'm still in Suva with Annie and will be until Wednesday.  That puts us in Suva longer than we initially planned, but I'm not complaining by any means.  It has been a wonderful experience to take care of Annie and get to know her better.  She is truly a wonderful woman and I've been truly blessed by her attitude and perspective.  In many ways, she's a lot like Olya, but also has many things in common with Ani (more than just their name), which if anybody knows me, knows how partial to her that makes me.  Either way, I think we'll be able to enjoy ourselves the next few days.  We both want to catch another session at the temple, get some stuff at the distribution center, and get some souvenier shopping done before Annie flies back home..  We'll be headed back to Lautoka on Wednesday, Annie hopes to train the second wave on her project Thursday, and then take the weekend to say goodbye to everybody before she flies home.  I'm going to miss her dearly, but I'm glad I've had the time we've had together.  It's been uplifting and inspiring at a time I really needed some uplifting inspiration.

As for myself, I've got lots of planning and prep to start working on again.  I now have a better idea of what to cover with the women around Tavua, but I'm also going to look at expanding the reach of that project to include the women in Lautoka and other areas.  I feel pretty good about what I'm going to be doing, and that's what has helped me decide I need to stay here until August.  Despite the rough start, I think things are going to go very well with this project.  It's been made very apparent to me that I've got a powerful ally, and for that I'm grateful.  If any of you are wondering what you can do, or feel a desire to support me, you can click that link up in the corner that says "Help Cherie help Fiji."  Just remember to put my name in the designation box.  Otherwise, your love and prayers would be greatly appreciated.  I love you all, and hopefully I'll have much less to report on next week.

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