Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Island of Madeira

There are 15 other people I can think of off the top of my head who are feeling sad today.  Sad like me.  Some of them are Portuguese, but most of them I am thinking of are Americans.  Amercians I have two things in common with--besides being American:  we were all LDS (Mormon) missionaries and we all lived on the tropical island of Madeira at the same time.

So what, you say?  What is it?  Where is it?  See that yellow dot on the left side bottom of this map?
That is Madeira.  The main city is Funchal, which I lived in for several months during my mission.
It is a very poor poor place that has one thing going for it:  extreme tropical beauty.  Many of the natives are quite impoverished and live in the hills.  Europeans call it the "Pearl of the Atlantic" or the "European Playground" and use it as such.  I think we saw more people from "The Continent" as it was called, except when we would attend church.  That is where we would see the most locals at one time.  Most who rode the bus to get there.

Funchal and the island of Madeira are washing away as we speak.  Some freaky storm has hit it, a land once visited by Christopher Columbus in the 1400s.  It is devastating to see on the news.  But you might not really understand HOW devastating.

These photos are mine from 1990 when I was there.   Here is the main river run through town.  If you watch this youtube post, about 35 seconds in you can see this same road literally being washed away yesterday.  :(

This is Sandesh, the 12 year old man of the family we rented a room from.  His mother had married her first cousin thus resulting in children with disabilities--serious eye deformanties.  The father took off and the mother was poor.  They weren't LDS, but rented each set of the two sets of us sister missionaries a room.  It was a pretty nice house for the area, but even for their decent living standard, no lawnmower. 
Sandesh had to cut the lawn with these clippers. 
A never-ending task for him.
Another way to cut grass was to use this mini sickle like on his shoulder.  I know, I look so different.  I was heavier (that 4 pm ice cream--gelato--cone every day may have had something to do with it!) and really pale.  This man was just sitting on the side of the road and what i liked about him where his hands, and that he had one tooth.  That was very common.
This man was a member of our church and had saved for two months to have a few of us missionaries to dinner.  We called him "Pai" --familiar portuguese for "father."  An endearing term.  He wouldn't let us bring anything.  He had to borrow dishes and napkins from a neighbor because he only owned a couple plates of his own.  He was so proud to have us.  Notice the floor.  I am holding the child, and that is the main floor--unevened dirt.  This was the whole house. The chests were like his clothing drawers, the walls were old boards and sheets of plastic.  Imagine this "house" trying to stand up against those water waves that are crashing down from Pai's home in the mountatins to those buildings in the city. 

I don't have pictures of the two men I miss the most:  Mercedo and Miquel.  Mercedo was the bus ticket conductor.  We had spiritual experiences with him that are burned in our souls, and we cried with him when he couldn't be baptised because he wasn't married to the woman he lived with.  

Miquel was a director of education for the region.  He saw us walk by a bar he was drinking in one night and he chased us down the dark street.  We were scared but it ended up he had dreamt of us nights before.  He knew us on sight.  We were teaching him when we were transferred from the island and never heard about him again.

Where are they today?  Are they safe? 

I know that Madeira will never get coverage that Haiti will (even though it has comparable poverty) and that to most folks, it will be some far away place that we wouldn't be able to find on a cheap map.  But not to me.  Those people were kind and giving, and may Heavenly Father bless them there and now, today.  There are a dozen Mormon missionaries who are thinking and praying for you here and now, today.  :)  Te Amo.