Home Again

Sunday, September 25, 2016

My flights from Guam went as planned and I arrived in Buffalo at 11:50 pm on Saturday night. The 11 1/2 hour flight from Tokyo to Chicago seemed to go on forever. I slept a couple of times and I woke up each time thinking I had slept for several hours, only to find out that it had been about 20 minutes. I felt a sense of relief, when we finally arrived in Chicago. After clearing customs in Chicago, I had a 6 hour layover before my final flight to Buffalo.

When I exited the Buffalo airport, it was 15 C ( 60 F ) and after all of the hot weather I had experienced the last 3 weeks, it seemed quite cool to me.

My brother and sister picked me up at the airport and I finally arrived at home by 1 am on Sunday morning, 37 hours after I had arrived at the Saipan airport. I unpacked my luggage, took a shower and quickly fell asleep afterwards.

It was a long trip to Saipan, the weather was very hot and humid and the work was hard, but I feel privileged to have been able to go there and help rebuild some homes. It was an interesting experience and I enjoyed working on the houses, learning about the area and getting to know the people.

I am not sure what my next adventure will be, but for now, I just want to relax a bit.

Flight Home

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Ed was kind enough to drive Don and myself to the Saipan airport at 2 am. When we arrived, we found that we had the same problem that the other volunteers had experienced. The runway lights were still not operational and since flights could land or take off during darkness, our flight was delay and we would miss the only connection to Honolulu from Guam. We were told that our flights had been rebooked and we had been rerouted through Tokyo. Don’s new flight schedule had him arriving in Kansas a little later than his original itinerary but my itinerary had me staying over-night in Tokyo and flying out late in the afternoon on Sunday morning and arriving just before midnight on Sunday night, resulting in 56 hours of travel time.

Unfortunately, Pete, Mary, Daniel and Blake had to spend the night in Guam and are leaving this morning, however, I do not know what their flight itinerary is.

All my options had me staying overnight somewhere and since I preferred to stay overnight in Guam, where I wouldn’t have to go through customs again, the ticket agent had my flights changed so that I would fly out of Guam to Tokyo on Sunday afternoon and arrive at 8 pm on Sunday night in Buffalo.

I called the FEMA travel company, National Travel and we tried to find a hotel in Guam for the night but there were no rooms available. I entertained the option of staying overnight in Saipan and flying out the next morning but I couldn’t be guaranteed that I would still have another overnight stay along the way, so I opted to fly to Guam and take my chances there.

When I arrived in Guam, I claimed my luggage and proceeded to the United Airlines ticketing area. I explained my situation to the ticket agent but she informed me that, unfortunately, all flights were full. I told her that I could fly to any destination in Canada or the US and then stay overnight there if I needed to, so she went to talk to her manager. When she came back she told me that she could get me on a flight at noon to Tokyo, followed by a flight to Chicago but there would be a 6 hour delay in Chicago. I jumped at the opportunity to avoid an overnight stay, so she made the changes for me.

It is 10:00 am Saturday morning in Guam, 9:00 am in Tokyo and 8:00 pm Friday night back home. I am scheduled to leave Guam at 12:10 pm, arrive in Tokyo at 3 pm,

leave Tokyo at 5:30 pm, arrive in Chicago at 3:10 pm,

leave Chicago at 9:15 pm and arrive in Buffalo at 11:53 pm, Saturday night.

Barring any other unseen opportunities, I should be back home just after midnight Saturday night. I’ll let you know what actually happens.

Saipan – Day 20

Friday, September 22, 2016

Ed took Pete, Mary, Daniel and Blake to the airport at 1:30 am to catch the 4:15 flight to Guam. I found out in the morning that their flight didn’t leave Saipan until 8:50 am, so I am interested in finding out what their new flight plans are. It had rained all night long and sometimes there were torrential and some of the roads had large pools of water and debris on them.

We slept in and didn’t get up until 6 am. Ed cooked some eggs and made some toast for breakfast, then Don and Jay went to Lilly’s house and finished installing the hurricane straps to the rafters. Ed and I went to Anna’s house and finished the trimming of the doors and windows.

It rained all morning, sometimes with very high winds.

Both jobs were finished by noon so we brought the tool trailer to Mercedes’ house. Don and Jay nailed some plywood on the outside of the house while I installed one of the windows.

We packed up at 3 pm so that Don and Jay could tour the visitors center at the American Memorial Park. Afterwards we checked out the old Japanese Jail because there is a rumor that Amelia Earhart had scratched her initials in one of the cells, but they were so overgrown that we didn’t find anything that might look like her initials.

We then went back to camp, cleaned up and went out for dinner and now I am preparing to fly home. When I arrived in Saipan, I noticed that my flight took one day longer to get back home, so I checked my tickets and found that the agent had given me a 1 day layover in Honolulu. When I asked her about it, she told me that it was a mistake on her part and that she had gotten confused by the time change from Guam to Honolulu, so she changed it.
If all goes well, I will be flying out Saturday morning at 4:15 am ( 2:15 pm on Friday night EDT ) and I will be arriving in Buffalo at 4:22 pm, Saturday night after 26 hours of travel instead of 50 hrs that the agent had originally booked me for.
There will be 5 flights.
Saipan to Guam:
Guam to Honolulu:
Honolulu to Denver:
Denver to Chicago:
And Chicago to Buffalo:

I’m tired just thinking about it.

I will update my journal after I arrive home, in case there are any more adventures along the way.

Saipan – Day 19

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Don, Blake and Jay went to Lilly’s house to continue repair work on her roof. They removed the nails for the galvanized roofing and replaced them with screws. They also installed more hurricane straps for the roof. It was a tight squeeze under the roof but they managed somehow.

At rained off and on all day long. Some times there were high winds along with torrential downpours.

Pete, Daniel and I went back to Anna’s house finished the work there. We finished filling in the cracks around the windows and doors with concrete as well as some minor jobs.

We also installed 2 inside and 2 outside doors the old fashioned way, by drilling the holes, mounting all of the hardware and levelling them.

When Anna’s brother came over to visit us, he told us that he was cold. It was 27 C ( 80 F )! I guess cold is a relative term. Anna’s sister also came to visit us and ask us a few questions.

When we finished all of the work, we packed up and headed back to camp.

In the evening, the pastor from Church 360 and his family joined us for supper. We had a very good meal and a wonderful visit with them.

The volunteers from Arkansas, Peter, Mary, Daniel and Blake, are scheduled to fly out at 4:15 tomorrow morning to go back home but we just found out that the lights are out at the airport in Saipan because of the weather and there are no flights going out.

I’m not scheduled to fly out until Saturday morning at 4:15 am ( 2:15 pm on Friday EDT ) and arriving at 4:22 pm EDT in Buffalo on Saturday evening, if my flight gets out in time.

Saipan – Day 18

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

After a nice breakfast, we left to go to our respective jobsites.

Don, Blake and Jay went back and finished a few things at Mercedes’ house before going to a new house owned by a lady called Lilly, where they made repairs to her roof. They had some very tight spaces where they had to make changes and it was hotter and more humid than it was out in the open. As Jay put it, there wasn’t any part of his clothes that weren’t wet, not even his socks.

Miss Lilly brought them some pizza and Blake ate his with SpongeBob Squarepants on the roof of the house.

Pete, Daniel and I went back to Anna’s house, where we installed the door and window frames and installed all of the windows, which was quite a chore because most of the openings were not square. When we had finished installing the windows, we started to fill in the gaps around the frames with cement.

When we got back to the campsite at 3:30 pm, Pete, Daniel and I quickly took showers and then drove to the American Memorial Park and toured the Visitors center. It was very interesting and we learned a lot about Saipan’s history. The visitors center closed at 5 pm so we drove back to the campsite for supper.

After our meal, a FEMA representative was supposed to come to the campsite to visit with us, but no one showed up, so we spent the time discussing all sorts of topics.

Saipan – Day 17

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Unfortunately Micah had to fly back home because of a family emergency and he left at 2 am this morning to catch the 4:15 am flight to Guam. My thoughts and prayers are with Micah as he travels home.

After breakfast, Don, Blake and Jay went to Mercedes’ house and finished what they could. Don and Jay installed hurricane straps while Blake build steps at the entrance of the house.

Pete, Daniel, John David and I returned to Anna’s house and completed the soffits and facia, as well as, the installation of the walls for 2 bedrooms.

We finished work at 3 pm and returned to the campsite so that we could go out to dinner and then visit the American Memorial Park. Unfortunately, when we got to the park, the Visitors Center had closed at 5 pm, so we headed back to camp.

CARE ( Commonwealth Advocates for Recovery Efforts ) visited us for debriefing at 7:30 pm and they explained why CARE formed and what they do and they also asked us to fill out a survey for them.

Typhoon Soudelor hit Saipan in August of 2015 and the whole island lost power for up to 3 months. There were many grass roots organizations that were started to handle immediate needs. After several months the efforts were consolidated and CARE was formed. Initially CARE supplied money for food. The Red Cross organized finding out about the status of people on the island. FEMA did an assessment of the claims to determine eligibility. To be eligible for subsidy, the claimant has to be an American citizen and experienced damage from the Typhoon.

CARE is working with FEMA ineligible people, but we can only work on FEMA eligible at this time because FEMA is funding our efforts. They get funding for building materials and organize labour to install the material by MDS ( Mennonite Disaster Service) and World Renew. They are also looking into funding people to come to Saipan to rebuild homes for FEMA ineligible citizens and asked if anyone would be willing to come back for a 4-6 week period to help rebuild homes.

Saipan – Day 16

Monday, September 19, 2016

After breakfast, Micah, Blake, Don and Jay returned to Mercedes’ house to continue work on the walls and roof.
By the time they were finished they had all of the galvanized roofing in place.

I went with Pete, Daniel and John David to start work on Anna’s house.
This is what the building looked like before we started.

We installed metal flashing on the end of the building and completed the installation of the ridge cap.

We also installed the supports and the paneling for the ceiling and we started putting up the walls.

When we got back to the campsite and finished supper, we took a group photo.
From left to right, Don Horst, Pete Hochstetler, Mary Hochstetler, Blake Wagner, Ed Buhler, Jay Goering, Micah Miller, Daniel Swartzentruber, Ralf Hamm and John David Thacker.

Saipan – Day 15

Sunday, September 18, 2016

After breakfast, we attended the 10:30 church service at Church 360. The pastor, who is also a pilot that flies airplanes from Saipan to Guam, gave a sermon called Magnificent Obsessions based on Ephesians 1: 3-15. His message was that God is ” obsessed ” with mankind, otherwise he would not have created us. He willingly gave us freedom of choice even though he knew that many of us would reject, mock and even hate Him, just like some children do to their parents. The main point to his message was ‘ What is the focus of your life ‘. That will determine who we are.

Afterwards we went to Shirley’s Coffee house for lunch and then headed back to camp.

At 4 pm we were invited by the CARE group for a BBQ of ribs, beef, chicken and vegetables.

Saipan – Day 14

Saturday, September 16, 2016

It was our day off, so we decided to go to Managaha Island which is a small islet which lies off the west coast of Saipan.

“It is the burial ground of the famous Carolinian Chief Aghurubw, who is said to have established the first Carolinian settlement in Saipan in 1815. A statue of the chief commemorates his achievements in leading his people from Satawal after a devastating typhoon to Saipan”. We happened to be there on the weekend of their 46th annual celebration of this event.

The ferry ride to the island was free because of the weekend celebration and we arrived on the island at 11 am.

The celebrations started with a church service in the morning.
This was followed by presentations and traditional native dances. Complimentary food was available for the celebration and it included, rice, fish, chicken, roast pig and ham.

It is a very small uninhabited island but there is a shop and a restaurant on it. There are several activities available on the island, such as swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, parasailing and boat rides.

Micah and Blake went parasailing and snorkeling and I took advantage of my time on the island to go snorkeling. There were all sorts of unique looking fish among the coral and I was able to capture some of them with my camera, however, some of the other, more unusual fish didn’t want their pictures taken.

We took the ferry from the island back to the Saipan mainland at 3 pm and drove to Ben’s house.

Ben had invited us to come to his house for 4 pm, where he and his wife, Linda, treated us with a wonderful meal. After the meal, they surprised us, by giving each of us two Saipan T-shirts in order to thank us for the work we had done on their house. It was a very humbling experience.
If you look closely at the picture, you will see that Ben is not a very large man, but he told us that he used to weigh 296 pounds and he had lost most of his weight by watching what he ate. He told us that he used to eat rice with every meal and he hasn’t had rice for 3 years.

We were all quite tired from our day’s adventure when we got back to the campsite, so we finished our day with a light snack and some lively conversation.

Saipan – Day 13

Friday, September 16, 2016

After a hearty breakfast we went to our the regular jobsites and continued the work we had started the day before. At 7 am, Ed picked me up and brought me to Ron’s house to help finish the installation of the roof at Ron’s house. I helped Pete, Daniel and John David finish the installation of the rafters.

When the rafters and purlins were installed, we installed the galvanized aluminum roof and the hurricane straps.

We were finished the roof by 2 pm, packed up our equipment and took a break until Ed could pick up the trailer and bring it to the next house. Ed reviewed the work that needed to be done at the next house when we arrived there, however, we couldn’t start the work because the material hadn’t arrived so we went to help the other crew pack up before we went home.

When we arrived there, Micah’s crew had made excellent progress with the installation of the walls and rafters.

It had become extremely hot and several of us had varying amounts of sunburn, so we decided to head back to the campsite.

After we had showered and a good meal, we spent time reviewing the events of the day and trading stories of our days events. With the early mornings, combined with the heat and humidity, most of us ( particularly the elderly volunteers, such as myself ) are usually ready to fall asleep by 9 pm.

One of the things that we have had to get used to, is the geckos. There is at least one in the house and they make a loud chirping noise. We haven’t attempted to get rid of them because they are not harmful and they take care of any small animals, such as insects.

I have finally gotten the video of Mary’s Birthday celebration at Bubba Gumps from the night before so, as promised, here it is:
Since it is a video, it is quite large ( 13 MB, even though I reduced the size ) so it wll take a lot of internet bandwidth and it might not play smoothly if you don’t have a fast internet connection. You can also ” download ” it you want a copy of it.