October 14, 2011

First Letter from Mexico!

I just realized that I don't exactly give you people great titles for my emails. I'll try to do better with that. Anyway, where to even begin? I have no idea.

Okay, first, the mail situation: you may still send my packages and snail mail. I will always greatly appreciate them. But, as stated, they now take a LOT longer to get here. I now have two hours (instead of 30 minutes) to read and write emails and I am allowed to receive emails from my friends. So, this can be the new major modicum to communicate with me. I have not received any package or letter yet, just in case you were wondering if the meds had gotten to me yet.

Anyway, yes, I am hot. And sweaty. And wearing clothes that I washed by hand. And eating some lettuce. And drinking Yakult. And treating blisters. And saying "¿Cómo? many times. And playing soccer. And reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish. And sleeping on dirty clothes in a pillowcase because I don't have a pillow. And getting chased down by crazy bicycle riding mexicans. And many other fun, fun things.

Seriously, the only thing I feel sure about saying about Oaxaca is that it is very, very, VERY different from the U.S. I'm not going to upload photos today because I have so much to write, but I took pictures of my apartment. By U.S. standards, it is small, dirty, and very unmodern. By Oaxacan standards, I have running water (though no hot water), four whole rooms (though the bathroom is about the size of me and there is no toilet seat), and there are three whole tables in the apartment. Essentially, by Oaxacan standards, I live in a mansion. As far as I can tell. See, I've been in house with only one room, I've been in houses made out of aluminum, I've been in houses with no water, I've seen a house made out of beer boxes. Oaxaca is poor. But the people, oh the people, are so, so nice.

I don't know if you got this from my emails, but in the MTC, I was a stud with Spanish. Spanish was easy in the MTC. But that only means so much. Because of all things to not learn how to do, I did not learn how to listen. And boy, is that killing me right now.

I wanted to go out of the MTC on fire, using my Greenie exuberance for good, like some kind of MTC super innocent super stud. Then came my first lesson, with a woman who I cannot name because I don't remember and I couldn't write it down at the time because I did not understand one word she said. Not one word. Not only is my vocabulary small and I don't understand simple, small, but important words like acá (don't worry; I've figured it out now), but also, I don't know if you know this, but Mexicans mumble. Every single one of them mumbles. They slur words together and they speak in very, very quiet voices. Especially the old women, whom we visit quite a bit. So my goal is understanding more. I''m starting to chip into conversation by my own volition now and I just had a perfectly normal, perfectly understood phone conversation with an Elder Jimenez (whoever the heck that is), which is a start. Hopefully, I'll get somewhere soon with that deficiency and then I'll be able to start working on my other ones. Like not knowing how to cook. I'm living off of Azucaritas (Mexican Frosted Flakes) and restaurant food.Oh yeah, and the granola bars you sent with me. Those are life savers. Send me more. Much, much more because I cannot find them in Mexico).

Now for my companion. His name is Elder Juarez. I met him last Tuesday, at the mission offices (which are actually only about 10-15 from our house by taxi, but I never see them because they are not in my area. My area, by the way, is Bosque and it is the largest area in the entire Oaxacan mission. Guess what that means? I get to walk a lot! Yay blisters! But back to my companion. The first thing I asked him was if he like learning English during language study like he's supposed to. He said he doesn't learn English. Which means he doesn't speak any English, unlike the other native companions. Which means I only speak Spanish from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed. I've started dreaming in Spanish. I think. They are hard to remember because I don't understand what is being said, but I'm pretty sure I am dreaming in Spanish. So Elder Juarez is nice. He's also a good, hard working missionary. He doesn't like contacting when we don't have references, so he doesn't try that hard at knocking doors. We don't talk to taxi drivers or people on the bus like we should. Elder Carrasco (one of the APs) was in a Taxi with me on Tuesday and he got a reference from the driver, so I know that's something we can start doing.

Elder Juarez and I traveled to the stake center because Elder Juarez had been asked to baptize the little eight year old girl of a family he had helped a lot previously in his mission. So we went and everybody was smiling and laughing and happy and the kids loved my camara and although I hadn't had the best of mornings, I couldn't help but smile and laugh and love my camara as well. Then we all sat down and the Bishop began reading the program, saying we were going to start with this song, and this prayer said by this person, and the baptism by Elder Juarez, and the Confirmation by Elder Johnson, and more singing, and the closing prayer by this person.
Wait a minute, hold it: You caught that too, didn't you? Because that was exactly how I found out that I would be doing the confirmation as well. In Spanish. My happiness vanished. It was replaced with cold blooded fear. The windows were open, giving me a good chance for escape, but the dad looked pretty athletic and I'm sure he would chase me down. So I couldn't get out of it that way. Maybe I could faint? No, I had never fainted before and I don't think Elder Juarez would ever let me live it down. Perhaps I should just tell them that if I tried to do this sacred ordinance with my Gringo Spanish, it would be too painful to listen to and God would smite me right there just to make me stop....no, I didn't know how to say all that in Spanish. So, I did it. Trembling, completely unable to roll my rr's and completely unpracticed with the tu form, I did it. And then I felt good again. I want a real baptism and I want one soon. Which means I have to work really, really hard to start pulling my weight in the companionship this week.

So aside from Yukimo Romero Soto (the little girl whom I helped God confirm), we have several other investigators. First is the family of Enrique. They are a beautiful little family of four, with Enrique, Gabrielle (the mom), Eduardo (12), and Monica (10). They are very sweet, very kind people who would make perfect latter day saints. The first visit, I got to draw water out of a well, a real well with bucket and everything, as service. The second visit lasted about an hour and a half because Enrique likes to talk. they didn't come to church on Sunday, but I have hope for them. I know they like to hear the word of God, but I wonder if they are actually interested in joining a church. They fed us a dinner last time too, despite our great protests (I ate shrimp heads, which I later observed the others had avoided. Bummer). Anyways, if it works out, it will be great for them and for the ward.

On to the Ward: the Ward is great. It's small in active members, but big in heart and capacity for service. They love helping us, feeding us, and giving us referrals. They are all a missionary can ask for in a ward. One thing you should know: Mexicans, generally, are terrible singers. They do not sing on key. I feel right at home during hymns here. Anyway, there is also a lack of priesthood holders. The bishop only has one couselor (Hermano Cabrera, who works a lot), but nonetheless they perservere. One Hermana loves missionaries so much that she bought a dining set just for the missionaries (very large plates) and is getting a bathroom installed, just so that the missionaries can stop at her house. She was the one we ate with yesterday. She also takes in starving animals off the street and has that same weird love for them that you do, mom.

Speaking of animals: We live in an upper floor apartment (house). Below us lives a vender lady and she has a dog. A very fat dog. A very fat dog named Rocky. A very fat Rocky that is a Rotweiler. Aubrey would love him. I'll send pictures next week. Rocky is very nice, but he loves to play and stick his head in between your legs. It is very awkward. Elder Juarez calls Rocky "Mi perro." And Rocky isn't the only dog around; I'm pretty sure there are more dogs here than cars. They are everywhere and yes, I have already been attacked by one, but Elder Juarez bravely warded him off with a stick. The point is, be happy you only have to deal with Dot.

Well, I love you all and I look forward to hearing from you soon. Yes, I would like fruit certs in my Christmas package. I have a testimony of this Church. The mission is hard -- very hard. Sometimes I doubt it's worth it, but then the Lord provides. He always provides if you give Him His time. Move forward in faith and do the things that you have belief you should do. I'll make it here. I will survive. I will perservere. And I will thrive. The Church is true, the Spirit is real, and most of all, Christ is our loving Savior and Guide. Believe in Him, and you shall be blessed.
Elder Johnson (El Hijo de Juan)

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