Monday, December 26, 2016

Week 18 - Esmeraldas is Basically Scout Camp...All the Time

So Adam experienced technical challenges and wasn't able to send a letter or photos this week which has him very bummed. But...he did get to Skype home for Christmas yesterday. His friends Mikayla and Mitch and grandparents were able to join us. It was absolutely wonderful to see him smiling and to hear first hand how he is doing. Adam called from the home of a church member, Hermano Enso, who Adam has previously mentioned in letters as someone always available to go on appointments and very generous in taking care of the missionaries in the area. We got to say hello and thank him at the top of the call and he said he’s grateful Adam is in the area — calling Adam “un misionero poderoso” - a powerful missionary. The camaraderie and care displayed by this great man toward my son was comforting.

Since there's no letter this week, it seemed appropriate and ok to share some of the highlights from yesterday's call.  Adam is enjoying Esmeraldas and would like to stay in the area at least another round of transfers. Adam’s companion goes home to Bolivia at the next transfer which happens the first week of February. The rest of this post are Adam's comments from the call.

It's very fun outside right now. Everyone plays soccer in the streets for Christmas - the balls have sand or some kind of weight in them to keep them close to the ground. They use 2-foot high modified soccer goals. Animal crackers and taffy are very popular at Christmas. All the stores sell little gift packs and I've had a lot of animal crackers this week.

The recent earthquakes have been wild. Back home (California) it’s more of a one and done and the houses are wood so they flex a bit. Here we have a big one and then like dozens in the hours that follow. And the concrete transfers the movement right to you so they feel really strong. I’ll upload some photos this week. Some hotels fell down in Atacames about 20 minutes from my apartment. The big earthquake back in April (which killed ~700 people) has everyone still pretty freaked out. People got their cars out of the garages and slept in the streets last Sunday night. We couldn’t lay back down because additional earthquakes kept coming. So we went to the chapel to sleep. All the chapels have alarms to prevent people breaking in and the missionaries have the key code because we use the building a lot. Well, there’s a safety mechanism that if the alarm is shut off after 10pm, a security company calls the building to see what’s up. Well, Elder Fernandez and I didn’t have the key to get to where the phone was. So an hour after we were in there, security personnel showed up and started banging on the gates and windows to get in and Elder Fernandez and I thought it was robbers coming to get us. It was honestly the first time I’ve ever feared for my life…you know because many people here are really, super sketchy. I thought I was going to die by the hands of a thief. My apartment is a single room and we moved our beds to near the door because it feels safer. The earthquakes seem to be around Atacames and last Monday we planned to go there because, well, we are dumb. We got to the beach and no one was there. And then we heard about a  possible tsunami, so we left.

It’s super hot here and I’m used to it now. My face really broke out and went crazy for the first month and my clothes are completely ruined. But I am getting used to it now. Everyone here is super dirty. (I can say this because English is like a secret language because no one speaks it. Its actually dangerous because if people hear you speaking English they will mug you - Elder George and I have to be careful on divisions.) So ya, when I got assigned to Elder Fernandez and met him in Quito my first day, he was super dirty, like way more than the other missionaries and I couldn’t figure out what was going on. Then I got to the apartment here that night and everything was dirty. We don’t have windows so the dust just comes and goes freely. You have to wear shoes all the time or your socks get destroyed. The area I am in is super hilly and the higher up the hills you go, the more poor it gets until eventually its just bamboo shacks with minimal plywood and metal roofs. The hills have gotten me in really good shape though. It’s good here, I like it. The humidity is really strong which makes its super hot and you never want to stand out in the sun. I have a mean farmer’s tan going on - a shower glow. My face is super brown but the rest of me is super white. It's bad.

The food is wonderful. I really love shrimp now. A lot of people don’t have much money so we eat a lot of humble foods - a lot of rice. People put rice on everything. I think the only people on earth who eat rice on a bed of mashed potatoes. And lots of pastas. We eat with one family each week and she makes the rice with oil and then puts tuna on top of it. The oil makes the rice taste a lot better. We get $90 every two weeks for food and supplies and it’s more than enough money. I made french toast for Christmas breakfast this morning and it came out really well.

I have lost weight. Most of it came off in the MTC (training center in Mexico City) and it has stayed off. I eat a ton - basically eating 24 hours a day. The people love to give you food. Lunch is the big meal. We have mamitas who serve use lunch everyday. Every meal starts with a big plate of rice and then stuff is added all around. When we visit people in the later afternoon, starting around 4, the families give you soup as part of the visit. We eat soup with every meal here. I’ve eaten lots of interesting things in soup. Like Yucca. Do you know what that is? Like super fibery, you wouldn’t want anywhere near your mouth. Well, they boil it, mash it with potatoes and then put it in soup. I’ve eaten a lot of fish and a lot of fish bones. They barely remove the scales and the skin still looks like a fish. And then it goes straight into the soup, bones and all.

Esmeraldas is basically like scout camp...all the time. There are constantly fires in the streets. There is a basic trash service that comes around once in a while but its not enough. So people make these piles of trash in the road and then someone sets it on fire to burn it. Ya - just in the middle of the road, with cars driving around it. I haven't eaten guinea pig yet, but I’ve eaten a lot of stuff way worse than guinea pig. Like cow stomach - the flavor is really good in a peanut sauce - but you have to chew it for hours and hours. On the inside there’s tons of flaps and the cilia and then on the outside its got these thick veins so its super chewy. Pres. Tello’s wife is the one who likes to give us more exotic foods. Last week she served us this pork chop with inch of fat and then skin still on it. And the skin - the hair was burned off but the follicles were still embedded in the fat...ugh. If people give you food, you are expected to eat it. And like I said, there’s no trash. And there are many people who don’t have food, so you can’t really throw or turn anything away. The people like to treat you and see how much they can give you and you can’t turn it back. And, when I first arrived I was dying to make friends, so I was eating everything. Now my stomach is stretched out and I’m feeling better, but the first weeks were a bit hard.

My Spanish is coming along - I’m to the point where there’s only 1-2 words in a sentence of statement that I don’t understand. But I can usually figure it out by asking questions or from context. The people are very hard to understand. I still haven’t had the “revealing” moment where Spanish becomes my language, so I’m still translating every sentence in my mind which is very tiring. But I’m feeling really good with my teaching and that’s helping. I’m understanding a lot more every week and that makes me a lot happier.

The kids are super friendly but they are also super thugs. The kids at church are wonderful. The kids in the streets are a bit rough and always shouting things at us. They call us “come gratis?” (so you eat free?) which is kind of funny because I’m pretty sure they aren't paying for their meals either. I’ve been making a list of all of the restaurants I want to go to when I get home. As a mental cleansing thing I wrote them down to get them out of my mind so I don’t have to think about them for 2 more years. But I do love the food here. The rice is 5-star rice and the oil helps it taste really good. The rice saves you if the meal is really bad.

I haven’t had a lot of time to write this week so my letter is going to be really short. I’m glad people are enjoying my letters. Thanks Mikayla and Mitch for your letters - they make me so happy. My letter tomorrow is super religious and short so stay tuned.

Everyone here loves the Simpsons like in Spain.

Don’t tell me anything about the Star Wars movie. The movies don’t come here right away so no one knows that’s happening.

There’s no street names. This place could really benefit from Uber but of course they need street names and house numbers first. 

The shower situation is ok now but I lost it when I first got here. I had a problem with my pin code so I didn’t get money for my first 10 days and the shower and dirty apartment, all of it. - I almost lost it. We collect water in a bucket each day and then use a pitcher to scoop water out for showers. The mosquitos come really quick here so you can’t keep water around or warm it. I shower at 7am which, ironically, is the only time of the day when there's actually a hint of cold. Quito has hot water and the missionaries there wear sweaters at night. I’m jealous about that.

I’m wearing my Quito tie for you guys. I really love it. I wore a red tie to church today for Christmas to match with our choir. No one plays the piano so our choir sang to a tape. It sounded pretty terrible but the feeling was there.

I print out all the emails and read them every week and they keep me going. I feel terrible asking for you to send me anything but if you have time, please make a flash drive with any and all church music possible and any church videos/mormon messages which are cool to share with investigators. All the TVs here have USB ports so I can use a flash drive to show the videos to people here. I’m going to invest in a speaker because I am dying without church music.

I’m great and this call has been wonderful for me. I've been out for 4 months and will be coming home August 6, 2018 so technically that's 4-1/2 months done. It will be a while before I get to talk to you again. Mother’s day, wow: I can’t wait for it to get here.

(Neither can we, Adam. Neither can we...)

Monday, December 19, 2016

Week 17 - Quakes of All Kinds

Lights out overnight 12/19 as Mg 6.2 quake hits 10km offshore from Esmeraldas
Dearest friends and family,

A first-hand, eye-witness account: it’s Monday, Dec. 12 around 10:38am. I am talking on the phone with another missionary, Elder George, discussing plans for later that day to go to Atacames, the touristy beach area. The phone call was normal, my companion was making use of the clothes washing apparatus in the bathroom, and everything was fine. Then I hear something that resembled a truck driving over a crunchy gravel road. Except only it wasn’t a truck! It was an earthquake! Elder George, not being as “accustomed” as we Californians shouts “Chuta!” into the phone and quickly hangs up to run outside. (It was only slightly laughable). I really wasn’t set back by the quake because it wasn’t very strong (I heard 5-something). But it is interesting how you experience quakes differently here. And since all of the houses are concrete and cinderblocks from the ground up, they move pretty good when shaken.

On that day alone, we had 2 other decently strong earthquakes, one more in the morning and one in the night time. We still went to Atacames but had to leave soon after because of a tsunami warning. There was no tsunami but the earthquakes have continued pretty much every day this week. It’s the strangest thing. I’ll just be sitting down to study, or talking to someone in their house, and the world starts shaking for a moment and we all kind of look at each other, acknowledge the temblor, and then resume what we were doing. I think they might be aftershocks from the big earthquake that we had here in April, but I honestly don’t know the science behind all of it. Whether aftershocks or not, they’re messing with my mind – I constantly feel like I’m feeling an earthquake when I’m not and second guessing the ones I’m feeling when they’re real. It’s odd. What’s even more off is that I’m starting to have a similar, insecure, lack-of-trust feeling with another aspect of my life here…the people. Earlier in the week I was talking to this nice Ecuadorian woman in front of her house, through her fence. Just like before the earthquake, all was normal. Then, all of a sudden, a wayward fellow walked up behind me real close, on my right side, stuck his left hand deep into my right pocket and felt around to see if I had anything (cell phone, money, tic-tacs), which I didn’t, grumbled some unfriendly words at me in Spanish and walked away like it was no big deal at all! It all happened in less than 2 seconds. When I looked back to watch him walk away, I saw him closing a box cutter that he had in his right hand the entire time, putting it back into his pocket. This last part surely made my heart pound. But the part that makes me the most uncomfortable is just how normal, how commonplace, almost expected it was. The lady I was talking to didn’t even seem the least bit stressed as she asked if he had stolen my phone. The other people that were around me at the time didn’t even turn their heads. It was so odd and, just like the earthquakes, has me second-guessing every person I now pass. I’ve been smart about where I keep my valuables since I arrived here but now I am extra vigilant. I’m always alert in the streets and my head is always up as I try to smile and greet as many people as possible.

I must admit I’ve been thinking really hard about how I can connect this back to something positive and uplifting and it’s difficult. But let me share how I’ve been combating these insecurities with the gente. I’ve been trying to just talk and make friends with everyone. For example, today I met this guy named Carlos who’s totally in a gang and looks like Drake. We talked a little bit about how we don’t pray to Joseph Smith and I passed him a card with a link to the church Christmas video. Although Carlos probably won’t be coming to church this week, I hope our new common understanding will come in handy in the future when it’s dark and we pass by a group of Carlos’ and his friends. I’ve also been trying to spend more time with my church friends which is going really well. Hermano Trejo still brings me mangoes (by the way, I’ve found it…the best mango…it’s called the milgelino mango. Look it up, seriously this thing must have won some awards.) I’ve also been asking hermano Enzo to come out teaching more and we’ve been sharing more church videos with Gabriel, the recent convert. All really good stuff and I will never forget these people who’ve become dear friends.

I guess what I am trying to convey in terms of an uplifting thought is this: expand your circles. Spend time with someone new. Create a new contact somewhere in your life that you know you could trust to help you out on life’s sometimes dark and sketchy streets you sometimes have to walk. With that, try to strengthen the contacts you already do have. I’m realizing that it NEVER hurts to have a deeper relationship with someone. Never. And more than everything else, keep your head up and mouth smiling as you live life because that really is the best defense to everything negative in the world. 

Have an amazing week everyone! I wish you all a very merry, happy and joyful Christmas coming our way this Sunday.

12/19am Update – So last night was the most adventurous night of my mission. I was sleeping like normal, when all of a sudden a really strong earthquake hit around 3am. It was strong enough to startle me awake and to cause me to want to run out of the house. Like I said earlier…concrete and cinderblocks all around you. Everything was shaken pretty good and was knocked off my dresser. Elder Fernandez and I ran out in the street along with the rest of Esmeraldas. People were taking their cars out of garages and really freaking out in general. Our downstairs neighbor and owner of the house we live in left with his family. The weirdest part is the earthquakes kept coming. We had 2 or 3 decently sized ones and didn’t feel safe being alone in the house so we went to sleep in the church. So yeah, crazy night.

With much sincerity,
Elder Ericksen

PS – Mitch remember when we were looking to plant an exotic, fruit-bearing plant in our backyards? Well I’ll be smuggling some milgelino seeds back into the US so start planning out a good spot. It becomes a decently-sized tree.

Other tidbits:
  • I am here in the cyber. I am going to type a little more to you all but I’m really pressed for time this week. We had a great week. Last night was crazy. I’d love to hear more facts about the quakes. Word here is that 2 hotels fell down in Atacames. It cut out the lights at like 2 am and everyone was in the streets. The owner of our house just straight up left with his family and we didn’t feel safe being on the second floor so elder Fernandez and I went to sleep in the chapel. I will NEVER forget this night. Most adventure that I have had thus far!!!! [You can read more about the quake HERE and video footage of the quake HERE]
  • I gave another talk in church last Sunday. I’ve talked at the pulpit 4 of the 11 Sundays I’ve been here.
  • The whole zone of Esmeraldas went caroling in this funny park in the city center called Parque Infantil. We sang (poorly) but it was the most I’ve felt the Christmas spirit this year which was really nice. Mom may have received some pictures from a random guy of me painting the sidewalk for Christmas (part of the service this month). It was really fun.
  • How are all of you? I miss you so much. I love you guys I am happy and healthy and insanely excited to skype you all.
  • So we’ve all been stressed that packages many have sent to Adam hadn’t been getting through. Well another missionary, Elder George, was able to retrieve them on a recent trip to Quito. Adam describes that he and his companion “turned the corner to meet up with the other missionaries for divisions, he was puzzled by the large green sack slung over Elder George’s shoulder” and how it reminded him of Christmas. Then he remembered E. George had just returned from Quito and learned they were his packages! This year Santa came in the form of Elder George.
  • Adam paused while writing a letter to me this week: “hang on, I just gave Elder Fernandez some of the sunflower seeds mom sent me and he started eating them and is straight up throwing the shells on the floor! Inside the house! I have to laugh. He’s now sweeping them up and throwing them away but that pretty much sums up the difference between us. [Father moment here: bite tongue and try not to think of the several, typically dumped over, many weeks-old cups of seed shells found on his dresser, on the foot rail around his bed, under his bed, by the closet, in his bathroom, etc. Just enjoy that he now sees himself as “different” J.]

Monday, December 12, 2016

Week 16 - 12 Days of Christmas

Dearest friends and family,

It’s a pleasure as always to be writing and pondering you all this December evening in humbling Esmeraldas. How about a few, completely random and unrelated questions to start off? When I was getting my hair cut this past week, what function do you think a toothbrush played in the peluqueria process? How many different varieties of mango did I eat this week? How many bananas did I eat this week? Also, pertaining to my haircut, how many hacks did it take to remove a bundle of hair with the barber-sized school scissors? How many people told me they were excited for Christmas this week? How many nights did I sleep with a fan blowing on me? How many people did I baptize? Please keep reading to find the answers!

I’m going to be honest, usually when I write these letters I like to have a plan on paper or in my head. However, this week I don’t really have a plan so I’m just going to talk. That might not be such a bad thing but we’ll see how it goes! Please excuse me if I wander a little bit.

To emphasize what I said starting this letter, hello from the month of December. Decorations are out, plans are being made, I’m getting increasingly excited for my family Facetime call and all of the missionaries have been focusing on service like crazy. Most of the things I’ve done have been minor, but I have helped in some significant ways with things like digging holes for a new house and lugging big water jugs up a steep hill. I should explain better. The entire Church has taken on a commitment of 25 days of service, Dec 1 to Dec 25, in an effort to commemorate Christ and to bring His light into the life of someone this Christmas season. For that reason, I’ve been digging holes, washing dishes, and am scheduled to help paint a house this coming week. It’s all been really good.

I’ve had a really unique perspective of the holidays this year. Every single thing I do, even the more personal things like studying and practicing my Spanish, is for the purpose of helping someone else. I honest to goodness haven’t had time in my schedule to sit down and think about what I would want if I wasn’t here. Someone erected a little metal frame by my house in the shape of a Christmas tree and hung old CDs on it and put a light on top and sure, when I see it, I think about my family and my Christmas tree back home. However, if I had the power to do so, that would be the only thing I’d change – I would have my family here. Other than that, I would keep it all the same because I’m realizing and learning the power and simplicity of true selflessness. Who knows, maybe this is a lesson I need to learn on my own, far away from the people I love. It’s like when the Grinch had to schlep that sleigh with all those stolen presents up that steep, snow-covered mountain, maybe I need to be here, sweating in the coastal sun, away from all the frizz and fluff of the US to have this lesson engraved upon my heart. Wow, I didn’t mean to call myself a Grinch. Was I grinchy before this? Don’t answer haha. The biggest sign of what I am trying to say is reflected in the answers from the mouths of the 3 little kids I asked this week if they were excited for Christmas. Two told me they feel tranquilo about it, that their family is tranquilo. And one other little girl told me yes, because she gets to spend time with her whole family with emphasis on whole. That’s how I want to feel about Christmas and how I’ve been privileged to feel the past 2 weeks. Tranquilo because really that is the foundation of it all: love, family, selflessness and admiration for Him. Sorry I’m hitting you all with the Christmas thoughts so early, who knows what I’ll write for the 25th now!

In other news, routine is becoming a very good friend of mine. I’m starting to get into the groove and starting to figure out the little things that make my days more productive and more enjoyable. I’ve got a cycle down for doing laundry. I’ve realized that when I am ready to leave earlier than my companion, it’s a great time to wash the dishes I am going to want when I get back home, later in the night time. I’ve found a good little store near my house to buy bananas from during the week. I ate 6 bananas and 2 platanos today. I found the perfect position for my bed fan and discovered that I’m infinitely more comfortable if I wash my arms before sleeping. I’m getting the Spanish much better and even answering phone calls now. I figured out that I can stop the bug bites on my feet and legs if I just wear pants all the time. Also, I’ve started making some friends with people in my branch! One of them is Hermano Trejo. He’s amazing even though I would wager none of you could understand him, regardless of whether you speak Spanish or not. Two weeks ago he told me there were more than 40 completely different types of mangoes in the country, each with a unique flavor. Since I called him on it that day, he has been giving me a different mango every time I see him. And so far he’s been right. This week alone, I’ve tried 6 or 7 different types of mango. One of my favorites have been Mango de Chupar which is a smaller, extremely sweet, creamy mango that you just kind of work over in your hands, bite a little hole into and then suck all the juice out. It’s delicious, like candy…no, better than candy because technically it’s fruit!

Overall it’s been a great week and I’m staying in good spirits. We got to baptize Hermana Soraida this week which was special. Oh, that reminds me, what questions do I still need to answer? A ver…the toothbrush was used to brush my baby hairs back into place after the barber ran a raw razor blade along the edges of my hair. It required a lot of hacks with the school scissors. Zero people told me they were excited for Christmas the way we do in the States and the banana count has got to be more than 20. Have a delightful week my friends and family. Until next time…

With affection,

Elder Ericksen
  • Adam received a huge backlog of packages many people have sent since he left – he plans to open one per night leading up to Christmas – his personal 12 days of Christmas. The first one he opened had his special yellow and blue Ecuador tie which he’s enjoying a ton. Thanks to everyone who has sent him something!
  • Adam's companion is from rural Bolivia and had never seen nor previously tasted red licorice. Lisa mailed that package back on August 12th (two weeks before he left) so we're betting it was pretty stale and chewy at this point. Just like I like it! :)
  • Adam was gifted the largest avocado he’s ever seen (or eaten) by a downstairs neighbor this week. He made an avocado milk shake to go with Mamba’s candy his grandmother mailed to him.
  • Adam learned his zone won’t be going to Quito to participate in the mission Christmas party they are just too far out. President Murphy is expected to come and visit them on the 23rd.
  • Adam was happy to make his first grilled cheese sandwich in country using sunflower oil as butter and “fresco” rey leche cheese which is white squeky “taco” cheese. Quote: “Ecuador beats the US in fruits, juice and coconuts and many other things but we kill them in cheese and dairy in general.” Adam is really craving creamy foods and flavors and would die for some American guacamole or creamy pasta.
  • About 80 people attend church each Sunday and there are ~20 dedicated youth who attend seminary 3 nights a week and just had a big EFY conference in nearby Tolita.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Week 15 - A Caterpillar's Paradise

Dearest friends and family,

Hello everyone! I’d really like to spend a bit of this letter to lead you all through a description of something that has become part of my normal.

Imagine yourselves siting in a decently-sized tour bus that has cloth seats and smells like sweaty people and Cheetos. Imagine sitting next to the window, but not being able to see outside of it because of the condensation the thick blanket of fog you’re driving through has created on the inside of the glass. The bus doesn’t have air conditioning that works. You reach out your hand and use the end of your sleeve to draw back a portion of the cold, wet condensation like a curtain. What’s revealed is nothing short of the scene from a story-book adventure movie. You try to take in the entirety of the view, but there’s so much going on and it’s so overpowering for your senses you decide to dissect it with your eyes one layer at a time.

Immediately beside the bus you pick out a few individual plants that are zooming by but the density of the thicket makes it hard to distinguish anything among blurs of every shade of green. You can, however, get a sense that there exists an extremely wide variety of leaf shapes: some of them are huge and circular, others are long, skinny, pokey, and tear-drop shaped - a caterpillar’s paradise.

Beyond the foreground you see trees, bushes, and vines galore and the longer you watch, you notice not a single repeated species. They’re all different. Every 10 kilometers or so, a house comes and goes from the picture. All of them are thatched, placed, and leaned together, rather than nailed, and all of them come with chickens and maybe a cow or pig. Their sheet metal roofs and cinderblock walls combine with banana trees and craftily-laid wooden fences combining to write vivid pictures into your memory that will never be forgotten.

Looking back even farther is the Andean mountain terrain with its taller trees and greener greens. The mountains steep high above the bus. Since the road is curved, winding in and out of the jungle below, you physically can’t look up far enough to see the peaks of the mountains and, even if you could, it wouldn’t matter because the summits are well-shrouded in an opaque mist. The quilt work of the tree canopy makes it plain to see why the experts label this country as mega-diverse. Everything seems to be connected, trees overlapping, vines running from branch to branch, like every organism is all at once, desperately trying to protect and conceal it's soft soil underneath. There’s a certain indescribable feeling here, in this place, like all of the jungle is moving and breathing together, working in unison to bring about as much life as possible. It’s spectacular and the longer you gaze, the more excited your soul becomes at the authenticity and the adventure of it all. It’s remarkable.

This is sort of what it’s like to travel into Quito through the jungle from the coast. Truly no amount of text could do it justice but I figured I would try. This past week I got to spend another day and night in the big city for some meetings and a lunch with an area leader of the Church. It’s always fun travelling into Quito, but this trip was especially enjoyable for me because I was with my entire zone. The 7-hour bus ride evaporated away into conversation and Christmas carols brought about in a bus full of Mormon missionaries. Since I’ve become accustomed to living only the essentials out in Esmeraldas, the city feels super big and super nice. They even have warm water! It was an excellent trip, complete with ceviche provided for lunch.

More than anything else, I’ve realized this week the importance of a mental connection. At times I feel a little out on my own when I spend days and weeks in the Aire Libre wilderness. My companion (Elder Fernandez) and I are great friends, but there are subtle cultural differences that makes it a tiny bit hard to have a more profound, supportive-type friendship that I’ve had with friends and family in the states. During this trip to Quito I got to feel that again for a moment with a couple other missionary friends I’ve made and it was incredibly rejuvenating. I guess, for an instant, I got to feel how the jungle must feel. All of us were there, connected, with the same purpose of bringing about as much life and happiness as possible. Everyone all united, moving, breathing, laughing, together as we sped along the mountain pass to enjoy a delightful 2-days of training and uplifting messages from our leaders.

Friends and family, treasure the mental connections you have in your life this beautiful season of Christmas. Make memories filled with the love of Christ. Find ways to be a connection for someone new and weave them into your own personal jungle. To everyone that has been a connection to me, and to those that still are a connection to me through your letters, I express my most sincere gratitude. Have an amazing week and happy December!

Much sincerity,
Elder Ericksen

Additional notes:
  • Adam absolutely loves going into Quito where he can find Ritz crackers and take a normal shower. This trip’s score – the Ecuadorian version of a hostess Ding Dong.
  • Adam passed his 100th day in the mission and remarked that also means he’s had 60 days of “bucket showers”
  • The conference in Quito with Elder Montoya was a huge boost – not only for the inspiring messages of a general authority but also because he got to catch up with many of the missionaries he trained with in the Mexico City MTC.
  • The distance between Esmeraldas and Quito is only about 200 miles but takes 7-hours to complete…gives you a sense for the speed of the bus and likely twisty back and forth mountain passes. Adam reports the bus gets pretty hot and swampy – he uses the time to read and write letters home – when he’s not taking a break to quell his stomach.
  • Adam has a really slow internet connection in a cafĂ© near his apartment. He loves pictures in emails and asks that you please choose “Small Size” when hitting “send”. Doing so compresses the photo and allows him to receive and respond to your email.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Week 14 - Working Those Climbing Muscles

Esmeraldas from a nearby mountain
Dearest friends and family,

Welcome everyone to December and welcome to the 15th week of my mission! I sincerely hope that Thanksgiving offered you all some time of gratitude and reflection on the passing 2016. So that I don’t risk filling another letter with my tangent-ridden emotions, I’ll just share the sentiment that it was a great year for me and that I have boundless reasons to be thankful during this season. I’m thankful for my family, friends across borders, my ever-changing life, and all of the experiences that I’ve ever had that make me, me.

In this letter I’d like to take a break from the narratives and share a little bit of an update and mental check up. There is so much going on here in Ecuador and events constantly revolving around me. In fact, I am writing you all after just finishing an afternoon meeting with President Murphy about our Christmas initiatives. The meeting forced us to miss our lunch appointment so we went to the nearby panaderia, the only food we oculd find. So basically I’m running on 2 pieces of cheese bread, Polaca (oatmeal) and a slice of coconut cake (not a complaint) so my stomach is basically just dough (a complaint). In the meeting we talked about the lots of upcoming activities that await us in the coming weeks. One of them is that we get to travel to Quito again on Wednesday to listen to a training from a leader of the church. (I’ll write more about that next week.) We also talked a little bit about the upcoming Christmas holiday. The highlight will undoubtedly be the Skype call that I will have with my family on either the 24th or the 26th.

In other news I have been staying much happier and even though I couldn’t have a reason as to why I’m finding solace in that fact. It could just be that I know I’ve got lots to look forward to. Also I think that it’s because I have been doing better in my learning of the Spanish language and podria escribirles en espanol si quieren. But I’m not sure how much you all would understand and writing in English is much faster. There is definite power in feeling accustomed to things that at once made me really miserable. I’ve gained a certain new confidence in myself and in my personal mental strength. Trust me, I’m not saying that it’s all daisies and lollipops out here. The challenges definitely are still present, I’m just getting a little better at coping. It’s like a great big staircase of emotions that I am on. When I departed home and realized how much I was truly leaving I got knocked down a few steps. Eventually I got my strength and started climbing back up the staircase. Right about this time the giant hand of life reappeared and smacked me down again a little further with a different challenge, say the isolation of not speaking the language of my companion. But, like before, I got up and went to work climbing toward the place I once stood. This cycle has continued for the past little while, taking me progressively deeper and further along. However, I never gave up and I’m stronger now in my climbing muscles because of it. And I really feel like I’ve stopped taking on so much red and I’m into the black at this point. Soon I hope to be able to say that I’m just as happy as I was before I left and this is only the beginning. With all those new climbing muscles, I’ll be able to reach higher than ever before and venture into new joy that I didn’t even know existed. I really can’t wait.

Overall it was a pretty good week. They’re building a new bakery in my area, I had more divisions with another missionary (Elder Canete) and there’s a new gringo from Seattle that’s fitting right into my group. Divisions are where two companionships switch for a day and try and learn from one another. Elder Canete is a very experienced missionary from Argentina and we got to work a really cool part of the Tolita area called La Lucha de Los Pobres. It was 100% Nat Geo with banana trees, dirt roads, and two boys in white shirts and ties. Where was my camera?

In Aire Libre (my area) the Christmas decorations are in full swing and even though we don’t have any lights hanging outside of our apartment there were some inside this week…in the microwave. Elder Fernandez found out why you can’t nuke metal objects. Don’t worry, no fires. We have these composite metal type cups and silverware that usually doesn’t have any effect with the microwaves (much to my surprise the first week I was here) but I guess one of the spoons is real metal and he found that out real quick.

Anyway, sorry this is so scatters. I don’t have any time to rewrite. I was busy in the mornigns and nights this week. To leave you all with something positive, don’t be discouraged if you too are stuck on an emotional escalator. Keep getting up, keep climbing, and never ever forget the new muscles and strengths you are gaining. I am becoming a person that firmly believes that everything happens for a reason. Find your reasons. Have a great week. I miss you all dearly.

Much affection,
Elder Ericksen

As usual, additional tidbits from other letters home:
  • KFC is a little different here. The chicken is the same but they don’t have mashed potatoes or bisquits. They offer French fries, rice, lentils and cole slaw.
  • The plumbing is terrible so you can’t flush toilet paper. So there’s a little trash can next to all the toilets and the toilet paper is scented. (Please pass this info along to Nathan – he can probably use it for a “Would You Rather…”)
  • He didn't explain why but simply wrote: Pony Malta
  • Lisa asked Adam what things he misses and what he thinks the missionaries in our area would appreciate as a “treat”. Adam replied “compile them a list of lesser-known fun things they can do in their area on P-day”. I kind of liked that suggestion and we’re working on it.
  • They showed a video to a family and their DVD player remote was broken so they had to watch the video in English. Adam acted as translator and his confidence with the language was really boosted by the experience.
  • Adam requested recipes this week for condensed milk chocolate sauce, kettle corn, and a recommendation of a meal to cook on Christmas…they have to be back to their apartment early Christmas night and he’d like to make a traditional US Christmas dinner for his Bolivian-born companion.
  • He complained about his severe and still developing farmer’s tan.
  • He joked that the music played everywhere in Esmeraldas sounds like the soundtrack to the movie “Nacho Libre.” He then asked someone to keep a list of the better movies and new music that comes out so he can catch up when he gets home. (He’s still my kid :))
Check out the receipt - $3.98 for meal PLUS additional sandwich.

The local mall - I assume the Centro Commercial Multiplaza

The local (abandoned?) lighthouse (El Faro de Sua)

Monday, November 21, 2016

Week 13 - Taking a Ride in "Angelito"

Dearest friends and family,

I learned a new Spanish word this week: colchon. In English it means "mattress." Let me tell you how this word went from being one unfamiliar to me to one that I now know very well.

One of my missionary friends that I have mentioned before, Elder George, was assigned to a new companion this past transfer that was supposed to be flying in from Provo, along with a fresh shipment of 25 other new missionaries. Mr. Unknown Companion, to our disappointment, had an issue with his visa so his travels were delayed 2 full days, leaving Elder George without anyone to be with in the meantime. Also, because my companion has been called to serve as the district leader over Elder George, myself, and 3 other missionaries, the responsibility fell to us to take him in until everything could be squared away in the office. This is all great and I was stoked with the prospect of a sleepover combined with a full day following of work in a trio. There was only one catch to all of this: the colchon for Elder George to sleep on was a good 20-minute drive away in the area of Propicia in the apartment of two other elders.

When we were thinking all of this through, the task at hand didn’t seem too challenging. Simply find a reliable source with a truck, pay them a couple bucks to pick up the colchon, and run off to our day of service, mystery soups and avoid getting attacked by stray dogs or stray people. Simple, right? Well we quickly found out how limited the resources are of 2 gringos and a Bolivian in the society of Ecuador. The series of events that unfolded in the next 3 hours involved a lot of settling for the best we could do. We settled for a burly, tattooed, semi-reliable friend of a source, in place of our reliable source. We settled for a 4-cylinder, 3 seat, tricked-out mini truck in place of a regular truck. And we even settled for a dirty, very stained, very stinky, very gross mattress in place of our preconceived colchon that we were venturing to obtain.

I think for me the moment I knew I would never forget this experience came when I was sandwiched between burly tattoos’ gold tooth and Elder Fernandez with Elder George legitimately sitting on my lap, the both of us ducking our heads because the roof was so shallow, as we bounced along an unpaved road. I’d say I wish I had a camera to photograph the scene but I honest to goodness don’t think we could have fit it in the cab of the truck. I wish I knew the make and model but the only tag I could find said “Angelito”. I’m pretty sure it was a Mazda, the 5600 or something like that. The really small one. You should have seen our driver trying to reach the shifter. Did I forget to mention that it was a manual transmission? Well, it was.

Question: why didn’t one of us just ride in the bed of the truck? While this may appear to be one of those times in life where a rule actually only complicates and compromises its designed purpose, I know that we were protected because of our obedience. I can’t tell you what would have happened if one of us had ridden in the back of the truck. But I can tell you that we ended up getting the mattress to our house safely, none of us were hurt or murdered by burly tattoos, it only cost 7 bucks, and we taught 3 really powerful and inspiring lessons later that night. Friends and family, don’t look for special circumstances to break rules. Look for special circumstances to obey rules and I know you’ll be blessed for it. Have an amazing week!

Until next time with affection,
Elder Ericksen

Other tidbits this week:
  • Packages still haven’t arrived and everyone, including Lisa, is getting very anxious in the continued delay. Especially the ones mailed around the time Adam left for Mexico.
  • A church member showed Adam how to make a basic banana bread by mashing a bunch of bananas up with a loaf of bread with a little milk and butter then baking the mash. Very simple and “pretty good tasting.”
  • It was a huge blessing having Elder George around for a couple days. Adam loves his companion but being able to speak to someone in English and talk about things from home was therapeutic.
  • A new group of missionaries arrived this week and several were sent to Esmeraldas. It’s been a huge boost to Adam to be able to offer support and advice to the new guys. He realizes his Spanish has improved a ton and that he really has learned a lot. And it’s a relief to no longer be the new guy.
  • They took the new missionaries to Playa Las Palmas today - it must be a tradition because that's were Adam went his first P-day as well.
  • Adam confessed today that his area is a bit sketchy and that he’s been holding back in his letters home. He said he plans to tell us those stories once he's left the area. (What's worse than hearing the actual story? Being told there are stories but he'll tell you later. Great kid, thanks. You opened a can of worms with this one.)
  • "I've had some delicious shrimp and fish – and I’m a shrimp addict now"
  • Adam was introduced to a guava machete this week, It’s a sweet, hairy fruit - the hairs are so fine they dissolve in your mouth and there's a seed you spit out. It has a really sweet, earthy flavor. Tastes great but I despise the hairs and the seed is super slimy.
The guava machete - nature's cotton candy

Santa Fernandez
Look mom - Adam is baking!

The sister missionaries picked up these pizzas to welcome the newbies - $8 a pizza

Playa Las Palmas - very near to here

Monday, November 14, 2016

Week 12 - Living in the In-Betweens

Dearest friends and family,

Missionary work is a work of meeting people. Therefore it is a work with lots of handshakes. That being said, Esmeraldas is a very sweaty, dirty place with lots of dirty hands. What do you think people do here when their hands are dirty and I reach out mine in a friendly handshake? Yes! Exactly! They curl their fingers and hand into a little ball and offer you a nub-wrist to shake! It threw me off at first but now I can add it to the list of things I’m used to. It happens 3-4 times per day. My only question is what happens when two people both have dirty hands but are feeling polite and friendly. Do they clash nubs up and down a few times? I don’t know if I want to see that!

Anyway, this week was really up and down. I had a couple of good days and a couple of less than good days. I got to eat a hearty serving of cow stomach on Wednesday. The texture was chewy and hairy but the flavor wasn’t that bad. Thinking about having a stomach in my stomach prompted one of those moments where I had to take a step back and remind myself that life is sometimes weird. But I’m hanging in there and staying faithful because, what else is there to do? I know I’ve got this and I am happy to be here.

Christmas decorations are out in the stores and have been for a couple weeks now. I thought we did Christmas early in the states but I guess when you don’t have Thanksgiving, why not? I’m realizing quickly that this is a hard time of year to be away from home and our culture. To be completely honest, I’ve been here over a month and I haven’t heard much about other celebrations / holidays that Ecuador has. We do have Carnival coming up in February where people dress down, go dancing in the streets and throw water on each other and anyone passing by, especially anyone wearing slacks and a white button down shirt. In the roughly translated words of my companion “there’s no reason for this holiday, it’s just to have fun.” I’ve also heard that New Year’s celebration here on the coast is pretty crazy. I’ll keep you updated on that one.

However, for the most part, people here do the same thing day after day. They love to lounge, listen to really loud music, some work, some play soccer, all of them eat great fruit all the time, drive mopeds, avoid cleaning, cook really unhealthy food (google search “salchipapa”), bet dollar coins on bingo in the streets and, most of the all, they love to pretend to be busy. A lot of the people I teach and interact with have little jobs here and there but, to be frank, it is hard to tell exactly what anyone does. Hermano Trejo sells salchipapas in a little store that also has “hamburgers” and other things. Presidente Tello works for the government. Hermano Alberto is studying English at the University. But everyone gets by and everyone is happy.

The people here do a very good job living in the “in-betweens.” Sometimes we tend to always be looking for the next big thing in our lives; the next Christmas, the next vacation, the next promotion, the next weekend, the next meal, the next big break. However the depressing, unseen side of effect of this is that we ignore and rush through all of the in-between, ordinary days. It’s not like that here. And I’m really trying hard to adapt that thinking into my personality. Someone recently wrote to me: “don’t rob today dreaming about a better tomorrow or feeding regrets from the past.” So that’s what I’m doing. Living in the now, enjoying one day at a time. I’ll share more thoughts on this in some later letter. Have a great week my friends and family.

Much affection,
Elder Ericksen

Adam included a personal experience in his letter to Lisa and me tonight that I thought worth sharing…an extremely timely reminder that none of us really have much reason to complain…J

Tonight we had a lesson with a lady named Alexandra. She is probably around 23 years old but it’s been a hard 23 years. She has two boys, Angel and Juninsky, who are about 4 and 1, respectively. She also has an “esposo” but they aren’t married. She lives in a tiny – and I mean tiny – house with 3 pieces of furniture that barely fit in her living room. All the padding is completely gone on the chairs and she puts folded up blankets on top as cushions for us, blankets that sometimes unravel and trail through her dirt floor courtesy of her boys. She has worked hard every single day of her life and you can FEEL the tired in her eyes. Her esposo is loving but works 10-12 hours a day and doesn’t want to get married for a couple of reasons including being “surrounded by many failed and broken promises.” So our lesson was basically floundering because the kids were being rowdy and Esposo kept getting up and leaving the room, ultimately to go buy some eggs and bread. It was getting late and we knew we had to leave soon. We really wanted to leave on a positive note in the hopes it might soft the heart of Mr. Esposo. Anyway, as we were heading out the door, stepping over a coffee table and ducking under a miscellaneous wire, we heard Alexandra call us back. Esposo wanted to share a drink before we left. We graciously accepted. While sitting back down, Esposo brought out a small platter containing 3 glasses of masato (bananas blended in milk, served warm) along with 3 pieces of freshly purchased bread. I crumbled inside because I had just watched Alexandra scrounge 3 different places (her pocket, the coffee table drawer and another room) to scrape together enough change to buy the bread. We prayed and I ate as if this was the most expensive meal money could buy, because in their eyes, it was. It was delicious and I made it clear how truly thankful I was for their generosity. We set an appointment to return next Thursday and left. When I got back to the apartment, I sat down in deep thought and just started bawling. I felt so lonely, so far away from our family, and so terrible for every moment I ever complained about anything in my life. I had the most blessed childhood of any kid anywhere and I’ve been so blind to it. I am so thankful for every effort you guys made to help me be a better person…I only wish I could be there to tell you this in person.

Additional tidbits from other letters home this week:
  • Sometimes my companion talks really quiet during prayers and this week I accidentally said “Amen” halfway through.
  • People burn lots of trash and there’s always burning tires in the streets that cars swerve around
  • My companion is feeling the pressure of only having 3 months left in his mission and having barely learned any English thus far – I’m pretty much a human dictionary right now.
  • I’ve eaten cow stomach, hoof soup, and finally found out the mystery ingredient in most soups is yucca!
  • Someone asked me what type of fruit the fruit of the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” was…I went with apple.
  • There are guards with shotguns at the ATMs.
  • People love Che Guevara here. There are tons of stickers everywhere
  • I found a dentist. You can get a new ceramic tooth put in your mouth for $10 and “free extraction of old tooth.”
  • The best banana is called platano de seda (regular bananas)
  • You can’t buy anything normal here. Notebooks, pens, deodorant…they’re all super expensive and terrible quality. Example: $12 nutella.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Week 11 - The Children and The Soccer

On the road to San Mateo - about 15 minutes east of Aire Libre
Dearest Family and Friends

Happy November! I hope this letter finds you all in good spirits from a successful and relaxing weekend. My past week was pretty good. If I had to describe it, perhaps 2 notches beyond great and 1 behind fantastic. My Spanish is coming along and I am feeling much happier being able to be utilized as a person. I am also making better friends with my companion and with some of the jovenes out here in Aire Libre. In other news, I don’t know if I’ll ever grow fond of them, but I am getting used to bucket baths! That being said…mom, dad, if I come home and starting filling up pitchers of water for my showers please do remind me how the shower handle works. How are you all? How is the U.S. of A.?

What I really wanted to do with this letter was revert back to my system of describing life here in categories and I have 2 good ones picked out for you this week: the children and the soccer.

The Children: For a little bit of context concerning me, I’ve been around children my whole life as the oldest of 5 siblings. Often, with the raising of Nathan, I would lend a hand to my mom and, to be honest, I didn’t mind. I like children and I really, really love being an older brother. One of the things that I struggled with most while leaving for my mission is that I felt like I was leaving behind my role in my family and I was going to be expected to take up some other kind of responsibility in a different, more mature setting when I return 2 years older. But I’m realizing that I don’t have to stop being an older brother just because I’m not in my family’s immediate presence. I’ve found much solace through letters, supportive advice and humble prayers. I’ve also realized that my role as a big brother can continue in different facets down here in Ecuador. I’ve become this for some kids and I love it. Most of the kids go to school until about 11:30 in the day, which is pretty early compared to the States. The effect of this is that they all roam and gather in the streets with poletas and chupetes and nothing really to do. They love to chatter (and sometimes pester) with anyone passing by, especially me, “hermanito”, el gringo. But it’s all fun and really good for Spanish practice. The kids in church are also so kind and friendly to me and it helps me feel more at home. There’s this one little girl that loves to follow me around, tries to hold my hand always, and even comes to knock on doors with us at times. She’s about 7-years old. All the children are great.

The Soccer: Soccer is so much fun! Whenever there’s a big game on TV, everyone stops what they are doing, wheels out huge speakers and congregates in the street to watch. Every single front door is open, and every single person is present. As missionaries we are supposed to forego the things of the world to focus on the nature of our calling, including TV but its physically impossible to not follow the scores of the games here because whenever there is a goal there always follows a great deafening roar, rumble and cheer emanating throughout the city. Even all the passing taxis (the only people still working) honk their horns! The vibe and excitement of it all is so different and delightful, I love it! There’s two main teams here: Emelec and Barcelona (not Spain). The coast swings more Barcelona so, for the moment, so do I. I wish you all the best and hope you all enjoy a great week.

Elder Ericksen

Other tidbits this week:
  • Emelec and Barcelona are football clubs out of Guayaquil…Barcelona has the higher win percentage.
  • Packages seem to be taking a bit longer than expected to arrive. Lisa, grandma and others sent packages weeks before Adam arrived in country and they still haven’t made it. Adam is dying to receive a package.
  • The lady who washes Adam’s shirts uses a lot of bleach - the smell it reminds him of Marriott bedsheets and overnight trips with his grandparents.
  •  Letters from home are keeping Adam grounded. He expressed concern in a couple of letters this week about losing himself in the work so much that he “loses” his personality. Special thanks to Mitch, Mikayla and all his friends for writing.
  •  During a particularly spiritual prayer this week, Adam heard/felt a huge rush of moving air behind him followed by an enormous cockroach that landed on his arm. He “silently flipped out” and swatted it off mid-prayer, trying hard not to detract from the moment. It was super gross, more than 3 inches long. He and his companion had quite the laugh once they got out into the street.
  • If you thought the US was bad about early Christmas, the stores in Esmeraldas have had decorations up and sales going on for the past 2 weeks.
  • No one can pronounce Ericksen so they call him “Hermanito”
  • Today the guys hired a guide (complete with machete) and went to a place called “Tropical Jardin de Libertad (est. 1985)” in San Mateo about 15 minutes drive from our area. The jardin place was supposed to be a zoo but it turns out the zoo part was shut down a little while ago so it was really just jungle. There were lots of empty cages, “it was a little weird, I’m not going to lie. They had like plants in beakers and fish in the containers, lots of snakes in jars and other things I couldn’t tell what they were. I’m happy to be alive haha. PS – did you see machete guide person?”
  • Adam has really fallen in love with the coastal cuisine. He gave Nick a homework assignment this week to research and send him details on the following foods so he knows what’s liking so much. The one bad food in the area: cheese. The good:
    • Avena polaca - Polish oats – oatmeal, water, cloves, cinnamon, sugar, milk to taste
    • Patacones – fried green plantains
    • Marisco – shellfish in general, shrimp, crabs, mussels, squid, octopus, etc prepared many different ways but basically seafood stew
    • Tomate de arbol – real name is tamarillo, a fruit that grows on trees usually blended with chilis and spices in sauces; bigger and more seeds than regular tomatoes
    • Encocado de pescado – fish cooked in a coconut sauce; unique to the Ecuador coast
    • Pan de chocolate – chocolate Danish (I’m surprised he doesn’t recognize this from here, he must have had before)
    • Leche aguacate – avocado smoothie
    • Pan de manjar – bread with caramel; looks to be Nicaragua’s version of dulce de leech
    • Jugo de maracuya – passion fruit juice
  • This week I ate some soup with half a hoof in it.
Crossing the Rio Esmeraldas

Hacking their way through the zoo/jungle with local guide
Empty zoo enclosure - has a "Walking Dead" kind of vibe, no?
The Jardin de Libertad - San Mateo 
Church dog - cleaner / healthier looking than I expected

Click HERE to see this spot in Google Maps. Hit escape to pull out and see exactly where he's standing