Monday, April 24, 2017

Week 35 - Clear Sky, Sunshiney Days

La familia Lopez
Dearest friends and family,

Hello, my loved and cherished friends and family. I’m happy and thankful to be writing you. This week we’ve enjoyed many warm days and clear mornings. I think it’s only natural for such beautiful days to plant a thought in my mind like “hmm, beach day?” In high school, clear skies and sunshine usually meant making a few phone calls and hitting the road, even more so this 2nd week of Spring Break back in Rancho (or at least I think it is). I don’t mention the beach to suggest we have one here in Tulcan – we are nowhere near one. But I do mention it because clear mornings and sunny skies give me a little extra excitement and energy to get out of the house and work hard as a missionary.

Today was one of those clear morning, sunshine-y days but that didn’t stop the dark clouds from rolling in around 4:00pm and the rain from hitting us hard. Last night, the office elders called and asked us to finish removing some old furniture out of the old house so that they can close out the property. (We thought we had but it turns out the super heavy old desk and dresser were ours). Anyway, we did all we could to get our hands on a truck but due to a branch temple trip to Guayaquil, every single contact was busy. So, helpless as we were, we decided maybe we could walk the furniture the ½ mile or so to the new house. And here’s the comedy – that’s right when the skies opened and released the downpour. Long story, short: we got very, very wet, and very quickly. Like I said, comedy. We laughed it off and went back to work.

This was a good week. We have several families getting ready for baptism next week. We’ve been finalizing details and answering the questions of the family Lopez (the parents of grown daughters who were baptized about 2 months ago). Hermana Veronica (Lopez) has been very kind and generous with some delicious Colombian food. Elder Quispe and I have decided that everyone from Colombia knows how to cook delicious food. I really enjoy the Colombian empanadas and papas peyellenos and, of course, the various meat and bean plates she cooks. Remember when I ate hoof stew at the coast? Hermana Veronica served us caldo de pata de res which is the Colombian version of hoof stew and it wasn’t bad! She cooked it in a pressure cooker which really softened the tendons, veins, fatty tissue and skin. It was almost, almost like sushi in a weird way because of how soft the meat was. Way better than the last time I had it at the coast 6 months ago. (That reminds me, I’m craving sushi really badly. Where is Sushi Deli when I need it, Mitch?)

I’m doing well. I apologize this letter is relatively short and lacking feeling. My advice for the week is to treat everyone as if today were one of those clear sky, sunshine-y days. And even if you’re not going to the beach, apply that attitude to whatever endeavor you have taken up. I’ve learned that skipping out the door with a smile has a profound ability to change course of my day for the better. And that, in turn, can also change for the better the day of everyone else around me. I love you all and hope you are well.

With affection,

Elder Ericksen

Monday, April 17, 2017

Week 34 - Enthusiasm For the Little Things

Dearest friends and family,

Goodness, I have eaten a lot of potatoes this week. I know I’ve written about the truckloads of bananas I used to eat in Esmeraldas, including one week when I ate like 35 of them. Well, bananas have officially been replaced by toobers. It’s pretty normal here to find 3-4 baked potatoes on the shoulder of your plate as a little offering of something extra in addition to the main dish. Sure they’re smaller than the big potatoes back home but it’s still a lot of potatoes and never, in the history of the world, has a country needed so badly a little sour cream! By the way, when I say “it’s pretty normal here,” I mean it’s a sure thing you’re going to eat 3 to 4 potatoes at every meal.

I think I included a comment in my letter last week that a lot of the time when we make visits in the evening the kind people of Tulcan give us a hot herbal tea and some bread. These visits also create the perfect opportunity to give us a Chimborazo (the main volcano in Quito) of rice, with the aforementioned 4 to 5 potatoes, and an egg on top. Sometimes these potatoes come peeled and baked (eat as served) or washed and baked (eat with skin) and sometimes they come baked exactly as they were pulled from the earth (put down your fork and peel with your fingers). It’s all fun and games and I do love the Ecuadorian culture. I hope you’re not bored after reading a half-page tribute to potatoes.

The week flew by and good things keep happening and coming our way. My companion, Elder Quispe, and I get along perfectly. We started a game that whenever a medium-sized rock crosses our path, it becomes a soccer ball in a high stakes game of save your pride shootout between the legs of whoever is walking in front. Elder Quispe can kick it through my legs three out of four times but hey, he was almost a professional football player. It’s expected. I’ve been lucky in sneaking a few goals myself. We have fun entertaining each other as we work hard. A few nights ago, I was sharing some family photos with him and our annual family Christmas card was in the stack. He was intrigued by the idea of a family-picture Christmas card and promises he’s going to bring the tradition back to Peru. I think it would catch on there and I better be on his mailing list!

I received some packages from home this week and, speaking of intrigue, we’ve fallen in love with something I received. Do you all remember those fuzzy little worm things on a thin string that look alive if you run them through your fingers or make it jump out of a cup? Well, thanks to Max Clark, one of those worms made his way to Ecuador and Elder Quispe loves him! Man, I wish I had my camera yesterday because he attempted to trick nearly every person we met. It’s so fun when people have such enthusiasm for the little things. While on the topic of packages, Aunt Kristen you should be happy to hear that when I opened the Pottery Barn towel we both remarked that it was much, much softer than the blankets we have. And mom and dad, I’m super grateful for the sunscreen and flash drive with church videos and music and thanks grandma for the fancy chocolates, pants, and owl tie. Thank you all, dearly!

Like I said, this week passed smoothly. Easter was delightful and I got to eat some great food and share a few Cadbury eggs with the Lopez family. Thank you mom. In fact, they love them and I’ll need to remember to send them a bag at future Easters.

I want to finish this week’s letter by sharing a small experience that was a big uplift for me and made me really happy. This Thursday we had a little get together to celebrate a sister missionary who just returned from her mission in Bolivia. The congregation here threw her a little welcome home party at the church and we got to hang out for like 45 minutes because one of the families we are teaching wanted to go. I knew that the Hermana had served in Bolivia but I had no clue as to where, specifically. So she was up in front of everyone and shared some heartfelt experiences and then put on a small slideshow of pictures she had taken during her 18 months there. In an instant it hit me that she served in Cochabomba, Bolivia when I saw a photo of Hermana Hansen and then, a few pictures later, photos of President Hansen with a big smile on his face. Hermana and President Hansen are members of the church from my congregation back home and had a big impact on me growing up, watching out for, teaching and helping me, especially in early morning seminary. It was incredibly exciting for me to see their faces and to realize that the world really is smaller than we think. It was also amazing to think that their 3-year mission is nearly finished even though it doesn't feel like they left that long ago. It was a great night for me.

I’m happy, healthy, and working hard. We’ll talk to you soon. With love,

- EE
  • It finally feels like this is my normal, instead of living in some other world waiting for the day to return home. Sure I still miss you guys like crazy and a lot of the things of home but I’m finding my confidence. It also feels good to know just how important family really is. I am happy and proud to be here with your support.
  • I’m loving the Cadbury eggs. I’m eating 1 per day until Easter and then we’re going to rip open the bag and go to town. Elder Castagno totally gasped when I told him I had them.
  • I’ve been really moved by the importance of Easter and the love of our Savior. Hermana Murphy shared her thoughts about the sacrament being the last act Jesus performed with his apostles to remind them of him and she had me completely in tears. I was floored at the emotions I felt – I’ve become infinitely more sensitive to the spirit. The mission really is an interesting experiment.
  • Today we finally went to Las Lajas! In the morning we played soccer on a synthetic field and it is true that Elder Quispe is amazing at soccer. It makes me laugh whenever we play with the Latinos – you have to because we don’t stand a chance. Check out the huge pile of meat we had for lunch – delicious! Then we were off to the sanctuary. It was amazing and unbelievably gorgeous. I was taken aback quite a bit. It was an awesome day and I am so thankful for the deep friendship I share with Elder Morales.
  • [Scott Note: During our post-Christmas garage clean out and purge exercise, we came across Stripey, a small stuffed animal Cheetah Adam loved as a baby and toddler. Lisa took a chance and shipped him in a care package. Judging by the photos, it looks like Stripey arrived in Tulcan safe and sound. I'll spare you the photos of Adam snuggling him ;)]

Monday, April 10, 2017

Week 33 - Head Down, Getting It Done

 Dearest friends and family,

Well the weeks are passing rapidly now, aren’t they? I’m getting by on a diet of hard work, loving families, deep studies, chicken, rice, potatoes, various oatmeal products, lots of laughs with my companion, uplifting letters, inspirational life experiences and, lastly, divine help. I mean these are a few of the things that push me along. Have I ever told you guys about all the fun ways Ecuadorians consume oatmeal? My goodness, it’s a staple here. Personally, I love all the oatmeal drinks they prepare. They do a lot of fruity, savory flavors mixed with a thin oatmeal to make a milkshake. I should go on Martha Stewart or something to teach this, but it’s absolutely delicious if you boil milk and then put in maybe 5 or 6 spoons of oatmeal so it thickens up and later add cinnamon and sugar. Then after all that, put the hot mixture in the blender for a minute and then strain out all the oats so it’s a smooth drink. Oh what a delicious concept! You’re all welcome for that one.

Many houses we visit give us a mug of some variety of this drink. They also give us herbal teas with little pieces of bread or things like that or hot drinks with fruit flavors thickened with corn starch. As you can tell from the pictures, it’s a chilly climate here and people are always trying to ‘quitar el frio’. One family that really likes to give us oatmeal colada which we always accept without complaint is the Rosero family. They’re members of the church and have been very good to the missionaries for a long time despite being a younger family. The father, Robinson, is a handyman – he can basically get work from any job site and provide for his family. (Side note – he’s the guy who took us boxing a couple of weeks ago). His wife, Diana, is super awesome and cooks really good food and soup. She also works as a cashier at an internet cafĂ© and we sometimes stop by to buy candy, water or other Ecuadorian treats and share a few laughs.

Robinson and Diana have an adorable 5-year old daughter named Monserrat Isabella who I just love. She’s super sassy and talkative and she always makes me laugh. She always shakes my hand very maturely and makes her best effort at my name which makes me smile. I, of course, kind of tease her back which causes her to put on her sass “humph” face with her hands on her hips. She usually responds by calling me Elder Malo or Elder Feo. I’ve said it before but the kids and families really remind me of my own family and it’s been really good being surrounded by people that care for me. Even though I get called Elder Ugly by a 5-year old when she thinks I kicked her dog (I didn’t…it’s a long story), it’s really comforting being with people who feel confident and comfortable teasing me and treating me like one of their own…like a real friend.

Truth is, I was a person who teased and joked very often (maybe too often?) before I left on my mission. When I arrived here, I was lost. I was in over my head with the new language and culture that this side of me disappeared and I got really serious. Not because I wanted to but because I legitimately could not express myself in that way (in any way, really) for a time. Now that I’m with Elder Quispe who has helped me improve my Spanish 100-fold, it’s starting to come back to me! I said something the other day that even got a laugh from hermana Diana…so score one for me.
Basically I don’t have any complaints. For some reason that I can’t explain this week flew by. Usually the weeks that go faster are the ones where I have lots of responsibilities or extra things to take care of that keep me really busy. However, there wasn’t much of that going on this week. I saw a cow fight in the countryside. We had the chance of talking to and comforting a person who lost family members in the Colombian mudslide. We had our meeting of the elders of the new Ipiales (Colombia) zone and Tulcan had some celebrations related to its foundation as a province that was fun to see. Mainly it was a put your head down and get it done type of week.

I’m happy. I’m learning, growing, improving and polishing in many ways. But I promise I’ll never forget my roots and I’ll never forget each of you. I promise.

With all my love,

- EE

Monday, April 3, 2017

Week 32 - Stand Up On the Inside

Dearest family and friends,

Wow, wow, wow, something amazing has occured! I just enjoyed the first real shower of my entire mission so far. We all remember my situation at the coast and the whole bucket-pitcher deal. I promise you, I was in and out of that shower superquick. Then I arrived here in Tulcan and we got robbed, and moved over to the house with the elders on the south side of town. I never said anything bad about the shower there because I was just grateful to be able to stand under a warmish stream of water. But it was always super cold in that house and it cancelled any warmth out! However, we are living in our new apartment in our sector. The first shower I took here was a failure because I was so used to putting the water pressure as low as I could in the old house so that the electric-box-wire-mess thingie could have a chance of heating up the dribbles as they trickled out. Sadly, when I did that with this new shower it didn’t activate the gas-heating box on our roof, so only cold water came out and it was freezing! But tonight…tonight I’m just getting home after a long day of extremely hard work. I tried the shower again and I got it to work and oh, gloria, it’s beautiful! For the first time in seven months I thought to myself “well, I guess just one more minute will be ok.”

I really hope you can all feel the excitement in my voice because I’m really rather delighted. But I also have a weird sense of guilt, too. I had this feeling once before, when we went to a nice mall in Ibarra and it felt like home. It felt like my Ecuador-world and my USA-world were clashing that night…a wave of emotion like I was somehow closer to home and familiar surroundings but in reality, I really still couldn’t have been farther from it. Well tonight I am feeling the same way, but in some ways even worse, because I know and love so many wonderful people here…people I know are showering with raw, cold water, some in make shift showers, outside, fed by little more than a garden hose. That night, back in Ibarra, I reasoned I felt bad because I wanted to keep my Ecuador-life and my USA-life separate. But now I realize I was wrong and jaded. Now I am coming to appreciate it more deeply. What I’m realizing is, despite loving my first warm shower in 7-months, I’m actually happier and more comfortable living my life more similarly to the people I am trying to help. It gives me a stronger sense of empathy and helps me feel like I can help in a more genuine way when I live as they do.

I also just need to be more thankful because, truth is, complaining about waiting 7 months for a sweet shower is just a way messed-up, backward way of being a spoiled, ignorant kid. In my case, I promise I’m not complaining. I’ve learned to earnestly pray, with deep thanks and gratitude, for every plate of food placed in front of me, and every genuine smile received from these wonderful Ecuadorian people. Sorry for these somber thoughts tonight. I’ll be back on Saturday to summarize the week.

So it’s Saturday now and we ended up finishing off a great week here. We held an awesome activity at the Church last night with games, hot chocolate, and makeshift grilled cheese sandwiches. Yesterday there was an Easter procession, not related to our Church but intriguing all the same, with three shirtless men on homemade crosses being carried through town. We heard about a fight breaking out later between two women in the same gathering but we had left by that point so who knows? And then today I got to watch General Conference and will be able to listen to the rest tomorrow. To close this week’s letter, I’d like to relate a port of a talk given in conference. I hope you don’t mind.

A man named Gary B Sabin talked on the subject of why we need to be “All In” to a good cause and why being “All In” can bring us confidence despite the tasks ahead being difficult. As part of his remarks, he shared a story about an inquisitive child taking swings at a human-shaped punching bag that always bounced back and stood back up regardless of how hard he hit it. The father asked the child why he thought the punching bag bounced back, time after time. The simple and innocent answer of the child hit me hard and has me reflecting on my mental toughness. The child replied that the punching bag bounces back because it is "always standing up on the inside". We need to be like this boxing training tool. We need to stand up on the inside by putting all of our trust in whatever goal or good cause we find ourselves engaging in. Once we reach this level, strengthen our foundation and add weight, we become rooted and nothing can knock us down.

I feel blessed and thankful for all the support I received from my beloved family and friends that help me add weight and standing power to my inside. Life is good! As Elder Quispe loves to say “estamos trabajando como bestias”…”we are working like beasts.” I miss you all and will see you soon. Chao!

- EE

Plated out of California - last registered in 2009. A little bit of home is here with me :)