Monday, May 29, 2017

Week 40 - Serving in Different Ways

Dearest friends and family,

Today was a good day and tonight is a good night. There is a woman that sells avocados in a little fruit store five minutes from our house, 800 pesos (US 30 cents) each and Elder Soto and I have started the bad habit of bringing 2 back with us on our way home every night. It’s bad because we also buy a loaf of bread for 2,900 pesos ($1.10) and a pack of cocoa mix for 500 pesos (19 cents) and eat everything late at night in the apartment. Mom, is it bad to eat a half-loaf of bread with a spread of avocado every night? It’s so delicious with a little salt…ohhhh. I loved avocado before I left and now I obsess over it.

Speaking of food, let me tell you about Colombian breakfast: the keyword is caldo (bullion). Caldo though is a simple, brothy soup with potatoes and a meat. Caldo de castilla is the most popular and comes with beef ribs. I really enjoy it even though it is odd eating soup at breakfast. It’s usually served with eggs on the side, an arepa, and chorizo. What an awesome culture! Colombia definitely doesn’t need any help with its food. Oh ya – Allie: I hope you saw the picture of the Ramen from the USA that I bought from Alcosta this week. I ate it on your birthday in remembrance of you. Happy 17th! (By the way that’s weird to say out loud.)

It’s been a great week. I am growing close with the six missionaries in my district and loving my weekly Tuesday meeting with these guys. Elder Welch always thinks of awesome activities because he’s an awesome guy. We did some service this week and I’ve found what surely must be the “heaviest object in the world’ – a 6-shelf bread oven. “You know, the kind you would use to bake bread, chicken, turkeys…whatever you happen to want a lot of” to quote President Villota who we were helping to move houses. His washing machine got really banged up and trashed by some random truck driver guy but he really kept his cool – proof I have a long way to go yet in being more Christlike because I would have lost it had it been my washing machine. I had another moment being jammed in the cab of the tiny car with a ridiculous amount of people - it reminded me of that day we went to pick up a mattress in Esmereldas five months ago. I say reminded me of that day but this was nowhere as bad as that day. Nothing could be worse than that day.

So my greatest fear out here turns out to be “uneros” (in-grown toe nails). Long story short, the mission is really hard on feet and shoes – we walk like 18-20 km everyday. Some missionaries have videos of their entire toenail being removed because of this medical issue. To be honest, my fear may mainly come from the third-world removal process. Well, now I have a video and it’s the worst thing ever. Elder Soto’s toe has been hurting him and it looks the early stages of an in-grown toenail and hearing his pain really makes me second-guess my foot care - I’m always looking at and guarding my feet, it’s terrible.

We are really helping a lot of people and I feel great about it. We are teaching one family that has a sensitive problem I will not share about but it’s been a huge blessing to me to witness how apology and forgiveness. I promise it’s never too late to repent and correct your course and that there aren’t problems so big that you can’t find peace from them.

One adventure this week was no power in the entire city the entire day Wednesday. It made morning study real hard without lights since there aren’t any windows in our little cave. And electricity is actually really important because we have an electric stove and electric heating shower. It’s really the little things out here that make the difference between having the happiest of days and a day where I have to step back and remember to breathe, smile, and just laugh at whatever comes my way. Little things like electricity in the house, a Colombian haircut, lots of empanadas, or receiving an email of encouragement from someone I haven’t heard from in a while. Or even a woman from a different ward stopping us in the street and giving us a little cake because she saw us and thought of her son who is currently serving as a missionary in Uruguay. I’m very happy and have learned to find joy in the little things. It’s quite a blessing.

Have an amazing week my friends and family. With all my love, EE

  • We had a baptism on Saturday. It was great.
  • We helped two people move this week and it really tired me out. They were both from 4th floors to 3rd and 2nd floors and I found myself physically exhausted. But it was really good - I love helping and serving people in different ways to mix it up a bit.
  • Cycling is a big sport in Colombia - lots of people are watching it on TV
  • I taught Elder Soto how to make tacos this week and they came out great
  • Dad - I met someone from the other ward who served their mission in Neuquen (Argentina). We only talked for 2 minutes but it was a cool little moment for me feeling connected to you.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Week 39 - Keeping Balance

Dearest friends and family,

Hello. I’m feeling blessed to be writing you after another great week. There’s a lot to balance out here in the mission field and it brings a good feeling at the end of the week when I feel like there haven’t been too many stumbles or tripping moments. Do you know what I mean? Maybe nothing amazing happened but there was good movement in the right direction and, if there was a stumble, you recovered your step quickly and kept moving? It was that kind of week.

One thing you learn out here is to balance all of your feelings. I was able to call home via Skype to celebrate the day of my wonderful Mother on Sunday. On the surface and during the days leading up to the call I was stoked and, even as I was talking and sharing stories on the call, I was feeling pretty good. But when I hung up and later headed back to our apartment for the night I was shocked by very heavy feelings – that life back home is in fact going along perfectly fine without me and that it will be a good 7 months before I get to see my family again. I shook this funk pretty quickly come Monday with a few much needed comments and reminders in letters from my parents and loved ones. I don’t want to dwell on these feelings and mention them only because I want to be sincere in expressing my feelings. But know this: Mother’s Day has become a very special and emotional holiday for me.

I did get a kick seeing my family drinking some Colombian sodas my dad managed to secure at some Latin Market the week before. I really enjoy the Postobon, its great with picada which is a giant plate of meat pieces. Colombiana is also a favorite and I think any parent would gasp seeing the number of empty 2-liter bottles in our apartment. (And I’ve only been here 3 weeks! Ha!) They also had a malt drink that Elder Chavarraga told me is like a poor-man’s Pony Malta. I’m a Pony Malta “appreciator” so I got a chuckle when my family said they hated it. Everyone told me back at the coast to give it a week and I did learn to like it. I’m becoming an “appreciator” of lots of Colombian foods and goods and there’s a few things I will dearly miss from here when I eventually return to Ecuador. I love Palomitas (puffed rice with caramel coating), Ranchera hot dogs, Colombian hot chocolate powder mix, Hit Juices (especially naranja-pina) and almojabanas (a buttery bread roll that is delicious with Cuban flour). Yum.

Something that helps keep my balance positive are all of the amazing members, other missionaries and people we are teaching. A mission creates so many situations that cannot be found anywhere else – even more so the situations that arise service in a Latin American country. Lots of times these situations leave me dying of laughter. We gringos stick out and draw a lot of attention and comments from the people in the streets. The drunks want to meet me, shake my hand for uncomfortably long periods of time, and be my friend. The youth can be especially vocal and are always surprised when we understand and are able to respond to them. I don’t know – it’s all good stuff and helps me stay happy.

Ipiales is certainly an interesting place. It is larger and the town center is more built up than Tulcan but there are more areas on the outskirts and that’s where we find a lot of good work. The houses are more square and feel shorter than homes in Ecuador. There is a lot of metal work, car body, and motorcycle repair shops which makes many of the areas I’m in feel more industrial. There are also more dirt roads I’m walking with tall grasses on both sides. The stores like Exito and Alcosto are larger here – there’s something comforting about having a reliable store nearby. I enjoy the city a lot and Elder Soto and I are working hard.

We are teaching 3 people who are preparing for baptism in the next 3 weeks are so. We have an investigator who is 14 and will be joining her aunt and cousins in the church on the 27th. We are extremely happy for her and have seen huge changes in the way she thinks and feels in just the last 3 weeks. She has worked hard to leave behind some habits that any person would be a lot happier without and has really lifted herself out of an otherwise tough up-bringing. She told us that she has felt incredibly relieved and happy in a way she’s never felt before and all I could think was like “uff – this is why I am here.” Her words were a definite push for my balance in the positive direction.

Friends, keep your balance and keep smiling. If you trip or stumble get up quick and never stop walking forward. I love you all. Have a great week!

- EE

Other tidbits:
  • Okay so I’m doing infinitely better than I was last week and I’m really happy to be writing you guys. I still miss you like crazy but I’m doing well, I’m happy. There’s lots of joy to be had here.
  • I’m loving the pictures of the prom, I really hope you enjoyed it Allie. I do have to say that I enjoyed my own prom way more, but the first one was also good. I hope you’re staying happy and that know I love you.
  • It rained a lot this week. One day we had to go back and change because we got completely soaked.
  • Oh Nathan I heard you like the name Pupiales. It is funny. There's lots of funny Colombian names.
  • I got called on Friday night to give a talk in church on Sunday for 8 minutes. It went well. I don’t know why but I still get nervous talking in front of people in Spanish. I’m basically fluent which is awesome but sometimes I can’t find words and I worry I’m going to stumble in front of everyone. I do much better in smaller settings.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Week 38 - Happy Mother's Day

Dearest friends and family,

I have a growing sense that word “flexibility” is going to be a major theme for my mission. It’s remarkable how much you can plan and how those plans turn out becoming something completely different. It’s all good and a useful thing to learn. I mean who would’ve thought I’d be living in a rural area of the Narino province of Colombia? (I can tell you for certain Grandma Liz didn’t…and don’t worry, grandma, I’ll be back in Ecuador soon). Or who would’ve thought, on the day after Christmas, that Mother’s Day and a call home to my family would’ve come so quickly? I know I didn’t! The months from August to December last year seemed to go so slow and now January to May has gone so fast. Can you believe the sister missionaries who came out with me return home in 8 months? Wow!

So my dad made a summary of my call home to serve as my letter at Christmas and I am hoping he’s open to doing so again this week. I just wanted to write a quick opener to say: I’m here, I’m alive, I’m happy and I’m extremely excited to talk to my family. Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers in the world. Mom, thank you for raising me the way I am: perfectly imperfect. I love you and I can’t wait to tell you that in person soon.

-- Call Transcript --

Hey guys, what’s up? How’s it going? Trust me…you guys look better.

So you guys are going to have to tell me if I am speaking in the missionary up-speak voice, ok? Mitch, I laughed so hard after the Christmas call because you said I was using a…what do you call those people who call…ah, ya, a telemarketer’s voice.

Wow Nathan you are getting tall. I don’t like that at all.

So today is a really rainy day. It’s pouring a ton outside right now. It rains all the time. But it’s cool. I really enjoy Colombia. Pres Murphy asked me this week what the major differences are. The work is the same and the people are happy and the same. The food is infinitely better here, which is weird because I’m only 20 minutes from my last area. I laughed the other day…Ecuador has high tariffs or something so there’s no American food there, but here I saw some Heinz ketchup which was great because ketchup in Latin America is pretty terrible.

Where I was in Tulcan, they had more money there. The people I’m teaching and area I’m working in over here are in a lot more humble circumstances. I’m basically living in a cave right now – it’s very similar to our apartment on the coast. But I do have a shower!

Daily schedule? When I first arrived, every part of our day was planned out, every single minute. Now we have a lot more choice when we want to things. We have 90 minutes in the morning. We have to get up at 6:30 but we can choose when we want to take shower, do exercise, etc.

Today was a really good but sad day in Church. I have been really focused and working hard and not thinking about home for the last 3-4 months but today I was really sentimental. We sang a Mother’s Day song in Sacrament Meeting and I got really emotional. My ward is Jose Galan. It is really small and only about 70 people regularly attend. Our start time is 8am which is a huge hindrance. The area I am serving in is called Los Lirios.

We learned this week that the law about North Americans being out of Ecuador for no more than 90 days which would cap my time in Colombia is only a proposed law [so I may be here more than 2 transfers]. Our zone is all men and we’ve bene working out really hard because, well, we’re all guys here. They send us materials - boxes of books of Mormon, pamphlets and stuff - so we made our workout bench out of our microwave, these boxes, and 3 blankets. And we found this iron bar and got water jugs full of cement to make our barbell.

The people take advantage of the North Americans here so I have to be really careful when buying things. But I love Colombia. The only thing I don’t like is that the people get really offended if you eat too slow or turn away food – so we are eating a lot. If I don’t talk at first, people will typically ask where I’m from like it’s a possibility I’m not from the US. This is a good thing.

Hey Grandma – Elder Soto says he loves you. He asked if you are the grandma who sends me all the sweets. [Laughing off screen]. His favorites are Reese’s. Elder Soto is wonderful and we get along great. He wants to come visit San Diego and is relieved to hear there are Peruvian restaurants. [We show him cans of Colombiana soda we purchased at the Latin market and they’re impressed.] Oh, man. We love that stuff. The running joke here when ordering a Colombiana soda is to say “Deme una Colombiana, pero que sea bonita” which means “Bring me a Colombian but make sure she’s pretty.” All of the Latins say that when they buy it.

I am eating a ton of sausages called Rancheros? We don’t have mamitas. We have pensionistas and we go to same house every day for lunch. I am a lot healthier this way – I’m not as sick to my stomach this way. The food in Colombia is really good. We have cream of mushroom! Take a chicken, pound it out, roll it up with ham and cheese and pour cream of mushroom on top. I enjoy it a lot. We eat a lot of liquid yogurt. We eat arepas every day. It’s a cornmeal patty that they fry and add crumbly cheese – it’s called fresh cheese – and butter and then just fry it as little discs. Super good with eggs and hot dogs. We eat a lot of hot dogs here. I eat a lot of eggs. I’m probably going to have cancer or something – I’ve eaten like 5,000 eggs. But I think I’ve gained the weight back that I lost in the MTC and on the coast. [Someone hands him some juice.] Oh man, one thing I am really going to miss the most about Ecuador and Colombia when I come home is the juice. Every day we get fresh juice – like whole fruit blended up, fresh juice.

I’ve met and been talking to a lot of Venezuelans and their stories have impacted me and really changed my life. It’s really bad there. People in South America have cedula which is an ID card and they come with a number. In Venezuela, depending on the last number on your card, you line up for food like every 9th day and you wait there for like a week to get your food. The people are eating once to once every other day. They are really special people and have a special place in my heart.

Pres Murphy is really funny – like unbelievably funny - and I love being around him. Quick story – so one of the missionaries here took his watch in to get the battery replaced and it turns out the watch guy took out all the metal pieces and replaced them with plastic ones. So we get this call that Elder XX is really mad and we run across town and find him fighting with this watch guy. So we had to report it to President Murphy because, well, you can’t do that. So Pres Murphy starts talking to Elder XX and keeps asking him “what time is it?” And Elder XX was like “what, you have a phone, you know what time it is” but President kept on asking. Finally, pained, Elder XX says “its 5:30” and President responds, “great, so it sounds like your watch is fixed.” I lost it. We are so very lucky to have him.

So my shoes are rotten. Not that they smell bad, but they are legitimately moldy from constantly being wet. Any tips? We are back to doing laundry on our own.

Something I need is a suitcase. The black one is great. We can have two big ones and a little carry on. I only have 1, everyone else has 2. So I don’t have very much room for the things I’ve acquired. So I’m looking. Other than that, I’m really good. I’m a lot happier. I am a completely different person because I was pretty depressed for a while – but now I am happy.

I have like 5,000 things to tell you. I slammed a guy’s fingers in the car door coming here. And he didn’t have thumbs. I got in the car normal and didn’t see him and went to close the door as he was trying to get in. Ugh – I felt so bad. He said a lot of bad words.

Every once in a while the kids come from school to interview people who speak English. So they come and ask us questions – basically the same questions every week. They always ask about Donald Trump. But I don’t know anything about him which is good.

Elder Cave (spelling?) is my replacement in Tulcan and he came to zone conference and told me the people there miss me. Which made me feel really good. I really miss the family Caliz. Hermana Caliz got sick and the dad had to sell his off-brand ipad to cover hospital bills. We gave her a blessing and she was doing a lot better. He’s really cool and I miss him a lot. He was always embarrassed to go to church because of scars on his face. It broke my heart that he worried about it. I’ve learned so much from the people there…I really loved that branch.

So here there are no laws about selling things in the road and there’s no FDA so no restrictions on what they sell. Selling things on the bus is especially popular. This one guy came on the other day and started singing a love song, just to me, and kept repeating “but love is stronger” like 50 times. It wasn’t like an attraction thing. So he started talking to me after, and shaking my hand, and said he needs the support of the US because he can’t get any bigger in Colombia than he is and needs to come to the US to hit the big time. I am definitely tallest among the people who I see every day.

The cyber costs $2.50 every week.

So my time is almost up. Every letter, thank you, they mean everything to me and help me survive. I really, really appreciate it. I love you guys. I’m not going to see you for 7 months. Some days it feels like its going fast, other days it feels like a time warp. Today was bad. I was thinking about mom a lot today and being home.

But thank you for everything. A lot of the missionaries seem to forget about home and I really appreciate you writing me and keeping me grounded. [Breaks down.] Christmas is a perfect time in the mission.

Wait, we need to do a family picture. [We move in close.] How are you doing Allie? I miss you so much, honestly. I love you so much. Write and tell me about the movies and music.

Bye all. I love you.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Week 37 - Create Your Circumstance

Dearest friends and family,

Well I guess this letter is my “first impressions of Columbia” report so I better make it good. Truth is, I’m doing very well. It’s remarkably different than Ecuador in terms of how the houses look and the vibe of the city. I freaked out a bit saying goodbye to everyone that I had grown to love in Tulcan and it shocked me a bit waiting in the immigration line, realizing that I was going to be staying on the Colombian side of the border for a decent amount of time to come.

Lots of things are new for me here. First off, a roll of toilet paper costs 1000 pesos. It’s confusing - the exchange rate of US dollar to peso is roughly 2700 to 1. It’s like everyone is just putting a bunch of zeros where they don’t need to be. Shoes are 200,000 pesos…a banana 500…a bottle of water is 1500 pesos. I haven’t bought much but I do feel like a rock star punching 250,000 pesos into the ATM and watching the bills come out, 50-grand at a time. The down side is some businesses try to take advantage of outsiders, especially the gringos (like me). There have been a few instances where Elder Soto has stepped in and saved me.

Oh, speaking of Elder Soto, he is a huge blessing. He is super friendly and we have been talking a whole lot about everything…he’s going to be a great friend. I’m so relieved about that because truthfully I would go crazy without it! We are far from any other missionaries and we really need to get a long well out here. I woke up this morning and he had cooked me a ham-and-cheese sandwich without even asking me if I wanted one! I was so incredibly grateful. Note taken for future companionships and for life in general. (Parental note – c’mon Adam…you know this one already. J)

The house we live in is very different from Tulcan. It’s the smallest house I’ve lived in and feels like I’m still outside when I’m indoors. We have a small patio area that has a glass window covering instead of a roof, so it outdoors. The patio provides a small area to wash our clothes, which we do by hand. It’s tough and takes a lot of time and I’ll forever be grateful for washing machines we have back home…what a blessing!

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how I am choosing to drive my destiny and my overall well-being. Life is much more meaningful when I take charge and create my circumstance instead of being the product of circumstance.

Colombia has an amazing culture and it fills me with joy being in a place where things like honor and chivalry still exist. I think Colombians in general catch a bad rap for a small percentage of bad people who do bad things. (I’m not denying that we need to be safe and I need to always be alert. I mean there’s a reason we have to be back to our apartment by 8pm.) But the people here show and expect civility and respect. The little kids all say senor and seƱora when spoken to and family members greet one another with affection upon arriving and departing. I’ve been fortunate to have this in my life back home but truth is it would be weird if Nathan started saying “yes sir” or “yes maam” all the time. I don’t know…it’s impressive how polite they are. People visit just to visit. And when they visit it’s expected that they’ll be given something small to eat and drink. The word gentleman seems to carry a lot of weight, especially with the youth. I’ve gotten off topic, haven’t I?

As I said: first impressions. I’ll update you more in the coming weeks. In the meantime, have an amazing week. Remember that every failure brings the potential for excuse and we show the world our power by how we react in hard times. Be good and be strong. Create your circumstance.

Love you all,

- EE

PS – My new favorite thing in life? “Colombiana” soda. Google it.

PSS - Not many photos this week. I need some time to learn the area before I'll be comfortable bringing my camera out of the house.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Week 36 - Greatest Week of My Life

Dearest friends and family,

I’ve really become quite enamored with dry lightning. You know, when it’s not raining and out of nowhere the sky is ripped open by a streaking bolt of electricity? It’s even more dramatic when darkness has fallen and the calm, crisp Tulcan evening is split by a flash and clap. It’s really intriguing to me. I am sitting here gazing out the window, watching the bolts light up the clouds otherwise invisible in the darkness. And I am thinking. Lots. About how amazing it is that I’m living in Ecuador. High up in the Andes mountains. On the border with Colombia. Working and falling in love with the amazing people who live here.

It’s Saturday night and Elder Quispe and I are awaiting a call to inform us about cambios – changes in areas and companionships that will set the course of our missions for at least the next 6 weeks. Another thing I am thinking while watching the storm is that this week has been the hardest, longest, best, most-rewarding and the most learning-filled week of my entire life – not just in my mission – but my entire life! Tulcan is simply amazing. The people here are amazing and this area has stretched me so much. I don’t want to say the work on the coast (my first area) was easy, but it was easier than here. And I’m not complaining by any means, I know many have it much worse, but it has been good for me to have to work hard and fight for every lesson and every person I’ve been fortunate to teach. If I’m called to depart, I will be leaving a big piece of my heart here with these wonderful people.

One of the things that made this week most rewarding of my life was seeing and participating in the baptism of the rest of the Lopez family – specifically Mauricio and Veronica, the parents! They are such a wonderful family and I am insanely blessed to know them. Another woman we’ve been working with, Maria, was also baptized. The branch has been so supportive and wonderful in welcoming these new families. And, if these blessings weren’t enough, the boyfriend of the oldest Lopez daughter has decided he wants to change some things in his life and has started meeting with us. He’s absolutely amazing and miracles are happening right in front of me!

So the phone call came and I will moving across the border into Ipiales, Colombia. My emotions are mixed. Naturally I am excited for a new area and companion. I have worked really hard here in Tulcan and I am ready to start the process again somewhere new. But leaving is going to be super rough and I really don’t want to think about it. To make things worse, my good friend Elder Morales is leaving Ipiales and going to Otavalo for his last 2 transfers before heading home from his mission so I probably won’t see him again in the mission.

It’s now Monday morning and what else can I say? It has been a busy weekend and P-day. I barely wrote anyone this week and I feel bad about that. I am uploading about 300 photos – maybe my parents can share a bunch. I’m feeling very emotional this morning. I am absolutely drained from all of the goodbyes yesterday with the great members here and this morning I’m feeling out of it. I’m going to miss the people and this place so much. But I am optimistic and know the best days remain ahead!

I love you all lots and look forward to reading your letters. Have an amazing week!

Love - EE