Monday, July 31, 2017

Week 49 - Getting to Know Cayambe

Dearest friends and family,

What can I say? First off, I’m happy to report that I’m back living in Ecuador! Early last week I spent a lot of time traveling between Otavalo and Quito waiting for and then picking up my new companion, Elder Cuevas from Lima Peru, and then moving into my new area – a little city called Cayambe situated at the base of an epic snow-capped volcano of the same name.

My trip to Quito was really enjoyable and even though I knew nothing about travelling to Quito from Otavalo and the 2 other missionaries I was with even less we did manage to arrive safely. I got to see two long-lost friends Elders Chavarrega and George! We overnighted with them in “La Luz” which is an apartment located a little outside of downtown Quito with a bunch of mattresses that houses missionaries who come into Quito for visits for business and meetings and things. The evening was filled with laughter and lots of memories of crazy adventures back on the coast in the earliest days of my mission. The next day I picked up my companion and we caught the bus from Quito to Otavalo and met up with Elders Welch and Justiniano and worked their area in downtown Otavalo for the night.

The next morning (Thursday) we finally made our way to Cayambe for the first time and started getting to know our area. I know I have said this many times over the last several months but this time it’s true – Cayambe is the most awe-inspiring place in all of the world! How do I even begin to detail it out for you? It is a little village built into the base of a giant snow-capped volcano. The volcano itself is a bit terror-inspiring because of its sheer size and dominating appearance, evidence of the raw power of nature. The city is a blend of campo and sierra, it’s kind of hard to explain. Its like the mountains come up out of nowhere, jetting upward jaggedly leaving all of the buildings appearing small and tucked away in the more flatter areas. This area is also the largest by far. We will be focusing ourselves on small, manageable chunks of the city because the outskirts just keep going and going. The population is a mix of latinos and indigenous people. The indigenous women wear colorful skirts with white, meticulously stitched shirts and thick, woven belts that are unbelievably colorful. It’s like they have a different sense of color…like their brains are able to process a more advanced perception of color than mine. Or maybe they’re just super lucky every time they sit down to weave something because it all looks so perfect. The crowning element of clothing is the sleek, black hat. It’s a slanted hat, very distinct, with a peacock feather sticking out the side. I absolutely love being surrounded by such an abundance of culture and tradition. It really is beautiful. I’m trying harder not to talk about food all the time but another great thing are the famous bizcochoes of Cayambe. It’s like a little pastry bread stick that is buttery and crumbly and goes perfectly with dulce de leche or caramel. It’s wonderful.

I guess what I’d most like to convey this week is that I’m super happy, indulging in my new surroundings and living every day to its fullest. I’ve been able to really polish up my positivity and find the positive in things around me which I know will help me for the rest of life. I sincerely hope you are all happy and living life to its fullest as well. I love you all and will see you soon!


Elder Ericksen

Other tidbits:

  • There are lots of different types of bizcochos throughout latin America but Cayambe is particularly famous for theirs. There are several videos on Youtube that show how they are made. I've chosen this one because it shows off the city a little bit. It's in spanish and one of the things explained is that the bizcocho arose out of the Spanish conquerors desire for a bread that could last several days out in the open air. The ingredients appear to be butter, pig fat and flour. This may be the area where Adam puts on some weight. We'll save the other regional delicacy (guinea pig) for another week. :)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Week 48.5 - A New, New Companion

President Murphy posted some photos this evening of the newly arrived missionaries and their trainers, one of whom was Adam. Can't wait to hear all about the new area and his new companion come Monday!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Week 48 - Change Is in the Wind

Dearest friends and family,

Let’s do something different this week – how about a little Week 6 Day to Day, Play-by-Play?

Monday – P-day was super solid this week. A great mix of rest, working off some stress through exercise and soccer, and quality time spent with my missionary companions. We met up with Elders Castagno, Rodriguez, Bermejo and Welch around 10am to do a little shopping in town, including at my favorite store that sells everything imaginable. Basically it’s a mix of every garage sale ever. I love it. We bought some $9 jerseys so we could show up to our 1pm soccer game with the other missionaries in style. Although I didn’t make any goals this time, soccer was great and we definitely won. We finished the day at the cyber writing home and I was pleasantly surprised to find a few letters from friends I hadn’t heard from in a while which was a huge morale booster for me. Your letters remind me that I am not lost, nor forgotten and that is a super feeling to have. Thank you, friends. I love you.

Tuesday – Tuesday came and went super-fast! We got to help some really amazing people, including the Pabon-Amayo family. They’re a family of 5: a mom, kids, a brother in law and a cousin who are all listening and learning with sincere and real intent. In mission life that is a HUGE blessing and it’s been wonderful getting to know them. Another highlight of Tuesday was getting to take a photo with “Cuzo”. Let me explain. In the states, there are laws against drinking or doing drugs in the streets. Here? No. So there’s this awesome guy who walks around asking for change from people who pass by – I’m pretty sure his brain is damaged from drugs and I’m also sure he only buys cigarettes with the little money he collects. He also sings and dances and, I am not kidding, he is amazing! I can’t describe it well and I wish you all had a chance to meet him. After I handed him a few coins, I asked what he was going to buy with the change and he grumbled for a moment and then replied “Papitas”, laughing a bit in his gravelly voice. I told him “good, smoking isn’t allowed” and he smiled and slumped away. For me, it was an unforgettable exchange.

Wednesday – So Wednesdays and Thursdays are generally less scheduled and are really good work days for us. That said, Wednesday was tough. We had 4 appointments fall through and found ourselves rejected at every turn and every door we knocked. Feeling pretty out of it, while heading back to the house I suggested we cook something from the recipe book my mother sent me. Last week we made Mexican tortillas so this week we made Sloppy Joes! Everything turned out great and made for an exceptional dinner despite not having any measuring cups or teaspoons…just a lot of eyeballing. Mom, Elder Soto really enjoyed them and took a copy of the recipe!

Thursday – Thursday, July 20, was a national holiday here in Colombia in celebration of their independence as a nation. There were lots of flags flying everyone and I loved it. I love enthusiasm and patriotism. I feel like this would be a good time to mention that Colombia has a ridiculous number of holidays. There have been at least 5 since I arrived here in early May. Which country in the world has the most holidays in their calendar? My money is on Colombia.

Friday – Fridays are the best in Ipiales! In the morning, we plan our efforts and areas of focus for the week to come. In the afternoon, we meet with Hermano Christian to plan and better coordinate our efforts with the other members of the Church. On Friday evenings, we teach English classes and play soccer. No complaints there! This Friday all of our activities turned out really great and things went smoothly. I did fall in the morning and ripped open the knee of my pants (no laughing!) but otherwise it was a great day.

Saturday – Saturday started out amazing. We woke, studied and readied like normal when, completely out of the ordinary, we heard a knock on our door. This never happens so we were very confused. We opened the door to find Elders Welch, Bermejo, Castagno and Rodriguez smiling ear to ear, with supplies for making pancakes. What an incredible surprise! I love this district so much! After pancakes, we went and worked really hard like it was our last full day together in the sector. In the evening, we attended a baptism which was a really spiritual service. I love baptismal services. We finished the day with food and then went home to wait for news about transfers. And they just came in! The exciting news is that I am heading back to Ecuador, to a place called Cayambe which more or less sits between Otavalo and Quito. I am shocked and excited and nervous and ready for a new adventure. More info soon for sure. I will say I used to hate changes like this. I seriously would have been happy living my whole life in little old El Cajon with my friends and hobbies. But I’ve learned to embrace and love change. Elder Soto and I were chatting last night over our Joe’s and I told him I wouldn’t mind being transferred simply because I feel like I have this Ipiales/Tulcan/Sierra thing down and I’m ready for new challenges to help me continue developing, growing and progressing as a person. It looks like I’m going to get my wish.

I’ll be keeping you all updated. Have an amazing week. I love you all.

- E. Ericksen

Other tidbits:

  • No pictures this week as Adam had little time to get letters to us with all of the movement related to transfers. They did get stuck in long lines at the border for about 6 hours trying to get back into Ecuador. Apparently it's high travel / tourist season?
  • Cayambe is a smallish town of about 40,000 people that sits at the base of an almost 10,000 foot tall volcano. The city is about 40 north of Quito and the evening picture of the volcano below is how the mountain looks from Quito. The equator also runs right through Cayambe both the town and volcano. Interesting science fact: given earth's bulge around the middle and the elevation, there is no place on earth closer to the sun and stars than atop Cayambe. There's a number of incredible videos of people climbing the volcano like this. #anewlifegoal

Monday, July 17, 2017

Week 47 - Letting Things Go

Queridos amigos y familia,

It’s been a growing week. Or maybe I should say ANOTHER growing week here in Ipiales (Colombia). Not a week growing outward or upward but rather internally – spiritually, mentally and personally as I learn more about myself and make efforts to shape myself into the person I want and am supposed to be.

On Monday I received some amazing, yet simple advice from my parents that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff or stress over little things that don’t matter. Or worry about some petty event or two that I was overthinking and allowing to affect me. As it is with good advice, what they told me was worthless unless I took a step back and a deep breath to analyze and internalize for myself what I needed to do and how I could use it to help me in my situation and frankly, for the rest of my life. This is something I see a lot of my mission – many of the people we teach, either for lack on our part as teachers don’t have the opportunity, or for lack of sincere desire on their part chose not, to make that crucial internal connection of “why and how” in their minds. But last Monday afternoon the necessary connections were made in my mind and a flood of peace rushed over my conscience as a smile formed at the corners of my mouth. I was free.

It’s interesting to me because letting something go is an internal decision, a change in frame of mind. It doesn’t require much else. But I’ve learned now more than ever before, if we want relief from something, we have to do it. There are a lot of people who worry, struggle, hold on to things, fret, stress, argue, and essentially tear themselves apart – tear themselves down – because of what are often little problems and petty events. I meet and interact with these people every single day. And interacting with them makes me reflect on myself and how I act. A lot.

I remember one day last year while working the phones at my Aunt Kris’ office, a woman called to complain about a problem that had occurred with some medical treatment she had received and her insurance coverage. I remember vividly the condescending tone in her voice and colorful insults she easily threw as she cut me up on my end of the phone as a representative of an entity that “had done her wrong.” The funny part is Aunt Kris’ company had absolutely nothing to do with the medical care or insurance and she simply had a wrong number. Being overly helpful, caught way off-guard, and I suppose a little stupid, I googled the company that she had meant to call and passed her the number, even double checking that she took it down correctly. She apologized for cursing at me and hung up. To this day, I have always wondered if she called the correct number and laid into a new innocent person on the other end of the line for a second time with her foul language and bad attitude, or if she had really was sorry for how she treated me and used a more diplomatic approach. I will never know the answer. But I bring this story up to express the negative impact it had on me. I was really offended by how she treated me and felt really sad about it. Who knows why, I really had no reason to feel sad but it really bummed me out. I took the situation very personally and that was my error. How lucky I was to be working alongside a great friend, Mitch, who helped me laugh it off, forget about it, and move on with my day. Maybe that’s part of it – maybe others out in the real world, who surely have much bigger problems than me - maybe they don’t have someone to help them forget and move one. I have been guilty of feeling like that recently and it has been tough. If you are feeling like that, I am here to say forget and move on. Don’t take things so personally. Be happy. Smile. It’s a better world when we smile.

One of my favorite parts of being a missionary is that we get to help families. I love helping families. There is nothing more important in this world to me than family. This week during a spiritual lesson with a family I love, the eldest son who doesn’t have much interest in our message rushed downstairs, threw his shoes at the feet of his mother and beckoned her to wash them while he showered and got ready to leave for the night. This gracious mother did him this favor and washed his shoes. Twenty minutes later the son shouted from the top of the stairs that he wanted his mother to now bring him the clean shoes. She explained that she was focused on talking with us and would bring them soon. His reaction was distasteful as he snapped back that he needed his shoes right then and that she must bring them to him. What unfolded next taught me a lot about what I need to work on and what the world could use more of. This humble mother smiled, forcing back the urge to give her son his due reprimand, excused herself and brought him the shoes before returning with a smile. What did I learn? Obviously her son was horribly wrong and severely mistaken - surely he could come retrieve his shoes. Without doubt it would have been better for him to clean his own shoes – I mean he is 19. The lesson I learned was this: just because someone doesn’t talk or fight back in an argument doesn’t mean they have lost. In fact, everyone wins when they excuse (forgive), forget and move on with virtue.

Maybe it’s just something that moms do…but her quiet example has me focusing less on winning an argument and more on letting things go. And that starts with noticing more when other people do just that for me.

Have a great week family and friends. I love you all.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Week 46 - Cultural Differences

Dearest friends and family,

I’ve come to understand that Latin American people can be very superstitious. I had a number of casual conversations this week that quickly drifted into talk about ghosts, spirits, black cats, goblins and extra-terrestrials. The comments from the people here can be really interesting and sometimes make me laugh as just about everyone has some first-hand account of an experience, or is ready to relate the encounter of a close friend of family member, with something extraordinary.

Let me take a step back…maybe I’m assuming too much. If I asked you if you had ever seen a goblin, what would you say? How about if I asked if you had ever felt the presence of a being not from this planet? Or if an encounter with a black cat can frighten a child to the point of endangering the child’s health and well-being? I worry these questions won’t translate well into English but suffice to say everyone here would respond “yes” to these types of questions. And it causes me pause and sometimes makes me chuckle to think of my friends or family similarly replying the same. An illustration: last night we went to visit a friend of a church member who also joined us at the visit with their daughter and young grand-daughter, Isabella. Elder Soto and I arrived to the appointment on time but the member arrived a few minutes late. When they walked in, they greeted us and immediately began sharing a story about how young Isabella had stumbled down the stairs, but was able to grab part of the hand railing and save herself from serious harm. And while the visible harm was limited to a skinned knee, they proclaimed that “Isabella estaba esplantada” (she has been “spooked”) and requires a visit to Dona Rosa, the person in town known for curing spooks, otherwise she would surely catch a fever, develop cold feet, not be able to sleep, and eventually begin to vomit. Internally my reaction was one of denial and repeated “say, whaaats?” in my mind as the story unfolded. But unanimously, all of the other heads in the room were nodding in agreement about the spook and needing to see Dona Rosa.

By no means do I intend to sound judgmental. After all, I come from a culture that believes in drinking shakes to lose weight and tells its children a jolly fat man slides down the chimney to leave presents one night a year. I’m sharing this story to explain something that is culturally different here as compared to than life back home. I mean no disrespect. Perhaps the beliefs have something to do with the landscape and terrain. It is very hilly, and extremely green here – almost mystically so. When it rains and there are lots of clouds and it can feel very dark and lonesome, as if at any minute the entire city could be swept away by the wind, rain, or something super natural. The city itself is built on bricks and concrete but the surrounding areas of replete with all kinds of vegetation, think folds of grass spilling over an uneven landscape – a hobbit’s paradise. There are also quite a few churches here that preach about “open heavens” and designate certain of their members to prophecy the future and profile the past. The people who attend these churches are extremely devoted, it is impressive. I’ve also heard a million stories about other kinds of spirituality and we sometimes encounter witches or other interesting people selling all kinds of odd objects related to witch craft. It’s all so very different from my experiences back home. I’m going to come home with lots of stories that is for sure. I’m afraid it’s going to be kind of boring coming back to my old life.

I am so very happy to be out here teaching and helping others and I’m completely without complaint. This week was great complete with laughs and a visit for zone conference by President and Hermana Murphy. Our conference meetings were exceptionally edifying and I learned several things I’ll be applying in the weeks to come. I also really enjoyed my interview with President and time spent with Hermana Murphy. My mom recently asked how they motivate and comfort us. Well, one big thing they do is make it very clear how much they love, and want the absolute best for, each one of us – personally and individually. This love and concern is so apparent and unbelievably comforting when they arrive in town and greet us after the long drive from Quito – their faces show how genuinely delighted they are to have a few hours to be with us and they are genuinely interested in finding out better and in more detail about who I am and how best to help me. I love and respect them in a way I could never describe in a letter. They have an amazing way of making us all want to do everything in our power to make them proud. I’m really very blessed to have them watching over me and our mission. Talk soon.

With love,

Elder Ericksen

Monday, July 3, 2017

Week 45 - Fewer Light Bulbs

Dearest friends and family,

Productive minutes lead to productive hours, which lead to productive days and productive weeks. It’s Tuesday which means we are working on those hours and days, but I’ve got a good feeling this will be a great week. Productivity and efficiency can mean a lot of things and there are some differences in definitions that I’ve observed living here in a Latin American country. For example, have I ever mentioned how it’s perfectly normal for homes here to have fewer light bulbs than light sockets? And for the most part, to the extent I’ve been able to observe, this has little to do with money. I mean, cost might be a factor in some cases, but bulbs here only cost about 8,000 posts ($3) which is something that could be reasonably saved in a week or two. No, the lack of light bulbs seems to have more to do with productivity and efficiency. I can tell you that living with fewer light bulbs does involve moving them around often, climbing on chairs, lots of dark corners and occasional moments of darkness while a bulb is being moved from one room to another. And, at 6’3” tall, I can tell you my name is called upon often as I usually move bulbs 2 or 3 times a week because I can reach them without standing on a chair.

So why is it like this? I believe it is because life is so blissfully simple here - having more light bulbs simply doesn’t matter. I’ve been asked what has surprised me most about living in Latin America and I think this is one of the answers I would give. It is surprising how streamlined life is and how much better life can be this way. A story to illustrate. We arrived on Sunday night to the house of a family that I adore, the family Alvear, who are learning about the church and are eager to learn more. When we got there, Mateo the 11-year old son brought me a light bulb from the bedroom and I heard Hermana Lorena (the mom) call from the kitchen: “Erickksan, de me poniendo el coco, ya vengo.” I put in the bulb and a few moments later the family of 5 and we missionaries are all sat down in their living room. We shared an uplifting lesson and message and then played a quick game called “Stop” which is fittingly simplistic and involves ripping pages out of a notebook and writing words sharing in various categories sharing the same first letter until someone fills all the categories. (I think this game is called Scategories back home.) I got a laugh when we were revealing our answers and 9-year old Mateo had written “Medellin” in the spot for a country that started with “M”…his 14-year old brother Frankie laughed his head off in mockery but karma struck quickly when he wrote Paris in the same category for “P”.

It was an undoubtedly delightful night. I’m hoping that, in sharing these minute details about light bulbs and mistakes, I am able to call your attention to the warm family gathering complete with spiritual moments, laughs, stories, helping 5-year Valery write her words, and warm Cedron tea to fight off the cold outside. We sang, prayed, shared and strengthened one another for an hour before saying good bye and retiring to our apartment. And this is the image that will forever stay in my mind because this is what is most important.

It is my hope and prayer that my comments this week might help us all forget a little the things that don’t really matter and cling a little more to those moments and things that do. I mean, wouldn’t we all be happier if we could fit all of our material possessions into a 6ft by 6ft space? Wouldn’t we all be happier if life meant spending quality time with our family and nothing else? Wouldn’t we all be happier if we had fewer light bulbs than sockets?

Have a great week my dear friends.

- EE