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.