Hola Querido Familia!
Oh my goodness, firstly I have to say what an incredible mother I have. Mom, thank you so much for helping me prepare everything I would need for my mission. The tights, the boots, scarves, EVERYTHING has been so essential. Thank you for helping me find the very best things to be prepared and ready to serve here in Argentina. I love you! Also, I love the pictures you sent. Thank you so much for keeping me updated on life at home. I can´t wait to someday see the MOA video the boys are working on. Jordan, my goodness, you little movie star. And Ty guy, you go for it with those Editing talents of yours! I love hearing everything about home. Thank you for every detail.
Secondly, God loves me. That´s all there is to it. I´m learning and growing so much in my time here, and I´ve only been here for 2 weeks! My area right now is Venado Tuerto, it´s about a 3 hour trip (by bus) south and west of Rosario.
I need to tell you, firstly, some peculiar things about Argentina. This place is enchanting. Argentina seems like a portal for time travel, somewhere caught between worlds and times. There are streets and cars, but very few traffic lights and no painted lines on the streets to separate lanes of traffic. Stop signs, I think i´ve seen maybe 3. You thought my california stops were bad, Austin? You should see the flow of traffic here! There are cars everywhere, some more modern VWs and Fords. But at least half of the cars here could belong in Herbie. Motorcycles and bikes are essential here. On any given motorcycle you might find 3 to 5 people. Commonplace to have that many, really. The Bikes, surely, must be from Mary Poppins, with their wide handlebars and baskets afront. Young couples that could be from Top Gun, kissing over their motorbike wearing leather jackets and hair like the 80s. It´s enchanting and confusing all at once! My taxi ride that first night, from the bus station to our apartment, I didn´t stop praying from the moment we entered the cab til the moment we hit the curb. It was like Indiana Jones at Disneyland, except it isn´t a ride, it´s real life! We made it safe and I won´t have to ride in a taxi again until next transfer . . . I hope!
Dogs. Dogs everywhere. Dogs in houses and stray dogs in streets. In this respect, Argentina is just like Washington (the land of dogs) except the Dogs here are scary! Dirty and raggedly bony from life in the streets. And leaving their traces everywhere. Dad, you should know that I will never procrastinate cleaning up after Jack again in my life after my experience here! One little dog has followed us several time, he looks somewhat like a dalmation. We call him Pecas (freckles).
The keys to front doors (all front doors, ours included) are like those in Scarlet Pimpernell, cerca 1860 or so, complete with old fashioned teeth on either side of the key. Wood burning stoves, in some homes, to keep the house warm. Shutters, on many windows. Bars on most others. A basket seated on a tall pole stands in front of each home, for trash. Trash here is collected every day, from these little baskets seated up high in the front yard. Tiny little washers, no dryers. Clothes are hung on a clothes line outdoors, for us on our little apartment balcony. No dishwashers, but always fridges.
Cobblestone sidewalks at times, other times straight pavement. The food! Goodness, sweet Sister Sanders certainly helped me prepare. The Empanadas are stellar, the pan (bread) supreme. Mom, I bought some authentic alfajores on Saturday, and I´d have to say that we were spot on when we had that cookie alfajores making fest before I left. They tasted almost exactly the same! I´m afraid for my health, but luckily we walk nearly everywhere, which equates to 7 or 8 miles or more a day. That makes me feel a little better. Almuerzo (lunch) is the big meal here, eaten at 1pm or so. Cena (dinner) is usually about 8 or 9 pm and is very small. My American stomach is angry with me at the moment, craving food at 5 or 6. But I´m adjusting. All in good time!
We never knock doors. Always clap. We always clap and stand away from the door at least 7 feet, to wait for´folks to come to their doors. It´s the weirdest thing to me, after knocking doors in Washington for 3 months, 2 hours a day. But I love it! Many houses have a courtyard with a gate. Other homes are right on the sidewalk of the street, like in the Cosby Show.
I think the boys will squirm at this, but everyone greets you with a kiss instead of a hug here! Men in the church are asked to give us handshakes, but the women and children always say hello with a kiss on the cheek, always the right cheek. Stranger or friend. One or two times we haven´t been able to tell a male investigator the rule fast enough, and so I´ve gotten kisses on the cheek from them, too.
At 12 pm, everything closes. I mean EVERYTHING. Media dia, from 12 to 4pm, everyone closes up shop. To eat, to rest. Life runs so much slower, here. At some moments as a missionary it´s killing me, especially in the afternoon hours. I like to work and work hard, and Argentina is forcing me to take things a little slower. I´m thoughtful, wanting to know what Heavenly Father would have me learn, and what he wants me to contribute from my heritage and missionary esperience in the States.
My first week in Argentina was the hardest week of my life. It was incredible, for all the new and exciting things I was seeing and doing. It was so hard, though, not to be able to communicate. My first morning, I almost cried while saying our companionship prayer. I used what little spanish I knew to offer the most simple of supplications to Heaven. Throughout the first day, my Companion had to point to everything while she was saying it, and use lots of hand motions to express herself. She´s from Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and as part of that she speaks very, very, very fast. Bewildered, I did my best to respond, mangling my conjugations. After offering many prayers that first day, I felt this impression that I should just go with the flow. Do my best to understand, but take everything in. I was in culture shock, for sure. So many new things all around me, and a tongue I hardly understand. But Hermana Ferraez is so patient, and patiently explained things several times over for me to understand. Within a few days our little apartment was covered in little yellow post its of every kind of word for wall, floor, ceiling, shower, faucet, etc. I´ve started taking 3 by 5´s everywhere, writing down all the words I hear or see that I don´t know. Then I ask Hermana Ferraez, and she uses the simple words I do know to help describe it to me. That first week she pointed to everything on the street, corners, chickens, gates, etc. And named it for me.
I am like a little child again, learning to talk. It´s incredible, really. I always took for granted the ability to talk, express myself, and be heard. It´s humbling. But I hold fast to that truth that God can bring everything to our remembrance. For this reason, I´m striving to study like crazy!
I´ve really begun to learn Spanish, though, while teaching. Hermana Ferraez is adamant about me sharing my testimony and taking part in the lesson. She´s a Godsend! Every companionship study, we study and practice one the basic 4 missionary lessons. 1, the Restoration, 2, The Plan of Salvation, 3, Gospel of Jesus Christ, 4, The Commandments. Principle upon principle, she bears witness, and then I bear witness. I´m learning so much, so fast, with her as my buena maestra.
Yesterday I gave my first talk in Catillano (Espanol). Talk about stage fright! Our Branch President called us Thursday night and asked if I would speak. Good golly, was I nervous. But The Spirit is real, it works. I offered my testimony talk about Missionary Work to this small group of 35 church members. After the meeting, several members of the branch complemented me on how quickly my language skills have improved. With God, nothing shall be impossible. I´m concerned to have a good relationship with the Members of this branch, because Hermana Ferraez will take off for home in only 4 short weeks, and I will be here with a new companion to continue the work. I want to be ready, willing, and armed for the challenge (Highland 33rd ward youth activity when I was 12). Most especially to be there for these good people we´re teaching, and we can only do that with the help of the branch members.
God is very aware of me and answers my questions and pleas for help. I was reading in Mosiah 1 and Jeremiah 1 this week, and both gave me the sweetest comfort. Take a look at the first 10 vesrses of each chapter, especially what it says about language!
Right now we have two investigators with a baptismal date, Carolina (age 17) who is an absolute doll. She reminds me so much of Casey! Daniel (age 10). Both are working towards baptism on the 27th of July. Unfortunately, my time is up, but I can´t wait to tell you about the miracles we´ve been seeing with them next week. I have considerably less time to write here than I did in Washington, so I apologize to all who have sent me emails and I can´t respond. Know that I love you, you are in my prayers, and I thank God every day for the opportunity I have to serve. You might be thousands of miles away from me, my dear family. But You are closer than you know. I think of you and all you have taught me, all the memories we share, all the lessons learned in our home growing up ALL the time. I have had no idea how blessed I have been my entire life until my mission.
Con mucho amor,