Friday, January 27, 2012

That's How We Work the Day Away in the Merry Ol' Land of Az (ua)

I really don't know why I've become so very enamored with using the word Azua in so many of my titles, but it is just Delicious to me. And Azua, being what it is (ridiculous) needs to be mentioned as often as possible. Just because.

But speaking of titles, I have the suspicion that the one I used last week is a repeat. That makes me a bit ashamed, as I pride myself so very much on creative titles and one-liners. But I'll stand by my double title, if necessary. I can hardly remember the date, much less the title of a blog I'm not even managing myself. So now you know and can have one less thing to stress about. I know I feel better.

But yeah, Azua is still special as ever. Which means I am never short of weird occurrences/moments of good cheer/unfortunate events. Why don't we go down the list and give an example of each, shall we?

My weird occurrence will put me straight back into sitcom mode, or maybe just a throwback to my college years. Or both, as they are not mutually exclusive. I am somewhat pleased to announce that besides the title of Hermana, I can also add "Best Friend" back to my resume. You all know the storyline from every horrible romantic comedy known to man (that would be a blog entry in and of itself, but think "The Notebook" or "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton.") Now this is not to say that I don't have my own special group of admirers too. That would be selling myself short, something I'm frankly not willing to do at this stage of my life. But remember our special friend Mario, the overly-excited one in the wheel chair? Well, he has a brother named Lenny. Now, Lenny actually knows a bit of English, and loves to use and abuse us with it. Especially my dear companion, Hermana Lund. During the middle of one of our lessons with Mario, in comes Lenny to talk about how pretty she is. And then ask me if I agree. And then keep talking about it and not letting it drop until Hermana Lund is as red as a cherry tomato. He points said info. out to me, to which I respond, "well, you're probably embarrassing her."
"Am I?" he pressed her.
"Yeah, you are," she responded. So he apologized (sort of) and stopped. But every since then, he keeps magically popping into our lives. Like when we're on the way to the store, and he follows us and since Hermana Lund is practically sprinting away from him, I'm left to explain to Lenny the timeless truth about girls and stuff like that. He wanted to know why she was running. I lied and said we were in a hurry. So he eventually left us alone. Until we were about to cross the street to go into our house and a suburban car cuts us off and the windows roll down. And a voice is heard before the face is seen. "Hi Sweetie. Where you goin? You guessed it. Lenny the Lunatic. We were in so much shock, Hermana Lund didn't even have time to tell him off like she'd planned. It's not like he's following us, it's just that Azua is small and we're white. We stick out ever so slightly. But I am sooooooo over being that girl. I'm ON A MISSION. I shouldn't have to be dealing with this crap. If guys want to know why they can't get the girl of their dreams, they can start consulting Self-help books. The answer may lie in the fact that they talk more to me than their so-called paramours. But that's just me postulating.

And now on to the event that has cheered and warmed my heart. We have officially started a ward choir and our progressing quite well with our English classes. It's weird to see how much I don't know about English, simply because it's been so long since I've learned it all, and I don't ever have to stop and think about how many sounds an O makes (four). But now I do. And it's nice to have the shoe on the other foot. Normally, Dominicans get to hear me struggle to pronounce Spanish. But for two hours a week, I get to listen to them stutter out English sentences. Muhahahaha. And the choir was started out of necessity because frankly, we have not a thing to do in the evenings. Azua goes dead, unless you want to drink yourself to sleep. So we are teaching the tone deaf to chirp like little birdies. Dominicans don't understand how to read notes or rhythms, so we're starting from scratch. Who would have known my band skills would one day come in handy?

And finally, the unfortunate: I experienced my first funeral, o sea, velario. Because practically everyone here is Catholic, so are the funnerals. Which means a mourning process of 9 days. And a lot of drinking and eating, and a giant white tent, which is used both to shade the grieving visitors as well as to signify that there is a funeral in the area. Everyone knows what a giant white tent means here. And now I do. The Hermana who's dad died (Hermana Segunda), is a recent convert of two years. She didn't want all the hoop-la associated with velarios, but since her family is mostly Catholic, she didn't have much of a choice in the matter. This man was 100 years old when he died. But it was still devastating to a lot of people. I will never forget the look on Hermana Segunda's face when I came up to her. "Hermana" was all she said, in tones of sorrow and pain. I could only look at her with compassion and say nothing useful. I'm horrible in these situations. But I'm glad that I have the belief that death is not the end and we can be with everyone we love again forever. I can't even imagine how sad a funeral would be otherwise. But a couple days later, my comp. and I brought her a pineapple which I told her was the "piña de consolacion," or consolation pineapple. When we left her house, I asked Hermana Lund, "did I really just call it the pineapple of consolation?" Did I mention I'm terrible in those type of situations?

Anyway, that's all for now. But later, look forward to a new series I'm staring, the "How To Do In the Dominican." It's gonna be a scream.

Love (but only in the friend sort of way),

Hermana Suini

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It´s Gonna Be One of those Days...

Hello again to all my friends, I´m glad you came to play. Our fun and learning never ends, here's what we did today! ( 10 mental pesos to whoever knows where that magical quote is from).

Anyway, back when I was just a wee little baby being trained on the mission, I developed the saying that would eventually one day become the title of today's blog. It all started when I must have had a rough day followed directly by another. It got so I would just look at Hermana Brown, pull a dramatic face and intone, "it's going to be one of THOSE days..."

And when you have a day here, you have a day. And Hermana Lund and I have made it up to a week. For many of the appointments we made while contacting door to door, we saw no results because, well, the people weren't in their houses, and I think Newton had some physics law about the improbability of teaching to a personless house. People might think we are crazy than we actually are. But I think I realized the reason too late: this is Friday the 13th week, and not even realizing it, I made the fateful error of buying an umbrella that day. What's more, the lady who rung it up for me opened it (indoors!) to make sure it worked and was to my liking. Well, that very day, the button to open it got stuck, and I couldn't close it. Fastf forward to Sunday, and I lost it somewhere on the Boulevard of Broken Dreams, a.k.a. SantoMe. I really hope I see someone from around town using it and enjoying it. Somebody should be. And yes, to all of you who want to mock the idea of using an umbrella to block the sun, I'll ask you to revisit your opinion after you've been in Azua for a couple days and the sun is beating down on you like the cop in the middle of a drug bust.

Another wonderful experience I had in this (evil) weak week actually started at the beginning of it, last Monday. Hermana Lund and I were at the house of the Young Women's president learning how to make arepa (a tasty Dominican cake of sorts), when we get a call from the notorious Hermana Silverio, our Dominican roommate. It turns out her mini missionary was going to live up to her name better than expected, and was only staying for 3 weeks. She´s starting school, or something like that. Which meant instead of enjoying the rest of my pday stuffing my face with fatty cakes, I got to lug this Hermanas luggage 2 miles up the busiest street in this part of Azua to where the bus station is. And then we got to wait for close to an hour hailing down buses headed to Barhona, where she´s from because due to the holiday (Dia de los Reyes), a lot of places were closed. Which meant we either had to wait until 7:00 p.m. (I think not, P day ends at 6:30), or wait on the off chance that a smaller, guagua bus would pass by. It was... an experience. But finally we caught one, the mini got on, and Hma. Lund and I became a trio for the second time. And we remained that way until the next day when the Browns (the elderly missionaries in charge of this part of the West mission), brought a new mini at around 10:00 at night. Ai, mi madre. But the new girl is cool- she wants to be a doctor, and she knows how to cook and she can hold her own with Hermana Silverio. I just hope we don't have anymore surprises before the end of the transfer in a couple weeks.

But yeah, in spite of all the crap you have to wade through on the mission, it turns out to be worth it when, even if you don´t come out smelling like a rose, at least you find one. Cecilio is said rose. He is a 16 year old kid who actually has an earnest desire to know what church is true and how he can find it. He always has a lot of probbing questions, like why Joseph Smith isn't anywhere to be found in the bible. And we're happy to answer them for him. The other day, yesterday in fact, (same day as the tragic loss of the umbrella), I was sorely tempted to get frustrated with him when he brings out to us his Bible full of homework from the 7th day Adventist church. Apparently, one of his friends has been trying to get him to go to that church, his church, and has been filling dear Cecilio's head with all sorts of fun ideas about our church, like that we don't believe in the Bible. Cecilio still seemed a little uncertain even when we pulled out the Bible to answer some of his question. His friend also told him my companion and I are married and though that's obviously non accurate, it bugged me that this friend of our investigator is talking about that which he doesn't understand. I explained it thus to Cecilio: If you want answers to a question about psychology, you're not going to enter the nearest colmado

Anyway, I would like to end on a cheerful note, like how I have free access to the Discovery Channel in my apartment. We have these clear-bodied flies that love to hang out on our ceiling, usually no fewer than 12 at a time. Once in awhile, one of the two huge spiders that have also taken up residence on the ceiling will be fortunate enough to catch on of these hideous creatures. Then, when the spiders have had their share, they proceed to drop the flies from their nets, where they usually land on my desk or on the floor. Then, as if planned into the schedule, the army of ants appears to devour what's left. I love my life. Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure it's all real.

But I have to get real and say that I must head off to the rest of whatever today has in store. Which will probably end up in next week's blog. The endless cycle. Till then...

Amor and similar sentiments,

Hermana (The) Sweeney

Azua is… Special

Well, my senior companion said it, so it must be true. It´s different here. Much like Ozzy, I feel like I´m on a crazy train, and I´m pretty sure said train bears the name Azua. Actually, I really just feel like I´m in a cartoon. We teach a lot of our lessons outside on peoples´porches, and especially on the street of Bartolome and Nicholas Mañon, there is A LOT of motorcycle activity. It’s really the transportation of choice here. So, everytime I go to open my mouth to teach some spiritual principle or idea, BRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMNHHHH!!! There go the Hell’s Angels. Seriously, the people here travel in teams. Or maybe they are just so plentiful that is just seems that way. But all I can think of when I’m teaching a lesson and this occurs is of the episodes of Looney Tunes I used to watch as a kid. Sometimes Daffy would go to open his mouth, and even when he tries just a weeeee little bit, somehow out of nowhere comes the sound of a train steamrolling past, or a thousand dishes shattering, or something else bien ridiculous. As Hermana Lund and I have decided, our life is definitely a T.V. show right now. If I was somehow on an LDS edition of Punk’d, I would’t even be surprised.

Actually, I feel like I am losing that all-too-precious gift of being able to be surprised. The other day, I think it was this last Thursday, I was asleep in bed (it was 5:30 in the a.m., after all), when I felt myself moving against my will. Now I don’t know if I’m the only person like this, but normally when I’m lying down but not really asleep, I sometimes feel like the bed is shaking a little, and I never know why. So I´ve learned to ignore it. But this particular instance was harder to ignore, namely because it was an actual earthquake. A 5.4, I believe. It only lasted a good 20 seconds, and I just asked Hermana Lund, “uh, did you feel that?” She did, but we just wanted to go back to sleep. Hey, it was early, and I already feel sleep-deprived as it is. But then we received, like clock work, phone calls from the Browns, who are over the south mission area, our District Leaders, our Zone Leaders, and from Hermana Rodriguez, the wife of the mission president. Everyone was in a commotion, so we had to leave the house and sit on the curb in our Jammies for a good 40 minutes. Awesome. Luckily, it wasn´t too strong here. I think the only damage it did in our house was knock over my companion´s deodorant. Oh, and rob us of sleep, if I didn’t throw that in yet.

Anyway, back to the joys of Azua/the D.R. in general. Can’t forget my original rant. I have a theory that the Dominican Republic is bound and determined to destroy everything I own. Jewelry? Forget about it, unless you find that the color of rust becomes you. Metal seems to be a no no here. Envelopes, well, you better keep them tucked away, or they will seal themselves before you get a chance to put anything inside them. And something that really kills me is what is becoming of my scriptures and journal. The glue that holds my scriptures to the binding is being melted away or something ridiculous, so I’ve bought wood glue and fix them as needed. But holy freakin coconuts if the ink of my journal pages aren’t bleeding onto other pages, literally recopying what I already wrote onto other, later journal entries. I don’t know how people live in humidity for extended periods of time without bien losing their minds. But yeah… now I know.

I also have come to realize that if my life can´t be compared to reality T.V. or a cartoon, at the very least, it´s gotta be Harry Potter. The house here are magical. Especially on the calle Nicholas Mañon. On the left side of the street, there are literally 3 houses that claim to be #164. And all the houses are multiple shades of pastels, so you’d think they’d stand out more and be easier to find again. Ok, I’m getting ahead of myself, as usual. When we go out contacting, we pass houses and ask them if we can visit them the following day. So we write down the “address” and then return for the visit. The problem is, people will say yes, and then not be home; another relative will be there instead. Or better yet, we can´t find the house again because a lot of them don´t even have numbers and a lot of them are under construction. And once you’ve seen one light teal house with pink shutters, you’ve seen them all. So keeping it all straight is… great. My comp and I probably look like tools as we go up and down the street, scratching are heads and asking each other, “uh, did we pass it already?” And the answer is almost always yes. But I’m gonna just say it’s all part of the learning process. A year and a half long (LOOOOOONG) process.

But inspite of the fact that I sound like I’m gripping, I really am enjoying the mission. Enjoying trying to speak Spanglish, enjoying the new companion, and enjoying trying to figure out what I believe and why I believe it. But sadly, I believe I am out of time, as usual. We´ll just have to pick up again next time, next week…


Hermana Sweeney

*Ok, so this is my addendum to other blog posts I’ve written that have contained incorrect information. The writer was laboring under false pretenses at the time, so try to take it easy on her.

First, there isn’t really much rock throwing is Azua, except by little kids. I guess it’s only really between the Dominicans and the Haitians. Supposedly.

There ARE words for challange and wish in Spainsh. It´s “desafiar” for challange, and the imperfect preterit form of Ojala, for example “Ojala que hubiera (imp. Preterit) sabido que todo el mundo esta bien loco aquí.”

Well, there you have it. My mistake is your chance to learn. You´re welcome.

Monday, January 2, 2012

If the Blind Lead the Blind...

Well, Jesus said it, so it must be true. "If the blind lead the blind, then they both fall in a ditch and are lost." That's essentially been Hermana Lund and I all this week. I'm so used to following Hermana Brown around La Yuca because she knew it like the back of her eyelids, and so because Hermana Lund was here for a transfer before me, I keep feeling like she should know where we're going. And then I remember we were both whitewashed to the area she hadn't been contacting before, and it's starting to dawn on me that it might behoove me to pay attention. So I'm gonna give it a go. Street names and directions have never been my thang. As my family loves to say, I couldn't find my way out of a paper bag. It might depend on how transparent to paper is. But I digress...
Anyway, so let's just say Hermana Lund and I have had quite the time getting to know Azua, meeting the locales, you know, the whole missionary thing. Or maybe you don't. I should have explained this earlier to all the non-mormon readers out there (better late than never?) But there are 6 weeks in a transfer, and most people only stay with a companion or in an area for about 3-4 transfers. But there are always exceptions. Hermana Brown will have been in La Yuca for a good hearty 7 transfers by the time this one ends around January 31st. That's the mission for you; it's always never what it seems. And contacting refers to going around door to door and asking people if we can come back the next day to share a brief message. Or it can mean just inviting someone on the street to church. Either or. So know you know a little more than before, in theory, por lo menos.
But speaking of the blind, I met a very interesting sightless man named Cesar. We were at the home of the 16 year old Young Woman's president's house for a visit, and he happened to be there. And yes, I said she is the president of the ENTIRE program, not just of the Beehives (12-13) Mia Maids (14-15) or Laurels (16-17). Yeah, that's how small the Azua branch is. Well, children are our future, after all. And she's darn good at her job. But back to Cesar. He showed us how his walking stick works, which was sorta cool. And he knew I'm still fairly new to the mission, so he tried to speak slowly to make sure I understood everything he was saying... especially the part where he proclaimed his dislike for the whole "women's liberation" thing. First of all, he was speaking to Amalia, the Young Woman's president, my companion, and myself, so I don't think he knows much about playing to your audience. And he's lucky he's blind, because according to Hermana Lund, my face was all sorts of interesting expressions. He was definitely barking up the wrong feminist. And then he had the gall to talk about how poorly handicapped people are treated. Women should be slaves to mediocrity, but maybe we could give handicapped people more rights. Drivers permits for the blind, anyone? Well, I guess we'll just all go down in the ditch together. Whew. I feel a bit better. It's good to know some things will never change. Like my belief in my own humanity, despite my gender. Ok, done for reals this time.
But really, it just wasn't my week for handicapped people. We're teaching this guy named Mario, and he is in a wheelchair. He was in some sort of motorcycle accident about a year ago or something. He loves reading the Book of Mormon, and repeating verbatim all the things that he has read. He started from the beginning of Nephi all the way until they set sail for America. And he gets very emotional about, well, everything, his readings included. So I was more or less trying to follow everything he said, and thought I was doing pretty well. So I decided to ask him where exactly he was in his readings so we could leave him another scripture to read that he hadn't already read. Well apparently, he took this to mean I hadn't listened to his long-winded rehash, so he gave me a bit of a boche (lecture). All I understood was when he said "Fijese!" which just means pay attention. Luckily, I didn't really realize he was lecturing me at the time (my companion courteously filled me in when we got home that night), or I would have gotten offended at the fact that he'd gotten offended. The vicious chain. But the communication barrier is starting to wear on me a bit. I am improving, but progress is slow and hard to see when you're in the middle of it all. But that's just how you have to take on life... with mucha lucha.
Oh, and before I forget, I owe my Noni a Happy Birthday shoutout. Happy 25th birthday Noni! And to both grandparents, a very happy anniversary. If I could inculcate a smidge of the success of your marriage into some of the relationships out here, we'd be onto something.
Well, as a good friend of mine would say, take luck. Take it, care for it. Do what you will. And I will see you all next week.
Love and amor,
Hermana Sweeney

Sunday, January 1, 2012

En Media Res (Otra Vez)

Ok, so I finally have a full-on, non-English blog title. Oh yeah, I went there. But it´s not what it seems, because the first half of it is in Latin. MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

In a nutshell, En Media Res means “in the middle of things.” It´s the essential rule to any good script or story. Most of the time we as an audience will be joining the life story of someone else while their already in the middle of living their life, and either something dark haunts their past that we have yet to discover or we´re about to embark with them on some great journey. But we could never really start at the beginning with anyone´s story because that would mean we´d have to have been following them since their infancy. And I think most people already know how I feel about babies…

Anyway, this concept I´ve been describing has become the axis around which turns my life. I arrived in La Yuca with the work already in progress, and I just came and took someone else´s place to help move it along. And now, I´m in the middle of another story, with new characters and a new setting. How many scripts do they plan on handing me here? Now that´s a question we´ll bien never have the answer to.

So essentially, this week has been the longest ever recorded by man, or woman. My new companion, Hermana Lund, and I, found out we were essentially being whitewashed to our area, which means that neither missionary has any experience or any knowledge of the people in the area. Technically, Hermana Lund has already spent a transfer here in Azua (As-wa), but the mission president, President Rodriguez, decided to divide the area, which is already small, into 2 parts. There are missionaries all up and down Azua, but the dividing lines come quick and stop us dead in our tracks. Big no no to encroach on the land of other hunters. Or something like that. But really, it just helps keep the order. But anyway, Hermana Lund and her old companion, Hermana Silverio, covered the other half of the area last transfer and the other sisters that lived with them covered the area Hermana Lund and I are now in. Confused yet? Me too. So Hermana Lund knows the members of the branch and where they live, but I think she kind of did what I do, which is to say, she followed Hermana Silverio to most of the sites around here, without always paying attention to where they were. That´s me for sure. Half the time, I end up somewhere with no idea how I got there. My mind is its own chlorophom.

But speaking of one way my new companion and I are alike, let´s round it up to an even 100. She's pretty much my doppelganger. She has also graduated from BYU, been an EFY counselor, and done the Washington Seminar program. Oh, not to mention, out here, in my same mission. There´s other creepy similarities, but I thought better of it and decided not to put them here, as they may be considered personal. And it´s fun to leave people guessing. But we´re pretty different in personalities. She´s more introverted, according to herself. I´m... not, so much. She already dislikes most Dominican men, so she´s made it a goal with me to try to be nice to them. They can be pretty obnoxious, some of them. But others have genuine interest (in the gospel), and we can´t brush over them because others choose to be, well, less-than- human. So we´ll do our best with that. But to top it all off, she is also my madrasta, or stepmom, which is to say, my second companion on the mission. Most of the time when missionaries talk about their ancestry, they´re referring to the people they´re "related to" on the mission. Twisted but true. And I am still but a student in all of this.

As for the rest, Azua is not so bad, actually. It's hotter than hell on prom night, but it´s more like California central valley heat, and not take a bath in your own sweat, humidity heat. And another great advantage to being out here is... NO MOSQUITOES!!!! Or at least, not many that I have noticed. I was beginning to think I was Bella from Twilight, I was covered in so many bites. But I think the scars are beginning to heal (literal and emotional). And Christmas was good, got to talk to the fam and talk to a city full of drunks about setting an appointment for next week. The people hear are very friendly when they´re drunk, but putting an appointment with them is hard because they won´t remember they talked to us and thus probably won´t be in their house when we show up. Oh well, after New Years, people will be back to just drinking late into the night. And while driving their motorcycles. And you thought drinking and driving was bad..

And last but not least, I am happy to report that I got a part of my wish at least. Two of my roommates are Dominican, so it forces me to speak more Spanish. Hermana Silverio is the one who was comps with Hermana Lund, and she is now with a mini missionary. The President doesn´t like trios, so we three were only in one for 2 days. So Hermana Silverio has a companion that is only with her for a transfer, or six weeks. Her name is Hermana Dotel, and she is planning on serving a full-term mission of her own coming up pretty soon.

Well, as usual, I must take my bows and make my exit. Hope this keeps y'alls satisfecha hasta la semana que viene. I will do nothing more than leave you with this touching poema:

Cinco Sentidos tenemos

Cinco Sentidos usamos

Cinco Sentidos perdemos

Cuando Nos enamoramos

Con Amor,

Hma. Sweeney