Sunday, February 26, 2012

I Love Thee, I Love Thee Not…

Ok, attention everyone: My mom wanted me to make a special announcement in a public forum, and I was only too happy to oblige. I love and respect my parents too much to do anything contrary to their will. So I would like to take this time to announce that my mother has officially seen the tail end of a half-century. The big 5-0. As of February 19, 2012, Connie Sweeney has turned 5x10 years old. Well, I hope I did that justice. Although, you have to admit, she’s still held together pretty well. You’ll have to ask her how she does it. I know, but I wouldn’t want to embarrass her by explaining it here.

Anyway, another week, another destiny. I’m now well into the rhythm of my area and speaking Spanish on a more or less constant basis. Which is something I would like to speak of a bit more in depth, because before, it hasn’t been something I’ve been particularly excited to speak about. Well, speaking about my speaking, that is. In Spanish. I will occasionally get letters from people asking me if I’m fluent yet or how I feel about it. The truth is, I try not to think about it too much. I tend to think in terms of mental pictures, and when I think of me and Spanish together in the same sentence, the picture of me trying to break free of an animal muzzle comes to mind. I feel like I am so restricted when I speak, and I’m just waiting to break loose of my restraint. And then when night comes, and I have the time to talk with my old companion, Hermana Lund, it’s like coming up for air. Dramatico, no? Ok, well, I do like speaking Spanish, and the fact that I came into the field with so much experience (8 years, more or less), means I can speak more grammatically correct than a lot of the missionaries. Heck, I can speak more grammatically correct than the people who live here. But it is a mental struggle to conjugate it all. I learned Spanish backwards; normally people learn how to speak and then to read and write. I learned it versa vice, so I can read and write pretty well, but speaking… I feel like a dearn fool sometimes. And it doesn’t help that when I first started out (and sometimes still), people will say, “she doesn’t understand Spanish, does she?” Or I feel like the lesson I just taught went really well, only to find that they didn’t seem to understand a bloody word of it. But what’s really strange is, some days I understand everything people are saying to me, and other days, I feel like they can’t possibly still be speaking Spanish because I didn’t understand a single thing that I heard. I’m just trying to remember to be patient with myself and to stop whining because some people come out to the mission with not a word of Spanish to their name. I guess I’ll just look at the glass of Chinola juice as half full and not half empty. Oooooh, maybe I’ll learn how to be wise as well as fluent. A twofer.

But I’ve realized my love-hate relationship is not confined to the language only. It’s the whole enchilada, o sea, mission. I’ve realized my attitude towards my mission is the same I have about most of my past jobs: the idea of going out and working makes me moan and groan and desire to do anything else than what I know I inevitably need to do. If I need a quick fix, I could always just swallow a couple of glasses of tap water. That could put me out for a couple days. Yes, I really do think about these things. For anyone who has put me on a pedestal as being super girl, I warn you of getting Harvey Dent syndrome. For all who have seen the Dark Knight, you all know what happened to him. Everyone put all their faith eggs into his basket because he seemed to have it all together, and then look what happened: His face got soaked in acid, he went insane over the death of his fiancee, and eventually ended up being pushed off of a rooftop by Batman. And I’d hate for that to happen to me or anyone else. So the moral of the story is, if I give the honest truth about my opinions and/or emotions, I hope it won’t be throwing acid on any ones high opinion of me. Because in all sincerity, I’m as normal and twisted as anyone else. Now I just happen to be that way on God’s time card.
Anyway, to get more or less back on track, some days, the thought of going out into the heat and beating the pavement are enough to put me over the edge. But usually, once I get out there into the fray, I’m fine. I actually really, mostly like it. It’s just freakin’ hard. But once I can actually forget about myself and get out there with the people and have my average, crazy experiences, I’m just peachy. Like Jamba Juice. When I thought of endless hours of smoothie making, I died a little bit inside. But when I actually went to work, I had a blast. They say attitude is everything. They say correctly.
Well, the only thing else I feel the need to add at this point is the awesomeness that was the conference I had a chance to go to this last Saturday and hear Big Bad Bednar himself speak. For those who don’t know who he is, he is an apostle of the church. And a powerful speaker. Because of copyright, I can’t really talk about anything he said, but suffice it to say, it was an Experience. He’s a lot shorter in person (aren’t they always) and he’s starting to look older. But I will say, when he was baring his testimony about Joseph Smith and the restoration of the church, he said, “and it’s true. It’s all true.” And I believed him. Because I guess I always knew, but still, I’m human and I’m logical and I question a lot. But hearing him say that was somehow very reassuring. And reminded me how nice it is to have a prophet and apostles on the earth. It’s a hard job, and I’m sure glad I don’t have to do it. But it’s nice to reap the benefits. And it was nice to see the missionaries from my old area. I’m getting to that stage of being a missionary where I actually know a lot of people at these mission get-togethers, so it’s nice. Almost seven months later, I’m a legit missionary now. I hope.

Ok, that’s all the time I have for today. And in case anyone has forgotten, my Mom just recently turned 50. And my dad also just turned 49. They sure grow up fast. Where has the time gone? I don’t know, but enjoy it while it lasts.

Con amor and nothing more,
Hermana Sweeney

Thursday, February 23, 2012

W.S.S.D? (What Should Sweeney Do?)

Ok, so, I feel like because my name has been so used and abused by so many, and because it essentially doubles as both my first and last name, I feel like I have earned the right to put it in the title of my blog. And whether the right was given to me or not, I’m taking it, because, well, it’s my blog, and though I’m a temporary Dominican, I’m really still an American, which means I still have freedom of speech. I hope. Who knows what will have changed when I get back?

But as everyone knows, some things never change, one of those things being sayings and expressions. If you’ve heard of Jesus, you may have heard of the accompanying idiom: W.W.J.D. or “What would Jesus do?” You can find this pithy turn of phrase on shirts, bumper stickers, and most popularly, bracelets. But I have to wonder if anyone ever actually answers this question after asking it. And if the answer is really even within our ability to grasp or figure out.

Example? Ok, but only because you asked so nicely. So, we, as in, my companion and our other housemates and the elders who our in our district, met at the yogurt/ice cream shop called Bon. I guess in French, that stands for ‘good.’ And it is good, so I’ll cut them a little slack for the lack of originality in the name. Anyway, so as we were waiting to order, a lady and what I assume was her little son, came in asking for money for food. I hate situations like this, and especially as a missionary, it is difficult because we’re technically not allowed to give money to people. 1. Because we don’t have any extra and 2. Because then people will just assume that the missionaries are rich and will look to us to solve all their monetary problems. Which we can’t do. So after we told her no, sorry, and then stood their awkwardly waiting for her to leave, I had to wonder about that whole W.W.J.D thing. What the heck would he do? Would he turn one of the tables into bread and give her some food? Would he have talked to her about how he is the real bread of life, and if we eat of him (as in, his gospel), we will never die? Or would he have known she was lying (if she was) and given her some parable about the importance of being honest and upright with your fellow humans? But that’s the thing. I can ask myself or you or anyone what Jesus would do and it’s impossible to say because I’m not him. I can only judge from his past examples and hope I can do the best I can with the information that I have. But maybe what’s really important isn’t what Jesus would have done but what Sweeney WILL do (or insert your name in the appropriate space). I have to be kind and I have to serve those who surround me. And I guess as long as I do it to the best of my ability then I am somehow making progress. As my dear friend Sheryl Crow says, “Every day is a winding road.” And yes, I do believe I’m getting a little bit closer.

But part of walking down the winding road is not knowing what exactly lies ahead. And I literally never do, because every street here seems to come with a different crazy that frequents it. One such man was following my companion Hma. Amaya and me last week. Way too closely. So I turn around and offer him my hand to shake to ward off any potential awkwardness and he takes this to mean that he should try to kiss me. I was not really into this idea so I shoved him off. Which lead him into an uproar of fast and slurred Spanish obscenities. Well, I guess this week wouldn’t have been complete without meeting up with him again. This time, we were coming from opposite sides of the road. But before I saw him, I saw a cement brick sliding over to my feet and stopping short of where I was. And then I look up to see that it was my crazy kissy friend, and he was looking even more disturbed than the last time. He tried to throw a bottle of chlorine at us, but his aim was just a tad off. As in, I’m not sure he’s ever thrown anything before in his life. Not that I’m complaining. But it’s not like I’ve really even ever thought of myself as being in danger. I just have tried to have confidence that as long as I’m doing my part, it’s all going come up even in the end. But most of the time, I have to stop and look up and (in English) say, “really? REALLY!?” Some things you just can’t prepare yourself for. And as another dear, animated friend of mine once said, “Uh, I don’t think we covered this in basic training.”

But now for the really important things, like who we’re teaching. Well, we finally have a baptism date for a girl named Madeline. She’s 15 and pretty shy but you can tell she really enjoys the church meetings and the friendships she is forming with girls in the branch. Her date is set for the 10th of March. Normally, when it’s a date for younger teens, they have to wait 3 months to be baptized to make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons and are going stick with it. It doesn’t do anyone a bit of good to get baptized and then just go inactive. But since she’s a reference, and has her mom as a support system, we can do it within a month if she’s ready. We’ll hope for the best. And I’ve realized one thing I have not been very good about is giving consistent, consecutive reports on people we’re teaching. There’s a reason for that. Several, actually. One of them is called transfers. When I leave an area, I have no idea how the other people are progressing. Well, in this case it’s different because I still live with Hma. Lund and she keeps me a bit informed. But it’s not the same as working with the people themselves. Also, sometimes people will start out with promise, like Cecilio, and then the missionary has to realize that it’s just not that person’s time yet. Some people have real interest but aren’t ready to do all of what is necessary to be an active member. So I’ve come to realize that my job as a seed planter is just as important as is being the one who reaps. And that being said, sadly, I may have to give up Pavel. I have to think of what’s best for him, and if he feel more comfortable attending the branch where his girlfriend goes, at least, for now, I may just need to give him to the elders that work in that area. It will kill my soul a little, cuz I like him a lot, but, yeah… What SHOULD Sweeney do? And I think I already know. Not that it makes it any easier.

Well, we’re outta time kids. But before I leave you, this week on “How to Do in the D.R…”

How to open a can (without a can opener)

Now go, feel free to experiment for yourselves. Carefully, of course.

With all the amor I can muster,

Hermana Sweeney

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What to Expect When You're Not Expecting

Good heavens, has it really been another week? I feel like I should be done with the mission right now. I can literally not remember a time before this week started. But that's the beginning of a new transfer for you. With a new companion. In a new area. You never know what to expect. So you learn to live your life by the oft repeated phrase by people like my dad who like to pretend they know Spanish, and just say, "Que Sera, Sera." And no, there are not properly placed accents on those words because I have no idea how to command the key board to do what I say. So when I write my mission president his weekly letter, he also gets to believe I have crappy grammar. But I digress. Where were we? Oh, yes, "que sera sera," or Whatever will be, will be. And I say that whether I truly believe it or not.

Ok, well, I sorta have to. The mission scripture I picked, Proverbs 3:5-6, talks about "trusting in the Lord with all your heart," and "not leaning on your own understanding." And there's a heck of a lot I don't understand. Like my new companion, Hermana Amaya. And that's because she's my first Latin and speaks very rapid Spanish. I am happy to report that at this very moment, she stopped me to ask me a long-winded question, and I understood it all. So that's something. She's a very nice girl, but they don't call it a culture clash for nothing. In America, we think of pointing out cultural differences as racist. But they are real things and they can create real problems if you're not careful. So I just end up repeating myself a lot, and she does the same. Which means at some point, we're going to know each other super well. And luckily, she's already had an American companion, so she knows all our oddities, like how some of us purposely let the cancerous rays of the sun touch us to toast our skin. In Latin culture, the whiter you are, the more attractive you are. I'm down with that, because I feel so utterly pasty compared to everyone else (side note, comparison equals disaster. Don't do it. I may get to that subject another time...) Anywho, I'm thinking of writing a children's book called "My First Latin," just like how there's "My First Day of School," or "My first Little Brother/Sister." I think these are things people need to teach there kids from the get-go. Of course, then I'd probably have to write a series, and since I've never had my very own Asian or Russian, or Australian, I'd have to become a world traveler. I'm thinking this is a career with potential...

Anyway, so despite our differences in background, we have both discovered that we're actually willing to work hard. And since we're completely new to the area, hard work is not hard to come by. But fortunately, we still have at least one of the investigators from the other area, our reference Pavel. He is ENORMOUS, and pretty wealthy. And I like him a lot because he's quite and thoughtful, and actually reads the assignments we read for him in the scriptures and pamphlets. He has yet to come to church, so we're just gonna come by his house and give him a lift, o sea, we'll walk him there. Here, they call it a vola de pie, or foot ride, when you walk someone to there destination. I think a foot ride is better than no ride at all. But anyway, Pavel was a reference from his girlfriend, who is a member. They've been dating for almost four years. My hope is that he's not just doing it for her, because that's just not gonna last. You actually have to want to know for yourself if something's true, or it won't mean anything to you. That's what we try to tell the people teach. We're only here as bringers of information. What you choose to do with it is up to you. We all have that freedom to choose. I'm not here to force anything on anyone. But I think that's another part of the reason I like Pavel. He's more like I think I would be as an investigator. The stuff we teach him makes lots of sense, but he's cautious. He has a lot of questions, and doesn't want to just take our word for it. Good. That's sure a better response than we get from some guys who claim they'll go to church if it means they can go to America. Because, as Hermana Lund and I tried to make abundantly clear last transfer when men made suggestive comments in reference to "getting their visa," there's just not a snowball's chance in hell that that will ever happen.

But going back to the idea of trust and God and other relative topics, I feel I should end by sharing a delightful bit of hypocrisy with you all. So once upon a time this last Friday, I decided we needed another bucket in the house. The giant tank on our roof that gives us the water we use throughout the week (it gets filled Tuesdays and Saturdays), has been seriously leaking water. Into our room. So I decided having something to catch it would be useful. Anyway, we went to this place called the Baratillo, which translates to little cheap store, so we could buy one. Well, I found a decent one, but felt like I should wait. Well, me being me, I told myself that I had no intention of doing anything of the sort, and went ahead and bought it, to get it out of the way and off my mind. Well, on the way home, Hermana Amaya

Well, I know I started my series "How to Do in the D.R., but frankly, I'm feeling lazy. Well, if you can call preaching your butt off every day lazy. But suffice it to say, you all have something to look forward to next week. I don't want anyone getting greedy. So until next time, just remember to pre-order your personal copy of "My First Latin." It's gonna be a classic.

Amor sin reservaciones,

Hermana Sweeney

Saturday, February 4, 2012

It’s All ??????!*%$?????? From Here

Hmmmm… sometimes the hardest part of starting is knowing what to start with.  My self-congratulatory segment, where I talk about how I’ve completed six months on the mission? The continuous ridiculousness of transfers? The equally ridiculous task of teaching old dogs new tricks? Or never learning my lesson the first time? Too much for one blog entry? Of course! Let’s get started.

  Well, yes, don’t mind if I do break my arm patting myself on the back. I’ve made it through a third of my freaking mission. That’s big, people! So to celebrate, we went to the closest thing to fast food here, called Pollo Rey (Chicken King. They’re not real subtle with their rip-offs here). It was funny to see a basic American staple, fast food, but all in Spanish, with such side dishes as tres leches and platanos fritos. I think the unexpected grease really through Hma. Lund and I for a loop.  But it certainly didn’t make me as loopy as when it hit me that in another six months, I’ll only have six months left. I have to be careful how I break up the time in my head though. If you play your mental cards right, it seems like no time at all. And if you don’t well, you might se pone triste. Not that I’m not enjoying the mish (the lady doth protest too much, methinks?) but at some point, the time will be for me to be getting back to some form of my previous reality. No wonder people come back from the mission socially screwed up. We’re all so news and touch deprived out here. But if I have to say the thing I’m really learning to cope with, it’s the ever-present ch ch ch ch changes! Those, however, are always only a mere six weeks away. And what a difference they make. Which brings me to my next tantalizing topic: transfers.

 Yup, it's that time again. That glorious Sunday night where we all get to stay up and wait for the call from the District Leaders about what will become of us for the next six weeks of our lives, as well as those of the Hermanas and Elders in our District. And we just have to tell them, "you've got to let us know- should we stay or should we go?" Yeah, I couldn't resist that classic. Anyway, I get to do a little of both. Hermana Lund and I get to stay together... as housemates. We were so sure that I was gonna get to kill her here in Azua. But no enchilada. Well, as I said, we're both staying in Azua, but I will be taking over the area that Hermana Silverio and her mini missionary are vacating. Which is so awesome. NOT! That area needs a serious rest. Hermana Silverio was almost done contacting up there, past our division, for the second time. She's only been there 3 transfers. Which I'm pretty sure is the legal limit for remaining in Azua with any sanity intact. Will I lose my sense of sanity or reality first? I'll let you be the judge of that. Anyway, I'm ending up with one of Hermana Lund's previous companions, who is from El Salvador. Which means I'm also getting my previous dream of getting a Latin companion. Yes, previous. Now I am all sorts of concerned of how the culture/communication clash is gonna go. Living with Latins is one thing. Spending your entire day with them is quite another. They are so very forward and honest about everything and we Americans are so much more stand-offish when it comes to emotional crud. Oh, and I'm getting whitewashed. Again. I haven't been working in the area I will now be contacting in, so it will be like starting over all over again. I'm gonna try to think of it as an adventure. And I'm gonna go way out into the boonies of the area to find it, because supposedly, part of our area is an hour away by foot, called Las Yayitas. And if it gets us some fresh faces and keeps us from recontacting this already too tiny area endlessly, I'm all sorts of ready. We'll see how it goes.

And now, the funnies section. The timeless answer to the age-old question of whether an old dog can be taught new tricks is- maybe. Just not with me, at least not here, and not in Spanish. On one occasion, I gave a great first lesson to this small, grey haired old lady. At the end, she just yelled at me that she is "sordo," or deaf, and couldn't understand a darn word that was leaking out of my lips. How rewarding. So I just busted out laughing because it was all so absurd, not to mention the fact that everyone and their dog was coming in during the middle of the lesson to talk to her (ironic, no?) and I didn't get to get many words in edgewise. Oh, well. At least she was better than the old lady we had later on that week, who, after an especially heartfelt attempt on my part to candidly talk about the power of prayer, told me she doesn't understand English. We attempted to explain to her that yes, we are American, but thankfully had the foresight to come to her country prepared to speak her native language. She wasn't having it, though, so she asked the member we had brought with us to rally with her and talk about why it is important to pray with a rosary. Sigh. Sometimes you've just got to let the elderly dogs be happy with the tricks they've already got. Or wait for one to come up to you with tail wagging.

Anyway, after reading this all, you may wonder what I could possible have left to impart. Well, it has to do with a little something called stupidity. Experience here has taught me that you're just safer if you don't ask questions. But I never heed my own advice, and so I asked one of the less actives we've been teaching were I can buy and Aloe Vera plant. I'm quite fond of them. He saddened me by saying they don't sell any in Azua. Of course not. But he said he could probably get me one. I said I would pay him for it. He said no. I assumed he would forget. But after the next lesson we had with him ended he said, "you're plant is here." It took a minute for that to sink in, but he went to a back room and came back with an aloe vera plant, which my companion named Vera. I got to lug it around for a bit until we could drop it off at the apartment. When am I gonna learn not to ask a simple question? I feel guilty that people here are so willing to just jump to it to help me out. Maybe I'm not so hot at handling new tricks myself. But at least I have a new aloe vera plant to salve the wounds inflicted to my pride by this realization. I can live with that.

Oh, and as promised, here is my new segment, "How to Do in the D.R." This week: How to hold a Successful Companionship study."

Enjoy! I know I will. Everyday for the next year.

Hermana Sweeney

This week, on "How to Do in the D.R."

How to Have Companionship Study

First: Sing your little heart out. SING!
Second: Pray. Make it original. Ask to survive Azua
Third: Read 3 pages from the White Bible. I mean... Missionary Manuel

Fourth: Politely stare into space while your companion is reading from Preach my Gospel

Fifth: Get caught up in a delightful tangent. We're spiritually well-blended.
Sixth: And if you give a moose a muffin... she's gonna go off on a tangent too
Seventh: Finally deciding to write down all of our random, non study related thoughts for later. Dang it.