Thursday, May 24, 2012

Black and White with a Little Grey in the Way

So, now that I´m almost 10 months into the mission (may have mentioned
that before), I am getting Alzheimer´s de Hermana, o sea, I may have
touched on this subject before (definitely don´t remember), but
because I like it oh so well, I am only too happy to repeat it if such
is the case.

Once upon a time, in the 6th grade, I coveted a backpack in the form
of the yin yang symbol that was being auctioned off in our classroom.
And wouldn´t you know it, I seemed to be the only one who felt that
way, because I managed to obtain it with relative ease. And since that
moment, the Yin Yang has become my very favorite symbol. I´ve always
liked the idea that there must be an opposite against which we can
gauge the validity or value of an idea, experience, desire, etc. Cold
exists, so I know what it means to be hot (especially nowadays).
Darkness falls, and so I can enjoy anticipating the arrival of light.
Everything has its perfect and equal opposite. But not all opposites
are equally enjoyable. I may love the Yin Yang and most everything it
stands for, but there are some things I like better in theory than in
practice, most notably that in order to enjoy and even know what good
means, you must experience the ba ba bah bah bad. But I´ve come to
find that if Yin and Yang exist anywhere, it is most certainly in the

And when it´s yin, it´s so totally yin (yin is in? Maybe that could
become the next totally hot saying?) My yins of the week would have to
be Cinthia and general cleanliness. Cinthia is what we call in Spanish
and on the mission an "escogido," or chosen one. Some people don´t
wait for us to come to them, they come to us. And every time I meet
with Cinthia, I remember why I´m excited to be a member of my own
church. She´s one of those people that just connects the dots for
themselves, o sea, answers their own questions. She came at us
recently with "is it true you guys pay tithes and offerings in your
church?" We said, "why yes, yes we do," and showed her scriptures in
the Book of Mormon AND the Bible where it says that tithing has been
an eternal principle since the beginning (3 Nephi 24 and Malachi 3).
And she just lit up and said, "well yeah, of course, I mean, the
church has to pay to print all those pamphlets and Book of Mormons,
and to maintain the church grounds, not to mention all the
humanitarian work that comes from the offerings." And I just wanted to
slap her and say "what is wrong with you? No one´s allowed to be this
easily teachable! I won´t stand for it! Add to that that she wants to
get married to her perfect, help-in-the-home boyfriend, and you´ve got
a romance. She´s what you´d call a triple threat, though I don´t
exactly know why. Just imagine a perfectly humble, earnest,
truth-seeking person, and you have a Cinthia. Not that I don´t love
working with all the other types of people out there, because I do.
But it´s like the golden child in the kindergarten class. What
elementary school teacher doesn´t pray for one of those? Someone who
actually does their homework and comes to class, and asks thoughtful,
thought-provoking questions? I´ll take duh for 500, Alex.

And then, to top it all off, we received a new washing machine this
week. I actually have a centrifuge that spins my cloths completely
dry. I would type it again for effect and emphasis, but I´m afraid if
I talk about it too much, I´ll wake up and realize it was all a dream.
So just read the same sentence twice and repeat the words cha ching! I
have been on a washing spree for the last three days since we got it.
Maybe God sent me on a mission so I can realize that laundry in the
States really isn´t so bad. Unlikely, but I´m not ruling it out. But
seriously, dirty laundry is gross. It is so not yin. Just trust me.

But speaking of dirty laundry, I´ll move right along on to the Yang of
the week, which would be me introducing you all to "my little friend."
I´ve been having, er, stomach issues for the last month (give or
take), and I was really hoping I could just wish them away. Finally,
Hermana Bryant talked some sense into me and was like, "you really
need to get tested. This can´t be good." She was right. I went into
the little laboratory near our house, and as they handed me a cup and
directed me to the tiny bathroom, all I could think was, "well, if I
don´t have a parasite now, I definitely will by the end of my stay in
this restroom." But we came back an hour later for the results, and at
first, it seemed like they said that all was well. I was feeling
pretty invincible until I saw that at the bottom where it says
"quistes" (cysts), it said "Entamoeba Histolytica." Which essentially
means I have an amoeba. A historical one. Gross. So after not getting
a lot of straight answers out of anyone, I took matter into my own
manos and bought some medication that the mission doctor said seems to
be the best option. Something called Neoparax that turns your urine an
interesting shade of highlighter yellow. For all those foolish enough
to think that a parasite/amoeba, whatever, is the answer to your
weight loss solutions, I will just say, NO it is not. Do not try this
at home, because much like Kelly from The Office, I can officially say
"I hate this worm inside of me!" I am eating for two for all the wrong
reasons. But I only have another day left of the meds, and then I will
be back to my normal, visitor-free self. But if I say anything
stranger-than-normal, realize that my amoeba made me do it.

And then, there´s always the times when Yin and Yang combine to form
one, glorious mixed bag of emotions. Like, for example, when your
mission goes on lock down because the country in which you are serving
goes crazy during the elections. At first, I consigned myself to the
boredom of staying inside all day long without much enthusiasm. But
then, my eyes were opened to the possibilities. Extra time to do some
real language study, laundry, and paint my toes with Yin Yang symbols?
(no, I´m not kidding). And now, today, with only two hours left of P
day, we received the call that we were free. And instead of feeling
elated, I felt... deflated. We´d been planning on being in the house
till Wednesday, so we didn´t plan any appointments or anything for the
next couple of days. So now we have to be out of the house with
nowhere to go. The next two days will certainly be creative. I wonder
if this is how the Israelites felt when Moses freed them from slavery.
You´d think they´d have been happy to be released from centuries of
servitude, and instead, they immediately started making decisions that
essentially put them right back where they started from. I guess it´s
true, freedom does come with a price. What do you do with it all?

Well, I´ll leave those of you in the land of the free and the home of
the brave to ponder that question. Because as usual, time is short in
all the wrong places. And I need to go get ice cream (my special
friend demands it). So enjoy mixing your yin in the yang and drinking
them both together. And remember, although the Ying Yang is black and
white, in life, some things aren´t. So prepare for wiggle room (the
healthy, non-parasitic kind.)

Your Ying with a hing of Yang,

Hermana Sweney

Twinkies Twinkies Everywhere, but not a Bite to Eat

Ok, so right out of the gate, I´ll come clean and say I have no time for this blogishness this week. It´s been real, and by real, I mean real hectic. But I will share some of my gems at least. I am known for nothing if not for my endless generosity.

Firstly, I feel like I would be doing the world a real disservice if I didn´t mention that Olga FINALLY, finally got baptized, along with her two kids José and Rocío. It would have been a beautiful and proud moment if our drunk friend hadn´t had to have been escorted off the premises for harassing everyone and if the keyboard we had brought down from storage wasn´t missing two important keys and if José hadn´t gone into hiding right before the baptism started. Much like the famed YouTube video, "David after Dentist," most of the time I just have to slap myself and ask "is this real life?" Oh, it is. It is, and thus, so much juicer. But don´t worry, we didn´t force the young lad to get baptized. After searching for 15 minutes throughout the church grounds and even outside of them, I eventually found him hiding behind a door in one of the classroom. I think he was just nervous. I told him his mom and sister were getting baptized and he could follow suite if he so chose. Which he did. So it was all worth it in the end. And I just love happy endings. But I think I still have a bit of time left on the mission, so "ending" may be jumping the gun a bit.

But Olga truly shown after her baptism. She just seemed so calm and bright. It would be hard to describe. But she said she felt good. My own baptism has long since passed, but seeing other people take the plunge reminds me why I stay a member and why faith is an active principle. Just apply a "you don´t use it, you lose it," sticker here. And every once in awhile it´s nice to remember why you keep fighting the good fight and believing when the world at large may tell you that morals are so half-century ago.

And skipping right along to something completely unrelated, I wish upon each and every one of you the joy of shopping in a Dominican market. My companion and I were hot on the trail for some Chinas (oranges) and chinolas. I told the lady I wanted half a pound, which for here meant giving us a bag, filling it up, and telling us it was 140 pesos. I repeated half a pound and she repeatedly threw in more fruit, raising the price. I finally decided to speak her language. "I have 20 pesos. That´s how many chinolas I want," I informed her. Suffice it to say, I left with a significantly emptier bag, but with a smile on my face from having learned one more trick of the trade. My next act of boldness will be attempting to bargain someone down. I can see the giggles and eye rolls from the vendors as I type.

And I feel like I simply must impart the good news of my visit to the capital to go to the temple. The temple is so quiet... and air conditioned. I rather enjoyed myself. But the real cherry on top of the Sundae of that Friday was our sweet, pimped-out ride. Our Zone Leaders got us a "steal of a deal" and got a member with a large, Twinkie-shaped van to drive us down to the capital at a cheaper price than taking just your average, normally colored and shaped guagua. As usual, my companion and I somehow found us forced out of the boys club when we were chivalrously sequestered to the front seat of the Twinkie, I mean, vehicle. And at one point, we stopped for gas at someone´s house. That´s right, a house. I didn´t get to see the process from my awkward angle in my seat, but I believe it involved a few gas cans and a stick. I kept waiting for our economical transport to explode in a mass of cream filling as we made our way down the freeway, but luckily, we made it there and back again, as this blog clearly can bear evidence.

Sadly though, I must inform that such will not be the case in the coming week. No, we don´t plan on exploding, and to keep it that way, we will be staying in our apartments during the throw down showdown between Papá and Danilo. It´s getting intense. Apparently, people make bets on the elections and if people can´t pay up, well... we´ll just say it can get messy. So, for 2-3 days, we will be going stir crazy in our apartments. Maybe Hermana Bryant can teach me a new skill. Heaven knows we´ll have the time. But being as I´m a missionary (and American), sadly, I can´t even vote. I´m not sure who I´d vote for anyway, but Hermana Lund and I were so very intrigued by Papá´s campaign techniques and slogans, we made one to mimic it. Or maybe he mimicked us? You be the judge. But I was rather proud of the finished product. Two hearty, self-congratulatory pats on the back.

Well, I will leave you now with your long-anticipated and long overdue How To Do in the D.R. If you weren´t already envious of my Azuazean lifestyle, feel free to start now.

Squeaky clean love,

Hermana Sweeney
First, fill up the wonder machine. Dump in some powder soap if you feel so inclined.

Next, the waiting game. Fill washer, fill!

You may have to make a surprise killing, should a giant roach surprise you during the process.

The water will get pretty dirty. Try not to think too much about it. It´s still good for another few uses.

Put the freshly-washed clothes in the centrifudge. It will spin them free of giant droplets.

You will eventually need to mop the laundry room. Water will, in spite of your best efforts, get all over the place.

Next, get as many clothes as you can at a time and move them to the REAL dryer, a.k.a. the clothesline.

Feel free to look furtive and attractive (as demonstrated) while doing so.

Here, you will hang up said clothing and hope by the time you wake up the next day, dryness will be the result.

There are some difficulites here in the D.R. that even Downey can´t fix. And finally, feel free to rejoice in your success.

You did it! Your clothes are clean! See you again, wonder washer, the day I run out of clean underwear.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

I´ve Got Friends in Low, High, and All the Places In Between

Well, I find myself once again sitting in front of this computer, in this computer café, in Azua. I think by the end of my time here in Azua, I´ll actually miss it. I feel like almost 6 months later, I practically own the place. I might even have squatter´s rights, if such a concept can apply to an entire town. But at the very least, I´ve been here long enough to make some friends, acquaintances, and whatever else you want to call some of the special members of the missionary "fan club."

We´ll start with the good before moving on to the bad and the ugly. One of my favorite ward members is Hermana Fe. Of course, her real name is Esperanza, but no one here ever goes by their real name. Why would they? I sure don´t, even on the mission people still call me Sweeney, as I´ve mentioned before. It just makes me feel more Dominican that way. But to be fair, the name is on the tag I wear around all day, every day, so I guess I shouldn´t be so surprised. Anyway, Fe is one of those people you just look at and think, "class." Some people just have a certain tilt to their nose and a certain style of dress that says, "Yes, I really am this good-looking, but fortunately, I´m also generous and friendly." She goes out of her way to sit by people at church who are by themselves and she loves to go out and find less active members and fellowship/friendship them and bring them to church. And she makes awesome red velvet cakes and 3-D ship portraits so really, what more can you ask for? She´s also super willing to go out with us missionaries to visit our investigators. I have to admit, having a member along is great, because if someone says something inaccurate or crazy during a lesson, the member can clear it up, because chances are, they speak Spanish. What fortune! I understand most things people tell me, but sometimes an essential word or two will slip through the cracks. And if the difference is between "please, teach us more," and "remove yourself from my presence," well, I like to have some back-up, just in case. But yeah, that´s Hermana Fe for you. She can tell you a whole lot of information in very little time. She´s efficient and opinionated. And a little sassy. She could be a spy. Will look further into the last assumption for more proof.

Then you have the bad, as in, the men who always sit on the side of the street at noon, drunk as skunks. We really have no choice but to pass them, as they line the sides of the streets the church is on, and we go to the church for one reason or another, every day. You would think they´d get bored of yelling at us and making their "friendly" gestures, but I guess 2 Americanas passing is really a good form of entertainment for them. I have since taken a liking to the advice of the cute and cunning penguins from the Madagascar movies. "Just smile and wave, boys. Smile and wave." And we do.

And then there´s the flat out ugly, like when the drunkest of them all comes up to you every time he sees you to tell you he´s hungry. At first you feel bad, and buy him food. Then you learn from the owner of the Colmado (Stop and Steals) that this guy is a drunken mooch who is always asking people for things. Then you get mad when he comes to church and in the middle of class, petitions the people for food and clothes. And then when he stops you as you´re trying to go home to tell you that he can read the lines in the sidewalk and that there´s gonna be a huge earthquake here like there was in Haiti, you just throw your hands up. In my opinion, if you would stop buying booze, you would have money for food, and if you weren´t drunk all day, you could do useful things with your time. Then again, I don´t know his life story. All I know is, I don´t have money to feed his habits. There are so many people I wish I could help more, and these are people that are actually trying to change their lives. You just learn that as one person, you can do a lot, but we are still limited by circumstance. I happen to find myself a missionary, who, despite what many people here think, is not rich. But after all´s been said and done, you can like the life you´re living, and you can sometimes even live the life you like. And that´s your musical theater quote for the day.

But retreating back again to the good real quick... Eladio was baptized. I will now elicit two woot, woots from the home audience. Woot woot! I don´t know the word for stoked in Spanish, but that is my descriptive word to describe my emotions on Cinco de Mayo. He was so ready, and he was so happy. He said he felt clean, like he had a new body. And the choir got to sing a couple of numbers while he was getting re dressed, so it was just like seeing everyone and everything come together. D.K., (supposedly), Olga is going to get baptized this coming week. Her son asked Hma. Bryant and I the other day, "so, when are we getting baptized?" Now that´s a supplication I never get sick of. Hopefully it´s this week, because the next week is the District Conference of all the branches in Azua, and then we´d have to move her date AGAIN. I don´t care if it´s the last week of this transfer, but I do want to see it. Otherwise, it would be like having the plug pulled on one of my all-time favorite shows before getting to see how it ends. And we all know that that´s just not acceptable.

Anyway, as usual, the time me acaba. But I am officially 1 minute closer to the Mother´s Day call right now than I was, well, a minute ago. It´s the week countdown, people. I get to listen to my little sister tell me that she misses me and will kill me and have my mother ask me all sorts of concerned mother-ish questions, and then, you know, have a whole 30 seconds each to hear from my dad and my brother. We´ll see if all goes according to plan. But speaking of moms, don´t forget to buy yours something nice. Más Y Más bars are a very popular item this year. And Tuvis. Don´t wait till the last minute or you´ll leave the market empty-handed. Happy M-Day to all!

With emotions and feelings,

Hermana Sweeney

Sunday, May 6, 2012

When it Rains, It Showers

Here I am, world. Take it or leave it. Wow, that sounds like one of those horribly cheesy t-shirts that promotes having an individualistic attitude. But that´s nothing; I once saw a young lad right here in the D.R. sporting a doozy that said, "I dig your boyfriend." Well, if that isn´t ignorance is bliss in action, then I don´t know what is.

But let´s get down to brass tacks. I am now officially nine months, working for 10, thank you very much. And yes, I did eat my pizza, and loved every morsel. Hermana Bryant thought it was a bit too doughy but that´s the difference between her and I - I have NINE MONTHS and my taste buds have been sandpapered down to nothing, so I enjoy even simple flavors. Don´t worry, Hermana Bryant, it will happen to you too, con tiempo.

But speaking of dead, I feel like it would only be fair to point out that I am killing off all the men of my mission. To kill a missionary, as I think I may have explained, you have to be in their zone and have a connection to them somehow. My mission father, Elder Ferreras, died after my second transfer, o sea, the end of my training. Killed him good. My step-dad, Elder Martinez, died the transfer after he became my step-parent. Elder Bitton, who was my district leader and not necessarily mission family at all, was also brutally slaughtered in my presence. And now the mission dad of my kid and his own kid is going the way of the plane soon as well. He is in this room with me and several other missionaries as I type, and he just got his airplane info. He is dying this transfer, after the training period of his kid and my kid is finito. Man, I am a man-killer. Eh, what else is new. Wouldn´t want to change my streak. But I am highly amused by the turn of events. I also have inherited 2 new mission sons because two other Elders in my zone are training. That makes four kids in total. Who signed me up for this? Who´s trusting me with these kids? Well, if they come out strange, don´t say I didn´t warn you in advance about my limited skills with younguns. But going back to the whole death thing, it is very popular to tell a missionary who only has two transfers left how dead they are. "Dude, you are so dead!" That´s what I get to hear every time our zone gets together on P-days, whenever else it´s necessary. And since we have two Elders about to die, I hear it A LOT. I am still thinking about how I will die. Hopefully in a beautiful and bright blaze of glory. But only time will tell. I have nine months to figure it out (well, a little less than nine now :)

But I guess now I should talk about, you know, the actual WORK I´ve been doing here out in the badlands. The baptism of Eladio is coming. It´s about to get real people. This is the man who, once again, walk with a crutch and doesn´t see well. His favorite past times include smiling a lot, hanging out with his wife, and mentioning the importance of our Señor Jesus christo every other sentence. I love this guy. This baptism has been in the making for 2 years now. When my companion asked him the final baptism question (are you ready to be baptized and keep the commandments and take upon you the name of Christ?), his wife interrupted and said, "oh, claro." I had to split a gut because she was right. If anyone is ready, it´s him. We´re just waiting for them to get a copy of their marriage certificate for verification, and it´s a go. Claro!

As for Olga, we reset her and her kids´ date for the 12th of May. She is also chomping at the bit and was sincerely bummed when she couldn´t get baptized this week... or the last one. It was supposed to be for this week, but when we visited her with one of our members, she showed us her wound, and Hma. Carmén, the member who was with us just came right out and said, "uh... no. She needs to wait, that wound is too fresh. She´ll explode in the font." Well, what do you say to that? And Olga´s health is definitely what matters right now, so we moved the date. She seemed sad, so I told her how this is common and we have to move dates all the time. Crazy things always seem to come up before a baptism (Satan, you turd), but it´s not gonna keep us from getting it done, by George.

But on the plus side, we did get to have a Baby Shower for her. She was not expecting it at all; I´m not sure anyone has ever done anything like that for her before. But we had a good turn out. I almost got lung poisoning from blowing up 48 pink and white dusty balloons, but a small price to pay for the smile it brought to Olga´s face. Now she has enough pampers to sink a ship and some really cute socks and underthings. It was definitely the first shower that the ward members here had experienced. I know they have them in the capital, but they don´t seem to be too common here in the capital. But I guess there´s a first time for everything.

And speaking of first times, yeah... it´s been raining like a beast here. Or it was this past week. That is not the Azua I have come to love and hate. It just plain and simple does not rain here. Which is what our apartment must have been thinking/feeling as well, because it was equally unprepared for the downpour. The little hole that was in our ceiling in one of our extra empty rooms is now a big hole, with plenty of water damage in the walls. At least my poncho and bucket are good for something now. And a bonus? Early morning exercise. When the rain was at it´s worst, we were sweeping our roof 3 times a day. No, none of that was a typo. Our roof is shaped like a jigsaw puzzle and is not slanted, so all so the rainwater just gets trapped up there. It would be cool if it wasn´t against mission rules to swim. But yeah, the rain has since abated, so it´s all good. For now (ominous noises).

And I must say, I´m sorry it´s been awhile since I´ve done a "How to Do in the D.R." but the C.D. player on this computer doesn´t work. So I will leave you all with useful advice instead: If missionaries of any religion come to your house, don´t tell them you will meet with them and then hid in your house the next day or conveniently be gone. I know telling people you´re not interested in slightly uncomfortable but it´s even more uncomfortable for us to show up to your house, sometimes going out of our way, and then go away, unloved. I´ve heard some bad stories from other missionaries (and experienced some myself), but I think the winner was the Elder who went to someone´s house with whom they´d scheduled an appointment and a voice from inside said, "I´m not home." Here´s how it should be done. We come up to you. You feel awkward because maybe you go to another church or just don´t want to talk about religion right now. So you tell us that. We invite you to church anyway and tell you to have a nice day. And if it´s mango season, you might offer us a whole boatload of mangos, even after we politely say "that´s ok." But hey, that´s life. Sometimes you gotta take a mango for the team.

So, now you know all you need to know about missionary life (and rejection). Well, for this week, at least. Cuz that´s all the time we´ve got for today. But don´t worry, I´ll make sure to say a little prayer for you. And in your spare time, you can say one for me too.

Más Y Más,

Hermana Sweeney