Thursday, September 27, 2012

This is my Life Right Now

Well, it´s true. We all have our moments, and right now, my life is one. Long. Moment. I guess it happens to the best of us. But my companion said it best while walking stiffly with pus oozing from her hideous leg: "this is my life right now." They always say the things that are true are funniest. Add to that the fact that she actually said it in English and you have wet-your-pants hilarea.

But my life right now is an extension of last week, when I didn´t get a change to write. Why didn´t I? Well, at the risk of repeating myself, "THIS IS MY LIFE RIGHT NOW!" We came into the Internet center, sat down, got down to business, and five minutes later... bye bye sweet electricity of mine. So we played that game where you keep sitting at your computer, hoping the power will come back. It doesn´t but you keep a-sitting and a-hoping. And then you´ve found you´ve sat for so much time that it seems silly to leave because we all know as soon as we do, who will come back? Why, the electricity of course, and he will be laughing at us for wasting so much time. But in honesty, the time was not wasted, because as it so happens, this country has no shame of God. Didn´t when I started the mission, and continues the tradition, 14 months later. And to be honest, I don´t remember myself as Hna. Sweeney every blessed second of the day. Sometimes, I just think of myself as Sweeney. Or, like everyone else, "Sweezni" or "sweety." Close enough. But I have to remember that no one else forgets. So during mine and my companion´s 45 minute waiting session, we were asked a lot of questions about the church from other people playing the waiting game. The guys who works here and control our computer usage (but sadly, not the power), was really intrigued by the idea of a living prophet. Because I already believe these things, sometimes I forget, "well, yeah, we say that there´s a prophet on the earth again, like Moses and Isiah. That´s kind of a big deal." One of the guys we were talking with made the comment that he believes everyone will be judged according to your own conscience. So Muslims will be judged for how good of Muslims they were, Baptists for Baptists, and so on and so forth. Interesting idea, but that would be a pretty screwed up God, not to mention inconsistent. So if some religions believe you only have to say you believe in God to be saved, heck, everyone wold join that church if this guy´s theory was true because that´s sooooooooo easy. But there is one God, one faith, and one baptism. (Ephesians 4:5) The scriptures state that pretty clearly. And when God says he is the same yesterday, today and forever and that he expects us to be perfect like he is, then that means that we have to do it his way and not ours. A consistent God would not give us inconsistency as the basis for our beliefs, nor would he make it a free-for-all. When he says "ask and you´ll receive (Matthew 7), I don´t think he meant it as a riddle or a turn-of-phrase. He meant "do it, already! (said in the voice of Dr. Phil or some other inspirationalist ). But I think the whole little situation was God´s little way of saying "I know it´s your Preparation day, but you´ve practically had the week off. Get back to work (do it, already!) So, we did, and we gave a Book of Mormon to one of the guys who was listening and wanted one. Scoreboardicus. The next time we passed him on the street he said he was reading it, so good for him. And after that whole crazy experience, we rushed off to the help with a wedding reception of sorts for a lady in our church ward who got remarried. Hardly a dull moment.

Well, except last week when I learned the true meaning of the word boredom. When I said my companion´s leg was hideous, I said it not in jest. Poor Hna. Rodriguez. She fell a couple weeks ago, and scrapped her knee. Rub some dirt in it and move on. But this scrap went from wound to worse, eventually covering her whole knee and leaking liquid whenever she took more than a few steps. Well, when we FINALLY got to see the doctor, he said that it was a bacteria or fungus (update: we now know it´s a bacteria). So she was prescribed various medications, and now, 2 weeks after the incident, it´s finally starting to look a little better. But we had to stay in the house a few days because walking caused her a good deal of discomfort. I only left when there was a female church member who could stay with here and another who could leave with me. So, I was pretty much sequestered. And on the night of my birthday, we spent the time I had designated to eat tres leches and soak my feet getting her leg examined, swabbed, and tested. I didn´t mind, but it took from 9:00 p.m. to midnight. Part of this time was spent driving around the entire city with the Mission President´s assistants, looking for a pharmacy that was open that late at night. And may I say, one of these Elders drives as though he´s mad that he´s never been in an accident. There were not many pharmacies open, and the few that were didn´t have any or all of the many prescriptions on the list the doctor had given my companion. The interesting question many people pose is "where do you want to be in your life when you turn 25?" or "where do you see yourself?" Well, I´m pretty sure my answer to this youthful and fanciful question was never, "The D.R. Duh." But well, I have come to accept that this is my life right now. And lest anyone worry about what happened to the tres leches, when we got back, we stuck candles in it, I gave about half to Hna. Rodriguez, and stuck my face in the rest. I blame it on a childhood of watching Nickelodeon. But if someone would have asked me if I´d seen my face in a cake at the age of 25, my answer would have just been "duh."

And now.... good news. General Conference is coming up. My last one on the mission. I will definitely be a little trunkee (homesick, English sick) cuz it´s hard to have to listen to the prophet and apostles that I´m used to hearing speak English being translated into pure Spanish. But it´s better than nothing. And what´s more, Robbinson should FINALLY be getting baptized the same weekend as the conference. Yes, we are still teaching him. And Charlin. What happens with some people is that we teach them all the lessons they need to be prepared for baptism but sometimes they need more time to feel ready or we feel they need more time. Or both. But just so you don´t think these people just drop off our radar cuz I don´t mention them as much, they´re still there. We still visit them all the time. Poor Robbinson just has to experience the typical hell fire before baptism, a.k.a. the increase in trials and problems that always seem to come when someone is making a good decision. But neither fire nor ice can stop this guy cuz, well, he´s ON fire. I hope to see his baptism. I really, really REALLY (really?) do.

Oh, and some really important extra info: Added to the list of interesting places I´ve taught, we can add art gallery. Can you say Hna. Sweeney Kryptonite? I´m already highly dis tractable; don´t make me sit in a room with fantastic art. Studying this stuff was part of my major for peet´s sake. Where are they gonna make me teach next, a bakery? Ok, no one makes us teach anywhere, but this guy, Máximo Garcia, was a reference from a member of my beloved La Yuca. He seems really slick and smooth, and just looks like someone who sells art. His main concern is knowing more about the Bible. Well, hopefully we can help him out with that. And another really good book too...

Also, remember how once upon a blog, I mentioned that there was a soap opera that is always on in peoples´ houses here? Well, I FINALLY know the name of it. You ready for this? It´s "Cuidado con el Angel." O sea, "Be careful with the Angel." Oh, I will. I will. I only catch tender glimpses of this horrible excuse of a way to fill time between good commercials, but I must admit, the lead character, played by the actor my companion tells me is William Levy, is a little too attractive for missionary eyes. I might have a future addiction in the making for when I get home.

And finally, Denia, one of the ladies we´ve been teaching for forever and a day, has the papers she needs to get married! We got them sent to us through the Elders who work in Elias Piña, o sea, where this woman´s papers (birth certificate, etc.) were. She was so happy to get them, as she´s what we call a dry member (someone who isn´t baptized but always goes to church and has all the lessons.) But now she can get baptized. I´m pretty positive that, as is forever common in the life of us missionaries, I won´t get to see her wedding or her baptism, but it still rocks pretty good to get the see the smile on her face and be a small step in the process.

Well, that´s about all of the good and the weird that I can stand to inform the cyberworld of for now. But don´t worry... this IS my life (right now), so there will be plenty more information (and probably too much of it) to share in the forthcoming weeks. Until then, the next time you see a cake, don´t hesitate to stick your face in it. You´ll thank yourself later.

1, 2, 3.. LECHES,

Hermana Sweeney "The Fearless"
                              (except those blasted Sundays)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Er, Ummmm... Your Doorbell´s Showing

I would like to know if there is an easy way to inform someone of a potentially embarrassing situation. We all know that if we say, "hey, your fly is down," or "there´s an enormous bogey in your left nostril," that these casual observations can quickly convert into feeling of shame and sadness on the part of the offending party, especially if said observations are reported after a manner of announcing them in a rather public way. But what do you do if shouting is your only option, and even when you do it, know one can here you?

So as usual, I have no idea if I mentioned previously how house contacting, street contacting, or communication in general works out here in the D.R. To talk on the phone, you have to buy cards from the colmados or phone stores with a set amount of minutes on them. Actually, I have no idea how many minutes are on them, because it only tells you how many pesos you paid for the card. So I know I have a hundred pesos worth of minutes, and I still don´t know much about what that means. I know when I receive a text from Orange, the phone company, saying I have 11 pesos of minutes left, that I´m in trouble, because that seems to be worth less than a minute of call time. Which is why unless someone has an unlimited talk plan, the phone convos, at least for missionaries, are pretty darn short. Which, all things considered, probably isn´t such a bad thing. But often times, if we know the conversation will take more than 30 seconds, we beep the person first, and hang up, and they can call us back. It sounds complicated, and it sure is. But once you get into the rhythm, you hardly cry at all late late at night over it...

But back to the real communication problem, which is, ironically, the face-to-face kind. Isn´t everyone lately bemoaning how we are so wrapped around our phones that we don´t ever have time for real conversations in person? Well, my companion and I are TRYING mightily to have such conversations, but we are currently house contacting in an area that is rather filthy rich. Which means the views are always fun, but it also means the following 1). The house is behind a large gate. It might be made of bronze, or painted white, or waist high or impossible to see through, but it´s there. It´s always there. 2). For some reason, many of the doorbells are either a). missing b). broken c). unreachable. C is normally, as in most standardized testing, the correct answer in this case. Through the fence, I can see a doorbell. It´s staring me in the face. But I´d have to climb your fence, pass your dog, and if I make it to the porch, I could then reach your doorbell. Instead, I have to yell "Hola," or "Saludos" at the top of my lungs to get these peoples´ attention. Or, if by some miracle to outer doorbell exists and functions, there is only a 50-50 chance that it will be answered. We´ll look at the half-full glass and say someone answers it. This person is an middle-aged lady with a paunch in a dress that is checker-patterned and either green, red, or blue. She will tell you that the owners of the house or either gone or sleeping. We then leave our invitation to the church with her and ask her to pass it on to her bosses. But all the while, I have to wonder why the workers of these houses get to enjoy the children and commodities of this amazing castle that they guard more than the people that actually live there. But I´m just a careless observer. What do I know? But nevertheless, if I had any advice for these people, it would all start with having a doorbell that WORKS and is placed in a place where people who wish to communicate with the inhabitants can easily push it to announce their presence. Just an idea. I might patent it when I get back to the states.

But the fifty percent of the people we do talk to are pretty cool. You´ve got more than your occasional weirdo, but even they are pretty fun to talk to. But the thing that never ceases to amaze me is how many people my companion knows. Often, when we talk to someone on their porch, they tell us they´re actually from Santiago, which is way up north opposite from where we are. My companion happens to be from Santiago, and even if the person we talk to lives in still another part of the country, she probably has some connection to them too. And the running joke with her is that every time she meets another Rodriguez, she tells the person, "my dad always told me I had a long-lost Aunt, Uncle, Cousin (etc.) that lived around here..." It weirds me out a little until I remember that we´re on a bite-sized island and three or four of her countries could easily fit in my state of California. So then, the "coincidences" of her knowing so many people seem, well, a lot less coincidental. It is kind of cool, and makes for good conversation starters though. The advantages of tiny island living: You apparently know everyone. The disadvantages of island living: Apparently, you know everyone, and they all know you, and hence, all you business. But there is a congeniality and sense of belonging here that is neat to witness. I think I´ll miss it.

And as long as we are talking about culture, I might as well throw in what I´m throwing down. I am totally educating my Latin companions as to the delicate art of the "Slug Bug!" Hma. Alfaro, my previous companion, never fought back and just took the slugs, even though I´m positive she saw some of the VW bugs before I did. However, Hma.Rodriguez is too slug happy, and often times, tries to slug me for cars that, in my opinion, are not even close to looking like slug bugs. I don´t know if this is passive aggressiveness or what, but I´ve been slowly and patiently continuing to slug her correctly and pointing out the very distinct differences of a Volkswagen beetle from EVERY OTHER CAR. I think it´s finally sinking in. We have to be careful, though. I´d hate for one of us to be sent home for slug bug abuse.

And finally, I will tell tale of a cool couple we are teaching. I shall call them Millie and Arnold. Millie was invited to a fruit activity we had at the church where we talked about all the health benefits of different fruits, had a slide show, and a rather delicious fruit salad afterwards. Millie immensely enjoyed the activity, and we´ve been teaching her ever since, so for a little less than 2 weeks. She works as a secretary, or something like that, in the same building as the president of this country. Pretty cool. Her husband is pretty crazy, missing his two front teeth and is often saying rather inappropriate things to his wife in front of us. He sometimes will stay and listen to the lesson if we coax him long enough, but normally he retreats to the bedroom to watch (loudly) his war movies. He´s also a big fan of Disney movies, apparently. But interestingly enough, he and I share the same birthday, and literally to the year, we are 30 years apart. This Saturday, the glorious 15th of September, he and I will be aging just a little bit more. I will be 25, and he will be 55. He thinks it´s weird I´m not married yet. I told him (more or less jokingly) that I don´t plan on marrying until I´m his age. He threw up quite the fit at hearing that, and said I´m a "Pura Jamona" (pure ham, o sea, an old maid.) MUAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Sometimes, it´s fun to say things just to confound people. But if I would be allowed one birthday wish (I feel like I should be allowed two), it would be that I could see a piece of carpet again. No house here, not even the richest of the rich, have carpets, from what I¨ve seen. They would be a real beast to keep clean, I imagine, and I´m just so used to perpetual tile now. But someday, I wanted to walk barefoot and not have dirty feet afterwards, nor hear the echo of my footsteps. But yeah, here´s wishing myself and Arnold a Happy Birthday. May all us hopeless Jamonas live long and prosper.

One Year Older and Wiser,

Hermana Sweeney "The Fearless"
                              (except on Sundays)

Hey Ma, Look at Me, I´ve Gone and Earned my Psych Degree

And how! Remember this, never forget this: A mission is never JUST a mission. It is also a grand opportunity to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life. And after listening to many an investigator "confess" their life story to us, I realized that quite frankly, I could never be a psychologist. It´s just too much of a drain on my energy resources. As I´ve mentioned before, I don´t know what it is about being a missionary, but everyone seems to think we´re walking confession booths. It´s like George (who I refer to as our gangster investigator) pleaded with us to consider: "I hope you guys don´t judge me now cuz of some bad choices I´ve made. Not all deportees are the same."
I suppose they´re not. No one is quite like anyone else, but after listening to enough stories of defeat, disillusion, drugs, delinquency, doubt, and doom, I feel like the common thread is that it all started with small decisions. No one grows up dreaming to be a drug dealer, or a spouse abuser, or a deportee even. But when we put our priorities in a certain order, it skews our bigger life vision. How many people have lost family and health over the pursuit of money and a good time? People say such catchy turn-of-phrases as "without your health, you haven´t got anything," and "My family is my world." But no matter how quaint the saying, people are going to focus more on our unspoken priority list, which of course, we make known through our actions. I really like a quote I read recently in a talk by current apostle Jeffry R. Holland. He talks about people who lament bad decisions, such as cheating on a spouse or becoming prey to an incapacitating addiction. He says that people often bemoan after the fact "what was I thinking!?"
"Well," says Elder Holland, "whatever it is they were thinking, they weren´t thinking of Christ." Yup, that pretty much sums it up. If people live Christ-centered lives, their priorities pretty much automatically are going to be in-line with the things in life that make us happy. And we won´t have the "I can´t believe I was such an idiot," hangover after the fact. There are just some prescriptions a Wal-Mart Pharmacy doesn´t have.

But a confession I have to make is that I love and hate having house guests on the mission. As I lamented in earlier entries, our house is now a house of two, but this last week, you´d never guess it. We had no fewer then six people in our house Monday, 1 guest on Tuesday, and last night, 2 more. The thing is, the Quisqueya house is the overnight house because it´s in the Capital and closest to the mission office. So when people need to visit the mission doctor or when it´s the night before transfers, our house is usually a full house (minus the Tanner family). I love it because if there´s an American in the bunch, I can work on practicing my English. And it´s a nice opportunity to hear the mission gossip and who is going where and how everyone is doing. But then, all too soon everyone leaves in a whirlwind and I am left feeling a little odd. When you´re used to a rhythm with only one person, day in and day out, any change in the routine leaves you a little out-of-sorts. But with a little Más Más bar and a lot of walking, the old rhythm comes back sooner than an ingrown toenail (if I forgot to mention it, I´ve had two toe surgeries on the mission. Yum.)

Also, due to Hurricane Issac and all his glory, the birthday party of Ashlin, one of the daughters of a woman we´re sorta teaching, was postponed. But Saturday, if finally came to pass, and it was more or less a lot like the last party we "catered," clown and all. Sadly, I couldn´t partake of any of the bocadillos (snacks) myself because we were fasting (abstain from food with prayer and a purpose), but on the happy side, I think I´m making friends with the clown that always seems to be at these parties. Now if I could only get the crazy birthday soundtrack out of my head...

Oh, and I almost forgot, but I know that what with the Book of Mormon musical and Mitt Romney and all that Utah Jazz, that Mormons are kinda a big deal right now. People know us. O sea, they want to, but there´s a lot of weird and false information out there. But there are those cool souls who like to look past the stereotypes and ask us real, intense and interesting questions. For example, this Saturday was also when my companion turned nine months on the mission, so we decided to go to Krispy Kreme (it´s an addiction) to celebrate with their new "Choco Mania" donuts. On our way there, we get straight up stopped by a shorter kid with a beard who had heard of the church and wanted to know why it was so different. In the middle of the sidewalk, we answered questions from everything from the Salamander letters (proven false) to how someone can get a real answer and if it would be possible to be in two religions at once. I love questions of a thoughtful and creative mind. The kid had done his homework for sure. We answered the best we could, and told him the not-so-secret recipe for getting an answer. As he asked with a little bit of anxiety, "but how can you KNOW?" We gave him a pamphlet, directions to church, and told him that though his questions were good and we could talk with him about the church all day long, his own testimony would come from his diligence in truly seeking to find. He REALLY want to know. That counts for something. After we parted ways and entered Krispy Kreme, we paid for our purchases and were about to leave when one of the workers asked about the church. All because we decided to get a donut! One of the other female employees seemed a little uncomfortable, but hey, we didn´t bring it up. But we weren´t gonna be rude and ignore the man who helped make our Choco Mania experience possible. Once again, ask, and you will receive.

And FINALLY, I will end with the satisfaction that after hearing nearly everyone we invite to church say "me voy" (I´ll go), someone actually did voy. O sea, se fue. Let´s be grammatically correct here. This brilliant boy named Jaimi has been going to church with his grandmother in another area. His mom wanted to know what all the fuss was about, so she arranged to have the missionaries in her area (us) meet with her. She reads the whole pamphlet we leave with her before every new visit, and she came to church this last Sunday, where she and Jaimi and the two nieces she brought with her were heartily welcomed. Gotta love the members of the Quisqueya ward. And people who actually "va." You get so much more out of it when you are there in body and in spirit.

Well, this weary traveler is off to brave another week with conviction and sassy-nes. I wish a happy labor day to all as we enter this, the BEST month of the year. Keep it chevre.

With good intentions,

Hermana Sweeney