Sunday, December 16, 2012

Devil with the Name Tag On

You and me and the Devil do NOT make three. I am not a witchy woman. What is with the people this week? Answer: They are no longer people. They have turned into a hideous sub-species of perpetual drunkards. I don´t know if the people who are telling me I´m a blond American devil are drunk or just crazy. Yesterday, Sunday, the supposed day of the Lord (go figure), is when people started freaking out on me. One bearded gentleman (why do most of them have beards?) started chasing us with his big metal pole telling me I´m the devil, so I ignored him and entered in my apartment complex. He left me alone. As Hna. Paus and I, later that day, were walking up to the craziest street in this entire country, the Dr. Defillo, when I lady with Medusa-like hair and milk streaming from her mouth yelled for us to cross to the other side of the road, because, you guessed it, I´m a giant devil. I think she had me confused for someone else... but anyway, I couldn´t help but think how lucky I am not to have a ton of self esteem issues, or this country would probably have broken me in pieces. I just wanted to have a special break-out moment and inform these miscreants (or lovely children of God... you know), that "No, I´m not to devil... your mom´s the devil!" But that´s not really fair to their moms.

But back to the crazy Defillo and the absurdity thereof. My comp. and I were passing to pick up some of our investigators and bring them to church. It was 7:30 in the a.m. And what to our wondering eyes should appear, but a car with all it´s doors open, blasting music at the top of its lungs, with what was surely a rather large prostitute dancing with a couple of severely drunk dudes. Freshly drunk dudes. There were open beer bottles and cups filled with alcohol on top of the car. The Defillo- where the party is always just getting started. Considering one of the people we were bringing to church was a 10 year old boy, I felt like I wanted to shield him from it all, but here, you just can´t. You see all you could possibly imagine and then some. And it´s only gonna get worse because during December, everyone receives double payment from the government, so everyone think they have a lot of money. So you have to watch your back, because, well, everyone assumes that everyone else is walking around like a mobile bank. And they want a withdraw. And they will search you for it. As a missionary, I haven´t had this problem. Yet. And I hope it stays that way. Let´s just say missionaries aren´t known for our incredible wealth. We work for free- with benefits of a, er, more spiritual nature. But yeah, Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year. Please be careful to cover your rear (and your front, and belongings you hold dear).

In pleasant news, I can sorta cook Dominican food now. It´s a work in progress. My rice-making abilities have improved. And I can make some decent beans. Beans beans, the magical fruit. And fried bananas. Well, they´re really plátanos, and when you slice, mash, and fry them, they really taste more like potato chips. Sort of. Comparing the me now to the me of a year ago, I really can´t believe the crap I eat. If someone had told me what my mission would be, I would have said, "boy- you CRAZY!" But I find that it´s really mind over matter, you can eat what they serve you from any platter. It would appear I´m feeling rather rhyming and whimsical today. That would probably have to do with the fact that our Zone is preparing our Christmas presentation. Our annual mission Christmas party is in exactly a week from now. Boo-ya! I don´t have to cook (there is such a thing as a free lunch), and I get to see all the missionaries I haven´t seen in forever. It will be extreme. And our zone will be acting out how it would be if missionaries contacted and converted the Grinch. I will be one of the narrators. And it is gonna be just a whole pile of fun. Can´t wait.

But speaking of crazy boys and zones, I´ve learned a valuable lesson this week during our zone conference. Us hermanas brought oatmeal cookies to share. Yes, it´s true- no one deserves us. Especially some of the Elders in our zone. After greedily partaking of the goods, some of them thought it was perfectly natural to leave their crumbs all over the place. When I informed them otherwise, some half-heartedly picked up a little here and there. And some had magically gone deaf during my clean-up announcement and others thought I was speaking pig Latin. It´s not that hard, my dear young gents! Clean up after yourself. No one is your maid. As the Prophet Alma so wisely put it, "oh remember my sons and learn wisdom in thy youth..." Good point. If you develop good habits early on, the better you´ll be later on. Now don´t get me wrong, a lot of these guys are really great Elders, but I am reminded of a saying I´ve always heard and always hated- "well, you know, boys will be boys." No, boys will be what you let them be. O sea, people in general. Expect more, get more (do NOT apply this saying to your holiday wish list). But really, if we let people know our expectations and don´t just give them pre-made excuses, (starting them off right while they´re young), it just really makes a whole world of difference.

And finally, I would like to rejoice and praise the brilliance of cheap Christmas decorating. Colorful snowflakes hanging from invisible wire from the ceiling? Festive. Tiny Charlie Brown Christmas tree? Space saving. Homemade candy count-down paper chain? Tasty anticipation. It´s amazing what you can do when you put yourself to the task.

And an apology- this blog contains little to no info. on investigators and their progress. That´s because this week was a typical series of ups and downs. People being touched by the spirit. Making commitments they don´t keep (going to church, reading the material we leave, etc). But such is the mission. You just have to rejoice in the day you´re in and the success that you had. You never know what people will decide to do tomorrow. And it also doesn´t help that I´ve been a little distracted. One of our ward member only has four fingers on his right hand. I just noticed this last week when I shook it. We contacted a man on the street who has 6 fingers- that´s right, there was a fully-formed thumb on the side of his other thumb. I was highly disturbed and fascinated, and could only think of The Princess Bride movie quotes the whole time. And he´s not the first case I´ve seen. I´ve seen people covered in boils, people with spines that put Quasimodo to shame, and lots of people with the same skin condition Michael Jackson claimed to have. Half black, half white. I would say there must be something in the water, but I probably shouldn´t because it´s probably true. But it just goes to show that these things shouldn´t matter as much as we think they do. Here, these people are just accepted and absorbed into society, in spite of their appearance. What a concept. Lesson observed, lesson applied.

Well, that´s what we call a wrap. Not a sandwich wrap, although that would be tasty. But we will be saying the goodbye word. But don´t cry for me Argentina. The truth is, I never met you. Cuz I´m in the D.R., baby! And so I shall remain. Well, for a little while longer at least.

Keeping it Klassy,

Hermana Sweeney "the Fearless" (except on Sundays)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Out with the Old, in with the Not-As-Old

Remember that time when everything is different than how it used to be? Yeah.... But sometimes that´s good and sometimes that´s bad. How profound. But, as Jesus was know to do now and then, he gave some good insight into the human condition when he observed that no one who has old wine will automatically want new wine because they will claim the old is better. He was referring to the new, higher, better law he had brought to the people to replace the Law of Moses. But it can be applied to any other life change as well. We seem to either want to cling to past traditions/habits, even if there is obviously a better way presented to us, or sometimes we take the opposite stratagem and try to abandon everything, hoping that going to a new place, starting over, whatever, will make everything from a shattered past become a forgotten memory. However, I think the real trick is, unshockingly, finding a happy balance between the two. Forgiving, forgetting, and moving forward, but remembering that the past is a shaping factor for future experiences. I still get embarrassed when I think of some of the stupid crap I´ve done (both during and before the mission). Sometimes you find yourself doing the same stupid stuff and you can´t help but think "man, I thought I shook this already." But just like how learning a language is an incessant process of repetitions, so it is with learning in life. Sometimes, we overcome certain weakness quickly, and others are life-long struggles. And as annoying as that is, as long as we´re trying, and repeating with greater frequency the good and with less frequency the bad, we learn how to be happy, better functioning human beings. And we find that taking the Lord´s advice and trying a new beverage maybe isn´t such a bad idea after all.

In my current case, I am still in an old area (well, for me, anyway. The 7.5 months I will have by the end of this transfer is an eternity in the mission field), but I am surrounded by new and it´s really amazing how it´s helped me regain my focus. It´s just too easy to put yourself lazy being with the same person for a long time, and Rodriguez and I were together A LONG time. But now, I´ve got the experience with the area, with the people, and time on the mission in general, and Paus has all the luck. In all my time here, we´ve had several part-families we´ve taught, but either one or both of the parents is never home when we try to visit, especially the men, and in spite of our best efforts, they always seem to escape us. But as soon as Paus gets here (after I´ve already been here half a year), all of a sudden, ALL the husbands our home. And I mean ALL of them. And we´ve gotten to talk to them and help a couple of families get set up to set wedding dates. I´m excited, especially because one of the ladies especially has been waiting for months and months and MONTHS (I´m not even quite sure how long) to be baptized, but she just became a dry member (someone who comes to activities and church but who isn´t a member), because she dragged her feet with the whole marriage thing. We helped her get the documents she needs for marriage, but it still just wasn´t coming together for her. Now we have a date more or less set for the middle of February. It´s gonna be good. Now if we can do likewise with a couple other families we´re teaching... but I shouldn´t get ahead of myself. The D.R. wasn´t built in a day. Especially the building close to our house that´s been in construction since before I started the mission. One cement block at a time.

Another positive change I´ve seen thing transfer: my clothes! I finally caved and took a couple blouses and skirts to a male seamstress (weirdly, I know the word for that in Spanish and not in English), and he fixed them right up. A combination of me losing (a very little) weight on the mission and the ridiculous washing machines that stretch out your clothes like a four year old with Silly Putty is equal to one frumpy looking Fraulein of an Hermana (bonus points for using two languages there). And as I´ve mentioned before, people here don´t just buy things new if they can fix it, and then fix it again, and maybe fix it some more. So while yes, I still do Sharpie in the bleach stains on my dark blouses, and bleach the colorful stains out of my white clothing, at least the clothes fit, and I´m somewhat fabulous, if only in a second-hand store sort of way.

Oh, and I feel I must confess, in the mission, I had a couple dreams: one was to be the step-mom to one of the other Hermanas (be the companion of someone right after they´re done being trained), or kill someone (be their last companion). As of yet, neither of these things have happened, and I only have one transfer left. And I think we all know what they means- Yup, I have to pretend I really did fulfill my dreams! Or just look at my situation differently (oh the power of unintentional positive thinking). With Hna. Lund, I wasn´t her companion when she left the mission, but I lived in the same house with her til the bitter end and got to see her off. And I inherited a ridiculous amount of mission treasures from her. If that isn´t killing someone, I don´t know what is. And with Hna. Dawe, as she puts it, I´m her American madrastra (technically, Hna. Rodriguez is her companion). But I guess I´m the wicked step-mother. I teach her the things that maybe Rodriguez won´t think of. Or at the very least, I´m her English-speaking outlet. It´s very mutually beneficial. So even if I didn´t ever get to see my dreams come to pass in the way I had hoped, I am getting to do them vicariously. And that will just have to do.

The only other good changes in my immediate past have been finally, FINALLY having Hna. Paus tuvi up my hair. Yes, it took me this long. And I´ve seriously doubted it, but if you could see my face, well, you´d know I´m a believer. Not a trace- of doubt in my mind. Off came the tuvi, shake of the head, and I had the best hair day I´ve had in awhile. I don´t know how or why the tuvi works so well, but like many good things in my life, it just seems wiser not to question it.

And guess what´s back? Back again? English classes! Tell a friend. Yup, back to my Azuazian roots, teaching the Dominicans how to speak like a Gringo. But the experience here in the Capital teaching is, well, a whole other experience. In our Azua sessions, we were lucky when 4 or 5 people showed up, and that included when they´d bring their havoc-wreaking off-spring along. Here, we easily have classes of 15-20 people, anxious and ready to learn. Hey, I´m not complaining. And as of this week, our students can now introduce themselves and tell you the days of the week. True story. I just hope the enthusiasm keeps. That´s the thing with learning something new (o sea, changing your routine). It can be a lot of work, and it´s not always fun and games. But we´ll see. If they can at least ask someone where the nearest bathroom is and how the order a hamburger, we´ll call this a success story.

And this week´s story is now successfully coming to a close. Till next week´s tales of triumph and terror, just remember: don´t underestimate change. Especially anything greater than a nickel. It might come in handy when you´re in a pickle.

Unchangingly yours,

Hna. Sweeney "The Fearless" (Except on Sundays)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The American Dream, I Know What that Means!

Howdy Partners. This is your capitán speaking. Well, capitána. But the feminist in me refuses to acknowledge the genderizing of nouns and verbs. Which means I may be doomed to have terrible grammar, but at least I´ll be getting my point across, even if I´m the only one who knows it.

Anyway, as some of you may already know/taken for granted, this week was the great big day of thanks. And I feel quite ashamed of how I have been mistreating my American roots this week. I just realized that for 6 months, o sea, half a year, I have been living with pure Latins. What? How? So this week has been quite an adjustment for me, because I now have another American in the house, Hermana Dawe. Which means i´ve been speaking a whole pile of English. I can´t even stop it. It is English-rrhea, which is a lot better than the real thing. And because she only has a couple transfers in the field, she´s been able to catch me up on some of the stuff I´ve been missing over the last, oh you know, 16 MONTHS! Anyway, I´m used to being here in an ever-constant climate, void of many holidays that are sacred to me (Halloween, Ground Hog Day, etc.), but Hna. Dawe is not. She also experienced the exact same punch in the face of being born into La Yuca, being trained there, expecting to stay, but being forced to leave after only two transfers. I think I can relate... and it was exactly a year ago for me too, when that transfer from Hades happened. So big holiday plus hideous transfer usually equals a little bit of trunkee, o sea, a whole mess of messy emotions. So we decided to do our best with a makeshift Thanksgiving dinner. We succeeded? Depends on what you call success. Here on the mission, we just don´t eat as much as we do in normal life. So I´m appalled to so that after only one plate of chicken (like the little roasted kind you can buy at Costco), some stuffing, a bit of cranberry sauce, some mashed potatoes and a couple of rolls, I was done in. We all had to go pass out on the bed, clutching our stomachs afterwards. I think one of us kept going to the bathroom to throw up, but it´s all kind of a blur. Well, it didn´t take much to get us turkey drunk (sans turkey), and the hangover was quite unpleasant. I hope I can be in better form for the next Thanksgiving. Go big or go home. I think I´ll do both.

But I didn´t just have a food failure, but a history hiccup as well. My new companion, Hermana Paus, was asking why we even celebrate Thanksgiving. SIDENOTE: I now know why everyone loves having Paus as a companion. She is BOSS. We already get along like we´ve know each other for a couple transfers. She´s just so relaxed and tranquilo, and in a mission like the one I´m in, that´s a HUGE asset. I´m really gonna enjoy our time together. Anyway, I started telling her our grand history: "So, a religious sect in England, the Puritans, were being persecuted for their religious beliefs. So they decided to go somewhere where they could enjoy religious liberty. Anyway, they all built 3 ships, the Niña, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria..." wait, that´s not right. Hnas. Dawe, Rodriguez, Paus and I were like, "uhhhhhhhhhh.... no." Well, that´s what happens when you live in a foreign country all day. After day. Apparently, you forget your real heritage and adopt another.

And I know Thanksgiving is technically supposed to be a time of, well, thanks, but I´m having a little trouble on that front. Hna. Dawe wasn´t content to leave the Yuca without bringing along a friend: The light demon. When I came here to Quisqueya from Azua, I brought the water demon. But the light demon is worse, because if there isn´t light in our apartment (the light powers our water pump), then yup, you guessed it- there´s no water either. Hna. Dawe was used to not having much light, except early in the morning and late at night. But none of the rest of us were. And so we are cursing demons and gnashing our teeth. There are some thing I just will straight up not miss about living in a third world country. I´m sorry, a developing country. they have Doritos and Oreos here now. But I´ve come to accept that it´s part of the adventure, good or bad, happy or sad.

As for the whole dividing the area thing, it seems to be working out alright. Magically, there´s an area I haven´t already contacted yet. It was definitely a pain in the rear to have to divide up all the investigators, and sometimes running into the other Hermanas in the street because we had the same idea of a member we could visit, or a place we should go (Quisqueya is only so big, you know), but we´re making it work. And I´m enjoying living in a house of four once more. More excitement, less cleaning.

Oh, and I feel I wouldn´t be doing my blog history (which I don´t remember any better than American history) justice if I didn´t recount the following blurb from my Dominican life: Anyway, so sometimes being white and blond here is associated with being clueless (well, that´s something that seems to cross the cultural divide). Anyway, for some reason, no one here thinks I understand how to cross the street. Granted, trying to reach the other side of the road here in the D.R. is a lot more death-defying than doing it, oh, I don´t know, ANYWHERE ELSE, but, hey, I´ve got it. I´ve been doing it for almost a year and a half, and for almost 7 months in this area alone. But during my time with Rodriguez, she would always grab my arm and frantically say, "cuidado," to which I would give her my famous "I´m 25 years old and know how to cross the street by myself, thank you very much" look. But it wasn´t even just her. Many of the men who make their living giving motorcycle taxi rides will sometimes yell to me or grab my arm to "pull me out of danger." It can be pretty annoying. But I guess I should just be grateful they´re not willing to let me become a street pizza.

And finally, the cool-spiritual story of the week: Paus and I were making our way through the many winding and tiny streets (think of a rat in a maze), when we passed by a man I´ve seen before a few times, who sits on his work all day, on the ground, because he has a huge gash in his stomach and two legs in casts. But this time, we stopped to talk to him. And he said, "I used to go to your church. Yeah, yeah, with a guy named Fausto." I racked my brains for someone with that name in our ward, but came up empty. This man described the kind of truck this member has, and where he lives, but I could only think of one person, and his name isn´t Fausto. But the man in the casts turned out to be the ex-spouse of another lady that we visit and teach. It´s a small small world. But I had the feeling that we should stop by and visit a member named Hermano Ledesma. And while we were there, I who should walk in from another room but Hno. Lara, his neighbor. We asked them if they knew a Fausto, and Hno. Lara raised his hand. It was him, I just never knew his first name. We told him about his friend, and he asked to be shown where he was. So we took him there. It was a neat moment. God just puts us where we need to be when we need to be there. And most of the time, we just don´t even know it.

Well, folks, that´s about it. I hope there was a little something for everyone. I know I enjoyed myself. But until next time, keep it real, keep it fun, and keep it real fun. Or else.

Gratefully yours,

Hna. Sweeney "The Fearless" (except on Sundays)