As always, thanks for you letters I love reading them. I’m glad you’ve all had a great time in London! One of you asked about the best way to send me letters now that I’m in my first area, and I think DearElders are still the best (with the added email option). For packages, just send them the mission home address (and don’t forget the pictures of Jesus).
This week has been an interesting experience, and I have so much I´d like to include, but I know I won´t have room for everything, so I´ll just start at the beginning and you can look forward to more details in the subsequent weeks.
Before I left the CCM this week, we had our final day of Intercambios. I got to go to a different area of Santo Domingo with 2 new companions. They didn´t have any appointments that day, so it was all contacting. We spent the day in a narrow network of crumbling, colorful homes that overlooked the ocean. At the top of the hill, a great rusted out airplane had been laid to rest, its nose pointing out over the water and its base surrounded by a flock of chicken pecking fruitlessly at the swirling dust.
As we wandered from door'to'door that day, we were able to teach several full length lessons after being invited in on the spot. I especially enjoyed teaching one family that consisted of a single mother and her three daughters, aged 6, 7, and 8. When we asked if they wanted to learn a new song, they cheered, and when we asked who wanted to offer the prayer, they fought over whose turn it was and ended up saying it all together. It was the sweet spirit present in those precious families that is the lifeblood of missionary work and, at the time, fanned the flame of my growing eagerness to enter the field that following Tuesday morning,
We left the CCM at 0630 on Tuesday and drove to transfer chapel in Santo Domingo. After interviews with President Rodriguez, we met in the chapel for orientation and area assignments. Hermana Nodal and I were the first 2 missionaries announced, and we have BOTH been called to serve in Azua! Hna Nodal´s companion’s name is Hna Preisler and my new companion’s name is Hna Matteson.
After lunch at the chapel, some of the elders drove us 4 to the bus station where we waited for nearly 4 hours before boarding our bus for the 2 hour journey westward to Azua. I mostly slept along the way, but Hna Mattesen woke me up when we were about 15 minutes away to show me a glowing sunset above the sparking waters of the Caribbean Sea and a rolling green coastline.
We got off the bus at dusk on a small bustling street in the center of town, and loaded our cumbersome bags into a guagua (bus, van) for the short ride back to our new apartment.
Azua is a small, but lively city in a dry, sun baked region of the country. The homes are modest, topped with tin roofs, made of concrete and cinderblock, and painted in bright, chalky colors. The streets are dusty, uneven, and more often travelled by heavy laden motorcycles than cars. Stray dogs and cats make their way along the weather beaten pavements and chicken peck at loose pebbles. But under the bright, beating sun, this crumbling city is so full of life. The streets are full of music, yelling, laughter, and the patter of tiny feet. Amidst the buzz of motors, people will sit in the shade of a tree and talk for hours. Everybody knows everybody and life seems to move at a slower pace. In fact, I doubt if life has changed much here in the past few decades.
Our apartment is above a colmado, which is a tiny 1 room store that is always blasting music to let people know that they’re open. (There are colmados on many corners here, which is helpful because the nearest grocery store is a 30 minute walk away.) Our apartment is a lot nicer than most of the homes here. We have 5 rooms, a tile floor, a gas stove, and a fridge. Our electricity and water are very unreliable, though (especially the water, which we really only have about half the time). My first shower here was a bucket shower, and as of now, we haven’t had water in 3 days. It’s admittedly inconvenient, but we make do, and I know that I’ve been called here because I can weather the challenges that Azua will inevitably send my way. Hna Matteson always says that is takes special kind of missionary to handle Azua.
My very first lesson on the afternoon of my first full day here was with a man named Tomas, who was getting ready to be baptized on the following Saturday. Tomas lives a little ways outside of town, and to get there, we had to cross a dry riverbed and follow a narrow dirt path through a field of tall grass, which ended at a solitary line of houses.
Hna Matteson walked up to one of them and peered through the open door, where we found Tomas and 2 recent converts names Carlos and Adabertino. They invited us in and we sat down on a worn couch. The 3 of them began talking to Hna Mattesona and asking about me until they realized that I could more or less understand what was being said, and then they began talking to both of us.
As we began going through the program for Tomas’s baptism, Adabertino leaned over to open a bag at his feet and began pulling out some large green coconuts. He then picked up a long machete from a shelf above Carlos´ head and walked outside. He returned a minute later and offered me the split coconut, and as I began sipping the milk from the small hole in the top, I looked out the open door and had a surreal moment as I watched the palm trees sway serenely against the bright blue sky.
Before we left, Adabertino shared an amazing story with me. He told me of a dream that he had one night. In his dream, he was wandering the darkened streets of Azua when he heard a woman begin calling his name. He followed her voice for some time, and was just about to give up the search when she and another woman appeared in front of him and offered him a book. The very next day, 2 sister missionaries knocked on his door, and because of the dream, he let them in.
....Well, I don’t have much time left, so just know that I am safe and thinking about you all daily. Missionary work is difficult, and I’m covered in dirt and sweat pretty much all the time, but I know that I am where the Lord needs me, so I’m up the challenge and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
All my love,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen