Monday, September 30, 2013

New beginnings

Dear family,
A lot has happened this week - and all of it quite unexpectedly. It began on Tuesday morning when we found out from our district leaders that the ayudantes (APs) were no longer the ayudantes.. From now on, they were just regular missionaries like the rest of us. We were a bit surprised by the sudden change because it is in the middle of a transfer and we'll probably never know extactly why President decided to do that (he tends to be a bit liberal with new rules, organizational changes). This news, while at first seemingly unrelated to us for the most part, was the first domino in a chain of events that completely reorganized our district.
First of all, the ayudantes were our only reliable line to and from the capitol (each week). With them gone, it means we can't request any cheap bulk foods (i.e. pancake mix or cereal), and most devastatlingly, it means that we are now only able to send and receive mail once per transfer (6 weeks) when the Clawsons (senior missionary couple) come to Azua for housechecks. (We're pretty sure that Elder Groberg from The Other Side of Heaven got his mail more frequently than that, even though it was the 1950s and he had to wait for a fishing boat to wash up on the secluded shores of his tiny Tongan island.)
Fortunately, the Clawsons would be at the DLs house the next morning, so we had one last opportunity to drop off any letters we'd written (although I didn't have time to write everyone I wanted) and to receive any mail that had come for us. For me, this included from Grandpa & Grandpa and Jessica! THANK YOU BOTH SOO MUCH! It made me feel so loved! And Jessica, you have no idea how much I am enjoying those treats - I've seriously been gong through peanut butter withdrawals :)
The next day, the former APs showed up to our weekly district meeting with some surpising news from President Rodriguez and we found out that this change would have farther-reaching effects than we had supposed.  Apparantly, not only are they no longer APs, but they're also moving areas to work over in Rama 3 (Branch 3), leaving us 4 hermanas as the only ones working in Rama 1.
At this point in their announcement, they pulled out several photocopied maps of Azua... becuase, guess what? With them gone, the 4 of us have inherited all of their area to work in addition to our own (and their area alone is about the size of both our areas combined). The elders spent the next few minutes helping us mark out all the area that we were now responsible for on the map. Like my current area, a large portion of the Elders' area was blank on the map. We then tried to ask them a few questions about their area, but for many of them, they honestly didn't know the answers. This is becuase, as APs, they spent 5-6 days out of the week in the capitol, so they never really worked In their area (in fact, they only have 1 investigator there). And before that, no one had worked in that area for nearly 2 years. So, whoever ended up working there would essentially be opening a new area.  Before leaving, the elders told us that it would be up to us to decide howto split up the land and who would work where. They also said that weshould start working our new areas as soon as possible.
That afternoon we pored over the maps and decided that the most logical to split the area would be be the pista, a highway that bisects the area and creates and creates 2 more or less equal parts (when consdering both geographical area and population). Above the pista was the elders area and below the pista was both of our old areas combined. The only question now was who would open the new area and who who take on both of the old ones. We decided to discuss it as companionships throughout the day and then come together at night to share our ideas and pray about it.  By the end of the day when we returned home, we all seemed to be feeling that Hermana Matteson and I should open the new area. So we all prayed about it, and then officially decided that was what we would do.
So that was it. Over the next few days we finished up the appointments that we already had scheduled and told our investigators about the upcoming change. It´s going to be hard to leave some of them. Let´s just say that Altagracia and her kids weren´t too happy about it and clung desperately to our legs to prevent us from leaving their house.. And of course, it´s going to be hard not being able to spend time with Carlos, Adabertino, and Tomas in Villa Palmarejo. When we told them the news, they started singing us a hilarious song, with the lyrics "no te vayas, te necesito, no me dejas aqui." At least we´ll get to see them and any of our other old investigators when (if) they come to church, becuase we are still in the same ward, even if our new area is a half hour walk in the opposite direction.
On Sunday, we took Hna Nodal and Hna Preisler around our old area so they could meet our investigators and set up some appointements with them. And tonight, we're having a meeting at the church with some of the members to see if we can pick up some referencias. Apparantly, there are also quite a few inactive members in our new area, so we'd like to try to find some of them, too. I hope it all goes well, becuase we officially start working our new area tomorrow.
It's exciting, but also a bit daunting, to think of all the work that needs to be done in that area and all the people who are waiting for us - but  I know that if we put our trust in the Lord, we will find success there.
Best wishes,
Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. I had to send a letter I wrote for Shana to our home address becuase I didn't have time to get her mission address from her mother.. When it arrives, would you mind putting the whole letter inside another envelope.
P.P.S. FELIZ CUMPLEANOS, DAD!!!!! Te amo con todo mi corazon, y espero que tu cumpleanos es un dia maravilloso. Abrazos y besas, Kaitlin :)
Kaitliin foot before

Adabertino, Tomas and Carlos


Azua Zone meeting

Birthday party for Elder Oganda

Carlos' puppies

Drinking coconuts

Kaitlin and Hna Matteson

Internet cafe


Juan's house

Investigators house

Kaitlin's apartment

Kaitlin's apartment

Kaitlin's apartment

Kaitlin's foot almost healed


On the way to Villa Palmarejo

Truck driver who has it right

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Matrimonios & Coconut

Dear family,

First and foremost, Mom, I want to thank you for the package! It arrived less than 2 weeks after I wrote to you, just in time for my 3 month cumplimes! (You must have sent it right away, and I'm pretty sure DHL is the best because I know several people that regularly packages several months after they were sent.) You truly are amazing, I am so blessed to have a mother like you.  All 4 of us have enjoyed watching the DVDs and the Crocs got here just in time. A few days ago, we were over in Villa Palmarjeo (the farthest neighborhood in our area where Carlos, Ababertino, and Tomas live) and a big storm hit, with thunder and pounding rain so loud we could barely talk and lightning so bright that it lit up the darkened house. When it finally let up enough for us to leave, we discovered that all the streets heading back into town had flooded. We ended up having to walk quite a ways to find a passable route, and needless to say, we got more than a little wet.

Your package, among others tings (including, but not limited to, no trips to the hospital and/or injuries) has made this week a definite improvement from the last few. Last week was good, but most of it was still a bit slow because we didn't have many appointments set up beforehand. This week we were able to get back into the swing of things and fall back into our regular routine.

We have visited Altagracia several times, and sadly, she told us that her 'esposo' doesn't want to get married. After that, he started giving us the cold shoulder and Altagracia stopped coming to church, although she still loves to listen to us and still isn't smoking. We were quite discouraged with this turn of events.

One night, we had set up a movie night at a member's house that was meant for Adriana and Sugey, but they wouldn't come with us, so I suggested that we pass by Altagracia's house on the off chance that she would want to come right then.

When we walked up, 5 of her children were running around as usual, Altagracia was sweeping up the trash in the street, and her esposo, Wander, was leaning against the side of the house looking wholly disinterested. When we asked her if they wanted to come with us to watch a movie and eat popcorn, Altagracia said that they were all covered in dirt and none of her children were dressed. It was all true, but we told her that it wasn't important. She still seemed hesitant, so we turned to Wander and invited him... and by some miracle, he agreed.

We watched The Testaments, which is the story of a fictional family in Zarahemla during the time of Christ's coming. Wander was quiet at first, but with time, he talked a bit and even laughed during the movie. At the end of the night, we asked him if he had enjoyed the movie and he said that he did, because he'd seen it several times before. It was an obvious lie, but we smiled and nodded anyway. And then, he took us by surprise by saying that he would come to church on Sunday. I mean, he didn't actually end up coming, but at least now he smiles and waves at us every time he sees us. It's a start.

As for other investigators that need to get married, things are looking a bit more optimistic for 2 couples. First, there's Samuel and Ana, who are a referencia from Branch President Cano and whose oldest son Michael (18) just got baptized. They've been taught by missionaries before, including their 12 year old son Lester, and are pretty much ready to be baptized already. Then there's Johnny, who is Carlos' uncle. He started sitting in on the big group lessons that we have in the streets in Villa Palmarejo. In our first real lesson alone with him, he agreed to be baptized, and when we found out that he wasn't married, we asked him to get married in the second lesson and he said yes! So, now we have 2 weddings to orchestrate - and those 3 investigators pretty much came out of nowhere. I swear, by the end of my mission, I will have achieved the same number of marriages as baptisms.

I also thought I'd update you on Juan, our young investigator in the wheelchair, because I haven't mentioned him since the initial letter.
He is doing amazingly well. For a long time, we weren't sure if he could ever progress because he didn't remember much about what we taught him, and would just repeat the words "porque Crist viene" back to us when we asked him questions. But he kept saying how much he loved coming to church and how much he wants to be baptized, so we started praying for him. We prayed that he might be able to understand and remember and that we would know how best to teach him. We started using a lot of hand signs. pictures, and key words. For a while, we weren't sure if it was helping, then one day he bagan changing some of his answer to match the questions and even using some of the hand signs. Now gradually, he actually seems to be learning the things we teach. He can now define what a prophet is, say what the Book of Mormon is, identify a picture of Joseph Smith, and describe where the church is located. Progress is still slow, step by step, and we're still not sure how a baptism would work, but he has the faith to continue learning and we have the faith that one day everything will work out.

Interesting things that happened this week:

- When we were over at Samuel and Ana's house, Ana took us around back to show us all their fruit trees.  We tried cirhuelas, something that looked like a green pomegranite, and guayabas, which are green, golf-ball-sized fruits with pink centers. She was insistent that we pick some guayabas and take them home to make juice with her favorite recipe. We ended up with a cinnamon-guayaba soup, whose strong flavor leeched its way into everything in the fridge. We drank it anyway.

- We had a coconut drinking contest with the other hermanas and our friends at Villa Palmarejo. I ended up with coconut juice all over the front of my shirt, but I came in second.

All my love,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Monday, September 16, 2013

You know you're in Azua when....

Dear wonderful family,

Thank you so much for your loving and supporting letters this week! I look forward to reading them all week! I'm glad that you are all doing well, and as always, thank you for your prayers for me - I know that help me every day!

Mom: Thanks for sending me a copy of your talk. It was fun to see what excerpts from my letters you chose to share :) Also, we tried that pasta recipe that you sent us and we absolutely love it - we can even buy all the ingredients for it from the colmado downstairs for only 170 pesos! And of course, a million thank yous for the package that you got together so quickly! You're the best! And I do think that DHL gets it here quicker. Also, I heard that smaller packages (like the sizes you've been sending) have a better chance of making it here quicker as well. 

Jessica: It sounds like you are enjoying Louisville, and I'm so glad for that! I'd love to read your speech about the London street markets - good times :) And those huge wasps sound pretty cool. And I already sent you a photo of the outside of our apartment, but I'll try to remember to send some photos of the inside (its not really that interesting though). Love you & be safe <3

Dad: Thank you for your letters and your support! I'm glad you have been able to have a few weeks at home. I like hearing about what you're thinking of doing with the lot that you bought. When you get the plans drawn out, you should send them to me. I had a dream a few nights ago that you bought that lot and built a house on it. In my dream you proudly showed me through every room and talked about how Grandpa helped with some of the details. I know that it will look beautiful :)

And to everyone who has been praying for me this week, I can fervently say that your prayers can and do make a difference. My foot is healing amazingly fast, I never got an infection, I was able to wear a shoe again on Tuesday, and returned to work that same day. Since then, I haven't had any problems with working as normal this week, and it looks as if I might not even have much of a scar. 

So... since my last two letter were probably a bit hard for you to read, I thought I'd send you something fun to read this week. It is a funny list that the other three hermanas and I have been working on, titled:


1. When your shower is a pipe sticking out of the wall, or more often than not, a bucket (cold water other way).

2. When one of your reserve water barrels has worms, but you still have to use the water to flush the toilet.

3. When you have to move your bed when it's raining so the leak in the roof doesn't drip on it.

4. When you use your last 7 pesos to buy chocolate cookies for breakfast.

5. When you see a naked baby rolling around in the dirt.

6. When you only own 4 plates (and one isn't even technically a plate).

7. When you apartment is permanently open to the outside, so that you can't prevent the cat from coming in each night to eat your trash (because you can't afford a trash can). 

8. When eating any type of vegetable automatically constitutes a gourmet meal. 

9. When part of cooking includes picking the bugs out of the rice.

10. When you're unable to do laundry if (1) you don't have water, (2) you don't have power, (3) someone is showering, (4) there's a storm, or (5) there are already clothes on the line.

11. When you buy your produce out of the back of a truck.

12. When you've seen most of your investigators without a shirt on (women included).

13. When you forget what it's like to not be sweaty.

14. When you don't hear music playing, then you assume something must be wrong. 

15. When you see a family of six all squished onto one motorcycle.

16. When the butcher shack across the street scares you blowing its meat horn every morning. 

17. When watching the construction of a building is considered quality entertainment.

18. When sitting under a mango tree is considered "busy."

19. When produce and livestock are shipped together in the same truck.

20. When stray dogs almost outnumber the people. 

21. When any house that has 4 walls and doesn't have a grass/tin roof is considered fancy.

22. When you have to smell the yoghurt to make sure it didn't go bad during the daily power outage.

23. When you have to resort to using baby wipes to clean your body because the water has been out for so long. 

24. When you walk down the street and are shocked if you don't hear: "Americana!", "Rubia!", or "Que linda!"

25. When all your lessons fall through and your first 5 contacts become new investigators. 

26. When your mosquito net is held up with string, masking tape, and super glue. 

27. When its 95 degrees in your house and it feels good. 

28. When getting caught is a rainstorm is better than taking a shower. 

29. When 4 hermanas have to share 2 desks. 

30. When seeing trucks full of hundreds of bananas is regular sight. 

31. When you're trying to say your nightly prayers and you keep slipping around in the floor because your knees are so sweaty.

32. When you get super excited when you find out one of your investigators can read. 

33. When getting peanut butter and cereal from the capitol is like Christmas.

34. When you can't get internet at the internet cafe because the power keeps going out. 

35. When wearing sunscreen is pointless because you'll just sweat it off in the first 10 minutes. 

36. When people and/or vehicles use the street and the sidewalk interchangeably. 

37. When you see an old Tootsie Roll wrapper on the ground and start freaking out: "What? Where did that come from?"

38. When an investigator is eating her dinner during your lesson and you're pretty sure it includes a beak and a brain. 

39. When everyone you talk to promises to be at church, but no one actually shows up.

40. When you see a guy in a button-up short and think, "Wow! He must be loaded!"

41. When you can make a decent meal of rice and beans for 4 people using under 50 pesos (about $1). 

42. When your baptismal font doesn't drain, so you have to fish out dead cockroaches and tarantulas with a trashcan.

43. When vendors roam the streets yelling what they're selling at the top of their lungs: "Aguacate!", "Panadero!", and "Nuevo SkimIce!"

44. When you have an 'everything rag.' Literally.

45. When you have to walk to another area to go to the "grocery store."

46. When you're slightly grateful that the water is out so you don't have to empty the leak buckets in the bathroom. 

47. When the barbershop is simply a sign on a house that say 'We cut hair,' and the car wash is just a sign and a hose. 

48. When you don't know anyone's real names, and sometimes, they don't either. 

49. When you have to pour vegetable oil into your locks once a month so you don't get lcoked out.

50. When people sweep their dirt floors with a homemade broom.

51. When most of your investigators are missing about half their teeth. 

52. When your area isn't even on the map of Azua and you have to resort to drawing your own map. 

53. When one of the members don't know what a reindeer is, and tells you that Santa's sleigh is pulled by donkeys. 

54. When there are chickens in the house.

55. When there is a goat in the house.

56. When excuses for not coming to church include, "My pants got wet," "My chicken ran away," and "I was there, didn't you see me?"

57. When the prelude music is sacrament meeting is Adele. 

58. When you get to take your Branch President through the temple to get his endowments.

59. When people think you and your companion are twins, even though you look nothing alike. 

60. When the cheese you buy at the colmado doesn't actually melt. 

61. When your investigators can name every player of the Chicago Cubs, but don't know who Beethoven is. 

62. When you're walking down the sidewalk and accidently interrupt someone's bucket shower. 

63. When it's not uncommon to find out that your investigators have anywhere from 18 to 30 siblings. 

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ojuelas & 3500 Pesos

Dear family, 

To say the least, this week has been challenging, but I have determined to keep a positive attitude and trust in the Lord because I know that He never gives us obstacles that we are unable to surmount. 

On Monday and Tuesday we hit a few hiccups with several of our investigators. First of all, we found out that Altagracia isn't legally married to her husband, which is a frustratingly common occurrence here in the DR. Sufficient money and the required legal documentation (i.e. birth certificates) are very hard to come by, consequently, legal marriages are few and far between. However - married or not - people still refer to one another as esposo/esposa (husband/wife), which makes things pretty confusing. Unfortunately, this puts Altagracia's baptism on hold until further notice because she doesn't have any papers, and even if she did, she would still need to find 3500 pesos. It took Tomas several months to get married so that he could be baptized, and I'm pretty sure that he had most of his papers and some money together already. 

We're having this same problem with two (possibly three) other investigators. It's frustrating that many people here don't see the need for marriage because "papers" and legal documentation don't really mean much to them and their way of life. However, it is even more frustrating when we have an investigator like Altagracia who would love to be baptized, but doesn't have the means to first get married to the man she loves. 

On top of that, Julio and Cesarina, two of our star investigators, are being evasive. They actually read the things we gave them, remembered our citas (appointments), and asked pertinent, thought-out questions, but lately, we haven't been able to find either of them. Julio is even reading the Book of Mormon, although I'm unsure whether he's reading it as a sacred text or a secular history because he seems to have a lot of questions about the politics and dynamics governing the relationship between the Nephites and the Lamanites. 

Our one ray of light within our investigators this week is the family of Samuel and Evelin (who are legally married, by the way) and their two darling children. We gave them a Book of Mormon and Samuel told us that we could come back in a week so that he would have enough time to read all of 1 Nefi. They are also praying to know if the tings that we have taught them are true, and we are eagerly awaiting the day that they receive their answer. I have pictured them many times dressed in white and preparing to enter the waters of baptism together. 

Even though it is disappointing when things aren't going smoothly with investigators that clearly have so much potential, I try not to get discouraged. I know that I am doing my best and working as hard as I can, so the Lord with take care of the rest.

On Tuesday evening, we decided to drop by Adriana and Sugey's house because they still hadn't come to church. We ended up giving them a boche about obedience to God's commandments and observing the Sabbath Day. Afterwards, to lighten the mood a bit and to remind them that we were only there because we care about them, Hna Matteson started a conversation about cooking because she knew how much they both enjoy it. Mother and daughter ended up having a lively, good-natured debate about the best way to make ojuelas, which are a little like funnel cakes. We left their house with the recipe written in our agendas and a promise that we would try that night and tell them how it turned out.

When we arrived home a while later, we stopped by the colmado before heading upstairs to buy some oil and something called roya, which we're pretty sure is baking powder. We made the dough before Planning so that it could have time to rise, and once it had risen, we set a pan of oil on the stove to heat up and began rolling the dough into balls. We weren't sure how long it would take the oil to heat up, but when we saw a few wisps of smoke, we threw the first bit of dough in, and sure enough, it bubbled to life.

And that's where my week took a turn for the worse. When I dropped the second bit of dough into the pan, a significant portion of oil bubbled up over the rim and splashed down onto my bare foot. At once, the pain was searing and I hobbled desperately over to the bathroom to run my foot under some water, but the shower stream - as feeble as it was - was unbearable. So, I grabbed the empty shower bucket and let it fill up a bit before tenderly slipping my foot into the tepid water. By that time, I was beginning to realize that this was more serious that I had initially thought. The pain was terrible and everywhere the oil had touched, including three of my toes and a portion of the top of my foot, had turned bright white. 

Hermana Nodal found me doubled over in the bathroom with tears streaming down my face. Ever the aspiring nurse, she immediately took charge of the situation, instructing Hna Matteson to call the APs and then staying by my side until they arrived, speaking comforting words and even coaxing out a few feeble laughs. 

When the APs got there about 20 minutes later, they took one look at my now bright red and white foot and determined, much to my dismay, that I needed to go to the hospital. So, they called someone with a car, and while we waited they gave me a blessing (which, of course, included some more oil). When the car pulled up a few minutes later, I insisted that I could walk down by myself. And I did, despite the white hot pain of removing my foot from the bucket of water.

When we arrived at the hospital, I also walked myself into the ER: that same barren room where I spent the night not a month earlier and where I had sworn I would never return. Yet, here I was again. And, of course, one of the nurses recognized me. (I think I hold the mission record for the most of number of hospital visits in one transfer.) I was shown to a bed, and as I sat waiting, I inspected my foot under the pale fluorescent light and noticed with trepidation that several large blisters had begun to form. 

A nurse approached me a minute later to give me a shot for the pain (and I'm not even going to mention that, despite my protests, it was in my butt). A moment later, she returned wearing latex gloves - and I knew what that meant. Over the next few minutes, I had to grab onto the edge of the bed until my knuckles were white, using all my willpower to sit still while she prodded, popped, and peeled off my skin.

I left the hospital a few minutes later with my foot wrapped in gauze and a tube of burn ointment in my hand. The pain that had been like a red-hot branding iron was just beginning to subside, although I could still feel waves of heat clawing their way of my leg with each heartbeat. By the end of the night, however, the pain had ebbed to a manageable level and I was feeling much better.

Needless to say, I haven't been out proselyting this past week because I am unable to wear a shoe. But don't worry, I've been getting plenty of rest and I've been talking with and sending photos to the mission doctor in Santo Domingo. He has given me explicit instructions, has put me on an antibiotic, and says that my foot looks like it is healing nicely. And after the initial pain of that night, it really hasn't been that bad. Hermana Matteson and I have been spending our days reading, writing, drawing, talking, and watching the few church movies that we have. I've been learning a lot of things that have helped to fortify my testimony of the work I have been called to do, as well as things that I can apply in our lessons once I am able to get back out and teach (which should hopefully be within the next few days). 

And, of course, last night was the end of the transfer (every six weeks). So, as Azua tradition dictates, we had a campfire on the roof to wait for the phone call from the DL that would let us know who would be leaving and who would be staying. As we roasted hot dogs and marshmallows under a blanket of stars, we talked about all the progress we had made together and all the possibilities of what might happen in the upcoming transfer.

By this point, I was certain that I in fact wouldn't be training anyone this transfer because I had missed my last week and it would be unfair to put a new missionary with a trainer who couldn't really leave the apartment. My bet was that everything would stay the same - and I was right. When the call came and we heard the news, we all cheered... because, despite a few bumps along the way, this truly has been a good transfer, I have learned so much more than I can convey to you through my letters and I have grown to love Azua and its people, including all the quirks, inconveniences, oddities, and even the frustrations. 

The mission is the time to test the scope and depth of my abilities, to struggle through the hard times, to rejoice in the good times, to put my trust completely in the Lord, and to grow stronger every day. I testify that the Heavenly Father knows each and every one of us better than we know ourselves. He knows what we are capable of handling, and with His help, there is no mountain too high to climb, no storm too powerful to endure, nor journey too far to complete. 

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. People's #1 advice when they hear about my burned foot?... Rub some oil in it. 
Ha! Uh, no thank you... although I do appreciate the irony.
A sketch Kaitlin drew of one of her investigators.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Just your average day in Azua

Dear wonderful family,

As always, I loved your letters - they always bring my a few good laughs.

Jessica! I'm glad you're doing well, enjoying Louisville, and have a good YSA group. Keep me updated. You're in my prayers every day.

Mom and Dad: I'm glad everything is well there with you. Just one question: I'm still unsure as to why you would be looking at lots to build a house................?

Now, I thought I'd start my letter this week by answering a few of the questions you've asked. First, as I've mentioned, the water and power are a bit unreliable and you asked what we do when we don't have water. Well, firstly, we don't drink the water from the taps anyway (we buy jugs from the colmado downstairs). The water that we use for others things is kept in 2 large barrels, which we use for things like showering, washing dishes, cleaning, and laundry. We fill the barrels up with smaller buckets while we have running water, and if the water is out long enough that we use up all the water in the barrels, then we have to drive one of the barrels to the church and try to fill it up there (which luckily doesn't happen very often). 

As for our food, we're responsible for all our own meals, and we do what we can with the ingredients that are available to us. Mom, thanks for sending the recipes, I really appreciate it. Unfortunately, we can't buy the chicken (we have to be really careful about the meat we purchase). The only meat we can get is ham and salami. Also, the only vegetables we can find are corn and green chili peppers. Oh yeah, and there's no canned soup.

You asked about my shoes. They're holding up well for now and don't give me any blisters. The mink oil works well, too. But, I am becoming increasingly sure that I will need 1-2 more pairs sent to me at some point. A lot of the hermanas have the mary jane type of Crocs and love them for the dust/mud. I'll let you know if I feel like I need some more shoes.

Finally, you asked to hear more about my companion, Hna Matteson, which I should have done a long time ago, but with everything else I’ve wanted tot talk about, it just kept slipping my mind. So here's the short version. She's from Chicago and before her mission, she attended BYU to study Speech/Language Pathology. Our personalities are different, but she's easy to get along with. She also loves all the random facts/information that I know because she says that she misses school and loves to learn new things - something we have in common. She absolutely loves the mission and the people here, and she's a hard worker, so we get a lot accomplished together. 

She's been out for 6 months are Azua is her first area. She says that she can't imagine herself anywhere else, but we all know that there's a good chance that she'll be leaving this transfer because she's been here for 4 already (people usually stay in their first area 3-4 transfers). What will that mean for me? I'm not sure, but I know that I'll be staying in Azua. However, we have some theories about what will happen next transfer in Azua - especially after the Hermanas Conference.

The conference took place last Thursday in Santo Domingo, so we had to get up at 5am and walk to the center of town to catch a guagua (bus) to the capitol, after which, we had to find our way to the transfer chapel. Upon our arrival, we were greeted by the sight of every other sister missionary serving in the West mission, numbering just a little over 40. Some had to travel over 4 hours by guagua to get there, but we were the only ones that had to make the journey from outside the capitol that same morning. 

It was the first conference of its kind in the mission (I'm not sure if they have them in other missions or not). We talked about leading by example and being a light for others, overcoming trials through the Atonement, and the divine importance of women and their growing role in missionary work throughout the world. 

I had even been asked to give a brief talk on the topic of my choice. I chose to speak on the lesson that I had learned and the principles of which I had gained a testimony during my first transfer in the mission. I was stressed about it for a few days, but when I got up to the pulpit, the words just seemed to flow, which helped to build my confidence. Afterwards, I had quite a few hermanas ask where I had learned my Spanish because they couldn't believe it was only my first transfer. I told them that I had taken classes in high school and done some independent study after my mission call. They still seemed generally skeptical, however, which I've taken as a sign that I'm off to a good start and I have a bright future ahead of me on the mission if I continue diligently on this path.

After the conference, Hna Matteson and I were talking on the guagua about the fact that I though that President might have had an ulterior motive for asking me to speak. (Let me preface my theory by saying that there are 10 new hermanas coming in next transfer, which is quite a large group.) There were 2 other hermanas that spoke with me and I immediately noticed that they were both on the cusp of training. Hna Beesley has been out for over 5 months, which is plenty of time to start training, but she still struggles quite a bit with Spanish. The other hermana was from CA and knew Spanish before her mission, but she's only been out 2 transfers and is very shy. And then there's me: it's only my first transfer, but I do know a fair bit of Spanish, and my companion is overdue for a transfer. 

I don't know how I would feel about training after only 6 weeks - it is a rather daunting prospect - but I know that whom the Lord calls, He qualifies. So, for the last few days, I've been operating under the assumption that there is a significant likelihood that Hna Matteson will be leaving. This basically consists of trying to take the lead in planning and teaching (really putting myself out there), and trying to learn the boundaries and layout of our area (which is a bit easier said than done, considering the majority of our area is blank on the map of Azua), and of course, all the other odds and ends of our daily routine. However, it is entirely possible that I could be wrong. I guess we'll both find out next week. 

But to focus back on this week, we've made a lot of progress with our investigators. We're starting to reach the point where we have to drop the investigators that aren't progressing, continue on with the others, and do a bit of contacting to pick up some new ones. 

The biggest news this week was that we got 3 new fechas (baptismal dates)! The first is Tomas' wife, Juanna. She can't read, and is very reserved, so we're moving slowly, but she has a sincere desire to progress and we have faith in her. Next, are the aunt and cousin of a member, named Adriana and Sugey. They had been taught by missionaries before us and Sugey even had baptismal fechas at one point. So, our job was really about rekindling their testimonies. Our biggest hurdle with them will be church attendance. 

And of course, there's Altagracia, who's had her fecha for nearly 2 weeks. When we taught the Word of Wisdom this week, we found out that she smokes as many as 10 cigarettes a day, so we began working with her to begin setting goals for quitting. And that is how we found out how truly committed she is to changing her life. Within only 1 week, she has surpassed the goal we had set for her and is down to smoking only 3-4 a day! We're so impressed with her and look forward to helping her progress in the coming weeks. 

Interesting things that happened this week:

- In a lesson with Adriana and Sugey, their cat started chasing several of their chickens, who ran in frantic circles around us until one desperately sought refuge on the back of my chair and flapped its wings in my face.

- During a lesson with Altagracia, her mother dragged a large bucket outside where we were teaching and filled it with water. I wasn't sure what she was doing until she began taking off her clothes and getting into the bucket. I've got to say, I'm pretty proud of myself that I could still teach the Restoration while having to watch a 75 year old woman taking a bath.

- In another lesson with Altagracia, her youngest child, 2 year old Wander (who I've only seen wearing clothes at church) walked over to us while we were trying to explain the repentance process... and pooped on the floor. Altagracia just gets up, throws some ashes on it, and sweeps it out the door. She then sits back down and simply says, "continue." Just your average day in Azua.

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Additional letter:

Dear family, 

So... I mentioned in my first email from the field that my very first lesson was to plan the baptism of Tomas, and you might have wondered why I have never written about his baptism. The reason for this is that Hermana Matteson and I never actually got to see it because we were in the hospital. We're completely fine - I just didn't want you to worry, so that's why I'm sending this a few weeks later. 

We're pretty sure that the culprit behind our sickness was something that we ate earlier in the day. I started throwing up in the late afternoon, but decided that I still felt well enough to head over to the church to prepare for the baptism. Unfortunately, it just got worse from there, and within an hour and a half, Hermana Matteson and I were both sprawled out on the disgusting floor of the church bathroom. And by the time that the APs were called to take us to hospital, I had probably thrown up over 20 times.

The hospital ER was one dimly-lit room with about 15 beds and only 2 nurses. We were laid down on adjacent beds that didn't have any pillows or sheets and given IVs that only dripped when we laid a certain way. 

That time in the hospital has been the most saddening and eye-opening experience on my mission because of the poor condition of the facility and how bare their resources were. No one in there with us really looked like they were getting the care they needed. There was a sad-looking little girl with sunken eyes in the bed next to us, and I don't think I ever saw either of the nurses approach her. There was a grown man across from us desperately calling for his mother and actually begging for death. The sounds of his moaning were heart-breaking and bone-chilling, especially because I didn't know if there was anything that was being or could be done for him.

I continued to throw up every few minutes, and eventually, one of the nurses came over with a syringe and shot a bright yellow liquid into my IV that burned all the way up my arm as it pumped through my veins. It made me drowsy, so I rolled over, so I rolled over and tried to sleep. As I was drifting off, I noticed with a mixture of sadness and empty disgust that there was a smear of dried blood on the above me. 

We were sent home late that night with instructions to rest and return if it got worse. I continued to throw up for the rest of that night, but by the time 24 hours had passed, we were both feeling worlds better, and when Monday came around, life continued as usual. We'll probably never know what made us so sick, but since then we've been taking extra care with buying and preparing food, so that we never have to go back to that barren, disheartening clinic. 

I can fervently say now that I will never take the American healthcare system for granted. In fact, there are a lot of things I won't take for granted when I return home. Missions seem to be quite good for that. I've learned that I can live without a lot of things for a year and a half, but it is discouraging to think that many people here will struggle their whole lives with obtaining basic necessities like medical care, or not knowing if they'll have enough money for their next meal or if their little house will be able to weather the next big storm. 

I have been so blessed in my life, especially now while I am serving a mission. Even when we don't have power or water, I know that we have so much more than many of the people we teach every day. And I can feel the Spirit so strongly with us at this time when our lives have been stripped to the bare essentials and filled with the Lord's work. I have learned that we need to focus on all the things that we have been blessed with rather than worrying about the things that we don't have. Being able to recognize the hand of the Lord in our lives and the lives of those we have grown to love, is a much greater blessing than anything we may be lacking. So don't worry about me - I am healthy, I am happy, I am where I need to be, and I am being blessed every day.

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Sister's Conference

Parts of her area

An investigator

The Finka

View from apartment window


Her apartment 
The butcher across the street

Dinner at the finka