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
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