Monday, October 28, 2013

Piojos & La Madre de la Casa

Dear family, 

The big news this week is what ended up happening with transfers. Well, first, Hna Matteson got sent to Ocoa, which is pretty much the paradise of the mission (i.e. mountains, rainforests, waterfalls) and it actually gets pretty cold there. And of course, I received my new companion! Her name is Hermana Sanchez. She is 22 years old and has 7 months in the mission. She is the only membe

r of the church in her family, and before her mission, she was studying Industrial/Organizational Psychology at a university in Santo Domingo. So, as you might have guessed, she was was born and raised her in the DR.This means that I've officially gotten my first Latin companion and essentially given up English for the majority of the day (except when I'm talking to Hna Nodal, Hna Preisler, or writing to you all). 

Speaking Spanish this much is really good practice for me and I'm sure that my Spanish is going to improve more rapidly this transfer - becuase Hna Sanchez always corrects my Spanish (in a helpful way), and whenever I have a question, she's always right there to answer it. She's also really great about answering questions I have about the culture and customs. 

For the most part, there's not really an insurmountable language barrier. Our concversations go pretty smoothly. Of course, my Spanish has a long way to go, but whenever I'm unsure of a particular word, I just talk my around it, describe it until she can guess it, or I sometimes just say it in English and it's close enough that she knows what I mean. In lessons though, sometimes its a bit hard for me to keep up, not because I can't understand what's being said (I understand virtually everything and she also speaks very clearly), but becuase she is so good at explaining things so well and so completely that I sometimes struggle to find a meaningful comment to add to the conversation using only my somehwat limited Spanish vernacular at hand. (I'm also naturally less inclined to speak up even in English, so there's that, too.) But on the plus side, I'm learning a lot of really great ways to explain things. 

Becuase neither of us are in training our daily schedule inlcludes 1 less hour of studying each morning, which means that we leave for proselyting a hour earlier each day. And becuase we're a mixed companionship, our daily language study now consists of a half hour of her helping me with Spanish and a half hour of me helping her to learn English. 

Another change with Hna Sanchez as my companion is my diet. She has been teaching me how to cook Dominican food, and becuase companionships usually eat together, that is pretty much all I've eaten this past week.  Some of the dishes we've made include morro (traditional rice and beans) and fish, boiled yuca with onion and egg, empanadas, habichuelas (beans) poured over rice, and fritos (fried plantains) with salami - all super good, by the way. And I've also now tried pretty much all of the random 5-peso snacks that the colmados sell, as well as the super popular wheat-based soda called Malta Morena (Hna sanchez says it gets better the more you drink). 

She has also been demonstrating how to clean the Dominican way, which admittedly has made us Americans feel a bit ignorant and dirty, but she's kind and patient about it. Plus, I don't think that our apartment has ever been this clean, so I'm not going to argue with it. 

Some other funny things that she does includes trying to sing along to all our EFY songs in English, playing with my hair (becuase it's the "good kind"), and grabbing my hand when we cross the highway. This, along with her cooking and cleaning skills, has earned Hna Sanchez the designation of 'madre de la casa.'

Annoying things that happened this week:

- Last Monday (Hna Matteson's last day in Azua), we found out that we all had lice. Actually, it was mostly Hna Matteson. The rest of us didn't really have that many. but long story short, we ran around to over 5 pharmacies around town to find champu de permatrina (lice shampoo) and vasoline (to put in our hair to suffocate them). I then spent the better part of what remained of the day picking literally hundreds of bugs out Hna Matteson's hair one by one. I felt like one of the monkeys that you see grooming eachother on the National Geographic. On top of this, all of this was taking place suring a violent storm. I mean, thunder and lighting so powerful that people outside were literally screaming and running for cover. At one point, in a shower of brilliant orange sparks from the powerline outside our window, we lost our electricity and ended up having to move outside into the pouring rain becuase there wasn't sufficient light inside to see all the bugs. At least I'm proud to say that Hna Matteson and I were able to appreciate the humor of the situation even as we were both soaking wet and wrist deep Vaporub and dead lice.

Until next week, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. Please thank Grandma and Grandpa for the Halloween package they sent! They are so sweet!! <3

The new companion, Hermana Sanchez

Christmas comes early in the Dominican Republic

Monday, October 21, 2013

October 21 - Transfers

Dear family, 

This week, through the course of our contacting and return citas (appointments) we began to uncover bits and pieces of a story surrounding certain events that happened in our little branch about 3 years ago - events that may help shed some light on the reason why our area has been left unworked for several years. Suffice it to say that, although the Gospel of Jesus Christ is perfect, God must work through men who are inevitably imperfect and who sometimes make mistakes. In this case, the actions of several prominent members sent destructive ripples throughout the entire branch, leading to a plague of open hostility among the members and the eventual falling away of nearly half the branch. After that time, there wasn't a baptism in all of Azua for over a year.

We were talking to Hno Martinez, a counselor in the bishopric, and he confirmed that there are in fact over 150 members in our branch, but only an average of 50 attend church each Sunday. Numbered among the inactives are his wife and 2 of his 4 daughters, whom we have started visiting. We have also found and begun teaching a 15-year-old girl named Pamela, whose entire family is inactive, but she has never been baptized, even though she has a testimony. We set a baptismal date with her for the end of November and we're hoping to encourage her family to come back to church through the lessons we have with her.

But whatever the past history of our area may be, we have inherited it at a time when the people here are largely receptive. All the menos activos (less actives) that we've run into have been more than willing to talk to us, and we have also contacted into many nonmembers who have been eager to hear our message. 

One of these was a young woman named Winifel. We contacted her on the street because we saw her talking with Wilky, and they both agreed to sit down for a lesson. We had planned to teach Wilky the Gospel of Jesus Christ and extend a baptismal fecha to her, but as we taught them, I felt impressed to extend the same date to both of them - and to our delight, they both accepted!

In our second lesson with another woman named Viani, she began by telling us that she had prayed about the things we had taught her (the Restauracion), she received an answer that they were true, and she would like herself and her 2 daughters to be baptized. 

Amazingly, these are only 3 of a grand total of 8 baptismal dates that we have set this past week. It is a number that we could scarcely have imagined at the beginning of the week (considering that our goal was 2), and I know that this was only possible because the Lord has prepared the hearts of so many people here that have been long awaiting the return of missionaries to their area.


And last, but certainly not least, we received our transfer call last night at 10pm while we were roasting marshmallows on the roof. Apparently, there is a new [and utterly frustrating] procedure in which the transfer call received on Sunday night tells us IF we will be leaving/staying, but not where we will be going of who our new companion will be. For that information, we have to wait for a second call on Monday night. So here's all that I know: Hna Preisler and Hna Nodal are staying here together for another transfer (they're super happy), Hna Matteson is leaving, and I am receiving a new companion tomorrow. 

It was pretty much what I had expected (we all wrote out our predictions and read them out at the bonfire). Of course, I'm sad to see Hna Matteson go, but I'm actually glad for another transfer here because there is so much work to be done in this new area. My prediction for myself was that I would stay and receive a Latin, of course this is mostly wishful thinking based on the fact that I would love to improve my Spanish, but I guess I'll find out tonight... and you'll find out next week.

Until then, 

Hna Kaitlin Olsen
With Ariana a recent convert

Kaitlin's district

Cooking Morro

Colmado beneath the apartment

Going hunting

Homemade scooters

Watching church videos

The Relief Society

The Young Women

Bonfire on the roof

Bonfire on the roof

Hiking in Kaitlin's area

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Pottery and Parasites

Dear family, 

This week has included a lot of hard work in our still new area, and I think we are beginning to see some of the fruits of our labors. We still don't have a lot of new investigators, but we have begun to develop a pool of menos activos that we're trying to visit and work with on a regular basis (including 4 young women and 7 familias). 

We have one investigator named Wilky, who is a young mother with a newborn baby girl. She enjoys listening to us, isn't shy about offering prayers aloud, does a really good job and pretending she red the folletos (pamphlets), and she absolutely loves the hymns we sing with her (she insists on singing 2-3 every time we visit). We're going to try to get her to come to choir practice. 

We have another investigator who is a young man named Esfrain (referencia from a member named Maximo). In our second lesson with him, he drove up on a motor just as we were about to leave his mother's house, carrying a bag that was covered in dirt. Before we began the lesson, he said that he had something he wanted to show us and held up the bag. He told us that eh had just come from the mountains where he likes to spend time searching for Taino Indian artifacts. He opened the bag and began pulling out fragments of pottery that he had dug up that very morning. He told us that he thought that they were at least 500 years old. I was absolutely fascinated and so thrilled that Esfrain let us hold and examine each piece. They were made of rich, dark brown clay and had geometric designs etched into the sides, there was even one fragments that boasted the crudely sculpted form of an eagle, its wings spread out and stretching around the sides of the rounded pot. 

Esfrain told us that he sells the artifacts he finds to collectors in the capitol. Sometimes he finds complete pots or other things, like stone tools - which he has been able to sell for as much as 35000 pesos. According to him, the mountains around Azua are full of ancient Taino artifacts - you just have to know where to look. Where? He wouldn't say.

Once we began the lesson, we used his interest in the ancient inhabitants of the Americas to introduce him to the Book of Mormon. He seemed quite interested and said that he would like to learn more, so we have promised to bring him his own copy of El Libro de Mormon for our next lesson. 

On Friday morning, we got a call from Elder Aguiniga (former AP) who told us that Manuel was supposed to get baptized the next day, but they were unable to do it as planned because Elder Robinson had a "stomach full of parasites." So now it was up to us to get a baptism together in one day.

That afternoon, we hiked up the mountain to Manuel's house to finish teaching him everything he needed to know (half of the Plan of Salvation, tithing, and fasting), fill out his baptismal form, explain the interview process, and plan the program for the service (including finding someone to speak, someone to baptize him, someone to conduct, and 2 witnesses). We even agreed to sing a special musical number. 

After descending the muddy mountain, we spent the next while inviting member to the baptism and verifying that the people that Manuel had specified for the program could indeed come the next day. We also had to find two elders to who had time to give him his baptismal interview the next morning.

Once we had finished with that, we decided to go to the church to check on the pila (font). As expected, it was like a swamp (it doesn't drain all the way, and despite our best efforts, we haven't found anyone to fix it). So bright and early the next morning, we arrived in our service clothes and spent several hours emptying the font with a trash can (including the removal of several tarantulas and cockroaches) and scrubbing it down with a mop that was probably older than me. I'm really glad that our investigators never see the pila before their baptism, or some of them might have second thoughts. 

The baptism itself went off without a hitch. There was even a pretty good turn out of about 15 people, including the unexpected visit appearance of our investigator Wilky, along with her husband and baby (of course she loved our musical number of 'Divina Luz'). All in all, we were quite proud of being able to pull a bautismo together in only a day - and tired as we were - the smile on Manuel's face and his heartfelt (if not a bit unorthodox) testimony made it all worth it. 

Best wishes, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. Today marks the beginning of the last week of the transfer. And because Hna Nodal and I are done with our training, this means that really anything could happen. (Oh, and if I have to go the capitol to pick up a new companion, this may mean that I would miss P-Day next week - so don't worry if you don't get a letter next week). 
Herman Matteson and Kaitlin

View of the mountains

A member

Wilky at the baptism

In the new area

A day at the finca

Sister Matteson and Kaitlin

New area

At the finca

More coconuts

Kaitlin got the chicken heart in her sancocho

The chapel

At a members house

Manuel's baptism

Cleaning the baptism font

Monday, October 7, 2013

Como tu 'ta

Dear family, 

We started working in our new area on Tuesday, and things are still quite slow (as expected), but we have no doubt that things will begin picking up soon. We've been doing ALOT of contacting, as well as trying to work with the members that live in our area in order to find references and menos activos (less actives). And apparently there are a lot. I mean, a whole bunch. Pretty much everyone that we've contacted is a menos activo, has a family member that was menos activo, or knows someone that is. This is probably because, technically, the church is in our area (so I find it a bit odd that it hasn't been worked in a few years). But overall, I think we've been laying the beginnings of a good foundation for la obra and have high hopes for this area that clearly has so much potential. 

In terms of what the area is like, it looks a lot different from our old area, which - for the most part - was a lot more spread out and dusty, with open fields and an abundance of farm animals. Our new area is about a 30 to 40 minute walk in the opposite direction and it's like a different place completely. The houses themselves are similar in construction, but a lot closer together. They fringe the sunbaked streets in nearly unbroken lines of crumbling cinderblock and rusted tin, zig-zagging and criss-crossing like a lively concrete maze, interrupted every now and then by one of several small bridges that arch up and over the winding canal system. But the most striking difference is the jutting blue peaks of the mountains that rise up above the city and dominate the skyline until their pointed tips fade into the low-hanging clouds. 

To our pleasant surprise, we learned from studying the map that the mountains were actually part of our area (all the blank space). And when we talked with Elder Robinson and Elder Aguiniga (former APs) we learned that the one investigator that they had in our area - named Manuel - actually lives up in the mountains and they told us that we could come along for their next lesson with him. So that's what we did, and it was one of the coolest experiences I've had on the mission. 

We started out at 2pm and walked along one of the roads until the houses thinned out and the pavement crumbled away and became a dusty path that turned sharply upward, winding deeper into the mountains. As we climbed higher, the dust beneath our feet became clay, the air grew pleasantly cool, and the land around us bloomed emerald green. Eventually, we were surrounded on all sides by the deep blue peaks, and I really felt like I was in another country entirely. 

After nearly 45 minutes of walking, we arrived at the small metal shack that was home to Manuel. As we settled down to begin teaching, I realized that the city of Azua had melted away far below us, and all the accompanying noise and chaos seemed to have evaporated, carried away on the fresh mountain breeze. As we began softly singing 'Mas Cerca Dios de Ti' ('Nearer My God to Thee'), a flock of brilliant white cranes flow overhead and I was suddenly overcome in a moment of awe over where I was at that very moment, surrounded by such beauty and filled with the Spirit. 

Interesting things that happened this week (really only 1):

- General Conference! A couple of you have asked how that works here, so here's what we did. Our church building shows the live broadcast for all of Azua (4 branches), so some people have to come a long way to watch it - but luckily for us, it's only about a 10 minute walk. There is also no way that we can watch it in English, so I was a bit worried that I wouldn't be able to understand anything that the speakers said. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could understand quite a bit more than I expected and I loved it :) I can't wait until we all get our Conference issue Liahona magazines so I can read the talks in English (which judging by the fact we live in Azua, will be at least a few months).

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen