Monday, November 25, 2013

5 Months on the Island

Dear family, 

This week has been unusually hot and sunny, with not a raincloud in sight. It still feels like the middle of July here - it's like a place stuck in time, without any seasons. All the flowers are still in full bloom and the air is full of clusters of butterflies and the occasional iridescent hummingbird (one actually flew into the house the other day and hung out for a little bit until it eventually found its way back out). Hermana Sanchez and I have been trying a lot of new and interesting fruits that are in season (well, new for me), including guayaba, zapote, lechosa, and uva de playa, which we made into a bright purple batida (smoothie) and topped with a wedge of pineapple. I'm starting to wonder if it will ever get colder here or if my mission is just going to be 18 months of perpetual summer heat.

The biggest news this week with our investigators is definitely Domingo (he's pretty much our only investigator that seems to be actively progressing). He came to church again this week and has vowed to come every week because of an experience that he had after the first time he attended. We met with him on Tuesday and we told us that he was a bit worried about closing his colmado for 3 hours each Sunday, especially because he was trying to save money for some expansions, but he decided to come to church the first hour anyway. Once he got there, however, he liked it so much that he decided to stay for all three hours! After he returned home later that day, he said that he was approached by a friend that happened to have a refrigerator and materials to build some shelves: exactly what he had been looking and saving for! The friend said that he would sell them to Domingo for such a good price that he could buy them right away! 

So the first thing that Domingo said to us when we showed up on Tuesday was: "Hermanas! I have a testimony! The Lord blesses us when we go to church! I will never miss another Sunday!" In that lesson, we gave him his own copy of the Book of Mormon, which he eagerly added to his growing stack of church materials (which includes the pamphlets we've given him, a family history workbook that was passed out last Sunday, and a 'Teachings of Lorenzo Snow' Sunday school manual that he "borrowed" from the church). 

In another lesson a few days later, he told us that he had prayed about the things we had taught him and that he knew that Joseph Smith was a prophet. We invited him to prepare to be baptized on the 21 of December and he eagerly accepted the date!

Domingo is a golden investigator; I feel like he would fit in wonderfully with our recent converts, and I am so thrilled to see his progress in the coming weeks.

Please send everyone a big hello this week for Thanksgiving! We will be having a get together with a few of the other missionaries from our zone this Thursday to watch a movie and eat a traditional Thanksgiving meal (well, as traditional as possible with the ingredients available here). 

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Kaitlin's area

This morning on the way to the service project

Hermana Sanchez and Kaitlin

Today's service project

Monday, November 18, 2013

Many good things about God

Dear family, 

This week I think we’ve started to make some progress with a few of our investigators. I mean, the majority of them still tried to lie to us and tell us they'd read the pamphlets when they really hadn't, but that's just part of life here. The conversation usually goes something like this:

"Did you have the opportunity to read the pages we marked in your folleto?"
"Oh yes, of course."
"That's wonderful. What did you learn?"
"Oh, many good things... about God."
"Ok, then... let's start with a review."

This week, however, we actually had 2 people read their assignments: a quiet young woman named Yudi and a jolly 50-year-old man named Domingo. After asking someone if they've read and expecting to hear "muchas cosas buenas," but instead they say something about 'sacerdocio' or 'la vida preternal' is like waiting for a splash of icy water to the face that never comes, and I couldn't help but smiling ear to ear. I literally left walked away from both of those citas with tears in my eyes.

On Saturday night, both of our 7pm citas fell through and we found ourselves looking for someone to teach. For some reason, I felt that we should go visit an investigator that we hadn't been able to find in several weeks, even though I knew that she wasn't usually home at that time. So we went and, of course, the house was empty. However, as we were leaving, a little old lady standing in the dim orange light of a doorway across the street called us over. She asked what church we were from and we told her. She then surprised us by saying that she was baptized into that church. We were a bit skeptical at first because we have had quite a few people try to tell us they're members when they really aren't (including one man who once tried to convince he was baptized 7 times), but she insisted that she had been baptized at the church on Santome (our chapel) but that she hadn't been in many years. So, we invited her to come the next day, told her when it started, and then said good night.

Sunday morning before church we called 7 people and passed by 14 houses. We were, as usual, met by one mumbled excuse after the other from nearly 20 drowsy people who were loath to leave the comfort of their beds and peak their heads out into the hot morning sun. We ended up walking into sacrament meeting empty-handed and I was nearly on the verge of tears thinking about the prospect of yet another week with zero investigators in attendance. But as we sat down in the back pew, something told me not to be upset and to just wait a bit - so, as downtrodden as I felt, I was able to keep my composure. 

I was just after the first hymn that I noticed who was sitting a few rows in front of us. It was the old lady from the night before - she had actually come, and in fact, had even gotten there before us! It was long after I noticed her that Domingo entered the chapel in a white button-up shirt, and upon seeing us yelled "Hermanas!" in the middle of the sacrament and proceeded to squeeze into the pew and sit down in between us. And not 10 minutes after that, two more of our investigators - Elsa, and then Jose - showed up and then sat down with smiles on their faces. 

This was the most investigators we've had in church so far in this new area. I was overjoyed and offered a silent prayer of thanks.

Throughout the meeting, whenever Elsa liked something that the speaker had said. she would let out a fervent, "Amen!" Apparently she liked quite a lot. Domingo also seemed to like what was being said, as evidenced by the fact that he began enthusiastically echoing Elsa and even adding in a few of his own. And then there was me: sandwiched right in between the two of them and smiling proudly. 

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

Azua town center

Azua town plaza

Carlos' new motorcycle

Monday, November 11, 2013

Elvis, Wonderland and a motorcycle crash

Dear family,

First and foremost,I want to send a giant thank you for the inundation of packages that I received this week! On Friday, I showed up to zone meeting and as we were introducing ourselves to the new zone leader, he says, "So you´re Hermana Olsen! You see that pile of packages over there? They're all yours. Good luck getting them home." Don't worry, I made it just fine. It was a nice workout and I was smiling all the way. I was also very proud to hand the zone leader my own package to send back to you three for Christmas. I'd been working on it all week and had just sealed it up the night before when we got the call informing us that there was zone meeting the next morning. It was perfect timing - who knows when the next chance will be to send mail? Anyway, I hope it gets to you all before Christmas (it's meant to be opened before we Skype eachother). :D

This week has been hot and rainy. According to Hna Sanchez, it was a mild tropical storm that lasted a few days. The worst of it happened on Tuesday. We were sitting in a member's house when it started pouring rain (of course, being inside didn't really help that much because of all the holes in the tin roof). When it let up a little we decided that we to leave, and as we exited the house, we came face to face with what used to be the street and had been transformed into a muddy river. We asked the member if there was another way to leave. She said there was, so we followed her out the back of the house. We had to push our way through the rainsoaked branches of a dense plot of fruit trees while trying not to slip in the mud (and I may or may not have run face first into a cluster of bananas). After that, in order to get home, we still ended up having to wade through water up past our ankles, but we made it back before all the streets were completely unpassable. 

Another crazy thing that happened this week as we were walking through town was that we saw a motorcycle crash. One of them was driving on the wrong side of the road and as he rounded the corner where we were walking he collided headfirst with another motorcycle. In a crunch of metal, all 3 people went flying thrugh the air and landed a few feet away from us on the asphalt.We asked if they were okay, and amazingly, it appeared that none of them were seriously injured. Two of them stood back up immediately and began arguing about whose fault it was. The third laid in the street for a minute before hobbling over to where we were standing on the sidewalk and assuring us that he was fine. This wasn't the first crash I've seen, but it was the worst. I'd probably say that the DR is near the top of the list of World's Worst Drivers.

As for investigators this week, there isn't much to report. The biggest news is that we started teaching two brothers named Elvis and Wonderland, whose parents apparantly have an interesing sense of humor. They're really funny (partly unintentionally) and we've laughed a lot in the lessons we've had with them. 

As for other people... everyone is still being frustrating. They all love to listen, but none of them like to act. We had all 7 of our baptismal dates fall this week when no one showed up at church and it nearly broke my heart. On top of that, I heard from the other hermanas that Altagracia is smoking again and she hasn't been to church since we left that area. Yesterday, however, her brother, Miguel Angel, showed up to sacrament meeting. Hermana Matteson and I taught him a few times and he seemed quite promising, so I encouraged the other hermanas to keep working with him even though he's sometimes hard to find. Now that he's actually been to church, I have hope that he will continue to progress. 

To close, I'd like to clear up a little matter about which several of you have expressed wholly unwarranted praise. When I said that I play the piano in church, this means that I adjust the settings, volume, and press the keys to the correct rhythm - not really that impressive, but none of the Dominicans can seem to figure it who knows. haha

All my love, 

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. Mom: I have a favor to ask from you this week. Could you please send me Grandma Padley's pie crust recipe? I said that I'd make some of her jam tarts for my district on Thanksgiving. I would also be nice if you could send a recipe for yams and corn bread :) I do need it as soon as possible, though, so I can have time to buy ingredients the Monday before. Thanks!!!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Uncontrollable Spanglish

Dear family, 

It's so great to hear from you all - I loved your letters this week :) I liked hearing about what you all did for Halloween. They don't really celebrate it in the DR. It was just an average day here - Hna Sanchez and I made brownies, but that's about it.

Mom: How do Dominicans clean differently?
Well, lets just say that it involves a mop, a sponge, and a torrential amount of water. We pretty much flood our apartment each week. They also don't use multi-purpose cleaners like 409 or Windex, instead they just use Clorox bleach and powdered soap (used for everything from doing laundry to cleaning the bathroom).

Jessica: I can't believe that story about the baby formula. That was so nice of you - it made me cry. I can definitely say that you were the answer to that woman's prayer. 
My release date? Well, technically my 18 months is up on December 20th, 2014 - but the exact day tends to fluctuate, so I won't know for certain until about 2 months before that. 
Oh, and if you'd like to send a lice comb in your next package I'm sure it will come in handy at some point. It would certainly be a lot easier than using Vaporub, which is like murder to get out of your hair because you have to use flour - we all looked like we'd been in a bakery explosion. 

The work this week has been slow. I mean, we've been really busy and always have someone to teach, but we've just been visiting a lot of new people and for some reason a lot of people have been forgetting/ignoring our appointments with them. I have a million people's names floating around in my head, but it is still difficult to single one person out that I would say is on a somewhat steady trajectory towards baptism. Don't misunderstand: we have plenty of people with promise that could get baptized, but the question is really whether or not they will make the necessary effort to act on the faith that they profess to have. In other words, we're just battling the daily dilemma of missionary work in the DR. It's frustrating to see people use their agency to ignore doing what they know to be right, but I have hope that eventually everything will work out. 

Hna Sanchez and I are still getting along well and learning a lot from one another. We have continued on with cooking primarily Dominican food this week, including locrio (rice and meat dish), and mangu (plantain mash). In fact, I'm probably eating better than I was before because it's hard to find "American" ingredients to make the things that we would normally eat. The only things so fair that we've cooked that I didn't really like was chicken liver - not horrible, but not my favorite. Hna Sanchez insisted that the bigger of a bite that I took, the better it was. Yeah... not so much.

I've also been helping Hna Sanchez with her English a lot this week. There is a Companionship Language Study program that all the Latins are supposed to work on throughout their mission in order to pass an exam and receive ACTFL certification. She understands a fair bit, but still has some trouble with speaking and pronunciation. We've been working on TH, Z vs. S, and B vs. V. 

However, we still speak in Spanish 95 percent of the time. And so, with this sudden increase in the amount of Spanish I've been speaking in the past few weeks, and interesting phenomenon has developed in my vernacular. I have named it "Uncontrollable Spanglish." This basically consists of the inability to predict which language will leave my mouth at any given time. It's mostly humorous, but sometimes a bit embarrassing. 

In other news, we may or may not be moving houses. Nothing is for certain, considering that they've actually been telling us this for several months. Long story short, Hna Rodriguez doesn't like that we live above a colmado - which we actually love for its convenience - and our duena (landlady) doesn't really like us that much, although the reason remains unclear. The main hang-up that has postponed the move this long and continues to postpone it indefinitely is that there really are not many houses in our area that fit the requirements. So unless we'd like living in a one-room cinderblock house with 2 other families or a tin shack on the mountainside, we probably won't be moving anytime too soon. Hopefully it doesn't come to that.

Interesting things that happened this week:

- Yesterday in sacrament meeting, I gave a 10-minute talk, I then sang in the choir (a song I taught them), and I also played the piano for the opening and closing hymns.

- I was proposed to twice this week on two separate occasions. Don't expect a wedding announcement any time soon. 

- This morning we found out that we have cockroaches in our cupboards, so that was fun to clean out. 

- We tried to color Hna Sanchez's hair last night. There may have been a bit of an accident that resulted in part of it turning completely blonde. We're going to fix it today.

Until next week, 

Hna Kaitlin Olsen

P.S. Have fun in CA! Tell everyone hello for me :D
Kaitlin's area

Villa Palmarejo sunset

Azua lady and her parrot