Monday, January 20, 2014

Primera Semana en Las Caobas

Dear family,

This past week has been amazing - I love my new area! I have been transferred to a part of the capitol called Las Caobas and my area is called La Venta. It's fairly new - only opened 3 transfers ago - but already it is the fastest growing area in the mission. It is located away from the heart of the capitol, but is still a lot busier than Azua. I've got to say, it was a little bit of a culture shock after 6 months in the campo (but according to the other missionaries here, it's about middle ground between capitol and campo).

My companion's name is Hermana Erickson. She's from Utah, she has 14 months in the mission, and this is her fourth transfer here in the La Venta. We get along really well and it's actually quite stunning how similar we are in many ways: she loves to read, she's an artist, and she's studying neuropsychology. On top of that, her first area in the mission field was Azua, too, so we know a lot of the same people and I was able to fill her in on how everyone was doing (including Adabertino, Carlos, and Tomas, who she taught).

We spend a lot of our time in the poorer part of our area, which consists of an intricate maze of hilly callejones, or narrow, uneven cement alleyways - not streets, by any means (oftentimes they don't even fit 2 people across). The callejones are bordered on both sides by tall, precarious-looking buildings made of crumbling brick and concrete: houses stacked two to three high, narrow doorways, and crude stairways carved out of the walls. I've got to admit that, after Azua, I felt a little boxed-in in those tall and narrow passageways.

In between the callejones there are areas with actual streets, passable to a small car. They're still walled-in on both sides by tall concrete buildings strung together with power lines, but definitely more open.

There is another part of our area that is about a 30 minute walk away along the highway. It's an apartment complex called Tierra Llana and has a surprisingly suburbia-US feel to it. When we first visited there I felt really strange and out-of-place for some reason. I suppose I'm just reacclimating to urban civilization. We don't get over there very often though because it’s a little ways away.

We live on of a boxy mis-matched building that contains probably about 6-7 homes, although it’s not an apartment complex. There's a tiny colmado downstairs (a lot smaller than Azua, ironically enough) and a car wash out front (and by car wash, I mean men standing around listening to music and waiting to soapy dump water on the next vehicle that pulls up). The house itself though is probably nicer than Azua, I'd say. It's about the same and has more interior detailing (i.e. painted walls, curtains), which is more of a perk rather than a necessity. What I was really excited about though, was the toilets - they actually flush! It was a beautiful sight after six months of bucket flushing.

It's a little cooler during the day, but of course, that also means its cooler at night. I now have to sleep with a sheet on top of me and I sometimes wear a sweater in the morning. I really don't think it’s all that cool here, though - I'm pretty sure I'm just used to Azua. The showers are freezing, though. It feels like I'm dumping a pitcher of icy water over my head each morning. At least I feel wide awake afterwards.

Another downfall is the pests. There actually seems to be more of them here. There are more mosquitoes, although smaller. And ants - they're everywhere, on everything, all the time (but also smaller). The cockroaches, however, are quite a bit bigger. Apparently, we also have mice/rats, although I haven't seen any.

What makes this area so great though, is the branch. It's still quite new and small for the capitol (about 100 people regularly in attendance), but it's thriving and growing quickly. We don't actually have a church building. We meet in what, from the outside, looks like an old warehouse along the side of the street with solid metal barriers that roll down to the ground over the doors and window. When Hermana Erickson first told me that was the church, I thought she was joking until I saw the small sign on the wall that read: 'La Iglesia de Jesucristo.'

It doesn't really look like a church on the inside either, but it certainly feels like it. There is such a wonderful spirit present among the members of the branch. They're amazing: they're loving, generous, unified, organized, and highly-focused on missionary work. They have Noches de Amistad (Friendship Nights) at least once a week to invite people to learn more about the Gospel and they even have a branch motto: La Venta - cada miembro un misionero (every member a missionary).

The most amazing thing about them though, is that about 80 percent of them are all recent converts (baptized within the last year). Because of this, they have such a passion for the Gospel and a strong desire to share it with others. It makes being a missionary in their branch very rewarding - I feel supported, appreciated, and encouraged, with greater motivation to dedicate myself completely to the work. I loved my time in Azua, but coming here was a refreshing change... and I definitely think I could get used to it.

Hasta la próxima semana,

Hermana Kaitlin Olsen
Kaitlin's new apartment

The bus ride from Azua to Santo Domingo

Along the way to Santo Domingo

Kaitlin's new companion Hermana Erickson

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