Monday, December 31, 2012

Feliz Ano Novo!!!

One of my favorite things about Mussurunga is all the boys that are always playing with kites in the streets. These kites are not your average American type. Oh no, these are small, hand-made-from-garbage, agile rectangles built especially for playing the competitive sport of cutting other kites' strings. The boys hoot and holar as they weave their kites through the air, yelling triumphantly as they knock each others' out of the sky. I saw a movie about this once, called "The Kite Runner", and I think about it often as I watch these Brazilian boys. I would highly recommend this movie to anyone who appreciates slightly-depressing foreign films with a tear-jerkingly good message. I loved it.

    Another thing about Mussurunga are the birds in cages. I don't know what it's all about, but everyone has at least two birds in cages hanging outside their house here. Some houses have up to 10! The birds don't have to be pretty, they just have to be birds. And they're always freaking out, trying to escape. It stresses me out, but the Bahianos think it's nice, I guess.

    Anyway, all that important stuff being said.... How was Christmas for y'all?!
    Sister V. Silva never really celebrated Christmas much growing up because her mom doesn't like it. Sometimes they have a little tree for decoration, and sometimes her mom will toss her a gift at some point on Christmas day and say, "Oh yeah, feliz natal." So Sister V. Silva was loving this Christmas that she spent with two American companions (first Sister Oliver and then me)! She watched in awe as I made a Christmas tree out of paper for our apartment and then happily helped to decorated it with ornaments made from Liahona magazine cut-outs. I also had to teach her the tradition of waiting to open presents until Christmas day (we got some chocolates and cookies from other missionaries), and we had a blast sitting by our paper tree on Christmas morning and opening our gifts. Then we sat on my bed and watched "Mundo Felize" (Joy to the World, that church Christmas film) on our little DVD player. It was so fun! After that we ate lunch in the home of a member family and then at the end of the day I got to talk to the family for a little bit. All-in-all, an awesome day!
    I'm so glad to hear that my cousins were Santa's helpers this year. I want to hear all about it! Any especially memorable experiences?
     We've found a lot of golden investigators this past week and I wish I had time to tell you about all of them! About the one who looks like Tim Curry, about the one who we think must be one of the Three Nephites, or the one who we miraculously encountered when we were on our way to the home of another reference (which turned out to be an abandoned witch's den that no one had lived in for years). But today I'm going to tell you about Edivania, the sorvette (ice cream) girl. (I swear, we're going to have every ice cream vender converted by the end of this transfer). Edivania accepted a Book of Mormon from us upon our first meeting and began reading it that night. When we stopped by to see her the next day, she told us that after she'd read a part of the Book of Mormon, she'd fallen asleep and had a very disturbing dream where she saw Sister V. Silva and myself covered in burns and boils. Sister V. Silva explained to her that creepy dreams don't come from the Lord and that the adversary is hard at work, too. She said she knew this already and, though her family, friends, and boyfriend are all trying to tell her not to meet with us or read the Book of Mormon, she said she wants us to keep meeting with her and she wants to keep reading the Book of Mormon, too. She's truly amazing and we love her!
   You know what else I love? Pão de quejo. It's an amazing creation. Cheese baked into bread until the bread is almost chewy and the cheese is light and fluffy. It's dangerous, I tell you! Good thing you have to look really hard to find a place that makes it here in Mussurunga.

                       Hope you all had a fantastic Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all!!!
                                                 (Don't you just love the balloon bunny ears?)

-Sister Weezer 
(P.S. Aunt Anne, I'm Sister Weezer because my siblings called me 'Wee Wee' when I was little, which became not-so-cute as I got older and somehow evolved into 'Weezer')

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Its a Bob Marley Christmas!

    Feliz Natal (merry Christmas) from the land where palm trees sway! I heard Papai Noel (Santa) laughing over one of the loudspeakers that sit on top of advertisement cars here and it scared me out of my wits. Santa and Português advertisement voices are not a good mix, let me tell you. It made me tremble even more at the thought that such a voice could belong to the man who sees me when I'm sleeping, knows when I'm awake, and comes down my chimney in the night. 

    But aside from me new-found fear of St. Nick, this Christmas is turning out to be just swell. I have the best companion in the whole wide world! Sister V. Silva is such a delight that she can't possible last more than a transfer. So much goodness must be shared with others in the mission, I know. But OH! How I wish I could keep her forever and take her home with me after the mission! She's like Haagen Dazs ice cream at the end of a long, rough day. Probably because she lives off of ice cream. Every day while we're walking, she'll stop and look at me with a worried expression on her face and say, "Oh, Sister, I would you mind if I bought us some sorvete? It sounds so good right now!" And of course, being the obedient little trainee that I am, I comply. I'm going to be a whale by the end of this transfer.
   I haven't laughed so much since, I can't remember when. Sister V. Silva has a delightful sense of humor and we're always setting each other off until we're on the floor in tears. She has a sweet, easy, loving spirit that draws people to her. She's so adorable and short that people want to take care of her, and so naturally caring for others that people want her to take care of them. I'm constantly in jaw-dropping awe as I watch her throughout the day. When she talks to people, they WANT to listen to her, and they WANT to accept her invitations. She'll invite them to church and they say, with genuine disappointment, "I can't, I have something else that day." And then, when her big brown eyes sadden and she nods her sad acceptance while turning to walk away, they melt and say, "Well, hang on! Maybe I can...." It's quite funny, really. I'm so proud to be standing beside her always and I feel extremely blessed for the chance to be trained by her. She is exactly the kind of missionary I want to be.

Christmas is not as big a deal here as it is in the US. Yeah, people like it and they celebrate it, but it's not the same. Everyone looks forward to New Year's Eve and Carnival more than Christmas. I think Christmas is so wonderful in the US largely because it's cold and people want to be close. Here, it's always hot and people just want to drink and party out-of-doors. When I was explaining what Christmas is like in my family to Sister V. Silva, she got that same look on her face that she gets when she needs to buys us ice cream and she said, "Aw, Sister! I want to have Christmas like that!"  She's from Curitiba, where it actually does get cold, so she can appreciate the thought of hot cocoa and twinkling lights on a Christmas tree in a dark house. Also, her accent sounds very Irish. Weird, huh? I guess that's just how they talk in Curitiba. It's very pleasant sounding. 

   I had a very precious experience this past week that took me by surprise and made me cry. We were in the home of a woman whose son was baptized with her about a year ago, but who now wants nothing to do with the church. We were with them for a long time, trying to talk to the son and see if we could help, but he was very full of anger. Eventually, we just offered a prayer and left. As we were leaving, Edite (the mother), followed us outside to thank us and I could see the heartbreak in her eyes. As usual, I wished I knew what to say that could comfort her. But I remembered that the Savior's love isn't always expressed through words, and so I gave her a hug. As I hugged her, I felt the Savior's love for her so strongly that it took me by surprise. She must have felt this change, too, because she clung to me more tightly and began crying. In that moment, I felt that I was merely the humble on-looker of a very sacred and personal embrace between this woman and her Savior. It was the most beautiful experience I've had here on the mission. I have a testimony that the Lord uses us to answer the prayers of others. I have a testimony that if you are open and willing, He WILL use you to be His hands in the lives of those around you. Last night I was reading an old Liahona article by Elder Eyring where he said that the best way to recognize your own blessings is to help another person. He also said that every day he prays for an opportunity to help someone that day.
   This Christmas, I challenge you all, whether you are religious or not, to seek opportunities to help another person and be grateful for the blessings that you have. Life is SO GOOD! I'm in love with it. And I'm in love with the mission! Who'd have thought I could be so happy when I'm not home for the Holidays?  I have to echo the words of Sister Madison Sackley and say that, truly, Happiness begins at the end of your comfort zone.

I love you all! Family, I'm wetting my pants with excitement to talk to you TOMORROW!!!!

-Sister Whitaker

Transfer Time

Wait, what?! My first transfer is already over?! Where did the time go?
    This past week was awesome. For the first time I really just lost myself in how FUN a mission is!
    It occurred to one of the members this week (a 17-year-old named Bruno who goes out with us at least once a week and who I'll have to tell you all more about someday because he practically is what keeps the ward running here) that I am funny. He looked at me as if for the first time and said, "Hey, you're funny!" Why thank you. This is either because A. my Português has improved enough that my humor is finally translating correctly, or B. I've really lost it and my state of reckless abandon is hilarious when viewed by others. In any case, another member (an adorable old man whose lack of teeth make it difficult for even Sister Rosado to understand him) said he loves my laugh. Then he gave me a granola bar and I decided he's my favorite person.
    This week we also had the mission Christmas Conference, which was a blast and a half. It was especially fun because I understood most of it! We ate until we were ready to be rolled like the blueberry girl on Willy Wonka (Christmas turkey, potatoes, rice, bread, juice, and some dessert that tried so hard to be pumpkin pie), we played scripture-chase games (it reminded me of the good ol' seminary days), won prizes, practiced inviting each other to be baptized, and sang our missionary hearts out. My district was assigned to sing "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" as part of Sister Andrezzo's program. Apparently that song is not as well-known here as it is in the US, and Brasilians are tone-deaf, so it was certainly an interesting performance, but by-golly were we enthusiastic! We also made and gave each other Christmas cards and got to give each other bags of goodies that Sister Andrezzo had put under the tree. It was super fun and, what with the decorations and blasting A/C, it actually felt like Christmas! 
   Another thing that happened this week was my first-ever division (when missionaries trade companions for a day) and I was super nervous about it. I was nervous about working with a different companion, because up to that point I could only understand Sister Rosado, and I was nervous to be the one with more knowledge of the area than my companion. But! I'm pleased to report that it ended up being one of the best days on the mission thus far! I understood Sister Cruz even better than I understand Sister Rosado, learned a TON from watching her teach, and realized that I actually know my way around Mussurunga, the bus routes, etc. Yippee! It was the perfect preparation for this transfer.
   Now, you're probably wondering (as I was all day yesterday) how transfers work here in Mussurunga. So here's how my experience went:
    It started off with Sister Rosado and I going to chapel to watch the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, which was dubbed over in Português (I didn't understand a word, but Sister Santos was kind enough to explain it all for me, in Português, during the English parts that she couldn't understand). After the devotional, Sisters Cruz and Santos spent the night at our place and we all recieved a phone call from the Zone Leaders to let us know our fates.
   I'm staying in Mussurunga (yippee!!!) and my new companion will be Sister V. Silva.
I'll let you know how that goes next week.
For now, have a great week! Enjoy the cold of the season! And don't forget to watch The Ghost of Darles Chickens, because that's a classic.

I love you all!!!

-Sister Railee

Monday, December 10, 2012

Starved for Love

This week's Christmas carol is to be sung to the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Railee the missionary
Had a lot of hard, cold pride,
And if you ever saw it,
You would want to run and hide.
All of the missionaries,
Used to tell her, "Falar mais!"
They never let poor Railee
Simply eat her beans and rice.
Then one muggy Thursday night
The D.L. called to say:
"I don't mean to be a jerk,
But forget yourself and go to work."
Now, oh, how Railee's changing!
And she wants to shout with glee (yipee!)
"Yes, I'm a missionary,
"And feeling like one, finally!"

This week really flew by. I've learned that for every time the words "me, my I," or "mine" entered my head, time slows and I weigh more and it gets hotter. Interesting, eh? Thinking about other people makes a HUGE difference. It feels great!
   It comes with heartbreak, too. Having a soft heart means that it's susceptible to being hurt, but it's worth it, because then it can also feel all the joy and light there is to feel! And as a missionary, the joy far outweighs the heartache.

   This week you all get to hear about Elisangela.
   Mussurunga is a very poor area (I live in the favelas, just so y'all know), and even those who are considered well-off here would be among the poorest in the U.S. Here, Elisangela is among the poorest of the poor. She has 8 children, the oldest of whom is 15 and has a baby and another one on the way. They live in a "house" that is about the size of my living room at home. Elisangela is very humble and quiet. She comes to church every Sunday with all of her children, even though no one sits by her because she's so poor. She's embarrassed that her kids have no clothes to wear to church. Sister Rosado and I have been trying to get people in the ward to donate clothes their children have outgrown, but we haven't had much success with that yet. Sister Rosado gave them a bag of clothes that she doesn't wear. I don't know what they'll do with those, since all of the kids are too small to wear them.
   Last Saturday morning, Sister Rosado and I set out early to see what we could do to help Elisangela. We decided we would help her clean her house. I'd only ever seen the front room, when Elisangela fed us lunch (I'm pretty sure she and her children ate nothing that day but our leftovers), which is just big enough to fit two grimy, falling-apart couches and a TV (everyone has a TV somehow, and it's always on). When we went to clean, there were banana peels all over the floor and couches of this front room and amid Elisangela's protests, Sister Rosado and I set to work picking them all up. When I walked into the kitchen, my heart shattered into tiny pieces. There was no light, and it smelled like it looked. Grimy, falling apart. There were banana peels everywhere of differing ages, and the cupboards looked like Miss Havisham's wedding cake had exploded in them. The most horrifying part was the mouldering pile of black mold in one corner that I realized was a mattress that the family slept on. I felt like merely breathing the air in that house was a serious health hazard and I was afraid of touching anything. But that's how this humble, sweet little family lives every day! And so, I ignored my thoughts of health preservation and did my best to clean the place. They didn't own any cleaning supplies, so I used one of the little girls' shorts with water to clean, and by the end we had to throw the shorts away because they were destroyed. 
   More and more every day, I'm realizing just what a spoiled white girl I am. Amazingly, I'm also seeing how the gospel can help these poor people more than anything else. There's nowhere else I'd rather be right now than exactly where I am, working among these poor people. Alma, chapters 31-35 really have taken on new meaning for me here.

   This Christmas season, I challenge all of you to go out and help the poor in your community. Volunteer at a soup kitchen or something! There are people out there who are starved for love.

I love you all! Time's up!

-Sister Weezer

Monday, December 3, 2012

Being daring, Skirts a-tearing, People staring,

Oi família e amigos!
   I got a lovely birthday package in the mail last Thursday that absolutely thrilled me to the core! Thank you so much, dear family, for your beautiful letters, scribbles, fun, and deliciousness! Sister Rosado and I waited until today to have a big party with ourselves. We blew up all the balloons and made the cake (baking in Brazil is an adventure), and it's currently cooling in the fridge. So when we get back we're going to frost it and have a ball. It's her 7-month mark today, so we're celebrating that as well.
    I haven't talked about the animals here? Are you kidding me? I guess there's always just so much to say. There are more dogs and cats here than I can count. And while the dogs in São Paulo and other places in Bahia are a fright, the dogs here in Mussurunga have it good. They lounge around all day on heaps of garbage and sand, fat and happy. They travel in packs sometimes. I've never seen them fight with each other, the cats, or anything else. They're just happy, friendly, lazy creatures. I've even seen them sleeping with the cats! They play with each other, wait to cross the street together, and smile at you when you walk by. It's pretty funny, actually. And the coolest thing about the dogs here in Mussurunga is that they provide the town alarm clock. It freaked me out a little the first time I heard it, but I'm used to it now. Every morning, all the dogs in Mussurunga (which are many) howl all together for about 40 seconds. Then they do it again at night. I don't know why they do, but they do it every single day.
    But enough about the dogs. Y'all need to hear about the busses! I've never really been afraid of death, but every time I step on a bus here, I see my life flash before my eyes. The bus drivers think that they're manouvering little sports cars. They travel at rediculously high speeds, swerving around the other cars, bouncing over the uneven pavement, stopping suddenly when they have absolutely no ther choice. I'm not exaggerating, it feels exactly like you're riding on the night bus in Harry Potter. And most of the time, the bus is so crowded that you have to stand and hold on for dear life. It's a full-body workout, riding the bus. Even your toes are working overtime to keep you from flying through the windows. Sometimes, the bus is so crowded that you wouldn't think it's possible to be knocked over, because every inch of your body is being pressed against the sweaty skin of someone else and you think, "I couldn't move if I tried". Yet, somehow, it's still necessary to hold on to something.
    Two days ago, Sister Rosado and I had to get up early and take a bus out of town so Sister Rosado could have her knees looked at. The bus was very crowded that morning and I was standing, gripping the bar above my head with all my strength as the bus jerked us around. When it came to a screeching halt, the woman who'd been pressed up behind me said, "Com liçensa," (excuse me) and tried to swim her way through the people off the bus. But her belt buckle had gotten to know my skirt very well during the journey and the two refused to part. You know how in old movies, the sound of clothes tearing always seems hilariously exaggerated? Well it's not an exaggeration. That's really what it sounds like. By the time that lady got away, I had a hole the size of my bum, directly over my bum, in my skirt. For the next few minutes I held on to the bar overhead for dear life with one hand while using the other to hold my skirt over my backside. When we finally got off the bus, I tucked up my skirt (thank goodness it was so long!) in Tarzan-esque fashion and strolled around the streets of Brazil that way for the next several hours until I could go back to the apartment and change. Thankfully, our lunch appointment was in the home of a member who makes and sells dresses, so after an awkward 40 minutes of keeping my back to the wall so the Elders wouldn't see, this Sister pulled me into her office and stitched me up.

    I love the people here more and more every day. I'm slowly starting to understand them, even if I don't know what they're saying exactly. They all have a hard time saying "Whitaker" and many refuse to try. They laugh and shake their heads and talk to Sister Rosado instead. One member asked me what my name meant and as I was explaining to him that my ancestors lived and worked on wheat fields, the words I knew off the top of my head in Português were 'campo de branco' (field of white). Then I realized it sounded like I was talking about D&C 4, where it says that the fields are white already to harvest. It was pretty cool. I realized that I am a worker of the white fields and that my name calls me such, too!  But, sadly, most of the members don't call me Whitaker. They call me "Little White One" or "Boneca". I didn't understand the meaning of the latter for a long time, and then Sister Rosado explained to me last week that I always look like a ceramic doll, because I'm white and quiet and wear cute dresses and always have my hair in braids. So they all call me Doll. Yesterday I felt like I heard the word even more than usual. Funny.

    In honor of the Christmas season, I've begun writing my own Christmas carols to fit with how Christmas is here in Bahia. Here's one for you: (To be sung to the tune of 'Stars Were Gleaming')

 Sun is shining, Street dogs whining,
And the Palm trees, how they sway!
Lots of walking, Not much talking,
This is Christmas Bahia's way.
Sisters sharing,
Being daring,
Skirts a-tearing,
People staring,
Always sweating in the sun.
Oh, this work is so much fun!

Hope you all are happy and well and enjoying this Holiday Season!!!  I miss you all and love you very very much!

-Sister Whitaker

P.S. Mom! I can't believe you met the Luke's Panties man!!!!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oi, familia e amigos!!!
   It sounds like Thanksgiving was a real blast for y'all and I'm so glad! It's strange to hear about and see the pictures, because it's truly the middle of Summer here. Good thing, too, or I'd probably die of homesickness. Thank you, blazing sun!
   I spent Thanksgiving as I spend every day here: climbing hills, teaching people about the restored gospel, sweating, and marveling at the beauty of Bahia. As I was climbing up the millionth hill of the day (Mussurunga is literally built into a land of rolling, steep hills. My legs are going to be incredible by the time I'm done here), and thinking about how grateful I am for my sandals that were designed for climbing mountains, I realized, "By golly gum, I do believe it's Thanksgiving Day!" And I was right. And so, in honor of the holiday, I tried to explain it to my companion. I don't think I did very well. All she understands now is that Americans are crazy and like Indians. Next, I wrote a list of what I'm grateful for. My shoes, my family, this awesome opportunity... there's just so much to be grateful for right now! But most especially, as I'm missing my family during this Holiday season, I am SO grateful for the knowledge that my family is eternal and that, though I'm away from them for this short time, I will be with them for the rest of eternity! How amazing is that?! There aren't words to describe my joy! Not in English, not in Português.
    This last week sure was exciting. It started off with a man going on and on about the blood and water that gushed from the side of Christ when He was crucified, and how that blood and water makes me unworthy to be a missionary. He really liked describing the gushing and using big hand gestures. Don't worry, he's reading the Book of Mormon now.
    We're also teaching a beautiful family with 4 teenaged boys who are all so sweet and good-mannered. They absolutely love learning about the gospel, and coming to church, and Marcos (one of the sons) devours everything we give him to read like Delilah with a piece of Thanksgiving turkey. The members in our ward here are amazing, too! They scooped these boys up immediately and Sister Rosado and I found them in the chapel after church one Sunday, where all the young men were eagerly teaching them how to pass the sacrament. Amazing! It's moments like that that make me love being a missionary.
     We're also teaching two sisters, Dandara (13) and Larisa (11), who melt my heart. They are so sweet! Larisa reminds me of Risa so much that my heart aches. She lights up every time she sees us, and rushes to hug me and hold my hand and sit by me during the lesson. Now we just have to get them to come to church. They're mother says she's all for it, but she keeps coming up with reasons why "next sunday would be better".
     The longer I'm here, the more I love these people and the more I wish I understood what they're saying. I know I'm learning all the time, but I get so impatient with myself. It will come. It will come. It will come.
      I like it when people have a pet dog. I realized this past week that the dogs and I understand each other. Neither of us know what anyone's talking about, but we're just happy to be there, greet everyone, and then settle into our corner for some silent observation.
       Speaking of dogs, Sister Rosado has SIX back home! She has a photo of each one and every time she shows members and investigators her photo album, they get to look at 6 sets of droopy, light-reflected red eyes first. It makes me laugh. And it makes me miss Bowser. He would wet himself if he could meet the dogs here.

    I love you all more than Thanksgiving, Christmas, and all the other holidays combined! Be happy and write to me about all your adventures!

-Sister Whitaker

Oi, familia e amigos!!! 

   How strange it is to hear about Thanksgiving plans at home when it's so hot here. Summer in Brasil has just begun and every time I see a Christmas tree set up in someone's house, or Christmas decor in the stores, I think it's the most random and tacky thing ever. Then I remember that Christmas really is on its way and these people are serious. I wish you could all see the contrast between the hot beaches with their palm trees and the people walking around in Santa hats, along with their short shorts and bikini tops. 
     Mussurunga (Sorry, I keep changing the spelling because I swear its spelled different every time I see the name) neighbors the airport, and every 5 minutes or so (sometimes more), an airplane flies overhead so low that one would think we're on the tarmac. So this is how our lessons always go:
       "Joseph Smith wanted to know which Church he should join, and so....." AIRPLANE!!!!  "... and today we have The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints." Needless to say, we really have to rely on the Spirit to convey our message.
       Things I learned this week:
    I have a crinkle in my forehead which creates a trail for sweat to drip perfectly into my left eye. I spent quite some time trying to furrow my brow in different ways to create a new trail, but to no avail. I'm currently working on plans to build a dam. I'll let y'all know how that goes.
    I learned what it really means to sweat. I'm really ok with people seeing me look my worst now, because there's simply no way around it.
    There's a family here who feed us quite frequently and the dad remind me of my dad. I miss you, daddy! This Brother was looking at pictures of my family the other day and he said, "Your dad is Steve Martin?! Tell him I want his autograph!"

    Yesterday, we ate dinner with some members who kept putting more food on my plate and filling my cup. Just when I thought I was going to die, I took my last bite of food and, resisting with all my might the natural urge to throw up (not because the food wasn't delicious-- it was! But because there was so much of it), determined I would throw my body over my plate if they tried to give me more. Then the husband brought out dessert. I was about to pop, but I couldn't refuse them when they were so happy to make me eat. I don't know how I did it, but I turned off my brain and made myself eat that dessert. Then the wife, smiling brightly at me, said, "Comer mais!" (Eat more!) 
   "Não, não," I tried to tell them,"não posso!" (I can't)
    But, not the least bit deterred, the husband took my dessert bowl away and returned with it completely full again! 
    I ate that, too.
    I'm learning that right when we think we've taken more than we can bear, we can always take more. And I'm not just talking about food. I wrote a poem about it. It's called "Sister, Comer Mais":

           The first taste of Bahia is a yummy treat,
            Fruit juice and meat with a mild spice.
           I smile as to me they entreat,
             "Sister, comer mais!"

           Farinha, alface, acáraje, and always
             Beans and rice.
            I've hardly taken my last bite, when:
              "Sister, comer mais!"

           I'm stuffed now, I really am.
             I can't take another bite.
          "No, no, you can! Of course you can!
             "Sister, comer mais!"
           I try, I sweat, I do my best
            In the sun, the rain, the lice.
           And just when I think I can have a rest,
            "Sister, comer mais!"

            Who'd have known it would take so much
              To melt my heart of ice?
             To swallow my pride, eat humble pie.
              Sister, comer mais.

            Did not His cross weigh so much more
             Than my flimsy little pack?
            Especially with the added sting
            Of stripes across His back.

            Spat on, mocked, scorned and torn,
              Honor stripped at roll of dice,
            No murmuring word escaped His lips
              When the Savior paid the price.

            His cup to drink, my plate to eat,
              With naught but God's will to entice,
            Through blistered feet and Bahia's heat,
               Senhor, eu vou comer mais.

Yeah, it's a little rough, but who has time for editing around here? And ok, no, I don't really have lice, but it rhymed and we do have a lot of tiny bugs all over our apartment. They aren't bad, though. I'm healthy and happy! This language is really challenging, and sometimes I just want a break from trying to understand it, but I know one day I'll be gratetful for this full-body immersion. And someday I will understand these people when they speak! I can understand Sister Rosado sometimes now, which is good! There's hope for me yet.
   I would love, love, love to hear other peoples' mission language-learning experiences! (AKA, PLEASE tell me that there are other people out there who have experienced what I'm experiencing now! Any words of encouragement for me?)

    Funny story of the day:
    For P-Day, my zone got together for some brincaderas (volley ball, water balloons, etc), and our volleyball got stuck in a tree. All the Elders tried throwing things at it to get it out, and finally they pulled out a ladder. One of the Elders climbed up with a broomstick and a few minutes later, tons of HUGE bats flew out of the tree! I've never seen bats so big outside of the zoo! It wasn't until they'd all cleared away that I realized I was the only one still standing under the tree. Everyone else had run away and hid! Sister Rosado laughed at me because, apparently, I'd been smiling at all of the bads in wonder, as if all of my dreams were coming true. Silly! It was pretty cool, though. Elder Duncan, my District Leader, nearly wet his pants from fright.

    Well, in the words of Porky Pig, "Dee da da lee blee, That's all folks!"

-Sister Whitaker

P.S. Family, I love every single one of you so much it hurts and I miss you more than I knew it was possible to miss people!!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Welcome to BAHIA!!!

Oi, Familia e Amigos! Greetings from the beautiful and exotic land of Bahia! I have so much to say and so little time to say it that this is going to come out in ugly bullet points. OK? OK :)

Let´s start with Day 1:

- Flying into Bahia was like flying into Brazil for the first time. I felt like Bambi when I looked out the window, and shocked at the sight of snow in such a hot place, said to Sister Oliver, ''What´s all that white stuff??" Imagine my surprise when she said that it was not snow, but sand! I never knew sand could be so white and fluffy-looking. The dirt here is truly red, too! 
- I love, love, love President and Sister Andrezzo. When they picked us up from the airport, I forgot mission rules for a moment and threw my arms around President Andrezzo! He did´t chastise me for it, so maybe it was OK. But I sure felt embarrassed.
- I saw a tree full of monkeys as we made our way up to President´s house for dinner. That´s right, monkeys! Very small black and white ones the size of squirrels. I thought they were adorable, but Sister Andrezzo is afraid of them. I guess one of them bit her son´s hand once. That was a wealthy area, though. In my area we don´t have monkeys- we have rabid dogs and rogue pigeons.
- My new companion is a drop-dead-gorgeous Brazileira named Sister Rosado. My area is Murunga in Salvador, very, very close to the beach.

Day 2:

- I didn´t know what was going on the whole day, but it was alright. I don´t understand a word Sister Rosado says, but I do try. Mostly I just followed her around the whole day, went into people´s houses and just sat there while she talked to them. Every once in a while they would look at me and talk about how I don´t understand them. Sometimes Sister Rosado would ask me to say a prayer and afterwards they would all smile as if I was the cutest and most pathetic thing ever, and say, "Para bens!" (congratulations)
- My area is very poor, but very friendly. I am constantly in awe at how warm and welcoming people are, even to missionaries. For the whole second day I could never tell who was a member of the church that we ran into on the street or who was a stranger, because Sister Rosado would talk to them all the same and they would all talk to her as if she were an old friend. Also, something I really love is that everyone greets each other with a hug and a kiss on each cheek. This makes it harder to tell who´s a new acquaintance and who´s an old friend when you don´t understand what anyone´s saying, but it sure makes you feel welcome!
- I was especially amazed at the friendliness of people when we knocked doors. Here, everyone has a gate in front of their house, so Sister Rosado would walk up to the gate, clap her hands, and sometimes call out,"Oi! Somos missionarias!" (Hi, we´re missionaries!) And always, someone would come out to greet us, even if they weren´t interested. They would come out to the gate, greet us as old friends, listen to what we had to say, and then say yes or no to hearing our message, thank us politely, and either let us in or bid us a good day. Amazing!

Day 3:

- Sister Rosado and I hopped on a bus and took it to the local chapel, where we had a district meeting. There is only one other American in my district (Elder Duncan) and he wouldn´t speak English with me. That´s good, because I´ll learn so much faster this way. It sure is challenging, though. Whew-wee! :)
- After the district meeting, Sister and President Andrezzo drove up and all the missionaries were talking with them. As usual, I understood nothing and just stood there smiling. I´m the District mime, you see. Then, everyone looked at me and started clapping. No more confused than I always am here, I started clapping too and turned around to see what we were clapping for. Sister Rosado threw her arms around me with a big smile on her face and cried,"Sister Weetahkeh, porque não disse?" and then everyone was singing happy birthday to me. I had completely forgotten it was my birthday! Ha ha ha! They all laughed at me when I said I forgot.
- The rest of the day I just drank everything in. Bahia is a gorgeous place. I am in constant awe that this isn´t a dream. It´s like living in a dream! Every corner has its own potent smell, from mysterious delicious foods to garbage to dead dog to car fumes to perfumes. Everywhere you look there are trees bowing under the weight of coconuts, bananas, or some other exotic fruit. The leaves make a constant, rushing whisper as the sea breeze rustles them. This, combined with the plastic bags blowing around the streets, the cars, the people, and the birds all contribute to the music of Bahia.
- The people of Bahia have great faith-- especially when they drive. Great faith. Faith that they´ll make it through that tiny space at such a high speed, faith that everyone will move for them. Their faith is so great that they never cease moving forward. It´s astonishing.
- I feel badly for Sister Rosado. I´m sure she feels like she´s living with Eliza Doolittle sometimes.
- That night, President and Sister Andrezzo brought over a birthday cake for me. Their daughter, Clara, was with them and she tripped on the way in, receiving a nasty gash on her leg that bled so much that she had to sit with her head between her knees. They were all so embarrassed, and I wished I knew how to talk to them. Sister Andrezzo said, "Quick! Let´s sing to Sister Whitaker and then we can worry about Clara." They proceeded to rush through the birthday song, clapping their hands, and poor Clara clapped her hands in the air with her head still between her knees. Then they all wished me a good night and Clara said, "Disculpa, Sister," as her parents helped her limp out the door. I guess she had to get stitches. 

Well, I´m about out of time, but I just want you all to know that I´m learning the language very rapidly. Trying and trying again. The Lord has been blessing me more than I deserve.

Oh yeah! And I´m allowed to email friends now! I can also print off emails, so even though I won´t have time to read and respond to every email, I can print them off and write responses through letters. Cool, eh?

I hope you are all well! I miss everyone more than I thought it was possible to miss people. I ache to hear from you all! I get letters once a month now that I´m out of the CTM, so if it takes me a long time to respond to you all, that´s why. 

The church is true. God is our loving Heavenly Father. He knows us, knows what we need, and wants nothing more than to shower us with blessings. I love being a missionary and sharing the sweet message of the Restoration with people! Someday I´ll be able to actually do it with words. For now, it´s mostly smiles and hugs and service. Be graetful for all that you have! Be kind. Be good. Be happy!

All my love and a big fat hug,
Sister Whitaker

P.S. Mommy, thank you so much for sending me a package!!! I´m super excited to get it!!! I miss you so much it hurts, even though I´m also very happy to be here.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Greetings from the protein capital of the world

     My favorite part of every week is, without fail, going to the temple on Tuesday mornings.  Today was especially beautiful, spiritual experience and I wanted to burst from being so happy and full of love!
     Driving to and from the temple in a bus the size of the Titanic is always exciting too.  Sometimes I feel like I'm n a Disney park as I look around at all the terracotta-shingled houses, random piles of rubble, and thick, exotic foliage and the bus is jostling around like the jeep in the Indiana Jones ride. Then I look at the little cardboard make-shift huts that people actually live in under the freeway on-ramps and it hits me hard that this is home for so many people. I can't even imagine being so poor.  I'm very sheltered from all that in the CTM, but I know that once I get to Bahia, it's going to hit me like a tone of bricks how real everything is.  Irmao Ricardo, my teacher who doesn't speak a word of English, told Sister Oliver and I yesterday that we're going to have a hard time with people in Bahia believing that we know anything about life because we're spoiled, white Americans.
     And how's the language coming you might ask?  I only have two weeks left here before I'm thrown out to the mission field (I leave the CTM on November 6th).  I'm happy to report that I understand almost 100% of what Irmao Ricardo says when he's talking slowly and about 60%  when he's talking at normal speed.  sometimes I forget he's speaking Portuguese at all!  But ... when it comes to other Brazilians ... I understand more like 20%.  I think I've just gotten used to how Irmao Ricardo speaks.  AS for my OWN speaking of the language ... I understand way more than I can communicate.  I never used to understand when people would say, "I understand Spanish, I just can't speak it."  Well, now I understand completely.  When I try to speak Portuguese, it comes out in an ugly smattering of unorganized nouns, direct objects, and unconjugated verbs that I hope the Brazilians will be able to make sense of. Most of the time, they don't get it.  I'm trying to understand how to structure sentences properly and trying to get these millions of verb conjugations down! My teachers tell me that the only way I'll learn how to structure sentences is if I speak with Brazilians as often as possible, stop worrying about how silly I sound, and let them correct me over and over and over again. I'm working on that. AS for the verb conjugations, we were all given a handy-dandy little yellow card with the most common verbs and their conjugations on it and I cling to that thing like a frightened nun clings to her Rosary.  I'm jealous of the pockets the Elders have.
     Skirts with pockets are GENIUS! I'm loving my skirt from Down East Basics with the pockets.  I wish I had ten more like it.  One of the sisters who left a week ago gave me a skirt she didn't want anymore. It's big and ugly, but it has POCKETS! It is now one of my favorite articles of clothing.   Yay for free stuff!
     Elder Hermansen somehow has gone his entire life thinking that his esophagus was called a sarcophagus.  this came out when Sister Oliver was coughing from laughing too hard and he said, "Oh no, there's something stuck in her sarcophagus!"  I laughed so hard I thought I would die.  Don't worry, I told him what a sarcophagus is; but I think for the next few weeks, any time someone coughs, we're going to keep saying, "There's something stuck in her sarcophagus!"
     I just have to say how much I love being here.  Any of you girls who are thinking about going on a mission, DO IT!  You don't have to have God open up the Heavens and tell you to go for it to be the right thing for you.  D&C 4:3 "Therefore, if ye have desires to serve God ye are called to the work."  I'm not trying to tell you what to do.  I'm just trying to make you feel guilty if you don't do what I think you should
 do :)

In the words of Porky Pig, "Dee blee de dee, that's all folks!"

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Floating Psycho Ward

It starts with the hand-flicking thing. You know, that thing missionaries who served in South America do? That flick of the hand that makes a finger snap? It's all very innocent at first, trying to get it down so you can do it, too. But practice becomes habit and before you know it, it's a nervous tick. Then comes the laughing at things that aren't funny, and then laughing just because laughing feels so good. Then the twitching begins, closely followed by the shifty, glinting eyes.
    Cabin Fever.
    The missionaries who have been here for 7 or 8 weeks have it bad. Last week, Elder Barton pointed out the symptoms showing up in our own district. I looked around me and laughed. He was right!
    Remember that part in Muppet Treasure Island when all the pirates are sitting on the ship without a breeze and their faces begin to stretch in unflattering ways, their eyes wild? That's the stage my district is currently at. Come next week, I fully expect to see my Elders break out into song, with towers of fruit on their heads as they dance in coconut bras and grass skirts while shaking marrakas.
    6 weeks is a long time to be in one building. Sister Oliver calls it "the Prison". I wouldn't go that far-- it's actually a really great place, with a nice gym and a beautiful courtyard with palm trees and a HUGE mango tree (hopefully the mangoes ripen before I leave. They're looking so good!), and goodness knows how I LOVE the company. But all things in moderation, my friends. I'm sure it's a good thing that they're cutting MTC-time for missionaries after I leave. Yeah, the future missionaries will have 3 weeks less to learn the language, but maybe they'll also have 3 weeks' more sanity when they get to the field. :P
    What do we do all day, one might wonder? Well, wonder no longer! Here's my daily schedule in a nutshell:
     6:30 am-- Arise and prepare for the day
     7:00 am-- Breakfast in the cafeteria
     7:30-8:30 am-- Personal scripture study
     9:00-12:00 -- Classes with Instrutor Viana (grammar, teaching fundamentals, etc)
     12:30 pm-- Almoco (lunch)
      1:15-4:45-- Classes with Instrutor Ricardo (Portugues, Portugues, Portugues!)
      5:00 pm-- Jantar (dinner)
   From there, depending on the day, we have gym or Lab, more study time and language practice. Then we sit and write down our study plans for the next day and go to sleep at 10:30. Every day. It's a full schedule!
    I really love it, though. I've found that any time I'm not studying or in class nowadays, I start to get antsy and I have to pull out my flashcards to practice. I'm sure I'll always be remembered as Sister Stick-in-the-Mud, because I never want to just play. I want to work, work, work all the time! Weird, huh? It feels good, though.
     Last Sunday I prepared my first talk in Portugues! Every Sunday we have to be prepared to give a talk if called upon at the last minute, and up to this point we were allowed to write them in English. But from the 6th week on, they have to be completely in Portugues. It was such a challenge to write that I was actually disappointed almost as much as I was relieved when I wasn't called upon to share it.
     Well, my time's about up now, but before I go I just want you all to know how much I love being here. I love this Gospel so much. I love my Savior and there's nowhere I'd rather be than here in Brazil, doing His work. It's not always easy, and I miss you all like crazy, but I know that I'm right where the Lord wants me.
  I love you all!!! Stay close to the Lord! Be wise, be kind, and be happy!
--Sister Whitaker

Paz e Amo!

Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm wollen mittens, brown paper packages tied up with strings... these may be a few of my favorite things, but they've got NOTHING on watching General Conference at the CTM, in a room packed with eager missionaries. Who knew the Spirit could be so strong? And HALELUJA!!! We are thrilled beyond expression with the announcement of the new missionary ages! I literally burst into tears when the announcement was made, as did the sister sitting beside me. Why? Because I have such a strong testimony that this is exactly what the world needs. I had just been thinking that week about how needed more sister missionaries are here, and I know that the number of them will sky-rocket now that they can come at a younger age. One of the elders in my district, Elder Bean, has a twin sister who was impatiently waiting to turn 21 in three years so she can go on a mission. Yesterday he got a letter in the mail from her that contained only a picture of her facebook homepage, saying "I'm Going on a Mission!" and he was crying tears of gratitude for the rest of the day. Y'all have no idea how amazing this is!
    All of the talks in Conference were so AMAZING! Elder Holland and Uchtdorf were favorites of mine, as always. But Bednar-! Bednar took the cake for me. All I want for my birthday is my own personal copy of his talk in English. His message about the relationship between a testimony and being converted is so powerful. Especially for a missionary. You CAN NOT serve a mission without being converted. Having a testimony is essencial, but it's not sufficient. I learned that my first couple of weeks here. You really learn whether or not you're converted when you're put to the test. Good stuff. I could go on and on and on about this for ages, but, alas, I have no time!
   I love hearing about Paul's progress! I can almost speak Portugues as well as he can speak English. And Brazilians think it's adorable to watch me struggle. Lovely. Paul and I have a lot in common these days.
    Things are going very well here at the CTM. I love it here more and more every day. This morning was a rough one, though, as Sister Oliver and I had to bid fairwell to our beloved Brazilian roommates. Their 3 weeks with us passed like a blink of the eye, I swear! We came to be so close to them, it was hard to say goodbye and know that we will probably never meet again in this life. I'm extremely excited for them to go to the feild, though! Last week I finally reached the point where I just want to get out of here and start doing some serious missionary work! Can I speak the language? Not at all. I'm working harder than I've ever worked in my life, though.  I've never pushed myself so hard physically, emotionally, or spiritually, and I'm beginning to see the rewards. Sister Marlette and I run together all during gym and help each other memorize scriptures and things in Portugues. It's so fun!
     I love you all so much! My time is up now. I hope to hear from you soon!
-Sister Whitaker

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eyeball Soup and Peep Pudding

Congratulations to Rachel and JC! The wedding sounds like it was beautiful! I woke up on the morning of and felt like I was missing out on something, but I couldn't think if what that could possibly be. All day I felt like my heart was off somewhere else in the world, having a party without me. Then, towards the evening, I suddenly realized with a start, "My sister's wedding is today!"
     All of the Elders in my district gave a collective, sympathetic, "Awww!" And then came the questions, "Why didn't she do it while you were home?!"
     That's ok, though. At least my heart was there to experience it all. It grudgingly returned to me at the end of the day and the two of us went to bed.
    First off, I just want to clear something up that's been haunting me all week.  In my last email, I wrote that my Instructor sometimes has me interpret what he's saying to the rest of the class. I did NOT mean to be boastful when I wrote that! I realized after the fact that it might have come off that way. I am not learning any faster than anyone else in my district, and I have a LONG way to go before I can really communicate in Portugues. I just meant that I'm glad I'm actually catching on to Portugues a little bit now, enough to understand my instructor, at least. We all have our good days and our bad days, though. Sometimes I stare at Irmao Ricardo while he's speaking and I have no idea what he's talking about. Then I have to massage my temples for a while and try again. It's not easy, learning a new language, but I am amazed at how possible it is! 
     I have two Brazilian roommates now. Sister Oliver and I LOVE them! One of them speaks fluent English, and she has been most helpful as we try to understand the language. Her name is Sister Carvalho. I wish I could take her home with me, she's so funny and spunky.  She talks a mile a minute in English, and even faster in Portugues, making crazy faces and gesticulating wildly as she goes.  Sister Leite Silva, her companheira, is possibly one of the most hilrious girls I've ever met, and I don't even know what she's saying 99% of the time! They're both gorgeous, of course.
     Mom, you thought I was too prissy to come to Brazil. But let me tell you... these Brazilian girls are the most classy, feminine creatures I've ever encountered, They're always dressed to the nines, in heals and jewelry with perfect hair and makeup, and lots and lots of perfume. All we US girls feel like a bunch of bumpkins next to them. I'm sure I won't envy those heals once I'm out tracking every day, but here in the CTM... I often find myself lost in a daydream about my purple pumps back home.....
     There's a wonderful black bean soup/mush here called Vesuara (not sure how to spell that-- you'll have to ask Ryan). It's basically all the ingredients of a hotdog before they reach the blender, stewed in black beans. Cartilaginous sockets surrounded by blubber fat, chunks of meat, a few random hairs. The vesuara here at the CTM is supposedly very mild, but one Elder claims he found an eyeball in his once. Yum!
    There's also a dessert here Reana would go nout over-- it's like a coconut peep that was whipped up and squeezed into a bowl. Very sweet. Very marshmallowey.
    The time for emails simply goes by too quickly!
     I'm really learning about trust here. Trust in the Lord, trust in myself, trust in my companion.... It's a very beautiful and humbling journey I'm on, and every day I'm more grateful to be on it. When making descisions, I'm learning not to aks myself, "What do I want?" but instead, "Who will I become as a result of this choice?"  Most of the time, it turns out that to become who I want to ultimately become, I have to make the harder choices and do things that I don't want to do, and I'm always happier for it in the end.
    I am so grateful to be on a mission right now. I wouldn't trade what I'm learning here for any luxury in the world! And girls out there who are contemplating a mission:  DO IT!  It will be the hardest thing you've ever done, but it will be so worth it! Just push through the hard times with faith, trusting that the Lord knows what's best, and you will be happy.
     --Sister Whitaker

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Crazy Brazilians

     This has been an awesome second week here at the CTM. I can't believe it's only been two weeks. I've learned so much and grown so close to the people in my district. My love for Brazil grows every day (thank goodness I get to see outside these CTM walls every P-day and interact with the locals). I'm still muito far from speaking Portugues, but I'm already saying my prayers (personal and public) in 100% Portugues and I can bear my testimony, and communicate very simple things with the Brazilheiros.
     Speaking of the Brazilheiros..... They. Are. Insane. !!! And I absolutely adore them! They really like cologne. Walking down the stairwell every morning for breakfast is akin to entering a gas chamber. Sister Oliver and I beearly make it out alive every day. I know it's a tender mercy of the Lord.  The Brazilians also really like to NOT sleep, and to sing U.S. songs and laugh and laugh and laugh until Sister Whitaker is about to roll over dead from laughter. Even when you don't understand what they're saying, they are hilarious. They like climbing the trees around here, like packs of laughing monkeys. They are just way too fun. One day, one of the Brazilian Elders ate 10 bowls of rice and beans, just to see if he could, and then he and all his fellow Brazilheiros ran out to the scale to see how much he weighed, laughing and laughing all the way.
The Elders in my district are absoluetly amazing. I adore them to pieces. Never in my life has it been so painful to not hug someone. They crack me up, and they inspire me to be better, and they let me mother them, and sometimes they mother me. We take good care of each other.
    Funny moments of the week (actually, there are waaaay too many to tell them all, but these are the ones I can think of at the moment):
       -- Elder Johnson, the smallest Elder of my district, has dry humor down to the T. By all appearence, he is always lost in his own world, sitting with a frown on his face and eyes that stare very intesely at nothing. Then, when you least expect it, he opens his mouth and in his quiet monotone says something hilarious that makes it very clear he heard every word of the conversation. One such time, everyone was talking about the new Batman movie and how Anne Hathaway didn't make a very good Catwoman. They were all trying to come up with actresses who would have done a better job. Elder Johnson, with perfect timing, said, "Whoopie Goldberg would have made a better Catwoman."
   His companion, Elder Hermansen (another master of dry humor), agreed with, "She would certainly blend into the night better."
       -- There's always some church movie that they play in the auditorium every sunday, and they set up chairs and turn out the lights so it's like a big movie theater. This Sunday we watched the movie "Legacy". The chick-flick of church films! Oh goody! At that part where the buck-toothed heroine is saying goodnight to the supposed-British-convert-with-the-American-accent-and-long-hair on the porch (you know the part?) after their date and she's trying to tell him that she's "swarn to marry Jacob", I forgot that I was in the CTM momentarilly. The girl goes off on this tangent about how "love is kindess. It's patient, it's long-suffering, it endures all things--" and then the guy shuts her up with a kiss, and right at that part I said (kind of a lot more loudly than I meant to), "Oh YEAH!"  The entire room of missionaries burst into laughter. I realized right away how innappropriate such humor was in such a place and ducked down, hoping that the dark was enough to hide me from all the heads turning to see who'd said such a thing. The sisters on either side of me were laughing so hard that they were crying for quite a while, and all of the Elders in my district, scandallized almost as much as they were entertained, whispered accusingly at me, "SISTER WHITAKER!!!!"  It was very emabrassing.
In other news, I sang a solo on sunday (don't ask), and then during the evening devotional I sang "I Need Thee Every Hour" with a small group and President Degn liked it so much that when we finished, he asked us to sing it again. It was very powerful and beautiful. President Degn is a concert pianist, and he can rock the keys like nobody's buisness.
Speaking of doing things like nobody's buisiness! Ya'll would not believe it if you could see me playing vollyball!!! I can serve like a ninja. That's about all I can do, though. The Elders cheer every time I so much as touch the ball. Especially if I do it on purpose. It doesn't even matter which way it goes, so long as I actually try to hit it. One day, one of the Brazilian Elders realized that I was only useful as a server, so he put me in that position and kept me there for the remainder of the game. I was ok with that. Ha ha.

Iiiiiiiit's Sister Whitaker!!!

    When Ryan first left for his mission, he described it like falling down the stairs only without the fear or the pain. Reana described it as being thrown into a freezing cold pond.  My home teacher described it as being a fish that had just been caught and had its head whacked against a rock . For me, the last description feels the closest.

  That's almost exactly what it felt like for me my first week here at the CTM.  It's really hard to explain.  I don't think you can ever really understand what it's like unless you've been through it.  I feel just like Rapunzel in the new cartoon after she's just left the tower and she goes back and forth between joyful exclamations of ``I'm never going back!`` and mournful lamentation, wondering why on earth she'd left the tower.

  It's been a rough week.  A wonderful, amazing, powerful, hard, scary, hilarious, fun, funny, dizzying, horrifying week.  I've never felt so weak and pitiful in my entire life.  I have so much to work on before I'll ever be ready to walk the streets of Bahia as a representative of Jesus Christ.  Every day gets a little better, though, and some days are just down-right, all-out FUN!  I have the most amazing district imaginable.  I feel so blessed. And minha compenhera, Sister Oliver, is a blast and a half.   I'm really grateful I have her as a compenhera, because I have a tendency to stress and be a perfectionist, and she is the most chill human being alive.  Sometimes we goof off way too much in our district, but I'm grateful for the chance to learn how to relax every now and then.  We had an awesome testimony meeting the other night.  I am absolutely amazed by these Elders.  They're younger than Risa, most of them, but just in the past week I've watched them change in remarkable ways.  I can't even believe we've only known each other for a week.  It's scary how quickly the idea of ``home`` starts to fade into a vague kind of dream.

    So, what do I think of Brazil?  Sao Paulo is madness.  Sheer, blinkin', bloomin' madness.  And I love it.  When we first arrived, the other three sisters and I got to ride in our own, personal car apart from the Elders, and we thought we were probably going to die before we reached the CTM.  Drivers here are INSANE!!!  And the city is humungous. Sky-scrapers as far as the eye can see in every direction, with smog so thick overhead you start to forget there's any such thing as a sky or the sun.  Traffic is so bad here all the time that a lot of people just take the train and endure a 2+ hour commute to and from work every day.  One of my teachers does that.

     The food here at the CTM is pretty good.  Brazilian cafeteria food, basically.  Not as bad as US cafeteria food, but not nearly as good as what our teachers tell us we have to look forward to in the field.
     Here's a Portuguese tongue-twister my teacher told us about that was cracking me up so bad I couldn't breath or see through my tears for almost a full minute.  I want Ryan to try and say it to you all so you can hear how hilarious it is.  ``A ra arranha a aranna, a aranna a arranha a ra.``  The translation is something like: a frog scratches a spider, a spider scratches a frog, or something like that. It sounds amazing.
    I'm learning a ton, getting a little better at Portuguese every day, though it's coming to me very slowly, and just loving the Gospel! I know this is where the Lord wants me and I'm so grateful to be here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Chapter 11: Makin' a List, Checkin' It Twice

No, it's not Santa Clause, it's me! Getting everything together for the ultimate Christmas.
Post-it notes and pieces of scratch paper with things to remember scribbled on them are taking over my bedroom, along with bins and boxes and blouses. I can barely walk in there, let alone make sense of the mad jumble. The time for preparation is coming to an end. Only six days before I'll be toting my 18-month supply of living essentials through three airports and setting up residence in....... Sao Paulo, Brazil!That's right. The long-awaited VISA finally came last week! And so, I will be flying straight to the training center in Brazil. And since I won't be able to receive any packages from home while I'm there, I darn well better have everything I need in my suitcase.
"What's that?" you may be asking right now. "Did I read that right? No packages to the CTM?" That's right. Any packages I receive will have to be sent to my mission office. I can only assume that means I won't get them until I'm out of the training center (about 9 weeks) and in my mission field. I will, however, be able to receive and send letters from the CTM! So, off to the side I've posted my CTM mailing address. ->
Also posted off to the side is my mission office mailing address, where letters and packages can be sent to me until I know the address of my first assignment in the mission field. Even then, this will always be a safe address to use, even though it's not quite as direct. ->

As for emails.... I know that some Mission Presidents allow missionaries to email friends, as well as family, but I don't know yet what MY Mission President will allow. So for now we're just going to assume that I can only email, and receive emails from, my family. Hurrah for snail mail!

Now that we've got all that out of the way, let's get back to my list!

- Contact info on blog? Check
- Ugly, but oh-so-comfy and durable sandals? Check (Thank you, Chaco!)
- Tea Tree Oil shampoo to ward off lice? Check (Thank you, Sunni!)
- Modest dresses made from climate-friendly materials (no polyester or nylon!) Check
- Microfiber towel (for quick drying and conserved space) Check (Thank you, Ammon!)
- Journals to record my missionary treasured moments? Check (Thank you, Ammon!)
- Photo albums, to remember what my friends and family look like? Check (Thank you, Ammon!)
- All the shots I need to cross the border? Check (Thank you, Phil Darrah!)
- Camera? Check (Thank you Blair and Rebecca!)
- Sunday shoes? ....Hmm....
- Second suitcase? .... Hmm....
- First aid/sewing kits? .... I know I've got those somewhere....
- Umbrella? .... I'm sure I've got one in some closet or another.....
- Scriptures in Portuguese? ................

Ok, so I'm not quite ready to hop on the plane yet. But so much of what I do have ready is a result of other people being so generous with their time, energy, and resources. My family has been so wonderful, driving me about, being patient with my pre-mission stress, and keeping me on task with what I need to do. I'm so grateful for all their support. My friends, too, have been so amazing. I just love you all! Thank you, thank you, thank you all a million times over for all your love and support! Only a few days more.....

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chapter 10: A Guest Appearence by Rod Serling

Portrait of Railee Whitaker: a pampered girl from Beaverton who likes her rice with Yumm sauce and her oatmeal without sugar. But she finds herself perpetually hungry for a want of greatness in her diet; the kind of greatness found only in the selfless service and hard work of a full-time mission. What you're about to see is that hunger of the kind Railee feels can't be satisfied merely by a plane ride to an exotic beach on the humid coast of Bahia, Brazil, but by entering a portal to a dimension where reality is no longer defined by what is tangible. Railee Whitaker has crossed over the threshold of the physical world into... the Twilight Zone.

Cue spinning white door, blinking eye and eery music.

Thank you, Rod Serling, for your generous contribution to my humble blog! You're a real peach.

Anyone reading this post may think that Rod went a little overboard with his intro, but let me tell you-- his dramatics are spot on in this case! Some days I really do feel like I've kissed the "normal life" goodbye and I find myself in awe of what my new "normal is". By merely telling people (at work, on the MAX, at the park, etc) about what I'll be doing in the Fall, I end up making the bold statement that I know what I believe to be true so strongly that I'm willing to travel to a foreign country where I don't know anyone, learn another language, and go door-to-door every day to share it. As the time for my mission draws nearer, it's becoming more and more impossible to open my mouth without bearing my testimony in some way or another. The time for lukewarm neutrality has passed and I'm only just beginning to realize that what I will be for the next 18 months of my life is a walking, talking bold statement. I won't merely be a person who quietly believes in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ-- I'll be a representative of Jesus Christ, with His name on my chest, and there will be no stepping down or blending in to the crowd. For 18 straight months, nothing will be about me or what I want. It will all be 100% about the needs of the people I am called to serve. I won't be casually checking facebook or listening to the latest music. I won't be sleeping in or going out to the movies. I'll be focusing all my energy- everything I am and all that I have- on serving the Lord, my companion, and the people of Bahia.

The wait for a VISA is a strange limbo of sorts. After that phone call to the Church Travel Office, I heard nothing from anyone about my mission. My other friends who are also preparing to leave on their missions all received letters from their Mission Presidents, greeting them and telling them what to bring with them. I, however, wasn't sure until a few days ago that my Mission President even existed! In the packet I received with my mission call, there was a blank space where a picture of my President and his wife was supposed to be, and a brief explanation that no picture was available yet because he'd only recently been called and wouldn't be set apart as the new President until July 1. After July 1, I'm sure he was a very busy man, and so I tried not to get my hopes up that a letter would come from him anytime soon.

... But early this week, a letter from Missao Brasil Salvador Sul, addressed to "Sister Railee Whitaker" appeared in the mailbox just for me. President and Sister Andrezzo hadn't forgotten about me! They're alive! They're real! Still no picture of them, but at least I've got a signature!

The letter, along with its enclosed list of 'Important Recommendations', served to reawaken the dormant enthusiasm for my mission and my mind immediately started making lists of things to pack. I've spent the day organizing my room-- setting aside clothes I can wear on my mission, putting the ones I can't into storage bins, and tossing everything else into a bag for the Goodwill. It's suddenly dawned on me just how soon I'll be leaving. And just how unprepared I am! There's still so much to do, and so much to learn. This roller coaster has such a long climb to the top that, for a while, I became deaf to the monotonous clicking. But now that I'm almost to the peak, I'm aware of it again and even as I wonder, "Why did I get on this thing?!" I can't suppress the giddy anticipation in my stomach that makes me hold on tight and squeal in girlish delight.