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