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.