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!!!!