¡Hola familia y amigos!
Recently I have just been entertained by the things tell me in English. There are two words for white-girl here, "Chela" and "Gringa," and I respond to both respectively. My favorite occurrence this week was with a possibly intoxicated man with a mustache sitting on the street corner, who called after me (imagine your best low, dumb beefy-guy voice), "Chela. I lohve yoo fohreverr." Hna. Najarro says that to me almost every day now.
What I find entertaining is that many people will say things to me in English just because they know how to say them. For example, a man on a bike turned around to declare loudly, "It is hot." Yes, yes, it is. Thank you. Or, "Byeeee!!!" haha The graffiti here is equally as funny. Just random words in English that don't really mean anything. "You are a boy." "Cool man." "It is here." Whatever "it" is, it wasn't there. The building it was written on was abandoned long ago.
There's a particular house we pass by every day, and every single time without fail, someone makes loud lip-smacking kissing noises at us. One day we forgot something at the house and had to turn back, and they did it twice in the span of ten minutes. It's kind of like walking in through a store that has a bell on it. I was kind of tempted to just keep walking back and forth to see how long they would go at it. Maybe one day I will. But anywho, I digress.
Sunday was a day of miracles, truly, and I FINALLY HAD MY FIRST BAPTISM!! I have been ambiguously writing that "We're going to have a baptism!" and have been disappointed every time. Adalberto has cancelled three times on us, and each time has been a huge let-down. He wants to be baptized, he just wouldn't commit for some reason--his excuses were always random and, frankly, unnecessary. This Sunday was no different. We had his baptism planned for 8 am, and even passed by his house the night before to remind him, and he seemed excited about it. 8 o'clock came and went, then 9...no Adalberto. Hna. N called him, and he said he was "finishing up some cleaning" and would arrive at the chapel in half an hour. The problem with that is that church starts at 10, and his "half an hours" always end up being longer. So, Hna. N determined that we would walk to his house, which is a good mile away from the church to help with cleaning if needed and get him ourselves. We arrived at 9:15, and he wasn't home. Not to be deterred, we called again (sometimes I feel like we're like those telemarketers that just never go away..except we happen to be selling salvation and eternal happiness), and found out that he and his wife were at Pali (the only grocery store here) shopping. So, naturally, we decided to power walk/run another mile to Pali and meet him there. We caught him just as he was about to leave the check-out line, drove with him and his wife in the car to put away all of the groceries, and then drove with him to the church at approximately 9:45 am, 15 minutes before church. We sang a hymn, someone bore their testimony, and, FINALLY, Jose Adalberto Delgado was baptized, with five minutes before church to spare. It was so amazing to finally, finally, finally (and one more finally, because it was the 4th attempt), see him come out of the water completely clean. All of the disappointment and waiting paid off, and he was practically glowing he was so happy.
That same day, we had a good 8 other people who promised to show up at church, and it looked like none of them would come. But, slightly late, three of them came and stayed for more than the first hour! It was a day of miracles for us--the previous Sunday we had a glorious zero number of investigators at church with us. Patience and determination (a lot of it. We chased the man practically all around Leon) really pay off. If we hadn't gone the extra mile (ha, extra two, actually), this would be just another week without a baptism. I was grateful for Hna. Najarro for taking matters into our own hands, and I was grateful to God for the miracle. We really needed it...it has been a rough couple of weeks here as far as finding and teaching are concerned (and Julio Blanco up and left randomly on a 2 week vacation the day before his baptism, so..that was awesome). Ya can't win 'em all, but I promise I'm trying my hardest in spite of the many frustrations and disappointments we experience here.
Also, whoever told me I was going to lose weight on my mission is a liar and a jerk. I have been privileged to serve with an El Salvadorenian companion, and this week she taught me how to make Pupusas! I made at least 15 of them, because we ended up making them twice in the span of two days for two different families. Amd yes, I will admit the first three were comically tragic in their appearance, but by the end of it, I was getting many compliments, and was given permission by Iris (the woman who makes our lunch) to get married upon my return. Ah, finally, permission! If you are having trouble in your dating efforts, make Pupusas, the secret necessity to appear more desirable. Ugh..they're so good, and so bad for you. They're kind of just like savory pancakes/thick tortillas stuffed with mozarella cheese (which we bought fresh from a queseria and kneaded into more of a doughy texture ourselves--mom, your favorite kind of cheese, but like 2 lbs of it), chicken, and beans (or various combinations of those, heavy on the cheese), with a flour and water tortilla dough. You just knead the dough into a bowl shape, fill it with whatever you feel like, pinch it together, pinch of the excess, mold it into a circle so the center is evenly distributed, dip it in olive oil and smack it flat. I am a pro now. I'll make them for everyone when we get back, and we can all be happy and fat together.
Also!! If we hadn't had a baptism this would have been the title of my email home: Lychees. For anyone that knows me really well, you know that my favorite fruit (besides cherries) are Lychees, but I have only ever been able to eat them canned because they are imported from Asia. Okay, this made my life this week. Every time we pass through the busy market place here, I have noticed these weird, red fruits the size of walnuts in large baskets. They're so weird looking--they have spidery-tendrils shooting out in all directions that give them a spiky apperance, and I had no idea what they are. I decided to buy one and try it last week, and after figuring out how to remove the spiky shell, I was amazed and shocked to find that the weird fruit, called "Mamones de China" here, are actually LYCHEES!!!! And they sell for only one cordoba each (less than one cent, happy day!). Needless to say, I bought some right away and demolished them before the end of the day. SO much better fresh, and apparently they grow them right here in Leon. Hna. Howell and Hawkins dislike them because they say they are the same consistency as eyeballs (which is true), but I don't even care. There are Lychees in Leon, and this is exactly where I am supposed to be. If you haven't tried Lychee before, I invite you to search out your nearest Asian market and try them. I would describe the taste, but it is unlike anything else I've ever tried (kind of like trying to explain to someone what an apple tastes like if they've never tried one). Let me know how that goes for you.
The cockroaches fly here. Yes. I am being serious. Why did God make cockroaches that can fly? I don't know. But they do fly and we experienced what I am titling "The Great Cockroach Chase" this week. Every time our house gets fumegated, they go insane trying to get out of the house. So here's the situation: five cockroaches, two missionaries (well...more like one missionary who is a trained mosquito-assassin, and another shorter latina one cowering in the corner screaming), three shoes. I won the battle. There was much shouting, strategem, the sacrifice of a shoe that may or may not have been accidentally thrown out of a window, and, by the end, I came out conquerer. And Hna. N killed one, so, may that be noted as well.
There's also a bout of lice spreading through the ward, as well as a local virus called "The Gripe" (gree-pay). I have the Gripe, unfortunately, but I am hopeful it will be gone by the end of next week--it's just like the common cold, and I'll be fine. I do NOT, however, have lice. I cannot explain to everyone just how much of a fear I have of getting lice. I would almost rather shave my head than have lice, and I am not even kidding. Pray for me, please. I will take any number of sicknesses and cockroaches any day over lice. Gah. Why.
Nica fact: They point to things with their lips. At first I just thought it was people making awkward puckering faces as a way to start a conversation, but now I get what they're doing. Sometimes I do it too, although it never feels natural. Try talking to someone by pointing at things with your lips, it's a different sensation.
We had an oddly busy but unconventional day this past Sunday as well. We met with the Bishop with the Elders Ayala (the only two Elders who share our area who happen to have the same last name. I can't get over it. One is from Los Angeles and the other from El Salvador. Ayala is such a unique name, too. Anyway.), to discuss the ward and our individual areas, and ended up having an adventure that took us all around Leon. The four of us (and Mynor, the hilarious 1st Councilor) crowded into the Bishop's old beat up car, and accompanied him on a tour of both of our areas. We drove places I've never even seen before that have apparently been in our area the whole time (Hna. N didn't know either). The further out we drove, the landscape became increasingly more rural, and, likewise, increasingly more poor. I love the brightly colored house and cobblestone streets here, but it was refreshing to be on dirt roads out in the middle of nowhere, endless expanses of greenery and palm trees and little shacks and clotheslines hung with laundry banking us on both sides, a light, misty rain fogging up the car window. We stopped periodically to meet with less active members or other who needed blessings, and it was neat to feel the spirit and attitude of a house change as the Elders gave blessings or dedicated the houses accordingly. I really loved it.
The very last house we visited however, if you can even call it a house, was easily the poorest place I have ever been. I'm kind of amazed we even made it so far out in the Bishop's car, because it would sputter and die periodically and we would be stranded on a steep muddy road surrounded by nothing but banana leaves and cows. But, miracles happen, and we successffully made it to our final destination. I don't know their names. I just know that their "house" was about the size of, or mayve slightly smaller than, our garage back home. It was composed about halfway of dark gray cinderblock walls, but the gaps in the outer concrete shell was filled in with pieces of scrap metal or car hoods. The roof was made of tin and tarp, and the "rooms" in the house were divided by soggy pieces of cardboard. The floor was mud, and there was one solitary flickering lightbulb that cast a sickly yellow-pallor over everyone standing in the middle of the room. When the six of us came in, the woman of the house jokingly said, "I would offer you all chairs, but we have none." Everyone laughed at this statement, but I think it might have been the saddest thing I have ever heard. The "kitchen" was just a small cooking fire on the floor next to the entranc, and a medium sized, wet looking log made up the only furniture. There little boy, who was sick (maybe 12 years old), sat on a jug full of water so the Bishop could give him a blessing. Afterwards, the woman proudly showed us a few poor quality family photos she had and certificates signifying various accomplishments. I found it so...I don't even know..interesting? Endearing? Admirable? that when the people here have nothing else, they rely more than ever on their families.
Leaving that home, we passed by a group of homes even more poor. Four sheets of scrap metal and tarp roofs, the Nicaraguan equivalent of American trailer parks. I don't even know what to think about it, to be honest. I don't think I can even comprehend that that is literally all they have. Four metal walls. The size of a tool shed or smaller. And driving by, they smiled and waved, happy even in complete poverty.
I guess I have just been feeling every day I have spent here that the Lord wants me to learn from these people, and honestly, I have been learning so much more from them than I have taught them. The majority of the people here have awkwardly posed, blurry photos of family members poorly photo-shopped onto lavish backgrounds displayed proudly in their homes in plastic picture cases. Many of those "lavish backgrounds" were just normal living rooms, but the kind I have never seen here (unless you count President Collado's house, which is incredible). It made me think a lot about the many "mansions in heaven" that have been promised for the faithful after this life. Don't get me wrong, I would love a mansion, and look forward to that, if I successfully "endure to the end" in this life. I can easily say materialism is one of my many faults. But after being here, after being in that one roomed, dank house in the middle of nowhere Leon with those people who are faithful in spite of how little they actually hvae, I can easily say that when I die, I want to be with the Nicaraguans (and my family, of course), and I want to see their faces when they are granted these "mansions in heaven." I am more excited for them than I am for myself, honestly. I don't know. It's something I hadn't given any thought to before, but I look forward to that day for them alone.
I guess there is really no such thing as having "too little" when you have the Gospel. I can say with full conviction that I would not teach the Law of Tithing (giving up 10% of your income) to these people if I did not absolutely know the blessings we receive from that. How do you ask someone who makes maybe $20 a month to give up even $2 of that to the Church? I imagine the people wondered the same from the Widow and her mite. Any number of people can donate money and give of what they have, and in the Bible, the parable states that many men gave many riches. But it was the Widow and her Mite (hardly worth anything) that meant the most to the Lord.
I hope everyone takes a moment this week just to look around you, be you in a tiny dorm in Utah or warm and safe at home in whatever state you live in, and consider just for a tiny second how blessed you actually are. I'm not trying to be on my soap-box saying everyone should be guilty for what they have--just to consider how much we actually do have every single day without even really realizing it. I never realized just how blessed and priviliged I have been my whole life until coming here. There aren't even words, honestly.
I love Nicaragua. I love being a missionary. I may have written this before, but there is just something so fulfulling about putting on my nametag every morning, getting ready to conquer the day. I would not be here if I didn't feel with everything that I have to offer that this Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is true. The only true and living Church on the earth today. And somehow or other, we have been blessed enough to know about it.
I was struck by the comment of one person we contacted in the street this week when we testified that today there is a living prophet, the same as there was in Christ's day. They said, "I cannot believe I never even knew." There are people everywhere who have no idea just what they're missing out on, and more than anything, I've been feeling the pressure and the responsibility to just let people know about the Gospel, even if they won't accept it. And even if and when they don't accept it (we are rejected more often than accepted), I think of Christ, who even while on the earth was "despised and rejected of men...a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." Every little disappointment we experience in our lives He atoned for and experienced. He knows us, and He knows what we are capable of. Even if I can do no more than love the people here and invite them to know the truth, that is enough.
Anyway, out of time as usual--I have some funny stories for next week. Les quiero mucho! I pray for you all every night, I hope you know that.
I love you forever,
<3 Hermana Behan