¡Hola familia y amigos!
I used my bugspray as perfume today because our supposedly clean laundry smells like death this week. And if you were wondering, I hate the smell of bugspray. Oh well. I have decided I just don't care anymore, haha.
First of all, I promised I would describe the market scene in my last email, so I'll do that now. The market closest to the Central is the coolest--tons of huge umbrellas in primary colors blocking out the sun for each of the many vendors set up in their little shacks and tents. There are little sections blocked off for each vendor, some shelves bearing nothing but tons of ripe pineapples, huge woven baskets filled with yellow/green oranges (Green oranges. It's a thing.), limes, platanos (Plantains, which I eat every single day here in various forms. Boiled, fried, mashed, cut into strips and dried like potato chips . . . you name it.), bananas, sugar cane, coconuts, fish, crabs crawling around in buckets, gigantic papaya (which I don't really like that much. The outside is yellow tinged with green, and the inside is a deep orange color. The taste is bland. It is, however, good in smoothies), giant bags propped up in rows filled with uncooked rice and various types of beans and spices, and everwhere, everywhere, little bolsitas (little bags) filled with various things. I've seen bolsitas strung up filled with ketchup and mustard and mayonaise, with water, various juices, flour, salt, bike parts, you name it. There's something kind of fun about ducking in and out of the umbrellas, side-stepping rutas and horses and cars and motorcycles and taxis and triculos (a man riding a bike with a two or three person bench behind him on wheels and covered by a little canopy) and other people. You don't wait to cross the road, you just go for it and assume they'll move for you--which they almost always do, but I've had a few close encounters that got my heart racing.
It's chaotic, and I love everything about it. Men unloading entire truckloads of green bananas and huge platanos, tossing watermelons like basketballs from one truck to another and then to a third man filling up large buckets. There are always little tiendas and pulperias filled with the most random things. Almost always with long strings of tiny packages of shampoos and chips and candies, and then bread and random lotions and toys and soaps. There is no, "Oh, I need to buy shorts, I'll go to...." such and such, you name the location. It's more like...well, I'm just going to go on a hunt for whatever it is I need until I randomly find it in this little shack on the street corner. It's kind of fun that way, I've decided, but also a bit inconvenient.
Secondly, someone has been blasting Abba songs for the last half hour. My life is random. Mama Mia, anyone?
And Dad, I saw someone walking around a large pig tethered on a string, and I thought of you. Maybe someday your dreams of owning a pet potbelly pig will be realized. If not, you can always come to Nicaragua.
Today was a lovely and uneventful P-Day. We went to the Central of Leon to buy batidos (or smoothies) at "Siembras & Cosechas," which puts Jamba Juice to shame, and returned home to write letters. I ordered an orange and pineapple batido, and it was worth the calories (the fruit is fresh from the market and is easily the best I've ever tasted). The menu is interesting, however. There's one milkshake called "La Menstrual," and it includes cinnamon, spinach, and honey, amongst a few other ingredients I can't remember. I'm sure there's some sort of herbal science behind it, but seriously...who names an item of food "The Menstrual"?? "Uh, yes, hi. I'd like to order a large Menstrual, extra spinach. Thanks." Gross.
Spanish and I were not friends this week. For some background information, we had just eaten a TON of food at a member's house (literally so much food. There's the point where you think, "I'm full," and then there's the point where you realize, "If I eat even one more bit of potatoes, I will explode." And they expect you to eat all of it. Be careful what you wish for, right?), and while at Roger's house he enthusiastically greeted us and immediately offered us drinks. We all said cold water would be just fine (because I wasn't planning on even drinking it), but he misunderstood me while asking what I wanted, and it ended up going the exact opposite of what I wanted (not to his knowledge, but Hermana N was dying laughing at me). Our conversation went something like this:
Roger: "What can I get you to drink? Coco cola? Water? Milk?"
Me: "Water is fine, thank you."
R: "But do you like milk?"
Me: "Yes, I like milk, but--"
R: "Okay! I'll get you some milk then." (and then he leaves the room and returns one minute later.) Would you like sugar with your milk?
Me: Oh, no, I'm fine. And just a little bit of milk is fine, thank you.
R: Just a little bit of sugar? Okay, coming right up!
He then proceeded to bring me a huge glass of milk with at least a half inch of sugar sitting on the bottom. When he left the room to get their waters we all laughed so hard milk came out of my nose. I give up. No one understands what I'm saying here, haha.
I was also trying to tell a family whom we are teaching while they were setting up chairs that if there weren't enough, I would sit on the floor (floor = suelo). But what I actually said is "techo," or, "roof." "Oh it's all good. Don't worry about the chairs, I'll just sit on the middle of the roof." haha They invited me to attempt to climb up there and see how that would go, but I politely declined that offer.
The main event of this week, however, occurred this Saturday, which marked what is called La Purisima, the huge "Praise Maria!" grita celebration for all of the Catholics here in Nicaragua. Aka, everyone. People vaguely alluded to it before but I had no idea just how big of a celebration it would be. Here is what I have observed: everyone who is Catholic (like I said, most people) set up extravagant little Maria shrines, as I am dubbing them, Maria being the Spanish version of the Virgin Mary. And considering how poor everyone is here, the set-ups really were quite lavish: giant Maria statues surrounded by tulle and flowers and blinking lights, giant life size paintings of her and set ups, songs about Maria being blasted through the streets and fireworks and firecrackers (ear-splittingly loud. I'm going to go deaf) all day long--the streets are littered with firecracker remains and papers and candy wrappers. The deal is almost like America's Halloween. Everyone visits each other's houses and Maria set-ups, shouts out (grita = shout) "Glory to Maria!" and collects candy and treats. I've never seen so many people in the streets at once. It seemed like everyone was out, a backpack strapped to their fronts to collect their candies, shouting "Maria!" everwhere. It made missionary work virtually impossible. So, we avoided the fireworks and random explosions in the streets and wove our way through the crowds until we finally realized it was pointless and went to grab some dinner at a member's house. And that was that.
Well, almost. That night at about 1 am Nicaragua went insane and everyone became pyromaniacs. Not even exaggerating, for FORTY minutes horribly loud explosive noises went off everywhere in Leon. It was terrible. Initially I thought we were under attack and sat straight up in my bed (it was unreal how loud it was), but we were able to fall back asleep eventually. Thanks for nothing, Maria. I didn't hear the name "Jesus Christ" mentioned even once that day, by the way. For something as seemingly innocent as the Virgin, it's taken tons of people miles from the truth. I've taught three people so far who have accepted Joseph Smith as a prophet and the Book of Mormon as the word of God, but have later refused to be baptized due to the fact that we do not worship Mary. Hermana Najarro got pretty down about it during the celebration, and I can't really blame her.
In other news, I was so proud of my English class this week! I teach a group of six boys (ranging from ages 17 to 23), and they come to class every week without fail. This week, they all stayed after class to watch a baptism (not ours, sadly) at the Church. They sang hymns and everything--the group of us made up pretty much everyone who was there. I was so proud. The man who was baptized ended up being baptized three times, due to complications in getting all of him under water (the first time he didn't cover his nose with his hand and kept his arm above water and almost choked, the second time they tried putting a chair in the font but his feet came straight up, and the third time, finally, poor guy, he knelt down and was dunked forwards rather than backwards). Not the most conventional baptism, but the boys all had questions about it and we're actually teaching several of them the Lessons. And, if nothing else, at least they all understand just how important complete immersion is. Third time's the charm.
And lastly, permit me, for a moment, to quote one of my favorite poems by William Wordsworth from his "Ode on Intimations of Immortality":
"Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting;
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home."
Although I discovered while visiting his house this summer that he was pretty cocky, I still love Wordsworth. I suppose you're entitled to some measure of egoism when you're brilliant. I just love language in general--piecing it together, forming sentences and ideas and pictures and people. Words are the building blocks of worlds--you can create entire truths and civilizations and realities with a single pen. Anyway, returning to the subject at hand, that excerpt from the poem is found in M. Russel Ballard's "Our Search for Happiness," and I love reading poetry illuminated by Gospel truths. We are not of this world; we were born under a veil, forgetting the world we came from before, a "sleep and a forgetting." It is incredible to me that I can't remember what it was like before, or that one day, when I die, my mind will flood with light and knowledge and truth, and it will be amazing to me that we ever left the presence of God to come here. But this is the glory of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: our sun does not "set" at death--it is the passage into a whole new life of never ending progression. I know that this is true. It is the Plan of Salvation, and I teach it to random people here in Nicaragua every single day. Although we have forgotten, we are not alone on this earth. We have guides to help us back to those "clouds of glory" from whence we came: scriptures, prophets, apostles, and the Holy Ghost, and our ultimate reality will be to live with God, "who is our home." I love that. Not "close to which is our home," but "who is."
That feeling of "coming home"--being where you're supposed to be with the people you love most, a familiar sensation of comfort and belong flooding your whole being. That is how we will feel with God. And that is one of the many reasons why I love this Gospel. The pains of death have their temporary victories, but those fade and are "swallowed up in Christ." The darkness and obscurity we imagine from a world in which death is the end is penetrated by a glorious beam of truth and dazzling sunlight from Jesus Christ, "the light and the life of the world." And He is. And even if no one accepts me in Nicaragua (which, recently, has been the case), I will proclaim its truth with all my heart. This is why I'm here. Because I know where I came from, I know to whom I belong, I know why I'm here on this earth, and, although my knowledge of it is not complete, I know where I'm going. My life is richly blessed and filled with purpose, and I cannot help but want to share that with the world, with every single person here in Nicaragua.
I think I had this unrealistic version that the mission would just be butterflies and rainbows and taking the people's names who are in line waiting to be baptized. And there are many highlights, to be sure, but it is also incredibly frustrating, and at times depressing and overwhelming. It's mostly heartbreak and rejection, honestly. But I know I am never alone. "He is despised and rejected of man...a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." "The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than He?" (D&C 122:8). I am not greater than He. And when I am at my very lowest points, I know that He is with me to carry me through. He is here to "console us in our afflictions and plead our cause" (Jacob 3:1). I cannot wait for the day to be in his presence, and see the man who Ballard's grandfather dreamed of in a vision. He describes Him as "the most glorious being I could ever conceive of," and writes of his vision, "As I approached He smiled, called my name, and stretched out his hands towards me. If I live to be a million years old I shall never forget that smile." I long to see that smile. He then wrote, "I know, as I know that I live, that He lives. That is my testimony." I wish to echo that testimony. I know that my Redeemer lives. I know it or I wouldn't be here. "He lives and I shall conquer death." I say that in His name, even Jesus Christ, Amen.
I love you all! Sorry this email is longer than normal, I suppose I just had much too think about this week.
And hey, Adalberto went to Church for the first time since his baptism yesterday, so, there's still hope.
¡Les quiero muchisimo!
<3 Hermana Behan