Sunday, August 24, 2014

Tanner arrives in Barbosa, eats cow spine soup, and testifies of God's love!

My first area is Barbosa, yes, like the pirate. A little about Barbosa. Barbosa is a small, poor town in the mountains. I was told that approximately 30,000 people live here. The town is poor in comparison to the rest of Colombia. There is a single branch here of approximately 50 people that attend regularly. From what I have been told, the members of Barbosa are just "tired." The ward is really tough and not very strong. They attend in a tiny chapel that is actually underneath our apartment. Out of the 50ish that are considered active, only 20ish are really dedicated to the church. Those members are great. I have had the chance to meet all of them and they are all extremely nice and lovely people. Barbosa is a hotish city. During the day you sweat, but at night, it is just warm. Full sweat during the day and light sweat at night. It doesn`t rain that often. The heat isn`t unbearable though. I have been able to manage, so far. The streets of Barbosa are mostly just rubble. It kind of looks like a small war happened here. There are just piles of rubble everywhere and the rubble streets are lined with more rubble. Some parts have crappy pavement, but the vast majority is just dirt and rubble. The town is really cheap too. You can buy 12 rolls similar to Mom`s for dos mil pesos, which is roughly a dollar. We could easily feed our entire family for less than 10 bucks. A nice meal too. 

Our apartment is the third floor of the church building. It houses the 4 of us, 2 showers, but only one has a hot water converter thing. The water is reasonably hot, but only a little comes out at a time. You can never get truly clean. Whatever. The apartment is really dirty. Cockroaches are common and we are infested with ants. Whatever. We cleaned today, but that really didn`t do much. Our apartment does have a really cool view of the city. The first floor of the building is half chapel and half internet shop. The second floor has classrooms and the bishop´s office, and the third floor is our apartment and another person´s apartment. I will try and send pics. 

My trainer is Èlder Ramìrez of Ecuador. A little about the Elders. Elder Ramìrez: From Ecuador. Shorter than me, but really great. He is kind and patient. He speaks zero English. He has been in the field for 14 months. Really great so far. Elder Brito: From the Dominican Republic. Big, black. Really fun. He speaks fluent English, Spanish, Portuguese, and French. This is his last transfer. He is super great. Loud and fun. He is super helpful when I cannot understand Elder Ramirez. I am lucky to be around him.  Elder G: From Chile. Really nice and cool. He got hit by a bus while serving and broke his neck and collarbone. He should have died. He was back in the field within a month. An absolute miracle. He is nice and fun to be around. 

So on Sunday we are sitting there in the hot chapel. After the sacrament, the Bishop calls me up and asks me to give a 7 minute talk. Gotta love missionary work. 7 minutes. Zero prep. I called upon my knowledge of God`s love. It has been my go to talk so far. The talk went surprisingly well. I was less nervous than the other speakers. I have many people say I did a wonderful job afterwards, or at least that’s what I think they said. The rest of the church time I just listened and sat there sweating. It was great. 

Speaking of food, Mom you would be so proud. I have not turned down anything. I have tried so many different fruits. Every type of juice imaginable. EVEN ORANGE. For lunch it is pretty typical that we have rice, beans, beef, and a fruit drink. Nothing terrible yet. My bowels have been fine. KNOCK ON WOOD. No strange poops yet. They will inevitably come though. 

On Saturday we did "Operation Invasion Barbosa." We set up a table in the most busy square in Barbosa and just passed out pass along cards and Liahonas. We received almost 40 contacts in 2 hours! We are going to follow up on those contacts this week. It was fun and really effective. The other missionaries were amazing. I envy their skill and attitude. I have great examples.

 The days so far have consisted of meeting with a lot of less actives and recent converts. A massive portion of our work here in Barbosa will be building up the ward. The ward is really weak, and it needs strength. I will do my best to insert my energy and happiness into this struggling ward. We are working with some investigators though. 

Today was my first preparation day in the field. We played micro, which is soccer but on a much smaller scale. Really fun, but I am terrible. The Latinos are just so good and I look like an idiot most of the time. Whatever. Still fun. We played micro, did wash from a rentable machine, and cleaned a little. Some member paid for our lunch at a shop. Cow spine soup. Not bad. Then we just relaxed and that brings me to now. 

I feel great. The work here is different than the work in the CCM. I feel confident teaching lessons. The hardest thing is understanding people. I can pretty much say what I want to say, but I cannot understand what people are asking or telling me. Really frustrating. Things improve little by little every day. The people here are patient and understanding. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Stickers and More Poop

I do not know if I have told you this already, but going into our 5th and 6th week, all Gringos get assigned to Latino companions. Crazy. Next time I write, which will be this upcoming Tuesday, I will have a Latino companion by the end of the night. It is going to be a lot harder to communicate, but I know it will improve my Spanish skills at an increased rate. I cannot wait.
Quick update on poop issues. During the end of the third week I had diarrhea for 4 days straight. Not fun. Since then I have been fine. Not an issue most of the time. Remember the Elder that did not poop for the first 10 days? Hermana Dyer gave him triple the dose of laxatives and he pooped 2.2 KILOS. That is almost 4.5 pounds. We know this because we weighed him before and after. So funny.

I have lost about 3 pounds so far at the CCM. Your weight at the CCM is totally up to you. If you eat like a pig and drink pop every day you are gonna gain weight. I just eat a decent portion and drink water. Dad, I have noticed a very sharp decrease in my muscle mass. I just can´t get the same workout in by playing volleyball. When we lose, which is rare, I make sure to do pushups and pull-ups. I just mastered being able to do a handstand push up. It felt great. 

On July 20th, Colombia´s Independence Day, a jet flew over Bogotá. The funny thing is that the jet was unsafely close to the ground. We were eating lunch when the walls and tables literally started to shake. Cups spilled water, food fell out of people´s mouths, and a couple kids ducked under the table. It was crazy. The noise was absolutely deafening. For a second I literally thought we were about to die. So funny and really cool. 

We do a training exercise called CRE. I forget what it stands for, but we teach an investigator while a teacher watches us from a camera in a different room. Really cool. They then go over what we were good at and what we need to improve. Elder Flamm and I have it again today at 19:30. It should be interesting. 

Quick somewhat spiritual note: Hermana Dyer challenged all of us to find the six places in the Book of Mormon where the phrase "One by One" is used. She said that those who find the six during their six weeks at the CCM would receive a prize. I have found all six. We received 6 small pieces of chocolate and a temple recommend cover of the Bogotá temple. It was a nice little treat. The chocolates have stickers in them. The stickers are equivalent to gold in the CCM. People trade and barter for them. Sounds ridiculous, but there isn´t much here in the CCM to get excited about. I currently have a sticker of a caribou on the back of my tag. Super sweet. 

Foot fungus, gas, and early morning Book of Mormon study

This next part is gross, just FYI. So foot funguses are really, really, really common in Colombia. It is a pretty big problem. The best way to deal with the problem, as in prevention and curing, is to urinate on your feet every time you shower. Everyone does it. It is gross, but from what I have heard, which is pretty much from everyone, is that peeing on your feet every time you shower is absolutely essential. So Mom, I’m sorry, but I’ll be peeing in the shower for the next two years.

More gross things.  I already said how everyone is having terrible gas and diarrhea, but a lot of kids are having problems controlling their bowels. One kid was constipated for the first 8 days and needed laxatives, and three others have pooped themselves mid-class because they just lost control. I don’t know what the problem is, but it is bad. I have been good though. My digestive system is as hard as a rock. No problems for me so far. Knock on wood.

Not gonna lie, moral was really low the first three days. I was absolutely fine, but the majority of the kids were tired, homesick, and just frustrated. Many of them seemed depressed. I worry for these Elders. Things are getting better for them. Once again, I have been good. Don’t get me wrong, I miss home, and I miss you all. However, what I am doing right now is more important.
Car Alarms: For some reason unknown to me, car alarms literally go off 24/7. I´m not joking, I usually get woken up at least twice every night to car alarms. Plus, the alarms are very different than in the USA. They cycle through different tones and noises. One is currently going off in the background as I type this letter. 

Every morning from 7-8 AM we read the Book of Mormon in the Sala José Smith (the chapel). At first it was hard to stay awake in a completely silent room with only the Book of Mormon, but now it usually is my most favorite part of the day. There is no better way to start off the day. 

On Sundays everyone in the CCM is required to write a talk. Each district gets a different topic, and then President Dyer picks kids out of the crowd during sacrament meeting to speak. It keeps everyone on their toes. One kid in my district couldn´t sleep the night before because he was so scarred. 

On July 4th the Nortes (Americans) had a little meeting with President Dyer were we just talked about the constitution and America. It was really nice to commemorate July 4th. 

The city of Bogota is covered in graffiti. However, the graffiti
looks really good. It is not the terrible graffiti that you would expect from a big city. It is very artistic and quite nice.

Overall, I am super excited to hit the field.  We went proselyting today, and it went well. We had 8 contacts.  The 8 contacts went well. They literally just opened up the gates of the CCM and told us to be back by 12. Having Elder Santacruz helped, but I honestly felt more effective with Elder Flamm. We were just more heartfelt and less into doctrine. 

They let Tanner loose on the streets of Bogota!

On Thursday morning they gave us a Book of Mormon, two Liahona magazines, two family proclamations, and two Jesus the Christ pamphlets. They drove the old Gringos and the Latinos 45 minutes south into southern Bogotá. They literally dropped us off in the middle of the city and told us to be back in three hours. Let´s just say a lot of us were nervous yet excited at the same time. 

Elder Flamm and I just took off walking for the first thirty minutes. We both wanted some time to gain the courage to talk to the first REAL person. We walked until we were sufficiently lost. We were by far the companionship farthest from the drop off point. We literally just lost ourselves in the middle of the southern Bogotá streets. We then began to use our voices. We talked to two really old women and they just flat out said, "We are Catholic, so....." We tried to share our testimonies, but they didn´t want anything to do with us. This pretty much happened 80% of the time when we talked to someone. We spent probably the first hour with zero success. 

We finally met a limping man who had had the right side of his body run over by a tractor. He told us that he was Catholic, but had a lot of questions. We did our best to answer them. We asked him if he wanted to learn more, and he said yes. We got his name, address, and number. Literally ten seconds later we talked to a man gutting fish on the side of the road. Super nice man. He offered me raw carp. I respectfully declined. We chatted with him and also got his info. Then literally ten seconds after the fish man we met a man walking down the street. We chatted about bee´s for a good 15 minutes. He makes honey in his upstairs apartment. I feel bad for his neighbors. Anyway, he was super nice and wanted to learn more. We got his info. In a space of less than 50 feet we had just made three full contacts. It felt awesome. We spent the rest of the time walking the streets and talking to everyone that would listen. Overall, we had 7 full contacts, gave out our Book of Mormon, gave out both Liahona magazines, and all but one of our proclamations on the family. Super successful. The majority of other companionships made an average of 4 full contacts. It was a really great experience. 

A little bit about Bogotá south. Tiny streets, alleys everyone, stray dogs everywhere (Emma, they are gross and really sick). We watched one literally try and poop in the street and nothing but blood came out.  There is poop everywhere (honestly I couldn´t tell if it was human or animal), strange and funny smells everywhere, tiny shops everywhere, and many large canals that just transport brown disgusting water to I don´t know where. I was happy that my shoes got dirty for the first time. The city was gross, but I loved it. I´m sure that although we were in Southern Bogotá, I will see pretty much the exact same in Northern Bogotá. 

Introduction to the Colombian MTC and Tanner's Daily Schedule

The CCM, or Colombian MTC. It is really, really small. There are only 51 missionaries in the CCM. 13 gringos, 3 Brazilians, and the rest Latinos. I am in district Amulek with 7 other missionaries. My companions name is Elder Flamm. He is from Utah, really nice, and he is a great comp overall. Many of the 13 gringos are really, really young. A lot of them are right out of high school. A lot look nervous and scared most of the time. I feel bad for them. In my opinion, one year at college is super helpful, but that is just me. I really like all of the gringos though. They are nice, sporty, and fun to be around. I would tell you about all of them but I just don't have enough time. Sorry.

As I said, the CCM is really small. Food is prepared by 2 people and is pretty good. There is A LOT of rice, rolls, and rice again. I don’t mind the food, but literally EVERYONE that is American has had diarrhea in the last 9 days. I do not know why, but everyone has so much gas. Garrett would die.

I will note two things about the food in particular. First is Granadia which is a weird looking fruit that you break open and slurp out the fish egg looking things that are inside. You don’t chew it, you just slurp. Not my favorite, but really interesting. And yes mom, I did try it. Then there is Colombiana which is a fantastic pop that tastes like bubblegum and Mountain Dew mixed. Sounds disgusting, but it is amazing. It rivals Mountain Dew.

During gym time, all we play is volleyball. There is a full sized basketball count inside the CCM, but Latinos don’t play basketball. Plus, both backboards are broken. The CCM is kind of a bit run down. There is a lot of construction going on right now. It never stops. It is fine though.

I don’t know if I mentioned this already, but my entire district lives in a very small room. 4 bunk beds and very little space. Mom, I know you told me not to, but I will inevitably be living out of my suitcase for the entire 6 weeks. There is just not enough space.

Literally, Bogota is paradise. It is maybe 70 to 75 F during the day and 50 to 55 F at night. It is super nice. I honestly feel cold more than I feel hot. It rains every day, but it is an extremely light rain. Not bad at all. It maybe lasts 30 mins. Bogota is usually cloudy, which I like. So we are good with the weather.  Also, so far there has been no bugs issues.

Bogota traffic is insane. Imagine NYC on Friday rush hour, but ten times worse. There are more motos than cars by far. No rules, no cops, no care is given to others. I am honestly surprised we did not see anyone killed on our way to the immigration office and temple. Speaking of which, the first day here, the other Elders staying in Colombia and me went to the immigration office. We sat in line for 4 hours. Miserable. Especially when the World Cup was on right in front of us. 

We went to the temple on Wednesday. It is surrounded by a big gate and guards, but it’s really, really beautiful. The session was in Spanish, so not as spiritual as I would have liked, but nice nonetheless. The celestial room was amazing though. 

Spanish is coming along pretty well. We literally taught a 25 minute lesson the 2nd day here!!! It was rough, don’t get me

wrong, but we did do it. The Gift of Tongues is real. No doubt in my mind. We are farther in 8 days than what I did in 3 years at Ridgefield High School. Understanding is hardest for me. Being around Latinos 24/7 is really hard, but it is helping. The CCM believes in complete Spanish immersion from the instant you get here. Only President and Sister Dyer (CCM President) can speak real English. Everyone else is really bad; even our teachers. Overall though, we are progressing, despite not know what is being said to me 98 percent of the time. Without Elder Slack, who is really good at Spanish, we would be in deep, deep trouble.

Our teachers are great though. They are excited, loving, and fun. They do their best to explain concepts in an interesting and understandable way. They are all returned missionaries from around Colombia. They are really, really great people.

Every day is somewhat different, but a somewhat typical schedule

Wake up at 6:30. 6:55 through 7:50 is Book of Mormon study in the chapel. 8:00 through 8:45 is breakfast. 8:45 through 10:00 is language study with a teacher. 10:00 through 11:00 is TALL (technology assisted language learning). 11:00 through 11:45 is personal study. 11:45 through 12:30 is study with your companion. 12:30 through 1:15 is lunch. By the way, lunch is the biggest meal of the day, by far. Dinner is very small in comparison to lunch. Anyways, 1:15 through 2:30 is grammar study with teacher. 2:30 through 3:30 is gym. 3:30 through 4:00 is get showered. 4:00 through 5:30 is Investigator Prep and teaching Pablo. 5:30 through 6:15 is dinner. 6:15 through 7:00 is doctrine class, in Spanish. 7:00 through 8:00 is more grammar study. 8:00 through 9:00 is more Spanish study with teacher. 9:00 through 9:30 is planning. 9:30 through 10:30 is get ready for bed and write in journal. 10:30 lights out. 

Tanner's Last Week in the CCM! Next week in the mission field!

So Sunday I gave a talk. I´m pretty sure I already have told you this, but President Dyer just randomly picks kids from the pulpit to give talks. I was picked last. I was assigned "Agency and Adam/Eve." The talk went fine. I had to read most of it out of my notebook, but I tried to make it as spiritual and heartfelt as possible. It is hard to get your personality across to the audience when you can barely speak their language. At least now I won´t have to worry about giving another talk though.
This is my last week in the CCM. I leave on the 12th, Tuesday. It is only a 25ish minute drive to the mission home from the CCM. I am very excited to leave the CCM. Do not get me wrong, I have loved the experience here, but it is just time to move on and do the real work. We are all ready to bounce and have been for a long time.  Tuesday will be extremely exciting, nerve-racking, and intense. I cannot wait. 

In regards to Spanish, I am greatly improving. I can talk about gospel topics with relative ease and get my point across. However, understanding other people is my biggest weakness. I have a very difficult time understanding what people are saying. It is extremely aggravating. Overall though I am 100x better than what I was day 1. It gets easier and easier every day. I have heard that on average it takes 4 to 6 months to become "missionary fluent." I am looking forward to that day. Plus, I realize how little I know of "real life" Spanish. We had a class about health and safety and I understood probably 10% of what they were talking about. Church Spanish is decent; real Spanish is really hard. I have also realized that right now in my Spanish "career" that I have to take what I want to say in English and modify it into what I can realistically say in Spanish. A lot of the feeling and emotion gets taken out of what I am trying to say, but there is nothing I can do about that now. I just have to get better and better every day. 
So going into week 5 I received my second companion, Élder Santacruz. He is a relatively big guy from Paraguay. He speaks zero English and slurs all of his words. He and I get along well. We teach soundly together, never argue, and are just good together. He likes me, and I like him. By the way, Elder Santacruz is 21. Most of the Latino´s are older.  Elder Santacruz is having a hard time adjusting to the altitude here. He is a really good companion. Likes to follow the rules and be a good missionary. He is not perfect, but who is? 

Elder Wooden and I are in district Aaron with our Latino companions. There is a trio of Latino girls and two sets of Latino Elders. Good district with good teachers. For some reason unknown to me, my district loves me. They find everything that say to be the funniest thing in the world. I have just come to the conclusion that they just laugh because I am a "dumb American from Gringolandia. Whatever. They all love me and are always talking to me. I will be a Latino myself before I even know it.
Quick note about Latino culture. Speed and noses. Everything is super, super, super slow. They all get ready slow, eat slow, and walk slow. It is really frustrating to get reprimanded for being late for class when you were ready 15 minutes in advance and you comp made you late. Also, Latino´s pick their noses without any second thoughts. Middle of class, while eating, while teaching. It is no big deal to them. It is interesting and let´s just say I wash my hands and use hand sanitizer much more often than during the first 2 weeks. 

Tanner's P-day Tourism Adventures in Bogota

Today was pretty sweet. We went to the temple with only the Gringos. Session was great. We then went back to the CCM, and the 14 old Gringos changed into preparation-day clothes and went on a tour of Bogotá. After your 4 week mark, missionaries go on a tour of Bogotá. 
So the 14 of us took a bus up the mountains to the base of the steepest part of the mountain. We then took a gondola up to the second highest mountain in Bogotá where there is a really old Catholic church. The gondola was super sketchy and the cliffs were crazy. If we would have fallen, absolute death. Anyway, we rose up the mountain super fast. Everyone´s ears popped. Once we reached the top, WOW. The view was amazing. Bogotá is absolutely massive. The city stretches on beyond your vision.
The view was amazing at the top of the mountain. The church was cool too. It must have been a pain to build. Really windy and kinda chilly, but so cool. When I come back to Bogotá, this is definitely a stop on the list.
Anyway, we took the gondola down and boarded the bus that took us to a museum all about ancient American gold. The gold pieces were amazing and the museum was surprisingly nice. It was really cool to explore the museum and see the gold sculptures, pieces, and designs. Overall, really cool.
We then bounced from the museum and hit up McDonalds. Wow. Amazing. It felt like heaven inside my mouth. So good to have relatable food for the first time in 4 weeks. We all savored the burgers with every single bite. So good and reminded me of home. 

We then went shopping for Colombian soccer jerseys. Bogotá is crazy at night. It was a mad house trying to buy authentic jerseys off the street. We actually bought them from a shirtless investigator. The jerseys are legit. I´ll definitely be bringing back a bunch. 
The photos are pretty self explanatory.