Monday, November 26, 2012

Week 5 in Ambohimanarina

I love to hear about how the work is going—and it sounds like it is going quite well!  I believe Michael is having some great experiences with investigators.  And with spiders.  And chameleons. 

Subject:  "To think, one inch lower, and that arrow would have..."

Hello again!

Clearly, it's been another week. Lindsay mentioned this, and I thought it was kind of crazy: I've been in Madagascar for a month. Add that to my MTC stay, and I'm already THREE months into the mission! It just doesn't seem like that. It's weird, because I feel like I've been here forever, but it still flies by super fast.

Part of that is that we stay way busy. We teach a lot. Add that to four hours of study in the morning (personal, companionship, language, and Twelve Week Program stuff), and there's never a dull moment. Some of the people we teach are progressing awesomely, while a few others need a little more help.

P1020265This last week we had probably our third lesson with this guy named Hery (Harry). His wife is a member, along with pretty much all of her family, which they live with. Think of an apartment complex about the size of a college apartment, add in some stairs that will probably break as soon as the big white guy steps on them and like 20 people, and you've pretty much got it. It's just an awesome place. Anyway, we had given Hery a Book of Mormon in the last lesson, along with the assignment to read Moroni 10. We show up this last time, start with a prayer, and ask if he has any questions. He pulls out the Book of Mormon, opens up to Moroni, and starts running down the chapter. We peek over and see that he's underlined a bunch of verses that he had questions about, and asks us to clarify them. In a country where a lot of people either don't know how to read or their eyes are really bad and don't have glasses, this was kind of a new thing for us. So we go through, answer a bunch of questions about why children don't need to be baptized, what gifts of the Spirit are, just some great stuff. This guy is on the right path.

And in regards to people that are awesome at learning, I think I told you all about Georgiette. She just got baptized a couple weeks ago and is still super diligent. Unfortunately, her family hadn't shown up to support her, which got Elder Landon and I pretty mad. A couple days ago, Elder Landon asked them about why they hadn't been there (all in good humor of course). They answered that they hadn't known. GEORGIETTE HADN'T TOLD THEM SHE WAS GETTING BAPTIZED. There's a new angle. It turns out she had been afraid that they wouldn't support her, so she didn't tell them. P1020258Then one day later, someone in her family was flipping through her Book of Mormon, and found pictures of her baptism. Gahh! That's what they said. Gahh. So we all had a good chuckle about that.

In the same lesson that we learned about that, we had been talking about bananas and how awesome they are. They said Americans eat them weird, and I held my hand up to show how we do it in 'merica, and say, "Izahay mihinina akoho ohatra-izao". Meaning "this is the way we eat chickens". They said I looked like some barbarian. And laughed some more. Good times.

On the note of the language, I've learned that Malagasy might be more correct than English in some ways. For instance, in my ever persistent studies, I learned that the word for spider is "hala". Which is also the word for hatred. See the connection? Also, we were walking around and saw a bunch of spiders chillin' in they webs, so I took a picture. Pretty much every little dot you see is a spider. And the big ones were bigger than my hand.

P1020276You'll also find pictures of some stairs, which you can't really see in the picture, but they were just about the worst stairs that have ever existed. Some of the steps you had to jump up to or down from, and they are always uneven. Always an adventure. Another shot is of some lady sleeping on a window sill. We're not really sure why she was there, but it was kind of awesome, so there you go. And there's a picture of a chameleon. Elder Randall had found him outside our house and decided to put it on our window. So there you can see it clinging for life to the window bars.

Fun side note about chameleons: they are awesome climbers. They move really slow, but they're really strong. And their feet are weird.

Speaking of feet, Lindsay asked about what people do here for work. A lot of people just carry bricks around on these rickety old carts. I'm not really sure where they go or what the end goal is there, but that's what they do. I mention feet because a lot of them don't wear shoes, so their feet get really messed up. We saw one guy a couple days ago whose feet were apparently really dry, and he had a crack in his heel about half an inch wide. Which was rather odd.

P1020274A lot of other people run little stands where you can buy soda and candy or notebooks and stuff. And fruit. And bread. Basically each of these little shops sells just about everything you could want. It's really cool. And of course the farmers do their thing. I'm not really sure what their thing is right now, but they seem to stay busy.

I've mentioned in earlier emails that it's super annoying how people always assume we missionaries are French. But now I've found the bright side. Since the only French they know is "Bonjour" and sometimes "au revoir", they assume that anything this "French white guy" says is French. So no matter whether I'm speaking English, the three or four French words I know, or complete gibberish, they think I'm speaking perfect French. So if any Malagasy asks, I'm officially fluent in two languages. And learning Malagasy. So that's cool.

On kind of a final note, those of you that email me and are not family, THANK YOU! It's great to get emails from a bunch of people. Just know that I can only email family members, so I'll try to send off some paper mail. Although they say the mail could take anywhere between two weeks and two months to arrive, so... yeah. But be ready for it.

P1020266Everyone, just keep the good word coming. It's great to hear how everyone is doing. Keep working hard, and know that God loves you all.

- Elder Arrington

PS. The rest of the pictures, along with one of some water jugs lined up to get water. I don't think I've seen running water in any house but the missionary ones, so there's a communal pump for people to fill these water jug things. Enjoy!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Week 4 in Ambohimanarina

More bug bites and a word about gossiping.  Can you wiggle your ears?

Subject:  "I'm free, I'm free, I'm free! Dang it.”

Another week gone by, another 1.21 gigawatts worth of bug bites. I was actually pretty content for a while, since most of the bites are almost gone now. Then I woke up to a whole new wave of fleas. They've more than restocked my old bites, plus a few extras. How generous.

P1020232On an entirely unrelated note, I can officially wiggle my ears now. It's only a little bit, but hopefully I'll soon get good enough that I can wiggle them really well. First the right one, then the left, and then I'll stick out my tongue and turn these people into apples.

Another fun difficulty that we've been having here recently (and will only get worse for now) is the rain here. Of course, thanks to my proud Oregonian heritage, I'm pretty used to the rain. The problem is that a lot of the houses here have tin rooves. Roofs? The roof is made of tin. We'll go with that. So when it starts to rain really hard, it rains really LOUD. Just yesterday we were sitting in a lesson with this family, and it started raining. On that blasted roof. So we're sitting there trying to teach, but of course they can't hear us, so we start screaming "I KNOW THAT JOSEPH SMITH WAS A TRUE PROPHET!!" and other truths. It was an interesting time.

We also had our ward missionary with us, as we do pretty much all the time. Leonce. You may remember him as the kid who baptized his brother. He's been a huge help to us, helping out at LEAST 90 percent of the time. Interesting and rather frustrating story about him. So Leonce has ben preparing for a mission for a while, learning the lessons, teaching with us, and things like that. Yesterday was stake conference, and they did that thing where they announce people that are receiving the Melchizedek and those people stand up and are recognized by everyone. P1020237

Side note on that. It turns out that the people that stood up didn't know that they had passed the interviews or anything until that very moment, in stake conference. Aren't they supposed to be told right after the interview?

Anyway, Leonce had been interviewed, but his name wasn't called out. It turns out that somebody has been spreading rumors that he's been smoking weed and drinking. And our president believes the rumors more than he believes Leonce. So this kid can't go on a mission, or even receive the Melchizedek priesthood, because somebody thought it would be a good idea to spread that idea. And it's just retarded! This kid has just baptized his own brother, he's the most diligent kid I know, and he spends his time either at school or with us missionaries! I can't imagine that he would even have time to smoke or drink, not to mention that he never would. Seriously, teaching with the missionaries at least 6 days a week, and somebody ruined his chance to serve a mission of his own.

Let the lesson here be that gossip is bad. DON'T GOSSIP. I know it sounds like a little thing, but it killed this kid's chance of going on a mission any time soon, and it's caused dozens of other people to fall away from the church here in Madagascar. People say things, pursecution starts up, and the member leaves the church. Gossip is BAD.

But enough of that. Suffice it to say, we're mad about that. Leonce was just sad, but Elder Landon and I... it's just not a good situation. Especially since we actually know who started the rumor. Darn them.

P1020245Anyway, somebody, in their email to me, mentioned a conference with Elder Holland a week ago. And I'm like, oh that's nice... yeah, the prophet talked in our stake conference. So in your face. I don't know if that was a thing for everybody, but we got to hear an address from him. Of course the whole thing was in Malagasy but he usually gives some pretty good advice. By the way, our stake conference was in a big gymnasium or something. I think I sent a picture of it, just to show how ghetto Madagascar is. They be rockin the gym.

Food has also been a fairly common question. Honestly, it's actually not that bad, as far as the taste goes. There's a picture of me eating some rice and laoka (pronounced "loke". That's what Malagasies call pretty much anything that you put on rice). The food in that one was actually made by my companion, Chef Elder Landon. It was actually dang good. The thing you really have to loaka out for (oh snap) is how clean the food is. Just make sure you clean your stuff.

P1020246At home, we've actually been eating especially well. We get about 365,000 ariary per month (about 175 dollars), which here means that we live pretty happy. Sometimes we get to go to Shoprite (think of Hanks, but more run down) and buy actual food. Just yesterday we had hot dogs. Although the buns were kind of moldy. Elder Randall (who makes most of the food around here) was like "but why are they molding??" Well good sir, they did expire three days ago. That could be part of the problem.

Another question was asked about soccer. It's probably the most played sport here (except perhaps for bochi ball), but I wouldn't say it's super popular. Most kids go to school and then work with their parents for the rest of their day. I guess they find ways to make that fun.

And somebody said that I looked really small compared to my MTC pictures. It's true, I was actually just about the shortest in my group. And it does seem that most of the missionaries here are pretty tall. Although let it be known that I (and pretty much every other white guy here) am quite a bit taller than the general population of Madagascar. I'm talking like most people here are at least a full head shorter than me. Which kind of sucks since they only build their houses as high as they need to. I've been crouching a lot to avoid hitting the ceiling.

And that's all I have to say about that.

So there's been a lot of ups and downs. But it's mostly been good. Today we're planning to just sit around our house and play dominoes or something. After food shopping.

So keep writing everyone, I promise I read everything that you send, although I may not answer everything. Just sending off an email a week is about the best thing you can do for a missionary.

Thanks again everybody,

-Elder Arrington

Monday, November 12, 2012

Week 3 in Ambohimanarina

Sewing.  Sew like the wind!  That would be a reference to the movie Three Amigos which is a family favorite here.  That being said, I’m still not sure what the reference means here.  Ah, missionary speak.

Still, we have some great pictures, some descriptions of the quality of life, and news of a baptism!  That’s a good week.

Subject:  "It is no concern of mine whether or not your family has... what was it again?"

"Um... food?"

P1020159First off, I've had a couple people ask if there are houses that are all tiny and broken down, but still have a satellite or something poking out. In short, no. I don't think I've seen any satellites (except on super rich houses) since I came here. It usually comes down to a choice between TV or food for about a month. They prioritize.

But yes, so it's been another week. I decided to make a few notes about my week, so hopefully I'll have a little more info this time.

For one, I mentioned those super rich houses. Here in Madagascar, a "super rich" house is usually one that has paint on it. You know they're loaded then. There's a couple other things about them that are kind of giveaways too. Like having glass windows, or barbed wire on their fence. EVERYBODY has metal bars over their windows (a country of poor people is a breeding ground for thieves). But yeah, most peopleP1020172 just have a curtain on their window. No glass. Which is actually pretty nice, since you don't have to worry about opening it to get a breeze. And then there's broken glass on pretty much every wall you'll find here, also to discourage thieves. They either cement in broken chunks of their bottles, or if their super rich, they set up razor wire. We don't climb a lot of walls in this mission.

But we do climb a lot of stairs. The streets here are rather... shall we say, poorly planned. Meaning not planned at all. We have to go up and down a lot of stairs too, which is pretty fun. Sometimes the spaces between the houses get so narrow that we have to take our backpacks off and try to squeeze through sideways. It's been pretty fun.

P1020183Dad, you also sent me a picture of Ambohimanarina from space. Sorry, but I really have no idea what it looks like from up there. I can tell you that the bricks down here can crumble in your hands, and that the people can't afford brakes for their hand drawn carts so they tie a broken piece of a tire to it and stand on that to slow it down, but I don't know what Madagascar looks like from above. Yet.

Speaking of which, I saw a family moving the other day. They had one little cart (remember the pioneer trek?) with one mattress and maybe a chair, and a bit of food. They just up and left. It was pretty interesting. Not to mention that they looked like a much poorer version of the cast from the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Like a lot of people around here.P1020184

So we had a zone meeting last week, and I saw another Malagasy elder. I'm living with one, so I figured they would talk a lot. But the guy I live with didn't even bother. So I got curious, and went over to talk to this new guy. It turns out he's not from Madagascar, but from America. Oregon. Beaverton West Stake. So that was a bit surprising. He was pretty awesome too. So that's good.

*subject change* There is in fact a new program out there to help new missionaries get used to the mission field for the first 12 weeks. It's cleverly called 'the 12 Week Program'. Basically it just forces the greenie to start doing stuff more. Like teaching lessons.

P1020188The last two or three lessons of yesterday, we went in, talked with the people for a second, and my trainer turns to me and says, "oh by the way, you're teaching this one". Um... what? You couldn't have told me this like two weeks ago?? Oh well. I actually did pretty well, all things considered.

Another common thing around here is for the power to go out. Back in the days of America when the power went out I'd have no idea what to do. Did someone just turn off the lights? Why can't I see the classical novel that I read so oft? (usually Pride and Prejudice, or the Art of War. I never could tell the difference between those. Oh snap.) But here in Madagascar, it's like oh, the power's out again. Whoopedy-doo. Candle time. It was pretty funny actually a couple days ago. The power was out and we had to do our nightly planning session, and flashlights made everything seem really creepy. P1020196So we pulled out some candles and planned like none other. Elder Landon agrees that it was by far the most romantic planning session we've had yet.

On an entirely unrelated note, some of you may recall that all white people in Madagascar are thought to be stuck up French people. There's the oxymoron of the day (oh snap again). But yeah, so we were waiting for a bus, and this guy starts talking to us. In French. We (meaning Elder Landon, not me) responded in Malagasy. The guy was like, "whoa! You're learning Malagasy? I guess you're not just stuck up French fries". Oh, we're not stuck up? If only we had known this earlier. Sewing.

Sew very old woman! Sew like the wind!

Just in case it was unclear at first.

P1020227Also, I officially have fleas. That's a nice feeling. Not. For those of you who haven't had fleas, imagine a mosquito that's stuck in your clothes all day and all night. I've been trying to count the bites I've gotten so far, and I think I'm somewhere around 20 or 30. On each leg. And each arm. Add to that that flea bites take forever to go away, and it's been a very itchy first two and a half weeks.

Much more happily, we had a baptism service two days ago! I think I included a couple very unorganized pictures of that in the server for this week. There's one of the font, just to show hP1020231ow ghetto the thing is, and how green the water is. There's one of the ground, because the font was leaking and nobody could figure out how to fix it. And there's one of Elder Landon and I with the baptizees. The girl is named Georgiette. She's been learning for a really long time, but she's super diligent, always follows through on commitments and attends church. She's awesome. Finally she agreed that she needs to stop putting off the day of her repentance (she had been waiting for permission from her dad, who had been out of town forever). Anyway, she decided to be baptized, and none of her family even showed up. P1020230Her dad was back in town, her mom stayed at home, and her sister (who had also learned a little bit) just didn't come. Not sure what the story is there. But Georgiette is awesome. The little guy is named Patrick, and the slightly older Malagasy is Leonce. Leonce is the member that we take with us probably 95 percent of the time for our lessons (he's probably been with us like 14 of the 16 or 17 days I've been here). Patrick is his little brother, about 15 years old, and Leonce gets to baptize him. That was pretty awesome.

By the way, Elder Landon performed the baptism for Georgiette. Good man.

Anyway, I really need to go now. Keep working hard everyone, and email back soon! (don't procrastinate the day of your emailing)

Thank you all,

-Elder Arrington

Monday, November 5, 2012

Week 2 in Ambohimanarina

Another great letter from Michael this week.  I will say this.  For years while Michael was in elementary school, junior high, and high school, I could barely get him to write a single paragraph for a report.  It would take HOURS.  Now he writes the funnest letters!  And they’re long with lots of information.  Who would have thought?

Apparently he’s still learning the language.  And we got some pictures!  Most are still from the MTC.  There’s one of all the elders (and instructors) from his MTC district, and a great picture of him and his companion with a sister missionary who is actually from Madagascar.  We do have a picture or two from Madagascar, just not with him in it….

Subject:  "I also believe Joseph Smith was a pamphlet"

Well it's been another week. Obviously. And Madagascar has been awesome.

This keyboard is still annoying as the flies that keep buzzing in my ear for no feasible reason, since it says it's in English, but it lies. Curse you keyboard.

P1020131Anyway, life has been pretty good. As you may have guessed from this week's movie quote, the language has caused some interesting misunderstandings. That's a really long word. For one, I was talking to an investigator and explaining that after baptism, we have to endure to the end. Always, always, always. Except it came out as "time, time, time". They were like... what? That's just another reason we have senior companions.

Other than that, just a few random notes. In regards to the bro-nod-baby, we taught that family again and he's still just a chill little nut. They do fist bumps here (they call it a "dona" (dew-nah)) and he kept doing them through the whole lesson. Sadness about that family is that they have been learning forever, know the lessons really well, but aren't able to get vita soratra (married) yet, so they can't get baptized. So yeah.

P1020130Lindsay had a bunch of questions, so I'll try to address as many of those as I can. For one, the landscape here is rather reminiscent of Kung Fu Panda, when he climbs up to the Jade Palace. To see who the Dragon Warrior will be. Because he loves kung fuuuuuuu...uu... If you know what I'm talking about. So there's a lot of stairs. And hills and such.

If you want to know what it's like with the people here, imagine the scene from Inception where Ariadne is in Cobb's dream, and his subconscious figures out that she doesn't belong. Just that part where everybody is staring at her. Right before she gets stabbed. That's pretty much what it's like here. People stare a lot. It's rather unsettling.

As far as their knowledge of America, it's pretty low. Since usually the only white people they see are French tourists, or old French guys coming here to look for young wives (creepy, but that's just they way it is), they assume that we missionaries are French. You will never hear "Bonjour!" anywhere in the world as much as here in Mada. All the kids here think it's super funny to yell "bonjour vazaha!" at us all the time, since we must be French. It basically just means "hello white guy!". And then we'll say hello back to them in Malagasy and they're like "whoa... he knows Malagasy!". You're dang right I know Malagasy, you little flea. But they're fun. This is the only place in the world where you can just grab some random kid off the street and start throwing him into the air and not get arrested for life. Not to mention that the kids, and the parents, love it. They're like, oh, the white guys aren't just here to take the women. And prune the hedges of many small villages.

P1020139I think I'm getting some kind of stupidity now. I was trying to eat cereal the other day, but it was this nasty and flavorless... thing. So I was like, this needs sugar. Grab the sugar, put it in, and take a bite. Turns out it was actually salt. Not the best cereal I've had. And after that I was like, I need a drink to wash this down. So I get out my handy dandy apple juice, unscrew the cap, and start pouring it. Into the cereal. It was an interesting morning.

We also taught a lesson recently, with someone who is about to be baptized, with this super funny guy. We were sitting there talking, and he comes in asking about the cyclone or hurricane or whatever it was that hit New York, and he was just flabbergasted that we couldn't look up the news about it. We laughed for a while, and then asked who would like to pray. As soon as the words came out of our mouths, this guy ran and literally DOVE out of the room, to safety. It was funny.

So... yeah. It's been pretty eventful. Oh yeah! So our toilet has been super loud forever, running constantly, and Elder Randall (one of the other Elders in my district) decided that he could fix it. To make a long story short, we spent the night with a bucket under the pipe that leads to our toilet, catching the water that dripped off from a leak that "came out of nowhere". I can't believe you totaled a mammoth. Hey, that mountain came out of nowhere! And so on. Anyway, there's a guy at our house right now, fixing it.

P1020195And that story reminded me to tell you all about my district. There's myself, Elder Landon (my comp), Elder Randall (the not-plumber), and Elder Rakotamalala (the Malagasy). Yeah, I'm living with a Malagasy Elder. Which has been pretty... interesting. It definitely gives me a chance to practice the language at home.

So this whole time I've been writing, I've been trying to upload some pictures to the server. It's not working out too well, so I'll attach a couple to this email.  Right now it's loading one of me running up the wall at the MTC (I'm actually lying down on an ironing board), and hopefully it will soon get to the one of me, Elder Hamm (if you remember him), and Sister Tsyfanay, who was a Malagasy sister that's serving at a visitors center in Salt Lake. Not the actual lake, but the city. Just to be clear. And I just a picture of some rice patties and farming stuff. We have really cool views here. And there's one of my desk. Sorry Mom, I plan on cleaning it... sometime.

So basically, it's been great here. I P1020203need to go now, so work hard everyone, and keep emailing! And for those of you who may not know, friends are allowed to email missionaries, I just can't email them back. I've been working on some paper mail to send. Also, could somebody get me an mission address for James Packard? He's serving in Georgia Atlanta right now I think, and I kind of want to send him some stuff. Mom and Dad, I'm putting you in charge of that.

Anyway, thanks again, this mission is the best (sorry, but it's true), and I'll talk to y'all next week.

-Elder Arrington

PS: I think some pictures are on the server now. Enjoy.