Saturday, January 26, 2008

First 'Split' with the Missionaries!

Alrighty, this will be pretty short. Last night, Friday January 25, 2008, this other priest named Hunter Wilson and I went on splits with the missionaries in our ward. I'm not sure if "splits" is a very accurate term, since I think you need to have other Melchizedek holders to actually split with the missionaries. Anyways, it was an awesome experience, studying with the two missionaries in our ward for a bit about faith and obedience, then walking around with them, seeing into what missionary life is really like.

We visited an investigating family that's been coming to Church almost regularly, and their daughter (around 8 years old I think) is scheduled to be baptized soon. The only thing holding her back is a little fear about being drowned, which I hope won't be too big of a problem. One of the missionaries gave a lesson about keeping the Sabbath day holy, and I had the opportunity to bear my testimony on Sabbath day observance when he finished at the end. Then we went to this couple (I don't think they're married yet, but they have a daughter who is active) and read part of Alma chapter 18 with them, helping to explain things that they had questions on. The whole thing was an awesome experience, just a little taste of what my mission will (problably) hold!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Foz de Iguacu with Mom 2008!!

Seemingly back to back with my Habitat Trip, Mom and I went to Iguacu Falls (or Foz de Iguacu) and had an awesome time The natural beauty of one of God's wonderful creations was a great way to spend my Mother-Son trip with Mom.

We arrived late Thursday afternoon (January 17th, 2008) and went down the trail to see the Devil's Throat (Garganta de Diabo) that James E. Faust has spoken about in his talks. Along the way we passed this family from India that was a husband and wife with a little girl. Mom thought they were Brazilian and spoke Portuguese because when we passed them they had said beleza, beleza (which means beautiful , obviously referring to the great waterfalls). A couple minutes later this family catches up to us on the trail (because we were stopping to take pictures at least every two minutes) and the dad came up to me and asked me if the path leads up to an exit at some point. I didn't remember very well, so I asked Mom about their question. So Mom goes off and gives them 'directions' in Portuguese and the looks on their faces changed to a polite paying attention, even though they didn't have a clue what Mom was saying. Then Mom finally finishes and the couple just turn to me with a very hopeful expressions that I would provide a translation for them. I hold my laughter for later while I say Mom, English?
So we continue on and get some great pictures at the Devil's Throat, rainbows and all, and came back to our hotel room very wet from all of the mist, sweat, and humidity from our walk. We enjoyed a good dinner at one of the hotel restaurants, and Mom took a picture of my dessert, which did look pretty cool. And afterwards I beat Mom twice in Settlers.

Early Friday morning we headed down the trail again but headed back soon enough because mom's camera's battery died. So we quickly went back to the hotel room to charge it up a little, and then went to this bird place. There were a lot of cool beautiful birds there, and we were able to get some good pictures before my camera's batteries died at the end. But we bought some more batteries at the bird place gift store, and then went on this awesome 10-minute helicopter ride that took us up and over the falls. It was AMAZING And after that we went on the boat ride thing which also was fun. Mom and I were in the front end of the boat, and we got soaked. When we finally got back to the hotel, we cleaned up, played a RISK game (only because Mom loves me so much) and then 7 settlers games... with dinner in between somewhere.

And Saturday we went back down that trail thing again one last time, which was really crowded with other tourists, which made me really glad that Mom and I had gone to see the Devil's Throat by ourselves Thursday. We really made a mad dash (brisk walk) back to the hotel so we'd be able to pack up and check out of the hotel in time around 11 something. We had about two hours to kill, which we used playing even more one on one Settlers. Then we finally went to the airport, and our flight was late, so we spent the time having Mom annihilate me in that Game of the Jaguar game I got for Christmas from Mom and Dad. Mom said several times that it was good for me to be humbled after all the Settlers games we played. The plane was a bit of a fiasco - our flight was late an hour by the time we boarded, only to be told that there was some problem with the plane and that everybody needed to deboard. So about half an hour later (maybe more) we finally get back on the plane, and then wait for what felt like an eternity for our bags. At one point during our wait for the bags this little man squeezed himself between the lady in front of me and myself, trying to grab his bag that was almost his size. He doesn't get good enough footing to lift up the bag I guess, and the bag starts dragging him into me, so I felt the urge to help him get his bag and send the good sir on his way.

Reunited with Dad and Emily, we all decide to grab some McDonald's, drop off the luggage at our apartment and go see the movie I Am Legend in theatres. Mom didn't like it very much, thought it was too scary, but I liked it myself, and I thought it was funny that when things started getting scary, Emily said "okay, give me your arm", and then stopped asking after a while and she'd just grab my arm and start squeezing. A great end to a great trip!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Habitat for Humanity 2008

Ah, what a wonderful trip it was! Habitat was one of the greatest experiences of my life. For six days I did a lot of hard work with a shovel, hoe, pickaxe, and 'spoon' (for the life of me I can't remember the real name of those things for brick-laying). Anyways, I will try to give you a day by day discourse on what happened, and I'll attempt to keep my tangents reasonable. :D

So I spent a lot of Saturday, January 5, messing around, then packing, and playing games with Mom, Dad, Em, and Rae before Rae and I had to leave. The time came to go, and the family dropped me off at our friends the Braithwaites' apartment as they continued on to take Rachel to the airport so she could make her flight. I hung out with my friend Scott, a fellow senior who's 17, kinda helped him out with his iPod nano, and watched the end of National Treasure 1 in portuguese on TV while we waited for Br. Braithwaite to be ready to go. One funny thing happened during that wait: Katy and Samantha, Scott's younger sisters, came in and said they had a question for me, and then started giggling and arguing over which of them had really wanted to ask the question in the first place. Then little 6 year old Ben comes in and just says "They wanted to ask you if you liked Brittney!" Weird, and what's weirder is that I was almost expecting that kind of question from the way they were giggling.

Anywho, we finally leave to the school, and I chatted with a bunch of school friends who I haven't talked to since school got out. A Korean friend of mine, Pum, said he was going to shave my head since I got accepted into BYU. I figured out that I forgot my sunglasses at the Braithwaites, so Sis. Braithwaite was kind enough to get them back for me. When we got to the airport, the peoples on the intercom thing said that our flight was going to be delayed 5 hours.

Now freakishly early morning on Sunday, still at the airport, I passed most of the time playing cards (a game called President, which is similar to Scum or Great Dalmuti) with some Korean friends. Then the person on the intercom told us to move from gate 3 to gate 5, only to tell us 3 minutes later to move back to gate 3 again. Things are really funny at 3 am.

I slept for most of the flight there, and we took a big bus to the town, which we will refer to as Varjada. I then slept in our humble little hotel room for a couple hours before we had lunch at a churrascaria. Later we went to have a look at our worksite and then had dinner at a pizza place.

Daily Routine
So from Monday to Saturday, we fit ourselves into a daily routine, and this was how it went: 6:30 am - Wake up, eat, and get ready for the day. 7:30 - load up into the bus and leave for the worksite. 8:30ish - arrive at worksite, put on sunblock, get to your spot, and start working. Take water breaks at your leisure. Lunch at 12:30ish, i think. Work would start again and 1:30 or 1:45 or so. We'd end at 3:30 or so. Go back to the hotel, shower up, chill, go to dinner, come back, chill some more, go to bed. :D

Monday I spent at the "Lower House". It was designated the Lower House because it was down the road / a little hill, and the lower elevation thus merited the name of the "Lower House". First we had to haul the bricks to surround the house and put them in the 'rooms' so they'd be easier to set them in place when the time came. I also helped sift the sand piles, which included one person shoveling the sand onto the sifter, this grating-thing that two people were holding, and they'd shake it back and forth so the sand would fall through on the pile below and separate the "wheat from the chaff"... actually the sand from the rocks, sticks, grass, (even beetles!) and other debris that was there, so the sand could be used in making the cement ("maca" - I probably spelt that wrong). I found out pretty quickly that I'm not the best bricklayer, but luckily the skilled Br. Braithwaite was willing to work with me. I'd put the cement on the wall and he'd but the cement on/in the brick and set it. Such teamwork, it was awesome! But most of the day's work was enjoyed in helping dig the hole for the house's septic tank. These other guys and I would take turns weilding the pick-axes and shoveling out the rock-rubble. Pum and I kinda clicked and we'd be hacking away with the pick-axes and we were working super fast! We even gathered a crowd of the locals, but only to be put to shame when one or two of them would take a turn and do what seemed like twice of what the two of us did in less than half the time! And the bricklaying guys were amazing - they'd just slap on some cement on the bricks in like three quick moves, while we (especially myself) would struggle with keeping the cement from falling through the bricks. (Note, the bricks were not the solid clay bars that you may be thinking of; instead they had four pairs of rectangular holes in them, so that's why the cement would keep falling through!)

Tuesday I worked at the infamous cistern. For those of ya'll who might not know what a cistern is, it is a big concrete/cement water 'tank' built in the yard next to a/the house, with rain gutter-filter things set up on the sides of the roof to collect water which is drained down into the cistern, providing the homeowner with clean drinkable water. I said the 'infamous cistern' because the spot we were digging turned out to be nearly solid rock, which is very hard to dig. Monday there had been three girls and a guy there, and Mr. Hanna (the main leader of the group) decided that the cistern would be an all-male project since it was gonna be such taxing work, no discrimination meant. Anyways, there was this guy there (I believe his name was Jose) and he was at least over 50, but he was strong as an ox! He honestly did most of the work - he'd use the sledgehammer, the pick-axe, whatever - and tear up a lot of rock, while my three compadres and I spent most of the day gathering up and shoveling out the rubble he made, or making our amateur attempts at breaking up the rock. But it went well! The lady who the cistern was being built for - Dona Tata - was an amazing person. She was so kind, humble, hospitable, and especially grateful. She said several times throughout the week, to us as a whole group or smaller groups working at her house, that she was very grateful for the cistern, first to God and then to us.

I came back to the cistern again Wednesday, but Jose the Haus had finished getting the desired depth. I guess my group and I helped a lot on Tuesday. :D So Wednesday was the Mormon Squad - Br. Braithwaite, Scott Braithwaite, Westin Wilson, and myself. These other guys were working on making the cement/concrete 'shell' thing of the cistern, so all we did was sift out the sand piles they had there, and then we took the 20 minute walk back to the church area which served as our 'base of operations', and started working on other stuff. I went to dig in the 'trenches' of the school foundation for the rest of the day. Boy, do I love the pick-axe!

Thursday I worked at the school again until lunch, and then went with a bunch of guys back to the cistern to shovel up all the dirt, rocks, and rubble to kind of bury the base of the cistern. (As things were wrapping up, like the cistern, more hands were being freed up, other things were getting done faster, and there began to be increasing 'unemployment'.) Thursday night for dinner we went to this place that had two guys providing us with live forro music (Brazilian type of music that's mostly popular in the Northeast), and just about everybody did some dancing. Pum and I had to strongly persuade some Korean girls to dance, since all they were doing was playing cards.

Friday was more work on the school, and then the lower house. Pum accidentally leaned on one of the columns of the porch and knocked it over. I saw it happening and it looked like it was in slow motion. Luckily nobody was hurt, which was quite a miracle since Br. Braithwaite was working on the roof on the other end of the porch. One of the local worker guys temporarily replaced the brick column with a thick branch or a small tree. They were able to fix it up by the next day. Since Pum and I were in a semi-destructive mood we started punching (and Pum kicked) some disregarded clay tiles, which was cool. Friday night after dinner at the pizza place (for the second time in the week), we went out on the town since it was one of the first nights of Sao Sebastiao, another Brazilian holiday. Our awesome partying consisted of going around on some of the carnival rides that had been set up in the town square. The ones I went on were the bumper cars and this ride called "Surf" which was one of those rides that swings you strongly from side to side.

Saturday was the last work day, and since most everything was about done, I went on a hike with some others to this very small church that was on top of a very very steep hill, which had a cool view. Worked some more, then lunch, more work, and then a bunch of people all went to this dirt field area where there were soccer games going on, or a bunch of kids chasing some of our students who had Scott's football. I got some awesome massages from two of my Korean friends too! Then we all were back at our lunch spot (at the church) for the closing 'ceremony', where some people, including some recepients like Dona Tata, talked for a little bit, and the student leaders of our group (which included Scott) said some stuff, and we each got called up and were given certificates. That night our "last supper" was at the Hotel and they had a kind of buffet banquet ready for us, which was pretty nice. Then until curfew I played President with another group of friends for a couple hours until it was time to go to bed.

Sunday morning I had to get up earlier by myself in order to be ready to go on time. The Mormon Squad had to leave earlier than everybody else because we were breaking off from the group so we could go to church. I kept waking up at fifteen minute to half hour intervals starting aound 3:30 am. I finally got up and around a quarter to 6 to get ready. I had two week's growth of my red beard, and it took a long time to shave all of that off with the wimpy excuse for a razor that I had. We ended up having to wait for the taxi, and a bunch of people came down to breakfast seeing us in our Sunday clothes, and got to say goodbye. The taxi driver had speakers in his car that took up at least half the trunk space, so my "Joe Black" roll on got strapped to the top of the car. After we headed out it started to rain, but luckily my bag was sturdy enough and nothing got wet on the inside.
Westin accidentally bumped the light switches during Sacrament meeting twice. We were sitting in the back left corner of the chapel near the door and right next to the light switches. Needless to say we got plenty of additional looks aside from our American looks and all. Br. Braithwaite and Scott gave the opening and closing prayers in Sacrament meeting, and I gave the opening prayer in Priesthood meeting. At the end of Priesthood Westin was not called, which pleased him and let him think he was off the hook. But we spent the afternoon at the bishop's house (Br. Braithwaite had baptized him and his family when he was on his mission in Pernambuco), and the bishop asked Westin to say a prayer before we left their home. We had a lot of fun - lunch was great, and we spent the whole of the afternoon playing uno and playing with the bishop's grandsons. We arrived at our Pousada, changed up, and grabbed some McDonald's (we were low on options). That night was freezing in our room, because Westin and I underestimated the power of our air conditioner; we were used to the weaksauce ac in our hotel rooms in Varjada.

Monday we got up, had breakfast, and went out to Porto de Galinhas (Chicken Port) with Cleito, an old friend of Br. Braithwaite and the/a temple recorder at the Recife Temple. We first stopped at a resort/hotel called Muro Alto to meet with a stake president, another old associate of Br. Braithwaite. While there we messed around with some hermit crabs and sea urchins, and Westin, Scott, and myself turned the heads of these two Brazilian girls in the pool. They were tossing a volleyball back and forth, and then one was looking at us when the other tossed it and nearly got hit in the head by the volleyball.
So when we got to the beach we did a lot of snorkeling, and then later we taught Cleito how to play ultimate frisbee, which was really fun. We had a fish filet for lunch, washed off at our pousada, and then went to the Woodruff's apartment (our former residence when we lived in Recife last year), had dinner and FHE with them, and played a game of Bang/Dodge City. It was a ton of fun! President Woodruff was kind enough to give us a ride to the airport. On the flight this couple had taken Westin's and mine seats, which wasn't a problem. I read another chapter of Jesus the Christ and Westin spent the whole flight talking to the American lady he ended up sitting next to.

And lo and behold! Tuesday our flight lands in safe and sound, and I get home a little before 5 am, and I go to sleep until 10 something! I caught up on emails, and wrote this blog! yeehaw!

Ok, I forgot when exactly these happened, (probly last Tuesday and Wednesday), but I also had some missionary experiences at Habitat! Pum said he wanted to memorize a verse in the Book of Mormon to catch Scott by surprise, so I gave him a copy of the Book of Mormon which I just happened to have with me! "I was prepared!" So I pointed out Mosiah 2:17 to him which I thought was a fitting verse since we were on a really big service project. He's an atheist (or so he says, for now), and when he read aloud the "ye are only in the service of your God" he was like "hey, that wasn't in the Habitat contract!"
The other experience was this girl named Bernarda (i think, but everyone calls her Berny) asked me a ton of questions about the Church, like what are meetings are like, how standards are 'enforced', what happens if this or that happens, etc. It was pretty cool!