Saturday, January 31, 2015

Week #2 in Cusco - we are on the job!

At the beginning of our 2nd week in Cusco, we are really "on the job".  By the end of the week, we had all our technology functioning and are meeting more and more of the wonderful people and members in Cusco.  Here is Elder J in an English lesson.  One of the mission couples, Elder & Hna Rhoades, among their other responsibilities for employment and education, hold English classes twice a week for the Latin missionaries.  More than half of the missionaries in the mission come from Latin America, and most do not speak English.  Most are paired with a North American missionary.  This is brilliant, as it assures that language is not a barrier in teaching the people, and new English speaking missionaries are "immersed" in Spanish with their companion.  One of President Harbertson's goals is to make sure the Latin missionaries can speak English by the time they return home.  This will make them better leaders, and give them many more employment and career opportunities.  Here, Elder J observes while E. Munoz and E. Guevara drill each other in words and sentences from a chart.  I helped with some of the pronunciation and a lot of gestures.

A rooftop view of part of Cusco.  Not shown is the 6 floors of outside stairs that we had to ascend, with no guards or handrails.  One misstep, and it would be a long way down quickly.  We were very careful, and the view was worth it.

Elder J and some new friends.  These are local members who have opened their own automotive machine shop, and it has become a very successful business.  The man on the left is the 2nd counselor in the Stake Presidency.  I felt right at home in their shop, and discussed the various operations they were doing on engine blocks and heads.  They said I could have a job there, so If I don't come back, you'll know where I am.  Anyone who earns their living with their hands and some enterprenurial skill has my respect.

Peruvian kids are so cute!  These 3 were anxious to pose.  When I printed out their picture, they were amazed, and looked at the printer and said "hombres pequino escribir?".  They thought there were little men inside the printer writing very fast to make the picture.

Hna J. is showing our family photo book to this family.  This family is the "pension" for Elders Black and Guevara.  The pension is the term for the family that is paid to prepare 2 meals per day for the missionaries (lunch and dinner).  This saves a lot of time for the missionaries, and provides a little income for the family.  We were waiting for the father to come home from work (after a 12 hour workday), so that we could schedule a Historia Familia meeting with them, which we will hold next week.

Hna. J and one of her new friends, Ludmilla.  She is a very faithful member and a stalwart in her family.  We were able to copy some of her priceless family photos, and will upload them to her account for perservation.  We are also working with her to assist her Historia Familia efforts for temple ordinances for her family.

Hna J at our Espanol leccion with Sthephania.  We just got news that she is moving to Lima with her family soon, and we will lose our tutor and guide.  We are sad to see her go, we'll have to find another tutor to help us learn.  Unfortunately, since neither of us are fluent in Spanish, we can't really help each other too much - about half of what we teach ourselves is incorrect, so we need to have someone help us learn.

Our big achievement this week was getting a new cell phone with WiFi hotspot capability.  How many hours do you have to stand in line in Peru just to get a cell phone?  The answer is 3.5, and that was with the help of a local member.  And there is more paperwork to sign (including fingerprints), than when buying a house.  There was a lot of frustration leading up to this, including buying and returning a modem that we found out wouldn't work with our computers, because the new modem is only supported by operating systems introduced in 2001.  With this WiFi capability, we now can take our computers anywhere there is a cell signal, which is almost all places in Cusco, and log onto the internet to the website and create accounts for members or add information.  We are so happy to have this capability, which will really help our work.  Now I just have to figure out how to operate another newfangled electronic device.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Catch-up post #5 Jan 13 - we arrive in Cusco

President and Hermana Harbertson met us at the Cusco airport.  By this time, we had been up and in the same clothes for over 40 hours.  It was so wonderful to see familiar faces.  If we gave them a hug for everyone who asked us to, we would have been hugging for 3 hours, so we just gave them one big hug for everyone.

We arrived with 13 young missionaries from the Lima Peru MTC (Missionary Training Center). About half the bags you see are ours.  We loaded into the van, and went for a brief tour of Cusco.  It is one crazy city.  The only other place I've seen with so many near-misses in traffic is Manila, Philippines.  There are no mission cars for the elders to drive here, which is a good thing, and they are not allowed to ride bicycles - they would only last about 30 minutes in this traffic before being splatted.

President Harbertson greeting the new missionaries.  It was strange to hear him speaking Spanish, but he is very fluent, and speaks very clearly.  Curiously, I can understand about half of what he says, but when listening to a native speaker, I can hardly make out a word or two.

A view of Cusco from one of the many high points surrounding the city.  The main square, the Plaza de Armas, which is quite famous, is in the center of the picture.

This is the Cristo Blanco (White Christ), a very downsized version of the one overlooking Rio de Janiero.

The obligatory photo with alpacas and some Quechua in their native dress.  Note their size, they are small, even for Quechua.  They are there for tourists and expect a few Sols (local currency, about $0.33) for their picture.  There are some who dress like this in Cusco, but in the outlying small towns, it is daily wear for the women.

With President and Hermana Harbertson.  It was windy and chilly up there, and the Harbertsons were so patient posing for a picture with every new missionary. Hna Harbertson's neckwear is a standard accessory for women during the colder times.  I even brought one for myself, though in a more manly color.  We are already learning the art of "layering" our clothing, and have learned to keep an umbrella handy.  Our choice of high-tech raingear is already proving to be a wise decision.

Below is the Mission Home, where the President and Hna Harbertson live.  It is every elegant and functional, with security walls and gate, about 2 years old and very good quality with tasteful furnishings throughout.  After our arrival, we had some orientation meetings, and a very light dinner (delicious soup and rolls), as we were still adjusting to the altitude.  We spent our 1st night here (we were so grateful) - we both just took showers to rid ourselves of the travel grit, then hit the bed and crashed for a very good night's sleep.  The next morning President and Hna drove us and all our gear to our furnished apartment, where we will live for the next year.  Will describe our (very nice) apartment in another post.

Sunday at Pitumarca

     We got an invitation from Elder and Hermana (Sister) Hasler to travel with them to meet with a small group of members in Pitumarca - go to Google Maps and find this location, about 120km SE of Cusco.  First we left at 7am and made our way to the "express" bus to Sicuani.  Express means that it makes only a couple of stops along the way, including the one where we got off.  The Hasler's are assigned to Records Preservation, and spend most of their days taking photos of civil records that contain names, births, deaths, property transactions, etc.  They are wonderful, and are our mentors here.  Note the vendor selling drinks and snacks to the passengers.

Seated on the bus, and ready for the 2 hour ride to our first stop.  The seats are pretty comfy.

At the first stop, we got to walk about through the little town about a half mile to another bus station.

Next, onto a smaller bus called a "rapido".  If you've heard me refer to a "chicken bus", this is it.  Only today instead of chickens, there was a bag of fresh llama skins in a bag at my feet.

Out of reverence, I don't take any pictures during the Sacrament and Sunday School meetings, but they are held in a small, humble chapel in the little town of Pitumarca.  They held a full 3-hour block of meetings, and the leaders and teachers are all from this town - how dedicated they are.  The meetings were conducted in Spanish and Quechua, the local language which predates Spanish by probably a thousand years.  Some of the older citizens in these areas speak only Quechua.  Here is a photo of Hnas Hasler and Johnson after the Primary (children's) meeting.  Hna Hasler has a bag of treats, and everyone got one.

A photo of us with the local leader (this is not even a branch, but the older brother functions as the Branch President) and his assistant.  Note how tall I am.  The woman on the right is one of the local members, and the colorful dress is not a costume for tourists (of which there are none in this town), this is the way the women dress here.  There is a baby in the back shawl of the younger woman, wife of the young man above her.  During the meeting which the young man conducted, he had everyone participate with questions and answers (including me), and they all could read from the scriptures, either in Spanish of Quechua.  A total of about 26 local members were present.

After the meeting, the members gave us a couple of small bread rolls each, a nice gesture of thanks from these humble people.  Elders Allen and Palomare are on the right.  They serve in this town, about an hour by bus away from the next Elders. Elder Palomare is from Ecuador, and speaks Chechua as well as Spanish.  He's holding a bag of bread and treats that we brought for them.  Elders always appreciate little extras that their small budgets might not otherwise allow them to have - and its a pleasure for us.

On the way back to the bus stop, we passed through the local market.  Among other things for sale, a couple of fresh alpaca skins.  The local markets are held in the town square once each week (sometimes more, depending on the size of the town), and you can buy most anything there that you can think of - and somethings that we don't even know what they are.

Below is a traditional fountain in the square.  Note the puma heads on the fountain.  The puma is one of the symbols of the Quechua people.  Unfortunately, we didn't get an express bus back, so it took longer, but we did get home at about 5pm after a tiring but a very rewarding day.  It was very humbling to us to see the dedication and testimony of the local members - in their own little group, a long way from places that have larger branches, wards, and stakes.  One thing we have quickly found about the Peruvian people, is that if you love them, they love you right back.  It's so wonderful to make new friends every day.

The altitude and weather

     Our 3rd floor apartment is at 11,057ft elevation, by my GPS.  This is over 2 miles high.  The air is most definitely thinner here.  Before we arrived, we were advised to hydrate as much as possible, and to take altitude sickness pills, both of which we did.  The result was a relatively easy adjustment to the thin air, with relatively little discomfort.  Hna Johnson has made the easier adjustment than I, though we suspect her first few days of growly stomach was a result of altitude, rather than any food, as we both ate the same.
     It is much easier to get "winded".  This is not noticeable so much when we are walking on the level, but there is not much of that in Cusco.  Walking uphill back from the church, or carrying groceries up a couple stories of stairs from the store to our apartment, its very quickly noticeable that there's not as much oxygen to inhale.  When we return in a year, we'll have really great lungs.
     The only thing that is still unusual about the altitude is that:  as long as I'm active and doing anything - walking, talking, I am fine.  When I am absolutely still, as in reading or trying to grab a little rest, after about a minute, I will be short of breath, and have to take a couple big breaths to compensate.  The first night, I was a little scared, as I thought I would go to sleep and not wake up, but I'm actually sleeping very well.  I guess that my normal breathing at Utah elevation just isn't adequate at this high elevation.  I have talked to several missionaries, seniors as well as youngsters, who experience the same sensation, and they say it doesn't really go away.  During sleep, I'm just fine, I guess my body needs less oxygen in that state.  Hna Johnson is not affected by this - she is just fine, which is probably exemplary of her good health - and she can really walk too.  Each day we walk 2 - 4 miles and the exercise is really doing us good.

     There are two seasons in Cusco:  rainy/cool and not-so-rainy/even cooler.  Right now we are on the last months of the rainy/cool season, which will go til about March.  The days are nice, in the low 60's, and the nights cool off into the 40's.  The days are partly cloudy, with the chance of rain about 40 percent.  We have had some really heavy rains at night, but the days are usually good, we've never been caught in a downpour, though we have gotten rained on a couple of times, and Hna J usually has her umbrella with us just in case.  It's never really hot, except when you're in the direct sun, and then it can feel quite hot.  We're so high that there is little ozone to block the UV rays, and its easy to get a sunburn, as we have seen on several of the elders who neglect sunblock.  When you see my hat in the photos, it's not a fashion accessory, it really serves to keep the sun off my face.  As an example, we went to church in a little branch in Pitumarca last Sunday (more about that adventure later), and the Priesthood Meeting was held outdoors, in the direct sun.  The Peruvians are dark-skinned and they can take it, but without my hat, I would have been lobstered.  Hna Johnson was helping in the Primary, which was indoors in a cement room, and while I was getting toasted, she was cold, just 30 feet away.  There is no such thing as central heat or A/C anywhere in the country.
     We knew about the weather before we came, but being here and actually experiencing it is something else altogether.  It's all part of the adventure.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Catch-up post #4 Jan 21

The Peruvians are nothing if not innovative, and adaptive to local circumstances.  Here are a couple of the many means of transport, the top one being homemade.  Cusco is a bustling city, and traveling through the city and the countryside is an exciting adventure just by itself.  They have their own set of traffic rules - excuse me, suggestions - here that are totally crazy and chaotic, but they make it work for them.  Getting around Cusco will be a daily part of our lives.  More to come on this.

Catch-up post #3 20 Jan

We have retained a local Espanol tutor to help us continue our language learning.  Her name is Sthefania, she is a local member, 19 years of age.  She taught herself English by watching American TV and reading.  She goes to a local university, and is very sharp.  She also helps us get around town and with shopping.  We will have better pictures of our adventures with her later.

Catch-up post #2 Jan 19

This is the first family we gave a Historia Familia presentation to:  Pedro and Koki and their hijos.  They are members, and were very warm and welcoming to us.  We had a great time, and used my portable printer to create a family photo for them (above).  In Peru, "extended family" has its own meaning, and includes cousins and friends.

 This was the entire group that was at their home that evening.  We love the Peruvians, and they love us right back.

Here is Hermana Johnson enjoying dessert provided by Hna. Cachi.  Rice pudding with fruit sauce. Hna Cachi also cooks for 4 of the young elders, an arrangement called a "pension".  They eat 2 meals per day (lunch and dinner) at her home for which she is paid by the Mission.  This saves the elders a lot of time preparing meals, and they get to eat delicious Peruvian cuisine twice per day.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Catch-up post #1 January 13

     As previously indicated, it is taking some time for me to catch up on our blog posts, but this is the start.  The photo is in the Lima, Peru airport after we arrived at 12:10am, and cleared customs about 2 hours later.  Unbelieveably, all our bags made it through customs.  I put a note to TSA about all the stuff we had, and after opening 3 of the bags, they must have decided that we were harmless after all.  Hermana Johnson is resting in a wheelchair I swiped, and guarding our 6 checked and 4 carryon bags, but the clerks came and demanded it back shortly after.  The timing in the airport was not so good, as we had to wait longer for our last leg to Cusco than it did to fly from Atlanta to Lima.
    The area office in Lima sent a driver who offered to take us to a hotel to rest, but his car was so small that our luggage wouldn't fit, and the check-in gate didn't open until 2 hours before the flight, so we had to stay there and guard it.  We were pretty droopy by this time.  Even if we had been able to go to a hotel, we would have only got about 3 hours rest before we had to get up again and get back to the airport, so we decided to tough it out.  We have probably not recovered from the sleep deficit.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

. . . and here's a photo to prove it

     As you can see, we are officially in Cusco, Peru.  This photo of Hermana Johnson was taken just after our arrival.  President and Sister Harbertson met us at the Cusco airport, along with 13 other joven (young) elders and 1 sister.  We all got on a bus and were driven to the Cristo Blanco statue (a much smaller version of the one in Rio) overlooking the city, where some of the locals in native dress were available for photos, including this musician.  It's a little chilly on top of the hill, as you can see Hna Johnson in my jacket.  By this time, we had been up for about 38 hrs.  We went to the lovely Mission Home for a little rest, some instruction, and light meal.  We spent the night in the MH, and the next morning were driven by President H to our apartment in downtown Cusco.
     A week has passed since we arrived, and we have had many adventures with shopping, food, meeting the members and missionaries, and getting settled in our very nice apartment. When we arrived, we had no communication with the outside world except for texts on my cell phone.  In the last 2 days, we have 3 miracles:  our washer and dryer are hooked up and working, we got a mission cell phone, AND our internet got connected.  The internet connection also means that our Vonage phone is working, so now we can talk just like we were in Farmington:  801-447-5060.  Remember we are + 2 hours from MST.
     We made a fairly easy adjustment to the altitude, our 3rd floor apt is at 11,057ft.  The food is very good, but of course different than what we're used to in the US.  We are both well, and look forward to our service here.
   We have so much to do and to learn.  I will try to keep our blog current, as well as post some catch-ups from our week here so far, with photos.  We have started our Family History work, and have met with 2 families, with more appointments already scheduled, including our follow-ups. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

We have arrived!

21 January 2015

We are in Peru!  We have been here for a week, are moved into our apartment, have been to the store (several times), church last Sunday, and have taught our first Family History lesson.

So far, our communications with the outside world (internet, vonage phone) are not connected.  Hopefully soon we will be able to write and speak with y'all.  This post is to let you know that we are well, we love you, and will be in touch soon.

We love it here, and we have so much to tell you as soon as we get online.  We have made an easy adjustment to the altitude and climate.  The food is great here also.

Elder & Hermana Johnson

ps.  I am able to receive and send texts at 801 557 1178.  Its our only link to the outside world for now

Thursday, January 8, 2015

We're almost ready to go.  Here we are with our family just after our setting apart, which made us official missionaries.  Our entire family is here, excepting Lola, who was with her father that evening.  Next stop:  the MTC (Missionary Training Center) in Provo for a day of orientation, followed by 4 days of intense Spanish language immersion.  Then off to Cusco!

Nuestra Familia