Sunday, March 29, 2015

Week # 10 - and we've been here for more than 2 months!

 Time flies when we're missionaries and doing work that we love.  Every day is a new adventure, with new people to see, new places to visit, and a new culture that we're still getting acquainted with.  This day, we had a visit with a family that really knows their history, ancestors,  and loves them.  Every year they go to the temple, usually in Cochabamba, Bolivia, since it is the closest (only 20 hours by bus), and they spend nearly a week, so they only get to go once a year.  Along the way, they will divert to their family pueblos (towns, cities) where their families are from, and visit relatives, friends, and gather more information, and see the people they love.  They have kept a record of all their temple visits, and it's quite impressive.  They have pages and pages of their temple ordinance cards, which they keep in sheet protectors in one of several binders.  Their other files contain photos, original documents, and other memories.  We are humbled by their faithfulness and dedication.

 This is a photo of his mother at a birthday party.  Note the confetti on her head (a tradition here at parties) and what's those things she is holding?  Yes, they are roasted cui (guinea pigs), which are a considered a real treat and are traditionally served at parties.  This photo, along with one of his father (they have both passed away), was uploaded to his familysearch.org account, as "portraits", and pops up wherever their names appear in familysearch.  It's a clever feature that lets us crop the picture in a traditional oval shape, and paste it in FS.  I will say that when this fine brother saw pictures of his father and mother in his family tree, that it was quite emotional for him, which shows the love that the Peruvians have for their family. 

 A cute family, with the cutest little daughter.  Hno. Christiaan is a counselor in his barrio's bishopric, and we helped him get the names of his tias (aunts) entered in the correct place in family search.  It was a learning curve for me to get everybody in the right place in the family tree, but I think it was accomplished.  Little Shanny had just woken up from a nap, and was fed, so she was in a happy mood for this photo.  We left a "grande" (large size 8.5x11) print with them to add to their family memories of this time when Shanny is little.  When the children start to walk here, they look like little walking dolls - really!

 Christmas in March!  Our 1st package from the USA arrived.  I took a photo of the contents to make sure that everything was was shipped actually arrived (it was repackaged by the courier in route).  Everything was accounted for, except one bottle of aspirin - I guess somebody had a headache.  This may not look like much, but we need every single item in here.  Photo paper, ink cartridges (we go through a lot of these, and they are not available in Peru.  I thought I would save some money and buy cheap aftermarket cartridges, but after a while they gum up the printhead, so I had so buy a bunch more on eBay and have them shipped down).  Double-stick tape is quite a novelty and attention getter down here, and we use lots of it to stick photos in Mi Familia folletos.  Eyedrops are needed frequently: an hour after a rain, dust and grit can blow in our eyes.  Extra rechargeable camera batteries, chapstick, small folding knives (gifts for friends), and a big bottle of Metamucil.  In addition to the traditional use of it (no details will be provided), we also use it for the opposite condition (again, no details will be provided).

Thanks to Neil, who put together the 45-page picture books in 4x6 size that we use to show to families, to Bill Denkers who purchased the photo paper and OTC meds for us, and to Blake for getting it all packaged together and to the SLC-based courier service.  A "Temples" magazine that Monica sent in a separate package arrived the same day, so it was a double treat!

 One thing we can count on:  The elders are always hungry, and really appreciate a meal of something besides their usual daily diet of arroz y papas (rice and potatoes).  We took Elders Murillo and Black to Fuego's, a restaurant near Plaza de Armas that serves American-style food, including hamburgers.  These combinations are called "The Stroke", and they are likely to give you one.  From the bottom, the stack is:  bun, 1/2lb meat patty, cheese, fried egg, 2 onion rings, BBQ sauce, bun, and pickle.  With fries and salad on the side.

 You can see the effect of The Stroke about a half-hour later.  Don't ever bet the Elders that they can't eat everything on their plate, they were clean down to the last fry when they were finished.

I've told you about the traffic in Cusco.  Here's a long line of taxis headed back from the Plaza de Armas.  I'm either in the one on the left or the right, take your pick.  Driving is a game of inches here, really, along with dodging, honking, clouds of exhaust, and pedestrians running across the street in between fast-moving cars, hills, cobblestone streets, dogs, narrow alleys, and a long list of other sights and sounds.  Note that we're passing the Cusco Marriott on the right.  So there is luxury here - but why would you want to come to come to Cusco and stay in a luxury hotel?  The real Cusco is the city and the people we see every day and it's a completely different perspective. 

I just realized that next week will be our "official" 3 month mark, and the middle of April will be 3 months in Cusco.  The time if flying for us, and it seems like I get a call from Elder Olsen for our weekly report about every 3 days.  We have finally come across a calendar that allows us to see a week and month at a time, so that we can keep our appointments (which are constantly being revised) straight, not get double-booked, and make sure that we don't forget any. 

We just got word that our "carnets" or official Peru resident cards are approved.  These verify that we are legal non-citizens.  Think green card - though we are not permitted to earn money here - just spend it.  The timing is great, since our tourist visas expire the middle of April.  You would think that they could just put the carnets in the mail to the mission office here in Cusco, right?  Wrong again:  we have to fly to Lima next week, just to get these cards in person.  This also involves an overnight stay, due to all the waiting in queue just to pick up the cards and sign some more papers.  The Church has to go through a lot of expense and time just to keep the missionary's legal status current.  The usual government nonsensical bureaucracy, regardless of which country you're from.  We would be OK in country without the carnets, since nobody ever asks for them, but we would get impounded at the border when we leave if we didn't have current papers.  One advantage of the carnets is that as residents - not tourists - we get a significant discount on in-country airfare, hotels, and tourist attractions.  As an example:  tourists pay 2X the amount for in-country flights that residents do, the train to Macchu Picchu costs 5X for tourists over the locals.  We've been waiting for the carnets before we go to some of the very historical sites in the area - and even inside the city of Cusco.  As I say:  every day is a new adventure in Cusco.

Week #9

 If you don't like the weather in Cusco, just wait an hour and it will change.  It's not unusual for it to switch between rain and sunshine several times a day.  Luckily, most of the heavy rain seems to fall at night.  We hear it , sometimes quite loudly, but at least we're not out in it.  This day we were counting down the time to our next appointment.  Since it was raining, we wanted to wait until the last possible moment before dashing out to catch a taxi.  With about 30 minutes to go, it started to hail!  It was quite intense.  The hail was about the size of peas, you can see them hitting the street.  There was enough that it started to build up on the ground and cars.  Everybody dashed for cover, and even the motorcycles parked and the drivers ran for shelter.  With our good luck as missionaries, it stopped about 2 minutes before we had to leave, so we were spared.  When we got to the other side of town, the sun was shining, and the missionaries we met said:  "What hail?".  It was localized just to our area.

 Last Saturday (sabado), we held a Historia Familiar event in barrio (ward) Chasqui.  We had good attendance, with 24 at the meeting.  The room we thought we had reserved in the chapel was taken by another group, so we scrambled and set up in another room, with a TV borrowed from the mission office to show our photos, videos, and PowerPoint presentations.  We made follow-up appointments with individual families to help in their HF, and will be meeting with them during the next 2 weeks.  Here's a photo of Hna J with 2 of our most enthusiastic and best leaders in Historia Familiar in Cusco.  On the left is Hna. Dennise.  She is the Stake Historia Familiar leader, and really knows not only how to teach about HF, but she knows the technical details of familysearch.org as well.  And her family is one of the most loveable in Cusco (well, if you don't count all the other families we love), but really, they are outstanding and we are so fortunate to get to know them.  On the right is Hno. Meneses.  He is the mission's supervisor and advocate for HF, and is the liasion between our activities in the mission and the Area office in Lima.  He's an engineer, manages a lab for one of the largest medical clinics in Cusco, teaches at the University, has a great family, AND he rides a motorcycle.  He also helped me get a new cell phone with WiFi, which is essential to our work here.  We are amazed by the people who lead the Historia Familiar work in this mission. 

 This photo has to to represent one of the classic scenes in Cusco:  A pair of elders walking to their next appointment.  We had just finished a cita (family meeting) with them - as our human GPS's and translators.  We'd never find most of the homes without their help - this is definitely not Utah with the cities laid out in rectangular grid.  Many of the streets have been around since Inca times, and they go everywhere - including right up the sides of the steep hills.  We jumped in a taxi to head to another appointment on the other side of the city, and was able to snap this photo before we passed them.  I made copies of the photos for them, and sent emails with this photo and a nice letter back to their parents, telling how much we appreciate and love their sons for their dedicated service.

 Since Hna J isn't able to hug and read to our grandkids, she does the next best thing, and reads to the families here.  She keeps a couple of children's books in her purse, in Espanol, and everybody wants a story read to them.  Usually I am busy on the computer trying to open familysearch.org accounts, find lost passwords, enter information, and Hna J. gets to read to wiggly little children.  Everybody loves her!

 We get to meet so many wonderful families.  Here's obispo (bishop) Cavana with his lovely wife and 3 hijos (sons).  We thought we brought lots of pictures of our family, but they have albums and albums of their photos.  We were able to take digital pictures of some their precious family photos of their abuelos (grandparents) and bisabuelos (great-grandparents), and upload them to their familysearch accounts.  We also got treated to some delicious hot chocolate and slider sandwiches, which warmed us up just right for a late-night walk down to a street where we could catch a taxi home - escorted by obispo to make sure we were safe.

 What amazing people we meet in Cusco!  This hermana (sister) is a well-known expert on local plants and herbs.  She has a thriving business in educating people about their uses, and providing them with samples from her own jardin (garden).  This has enabled her to travel all over the world - she has been to more countries than we have - to find new plants and discover uses for them.  Here I'm sniffing the spicy odor of some yerba mate leaves I have crushed in my hand.  This herb is used in a favorite drink in South America (not so much in Peru though), and has other uses as well.  Hna J was not able to make  this visit - resting from a stomach bug - but she will be back next visit, and this Hna. will probably send us home with some plants or roots that will help get over that type of annoyance, which seems to catch us periodically here, no matter how careful we are with the food and water.

We've found a new system that works well during our family visits!  I just hand the computer over to one of the elders, and have him "drive".  Elder Brown is a whiz, not only on just the computer, but familysearch as well, and we can get lots more done.  Here, presidente Condori (counselor in the Stake Presidency) and his daughter help E. Brown enter family information that they have collected on pedigree charts, family group sheets - and some original family documents (birth, death, and marriage records).  While we're doing this, Elder Johanson runs the camera and printer, so we get double the work in half the time.  The elders are so good with technology that I'm pleased to hand it over to them, while we observe and talk with the families. 

At the end of the days, we are just exhausted, so sometimes our posts don't get updated as often as we would like, but be assured that we love our work - and we love y'all and think of you often.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Week #8 - a bit late

It seems that with our ever-increasing workload, as we become more known in the mission and try new methods to promote and advance Historia Familiar, that we end the days after 10pm dead tired.  We've discovered that our old heads can absorb only so much Espanol each day before they just won't take any more, then we shuffle off to sleep - and the blog doesn't get updated.  With a little time Monday morning (our nominal P-day) I wanted to update our activities this last week.

 We were invited (actually we lobbied for the invitations) to speak to the High Councils of the Inti Raymi and Cusco stakes about Family History, and to ask for citas (meetings) with each of the High Councilors to help them with their History, and to set examples as leaders.  Our 2 meetings with the Councils have resulted in 19 follow-up meetings, and so we are really busy getting around to them all, plus our usual schedule of family meetings.  In this meeting of the Cusco HC, our scheduled time was delayed, so the Elders who would usually be with us to translate, had to leave to be back in their apartments by their designated curfew, so I just gave it a go with my limited Espanol.  My speaking was broken up in fits and starts, but I managed to get the message across, and the brethren were so patient and helpful.  Hna J snapped this photo when I turned for help.  Lucky her, she just got to sit and watch me squirm.  The language is coming slowly - very slowly for us, but we just keep working at it every day.

 Hna J and some sisters working on Family Search at a Family Home Evening.  Next to her is the esposa (wife) of one of the Bishops, and with her are her "adopted" daughters - very close friends.  We are always amazed at what we can find on Family Search, and how much information and work the members enter about their families.

 One more in a long list of delightful families we have met here.  Felix is a single dad, and he does an amazing job of raising his 2 kids:  Uripe, his daughter beat my quite handily at checkers - we have a scheduled rematch.  Joe is a fantastic young artist.  We love this family, like all we have met.

 When entering information into Family Search, I find its is easier to let the Elders "drive".  They are almost always more adept at computer skills than I am, and they love to do it.  Here, Elder Schumacher is transferring family information from Hna. Miluzka's "Mi Familia" folletto.

 There aren't may places in Cusco that are level, as this set of steps prove.  There are usually streets winding their way up from one neighborhood to the next, but the steps are the "shortcut", with homes on either side. 
 Hna. J and the Elders have made it up to Obispo (Bishop) Santos' home, and I stopped to take a few pictures.  OK, I admit I used the photo op for an excuse to rest, but my bag does weigh 24lbs with all our gear in it, so I had an extra load to pack up the steps.

 Our hike up the stairs was worth it, when we got to meet Obispo Santos' family.  His father is 86, and lives very close, so he came to review some of the family photos and tell about his family.  The memories and experiences of the older generation are captivating and precious, and part of Family History is to record and preserve these so they won't be lost.

 The next visit was back down the hill and a few blocks away.  Hna Sandra had gathered her daughter, son-in-law, and grandkids to meet with us.  We were treated to some of the delicious local pan (bread) that is baked in a large, round, flat loaf, with topping.  The drink was a new taste treat:  It is made from lima beans:  They are toasted, ground, then mixed with hot water, a little milk and sugar.  It's about the best use for lima beans that I an think of.

 We get around everywhere in Cusco by taxi!  I can give pretty good directions to the taxi drivers, but the Elders, especially the Latin Elders, can usually negotiate a better rate.  Here, Elders Black and Murillo are giving directions to our next stop.  The car is a Suzuki Alto (sub-sub-compact), and when the 4 of us plus the driver are in, it's cramped pretty tight.  Hna J. gets the seat next to the driver, and the 3 others squeeze into the back seat.  We have had some crazy taxi adventures with extra-large Elders and steep hills!  The taxis are cheap, a typical fare is 5 Soles, or about $1.75.  The minimum fare is 3 soles ($1.00), and we have paid as much as 10 Soles to go the length of the city.  The taxis do charge more when it rains - hey, it's free enterprise at work.

 When our last appointment didn't answer the door, Elder Black tossed some pebbles at the 2nd floor window, and we finally got their attention.  It's a fairly common way to let people know we have arrived, when they live on the 2nd or 3rd floor, and don't have a doorbell or dog to bark.

 Some of the families we meet don't have many family records or photos, and other have a LOT.  We went with Sisters Gonzalez and Hill to meet a family, and we had a delightful time learning about their family from the extensive collection of photos they have - their collection was started by their grandfather.

 Here's how we feel about the missionaries and people here.  I took this photo to include in a PowerPoint presentation we use.  The theme is "turn the hearts of the children to their fathers", from Malachi.  The Sisters gave me the email addresses for their parents, and I sent this photo home to them, so say "thanks" for sending such dedicated and capable young women out to help the people in Peru - and us.

 There are many excellent restaurants in Cusco, and last week we went to lunch with the Hasler's.  Time for a photo of us before we started eating.  The lunch included spicy peanut mashed potatoes, shrimp, chicken - and - llama.  The lama was great, it had a flavor like very good venison.

 My bag contains several technological marvels that are essential to our work, including a battery-powered printer.  The smaller kids (and some of the adults) are fascinated by it.  One little girl asked"  ¿hombres pequino escribir?  She thought there were little men inside, writing very fast.  It makes great photos in 4x6 and 8.5x11.  The photos are a great gift to the families, many of whom have few or no photos of their families.  We go through lots of photo paper and ink, but it's a joy to create and share photos with them.  Double-stick tape is also a big hit.

 The cutest little boy in Cusco.  He was sitting on the steps eating an ice cream cone while his mother tended a kiosk.  I couldn't resist a photo.  The wool hat is typical from this region, and they are hand-made from sheep or alpaca wool, in colorful patterns.

 Since I'm losing weight with a better diet and lots more exercise, it's time for a new suit.  Elder Hasler knows a local tailor who is excellent.  After this custom measuring, we went up the street where Hna J picked out some very nice wool fabric in light gray pinstripe, plus enough extra in another color for an additional pair of pants.  One more fitting when it's partially completed, then it will be done in a couple of weeks.

 Walking up the street, the Hasler's met some friends they have known since the young lady was a small girl.  A happy reunion, and they paused for me to take this picture.  Note the frames E. Hasler is holding, he is a very accomplished artist, and was taking these frames to get canvas stretched on them for his next works.

Final fitting for my new suit.  Can't wait until it's finished.  I'll pose for some fashion pics when its done.

I'm still behind on our blog posts, but it seems like we're either preparing, traveling, teaching, studying - or else dead tired.  We love our mission, but it is work.  This is what we wanted to do, rather than some cushy gig in a Visitor's Center.  We love the people here and the missionaries, and we hope that we're helping.  From the response we get from the people we meet and work with, it appears that we are, and that is very rewarding to us.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Into the jungle . . .

 We had an opportunity to make an "advance trip" to Puerto Maldonado, Peru, in the Amazon jungle basin, so we traveled with Elder and Sister Rhoades and Javier C├íceres for 4 days.  The choice is a 10 - 12 hour bus ride (if the roads aren't washed out), or a 45 minute flight.  So guess which we chose?  How do you know when you have arrived?  Easy, look at your Coke bottle.  The change in atmospheric pressure from 11,000 t above sea level to only 400ft deforms the bottle.

 Hermana Johnson is cold no more:  From low 60's and thin air to mid 80's, humidity, and the dense air at nearly sea level.  She says she wants to move here.

 Not many cars in Puerto Maldonado, it is quite remote and fuel is expensive.  There are hundreds of "mototaxis", which are either motorcycles modified into 3-wheelers, as shown here, or just a motorcycle that you hop on the passenger seat of.  The 3-wheelers will hold 2 passengers, so when there were more of us, we formed a little caravan weaving our way through town.

 It looks like Hermana J. is having lunch in the jungle, but there is a nice restaurant in town called "Burgos", and we all went there for lunch after arrival.  The food is different here, and good seafood is available as well as regional dishes, so it was another taste treat.

 After a good rest, we are off on Saturday morning for our jungle trip.  It was about a half-mile walk from our hotel to the pier where we take a boat down the Madre de Dios to our start point.  Everyone looks fresh and full of anticipation.

 Our boat was a little more modern than this dugout, but boats like this are still in service.  Our boat was about 35ft long, made locally of mahogany planks, with a 40hp outboard.

 Pretty flowers are everywhere, and we saw a lot of this variety, don't ask me what it is, but Hna J. wanted a picture of it.

 Time to trade our shoes for rubber boots.  We soon found out why these are necessary.

 Here we are at the start of the trail.  From here is it a 3km walk through the jungle to Lake Sandoval, an oxbow lake cut off from the main river channel as the river reroutes itself.

 Our first sight was this lizard on the side of the trail.  We watched as he changed from brown to totally green.  I guess he thought he was hiding from us, but he was in plain sight.

 Another jungle plant.  Our guide told us the bark of this plant is used like aspirin for headache and fever.  It is especially potent when it develops the red pods like this one.  Nobody had a headache yet, so we didn't try it.  For an experience like we had this day, go rent the video of "Medicine Man" with Sean Connery, that's pretty much what we saw here.  But we did not see any of the indigenous people, of whom there are several tribes in the region.

 These are leafcutter ants.  They cut off a section of leaf, drop it to the jungle floor, then pick it up and tote it off to their anthill.  We saw these, army ants, fire ants and more kinds of ants.  Luckily I only got one fire ant bite on my wrist, and it reacted about like a mosquito bite, but it did hurt for a while!

 Now you know what the rubber boots are for.  We slogged down this trail for 2.5 hours to go 3km.  It about sucked our boots off with every step.  Later we learned that if we had come in August, the trail would be dry!  Oh well, we are glad we came.

 Here are a family of long-nose bats sleeping on a tree in the middle of the day.  We were happy to let them sleep.

Below, out guide bails out out canoe before we all get in.  This is a smaller version of the boat we went up and down the Madre de Dios in.  It is built for an outboard motor, but motors are not allowed on Lake Sandoval, so he paddled all the way around.  Elder Rhoades tried to paddle a little to help us along.  The entire circuit of the Lake took over 2 hours to see all the things there, and due to time of day and season, there were some things we didn't see, like otters.  Below that is our lunch, wrapped in a banana leaf.  This is a traditional lunch of rice, chicken, and an olive.  Easy to pack around, the packaging is biodegradeable (except for the fork), and very tasty.  We also had a bag of local fruit that was a new taste treat.
 Above is a "walking palm"  when it is smaller, and is growing in the shade, but can sense there is more sun nearby, it "walks", by extending its roots in the direction of the sun.  It can move about 1ft per year for a total of 3 years, and by then it has grown so big it can't move anymore.  But by then it is usually tall enough to get its share of sun under the jungle canopy, and it just stays there and grows.

 A turtle sunning itself on a log.  We saw lots of these, and even more that we didn't see would jump into the water with a big splash when we got too close.  It was a little startling at first, but we soon got used to it.

 We crossed paths with a caiman swimming across the lake.  They are like alligators or crocs, but are unique to South America.  This one was a "black caiman", which the guide said was about 3 meters long, and I would say that it was all of that.

This picture isn't very clear, but this is a heron with yellow and white body, blue head and black comb.  It wouldn't let us get too close but sort of followed us around the lake.  There were numerous small birds in vibrant colors, as well as some vultures that perched in the high trees watching us.  If we ever capsized, it would either be caimans, piranhas, or vultures that got us.  Or the howler monkeys, or the snakes, or the tangles of vines or .  .  .

 Heading back up the trail after the trip around the lake, it only took 2 hours to go 3km.  We didn't stop for many pictures along the way.  Hermanas Johnson and Rhoades are pretty trail-savvy by this time, and could pick their way through the muck very well.  This boardwalk was a welcome sight at the end of the trail.  Note the walking stick that Hna J used for balance and support - with good effect, as she didn't fall down once.
 Tired an exhausted after a long day in the jungle, but the sights and sounds and the whole experience made it very worthwhile.

 Sunset on the Madre de Dios as we are heading back upriver to Puerto Maldonado at the end of the day.

Late at night we went by the church (there are 3 chapels and 5 branches in Puerto).  Here's a family getting in/on the family car, which is usually a motorcycle.  We saw up to 5 people on one of these little cycles, but the record still stands at 7, which we saw in the Philippines.
Oreos for breakfast!  The hotel we stayed in provided an excellent buffet breakfast - not like the "continental" breakfasts you get at most US hotels.  This was the full spread!  In a jar next to the cereal and granola was Oreos - so why not.  I can tell you they are delicious with yogurt and a glass of mango juice.

Below is a member family we met with on Sunday after church.  Note they are holding their Mi Familia follettos.  With the information they had in these booklets, we were able to open familysearch.org accounts for them using the WiFi on my phone, way down here in the jungle.  They were very pleased to see the names of their antepasados (ancestors) pop up as ready for temple ordinances when we made the final clicks.  The closest temple to here is Lima, and it takes 2 days by bus to get there (yes, 48 hours), so they are lucky if they can go once per year.

 Above, Hermana J at a Family History meeting that the missionaries had organized.  They had the meeting scheduled, and were pleased when we arrived in town and were able to participate.

Farewell to Puerto Maldonado.  Our mototaxi driver just dropped us off at the hotel, where we packed up and got shuttled to the airport for the trip back to Cusco.  We had great experiences here, and met such wonderful people as we have everywhere in Peru, and are looking forward to coming back in a few months, especially Hermana Johnson.