The following day (Monday) was actually the 2nd day of the Feria. The Peruvian independence day is Tuesday, but they take an extra day to celebrate, so everybody's off work, and a good day for FH meetings, which were scheduled all day - beginning at 8am. Hermano Santos was a good participant the night before, and he was "volunteered" to be the one for whom we created a new FamilySearch account. As a reward, he got the first appointment the next day, and we spent about 2 hours creating his family tree. The payoff was 2 sheets of temple-ready family for him and his lovely esposa Isabel. Hna. J has secured a supply of "Templos" magazines, and gives them to special families who are getting ready to go to the temple. For the members in Puerto Maldonado, about the remotest place in the mission, it's 2 days on a bus just to get to Cochabamba, Bolivia, the closest temple: One day to Cusco, and then another 16 hours to Cochabamba. The members are really dedicated, but because of the logistics and cost, they are very lucky if they can make it once in every 2 or 3 years.
Hermano Raul was next up. He was all excited, because he was leaving for the Cochabamba temple later that day, and was anxious to get his family names approved. He had a lot of information, and we were able to get a page full. With us is Presidente Chiang (yes, his family is Chinese, and includes Chiang Kai Shek in its branches). Pdte Chiang was the mainstay in the whole Feria and the days of follow-up. He took his independence holidays and spent 2 days with us, plus an extra day, and then he arranged for his counselors and friends to be there with us the rest of the days. Such dedication, especially since his wife is having a difficult pregnancy. We can't say enough about Pdte Chiang, he is completely wonderful and supportive. And he's a good hand at FamilySearch as well, we usually had 2 computers going, almost all the time, which doubled our effectiveness.
While we're glued to the computers with parents, the kids sometimes get a little bored - until Elder Johnson pulls out his iPad with games on it. "Buttons" is a favorite of little kids (and Elders). That and the other games keeps the kids entertained for a couple of hours. Lest you think that only American kids are computer savvy, just show these kids a new game and pretty soon they are up to level 37.
Elmer and Olivia and their family pose with us after a couple hours hard work, and they've got a temple page to take with them. Their youngest son wasn't even born on our last trip to Puerto in March. How quickly time passes!
Hermana Glady clicks the mouse button and off go family names to the temple. She's pretty happy about it, and so are we. We've been blessed to learn so much about Family History: First, the Peruvians love it because they love their families so much. Second, it doesn't cost anything, even the Mi Familia folletos are free, and this is important work that can be done with the information they already have on hand, their family has, or we can find online (Thank YOU - everybody who does indexing!!). Third, the rewards of the work are priceless - it's seen in the smiles and excitement of the people when they know they've given a wonderful gift to their family. And we've learned so much more and had so many marvelous experiences that we'd be writing blogs all day long to record them all. This is really the perfect assignment for us, and we have been so blessed to serve.
Well, one day we did get a few minutes break, so Hermana Salas logged on (the missionaries are allowed 1 hour per week on FamilySearch), and with Hna J's help, and Hna Miceli translating, she was able to get her account updated, and fill in some branches of her family tree that she hadn't been able to before. Hna J is becoming quite the efficient little expert on negotiating the twists and turns of FamilySearch.org, ad well as some of the convoluted family relationships we find.
Presidente Chiang made sure we didn't faint for lack of nourishment (though even with the fan going, it was still very hot). He brought in a loaf of "Pannetone", which is a sweet bread that's eaten on holidays. Hnos. Elmer and Carlos are part of his crew that helped us, and scheduled the families to see us.
On Tuesday, we heard a party going on in the concrete soccer area (think outdoor basketball court, only for futbol, that's part of every chapel here). When we got a break, we went outside, and one of the branches was having an Independence Day party, complete with the national seal and flag. Colorful enough for Hna J. to pose for a picture.
If it looks like we spent 4 solid days in the capilla (church) Family History room, it's because we did. Due to some logistics and flight considerations (1 hour flight, no 13 hour bus ride for us), we had extended our stay for a day, and we were worried we may have some lags or downtime. We shouldn't have worried with Pdte Chiang on the job. He and the other branch presidents (5 branches in the district) kept our appointment schedule full - and I mean full. We'd start as early as 8am, work into the afternoon, then would get a late lunch and a break, and back at 5pm with families lined up, and we'd work sometimes til 8:30pm. Hey, as long as we're here we might as well make the most of it. Hermano Sergio became our self-appointed bodyguard (he actually is one). He would escort us from the church to a well-lighted corner where we could catch a mototaxi home. When I asked if he really needed to do this, he replied "ladron" or thief, pointing to my bag. He actually did confront one sketchy looking guy who had wandered through the church gate one night as we were leaving late, and after a couple of words from Sergio, the dude turned and left quickly. We haven't really felt in danger, but it was good to have someone looking out for us.
One night we caught a mototaxi, and it was take-your-kids-to-work-day, meaning that Mama was at work late so Papa just trundled the kids along with him. One on the gas tank, and the other in the back seat with us. The days here are nearly unbearable with heat and humidity, much too uncomfortable to take a walk around just for enjoyment, the the evenings are very pleasant, and we'd usually take a welk about 4 blocks to the Plaza de Arms for milkshakes after we dropped our bags off at the hotel. I can tell you that a cold milkshake will noticeably take your body core temp down a few degrees, in addition to being delicious.
President Chiang's wife is having a difficult pregnancy, so their daughter frequently accompanied him to the chapel during the times she's not in school. Alexa is a whiz at the piano game on Hna's iPad, as well as the other games. Kids everywhere pick up on the electronics so quickly it really amazes us.
Presidente Roque of the La Joya branch made it in with his family from way out of town on their motorcycle, with his Mi Familla folleto in hand and filled out. In Puerto, the standard family transportation is motorcycle, and it's common to see 3, 4, 5 on a small 150cc moto (the record is 7, but that was in the Philippines). And there are thousands of motos here, I'd like to have the Honda dealership in Puerto. Elder Denham smiles as Pdte Roque "clicks", and send family names to the temple.
We arrived one afternoon just a few minutes early, just in time for a short break in the shade of Hermano Hilberto's mototaxi, just before Elders Denham and Cedeño walked up. Mototaxis are our standard transportation around Puerto Maldonado, and despite the lack of plush suspension, they are quite fun - and much cooler than a combi (van), and cheaper than a taxi. They are great with a climate like this, but unfortunately, they are also standard in some of the higher and colder cities, like Puno and Sicuani, and we've had some really cold rides there.
Elder Denham uses part of his his weekly hour during one of our short breaks, and was amazed to find several of his family lines extending waaaay back. We followed one through English and Scottish kings back to 28AD. He never realize he is part of such a large family. As much as he'd like, he'll still be Elder Denham, not King Denham.
Our rather small but comfortable air-conditioned hotel room, had a TV, which we really haven't seen since we've been here. I'll have to say that the Spanish channels don't hold much interest for us - they're either futbol or knockoff game shows. But there was one channel of nonstop, non-commercial interrupted old Westerns - Fort Apache, Cheyenne, Gunsmoke - and they were in English. Hna J. got all comfortable, propped up with pillows, opened a small bag of chifas (locally made fried banana chips), and settled in. Haven't seen her this glued to the TV since the last season of Downton Abbey.
We finished out a late Thursday evening with Hermana Leduvina and Hermano Ulises. We had 2 computers going for nearly 2 hours to enter all their family information. Their Mi Familia folletos are really works of art with all the information, pictures, and stories they have in there.
After 4 solid days in the chapel, glued to the computers, we decided to take a break on Friday morning, and go with Elders Zare and Olsen to visit a few families who were not able to make it into town and the chapel. It wasn't any cooler out on the edge of town, on the dirt streets, but Hna J takes it like the true trooper she is. It was hot - and a sweatfest, but we just couldn't pass on this opportunity.
And we were richly rewarded. We got to meet a wonderful family, in their home that is being constructed. I found a spot for my WiFi phone outside on an orange plastic bucket, and zing - we were in business.
Time for a photo with the family as we finished. A Mi Familia folleto, a family tree, and new friends made in the jungle of Peru. What could be finer? Hermano Martin and Hermana Sadith are faithful members, who live literally on the edge of the Amazon jungle (banana palms grow in their front yard). Each Sunday they walk about 2km with their family to a "house" chapel (a house that is dedicated as a chapel, this is done in small branches before an actual chapel is built), and are fully involved in learning and service.
The walk back from La Joya was hot, humid, dusty,and sweaty. Not many combis or mototaxis go out this far, and we had to walk back quite a ways. Along the way, there was a small store, where I walked in, woke up the proprietor, and bought 4 aguas (warm, the refrigerator was busted), they really saved us from overheating. We got passed up by a few mototaxis, and work motos (heavy duty trikes for hauling loads), we even missed a ride on a work moto hauling crates of chickens. Finally a small mototaxi came along, with an enclosed cab. He was willing to take the 4 of us, so we crowded in, with Hna. J on my lap and the 2 elders squeezed alongside (Elder Zare backwards), and made it back to town.
Our last stop that morning was at the "pension" of Elders Zare and Olsen. The pensions provide 2 or 3 meals per day to the missionaries, who don't have kitchens in their apartments. They are paid the cost of the food, but the being a pension for the missionaries is really a calling of service. They love the elders, and are loved right back. More new friends for us. Hna J says there is another trip to Puerto for us, even if its only to visit these 2 families and continue the work we started with them. And I have to say that Hermana Melany makes the best pollo plancha and mashed potatoes with gravy that I've had here. Hermano Luis looked at his Mi Familia folleto for quite a while, then remembered the names of his abuelos (grandparents), where they lived, and where they died. With this information, they were added to his family tree and their names sent to the temple. It was quite a spiritual and emotional moment for all, especially him. He was so happy to be able to give his abuelos this gran regalo (great gift).
After a short break in the late afternoon, we finished up with more citas at the main chapel, ending at 7:30pm. A quick calculation, and we counted citas (meetings) with 41 families in 5 days, with over 431 individual temple ordiances approved, reserved and/or sent to the temple. We were very happy to have these experiences with the wonder people of Puerto Maldonado, and look forward to coming back to see them again.
Our last morning in Puerto, we started, as we always do, with the "best breakfast buffet in PM", at our hotel. Pitchers of fresh-squeezed juice get us started. These are all locally grown tropical varieties, and none except limon (which is really lime) are seen back in the states. Too bad, as they are really refreshing and delicious. When we go out to eat, we usually order a "jarra" or liter of juice in any of these varieties or others.
The rest of the buffet is spread with jamon (ham), cheese, cakes, pan (breads in several varieties), fried plaintains, fried and boiled eggs, hot cereal, toast, teas, fresh fruits, yogurts, cookies, and several other delicious choices. A good breakfast gets us off to a good start every day, and sometimes has to last until late in the afternoon, if we're loaded with appointments and can't get away. All part of the adventures we have here every day - sometimes from a nice hotel to primitive conditions in the jungle. Where else could we have such experiences and be able to serve such wonderful people.
After finishing up our 8-day trip to Puerto Maldonado, the choices to return to Cusco are a 13-hour bus ride (think of riding in a chicken bus up and down from Farmington to the radar towers nonstop for 13 hours) or a 1-hour plane ride. Not hard to guess our choice, is it? We're off to the airport!