Monday, February 23, 2015

The Dogs of Formosa

Hesukristo Tupao MarangaTukuera Arapahapegua.
That is how you say Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Days Saints in Guaraní.
We have an Elder in our district from Paraguay, so I collect one Guaraní word or phrase from him per week, in exchange for something in English.

A typical barrio (and dog) in Formosa

So, I want to start by talking about dogs. It is the visually unmistakable part of walking the streets of Formosa: dust, mud, and dogs. Dogs are like people; to me they are the perfect metaphor for the animalistic part of us. The dogs are lazy, sprawled out napping all over the place, the dogs are sensual, breeding at a high rate. But it's not just that--the dogs have personalities. The dogs are like us. There are the lonely, hungry ones that walk alone, the small ones that take abuse, the overindulgent ones that sleep stretched out across the sidewalk all day, the packs of dogs that bark up a storm the second they see you. Sometimes we clap a house and a dog wanders out all sleepily as if to answer the door; as if to say "What do you want, strange white girls?". Sometimes you find that there is a gate, not to protect the house from you, but to protect you from the raging hounds that stand up on the hind legs against the bars and scream at you to get lost. Sometimes, there is no gate. 

These are Latino dogs. They understand "¡salì!!" and "¡fuera!". So we've learned that English confounds them. No matter how aggressive they are, no matter how big of a pack they're in, if you holler "HEY, GET OUT OF HERE!" they will immediately settle down and give you a puzzled look. So all is well until we find a bilingual dog.

Well, I've found that my biggest weakness as a missionary is over-complicating things, so trying to put the gospel in simple terms is a strenuous challenge that me and Hermana Beecher have been working on. How do you tell a boy what mercy means when he's never so much as heard the word before? How do you explain the ordinance of baptism to someone who thinks priests should be paid and infants are born in sin? How do you talk about prophets without using big words like dispensation and priesthood keys? Having to streamline everything, having to track every idea we have down to its origin; its essence, has come slowly and will be the challenge of my mission.

The other challenge of my mission, is of course, my desire to take part in the forbidden practice of  mate drinking. To illustrate just how ubiquitous it is here, people get around in little moto bikes as a main form of transportation, and when people are riding in a group, they pass the mate between motos as they go. Sometimes the one to refill it is the one driving the moto, cradling the thermos in his arms as if it were a football. A few nights ago I finally got to whine about it while we were painting Hugo´s house (more on him next). I told him how much I adore it, how much I want to accept it when people hold it out to me in the ultimate gesture of kindness and sharing. He showed me all his thermoses and bombillas and told me where I can get the best yerba here to take home when I leave. The mate people are drinking right now is not mate at all, it is tererè. What is the big difference that requires a different name? The water is cold instead of hot. That is the difference.

Hugo and Mabel

So, Hugo. Hugo was baptized one month ago. Hugo was trained as a doctor. Hugo turned 50 this past Saturday. His highly-anticipated backyard birthday bash started somewhere around 11 PM. By the time church started at 9 AM on Sunday, his birthday party was still going on. He said he was sorry, and he will make it to church next week. Hugo loves talking with the missionaries. He was a catechism teacher before he was Mormon, so he likes to think and ponder and wonder. He says he belongs to a very small, underdog political party, he represents a very small portion of people who studied to do what he does, and now he is part of a very small minority religion. I guess it all makes sense, he says as he scratches his head. Hugo's wife Mabel is a delight. She talks and talks and talks and laughs rapidly like the minions on Despicable Me. These two are like family to us. They have 3 daughters that look like three Latina Katy Perrys. Dropping by their home even if just for a hello is easily one of the best parts of an afternoon.

Hugo and Mabel's house

The evening we painted their house was a moment of sheer bliss. After a long day on the streets we were just unwinding and painting and talking. I told them about my love for mate. They told me that they've seen Pretty Woman 200 times and they still cry every time. 

Hugo and Mabel are golden people. 

A few cultural items: the kind of folk music here is called Chamamé (mostly accordion, classical guitar, etc) and it is the best when you pass people playing it on the streets and the sheer sound of it revives your soul. Secondly, "Carnival" has been going on to celebrate the end of summer, which has been unfortunate for us because we've had to be back to the pension by 7 on some nights. I guess they don't want the missionaries to knock on a door and get drenched by a bucket of water, as drenching people unexpectedly with buckets of water is what makes Carnival Carnival, or so they tell me. 

Update on Valentina and Co.: By the beginning of this week, when we came to see them, they were SMILING. They're people who never used to smile. And we ask how they're doing and they throw their head back and LAUGH. What. what whatttt. They went to this girl's baptism on Sunday just to see what a baptism is like, and Valentina wanted to WALK HOME. (I said she can't walk, but she can a little bit, with a walker). It's only a few blocks between their house and the chapel and it took them forever, but they all walked home together!! She has an incredibly strong-willed spirit and connection with God. Herm. Beecher is trying to send you guys a photo of me with them but it's not working so it may have to wait till next week. 

Well, that is all the time I have. I love being a missionary. Sometimes it's completely manageable, sometimes it's Baptism by Fire, but all in all it´s this amazing constant dance trying to constantly be a conduit for the Spirit while also taking special care to assure I don't go into denial.
Much love,
Hermana Tolman

[From her personal note to us:]
You guys, (family of 7) I am not going to lie, by Wednesday, the one week mark of being in Argentina, I finally started to miss you. Before, it could have been summer camp, or a couple weeks at college, but I finally passed the normal amount of time I would go without seeing you guys, and now I just get emotional when I pray for you.
But I found something really cool about this. Every morning as I say a personal prayer before personal study time, I pray for you guys, and the Lord softens my heart. I'm brought down to this state of tenderness and receptiveness to the Spirit that before my mission I could only get to for a few minutes at a time. And then I dive into an hour of pure joy---reading the Book of Mormon with FAITH and with the SPIRIT flaming out of my head like the rays of the sun. Truly reading this book with faith....I had never done before. Sounds funny for a girl who grew up hearing about this her whole life, but I seriously hadn't gotten around to it. Now, reading it as if it were the biggest deal in the world, as if it were literally the words of God given to the ancient inhabitants of the Americas, the Spirit fills me up as much as I can bear it, and tells me ALLISON, THIS BOOK IS IN FACT A BIG DEAL. THESE WORDS ARE PACKED WITH SO MUCH POWER. IF YOU HAD ANY IDEA JUST HOW MUCH, YOU MAY NOT EVEN BE ABLE TO STAND IT.
And it makes me weep (when my comp isn't looking), and I am humbled before God, and I'm humbled before you my parents, because there never has been a point in my life where I've doubted the sincerity of their faith.
This is the great part about the segmented Missionary schedule; in the morning you are energized physically with exercise and food, and then you are energized spiritually with prayer and study, and then you are READY to go out and take whatever that day is going to throw at you. And whether it's the best or the worst, you know that God has prepared you for all of it, and you know he will put the words in your mouth when you need them, and that the only thing you need to do is FEEL like a missionary. Do missionary things, do your best, come to know and love Christ, God, and these people, and everything else ends up all right by the end of the day.
I wanted to share a scripture with you guys, but it's been such a personal journey, I simply want to invite YOU GUYS to take that journey yourselves, alone, and see what there is for you.
I will share this----two days ago we had a rough start, a few unsavory encounters, so by comp study (we do comp study & other things during the siesta since we would have no one to proselyte to. The whole city is dead from noon to 4 because everyone eats and sleeps and then comes out again and stays up late at night). Anyway, by comp study I was in a crucial moment, and my comp knew this, she knew that I was about to either turn inward, or have a very very spiritual experience, one or the other, and so she did something very special for me. She read me D&C sec. 31 out loud in English. We study everything in Spanish, so this felt strange and personal and different, and she put my name in place of Thomas, and she read the whole thing to me out loud. I could not help her read, as I was crying my guts out. So I want you guys to read this section, but for a moment, if it is not too pretentious of me to ask, imagine you are me. Imagine you are 9 days into your mission, you're tired, you're drenched in sweat, your heels are swollen and bleeding, you're far away from home and you've barely begun the long process of learning how to teach strangers something they may never have heard of before and will probably reject. Read it in this way, and it may make you cry your guts out too.

Love you guys very very much,
Hermana Tolman

The capilla on Italia Street, and Herm. Beecher

Milanesa with ensalada--rice, peas and tomatoes. we added cucumbers

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

MTC Wrap-Up

9 February 2015 
[Paper letter, written on the flight from Salt Lake City to Atlanta, en-route to Argentina. It took a while to get to us.]

MTC Wrap-Up
(By next week it will long have left my psyche.)

Well, looking back on these 12 days, I find that ultimately, the things that gave me a nervous stomach ache were the most valuable things. Public speaking, hours of role playing, being grilled. Nothing that came easy was nearly as worth my time. I've asked a lot of questions. I've cleaned a million toilets. Yesterday morning I was awoken by the melodic cries of pain of a sister from Fiji who was passing a kidney stone.

So, hands down, one of the best things that happened here was discovering that Sister Tucker is my soul-twin. I'm sure I mentioned her last week, because she was my roommate. She's the jolly soul from Oklahoma who half-sings when she talks. She is an architect's daughter. She enjoys baking, reading, and knife-throwing. She speaks the Spanish. She speaks the English. She speaks the Portuguese. I'd like to say that she and I see eye-to-eye, but that would distract from the fact that she's probably taught me more than I could ever teach her. Beyond being witty, Real, and the creator of a highly-acclaimed feminist blog that she later deleted, she is also incredibly selfless. (Re: This morning, when I got up at 5 a.m. to leave for the airport, she got up too, took care of my check-out paperwork, took my luggage to weigh it and help me balance it out, gave me her own carry-on bag because I needed one to carry extra book weight, and carried my two suitcases up the stairs. All on her P-day, a.k.a her only day to potentially sleep in. Now I'm just making myself look bad.) This morning was just one of many episodes of Sister Julie Tucker to the rescue. The other day, I found Annika (who got here on the 4th) and as I had predicted, she and Hermana Tucker jived uber-well. The three of us are absolutely going to share an apartment when we go back to school.

The daytime at the MTC is exactly like the nighttime, since my dreams mimic the classrooms: slacks and dress shoes marching around, prompting me in a very authoritative, garish, second-language accent to sing, to pray, to memorize a column or two. I was in the only non-native speaking district in my branch, so I'm ready to get off a plane in South America and be struck by lightning. I'm planning on insisting that people speak at half-speed.

If there's any eye-opening moment from my time at the MTC that's worth sharing, it's what I realized as I was "being an investigator", role-playing so two Elders in my five-person district could teach me. I like it when they have us do this, because in a way, no one ever stops being an investigator, even if they've joined the Church (we're all just baptized investigators). So I was Laura, they'd invited me to be baptized, I said no. They gently asked why, and I started giving Laura some very distinct attitude--stop pushing this on me, you only want to baptize me because it's what you do, you're too insistent and too confident that this is what I want. Why are you so sure that my feelings will  inevitably lead me to want this? If I say no, is it really because I'm numb and hard-hearted? What's the difference between a leap of faith and simply being ignorant and rash?
I've always enjoyed playing devil's advocate, but this time, I was merely asking my own questions under a guise. I was not being a manufactured "stubborn investigator," I was seeing where the lesson would go if I put my own doubts out there. And you know, I'd been spending twelve hours a day with those Elders, so I know they're intelligent and sincere. But they were unprepared to respond. They stuttered. They apologized. They smiled. The teacher saw the lesson was going south, so he was about to end it. I broke out of character. 

"Obviously, Laura's interested in hearing what you have to say, or she wouldn't have let you into her home."


"Get her to take a bet on herself. Get her to take a chance on what she does know."

(silence)  (mumbling)

"Les conozco a ustedes," [I know you guys!] I said, rather livid, "You weren't always going to end up on a mission. What changed you? What are you doing here? Think about what it has to do with Laura."

So, I may have taken up all the oxygen in the room again, and the lesson ultimately had to be abandoned. But, on a personal note, rather than going back into a coma when it had finished, I was filled with that familiar fire, the fire that tells me that two different parts of my identity are mutually trying to destroy each other. I don't think either one of them is meant to win in this life, because to me, that conflict, that internal wrestle, is what it means to be alive. So, I know my doubts as well as I know my faith, and hopefully, they will always keep each other in check! It's a constant dance, as Mom sometimes says. What concerns me about the Church isn't necessarily going to be what concerns an Argentine I might be talking to. But I hope my critical nature will one day be what someone needs, because it does not dissolve my faith, nor do I feel it makes me a less-worthy member of the Church. As long as it doesn't go out of control, I find it's the funnest part of being Mormon.

Well, this morning, forty-something missionaries and I stormed the airport by train. Moving in large attention-grabbing groups is not new to me; this was no different than thirty cousins and I taking over a hotel pool, or we in our conservative family of seven trying to look cool as we strut through the streets of New York City. We swept through the terminal, some dragging their colossal luggage with the worried appearance of toddlers in a world not their size, one toting a stuffed animal-pillow fusion, several admitting they'd never boarded a plane in their lives. "We serve a mission to get maturity," we cry to the haggard employees, "Don't expect us to be mature today!"

We arrived at the gate with over an hour to spare. I spent it with Sister Adams, a girl I had met previous to the mission and whose life story inspired me at a dire time last year. She's the only one in our group going to Brazil.

I'm in Atlanta and I have to go! Bye! 
xoxoxoxoxo Hermana Tolman

[Note from Allison's mom: Allison had this letter all ready to mail when she got off the plane in Atlanta, but was dismayed to learn that since 9/11, there are no mail-drops at airports. She met a kind stranger who said "I'd be happy to mail that for you." Not long after, as the missionaries were looking for pay phones to make one last call home before Mother's Day, another kind stranger said, "I have three cell phones you could use." Bless those kind strangers!]

[Hermana Tucker mailed us a short note the day Allison left the MTC: "Thank you for raising such a great daughter. She was a great friend and example to us all. We really enjoyed our short (but sweet) time with Hermana Tolman. We both know she is going to be a great missionary. She is going to bless so many people in Argentina. Our lives have already been so blessed by her example. Best, Julie Tucker, McKenzie Snyder]

My zone, with my companion, Hermana Snyder

Monday, February 16, 2015

Folksy Formosa

Hey, guys!

I wrote in my journal the first night I was here:"Fell in love with everything without hesitation. No fear."

It was barely legible since it was past lights out; I was writing in the dark trying not to make any noise. But you get the point. I have hit a few energy walls since that first dreamlike day, but all in all that statement is consistent. I love Formosa, I´ve stopped worrying about a lot of things. This year and a half is going to fly by so fast my biggest and dearest goal is to cherish the time I have with these beautiful beautiful people; I can worry about my institutional concerns later when I´m not on the clock.

Formosa is folksy. Folksy Formosa, folksy Castellano. In English it would be like listening to the way they speak in the Irish countryside. Folksy. From the first taxi driver onward, I learned fast that everyone you meet TALKS. People love to talk. You clap in front of someone´s door, they come out, and as if to thank you for interrupting their day they tell you their life story starting with the life story of their parents and sometimes grandparents. You can have a discussion with a Catholic catechism teacher and they will invite you in gladly and introduce you to their family and ask if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior.

So I already know my weakness in this area is and shall be keeping appointments from going over time. Finding the balance between simply befriending people and filling my role as a missionary. It´s a challenging balance to find. All of these precious, precious stories people are sharing, as if they´re giving me part of their joys and their sorrows and themselves.

So this whole week I´ve been thinking and thinking WHO will I write home about?? And I have a feeling that´s going to be a hard question to answer every week, but here it goes. Sandra and Valentina.

Sandra is probably in her late 20s, she has a 10 year old son Axel, and they are living with her family. She joined the church in 2003 and she stopped going to church about 6 years ago after a lot of family disapproval. So for a long time she was living in Buenos Aires and had no connection to the church. Hermana Beecher (now my companion) and Herm. Lund contacted her 12 weeks ago, and between the time they found her and now she has made what sounds like a complete 180. It´s hard for me to imagine her any other way, cause by the time I met her on Thursday she was and is this spunky, strong-willed, sweet woman who loves wearing electric pink and has really thought-provoking questions about the Book of Mormon. We go to visit and read it with her a few times a week and she just keeps getting happier and happier every time we see her. She´s still not technically "active" in the church so we´re helping her find her rhythm and make it back into a lifestyle. It´s not easy with her family and with other life factors, but she is just so good, she´s a good person. I know she can overcome these things and have a brighter future every day. Her little brother out of the blue expressed interest in going to church, and from what it sounds like, she looked at him as if he had lobsters crawling out of his ears (what movie is that from?) (Christmas Story). His own qualms with God are far more difficult, what with everyone he loved dropping dead around him, his withdrawing and turning to substance abuse and being too scared to move forward. He´s coming to our little chat tomorrow and so I´m praying a lot about how can I possibly sympathize with this boy and know what to say. I don´t know what I will say, but I am ready to listen.

Valentina and Basilio now. They have been married for 30+ years and have a lot of marriage problems. They were my very first lesson I ever taught. It was Wednesday morning and we were in their yard and they were going back and forth about "he should forgive me" and "she should forgive ME" and I could just feel how badly they WANTED to forgive each other but they´ve just fallen into this vicious cycle of not dealing with things and blaming each other that things aren´t better. They´ve stayed together for all this time though, they still have a daughter at home, and they are just in it together, end of story. They just need peace, they need to find a way to heal--emotionally and also physically; Valentina had a stroke over a year ago, then later fell and broke her hip. She´s blind in one eye, she´s in a lot of pain. Yet she has this profound calm about her. She was the most ready to listen, with a sincerely open heart. So I opened my mouth and started talking about God and how he has a way for us to be happy and content with the people we love, and the spirit rained down upon us in a way I had never before experienced, and Dora (daughter) came outside to listen, and then she started asking questions. She has the best questions. She´s in her 30s but has the mental condition of about a 15 year old, and she is very sincere and has become one of my dearest friends here. Basilio was very hard to reach at first; I was sure he didn´t like us and was going to tell us to stop coming by, but he didn´t, he kept inviting us back. We invited them to church but only Valentina and maybe Dora seemed willing to go check it out.

Saturday night, the night before church, it poured heavy rain. We sat inside the pension with the deafening noise of it hitting the tin roof, and drank mate cocido (the only mate we´re allowed to drink. Which I get. I get it. If we could matear with people we would be doing it alllllll day, not just some of the day, allllll day.)

The next morning the streets were rivers of thick gooey mud. Barro. Lodo. Hermano Barrios had offered to take Valentina to church in his car (HE is just the best), since she can´t walk. He, Hermana Beecher and I were in the car, going to her house. Almost there. We sank into a mudpit. The wheels spun. The windows got spattered, we lost visibility out the right side. We reversed, we drove. We made it.

And we found that waiting in front of the house was not one, but three people, Valentina, Basilio, and Dora, all looking fine and standing right in front of the gate. They all came!!! What??! What.

When I first met the ward I just had the song "You´re going to miss me when I´m gone" playing in my head on repeat. I am not always going to have such stellar members. These people are miraculous. They all gave these three investigators the most considerate, warm welcome I have ever seen. Kisses and handshakes and kind words and good vibes from every single person. Several of them spent time after sacrament meeting asking if they had any questions. The talks during the meeting were brilliant. One was on FORGIVENESS and the other was on how we need to love God first before we can love our family in a healthy way (the first great commandment comes before the second one, they were given in a clear order). They were clear and powerful and lots of examples. It was perfectly tailored to what they needed to hear. After, one of the bishop´s counselors gave her a blessing of health, and she had so much faith, and it could not have gone better if I wrote up a fictitious happy Sunday scenario for a church-produced film. On the way out, a member, Sis. Flytes, was talking with Valentina and asking her if she had heard of the church before she met Sister Beecher. Choking back tears she said yes, dos rubios, two blonde missionary boys had come to their house a number of years back, but she couldn´t understand a word of their Castellano.

Well guys I am out of time. I will tell you more next week. I love you all, bye!!!

[Notes from other short emails:]

Tell Anne that Lauren Gull is my STL!! So she´s over my zone! Small world. Pres. and Sis. Franco send their hugs! I am living in a place where we can flush our toilet paper, mom!!! It´s the consistency of crepe paper, but you can flush it!! We live in a pension behind a member family, the Barrios family, and we just have it toooooo good. Too good. Too much. It has an AC unit in it too, so as long as you keep it clean nothing molds. Life is very, very, very good, you have no idea. It IS a very physically challenging mission, but it really only gets bad in certain moments. 

You know, I am longing all week to be able to email you guys and tell you things, and then the reality of email time is it´s a nightmare. Several missionaries all ravenously, furiously reading and typing on these busted up old computers like so many hungry wolves munching on hunks of rotting meat.
Email time is stressful. But I´m HEEEEERE!

There is SYMBIOSIS here. My mission blesses me and I bless my mission. This place is strangely fitting for me, and everything I´ve learned in my life up to this point is incredibly useful to me here. Not just the language or my knowledge of the church. It´s like things happened in my life just so that when I got here I would be ready to understand these people I have never met.

My blip on Sis. Beecher:
She is from Oregon, she was drafted for college water polo. She reminds me a lot of Heather because of the way she looks but especially the way she acts and controls her voice. She makes me miss Heather. She has been out for 6 months, she served in Chaco before this. The moment we got put together and looked at each other we just KNEW this was going to be a great transfer. So the companionship is a blessing, not a challenge this time. (cue "You´re gonna miss me when I'm gone" song)

Hi Sister Tolman!
I am Alison's trainer and I want you to know what an INCREDIBLE daughter you have! She is blessing my life, and I know she is an answer to my prayers. I have been praying for someone who has faith in the people here and who is willing to do everything possible to bring people to Christ! She is already doing that. She is a born natural missionary! Also, we are starting to think how we can use family history in our missions more and how we can bring people closer to their families through genealogy! You were the inspiration for that idea!
Thank you for sending your sweet daughter to me! Lots of love!
Hermana Beecher

Allison & her first companion, Sister Beecher

First pension: a luxury!
Allison's little corner of the world

Sister Rodriguez from Mexico ("love her love her")

Main mission chapel in Resistencia

The "bubble," an experimental chapel in Provo.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Observations on MTC Life

1 Feb. 2015
(Paper letter)

Dearest Family,

Here are more details about the MTC  that I didn't put in my email.

1. First and foremost, everyone here is just people too. I don't quite know why this is so worth saying; it is just so true. We all have our back stories and reasons for serving a mission. In my gym group I have met an Elder in a wheelchair, an Elder who I'm 99% sure is flamboyantly gay, and a girl who has to take about a zillion prescriptions a day. You don't think of them when you think about missionaries for the Church, yet here they are, and they're doing beautifully. I'm sure they don't have it easy, but they've inspired at least one fledgling Hermana (me).

2. Your time is strictly managed to the point where it feels selfish to spend 25 minutes getting ready for bed instead of 20. (Do not ask where or how I am writing this letter.)

3. I still strongly dislike wearing a skirt every day.

4. I offhandedly made the comment that the MTC is sort of like Alcatraz (not that it is like prison...but that we're so close to "normal life," yet so far away in our own contained little universe). "Doesn't that make BYU San Francisco?" someone asked. I was mortified. [note from Allison's parents: We think BYU is still on the island. :-)]

5. We do a lot of role plays here to learn how to teach. In the first one I went to on my first day here, it was still unclear whether the investigators were actors. Surely (and it's true) they wouldn't bring a real investigator to teach, but this lady was a really good actress. I stopped asking myself altogether and just got into it, and then I got way into it. The other new trainees were trying to teach her and they were floundering. There was a lot of "Jesus loves you" going around, but she kept saying "You've all been answering the same question for 20 minutes. You haven't actually said anything about your church. What do you want to say?" I frowned. None of what they were spouting was unique to Mormonism. Gradually, and then all at once, I felt that flaming heat on my tongue and in my heart. Before I could get the microphone passed to me and say We're God's children. He sent his Son, but the Church he established eventually crumbled. In the early 1800's, Joseph Smith saw a vision and restored the Church, along with Christ's priesthood, and we believe that our prophet holds that priesthood and speaks for God today, time ran out. As I thought about it that night, I felt a little bit messed with, having been a total sucker for something that was clearly staged. But I also knew that what I felt in there was vital and real, and that situation could very well have been real--it will be in a number of days. And then I faced what I've never been that willing to face: that I cannot preach this gospel without having a testimony of the priesthood. All my life I've had a complicated, stormy relationship with the implications of something like men holding God's power on earth. Yet I can't skirt around it, and now that I'm signed up to bring people to this church, I see so clearly that the whole Church hinges upon whether Joseph Smith restored the priesthood to the earth and truly was a prophet. So...learning. I've got my eyes wide open. (Addendum: Separating doctrine from social/cultural mishaps is extremely important. The doctrine has always made a lot of sense to me, just the people usually don't make sense.)

6. The room directly next to ours is currently inhabited by 2 American and 4 African Sisters who are headed to the Philippines and speaking Cebuano, the language of the island of Cebu. I think Larry the Cucumber sang about this place. Anyway, those Sisters--are wild! We all love them dearly.

7. I have been learning a  lot at the MTC. I have found it refreshing to "cast personal affairs aside" as the handbook says. I love the amount of focus here. We sing a lot of hymns. The reason we've become estranged from the sun is that even when we're walking outside, the buildings are close together and the walkways are covered (so they won't need to plow if it snows?). In the end, we are getting very generic preparation which will be at least a start for what is waiting for us "out there."

8. Every time I wish I had a nicer this, or a cooler that, I think of the way people must live in Chaco and immediately feel like I have way too much stuff and it's all embarrasingly nice.

9. The food here is like a mixture of BYU catering and a 24-hour greasy-spoon diner. Except you only have 30 minutes 3x a day. I have found the best, most sauceless options and sometimes snuck into the "special diet" room for kids with real allergies. I tried to get put on the list but they denied me. I should have faked celiac. I still slip into there from time to time and make it out with something heavenly. But all in all, so-so is the best you can do here. Without a BlendTech, raw apple cider vinegar, and real, actual food, Jeremiah 4:19 is indeed applicable.

--Hermana Tolman

Monday, February 2, 2015

Week one in the MTC

28 Jan. 2015: Hermana Tolman
2 February 2015
Dear Family,

One of the things that struck me upon arriving at the MTC (and I should have expected this) was the illusion of how experienced everyone seems. When I arrived, two lady missionaries were showing me around, telling me everything I needed to know. By the end of the hour I assumed they were specifically called to be Training Leaders at the MTC. They've been here for months, I thought. "How long have you two been out?" "We got here last week. We'll be heading to Guatemala on Monday." It's impressive the amount of order they maintain here despite the high turnover of the residents. But I should have expected that of a bunch of mostly highly motivated longing-to-impress 18-20 year olds.

No one here remembers what the sky looks like. Emerging yesterday on a walk after just 5 days, I felt like a new woman. Never before had I so appreciated a smoggy, silver Utah sky. And those lovely mountains.

 Back to Wednesday: "That's your companion," someone said to me, pointing to a girl facing away from us in the computer lab. Later we went into a big meeting and had a chance to get to know each other. I was looking at the announcements change on the screen up front, kind of blank-faced. Things like "Friday night is pizza night!!!" and "Lights out at 10:30." It changed to "6:00 to 6:30 AM extra gym time open to all sisters". "Oh heyyyyyy!" I said, tapping her on the shoulder, pointing at the screen, "Would you be willing to do that every day? I think it could be okay, you know, since we're sitting in classes all day and yeah yeah yeah" Oh no, she's one of those companions who hates exercise and she is going to deplore me for asking this, I thought. She turned to me and said, "I run XC and track for UVU. Of course I will go." We hugged triumphantly.

 We live with a sister from Guatemala, a very very funny and sarcastic sister from Oklahoma, and a sister from Reno whose parents are from Guadalajara. I adore them all, and perhaps the only thing you need to know about us is that the Spanglish in our conversations at night is SPECTACULAR. It tickles me, it is so much more natural to switch languages mid-sentence since we all speak both, and I forget how funny it would sound to someone who didn't. Herm. Snyder is my comp, she is from Coalville, UT and going to Tempe, AZ speaking Spanish.

 Our main teachers all have adjectives for names. Hermana Adorable. Hermano Humble, friends with an Hermano Manso. These are their actual apellidos. I know what you are wondering, are they truly adorable, humble, and meek? I will let you imagine that for yourself; whatever situation you want me to be in, I am in it.

 Thursday morning at breakfast, GUESS who sat down with us? Richi Monahan himself!! It was a mutual WHAT-Heyyyyy!!! We had a great time catching up. He is going to be serving very near Resistencia--in Brazil :)

The MTC has a lot in common with BYU. Same vending machines, same clocks, same washing machines, same furniture. In practical terms it's all part of the same big old creature. Our schedules here are tight and packed to the seams. I would be willing to let on that I appreciate that, since it doesn't allow for many distractions, and it helps you forget you're moving around within such a small perfectly contained universe.

You meet a lot of people from all over the world who are learning English and going to stateside missions. A lot of very fun people who appreciate totally different aspects of their religion based on however they grew up, and who find a million strange and beautiful ways to express it. That last sentence was not meant to detract from the consistency of the doctrine or the unity of the just also happens to be true.

Time's up, bye, I love you all!!
28 Jan 2015: Sister Tyler greeted Allison and whisked her away from us!