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

1 comment:

  1. I read section 31 and cried my eyes out. Thank you for sharing! You are doing great things!