I hear that a lot here so I figured I would refer to you guys as such. For the record, yes I am alive. Clearly this has been something that mom wants to know because it was mentioned quite a few times in your last emails. The flight down was loooong and we had a delay in Miami because of some sort of mechanical thing and it took a while to get thru customs but we did finally get out into Ecuador. The view of the city as we flew in was amazing because none of the buildings in Guayaquil are more than three stories and I don’t think they have ever heard of city planning so it was a sea of yellow lights on rolling hills, a pretty stunning effect I have to say.
That first night we stayed in the hotel next to the temple, which was pretty fun; we had a view of the temple on one side and the city on the other. It was a massive contrast; I took a couple of pictures and if I can ever get this computer to cooperate I will send them to you, but every time I try to transfer pictures the computer starts yelling at me in Spanish. Our mission president is shorter than I thought he would be. He’s at least six inches shorter and his wife is even shorter than him so it’s pretty crazy. The AP’s say he is a funny guy but I don’t know for sure; I’ll tell you once I learn Spanish.
We woke up early the next day and went in the temple. It was pretty cool because everything was in Spanish. Also, they don’t believe in air conditioning here. Most people don’t have it but those who do keep it at a pretty high temperature. This is probably because they can’t afford it, but it’s still annoying. We had lunch at the mission house and it was amazing! The food wasn’t too different from what we might have in Texas. We had apple pie for desert; it was the best apple pie I have ever had–words cannot explain how awesome it was. After that we went back to the hotel, got our stuff, and met our trainers. My companion’s name is elder Fuentemávida. Just in case the name didn’t give it away, he doesn’t speak English. It makes things hard sometimes but as far as I can tell he’s a pretty cool guy. He is the zone leader. I thought that zone leaders were called by companionship, but they don’t seem to do that here. What that means for me is that I have to follow him around to a bunch of extra meetings and stuff but it’s not too bad. He’s pretty funny and he always introduces me as Elder Walke from Texas–like chuck Norris (everyone here knows who chuck Norris is) and, if they are members, then he tells them about how I sang at conference. It makes me laugh. He is trying to learn English so he asks me about how to say stuff in English all the time.
Anyway we got into a bus and headed out to my first area. We are in a city called Babahoyo. I can’t tell you what my street address is because I’m not sure if we even have one but I will work on that for you. In the meantime, my house is a few minutes from the church right off of the main street between the main city area and the church. Hope that helps. The streets are crazy here; they don’t even pretend to have traffic laws. The streets don’t have paint on them or anything. Taxis cars and busses go as fast as they feel like going and they pass like crazy. Riding the busses is kind of like a theme park ride everyday, especially when all the seats are full, so we have to stand and hold the bar.
That night we met with a couple of investigators–one of the members, and the bishop. The bishop lives in a pretty small concrete shack. Their whole family: mom, dad and three kids, live in an area barely bigger than my room back home. They have a two story house but the bottom story is a sort of mud pit, so they don’t use it. We helped move in a bunch of dirt and gravel to elevate it and get it ready for a cement floor.
The housing here is amazing. In my area it’s a mixture of concrete shacks and bamboo huts, almost all of which were made by the people living in them. Sometimes the huts are built out over a swamp or river so they are on stilts with a bridge thing connecting them to the road, and walking on these bridges is quite the gamble. The other day we were walking on one that was about 15 feet off the ground and the boards weren’t nailed down so it was loose and many of them were cracked or just plain weak. The whole time I was on it, I was looking down at the swamp below me and thinking about just how much I didn’t want to die in it. Luckily we didn’t die so it’s all good.
Anyway back to the timeline. After visiting everyone we went back to our apartment for the night. It’s in a pretty sad state. We have a way better setup than most of the people here but even the motel six we almost stayed in on the Colorado trip was nicer than what I’m in now. We don’t have AC–just a few fans that we have set up around the apartment. We do have a couple of holes in the wall where window AC units used to be but now we just have the holes, which are perfect for letting in mosquitoes. The shower…. yeah. It’s cold and it’s only a small trickle, and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
So the food here is pretty good. Every day we have lunch at one of the member’s houses or our momita’s house. The only problem is that they are huge. It starts with a massive bowl of some kind of soup. It’s always a different kind and it’s good. Many of them are cream based, I think, but some of the things in them can be questionable so I don’t ask much about it. After that, we have a plate of rice with about enough rice to fill a basket ball—I’m not kidding—it’s that big. Then we also have a side dish or two and a big glass of some of the best fruit drinks I have ever had. It’s all good but it’s huge and about half way through it I’m stuffed. But I have to eat it all so I say a prayer and keep eating. It’s like having a thanksgiving meal everyday. Breakfast and dinner are small, not much more than a snack, and we don’t eat dinner until we get home at 9:30, but I’m not complaining because that lunch stays with you all day.
I tried making some eggs the other day for dinner but I didn’t realize what a chore it is when you want to do anything here so I don’t think I will be doing that anymore–sandwiches and cold cereal for me. The cereal is pretty much the same as what we have back home but my fruit loops did taste a bit different. That may have been the wheat bran I had mixed in though. Yeah because rice and soup doesn’t have any fiber in it we have to mix wheat bran into one of our meals everyday to keep us functioning. It doesn’t really have a taste but it does add an unpleasant texture to my food.
The kids here are awesome. I’m constantly amazed at how similar the kids here are to the ones back home; they love the missionaries and they always want me to teach them words in English or just talk in English and stuff like that. The members and investigators are always asking to see pictures of my family. They almost always talk about how young my parents look and ask about how old my sisters are and stuff like that. Sometimes they ask if Andrea is my daughter and I have to be careful when I respond because sometimes they word it funny and I end up saying that she is.
Allison and Olivia wouldn’t know whether to laugh or cry if they came down here. There are a ton of dogs. Any kind of dog you can imagine is here and anything in between. But a lot of the dogs have one of three problems: either they are injured, starving, or have some degree of mange or other disease. Some of the people are not much better off than the dogs. There are some pretty messed up living conditions down here and healthcare is nonexistent so I have seen some pretty sad stuff. The worst part is knowing that I can’t get them to surgery or a doctor–it’s not good.
One of the member’s kids was baptized last night, and thanks to my companion they had this idea that I can sing or something, so they asked me to sing a solo in English. I seem to have agreed to this at some point during the week (curse this dang language barrier), so I did and I don’t think that I will have anymore requests for solos.
My Spanish is coming along; the first couple of days I couldn’t even answer basic questions because I was so used to the gringo Spanish we spoke in the MTC, but it started to click and now I understand most of what I hear but I still struggle with speaking fluently. When I was in the MTC I figured I would be fluent in a few months once I got to Ecuador and that that would be ok, but now that I’m here I realize what a pain not being able to communicate really is, so I have stepped it up a bit.
I know I said that I would fill in the holes about my MTC experience but I can’t remember what I have and have not said about it, so if everyone could just give you their questions and you email them to me, I will try to answer them in my next email. I love you all and I hope you are doing well. Keep me updated with what’s happening over there and tell everyone I said “Hi”. I really am doing pretty well so don’t worry about me. For the most part im having a blast.