Saturday, October 19, 2013

Some new "firsts" in Trinidad!

First things first!  I have to record our "mission breakfast!" Our office is right next to a bakery that makes fabulous multi-grain bread.  So every single morning (how boring are we?) we have a fruit smoothie and toast with my homemade raspberry-strawberry jam on it.  A dear senior sister brought us back the pectin from home when she went back for some dental work.  OK, so there are some rare exceptions where we shock each other and say, "how about an egg today?"  Isn't it pretty?  Bananas, mango, strawberry, carrot, oats, protein powder, pineapple, grapes, apple, milk, some apple juice, filtered water, OJ and wahlaa!  Heaven in "Blue Heaven."  Our apartment building is painted bright blue so the three couple living here named it aptly.  This post should be perused, not read.  It will take awhile!
 Looks like a still-life painting -- well, except for the ant trap on the left!
There you have it - all mixed up and ready to enjoy.  We started this habit forever ago in Naperville when Doctor Kolbabba (I think that was his name) came and spoke to our RS about health and best supplements to take daily.  He said the best thing you can do is throw away your supplements and eat 5 fresh fruits and 5 fresh vegetables everyday.  Since then, we have been faithful fruit smoothie morning people and fit the 5 vegetables throughout the rest of the day.  I wonder if people ever have any clue the impact they have on other people's lives??  Thank you, Doctor Kolbabba!
 A couple weeks ago we went to visit a YSA in Port of Spain General hospitust .  We love this young man!  He has struggled with serious health issues his entire life.  We had the hardest time finding the hospital.  This street, Charlotte, was the craziest thing we have ever seen.  Packed, bumper-to-bumper traffic; pedestrians walking right down the middle of the street, in front of cars, around cars, totally ignoring the cars.  The sidewalks were full; so they were just being resourceful!
 Normally about a fifteen minute drive, we spent an hour and a half in dodge-em-pedestrian traffic.  That was a first.  We avoid that street like the plague, now.  
 We forgot to take my camera to the hospital, so I didn't take any pictures.  The captain, here at our last YSA activity, was in the hospital because he had known that his health problems were flaring up the night before this activity.  He also knew if he told his mom that he was feeling ill again, she would have insisted that he go to the hospital and have his treatment that night.  She made all of the costumes for the airline flight crew for this activity and he was sewing on the final touches by hand right before the activity began.  When we found him on the 4th floor of the hospital, his mother told us that because he waited to be able to participate in this activity, he had to stay in the hospital twice as long to become well again.  This wonderful young man wanted so much to fulfill his commitment and responsibility that he sacrificed his health and paid a very real price to be able to be there and participate.  These are the amazing young people we are privileged to know and love!
 We have had a very exciting baptism this month.  The Andrews family- another first! The first family baptism on our mission.  The youngest is not yet eight, one of the girls, Akeela, is 16.  It was her birthday and a beautiful experience for all who were there.
 Each family member was baptized, starting with Brother Andrews.  
The children sang, "I love to look for rainbows," and obviously had practiced!
 After the baptism we sang, "Happy Birthday" and had birthday cake and cupcakes to celebrate!
 I had to record this injunction to proper decorum.  It's a good thing I raised my children right and warned them against the evils of chewing gum in public places!!
Speaking of signs, this one had to be put here in honor of Elder Monson's grandmother Augusta's nickname!
 Unfortunately, 11 months into our mission, we had a first that I wished we could have skipped!  We were pulled over in a big long line.  I was driving, and there was a road block at the intersection. The police were pulling over about every other car.  We were facing this policeman talking to the car in front of us that had been pulled into this lane from the other side of the road. 
 Still waiting to find out why I had been pulled over.
 These were the policeman on the other side of the street as we waited.  You can see Elder Monson was NOT happy.  We NEVER see policeman in these numbers, EVER!  We were thinking they were searching cars for a dead body??  Finally, she asked for insurance, passport etc.  When she returned and told me that although I had my seatbelt on, she saw that I had been putting it on as I turned the corner, (we live on the corner just down the block from here), and that I was putting it on because I had seen her!  It was a $1,000 TT ticket!  We drove to the Tuna Puna municipal station a few days later and paid our debt to society.  I must say the fund raising, oops, debt collection process is the most efficiently run organization we have seen since we arrived in Trinidad! 
 ahhhhhh the memories!
 This one's for my grandhildren.  We had transfers the 7th-10th of October and this is the view out the window of the mission home.  Look how long his tail is!!! While we were washing dishes from lunches for the new missionaries, and teaching them my cooking class, we had this little friend visit. Transfer time is crazy the week before because I prepare all the "Called to Serve" and "Return with Honors," for the New and Returning missionaries.  It is a great tradition in this mission.  Basically, the new missionaries fill out a form when they arrive asking them questions about their testimony, what their expectations are, what they hope to be, what they hope to learn, while on their mission.  I type that up and file it and then a month before they return home, I send them another questionnaire about their growth, change, testimony, what they have learned etc.  It has 10 pictures included, and they review their mission and growth with the mission president from these two records before going home.  It has required me to learn so many new computer tricks.  I am thankful to have glimpsed these noble servants' growth and powerful impact for good as they have served the Lord.  It is one of my favorite assignments. 
 We attend our district meeting every Tuesday and inspect apartments of the young missionaries in our zone every transfer.  The winning companionship gets a plate of my homemade sweet rolls.  This transfer the winners were Sister Shirts and Sister Edmonds, our new Sister Trainer. 
 We attended a wonderful baptism at Port of Spain.  While there, we met an investigator family the missionaries are teaching.  They invited us to come to their appointment this next Sunday.  We are thrilled.  It is a young married couple with a darling little girl. 
 This couple was married a week before their baptism.  They are a great addition to the POS ward!
 After the baptism, the Senior missionaries went to the "Bamboo Cathedral."  It is a beautiful, natural bamboo forest walk.  The sound of the bamboo trunks brushing together in the wind creates a cacophony of unique sounds we will not forget from our mission.
 Looks like a scene from Avatar, huh?
 Elder and Sisters Black, Ray, Smith, Monson and Sister Ray.  Funny we have two, not related, random Rays show up in the same mission and both work in the office. A couple and a single sister.
 "Wherever your journey takes you, go towards the light!"
 This huge wasps nest was fascinating!  The precision with which it was made was startling!
 After the walk through the bamboo cathedral, we ascended a pretty step hill for about a mile or so and came to the top of the mountain where there was a huge satellite that was built by the American military in 1959.  It was built for early surveillance and communications exploration.  It was a good workout and pretty interesting to see.
 Huge, isn't it?
 These mounds were the communications transmitters.
 Such wonderful people!  We are blessed to know and work with them.
 On the drive back, we came across this really really old church and cemetery. 
 No names on these grave stones.  I wonder who these people were and what their lives were like.
 Back to work, I had to record this sign on the way to Sangre Grande.  It is such a perfect insight into the make-up of families here.  Geneology is almost unimaginable because so many of the families are made of mothers with children from multiple fathers with different last names, and fathers with children from other mothers all living together as siblings.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is such a long stretch from this culture.  The people who join the church and commit to live the standards taught can hardly imagine the life the Lord is asking them to live. For example:
This is the program cover of the funeral we attended a week ago, another first.  I have covered the deceased's name on the program for privacy.  He is the son of the first counselor in one of our wards here in Trinidad.  He had been murdered.  Someone had driven up on the major street in his town and shot him twelve times.  It was a gang hit.  One of the senior sisters sat next to a policewoman at the funeral and she said he was reputed to have killed seven people.  The audience was packed.  Police walked back and forth outside the chapel.  We love the father of this young man.  He is a great priesthood leader and the only member of his family.  He is divorced from the young man's mother.  It was an uneasy combination of Mormonism and Pentacostal preachers.  I have never heard wailing and screaming as we did that day.  The bishop conducted the meeting and asked the audience to demonstrate decorum and restraint during the proceedings.  The father spoke about the Lord teaching those departed spirits about the gospel in spirit prison, and that after a period of paying the price for their sins, they will be able to progress.  There was a enthusiastic gospel singer that made the rafters shake, seriously, and people in the audience joined in and sang along.  After a eulogy from the family, three readings, two gospel songs and the counselors' Mormon doctrine and testimony, the floor was opened for whoever wanted to talk.  There was a preacher woman and a preacher man.  They made it clear that if you confess Jesus that is all you have to do.  That if you love, love, love, that is what God requires and that no one can judge because we are all sinners. This started and ended with hymns and prayers in the typical Mormon fashion, but not much else was at all typical.  It was a first, for sure.  We were glad we could be there to support this good man who is serving so faithfully in the bishopric.   
 The funeral was packed!
 His sisters both spoke about their brother and the kindness and protection he showed them. They supported each other emotionally and their father as he spoke.
 This is the only picture of a four day emergeny preparedness nightmare!  We were without electricity for four days.  On Friday, our landlord told us the electricity to the entire building would be off for a few hours.  Five hours later it was turned back on, but he called us and said it would be off starting Saturday morning at 8 am.  When I asked how long it would be off, he said it would be approx.  two hours.  That is why we decided to go to the bamboo cathedral and hike to the Satellite after the baptism because we all live in "Blue heaven."  We got home at 3:00 pm and there was no electricity.  At 5:00, the workers went home, and we called our landlord.  Without electricity, we had no water, all our food in the fridge was at risk and no air conditioning.  We were sweating and sticky after the long hike and being out in the sun for hours.  We decided to use our emergency water supply to take showers.  How blessed it was to have 20 gallons of former juice bottles filled with purified water and two drops of bleach.  We both took a shower and felt so grateful for the water.  We could flush the toilets with the water.  That night and for three nights, the landlord put us up in a nearby bed and breakfast.  We would come back in the morning, work at the office all day, swelter in the heat until we went to bed at the b&b.  When we finally got electricity again, we had learned a major lesson about preparedness.  We would have been in a big disaster if we hadn't stored water.  We lost all the food in our refrigerator and freezer and most of all we gained a small insight into the lives of many of our faithful members here who live in homes that are made of a shell; cement walls, with no water, electricity or bathrooms, just out houses, and that is how they always live.  We are sooo blessed. 
 I took this picture because we have seen these kinds of deformities so frequently.  People are so poor that they cannot pay for doctors to set broken bones after accidents or breaks etc.  This and worse are very common sites, here.  It is heartbreaking.
 This last three days, we went on a Senior's outing.  Elder and Sister Black have been serving in the office as the office and financial secretary for the last seven months of their mission. The first year they were assigned to Tobago where he was the branch president.  While there, they were never able to do any "sightseeing" things.  We decided to help them out and all go together to Tobago!
 We picked the perfect day to go!  This was the view out the airplane window as we arrived!
 Here we are waiting for the rain to break to walk out of the airport and into our transport.
 True to the West Indies Rainy Season, by the time we got to this Lavish resort hotel, the Magdalena, the rain had stopped and we were transported to pre-mission luxuriousness!  Wow!  Tobago is another planet from Trinidad!
 Lobby entrance
 A throw-back to the 70's transport van to our dinner location, The Fish Pot.
 Here we all are, amazed at the array of options and excited to try a highly recommended fish restaurant!
 I chose the Lobster and Elder Monson the Snapper, and we shared half and half.  Both were amazing!
 This was the breakfast buffet!  Reminded us of Mexico Grand Mayan breakfast buffets of the past!
 Some views of the grounds
 The Rays said, "wow, this is what we imagined when your son said you lived in paradise!"
 Our captain, Rennie, telling us about all the fish and coral when we went snorkeling with him.
 The view through the glass bottom boat at the fish and coral.
 Elder Monson just coming back from snorkeling. We both loved's been a long time!
 This was the "nylon pool."  It is called that because in the middle of the ocean there is a long stretch that is shallow and the sand at the bottom is ground up coral.  It is said to have properties in the coral sand that if you rub it on your face, you will look ten years younger.  We did it and it works!  I am sure you will immediately say, when we return home, "oh, you must have rubbed coral sand all over your face in Tobago!"
 We cleaned up pretty nicely and went to dinner.....again.  This time Italian and just as good!
 The last thing we got to experience in Tobago was the Mangrove forest and Lilly pond.  These flowers just grow out of the water.  Can you see the bird with the white head crest?
 These Mangrove trees grow to massive heights and their roots grow horizontally, all tangled together, mired in a muck of mud that looks like Gollum will come climbing out of it any minute.
 The walk-way planks were slippery with moss and leaves. The mud looked like it would grab you and drag you under, if one fell into it.  You might be sucked into the center of the earth.
 We walked slowly and carefully.
 A very unusual sight that lead to a deck that looked right out to the ocean and a beautiful view!
 A rare and breathtaking view to behold!
We walked back as carefully as we had come.  One of the Senior Missionaries slipped, was not hurt, and we promised we would never tell who!
 With a farewell warning about Caiman in the Lake, we went home and packed up to return to duty in Trinidad.  What a wonderful change of pace we enjoyed together. 
During apartment inspections, I found what I want to buy for our home to remind us of our mission.   Elder Hatch, the elder with whom elder Monson shared his geneology tie, had this picture taped to his wall.  We were immediately drawn to it, and he said his mom had sent it to him.  Reading the back of it, I found the following: Painting by Liz Lemon Swindle, For All Mankind
She had written, "One of the first children I met in Zambia was a little boy named Kennedy.  At three years old, Kennedy had lost both of his parents to AIDS and was found living alone with his six year old brother and ten year old sister.  When I thought of those three children struggling to survive and the millions of others across Africa in similar circumstances, I felt an overwhelming hopelessness and said to myself, "No amount of money can fix this."  I was curious to see how Kennedy and the others would react to Phillip, (the man playing Christ in all the new church movies.) We decided to drop Phillip off several hundred yards from the "farm" and then drive in and set up our cameras.  We told the children we had a wonderful surprise for them.  When Phillip came into view the children instinctively ran to him and threw their arms around him.  Everyone except Kennedy.  When Phillip saw this little boy standing apart from the others, he walked over and knelt down.  As he opened his arms, this little soul ran to him and threw his arms around his neck.  He began speaking as fast as he could.  Phillip looked for help to understand.  One of the others translated.  "My mom and Dad died.  They are in heaven.  Have you seen them?  Are they ok?  At that moment I knew it wasn't hopeless, I realized that the Savior could fix not only the problems of Africa (and Trinidad) but of the whole world....and we can be his hands to do it.  For the first time in my life, I felt what Isaiah meant when he said, he will swallow up death in victory and The Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces.  To Kennedy and all who struggle to understand why, I promise that God has not forgotten you, that the time is coming when he will come in power and glory.  And when he will keep his promises and wipe away all our tears."

This painting is a perfect representation of our experience on our mission and will be in a prominent place in our home when we return.