Tuesday, October 28, 2014

This week has been a whirlwind. It has gone by really fast. It has also probably been the toughest week of my mission. I got really sick this week. It got really hot this week, that coupled with our power being out meant that I was coughing and sweating uncontrollably with a fever in bed. I finally took some time off and now I think that I'm finally done being sick. Since I've been more or less sick for almost my whole mission, it feels good to be coming out of it. Sadly that meant that we didn't work as much this week. I really like working, but I determined it would be better if I just got totally healthy!

We also finally got to watch General Conference this week. It was great. I also watched the temple video from the Women's Conference. I thought the whole thing was very powerful. I loved all the talks. I really appreciated the counsel about not making excuses and just working hard. I feel like if my mission had a slogan or over arching goal it would be that. I'm trying to really learn what it means to work hard. I was also really touched by Elder Holland's talk about serving the poor and needy because I see what he's talking about all around me. For Conference our whole zone got together and had pancakes and hamburgers.

I've been taking photos. I'm just really bad about remembering to upload them. This week my camera is charging. Next week I will upload as many pictures as I can. Hold me to it! It just depends on the speed of the internet connection. This week I took less pictures just because I wasn't out as much, but there's so much cool stuff that I want to share with all of you.

Also, I did get your package, but I don't think it was the first one you sent. It had sour patch kids, soap, t-shirt, tissues, and toothpaste in it. I really appreciated it. Honestly, all the sour patch kids are already gone-ha ha. The soap and toothpaste were nice to get. It's hard to find nice versions of them here. There are lots of tissues though, so don't worry about sending those again, but I appreciated the thought. I also got your Thanksgiving Day card. I did not, however, get the monster mash video. (Note from mom: our family used Jib Jab to create a Halloween video for Alex set to the song monster mash. Apparently, it didn't make it to his email. The package that Alex received was sent on October 6th. I sent one on September 11th that still hasn't reached him - of course that was the one containing tons of treats and deodorant.)

I don't have much more to say. I sent you a letter that has more in it. I don't know when it will get there. (Note from mom: we have found that it takes four to eight weeks for mail to get from the US to Madagascar. We'll see how long it takes to get from Mada to here.) As I said, it was kind of a bum week. But it definitely had some positive notes, like Conference. Can you believe that it's almost Halloween! Talk to you soon,

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, October 20, 2014

Note from Alex's mom... I haven't received pictures from Alex for a couple of weeks. I don't know if this is a result of technical difficulties or just an oversight on his end. I will be insistent about getting updated pictures when I email him next week.

What's up?! This week was a good week. President Adams came down from Antananarivo to do interviews, and he brought a member of the quorum of the seventy with him. I love President Adams and the seventy was really cool too. He is from South Africa. My interview went well. Then I followed him around for the rest of the day because my companion is the zone leader. That was really cool because I think it's the job of the seventies to just give great words of wisdom to whoever is around them. He'd just turn to me, ask a question, and them proceed to expand my mind - ha ha. Sister Adams also made us all cookies, which was a little piece of home. She also brought me three dear elder letters and a Halloween card. Packages are coming next week, so if any of mine have arrived I'll know then. It was great to hear from everyone. One of the Malagasy missionaries took the Halloween card because he had never seen sparkles or Halloween before. I tried to explain that it was like jour de morte. It was very funny.

I'm almost done training, so my companion and I have been talking about what we think will happen at the transfer. Missionaries are some of the most intrigue deprived people. It's still three week until transfers and that's the hot topic right now - ha ha. I will probably be leaving Tomatov though, which makes me sad. I love the people here.

We ate at a member's house this week. We're actually discouraged from doing it very often because it isn't really safe. But this person is our district president and we eat there each week. We had tsaramaso. It means good eye. It's delicious and you eat it pretty much all the time here. We also had henakiso, which is just pork. We had mango and strawberry juice which is amazing.It's one of my favorite sides items about Madagascar. They have the best drinks here. Although I've yet to find Mountain Dew. Apparently they sell it at gas stations, so I'll let you know if my quest is fruitful! I really like the other Elders in my house. Especially Elder Wootan from Boston. He will be studying to become an electrical engineer at BYU and he's crazy smart. Also very funny. I love hanging out with him.

Answers to mom's questions
1. Yes, we have a microwave in our apartment
2. I've been generally healthy. I ate something weird so I've been off a bit and I have another head cold. My body is trying to catch up on all these new pathogens. I haven't lost weight. I think I may have gained a bit because of  all the rice I'm eating.
3. We have not been given any special instructions about the plague or ebola. I'm probably as far away from ebola as possible. Ohatra (for example), it's definitely easier to fly from the U.S. to Western Africa than from Mada to Western Africa.
4. Fleas haven't been a problem for me. Some of the other Elders have been bitten, but fleas aren't as bad here as in other parts of Mada.

I love the work here. It's hard and I wish I truly spoke Malagasy, but I love it.

Elder Ahlstrom

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Hi. I hope everyone is well. Things are about as normal as they ever are here in Madagascar. A bunch of missionaries had stomach flu this week, myself included. Now we are all better. One of the hard things about living in Mada is that you pretty much always feel a little sick. I find that if you eat through it you will feel better. I made a stew this week, which was good and tasted like home. I was so excited because I found a crock pot in our house. It's nice to have something different from rice. In response to your question about our house, it's nothing too special. It's hard to keep clean because sand blows into it all the time. It's all tile because nothing is carpeted in Mada. We have a little kitchen, three bedrooms, and two couches. As missionaries, I don't know what more we could ask for.

We're teaching a lot of great families. It's interesting to consider the problems that come up with teaching in Mada. I assume they're very different from other missions. We have some really unique issues that we get to address. The four main groups that we run into here - Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and some unusual churches. There are also a lot of Jehovah's Witnesses here. One thing that is interesting about Mada is the over abundance of prophets. People here readily accept prophets, but the idea that there would only be one seems weird to them. The prophets here do "miracles", which essentially means magic shows. I assume this is very unique. New churches start up randomly all the time. Every once in a while you run into some really sketchy stuff, not dangerous, just unusual. Right now we have a bunch of people getting ready for baptism. The hard thing is that most don't have their vita soratra (legal marriage). They just do the cultural fomba marriage and stop at that. It's expensive to get married here and issues often come up. We're working with one family of members that have two kids living with them that aren't members. They just got baptized and they're super cool. They have some kids that are members that are really nice. They have a son named Rico who is my age. It's cool because he speaks about as much English as I speak Malagasy, so not a lot, but we're usually able to have functional conversations.

You asked about the weather. The weather is starting to get really hot and humid. It's pretty ridiculous. Pretty much any movement will cause you to sweat. It's also been raining on and off. The rain is weird here because the drops are small. The rain drops are tiny and there are tons of them. Thankfully my rain jacket is awesome and keeps me very nice and dry.

In English class I got to explain what political asylum means. I'm not always sure where they get their questions! And we went to a soiree yesterday, which was a new experience and very fun. Malagasies like to tell riddles, so now I know a bunch of new riddles:

A family had three sons. The parents asked, "which one of you will bury us when we die?" One said that he would be buried with them. Another said that he would go with them to the graveside. And the last said that he would stay home because he was afraid of graves. What are the three sons? A bowl of rice! The rice goes with you, the spoon goes to the graveside, and the bowl just sits there and does nothing! Funny right? Okay, maybe not, but Malagasies love riddles and I thought that one was pretty clever.

Well, I have to run. Have a wonderful week!
Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, October 6, 2014

A note from Alex's mom:
Today's post is a bit different than the norm. I woke up in the middle of the night with our lab puppy and remembered that I had forgotten to email Alex the baking temperature for a recipe I had sent him. I got online to email the information. As soon as I sent the email Alex responded. He was preparing to email our family. Instead, he and I spent the next hour "chatting" over email. Below is a sort of compilation of part of our exchange.

Did you get to watch Genreal Conference this weekend? No, we will read the Conference talks in the Liahona. The connections out here are too sketchy to see it. Plus, it would prevent us from doing a lot of work.

Tell me something funny, scary, crazy, or touching that happened this week. Funny - someone appreciated our lessons so much that they tried pay us. It was also actually really touching because, of course, they are so impoverished. Scary - someone stole something in front of our house and a bunch of people beat him to death and lit him on fire. Crazy - I tried jack fruit. It's super duper weird! It just tastes like banana except the texture is funny. I'm glad I tried it but definitely have no desire to try it again. Touching - hmmm, we shared a message about the temple with a family. Temples may be one of my favorite lessons. We showed them some pictures and it was really amazing to see them so excited to know that they can be together forever. They are already members and they are preparing to go to the temple. It will take a while because they have to make a sacrifice and then the church helps cover the rest of the cost. They're really excited and a super awesome family.

There were several Conference talks on helping the poor. There were also several talks that stressed the importance of being self sufficient. Do you know if the church provides a lot of individual aid in Madagascar? Yes because most people are living in such extreme poverty. Although it's not as much as you might expect. The standard of living is already low. But the members appreciate the community and help each other. Aid is given for things like going to the temple or going on a mission. I think it's really helpful.

Are you losing weight? I think I'm ok. We still eat out quite a bit because it's simply the cheapest and best way to eat the right amount of food. But I'm trying to eat more at home. I make German pancakes, pancakes, spaghetti. This week I have to figure out what I'm gonna try. I miss having food in the pantry. It's not that they don't have food here, but it's just not the same. I super miss home cooking.

What are the best, strangest, most annoying things about Madagascar? I'll have to answer that in a letter. Mada's great! I was just laughing about it. I love Mada. Some of the missionaries struggle with the culture. I find that you just have to adjust to it, and then it's awesome. It's very different. But if you fight against it your whole mission you'll just be miserable.