Monday, December 29, 2014

Note from Mom: We were able to Skype with Alex from midnight to 3am (our time) on December 23rd. It was wonderful to see his face and hear his voice. Thanks to Alex's dad, the entire call was recorded. It is available under a passcode on You Tube. Please post a note on this blog or send me a Facebook message if you would like access to see the call. I will happily send you the passcode.

Dear Friends and Family,

It was awesome to talk to all of you on Christmas. As far as my Christmas, what can I say, it was a Madagascar Christmas. In this context that means that we reenacted the Christmas story a little bit. Since non of us wanted to cook we went out to eat at the one restaurant that was open on Christmas. It's a little Muslim place down the street. It was funny because they were playing Christmas music - ha ha. After that we went around and shared Christmas spiritual thoughts with people on the road. Everyone here gets dressed up and goes to church on Christmas. The dress actually resembles our Easter.

It was a little weird to work on Christmas, but it was also really fun and rewarding. We tried to visit our older investigators and those without family nearby. We sang hymns with them and tried to make things feel Christmasy and fun. Mostly we just worked really hard. Also, thankfully my companion got to talk to his family. It's expensive to place phone calls. His family doesn't have access to a computer, so he couldn't Skype them. Thankfully they were able to save up some funds to call him. Overall, it was a great way to spend the day, and it was neat to bring glad tidings in a very literal way.

I went on a split this week with two Elders in my District. Unfortunately I got way stinking sick! It was my fault. I drank sketchy water. I had been riding my bike all day and I was really thirsty. That's what I get for doing things that I know are dumb - ha ha!

Have a Happy New Year,

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hmmm... What to say, what to say. Well, first off, it's super exciting how close things are to Christmas. I'm anxiously awaiting our talk on Christmas!

As far as how things are going in Madagascar, we're doing great as always. Things are going really well with the work here, and it's super exciting to be a part of it. We have been having a lot of success getting people to church. This Sunday we had 12, which was a pretty good amount.

I'm glad to hear you are all doing well. It was funny to see pictures of you guys wearing long sleeves. I can't even imagine that because it is always so hot here. This week was particularly bad because the power was out almost constantly. That meant washing clothes by hand and taking cold showers to stave off overheating. Summer is in full swing here and Toamasina is one of the hotter places. It's also one of the most humid places because the eastern half of Mada is more humid then the western half. The humidity has just been kind of sitting. It doesn't rain that often it just is hot and sticky. I think I'm getting used to it though. At first I couldn't sleep at all if the power was out. Now I just don't like it. Before when the power came on I would sprint to shut the doors and turn on the AC. Now I don't really care... as much... hahaha!

This p-day did have a sad tinge to it. Almost all the Elders that I've been with since I got here moved to a new area. Our house went from a six man to a four man house. I actually prefer that because it's much calmer. Last p-day, our house had a Christmas meal, which was pretty fun. I made a roast. I decided that it was my Christmas present to myself.

Elder Razandetsetra and I are also doing well. My Malagasy has become much more communicative, which makes it easier to talk to him. It's also fun because in companion study I get to teach him a lot about the gospel. He's only been a member for three years, and there are some holes in his knowledge. We have a good time. He's helping me with my pronunciation, which is the thing that I think I struggle with most right now. He says our investigators have to get used to how I talk before they can understand me. But the goal is to get over that so that I can just talk. Also, I'm still working on comprehension, but as you know with languages, you learn little by little.

Elder Gaul got home this week and killed me with stories of his adventures - mostly centered on food! Thankfully, I got to call him right before he left. That was really awesome. I already miss him a lot. He was a super studly missionary!

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, December 15, 2014

Alex driving a pous pous

Yesterday was transfers. That didn't mean a whole lot for me because I am training, which is a twelve week program. However, it does mean a whole bunch of new stuff is happening in Toamasina! All but one of the Elders in my house (excluding my companion) are moving. It will be exciting to have new people in the zone down here. It's also funny because I am the longest resident of Tomatov now. It's weird to think that I'm the oldest in any regards, but I've almost been on my mission six months!

I can't wait to talk to you in a week and a half. We'll get everything figured out then. I don't think there will be any issue. Once the cyber we usually go to is open again it will be easy to figure all this business out. 

In other news we had a really good week of work. We have a group of really cool investigators. We are teaching one young guy in particular named David. He's really excited about the gospel. His mom said that he and I look alike except that he is dark, which I thought was really funny. 

This week we also went to a birthday party of a less active member that we have been working with. He didn't tell us, however, that he was inviting a bunch of work friends (he works on board the Mercy Ship). We actually got to spend about an hour with a group of Americans. It was really fun to speak English with native speakers, but it was hard because people were speaking both Malagasy and English. My mind couldn't switch back and forth fast enough. My words would come out alright, but my English grammar was pretty funny. I don't know if they believed I was from America. That is not to say my Malagasy is that good, but I like to joke that before you can learn Malagasy you have to forget everything and start from the bottom up! Right now I'm still in the forgetting stage. It was cool though because all of the Malagasies at the party were translators, and they couldn't believe a white person could speak Malagasy at a communicative, conversational level. Plus, I had popcorn for the first time in like six months at the party! Other than that things are really about the same. I'll let you know about all of the new Elders next week. 

Talk (I mean really talk) to you soon!

Elder Ahlstrom 

Note from Mom: The following pictures range in time from Alex's arrival in Mada to late November. I was just finally able to get them this week, so I am posting them out of chronological order. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

I'll start with the thing that you're most interested in - the Christmas Skype. First, the cyber that we usually go to is closed for two weeks. Regrettably, it's pretty much the only cyber that has Skype installed. I'll try to see if this computer does, but it's in French so no promises. Otherwise, the p-day before Christmas I'll do all of the stuff that I was going to do today. That will give just a few days before actual Christmas for us to figure it out. Also, internet is weird here. So, if worst comes to worst I'll give you my cell number. Then I'll email you when I'm available and you can call. The problem with that is it may not work well and it's expensive. It'll be fine though and we'll figure it out. I'll be on about 6pm our time. We'll probably have 45 minutes to talk.

This week has been awesome. My companion baptized his first person on Saturday. He was very excited. The font was full of bright green water, which was a little off putting, but other than that it was all very good. Then a recent convert in our branch baptized his grandson. He was also very excited. It was kind of hard organizing a baptism in a language that is still hard for me to understand, especially because I had to use weird new vocabulary like towels, and where's the ladder so they could get into the font, and no you can't swim there! what's the full name of your biological father, and what county do you live in? We got it all figured out though and it went really well. It was definitely a learning experience. The hard thing is that everyone expects you to know what's going on  - ha ha.

We also had really great work in regard to the people we're teaching. We had 12 people come to church who either weren't members or hadn't been members for more than a few hours. Also, we had the former missionary who we're trying to reactivate come back to church. It was so exciting, but also a little scary because now we need to help all those people continue to progress. It's easy when the ball is not in your court, but they showed faith, came to church, and now we need to help them. I'm nervous but super excited. We have such awesome investigators.

This week has felt a lot like Christmas, even though we're so far away. I hope you liked our house's Christmas card picture. Right now we're in a new cyber that is all decked out with Christmas decorations. The funny thing is that they put up little snow flakes, but the fans are on full blast because it's so hot. They're playing Beyonce's Christmas album, which is a little weird to hear someone rapping Silent Night with a full gospel choir in the background.

Next p-day is the p-day after transfers, so a bunch of people will be leaving the next day. Accordingly, we decided to have our Christmas meal a week early. It should be fun. We're going to try to make a roast, so we may end up eating Ramen, especially if the power doesn't come on. I'll keep you posted -ha ha! Send us good thoughts regarding all of that.

So that's about how things are here. I love Madagascar, the work, the people. I am really enjoying myself. It especially feels nice now that I'm getting somewhat functional with the language. Talk to y'all next week.

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, December 1, 2014

Alex's companion Elder Razafindretsetra


Indian Ocean

Relaxing on the beach

Christmas photo!

(Note from mom: The following email from Alex requires a bit of back story. I learned from the mom of another missionary that a Malagasy pesticide had been used in the home of some other missionaries in Alex's area. The missionaries later learned that it was a nerve agent that has been banned in the US for decades. The missionaries aired out their house and cleaned it thoroughly. I expressed my concern to Alex and urged him to avoid spending time in that home. Additionally, the World Health Organization has again determined that Madagascar has the highest rate of Bubonic plague in the world. It is currently plague season in Madagascar and almost two hundred cases have been recorded this year.)

I'm doing really well. I really miss all of you and I cannot wait to talk to you on Christmas. First let me answer some of your concerns. Don't worry. The other missionaries' house is fine. Sometimes I have to go there on splits so I will be spending the night. However, it was a nerve agent - it can't kill you or mutate cells in your body. Also, the plague isn't really an issue in Tomatov. It's very safe here. The worst thing that has happened is that a drunk guy attacked my companion and me, but we were perfectly safe. So don't worry. Things here are different, but not dangerous. Most of the injuries come from people doing things that would break rules in the US but are considered acceptable here. If you use common sense you will be in almost no danger.

Thank you for the video reference on I really appreciated it. It's funny to look at the Christmas that it portrays (one that I'm used to), and think about the Christmas I'm experiencing here in Madagascar. The comparison actually draws less on the poverty I'm surrounded by and more by the fact that it's the middle of summer here. It's really funny because it's at Christmas, not Easter, that all the women break out their big huge hats! Also the normal consumer culture doesn't surround Christmas here as much. The other missionaries in my house and I are working very hard to try and foster more of a Christmas atmosphere. Friday we set up a tree and took our Christmas picture around it! With the air conditioning on full blast we quickly put on sweaters and took a picture!

This week has been good. We had zone conference, which was really excellent and  a great experience. It was good to see President Adams again. We talked a lot about the growth of the Church in Madagascar. In many ways the Church here is what the church was like in Mexico in the 60's. It was good to hear, because one of the most difficult parts about working in Madagascar is the feeling that we're not gaining a lot of ground. I feel in a unique position from many other missionaries in that we not only do missionary work, we also help run the Branch and do a lot of the day to day work that helps the Church here.

Also, don't worry about making me homesick. I'll let you know if you do. I'm doing very well and I don't really feel homesick. I like hearing from all of you, and I would rather know what's up than be in the dark. It's not like you're doing anything that I'm not aware of, so I'd rather hear about it and enjoy it in a small way with you.

Right now it's raining soooo hard again And it's so hot. It definitely feels like we're in a jungle. I love it, but I won't be sad when I go to a new area (probably in 3 months). We joke that it's so hot that you sweat when you eat. The only way not to sweat is to stay completely motionless.

That's about all I have for  this week. I can't wait to talk to you on Christmas.

Elder Ahlstrom