Tuesday, January 27, 2015

I'm going to keep this short because I don't have a whole bunch to report this week. First off, the thing I've been talking about for weeks is about to happen. Next p-day I'll know my new area! Stay tuned for that. This week has been pretty chill. We almost got hit by a cyclone here, but thankfully it went off in another direction. There have been really bad rain storms in Tana the last two weeks that have caused massive flooding. You don't know this, but Tana is a city built on mud hills. That means that when it rains things collapse and wash down into the middle of the city. In other words, the flooding has been pretty bad. Here we've had a lot of rain, but everything is sand so it filters through pretty quickly. It just rains and rains and rains, pretty much non stop.

This week I saw another lemur. He was a little funny lookin' thing with huge eyes. Super cute though. I've said this before, but lemurs are just as awesome as you'd expect them to be.

This week is going to be a little difficult because I expect to be saying goodbye to my home for the last 6 months. Okay, I don't officially know I'm leaving, but it seem that it's definitely, very, likely. In political terms it's a 100 percent maybe, just so that I don't get caught off guard next week.

Thank you for all of your letters. I love hearing from all of you. Talk to you next week.

Elder Ahlstrom

Pumping water for laundry

At the market - yes, those are flies

Alex's companion 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Note from Mom: I didn't update Alex's blog last week because the only communication that I received from him was a very short email that said he was "writing just to let us know the he wasn't dead, but he was really, really sick and couldn't write more".

January 19, 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

First off, I'm really sorry about last week. What happened is kind of a very funny and awful story. Every Sunday we eat at the District President's house. Last week the power was off (as usual), but it had been off for a very extended period of time - like 16 hours. One of the best things about eating at the Branch President's house is that he always has awesome juice. So, of course, the first thing I went for last week was the jus natural. Well, you may know something happens to unprocessed natural juice if it's not pasteurized or refrigerated. If you don't, refer to the Word of Wisdom. Yes, the juice was alcohol. Now something that must be understood is that if you don't finish all of the food you are given it's pretty much the rudest thing you can do. Faced with that problem I swallowed the juice as fast as possible. Thankfully it wasn't very much because the glasses here are small. But the next day I realized that I had terrible, TERRIBLE food poisoning! It was awful. I'm used to throwing up now, but this was something particularly special. Anyway, to make a long story short, that's why I couldn't write last week. Obviously I feel much better now.

I'm approaching the end of my stay in Toamasina. It's very sad. I love it so much here. I've come to feel that this place is home. I'm especially going to miss my companion. We've become really good friends these last weeks. He's super cool and really funny. Most importantly, he's a really good person. He's also the only member in his family

I have a little bit of political news for all of you. I'll keep this short because we're really not supposed to talk about national politics, but this is pertinent. Plus, I can't help getting a LITTLE interested in what's happening around me. As my Malagasy has gotten better one of my greatest temptations is to read the newspaper - ha ha! But the news is that the riots we had in Tomatov were only capping off a string of issues that the government has been having. The power especially is a nation wide issue and it's getting worse. So, in response, the prime minister and the entire cabinet ministry resigned. Now there's no ministry of health, ministry of power, etc. It's all been dissolved (at least the leadership). The President selected a former military crony, which incidentally was unconstitutional, so he had a sort of impeachment trial. During all of this the old President who was exiled returned to Madagascar in the north, which is an area that tried to separate from the rest of Madagascar a few years ago. After all of this the religious leaders in Tana demanded that the former presidents get together and agree to respect the current government and not try to destabilize it. However, after signing an agreement, two of the former Presidents held a press conference where they withdrew their support. So now things are really shaky here politically. People are up in arms and protesting in Tana. Also, to cap it off there was a cyclone that came through and hit Tana really hard. The roads fell apart and much of the city is completely flooded. Several people died, so it's just not good right now. Thankfully the mission has been working really hard to get everyone to build a 72 hour kit. This started a few weeks before everything turned bad. Clearly they were inspired to set in place such actions. I'm very thankful I have my 72 hour kit because things can get pretty sketchy pretty quickly here. Also, thankfully, I live in Tomatov. However, I'll likely end up in Tana in two weeks. So we'll have to see what ends up happening. I'll keep you posted.

I also have a spiritual thought this week. It's about the great and spacious building in Lehi and Nephi's dream. Often we think of the great and spacious building as one that is highly ornamented, beautiful, and as respecting the world as perfect. We don't often (I believe) think of it in the context of God's glory. Often the representations we see of it make it almost a desirable alternative to the tree of life. Obviously we understand what's better. However, we see the two as almost comparable, or at least as a formidable temptation. The building represents the world, but I think the true significance of the building is the pride of man. My spiritual thought is about how silly the pride of man is. In our area there is a large and very poorly constructed house. For the record, it is large. It's three stories, which is not often seen here. However, it's unpainted and the yard is full of waste from the construction. The actual building is little more than a shell. People had their clothes drying on clothes lines. We were working across the street when someone spoke to us in no uncertain terms. From the building there were several men laughing at us. I couldn't help but think how silly they looked. We've seen REAL wealth, and the fact that they could think they were standing from their "high tower" and laughing at us below. They haven't known anything else. They believed they had made it. They believed they had true wealth - something worth having. Yet, I looked at it and saw what it really was. Just a feigned attempt at happiness, completely devoid of perspective (even the perspective of western wealth). Then I asked myself, how often are we not like those men, standing from what we believe to be our high tower of judgment. It really is silly when you think about it. The people in Lehi's dream were laughing. The glory of the fruit so outweighed that of the high tower. The tower looks like little more than an unfinished three story cement house in the middle of piles of garbage with three shirtless men smoking cigarettes and laughing at two missionaries. I think we could all use a little perspective on everything. Not just in our pride, but also in how often we think our situation is the worst ever, It's really not. And most importantly, the Savior descended below all. I think we could all use a little temperance and a little bit more reflection before responding. Even death, when looked at in an eternal perspective, is just a comma in the long story of our existence. I encourage all of you not to look up at high towers with loathing greed or to look down on others with prideful superiority. I imagine that when the Lord sees such silly things it's all he can do not to laugh a little bit because we place so much significance on things that matter soooo little.

Hope you're all doing well.

Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, January 5, 2015

Arobina Chacha ny Toamboavoa (congratulations for catching the new year). Okay, that spelling is not exactly correct, but I don't know how to spell anything!

Let me start off by wishing you all a very Happy New Year! This week was just a whirlwind. First, I have to start with New Years. The whole country was partying! It was very exciting, although not very fun, because for the most part people were just raving drunk. Actually, a note on that, if I had to summarize the overall vibe of the day it would be Christmas is a day to party (ergo get drunk), and New Years is just a day to get ridiculously drunk. People were freaking out, I think some people got pre drunk the night before just so that they could build on that for the big day. And then they drank themselves back to sobriety. 

Holidays are challenging because lots of people are visiting family and so we didn't have a whole lot of time to teach lessons. For the most part we tracted. That was hard because we set the goal this week as a companionship to work for 28 hours (that means in lessons or tracting). We were working ALL day every day. It was good, but it was hard, especially because half the people we ran into tried to yell at us about New Years in a hybrid French/ English/ Malagasy.

We also had a birth this week. One of our investigators gave birth to a healthy baby boy - 3 kilos. It was a little scary because there were a few complications that required a cesarean section. The hospitals here are really below American standards, but thankfully mother and child are doing very well. We went and ministered to the new mother and her husband at the hospital. It was a very weird experience. I did not see a single doctor the whole time I was there. It was just nurses and family caring for the sick. People don't go to the hospital unless they have to. At the hospital the only thing provided is medical care. Food, bedding, anything else needed must be provided  by the family. If no one feeds the patient then the patient doesn't eat. Thankfully our investigator has a really great family that was there supporting her. It was also weird because there were US Aid, UN, and other relief institution posters everywhere. They told how to administer life saving procedures. Also there was no clean running water in the hospital. Most of the hospital was outside. The operating room and housing arrangements were indoors but not separate from the outside. Very few of the rooms had power or lighting and none of them had climate control of any kind. 

Other than that we did achieve our goal of 28 active hours of missionary work. Things are starting to turn back to normal after all the business of the holiday season. It's weird that I will be leaving Tomatov soon. I am looking forward to not sweating all the time. I still have a little time here. I'm really going to miss a lot of the people I've met here. We have possibly my final baptism here coming up on the 24th of January. This upcoming week we have interviews with President Adams. Other than that things are about the same as always. I hope you're all doing well. 

Elder Ahlstrom