Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day Skype

Saturday, May 9th - Mother's Day call

Note from mom: When we Skyped with Alex at Christmas, we were able to record the call. Unfortunately, the technology was not as kind this time around. We were able to Skype with Alex on Saturday, but we were not able to record the call. We had ten or so dropped calls. During part of the call he couldn't hear or see us, so we had to message our questions and comments. In the end we were able to communicate well enough. It was wonderful to see his face and hear his voice. Tom had the good thought to use our phones to record part of the conversation. We have a recording of Alex speaking Malagasy. His use of the language seems much faster and more fluid than it was at Christmas. His English is definitely different. His intonation has changed, and a few times he had to pause to recall a word in English. The following is just a few notes that I was able to take during our chat.

How is your Malagasy? My first companion spoke well. My second companion was a native speaker. I learned a lot from him. He didn't speak any English, so I had no choice but to speak Malagasy. My third companion was a new missionary. I spent most of my time making sure that he was speaking correctly and being understood. It was hard work, but my vocabulary didn't really increase. Now I have a companion who is in the last two months of his mission. He speaks Malagasy very well. It is fun to learn new vocabulary from him and to be challenged with the language. I can basically say anything that I want. Now I'm trying to improve my grammar and learn more nuances with word choice and phrasing. I'm also having more occasions to speak French. I'm trying to recall the French I studied and work to improve. The French here sounds different than what I studied in school.

What kind of work are you doing in the office? Most of my time is spent doing regular missionary work. There are a few projects that I'm working on in the office. I am preparing a report for the area presidency that details the church population in Madagascar. I've also been burning DVD's of General Conference to provide to all of the missionaries. I get to travel around with President Adams. We are trying to bring technology to different areas. The areas that do not have sufficient technology or leadership are only able to organize groups, not branches or wards. Groups can have Sacrament meetings, but the members do not hold callings. We have taken computers to areas that only have one computer for the village or no computer at all. One looked like it was from the 90's. It was a behemoth. We have also introduced computers to people who have never seen one or turned one on. (This was followed by a discussion of the book "Things Fall Apart" by Chinua Achebe.

What do you eat? Rice. When I got here I didn't understand how people could eat so much rice. Now I can just eat it and eat it. You put a piece of meat about one inch by one inch in a bowl, a few veggies and tons of rice. That's what we eat. The Malagasy rice is actually exported. We eat Pakistani rice. It is nothing like what you get in the states. You can't just open the bag and throw it in the rice cooker. I've gotten really good at cleaning rice. You spread it out on a screen and flip it to draw the dirt and rocks to the side. You have to be careful when you chew because it isn't possible to get all of the rocks out. Also the meat usually has some bone fragments in it. The knives here are dull and poor quality, and people eat the meat up to the bone. There are some really hot peppers. I ate one on a dare that wasn't ripe. When these peppers are ripe you don't put them on your food. You just touch the bottom of your spoon on the pepper and then eat. Touching the pepper transfers enough heat. It was really stupid to eat one. Here, people put peppers on food when it's good, and they put peppers on food when it's bad to cover it up. I have eaten everything. I ate a cockroach, although that wasn't an intentional part of the meal. I didn't say anything because it was the sort of place where they would probably charge extra if they knew about it. I've had every organ, including brain. I haven't tried spiders yet, but I want to. I also haven't tried genital soup yet. Yet. Most of the missionaries try it.

What are some things that would have shocked you when you first got to Madagascar that don't seem like a big deal now? So many things. Two examples. This morning I was looking out my window. There was a group of guys walking down the street carrying a dead body. I have no idea what they were doing. A little while later I saw them coming back the other way. They didn't have the body any more. I don't know what they did with it. That's just the way it is here. Yesterday there was a woman in the road violently vomiting. It was loud and disgusting. That probably would have made me sick when I first got here. Now it doesn't phase me. I really want to travel to the south. That's where the crazy stuff happens. It is basically run by the Gadianton robbers. They put heads on pikes. There are a lot of human organ dealers. Lots of witchcraft and spiritual possession. It's crazy everywhere. You could get into a lot of trouble if you wanted to. When I lived in Toamasina we were essentially on our own with no oversight. I could walk to the pharmacia right now and buy heroin and then pick up a prostitute with the money I have in my pocket. Don't worry, I don't have any plans. It's just different here.

Is it hard to handle seeing the extreme poverty day after day? Yes. There are orphans. People are hungry. I went into a store in Antananarivo. It's the biggest store in Madagascar. It is probably about a quarter of the size of a small Target. It had a small supply of items. It felt overwhelming to me. I'm not used to seeing that kind of wealth here. Yet, it was completely insignificant compared to the poorest options available back home.

What has been the greatest lesson that you've learned on your mission? The importance of family. It is very easy to take the love and support for granted when you're surrounded by it everyday. Family is everything.

How do the Malagasy members pay to go on a mission? They have to make a sacrifice and then member contributions pay the rest. They have to work for six months and sell anything they might have with significant value. Contributions to the general missionary fund cover the remaining cost. The process for going to the temple is the same. The member has to make a sacrifice and then the contributions from other members make the trip to the Johannesburg temple possible.

Where are the missionaries in Madagascar from? We have quite a few from France. Of course there a lot of missionaries from Utah. We have several from Tonga and Tahiti. There are also missionaries from other parts of Africa, especially South Africa and Mozambique.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Yesterday some of the Elders and I were talking about one of the cool things about being on a mission is the different way that you have to interact with your family. It's hard to fully communicate via email, but the benefit is that you have the opportunity to convey something more significant beyond just casual conversation. It's certainly not as good as talking, but I think it makes you appreciate conversation more. Speaking to that, thank you Emma for your email. It's really fun that we will all have time to talk in just five days. Wow! Don't think about it too much.

So let me try and explain some fun things coming from this side of the world. One thing that might interest Grandpa Steve, we have the Church historian and his assistant historians coming down to speak with us here in Madagascar. I also believe that Elder Cook is going to be visiting Madagascar. It's always very exciting when people come down, and being in the office I will have the unique opportunity to speak with them. I'm looking forward to it. My question is, does Grandpa Steve know Steven Snow, Reid Nelson, or Richard Turly? They're apparently all historians and I know he hangs out with a lot of Church historians.

Yes, aunt Kathleen's friends are coming to our mission. They're going to La Reunion, which is possibly the most beautiful place on earth. They will essentially be serving as Mission President/ Area Seventy to a nice small little island in the Indian Ocean. It's really hard for President Adams to get out there all the time, although it's a pretty high functioning area. They'll probably just get to live in paradise for six months.Very fun - ha ha. Hopefully they'll stop by Tana on the way over there so I'll get to meet them.

My new companion, Elder Stokes, and I are getting along really well. He goes home in two months which is weird. I may be his last companion. He is from Lehi, apparently just north of Provo. (I never would have guessed that going on a mission would teach me so much about Utah's geography.) He's really nice and we have a good time working together.

So I won't tell you all my good stories now because we'll be talking soon. I hope you are all doing well. We will talk in five days!

Elder Ahlstrom

(Note from mom: We are planning to Skype with Alex on Saturday at 10am our time. It has been five months since we last heard his voice. We are beyond excited!)