Monday, August 24, 2015

I had a couple of unique experiences this week. The first is more of a sad note. Frede is the man who handles everything in the office. His father passed away. It was expected but still sad. We went as an office to the wake. Each group that has any relationship to the family is required to send a party to give a little bit of money and give love, condolences, and respect to the deceased. At these events one person gives a speech in traditional Malagasy poetry, and I had the opportunity to give it for the group of all the office workers. I've been working a little bit on learning Malagasy poetry called kabary. Although I'm not good at it, it helps me to keep pushing my Malagasy to get better. Anyway, it was a special experience to be able to share condolences in a way that speaks to others. It's actually a poetic conversation between a representative from the family and from the delegation. It was hard, but it's encouraging me to work harder. Thankfully, I didn't break any taboos or make any bad mistakes, since that would have been very offensive given the circumstances. Frede, who is a wonderful guy, is doing well now, and he thanked me for giving the kabary.

Here's a brief excerpt from what I said. This is the main speech portion. There are other parts, but this is the main fankahaharesena (making strong or uplifting part). Also, as a side note, my Malagasy spelling is terrible, This translation isn't word for word but more the general ideas.

Tonga eto izahay, tsy hamendrofendro na hamoaka ny alahelo, fa tonga hitonddra ny teny
We have come, not to distract or expel your sadness, but we came to bring words of

fampiononona manatanteraka ny tenin'ny Tompo manao hoe: "Miaraha mifaly amini'izay mifaly, ary
comfort following the commandment of the Lord "be happpy with those that are happy and morn

miaraha mitomany amin'izay mitomany". Mafy tokoa izao fahoriana midona aminareo izao satria
with those that morn." This wake is difficult for because

folaka andry niankinana, toro vato fandiavana ny ankohonany ary potraka fefy mpanohan'drivotra.
this good son has passed on, a great stone in the household and a wall of support of the family.

ny fianakaviana. Efa nataonareo avokoa ny ala-nenina rehtr (raha nisy) mefa mahery fisintona ny
You have already put aside regrets, however, death is a difficult withdrawal.

fahafatesana, izao no lahatra, ka afaka ho aiza moa! Tsara zara ny fahafatesana ka samy manana iray
This is the final goal of all and thus free to go. Death is a good and necessary part that comes upon

us all

Okay, that's really rough, and I can't quite translate all of it. It's not really normal Malagasy, but yeah, it was really unique. I also gave a talk in church this week, which was really special! So, all in all another great week. I'm doing well, and I hope all of you are too. Also, a final note, there is a possibility that I won't be emailing on Monday next week because we have a Zone Conference with President Cook from the Africa Southeast Presidency.

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, August 20, 2015

I hope you guys are ready for school. It's weird because I can't really accept that anyone has grown since I left. I've had a great week. We are teaching a bunch of younger families right now. It's hard finding families that are ready to progress. I've found a lot families to teach, but they are often comfortable in their ways. However, we have some really great people that we are teaching right now. I'll let you know a little about them. But let me give you an update on office work first. It's not very spiritually uplifting but people keep telling me it's necessary. Sometimes I doubt that a little bit - ha ha. Actually it is important, it's just that there is ministering and administering in the church. They are both important. My great adventures lately have been focused around two big things - MLS and shipping to the mission. MLS is finally moving forward in earnest. We start this week to update all the leadership records in Madagascar. I wonder how I can put on my resume that I helped reorganize a record keeping software for a country larger than Texas with 10,000 individual records in it. (Sorry Texas, I know you think no one is bigger than you:) I'm excited to finally see some progress with it because I've been working on it for so long. It's weird having to read Handbook 1 and stuff on how to recreate records or remove duplicates, etc. The next thing I've been working on is shipping to Madagascar. We haven't received supplies as a mission for over a year! We have nothing, even though we've ordered tons of stuff and been charged for it. I have a great big puzzle to figure out, trying to follow back the lines to determine where all our stuff is and how we can get it here. This is one of the harder challenges that I've had in the office. I love finally working in an environment where the answers aren't certain. In school there is so often one answer, sometimes hidden but you just have to find it. Here, there may be no answer, yet you still have to find a solution. My expedition so far has led me to call Salt Lake, Germany, and South Africa. I accidentally called clothing rental at the Frankfurt, Germany temple. Needless to say, they didn't quite know what an IROP number was. Thankfully the grandma that I scared in Frankfurt spoke just enough English to let me know I must have the wrong number - ha ha. So I'll give a shout out to them for being so wonderful. Also, I think I've made a couple of peoples day by calling from Madagascar. They usually say, 'wow, I've never had someone call from there before!'

We have some wonderful recent converts getting ready to go on missions. And our ward mission leader just opened up a butcher store.

(note from mom: the rest of the letter was generally private notes to family. I typically ask Alex if there is anything that he would like me to send him. In the early days of his mission he appreciated American treats and reminders of home. Now his requests are for soap, toothpaste, and deodorant - the "luxuries" that we don't even think about.)

Monday, August 10, 2015

August 10, 2015

This week has been full. I'm doing well. I love Madagascar. I feel a special affinity for this place. It's hard. I can't say that I always like it, but I love it. One difficult thing for our ward this week was the passing of a pioneer. The wife of one of the high counselors passed away unexpectedly on Monday afternoon after a massive heart attack. It was really sad. She and her husband have been members for years and have done a lot to build the church here. She actually bore her testimony on Sunday and taught Relief Society. The family was sad, but mostly they were very thankful that only a few months before they had gone to the temple. Her husband kept saying that he felt they needed to go. She passed away just four months later. Her husband was very thankful for the temple. It made me think about how blessed we are that we don't have to sacrifice six months worth of all expenses above food and housing (the usual temple sacrifice) to go to the temple. The Lord places pioneers in places like Madagascar. I just want to learn to be like them and to bring that back with me. I always find it interesting that the Lord sends such great people to the church here. Smart, skilled people who have lots of potential, and they are willing to sacrifice wealth, time, and prestige to build the church. To be a stake president or bishop here is essentially a full time job. We (our family and those similarly situated) only get to go to the temple because others before us made the difficult sacrifices, thinking about our day and wanting their children to have the blessings of the gospel. They paid their tithing, sacrificed their time, and dedicated everything for God. I would like to dedicate, but most importantly consecrate, more.

A cool thing that happened this week was Mormona manome tanana - Mormon helping hands. It was really cool. We had 50 people show from just our ward, which was especially insane because people in Madagascar don't really have a concept of charity and service. Anyway, we built an incinerator (in this  case it was a cement garbage can with pipes at the bottom for water to run out), a chalk board, and cleaned a school. It was a very good experience. Also mixing concrete with a shovel is hard. Also carrying 50 lbs of bricks, sand, etc was tough. They were going to carry something like 350 bricks and 200 lbs two miles, but the senior missionary couple offered to let the members use their truck so that made it a whole lot easier - ha ha.

I'm doing well and hope everyone there is too. Please say hello to everyone for me.

Elder Ahlstrom

August 3, 2015

Another week in paradise. I was sick earlier this week, but I feel much better now. It's raining in Tana. It's very cold, which feels strange since it's August. I realized that it was August last year that I arrived in Madagascar. I really love my ward here in Betongolo. Sometimes it's hard that we have to share time with the office. I'm kind of inclined to neglect the office - ha ha. I love our area. We have a bunch of new people that we're teaching. I changed my tracting approach this week. It has really helped with finding people. Instead of introducing myself as a missionary and kind of making conversation with people, I'm trying to be really direct. I think it's important for people to see the significance of what we're talking about. I like to say we are servants of Jesus Christ, and we have a very important message for you that will bless your life. It feels weird to say, but it shows clearly what we're about. It's really important for people to feel the spirit because that's ultimately what will change their lives. Yesterday we had a lesson that fell through so we started tracting. It was late at night and raining. Usually at night people won't let us in, but we decided to pray, try to stay focused on the work, and not get discouraged. We found three new people to teach in just 40 minutes of tracting. In fact every door that we knocked on let us in. Sometimes it's easy to get discouraged in Madagascar. People are nice, but some are unkind to members of the church. Members sometimes get evicted or are refused jobs. Progressing in the work can be difficult. This email has been all over the place, but I hope you are all doing well.

Elder Ahlstrom

July 27, 2015

Well, another week. I apologize for not emailing last week. Let me quickly explain why. We had a really special opportunity to go to a place called Andasibe. So at 2:55am, we had to get up and pick up some Elders coming in for transfers. After that Elder Stokes, Elder Rice, and I went to Andasibe. We got permission from President Foote due to the special circumstances that we had been working really hard in the office and it was Elder Stokes' last P-day before returning home. So, to explain Andasibe... it's outside of Tana on the road to Toamasina. It was actually really cool to be able to drive back along that road again (especially because it wasn't in a taxi be). You go down that road and then drive like an hour into the jungle. You know how people usually envision Madagascar, well that view closely reflects what we got to see. We got to walk through the rain forest and see tons of lemurs. We brought bananas and the lemurs would just come to us from all over the place. They would jump on us to take the bananas. Part of Andasibe is a national park. The other part is like a wildlife preserve. I really enjoyed it.

After Andasibe I came back and got my new companion. Actually, fun fact, companions. Yes, I'm in a trio now! Elder Liao is from Minnesota and Elder Anderson is from Logan, UT. We're doing really well and getting along. It's hard to get a new companion because you have to learn one another's quirks. And now I've got two. But we're doing well and working hard.

President Foote is very different from President Adams. I love to see the differences between them because they're both such awesome men. President Foote likes to talk and explain things a lot. President Adams was much more reserved. This week President Foote took me with him to listen in on a meeting between him and the Stake President. He just teaches all the time. His wife is super nice. Again, very different from Sister Adams. I'm so thankful I got to see both of them in the office and had the opportunity to get to know them.

Two more things I'd like to mention quickly. First, Brother Morin is awesome. He often sends me emails, and I really appreciate them. He asks me not to write back so that I can focus on family, but I couldn't help but give him a shout out. I really appreciate his spiritual thoughts and insight, and I hope he is doing well. Lastly, Elder Stokes went home on Wednesday. I definitely miss him. I have had some really great companions. It was weird to see a picture of him in America without his tag. That's about all that is happening here. Please say 'hi' to everyone.

Elder Ahlstrom