Monday, January 25, 2016

I'm doing very well. It is so hot here. Two days ago we walked into a gas station. Gas stations are some of the nicest buildings in Madagascar. When I walked in, all of the sudden I felt something very cold, and it surprised me. It was air condition. It had been so long since I had felt air conditioning that I had forgotten the sensation - ha ha!

I'm healthy and happy and working hard here in Ft. Dauphin. Oh, if you could just see where I work everyday. Our area is mostly the large peninsula that juts out into the ocean. When you're in the middle of it you can see the beautiful blue ocean on three sides, the cliffs in front, and the mountains behind. At night as we walk home it looks like stars are reflecting on the ocean until you realize it's the lights of the fisherman off the coast, twinkling as they go about their work. We see it every night as we're walking home around 9pm. Every morning as we run along the beach we can see them bringing in their catch.

We are working with a lot of really wonderful people right now. I really love being able to teach all the time again. I'm also working on learning the dialect here. Missionaries are supposed to only teach in their assigned dialect and language, so I'm learning it to keep myself learning Malagasy on the side. I'm pretty sure the "dialect" here is is not related to Malagasy. There are a bunch of similarities, but even the grammar is different. It seems like a combination of several other languages. It's definitely different than what people speak over most of the island. Everyone, including Malagasies, say it's the hardest dialect and many Malagasies from up north can't understand it at all. When someone speaks straight Atandroi, i don't have a clue what they're saying - ha ha. So working on it. I doubt I'll get really good, but I hope I can learn some things.

Elder Ahlstrom

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January 18, 2016

There's a lot to talk about since we struggled to find a cyber last week. The internet was down all day, so when it finally came on I only had about 50 minutes on a French keyboard to do all my reports and emails. Now I have a little bit more time. I hope you're all doing well. Ft. Dauphin is very different, but I like it. It allows for more time to focus on normal missionary work. There is a lot to do. It's kind of a cultural requirement here that if someone knocks on your door, you have to let them in. Obviously missionaries love that - ha ha. The nice thing about it is that in most places the people who might actually be interested never get to talk to us because they don't want to let strangers in the door. That's why missionaries here always try to get in the door. Obviously, the person can then decide how to proceed. We teach a lot here. I would imagine it's one of the highest rates. It's very exciting to be able to work with so many people. Ft. Dauphin is also interesting because it is very stratified economically. A good portion of the people work for mines and are very well off because they make American level salaries. The other half are subsistence fisherman. Imagine Old Man and the Sea - that's pretty much what it's like. For instance, I believe I mentioned this last week, but last p-day we purchased lobster from a man who had just caught it while we were walking along the beach. It's amazing stuff like that. I have been eating a lot of fish. Things are really expensive here. It's ridiculous. And there's not a whole lot. It's going to be so weird to go back to the US and see so much variety. Here it's basically what you see is what you get. If you can't grow it or catch it locally, most likely you won't be eating it. There are a few things for foreigners but even those things are mostly for Chinese and Middle Easterners.

Elder Bassett and I are working hard and doing well. It was funny to see the pictures of the family, because his dad's company sponsors the concert where the pictures were taken. His dad works for Conoco Phillips, so Elder Bassett has been to that concert many times. Also, I just got my last Christmas package this week from the taxi be.

The last thing I want to do is share my favorite scripture with you. Hands down, no passage of holy writ brings more joy to my soul that this from 2 Nephi 4:28-30

28 Awake, my soul! No longer droop in sin. Rejoice, O my heart, and give place no more for the enemy of my soul.

29 Do not anger again because of mine enemies. Do not slacken my strength because of mine afflictions.

30 Rejoice, O my heart, and cry unto the Lord, and say: O Lord, I will praise thee forever; yea, my soul will rejoice in thee, my God, and the rock of my salvation.

Now, I don't want to analyze it too much because it's a psalm and just like a song, you're not supposed to hyper analyze it. That just ruins it. Also, I think different things are highlighted when you read it at different times. That's why psalms are so amazing. They are just very unique in the way in which they speak to our heart. I would, however, like to make a few points about it that can help you start to ponder the scripture. I find that within this passage are some of the pearls of greatest price in the form of a command. 

"Awake my soul!" This is my favorite part. I feel like so often we allow our heart to sleep. We are so busy that we are actually in a deep sleep. The reality all around us is lost in the charade of busy we create for ourselves. What action comes following the command, awake my soul? I think it depends on the person and the moment. We should ask ourselves what does it mean for my soul to be awake?

As I said, I don't want to over analyze so the last part I'll share is the end. "Rejoice oh my heart and cry unto the Lord... I will praise thee forever... the rock of my salvation."

The Book of Mormon is amazing. We should all read it more often and savor it. I love to read it slowly. It is beautiful to me and I love the words of God. When I read the Book of Mormon I feel pure inspiration pouring into my heart. My mind is enlightened. That is the power of the Book of Mormon and I encourage everyone to drink deeply of its knowledge. It will fill your soul to overflowing. 

Elder Ahlstrom 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January 11, 2016

It took us forever to find a cyber today. We ran all over, and now we don't have a ton of time. Sorry, but I'll have to be quick. Ft. Dauphin is very different than the rest of Madagascar. It's much smaller and much, much cleaner than anywhere I've been. It is one of the smallest missionary areas with only six Elders. I'm serving with Elder Bassett from Katy, which is apparently about 30 minutes from where you live. He's been serving for 7 months, so he's a little newer missionary. He works super hard, which I like, and he is perfectly obedient, which is pretty much the best compliment you can give a missionary. It's absolutely beautiful here. I don't want to plug my camera into this cyber. I've known too many missionaries that lost everything that way, so you'll have to wait to see pictures. Essentially it's a large peninsula that forms a bowl of bright blue water on one side and continues straight along the edge of the coast on the other side. Directly north is a massive mountain range that comes up to the coast. It's stunning, absolutely amazing. It's the prettiest place I've been in my life. It is also the most jungle and exotic part of Madagascar. I've already been served a whole fish head. Although I shied away from the head, I've eaten fresh lobster that we bought off the guy that caught it. The work is fun here, but it's hot! The branch is doing well. The church is very well established here and the branch presidency is endowed, which is really nice. They also speak English because all of the church leadership here works with mining companies. They are very successful for Malagasies. Our apartment sucks. It's nasty, not dirty, but little and drafty and run down. But it overlooks the beach and I go to sleep to the sound of the ocean crashing, so I can't complain about that.

Elder Ahlstrom
January 4, 2016

Happy New Year! I hope you're all doing well. I am a little tired but happy and healthy. A lot has happened this week. First, we had a happy and safe new years. Other than the fact that there was a street party that was blasting music in front of our house until 7 in the morning. I didn't sleep very well. I kept waking up at 3 and 4 in the morning and think, who could possibly still be dancing. I'm not totally convinced that everyone didn't just pass out and forget to turn off the music. How can you dance for 12 hours straight? As it is, I'm glad the holidays are over. It doesn't really feel like the holidays when it is hot everywhere. Also Malagasies party too hard - ha ha. Actually I'm just complaining a bit. I think it would be super fun to go out and party in the streets, but that isn't really for missionaries. It seems that some people had a bit too much fun judging by the taxi that nearly flew off the cliff that faces our house. Thankfully he ran into a house instead of going over the cliff, so everyone was safe. (Except for the taxi and the house.) 

The funniest thing we did this week was get special permission to watch cow wrestling. I'll send pictures when I can. Those guys are insane. Malagasy cows have really long horns. Thankfully no one got skewered, which is apparently pretty common. One person almost got trampled. Overall, it was a fun taste of something that only happens here in Fianarantsoa and the surrounding cities. Here it's very cultural, and it's fun to watch all the customs that surround it. 

This is actually the last time that I'll be writing you from Fianarantsoa. Next time I'll be in (drum roll please)... Ft. Dauphin, which is the southern most tip of Madagascar. I'm very excited because it's a coastal town. It's not a big city like Toamasina. I get to fly air Madagascar, so that will also be fun taking a little prop plane down south. I will be serving with Elder Basset. It's my understanding that he's actually from Houston. 

Other than that things are going well. I'm packing today. I'm sad to leave Fianarantsoa. I hate leaving areas. I can't believe I've been here for 4 1/2 months. It feels like a week. Of course I can't believe I've been in Madagascar 1 1/2 years. That also feels like a week. They're having 6 baptisms here the Saturday after I leave - two families and a young man. It was amazing to work with so many wonderful people. I miss them already. They're very excited. The branches here are also doing a lot better which makes me happy. 

Elder Ahlstrom

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

December 28, 2015

It's great to hear from you. Not much has happened since we talked on Christmas Eve (as expected). Next week I might be getting transferred. We're going to try and watch bull wrestling on New Years, which is very Malagasy! Hopefully it will be fun. I'm a little tired today. This was a crazy week, and we are busy this p-day. I'm hoping that I'll be able to snag a nap at some point. I'm very happy, and yeah, nothing much to report. I really appreciated the gifts you sent. They were what I needed, and I am thankful for them. Just a few things that I had wanted to mention when we Skyped, but I forgot. I am not planning on getting tons of souvenirs, obviously. But I do want to get a few really special things. One thing I had been thinking about is a nativity set. They have very, very nice ones here carved from rose wood. They're pretty expensive, but they're practically priceless in America. I don't know, that's not really pressing, but if there's anything you want let me know. I've never really focused on touristy stuff during my mission, which I like because it is, after all a mission, but I just thought I'd ask. Other than that have a happy New Year.
Elder Ahlstrom
December 14, 2015

Well, it's another week in Fianarantsoa. I always feel like i should say more in my emails, but it's hard to get all your thoughts distilled into an email in just a few minutes. I want to share uplifting thoughts and i want you all to know that I love you very much, and that I am doing well, and that I am happy and healthy. Also, I did get grandpa's package> He's the best and I've already used some of the stuff in it. I cant wait to talk to you all very soon. You know, you don't really think about it during the week. However, as it gets closer you can't help but think about home a little bit, especially during the Christmas season. I am planning on Skyping y'all on the 25th or 24th early in the morning here (like 8 ish). I hope that's not way too much of  a bother for you all. I think that will work about to be the best time for us.

This week has been very rainy. Don't worry about my shoes being wet, because the rest of me is soaked anyways. I have my rain jacket and umbrella, but ultimately it doesn't' make a whole lot of a difference when the water is a foot high and the rain moves horizontally instead of vertically. You just get wet - everywhere - haha. I live in the rainforest, you know. This week we did a lot of tracting and different things which was good. We also got to focus on teaching some really cool new families. I'm excited for them so I'll let you all know how it goes.
But yeah nothing much here, I love you all very much,
Elder Ahlstrom

Monday, January 4, 2016

December 7, 2015

Our ceiling fell in during a wind storm

December 7, 2015

I hope you're doing well. Sorry for the short email last week, but as I said, President Foote was in town so things were a little crazy. Some of the highlights from this week, well it was actually a little bit crazy. First off, Elder Snell was unexpectedly transferred, which was sad. Also part of our roof collapsed in a really bad wind storm. It was a little alarming. I wasn't the tin roof, but more the drop ceiling inside the house. This week has really been wild and I'm looking forward to a little bit of a slower week this week where we can kind of refocus. Things are going well here in Fianarantsoa. We're expecting to have some baptisms coming up. The people getting ready are very excited and I'm very excited for them. I think they're really ready. We're also getting excited for Christmas and the New Year. The Rakotoarisoas (the couple missionaries here) invited us to celebrate New Years with them. From the pictures you sent it looks like you all are getting really excited too! Our work with the leaders here is going well. When we were sent down here the church was really struggling to survive here in Fianarantsoa. That's kind of a scary prospect, but a big part of our coming down here was to make the church strong and self sustaining. It's been a lot of work, but the members are amazing and little by little they're getting ready to take on the responsibilities of being leaders in the church. It's a slow process, but it's very rewarding to see them take initiative and to see the church make an abrupt about face. I did see the church's Christmas video. It was really amazing. I'm doing well and I hope you are all doing well too. Have a great week. 
Elder Ahlstrom
November 30, 2015

Well, another week has passed by. Time is flying at an epoch rate. It's amazing to me. I can't believe that tomorrow will already be December. I hope everyone is well and that you all know how much I care about you. Of  course keeping a singleness to the work is absolutely necessary, but at this time of year my thoughts can't help but be stolen away to home. Although I can honestly say that I've devoted everything during my mission, as much as I could, I feel so indebted. Ultimately the blessings I have received have always far outweighed any "sacrifice" I may have thought myself to have made. I remember at this time Christ's pure love, and it pushes me to focus on people and to minister the way he did by going into the homes of people and bringing light into their lives, one by one. There is no greater Christmas joy than helping the Savior as he progresses his work, the work of helping individual souls, children of God, come unto Christ.

This week has been great. We actually had a surprise visit from President and Sister Foote. It was very unexpected. They just called us and told us they were coming down. They're awesome and I love working with them. We played basketball with with President, which is always fun. This week it has been rainy. Nothing too exciting to report. For Thanksgiving we made chili. I have received some Christmas packages. Thanks. 

I hope you all have a great Christmas season. 

Elder Ahlstrom