I am tired! We were up early and ready for breakfast by 6:30 am so we could get to the office in time for Devotional at 7 am. It is held every Monday morning and is for the Church employees at the Central American Area Office where we work. We were introduced to a wonderful group of people. We won’t go most of the time because we are not employees (paid) workers. Then we went to a room where about a dozen volunteers work the Call Center where we have a prayer every morning. The Call Center calls those who are receiving funds for training or university or their own business, and thank them for their payment and tell them how well they are doing. They call those who are behind and kindly encourage them. Those who are over 150 days behind get a call from the director, Sister Saenz, who is serving a mission here. She is probably Mayan descent because she isn’t five feet tall. She is a senior (a kind word for old) missionary like us. This call center is the only one in the Church who calls every participant every month. The charts in Salt Lake all say 100% for the Guatemala Call Center. Sister Saenz does all she can to help them with kindness. Poverty has been her life so she understands where they are coming from. Paying their loans back is not about the money. It is about helping participants to have integrity, to repay loans from the bank, to be a participating member of society and just not a taker.
We went into a conference room with Reynaldo Nunez, director of the Central America Area PEF. He is 31 years old and from Honduras. He is a paid employee of the Church. He is married and they are expecting their second child. We found out that we will indeed be busy. We will create a plan that we will present to him this week and then to President Clark, our Area Authority. We ARE the Perpetual Education Fund missionaries for the Central America Area. We have 40 stakes in Guatemala and all but eight have a stake PEF specialist. We will train them, help them wherever needed. We will do training sessions with bishops and stake presidents, if needed. There are seven countries in our Area. At some point in the future we will drive to El Salvador to work with them. We will fly to the other Central American countries. There are 1600 participants in all of Central American. Our call center talks to all of them every month, except El Salvador which has its own Call Center. Panama will soon be on track with the program. They have some participants using the fund now but they are approved for a church Employment Center and then they will be fully operational. Belize has no participants at this time so there is work to be done there.
After our time with Reynaldo the Bawdens brought us back to the apartment building and we were able to get keys to our new home. I am very happy with our apartment. It is far better than I thought we would have. They didn’t have any two bedroom apartments available so we are in a one bedroom, and it is perfect for us. It is fully furnished. There is a huge window in the bedroom and in the living room. There are new wood floors and I was drawn to this one above the carpeted apartment we saw. Our bedroom is huge! There are two beds. The one we sleep in is called a “matrimonial bed.” It is close to queen sized. The other is wider than a twin and is called a “semi-matrimonial” bed. Sheets, pillows and blankets are furnished. We have a huge mirrored closet that is full of shelves for our clothes and other items. There is another mirrored closet at the end of the room where the bathroom is that has a stacked washer and dryer plus an ironing board and iron, broom and mop. The kitchen is very small. It has a stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave, blender, dishes, silverware, pots and pans. Basically, it has all the comforts of home, even a TV, so we will probably get cable. Part of security here is knowing what is going on in this country and around the world. We have a phone that rings up any of the rooms in our building. There are 5 floors with 3 apartments on each floor. We are on the second floor. There are 6 apartments with senior missionaries. Next door to us is the Tilleys. They left the MTC a week before us and they are assigned to Security for the Area. That is a fairly new calling in the Church. Four areas now have or will have Security missionaries. They are South Africa, West Africa, Philippines and Guatemala. Yes, we are part of the four most dangerous areas in the world where missionaries are serving. Elder Tilley will be doing things like getting a security system in the various offices like ours, the Welfare office, the Employment Center, the mission homes, temple, etc.
After we got our belongings out of the Bawden’s apartment, they took us to Paiz. There are a lot of them around and they are owned by Walmart. We had to buy necessities and some food. We still have other things to get but it is like being newlyweds and setting up housekeeping. This is not a cheap country to live in. Walmart at home is much cheaper than Paiz. The prices on the shelf are startling. They are in Q’s (quetzal). It is about 7 Q’s to a dollar. I forgot the water and that is a mistake we can’t make. The four of us went back to the office after taking the things back to the apartment. When we left the office we stopped at another Paiz for water. The strangest thing to get used to is using bottled water for brushing teeth. The temptation to turn on the faucet is constant. We have a big container of “pure” water in the bathroom to use for drinking or brushing.
It was a pleasure to come home from the office to our own apartment. Then the unpacking and organizing began. We were exhausted when we were finished and then I had to get out the ironing board and iron a shirt. It was a long day and bed felt good.
September 9, 2008…..Tuesday
We were up at 5:30 again. We met the Bawden’s for our ride to the office. We will be buying a 2003 Toyota Corolla station wagon. It has about 50,000 miles and was a mission car. I would rather not have a car. The driving is maniacal. They have marked narrow lanes but no one stays in them. There are many one way streets. We live off of Boulevard of the Americas. It has a wide gorgeous parkway down the middle. The pedestrians, and there are a lot of them, are running across the streets whenever there is a break. Motor scooters zip in and out. Pizza Hut delivers on red motor scooters. Even McDonald’s delivers. There are numerous old, vividly painted buses, packed with people. Even some hanging on the outside. Young missionaries are known to hitch-hike in the back of a pickup rather than ride a bus. It is safer. We don’t feel threatened at all. The people are loving and kind. Even the gang members who cause problems have a superstitious respect for anything religious and that includes Mormon missionaries.
This morning we started working on our plans for the role we will play with PEF. It is such a pleasant place to be. We are on the second floor of a 5 story building, all housing different offices for the Church in the Central America area. We share an office with Bawdens. We each have a desk, phone, computer, and all the supplies we could possibly want. We left with Bawdens before noon to see if we could get money for our rent. All of the information we had before coming was to use debit cards only. They wouldn’t take a credit card here at the apartment building. They want a check. We didn’t even bring a checkbook. We still don’t have internet here, but our cell phone worked just fine in calling Jill and telling her to send us some checks. Within an hour she had been to DSL and at a cost of $117 was able to get them shipped. We hope they will arrive at the office tomorrow.
We got a big laugh today when Dick was trying to get on our email at the office. He googled graffites. It came up with 18,000 sites. He called me over to look at his computer and there, about 35th on the list was “Mom’s Favorites” recipe book and it listed the index. I made the recipe books for each of the kids about ten years ago. When Maren was setting up a blog for me she added the recipe book to the blog. I’m still not using the blog, but my recipe book was on Google. I think I will have Maren notify our family and friends about the blog. She has been keeping it updated so we might as well have everyone use it.
The Bawdens had some place to go this afternoon so the Taylors brought us home from the office today. We left at 3 pm and it was nice to have a little time. We walked to the Shell station at the corner so Dick could buy a newspaper. Our “boss,” Reynaldo, will have a subscription to the paper come to the office for us so we can bring that home every day. The Shell station had a big supply of Bath and Body Works products. I’ve never seen them at a gas station before. It didn’t feel too dangerous being out walking. We had heard about armed guards everywhere and that is no exaggeration. There is a guard at the entrance of our apartment building. Fifty feet later we saw an armed guard at a building and another down at another entrance to the same building. It is the Brazilian Embassy. There was an armed guard at another building on the opposite side of the street. Our apartment is called Victorian Suites and we are very secure here.
Tonight the kitchen got a thorough cleansing. All the dishes, silverware, glasses, etc. got run through the dishwasher. As soon as the dishwasher was through I unloaded them when they were still hot. That is because I didn’t want to encounter the cockroaches that were in there last night….two about an inch long and one about 3 inches long. That’s the only bugs we have seen. We will tell them in the apartment office tomorrow so they can come spray.
We are thrilled to be here at this time because it is rainy season and we love rain. Every day for months it will rain, usually in the afternoon with thunder. I love it. We never have been out in it because there are parking garages under the apartment and the office. It has been raining this evening for hours. The temperature here is so comfortable. The windows are open night and day. When I finally get the internet I can check what the temp is every day.
September 10, 2008…..Wednesday
Today is my 67th birthday. Dick has asked several times over the last month what I would like for my birthday. My reply: “A trip to Guatemala.” We are getting more into the routine of up by 5:30 and leave for the office at 7 am. Every morning Sister Saenz, the Guatemalan missionary in our area of the office greets me with a hug. The people here are so warm and loving. We worked all day on our plan for implementing PEF in Central America. They are already doing quite well in some locations. We consulted together, researched some things, Dick wrote them out and I typed them up. We still have some refining to do tomorrow. About 10 am Elder Bawden told us we had a meeting. We got up and grabbed our pens and note pads and went down the hall to the conference room. All the PEF people were in there with two chocolate cakes with burning candles. There were two of us with birthdays. We each had a cake and had to blow out the candles, but even in Guatemala they have candles that you can’t blow out. We were sung to. We all had cake and 7-up. The Bawdens gave me a small bamboo plant that probably won’t be small for long. Claudia, Reynaldo’s right hand girl, gave me a birthday bag with an orange, apple, pears and nectarines. I will soak them in bottled water and add a bleach solution and we will enjoy them, after we have peeled them.
At lunch time we went with the Taylors for a fast food chicken lunch. We enjoyed our visit. She has multiple sclerosis but does very well. She is an angel. Back to the office for more work and then Reynaldo took us to the area employment office. The elevator lurched to a halt and then refused to move. About a minute later it started moving again. That was a relief. The visit there was very productive and the employment center seems to be very much on the ball with the role it plays with PEF. Again, hugs from the women working there. We got back to the office in time to shut down our computers and leave at 5 pm.
Tonight we had dinner at the Taylors. She had invited us Sunday, but when she found out it was my birthday she invited the other missionaries in our apartment building. What a wonderful group of people. We ate and visited for 2 hours and of course, we had birthday cake. One couple will be going home in two months but the area president is finding a place for them and they will return to serve somewhere in Central America 4 months later. She said she would rather do that than sit on the couch. There is a place to serve for almost everyone.
This has been a wonderful birthday for me.
September 11, 2008…..Thursday
Today is the first day that we haven’t had any rain. But, it is only 8:30 pm so the day is not over yet. We worked on our plans for PEF most of the day. At 11:30 am we came back to the apartment with Bawdens to take care of our room inventory with the manager and we grabbed a bite to eat. Happily, our checks arrived from Jill today and that will solve the problem of paying for our deposit and our monthly rent. At 2 pm we had an appointment with President Clark, the Central American area authority. He has been out of the country this week. His office is on the fifth floor of the building we work in. It has huge windows and he pointed out the three volcanoes to us. He is a man who has done a lot of the things in this part of the Americas for the Church and the people. He asked us to tell him about ourselves. He served a mission in Argentina after Dick was there. He wants our focus to mainly be on the stake specialists for PEF. As well as things are going in some of the areas here, there is still much to be done. Getting more young people involved in the program will be an ongoing goal, and increasing the number of those who repay their loans is probably the second goal. And, just like our training in SLC, he stressed that it isn’t about the money. It’s about building integrity in the lives of these young people.
President Clark told us we will be as busy as we want to be. We have known that since we got involved in this process. Dick has never shied away from work so I know there will be nothing but total commitment in doing whatever we can. We are here to serve and we don’t want to waste any bit of our 23 months here. He said he wants us to speak up if we think anything should be done differently. Lastly, he told us to have fun. After that we left his office and I decided to have fun. I got my laptop out and emailed my second journal account to family and friends. I have avoided using our laptop in the office because I wanted to focus on the work at hand, but I decided I needed our family to know what has been going on. I read some emails and I have many more to get through, but it was fun for me to have that contact. Hopefully, we will have the internet in our apartment next week.
When we left the office Bawdens took us to shop at a store smaller than Costco, but you would think you are in a Costco. They even sell some Kirkland brands. The traffic going back home was horrible. There is no freeway so all 2 million people looked like they must have been on the road. There is a grocery cart in the parking garage under our apartment building and that is so handy to use to take groceries up in the elevator. I put the fresh fruit in a pan of bottled water with a bleach solution and let them soak for five minutes. I actually did it much longer. I also soaked the avocado. I don’t want any germs getting inside when I cut through the skin. The avocado was really delicious. I have learned over the years that I can put leftovers on a plate but if I add avocado we are both very happy.
I have kept a journal since 1975. I haven’t written daily but I have kept up with it every 3 or 4 weeks, using my planner to help me recall things. So, my attempt at a daily entry is new and it takes a lot of time. My journal has always been pretty private. I expect some of my descendents to read it someday. This is a whole new process. Not only do I send it weekly to my children, grandchildren, and mother, but to extended family members and dear friends from my life in Pomona, La Verne, Santa Maria, Lancaster and other assorted places. It has helped me realize how many people have played special roles in my life and how important each of them is to me.
September 12, 2008…..Friday
Something strange happened last night. I stopped writing in my journal to get ready for bed. When I went back to close up the computer I saw that I was connected to the internet. What a treat! So I checked email and there was a note from Kelsey, telling us that the ultra sound shows we will be great-grandparents to a baby girl. We are so excited for Kelsey and Blake. That was the first time I cried since entering the MTC. Today when I was reading our stack of emails to Dick he kept wiping his eyes. “It’s the grandkids,” he said.
Today we had a couple of the young volunteers come take both of our computers to remove things that don’t pertain to us and to get our church emails set up. It gave me the opportunity to focus on my lap top and all our emails and I actually cleared my emails and got a card sent to Mother on Shutterfly.
We are still working on getting our car. It was appraised at $82oo but two months ago we were told between 6 and 7 thousand. Whatever. We need a car to get around, have some freedom, and not tie up the Bawdens. Tonight we drove the Tilley’s car home as they needed a larger car for the weekend so they took one of the fleet cars. We made it home fine. There is not one traffic signal from the office to home but a number of round -abouts in the area that are crazier than any we saw in PA, WA or UT. Then, getting into this dinky parking garage is an adventure in itself. Our parking area is very narrow and against a wall on one side. It’s a good thing Dick used to drive diesel trucks to haul petroleum, because he can navigate into all kinds of spaces. This is my dream come true, leaving the traffic of Lancaster for Guatemala City and its 2 million. NOT!
We met a couple at our break -the -fast dinner last Sunday that were going home on Tuesday. They have only been out about 6 months. She has an encapsulated brain tumor. The word that came back yesterday was the tumor wasn’t the source of her problems. Today an email came saying that she has Lou Gehrig’s disease. How sad. A brain tumor would be easier.
Today for lunch Dick went out to the red car that is parked in front of the office every noon time. We are told it is safe to eat the food. A woman and her adult daughter our members of the Church and she cooks it all according to our standards and brings it only to our office. We had chicken in a red sauce, rice with peas and carrots in it, lettuce (I didn’t eat any of that) and three small fresh, warm, delicious corn tortillas. The tortillas here are thicker and softer than in the states and they are wonderful. We also had a lemonade type drink (she called it a smoothie) that I only took a sip of. It was all under $2 and we shared one plate. Everything is so expensive in the store that I don’t know how she can sell it so cheap. Tonight for dinner I scrambled eggs. The eggs are not refrigerated in the stores. It was with trepidation that I used them. The yolk seems firmer and darker but they tasted fine. We made toast and our smoke alarm was set off twice. At least we know it works. I soaked the grapes in pure (bottled) water but I didn’t add the bleach because the grapes are from California so they are safe to eat without bleaching. It is an adventure in eating here. Oh,and for people who like fresh Tilapia fish it is available at Paiz (Walmart). I know it is fresh because it is swimming in a tank and you can pick out the one you want.
Our sister missionaries needed to move into a different apartment in our building tonight as the one they had moved into two days ago needed major help. There was a lot of extra furniture and we ended up with a new and better mattress, I hope. It is much firmer. Two young elders came to help and moved the mattress to our bed and then took ours back up to the other room. It’s time to read together. We read the Book of Mormon in Espanol. I can practice my Spanish and read the scriptures at the same time. Gotta do some packing tonight. We are taking a little trip tomorrow to El Salvador and will be gone two nights. Monday is a national holiday so we have a day off.
September 13, 2008…..Saturday
We left the apartment this morning with Elder and Sister Tilley (Jim and Rexene) and Elder and Sister King (Preston and Bonnie) and drove to El Salvador. It took us about four hours to reach the city of San Salvador. There were many sights along the way. We saw many women carrying a variety of things on their heads. We saw many women in aprons. I am the woman who seemed to be in an apron whenever our kids were taking videos. I even buy aprons when we travel……Switzerland, Alaska, Canada, Amish country, etc., but I forgot to bring an apron to Guatemala. It is on my shopping list. Crossing the border into El Salvador was a little intimidating but Jim and Preston took our paper work and passports inside and that did go ok. First they had to do that to leave Guatemala and then at the next building to enter El Salvador. Immediately the surroundings looked different. The roadways, homes and the way people were dressed as they waited for buses along the highway showed that the economy is far better there. Their currency is the American dollar. We got on the beautiful Pan American Highway, a divided four lane highway and it made us think of the road driving to Mt. Vernon last month.
We had lunch at Pizza Hut and checked into the Sheridan Presidente Inn. We had wonderful rooms and we all wanted to take the beds and bedding home to Guatemala with us. In the afternoon we took a drive south to the Pacific Ocean at Playa El Obispo. Elder King served his mission in El Salvador 46 years ago. It was a sweet experience for him to be back there. We covered countryside with half a dozen cows being herded down the highway and also a bunch of baby pigs running down the road. It made me think of our wonderful visits to the Badders farm. We enjoyed dinner at the beautiful restaurant on the terrace of the hotel.
September 14, 2008…..Sunday
We had breakfast at the hotel and at 8:30 am Elder Rivas, the Area Seventy met us at the hotel and we followed him to his ward, about 20 minutes away. We enjoyed attending our Sunday meetings with the wonderful Saints in El Salvador. The Salvadoran women are very beautiful and the men are handsome. Once again we were greeted with many hugs and kindness. After Church Elder Rivas again led the way for us to follow him back to the hotel. I doubt we could ever find it on our own with all the turns and one way streets. We had lunch and then an hour back in our rooms to rest. At 3:30 pm we once again followed Elder Rivas and his beautiful family. This time we drove a short distance from the hotel, past the presidential palace, and then on to a peaceful, quiet street. There he got out of his car and we followed him up a slight incline to a beautiful setting. It is a five acre parcel with beautiful trees and such a gorgeous setting. It is the temple lot. Next Saturday is the ground breaking for the El Salvador Temple. It already feels like a sacred place. It used to be a coffee plantation. The man who owned it lives in Miami and he didn’t want to sell it, especially to the Church. When he was told that a prophet of God says that is where the temple is supposed to be, he responded that he would sell if he could come see the building and if he could meet this prophet of God. He will have the opportunity to walk through the temple it at the open house. I’m sure the arrangements will be made for him to meet the prophet.
We followed the Rivas family to another Church building close by. There was a meeting there for those on the temple committee, planning for the ground breaking. Elder and Sister Tilley, as security missionaries, were part of that meeting, but the Kings and us were invited to be there. An hour later we were invited into the cultural hall where the choir of about 100, made up of members of various stakes (there are 20 stakes), was practicing for Saturday. They practiced from 3 till 7 pm. We three couples were invited to sit in chairs in front of the choir, along with Elder Rivas. We were all introduced to them and when Elder Rivas said: “Elder and Sister Graff, Fondo Perpetuo para la Educacion for the Central American Area, it was almost a staggering thought for me and Dick. We have a huge responsibility. They then sang for us…….”The Spirit of God” and “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” The tears came for all of us. These wonderful Saints in this part of the Lord’s vineyard are finally getting a temple. (We have heard stories of robbery and rapes of the people of El Salvador as they rode buses across the border to attend the Guatemalan Temple. One story was the personal happening of a good brother that we work with when he was a teenager and his family was coming to be sealed in the temple, traveling from Honduras.) The people of the choir had tears too, as they sang. I just wanted to go hug everyone of them. They take it as a great honor that we three missionary couples would be with them. To them, we represent Salt Lake and the prophet because we serve the area.
Afterwards we were able to stand in the hall and visit. Dick spent 30 minutes talking with Sister Rivas. She is the stake PEF specialist and she runs the PEF Call Center for the country of El Salvador (a volunteer…..this Church runs on volunteers!!!). I spent that time talking to a bishop who was full of questions about what we do and if we requested to work with PEF when we submitted our mission papers. One brother gave each couple a book he wrote. We returned to the hotel so full of the blessing of being with the saints of El Salvador on the Sabbath. It doesn’t get any better than this!
Earlier, as we were going into the meeting, we met two young elders in the parking lot. One said his sister lives in Little Rock, CA. She is married to Zack Bird, son of President Steve Bird. Another small world experience.
September 15, 2008…..Monday
After eating breakfast at the hotel we left for our return trip. Today is Independence Day for each country in Central America. We had to zigzag around a parade in San Salvador. As we were making progress driving out of town on the Pan American Highway, traffic came to a complete stop. Some vendors walked by carrying cotton candy, etc., and that was how we found out it wasn’t an accident that caused the delay but another parade up ahead. We sat for 45 minutes. Preston quizzed us on Spanish vocabulary to pass the time. At another small town we were once again sent through narrow streets to bypass a parade. It allowed us to see the dwellings and the people. They all dress with so much color. I came into the mission field with solid color dark skirts and soft colored blouses. At the MTC we were told that now they would like us to have more color. Today I learned from Rexene that President Hinckley made a comment after seeing sister missionaries on Temple Square that we need to wear more color.
About 30 minutes after arriving home we left again with our neighbors, theTilleys, to shop at Paiz. We bought a cookie sheet, measuring spoons, measuring cups, wire whisk, wooden spoons, and everything else I could think of to make cookies. I forgot to buy a mixing bowl and I need vanilla but that is hard to find here. I put all the new kitchen items in the dishwasher to be sterilized. It’s time to iron white shirts, again, and if I magically get internet tonight I can send my journal.
pictures of us at Playa El Obispo in El Salvador
the temple lot in San Salvador, El Salvador
my birthday with Kelvin Escobar, also celebrating on Sep 10