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Guatemala City, Guatemala
We have been called as missionaries with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to serve with the Perpetual Education Fund in the Central America Area. We are living in Guatemala City, Guatemala and we work at the area office. Our assignment is to visit with the Stake PEF Specialists in all seven countries, to train and assist them in this inspired program.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Week of December 1st to Dec 9th 2008

1 December 2008…..Monday
What a great day! Dick was up early for the fishing trip to the Pacific Ocean with 15 others. I got up and made him a sandwich for breakfast of cheese and sausages. We had prayer together and he was out the door before 4:45 am. I went back to bed but sleep was fleeting and when I finally slept I dreamed the apartment was collapsing. I spent the day doing various little projects on the computer. I actually sat down and read our Guatemalan tour book for about an hour. (Thanks, Anita!) I made tamale pie for our FHE tonight. I love to be home, even in a small apartment in Guatemala!
The fishermen, and a few women, arrived home in time to clean up and go over to the Clarke’s for a farewell dinner for missionaries going home in the next month: Kern’s leave Wednesday for South Dakota; Sister Saenz leaves the mission in two weeks for her home in Mixco, Guatemala; Sister Rowley goes home in January to San Diego; and the Lindbergs, who have served in an outlying area, return to Fillmore, UT in a few days. We had an enjoyable potluck meal and entertainment by a children’s bell choir. They were very good.
Dick had a great time fishing. They had two comfortable, clean boats with 8 on each boat. Dick caught 1 Dorado that was about 40 inches long and a small tuna. Other kinds of fish caught were sailfish and someone caught a marlin. It was a very nice excursion for them in the warm Pacific waters, not cold like Pismo Beach.
When we were getting ready for dinner, Skype started ringing. It was Joey. His school assignment was to interview someone in the family. I love the fact that our ten year old grandson in Philadelphia can call us whenever he wants to talk to us.

2 December 2008…..Tuesday

It was overcast driving to the office today. It is nice to drive when the sun isn´t glaring in our eyes. We feel so much closer to the sun here. We left the office for about an hour with Tilleys to find a good map of Belize. The map store was not there anymore. So we stopped at Price Smart because it has a safe ATM and Jim needed some quetzales. Back at the office we kept busy with things we needed to do to wind up November and to make our trip to Belize on Thursday.

We went to Paiz on the way home from the office and picked up some lights and a few little decorations for our tree…..actually, our largest silk plant is serving as our Christmas tree this year. We moved the furniture so it can sit in front of our huge window and be viewed by the people in the apartments behind us. Very festive.

3 December 2008…..Wednesday
Today we are trying to pull everything together here for our trip. Dick is working with the computer and projector for our fireside. Last night he tried to get some calls through to Belize to invite our PEF participants to the fireside but only succeeded with one call. It was to Karine Lopez. She was excited to know we are coming and said she would be there. She also told him that when this semester ends in a couple of weeks she will put her loan on hold as she is filling out her mission papers so she can go on a mission. We are so excited for her and even proud of her. Now we are more than anxious to meet her.
Yesterday Tilleys found out that there was not a fleet car for us to take to Belize. Weeks ago he had asked for one of the 4 wheel drive vehicles and yesterday he was told they were all busy. We would have to take Tilleys Corolla. Definitely not very roomy. Before we left the office Marilyn Bawden suggested we take their bigger car, a Chrysler Caravan (Dodge Caravan in the states). It really worked out well. Dick took Bawdens to the airport early this morning. They flew to SLC for her dad’s funeral. So, we have their car today. We will give Hermana Rowley and Hermana Jones the keys to our car for them to use while we are gone. Tilleys will leave their car for Bawdens when they come back on Sunday. We will travel in much greater comfort now. This is like musical cars….that’s a play on musical chairs. Usually it is a game of parking places for us. Some of us have difficult parking places (to say the least) at the apartments. I’m sure the workers there must laugh at the parking of the cars. The big apartment across the hall from us has been vacant for six weeks. Sometimes we park in that space. If Bawdens are away, Tilleys will take their parking place. Kings (he had to crawl across to the passenger side to get out of his car) used the sisters parking place since they rarely have a vehicle. Now Kings have been given a better parking spot so we park in the sister’s parking space. It keeps life interesting.
All of the missionary couples have church vehicles….except us. So, we bought our car, we pay for our own gas, insurance, and maintenance. We think it is because President Hinckley vowed that the sacred tithing funds of the church would not be used to support the Perpetual Education Fund. When we travel for church business everything is paid for…..meals, hotels, gas, airline tickets, etc. We have a Visa card from the church. We have turned in a gas receipt once in the three months we have been here to cover the gas of driving for our assignment. Most of the time we go with others who don’t have to pay for their own gas.
I have learned new things about the computer in the last few months, like ES (Español) and EN (English)….changing the language when I type. If it is not on ES I cannot type ñññ or á ó é í ú. If it is not on EN I cannot type @ which I use a lot for email addresses. I have a Spanish keyboard so if I want to type ? it is on the top, right key. But if I am on EN the ? is the bottom right key which shows _-. I know, totally confusing. Many of the punctuation marks are not where they are on an English keyboard. I just wanted to record this one tidbit of information about life in a Spanish society.
At our dinner last Monday night we were sitting next to Elder and Sister Clarke. Two children of the Robertson’s (he is the church employee over finances) were seated by us. The elder daughter is 17. She is headed to Provo this month to begin cosmetology school (where Kelsey went) and study to be an esthetician. Then she will use that to support herself to become a special education teacher. She had been at the national girl’s camp last week and was telling us about what a great experience it was. Elder Clarke asked her to send him a handwritten letter telling all about her experiences. Then he told her he would send it to the Prophet. How exciting for this beautiful, talented young girl to have the privilege of President Monson receiving her letter.
Rexene had to have an emergency root canal today. Better here than in the US ….only $130 and the doctor was trained in Texas. They left their car at the office garage to be used if necessary and rode home with us. After we got home we put our things down and left again to go to the cleaners to leave dirty white shirts and get clean ones. We came home. A few minutes later Dick said he needed to go to the pharmacy. So we left again to get him some Allegra D. No prescription needed. It was good to get back home and stay home. And pack. Dick made a call to Belize and Leovany told him he had “something to tell Sister Graff” when we see him on Sunday.
Today we had an email from Dana saying Kelsey had been in the hospital with contractions and bleeding. She is doing better now but she has to go on maternity leave right away. Our baby girl isn’t due till the end of January. Then an email from Jill. She had a doctor’s appointment and he was unhappy with all the swelling she still has. So she went to the emergency room to have an ultrasound to check for blood clots. We just got off the phone with her. She has none, but needs to be monitored by her doctor and by the plastic surgeon. Worrisome days are part of life and they are also days of many prayers.

4 December 2008…..Thursday
We left before the sun came up, stopped for gas, and headed out of the city. Over an hour into the trip we came to a halt. We were stopped in our lane for 25 minutes while the oncoming lane continued to go. Finally, we were able to go. About 15 minutes later we came to road construction in a very small area and the opposing lane was stopped and that line was miles long. The most hectic part of the trip was many, many trucks on the road. These are not new 18 wheelers like in the states but old trucks, dump trucks, petroleum trucks, etc. going down the two lane road from 5,000 feet in the city to the lowlands. Every time we have left the city we find very poor areas and most of the people in native dress. For hours we drove through areas that looked like the people had a modest income and a way of supporting themselves. There were many small ranches with cattle. We saw no one in native dress for hours and just a few after that for the entire 8 hour trip to Flores.
To get to Belize requires heading northeast from Guatemala City, driving on the road that goes to Puerto Barrios, Honduras. At Rio Dulce, Guatemala, on the edge of Lake Isabal we made a left turn and angled north and west through the Peten area to Flores and Lake Peten. It is very beautiful. Many of the houses had thatched roofs, something we have not seen before in Guatemala. We saw palm trees intermingled with tall pine trees. A very interesting combination. We saw some cactus. It was green and in areas it was jungle-like. We encountered some light rain.

Flores was a Mayan city. It is an island on a lake. We found our hotel which was in Santa Elena right near the bridge going to Flores. The room was very small. We had a great view of the island out our window. Elder Boman met us and went with us to drive around and see Flores and Santa Elena and 3 chapels in the area. Sister Boman was busy cooking for a zone conference Christmas dinner tomorrow. They have been serving there for a year. It is 8 hours from the mission home for the Guatemala City North Mission and the Bomans do a great job looking after the missionaries. It was in the mid 80’s when we arrived but it is very hot most of the year. At 7 pm we went to dinner with Bomans and also the Taylors (our neighbors and mission doctor) and President and Sister Torres, North Mission president.
We drove back to Flores and had dinner outside, at Capitan Tortuga, a restaurant next to the lake. I had beef tacos that were small, fresh flour tortillas filled with a fajita-type mixture. I had the pineapple juice with milk drink. During the course of dinner the lights went out at the restaurant as did all the lights across the water in Santa Elena. Soon we had waiters put candles on our table. Then I heard a noise and I knew it was a generator starting up. The restaurant lights came on. A little later the lights came back on around us in Flores and across the lake. That was a relief. I didn’t want to return to our hotel and have the power off.

5 December 2008…..Friday

This morning we left the hotel by 7:30 am. We ate pumpkin muffins that I had brought. That ended up being breakfast. As soon as we left the city of Santa Elena we were on bad roads…full of potholes….and then many miles of unpaved roads. The unpaved roads were easier travelling than the pot hole roads. We had to laugh when these horrible roads had speed bumps. We saw many things IN the road….pigs, chickens, dogs, dogs, and more dogs. None of them even look up when Jim honks the horn. Some dogs were lying down in the road. We even saw my favorite kind of snake…..a dead one. It was quite large. I hate snakes!
It took us about an hour and a half to get to the border. We took our passports and got out of the car and went over to where the lines were. One line was for those leaving Belize to go into Guatemala. The other was for those leaving Guatemala and entering Belize. Our line was the longest. We had our passports stamped and paid Q20 a piece. Then Jim had paperwork for the car that needed to be stamped. We drove about a hundred feet and got out. Jim had to have the car registered and the paperwork stamped to enter Belize. Then we went in another building and they stamped our passports. This side was all English speaking. YAY!!! A language I can understand. Then we had to get our luggage out of the car and bring it into the building. The guy looked inside Tilley’s luggage and was asking us about our black badges. Jim explained what we would be doing in Belize. When he was finished with their language he passed us on through and said he didn’t need to look inside. We loaded the luggage back in the car, drove a few hundred feet and had to stop and buy car insurance for the three days we will be in Belize. Finally, after one and a half hours, we were through the border.
The difference in the road was wonderful. We enjoyed a more comfortable ride. There is a different feeling in Belize. It is definitely a Caribbean country, not Hispanic. We drove through San Ignacio and saw the chapel where we will be doing our fireside on Sunday. We drove through Belmopan, the capital of Belize. We stopped at the American Embassy so Jim could talk to the DEA attaché. That was an interesting procedure of passports and security checks to get us into the Embassy. It was interesting to sit and listen to the conversation. (Jim is retired from drug enforcement). We were told that Belize is quite safe. The problems lie in one area of Belize City where the gangs, who call themselves Bloods and Crips (sounds like Los Angeles), kill each other. There is no razor wire around the chapels like in Guatemala. There are no armed guards everywhere like in Guatemala. We arrived in Belize City after an hour’s drive, and passed another chapel. We called Kebin Gongora and he met us and took us to the Princessa Hotel.

The hotel is large and on the water’s edge. We were more than ready for lunch after the drive and only having munchies since there is no place that we would stop or even could stop to eat. We walked out the back door of the hotel and down a short path to Calypso, a dining area for the hotel. I had the seafood chowder. It had a good flavor with potatoes, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli, plus shrimp and various pieces of fish. We finished eating at 4 pm. It was a lovely day and the temperatures were very comfortable.
ALERT: more mentions of food….three of the kids have mentioned that I talk about food a lot. I guess that shows how much importance I place on food in my life. At six we met Kebin and his wife, Francine, in the lobby, then followed them to a restaurant called Celebrity. I had fish and chips and cole slaw, followed by pineapple pie. We enjoyed talking with them. They are expecting their first baby in March after going to Guatemala City for fertility treatments. He is turning 30 this month and she is 28. He served his mission in El Salvador and she served a mission in Panama. He is funny and kept us laughing. He is employed by the Church as the facilities management director of Belize. He was one of the first participants with PEF in Belize. His real dream is to be an architect. He thought he would be too old to use the Fund again, but we told him to apply now.
The hotel parking lot was crammed when we got back. This hotel has a casino, a movie theater and a bowling alley off the lobby, so it was a jumping place on a Friday night. In our room on the fifth floor I could faintly hear the roar of a movie. Out our front door balcony was a big lighted field with a soccer game going. I worked on my journal while Dick channel surfed and almost every channel was in English.

6 December 2008…..Saturday

Today Alie is 7. I could never take care of all the birthdays from Central America. Thank goodness Jill took that over. It is almost a fulltime job. She has already taken care of our Christmas shopping and shipping of gift cards. Just before I crawled in bed last night I heard a noise, and sure enough there was rain coming down against the window. It was lightly raining when we got up this morning. We met Tilleys in the restaurant for our complimentary breakfast.
Kelbin met us at 9 am and rode with us to see two of the chapels. First we drove for two hours to the north and saw the small chapel in Orange Walk. We had to stop and pick up the key from the custodian, a sister in the branch, Sister Allen. Her son Wosani recently returned from a mission in Idaho and her daughter, Ardis served in Florida. They were all in the front yard and we met them. They both want to use PEF for their education. We gave them the handouts that I had translated into English and our business cards with all our phone numbers. We are excited to find some who want to use the Fund. We will be in touch with info and encouragement.
Then we drove west to the town of Corazol on the shores of the Caribbean to see the chapel there. Kebin tells us both areas are safe and there are no problems with break-ins or anything else. So different than Guate where many of the buildings have a variety of problems. It is 10 miles to Mexico’s southern border. Belizeans like to go over there for Pizza Hut, McDonalds, Burger King, etc. There are no fast food places in Belize. Belize has a population of about 280,000 and 70,000 live in Belize City. Towns are few and far between. We got back to the hotel at 3 pm. We did a lot of driving.
We bought a Magnum ice cream bar when we got to the hotel/cinema lobby. It was excellent. I have never seen them before but Tilleys ate them when they were living in Ecuador. We went out a little later. We would love a nativity set from Belize but the only one we have seen was made in China. We did find a grocery store that looked American. It had many of the name products that we might see at home. We bought two bags of Fritos to have our chili specialty. I have not seen Fritos in any of the stores of Guate.
Dinner was at the Sea View Restaurant here at the hotel. Buffet is not my favorite way to eat because I love to be waited on, but each dish I tried was very tasty and very well seasoned. Back in our room I worked on my journal. We can buy an hour’s worth of internet here in our room for 10 dollars (Belizean) which works out to 5 American dollars. I was able to check email and make sure that Jill and Kelsey are doing ok.

7 December 2008…..Sunday

We woke up to rain again today. We attended Sacrament Meeting in Cinderella Branch (thought our granddaughters would like that). The branch president, Jaime Chi, conducted. He would say something in English and then repeat it in Spanish. The hymns were in English. There were less than 30 in attendance. It was testimony meeting and some would do it in English and then Spanish. It is an English speaking country. The branch president’s three young children spoke in English and then his wife spoke in Spanish. It seems that many people speak both language plus Creole. I am impressed with all the languages they know. I still struggle with Spanish.
The district president for the Belize City district and his wife live in the branch. They are El Salvadorans and only speak Spanish. One of his counselors only speaks English. The other counselor , Brother Munoz, also lives in that branch and he speaks English and Spanish. All of their presidency meetings are conducted with Brother Munoz translating back and forth in the languages. He is a wonderful man and we enjoyed visiting with him.
The Tilleys did their security check. This building has had problems with the neighborhood coming over the fence and playing basketball. They spray graffiti on the surrounding block wall around the basketball court to the rear of the chapel. In many areas the Church works with the neighborhood and allows them to use soccer or basketball areas. The trouble here is that the ones invading the Church property are Bloods and Crips. They have tried to take it over. One night the two gangs were throwing grenades at each other. The branch members can’t use their building at night or for youth activities because of the problem.
We checked out of the hotel and headed back to San Ignacio, near the border. We checked into the San Ignacio Resort Hotel and then went and found the chapel. The gates were locked and Kebin wasn’t there yet to let us in. Two young women came walking to the building. They were 17 and 18 and had ridden a bus for 30 minutes to come to the fireside.
Finally, Kebin showed up and a few more. It was very fun for me to meet three of the PEF students that I call or email……Leovany Lopez and his sister, Karine, and Felipe Alfaro. As I shook Felipe’s hand he said, “Hi Sister Graff, it’s me, Felipe.” So, I hugged him. That is the line he writes when he sends me an email. I loved meeting them. I took two little outfits for Hanna’s baby. She wasn’t there but Karine pointed out her sister to me. We ended up with 25 in attendance and we were thrilled. Kebin conducted the meeting, his wife led the singing, and I played “O, Come all Ye Faithful.” It is the first time I’ve sat at the piano since I left mine behind. Dick spoke. He invited a few to bear their testimony of PEF, and Kebin concluded with his touching testimony. We had a number of questions afterwards from some who are very interested in using the program.
We arrived back at the hotel about 6 pm and went to the hotel restaurant, The Running W Steak House. I decided to have a Belizean meal, Cayo Bollos Platter, two tamales of chicken, vegetables and cheese wrapped in a banana leaf and served with fresh, not-spicy salsa. I put a little extra fire habanero sauce on it. It was hot but left me wanting more. It has been a good fast Sunday. We have had special concerns and prayers for Kelsey and the baby through these last weeks of pregnancy, Jill whose recovery from surgery needs a boost, and Bethany, Hannah and Emma. All three of them had their tonsils and adenoids out a few days ago, sort of a mother/daughters activity. Hopefully, they will all stay well this winter. Dennis is having rotator cuff surgery on Tuesday and Cyndy is having some testing done on Thursday.

8 December 2008…..Monday

This morning we were back at the hotel restaurant for breakfast. Banana pancakes and bacon sounded very Belizean and they tasted very good. The trip out of town went well and we were at the border in good time. First, we had to get out of the car and take our passports into a building to be stamped. Then to another counter where we paid $37.50 per couple to leave the country of Belize. Then the car had to be checked through and the paperwork stamped that it left the country. Next the car had to be driven through an area that looked like a carwash and it was sprayed with a fumigant. Don’t know what good it did. The spray lasted just a few seconds and only got on the front 2/3 of the car. Then we got out of the car again on the Guatemalan side and checked in through a very short line to be able to enter Guatemala. We were surprised they didn’t ask for money. By 9:15 am we were back on the road again, that is, unpaved roads. We have been very grateful for the Caravan because the Corolla would not have handled the unpaved roads or the potholes in the paved roads like this car has. It is far more comfortable for us.
We drove back to Lake Peten area and then took the road to Tikal. By 11 am we had entered the main gate of Tikal National Park. The speed limit inside the park was 45 kilometers (28 mph). It took us 30minutes to get to the visitor’s center. The low speed limit was to protect the wild animals, though we saw none. There are an assortment of birds, monkeys, snakes, and jaguars, to name a few. We did hear a jaguar’s roar a few times when we were talking to our tour guide. To say the day was interesting would be an understatement. It was extraordinary.
A young tour guide found us as soon as we arrived and we accepted his services. For $50 U.S. he agreed to take the four of us on a tour for 2 hours. We rode a “jungle buggy,” actually a pickup with three benches in the back. We only saw one small area but that was sufficient for us. We got off at Plaza Centro and spent our two hours there.

It is the main centerpiece of Tikal which was established about 900 B.C. Two major temples of the Mayan’s stand facing each other over a large inner area. There are altars for sacrificial offerings. There is a wooden stairway built up one side of one of the temples and Rexene and a few other tourists climbed it. We were content to watch from flat ground. We climbed some other wooden steps to a side area where people lived. All of the structures were built out of limestone blocks. It is incredible! There were a few workers there literally hanging off the sides of the structures, removing every small growths of plants. If they didn’t do it the jungle would once again encroach upon these treasures and bury them. There are many structures yet to be excavated and archaeological digs are going on at other areas. It is an interesting venture for anyone that wants to view the past, but as a Latter –day Saint it brings even greater feelings as we view this area where Book of Mormon people settled and lived. We are so blessed for the opportunity to be there. Our young guide was excellent. His grandparents actually lived in that area but were moved with all the other Mayan community when the ancient structures were discovered. It seems that the Lamanite descendants have been displaced from their homes whether in the U.S. or these more southern climes. Prophecy has been fulfilled many times over. Our guides name was Noell. He told us a little of his family history. Rexene asked him about the religion of the Maya. As he talked he spoke of the Mayan desire to protect animals and plant life because they believed that all living things have spirits. Sounds like the teachings of the gospel to me, for we know that all things were created in the spirit before they were created on earth. This young man is special and Jim walked and talked with him about the Book of Mormon, and he had read some of the things in the Book of Mormon that Jim told him about.
After we were taken back to the visitor’s center Rexene and I bought two corn husk angels for our Christmas trees. We were hungry and tired but it was a good day. It was raining when we got back to Santa Elena. We stopped at Pollo Campero for chicken fast food and ice cream, and came back to the Petén Esplendido where we had spent last Thursday night. It seems like a long time since we stayed here.
Today is Cyndy’s 52nd birthday and Daddy would have been 96.

9 December 2008…..Tuesday
This morning we met Tilleys in the hotel restaurant. We had a wonderful breakfast, seated on the terrace hanging over the waters of Lake Peten. We enjoyed watching a number of turtles as we threw toast into the water and they scrambled for it. It was the typical Guatemalan breakfast of eggs (scrambled with ham and cheese), black beans, fried plantains, juice and we also had hot chocolate. It was a memorable meal and setting with wonderful friends.
Our drive home went very well. We made it in 7 hours.

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