It was a quiet day at the office. Bawdens came in for awhile to do some things and introduce their youngest daughter and son-in-law who arrived last night from Salt Lake. I took the rest of the spiced pecans and they were devoured by noon. I bought chocolate Santa’s when we were at Zurich restaurant last week and I took one to Reynaldo for his daughter, Monica, and one to Claudia for her son, Diego. I finished the November report. I will begin part of the December report tomorrow but most of it has to wait for the priesthood report for PEF that won’t be complete until about January 10th. I made up invitations for our Christmas morning gathering at our apartment….a BYOM party. That means “bring your own mug.” We will have scones with honey butter and hot chocolate. We have four small cups and that’s not enough, nor are they big enough for a good serving of hot chocolate with whipped cream .
We left the office before 2 pm and went to Paiz. No one seems to have russet potatoes so I won’t be making twice baked potatoes for Christmas dinner. I have some smaller potatoes that I will use for the potato dish that our family loves. We went downstairs with Tilleys when we got home with a card for each of the 7 workers here. All of us missionaries contributed money for each of them. They do such a great job of taking care of the building and taking care of us. We left again and went to the cleaners and to the bank. We don’t want to run out of Quetzals. When we need more Dick writes a check to one of the men at the office who then writes a Guatemalan check for Quetzals. He makes a little off the transaction and we can go to the bank and cash the check. It’s a win for him and a win for us.
I haven’t dipped any chocolates for over five years but tonight I dipped truffles to take to the office tomorrow plus another big batch of over 100 peanut clusters that we will take to the MTC on Christmas Eve. I told Reynaldo that the daily goodies will stop after Christmas. It is so much fun to cook for people who really enjoy the food. Maybe that’s why I have cooked so much over the years. Even when they were young, our children always expressed appreciation for whatever I made, and so did Dick. I was so excited to find actual cream at PriceSmart and then I knew I could actually make truffles here. I have not seen any cream anywhere. It’s probably just a seasonal thing.
23 December 2008…..Tuesday
The truffles sat in Reynaldo’s office and everyone enjoyed them. I typed the last entry into Dick’s journal but he has more to do to get it up to date. I took our computer to the office and we took our picture off of it and sent it in an email with a Christmas greeting from us to our Belize participants. About 11 am Reynaldo said he was leaving because he and his family were flying to Honduras to spend Christmas with his parents. He will be back January 6th. Then we asked about Claudia and he said she wouldn’t be in the office this Friday or next week. So, we now have a lighter work load until they come back. When we finished what we had to do, we came home. Dick got our receipts from our Belize trip and went back to the office so Claudia could show him how to do the monthly expense report that has to be submitted before the end of the month. I made caramel pecan bars for the MTC and then boiled potatoes to make the potato casserole for Christmas dinner.
We got on Skype tonight and called Linda so we could talk to Mother. It’s taken me this long to feel like I could do it. And, I did it. No tears! Well, almost, but I was able to get through it. Even though she doesn’t hear us well she can see us and she thinks that is a miracle. We enjoyed our visit with Linda and Steve, too.
We have a lovely poinsettia sitting on the dining room table. It is a normal size like ones I would buy in CA. But, here in Guatemala, especially out in the countryside, we see them and they are not a foot tall. They are small trees. We have seen some fifteen feet tall, or more. They are very striking with their red flowers.
24 December 2008…..Wednesday
Christmas Eve! The older we get, the faster time moves. This morning Rexene was at our door with huge, warm, cinnamon rolls. What a wonderful breakfast we had. I made the potato dish for Christmas dinner and it will be ready for the oven tomorrow. At 12:30 pm we all met at Tilleys to plan our Christmas Eve celebration. I came home and made dough for scones and that is also ready for tomorrow in the refrigerator.
At 6:30 we all left for the CCM (MTC). We rode with Blackburns. I took a huge platter of caramel pecan bars and 100 peanut clusters. There are 50 young missionaries in the CCM. Nineteen of them are young sister missionaries, the largest group of sisters they have ever had at one time. We had a program for them. First, the Mejia family presented some lovely Christmas carols. One played the piano (the local Herbalife distributor) and two played the violin. An 11 year old girl sang beautifully. Then Dick read a scripture from the Book of Mormon when Jesus announces that “tomorrow” he will come into the world and thus prophecy was fulfilled to the people in this hemisphere. Our group of missionaries sang some carols. Then the young missionaries sang, each according to the country they are from. They sang a Christmas song unique to their country. First the Guatemalans, El Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Hondurans, and two Ecuadorans. I have never heard so much off key singing! But they were adorable. Finally, those from the Estados Unidos (U.S.), probably about 12 of them, sang a song from their country and, you guessed it, they sang “Jingle Bells.” (on key) After the closing prayer we had a surprise visit from Santa Claus. Elder Blackburn rented a suit….didn’t need any padding, and he has a Ho, Ho, Ho that echoes through our whole apartment building. There were many pictures taken. It was cute how many wanted to have their pictures taken with us older people. And they all seem to have cameras. The food was abundant since all of us, and three sisters from the other apartment building, brought a lot. We brought a paper plate home with a stack of goodies and gave it to the guy at the front desk and the apartment guard on duty.
Our personal celebration together involved sitting at the computer and watching and reading together the beautiful music, cards, and inspirational Christmas stories we got via email. Then we exchanged our gift to each other….a letter. It was much better than any store bought gift. By then it was 10 pm and we were hearing fireworks. We went up on the roof to see if we could see any fireworks. We could see some off in the distance but nothing dramatic. That will probably come after midnight but I don’t think we will stay up to see it, though it is getting close to that hour.
25 December 2008….Thursday
Merry Christmas! By the time we went to bed last night it sounded like a war zone with all the booming fireworks, one right after another. I was amazed to wake this morning and not hear any fireworks, though they did start up before noon and went on for about 30 minutes. By 9 am our missionary neighbors and Elder and Sister Christensen of the Area Presidency were at our door. I fried scones and we had hot chocolate with whipped cream and just enjoyed visiting. They are all such wonderful people. They all stayed till quarter till eleven. I took a plate of scones and honey butter down to the front desk.
As we visited this morning we got “the rest of the story” on some things from the CCM last night. There was a sister missionary who had to be encouraged to get up and sing with her group. She seemed very quiet and did not appear very happy. She was dressed nicely in a skirt and a gray blazer. Today we found out that she is from the mountains of Honduras and had never been out of the mountains. She had never worn shoes. She had owned one dress. She had never even seen a car. Now she is surrounded with electricity and amazed at flipping a switch and seeing light, and running water by just turning a faucet (though you better not drink it). She had never seen an indoor bathroom with a shower and all the conveniences. It is a hard adjustment. She is going to Chile. We can’t imagine what it will be like for her at the end of her 18 month mission to leave these new things and return to her previous existence. Just to equate the differences amongst the 50 young missionaries at the CCM right now, one of the Central American sisters is a nurse, and one is an attorney, putting their jobs on hold to serve a mission.
At 2 pm all of us in the apartments went over to Elder and Sister Christensen’s apartment. They served ham and we all took a side dish. It was a beautiful view looking out their big windows. We could see the planes taking off. The sky was very blue and there were fluffy clouds. The city looks very beautiful up above the honking horns and the traffic, though there was little traffic with it being Christmas. We sat at their dining room table for three hours and enjoyed wonderful conversation about many topics. We all came home to make calls to family on Skype.
It has been a wonderful Christmas, beginning with our service at the children’s home on Saturday, then our Christmas Eve at the CCM and today with friends. We miss our family but we enjoy immensely what we are doing and the people we are doing it with.
26 December 2008…..Friday
This was a different Friday, but a very enjoyable day. Dick took the sisters to their office at 8 am and then went to our office. He didn’t come back for me till almost 11. Our area of the office was dark. We knew Reynaldo and Claudia wouldn’t be back in till January 6th, but all the supporting cast of characters were gone also. At 11:45 we met the Blackburns, Taylors, and Hermana Thibault (mental health for the Area) and Hermana Sinclair (nurse for the Central Mission) and went to Restaurante Vegetariano, a vegetarian restaurant. I had tomato soup, spinach lasagna, and a green salad. Then we drove to Galileo University so we could go to one of the museums. The whole campus was closed and so were the museums. That was our second try in the last couple of months to go to the museum. So, we went with Blackburns to a mall we had passed when we were temporarily lost trying to find the university. You would never know you were in a third world country. There was a huge Christmas tree in the center of the mall and beautiful decorations everywhere. The mall had very upscale stores. I found two ornaments for next year’s Christmas tree. They are Quetzal birds. (The monetary system here is named after the bird). They ornaments are made of beads and feathers. They were even half price. They look Guatemalan, I bought them in Guatemala, and they were not made in China. They were made in Cerritos, CA! Oh well. I like them.
As we were leaving the mall we saw some young men making huge crepes and spreading them with Nutella (chocolate and hazel nut spread that you can buy in the states). So we bought one to share. It was really good and a nice ending for our outing. Blackburns are the newest senior missionaries here. They served as PEF missionaries in Mexico City, went home at the end of their mission and three months later came here on another mission as Area auditor. They are from Hawaii.
Tilleys came over later and we played Dominoes, followed by a Magnum bar. That is a delicious ice cream bar covered in chocolate, similar to a Dove bar. Yes, food does dominate my life! They gave us a beaded Guatemalan ornament for our Christmas tree.
27 December 2008…..Saturday
A day to un-decorate the apartment. Took me about 10 minutes. That is a record. Everything is boxed up and ready for next Christmas. Tilley’s car is being used by someone else so they piled in with us and we went and had keys made. Dick lost his several months ago and Jim and Rexene got locked out of their apartment Christmas morning when the door blew shut. It took about 15 minutes for one of the security guys to bring a key. Now we have keys to each other’s apartment. We walked around the mall and had an ice cream come, stopped at Paiz for a few items, and came home.
Well, that was where a ho-hum day stopped. About 2:30 pm Dean Bawden called. He said they were going to Pacaya Volcano and did we want to go? Well, sure. Seeing a volcano at closer range is one of the things I have most wanted to do. They wanted to get there by dusk. He said if we didn’t want to hike the volcano that there would be an area for us to wait for the others. We don’t ask many questions. We just go along. I put 4 granola bars in my bag and a bottle of water, since we hadn’t had our lunch yet. Bawden’s daughter and son-in-law and Preston King rode with them and we rode with the Taylors. While we waited for the Bawden’s to come down to the garage, Kim Taylor mentioned that it would be cold, so Dick came back upstairs and got his sweatshirt. Then I came back up and changed by blouse to a pull over sweater but I already had my heavier cardigan in the car. I even grabbed my fleece throw, just in case. I put my flashlight in my bag.
It was about an hour drive south to Esquintla before we turned off the main highway. A little farther we had to pay to get into the area. Our passport copies show us as residents of Guatemala and that was a big savings on the price of getting in. Then Dean hired two guides who piled in their car. We drove more miles on a dirt road. We got to a small town and parked the car and paid an elderly woman for parking on her property. Then a small boy came up with a bunch of walking sticks. We had to rent them for Q5. We could not have hiked without the walking stick. There was nowhere there to wait while the others hiked unless we wanted to hang around the car. The guides said it was safe there but it was not where I wanted to be. We started walking and in about 100 feet, Dick was through. There were a couple of low cement walls and he sat down so I turned around and joined him as I didn’t want him there alone, and they told us it was a 3 kilometer walk, straight up, for about an hour and a half. I figured I wouldn’t be able to make it either. One guide was following us with 2 saddled horses and a saddle-less horse who was being trained. Dean wanted the group to stay together so Dick get on a horse. (Q150 round trip) They asked if I wanted the other horse and I said I would walk. I haven’t been on a horse since I was about 15 and had gone to Big Bear with Linda Cox and her family. I remember how achy I was the next day.
And, so I walked. Uphill. Narrow path. My walking stick was invaluable. There were some very difficult areas and I thought if I can just keep going till I find a flat place to stand for a minute I will be ok. I had a great cardio workout. The muscles in my legs were burning. My lungs were gasping for air. We were about 7500 feet. I forged on! At one point where it flattened out some we had to go under a barbed wire fence. The lowest string of barbed wire was less than 18 inches off the ground but I was able to get under it. I didn’t even get my pants dirty! Carolyn Taylor finally got on a horse. She is such a trooper and has MS, a heart problem, plus, she is blind in one eye(like Dick) and wears a hearing aid. She and Kim are both 71. She kept insisting she could get off the horse and let me ride for awhile. I told her she needed to stay on the horse. I was fine.
The guides urged us on. Just a little farther. I did take a couple of pictures when I wasn’t struggling to climb. Off to the northwest we could see Agua Volcano and Fuego Volcano just beyond it with smoke coming, periodically, out of the top. The sun had gone down, which was good. I was good and sweaty when we cleared the trees. We finally stopped in an area where other horses had been left. We could see the volcano clearly now, and with darkness coming on we could see the lava which constantly flows down one side. It cost more to have the guides take us up there, but I was definitely finished climbing. Dean and his daughter and son-in-law went on. It would take them an hour and a half for the round trip climb up to the lava flow and back to us. Carolyn and Kim, Marilyn, Dick and I sat down on the gravelly lava rock and waited. We shared our granola bars. We marveled at watching the lava and marveled at the stars that filled the sky. It was incredible. More stars than I have seen in a long time. Carolyn is a former science teacher and she kept us informed of the planets we were seeing. It got colder and colder. Plus, holding onto our seats in slanted gravel was a challenge. There was no flat place to sit. There were people coming down from the lava flow and passing us and more people passing us going up to the lava. We could see flash lights trails all up the path. There were plenty of children. We heard a lot of Spanish, of course, but we heard lots of English in the groups. About 7 pm the guide said it was warmer in the little cement building that was there and people had cleared out of it. We went in where there was a small fire in the corner on the cement floor and occasionally someone would come in with branches and twigs and keep it going. It felt great. But, it was very smoky. We would stand in the warm, smoky building till our eyes and lungs couldn’t stand it anymore, then step out into the cold. We kept that cycle up for about 45 minutes when our group came down from the lava flow.
The guides got Dick and Carolyn on their horses, then someone said they had two more saddled horses available. Marilyn got on one and I got on one. I had dreaded that long walk down over stumps and rocks, around narrow ledges….all in the dark. The horse was the perfect answer for me. Each of us had a guide who held the horse by a rope and walked in front. My guide carried my flashlight and he would shine it on hazards to warn me. The path was so narrow in places that the horse’s wide bodies barely had much room. I would lift one of my feet to avoid it hitting the side of the path. Many times the guides would say, “lean back.” That was when we got to an especially steep area. It was probably better for me that it was dark or I would have been very concerned about the very narrow but not so straight path. I had great faith in the sure footedness of my horse. I needed a skinnier horse because I could barely straddle him. I found myself thinking of Nephite and Lamanite maidens from the Book of Mormon, riding their horses in that very same area. I pretended I was one of them. I enjoyed the view of Guatemala City lights way off in the distance between two mountains, plus other city lights we could see. I found myself smiling all the way down. What an experience! Would I do it again? Probably not. Am I glad I did it! Absolutely!
We got back to the little town about 15 minutes before the walking group. There was a little snack bar area where there was light and we went over to it as there were some chairs. Carolyn started talking to two women. They spoke English but were Guatemalans. They asked Carolyn where she was from and she said Salt Lake City. They said they had many friends in Salt Lake City. Then they added, we’re members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as I said, “we are missionaries.” We all hugged. They are sisters aged 22 and 29. Dick asked if they had thought about using the Fund and the older sister said she was a lawyer but she had been able to get her education on her own. It was fun to run into our sisters in the gospel at the end of our trek.
The trip home took about an hour and it was so nice to see our bathroom since it had been 7 hours since we left it.
28 December 2008…..Sunday
My body aches everywhere! This morning we took our car and left home with the Tilleys at 8:30 am for La Sabana Branch in Palmita Stake. We attended there once before over two months ago. Yesterday Dick talked to the specialist we had planned to meet elsewhere and he said he would come to the Area Office on Monday and talk with us. It was nice to go to this little branch again. They meet in a converted home about 15 minutes from us. Gospel Doctrine class was most enjoyable to me because I understood most of the lesson and knew what he was talking about. I will be happy when I can have that kind of experience every Sunday in all of my meetings. He taught about faith preceding the miracle and I was very touched that the miracle of the language I want will come when my faith is sufficient.
After the meetings we took the missionaries back to their home. One is from Panguitch, UT and the other is from Provo and has been here just two weeks. Great boys with a lot of enthusiasm. Now we are heading over to Tilleys for empanadas and dominoes