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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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Week of April 6th-April 12th 2009

6 April 2009…..Monday
Last night half of our children were in Utah. We talked to Dennis when we called Kristen. His family had driven from Washington on a college tour for Kayla who has a decision to make about school. Bethany emailed about how much she, Scott and the children enjoyed a visit from Dennis’ family. Later we were able to make contact with Jeff. This is his 5th year as bishop and he always takes his graduating seniors to April Conference. This year he took the juniors too, since they had few seniors, which means Jessica got to go. They left CA Thursday and were leaving UT early this morning.
Today is 7 months since we arrived in Guatemala. In my wildest dreams I thought I would have a better grasp of the language by now. Reality is somewhat different. Today’s newspaper shows the epicenter of Saturday’s quakes….near Pacaya Volcano. They were 3.8 to 4.9. Some small adobe homes were destroyed but no one was killed.
This morning we drove the Taylor’s car to the office so it could have some work done on it before their trip to Quetzaltenango today. They drove our car as they had to go to the CCM (MTC) and give vaccinations to missionaries.
The office was quiet. Many people took today as a vacation day. I still don’t have the loan information that I need. I did get the March PEF Priesthood Report so I could do some work on the PEF Specialist Report. Reynaldo was gone but Claudia was there. A little after noon Dick said, “Let’s go.” So we did. We came home, had some lunch, and stayed home. Dick and Jim hung (duct taped) our screens to keep the insects out, though we really haven’t had a problem yet. Then they put screens on the hermana’s windows. They are the self-designated home teachers for the sisters. All three are widows and they appreciate what Dick and Jim do for them.

7 April 2009.....Tuesday

This morning we took Sister Thibault and Sister Barney to the Central Mission office. This is Holy Week here in Guatemala and the traffic was much lighter, just like the weeks around Christmas. We got to our office and the Bawdens were already there, as they always are, but no one else in our area. The loan reports I have been waiting for were on my email so I printed them and then got them logged in. That took me a couple of hours. They have eliminated two of the things I had to enter last month so it was easier and went quicker. We left the office before 1 pm and went to the cleaners and to Paiz.
While I cooked, Dick slept two hours. His allergies were pretty intense today and it is very taxing on him. Often he does well at home, but at the office things get worse. I think it must be a cleaning agent in the building. Jose Ruano, a great young man who used to work in the garage but is now on our floor with a desk job, said one day, “Sister Graff, I think Elder Graff is allergic to me.” He was joking but it was so funny. Dick and Jose are very cute in their interaction. Jose is a returned missionary, is using the Fund and engaged to be married.
We went to the Tilleys with the Blackburns and the Hermanas for a Chinese dinner. I made Sandi Stratton’s rice that is cooked in coconut milk with pineapple and green onions added at the end. It was a hit. I also took poppy seed bread, a Graff family favorite.
We had a couple of aftershocks again today. One about 9 am at the office, another about 2:30 pm at home, and then just now. The last one was pretty mild.

8 April 2009…..Wednesday
Today is Joseph’s 11th birthday. The office is closed until next Monday. The missionaries will be playing. This morning we left at 9 am. We rode with the Blackburns and Hermana Barney rode with the Tilleys. We drove to Zona 1, the old downtown area. Miraculously, the directions were very good, and except for dodging one way streets and blocked off streets, we did very well. We had been invited to watch the “building” of alfombras or carpets.

Alma who works at the office is not a Church employee. She works for a travel agency but has a desk not too far from us and she makes all the office travel arrangements. Her boy friend’s family has an accounting office and every year during Holy Week they build an alfombra in the street in front of their office. The carpets are made of a variety of materials: fruit, vegetables, greenery, figurines made of sugar, and the traditional sawdust. They used sawdust that was dyed vivid colors. They used molds to help them make the design and then sprayed them with a mixture of water and glue to lightly hold them into place. The children in the area were very careful and did not go near or step on the masterpiece. While they worked on it we walked around a few blocks. We saw other alfombras made of pine needles and flowers, one flowing off the steps of the Catholic cathedral where the “floats” would originate.
We were fortunate not to have direct sun on us. One side of the street had a little shade all day and we took advantage of it. We sat on the curb and watched the work. Alma’s boyfriend, Julio, seems to have a wonderful family. The young children are allowed to help and are taught how to carefully pat down the sawdust. I walked around the corner with the Blackburns into a grocery store run by Catholic charities and they had a lot of items. Blackburns bought a huge bag of candy……M and M’s, Snickers, etc. It proved to be a magnet for children. We also munched on bread that was warm and delicious. We bought another loaf to bring home.
There was a woman there with her cart, selling food items, but we don’t eat “off the street.” That’s too dangerous. She had 4 children. They were attracted to Rexene who is always chatting with and taking pictures of children. Soon they were over by me and Adele. Two little boys, age 4 and 8 and two daughters, 11 and 13. The four year old reminded me of a dark haired Benjamin. Very cute and smiley and doing little antics for some candy. The girls reminded me of Madisen and Kourtney. Yes. Again it is the lovely Hawaiian features that I see so often in the Guatemalans. They were very nice young girls and asked a lot of questions. I can’t always understand or reply, but something clicked at one point when the oldest asked if Adele and I were sisters…..our badges each say Hermana. I told her no, but at our church all the women are called sister. She said, “oh, sisters in Christ” and I said “si.” Then she said, “Catolicos?” and I said, “no, Mormones.” She recognized the word Mormons. I love those insights when I can converse and understand in Spanish. I was very touched by these young girls. Dick and I hugged all four of the children when they left our group. They live in a small place with their mother and there is only one bed. They wanted to know how big our apartments were. Before they left our area Dick and I walked over and met their mother and we gave her some money to help with her family.
There was another man and woman on the street with a baby. They were members of the Church. He is a black man from Guatemala. He is 28, has served a mission and Dick talked to him about the Fund. Dick gave him one of our cards and said to call him. Thus, we passed the time.
Finally, the alfombra was beautifully completed. About 1:30 pm we could see the procession coming from several blocks away. First were many, many vendors, selling their goods. The procession had left the cathedral and walked down the streets that had been blocked from traffic, walking through the alfombras and basically destroying them. It was led by many men in black suits. Then there were young men in robes swinging incense from huge holders.

It made the air smoky and affected the quality of the pictures I took of the procession. Then came the float. It weighs about 5 tons. There was a figure of Christ that is used every year and probably is part of the décor in the cathedral the rest of the year. There were men in their black suits carrying the float….yes, all 5 tons. The men pay $10 (American) to carry the float for one block. At which point another group is waiting and pass it off. There was a band playing processional type music. After they walked through the alfombra in front of us we could see another float. It had a depiction of Mary. It was carried by women dressed in black dresses and black lace shawls. It does not weigh as much as the men’s float. They were followed by another band. Right after the band was men with brooms who proceeded to sweep up the beautiful colored sawdust and swept it into the bucket of a front loader. Thus the procession was past us and and around the corner to other alfombras. Tomorrow, Friday, and Saturday others will build alfombras and there will be more to carry the floats. The procession gets bigger each day. Those who build the alfombras also pay to get the processions to come. All of the money is paid to the Catholic Church so it is a very big money raiser for them.
As I watched I felt great respect for these people who also believe in Jesus Christ. Others who also recognize his great gift of the atonement to everyone in the world. I am especially grateful for what I know of him and the added blessing of the Book of Mormon and prophets and modern day revelation.
This is like a preparation day for us because on Friday we are doing a tour to Antigua to witness more alfombras and more processions.
We drove back toward our apartments, stopped at an Argentine restaurant called Los Ranchos, and had a delicious steak dinner. Since we ate our big meal at 3:30 pm we had a night time snack of the delicious bread we bought. It was a great day and enjoyable experience here in Guatemala.

9 April 2009…..Thursday
Today we had all planned on going to the temple. I suggested a call be made to the temple president to find out if there was a big attendance this week. He very kindly agreed that it was best for us not to come this week. There are busloads of members from Honduras. He said that some have waited up to five hours to be able to get into a session. We can go at any time so we will wait as we don’t want to take the precious space from these faithful people who travel many hours in their own country, then through El Salvador, and finally, here.
This morning Dick and I got the screening material on our louvered windows in the kitchen and bathroom. Then we took the remaining screen across the hall and Jim, Rexene, Dick and I finished with Sister Jones’ bedroom and their laundry room. Then all 7 of us climbed in the van that Kathy had from the North Mission and went out to lunch. Most of the stores and restaurants are closed because of “Holy Week.” We finally ended up at Price Smart, which was open, and we all shopped and then had lunch….the famous Costco dogs.
We came home and I made Sally Pulsipher’s “Icebox Cookies.” I rolled them in plastic wrap and chilled them. We went next door after dinner and the four of played dominoes. It was a pleasant, relaxing day. We are gearing up for our very busy day tomorrow.

10 April 2009…..Friday

This morning we were all outside our apartment at 8 am. Bishop Naves who does tours, was here to pick us up. We traveled to Antigua, the former capital. It was a good trip with very little traffic. First he took us to a hilly area outside of town where we could look down on the town and see Agua Volcano. Agua sent mud and water down on the city in 1541. In 1773 the city was rocked throughout the year with earthquakes which did great destruction. They finally moved the capital to Guatemala City which is only about 25 miles away.
We loaded up the van again and drove back down to Antigua. President and Sister Baldwin of the Central Mission followed us and they were followed by a van full of young elders and sisters. The Taylor’s son and daughter-in-law arrived from Utah last night so they were also with us. We walked through many of the streets. We have been there at least four times before but it looked different today. First of all, there was limited parking on the streets and there were not a lot of cars driving the streets because people were making their “alfombras.” It was pretty quiet in some of the areas. Then we headed down to where a procession would be walking through some of the alfombras. Instead of black suits like we saw in Guatemala City on Wednesday, many of the men were dressed in purple robes. They were the ones to carry the 5 ton float from one of the churches, through the streets and some of the alfombras. There were men dressed in Roman garb. It was teeming humanity walking through the crowds.

There was a variety of alfombras, made out of a variety of materials. My very favorite from observing on Wednesday and today is the ones made of dyed sawdust. They are far and away the most beautiful. Some actually look like carpets. The weather was around eighty degrees and very nice, except when working our way through crowds. Then it felt very warm. Bishop Naves led us down some quieter streets and we went into a church to see two floats that would be used later in the day. Then we walked down a few more streets to Porta Hotel where we had lunch in the restaurant. We cooled down and had a very relaxing meal. I think at that point we would have all been content to go home. But we didn’t. We had more walking to do and more things to see. We decided that 4 hours is about long enough for senior missionaries to walk and explore.
We walked a number of blocks to a little park. We saw many floats that were on wheels and had figures of the last events in the life of Christ. Some of those depictions are always very hard for me to look upon, as our Savior made his supreme sacrifice in our behalf. I am reminded of President Hinckley’s words to a man who asked why Mormons don’t have crosses on our buildings or in our chapels. President Hinckley replied, “….for us, the cross is the symbol of the dying Jesus, but we worship the living Christ.” I love those words, for I had remarked earlier that I would much rather view the pictures of the Lord leaving the tomb, or ascending to heaven. He is the reason we have joined the army of 53,000 missionaries serving in the Church today. There have been over 1,000,000 missionaries since the Church was organized in 1830.
Bishop Naves did a great job with us. After we got to the van and loaded 15 of us in it plus Bishop Naves, it took an hour to finally get out of town because there were more and more people arriving. When we got back to Guatemala City he diverted from the road home to show us a few things. There is an area with many new stores and some small hills between. The grassy hills are pyramids. The pyramids were built out of adobe blocks and if they were to excavate and uncover them the rain and the elements would destroy them. This city and this country are amazing. We look forward to other tours with Bishop Naves.
We arrived home at 6:30 pm and we are all tired. Dick and I had a simple meal and I retired to the computer to do my journal and download 96 pictures. Tomorrow we will meet at 9 am and go to Central Market. All of this play time is exhausting! It will be good to get back to the office on Monday.

11 April 2009…..Saturday
This morning the Easter bunny left a homemade colored paper basket with a package of jelly beans and some chocolates by our door. Also some printed pages about Easter. We are not sure who left it. We left at 9 am and drove to Central Market in the old part of Guatemala City. We rode with Blackburns, Tilleys picked up Sister Christensen because Elder Christensen was away on Church business, and the hermanas drove the North Mission van. Traffic was so light. Most of the stores are closed. It was questionable if the market would even be open but it was. I had a very productive day. I liked Central Market better than any market I have been to. It was clean and orderly. The merchandise looked clean and I didn’t feel threatened. Before we even entered the market place I bought a gold blouse from a street vendor. It was Q40 or $5. I bought a red cardigan sweater with a beautiful Guatemalan design on the front. I won’t be wearing it till November when the weather starts to get cold. It was Q140 or $18. It is something I will take home with me. I bought an apron to take home that was made in Chichicastenango. I bought a pink pull over dress with white needle work to put on when I come home from the office. Lastly, because I was running out of quetzs, I bought a wrap around skirt. There is so much fabric in it that it is heavy and it will never gap. It will probably be too warm for now but I will wear it when the weather grows chilly. It was Q100….$13.

(Modeling Dresses)
On the way home we stopped at Burger King for lunch and that is the best hamburger I have had here in Guatemala. When we got home I baked cookies and made lemon pies for Easter dinner. Jim came over this evening and I showed him how to use Shutterfly. I already got him using Picasa this week.
During the week Adele mentioned that her brother, Bryant Buckwalter, lives in Diamond Bar. So tonight I emailed Jill and Robert and asked if Robert knows him. Sure enough he knew him and they also told me that his ex-wife lives in their Corona Ward. That makes three of us here with connections to Jill and Robert’s ward: us, Kathy Jones brother and sister-in law, and Adele’s former sister-in-law all know each other.
Tonight when we were almost ready for bed, the doorbell rang. Sure enough, another Easter bunny had come to our door. This time we got a cute note and a small dish of Easter goodies.

12 April 2009…..Easter Sunday

It has been a lovely day. There was a paper on our door step with a happy face sun, saying “Happy Easter.” Soon there was a tiny silver tray with 3 Zurich chocolates. I gave out cookies with the end dipped in chocolate. Blackburns went with Tilleys and us to La Sabana Branch. Dick took the box of Primary song books that we purchased into the branch president’s office. He was very grateful for them and the Primary leaders will love them. There are good people in that little branch.
We had dinner at 2:30 pm so Elder and Sister Christensen could eat with us. They had to be at the airport at 4 pm as they are leaving on a tour of all the missions in Central America. They just returned a few days ago from General Conference. Elder Christensen gave the closing prayer in the Priesthood Session of Conference. Our dinner was delicious and very enjoyable. Rexene organized the gathering but it was held at the Hermanas because they have a 3 bedroom apartment. We had turkey breast, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, two vegetable dishes, watermelon, cranberry sauce, homemade rolls, and I made lemon pies. It sounds like Thanksgiving but it was a wonderful meal.
We had a Skype call from Mark and Maren this evening. The girls are really growing up
Who’s counting? Not me, but this finishes week 33 of our 100 week mission, or 1/3 of the way through.

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