3 August 2009…..Monday
It seemed very strange getting ready for the office this morning and not having a phone call from the sisters needing a ride to the office. We didn’t take them every day as Tilleys and Taylors also transported them, but it is strange not having them across the hall. Soon after we arrived at the office Elder Clarke came in. The Clarkes have been in Salt Lake for the last month. Now they are back in Guatemala and Sister Clarke came in a little later with the new second counselor in the Central America Area presidency, Elder and Sister Martino. They are from Denton, TX so the first thing we told them was our niece and her husband used to live there. Of course, they knew Lisa and Dean. Elder Martino said he is the person who called Dean to be a bishop. Sister Martino said to please say “hi” to Lisa for her. Later in the conversation Elder Martino said he had been a mission president in Peru. Dick told him we had a young single adult in our ward that served there, Jeremiah Fletcher. Yes, he was the mission president to Jeremiah. We really like the Martinos and look forward to more experiences with them here in Guatemala City.
The day was busy. I had an email from Hermana Lopez, our young Belizean sister serving in Central Mission. I finally got the loan payments for the last 7 days of July from Sergio in the finance department. I was able to get them all entered and the report emailed to Reynaldo and Claudia. Then there was an urgent matter. The bank in Nicaragua has changed their system and it needed big changes, as do the banking systems in all of Central America. The trouble was, they didn’t notify PEF so we found out today that it was effective as of August 1st. So Dick and I both got a list of all the participants in Nicaragua. We split the list up and Reynaldo showed us how to go to “generate coupons” on the PEF administrators website and we were able to type in the loan number, generate a monthly coupon for the next two years and then print them. They had two young volunteers in the call center assembling them for delivery, not to the participant, but to the Institute director who will then be responsible to get them to each student. I hope these coupons will be very effective. Too often payments get made with no name and no account number. Finance is notified the amount of the payment but has no way of crediting it to anyone because the name or the loan number is not there. Panama is worst of all. It seems like there is only half of the payments made that are identified with a name or loan number. After finishing that Dick got a new letter typed up to our stake specialists and I emailed the letter to each of the 19 stakes in the city. It was 5 pm before we finally left the office.
In the last few weeks there has been a change for senior sister missionaries. They have always been able to come at the same cost a young missionary must pay, $400 a month. That has all changed and any senior sister who comes now must pay their full expenses like a senior couple pays.
Dick made another loaf of bread and it is the best he has made. It is an Italian herb bread with sundried tomatoes. Yum! President Acevedo emailed the list of hymns for next Sunday to me so I sat down at my keyboard after dinner and practiced.
4 August 2009…..Tuesday
I finished packing what we will need for the next two nights. Dick went to the office to get a few things he needed. We drove over to the Casa de Húespedes and were very happy to find out that we would be in the nicer room upstairs with the two bigger beds and good mattresses. They even have a microwave now in addition to the refrigerator. We never bring any food because there is so much during the two days at the Employment Center that we never want anything else when we are back in the room. We had five missionaries arrive, four elders and one sister. Two were driven here from their mission in Quetzaltenango and two flew in from Honduras. The fifth one served in Guatemala City North Mission so the office elders brought him to the Casa. The van took us to the Employment Center. For the first time, we didn’t have lunch ready for us when we got there. They sent us out in the hallway to a restaurant that we always walk past when we come into the building. We had a choice of three main dishes and we all had milanesa, rice, squash, tortillas, onion soup and lemonade. The milanesa does not taste like what I make. Throughout my meal I was wondering if the squash was cleaned in bleach water, was the lemonade made with pure water, and even though the servers wore plastic gloves, I wondered who had been handling my food and are their hands clean? For the first time I didn’t have the thick corn tortillas because they are a “hands on” product. I don’t want to be paranoid!
At 3 pm I went into the office that the volunteers use. It was now empty and I was able to hook up my computer to the internet. I love being connected to my family, friends, and the world. Internet is far more important to me than TV. Especially here, when we are so far away, I can’t describe how grateful I am for emails. We had two more meals as always with very weird timing. Lunch was about 12:30 pm. At 5 pm we had the usual chicken salad sandwich, spread very thinly on a big hard roll. At 6:30 pm we had pizza before leaving at 7 pm to go back to the Casa. Needless to say, I am never hungry for the last meal. Patty had ordered 4 large pizzas for 7 of us so the elders were very happy to take the remains back to the Casa to eat later.
When we got back to our room Dick went down to the lobby to read but spent his time talking to one of the young elders. I showered and was in bed by 8:45 pm. I never heard Dick come back to the room at nine.
5 August 2009…..Wednesday
We were ready to go and out in front of the Casa by 6:45 this morning. Our van and driver was there waiting for us. When we got to the Employment Center we went over to the restaurant for breakfast. Brother Rodriguez, the Institute director who taught the first two hours today went with us. It was the traditional Guatemalan breakfast of scrambled eggs with onion and tomato, refried black beans, cheese, platanos (my favorite) and rolls. Our juice was watermelon nectar. Juices are a big deal with the Guatemalans.
This group of missionaries is exceptional. Two are from the northern districts of Polochic where they have grown up without electricity and running water. Without knowing, I can tell which ones have their roots in Polochic by their last names. The missionaries here today are Hermana De La Cruz, Elder Hernandez, Elder Salazar, Elder Bol, and Elder Caal….the last two have very indigenous names. In appearance they all look sharp in their suits and ties. As Dick talked to each of the participants today he learned that the two from Polochic did not finish junior high school. The government has programs that will help them complete that. We have another who has another year of high school to finish. For that he can use PEF and then, of course, for college or technical training also. If they don’t get educated they will fall back into the same ruts their family has been in for generations.
During our 10-15 minute drive this morning I had a lot of thoughts going through my head. I wondered how I can capture this Guatemalan experience with my words. This is a beautiful country. It is such a mix of high rise buildings and humble dwellings. Dick was in a home in Chimaltenango a few weeks ago when he took a young man home. He wanted him to come in. The floor was dirt and the mother was cooking tortillas over an open fire inside. Cooking inside with an open fire is a great safety and health hazard in this country. One of the big humanitarian projects here by the Church and other groups who come to help, is building outdoor stoves for the people. At seven in the morning and driving in the city we see such diversity. There are professionals that look like any we would see in the states. They drive SUV’s and other new cars. They work to improve their family situation. We also see many women in native dress. The men do not dress in native attire with the exception of some in the outlying villages. These people sell whatever they can carry on the street corners and walking through rows of cars stopped for traffic signals. I never would question the work ethic of the Guatemalan. They do what they know how to do. I think for these people there is no desire to make money to “get ahead.” I think their only concern for each day is to be able to get food for that day. They seem content. We see both sides of this culture in our own little branch. I have had questions from family and friends about “safety” here. My last blog portrayed the safety here accurately. Yet, there are areas of Palmdale and Lancaster that I would not go into. Do I go out each day, worried about being accosted? Not really. But, when we go to the various market places or other places teeming with humanity, then I worry about it. Right now my safety issue is health. I am VERY careful with hygiene and where and what I eat. Yet I am the one who ended up with Typhoid AND parasites. I honestly don’t know what I could do differently to protect my health. I am concerned about the unseen hazards. I have lost my love of cooking here, but I think a lot of that stems from the need to soak veggies and fruit in bleach water. Yet, I know when I get home I will incorporate some of that in cleaning my produce. No longer will I just rinse them under tap water. Well, I think I have had too much time to think this morning.
In the lobby of the Employment Center there are a few copies of the “Liahona.” Yesterday I noticed that the May issue of General Conference was lying on top. So, of course, I have showed Jessi’s picture to our returning missionaries and to two of the sisters who work here. “Esta es mi nieta.” (this is my granddaughter). They say, “ella es muy bonita,” (she is very beautiful). I reply, “Si!”
We were back at the restaurant for lunch. I was happy to have internet connection much of the day. After our afternoon snack we left for the Casa so we could get our things and walk over to the temple.
President Torres was at the Casa to interview and release the two elders in the Polochic districts. The temple was very busy. We saw the Tilley’s leaving after doing a session. There were a lot of youth there for baptisms for the dead. The sister’s dressing room at the temple was packed. They were mostly from El Salvador. Dick and I had our usual assignment of witness couple. Our four young missionaries were the only men in the room and it was filled with thirty women. It is always a joyful experience to watch the reuniting of missionaries with families on the temple steps afterward. Two went home and we had three remaining at the Casa with us for another night. We gathered in the kitchen and ate our Wendy’s hamburgers and fries that Patty gave to us when we left the Employment Center. The boys loved them….three hamburger patties per bun. They were heavy.
6 August 2009…..Thursday
Two of our missionaries left at 5 am and the last one at 8 am. Dick and I packed up our car and went to the Distribution Center to talk to Sister Cuyan, one of our stake specialists. Then we came home. I unpacked, started laundry and Dick went to the office. I practiced the hymns for next Sunday and the Primary songs. There are a couple of songs I don’t know, but not too difficult to play. The interesting thing is when there are rhythm changes in order to fit in all the Spanish words. “I Believe in Christ” has a different rhythm than we sing in English in the first measure and a later measure. It just takes more words in Spanish to say the same thing in English.
7 August 2009…..Friday
This morning we left the apartment at 9 am and went to see Dr. Davíd, the dermatologist. He removed a basal cell carcinoma from Dick’s nose. It all went quite well. So far, Dick is not experiencing any pain. We got to the office before 11 am and found that I had shampoo and conditioner on my desk. I had ordered it a couple of months ago and had it shipped to Johnson’s daughter. Johnson’s were in SLC and brought it back to me. Now we are excited because Jill is sending a few things to us via her bishop who is arriving in Guatemala City Saturday evening. He served his mission here and is coming down with a family group. Anytime something comes, it is like Christmas.
Another small world experience. Today we got an email from Marjorie Rowley who was a senior sister missionary here. She went home to San Diego in January. She said she was having dinner with her cousins this week and they asked if she knew the Graffs in Guatemala. Her cousins are Stan and Suzi Ruggio from La Verne. They told her that Dick had been their bishop about 15 years ago. Actually, it is 29 years since we moved from La Verne. These little connections we have with people are always fun for us. When Sister Rowley was here we found out that she knew Lew and Sandi Stratton from working together in the San Diego temple.
When we got home I made brownies and we went over to Tilleys. Blackburns came down with their daughter who is flying home in the morning and we played dominoes.
8 August 2009…..Saturday
Usual Saturday routine. Dick went to the cleaners (yes, he goes there often but at least I don’t have to iron white shirts) and to the office. He needed to get some things and print a PEF priesthood report for tomorrow. I practiced the music for tomorrow. I love having the keyboard in our home.
Tomorrow is Jim Tilley’s birthday. He was born in 1951. He wanted to go to the movies today to celebrate so Blackburns, Andersons and we went with them. We haven’t been to a movie in well over a year. We went to the theater at the Oakland Mall because they had some movies in English. It looked just like being in any theater in Lancaster. We saw the current “Harry Potter” movie. All those who went with us have read all the books and seen all the movies. We went along and had a good time with our friends. I figure our grandchildren will be amazed that we went to see that movie. Afterwards we went to the food court and Dick and I had a Quiznos sandwich.
This morning I took the bandage off of Dick’s nose and it looks pretty good. He has had no pain at all from the surgery. He has 7 stitches.
9 August 2009…..Sunday
We drove our car to Church today. Music was interesting again today. One hymn was “El Padre tanto nos amó. “ In English that is “God Loved Us So He Sent His Son.” I played it the way it is written, with the four pauses. The congregation and chorister do not pause so, needless to say, we were not together on that hymn. After Sacrament Meeting Dick and Jim left in our car. Dick had a meeting at noon in Chimaltenango with a new stake specialist. With my responsibility to play the keyboard on Sundays Dick decided to ask Jim to go with him.
Primary was interesting. Some of the children are fascinated with the keyboard. There is always fingers pushing keys when it is a time to pay attention to an activity or when I am trying to play something. When it got beyond control I would turn the power off. The trouble with turning the power off is that I have to reset my settings each time I turn it back on. But, they love to sing the Primary songs and they sing out with great enthusiasm. After Church Rexene drove me home in their car.
About 2 pm Rexene was at my door with her phone. Jim and Dick had called so she put her phone on speaker. It seems the guys had been in an accident. They were fine but the passenger door behind the driver’s door has more than a huge dent in it. When they arrived in Chimaltenango, looking for the chapel, they missed the street so Dick was trying to make a left turn to go back to it. As he did that a pickup truck two cars back passed the car that was behind them. He hit the rear door of our car. The routine in Guatemala when there is an accident is you do not move the cars and you call the insurance company. It took an hour for our insurer to get to Chimaltenango. Meanwhile, Dick and Jim had company. Dick said how reassuring it was to see someone in a white shirt and tie, then another come walking across the street. They were members of the local wards, who saw them and assisted them. Both remained the whole time. A police woman who was nearby saw the accident and said the pick-up driver was at fault. Dick had his left turn blinker on so he was in the right. (At least I thought so, one of the reasons they said it was my fault was because there was no painted line down the middle) However, there is no justice in Guatemala. The other driver got to the investigating police first (money?) so they declared Dick at fault. The other driver turned out to be a police officer, driving an unmarked police vehicle with his family inside, and he smelled of alcohol. Both men representing the two insurance companies told Dick that he could fight it but it might take two or three years in court. They told him it was a no-win situation. It is well known that many of the police are corrupt. One of the brothers from the church works with a policing organization and he said that last week the second in command of the country police, a woman, was arrested with her police truck full of cocaine. He also told Dick and Jim that he apologizes for his country where there is little justice for anyone and of course, not for the gringos. What a birthday Jim has had! But, we pray for safety and protection. The accident happened but everyone was safe and protected. Dick had some blood on his shirt from his elbow hitting the armrest, but everything else is fine. We will pay the deductible for our car to be repaired and count our blessings. (Editorial comments by the driver).
Later this afternoon Dick drove to a hotel and picked up a package that was left for us at the hotel desk. Jill and Robert’s bishop and wife are on a Book of Mormon tour and they brought a package Jill put together for us: See’s chocolates, good old fashioned licorice, and two slips I ordered. Fun for us. We went to Tilleys with other friends and had birthday cake and sang to Jim.
- Elder y Hermana Graff
- 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.