Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Greetings from Bogotá!

Well, at least the flight to Colombia went well. We had to load the van to the Salt Lake airport at 5:00 AM to make our flight. The driver threatened legal action for the hernia our baggage caused. Paula reminded him that shoes weigh a LOT!
In Atlanta (remember, if someone tells you to go to heck, you'll still have to go through Atlanta), they called our flight to Bogotá, we changed our name tags to Spanish, swallowed hard, and boarded the plane.
However, everything went well. The porter we hired (remember all the shoes) was friendly, forgave my Spanish, and helped us fill out forms. The Mission President and his wife were waving to us and helped us get to our new home, where we found that they had bought us flowers and enough food to survive for at least 24 hours.
My first official act was to squeegee the water off the bathroom floor, where we learned that the old tank valve had gone the way of all tank valves.
We unpacked and started arranging things, and finally climbed in to bed. No, I mean it, we climbed in to the bed. It's king size, but that king must have been about 6'10", as it's really high.
The next morning, the Mission President's wife took us to the local grocery store and instructed us, with the help of a kind local, on what in the world those weird things were they were selling in the produce section.
She had walked us from our apartment, so OF COURSE we knew how to get back home. OK, we found the street, and then spent about five minutes trying to look nonchalant as we tried to figure out which apartment building was actually ours.
Pretty soon, Paula's iMac was up and running, and the Command and Control Center was in operation.
We've made the goal of trying at least one new thing a week in the food department. The chicken soup was great, even including the whatchamacallits floating around in it.
Paula bought some big ugly green thing with spines and juiced it, and it was pretty good!
We've been settling more each day, figuring out how Colombian curtains work,
getting my office at home arranged,
and learning about the money. "We're MILLIONAIRES!" cried Paula, as she counted out $1,093,653 pesos. It was only then that we realized that to convert to dollars, you chop the number in two, then whack off three zeroes. So, a Colombian millionaire can eat for the month. And if he's careful, pay for his internet connection.
We've also learned that the weather reports are just cut-and-pasted from one day to the next, and no one really knows what it's going to do, except rain at some point. You could lose all your million pesos betting against 100% on that one.
Apparently, it is the law that motorcycle helmets must have the license plate number in large letters stuck on the back, and the reflective vests required at night must also carry that number. Now that I have seen how the herds of motorcycles drive in Bogotá, I realize that it is so that after the crash, they can identify which head goes with which body goes with which motorcycle.
One of the real treats this week was applying for our national ID card, the (in)famous "cedula." To get one, you need passports, about a million pesos, your blood type proven by the quickie local lab (I am not making this up, though I wish I were) and a couple of pictures.
"How," you might well ask, "can I get my ID picture taken in Bogotá?!" Well, just like anything else, you can find someone on the sidewalk that sells the service! Out came the instant background, held up against a bus stop ad, the digital camera beeped,
we counted to about 50 ("uno, dos, tres..."), paid some of our millions, and presto! Our ID pictures were printed in the mobile photo lab (see below), and we proceeded to the Department of Redundancy Department, where we were told that we had to go the OTHER Department of Redundancy Department, and had to have a black and WHITE copy of our passport, and then we tried to get the fingerprint ink off,
and when it was all said and done, we were told to come back in a week and pick up our brand new cedulas. Everybody who already has one else said "Try about Thanksgiving. Or Easter."

So, it has been a interesting start to our stay in Bogotá. On the other hand, folks have been very kind, and nothing more than frustrating and funny things have happened. We have had the opportunity to extend kindness, and to serve the missionaries serving here. We have seen many folks in the Church offices trying their hardest to serve the Lord, despite cedulas, rain, funky fruits, zooming motorcycles, and being far, far from home and their loved ones.

We hope you're doing well!

Dave & Paula

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Missionary Training Center

Prior to departing for Colombia on the 21st, we're attending the Missionary Training Center ("MTC") in Provo, Utah, one of fifteen such Centers throughout the world, ranging from Auckland, New Zealand to Manchester, England. At any one time, there are about 3,000 young missionaries at this MTC, staying for from three to thirteen weeks, depending on their assignment. If they are to speak English, three weeks; if Mandarin Chinese, thirteen. Instruction is given in 50 different languages. In addition, there are about one hundred Senior Missionaries (Rats! Have I crossed the "Senior" line?!) preparing for two weeks for their assignments. In our group, those range from British Columbia to Indonesia to India.
Although the accommodations for the young missionaries are somewhat Spartan (and yet better than most will experience out in the world), the folks here at the MTC rightly suspected that us Seniors needed something a bit softer. We have been privileged to be the first occupants of a new facility, and I admit that I have taken Paula to much crummier hotels.
The cafeteria is geared up to feed 2000+ starving, vigorous 19-year-old young men.
The fare is actually very good, but the portions are served up to the majority demographic, and after the first day, we realized that if we continued in our ruinous dietary ways, we'd have to buy new wardrobes upon arriving in Colombia, and we sadly backed away from the Guacamole Burgers with Bacon and the onion rings.
Our time is spent learning about our duties, studying the Gospel, organizing, eating (see above), and in the very little time left over, visiting briefly with our fellow "Senior" missionaries, who are a pretty amazing bunch. They come from all walks of life, cowboys to toxicologists.
Paula has been taking Spanish in the evenings. You'll notice her laughing in the picture; she has no clue what the instructor just said, and is trying to make him think otherwise.
We have realized that we are about 15-20 years younger than the average in our group, and are about ten years younger than the next youngest. During the reasonably frequent breaks (c'mon, the "Senior" thing), Paula recharges her solar batteries in the beautiful fall sun.
The first snows have fallen on the surrounding mountains, and the weather has been gorgeous.
In order to Battle the Bulge, we've been walking each morning, since we're without bicycles. However, because we do so at about 5:45 AM in order to have the time, those pictures turned out kind of dark.
Someone told us that to celebrate the first graduating class, they bronzed two of those first missionaries.
I couldn't get Paula to believe that one either.
It has been an interesting and fulfilling week. We continue to feel called of the Lord on this assignment, and this feeling has been nothing but amplified while here in the MTC. I feel greatly privileged and blessed to have Paula as my companion. Being with her 24/7 has been a great far.
We hope that you are doing well! We'll try to continue to post at least monthly, and look forward to hearing from you.
Elder & Sister (Dave & Paula) Henderson