Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hermana Henderson takes over!

Well, you knew it had to happen sooner or later.  She was not going to sit on the sidelines.  
Our friends the Boulters finish their 18-month mission this week, and while a young missionary has been recruited and trained in Bill's numerous duties in the mission office, Terri's seat was going to be empty.
However, the power vacuum has been filled.
Terri also covered a lot of ground duty-wise, and Paula is playing catch up for a bit.  She's in charge of correspondence, including welcoming letters to nervous new missionaries who have received their call to - gasp! - Bogotá.  She's also supposed to keep track of mission organization, birthday letters, and the Mission history book.  The Hispanic missionaries have an English study program through which they can be certified by an outside agency, and she makes sure they are registered and take the test.  And....
You get the picture.  There's a new sheriff, and she's making that mouse squeak!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Twas a green Christmas

So, the first thing was to rent a car in Bogotá and drive it back to the apartment.  No problem!  The nice lady at the National Car Rental place asked for our cédulas (national ID card), passports (both of us), credit cards, and no kidding, made Paula put a fingerprint on the form.  However, nowhere in this process was a driver's license of any sort required.  That explains a lot about driving in Colombia.
However, our 993-cc Chevy Spark (GM Korea) ended up safely in the garage under the apartment building, it's little teeth chattering.
The next morning, we drove north through the beautiful Colombian countryside with our friends the Boulters, who are heading home in a few days at the end of their mission.
We stopped along the way for lunch, and the arepas were so tasty that Paula immediately enrolled in a short course at Mama María's University of Roadside Cooking.
After about a three-hour drive, during which I felt pretty comfortable, realizing that no one else had a driver's license either, and after the Boulters were only stopped once at a Military Checkpoint, we arrived at the Hotel Sochagota in Paipa.  By the way, the Boulters speak bad enough Spanish that the soldier finally just laughed and waved them through.
The Hotel, on the lake of the same name, was built at great effort in 1969, and was quite nice.  The killer feature, however, was the view across the lake.

Killer feature #2 was the silence.  We realized that since October 21st, we had not experienced such.  You could hear the birds and the breeze, and no car alarms, motorbikes, buses, horns, etc.

On Christmas Eve, we went to a really old hotel and enjoyed a late lunch.  No kidding, Simón Bolívar slept there - for TWO nights.  As it was explained to us, George Washington was the Simón Bolívar of the United States.

Being a rich guy´s plantation in those days, it had its own church, which you have to admit is a great feature to have around your house, and probably contributes to resale.

Later that evening, we hired a van, and visited some of the more outstanding Christmas decorations in the little towns around.  Oh, and I almost forgot, we got to meet Simón Bolívar himself at the Monument to the Fourteen Lancers.  The policeman at the right was a nice guy, and gave a 20-minute explanation of the very pivotal battle fought there.  He said that the monument only had the figures of the Fourteen Lancers because it would have been too big with the other 800-some guys in the battle.
The several town plazas we visited on Christmas Eve were enthusiastically decorated.

One had an extensive display, with moving figures depicting Bible scenes.  This shows Moses with the Ten Commandments.  In the foreground is the (not real) golden calf.  We were impressed by the lack of Political Correctness about such things, and found it refreshing.

On Christmas morning, we attended church in Duitama.  On the way there and back, I saw at least three bright pink bikes with excited little girls, and smiling dads standing by.  

We also strolled around a picturesque little village, now populated by artist types and visiting blondes.
What would Christmas be without Skype?!  We were able to talk with Mike in England, as well as everyone else except Laura, who was in a yurt in the Owallas in Oregon with Ben, snowed in for the weekend, and blissfully out of communication with the world.
The day after Christmas, we took a five-mile hike around Lake Sochagota (try saying that five times fast). Luckily, the associated waterworks are watched over by a famous South-American revolutionary.
The hotel is built on the site of hot springs, and the pool is filled by them.  This is great, as the altitude is still 8,000+ feet, and the air is cool.  And so is the Hotel Sochagota bathing cap I had to buy and wear!
Paula looked better in hers.
It was a totally relaxing Christmas weekend, though different than the usual.
Admitting finally that we needed to return to reality, we packed up and headed back to Bogotá, stopping for arepas, sausage and baked plantains with cheese, a pretty typical roadside offering.
As we returned to the edges of the city itself, our route took us through a poor section with crowded streets and big potholes.  Paula wisely suggested, "Try not to look so white!"  I tried, though I'm not sure with what degree of success.
Presents were not a part of Christmas this year, and that was OK.  We spent some good time together and with friends, and talked with family, including our twice-annual conversation with Mike on his mission.
I also had some time to just sit and ponder, and what I seemed to hear was that, as complicated and desperate as the world may seem, there is still peace to be found individually through doing the right things, and following the path defined by the Savior.
We hope that you got through all your military checkpoints smoothly, and that your Christmas was likewise satisfying.

Dave & Paula

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sometimes, things happen for a reason

I felt great frustration when I lost my "cédula," or national identification card, as obtaining one is expensive and time-consuming, and they are required for many transactions.
I returned to the nearest DAS office and once again began the process.
At one point during the long wait, a young lady took the seat next to me and said, "Hello, Elder." We always wear our name badges, but this still took me by surprise. We talked, and it turned out that she was 19, here from Texas visiting relatives, and was a member of the Church. However, she'd been adrift for the last several years, and was here in Bogotá staying with folks whose standards were not good.
We had a good chat, and when my name was called to go get fingerprinted, I turned to her and said, "You know, Alex, there may well have been a reason why that seat was empty and we had a chance to talk.  You could be a lot happier in life.  You really should come back to church."
She promised she would, and I went to the back room and got ink all over everywhere.  If losing my cédula meant meeting and talking with Alex, it was worth every peso of the 144,300 it cost.
 Sometimes, things happen for a reason.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No, you really can't get (it) there from here

I thought it would be fun to send the grandkids a letter form Bogotá, complete with Colombian stamps, so I wrote the letters and put them in envelopes and went to the local ServiEntrega store to send them.  There is no national postal service, so private companies have taken over the duty.
The nice lady at ServiEntrega took the letters and started madly filling out forms.  (Just to mail a couple of letters?)  
She finally finished, and showed me the calculator for the charge.  It read $180.160.  From previous posts, you probably realize that there is a great big difference in pesos and dollars, so I pulled out the equivalent of about $1.20 US and handed it over.  She kind of snickered and said I was a little short.  I tried again, and she finally gave up on the old gringo guy, opened the drawer, and pulled out three 50-mil peso and more to show me.  
With today's exchange rate, the total was $93.32 US.  AAAAAGGGHHHH!!  I love my grandkids, but forty-six dollars for each letter?  We quickly retrieved them.
The competing company is 4-72, so this time I went online first.
The company propaganda says that "4-72" refers to the latitude and longitude of central Colombia.  However, it was suggested by reviewers online that the numbers refer to the likelihood of anything entrusted to these folks actually arriving, roughly 4 out of 72, or 5.5%.  Ever.  One fellow sent postcards from three separate cities in Colombia, paying $6.60 for each, and after 9 weeks, none had arrived.
Apparently, there is a metaphysical disconnect between Colombia and the rest of the world, which can only be crossed in an airplane, or by throwing large amounts of pesos at reliable carriers (FedEx only wanted about $80 for each letter), or by putting the cocaine in a submarine and dropping it off in Honduras.  
The grandkids will have to survive with e-mail and Skype.
This whole thing gives me new respect for, you guessed it, the US Postal Service.
May all your letters arrive in a timely fashion!
Dave & Paula

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Whoa! Maybe they DON'T sell grits in Bogotá!

We have been making a real effort to learn how to cook using local fruits, vegetables and other foods.  However, it's also nice to occasionally have an old favorite, and Paula's Shrimp and Grits are certainly that.
There is no lack of different forms of ground corn here; I think the stuff even originated somewhere in these parts.  However, of the seven different grades of milled maize, none was quite there.  We looked at each other, and said, "I don't think we're in North Carolina anymore!"
It was still a great meal, and the cilantro on top added a nice Latin American spark to a southern classic, and I don't just mean Paula.  
We hope your corn meal is juuuussst right!

Dave & Paula

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Guayaquil Ecuador Temple

When things settled down a bit, and we had a chance to actually look out the window of our hotel, we noticed a large stone building about 2/3 of a mile away, with a golden statue of an angel crowning its spire.  Indeed, we were quite close to the Guayaquil Ecuador Temple.
The temple was dedicated in August of 1999 by President Hinckley.  Speaking of the site selection, he said that several years earlier, he was taken to another site under consideration for the temple, but he "didn't feel well about the site that had been chosen. We visited the site and…the trucks that came up the hill had to gun their engines to make it up and the noise was just terrible. It just would not do. So we looked around…and then drove up a little two-track road to this spot. There was a guard here cooking over a little fire. I looked out over the city and had a feeling…as clear as anything that this was the site for the temple. We checked to see if the property was for sale. We found that it might be, and so we negotiated the purchase."
Like all temples, it is beautiful and serene, consistent with the sacred work therein.  Many members that worship there are from more than 10 hours away by bus, and so there is housing available on the site for short stays and for those called to serve in the temple.
Our time there was a welcome respite from the concerns of the trip, and the hustle/bustle of Guayaquil.  
Dave & Paula

So THAT'S where they all went!

As many of you numismatists will recall with sadness, the $1.00 coin brought out in 1999 never really caught on.  As you also surely know, the Sacagawea coin, stamped with the likeness of the young Indian woman who saved Lewis & Clark's bedraggled lunches, continues to be minted, albeit in small number.  However, mountains of the not-too-popular metal money were stored away in the Treasury vaults early in this century, where they remain in....


No kidding!!  The brass-clad copper currency is still alive and popular down here.  I guess it doesn't get moldy in the humidity or something.  Anyway, when you get change for your fresh American tens and twenties (they gave up on the 'sucre' down here about 2000 and the dollar is it), it often jingles in your pocket.
I do hope we got some bananas or free passes to the Galapagos Islands in the deal.
We also hope you have plenty of Sacajaweas in YOUR vault.
Dave & Paula

Friday, December 9, 2011

It's Friday, so this must be....Guayaquil!!

We are here in Ecuador for a week at the request of a Mission President, to help out with the case of a missionary with a serious infectious illness.  This came up quite suddenly, as in "So what flights DO you have tomorrow?"
From the windows of the airplane, hotel and the taxis, Guayaquil looks a lot like a lot of other big cities, only warmer.
We helped transport the missionaries who had been in contact with the ill Elder to get screened.  As it was a large group and a national hospital, the President asked us to wear Preparation-Day clothing for the visit.
Sister Henderson got in to the spirit of the occasion with her Invisible Woman costume.
To everyone's relief, when all the tests were complete, and the films read,
everything came out negative.
With a bit more time to think and look around, we realized that many of the people in Ecuador had a strange, almost Smurf-like character.
When we commented, we were informed that these were paper-maché statuettes, often of amazing scale,
that are purchased, some at significant price, to be loaded with explosive devices and blown apart on New Year's Eve.  This is to bring good luck.  Okaaaayyyy..... perhaps to emergency rooms, maybe.
On the way back to the hotel to write up my report, the missionaries accompanying us just had to take us by one of the bigger attractions of Guayaquil - Iguana Park!
I won't go to a close-up for those of you with phobias of large lizards, but the tree below is actually crawling, and I don't use the word lightly, with great big green iguanas, while the statue of Simon Bolivar (one of several in the city) looks on approvingly. 
We have several more tasks to accomplish at the request of the Mission President while we're here  before we head back to Bogotá on Tuesday evening.  
Meanwhile, we're relieved that things have gone well so far, and look forward to further Smurf-like experiences.  We hope that none of your statuettes explode on New Year's Eve.

Dave & Paula

Thursday, December 1, 2011

One of these things is not like the others

Every three months, the Mission President meets with the young Elders and Sisters of each zone (approximately 20-25 missionaries) in a Zone Conference, usually lasting much of the day.  Occasionally, a visiting authority of the Church also meets with them, to teach principles of following the Savior, and visit with the President and their young Zone Leaders.  
These are joyous occasions, opportunities to be enlightened and uplifted and to see friends in the mission, as you can tell from the smiles on the faces of those in the group picture below.  They are surrounding President Christopher Waddell of the South America Northwest Area of the Church (he's the tall fellow with the yellow tie in the second row).
However, one of these things is not like the others.  The older, bald guy with the red necktie on the right end of the second row is not smiling very much. 
That's Doctor Henderson, and the reason he's not smiling is because he's just been informed that Elder S_____ is in the restoom throwing up violently, and because Sister H_____ needs to talk to him about her stomach problems.  And because Elder G______ in the _____Mission may have TB after all.
We hope that you continue to have all sorts of reasons to smile!
Dave & Paula