Sunday, March 29, 2015

No, we weren't exaggerating.

As you, beloved reader, have kept up with our blog in the last 20 or so months, you may have wondered if we were exaggerating about certain things.  Like how  isolated the Mission is, for instance.  The events of the week have emphasized the reality of that particular concept.
As each group of missionaries finishes their 18-month or two-year assignment, we host a dinner for them at the mission home, lovingly prepared by Paula.
We were laughing it up with them on Monday night, telling funny stories and relishing plates of tetrazini and fresh salad washed down with Inka Kola, when the call came in.  A gigantic and deadly landslide had blocked the road to Lima.
It happened in Chosica, some 18 miles up the road from Lima, and covered two miles of the roadway.
At least nine people were killed, with more missing, and many of the humble homes were destroyed.
Well, couldn't the buses carrying the missionaries through the night to the Lima airport just use another road?  No.  There is no other road.
The Secretaries and Assistants began frantically looking for alternatives.  The only one appeared to be travel by air.
However, let me ´splain.  There are only two airports in the Mission, one in Jauja, an hour from Huancayo, and the other about seven hours north.  This is the Jauja International Airport ('international' because people from at least two other countries have landed there).
This is the runway at Jauja.
If you look closely, you will notice several things.  First, there are no runway lights.  Second, there are no electronic navigational aids whatsoever.  Third, there are openings in the fences in the distance.  Before landings and takeoffs, workers are sent on bicycles to assure that no livestock get on to the runway.  I am not making this up.
There are two flights a day, both to and from Lima, carrying 32 passengers each.
When it rains, the planes cannot come from Lima.  We are in the rainy season, and up to 50% of the flights are cancelled because of weather. 
Because of the 11,000-foot altitude of the airport, and the size of the planes, passengers are limited to 33 pounds of luggage.  Period.  This can be problematic for missionaries heading home.
With the help of the Church Area Office visa and travel guys, we were able to wangle enough tickets to get the missionaries out in two groups.  We thought.  However, though we could usually pay for overweight baggage, we could not do so for a bunch of people and expect the plane to take off.  So, we were limited as to the number of people we could put on each plane.  And meanwhile, everyone else was trying to get out of town also.  Tickets became scarce for those turned away because of luggage.
Meanwhile, just to keep us interested, fourteen new missionaries from the Missionary Training Center in Lima were scheduled to come up by bus on Tuesday afternoon.  They began sending them on the planes to JIA (Jauja International), the first ones on Wednesday.  
However, once again the weight limit thing came in to play, so most of their bags didn't accompany them.  The last two, making up the third group, dragged in on Thursday morning, so we started training a day late. 
Over the first couple of days, we were able to fly fifteen of those finishing up in three groups to Lima to catch their now-rescheduled flights home.  However, when the fourth group of six went to check in, three were turned away because of weight restrictions.  "It's either leave three behind, or no one can have more than 33 pounds.  Take it or leave it."
Three of the nice North American Sisters volunteered, and became our house guests, with their flight scheduled to Lima on Saturday afternoon.
However, a couple of brave souls in the Visas y Viajes section of the Area offices heard that there was a dirt road around the landslide, and on Friday decided to brave it to bring up the luggage left behind by the new missionaries.  They made it, but it took about 13 hours, and they told tales tales of an extremely sketchy detour, with streams to cross, slippery mud, precipices, etc. They volunteered to take the extra luggage of the three Sisters trapped in Huancayo, so that they could take the plane down on Saturday afternoon and go home.  Great!  
The next piece of (apparently) good news was that a lane of road would be open on Saturday!  Yippee!  
So, on Saturday morning, the three loaded up in Huancayo with great big smiles, ready to see their families.
OK, not so fast.  That would have been too easy.  Sure enough, when they arrived at the landslide, a detail had been left out; one lane of the road was open, but only after 8:00 PM! Yeah, but their flight didn't leave for the US until 12:35 AM that night, so all was OK, right?  Right?!  Nope.
By the time the traffic jam in the other direction had been let through and their traffic jam allowed to pass, it was 10:00 PM, and they still had to contend with the infamous Lima traffic.
Sure enough, they arrived too late for their flight.  
As this blog entry is posted, the three Sisters should be in the Lima airport, checking in for their flight north to see their families tomorrow, only five days late.  We're keeping our fingers firmly crossed.
May your landslides be small, and your Mission be easier to get to.

Dave & Paula

PS  It rained very hard on Saturday afternoon, so their flight wouldn't have gone anyway.
PSS  The office Secretaries have been given permission to sleep in tomorrow, which will only begin to correct their sleep deficit.
PSSS  Did I mention our sleep deficit?  Five trips to JIA at all times of day made sure of that.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

So THAT's why they have those pockets...and shoulder bags...and windows...

Peruvians on the whole are very kind and generous, drivers excepted.  They have literally given Sister Henderson the manta off their back.
This extends to feeding the missionaries, and many times, overfeeding the missionaries.  One dear older sister was quoted by a Sister missionary as pointing out, "You have to be fatter to attract a husband, you know!"
In order to ready our missionaries for matrimony then, they pile on the rice
and potatoes.

Then they pile on some more.
Two Sisters realized that whoever finished first was given more food.  A quick huddle later solidified their teamwork, and from that point on, they were careful to finish simultaneously.  To the forkful.
At times, however, even the best-laid plans aren't enough, and the food keeps coming no matter the protests.  Drastic measures must often be taken.  Sometimes you just have to stuff it in.
On other occasions, an open window is the only solution.
Cyclists have long had another way.
In our Mission, fashion follows function, with commodious pockets now in vogue.
Extra food can surreptitiously go out the door if your purse is big enough.
Or you were lucky enough to bring the BIG backpack.
In her periodic classes with the pensionistas, the kind ladies that feed the missionaries, Sister Henderson has stressed that too much food can be a problem as much as too little.  However, many persist in believing that the stomach pain and bloating the Elders and Sister complain about is from "gastritis," and they just need to eat more.
Several missionaries have had their folks send down the latest in clothing that helps avoid those embarrassing moments when you just can't eat any more, but it keeps coming.  (Note:  Mission approval for these suits is pending at present)
The most extreme, but true example of having to come up with a way of not offending a generous offer of more food was related to me by a Sister missionary.  When the fourth helping of chicken and rice was piled on despite loud protests, the Sister asked for something from the kitchen, and when alone, removed the big rubber boots she was wearing during the rainy season, poured her plate down one boot and her companion's down the other.  Dinner now through, they thanked their host profusely, and squished home,  The smell in the four pairs of socks that she happened to be wearing never quite came out, and always reminded her of the happy meal.
While the missionaries are truly grateful for the generosity and warm-hearted wishes of those that feed them, several have had to pay for extra weight on the airplane ride home, and we're not talking luggage here.
May your guests never have to put the extras in their boots.
Dave & Paula

Monday, March 9, 2015

They got married!

Our baby boy Michael, 23, got married on Friday.  
He and his fiĆ”ncee Adrienne Miller were married in the Oquirrh Mountain LDS temple on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley.  
All of our kids were there, including Laura and her husband Ben, who live in Portland, 
Brynn and her husband Chad who live on the North Carolina coast,
Sam and his friend Emily (left) who are in Seattle, and our daughter Ashley, who lives in Tajikistan (it's a long story).
All of my five siblings came for the wedding, including my four sisters,
and my brother, here shown resting before the plane ride home, after a hard day at Snowbird.
Lots of old friends were kind enough to show up.
The newlyweds were happy as they could be.  During the marriage ceremony itself, there is a point where each one says "Yes," agreeing to the covenant they are making.  Mike said so twice before the proper point, and had to be asked to wait just a bit longer.
Meanwhile, back in Huancayo, I too was having a great time.  I was able to Skype briefly and say congratulations, but otherwise I was enjoying my time alone.  Let's see... I was, uh, no that was with Paula.  I, uh, no that was the week before.  Oh, yeah, I watched Star Trek, Episode II, The Clone Wars and had a nice nap doing that.  I read about 200 missionary letters, drove to San Pedro de Cajas and Tarma... Like I said, it was great.  I guess I did miss seeing everyone, however.
We hope that your weddings are as happy.
Dave, and now Paula's back safely.  Whew!