I have so much I want to tell you guys, but so little time. So, I will do my best to get the good parts and answer some questions. First, I'd love to say, thank you all for your letters! I know I haven't responded to every one of them, but I printed them all out and read them throughout the week. On hard days those definitely bring me lots of joy. I have also found that vanilla Oreo cookies also help.
As of recently, I have been inspired by the philosopher Arthur A. Vark, and I quote, "Every day when you are walking down the street, everybody that you meet has a different point of view...so let’s get along with each other." Oddly enough I found out my companion is not perfect?! I have been doing my best to help him with his faults and struggles as he helps me with mine. He is patient and mid-sentence will help me with Spanish to understand what he says and what I'm trying to say. He has a great love for people and could talk to anyone for hours. Also, he has a great sense of humor, so when our ideas don't align its hard to be angry at my companion.
How hot is it down there and what is the weather like?
Now the weather changes from day to day, but Panama just entered into the rainy season. When it rains, sometimes if you’re lucky, you'll have a thirty-minute warning. Other times and I kid you not, it’s like someone immediately turned on the shower; fast and heavy. In this type of rain an umbrella will only protect you from the waist up, because the water bounces off the ground and up to about your knees. When it’s not raining, it’s hot and it’s like your in a constant sweat. Just to show you how weird the weather is, these two pictures were only an hour apart. You learn to adapt quickly.
The sunsets around 5:30 which is weird. Actually, last night it was raining pretty hard and I was on splits because Elder Nielson is sick and Elder Valez needed to go to the office. When we got off the bus it was drizzling, but by the time we returned back to their house it was pouring. I didn't bring an umbrella or anything and neither did Elder Valez and we looked like we were just thrown in a pool. When we got home we dried up and had some soup and the bishop pulled up around 6:45 and said get changed, we just got word that a member’s house got flooded. Now, her house was actually an average house for Panama. That being said, the average house does not live up to the normal Panamanian standards of living or safety. They literally pass out books at the elementary school saying you can't build your house to close to the ledges, or on stilts, watch out for cracks, make sure your foundations are level and your walls aren't leaning inwards.
The fifty foot trail leading to the women's house was flooded, so we all went to the neighbors fence and hugged it as we tried to scale the crumbly gravel road that had a few small sinkholes. At different points we were up to our waist with this dark brown muddy water and it was at night so we could only see the light of the Bishops car and her house. Well, after treading for a few minutes we reached her house which was surprisingly alright. The water stopped about an inch before reaching her patio. We of course asked what could we do to help. She said, "Oh, I'm fine, thank you so much for coming." Elder Garcia said, "Oh, no! I went through this to serve you." So, he grabbed the broom and started sweeping her steps, the ones completely under water. She eventually got to explaining that she really just needed an escort for her to get out and spend the night at another member’s house. She said that she was too scared to go alone, because there is a family of crocodiles that live on her property. Yeah.... A family!
Long story short, we got out safely, and although I know that they tell you not to swim on your mission, I felt like I already did twice yesterday and I'm sure there will be more to come. Panama is really just perfect, and our Bishop is so cool and loving. He took us back to his house and made us fish fillets. I mean really, I will never forget this day.
What is the food like?
Well, I haven't had a lot of food from restaurants or on the streets. I make a lot of my food, which works fine, but when we are feed by the members it is always really good. A lot of rice, beans, and a type of deep fried or cooked meat and they usually have some sort of vegetable. Now I have no idea what they do to their rice, but it is really good and I could just eat it by itself.
Are bugs a problem?
In case you don't know there are more bugs in Panama then in the U.S. Not bigger usually, but just more. I think I always have around eight mosquito bites. I can't complain, there was a Sister missionary we ran into when we had migrations who had an allergic reaction to one of her mosquito bites. There is no better way to describe it than a bruise from a tennis ball. It was huge and probably the worse bite I've ever seen and it was right above her ankle. It swelled up to the size of a cutie orange.
We have been finding ants everywhere. People are pretty chill about it, but I'm still getting used to it. They were crawling around the walls, doorways and cupboards. I broke into a slight cleaning panic a few times since I've gotten here. Once, after my first box of cereal was raided and I had to throw it out. We have found that you just need to keep everything in Ziplock freezer bags or in the fridge.
One morning I couldn't take how filthy our shower was and so I spent a little extra time cleaning it. I don't know, I just feel like with what we have been given, we should keep it at its pristine quality and make it as nice as possible. I mean, our house is the same size as the first councilors, his wife and three kids and their house is cleaner than ours. I used the bathroom and noticed a lot of ants coming from the window going to the shower head. (I have learned to deal with ants, but I have a limit; touch my food, my bed or my shower and this means war.) Well, I noticed that they were moving in and out of the shower head. I ran to find my generic bug spray for mosquitoes, within the first few spray they got the message. Now, I never thought I would ever see anything like this in my life besides in the movie Indiana Jones or if you ever saw the Mummy when the bugs start crawling out of the walls as fast as they can in a wave of bodies. Yeah.....the shower head. I have no idea how many I have killed but I will tell you that for a brief while I thought my room was going to fill up. That was just a rough day!
This week we had another funny experience. The church building always keep the windows open because it is so hot. It happened to be that there was a bat that flew into the church. Elder Garcia tried to get it out and didn't know how. I have an eight minute video of one of the ward members trying to hit it out of the air with a tiki torch while Elder Garcia was trying to catch it in a box.
One of my many blessings on my mission was finding the Old Liahona magazines from the Church building in English. I swear this magazine was meant for me. Even more so the articles in it have been such a blessing. The one that impacted me the most was entitled, "Recognize, Remember, and Give Thanks." by Pres. Henry B. Eyring. It talked about the importance of not always asking our Heavenly Father in our prayers for; I need this..... Or help me with this....., but instead saying prayers often focused on gratitude of how he has already blessed your life. In Doctrine and Covenants 59:7 it reads, "Thou shalt thank the Lord thy God in all things." The Prophet Joseph Smith said, "One of the greatest sins of which the Latter-Day Saints would be guilty of, is the sin of ingratitude." The Lord is blessing you every day as you live righteously and are being obedient. Until recently, I was thanking him occasionally for the big blessings that are hard to miss. I have now been thanking him for everything that he has helped me with in my duration of being here in Panama. And let me tell you, I have found a lot of my prayers have been answered. He has had a rather large impact in my life in just this short amount of time. I feel happier and I promise that if you take the time to pray for all the blessings he has given you that you will start to see his hand in your life. You will start to realize a little bit more of how much he cares about each and every one of his children individually and very personally. As I have gone to pray, I remember and start to recognize small things that have been blessings that I normally wouldn't recognize. He blesses you that you will understand. He is there with his arms open doing what he can to help you. I have found so much joy in this that I have started writing them in a notebook. I encourage you all to do the same. In the words of Bing Crosby, in the movie White Christmas, "When you are tired, but cannot sleep. Just count your blessings instead of sheep. And you'll fall asleep counting your blessings." I know that my Heavenly Father lives and that we are his children. That he hears and answers our prayers and blesses us daily.