Sunday, November 29, 2015

29 Nov. 2015

Well, this week was pretty exciting. Not much happened until Wednesday, when I got the best news I've had all month: My FRO paperwork went through! I left Thursday morning, and had a fairly uneventful time. Hyderabad is hotter than Rajahmundry in the day, but gets amazingly cool at night. Anyway, Thursday night turned out to be extra surprising, because there is a certain family in our ward, the Cobb family. The father is a rice breeder who works here, who just moved in from America. They had a huge Thanksgiving dinner and invited all of the missionaries! That was my first time having real American food since June, and it was good. We had all of the standard Thanksgiving fare: turkey, potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and of course four different pies. It was amazing! And yes, we are still working through all of the leftovers. Later on in the week, we've been trying to learn the ward. Elder Campbell just came from the states two months ago, and has only been in the area for a transfer. Neither of us know where anything is, so we've been going on lots of member exchanges to try to learn the area. So far things have been going well, though. Apart from those things, not too much happened; just lots of finding. However, things will be good today: Hyderabad has lots of malls and places to shop, so I'll be poking around. That is, if I can get registered today. I really don't know what will happen there.

The FRO is more properly called the FRRO, but I still don't know what it stands for. It's something about foreigner registration, and is kind of annoying. All foreigners who'll stay in India have to register at their local FRO, which is always a process. To move, they also have to deregister, which sometimes takes longer than registering. Makes sense, right?
This week, my letter is short because not too much happened. We did have an adventure this week, that I forgot to mention. On Saturday, we went all the way over to Charminar, which is a very Muslim area, because a member invited us to her school. There, Elder Campbell, who was studying to be an aeronautical engineer, taught some of the kids about it. While he was doing that, the teacher asked if I would talk to the other children about school. This was the first I'd heard about me teaching anything, and so caused a bit of panic. I ended up talking to all of them about random things. Whenever I got close to making a point about something, the teacher's husband would chime in with a only marginally related conversation and totally pull everyone's minds off of what I was saying, and ruined the point I was trying to make. It was pretty funny, though: he scolded them hard about discipline, studies, and everything else under the sun. Here, the educational system is crazy anyway. While you are in college, you can't do anything else but study 12 hours a day, minimum. You're too busy to have a social life or do anything, you just study. Everyone puts themselves through it, and I can't imagine how. As for pictures, that's mostly because I keep forgetting to take them. I'll do better about that from now on, though. Also, another thing I keep forgetting to mention is Christmas. The only present you can really send is music, which I'd love to get. Can you send the Christmas albums from some LDS artists? Thanks!

Monday, November 23, 2015

23 November 2015

Well, this week was pretty interesting. We spent easily half of it at the FRO, half of it at the doctor, and half of it traveling in between them. Sounds fun, right? As it turns out, I'm still waiting in Rajahmundry, but my FRO paperwork is in, and I hopefully will finish the deregistration process this afternoon. Then all I need to do is get thumbprinted, have a police check, and leave. I can't wait for Hyderabad- largely because living in limbo is no fun. I packed up when it looked like I was going to leave soon- a week ago. Since then, because Elder Peterson has moved in where I used to be, I've been living largely out of my suitcase. Having five elders in the apartment is a lot of fun, though. The news with the doctor is just that I needed a tetanus shot. Apparently, rabies isn't much of an issue with rats, just with dogs and monkeys. Who knew? The medical system here is pretty crazy, too: talking with the doctor? 200 rupees. Buying my own tetanus shot, syringe, and having them shoot me up with it? 16 rupees. Total cost? Under $4.

Not too much has happened besides those things. I only saw the doctor on Friday; the rest of the time was spent going to his office and hearing he wasn't there. That happened five times before we caught him. Going to the FRO was equally exciting: long hours of waiting, and yet more traveling to get there. But, they finally saw me, took the papers, and signed off, and the police check is supposed to be today! Actually, it was supposed to be this morning, but the guy said he'd show up later. 

Well, that's all the big news of the week. For the first time in 10 months, I haven't received any news from home. Did you get the letter I sent? Hopefully, I'll get yours when the zone leaders go to MLC in Bangalore, and come back.

Well, the guy came an hour ahead of schedule, so I just had to interrupt my emailing to go do the work. But, it's finished! Nearly! I got the police check and thumbprinting; I just need to go down there again tomorrow and sign some papers.

I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but I completely forgot. But, we had 3 baptisms this week! Divya, Ratna Babu, and Madhuri all got baptized!

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I was right under a light, so even though I am not the only white person there, it looks just like it. The people are, from right to left, myself, Elder Jalagam, Divya, Ratna Babu, Elder Prasad, Madhuri, Elder Lindsay, and Elder Peterson. Unfortunately, I was the only one looking at the camera at the time, so it looks a little funky.

Monday, November 16, 2015

16 November 2015

Well, this week was pretty exciting. There were plenty of unexpected surprises to be found almost daily. I'll go through all the major bits first:

To start, after spending 4.5 months in Rajahmundry, I am going to Hyderabad, in the West Maredpally 3rd ward. That's right- ward. For the first time since coming to India, I'll have a bishop!

The second major shock was that the missionary fireside, that we'd been planning for months, was actually going through! It's been postponed over and over and over, but it finally happened! There were several more smaller surprises attached to it- I was "asked" to contribute money to it, on the understanding that a) it wasn't going to go well, if at all, without, and b) that I would get it back from the branch eventually. More on that later.

The third, and final surprise of the week took place at our BML's house. I got something new, that I've never had before: Rabies, coupled with the black plague. Once again, an explanation will follow shortly, just to build suspense. 

Okay, I remembered to bring my journal this time, so I actually know how the week went. On Tuesday, I had my last district meeting as a leader- so far. We studied how to teach the Restoration discussion better. Then, both of our cycles melted down in a rather dramatic fashion. But, since Diwali was coming up, all of the cycle repairmen were on strike. We walked the rest of the day, but that was most of the exciting news.

Wednesday probably should have been reported during the "surprise of the week" bit at the top, but I forgot and don't feel like going back. It was Diwali, the festival of fire. Basically the 4th of July, but with a lot more fireworks and a lot less reason behind it. Apparently, the original reason was that a long time back, a saint lived a great life, and got reincarnated with the promise that only his mom, a god, could kill him. He turned into an evil king, and so his mom killed him. That's the really condensed version, which really doesn't give the story enough credit, but it's also all I know about it. Once again, we tried asking people about why they celebrated it, but almost everyone was clueless. Either way, it was a whole lot of fun. The zone leaders sent out a mass text in the morning about how elders should not buy, use, handle, or interact with crackers (fireworks), and to be careful. That wasn't really a problem though. The funny thing about the cycle repairmen is that despite that they were all gone the day before, they showed up for the holiday! So we had cycles to ride, thank goodness. Well, we should have had cycles to ride. The cycle repair guy we went to lives right next to our apartment, and told us he'd just drop them off with the apartment security guard. That was fine; we kept moving. Later, we checked back, and sure enough they were there! But, they were locked. We asked the guard for the keys, but she said the repair guy had them. But, he'd gone home already. Eventually we learned that the repair guy had given her the keys, but she forgot. Oh well. That night was pretty spectacular- even the (relatively) dull points had a huge firework going off every few seconds. 

On Thursday, we had nearly an equally big surprise, that also probably deserved to be on the top. Divya, an investigator that elders have been working with for a year, agreed to be baptized! Ironically, it's even on the same date that Elder Patten tried to commit her to a month ago! Afterward, the only really big thing we did was plan for the fireside we were going to have.

The next truly memorable day was actually Saturday. On Friday, Elder Jalagam got sick and so we didn't do much, but Saturday was pretty good. It was my 10 month mark, for one thing. And all we did all day long was prepare for the fireside, and invite people to it. But it went really well! The branch president told us that we could spend up to 500 rupees getting things we needed for the fireside, and that he'd give us it back that night at the fireside. Everyone was low on cash, so I ended up providing it. The fireside went really well, though. We had a short lesson, then lots of games. It was really fun! Afterward, the branch president told me that he'd given the money to our BML. 

On Sunday, the branch had its Primary Program! Like most things, it was a little different than I was expecting. For one, the music and singing was recorded. That night, we had correlation, which turned out to be pretty exciting. Our BML told me that the branch president had only given him the money that he already had been owed for providing food for the fireside, so I'm not sure what's going on there. Soon after coming in, I saw a rat running through his kitchen. Not a big problem- street animals are everywhere here. The real problem turned out to be quite possibly that same rat. As we were leaving, I tried to put my foot in my shoe, but it wouldn't fit. I was puzzled, and reached in to feel what was going on. That led to a rapid introduction of a thoroughly angry rat with my thumb, along with an equally rapid farewell as I dropped the shoe. That's right- after four and a half months of getting within biting distance of various dogs, cats, and birds, I got bit inside of an hour with a rat. I ended up washing it out with soap and water there, and getting some sort of ointment put on it. Back at the apartment, I washed it out again, and used an alcohol wipe before putting some neosporin on it. As soon as Sister Berret calls back, I'll know whether or not I need rabies shots or further treatment. And I'll leave you with that high note. See ya!

Music in church is a bit different in India than America. Specifically, the one person in the branch who plays the piano does it for sacrament meeting, and last week especially caused more harm than good in keeping the congregation together during hymns. Most of the problem is that she doesn't hear what the hymns are going to be until just before sacrament meeting, and so can't practice. That's a good chunk of why I'm so surprised to hear that Nate, who is 11, may start playing the prelude music. What? Even after 6 years of violin lessons, I didn't want to play in front of a congregation.

Elder Jalagam and I are starting to get along really well. Even better, he's started talking! It's almost a shame that transfer calls are tonight. Everyone's convinced that I'm leaving Rajamundry, but I'm not sure. 

When is Ben's wedding? And yes, that's still a weird thought. I heard the average time for missionaries to be married after their mission was a year, but Ben's ahead of the trend there. 

Yes, I heard about the same-sex marriage policy change. We went on to get some temple pictures for a poster we are putting up for a fireside, and saw that on the front page. While that was surprising at the time, it makes a lot of sense, thinking about it. Let's face it: directly going against several of the most important commandments does put you and your whole family in a bit of a strained situation with the church. 

This week was fairly routine, except for a few exceptional bits. For one, we had an exchange! As a district leader, I need to be going on an exchange with every elder in my district once a transfer, and that's what I did on Wednesday. I spent the day in the other side of the branch, and got to revisit some old memories. We visited one family that has always frustrated us: two married returned missionaries, both of them completely inactive. Then, on Sunday, we had a few surprises concerning them: in a meeting, the branch president revealed that the husband was technically in a polygamist marriage with two women at once. Kind of an interesting situation, with a massive amount of backstory that we weren't told. 

We've been having some trouble finding new investigators, so we decided to do a whole lot of finding. And that has been astoundingly successful! There's only one problem: they all live in the other area. Oh well. On the other hand, some of our former investigators have started expressing interest, and a lot of our less-actives are coming back to church. That, and the branch is becoming closer and closer to becoming a ward. Things are getting exciting!
So much has happened this week that it's really crazy. On the upside, transfers are (hopefully) finalized, and this is what's happening: I'm staying in the 2nd branch, getting a new companion (Elder Jollagum), and having two new missionaries come in: Elder Lindsay, and someone he's training. Also, I am going to be the district leader over the apartment. Elder Patten, my current companion, is going to Ramurthy Nagar in Bangalore, and Elder Braganza is staying in Kakinada with my MTC companion, who is flying out to India tomorrow. That's the biggest news. " (Letters of Elder Battraw, October 5th, 2015)

Too bad that I'm not going to be District Leader for much longer- my reign ends tomorrow when Elder Jalagam ascends to the throne.

Monday, November 2, 2015

2 November 2015

Well, I was looking through some old photos, and I realized that I didn't have any of my last Californian companion, Elder Mackey. So, I emailed my last mission president, and this is what he sent.

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That's more or less Elder Mackey in a nutshell. 

Anyway, this week was pretty exciting. It all kind of pales in comparison to the events of Friday and Saturday, though. Thursday night, all of the missionaries in Rajamundry gathered together in the zone leaders' apartment, and then to the train station. From there, we went overnight to Hyderabad, but we all sort of slept on the way (we were booked AC class, which was freezing cold). In the morning, we got up and arrived in Hyderabad. We went to one of the missionary apartments over there, and got ready there. Then, we went to the chapel, and were addressed by Pres. Berret. This was the second time in the history of the mission that absolutely all of the missionaries were gathered together in one place, for reasons that will be revealed. He talked for a few hours, then we had lunch. There, I got to meet up with Elder Whaley, my MTC companion, who I hadn't seen for four months. Also, I got to meet Elder Campbell, who I was supposed to be companions with in the MTC before his departure date got set back. After lunch, we waited a few minutes, then saw President Nelson, president of the quorum of the 12, Elder Gong, Asia area president and member of the presidency of the quorum of the 70, Elder Funk, former mission president, 70, and soon to be president of the Asia area, and finally Robert William, senior church leader in India and 70. They and their wives walked in, shook hands with everyone, and all gave talks, including their wives. Well, excepting Pres. Nelson. He went last and asked for, then answered questions. I asked a question, and learned that apostles have temple recommends that are good until the death of the prophet. The whole experience was pretty exciting. Afterwards, we grabbed a quick dinner, then went right back on the train back to Rajamundry. Both train trips were overnight, and not very eventful. 

Halloween was also not very eventful. I say that largely because no one realized it was Halloween until late afternoon; not much happened. By the way, two quick questions: one, are those the same army pants I wore in first grade? And two, do you have a picture of Matt's costume? That does sound pretty...unique. Among the exciting news of the week is that I may be sending a package back. I've picked up some stuff that I really don't need, but don't want to throw away, that you might be able to use. Another piece of exciting news is that Bangalore is becoming the second stake in India! Everything has been submitted, approved, and announced: Nov. 13 and 14, with Elder Ronald A. Rasband coming! Also, look at the freezing cold weather we have coming up: Inline image 3

It's actually not too bad, considering how hot it's been lately otherwise. I'm still looking forward to seeing snow again in 13 1/2 months, though. It hit me quite a while back how hard that'll be to adjust to- from 80+ degrees with 100% humidity here, to whatever the weather is in Indiana when I head home. That'll be pretty nuts!