First of all, I'm sorry, I don't have any pictures. I'm on a computer in what my companion told me is called a "ciber" (you pay to use computers), and I don't know if there's a place to upload pictures, and absolutely no time to figure it out. I'll try to send more next week. Sorry...
Ok, where to begin? Let's see, last time I emailed I was in the MTC... Yup. Finished that. It was good.
No, really, it was great, but it already seems like an eternity ago! I had great teachers, an amazing district, and an awesome companion, but if I want to even hope to cover my first week in the field I'm going to have to gloss over the end of the MTC.
Monday morning, one week ago: I leave for the SLC airport VERY early in the morning. I fly. I call home (which was great), and get to talk to everybody except Matthew, who's at school. (Sorry, Matthew! Email me and I'll email back! I still love you!) I fly some more. I make it to the airport in Mexico City and through customs, which took a while. I manage to track down, with another gringo temporary companion, a phone card to call home again, to talk and hopefully catch Matthew. I FINALLY manage to get one ("Try the 7-11." "Oh no, we don't sell those here. Try the pharmacy." "Oh, we're out. Try the pharmacy upstairs." "Oh no, try the pharmacy downstairs." "We did, they're out, too." "Oh, try the other one downstairs." --Author's note: How many pharmacies does one airport need?!-- And remember, no one here spoke English) Anyway, finally got a phone card, called home. I get to talk to my mother for a little bit longer, and then when she goes to get Matthew, the phone card, which tells me I still have time, cuts out, and I have to go catch my flight. Again, Matthew, I'm really sorry.
Oh, yeah: On the flight from LA to Mexico City, I had my first gospel conversation as a missionary in a language besides my own! Of course, right? I am going to Mexico, after all. Only one unexpected detail: It wasn't in Spanish. I have the window seat, and as I squeeze past the lady already seated in the middle I excuse myself politely, in English. She kind of smiles at me, but doesn't respond. "Of course, silly," I tell myself. We're flying to Mexico! After a couple of minutes, I ask her in Spanish if she's heading home. This is when she turns to me and says, in broken English, that she speaks Portuguese!! She was actually extremely nice and patient, and we proceded to talk on and off for the duration of the flight about various topics, but mostly about the gospel that I was going on a mission to share. I would speak to her in Spanish, which she could mostly understand (the two languages being similar enough), and she would respond in Portuguese, with a few English words thrown in to help with my comprehension. I would repeat the question or comment as I understood it in Spanish (rephrasing when the two languages wouldn't compute), and she would affirm if I was right. We both were patient, and it was a really great discussion! I left her with a pass-along card (which I translated into Spanish for her), and we went our separate ways.
Eventually, I made it to the Veracruz airport, and we all (a group of eleven elders from the Provo MTC) were met by the mission president and his two AP's. A nice man named Bernardo took our luggage in a separate truck, and we headed to the parking lot. When the lights to a minivan flashed, I though, "Oh, cool--we get to travel in a few minivans as the official mission vehicles!" I was about 1/3 right. All fourteen of us (count us again, fourteen) rode in ONE minivan to the mission home, a drive of about twenty minutes. The row of seats in the back were taken out, and eight of us crammed into that space (that's where I was), four in the row meant for three in the middle, and the president and one lucky long-legged elder that sat up front. Pictures to follow when I figure out how to send them. It was actually a really fun experience, at least looking back!
Let's see... I got my mission area and my first companion/trainer! His name is Elder Cortéz, and he's from southern Argentina! He's really great, has a lot of experience here, and has been a great help. And he speaks very little English. My second day in the field, I leaned over to mutter a quick question to him, and accidentally did it in English. His look of complete bafflement quickly reminded me where I was, and after a mental facepalm I tried again in Spanish. That's probably been one of the biggest challenges for me so far, kicking my habit of speaking in English. Oh yeah, and my area! I'm in Orizaba, in the northwest area of the mission, in a place called Ciudad Mendoza. It's quite beautiful here, and the heat is tolerable so far. So, when I got my assignment, they told me it was actually pretty cold in Orizaba. I guess what they meant was, it only stayed around the LOWER 80s. Although I guess it does cool down during the thunderstorms, which are fairly frequent... In all seriousness, it's supposed to get colder in the winter. I might even break out my coat. It's surrounded on three sides by mountains (which are practically furry with trees, and very close). In the view from the window in our apartment, at night there's a mist around the tops of the mountains, so you can't see where they end and the sky begins, rather just a dark mistiness. But what you can see are the lights of the houses on the mountain, so at night when you look out straight ahead it looks like there are magical lights ascending up into the heavens. It's actually a really amazing sight.
Yes, I'm having all of the problems with my name that people told me I've have. Elder Cortéz introduces me, "And this is my new companion," and the person's gaze falls to my nametag, and they all get the same expression. It's kind of a mix of bafflement and the facial equivalent of "What in the name of all that's holy...?" And then they try to pronounce it. I'm laughing as I write this. Most start out "Water..." but due to the accent it comes out more as "Oh-ah-dthair..." and then they'll usually look at me for confirmation. I'll smile and tell them they're doing great, but if they prefer, "Elder W" is just fine :) I'm really growing to love the people here. The members are so kind, and even when passing strangers on the street the custom is to leave them with a "Buenas tardes" or the equivalent depending on the time of day.
A couple of days ago, our landlord came by to collect the rent. My companion (oh yeah, forgot to mention--he's also the District Leader) had to take a call, so I chatted with the landlord for a few minutes. When my comp was finished, I went to finish writing in my diary, and my comp finished up business with him. When he left, the landlord called out, "Nos vemos, güero!" and after a second, the realization came: "Hey, that's me!" So I got called güero (Mexican equivalent for the Latin American universal "gringo") for the first time this week! It was actually pretty monumental for me.
What else... I had a lot of firsts this week. I guess that makes sense, it being my first week in Mexico. I did my first street contacting, placed my first Book of Mormon, invited somebody to be baptized for the first time (she said yes!), and just yesterday, as we got in a taxi to head back after a lesson with a family, my companion (with absolutely no warning) hopped in the back, leaving me to take charge of the conversation with the driver. It was a little intimidating at first, but it went well. He declined the baptismal invitation (haha--just kidding), but we left him with the address to the church and (I think, from his demeanor) a few things to think about. I'm really enjoying the work here. I'm writing a lot about the culture and other experiences right now, because everything's so new and I'm still adjusting, but the spiritual work's picking up and it's going well.
And more about the baptismal invitation: Her name is D (maintaining privacy), and she cleans the house and watches the child of a family in the ward. She took a couple of lessons from us, and my comp asked me before the lesson to be the one to give the baptismal challenge. She's very thoughtful, and I think that she's realized her family could really use the gospel. But I was super excited that she said yes!
All right, time's up. This email's been longer probably than future ones will be. I love you all, and love hearing back from you!