Friday, November 22, 2013

16 Nov. 2013 The “Chinchillean” Wild Goose Chase

Today was the district Relief Society (women's organization)  activity in Illapel.  Another senior missionary is the district RS president, and she and her counselors have been planning this activity for some time.  

The Zone Leaders had pre-arranged with me to help them scope out a service project with them today after I dropped Carolyn and some other sisters off at the activity.  They asked for my help because "I had the mission 4X4 truck", and “because it was a rough road”. That was my first clue of something suspicious.  It was supposedly a mix-up-a-sack-of- concrete little job, for a poor young mother from the United States that was dumped here by her Chilean husband who went back to the states and abandoned her and her 3 girls in a house in bad condition on the edge of town, and would only take a few minutes to do.
An hour later, after several inquiries, we arrived at the “Gringa’s”  house 30 km from nowhere on the side of a  barren desert mountainside.  Gringa is what the Chileans here that know of her call her…. Gringa is feminine for gringo… "the white girl").  

We arrived with 6 missionaries, to “scope out” the job… Elder Saldívar and I were with the truck, the ZL (the four of us in white shirts, ties and some jackets) and then the District Leader and his companion climbed in too, and they were wearing grubbies.  Those were my next clues this was no normal service project.

We packed the 4 elders packed in the back of the crew cab and off we went. At least E. Saldívar and I had good seats and air conditioning.  

The gringa, it turns out, is a Jane Goodall (the chimpanzee lady) look-alike (in every way)  that has dedicated her life to the study and preservation of chinchillas, a little ground squirrel that has its own national park or reserve outside Illapel.  They have been hunted almost to extinction because of their softer than mink fur.  Her “house”, was a hut on the side of a barren, steep, slope opposite the Reserve.  Think the desert mountains of New Mexico or Arizona, that is what the terrain was like.  Then  drive 15 miles or so off the pavement up the roughest dirt road and steep hills you can imagine. That is where we were.  A perfect place to look across the canyon to the mountainside where a family of chinchillas lived. (They only come out at night though).  Yeah, right.

She has 3 girls that look like they were about 5-8 years old.  The “research site”, their home, is a hut with a dirt floor, no running water or electricity or bathroom hut about 15 km from the nearest paved road and 30 km from Illapel.  She wanted us, with only the 5 bags of cement she had collected, to pour a concrete slab in her hut up there on the side of the mountain. There were no tools or wheelbarrows or shovels to work with, not to mention no water or sand or gravel. And the hut is about 16 feet by 24 feet, very big by Chilean standards, and super big when you think about mixing and pour all that concrete by hand in those conditions.  

Every day big rats dig under the hut’s plywood walls and come inside looking for food. She is tired of living with the rats and dusty dirt floor.   I think I would also be tired of a lot more things than that, living up there.

Because of the manual labor involved to get sand and gravel up to the house, mix the concrete and haul it in bit by bit, with no electricity or running water way out in the middle of Timbuktu, I told her it would probably take 15 people all day to do it, and that the missionaries did not have that kind of time or resources… maybe a couple hours a week, but that it would take more time than that just coming and going.

She would not give up and said she could get some of the mining companies to donate a cement mixer and generator for the day, etc. etc. and she’d call us back when everything was ready. She talked nonstop about 100 miles an hour, like this was the last time she was going to be able to talk to a live human, and in English for the rest of her life.  

All she could talk about was her chinchilla studies, and all the things she had done to make this one little colony she was studying grow larger. All  I could think about was her poor girls, and how I could get out of there faster.  

The missionaries rode in the back of the truck on the way down out of the mountains.  I was glad for that even though I was in the front seat driving, if you can imagine why on a hot day.

Back in Illapel, Elder Saldívar warmed up some leftovers for lunch and in the middle of it the Relief Society Pres. From LV called saying she had arrived to the activity (late) and was somewhere on the highway at parcela 6 instead of paradero 9, and she didn't know where she was, and could I come and pick her up in the truck.  The inter city bus driver didn’t know where paradero 9 was, much less the village of Cuz Cuz, so he just let her out once he started seeing civilization.  So went to find her.  We found her a half hour later about 10 km from her destination, standing on the side of a lonely highway all by herself with her bag of food and stuff she was going to cook lunch with for the ladies.  We had already brought about 50 lbs of frozen fish her brother caught,  from her house  that morning, and had set it in a tub of water to thaw.

The ladies played games and ate… all day long from 9 in the morning til 6 in the evening (and that was ending an hour earlier than planned).  I’m glad I was only there for a few hours because I was bored out of my mind, but at least they seemed to be having fun.  Carolyn won the prize for the most seeds in her orange.  Another lady also won a prize for eating her orange the fastest. They must have played 2 dozen different games, had a spiritual talk, etc. etc. 

The game I liked the most (that I saw) was to see who could be the first to catch one of the dozen or so chickens walking around.  Sister Moreno, from Canela, the branch president’s wife who was raised on a farm and still did farm work, grabbed a chicken in less than 10 seconds.  No one else even got close to catching a chicken.  That chicken sure let out a yell and never stopped until she let it go a couple minutes later. That was funny. 

Also, it was interesting to see how them made empanadas.  The dough is basically a white flour tortilla recipe, not so much lard, no baking powder, kneaded to a really stiff dough that can be either rolled out or flattened with fingers.  Their “pino”, or filling, is basically onions, with a little of some other meat and seasoning.  They deep fried them, because they were cooking over a fire, but you can also bake them.  These particular empanadas were made from various mariscos or shellfish, added in to the onion mixture filling.

Before coming home, we switched the truck back to our car, which Elder Vergara had taken back to civilization 3 hours away in Vina del Mar to have the 70,000 KM maintenance done on it at the Toyota dealer.  We were happy to have our car back.   The truck is a little too big for the narrow passage ways and streets here, but the big tires and clearance is nice for the rough roads.  

 Chilean hillside
 Orange seed champion
 Making empinadas
 Fresh eggs from the "snatched" chicken
Snail on our garden table

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Part of letter to Dale's sister Virginia dated 16 Nov. 2013

We are having so many experiences that are so unique, and cool, and spiritual.  Just walking down the street or going into someone's home is always an experience. 

I am amazed at all the plants here.  Dave would have a blast seeing them all and just walking around looking at peoples gardens in their little courtyards. Plants that only grow indoors in the states are in everyone's gardens outside or growing naturally.  For example, geraniums, in a million different colors and sized and shapes and leaf colors and variations are everywhere.  They never die back, and are used as hedges and walls or borders around property, growing up against walls or into a wire fence, 10' high or more.

The succulent plants that grow along the cliffs and bluffs next to the ocean are also pretty cool, and come in a million sizes, colors and shapes.  I've never had any idea there were so many  kinds of jade plants and trees.  We thought our 35 year old jade that blooms every year was big and special. Ha ha ha.  It wouldn't merit even noticing here.  I've seen jades with trunks a couple feet in diameter.

This is semi-arid country where we are.  The mountains come right down to the ocean.  The vegetation changes wildly from shoreline, to mountains.  The mountains parallel the cost in series of ridges from being pushed up as the tectonic plates collide.  The sides facing the sea breeze are complete different from the sides not in the flow of the cool humid air.

And get this, the oceanside towns, like where we are now in Los Vilos, are about 20-25 degrees COOLER than the towns up in the high mountain valleys, like Illapel (where we were the first 2 months).  I always thought about going to the mountains to get cool.  Here it is a well know fact that the opposite is true.

And the mountain towns always have clear sunny days with no wind.  The coastal town where we're at almost always is very cloudy or foggy and very cool with a stiff wind. The Humbolt current, off the coast of Chile is very cold and keeps the coast cool all year round.

The mountains and hills are covered with a mix, depending on which slope you're facing, of cool-looking cactus of all kinds, to scrub oak, or mesquite or creosote-like bushes, similar to the Arizona and New Mexico deserts.

The ravines and canyons have pine and eucalyptus trees.  The valleys are fertile and cultivated with mostly avocado and orange and walnut trees and grapevines.  They use drip irrigation.  They collect the water from small foot wide and deep irrigation ditches from high up in the canyons, and they don't waste a drop.

The hillsides, roads and highways are grazed over by goats and an occasional sheep, horse, cow, mule or donkey.  The fresh goat cheese is delicious by the way.

It hasn't rained since we've been here since beginning of July.  When we got here, the mountains and hillsides were luscious green (I guess it rains at the beginning of winter).  Now they are brown interspersed with the green desert shrubs, cactus and trees, kind of like what the southern california mountainsides.

Our view out our windows is gorgeous. A lot of the shoreline here is rocky and jagged like S. Calif., so it lends to lots of changing and interesting views as the tide and wind changes.  There are big rocky islands here and there off shore that sometimes break the waves and shoot white water up70-100 feet in the air.  One of them is called Isla Fantasma (Ghost Island) because at night when you see it all you see is a white, spooky plume way out over the ocean that appears and disappears.

We see miracles every day.... what some might call little "coincidences", but many of them that consistently all come together all at once, at just the right time, and coincidentally, just so that the work of the Lord moves forward most efficiently, bringing the gospel or help to people just at the right time.  At first we just used to shake our heads and laugh about it, and just say wow.  We now know it is just the way it works here in the mission field, and we hardly notice it is so common.  But there is no denying whose work this is and how He uses His servants to get done what He wants done.  That we know and testify.

Journal Entries

5 Nov 2013 Tues.  Transfer day.  Two missionaries we are very close to were transferred today. Sister Cazaut (Argentina) is being transferred from Illapel, and Elder Bond (UT) from Los Vilos.  Elder Bond arrived about the same time as us, and we’ve watched him and his Spanish grow tremendously in 4 months.  He was the only N.A. missionary in Los Vilos out of the 8 besides us.  He’s a pretty good Spanish speaker now, after only 4 months.  E. Bond was replaced by a greenie, Elder Ethington from Utah.  His companion is E. Artica an Elder from Peru (I think) that has been here in Los Vilos since the last transfer.  He has been a member less than 2 years and joined the church as a result of an introduction by his girl friend, who is also on a mission right now.

Elder Ethington went to the Chilean MTC (CCM), and he understands Chileans notatbly better than the Provo Utah MTC trained elders we’ve seen.
Sisters Cazaut and Valencia got to Los Vilos around noon and we took them on a short tour of the city and bought some pollo and papas fritas for lunch, while we were waiting for Sister Cazaut’s bus.  She left on the “mission transfer bus”, a rented bus that collect missionaries every transfer day (every 6 weeks) along Route 5 starting in from the north of the mission at La Sarena, and traveling to the south of the mission to Vina del Mar, and then back north again with all the missionaries in the south that were transferred to the north. This transfer bus drops off and picks up missionaries along the 200 mile route, and from these drop off points, the missionaries being transferred take other buses if necessary up into their mountain towns.  Chile’s geography (only 50 miles wide at this point) makes this a convenient way to transfer the missionaries.  We have 240 missionaries in our mission and every 6 weeks about 60-80 are transferred to new locations.

We dropped Sister Cazaut off at the “Shell station” bus terminal outside of town (it is neither a shell station nor a bus terminal though, but it is interesting how it got its name).  It was kind of exciting to see all the missionaries congregating there and waiting and seeing the reunions between those that knew each other and those that were receiving or leaving companions.

We had Sister Valencia with us the rest of the day while she was waiting for her new companion.  We asked her what she wanted to do.  “Sleep!” she said without hesitating.  But she could not bring herself to “waste the time”. She sat out on our porch swing on the deck overlooking the beach and wrote in her journal for hours and then went with us on some visits.

Then, around 9:30 pm, we headed off for “the bus station” to meet her companion so they could catch another bus at another “station” back to Illapel. But we found out that the “bus station” was not HER bus station.  In fact, within a 2 block radius, and within a half mile of our house, there actually 4 bus stations.  We’d never really noticed 2 of them before.  Some are just an alley next to a small office building.  The bus backs in, loads up passengers, and drives off.  I always thought it was just an alley from one of the bigger bus stations. 
Anyway, Sister Valencia’s companion hadn’t arrived from the missionary north bound bus headed back from Vina to La Serena.  They were late.  Their bus was going to stop at the “Shell station” bus stop out of town and let them off. Members were going to shuttle the missionaries that needed to catch the Illapel bus back into town.  They were late, so we tried to hold the driver and bus up until they got there.  The bus driver finally said no more, shut the door and took off.  100 yards later he was met by two pickup trucks flashing their lights and honking, full of the members hauling the missionaries that had gotten off the other north bound bus.  The driver stopped, and we made about 3 exchanges of missionaries and all their luggage right there in the main street, in the dark, with cars zooming by.  I was sure a missionary was going to get run over with his/her luggage running across the street from the transfer cars to the bus.  But they all made it safe.  This was the last bus out of town going to Illapel, so if Sister Valencia missed this one, she and her companion would have been spending the night at our house.

 7 Nov 2013, Thurs.  Elder Saldivar and I went to Salamanca in the evening to issue callings to 2 counselors in the Elder’s Quorum.  Our District Presidency Meeting was cancelled by the District President because he had to work.  The other counselor was not responding to phone calls and email, so I decided to go do the callings myself and asked E. Saldivar to go with me.
After suffering through about an hour of different construction stops going through the now dirt in road through the mountains between Salamanca and Illapel, we got to Salamanca.  Salamanca is a beautiful little farming community in a pretty valley nestled in a little valley with mountains all around.  Lots of vineyards and orchards  fill the valley…avocados, oranges, grapes, pecans, walnuts, etc..  We went forward, not knowing beforehand whither we should go, being led by the Spirit.  Through a series of events one would normally call miracles (which happen so often in the mission field its so easy to believe it is normal), we were able to quickly get a telephone number and contact of one of the brothers we wanted to meet with.  When we contacted him (he was not at his house) he was within a block of where we were.  We met up at the town plaza, which is the most beautiful and biggest of any town plaza in this region of Chile, and then walked a half block to the chapel, where he was interviewed and extended a call to serve as the first counselor in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency in the Salamanca Branch.
He is a taxi driver. Divorced. Recovering from a serious electrical accident in which he was immobilized and lost his memory for a long time.  He is very lonely, and is shunned by his daughters and some church members who have been encouraged to do treat him that way by his ex-wife.  His ex wife and daughters live in a nice house (nice by Salamanca standards) he gave his daughters after the breakup.  He lives in a single rented room.  He understandably was carrying a few grudges, and had not been totally active in the church.  But he accepted the call to serve with humility and he promised to be an example of Christ-like service and living, and to heed our invitation to plead to the Lord in prayer to change his heart and fill it with love and forgiveness instead of hard feelings.  The Spirit was strong as ever and it was a humbling experience for us.
The drive back to Illapel was long and torturous because of the construction stops and darkness and traffic.  Then there was another hour-long drive back through another mountain range between Illapel and our home in Los Vilos.  Carolyn had stayed home from this trip to prepare for the Young Men/Women District Activity in Los Vilos she has been planning for a couple of months, which will take place on the 9th of Nov.
P.S.  I forgot to mention that we spent the morning cleaning the chapel for the district youth activity this weekend. Several members, incl. the yw presidency of the LV branch came to help.  One helped me clean the courtyard in between the cultural hall and classroom wing.  We did it by unrolling the fire hose from the fire extinguisher station in the church and cranking open the fire hydrant connection inside the church.  That was a blast, literally.  The building gets very dirty on the outside (and inside the courtyard) due to the combination of the salty sea breeze and lots of dust from the windy days.  The fire hose did a good job though!

9 Nov. 2013  The day of the big youth activity Carolyn and her counselors have been planning. All morning was spent setting up. One of the leaders questioned why we were setting up so many chairs.  I said we expected 25 kids, plus their leaders.  How many do you think will come?, I asked.  He said, you are much the optimist.  I am a realist.  No more than 10.

Everything ready by 1:30 p.m.  The first group of kids, from Salamanca, arrived around 3:15, a big group of over 12 (big for such a small branch.  Many brought their friends). Before long the place was packed with kids and their leaders.  There were at least 25 kids, not counting their leaders, and they all had a great time with the “his hands” theme of the 3 hour activity.  They did a “his hands” indexing class. Lots of kids brought their laptops to participate, there was a gospel centered “who wants to be a millionaire?” game, plus a guest speaker and other games and instruction and great food.  They all had a blast and seemed to really enjoy themselves.  And Carolyn also really enjoys being with these kids.  They first thing they all asked when they arrived was “Where is Sister Schramm?”  They are her surrogate grandkids.  She even had a couple jars filled with little candies for them to guess how many there were.  Hmmm, I wonder where she got that idea?

At the end, the kids got a little rowdy popping all the hand “balloons” with their fruit kabob sticks.  There were a couple of dog piles of about 15 kids each, trying to smash balloons someone was trying to protect from being popped because they liked the face drawn on it.  That was fun to watch, and they were all screaming and laughing and having tons of fun.  Carolyn tried to protect one balloon for one girl and stuffed it under her shirt, making her look pregnant, which got lots of laughs and comments from the adults.

It was a very successful activity, and the start of hopefully a long tradition of good clean healthy and uplifting activities for the youth of this district.  They have never been together like this before, and they felt much strength from each other in the numbers.

Lots of the single adults over age 18 have been asking us for weeks if they could attend this activity.  We told them no, its for the youth 12-18.  We finally had to promise to arrange an activity for them.  There are several HUNDRED single adults of record in the district.  They have also never had an activity together.