23 Dec. 2013 Monday. This morning I was pulling out from in front of the chapel when the District Leader and his companion stopped me and said he had the names to draw for our little missionary Christmas present gift exchange. I reached in his little white plastic bag and a drew out a couple of names just as a Carabinero (national police) went buzzing by on his motorcycle. He swerved around and came back and said “let me see what’s in that bag!” The elder said “its just little pieces of paper!” “Let me see it!” He looked in and then, embarrassed, sped off. He probably was embarrassed because he’d thought he’d just uncovered an international drug smuggling operation involving the Mormon missionary/ preacher. The Elders were not dressed in white shirts and ties, but I was, because it was Pday and they’d come to the church to play soccer on the church’s court. It probably looked like I was buying drugs from some local youth! That’s my sixth encounter with the Carabineros. 5 of 6 have not been too impressive.
This town is a haven for drugs and other bad behavior though, we've been told by many people. The few times we've been out very very late, such as leaving on the bus at 2:30 a.m. to travel to the Santiago Temple, for example, we see the night life. At that hour, there are more people on the streets and out and about than at 2:30 p.m.
24 Dec. 2013. Christmas eve is Noche Buena. Here in Chile, it is the time for the real celebration. Everyone stays up late and has a meal after midnight and opens all their presents. We were invited to President and Sister Calderon’s house for noche Buena, in Salamanca. They had us and the Saldivars and the Salamanca sister missionaries over for a nice, early dinner and program where we each bore our testimonies about the Savior. We had to do that part quick so the sisters could get home by their 10:00 deadline. Sister Calderon had pre-meal snacks, music, decorations, a big fancy cake afterwards and gifts. They thanked us profusely for allowing them to carry on their tradition of 28 years of having the missionaries over for Noche Buena as a way of thanking the Lord for the many blessings he had given them. It made us feel pretty humble. We drove the Saldivar’s back to Illapel through the torn up mountain road, and then on to LV after midnight. It was nice to travel that torn up road (they are widening it, so it is all torn up for about 20 miles) through the mountains with no construction stops for one lane traffic, for once.
I forgot to mention sneaking Carolyn’s Christmas present, a juicer, into the back of the car while she was going to the bathroom at the Saldivar’s house. I then snuck it into the house under her nose before we went to bed and put it by the couch under the tree. She never suspected anything. The Saldivar’s wrapped it (not with Carolyn’s paper… she checks stuff like that) and hid it for 3 weeks in their house.
25 Dec. 2013 Carolyn was awfully surprised to have a Christmas present, and especially the juicer she’d been longing for for 6 months. The lack of a juicer was the reason for so many ills… not feeling good, not having energy, not sleeping good, gaining weight, not speaking Spanish good (j/k), etc., but she had finally given up pestering for one, and even yesterday had mentioned that “it’d be too much trouble washing the fruit and vegetables in chlorox solution to have a juicer anyway.” Well she forgot all that real quick when she saw it. Luckily I’d stocked up on plenty of fruit and veggies so she was happy as could be. But she couldn’t figure out WHERE that present had come from, and why she hadn’t seen it. That was pretty funny. She almost believed it was really from Santa (j/k).
We FaceTimed with most of the kids today in between preparing Christmas dinner for Saldivars (other mature missionary couple, assigned in Illapel), the Q’s, and Mirella and Kelly…. This is NOT a Chilean tradition, dinner on Christmas day…well, technically they have a big dinner on Christmas day, but it is always like 1 a.m. in the morning. We agreed with the Saldivar’s before T day that the Saldivar’s would cook Tday turkey dinner and we’d do one for Christmas, just to kind of bring a little of home to Chile.
Dinner was ready at the appointed time of 4 pm, but at 5:15 we were still waiting for 4 of our guests to arrive. “We’re living right now” they had said a half hour earlier. We got going about 6 pm just as Elder Villatoro and Hidalgo showed up to use our laptops to Skype home and talk to their families. These two elders, if stacked on top of each other, would barely be as tall as me. Hidalgo from Colombia out for just a couple of months, and Villatoro the District leader from Guatamala, both great missionaries. So we had a very busy, full, little house. We had lots of deserts which the Elders hung around for, and TWO red jellos, one made by Kelly, which was the hit of all the deserts. Our carrot cake was delicious and just like home, but the Chileans could not eat much of it….too rich with too much cream cheese frosting.
It was a wonderful day to reflect on our Savior’s birth and life and gifts to us. We hardly missed not being “home” we were so busy all day, and because we were able to talk/video chat with each of our parents, kids and grandkids throughout the day.
26 Dec. 2013 Thurs. To Illapel in the afternoon before district presidency meeting. While running errands, we had one of those series of “coincidences” that really adds up to being a small miracle when you think about it.
We were walking down an unfamiliar street to reach a shop from an unfamiliar direction. Sister B. hollered at us from down the street. She had just stepped onto the street leaving work and saw us. We exchanged greeting and she asked where we were going and informed us we’d already passed the shop and needed to backtrack a block and turn left. She walked with us on her way to meet her husband, who is not a member of the church, but someone we had wanted to meet for a long time. All his kids are members. They’re all waiting patiently (Sister B for tens of years) for him to join.
Even though his wife is very active in the church, he has not been very receptive to church members. Carolyn mentioned to her it was hot, and that she liked the ice cream stand in the plaza. When we parted ways, Carolyn bought her 100% cotton yarn she’d been looking for, and then we walked around the corner to a different store a block from the plaza to try THEIR ice cream. Then, into this same store, walked Sister B. with her husband. We finally get to meet the missing husband! We all buy ice cream (we got chocolate dipped soft serve (which WAS very very soft, but WAS NOT chocolate… more like brown wax, ughh, would have thrown them away if we had not been with Sister B. and her husband), and walked to the plaza together and tried to eat our ice cream before completely dripped onto the plaza tiled walkways. We were not successful. But all the stray dogs were happy to lick up the melted ice cream. The interesting part is that I was able to strike up a conversation with sister B’s husband about his work. He’s into mining (a 4 man gold mine owned by his cousin is his present work) He is the dynamite man. He showed me his explosives license. He’s been mining (blowing up dyanamite) for 30 years, big and small mines. I also have a background in mining with JMH corp., so I had lots of questions and he was enthusiastically answering all of them. Our conversation ended with an invitation to his house, and another invitation for them to come to our house and watch the New Year’s eve fireworks.
The Saldivar’s have been trying forever to make friends with this man and hopefully help bring the family together. But the Lord works in mysterious ways and figured out a way to work through us even though we were from a different city. It was kind of mind boggling to think of how many things had to have gone just right to meet up with Sister B. in that weird place and time, just when she’d be with her husband, and then bring the 4 of us together in that one little out-of-the-way store that also sold ice cream, (like all the other 50 stores within the two block area, which all also sell ice cream) where we met Sister B., and then to have the mining connection and have to talk (while we sat and ate our dripping ice cream), and strike up a very nice friendship…That is the kind of thing there is no way to plan in advance. We’ll invite the Saldivar’s to the firework show as well so they can become better friends.
Just for the record, it was interesting that these four men, extract the gold from the ore they mine and pulverize into powder, by using a process using liquid mercury, which I assume will float off all particles that are not heavy enough to sink, such as, only, gold. This month they will clear $36K USD because they have no big expenses. Last month it was only $8K, because they had lots of bills due. Their biggest expense is diesel fuel. I think he said they expect to yield a half kilo of pure gold once they purify later this week all the ore they’ve been processing this month. Apparently Chile makes it very easy to stake a claim and be granted mineral rights by the state. There is some safety oversight by a government agency, but it did not sound onerous like MSHA and OSHA in the USA. He says with $20-30 USD you could easily get into business for yourself, like this 4 person mine. They also have a copper mine that they switch back and forth on, between gold and copper, depending on the prices of gold and copper. You’d never know this man was part owner in a gold mine. He and his wife and 3 teenage kids live in a house (hut) about the size of two Chevrolet Suburbans. I kept thinking about those guys on the cable series “gold rush”, thinking they should be down here instead of up in Alaska or in some jungle somewhere.