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Monday, August 27, 2012

Go Cougs!

So all of you who recently started college at the Y have to go to the first cougar football game for me! haha. I can´t believe it has been so long since my last football and basketball game there on campus. For those of you keeping track, today is my 13-month mark. Crazy stuff. I´ve lived in Argentina for almost one full year, and this makes a full month of only speaking Spanish as well. It has been helping me a lot with the small, difficult parts of the language. I still speak some English, like when someone calls the offices from the U.S. or when new missionaries come into the field. Elder Hull and I made a deal that after the mission we will only talk to each other in Spanish too, just to help us not lose the second language.

Also, thanks again to everyone who has been sending mail. Mary and Annie Lyman, thank you so much!!!! Even though you sent the letters and everything on May 30th, nothing arrived until this past week. There have been huge delays in the mailing system, so it wasn´t your fault. But thanks again. I will write you back today or as soon as there´s a small time window. Seriously, that was great! I also have a couple of letters sitting in my desk. When we drive by the post office sometime soon, I will send them. It is great to hear about everything that´s going on up there!

Anyways, here is a quick list of my experiences this past week. It will be a little short since today is transfer week, and we are SUPER busy. But yep, here we go!

Driving the President. Elder Camacho and I are in charge of the two mission home´s vehicles, making sure that they receive inspections and necessary maintenance. Anyways, long story short, the dealership finished working on the president´s SUV, called to inform us, and wanted us to pick it up later that day. The president asked Elder Camacho and I to take him to complete the job. Normally, his wife or one of the assistants would have driven him in the mission van, but all of them had a busy schedule too. Elder Jones, having the new profession as an Argentine taxi driver, took the responsibility and drove the president. Everything went really well, but the whole time I just couldn´t believe it. Never before had I pictured driving the mission president (he sat in shotgun, by the way) to be part of my mission responsibilties and experience. So basically, it was just a crazy experience. On top of everything, we arrived at the dealership and had to park on the main road since the indoor parking facility had already filled up completely. So yes, in a huge VW SUV, with the president watching every move, I had to parallel park on a busy street that had cars constantly passing by!!! haha. This is much more common here in Argentina, and luckily I had already done it many times downtown. Almost all the streets downtown require parallel parking. Plus it gets better. I did it in two smooth moves, which almost never happens! Usually it takes like three or four changes between reverse and drive, but nope, not this time haha. So the president thinks I drive like a beast, even though I just got a little lucky. :)

Sorry for writing so little, but tons of the older missionaries just came back. We have to help set up their special dinner and also get ready for the new missionaries who should arrive tomorrow. I will write more next week when everything quiets down a bit. Everyone is begging me to use my computer to send one last quick email to their family. So I will get on next week. Maybe one more time later tonight too! haha. Alright, I gotta go. I hope you are all doing well.

Elder Jones

Monday, August 20, 2012

Hello from Rosario

Yep, I'm still here! haha. Just in case you forgot :). Here´s this week´s lowdown:

Cultural Note. Dogos (Doe--goes). Due to the lower security and higher lever of crime, many people have guard dogs to watch over everthing night and day, especially since many of the nice houses have valuable property. So yes, we get barked at A LOT while we visit houses. These types of guard dogs vary from german shepherd and pit bulls to vicious muts and dogos, the most ferocious of them all. I mention the dogos with emphasis and as part of this cultural note because, guess what? They are illegal in the United States for safety reasons! You guys can read more online about them, but here is the brief description. They were bred to become the most ferocious dogs that are still controllable. Pure muscle and poise make them appear like a tiger or lion when they walk (no joke). I was terrified the first time one came out of our invesigator´s backyard. They are HUGE! Some people inject them with steriods here too, just so they grow bigger. To make matters worse, it has a genetically developed lock-jaw. When it cloes its jaw (which is gigantic, by the way), it doesn´t reopen at all. Just to give you a better idea and wrap things up, its jaw is probably big enough to enclose itself around my thigh. These animals are simply ENORMOUS. The only way to tame them is by raising them from birth. So with their owners, they appear just like normal dogs. However, with robbers or other unknown people, they go into wild animal mode. All in all, they aren´t incredibly common, but I have seen about five on my mission up to this point!!

Mailing System. Having worked in the offices for five months now, I have a better knowledge of the behind the scenes of the mission, which really has been an interesting experience. First off, I want to say thanks to Grandpa & Grandma Jones, Grandma Schank, Malia Johnson, Shantel Sanders, Kimber "Kimbz" Haner, Michael Meehan, Kailey Sherman, and Brother Strader! These past couple of weeks or so, I have really enjoyed reading your letters. You guys all have busy lives as well, and I know it takes time to sit down and write me. I really appreciate it--like a bunch! It makes my day, and reading a nice letter after a long, exhausting day of work just makes me happy. Like I´ve said before, it serves as my only glimpse back to the states. I always write back, but sometimes it takes awhile since we have really busy days here in the offices, even on pdays sometimes. I hope you all receive my letters soon too!

Anyways, so you guys all understand how the letter leaves your hand in the states and arrives here on my desk later, here is the process:

-You put your stamp on and place it in the mailbox, where it sits until the USPS removes it and goes through their normal process.

-It travels all the way to Argentina, where the workers unload all of the mail.
Okay this next step is why the process can take so long:

Every piece of international mail has to go though the aduana (Add--do--ahhnah), an official government building where they scan and monitor all imports. This process, as you imagine, can take up to weeks and sometimes months.
Letters make it through in a couple of days, whereas pacakges can take FOREVER!

-Finally, the mail gets distribuited to all Argentine post offices, where it gets sorted and put into bags.

-The mailmen gather their bags together and visit all the houses in their area, leaving the mail in the small metal boxes outside of every house.

-We take our huge quantity of mail and sort it in between the 12 zones here in the mission whenever it arrives. We usually get a small amount of letters and cards daily. We also receive the church pouch with Dearelders and other letters each Friday.

-Once a month all of the zone leaders have a council about how the mission is going. After the meeting, they all fill up their suitcases with packages and cards for their whole zone.
They travel back to their areas, and the following week, during our weekly district meetings, they distribute all the mail to each companionship (if they are good zone leaders, that is. haha). Sometimes they forget, and then many missionaries get upset, as you can only imagine.
On average, letters take about 3-4 weeks. Packages, on the other hand, take about 5-8 weeks. In addition to this time is the travel time from zone leaders to companionships. Luckily, here in the offices I get first dibs, a true and appreciated blessing. Remember, these are just averages, and sometimes we have HUGE suprises. For example, one time I received a letter in nine days!!! How is that even possible??? Then there was one missionary who received his package after eight months. Man, that´s a terrible wait! haha. It is all just a gamble, but at least they make it here safely.

Other updates:

On day after helping some missionaries move, Elder Camacho and I drove back to the mission home. Camacho challenged me to back up the van instead of just pull in normally. Guess what? I did it in one smooth motion without having to pull forward, and it was super funny! haha. I just turned off the motor and said, "eso es lo que hacen los hombres reales," which basically means, "this is how real men do it." hahaha :)

It´s been a chill, normal week. We have transfers this coming week. We always know a bit in advance since we have to do our jobs. For example, we know that 10 go home and eight new missionaries are coming.

Elder Jones

Monday, August 13, 2012

My Weekly Message

Here ya go!

Cultural Note. Kioscos (Key--ohh--scos). These kioscos dot every city throughout Argentina, filling the streets and selling anything from standard flour to souvenirs. In almost every street in Argentina, one house dedicates itself to selling merchandise and then becomes the nearby, accesible kiosco. Simply put, many families designate the room right by the front door of their house to business and afterwards place a sign outside to notify everyone around. Even though they appear to be normal houses from a distance, the simple sign does the trick. So whenever we walk through our areas, we notice many people dedicatiing almost their entire day to their kiosocos. It is basically a small store, and the majority sell simple foods and treats. In my opinion, the best American comparison would be a gas station. As you might have guessed, we stop by them almost daily to buy a snack or quick drink on a hot day with whatever pocket change we might have in coins. After serving in an area for a long time, a missionary tends to have his favorite kioscos, where they have a wider selection or special, less common treats to garf down in between contacts. I personally like them a lot, even though it felt weird buying juice through the front door of a house the first time! Now, I am just used to it. Some areas in the mission have more than others. For example, in Santa Fe, I would sometimes find three kioscos on the same street. Whereas here in Rosario, there are only like five in our entire area since stores and gas stations are more common here. It all just depends on the economic circumstances of the town and how close everyone lives to Centro (downtown).

Buenos Aires Temple Open House. Guess whhhhaaatttt? They finally finished the grand project/reconstruction of the temple, a process of almost two complete years. Yes, many members--and investigators, for that matter--coudln´t control their excitement. For the past couple of months, the closest temple sessions were held in Uruguay, involving a longer trip and more planning. So right now, EVERYONE can´t stop talking about the rededication and open house of the temple. We would have liked to go visit as well, but obviously we can´t attend until after the mission, which makes sense. To help accomodate and ensure that everything runs smoothly, the church assigned stakes and districts to certain days of the week. Still, there are tons of people every day going through to see every room. Alright, now for the great news!!!!! MARCELO AND ARACELI BOTH WENT THIS PAST SATURDAY. These two recent converts that we contacted about three months ago have now already attended the temple! :). They both shared their experience this past Sunday, and their words had incredible power. It really made my day. That´s why I´m a missionary. Not just to have baptisms but to help out families and bring them to the temple. As part of his testimony yesterday, Marcelo said that he knew one day he would take his entire family there to be sealed for time and all eternity. Just four months ago, he was frustrated and looking for a solution in his life. He said that now he has completely changed, and he feels much happier right now. With the eternal perspecitve in mind, the small difficulties in life seem minuscule and not important. Also, these moments make us grow spiritually and socially even more than we realize. These are my first investigators who have made it to the temple, which really made my day. Nothing can describe it better than the smile on Marcelo´s face in front of the temple in the picture he showed me!

Alright, we are preparing for zone conferences right now. I am helping the president´s wife prepare packets and orgainze the food services, messages, etc. so we are quite busy right now. Thanks for your support and everything.

I hope you are doing well. Thanks so much for everything.

Elder Jones

Monday, August 6, 2012

Elder Jones is excited to receive peanut butter in the mail! :)

Photo taken this past Sunday.

Una Semana Muy Loca

Here is the quick lowdown. This week has been pretty interesting and abnormal, just so you know!
I had a great nap today, by the way, and hope you all are having a great Monday. Mondays are probably my favorite day, whereas they are probably just a routine day for you all. Anyways, thanks for the letters, and here is what I have to say:

Dog Bite. So yeah, dogs roam the streets, serve as property guards, live in the woods, and just hang out together in groups all throughout Argentina. Anyways, so I went up to a house to perform a standard contact. Right now, we have a small investigator pool and are trying to enlarge it a little each week even though we have little time while juggling our office duties. So I walk up through some long, untamed grass just like we do all the time, not thinking much about anything. Elder Hull was right behind me, waiting for me to talk to the person who lived there. All of a sudden, a dog jumped from behind a tree, followed by three others. Normally they run up and just sniff us, as if it were no big deal. What I didn´t know was that this dog belonged to the house as a guard dog and had slipped under the fence. It came up to me running, skidded on its paws, and turned its head sideways. I jumped, but its jaw locked on my shin, which really scared me! It honestly took a full three seconds to realize what was happening. I shook my leg fast and then ran like half of a block away, scared for my life. Elder Hull laughed at me, and luckily, it wasn´t anything too serious. I wasn´t even bleeding since it didn´t penetrate deep or even hardly break the skin since it was my shin. It still hurt pretty bad, though. It felt similar to being kicked in the shin during a soccer game. Ouch! I talked to the mission president´s wife, which was fortunate since we live in the same place, and she helped me. She also called the area doctor, and after describing the circumstances and everything, everything was fine. So that´s my story. I won´t lie. I totally screamed like a girl and my heart was beating like a thosand beats a second. Good thing it wasn´t a german shepherd/vicious dog!

Saturday Morning. So we continued our investigator hunt on Saturday morning. We started knocking houses at like 10:00 am, which should work out fine, right? Wrong. haha. We touched the doorbell, waiting some, pressed the doorbell again, and waited some more. No answer. Then finally a 40-year-old man emerges wearing nothing except briefs! As you can imagine, this disturbed both me and my companion. He yelled some pretty interesting Spanish, chuck-full of swear words, bascially saying that he had slept hardly at all and that we had woken him up. It was kinda funny. He just had walked outside his door in basically nothing, and it was like 10:15 in the morning, usually a time when we never have problems contacting houses! Just so you know, it currently holds the record as the funniest contact for me. Most missionaries have some pretty hilarious ones by the end of their mission, and this one will get added to my list :).

Cultural Note. Clapping/applauding hands is extremely common here. Close to half of the houses in Argentina do not have a doorbell installed. To make matters a little more difficult, fences enclose almost all houses for safety reasons. So more often than not, a person can´t knock since the safety fence blocks the door. So if you can´t find a doorbell, you only have one other option, which is clapping! This is completely normal, and I felt weird doing it at first. It is really just part of the culture. Most people always leave a window open, just so they can hear the clap. So for my whole mission, about 80% of my contacts or even when I would just go to a member's house for lunch, we would get their attention by applauding outside the fence and waiting until they came through the door to let us in through the fence. Cool, huh?

My advanced Spanish grammar book came through the mail. I now have more resources to understand people better and to help prepare me more for my exams when I come back!! Wahoo!

Alright, we plan to play soccer this afternoon. We will see if it actually happens. Thanks for your support and everything. I really do enjoy your letters and funny comments.

Elder Jones