Monday, May 25, 2015

Rainy Days and Change May 25, 2015

Welp. I officially turned eight months old yesterday. So yeah, that happened. In other news, I counted some steps, thought about life, and kneaded some dough. The excitement never ceases out here in Los Solares. Haha that sounds sarcastic, but seriously, it was a good week :)

Some short highlights. We saw a guy eat it hardcore on a motorcycle, and I'm not talking about a tostada. We hurried over, lifted up the guy's motorcycle, and did. Well. Literally nothing else. The guy was fine and really didn't need any help. But like a couple of givers, we picked up his motorcycle anyway. I'm not saying we should be beatified or anything, but I mean, if you can win the Nobel Peace Prize for someone else electing you president.... Haha sorry-we-shouldn't-make-political-jokes. We also had a dumpling dinner with investigators in which I was in charge of kneading the dough. It reminded me that of all the muscles in my body, I'm most proud of my forearms. If that strikes you as odd, it's probably because a) you are not a pianist b) you are not big on being a dumpling kneader or c) you are a normal human being. Thank heaven, I suffer from none of these maladies. 

We also currently have ten baptismal dates. Yes. Ten. Diez. 10.
One of our investigators, Rayni, in the rain. We love Rayni.
Out here, we do it like we do.

Speaking of which, Ventura wasn’t terribly happy about me announcing his 6-3 Five Crowns loss, and this whole week, he’s been a man with a purpose. He challenged me night after night, growing so frustrated he wanted to punch a hole in the wall. He never actually did, though, because, well, the walls are solid cinderblock and he weighs in at a whopping 110 lbs. But it’s true. I can’t deny it. Saturday night, in a contest that wouldn’t have been inappropriate in the Roman Colosseum, I got hosed in the round of queen, where I got dealt almost exclusively doubles and Ventura laid out on the second opportunity. I fell, 101-93, on stakes of an empanada and public shaming. And that’s not a bet, that’s a justified exchange. Yes. I lost. Only took him eleven tries. Nyahaha.

Anyway, as Elder Ventura and I were walking home from the gym this morning, I found myself thinking about how transient we-and the lives we live-are. And what a blessing that is.

Allow me to expound. People do this thing. We have a tendency to think that we're some end product, the result of all of our life experiences added up, and now, we're us. Whether or not we are consciously aware of the fact that hey, EVERYONE changes, we always see ourselves in the moment, like we've walked a long road and here we are at the end, cheerfully (or not-so-cheerfully) being us. 

More specifically, there's this mindset that what we've done up to whatever point we're at right now has set or is currently setting the course of our lives. I remember in high school, everyone was always like, oh, you better get good grades and always be in class because if not, it'll go on your "permanent record", whatever that means (as if the mortician is gonna carve a dunce cap on my headstone when he finds out I sluffed 11th grade English!) and those things are gonna decide the course of your life. And now they're telling you to be very careful of where and what you study because those things are going to decide the course of your life. You already know that when you graduate college, they'll keep telling you to be careful of where you start your career and how you start to build your family, because those things are going to decide the course of your life. They make it out like every choice and its grandma are gonna determine the course of your life.

Well I call baloney. Maybe they'll affect the path you take, but they will not decide your ultimate destination. The course of your life is not a constant, unchanging thing any more than you as a person are some fixed point at the end of a straight line. The person you are right now is not the person you have to be, nor is it the person you WILL be. It's silly when people act like things are always gonna be the way they are now because they aren't. Life is full of beginnings and ends, and as long as you are alive, the course of your life isn't ever fixed.

The application? There is a power inside every one of us, and it doesn't matter how far down the road of life you are, you still have it. This power is the power to change. Whether you're fifteen or fifty, the sum of your past actions will never be something you can't rise above. If you've lived poorly and want to live better, you can. If you think you've lived well enough and can't really get better, you're wrong. We will be able to change the course of our lives as long as we live. However we've lived. Good or bad. We can do better. Always. And that. That is a great hope.

P.S. It rained a smidge.

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Parenthetic Week -- May 18, 2015

I love contemplation. In my experience, it's one of the things that colors in the tiny spaces in life (that and crayons). The best contemplation comes when fueled by actual life happenings, in my opinion. Between comings, goings, conflicts, resolves, the fact that my mission is a third over, and the people in this zone still getting debilitating maladies, color abounds. So it goes (‪#‎vonnegut‪#‎dopeoplestillhashtag?).

First, a reminder that there are few simple pleasures in life as delightful as finding fifty pesos after centrifugating your laundry.

So I ran into a Dominican dude (Go figure. Dominicans in this neck of the world) in the internet cafe named Joe who spoke English. I was paying for my computer when he struck up a conversation. It went something like this:
Joe: Are you from the States?
Me: Yeah.
Joe: What part?
Me: Utah. It's in the west. A long way from New York.
Joe: Seriously? I lived in Utah!
Me: What? No way!! No one's lived in Utah!
Joe: I did a study abroad program at a university in a city called Logan. Have you ever heard of it?
Me: Have I ever!! I'm FROM Logan!!!
Joe: Are you kidding me?! Holy crap! This is so crazy! I studied at USU! I'm a True Aggie!
Me: Oh my gosh! I- Okay, I admittedly hate the Aggies on principle, but I'm a TA too!!!!
Joe: WHAAAA-??
Me: WHAAA-??
By the time we finished, I was a drooling puddle of trunkiness, but what an animated chat we had. Like. We were both literally yelling because we were so excited and all of the other patrons were looking at us like. "Um."

Some of the highlights from the week: We joined forces with a Catholic lady old enough to remember the Sack of Rome in order to lovingly annihilate a Mormon who was contentiously confused about some of the finer points of the Fall. I taught Ventura how to play Five Crowns, which resulted in an hour long bloody rooftop deathmatch (we take otherwise gentle card games very seriously in my family) with an insane 6-3 finish with, of course, yours truly taking home the W. I had an intercambio with Elder Tillmond that reminded me that although I've dearly loved my companions, I haven't lived with an English speaker since February. One of the (decidedly luckless) elders in our zone, having just fully recovered from dengue, is now suffering from a crippling infection in the Holland area (which is to say, The Netherlands) and we got to spend a day in his charming company (HAVASUPAI!) while his comp did some baptismal interviews. We also set 8 baptismal dates (!!!) ourselves.

And then one night, this guy came to the door of our house and in English was like, "Hey, I think my cat escaped into your house. Have you seen a cat in there?" Well, that's an interesting question, considering that our house is so solidly built and sealed that you could drop a nuke on it and it would defintely be obliterated, but cats aren't really an issue. "Uh. No?" The guy then proceeded to spend the next twenty minutes flapping his tongue from both ends (that's about as anatomically improbable as it sounds). His entry move was quite smooth with the cat thing and all and he had us going for a while, but we eventually discerned that contrary to all appearances, he was neither interested in the gospel nor in the welfare of his feline charge. The deceiving rogue just wanted to practice Englsh. Hmph! Some pet owner.

I got a haircut today. I should probably study up a bit on my Spanish haircutting terminology, because the guy did this thing where he cut my hair most of the way around, even paring down the sides with a straight razor (a freaking straight razor), and then did literally nothing to the top. I didn't realize it until I got home, though, and now? I look like a llama. A funky llama. And I paid a man a hundred pesos. To make me look like a funky llama.

Afterward, we headed to the chapel of Almirante to play some soccer. Soccer is a sport I haven't really played since third grade, when I played in a coed league and told my sister Maren, who reffed games, that I had a crush on one of the girls. After a season of living in constant fear that Maren would tell her (and being justifiably horrendous at soccer), I swore soccer off forever. In retrospect, that may have been a bit melodramatic, but it certainly seemed like an appropriate reaction at the time. But just as I haven't really played since I was eight, I play soccer like an eight-year-old. Against a bunch of soccer inebriated Central-South Americans. It was. Hm. To use a phrase of my pappy's, I was about as handy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest. It was bad.

Anyhow, in eight months, I've seen a lot of faces. The mission life is one that in most respects is a very constant experience. But the faces. The faces change. Whether it be your companion, housemates, district, zone, or what have you, people come and go. You get used to it pretty quick. But this week is a little different. You see, this week, my dad goes home. No, no, I'm not talking about the father of my mother's children, who is the dignified-looking gentleman with the tomahawk. That's my pappy. No, I'm talking about my trainer (in the mission, your trainer is your "dad"). Oh aye. In just two days, Elder Miller goes home.

The character in this photo is 
fictitious and any resemblance to 
actual living persons is 

purely coincidental.
On my first day in the field, we were all gathered in the chapel in Gazcue, trainees seated on the left, trainers on the right. No one knew who their companion would be. I remember looking over, wondering who I'd be put with and praying with a fervency that would've impressed Enos that whoever I got, he'd speak English. And then, President Corbitt said, "Elder Johnson, meet Elder Miller." And so my training started with an awkward hug (only slightly more awkward than the time I hugged Maren's friend Alyssa Hoggan and told her I loved her while on wisdom tooth drugs). We sat down and I asked where he was from. In a rapidfire Sanpete County accent, he said, "I'm-from-Manti-Utah-84642-where-the-cattle-roam." Boy did he speak English!

Miller was an impatient guy. He'd call the other elders when they were late and be like, "Hey, where are you?!" and then hang up in the middle of their answer because he got bored of listening. "They got the idea," he'd say (and to be fair, they did). One time, he and an old companion were looking for something in a department store and asked an employee where they could find it. After ten whole seconds of following him, Miller turned around and walked away. "Hey, where are you going??" his comp called. "That guy is clearly going in the wrong direction!" he cried. And oof! Baby hungry. He was always like, "Johnson, look at that kid. He's so cute! How much d'you reckon I'd hafta pay for him?" And every time we'd pass some half-destroyed pile of slag on wheels, he'd nudge me and be like, "Dude. That would be a dope derby car." He also got me saying words like dope.

I've shared a lot of bigger memories in previous emails, but I think I'll remember even more the little moments. Him lighting the kitchen trash on fire. The day we finally made cookies (we set that as a goal in companionship study eleven consecutive weeks before actually doing it). Talking in abysmal British accents. Writing his BYU essays. Him scrapping them and peacing out to Snow College to play basketball. Osorio interrupting his showers. Having our mob run-in. How on the days when I was visibly unhappy, he'd make me a triple decker PB and J and even though I'm not a huge fan, it'd always make me feel better. And of course when on the final day of my training, he passed on to me, his only son, the family tie.

Yes, we had good times. Jokes, crazy people, laughs, spiritual vittlins and the like. We had bad times. Famine, sickness, death in the family, cockroaches, Tusken Raiders. We saw it all. Kind of. Went through it all together. Whether or not we wanted to. And I dunno if I left much of an impression on him, but he sure left an impression on me. So as with all phases of life, that which begins must inevitably end. For now, I stay here and he goes home. Maybe we'll meet again. Maybe we won't. I don't know. But I can hope we will. So until then, even though the man will probably never read this because, well, he never much liked to read, good luck! Send me an invite in three months when you get engaged! Love you bro!

And I love all you other peoples as well.
Love (for the third time),
Elder Dallin Johnson

P.S. We found the cup hat thingie in the bathroom at Darlin's baptism. See, Lady Gaga? I can do it too.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Of Words and Wookies May 4, 2015

Well I'll be! I woke up one day this week, and hey, whaddya know? It's May. Holy cats. It was a good week! Here in the Outer Rim, we drank us some nonalcoholic wine, took out the trash, and yes- had a baptism. Not bad for seven days.

For the first time since I got here back in late February, amen, hallelujah, saints-be-praised, the house is clean! We'd already gotten it mostly disinfectatated, but there was still a veritable boatload of garbage upon our porch. The garbage truck only comes by once every week or two and you've gotta carry all your trash out to it by hand. Ventura and I were both in the middle of throwing our gladrags on when it finally rolled through on P-Day. It wasn't exactly the GOAT of moments, but there is a law, possibly declared in heaven, that says that when a 300-pound Dominican with a mustache that would make Ron Swanson shed a tear comes by and says you have roughly four seconds to get your trash out, you don't wait until you're in your Sunday best. In retrospect, we must've looked patently ridiculous. Two Mormon missionaries in white shirts, ties, gym shorts, and flip flops sprinting after a rapidly disappearing garbage rig, each carrying his body weight in trash. But goofy getups or no, success was had!

Naturally, the second we got home, the phone rang and Elder Aquino (one of the fellows who do finances and such) about sent me into heart palpitations when he told us we were gonna hafta move to another house with two other elders. You know what's in that house? One tig, one flech, one answer- aw HECK no!!! Luckily, the stable living conditions gods smiled upon us and the moving was indefinitely postponed. I've never been so happy to get two consecutive calls from the office in my life.

Birthday Cake Oreos
Also, this last Wednesday, it was Elder Ventura's birthday. 21 years old. Viejito. Being the totally awesome companion that I am, I decided to throw him a surprise birthday party. Kooky idea, right? WRONG. Try planning a surprise birthday party for someone who you have to be with 24-7 on pain of your eternal soul. It's a rough time. But! Never let it be said that I'm not willing to scratch and cheat. I bought all of the things we'd need in random pieces so that Ventura couldn't connect the dots. I made the Hayashi chicken marinade while he was asleep and paid off a member to bring me a bottle of non-alcoholic wine while he was in the shower. I made sure all the food was prepped and well hidden in the other fridge and I then smuggled our spare key to Elders Tillmond and Carter. They were the key. They cooked the food,
 set up the house, cut the lights, and waited. It was awesome! Ventura had no clue. When we got there, they burst into cheers and sang happy birthday. In English. Eh. Ventura got the idea. We had a big dinner, feasting on chicken, rice, fixins, the NA wine, Doritos, ice cream, and whatever other little knick-knacks we could find. We couldn't find ourselves a cake, but who needs a cake when you've got a package of Oreos that taste like cake? We stuck the candles on that, lost three and a half fingers to melting wax, explained how wishing on a birthday cake works, and sang again. There wasn't much in the way of presents. I gave him a tie because well, that's just sorta what missionaries get for their birthdays. Good times!

We had us a baptism! Twas a young lad by the name of Darling Patricio. It was my third in Los Solares, and even though as missionaries, we don't have favorites, he was my favorite of the three. Darling's only thirteen, and while we don't like baptizing kids, he's an exception. He's been attending church by himself for a year and a half. He taught the gospel lessons to his sisters. The kid had been preparing to serve a mission for eight months. Even though he was thirteen and unbaptized. We'd honestly just been waiting for permission from the parents. He fought for months and we did too, and then, two Tuesdays ago, he got it. We put one Saturday for the interview and one more to be baptized. The pieces all came together. It was perfect. Will of God, man. The kid's gonna be a beast in the gospel.

Anyway, as you all know, today is a P-Day. But today is a very special P-Day. You see. Today is not only P-Day, it's also May 4. And after the Fourth of July and Talk Like A Pirate Day, May 4 marks my favorite holiday. In commemoration, although it's been over 7 months since I broke out this dialect of Nerd and my Mandalorian is decidedly rusty, it is time. Females and gentlebeings, it's Star Wars Day. I'd crack a bottle of Whyren's Reserve, but the rum smugglers don't come out this far and heaven knows it's against my religion.
This morning, I was sitting in personal study, reading in Ephesians when I found my mind beginning to drift. I was contemplating how in his prime, Shaq probably could've washed down a 72-ounce beef steak with a 48-ounce nerf steak and not known the difference. Although why a man with enough iron in his blood to outfit a Separatist battalion would care what kind of meat he was eating is beyond me. It went from there until pretty soon, my mind was completely immersed in a galaxy far, far away. After about twenty minutes of me staring blankly at the wall with my tongue hanging out, Ventura coughed and said, "Uh. Johnson. Are you alright, man?" I snapped out of it and nodded. "Yeah, dude. Sorry. Just something on my mind." He shrugged. "Maybe you should study whatever's on your mind in the scriptures." Ventura. Ventura! You are a good idea MACHINE! I was on that like Luke Skywalker on a tauntaun. I whipped out the Bible and got to work.  

Is it just me, or does this Testigo Pamphlet
religious figure bear a remarkable
resemblance to Obi-Wan Kenobi?

The results? Biblical references to the Sith (Ezekiel 35:6). The prophet Joshua speaking of the land of Endor (Joshua 17:11). We even have prophetic discourse on George Lucas's casting choices when in 2 Timothy 4:11 the apostle Paul writes, "Only Luke is [left]. Take Mark [Hamill], and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry."
This discovery was galaxy-shattering. Life-changing. I'd always felt in my heart that Star Wars was real, but I'd always been afraid to really believe. Now, I had biblical proof. I couldn't just sit on this. I had to be sure. I leapt out of my chair with a vigor that could've disenfranchised a rancor and fairly floated to the phone. We were going straight to the top. I dialed up President Corbitt; he's the closest thing to a Jedi Master I've got. After listening to my explanation, there was a pause. Then, he said, and I quote, "It... is... so." BOOM! That was the chicken, here's a tortilla, and that's a wrap.

It's a trap,
Jedi Johnson
P.S. Many Bothans died to bring you this email
Don't hate on my kooky bifurcated lightsaber