Friday, February 26, 2010

Mission Week 23/Panama Week 14: MTC Buddy Moves In

Hola Familia,
This last week has proved to be a little fruitful as I think we´ve got someone who´s a true blue investigator who´s ready to be baptised. I´ll keep you all up on the news.

Carnaval was actually very boring. Everyone left town. We didn´t really get anything done.

My clothes are starting to develop stains that aren´t going away. And finding white dress shirts here so far has proven to be next to impossible.

Having Elder Morris here over the last week has been helpful as he and I have shared some good laughs at some of the stuff that´s gone down. He´s digging pretty good into the half of the area we had but never did much with. Wow. Uh, I guess this e-mail won´t have much in it than what I initially intended.

I love you both and thank you for having looked out for me for the many years I was entrusted in your care. I know I was number one and you both didn´t really know how to handle a kid, let alone a curve ball like me. I hope you all are keeping well.

Your Son,
Austin Ascura

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Panama Carnaval

The Carnaval celebration in Panama is the second largest in the world.  It officially begins on the fourth day before Ash Wednesday, but for drinkers, I am sure the party starts way before then.  On the actual Carnaval days, most work comes to a complete stop and the main streets of Panama City are filled with parades, floats, masks, costumes, and confetti...or water.  The largest celebrations take place in Panama City and Las Tablas.

The Carnaval schedual begins Friday before Ash Wednesday with the selection of the Carnaval Queen and her attendents.  The queen then reings over the daily parade and official activities.

One Panamanian Carnaval tradition is the "mojaderas" or getting drenched in water.  anyone becomes a target to the many fire hoses, water ballons and buckets. 

Sunday at midday is a large beautiful "polerra" parade.  Polleras are Panama's national costume and thousands of women and girls deck themselves out in this lovely national dress to march by groups in the parade or just walk around.  But the biggest and final celebration is Fat Tuesday.  A huge new Orleans style parade features highly decorated floats and costumed people from all sectors of society.  The party finishes in the early hours of the morning.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Mission Week 22/Panama Week 13: Carnaval

Hola Familia,
First to explain why I´m writing on an odd day. The last five days have been days of Carnaval, which are more or less like a four day long Mardi Gras for the Latino world. In this country, they basically gather in large groups and jump up and down with beer while being hosed down. Don´t ask me why they do it, they just do. But here, it´s a pretty big deal, so many people close up their businesses and so we couldn´t use internet on the normal P-day.

During Carnaval, it´s not uncommon for missionaries to get drenched. They respect missionaries but not enough to let them walk dry. But I luckily didn´t get drenched. In Chorrera, Carnaval is extremely mild. Everyone basically leaves to celebrate it elsewhere in the country. So instead of having me locked away in the house, we were actually working every day of Carnaval. Unfortunately, we didn´t accomplish much what with everyone leaving town. Oh well.

Next, your specific questions.
1. Language. I´m actually getting to be fairly competent with the language. Sometimes, when they talk for long periods of time about something I don´t have much to say, I phase out, but when I´m focused, I can understand the majority of what´s being said and respond. Occasionally, I get hung up on an English phrase that I can´t easily translate, but I´m adjusting well.

2. Companion. Pretty nice guy. I get along with him pretty alright, although, I´m not sure I agree with with how he does things, sometimes. I´m going to start making suggestions. But all in all we don´t have any problems.

3. Testimony-bearing. As in bearing it in Church? Or bearing it in lessons? Either way, I´ve been doing that in Spanish since I left the MTC.

4. Spanish Scriptures? Nah, they gave me a set on Day 1 in the MTC. They´re standard issue, even.

5. New Missionaries. They arrived in La Chorrera on Monday. They kept me with Elder Castillo in one half and placed the other two in the other half. Elder Abarca from El Salvador and Elder Morris from the MTC.

6. Well, I certainly have been shifted around a bit, but the lack of an Anglo missionary is actually very common. It´s actually probable that I won´t have a single gringo companion (or Polynesian, because there´s a lot of them here, too) my entire mission. In Panama, it´s protocol to usually stick a gringo with a Latino. Almost always. Occasionally there are discrepencies from this rule, but it´s the norm.

7. Have I eaten Iguana yet? No, but a lot of families are threatening to cook it for me. I told them bring it on.

Now about the letter you wrote last week. . . Well, I guess that´s almost all been answered already. Just as a heads up, Dad, we don´t do much for P-day ever. E-mail, lunch, and occasionally sports, which I almost always abstain from and draw or write instead.

The ward here is very warm for missionaries, but the lack of unity amongst themselves worries me when I have the task of trying to bring people into the ward, or back to the ward. There aren´t many ward activities and the bishop is often swamped with his own work so it might be difficult working with them. But they seem to love missionaries. Especially the Bonilla family. Every time we pass through their house, the children cling onto me and plead, "¡Hagame vuelta, Elder!" Which basically translates to "Spin me, Elder!" My back hurts from them. They never stop asking when I start. But they´re funny.

Well, it´s nice to know that Oregon is finally locked down with a house of ours. How far is it from the family? Not too far, I expect . . . I hope you all are keeping together and not stretching yourselves too far. As for winter, being here in hot humid weather every day makes me feel weird. I´m accustomed to snow falling here and we´re in the middle of the dry season. As for Braden and his busted collarbone, I´m sorry it´s like that, but you did break it yourself, Dad. And Braden, at least you´ll be ready to roll next season with even more enthusiasm, right?

As for your hopes on Panamanian cuisine, I don´t know if I´d set my mark too high on that one. Aside from the fact that most families are fairly humble with the majority of their meals, Panamanian cuisine follows a different set of rules than what I think you all, and I, are used to. Panamanian food is very . . . bland, frankly. It´s not bad, it just lacks the kick I expected from Latin food and am somewhat accustomed to in the States. So . . . bring some Tobasco, Dad. There´ll be ample opportunities to use it.

I hope you all are keeping well and that you all are working hard in whichever endeavors that you´ve charged yourselves with. I keep you all in my prayers and hope you all continue keeping well.

Your Elder in the Field,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, February 8, 2010

Mission Week 21/Panama Week 12: Nothing Moving...

Well, short is an understatement here.  We might have to go back to asking him questions and him answering again, to ensure we capture everything that is going on in his little world in Panama. But the good news is that we heard from him, he is okay, and that he does have a friend in the zone, and maybe even in his apartment that he can talk to, as Elder Castillo and him just smile to one another often as a gesture of communication.

Hola Familia,
Let's try that again; the power cut out on me.  Although honestly, there isn't much for me to say.  This last week was somewhat uneventful. 

I'm glad to hear that you finally got a house picked out and in the works, Mom.  Constantly looking for a house when you're not working in the hospital can be a little wrecking. 

I think this letter might get cut short again.  Sorry, but not much happened.  I'm still in Chorrera with Elder Castillo and we're splitting the area with a friend from the MTC, so that should make things a little better out here.

I hope you are keeping well.  You all are in my prayers.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, February 1, 2010

Mission Week 20/Panama Week 11: Redefining My Expectations

Hola Familia,
Alright, things are running a little better than before now.  Still rough, but I'm hanging in there.

Now about the missionaries around here, I don't have a problem being a junior companion.  I'm already pretty used to the fact that what I say doesn't get taken for much.  However, that doesn't mean that I'm wrong on some of this (referring to missionaries not performing the work, extended stay at members home lounging, etc).  Am I being critical?  You bet I am.  But I'm critical because it's important.  We're responsible for the eternal welfare of the people of Panama and given that things out here have been nothing short of mind-wracking for me, when I see everyone else out here treating this like a party, I get irritated to say the least.  If I really was just looking to have fun, I wouldn't have turned in my papers.  But I'm polite and tactful about the way we do things.  Besides, I'm probably going to be given another new companion next week.

All in all, I'm still redefining my expectations.  As for the language, it comes along fine. I think I'm beginning to understand how a lot of the people here think in terms of religion.  I think this next change will be much more successful as I plan for the people that enjoy listening to the word of God, just for the sake of it.  And we got plenty of people like that.  Sometimes I don't understand, especially when we're talking with people with wierd accents and when we're talking about specific subjects.  But every day, I move a little further.  I don't know if the people here are just trying to butter me up when they compliment my Spanish here, but I'll get the hang of this.  I just need to expand my vocabulary and I think I'll have this language set.

Now, I mentioned getting a new companion the next week.  I'll explain.  In this particular mission, it's not uncommon for greenhorns to get moved around frequently in their first couple of changes, as you can clearly see from what they've done with me.  This next week, one of three things is going to happen:
1. They up me to a different part of the country.  Unlikely because of the next option.
2. They pair me up with one of the incoming missionaries as they divide up my current area in two.  This is probably what will happen because I know the area a bit and can help to orientate the next missionary here.
3.  I stay with Elder Castillo.  Unlikely, just because he already knows the area and will probably be orientating one of the other other misisonaries.

Just so you know, the general plan is to pair a white boy with a Latino.  They do that to encourage gringos to learn their Spanish and to help Latinos learn English, even though many don't practice.  Elder Castillo can understand some English but doesn't speak it. 

A funny thing happened yesterday.  We were looking for a wayward youth that had apparently been baptized.  He was obviously inactive now, but had really fond memories of the missionary that baptized him;  He even teared up.  So when we swung by his house, he wasn't there, but his landlady was.  Big time Catholic.  She immediately told us which houses we COULD'NT contact because they were already Catholic and told us all about how she was married to a Bishop and she's been Catholic her whole life.  Immediately afterward, she told us which houses we COULD contact and invited us to visit her later on the next week.  She walked us up to one family, introduced us, and walked off.  This family will probably be baptized, I'm thinking.  Score one reference for the day!  Hmmm. 

Oh, tell Grandma Lois I got her letters.  I had to pester the Zone Leaders alot to get them early. 

Well, that about covers the share of stuff for this week.  I think about you guys alot out here, but not too much.  Every time I hear Lady Gaga or Beyonce out here, I remember the car rides I had with Des, too.  I hope you guys are keeping up well and that house hunting goes better later on.  And Dad, you're probably right.  It's really difficult for a teenager like me to really appreciate what a sacrifice like this really means for a father.  So I proably won't really be able to fully understand how appreciative you are until I've got kids of my own.

Keep Yourselves Well.
Elder Austin Michael Ascura