Monday, April 25, 2011

M:84/P:73: Halfway Through The Transfer

Hola Familia,

Well, it does seem we´ve got a bit to talk about.  Just to make sure you all actually hear about what we´re doing out here, I´ll start on that topic.  Right now we´re working to get two families married.  It looks like they´re all willing but it´s a little tough to talk with them while they´re all in the house.  Among other prospective baptisms, we´ve got three or four people that look like they could get baptised in May or June . . . if they would just come to church.  One of the funny things about this area is that, being in Arraijan, most missionaries consider this an "easy zone" for the abundance of baptisms.  The kicker is that, after having been in some of the "tougher zones" I´ve noted that the missionaries still have to do all the same work and the difficulty of the work looks about the same.  People here are slightly more likely to let you in, but I wouldn´t call the place easy.  I believe the difference between a more successful zone and a less successful zone depends on two things: member involvement and determination to succeed.  My companion is about fried in this place as he´s basically contacted the entire area.  It´ll be interesting to see what happens when I begin to contact it all over again.
Easter!  Truth be told, I had to remind myself it was Easter on multiple occasions.  You don´t see the same stuff here.  In fact, nearly everyone ditched my area to head out to the countryside.  I was honestly a tad disappointed as we didn´t even have an Easter program this Sunday.  Oh, well.  As for Lent, I don´t know if people here are in the practice of giving something up for Lent.  I know that if they gave up rice, they wouldn´t live through the night.  These people eat more rice than you, Dad.  Seriously.  Although, I think that this part of Panama is a little more Evangelical than Catholic.  Here, it is customary not to eat meat on Fridays as we approach Easter.  So everyone loads up on seafood.  I´m not really an authority on Catholicism so I don´t know if that´s a global deal.  The only thing out of the ordinary this week were the processions.  I remember people glaring daggers at us as we walked by.  I just smiled and chuckled.  I´m glad to hear that the girls had fun this Easter.  As for cooking, you´ll have to teach me more when I get home; I´m beginning to enjoy it out here.
Hop?  Aren´t you referring to Rio?  McDonalds has toys for that movie down here.  If the soundtrack´s good, I´ll have to look into it.  I thought the movie was about Carnaval.
As for the arrival, I think I know where that hotel is.  If it´s 52nd street, it´s somewhat close to the mission office (50th street).  On Thursday or Friday, huh?  In all likelihood, I´ll probably just be running errands or doing drudgework in the office for those last days, so, whenever and however works.  As for area visits, Chorrera is super safe, Arraijan is super safe, Santa Librada was generally safe where I was working, and Mañanitas is a little shifty.  The deal with Santa Librada is that it´s very big, big enough for two sets of missionaries and possibly more.  It borders with Torrijos Carter and Cerro Batea, two parts that are generally renowned as a little dangerous.  The part where I served is on the other end, not even at all really close to those parts.  As for Mañanitas, my part was sort of the opposite.  My part was the furthest part from the main road and, consequently, the poorest.  I honestly wouldn´t stay there until night time with Mom.  There are just way too many people that hang in the streets and out there there´s a lot of problems with juvenile delinquency.  But outright gang violence isn´t so big.  I imagine we´d just get pick-pocketed, worst case scenario.  I don´t know how long you want to visit some houses out here but there are . . . five houses in Santa Librada that I´d like to visit and like seven in Mañanitas.  All in all, I don´t want to put Mom in any danger.  I mean, everyone tells me that you look like a Mexican or a Chinaman, so you could pass for normal, but Mom screams tourist.  I´ve actually wondered a little what it would be like walking around with her.  So, you can tell me what you think and then I´ll start notifying families.  As for Colon, well, there´s some really cool people out there but it is Colón.  I will say that my part was actually very calm compared to the rest.  When people say Colón, they usually refer to Colón Centro, which is definitely a place I would never take Mom.
Well, I think that´s about all I can think of for the moment.  Just as a curiosity, I´ve wanted to bring Graviola seeds home to try and grow some.  I realize it´s a tropical fruit and not bound to do as great in the States but I´d like to give it a shot.  Is it illegal to bring seeds home?  It´s really good and fights cancer and would be a fun reminder of my mission.
Take care, everyone, I love you and pray for you all.
Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, April 18, 2011

M:83/P:72: Week 2 in Arraijan

Hola Familia,
Well, well, it looks like we have a lot to talk about.
I don´t know what you´re going to do about post-retirement stuff.  I´d like to see you at home with the rest of the family but I know you still got to take advantage of your war career.  Best of luck on that.
Speaking of college, I´m glad to hear that I should be getting to shack up with Spencer again.  It´ll be really wierd to see how much each of us has changed in our extremely different missions.  Do you think there´s a chance in getting back into Delta Phi?  Or does Spencer not want to?  I don´t think I´ll be too picky, though, after living here in Panama for two years.  We take a lot of the homely comforts we have very much for granted.  As for the car, as long as it gets me where I need to go and doesn´t guzzle gas like crazy, I have no complaints.  I´m perfectly content with decent, so, thank you. 
I had a question about schooling.  Many of the missionaries here have been selecting courses and whatnot for BYU Provo lately.  I´ve been wondering when I´m supposed to do that.  I´d also like to know if there´s anything else I need to straighten out for post-mission plans.  I´ve already sent Pres. Ward all the information you sent me in the other e-mail (slightly editted, of course, *ahem* pool *ahem*).  I don´t know if you think I should be the one dealing with all this or if you should.  I don´t have any problems with doing it, it´s just that while I´m a missionary, my ability to communicate on topics such as this is somewhat diminished.  I will say I´m both relieved and disappointed to hear that Liese will not be here.  I like the idea of showing her Panama, but sometimes wonder about the consequences of having her here.  Maybe next time!
As for my own plans for schooling, I´m aware that I´m still in Spring-Fall block.  I´ll probably work in winter and take a course or two if possible.  Whether or not I´ll transfer out and where I´ll transfer to is still in the air, but odds are I´ll try to transfer to Provo for 2012.  But, I don´t know and much of this will depend on how I feel when I get home.
As for a hotel, I don´t know where to even begin.  Hmmmm . . . I could ask around but I don´t think that many of these members would know the hotels in the city well enough to tell me.  Especially considering that you´re looking for a Hilton.  I recommend in Panama City just because it´s right in the center of all my areas, essentially.  If you´re all getting here on the 19th, that means that we´ve got that Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday to do our visits.  I don´t know if it would be worth it to go all the way out to Vista Hermosa just on the grounds that it takes about 8 hours to get there and I was only out there for two weeks.  I also got very little done out there and didn´t know anyone well.  I recommend Chorrera, Santa Librada, Tocumen, and Arraijan.  Now, if you all are daring, we might be able to visit both Chorrera and Arraijan in the same day and take a day, maybe the first to go to Colón.  Your choice.  Sta. Librada
or Tocumen would probably be the best choice for Sunday.  I´m leaning towards Tocumen, but either choice would be good.
As for the photos, I´m glad to hear I´m garnering attention.  As for ring (referring to his pinky ring), I just took a liking to it.  It´s gangsta.  Kinda.  The watch, I just found in the street.  I used to use the one Yuto´s mom gave me but the pin broke, so this is my reserve.  The haircut is just a number 2 all over.  Simple and stylish.
Shoot, guys, I´m sorry, I had a lot more to say but there´s been a lot of business today.  I love you all.  Stay well and keep out of trouble!
Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, April 11, 2011

Assignment 7: Arraijan


Austin with Elder Hernandez, his first companion in San Isidro.

Austin and Elder Hernandez at one of their baptisms of a Grandmother and her Grandson.

Austin with his last companion, Elder Estrada.

I am actually not sure what type of animal this is, but I think it is a baby bat that was flying around inside his apartment.  Apparently, vampire bats run rampant this time of year.

M:82/P:71: New Area: Arraijan

Hola Familia,

Feliz Aniversario. La Gran Veinti-séis!  (Happy Anniversary! The big TWO-SIX!)

Well, the mission did kind of surprise me this transfer. Actually, they kind of didn't because my companion Elder Estrada got to see the board of all the transfers beforehand so I knew I was leaving. I am now in Arraijan.  (Arraijan is just about 15 miles West of his former area in La Chorrera.)

On the other hand, I was actually considerably surprised as well. I thought the mission was just going to stick me in another crazy area like San Miguelito for all my complaining. I'm in Vista Alegre 2 with Elder Manolo Enrique Pac . . . . I can't remember his other last name. I'll ask him about it. He's still pretty fresh. This is his third transfer here in Panama. I've noticed that the mission likes putting me with newer elders.  I suppose that that means they trust me, at least.
The zone is reputable for its baptisms. It´s generally first, second, or third place in the mission as a zone. The area itself is pretty hilly and suburban to rural, and like my last area, requires a lot of tracting and door to door work. I´m not at all thrilled about it but it means I´m going to learn how to tract well out here. Now that I´m in the "fertile" part of the mission, I´d like to take advantage of it.

As for the hotel, Dad, I guess there´s something special about cooking your own food, right? We don´t have all our food out here so I´ve been doing a little more cooking lately too. In fact, I found weevils in my pasta noodles while I was cooking them. I picked a couple out and just ate the rest. What´s the worst that could happen?

I didn´t know that Mom liked England so much (referring to my trip to England for a conference in May). Enjoy the trip.

I´m sorry to hear that Riss has had it rough as well. At that window of time, that kind of stuff is really important, especially for girls. I suppose I could also see it possible that she could have forgotten. And it is true she probably could have gotten another ride. But even so, I think it would be important to understand that she´s the artsy type. Artsy types usually like everything to turn out perfect. They can get moody and finicky when things don´t go their way, even when there´s perfectly practical alternatives at their disposal. It just sort of comes with being romantic. Just try to cheer her up. She´ll bounce back.

Liesy said WHAT???  Whoa, I guess I do have that one her. Uh, where did she pick that up from? And why did she do that? I think you guys should monitor what comes on TV when Liesy´s around. Kids pick up a lot more than we give them credit for sometimes.

You´re going to live in Washington (Washington State; potential job offers there after retirment), then? I don´t suppose it would be too much trouble to visit you out there from Idaho. It´ll be interesting to see what you do with the new crib. I will note that having you and Mom living in different states makes it funny to tell people where I´m from. They always look a little pensive for asking where my family lives before I explain that you´re only working in California.

Spencer (Spencer Broomhead, Austin's old roommate at BYU-Idaho returns home from his mission in Peru on May 12th)?   I´ve heard a bit from him but I haven´t received a reply to the last letter I wrote him. I´ll have to write another and . . . oh, why bother, the guy´ll go home before the letter even gets to him. If it´s possible, I´d like to arrange living with him again. I don´t think living in an apartment with other guys will be so hard this time around. I´ll just have to get up before they start singing, that´s all. All this time out here in the mission will help me with said task. Why waste the money to live in the dorms? And I won´t just blow the money on video games or new computer parts, I promise. I do intend sooping up my computer when I get home but I´ll do it at a reasonable pace and price. That reminds me, though. Will I have a car in Idaho? Or will I have to call shotgun with Spencer to get around?

Yeah, I got Yuto´s email from you. I´ll drop him a line today to see how he´s doing. I´m glad to see his English is still in tip top shape. I´ll have to help him out. I hate to bother you all again with more contact information, but could you get me Scott´s mailing address. I´m not really sure why, but I´d like to send him a letter and I don´t like the idea of breaking the rules to do it. I appreciate it.

Your butt dialed Grandma, huh? Well, Dad, God works in mysterious ways. Maybe you could help stop our family from shredding our family. Grandma told me that she wants me to visit to tell her all about the mission when I get home, so I´ll try to help out as soon as I get back to American turf. Honestly, I don´t know if I can respond to nearly anything going on right now just because I don´t know what all has been going on other than Grandpa being in the nursing home. Although I do feel that those with contention problems should suspend their temple recommends if they can´t sort out their enmity. Those sorts of feelings shouldn´t be brought there.

As for my retainer, Mom, I, too, am equally worried about letting foreign orthodontists going to work on my mouth. I´ll let it go for a couple weeks and we´ll see how this goes.  I´m sorry to hear that you´ve been worked so raw without any breaks. Don´t let yourself get too stressed out. I thought unions were supposed to help workers.

Mom, I had a question about the house. What´s the weather like in the winter? Does it ever snow? Does it ever get freezing cold? I´d like to try planting some seeds of an exotic fruit tree I´ve found out here over there but I don´t know if it´ll grow. When you guys get here I´m going to try and have "Graviola" ready for you. It´s tasty and fights parasites and cancer! There´s been a lot of medical studies on it. Just a thought.

Well, everyone, I can´t seem to recall anything else I needed to ask you all. I hope you all are keeping well and that you guys don´t overwork yourselves.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, April 4, 2011

M:81/P70: Transfers Are Coming

Hola Familia

I hope you all enjoyed conference!  I actually thought it a somewhat particular one compared to the other three I've had in the mission field.  I had to laugh as there was a lot of emphasis on getting married.  Moreover, getting married quickly.  I can't help but wonder if Pres. Monson could see me as he was talking on that.  Regardless, I feel that it has given me a lot of direction for what I'll do when I get home.  Plus, I had the opportunity to share the rainbow Peeps that you sent with all the children here.  You should have seen the looks on their faces as I offered it to them.  And the American missionaries were happy to get a bit of a taste of home.
Anywho, on Yuto, I'm almost sure I have his application packet in one of the tupperwares with my stuff.  I would guess one of the clear ones.  If it's too much hassle, don't worry about it.  I can start looking the guy up when I get home.  My time is soon and things are starting to cool down in Japan according to Miu.
As for the time thief, it's really an odd thing.  I remember clearly how slow time passed before, but I look back and it seems so recent that I was passing through my first area, Alcalde Diaz.  It's a truly odd feeling to be this far into the mission.  And it's been nearly three years since I graduated.  That definitely doesn't feel like three years.
On the topic of your visit, I do not know what will happen with any of this.  If I'm going to be here for two days before you get here, I might just hang around the office and lend a hand with random things if I'm not out and about sight seeing with who knows.  Maybe I can help Elder Laidler, my MTC companion and the new assistent with his leadership tasks!  I'm sure by the time you get here, I'll have a good idea of where we'll be going and who we'll be visiting.  Mañanitas, Chorrera, maybe, Santa Librada, maybe even Puerto Pilon if you guys are feeling daring.  That place will scare you a bit, I'm sure.  I don't know if they'll release me or not when you get here.  Who knows?  I'll have an idea on what'll go down.  You all will have to scope out any activities in particular that you'd like to do here if you want to do some touring, like the Black Jesus of Portobelo or Old Panama or whatever.
Well, as for me, I've basically been told I'll leave my area.  I've been tipped off that I'm headed for Arraijan, a place renowned for its numerous baptisms, so I suppose things are looking positive.  I just hope to be able to utilize the advantage well.  The week has been slow this week and I've basically just been saying goodbye.  Conference was essentially an all-day activity and unfortunately we weren't able to get anyone to show up.  I don't know what else I can say on the work here.
On stranger news, I've found vampire bats in my house.  I'm not sure if they've bitten me, yet, but they are either unafraid of people or just very curious.  Lately, they've been flying about the house.  I played nice the first time I caught them, but this time I might have to kill them.  I've heard they're not at all very safe and very prone to bite people here.  I might be paying a visit to the doctor soon over a foot infection/fungus/something that may or may not have anything to do with the bats.
I saw the photos of Liesy with the camel.  I thought they were adorable.  She's getting to be quite the big kid, now.  It's a shame I missed it.  I would've liked the Egypt theme.
As for the retainer, I'm afraid I haven't made myself clear.  I am not referring to the plastic orange thing that goes in the roof of my mouth.  I broke that about six months before the mission.  I am referring to the steel bar that they put right behind my teeth.  The retainer that is intended to be permanently glued into my mouth.  That's what I "popped" out.  Regardless, my teeth don't seem to be shifting or moving about drastically, so I think I can wait.  It might not even be necessary to get it replaced, but I'l let you all take a look when I get home.
Well, I'm about at the end of my rope on topics to gab about.  I hope you all are doing well and staying strong in whatever challenges you all are facing.  My return comes soon and I look forward to seeing you all and talking about all of what's gone on in the last two years.  It'll be strange being the new Austin.  Especially becuase I'll have to eat some of the older statements I've made.  But it won't be so bad.  Keep yourselves out of trouble and enjoy the conference talks I'm so sure you watched.  (Because I know you all went to all the sessions, right?)
Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura