Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Assignment 8: San Blas Islands

M:88/P77: Hair Cuts for San Blas Elders

There are multiple Islands that comprise San Blas.  However, there are only 3 Islands in the chain that these missionaries travel to or live on, and none of them have modern amenities.  So before they leave for this assignment for approximately 2 months, they are required to go on a shopping spree for everything that they will need for the entire time they are there since they do not return to mainland Panama during their rotation, except for emergency purposes.  And...to ensure these missionaries keep within grooming standards the whole time they are there, they go through a massive hair transformation prior to their departure from Panama.  These are 3 of the 4 Elders that are assigned to San Blas for the current rotation, receiving hair cuts from Sister Ward, the Mission Matron.  I think she is having way too much fun...especially with Austin.





Elder Hutchinson, I presume



Hmmm....the mohawk is quite becoming!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

San Blas Islands

The San Blas Islands comprises thousands of islands located just off the northeast coast of Panama. The indigenous Kuna Yala tribe have self governing authority over the islands and a part of the mainland.





The local people, the Kuna, are a wonderful example of an how an indigenous people continue to flourish and practice their age old customs surrounded by the modern world. They are friendly and welcoming of tourists. Although the San Blas Islands is their ancestral home, you will also find them selling their wares in Panama City.

Electric power is limited, so it is not uncommon for the hotels and homes to operate generators for only a few hours per day. After dark, the moon and stars provide the only light.



The Proud. The Few. The Blas Elders.

Hola Familia,

If you are wondering why I´m writing you on a Wednsday, that would be because today will be my P-Day. And tomorrow. And the next day. Do you know why? Because your son just got picked to go to San Blas!

I´m having a hard time believing it, honestly. I didn´t think I´d get picked. Even moreso when I considered what a conveniently perfect course of action it would be. Two transfers working out in the islands and then come back for a week or two and then head on home. One the one hand, I´m really excited to see what awaits me out in San Blas. There´s going to be a whole lot of culture shock and weird conditions and experiences. I had the fortune of being able to go to Nárgana which is the most modernized island. From what I have gathered I will be covering some three islands with my new companion, Elder Hutchinson, the Elder I told you about that was in the army.

On one hand I´m sort of embarassed because most people consider San Blas like a vacation area. The majority of the work that takes place out there is generally service to integrate into the community. I might also have to pick up the Kuna dialect out here if I´m going to be able to communicate with some of the folks out there. I also felt a little embarassed because there were so many other elders that wanted to go. Many of them will be leaving soon and this was their last chance to go. There used to be three companionships out there but now there will only be two and there was only one open spot this transfer. The anticipation and suspense was tangible right before the announcement. When they revealed that I was the lucky elder going out for Blas, I really couldn´t believe it. For the last couple days I had been feeling like I was going out to San Blas but didn´t think it was possible.

Anywho, over the next couple days I´ll be buying supplies and food and using internet every so often because there won´t be P-Days out in the islands. So if you´d like to talk more, you can monitor the e-mail account for my messages and try to message me back to talk a bit. Even though it hasn´t been terribly long since the last time we talked.

Tell Spencer (Spencer Broomhead) I´m going for Blas and keep updated on the messages. Remember, after this period of P-Days, you won´t hear from me for a whole six weeks as I´ll be isolated from the mainland out on the islands. So take advantage of the opportunity when you can. I think we´ll be returning to use internet later on today so, that could be your first chance to catch me.

Your Elder in Panama (that´s going to San Blas),
Elder Austin Michael Ascura

Monday, May 16, 2011

M:87/P:76: Survived Another Transfer...For Now

Hola Familia,

Note: Because last Sunday was Mother's Day, we got to speak to Austin on the phone for a couple of hours, which took the place of letters.

Well, family, that´s one more transfer down.  I´m not sure what to think of it.  The end draws near.  Anywho, this brings an undoubtable end to my time together with Elder Manolo Enrique Pac Coti as he´s already got three transfers in the area.  However, given some strange circumstances, I think they´re going to send me somewhere else as well.  The general review of my area is that it is burned out and President needs to get ready for these next two transfers.  These next two transfers, about forty some missionaries go home.  And after that even more, and there are very few missionaries coming to Panamá to replace all us oldies.  That said, a lot of areas are going to get closed.  Generally, that means that the weaker areas get closed or wards that have more than one set of missionaries get cut out a companionship.  Our ward has three pairs and is reputably burned out, hence, why I  think there´s a good chance we´ll get closed out.  Plus, I called the assistants and they told me to make sure I leave the area book very good, which, to me, is code for "We´re combining your area with another".  Then again, this is all speculation.  Who knows?  Maybe I´ll go to Blas to finish up the mission.
 
As for undertakings in the week, Much of our efforts have been used between going to doctors in the city to deal with some minor health problems my companion reluctantly has to treat and preparing for a stake activity called "Flight 703" which is the same activity Spencer did out there in Peru with the airplane and whatnot.  I was absolutely sure that this was all going to be a fiasco.  We received virtually zero help from the wards outside of volunteers to play the angels, flight attendants, pilots, etc.  The day before, we didn´t even have rehearsal and weren´t even half-prepared.  I was so sure we we´re screwed.  I can happily say that I was surprised to how well the activity turned out, both in attendance and preparation.  I had done all I could to help and it looks like the other missionaries did, too.  I got stuck in the  debriefing room where I handed out pamphlets, so I coudn´t get pictures of the whole thing in action.  I´ll try to get photos to you all when I find computers that let me upload my photos.
 
Speaking of Spencer, the man goes home this week, doesn´t he?  I´d be mighty curious to see how he handles the returning shock.  I´m sure it´ll hit me like a truck.  Send him my regards.
 
As to what you all have been up to, Mom, when you say "I hope that this will be the last move." are you implying that you all are getting ready to pack up again?  I´m sorry to hear that I was the only thing you had to brighten up Mother´s Day (Lisa had to work on Mother's Day).  It was really good to hear all your voices as well.  I look forward to showing you all around when you get here.
 
You liked the Paella (reference to Mike's recent trip to England this past week and the Spanish Paella he ate)?  I had that, too.  It was pretty good, with octopi and all.  As for the American food, I´m pretty sure McDonalds and KFC is just about everywhere.  As for the rest of England, I do like history and have a bit of fascination with English history in particular but I´m not sure I´m so good for tourism . . . I mean, I don´t take photos (as I´m sure you noticed *ahem*).  I´d like to visit sometime but I think I might get a little lost in all of it.  England´s got a lot, as your pictures show.
 
Braden?  A "B" average?  Well, I guess 18 credits is a lot of work.  He told me he hopes to boost his GPA a bit this next semester with ROTC courses.  As for the girls, I hope to help them out a bit with their schoolwork when I get home.  As for Liesy, I did get to talk to her, quite a bit, as well.  Although I couldn´t understand a lot of what she was saying when she was telling the knock knock jokes.  She kept laughing while telling the punchline.  But she is just a little cutey.  It´ll be fun to be the big brother again when I get back.  I also have plans of teaching her (as well as anyone else in the house who cares to try) Spanish.  I think it would be a possible achievement.
 
As for my English, I think I´ve got a bit of a gift for languages in particular.  All the gringoes here, including me at times, speak a little Spanglish, when our Spanish creeps into our English.  But when I talk with you guys, who I just about never speak Spanish with, I don´t use any of my Spanglishness.  It think it´s sort of a habit.  If you want to learn a language to speak with me, I´d be happy to speak Spanish with you.  Or any other language you please.  I have the goal of learning at least one or two other languages when I get home, so if you want to choose a different one, I´d be up for that.  Or you could always just teach me Chamorro.  Or maybe if they send me to San Blas, I can teach you Kuna.  The possibilities are endless.  Anywho, I´d be totally up for making that wish come true and having a common language besides English between us.
 
Let´s see, what else is there to cover before I finish up . . . Well, today, we´ll be heading into the city again to get some blood tests taken for my companion in relation to the medical conditions I mentioned earlier.  And then tomorrow we´ll be going again to pick up the lab results as well as make it to another doctor´s appointment.  Then the next day, we´ll probably both go to the city again to go to our new areas.
 
Well, I can´t seem to remember anything else, so I´ll leave it at that.  I love you all and hope you all are keeping well and staying out of trouble.  I look forward to seeing you all soon.
 
Your Elder in Panamá,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura
 
PS I have more photos but the computers here don´t let me upload them.  I think I already mentioned that.

Monday, May 2, 2011

M:85/P:74: Week Five Already?

Hola Familia,

Shoot, it´s already week five (of this latest transfer)?
Well, I´ll start by saying that I don´t approve of this internet place I´m in. Most of these joints are run by college age or slightly older computer nerds. You know what that means, right? Everyone shouting about the games (video) I´m trying not to worry about. Awesome. Well, I´m just trying not to hate the mission in my last months here. I´m doing a decent job, too, up ´til now.

As for the movie Rio (recent animated movie), the only reason I know is because McDonalds already has the toys here, and that´s where we eat lunch on Mondays a lot. I´m really quite out of touch with a lot of things. A lot of people mention stuff like . . . "Hey, did you see the new Toy Story?" and then I say stuff like, "Dude, yeah, Toy Story 2 is old news." "No! Number 3!" "What! 3? They came out with that?!" That sort of stuff. That sort of stuff is getting hard to ignore nowadays. It´s a bugger.

Yeah, Liesey´s got my look down. It´s funny to see that picture because there´s so many rasta down here in Panama. I´ll show it some members if I can.

And lookit you, Dez. What teef you got dere.

As for the couples, I think I didn´t explain correctly. The problem is that they aren´t ever in the house at the same time. The husband is a police officer so he´s always out in the bush working. They do fine together. It´s just a problem of timing, that´s all.

As for the visit, I´ll plan on meeting you all in the airport, then. There shouldn´t be any problems. And Elder Laidler, my MTC homeboy will be The Assistant (to the Mission President) so he can hook me up with the transportation. And as a note, Dad, he triumphantly waves around the fact that his girlfriend waited for him and that they´ll be getting married before the end of the year (We jokingly talked about Dear John Letters.  However, Elder Laidler's girlfriend was on her mission when he entered the MTC so she probably only had to wait a year by the time she came home.  Had it been longer...I think the Dear John might have prevailed.  :-)  Attaboy, Elder Laidler.). Just delivering the message. We´ll probably head to Arraijan, Chorrera, Las Mañanitas, and Sta. Librada. We won´t be headed into any of the dangerous parts, so don´t sweat it. I´ll just have to send photos to the members out in Colón. I, too, think it would be a good idea to stay in the car. There´s a good chance we´ll be getting drenched the whole time, anyways. August is the rainy high point in the winter here. And, Mom, don´t worry too much about the food. The food here is really quite normal. A lot of rice. I think you might get a stomach ache from the water but nothing too crazy should happen.

I´m happy to hear that Grandpa enjoyed his birthday party. More so to hear that he was himself for a time. I wonder how much longer he´ll last, too.

As for Osama, my fellow MTC buddy, Elder Stewart, just told me. I´m not sure what to think about it. I just thought we would never actually find him. I hope that helps things resolve themselves quicker.

Well, Dad, I think I should apologize a tad for the short letter. I can´t think of too much else to write. And these geeks here and their video games are making it really hard to focus. I think as I draw closer to the end of the mission my divine shield against that stuff begins to get thinner. And if that´s not the case, I certainly feel like it is. Well, everyone, I love you. I´ll try to aim my call for that window on Sunday and I look forward to hearing from you all.

Your Elder in Panama,
Elder Austin Michael Ascura