Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Missão Brasil Fortaleza: vamos lá com firmeza

My brother got his call to Missouri St. Louis mission for the LDS Church two weeks ago. His mission call got me thinking about the mission that I served. My call was signed by Ezra Taft Benson, and according to my brother {whose is signed by Thomas S. Monson}, that makes me old. It seems like it was only yesterday. I pulled out my mission scrapbook {yeah, I have one of those} and started scanning in my pictures. All I can say is thank goodness for digital photo editing {remind me to send a thank you card to the person who invented that and one to the person who invented auto-everything digital cameras} because those old photos were pretty awful. I must have gone around with the flash turned off half the time.

A mission call is a pretty special thing. It means that you've lived your life according to some pretty high standards and you're willing to put your education, friends, hobbies, dating, family {pretty much your life} on hold for 18 months or two years while you do volunteer work in a place not of your choosing. When talking about where people are called to serve on their missions {because you kind of go on faith, having no say in the process}, the general consensus is that perhaps there is someone waiting there that only you can teach. It could be true. But I think what is more true is that you are called to serve in an area where you, as a person, will learn the most. I taught many people on my mission and quite a few even joined The Church. I'm not sure how many of those members stayed faithful though. Perhaps one or two. But the things that I learned about myself, about God, about people have served me my entire life.

Hopefully you haven't tuned out because I'm just getting warmed up. I am getting to the good stuff, though, which involves lots of pictures of me, mostly with out make-up on. Under normal circumstances I wouldn't show these around but these are mission photos and there's just something special about that. Special enough that I'll show very unflattering and embarrassing photos of myself.

Every missionary spends at least two weeks at the MTC {Missionary Training Center} before they go on to their assigned mission. You spend most of your days in class, studying the things that you'll be teaching. If you are learning a foreign language, then you spend eight weeks at the Missionary Torture Training Center also learning your language. You are assigned a companion and pretty much the only place you go without her is the bathroom. This was my companion. Her name is {Natalie}, and she's a Utah girl too. While you're on a mission you always go by your last name, so she was Sister Davey and I was so blessed to have her as my MTC companion. She was also going to Brazil, but to a different part, a little further south.

You might have already guessed that I went to Brazil {I left a few subtle clues}. My mission encompassed two states, Ceará and Piauí {costal states along the top right side of Brazil}. I spent the majority of my time in a city called Fortaleza, which sits right along the coast at about 4˚ south of the equator. When I first arrived, the mission president took us on a tour of the city and we drove along the coastline. But I was so unfamiliar with the city {not to mention I couldn't tell which way was north -- no mountains to indicate}, I did not realize just how close the beach actually was once I got settled in.

This is my first day in Brasil. Look how white I am! It was winter in the states when I left and these people had been living on the sun close to the equator for a year and had time to work on their tans. On the right is my mission president, Presidente {João Roberto} Martins-Silva and to the left, his wife, Sister {Maria Lúcia} Martins-Silva. They are from São Paulo and served for three years in Fortaleza. I look a little uncomfortable here {first day in a foreign country}, but I grew to love this couple and their children; they became my Brazilian family.
I arrived in Brasil at about 4:30 in the morning. It was hot and humid. The mission president and his assistants took our little group of bedraggled missionaries to a posada {a bed and breakfast, and I use that term very loosely} for a few hours' sleep. When I arrived in my room, I discovered that my shampoo bottle had popped open during the flight and some of my clothes were covered in shampoo. I rinsed them out in the sink and hung them to dry across the armoire doors and planned to throw them in the washer when I got to my apartment. Little did I know that my 'apartment' was a spare bedroom and bathroom in someone's house and the only washer there was my two hands and the sink.

This is my first Brazilian companion, Sister {Rose} Soares, who is from São Paulo. She's there somewhere, shoved way in the back, to the left. I wish I had a better picture of her, but money was tight and film was a precious commodity, so you were careful with what you had. Too bad digital wasn't invented 20 years sooner. Sister Soares gave me this picture and included a little note on the back:
Lembrança dos batismos que tivemos juntas! Día muito féliz! Amo voçê! Desejo que encontre muitas e muitas almas para levar à Cristo. Successo!
Back row (l to r): Élder Bilar, Sister Soares, Sister Me
Center (l to r): a very nice girl, Irene, Zeneide, Marcello
Front: Camilla

Every so often, just to keep things interesting, transfers would happen. Either you or your companion would be assigned a new area to work in and either way you'd get a new companion. If you stayed, a new one came to you and if you moved on, a new one was waiting for you when you got there. And so eventually Sister Soares was transferred to a new area and I got a new companion, Sister {Thelma} Lino, from Paraná. Sister Soares and Sister Lino were both very tall for Brazilians and I think the only two who were taller than me, who stands at a mere 5' 5". Before she left for her mission, Sister Lino was a hairstylist. I recently learned that she has since passed away from an aneurism. Here we are as we are getting ready to leave for a mission conference. I can tell because we're both wearing our fancy clothes. The house that we lived in was awful; you can see that from the staining on the walls behind me. What you can't see are the cement floors, the cockroaches and the rats.

Sometimes because of how new missionaries are scheduled to arrive or old missionaries are scheduled to leave, you have a temporary transfer and are only with a companion for a couple of weeks. Sister Lino and I had a third companion, Sister {Adriana} de Jesus {Días}, of Goiás, with us for a week on a temporary transfer. I wish that I'd have had better skills with the camera I had. And the foresight to know that the photographs of my time in Brazil would become really important.

Sister {Sandra Marcia} Gouveia was my favorite companion {but don't tell the others!}. She was like a ray of sunshine, always cheerful, positive and so kind and patient. She was from the interior of São Paulo and had this thick southern accent. It was adorable. We got along so well; of course, I got along with all my companions, but it was easy with Sister Gouveia. We focused on the positive and kept working hard even when it was tough and we wanted to give up.
L to R: Sister Me, Sister Gouveia, Vládia Veras Santos, Charles, Élder Garcia

I spent the first six months in Brazil in the center of Fortaleza. I worked in several different areas, but it was all starting to take on a sort of sameness; I suppose I get bored quickly. So it was a nice change to be transfered to Aracati, a city a long bus-ride away from Fortaleza. This was the first time that Sister missionaries worked in this city, so it was new for both my companion, Sister {Marília} Ogawa, and me. Our little house was, I have to say, the nicest that I stayed in my whole time in Brasil. It was fairly new, with pretty yellow paint on the walls, and tile on the floors, a shower curtain and a seat on the toilet. Sister Ogawa was from São Paulo, but of Japanese descent. She lived in Japan and the U.S. before her mission and was a dermatologist. She was one of my shorter companions and a really hard worker.
L to R: Irisváne, Élder Bernardo, Danusa, Sister Ogawa, Sister Me

This is Sister {Neusa} de Aguiar from São Paulo. She was a temporary transfer when I came back from Aracati and we only worked together for 16 days without much occasion for picture taking. This little snap of her is from a picture taken of all the missionaries in our entire mission at Christmas, a few weeks later. Sister de Aguiar was cheerful and always laughing. And she didn't clean up after herself. I once found three day old dishes stashed inside the oven.

This is Sister {Marcia} Saturnino of São Paulo. She was my companion at Christmas. I can't remember the details now, but we bought each other very modest gifts and there is some story about this wrapping paper and that tiny little tree on the top of our fridge. I think that I was her last companion and she was 'transferred' home at the end of our time together. Knowing that she was so close to the end of her mission made me more homesick and anxious than it did her.

Sister {Rita de Caçia dos Santos} Silva was fresh from the MTC when we were assigned to be companions. She was from Manaus, which is the capitol city of Amazonas, Amazonas being a state situated around the Amazon river. She was the shortest of my companions. I'm not sure she hit 5', so I guess not all Amazon women are tall. As a matter of fact, I think I'm the one who looks freakishly tall and large in the picture here {remember, I'm only 5' 5"}.

When I arrived in Brazil there were two other American Sister missionaries in my mission. They were assigned to an area pretty far away from where I was, so I didn't see them much. They went home not too long after I got there, so I spent about 9 months as the only American Sister in the mission. I loved the unique 'status,' the only gringa in the bunch. It was a huge blessing as far as learning the language because it was sink or swim -- I had to learn it to get by. But I also felt a little homesick for my own culture. I remember kneeling down one night and being thankful for carpet and curtains and toilet seats.

When I heard that another Sister was coming from the states, from Utah, I started praying to be her companion. I really wanted to be with someone who understood where I came from. I felt I could help her have an easier transition than I did to living in such poor conditions. I vowed to myself that I would only speak Portuguese with her so that she could have the same advantage I did with the language. When she arrived, I rattled off a very enthusiastic greeting, but the look on her face told me that she didn't understand a word. And my resolve completely melted. I love this picture of Sister {Heather} Collet. These clothes are hung inside our house. It was so hot and humid that it didn't matter if you hung them inside or out. We called this The Clothesline Jungle. Or maybe that was just me. Sister Collet was so much fun to be around and she had the best laugh. I don't know if I was the best first companion for her in Brazil {talked in English a little too much, I think}, but she really was what I needed at the time.

In Brazil, beans and rice are a staple at just about every meal. And frankly, it can get a little old. Most of the time we ate our main meal of the day {lunch} with members of the Church in the area we were working in. One P-Day {preparation day; for washing clothes, writing letters home, buying groceries, etc.} I made sloppy joes for lunch for the four of us living in our little house because we were on our own for all our meals on P-Day {incidentally, Sister de Jesus lived in that same house with us at the time}. Sister Collet took the first bite of her sloppy joe, closed her eyes and said, mmmmm, comida! Translated, she was saying, mmmmm, food! but something was a little lost in the translation from her to the other {Brazilian} sisters in our house because they were used to beans and rice all the time. I'm thinking the story may have fallen a little flat here too. You run that risk with people telling their old mission stories. They think they are so fun and interesting that they have to share all the details with every one they know, and sometimes they share them with you twice.

Sister {Lucy} Sousa {de Oliveira} was another companion that I didn't spend a lot of time with. I don't remember too much about her, except that she was from São Paulo, very sweet and was just starting out on her mission. We were together for two weeks and then I was transferred to Teresina, a city in another state {Piauí} which required an overnight bus ride. Sister Sousa wrote me several letters after I got home from Brazil and included some pictures of herself, including this one. She, obviously, had better command of a camera than I did.

Once in Teresina, I had two companions for a bit. Sister {Simoni Priscila} Policarpo {da Silva Sales}, had turned her ankle and so her companion, Sister {Juzinélia} Barbosa, needed another missionary to go out and work with her, while Sister Policarpo went to physical therapy {accompanied by one of the women in the ward there}, so we were put together in a group of three for just a short while. Sister Barbosa {and you can see Sister Ogawa in the background} was from São Paulo and I snipped her picture from the same group picture I took Sister de Aguiar's from.

Sister Barbosa was transfered from Teresina back to Fortaleza about two weeks after I got there. Sister Policarpo (also from São Paulo) was assigned a new companion {Sister R. Silva, pictured on the left} and a new area in Teresina and since both my companions were transfered away {although Sister Policarpo was still in the same house} I also got a new companion, Sister {Tarly Faría} Días, from Bahia.

L to R: Sister R. Silva, Sister F. Días, Sister Me, Sister Policarpo
That is Élder Coelho in front. I'm sure his companion {Elder T. Smith} was taking the picture. This is at my last zone conference in Teresina, just a few days before I headed home. Sister F. Días was my last companion.

And here I am again with the mission president and his wife. I'm a lot more comfortable and I'd gotten a bit of color. I also made that horrible dress one P-Day.

When I first arrived in Brazil I could probably say that I wanted to go. But I needed to stay. By the time I reached the end of my mission, I wanted to stay, but it was time for me to go. Sometimes the things we need the most are the things we want the least.


Michelle said...

Thanks for sharing such an interesting period of your life. I can see that it was both tough and exciting. I also see why you serve as Missionaries while still so young--and older person wouldn't be crazy enough to do that. ;-)

It's awesome that you can speak Portuguese. I'm trying to learn Spanish.

Shay said...

I really enjoyed this sneak peek into your younger years. I probably spent the same period in my life studying for a degree and getting caught up in a completely different culture -night clubbing. (I did that for about 3 years and got pretty bored with it )

And wow look really different now!

Shay said...

Sorry- I commented twice, but it looks even stupider now that I removed it.

Elizabeth said...

I hate it when I make a typo or put down an incomplete thought and then realize it doesn't make sense, so I delete the post and then re-post. I agree it looks stupid {blogger needs comment editing tools}, so I used my executive blog commander powers and removed your second post permanently. All cleaned up. I've got your back.

Oh and the difference in appearance? That is 15 years, 15 lbs. {who am I kidding, it is more like 25}, and LOTS and LOTS of under-eye concealer. Oh, and my hair has gone a bit darker too.

xo -E

Paulette said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, Elizabeth. My cousin's child is going on (or maybe is on by now) a mission. Not being LDS, I nodded and pretended I knew what that meant, but until I read your story, I really had no idea.

M. Regina said...

Ólá Elizabeth, gostei muito de saber que estivesse morando aqui no Brasil, comendo nosso maravilhoso feijão com arroz. Deves ter gostado muito de Fortaleza, praias lindas, clima ótimo. Eu moro no sul do Brasil, no estado do Rio Grande do Sul, em Peltas, a 250 km abixo de Porto Alegre. Aqui temos um grande templo da Igreja Mórmon, e seguidamente se vê seus missionários, inclusive americanos.
Que bom que falas português. Eu consigo ler o inglês, mas escrevo com dificuldades. Assim podemos nos comunicar mais facilmente. \um grande abraço.

Jennifer Lovell said...

I love knowing that your mission was as special to you as mine was to me. It was the hardest thing I ever did outside of parenting children, but I would do it again in a heartbeat if I had to choose. I loved seeing the different pictures of you with your mission president and his wife--it takes me back to my same poses with some other equally special people. Thanks for the great reminiscing, and I'm happy for you to have such wonderful memories of this blessed period of your life. love you!