Well, well, well...Halloween has made its way. Rumor has it that Halloween isn't too big of a deal in Brazil. Much like the Spanish, they celebrate a little thing called Day of the Dead (Dia Dos Mortos), which sounds like a big mess to me...people crying with candles and spooky music. It kind of reminds me of my next-door neighbors. I got up at 2 a.m. one night to get some water and I heard drums beating. At first, I thought nothing of it and then I thought a little harder and realized this just isn't right. It was much too early to be playing drums. Being the curious person that I am, I peered down out the window to see a circle of candles lighting the backyard and shadows swaying against the wall. Reminded of the movie Skeleton Key, I decided to just get my water and go back to bed and let them continue on with whatever it was they were doing.
So, the teaching is going really well. We keep meeting new people every day that somehow have a connection to the Church, which makes it much easier to get things started. The best way for us to meet people isn't knocking (clapping) doors like one might think. Don't get me wrong, we spend many hours doing this every week, but the best thing for us to do is ask for references. When we teach someone that is progressing, all we do is ask, "Who do you know that can be blessed by this message?"...and we receive names. Also, the streets here are pretty unorganized, so we get people walking by while we're in the middle of a lesson and they just sit down and listen. This usually results in them asking us to teach them. Why do we often times teach outside? Well, a lot of the houses are so small that we can't all fit inside to carry on a lesson. Another reason is they sometimes don't have lights, so it's pitch black inside after dark.
This week was a magical week of members not preparing lunch for us (since last Saturday there hasn't been one). We walk to their house, which usually takes 20 minutes or more, and then knock on the door to find out they didn't know we were coming or didn't have anything for us. It would make much more sense for us to call to confirm our appointment ahead of time, but we can't since they don't have phones. In my rage of hunger, I bought a chocolate cake mix and baked it. To my surprise, this dollar equivalent mix produced a delicious cake that I also ate this morning.
They had a re-count for elections here (sound familiar?), which turned into a re-vote and the craziness from elections just ended last Sunday. Back to baptisms...Elder Rocha and I have four this Saturday. Here are their names for those of you who are curious: Fabiana da Sousa, Marielley de Oliveira Holanda, Sandra (Elizandra) Kiod Gonzaga, and Luana Oliveira de Matos. This week is somewhat of a landmark in the pursuance of hitting the goal given to the missionaries of Missâo Brasil Manaus. The best part is we keep having progressing investigators, and through prayer, we continue to be guided in the right direction which leads to additional baptisms. We already have two scheduled for next Saturday and will most likely have more. It's really awesome to see all the teaching and work come together with the baptisms, but it's even more rewarding to see the smiles on these people's faces when they realize they have finally found that ONE thing they have been blindly searching for all their life. In closing, Happy Birthday, Grandma. Try not to do anything too crazy...remember, cats are the ones born with 9 lives!
You never really appreciate things until they're gone. Once again, this theory really came into focus this week. In the past, it was the trans-fat free American candy, but this week was something a little more essential...electricity. So, I was sitting in my room after our almoço appointment and then all of a sudden the perfect storm comes out of nowhere and thrashes the side of the house and all the power lines. Of course, the houses here don't have windows, just concrete holes, so the rain started coming in sideways. Fortunately, I got all my stuff out of its path of destruction, but it still got the upper hand when it decided to take out the ever-so-valuable electricity. So, this week was a little interesting to say the least.
On a high note, we had two baptisms: Roselane and James, both of which are not pronounced like they look. I've still managed to keep my record going...I haven't baptized a single man and my companion has yet to baptize a woman. Anyway, we don't have any baptisms this week but five the next week and then two after that, which is pretty good. Investigators are turning their lives around doing what they need to do in order to show they are ready to make this covenant. Also, this transfer will put me on pace for that goal that was given to us at my first conference... essentially one baptism a week.
I don't recall if I mentioned it last week, but we are teaching a lady by the name of Daniella, her sister, and her three kids. It's going really well. They are very accepting of the message and are great people. We had a really good week last week in general with forty lessons...so far that's our best. It is really motivating to share the Gospel with as many people as possible to give them that opportunity and to say you at least tried. A lot of times, though, the most effective way of teaching is to go to the investigator's house frequently during the week to give them that extra push to do their best. The greatest challenge the people here face is their love for coffee and, of course, their lack of desire to get married. Many, if not most, people don't understand the importance of marriage, so that seems to be the bigger of the roadblocks to baptism. They live together for years and years but never make it legal (that simple step that one might think would be easy just doesn't click for them).
In other news, I received word from the Mission Office that they are going to start a bonfire with my mail. In the past week, eighteen letters have made their way into my hands along with one package. Today I got to read them all, which was a daunting yet enjoyable task...thank you. They have now given me my own address for mail. It's...just kidding, but it was an awesome feeling getting to see all those waiting for me.
Last week I tried some sort of manioc patty wrapped in banana leaves from the interior of the jungle, which was actually pretty good. It was probably one of the first things I've eaten in my life that is the real deal - all natural...except for chocolate soy milk, of course. We also went to the center, where there seems to be more people than fish in the sea. It's really amazing to think about how few people live in the interior of the Amazon and then you go to the center, where the Theater and Palace are, and you'll see thousands upon thousands of people flooding the streets.
Lastly, I thought I would share some funny stories. There is a house here where some short people live and the little peep-hole they use to look out of is in the dead center of the door level with my stomach. And then the next is my personal favorite...the daughter of Marianice was complaining that corn cake (tastes like corn bread) couldn't be eaten with a fork or spoon, so I suggested the "spork." The concept boggled her mind...the look on her face was priceless. I never thought something so simple could be so foreign to someone. Hopefully, I have answered most of the questions. If not, let me know. Have a great week. Tchau.
Well...it appears this week wasn't quite as interesting as the last, but I'll have you know I have a little fan club down here. I say little because they are all less than four feet tall and this club's membership is less than a baker's dozen. We started teaching a woman by the name of Daniella this week along with several others, but she is different from all the rest. She is grasping everything we present to her and is progressing very quickly. As we were teaching her, sitting on the tiny brick wall in her front yard, a small gathering of children began to appear. We soon had eight people listening to our lesson who all appeared very interested. Then they asked where we were from. I jokingly told them I was from Mexico and my companion was from Spain. The rest of the day they followed us around until Family Home Evening like a little entourage. They continually asked us how to say things in Spanish or English and I in return asked how to say things in Portuguese. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention...guess who is in charge of FHE here? You guessed it...the missionaries. It appears my calling last year at school was good preparation. Unfortunately, though, it's a little hard for me to work the humor into my lessons like I'm used to doing.
I have been writing so many letters lately that I think I may have neglected to tell you about one of our conferences we had the first week I was in Manaus. We had a member of the Area Presidency, Elder Ellis, come speak to us and yours truly was asked to be on the program. I had the privilege of speaking right before him. So...next time you worry about having to give a talk in Sacrament - try that on. It was my first week in a new area, I only had two months of language training, and I was asked to speak in front of a General Authority, the Mission President, and all the missionaries. Surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. Once you get behind the microphone, all your fears go away because you realize that after two years you'll likely never see any of these people again.
We have two baptisms this week, Roselane and James, which will be a great experience. As a missionary, you realize even when you set dates for baptism things happen to people that make them doubt their decision. Often times, it is due to others who lack understanding of our message. They refer to us as "Church of the Devil" and stuff like that when in fact that's about as far from the truth as it gets. We aren't the ones with a massive rock band center stage holding preaching concerts every night. Anyway, it's been a good week. We have 7 or 8 baptism commitments set up for this transfer, which is pretty good since the transfer has only just begun. The best part is the recent converts are staying active. Each Sunday, to help out investigators, we walk several miles to round them up and get them to church.
The weather has been weird lately. It has been raining a lot but still very hot. I hate the heat during the day, but it's appreciated when it comes time to shower because our water is naturally heated. Today we're going to the center, which is where everything happens. It is where all the fishing boats and whatnot are. I should have some good pictures next week! Take care.
Well, it's October and my favorite holiday is coming up...I'm hoping they celebrate it here. Anyway, to get to the good stuff...we had another baptism this week. Her name is Nilce Ferreira da Silva. It was another interesting experience. We (Elder Rocha and I) realized that for some reason all the women choose me to baptize them and all the men choose him. I don't get it. Everything is going well, though. The funny thing is that after the baptism, like last time, I was left standing dripping wet as the rest of the meeting went on because Nilce decided to use the men's restroom to get dressed. I also left my sandals at the house, which you need when you walk from the bathroom to the font or you'll get some sort of parasite in your foot, so I had to borrow some from a member which were size 7-8...only about 4-5 sizes too small, but they got the job done. We have a ton more references and people we've met on the street that have really taken interest in what we have to say. So far, all those who have been baptized are remaining strong and active in the Church.
So, the bats and critters are starting to show up more and more...obviously getting ready for Halloween. Once again, the other night we were sitting in a member's house when an army of cockroaches flew in and started landing on everything. I'll admit I was a little less than comfortable but running out wasn't an option due to respect issues and the fact that it's a 15 foot drop down to the street out the front door.
The main type of service we do here is move things. The other day we did work for the Bishop and we had to move rocks...well, my companion moved rocks and I moved boulders. That's the one downfall of being the biggest person...you get stuck with harder work, but I enjoyed it. It's another chance to work out.
We had a General Authority relay a message to our Mission President when he came down to talk to us last month. He wants one ward out of every missionary before their two years are up. That's right...he said more or less that he wants 100 baptisms from every missionary. It sounds pretty high, but I'm thinking it's well within reach. After watching all five sessions of conference, 10 hours worth, I feel I have all the tools I need to get a jump start on this goal. The first step toward this objective has already begun. I don't see any reason why I can't be at or above ten baptisms by the end of this next transfer, especially with a well-written plan of action which combines spiritual and mental aspects I believe we need to have in order to increase our success.
The other great thing about this week was that elections ended on Sunday night. That means no more cars blasting slogans and no more people trying to hand me fliers. On Election Day, the streets were covered in voting slips, so people would know how to vote for their favorite candidate. We had to report to the booths on Sunday, so Elder Rocha could vote. If Brazilians are over 18 and don't vote or turn in a slip, they get thrown in jail. As one could guess, they had a great turn out for their elections.
The weather last week was the hottest it's been for a while, but after yesterday and today, I am beginning to see signs that the rainy season, which officially starts in December, is on its way. The language continues to improve. I've found that rather than talking fast, like I would prefer to do, it's better to pronounce words clearly, so it sounds more like what it should...makes sense, right? The work is going well and the word "idle" can in no way describe our missionary efforts. When we aren't teaching, we're finding, and when that's not happening, we're studying. Needless to say, I learn something new every day. The people here are very kind and continue to feed us well, even though it appears the value of the reais continues to plummet. Thank you for the emails and your support. If there are any questions, just let me know. I'd be glad to answer them. Happy Birthday, Grandpa! Take care.
Well, the pictures are taking forever to upload, so I'll begin writing in the meantime. One of the pictures is of our district at the last baptismal service and the other is a pretty awesome picture of the river I took right before landing in Manaus.
Once again, we had a very productive week even though we had to go everywhere in preparation for transfers. Our zone meeting this past week was quite interesting. The leaders talked about how we need to focus more on the work here, which was really ironic since immediately afterward they decided to throw a birthday party and dress up like hula girls. Fortunately, this last transfer resulted in a few new elders in our zone who might help me get the others to concentrate through example. Elder Vieira, from our apartment and district, "died" this transfer. His two years were up, so we received a new elder, Elder Williams, who is American. Now we have 3 Americans and 1 Brazilian in our district.
Like I mentioned earlier, we had another baptism. We baptized Ruben Pinheiro Filguera. He is 21, I believe, which will make it easier for him to make his own decisions and remain an active member. Within this month, we should have quite a few more baptisms, probably four if I were to guess. We have more dates set, but honestly, you never know what will happen. There is only so much you can do and then it's up to them. The challenge with the people is keeping appointments. We teach essentially all day, which is hard work, and then we go to an appointment or lunch and the people aren't there. That's the way they are here, not 100% organized, and since people walk everywhere, sometimes things just aren't precise. Fortunately, though, you're guided by the Spirit where to clap doors and it all works out.
Surprisingly, I'm maintaining the same weight even with all the walking and stuff. The members love to feed the missionaries, so every time we talk with someone we end up getting fed, usually bread and juice from the local panificadora. Let's see...the food here remains the same. I still haven't had fish, which really surprises me, but always rice, beans, and chicken. One thing I thought was unusual is that they eat their popcorn here with mayonnaise.
Something very unfortunate recently happened in my area. Everyone here rides motorcycles and there was an incident on the street above ours where this cyclist was careless and got hit by a car and then by another, which ultimately killed him. The other missionaries in our district said it was a bit of a mess. Remarkably, that's the first incident I have heard of considering they don't have road laws.
We've had a serious heat wave this past week...up over 39C (100F) every day. You sit in people's homes teaching discussions and you can feel your shirt sticking to your skin from all of the sweat. To further complicate the situation, in a few of the homes, they give you these pieces of scrap wood to sit on during the lesson that just fall apart, so I find myself "sitting" by the muscles in my legs.
The people are really kind except for the annoying campaign vans shouting candidates' names all day long. They go throughout the city with their little parade blasting their music to get votes...a little bit different than in the States. Fortunately, the elections are Sunday, so that will come to an end soon.
The work is going well and we have a lot of people progressing. There are a ton of names...too many to mention, and for that matter, I don't have the slightest idea how to spell half of them. The language continues to improve as well as the speed at which I talk and read. Many times I find myself looking back on what I just said thinking...how did that happen? Take care and thanks for the support. It really makes this experience that much more special.
This was definitely a good week. For starters, we had another baptism and the members are starting to help us out a lot more...since knocking or clapping on doors isn't exactly the most effective way to do things. Our most recent baptism was the son of Telania Palheta Dos Santos, our first baptism. His name is Adriano and he's sixteen. It was really cool to see things come together for this family. Now, we are teaching his cousins, who both have dates set for baptism, and hopefully their families too. Everyone in the family lives close together, so that makes things easier.
Nonetheless, things are not easy...mostly because of the weather. During the middle of the day, of course, it is really hot, and no matter what you do, nobody wants to get off their hammock to come to the door and talk...but I can kind of understand given the circumstances.
The Portuguese continues to get better, especially the understanding part. At first when I arrived here, the words were coming so fast that I couldn't keep up with what was being said, but now it's starting to make sense and I can actually talk back with intelligent answers. It's still a little bit of a disappointment that I can't speak as well as I can in English, but that will come with time.
This morning we were a little bit delayed due to some serious rain. It rained harder than I have ever seen. I don't know how some of these houses remain standing, but they amazingly do. A huge river quickly forms in the middle of the street, which takes anything and everything in its way. There are a lot of snakes and such left on the sidewalks afterward that unfortunately didn't make it to dry ground.
The food here continues to be normal: beans, rice, meat, and some sort of vegetable. The other day someone actually made us fries...it was amazing! All is going well and each day it seems our work here is more and more successful.
A few of you had questions this week with regards to bugs and creatures of this nature. They are everywhere, but fortunately, even though our door doesn't close properly and there is a gap at the bottom, the bugs stay out for the most part...although I'm not sure why. The only exception is mosquitoes, which really aren't too bad as long as you have your fan on and use bug repellent.
This week brought a couple more interesting things that I wasn't expecting. The biggest issue being that they don't really have endangered species regulations here and they eat freshwater turtle eggs, which is unfortunate in my opinion. A member still had them sitting in their home when we were eating the other day. The people here continue to be very generous and give all they have for us to visit and share a message with them over lunch. We even have a family that invites us over every night for dinner, which is really awesome.
We have three baptisms for sure this month...possibly a few others. I wouldn't be surprised if we have as many as five. It's really cool to see all of our previous preparation finally having results.
As a result of all the shots I received before leaving on my mission, my health is staying pretty good. If that weren't the case, one of the many vultures that hang around our house would have carried me off by now. It's funny walking down the streets because there are little kids running everywhere. It reminds me of The Jungle Book for some reason...I don't know why.
This week is kind of crazy, so I'm going to have to call it quits for now. As for the pictures, one is in the church with a local tool they use for everything and the other is the Amazon River from the plane. Don't be deceived...it's several miles wide. Take care everybody and thanks for the emails...I really appreciate it.
-Elder Taylor Mackay
Note New Address: Elder Taylor Michael Mackay Brazil Manaus Mission Rua Loris Cordovil, 1066 Alvorada I 69042-010 - Manaus - AM Brazil
It was another interesting week. The elections here are getting a bit ridiculous...24/7 there are people driving up and down the streets blasting their slogan music to get people to vote for them.
Last Wednesday was pretty awesome. We went to a jungle preserve where the National Army practices their military tactics. The great part was they also have a ton of animals there that are indigenous to the area: jaguar, caiman, tons of monkeys, leopards, anacondas and whatnot...all without regulations for safety, so you can get within feet of all these animals. The best part when we were walking back was seeing a sloth, or "lazy" in Portuguese, sleeping lazily on the branch of a tree.
It was way hot again this week. I guess the weather cools down in January. The pictures I sent are of me and my companion at our first baptism and the other is my first day here on the docks of the Rio Negro...both back when I was still really white from lack of sun. I'll try and send more later since it only allows me to send two at a time.*
All the people here are really kind. It's very rare that someone has something negative to say to us. At most, it's just words, much of which I don't understand, so I let Elder Rocha worry about it. I came here to Manaus thinking I was going to lose weight or possibly starve, but the funny thing is the members of the ward literally fight over who gets to feed the missionaries and surprisingly the food is generally good. It's hard to go wrong with black beans, rice, chicken, and Fanta or Baré (the local guaraná).
We continue to find people to teach, the most successful people coming from references of ward members. It appears that we have three more baptisms lined up before the end of the month. I was thinking our numbers were a little weak, but I found out that our area is the smallest in the entire mission and the people here are very resistant to change. I guess in the past this is where all the assistants to the President were sent.
Something I found pretty comical, that actually happened less than 24 hrs. ago, was when we were teaching a darker-skinned lady and she just snapped and started throwing stuff and saying God doesn't love dark-skinned people. Since she believed He felt that way, she didn't feel like believing in Him and would rather serve another god, so she didn't want to go to church...it was really weird. Unfortunately, we won't be talking to her again.
Everything is great and I continue to learn more every single day, which is preparing me for future experiences. Every once in a while we run into weird snakes on the road...the last one was black and white and had two heads and the one before that was a coral snake. Lastly, you have to be careful on the buses here. They stop for 5 seconds but leave their doors open for 15 seconds because they are on such a strict schedule. The other day I found myself jumping out of a speeding bus (very carefully as not to get injured), which was something I've always wanted to do. I can check that off my list, so I don't have to do it again. We have another conference next week and our district leader should be bringing the mail later today. Take care and thanks for the emails.
*I wasn't able to download the pictures...hopefully next week.
I would just like to start off with a big THANKS for all the emails. I received 15...a lot more than I was expecting. It made my day! This week was pretty eventful and we also got a first-hand glimpse at some serious Amazonian rain. It rains really hard here but, fortunately, only lasts 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
I had my first baptism last Friday, which was a great experience. Her name is Telania Palheta Dos Santos and she is about 40 years old if I were to guess. After the interview, everybody started coming up to me saying stuff in Portuguese and I didn't know what was going on. Finally, in broken English, our district leader said, "They want you to perform the baptism." The first thing that entered my mind was...oh crap...I don't even know what to say...how to pronounce her name...and there is going to be a ton of people there. Nevertheless, all went well and I performed the first baptism in the font in our building...not too bad for being out less than two weeks. I was grateful for the experience. The funny part about the baptism was some little kid locked the door to my room, so I watched the rest of the program while seated in the doorway dripping wet...only from about my quads down, though, since the font is so tiny due to the people here being so short. I tower above everyone...for the first time in my life (haha). We are currently teaching Telania's son.
The people are very generous and overfeed us (2 - 3 meals every day not including our breakfast, which we make ourselves). If we are teaching someone, they send their child to go down to the corner store and buy some soda and bread or cake, and of course, we eat it...we have to. Fortunately, I don't think it's possible for me to gain weight, so I'm good.
The houses are built on stilts in some places and the area is pretty poor. Every house here sells something...mostly food products. It's crazy just knowing that this is how these people make their living. It really makes the community more close-knit, though. Something else I have noticed is that everything stops here from 12 - 2:30 p.m. It's pretty weird. Everybody just leaves what they are doing and goes home to eat and nap.
The Rio Negro is huge. It's dark black but clear...if that makes any sense. Speaking of which, I've got some picture this week that I'll attach. Every day here is hot...very, very hot. I don't understand how people can live here, but I guess they are used to it. We do a lot of walking, but once a month we have to take a taxi and once a week we take the bus (which is crazy) for various meetings.
They have a greater variety of fruits and vegetables here than in any part of the world. There is every fruit you can possibly imagine, except nothing looks perfect like it does in the United States. The watermelon here is about double the length and lighter green in color on the outside. The oranges and bananas, too, are light green when ripe, which is really strange. Another interesting fact is that star fruit and mango can be seen growing all over the place. The fruit is dirt cheap. People drive around selling abacaxi (pineapple) and melancia (watermelon) by the truckload. They sell pineapples and ice cold coconuts for 75 cents each. They hack the tops off coconuts and put straws in them, so you can drink the milk. They sell bananas by the stalk here...they are still attached in massive clusters, which is pretty cool. The meat in Manaus is really nasty but tastes fine. They just have it hanging by hooks, not refrigerated, and they sell huge blocks of fat to people...I don't know why. I drink more soda here than water. They have Grapette and Fanta uva (grape) and laranja (orange) and guarana...most are sold in the old 1L and 2L glass bottles, which is pretty different. Every meal is served with beans and rice and a salad of sorts. Most people have a meat product of chicken with it and they have something called farinha, which is like eating pebbles...it's some kind of grain, but it's rock hard. I had cow intestine just sitting in my beans the other day. It was pretty disgusting. That's one thing I won't eat, so I fished around it to get to the beans.
We had our first conference, which was a total bust. A Seventy was here and gave the same speech as one of the Twelve Apostles. I was kind of hoping, given the long journey and the fact that he has such a high position, that he could come up with something original. Nonetheless, it was interesting and we were given milk, vitamins, and chocolate mix.
Today we are going to CIGS, a wildlife preserve, where they have animals and such. It should be pretty cool. Congrats on the Eagle, Kyle and Happy Birthday this week, Dad...it's the only chance I'll have to say it. Make it a good one and have a double-double or peanut butter sandwich for me.
So, I guess in the grand scheme of things, this was a pretty eventful week. It rained pretty hard yesterday...even inside it is hard to hear others talk because of the force of the rain on the roof. It's still hot here, though, just in case you were wondering. One of the members already gave me some towels to wipe off my face (they feed us dinner every night). By the way, I'm going to get dark here and probably blend in with the natives.
I'm pretty far away from what I call a civilized area with hotels, microwaves, air-conditioning, and stuff like that, so it appears changing currency is out of the question for now. And as for the transfers, it looks like most will be by boat. There are only four areas that require plane. The only problem about the boat transfers is if the boat goes down. You'll probably be okay for about 2 minutes...then there are at least four things in the Amazon and Rio Negro (that I know of) that will kill you before you make it to shore...I guess that's kind of exciting.
As for the food here, I eat it even though 85% of the time it's questionable, because they often make you share the same cup and don't really cook the food all the way through. However, I'm being as careful as I can with being sanitary. Sometimes, though, there isn't much you can do, since you can't reject food from members. My mission doesn't serve monkey, but the two things they do serve that I won't be looking forward to are turtle and sea manatee. All I'm going to say is getting all those shots was definitely worth it.
For the most part, our neighborhood is very friendly and accepting of the missionaries. There are some parts, though, that we have to take off our watches before we enter just for safety sake, but that's everyone's problem. By no means are any parts of my mission well off, but some parts are the complete opposite...it's really amazing how a lot of these people grew up in these conditions and are still alive. I'll send some pictures once I get the USB reader. As for the temple grounds, I took pictures...nothing has started, though, and it appears as if it will stay that way for a while.
Our district, Compensa 2, is very small...only four missionaries. It's a busy day every day here...teaching from 10 a.m. - 12 p.m., break for lunch, then continue to teach from 2 - 9ish with some sort of pit stop for a snack or dinner thrown in there. Anyway, everything is good. We have our first baptism on the 29th, and hopefully, there should be more the following week.
One weird thing here is that everyone is certain there is a homem peixe in the water (man-fish)...essentially a mermaid except this one eats people. I laughed once when a local told me and then I realized he was serious.
It's election time here, so it's pretty crazy. There are lots of candidates on top of vans traveling around the city with big megaphones shouting about how they will change Manaus. Speaking of noise, everyone here blasts their American music that they don't even understand. It's pretty funny at times, especially when it's a rough looking guy listening to a remix of "Because of You" by Kelly Clarkson. I also went into a house yesterday and they were watching "Bet on It"...it made my day. Thanks for the emails. It sounds like everything is going well for everyone. Glad to see that the U.S. won the overall medal count.
Well...I am in Amazonas now. I am in an area called Ponta Negra (right by the Rio Negro) in a neighborhood called Compensa. It is very different from the United States that's for sure. It is very hot (114F), very humid, and relatively in a constant state of disorder...compared to where I've been. So, just to give you a little catch up on what's been going on, yesterday I got on a plane at 10:40 a.m. and landed at 1:30 p.m. Manaus time (even though it was a 4 hour flight). Presidente Jayme picked us up (me and 4 other Brazilians from Fortaleza, São Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro). We had lunch at the Mission Home and then we toured the site of the future temple. It is right on the banks of the Rio Negro River...a pretty awesome view. Then we took a van to the Mission Office where we finished up our paper work and such and found out where we would be serving.
Last night I met my new companiero, Elder Rocha (rock in English), who is about 5'9" and pretty skinny. He is good...a little hard to understand but very helpful and is from Fortaleza. The craziest thing of all is after I told him I was from California he was like, "I was baptized by an elder from California." He proceeded to take out his pictures to show me, but I knew nothing would become of it. To my surprise, it was none other than Logan Moore, who I ran track at Utah State with and talked to quite a bit about my mission before leaving. Pretty crazy!
As for the water in the house, it isn't drinkable or heated. There is a little tub on top of the house that collects rain water and is then naturally pressured to come out of the pvc pipe to the plastic shower head and faucet. It is a little a house but big enough. I have a fan to keep me cool at night and to keep the bugs off...no need for a net yet, but maybe next transfer. Anyway, there are 2 other elders in our house, one from Alaska and the other is Brazilian.
Last night we had dinner at someone's house. I'm not sure what we ate, but it tasted like pizza. Today we went into downtown and saw the Amazon Theatre (Teatro Amazonas) and the docks of the Rio Negro...which just so happened to have a freshwater dolphin hopping out of the water. It was awesome! There were people cooking and preserving piranha everywhere and the city was packed with people...all who looked a little bit different than me.
My P-days are going to be on Wednesday of each week, except for next week which will be Monday because someone is visiting. It's a great experience so far. I'll give you a better idea of the mission next week. The people here are really familiar with the missionaries and enjoy talking with us, which is a great start.
It's really hot here...at night it cools down, though, to a brisk 90 degrees or so. When you get out of the shower, you are already sweating again even though the water was cold. So far so good, though, with the food and bottled water I've been drinking. On a side note, we walked a good 3 miles through neighborhoods and occasionally on dirt sidewalks to get here to this little Internet house, which really didn't surprise me since the area isn't what I would call urban. Thanks for the emails.
So, this is it. This is the last email that I will be sending from the CTM here in São Paulo... fortunately. It's been a great experience so far, but...it's rough not being able to see the sun for 6 days at a time. This week has gone by fast and slow at the same time...if that makes any sense. We have finished all of our scheduled learning, so we have been reviewing everything we feel is important, but on the other hand, the entire district is leaving to their various destinations in about 5 days now, so time is flying by. This past week we went out to a bridge in the middle of the city to teach people. Fortunately for us, it was pouring rain...really hard, which just made things a little bit more difficult. Amazingly though, we were more successful this time in talking and teaching people, which doesn't make any sense. The progress made here in the CTM was definitely a big help.
Not to scare anyone, because this wasn't very serious, but me and 3 other missionaries were sitting at a chess table in the middle of Casa Verde (ghetto) writing letters when we were approached by 2 drunk, old men. They just waved their arms and were saying...Americanos this or that when I spied a legitimate-sized knife in one of the men's back pocket, which he made attempts to grab every so often. In English, I just said, (since they couldn't understand) "Well, these guys are obviously crazy...and one's got a knife...how about we take a little walk before he does something stupid." I think there was a little inspiration in my sight.
Also this week, something even more unbelievable was that I sang "Comigo Habita" in a quintet (I believe that's what it's called) at church...now I can check that off my list of things to do...but then our President said something, and before we knew it, we were asked (forced) to sing this Sunday in front of the entire CTM (300+) people. That got a little out of hand really fast.
I have continued to hear crazy things about Manaus from workers here: mosquitoes the size of birds and alligators everywhere...I don't believe anything I hear anymore.
We have a meeting this upcoming Monday with the President to get all of our travel information. Then on Tuesday, I get to wake up bright and early to head over to the airport and hop on a little plane to Manaus. I will be the only American heading north on the plane ride, so that will be interesting. I'm pretty excited about it, especially since every week I get a better grasp of the language. It's amazing to think that after only 2 months of training we're getting sent out to the field...but I'm ready.
We had a little talent show the other night in our free time, which was a nice break from all the studying. Our instructor came and performed some of his magic tricks (magic is a really big deal here in Brazil). Other than that, I don't really have much else to say besides the fact that the next keyboard I touch will be several hundreds of miles away. It'll be interesting to find out what part of Amazonas I will be sent to first. I really appreciate all the emails and read every single one. I'll send some good pictures next week.
Hello...everything is going great. Once again, nothing to terribly different is happening. I only have one more email that I'll be sending from here before I'm in the state of Amazonas (most likely in Manaus for my first area). I won't find out exactly where I'll be going until the day I arrive. Time has been flying even faster the closer we get to leaving the CTM. The language and knowledge keep improving with each passing day, and supposedly in the last week, all knowledge doubles. I can't wait!
I finally got the package from home...I never thought it was going to get here. I have a pretty funny story I'll have to share later about it. P-days are crazy, though. We only have a few hours to run around the city to take care of whatever we need to get done.
Everything is starting to make more and more sense...when I hear people talk, it's automatic understanding, and when I hear people speak English, I reply in Portuguese then realize it's the wrong language. I was listening to a talk in Italian today and could understand everything... pretty crazy.
The Brazilians who were living in our room left this week for their missions in Belo Horizonte. I was talking to the other Manaus-bound elders, who arrived at the CTM last week, and one is from Huntington Beach. They both are essentially pre-med students, so I'm starting to wonder if this mission has a strict profile they are looking for. I continually hear crazy things about Manaus. Most recently, I heard it's often about 120 degrees there with the humidity. I can't even imagine how that will be.
Everyone in the district is getting along really well and we each have a positive attitude. When it's time to study and learn, everyone buckles down and does it, and when it's time for gym or mail, everything falls apart...everyone starts chanting, "Mail time," and if and when they get a letter, it automatically becomes the happiest day of their life. Right now, we're getting ready to head over to the sucaria (juice shop) to get a few drinks and write some letters and such.
For it being winter here, the weather is amazing. It's nice and hot with only one day of rain so far...and when it did rain, it was hurricane status. It sounds like the earthquake back home was pretty crazy. I'm glad to hear that nothing too terrible happened as a result.
In preparation for my departure, I have to get my combined weight for my duffel bag down to 40 pounds. I think it can happen. If not, I know what's most important and things like gel, shoes, and ties can stay behind...I'll figure it out.
Take care, Elder Mackay
FYI- American candy is so much better than the stuff they have here. I never really appreciated it until I got to Brazil...now I'm sure I'll eat at least a pound of it everyday once I get back!
Well...some of the other missionaries thought it would be cool to waste time on the computers and now I really only have about 15 minutes rather than 45 minutes to write. Anyway, the week went well. Not much has happened that is too terribly different from what has occurred in the past. The language is going great and I'm learning a lot. In my free time, actually during gym time in particular, I've been working pretty hard to keep the weight off. I came here in the 150's and I plan on staying that way if possible. My skills on the basketball court have done the Mackay name proud...it's funny how good you can get at something when it's all you do in your free time.
So, this week we went out to Avenida Paulistas, which is comparable to New York's Wall Street. To give a brief recap of our experience, all I'm going to say is that the people weren't very interested in our message and there are some crazy people out there. At one point, I was hassled by a mute man. From his gestures, it became apparent to me that he wasn't the least bit happy with me. He ripped a Book of Mormon out of my hand and threw it into oncoming traffic where it was repeatedly run over. I retrieved the book and eventually gave it to a man who seemed really interested. That is a true and unfabricated story. Other than that interesting experience, everything else went well and we only have one more time of teaching on the streets before we get sent to our different missions.
Some people were asking how much longer before I leave for Manaus. I have less than three weeks until I leave. I can't wait to get out of the CTM and get to work. Speaking of Manaus, four missionaries arrived today who are also going there: two from Arizona, one from Las Vegas, and I really don't remember where the other one is from.
On a final note, there is a really cool juice place right around the corner from the CTM that has the best fresh juice ever and it's dirt cheap. Every P-day our district goes there to write letters and try a few new flavors. Cousin Connie, you asked if Brazil has good salsa...the answer to that is yes! It's like pico de gallo.
Sorry, this letter is so short...next week's will be better. Best of all, the Internet is especially slow today and I can't upload pictures...sorry. Now that the mail strike is over, I have finally begun to receive letters. I also appreciate all the emails. I read them all and wish I had time to respond to everyone individually, but this week just didn't quite work out.
I would just like to start this letter off with an apology...I did not take a single picture this week due to the fact that nothing too terribly different has happened. I will take a picture with the whole district by the map before too long, though. Another reason there aren't any pictures is that I have become fairer-skinned and I look like Newman on Seinfeld...I have gained a good 17 pounds since we don't do anything here but sit in class.
Anyway, just a little summary of the past week...I had to teach the first lesson with my companion to a Portuguese family while being videotaped for evaluation. But wait...if that wasn't hard enough, I got ripped away from Elder Jones at the last minute and tossed into what I might call a "less fluent" pair of elders...so we taught in 3's. I don't want to brag, but I was kind of a crutch, especially when it came time for questions. I was actually thankful, though, because I was given a chance to really show what I've learned and go off knowledge rather than memorization.
Later this week we're being kicked out of vans again in an undisclosed location to proselyte, which is always awesome. I guess this time we might end up going to the "Wall Street" area, but nothing here is what I would call reliable, so don't count on it.
Mom, you mentioned Elder Olsen...I actually spoke with him probably an hour ago and hit elbows with him (we aren't allowed to shake hands in the cafeteria). From the looks and sounds of things, everything is going well. He looks like he's more alert than I was my first day...probably the longest day of my life.
I was beginning to tire of the food here, especially after I found out that all their animal products are pumped full of 'roids, but it's basically my only break, so I've started to associate food with freedom...probably not a good habit. I'm sort of learning to play the piano, so that's new. As for my finger, I think it is getting better. The doctor told me it'll probably take about a year before it's back to normal, but it's not too inconvenient.
It was great hearing how everyone is doing. I really appreciate the letters. They brighten my day even more (speaking of which, the weather here is a little humid in the mornings, but by noon, it's extremely sunny and about 86 degrees outside our classroom window). It's nice to know that life still rolls on and things are going great...continue keeping me informed. I read every single letter. I'm running out of things to talk about in general since I've been in the CTM for 5 weeks, so if anyone has any questions they would like answered, just let me know and I'll answer them the following week...sorry it takes so long. Have a great week!
-Elder Taylor Mackay
FYI- Just in case you really thought I'd gained 17 pounds, I guess now would be a good time to tell you I was only kidding...I just needed a little bit of suspense to spice up my letter.
I just got off the bus from the São Paulo Temple and it did not have air conditioning. It was way too hot, especially with the big windows that magnify the sun...I wanted to puke. Indeed, it has been a month since I have left, and although it started off pretty slow, I must say after the first week the time has flown by.
This past week seemed somewhat uneventful, but there were a few cool experiences that I had. For starters, last Friday 11 other missionaries and I were taken in a van to an undisclosed destination to teach random people on the streets. My assigned location ended up being in downtown São Paulo at the Metro station bridge where over 3 million people are supposed to pass through every day. The bridge is huge but is only for pedestrians. Vendors were there with their pirated DVDs and entertainment shows to make some money, and within seconds, everything would be bagged up and they would take off running because every 15 minutes the policia would check the bridge.
It was a crazy experience and Elder Jones and I received many different reactions. I was able to place both Books of Mormon and gave out all but 5 of my 24 pass along cards. One family that I gave a book to seemed really excited and the mother's face lit up after I shared our message with them. Once again, it was kind of nice being able to get a glimpse of what it is going to be like in the field. I have never tried harder in my life to be understood by someone. However, after only 3 weeks of formal Portuguese training, I was able to talk to people just fine and they were able to understand me. The only problem came when they decided to talk back or ask me questions. People talk Portuguese in almost a singing voice and every word in a sentence is blended together, so each person sounds different. Having never listened to anyone talk full-speed Portuguese before, it was just a little bit frustrating. Fortunately, with my expansive Spanish knowledge, I was able to understand just enough to reply.
All of our Brazilian roommates left yesterday morning for their mission. It was sad seeing them go and also a little bit frustrating since they got here after us and are leaving significantly before us. As of now, I'm still scheduled to leave the CTM in 5 weeks.
The rate at which we are learning the language and the lessons is very fast; nonetheless, I've heard from other elders that your Portuguese skills double the last week you are in the CTM. I wish I had more time and more events to talk about, but nothing too exciting has happened of late and I only have so much time to write. Thanks to everyone for emailing. It means a lot and I read every single one of them. Enjoy the pictures. They're with a few of my Brazilian friends that left this week. Elder Xisto, from Manaus, is in the red shirt and just left yesterday. Take care!
I hope the computer doesn't delete my email again like it did last week. That's always a great feeling knowing you can never rewrite your thoughts exactly the same way. I hope you liked the pictures from last week. It's unfortunate I can only send two at a time.
Anyway, this last week was pretty good...mostly because it flew by way fast. That is except for the 4th of July. No matter how "cool" it sounds to be in another country for the holiday, it's always nice to be back home running the Firecracker or just hanging out at the park. I didn't dare try and run a 5k around the 100m track even though Elder Farnsworth, a BYU XC runner who I knew pretty well before my mission, would have most definitely joined in. Unlike Independence Day in America, the horrible imitation for hamburgers, fries, and ice cream sundaes here in Brazil didn't quite match what I have enjoyed in the past, but it was a good day nonetheless. We made our own fun by flying paper airplanes during our 30 minute breaks and ate a ton of disgusting, but addicting, candy we picked up at the candy shop around the corner, which probably makes a living solely off the missionaries.
Exciting things so far...let's see: I found out from my Amazonian friend, Elder Xisto, after a minute of concentration that I will be eating monkeys and alligators in Manaus and throughout the Amazon...can't wait for that. Seriously, though, I've been looking forward to eating a monkey my whole life. We had about 4 speakers this week, all of which gave us hints on how to be better missionaries. Most of it had to do with serving others and talking to everyone you see. We also traveled once again to Campinas on a bus that felt like it was falling apart. It was truly amazing. Honestly, though, we were just glad to get out of the CTM for a little bit and see what it's like in the real world.
Guess what I'm doing on Friday...I'll be in downtown São Paulo in the "Wall Street" district trying to teach people about the Restoration. It should be great. I love talking Portuguese and I like challenges, so it will be interesting. As for my routine, not much has changed: still learning the language, lessons, eating, and playing basketball every day (the finger is getting better I believe).
I received 7 emails this week...let's pick up the slack everyone (haha). It's nice seeing letters waiting for me every week. I wish I had the time to write each of you individually, but I basically only have 20 minutes of writing time.
We are now living on the 7th floor (the top floor) and have a great view of the city (I attached a few pictures of me on the 4th floor as well as the sunset from the room...it's pretty beautiful). Our new roommates are great. They have great attitudes and personalities, which makes life a lot easier. As for the rest of the district, nobody has really had a melt-down, but a few of the elders are starting to wonder why their hair is falling out. One of them was messing around on the bus today with his eyebrows and now he doesn't have anything left...it's hilarious (I'm actually looking at him right now).
Anyway, it was a good week. Once again, I am still the only one going to Manaus in the entire CTM and I continue to hear more things about the area where I will be serving that makes me thankful to be going there. Fortunately, the mail strike you might have heard of here in Brazil is over temporarily (the mail carriers kept getting robbed, so they demanded more security). Have a great week...I know I will.
Well, the computer just had something weird happen, so I'll start this over again. I'm typing this without the use of my middle finger on my left hand, so hopefully this works out okay. With regards to that, it's a torn extensor tendon, which is going to take about two months in a splint to fix. The trip to get it checked out was a cool experience, though. Basically, it was the first time I have had a personal bodyguard and a chance to explore the city of São Paulo. The appointment was at an x-ray lab in the heart of the city. Not only was the drive crazy, but nobody spoke English, so I had to talk in a Portuguese/Spanish blend.
I would like to thank everyone for the emails...ten this week. It really made my day seeing that even though I left the country, people still care. I will try to get as many questions answered as I can. What's my schedule like: 6:30 a.m.- wake up, 7 a.m.- personal study, 7:30 a.m.- companion study, 8 a.m.- breakfast, 8:30 a.m. - 1 p.m.- class time, 1 - 2 p.m.- lunch, 2 - 5:30 p.m.- class time, 5:30 - 6:20 p.m.- dinner, 6:20 p.m. and on is a compilation of either a devotional, gym, MDST (missionary directed study time), planning, and mini lessons. From 9:30 - 10:30 p.m., I have time to shower and write, but it's never really enough time. Every day is planned down to the last minute.
I bought some Brazilian candy today, which ended up being a little bit of a disappointment. It tasted like pure sugar mixed with corn syrup and more sugar with a little bit of food coloring that I'm pretty sure was sugar-based. I could honestly feel the muscles in my body melt away into pure fat with every bite.
I checked the books and it's official. You now know the only missionary currently in any training center on the globe who is going to Manaus, Brazil for their mission. I guess there were a few who left a few months ago, but there has been a drought ever since. I made a new friend from Manaus, though. He's about 5' 4" and dark as night. He likes to talk a lot to me since I'm going to be visiting his people. Every time I see him, he pretends to shoot me with an invisible bow and arrow. Everyone in my district laughs because everything we have heard or experienced here with regards to Manaus is crazy. I tell them not to laugh because that's probably how he put food on the table. We got some new Brazilian roommates, who were pretty fun to talk to, but unfortunately, we're getting moved and we can't take them with us. We're being moved to the nicest place in the CTM, the top floor (7th floor), with an awesome view of the city.
All is well here. I don't think I have lost or gained any weight, so that's a positive thing. Ah yes...as for the food, all the elders in my district look out for each other. Whoever is in the front of the line gives the rest of us a heads up about what's good and what's not. Let's see...we have beans, rice, and a roll with every meal. There is also some sort of meat, salad, and a dessert, which is usually pretty nasty, so we rarely eat it. Once again, today we went to the Campinas Temple and the trip was good. I sat next to an elder who runs for BYU that I actually met on a recruiting trip once.
My time is running out, but I'm glad to hear all is going well for everyone. Honestly, not much is going on here except for class. I guess one last funny thing that happened was a Brazilian teacher tried to get a missionary to stop talking, so he told him he was going to make him drink a liter of blitch. It was funny hearing that...just the way it was said. Everyone here is great and the language and learning is going well. Enjoy the pictures...the blond-haired elder is my companion.
Stay in touch, Elder Mackay
(Good work on the Fizzy Colas...they're a rare delight. Thanks a ton.)
Oí, como vai? Muito bem...e você? De onde você é? Eu sou da Califórnia. Well, since you're reading this, it's a safe bet to say that I have made it to the CTM unscathed. This is the first page in what will be a book of many tales. Sometimes the events may be a little bit embellished, but nonetheless, they will be based on true experiences.
We were greeted at the airport by a little man who couldn't have been much taller than 5 feet and couldn't speak English. He immediately took our passports along with our luggage and placed them in a van without windows, which then took off leaving us to never see our stuff again...just kidding, but we seriously thought it would be the last time we'd see our luggage.
After a dangerous van ride, we made it to the CTM, which is in the middle of a ghetto. It has high gates and Israeli security to make sure nobody else makes it inside...seriously. My companion is Elder Jones, who is from Oneonta, New York. Our hometowns are the furthest apart of any companionship, not sure how they could get much further from one another. The food here isn't too bad: rice and beans with every meal, with apples and bananas, and some shady meat/main course, which seems to surprise me every time by tasting much less appealing than it looks.
Upon arriving in São Paulo, we formed our district. There are 12 of us, with only 4 being from Utah...pretty amazing. Everyone in my district is extremely enjoyable to be with and we all seem to have the same attitude and personality except for one or two. So...I guess I can say so far so good. Everyone was excited when they found they were going to the same missions- either Ribeirao Preto or Maceio...oh wait, any one going to Manaus? No...okay. I guess I'll be odd man out. I just had to laugh at that since I figured I'd meet someone going to my mission. On that note, out of the 230+ missionaries in the CTM, I have yet to meet another individual who will be serving in Manaus.
The rooms are really nice. They look brand-new and the bathrooms are spectacular. There are 3 bunk beds to a room, but since we only have 4 missionaries in our room, one is left open. This works to our advantage since our room is crowded enough as it is. My room is on the 6th floor.
We get 3 days a week to exercise, which I guess is sufficient, but of all things, the track is only 114m. The turns, no joke, are only 8 feet wide. There is no way I'm even going to bother running the track, but basketball gets the job done.
Anyway, I already have a great story about miscommunication. I was dining and ran into an elder from Manaus. I was ecstatic! Unfortunately, he wasn't exactly in the best mood. Let's just say, as I was getting ready to go to bed, he was hanging out of his window (which happened to be directly across the atrium from mine) and said, "I gon punch you in you face!" Fortunately, it got resolved and he was shipped off to his mission only a day later.
Today we went to the Campinas Temple, which is in more of a junglish area...a pretty cool trip. It's amazing to see the poverty in other countries. They build house upon house upon house. It's a crazy sight to see. Hopefully, the message we have to bring will be a comfort to these people. Today is P-day, as you might have figured out, but it's still a busy day. I'll have pictures and more to say next week...the language learning is going well! Anyway, I hope you write back!