So it was Guatemala’s Independence day this week. The 15th of September. Unfortunately the 15th was a Sunday so almost NOBODY came to church. Luckily it was not too bad. Our attendance last Sunday was 150. Yesterday it was 94. On top of that, the fair and the parades were all located in MY AREA!! No where else. They just happened in my area. Here is a picture of the main highway that is in my area. It is called 29th avenue. The first picture was taken at 7:30 am. People were already setting up chairs and saving spots for the parade that started at 11am! After church, the parade was already underway. It was impossible to find a polite way to cross 29th Avenue to get home! This street was FULL of people. So Elder Banks and I just decided to be jerks and walk straight through the middle of it. I got just a few pictures of it. It was pretty packed, and a few bands got mad at us… but we made it back safely. That fair and parade alone made this week very difficult for the whole mission. But hey, each week brings its challenges…
-Elder Aaron Jacob Snow
I saw many people there there I knew just after getting off the bus, and I got many warm welcomes. As soon as it came time to meet at the chapel, we started setting up chairs and tables, because the couple was having their wedding at 3pm, and getting baptized at 4pm. So we set up what I thought was going to be too many chairs, but it turned out that 250 people showed up! It was awesome! I have a picture attached of my friend (he who chose me to baptize him) and I before entering in the waters (Elder Hendrickson, my old comp, baptized the lady). This just shows you how good of friends we were. We both make funny faces for the camera. He is a great guy.
I was chatting with my friend before his baptism, and I asked him why it was now that he decided to be baptized, instead of deciding to be baptized with me. He told me that when I left (by a surprise emergency change) it hurt him a lot. He did not want me to leave. And because I left, it caused him to think about marriage, and baptism. And because he started thinking about it, he started getting the spiritual impressions that he needed. One night he was talking to his GF (future wife) and he told her, hey I want to get married and baptized. She did not believe him, but he said that he wanted Elder Snow to do it. And from there, everything got organized. Let me tell you, that baptizing my good friend was easily the most satisfying moment of my whole mission. It was absolutely wonderful. It was so great to come back and see him again. I am so glad that I was able to help him enter into the waters of baptism. I will never forget him. So, that was my Momos weekend. I love my Savior Jesus Christ, and am grateful that my friend was able to take his first steps to following him.
-Elder Aaron Jacob Snow
Last Saturday, instead of watching football, I went to a wedding.
Two well-known facts about me: 1) I love sports. 2) I dread going weddings. So this decision was very out-of-character, but part of joining the Peace Corps means letting go of habits I had in America and adapting to a new way of life. Or something like that. So when my Volunteer friend Miranda invited me to her host sister’s wedding in Milot, a small rural village in the north, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to attend an authentic, traditional Albanian wedding, even though the date fell on College Football Christmas (what I like to call the season opener). But I’m so happy that I went, because attending my first Albanian wedding was just as exhilarating, if not more so, than a day at Autzen Stadium. (And certainly more exciting than watching a game on an 11-inch screen…
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I don’t know if you remember… but I was teaching a family in Momos called Ana and Leonel. We worked very hard with them… and we nearly got them married… but then I got changes and they never got baptized. So get this, I saw Elder Hendrickson in Xela today, and he told me that Leonel, the husband wants me to baptize him! He is getting baptized this Saturday! So I am going back to Momos this Saturday to be a part of this baptism!! I am so excited !!! =D All of that work is finally paying off!
Speaking of friends from Momos, Magdalena found out where my area was (weird) and visited me this week! She said hi, and told me that everyone in Momos misses me, and she gave me 2 corte ties that say Templo de Honduras on it!! Hahaha… I thanked her for them and told her that I’d wear them. Hopefully I can find a good tailor that can change the word Honduras to Guatemala.
Every Peace Corps Volunteer signs a dotted line on their application acknowledging the fact that service is challenging both physically and mentally. I was well aware that Peace Corps service would be difficult before I arrived in Elbasan for orientation. But one thing that is impossible to know is exactly how service will be difficult. There are challenges specific to every country, every site, and every person.
One of the challenges I was not expecting was the drastic difference in the workplace here vs. in the United States. Americans are known worldwide for having a strong work ethic. I did not realize how true this was before leaving the US! While I have certainly met many Albanians who work hard, the expectations surrounding work here are different. In America, everyone always brags about how busy they are. The busier you are, the more people admire you, and the more conversations with other Americans become one-ups about how much busier the other person is. We Americans identify ourselves so closely with our work ethic, and the American work ethic is how long did you work today, how hard did you work today, and the longer and harder you work, the “better” person you are.
In Albania, everything is slower. People don’t speed walk on the sidewalks, barking at others to get out of the way. They take 2-hour coffee breaks to talk with their friends, neighbors, and relatives, or sometimes to just sit alone and watch others pass by. When you have a conversation, people actually take the time to ask you questions about your life instead of brief, irrelevant snippets of conversation. I love this aspect of Albanian life. But it transfers to the workplace as well, which can be very frustrating for someone like me, who is used to fast-paced work environments. Everything at the office is slower. We’ve taught one class? Well, we’re kinda tired, let’s go get a coffee. We’ve been at school for two hours? Okay, it’s hot outside now, let’s go home. You didn’t finish your homework? It’s okay, you will pass the class and move on to the next grade anyway.
And especially during the summer, everyone is at the beach either physically or mentally. I’ve shown up at school two weeks in a row to meet students for summer courses, but nobody comes. I’ve made countless phone calls trying to schedule tutoring sessions with prospective students. I’ve looked desperately for anyone interested in working with me, but it’s summer and everyone wants to go tanning, drink coffees on the boardwalk, and sleep the sizzling afternoons away.
I have been busy All. My. Life. My days have always been packed with things to do since I was a kid! I’ve held at least one job at a time ever since I was 16, not to mention class and church and swim team and yoga and tutoring and a social life. I loved the feeling of coming home every day completely exhausted because I knew I had spent my time well. So, adjusting to this slow-paced work schedule has been difficult not just for me, but for all the Volunteers. What are we supposed to do without the structure we had in the US?!
1. I’ve had to accept that I’m not the only one feeling this way, and it will pass. The first year of Peace Corps is almost always the hardest. I’m having to adjust to so many different things along with not having a set schedule. Luckily, everyone else in my group is in the same boat.
2. I’ve had to re-define my definition of “work.” Peace Corps tells us once we enter our sites to begin “integrating.” It has been fun–although challenging because of language barriers–to get to know some of the people who live in Kavajë. I have small successes whenever my neighbors tell me I am “vajza jonë” (“their girl”), or when I can pass as a local because my accent has gotten better, or when I’m able to have a discussion about racism, communism, women’s rights, other cultural topics with Albanian friends.
3. I am–slowly–becoming Albanian! As I mentioned before, getting a taste of a slower pace of life has been refreshing. While I’m learning a lot about Albania, I am also learning a lot about America in comparison and I feel silly for participating in the “look-how-busy-I-am” competition back home. When I come back, I can see myself sitting at a cafe for hours, wondering why people don’t have time to talk to me!
I’m riding along the little curve of vulnerability on my personal adjustment graph, waiting for August to be over and the school year to start in September. Although I didn’t have a productive summer in the American sense, I think I did in the Peace Corps sense. But I’m definitely ready for school to begin!
We baptized a little woman this week!! She is the mother of a recent convert. We knocked on her door a few weeks ago and asked what she thought of the Mormon church, and she told us that she had never been. So we invited her, she came (we had a member friend bring her) and from that point she found out that we do not worship Joseph Smith, and she really liked the experience! So we challenged her, prepared her, and well, she got baptized. This is a picture of her with her member friend. She helped us a lot!
So another interesting thing that popped into my head that happened this week. A recent convert named Walter is mentally challenged and runs in the special Olympics (and has actually won many awards by the way) his Father has been drinking everyday for 15 years. He wanted us to go visit him. This week, we taught him, with his family present, and made a goal to have him start little by little and start going days even weeks without drinking. As of yesterday, he hadn’t drunk in over 3 days! His first days in 15 years without drinking!! He looked great, and he even brought his whole family to church this Sunday. He and his family are starting to see the blessings that prayer, church attendance, and reading the Book of Mormon bring. We are challenging them this week to be baptized sometime in September.
To finish off, an awesome picture. There is a volcano behind the Santa Maria volcano (the one seen in the picture attached) that is active! In fact it started spewing throughout this week, and it looked really cool.
I think I might have already told you… but the lady is a professional belly dancer… below is a picture of me wearing one of her noisy skirts… it was a lot of fun and they had a few laughs.
We plan on Baptizing the 2 on Sunday… please wish us luck. Pray for them as well, so that everything works out well, and that they feel ready =) Thank you…
-Elder Aaron Jacob Snow
Also, we had to look for a new house for some new elders that were moving in to Xela, and I figured that this would be a good opportunity to show what a normal house looks like here (This one was actually pretty nice)
Other than the bathroom there are 2 simple rooms where we sleep and study. I don’t have pictures of those.
I think that before the mission, I would have been pretty freaked out seeing how simple things can be… concrete houses… cold, dark… 50 year old showers… stuff like that… but now it has just become life… I remember talking to an Elder Carter a while ago and he was saying that his life feels like he is and always has been a missionary… and that Guatemala is no longer weird to him… that’s how it is now! Its pretty interesting… I love the mission… I wish these months that are left will be even better… so anyway I just wanted to show you guys what a typical house looks like more or less…
I love you… have a great week.
-Elder Aaron Jacob Snow
So, here’s the story about the talent show. I practiced in my 5 minutes of free time ( >=-| ) every night to perfect a song that I knew (by Buckethead of course) and in fact I actually got better than I was before the mission (how odd) and I was completely ready to play. Once I got up there to play the song, however, there were so many people that showed up that made it nearly impossible to play the way that I had practiced so that everyone could hear! I had to play it different so it could be heard, so I was not used to it, so I messed up a lot, on top of that, apparently I am super popular in the ward or something because everyone kept shouting WHOOOOO ELDER SNOW!! and cheering and saying inside jokes and everything throughout the song and I got super nervous and that was undesirable… but in all it was fine. The activity was a success either way which was the goal =) I played that song for a good friend–an Elder Marriott–before the show though (we share this area, he is one of the secretaries of the mission) and he told me that it was amazing! So that was nice to hear =) but yea! I had fun! Our bishop was happy that I participated.