What. A. Week. Where to begin? I'll let you know first off that I am alright! I'm healthy, I'm happy, so no worries there. Let me start from the beginning.
We arrived in Chile, had a fantastic lunch at the Mission Home, headed to the church building after that and were assigned companions and sectors (Chile is divided into sectors, kinda like mission areas). My trainer is Elder Salas. He is from Santiago and he speaks no English. So this week has been very interesting. Sometimes I forget that I do know how to speak English, and when I do, it's really really strange. Anyway, Elder Salas is awesome. He's super dedicated to the work and is a great example to me. More than anything I'm grateful for his pacience. It must be rough for him to have a son (trainers and their companions are called papas y hijos, dads and sons) as inexperienced as I am, and can't understand much of what he says, and is very poor conversation most of the time. I had to promise him that I do in fact have a personality, I just don't know how to use it in Spanish yet. Anyway, after our brief meeting in the Church building (this was tuesday), Elder Salas and I got on a bus and traveled for 5 more hours to the city of Temuco, where we spent the night with some Elders there (here, because right now we're actually in Temuco getting my Visa). The next day, we had a companionship exchange, because neither E. Salas nor I had been in our sector before and they wanted to show him around for the day. So I stayed near Temuco, a place called Millahue, with Elder Cottrell. We spent the day contacting pretty much and it was pretty easy because E. Cottrell speaks English. The next day (Thursday), I met up with Elder Salas again and we traveled another hour from Temuco to our sector, Carahue. We have since spent the past few days trying to know the sector and the members and everything. Carahue is beautiful. Absolutely nothing like I imagined Chile. It's very, very rural for the most part, and looks a lot like Georgia, only slightly different somehow, probably because of the buildings and people. It's VERY hilly, and we walk a lot, up and down, and up and down, so I'm pretty wiped out every day. Friday was pretty cool too. We took a bus to go lunch with some members of the Church in Carahue, the Martinez family. They live about 30 minutes from Carahue proper in a place called Puerto Saavedra, which is breathtakingly beautiful. It's the only place I've been so far where I've seen the ocean. But Brother Martinez took us on a little tour of Puerto Saavedra and it was gourgeous (pictures soon).
Hmm... ¿Qué Más? All the locals here call me either Gringito (little Gringo) or colorín, which wants to say, person of color. It's what they call redheads. The people here are awesome! Chileans are so much nicer than Americans. They love to talk to anyone about anything and they're not afraid of being close to people. The personal bubble is much smaller. Interestingly, Chileans all do the French greeting (bis, right?), where you kiss the side of the cheek. We always try to just shake hands with the Sisters here but sometimes they just go for it, so you have to go along with it to avoid being rude. For men, the greeting is a handshake, a hug with a few pats on the back, followed by another handshake. Seriously, that's the standard. Also, no one here shakes with the whole hand. It's interesting. They have very week handshakes.
It's definitely a different culture here. Temuco is more of city, so there are some nice parts and such, but where we are in Carahue, the standard of living is much, much lower. Our house in Georgia would be considered a mansion. A small, basic house perhaps in one of the smaller neighborhoods in Peachtree City would still be considered a tremendous luxury. There is no hot water plummed here. Everything runs on gas. One tank fuels the stove (which is usually like a little camper type thing), the hot water heater which serves the bathroom and kitchen sink, and perhaps one room heater. Most wiring is exposed in the homes, and the walls and ceilings remain largely unfinished. Clothes are washed either by hand or in a tiny washing machine and are all hung dry outside. Very, very bare-bones. Basically what I'm saying is I had no idea how good I had it in Georgia. We live like kings. And granted, there are plenty of people I'm sure in Chile in other parts that live just as well as we do, but there are certainly many many more poorer parts in Chile than in the States. Having a 2 liter bottle of Coca-Cola or juice or something is a luxury, and you never take more unless more is specifically offered you. In the States, a 2 liter bottle is nothing special by any stretch of the imagination. The people here are very humble, but they are incredibly kind. Most people are always willing to let you pass into their home and just talk. Here, you typically don't knock on doors. You stand outside and yell "ah-lohh," and many times a head will pop out of the open upstairs window to answer your call. But yeah, the people are wonderful. Incredibly gracious and friendly, by and large.
Missionary work! As of now, I feel pretty useless with Elder Salas. Mostly I just tag along, try a few contacts, and throw in a few sentences here and there. Chileans. Talk. So. Fast. I have a very, very hard time understanding anyone and by the time I might figure out a sentence and think of a reply, the conversation has already long since moved on. It's difficult. And often very frustrating, to have great desires and extremely high hopes for myself and the work and not be able to do anything because I can't speak Spanish yet. I want to get out there and WORK, but I just can't yet. Frustrating. But I keep pushing. I know it will come, and slowly but surely I improve everyday, and my companion is extremely supportive and helpful.
Well I need to wrap this up. I wish I could relate everything in extreme detail that has happened this past week. It's been one of the longest weeks of my life, for sure. As of right now, we have 7 new investigators, 5 of which are part of families. I'm really excited to start really teaching and getting to know them better, assuming I can understand them. Carahue has a long way to go. The members really struggle with activity in Chile. So our efforts are focused in baptising converts just as much as strengthening the members. Can't wait to here from you all again. I love you dearly. Your son is doing great, and couldn't be happier with where he is and what he's doing. I know the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Christ lives, God loves us. Life is great, be happy!
Oh, and happy Thanksgiving by the way! Hope it was great! I'm looking forward to a warm Navidad here in Carahue, Chile. Ciao!
-Elder Ross Carlos Wilcox