Christmas Day with a missionary is more magical than a regular Christmas Day. This Christmas was no exception and even better when earlier in the week Alex told us they had permission to video skype. Thankfully Alex was in an area where this would be available to him. During our conversation Fred snapped some pictures of him and I have several I am going to intersperse throughout this post. This post will be the notes that I took during our conversation.
Alex had told us that he would be calling at 4 p.m. our time. That morning Kira had called to wish us a "Merry Christmas" and then decided instead of being on the phone we should skype - why didn't we think of that? It was fun to see Evan & Landon and of course Kira & Justin as well. While we were on with her Alex started ringing in. We were shocked!!! He had got on to see if it was working. They had gone to the chapel and the internet was not working there so they were at an investigators house testing it out. I told him that if talking then meant we couldn't talk later then we should hang up because we had arranged with all the kids to conference them into the call at 4 p.m. He talked to his companion and said he'd still be able to talk later. We visited for about 30 mins. (Kira also). It was great to find out where he was and who his companion was since he was transferred on Tuesday.
Alex was transferred from the country to the city. He is now in Santiago. He is in the Lo Ovalle district and the La Cisterna zone. La Cisterna is a suburb in Santiago. His new area is about an hour away from his old one (by bus). The city is very different from the country. He re-emphasized this and said "extremely" different than the country. There is concrete everywhere - concrete walls, doors in concrete walls, glass shards in concrete, concrete, concrete, concrete. There are not as many dogs in the city and it is very crowded in the city. The people in the city don't want to talk to you whereas in the country everyone was friendly and would say "Hi". He said his first day in the city he was rejected the entire day. He told us there are 12 zones in his mission and 6 of those are in Santiago. Alex told us that although he is in the city you would think that with everything closer he wouldn't have 45 min. walks like he did while out in the country (Malloco) but that is not the case and he is doing more walking. He told us there is this one house that is painted bright blue or purple (I forgot to write the color down). There are Gypsy's who live in the house and they speak a completely different type of language all together.
His new companion is Elder Diaz from Paraguay. He has been on his mission for a year. He is a convert of 12 years and has 2 little sisters & 1 little brother. We got to speak to him as well and see him. He seemed very nice. They share an apartment (pension) with 2 other Elders. One is from Argentina and the other is from England. Alex couldn't wait to tell us that he lives on top of a Pizza Hut. When he was out in the country there was nothing at all like that and nowhere to eat.
He said that everyone calls his new area the "dead" area of the mission. He is in a smaller ward also. The new ward is full of grandparents and he says there are no young people at all.
Alex wasn't able to say goodbye to everyone in his old area and some of the kids that loved him had a hard time with the fact that he was leaving. One of the families that he had grown particularly close to was the Gonzales family. He has talked about them a lot in his emails and the wife & son had asked him to baptize them. They are a very poor family and sent 3 Christmas presents for him with Elder Pedraza to bring to the mission Christmas party. Alex said he felt so guilty and bad because he knows how poor they are. Alex told us that the Dad is a very big man and very tough. Not the kind of person you would want to mess with. He took Alex by the shoulders and told him that he looks at Alex like he is his own son. He gave him a card with his contact information on it and told him that if he ever needs anything, anywhere, anytime while on his mission to call him and he will be there.
Another family he grew close to, the Garcia Family, sent notes and a card for Alex through Elder Pedraza. They are a family of 13 that live all together in one small house. He said the notes were very touching and meant a lot to him.
He said that Mission Christmas party was a lot of fun. In the morning he got to play soccer, football & basketball. Then they watched the Joseph Smith video in Spanish. After that a counselor in the area 70 spoke to them for a couple of hours on the Book of Mormon & Joseph Smith (their party was on Joseph Smith's birthday). They then had lunch, a white elephant exchange & took a mission photo. President King had challenged the mission to read the Book of Mormon in the amount of time it took Joseph Smith to translate it and by his birthday. Alex was trying to do it in both Spanish & English. It became apparent he couldn't do it in both by the deadline so he decided to do it in Spanish. He made the goal - YAY!!!!
Alex's mission president, President King, is from Provo, UT. At the Christmas party every missionary in the mission got a personal letter from someone in President King's home ward in Utah. Alex was really impressed by that. I am also!
Alex asked us if we thought he looked like he's lost weight. It looked like he's lost a little just by his face. He still looks healthy and strong. I guess anyone there that he shows our family picture to says he's lost weight. He told us that he has the 'sickest' tan lines and that it has been getting really hot 35 degrees Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) and summer has just started. He says it will get hotter. We forgot to ask if it was a humid heat. He said his apartment does not have air conditioning and they have a space heater for the winter. He also told us that he really isn't using his gel anymore and his hair has got very blonde. He told us that he hopes at some point he gets to serve on the coast in the summer where the temperatures are more moderate and in the 70's.
The mission got rid of the 'Mamita's' but members wash their clothes and they only need to bring their own detergent. He told us he is making his own "Chilean" dictionary because even though they speak Spanish they have their own slang and words. He showed us his little pocket dictionary he carries around so that he can write new words in it as he comes across them. He also had written a list of things to tell us in addition to what we may ask. I was proud of my boy. He's been learning from me :)
He told us that the people there pronounce his name "Elder Leeahvee". Fred asked him how far it is from one end of the mission to the other and Alex said it's about 3 hours and had to remind Ben how skinny Chile is.
While we were talking with him we got to meet some of the family members whose home they were in. They and Elder Diaz loved it when Ben or Brandon would speak in Spanish with them. In the morning Justin even spoke Spanish to his companion. Alex's English already has a bit of an accent to it and it was fun to hear him speak Spanish to his companion and the people of the home. Both Brandon & Ben said he's doing very well. He said "goodbye" to them and some of us a couple of times (we took turns on the video part of skype because it wouldn't let us do it at as a group) and over there they say "Chow." I told Alex that sounds Italian but I guess in some of those Latin countries over there that's what they say and Chile is one of them.
We asked Alex about the food and he had a lot to say about it. He started to laugh when asking us if he had told us the name of his favorite food. He hadn't told us before and he was laughing because of what it is called. It is called "ass' and no it's not donkey. He said the meat is like Philly Cheese Steak and it's in a giant hot dog bun with a relish on it that they call 'America' even though he says it's not like any relish we have here in America. The relish is made out of carrots and he loves it so much that he said you can buy big bags of it and he wants to buy 4 big bags and send them home right before he comes home so he can have them when he gets here.
Alex said that the milk is gross and comes in a box but he has learned to drink it and be okay with it. The weirdest thing he has eaten is sliced pig face on bread. A family in Malloco was going to feed him Iguana but he was transferred before that happened. He was sad he missed out on that. One of the bizarre things they do out in the country sometimes is drink the blood of the animals they've just butchered. He was glad he was never offered that and prays he isn't ever offered it.
They eat a lot of bread and a lot of salad. They don't use the type of salad dressings we do. He said they just use lemon and salt on their salads. He said he has eaten everything that has been served to him - even a salad that had live ladybugs on it.
They put mayonnaise, olives and eggs in everything. He said they will crack an egg on everything and gave us the example that if someone were to serve him potatoes there would be an egg on top whether it was sunny side up, hard boiled or whatever. He eats 2 meals a day. He eats a bowl of cereal every morning for breakfast and then at 1 - 2 p.m. is when Chileans eat their big meal of the day and they eat it with a family. He said he doesn't really eat after that meal. Everyone drinks Coke with everything. He will ask for a glass of water and they come back with a glass of coke. Bon Bons are his favorite Chilean sweet.
We will get to skype with him on Mother's Day :) It was wonderful to see and hear that he is happy, healthy and doing well. What an unexpected blessing this was for all us to be able to speak with him and see him. Alex was especially thrilled to see his nieces & nephews and Sheba. We did not bring down Tom the snake or bring Javier his fish over for him to see. We feel very blessed as his parents!