Wednesday, February 19, 2014

February 18, 2014 - First Area in the Philippines!

I am Here!

So much has happened since I last properly emailed you, I can't believe it! So I'll start with the flight.

The flight across the Great Basin was cool, we followed the sunset the whole way. I kept looking out the window, and it was cloudy most of the way, until I saw a city below us, with a long road to another city, and realized we were flying over the Owens Valley! I figured we were probably over Big Pine, and it was cool because I could see all down the valley, across the sierras and out to Fresno and the other lights out there. I was looking south, but I bet the guys on the other side could've looked straight down into Yosemite Valley! So that was fun.

Last view of snow!
Then we got to San Francisco and got in a big Philippine Airlines 747. An they weren't joking with the "philippine", I was just about the only white guy on the plane. But the map thing on the TV didn't work, and I was in the middle of the middle aisle, so I had no idea where in the world I was, so I didn't like that. I talked to the people next to me, on the one side, he spoke Ilocano and lived north of Manila, and the other one lived in Manila, so I couldn't practice my Cebuano! And everything was in Tagalog, so it looked like I should understand, but I had no idea what any of it was. It was fun to stop in Guam, too, so I can say I've been there, too, though we didn't get off the plane or anything. On our way to Manila, the sun started to rise, so I got up and took my first pictures from the Eastern Sea! That was fun. Then landing in Manila, was super cool, because I couldn't see much out the windows, but what I could see definitely told me that I was in a different kind of world.

Then we finally stepped outside and felt our first real tropical air, first time outside since Salt Lake. And it wasn't that hot, or humid, or anything. The weather's actually been pretty nice the whole time I've been here, not that humid, not too hot. Although, I can say to anyone who talks about smog in LA, take the look I did at Manila. It was seriously a dark, brown cloud over the city, and I can just say, I'm glad I'm not in Manila or Quezon City. 

This is actually my area.  All around the river at its mouth.

Landing in Cebu!
So then we got on the plane to Cebu, and it was actually the nicest plane we flew in the whole way, honestly, it was like the Jet Blue planes out of Long Beach. But I got another window seat, and I was able to watch as we flew over the Island into the city. And the first time I got a look at the mission, where I would be, I just got this feeling, this great joy to be going out and serving in Cebu. It was a beautiful day, and so cool. So we got off the plane and met President Schmutz and the AP's, Elders Peck and Mejos. They welcomed us, and the Elders got in a van with the APs. That drive through the city to the Temple was so incredible. This place is so alive. It is full of all kinds of living things, plant, animal, and human. There's just chickens, dogs, cows and caravao grazing all over the place, things growing wherever there is place, and the roads are basically madness. Dad was definitely right, it's the free market in action, there streets are just full of people trying to sell stuff; food, clothes, motorcycle parts. One thing that I've really noticed is there is always rampant arc-welding, someone's always welding something onto their tricycle or jeepney. 

Sister and President Schmutz
But we got to the mission home. The mission home is the building to the North east of the temple, since Dad was wondering. And we got changed, I showered, and we started the mission proper with a bunch of meetings and orientation. The Schmutz's, or "President and Sister Smoosh," as all the Filipinos call them, really are wonderful people. I was able to meet with President for a few minutes, and the one thing I could tell him was that I am ready. I've seen a bit of the city, I've heard jarbled mix of the language, and everything I see, hear and do just reaffirms to me that I am ready to go out among this people. He said that I'd get the opportunity to serve in every part of the mission, in the city and in the bukid (meaning mountains, but means just out there in the country,) and that all of the elders and sisters serving are really great. They don't really have any problem people, and there's a great spirit of obedience and dedication in this mission. 

Cebu Philippine Temple

So after we toured around the temple. It's fairly small, probably a little bigger than Redlands or Newport but still, absolutely beautiful. If we hadn't gotten delayed, we'd have been able to do a session, but we didn't have time, so I haven't been in yet. And it had already gotten pretty late at that point, so we went and stayed at a hotel that night. It was around the corner from the temple, and it was certainly different. But we basically immediately fell asleep, and got up and back to the mission home in the morning, to get our assignments and trainers. So we had a little meeting, and got started:

My first walk around my area (near Biasong)
I have been assigned to the Lawaan C area, in the Talisay Zone. I live in the barangay of Dumlog and spend most of my time in Mohon and Biasong. My training companion is Elder Gama, from Davao. He's a native Visayan (Cebuano) speaker and also knows Tagalog. He has been out for 10 months, and I am his fourth anak (child [trainee]). And everyone loves him, he's super talkative and friendly, which is nice for me, because I have a lot of Cebuano to listen to and learn! But he really is good and great, and I'm learning a lot from him, just about everything. But it is also his first time in Lawaan, so we've been learning the area together.

Elder Gama
So then we took a taxi out to Talisay with our zone leaders. I was just watching out the window the whole time, taking it all in, when Elder Milla, our ZL, said "And this is your area." I couldn't believe it at first. This street seriously was so, just everything. Anything you could ever think to say about a street other than clean or shiny, describes this street. I truly cannot describe this area fully, the sights, the smells, or the people. But the people here are different. They're always smiling, they always answer "maayong hapon sad (good afternoon to you too,)" there's just a friendliness, an instant camaraderie just by being here. And for me it's kind of like the scene in Inception where everyone starts staring at the girl in the dream. Everyone, especially all the kids, everywhere we go, always stare and wave and shout "Americano" and "Hey, Joe!" at me. It's especially fun for that. 

Our little city center in Tabunok.
Stake Center in Minglanilla

Coming home from Stake Conference
So I've just been walking and tricycling everywhere for the past week. That's another thing, is the public transportation here, is truly the free market in action. Everywhere there's tricycles, which are just motorcycles that someone's welded a sidecar onto and jams several people onto for the price of 8 pesos a head. And tri-sikals are the same with pedal bikes (because sikal is "pedal" in cebuano. Huh.) But the tricycles are all decked out with sweet paint jobs, some with lights and stereos, and they're really fun. They usually have straps to hold onto, too, so they're safe! But we've been going around and meeting all the investigators and less actives in the Area Book, and just meeting people. We've gone to many different homes and areas here, and each time, every one is so incredible. I have no satisfactory word for what it's like here. However, the one thing I've definitely learned is that a home, no matter if its floor and walls are concrete or dirt or galvanized steel or linoleum patches over bamboo, is a home. This is a family's abode. If there's centipedes, lizards, ants, spiders, anything, it's still their home. If their door is plywood reinforced with rebar, it's still their home. This is what has really struck me here. 
A tricycle in Biasong.  Most of my area is much more dense city, but Biasong is down by the river delta so it's real pretty.
And this place really is beautiful. One may call it an old-world charm, but it really is quite cool here. it still is incredibly green here, and so full of life. It really is incredible. People always talk about how much of an eyeopening experience the first few days are, and they have been, they really have. But it hasn't felt uncomfortable for me. Of course there is poverty here unlike anything I've ever seen back home. But I feel like I've been so welcomed by the people, and Elder Gama and our ward mission leader, Brother Cose, have been great guides through this all, I just don't feel overwhelmed. I just feel a little whelmed. A proper amount of whelm. 

I miss you all, and I miss home, where the hot dogs aren't weird and I can get a proper burger, but I love it here. It really is wonderful, and I know that I am helping to bring a great work to the people of Talisay City.

Thank you for all your love and support! I'm out to go take on the world!

Love, Elder Dunford

PS. I also just wanted to share my experience I had this week. I was able to attend a baptism and confirmation of a child in the Lawaan ward. It was a really small, but tender experience, and there was a strong spirit there. And when the father stood and laid his hands on his son, I felt a strong witness that he held the Priesthood of our Heavenly Father. That he held the same authority as my father, thousands of miles away on an island of the sea, and that that boy was receiving the gift f the Holy Ghost. I felt a strong spirit in that meeting, and It really has helped my in this time. I love you all. I know I am here on God's errand. And I know we have his support in all we do, if we seek it.

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