Thursday, October 31, 2013

Oct 28, 2013

I don't know where to start, so much great stuff this week... We have 3 baptismal dates now. We found a lot of people through member referrals this week. The baptismal dates were for Nov 30, but none of them came to church, so we are going to have to move it back at least a week. (Our investigators have to come to church four times without missing 2 consecutive weeks in order to get baptized here.) I think I am going to start with the reason why I had to email so late today.

So this morning Elder Acidera (my kasama), after he is getting towards the end of doing his laundry, calls out "Elder Merrill, come here!" (or something along those lines.) I figure he wants to show me something about doing laundry, but when I get out there, there is blood dripping down his face. (He had bumped into the iron roof and cut himself on it.) I really had no idea where I could go, or really what to do, but Sister Edna (who is a member) comes out and quickly cleans Elder Acidera up, and then all three of us get on a padyak (kind of like a bike with a side car) and we go to the hospital where he gets stitched up and then gets three or so shots. (There was also a random orange cat just walking around the hospital.)  Now he is ok and everything is back to normal. (Except for the fact that we have to go get his bandage changed everyday now I think.) It made for a really crazy pday... We finished our laundry and then ate some 7-11 hot dogs, and now we are emailing.  

The jeepney rides are great. We actually had a mission tour this week (where the area president or someone like that comes and visits.) We had Elder Ardern(sp) come visit. It was decent, but the reason I bring it up was because I got to ride to the Pamplona chapel on the back of a jeepney, holding on for dear life for at least a good 45 minutes. It was awesome. 

The pictures are great! I love the costumes and the mustache. It looks like the Halloween party was a blast. For our Halloween, we get to stay in our apartment starting at 6pm... . 

I hope you aren't too disappointed to find out about this, but we actually sing all of our hymns in English at church.   Speaking of singing, I actually got to be the chorister for the branch this last week. I'm not really sure why, but almost everyone was really late to church this week.

No balut yet.  The weather has actually been pretty near perfect this week (a little hot, but not bad), and we have fans to point directly at us while we sleep, so the weather hasn't been too much of a problem fortunately. 

About my haircut... I am having some trouble getting my pics to upload, so you might have to wait until next week when I have a faster connection before you get to see my haircut. I think it is pretty nice. We ended up having to go to a salon to get our haircuts. There was no room at any of the regular barber shops... I got my hair cut by a bakla. He had his hair up in a bun and half of it was dyed red. He did a good job though, so I guess that is what really matters. Just quite the experience, and they were blasting Filipino Christmas music the whole time (all of the classic Christmas music we listen to in America, just in Tagalog). 

We actually just visited Sister C again yesterday, and she said she had been praying for us to come over. It was really neat. She wanted to give us the names of a few other inactive members that we should visit. I think they are in the other elders' area though. Sometimes it almost seems like she isn't really inactive.   Yes, and we have quite a few investigators now, so I have had an opportunity to teach about four or so lessons to investigators.    

It just started raining... (I'm wearing sandals...)

I have to tell you about the skates now. I got that railroad picture when I took the skates to go to Edmond's house. (Turns out he was at his cousin's house, but that's ok, because we still found him that night.) The skates are like these little carts that run on the railroad. They cram like a million people onto them, just like the jeepneys. They are really cool though, because they take you out into the middle of nowhere. I got a lot of cool pics that I can't send because of the connection... 

A few more cultural type things: I have seen an infinite number of Kobe Bryant jerseys here. They love the NBA. I also heard Hansen's MMMBop playing really extremely loud as we were walking through the city the other day, and I have seen a lot of Yankees, A's and Raiders hats. I also hear Can't Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon on a regular basis. 

The work is really going a lot better now. We have a lot of investigators, as well as many other people that we have met/ received referrals to go meet that we are going to go teach.  I can't believe that three of our investigators said yes to baptism already.  I got to be the one to commit them (and in Tagalog). We are in the middle of teaching a fourth investigator, Cherry, who is  40. (It isn't rude to ask people their ages here.) We are definitely going to go back, because I think she is pretty interested. We also contacted an older sister who was a referral, and we have two other older sisters that we have given pamphlets to and have appointments to go teach this week. I am really excited. This is Edmond( on the left) and his friend.

One more thing, every morning as we walk into town, and usually when we come back home, (our apartment is a little bit out of the way, which is nice), all of the kids come up to us and say "Brothers!" and we give them high-fives. (When you give a high-five here, you say "Up here!") It always makes my day.

Let me know if there is anything you would like to know more about.

Marai na bangui,
Mahal ko kayo!
Elder Benjamin Merrill

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

October 20, 2013


Did I till you that we are opening an area? We met one really old guy (83 years old) who told us all about this set of what looked like children's books about anatomy.  And then told us to leave. (He was polite, but he still told us to leave. He said something like "please excuse me" and then waved us away.) We asked him if he thought that God's word was important and he said not really. We then asked him what was important to him and he said money... That is when he asked us to leave.  We also have another family who is always too busy, so we haven't gotten to do anything but say hello to them... We have taught a lot of lessons to recent converts and to less actives. 

I have not had balut yet, but I probably will have to eat it at some point... The food here is actually really good though (I've actually heard that balut is too.) I actually ate some fish this week... It wasn't bad, but it wasn't my favorite.  The zone leaders actually arranged for the sister next door to cook for us, so that is good, because we don't know how to cook, and she really knows how to cook.  She has made fried chicken for us, really good noodles, spaghetti, and chicken curry that tastes just like the kind you make at home. You eat here either with a spoon in your right hand and a fork in your left, or just with your hands.  It is pretty freeing to eat rice with one's hands.  The 7-11 hot dogs are really pretty good, but I don't think we will be eating them that often anymore because Sister Edna is cooking for us now :) She is really nice. We had the noodles and the spaghetti for breakfast (on separate days of course.) The ligaya bread is great, I actually just ate some for breakfast today.  It is probably just sugar, water, red food coloring, and maybe they do something to it... I'm not really sure.  

I think everyone at least speaks a little English, but I will definitely have to learn Tagalog.  I think my language skills have improved a lot since we got here.  I feel like pretty much the only thing I can do is teach the lessons though...

 It gets sooooo hot, but when it rains, it is soooooo nice.  They play Christmas music at the mall and just around and about here... It is kinda weird. We do have a washing machine :) It doesn't always do such a great job, but it is not bad.  You still have to rinse the clothes off when they're done... but it's pretty nice.  My companion and I are going to go get a haircut today, so that should be interesting.  I will try to send a pic next week... We have actually seen a lot of baklas around, so that is pretty weird... I am bringing this up because, I guess many of the haircut places are run by them, but we know that the one we are going to today is not. 

The tabo is really not a problem at all for me anymore... It is just... what you do here. 

I am pretty sure we don't have an address here. I know that the name of our barangay (I think that is how you spell it) is Bigajo Sur.  That is the closest thing that I can give you to an address.  I think I would just appreciate a dear elder here or there through the mission office if that's ok.  

They love the NBA here.  It seems like just about everyone is a Lakers fan :/ I have seen a near infinite number of Kobe Bryant jerseys here.  And not to mention 3 Che Guevara shirts (weird, right?) I saw a Mr. Bean t-shirt too, and our neighbor was actually watching Mr. Bean too, which made me happy. I also saw a Be The Reds t-shirt.  

We get our support money at the mall.  The mall here is so awesome, it is almost like being back home in an American mall. There are just no recognizable brands at the mall here. I bought some shoes.  They are rubber or plastic or something, and they have no backs on them.  (I had to get the ones with no backs on them like all of the other Americans do because they only go up to size 10). I am told that they will stretch out as I wear them more.  After we got our support money at the mall, we went to a really cool restaurant where you order chicken and they give you unlimited rice.  (and for just around 100 pesos). It is about 42 pesos to a dollar, I think, but most things are really cheap still. It was really good. 

One of the less active families we visited had like 5 tiny puppies and they were all cuddled together in a ball sleeping. It was so cute.  I probably should have taken a picture.  I bet Daisy is doing much better now. I don't know how you managed to get everyone to stop feeding her wheat.   

I think I will tell you about one of the less active sisters we have been visiting. Her name is Sister C, and she hasn't been to church in around six years.  I think she is in her early 60s.  She is so sweet, and the last time we came over she asked for me to share the message because I must be special because Heavenly Father sent me here to her all the way from America.  Her English is really good, but I shared the message in Tagalog.  I think she actually used to be an English teacher.  We have another investigator of similar age named Josefina, who hasn't been to church in about the same amount of time. She shared with us her testimony of Joseph Smith (even mostly in English), and she even cried. It was amazing, but I think it will be a while before she will come back (that is actually what she told us). Usually, we also have a family home evening about once a week where we invite all the youth to come, but they have to bring a less active or non-member friend.  We are having ours tomorrow, on Tuesday. We start with a prayer and a song, then someone shares a spiritual thought and then we play a crazy game, one of which involved flower and hard candies. I will send more pics maybe next week when I get them from Elder Sorenson.

I love you guys tons and I miss you guys sooooo much.
Elder Benjamin Merrill

Monday, October 14, 2013

October 14, 2013--Made It to the Philippines!


So I don't know anything about any typhoons... It rained off and on a little for the first few days, but there haven't been any big storms or anything.  So... I used the tabo for the first time this morning, It was definitely something different.  

I think the sketchiest thing that I have eaten here is a smoky bacon hot dog from 7-11. It was quite good (I have actually had three of them, but on separate days). The other elders want me to eat baloot today, but we will see about that...  I had what was basically chicken ramen for breakfast today, so that wasn't bad. We usually have noodles or rice with chicken, but more often than that, we eat at the 7-11 (They have good hot dogs and a 15 peso ice cream cone). There are so many dogs that are just around people's houses and stuff. They make me think of Daisy, but they always look really sad like they aren't treated very well. When we had our district meeting we ate at this little restaurant, and they actually had burgers (it seems like a lot of places do around here.) I ordered spaghetti, however, because I do not know how to tell them about all of the toppings I don't want on my burger...

My trainer is from the Ilocos Norte province of the Philippines.  His name is Elder Acidera.  He himself has just been trained, but fortunately, he is really on the ball and speaks Tagalog already.  He is really nice, and like just about everyone else, he speaks English. It is really funny, when people hear me struggling with my Tagalog, they just start speaking English. I even taught a lesson in English... My area is called Libmanan (Libmanan A actually). We live in the same apartment with the elders who are assigned to Libmanan B. They are Elder Sorenson and Elder Kaumaitotoya from Utah and Fiji. They are all really cool. Elder Sorenson has been out for like a year and a few months (he is our district leader), and Elder Kaumaitotoya came from the Manila MTC at the same time as I came from the Provo MTC. We have actually only taught one lesson so far (it was to a member), because we spent most of the day on Friday traveling to a district meeting, at the district meeting, and traveling home from the district meeting (by jeepney I might add). We then spent all day Saturday and Sunday at/ traveling to and from General Conference. That's right, I got to watch it twice! I got more out of it the second time than I thought I would.  Tonight we have plans to visit some less active members and some recent converts.   

I have some really good pictures to send you too. I think I will probably have to send them in a separate email, so I will do that in a bit.  There are a few of the apartment, which is, I'm told, one of the nicest in the mission (We have a washing machine!!!), and some of us riding on the top of a jeepney to get back from conference.  What I've learned about jeepneys is that there is always more room on them.  They will put stools in the middle aisle and put a wooden plank across the back, and let people hold on to the back and even ride on top like we did.  I really enjoy riding in them nonetheless, and it seems like a good place to find people to teach. 

I haven't been yet, but there is what they call the Super Mall in Naga, and apparently it is like being in America, so I am excited for that.  We will probably go next Monday, which is pday, but I guess it is Sunday back home.  I think if I came and emailed earlier then we would be able to have somewhat of a conversation. It is about three o' clock here. We are actually emailing from this little net cafe called Louie's Nook Net Cafe. They have these kind of places all over.  Apparently, the people here are really into games like World of Warcraft and stuff like that.  

It is really hot here when it doesn't rain.  It hasn't rained since Saturday (I still don't know anything about a typhoon...), and so it is pretty warm out... I think I am starting to get used to being really, really sweaty all of the time. It really seems like a different planet here.  It is weird.  It always has a jungly smell, kind of like how I remember it smelling in Nigeria. (Jungly probably isn't a word, but hopefully you know what I mean.) There is also a guy who comes by our little back road area every morning usually between 5:30 and 6:30 am to sell his pandasal/pandesal bread.  He has a horn that he honks when he comes by that always wakes everyone up. None of us have tried his bread yet, but I guess we just don't want to encourage him.  We do like to eat at the Atlantic Bakery. I like to get maligaya bread (which means happy bread). It is like a roll with sweet red stuff inside, it is pretty good. I am in the process of trying all of the different things they have still.  

What is really strange to me here still is when you go by someone's tiny little run-down house and they are blasting American pop music or watching TV.  I think almost everyone has a TV, or at least a radio.  I have heard a lot of pop music just walking around and in some of the jeepneys. I really hope I can get used to it here quickly. Most say the first week is the worst and then I will be used to it by the time my first month is over.  

Hopefully you enjoy the pics.  If you have any questions about what is in them, let me know, because it was going to take too long to put writing in the email with the pics. It is going to be really awesome when I get to show you around here in a few years.  We will probably get a lot of "Hey, Joe!"s. That is what they say when they see someone white... I usually get one or two every day. I finally understand the name of that food truck.  

I love you all so much, and I miss you tons!
Until next week,
Elder Benjamin Merrill

October 5, 2013

We just walked to the main campus for conference, it is like 33 degrees here... so cold... Somehow I still managed to sweat like crazy underneath my jacket.   I don't know why they aren't showing it at the West campus anywhere... The west campus is pretty cool though.  We get to go to a few of the restaurants in this little strip mall nearby. There is a Jamba Juice, a burger place, a subzero ice cream, and a few other places that I probably will never eat at because we are leaving.  I am pretty nervous for the traveling, but it will probably be ok, right? Thank you so much for all of the packages too. I love the shoes and they seem like they fit really well. 

I'm not really sure what time I am going to call, especially because I don't have my travel plans with me right now... It will probably be in the morning around 9 UTAH time... I'm not really sure what else to do about timing.  Dad gave me some great tips about traveling overseas though.  I can't believe all of the pickpockets there must be everywhere else... I will definitely keep my real wallet in my pouch, but I don't have an extra fake wallet... I am going to try and email a bunch of pics that we took with our teachers and stuff next and then I will probably email again between sessions of conference. 

I hope you got the pics. We are getting ready to watch the next session of general conference right now.  I think the first session this morning was one of the best experiences I've ever had watching conference. I miss watching it with everyone at home, but for a little while, it almost felt like I was.  My favorite talk was one given by President Uchtdorf that was basically an invitation for those who are falling away/ have fallen away from the church for them to come back... He talked about all of the wonderful things that the church does, and how many things that members are asked to do and how they still do them.  There was one quote that stuck out a lot for me in the talk. It was something like "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith." 

Being a zone leader has been really a neat thing actually.  We started doing a devotional with the whole zone every night before quiet time starts.  We usually just pick someone to share a scripture (maybe their favorite) and talk about it. Our teachers showed us some pictures of the Philippines, (they both went to the San Pablo mission, the one right to the west of the Naga mission) and it is, as Brother Lopez says, quite 'ghetto'. It looks so amazing. I guess I will be walking through miles and miles and I should probably add miles through rice fields. It is going to be so wonderful.  Sobrang excited ako! I have to admit that I am still nervous about the food, but other than that, everything should be good.

Thank you so much for all of the pictures, everyone thinks they are really cool, and Elder Atchley was actually born in Santa Monica, so I think he will appreciate the pic in front of the pier.  I'm so thankful for such a wonderful, supportive family back home.

Mahal ko kayo,
Elder Benjamin Merrill