Monday, March 25, 2013

New Home in Nuevo Xalapa

September 6, 2007

Looking east from a hill in a neighborhood called Las Fuentes in our area in Xalapa.

When we arrived in our area, I got my first look at what would be my home for the next several months. Elder Guerra and I lived on the top floor of a three-story apartment building in the middle of a neighborhood of identical buildings called Nuevo Xalapa. Ours was on top of a steep hill covered with trees. We had a three-bedroom apartment that also had a living room, bathroom, kitchen area, and washroom (sort of). As a missionary rule, though, we slept in the same room. We just used the other two rooms for storage. This sounds very nice and all, but let me show you some pictures before you get too excited.

My storage room.

Elder Guerra’s storage room. We were allowed to listen to music, but only during few hours of the day, and only certain subdued genres at that.

Our bedroom.

Our living room, with Elder Guerra studying at his table. Anyone wanna buy a couch?

My study table. I’m not sure why some previous missionary decided to paint the Addidas logo on the front of the drawer.

Our kitchen area, featuring a hot plate, a pot, a mini-stove, two frying pans, a bunch of plastic dishes, a large fridge (yes, that’s a large fridge), and even hot water! This was by far the most extensive kitchen I ever had in Mexico. Also visible on the left is the washroom with a washbasin and the water heater.

What you can’t see in this last photo is that the washroom was knee-deep in old, abandoned missionary junk, including broken fans, rusty coat hangers, outdated church pamphlets, worn out shirts, shoes with holes in them, and even old underwear. It seems that years’ worth of missionaries had just left stuff behind when they were transferred, and no one had bothered to throw it out. Not knowing anything different, I just left it all alone.

Our bathroom. Nice, huh?

What you can see in this photo is that the water has slowly eroded the tile around the toilet, uncovering the muck beneath it. This finally convinced me to adopt the Mexican tradition of always wearing footwear inside your house. What’s also interesting here is the presence of both a shower curtain and a toilet seat, neither of which were very common among missionary houses at the time.

The apartment wasn’t in great shape, but it didn’t bother me too much. What did bother me, though, was the fact that we were out of natural gas for the water heater when I arrived. Xalapa was one of two zones in the mission that even had water heaters at all, but it was definitely cool enough in the mornings to want it. Instead of piping the natural gas into the apartment like in the U.S., in Veracruz they buy big canisters of gas that you connect to your own heater and stove. When it runs out, you wait for the truck to pass by so that you can stop it and buy a replacement. The different gas companies all drive trucks around town each morning playing their own little ice-cream-man jingles so you know they’re coming. I thought this was the funniest thing ever, though it was less funny when we kept missing our company’s truck each morning when we needed to buy more gas.

Until we managed to flag down the truck, we would just fill our little pot with water, put it on the hot plate until it boiled, and then mix it with a big bucket of cold water, which we then splashed on ourselves to bathe. It wasn’t exactly a nice, relaxing shower to start the day, but it was better than trying to shower with just cold water, which in Xalapa in late fall was really pretty cold.

My first time in the apartment, we just quickly dropped off my luggage and left. We’d had an appointment with a local family on the other side of our area to eat lunch at 2:00, but it had taken longer than expected for me to arrive in Xalapa, so by the time we got there, I think it was past 4:00. When we arrived, I was surprised at how nice the family’s house was. Like almost all the houses there, it was made of concrete and had no carpet, but it was clean and spacious and had art hung on the walls. The woman there led us into the dining room and served us. I don’t remember exactly what it was; I remember it was unfamiliar, but I was starving, so I ate it all anyway. I had assumed the woman who served us was the owner of the house, but it turned out she was a maid that worked there. The owners ran their own businesses during the day. I had no idea at the time, but that was by far the wealthiest family I would ever meet in Mexico.

After our late lunch, we went out to work. We left the wealthy neighborhood where we ate and walked back to a neighborhood called El Olmo. I think the first house we went to was one Elder Guerra and his last companion had visited before, though only briefly. We asked to share a message with her, and she invited us in. I don’t remember the visit very much, but it did feel reassuring to know that there were at least some people willing to listen to us. After leaving, we knocked on a few doors in the area and contacted people in the street. By now it had gotten dark. No one else seemed particularly interested.

Elder Guerra decided we should head over to a different part of town. We crossed a main road and walked down a long set of stairs to a path through an open field. As we were walking, Elder Guerra explained that we were going to “la mina” (“the mine,” as in “a goldmine” of missionary work). We walked into a group of several neighborhoods collectively referred to as La Reserva. La Reserva was one of the poorest parts of our area, but that also meant that it was one of the places where people were most receptive to us. I would end up spending a majority of my time in Xalapa working with people from this neighborhood.

Unfortunately, I can’t remember what else we did that night. As 9:00 approached, we walked back out to the main road to catch the bus to take us back to our apartment.

The first thing missionaries do when they get home is they plan out what they’ll do the next day. They try to map out what will be the most effective way to use their time. Missionaries always carry their planner with them, where they’ll schedule appointments, write down people’s contact info, and take notes. Planning usually involves figuring out how long each visit will take, what we’ll teach when we get there, where we’ll eat lunch, and how to best use the time when we don’t have appointments to find new people to teach. Missionaries even make backup plans as to what to do in case an appointment falls through.

My planner for the day after I arrived in Xalapa.

After planning, we got ready for bed and went to sleep at 10:30. My first day in the field was over.

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