January 28, 2013

The Four Hurdles of Tracting - Week 23

It's getting colder and colder every day, and I'm not really appreciating it too much. People tell me that Strasbourg is the coldest city in France, but seeing as they also tell me that French is the hardest language in the world, it's hard to know what to believe. At least in France, we don't look like freaks when we wear scarves around everywhere to stay warmer.

On Thursday, we spent the entire day out of the cold and on trains to and from Dunkerque for Elder Manivanh's legality. Go ahead and look up Dunkerque on a map. It's all the way across the country from Strasbourg, so we got up early in the morning to take a train to Paris, from Paris to Lille, from Lille to Dunkerque, and back again. We only stayed in Dunkerque for an hour and half or so, and spent 11 hours on trains. We got to see quite a bit of France and were able to stay warm, so I didn't mind too much.

Remember the family I talked about last week that fed us a meal of African food after we shared a spiritual thought? We went to the same family's house last night, but this time, we wisely didn't eat a meal before we went over. Sure enough, the mother had again prepared a "little something" for us and we were treated to a buffet of deep-fried African food. I'm not going to ask what was inside the little fried shells, but it tasted good. They're so nice.

Since there's ice everywhere, fewer people have been walking outside in fear of falling on their faces. So, we've been deciding to do less street contacting and more tracting door to door. French people are funny about their houses. Everyone is afraid of everyone else, so they try to protect their houses from everyone; from thieves, nice old ladies asking for a cup of sugar and, yes, missionaries. Their first line of defense is the dumb little speakers I've talked about before, the sonneries. We've heard enough of French ladies asking "c'est qui?" through the speaker and usually decide to ignore it.

That brings us to their second line of defense, which is their gates. Everyone here has extra gates around their houses, but since they're only tall enough to keep out a small army of kindergartners or the aforementioned old lady asking for sugar, it's not really much of an obstacle and we can just walk up to the door.

At this point, they sometimes pull out their secret weapon, the dogs. Most dogs in France are big and fluffy and wear ridiculous little coats and clothing in the winter, and a good number of them don't do much except get hair all over our suits.

Seeing that we've successfully passed through their security system, French people then resort to their last option, they just don't open the door. Instead, they all open their windows, poke out their head from two stories up, and yell, asking what we want. It's frustrating when the person is really old and can't hear what we're saying from so far away no matter how loudly we scream it, and they don't quite understand that they could hear better if they just came to the door. What a good idea.

The local youth have been taking advantage of the recent snow and enjoy throwing snowballs at cars and buses. Of course, when they see us about to walk by on the other side of the street, they can't help but lob some over and try to hit us. I think we've finally earned their respect since we catch everything they throw at us and toss it back, and it's now turned into more of a game when we walk by.

That's the extent of the news I have to report. Try to stay warm, and I'll be back to update you all again next week!

Elder Wilson

January 21, 2013

I Hope the Foot Didn't Belong to the Dog! - Week 22

Transfer 3 is well under way, and I'm sitting here with Elder Manivanh, my new companion. It's pronounced "Mon" as in PokeMON, "i" as in the letter E, and "vanh" as in Avon (that's a makeup brand, right?). He's from Seattle and everyone assumes he's Tahitian because of his last name, but his parents are actually from Laos. I guess we can still speak French 24/7, though ... if we really want. But let's rewind.

After waiting for Elder Dunn to pack bags for a good portion of the day on Tuesday, we went to a member family's house to eat dinner. The father is a native Alsacian, so he made us a traditional Alsacian meal. It involved a lot of very slow-cooked meat and potatoes, and it was pretty delicious. As is French custom, we had multiple courses: the main dish, tea, dessert, salad, and so on. However, the exciting part came when they offered us pig feet... yes, as in the feet of a pig cut off and cooked in sauce. So, after just a little hesitation, Elder Dunn and I accepted the offer and I ate the foot of a pig. And there you have it, one of the more abnormal things I've eaten on my mission. France sells cow tongue in their grocery stores, and I think I'd prefer feet to tongue any day.

Early the next morning, we got on a train to Paris and made it to the chapel down the street from Notre Dame to meet the other missionaries for transfer day. After waiting and hanging out with other Elders for a while, Elder Manivanh came and we headed to the train station to make it back to Strasbourg. Once we got there, we found out that the trains to Strasbourg were sold out for the next few hours and that we had quite a while to wait for the next one available. So, we waited in the train station of Paris with nothing to do for two hours. We were only a 20 minute walk or so from the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Sacré Coeur and everything Paris has to offer, but we couldn't take all of Elder Manivanh's bags through the city because they were too big and heavy. So, we sadly just had to sit in the middle of Paris.

We eventually got back to Strasbourg, however, and have had a good couple of days. For example, on Saturday, we were walking to a lesson when I saw a lady at a distance on the other side of the street. Apparently she saw us too, because she was yelling at us and motioning for us to come over. We were a few minutes early, so I went over to see what she was freaking out about. When I got close, she jumped and grabbed my arm, looked up at me, and said "I just need a young man to help me cross the street." She also had a three-legged dog. So, I helped an old lady cross the street with her three-legged dog. There you have it, it actually happens. Give me the merit badge, because I am an eagle scout. I just hope the foot I ate earlier didn't belong to the dog.

After we helped her get to her car, she asked about our church and requested a rendez-vous. Blessings come from service!

Later that night, we ate dinner at our apartment and went to visit a member family from Madagascar. We shared a spiritual thought and it went well, and they kindly prepared "a little something" for us. That "little something" turned out to be a gigantic meal of sausages, bread, spicy green sauce and salad. So, sitting in an apartment kitchen in France and surrounded by assorted African meats hanging from the ceiling to dry, Elder Manivanh and I ate more African food than any men should have to. That was after we had already eaten as well. Fortunately, it was a delicious Malagasy meal and we were quite happy.

It's been freezing cold and wet every day this week, and it's only getting worse. In fact, there was so much ice that church was canceled for almost the entire northern half of France. It's a good thing I bought a new jacket at Soldes to cope with the weather.

That's the latest and greatest, and thanks for stopping by.

Advice for the week: go give a compliment to someone. It'll make you feel good.

Elder Wilson

Elder Barr (on the left) was my MTC companion and he will now be companions with my trainer and first companion, Elder Dunn, in Cherbourg.

It was great to see several of my MTC roomies.

January 14, 2013

Joyeux Soldes - Week 21

It finally snowed for the first time in five or six weeks. It's been getting pretty cold, but probably not as cold and not as much snow as my Utah home. Happy Snow Day to you!

It's already the start of my third transfer, and I'll be staying in Strasbourg again! Elder Dunn, however, didn't get so lucky. He's being transferred to Cherbourg, which is on the other side of France. My new companion is going to be Elder Manivanh. I'll let you know how to pronounce his name once I meet him and figure it out for myself. I have been told that he is from Tahiti and I hope that he is so that I can speak French to him 24/7 and improve my speaking and understanding. Also, there's a chance I'll be going to Paris for a few hours on transfer day on Wednesday. We can only hope! 

Now that Christmas and New Year's is over, France has begun yet another holiday which, in my opinion, is probably the best. This holiday is Soldes, where every clothing store in existence puts all of their merchandise on clearance. Being in France, there's no shortage of clothing stores. Do you want a classy, 30 euro French belt? Bam! It's now 10 euros or less. How about a 90 euro pair of shoes for 35 euros? Sure! Soldes has it all. Missionary wardrobes aren't exactly the most diverse, but we'll try to take advantage of it anyway. Unfortunately, there's only so many white shirts and ties someone can own before it becomes ridiculous and impractical.

This last Thursday night, Elder Dunn and I took a train to St. Dié to conduct a baptismal interview for one of the investigators of the St. Dié Elders. Elder Dunn is the District Leader and that is one of his responsibilities. Once we pulled into the station at St. Dié, we realized that we forgot to bring a baptismal form that's required for the baptism. So the next morning, we woke up bright and early to run and catch an hour and a half train back to Strasbourg, sprinted to our apartment to grab the dumb piece of paper, made it back to catch the hour and a half train to St. Dié, dropped the paper off to the other companionship, and got back on another hour and a half train to Strasbourg. Maybe there's a reason it's called St. Dié ... the days have been killed every time I've gone there so far. Well, I suppose it's not every day you get to ride on a train through the French countryside for five hours, right? Still, I'd prefer not to do it again.

When people found out I was going on a mission to France, I heard quite a bit of stories and rumors about how French people hate Americans. On the contrary, I've found that a lot of French people love us just because we are American. Parisians hate rude American tourists. I've mentioned this before in other letters, but in the last few weeks, we've scheduled a handful of extra lessons just because our accents are "so cute!" I'll take it. Hey, whatever works, right?

All in all, it was a fairly calm week filled with a decent number of lessons and way too many train rides. Also, as of 5 hours ago, I'm officially trained and no longer a blue! I guess I'm a real missionary now. I'll have to celebrate by buying myself a new French suit for 50 euros at Soldes.

Have a great week!

Elder Wilson

January 07, 2013

Getting Shot At - Week 20

It's now 2013 and the beginning of my "blackout year," which is missionspeak for the year that I won't be touching American soil. And so it starts!

At first, we were a little bummed that we were going to be sleeping through midnight on New Year's Eve since the missionary bedtime of 10:30 still applied. However, the country of France did not let us down. It all started at around 8:30, while we were walking home. There was hardly anyone on the streets, and it was quiet ... we figured it was the calm before the storm, and we were right. After going to bed at 10:30, we were awakened at about 10:36 to bombs going off outside our apartment. There weren't really explosions, but apparently the popular thing to do in France is to set off fireworks that give off huge bangs as loud as bombs.

Then, at midnight, everything went nuts. The church bells across the street started going off for a solid half hour, then our friend the pastor came out and started yelling. Didn't think he had it in him. After that, the streets filled up with drunk people screaming their lungs out, and they thought it would be a good idea to shoot fireworks at each other. So, with sparks and explosions flying down the streets, we huddled in our apartment to stay safe. Then, I spotted sassy young ladies walking towards our apartment building. They had a bunch of fireworks and were shooting them into any open windows they could see. By the time we realized one of the girls was aiming at our window, we didn't have time to close our shutters, and we dove to the ground so we wouldn't get hit by a ball of fire. Luckily, all the alcohol must have thrown off her aim, and the firework hit the wall next to our window.

France sure knows how to party.

After France recovered from all the celebration, we went back to work as usual: knocking on doors, contacting on the street, and making phone calls. We get all sorts of interesting people when we cold call them from the "previously contacted" list. For example, one person said that while she was at one time considering joining a church, she is now actively worshipping the devil. After shaking off the weirdness of that phone call, we called one of our investigators who was gone on vacation. We were surprised when he told us that he read the entire Book of Mormon cover-to-cover in the three weeks since we gave him a copy, and we'll be teaching him as soon as he gets home.

Last night, we had a funny contact on the street. We stopped a man from New Zealand and started talking to him. Soon after, an old Algerian man came up, heard us speaking English, and flipped out. "I LOVE English language, and I love you guys!" he yelled through a thick accent. He may or may not have been slightly under the influence of alcohol. It almost sounds like the beginning of a joke: two Mormons, an atheist Kiwi and an Algerian Muslim are walking down a street ... 

In any case, we listened to what this man had to say. He proceeded to tell us how he has five wives, and he is looking for an English wife in France. Good luck with that one, buddy. You're in the wrong place. He complained that a man needs at least 12 wives like his father to be happy, then asked where we were from. When I said I was born in California, he got excited and informed me that he has a daughter in California. So, he gave me her phone number. I think he expects me to go and marry her or something. Sorry, Ronnie. I'm not quite ready for that.

Miracles do happen, though. Two weeks ago, we were really busy with a good number of exchanges and lessons and things. So, we didn't have much time to actually go out and find new investigators to teach, though we had set weekly and daily goals to do so. Even though we didn't have very much time, we somehow had miracle contacts every single day. One day, in the 20 minutes we had to contact, the very first man we talked to was interested, and we taught a lesson to him right on the spot. Basically, that never happens. Usually, Elders are really happy to just schedule one lesson in two or three hours of finding. But, the same thing happened to us the next day - the very first person we talked to was interested. And it happened the next day as well. And the day after that, it was the second person. We met all of our goals for the week, even though our time was short. 

When people ask me about my family, I tell them that my Dad does finances for the church and makes financial reports and things like that of incomes and expenses. At the end of every month, we need to do blue card reports, which consists of basically sending receipts, explaining, and accounting for every travel expense paid for by the credit card we have. So, the missionaries around me have taken to doing the blue card reports "for Elder Wilson's dad!" since they assume he'll be the one receiving them in some sort of summary after half a dozen levels of church administration. We end up spending something like 1200 euros for our single companionship every month, or probably something like $1600 American dollars in 30 days just on train rides. It's a good thing we're only paying $400 a month! Pretty awesome. 
Apparently, I have become known as "The American Baker" because my companion tells everyone in the ward that I'm really good at making cakes. It's just funny that everyone in America wants French desserts and everyone in France wants American desserts. So please, if you have any good recipes, send them my way.

My pity goes out to all who are starting classes this week. I'm genuinely sorry.

Don't freeze to death in the cold weather! 

Until next week,

Elder Wilson

My district in Nancy, France