December 30, 2013

Surprise Injury Party - Week 71

Happy New Year!

Well, it's December 30th today. There's only one day left of my "blackout year," meaning the 12 months that I don't touch American soil. I technically cheated by going to an American cemetery in France on American soil, but we won't count that.

SO, we finished emails last week, and were reveling in our sense of accomplishment when we were greeted from behind by a smiling Sister Poznanski. She informed us of another surprise trip to the hospital for an Elder in Paris that had recently destroyed his ankle while running for the bus, so off we went. Since he couldn't walk, we went into Paris to drive him to the hospital and deliver some crutches to make him mobile.

We knew that a Sister was still in the American hospital after having surgery to remove a cyst from her brain, but we weren't expecting to have a whole welcome party. There at the hospital in the waiting room, we had Elder Hill, me, the Elder that broke his ankle, his companion, another sick Sister, her companion, two Sisters that accompanied them, and the other Sister that had the brain surgery was still upstairs. We met a couple from Texas, and the slightly confused looks on their faces conveyed that they were probably thinking one of a few things:

"WHAT are they DOING to those poor missionaries?"

"Does membership in that church really involve frequent and severe bodily harm?"

"I knew they have to be with companions, but don't you think eight for one sick person is too many?"

"That's a shame. The bus taking everyone back to the local monastery must have just gotten in an accident."

"Oh, what nice young people. I hope they have something to say to me."

"WHY is everything in this vending machine so dang expensive?"

Seriously though. That vending machine was ridiculous. I'd sooner walk out of that emergency room with a broken leg and severe internal bleeding to find a Snickers bar that doesn't cost the equivalent of 3 US dollars. Anyway. Moving on.

We set the record straight with the nice family from Texas, got the ankle good and fixed up, dropped the Elders back off at their apartment, then went out to buy food for the Sisters who were stuck waiting there all day (they couldn't afford the vending machine). After a few hours more of driving through traffic and waiting, we drove the Sisters back to the train station, found out that there were no more trains for the night, then drove them back to the mission home for the night. And that was only Monday.

The next day was Christmas Eve! We used our P-day to stay home and make desserts for Christmas parties, then we went over to President and Sister Poznanski's house for dinner. That was so fun, and they're so French. We had a bunch of fancy hors d'oeuvres (Ha. That's French too), then started the meal with a plate full of escargot (super French). Mmm. They gave us a feast, dessert, and the gift of a jar of Nutella.

Logically, the next day was Christmas! We beautifully slept in until 8, lounged around, then went off to the Princes' apartment (the office senior couple). A few weeks ago, the French Postal service wanted to charge me a $200 customs fee to deliver my Christmas package from my family, which I was unable to pay because the postal worker would only accept cash and I was unwilling to pay because it was highway robbery! On Christmas, I woke up with the expectation that I wasn't going to be getting any presents for a few weeks, but it turns out that my mother and the office staff were in cahoots. When I showed up to the Princes' apartment, I was bombarded with a truckload full of wrapped presents that they had purchased for me. I don't know how I'm ever going to be able to repay them, but it'll probably involve naming my firstborn "Prince" or "Wall."

(editor's note: I need to let the entire world know how awesome and amazing Elder and Sister Prince and Elder and Sister Wall are and thank them for making this desperate mother, a half a world away, happy and fulfill not only my wishes but Trevor's. They went above and beyond my expectations to make sure Trevor had some gifts to open on Christmas morning, but not just a few gifts, they purchased and made every single thing that I had bought and mailed in his Christmas package, including having the Chinese Elders get original Hi-Chews from China Town in downtown Paris! I will never be able to express how much this means to me. How can I properly repay you? Thank you, Thank you!)  

After presents and a fantastic meal, they were nice enough to let us stay to Skype families and watch our yearly allotment of a Disney movie. It was awesome being able to see everyone's family and see how everyone has changed. We had a big debate over the movie and ended up choosing to watch Wreck it Ralph. We all really enjoyed it, but I'm not sure if we liked it for the high quality of the plot and complex story line, or because we haven't seen a movie in a year and a half.

The week finished up with a number of toilet repair projects, which we're getting pretty darn good at. One of the apartments had wood flooring that was severely warping and coming out of place, so Elder Hill and I ended up ripping up the floor, fixing the cracks in the concrete, and laying down new wood flooring. Just learning new things every day! Now I'm not only qualified to work at IKEA, but now flooring companies and plumbers as well. Major life preparation going on here.

That mostly sums it all up! I hope you all had a week as delightful as mine was. I wouldn't mind having another Christmas this week too, but I could do without the accompanying toilet repairs. 

Happy New Year!

Elder Wilson

Snails. Yum!


December 23, 2013

Christmas with Louis XIV - Week 70

Hey! Long time no see! I just wrote an email like three days ago, so I don't feel like too much has happened since then. I suppose we'll see what comes out when I dump out my thoughts all over the keyboard. 

So for our makeshift P-day, we went over to the Palace of Versailles. Since the inside tours aren't normally open on Mondays, we took advantage of the abnormal week's schedule. It was AMAZING. It looks pretty nice in pictures, but it's something that isn't fully taken in except in person. We'll have to go back again to appreciate all of the gardens and water fountains.

We took a train to get to Versailles, but we unknowingly bought the wrong tickets. Consequently, we were able to get on the train, but once we got to Versailles, we couldn't use our tickets to let us past the barriers at the train station. We were sitting there trying to figure out the best way to get past the barriers, when a cool French guy named 'J' came up to us. He saw our name tags and wanted the address of the church so he can come and learn about what we believe. Don't have to ask me twice! The great part of it all was that he helped us get out of the train station afterwards.

The subsequent days were filled with scanning and organizing things for the office, fixing a toilet that then re-broke 8 hours later, and teaching lessons to someone trying to sort out what he believes. We taught him how to pray for the second time, and after some encouragement, he agreed to say the closing prayer for the lesson. He prayed the best he could, and had a huge smile on his face after he finished. Go team!

Yesterday was just a normal day at church in Versailles, featuring a surprise visit from Gerald Caussé to his home ward. So, we had a general authority, the mission president, the stake presidency, and the bishopric at the meeting. They took the liberty to use a nice and complicated vocabulary to facilitate my translating into English, but it was really good. I translate at church also for all the American visitors.

Anyway, I hope you all have an exquisite Christmas filled with joy and plenty of letter-writing time to missionaries. I get to Skype with the family on Wednesday morning if any of you want to go to their house to see my face live. Also, eat plenty of food so I feel less guilty when I do the same!

Merry Christmas!

Elder Wilson

Hall of Mirrors

December 19, 2013

Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day. - Week 69

Well, this has been the all-time busiest week and a half of my mission. I had to spend a few minutes thinking about the last time I wrote an email and what has happened since then. Here goes nothin'.

We started off last week going to the airport to pick up all the new missionaries coming in. There were three different groups coming in at three different terminals, so we had to coordinate who went where. The lot fell on us to wait for an Elder coming in from Canada and, after waiting an hour and a half after his flight landed, we started to think that he somehow slipped out under the radar and was wandering the streets of Paris. We jogged through the terminal a few times, then found out from one of the workers that he missed his connection in London and would be coming in a few hours later. We breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn't lost him after his first few seconds in the country, then went to load up all the luggage of the 24 missionaries. We gave them all pastries, then shoved their half-asleep selves on a train to Paris while we waited for the Canadian Elder to come on his later flight. 

As usual, we drove to the chapel in Paris, dropped off the luggage, rounded up the new missionaries and herded the flock to the hotel, then got a nap in before transfers the next day. That took more suitcase moving, driving, and running through the metros to get people through the city to different train stations to meet their companions.

Thursday was the dying day for the old missionaries going home, so we got permission to sleep in all the way until 3:30 AM, allowing us to jump out of bed fully rested and ready to tackle the bright, sunshiny challenges of a wondrous new day full opportunity. Either that, or we were completely dead. I can't remember. Kinda foggy. Anyway, two of the Elders had 7 AM flights, so we took the advance team to the airport and then came back for the others. Luckily, Sister Poznanski packed us a cute little sack breakfast for the road. Merci!

Elder Hill and I consequently were zombies for a good chunk of the day, and I decided to take on every problem at once by getting sick on the same day. Such is the life.

The next two days (Friday and Saturday), Elder Hill and I fell back into our normal routine (Ha. As if we had one.) and went to IKEA to equip a handful of 2 person apartments with everything they needed to be 4 person apartments. We went to a few places in Paris, Troyes, and Orléans (Old Orléans, not New Orleans).

That brings us to this week, where we put on a Christmas conference for 100 missionaries on Monday, 100 on Tuesday, and 100 on Wednesday. Sister Prince planned to give everyone a cup of wassail and a pastry. We were in charge of getting the 300 pastries and baguettes for the meal, so we went to the grocery store a week early to order it. We talked to the manager of the store, and she said, "Yeah, yeah, it'll be done" and grabbed the list out of our hands. We went back a few days later to make sure it was still good, and she said something like," Yeah, of course it'll be ready." So, with complete confidence, we marched into the bakery of the store and asked for our 300 pastries and baguettes. The poor lady working behind the counter almost lost her eyeballs as she freaked out, saying that no one ever said anything about an order. Nevertheless, she scrounged around and found what we needed for the day. Wohoo!

And thus it was that we went to an awesome Christmas conference complete with a meal, gifts, surprise letters from our families, Santa hats, and songs. It was fantastic. We helped out with the food and tables and translating for the meeting, then shuttled people back and forth between train stations. 

The next day, we had the second Christmas conference complete with a meal, gifts, surprise letters from our families, Santa hats, and songs. We helped out with the food and tables and translating for the meeting, then shuttled people back and forth between train stations. 

The next day, we had the third Christmas conference complete with a meal, gifts, surprise letters from our families, Santa hats, and songs. We helped out with the food and tables and translating for the meeting, then shuttled people back and forth between train stations.

This morning, I woke up with Groundhog Day syndrome and swore I would be living the same day for the rest of my life. It was just funny to translate the same things and do the same activities three times in a row. By the third day, I started translating the stories in advance on accident. It really was fun though, mostly because I got to see all my friends who are now spread out across the country. 

(editor's note: Groundhog Day is one of Trevor's favorite movies. Bet he never thought he would ever live it!)

On the second day, I saw Elder Player, who told me a cool story. Back when we were in Brussels together, we went on an exchange in July and were companions for a day. During the exchange, we were riding on a tram and felt the need to get off and knock on a few specific buildings. We did so, and the first door we knocked on was an American guy named Henry with his Belgian wife and family. Their family was taught two or three times, then he went back to Chicago for a few months. His information got passed to the Elders in Chicago. Fast forward. A few weeks ago, the missionaries in Brussels were having a meeting with the ward mission leader when Henry came into the church looking for the missionaries. He wanted to show them the pictures from his baptism and thank them (me) for knocking on his door and teaching him. Success!

Sorry. This email is a long one. Go ahead and take a break. Play some soothing music and recover.

Ready? Too bad.

In the last email, I briefly mentioned an Elder who stood on a toilet seat and broke it while falling into the toilet. For the conference, Elder Prince ended up finding an old toilet seat and rigged the white elephant gift exchange so the box ended up in the perpetrator's hands. He opened it up, and after he realized what it was, tears started coming down his face when he realized the joke. 

Two nights ago, we got a phone call from the couple in Brussels and got the assignment to pick up a sister missionary from the train station and take her to urgent care in the American Hospital of Paris. We waited with her companion in the hospital for a handful of hours and ended up making it back home close to midnight after dropping them off in the mission home. Then, last night, we got another call informing us we would be housing two missionaries for the evening, then dropping them off at the airport in the morning. We got up early again this morning to do so, then got back to write emails. Now you're all caught up.

Okay, now I'm stopping to breathe.

I feel like the week could be characterized by what Sister Stahly told us last night:

Soeur Stahly: "Does anyone ever tell you that you guys work too much?"
Us: "Uh, not specifically ..."
Soeur Stahly: "Well, you don't. Get back to work."

She's actually really nice, not abrasive, and totally joking, but I suppose we could have squeezed in an extra phone call or two in between tasks.

Anyway. Life is great. Love you all. Merry Christmas. TTYL.

Elder Wilson

Translating for the new missionaries 

Some of my MTC group

December 09, 2013

Did They Put a Puppy in the Sink? - Week 68

Happy December! It's pretty unbelievable to me that we're already at the end of the year. Have we even celebrated Halloween yet? I don't even know. I just work here.

Anyway, the good news is that I'll be staying in Versailles another transfer. That means that I'll be killing Elder Hill in six weeks! It wasn't a huge surprise, because President told us earlier that we'd stay another transfer since they need us more in the mission office. It's still nice and comforting to see our names in the "Versailles" column.

We had some time last week to see Sainte Chapelle, which was one of the more amazing things I've seen thus far. It's just a tiny little church in the middle of the city, but the high walls are completely covered in stained glass depicting all the stories of the Bible. From there, we went to the Conciergerie, the prison where Marie Antoinette was kept. They had some modern art in the main room, one of which was a piece that consisted of a few dozen fake old people in wheelchairs that moved around automatically. It kind of freaked me out to turn around and see a fake angry old man racing toward me in a wheelchair at full speed. I got cornered by the freaky things.

We went to Notre Dame again too, but what was more exciting was the puppy store. Wohoo! We were standing outside a Sisters' apartment on Wednesday with Elder Prince, and mozied through a puppy store while we were waiting for them to get home. Whoever thought to put a Sisters' apartment next to a puppy store didn't think it through, because they probably are late to all their lessons to stop and look at puppies every day. Just kidding. We did rate them all on their adoptability. No, I won't be doing the same thing with any of my future children.

The Sisters came back eventually, and what greeted us in their apartment was definitely less enjoyable than a puppy. They had a clogged drain, and we unscrewed the pipes to pull out a chunk of slimy hair the size of a golf ball. Merci, sisters. I still can't decide if the best part of the experience was the apple pie they gave us, or the reaction from one of the Sisters when she gagged and almost threw up after seeing the hair we had pulled out. 

We got a phone call this week after an Elder decided to stand on top of the toilet seat for some reason. He apparently slipped and fell in the toilet, breaking the seat in the process. Elder Prince is trying to get his hands on a used toilet seat so he can get some "instructions for use" inscribed and give it as a Christmas present.

Other than that, we headed down to the cities of Angers and Tours on Thursday and Friday to fix some leaky toilets and do some other odd jobs. McDonald's twice in one day, anyone? It's pretty amazing down there. Just from the highway, we passed chateaus every 10 minutes. Those things are everywhere.

We got back in time for a staff meeting to plan out transfers and have a baptismal interview with a lady named Catherine. She's super nice and awesome, and she got baptized on Saturday. We couldn't find a piano player, so Elder Hill was volun-told to learn to play two hymns. Afterwards, we had a feast of beignets, chocolate and tarts. She was really happy, and practiced her testimony in front of us a few times before doing it in front of everyone. She's great. 

We got a referral from of an American family living in Versailles, so we'll see what comes from that.

To end the week, the Paris Stake had a Christmas concert put on by the choir and everyone who can play a classical instrument. It was pretty well done, and it made me feel classy driving in a suit to a concert in Versailles. I got humbled again once I stepped out and remembered I drive a beat-up delivery van.

So hey, that's the week in a nutshell. Happy holidays.

Elder Wilson

 From the top of the Eiffel Tower

Sainte Chapelle

La Defense

From the van window ... Thanks, Elder Hill

The Versailles District

Sunrise from our apartment window one morning

December 02, 2013

Wingapo! - Week 67

Let's give two snaps and a clap for another week completed! Well, I suppose it's bittersweet. It was a rather good week, after all. Also, the passing of another week leaves only one more until transfers, and Elder Hill and I are really hoping to both stay in Versailles. We're casually bribing the assistants and President with baked goods, and we're getting the senior couples to make requests for us to stay. We'll see what happens.

Anyway, since last Sunday was Elder Hill's birthday, we celebrated by going to the very tip top of the Eiffel Tower. It was the first time either of us had been to the top, and we made a game of sprinting up the stairs as fast as we could. It's part of the mini-health kick we're in to stay alive. On all the trips around the country, we're reduced to eating McDonalds and KFC for a good portion of our meals, so we have to be extra healthy the rest of the time in order to keep our hearts pumping oxygen to our brains. We need all the help we can get. 

It's always fun to peruse around Paris, because we inevitably run into some member families on vacation. This last week, Elder Hill made a comment along the lines of, "Man, I'm surprised we haven't seen members at the Eiffel Tower yet today." Three seconds later, we heard, "Hey! Elders! How's it going?" We turned around and, sure enough, there was a bustling family. For some reason, things have been manifesting themselves soon after we talk about them. It's a superpower, but no big deal. 

We went to a number of appliance and home improvement stores that night, and were lucky enough to hit every single one 10 minutes before closing. We were greeted each time by the security guard with a caution of "Hey, you only have 10 minutes!" When we walked out 8 minutes later with three microwaves and two ovens in tow, we gained their respect.

All the shopping was in preparation to head back to the city of Troyes and finish our painting job. All was well, and I finished the day with new knowledge of how to paint a house, install a washing machine, and adjust crown moulding. If God uses missions to prepare us for life, I've got a robust career as a construction worker ahead of me. 

And now to the reason why you're really reading this email ... Thursday was Thanksgiving. We had to leave early Thanksgiving morning to take a senior couple to the airport so they can go home and recover from a recent heart attack. We got them on their flight safely, and I was content to see the "Happy Thanksgiving!" signs flashing throughout Charles de Gaulle Airport. The timing required us to drive directly to central Paris in rush hour in order to get to our Thanksgiving celebration on time, so we had an enjoyable two hours in the car of naming things we're thankful for. 

We got to the church to meet the missionaries in our zone and have a district meeting. If everyone in the Paris zone wasn't jealous of being in the Versailles district before, they sure are now. I used my connections with the office to bring colored paper, and everyone made Thanksgiving Native American hats while I was giving the training. I don't know if everyone was jealous because we had colorful paper feathers on our headbands or if because we greeted each other with "Wingapo!" the rest of the day. Either way, it was a great day to be alive. (editor's note: Wingapo is a Powhatan Indian term for "Welcome" or "Our words of kindness", now an extinct language, but used in the 1600's and more specifically in the movie Pocohontas. Yeah, I had to look it up ... only Trevor would remember something like that!)

Due to our recently tight schedule, we weren't able to purchase our meal assignment of two chickens ahead of time. As a result, as they were setting up the tables, Elder Hill and I sprinted out of the church to find a butchery in Paris. We found one after a bit of searching, but it was ridiculously expensive. Not having any options, we bit the bullet and took two chickens to go. On the bright side, it was thanks to those two chickens that the zone Thanksgiving meal was saved. Two other missionaries decided to try to cook their own chickens and they succeeded all too well. The do-it-yourself chickens turned out to be "not burned, but cremated," as Elder Prince described it, but the expensive ones from the butcher were great. You get what you pay for, I guess.

All in all, it was a great day, and it was thoroughly enjoyed.

The rest of our week consisted of deliveries, fixing leaks, and a few lessons sprinkled in here and there. We finished off with another airport trip this morning, as is apparently tradition. There's a French lady that works for Delta that is getting to be our best friend. She comes over and talks to us while we wait in line, and we're slowly explaining to her the Word of Wisdom more and more to the point of eventual acceptance. One trip at a time ...

See ya next time!

Elder Wilson