Tuesday, December 31, 2013

December 30, 2013, Skyping Home, Beat, and Getting a Sunburn on Christmas


I had a pretty fun week with Christmas and skyping home. It was nice to see everyone. Eliot is talking lots and Linus is big. Nankai looks about the same. He didn't seem very interested in talking, but that's okay. I got to see the snow in Utah, which was pretty exciting.

I got a box Annie and Kate sent. Sister Samuel says thank you for the stocking and sweater. The sweater looks really good on her. Sister Moea'i also says thanks for the stocking.

Sister Tofa (from NZ), me, and Sister Anitoni (Tonga)
outside of the stake center before beat on Christmas morning
On Christmas eve all of the missionaries met at the mission home for lunch. We also did an earring exchange for the sisters and the elders did a tie exchange. I got some big black and white Marshallese flower earrings that I'm wearing in some of the photos from Christmas.

We watched miracle on 34th street, which was actually kind of funny in parts. Or maybe I just haven't watched movies in a long time so any seem funny. The Uliga sisters (sister Tofa and Anitoni) slept over on Christmas eve because we had to sew all of the sisters' lavalavas for the missionary beat. There were only ten lavalavas to sew, but it took a long time. Luckily sister Tofa brought over some Tim Tams and other Australian snacks. It's a good thing we've got Australians and New Zealanders that get packages from home.

Ulinga Ward Beat
We spent all of Christmas at the stake center in Long Island. We started out by watching the Christmas devotional, which they had already translated into Marshallese so I didn't understand a thing.

Beat then started about 11. Each ward got an hour to perform and everyone wore matching dresses. It was actually kind of nice because then you could pick out who goes to which ward. But man, the dresses were all ugly as sin. The missionaries went second and the dance was a lot of fun. We sisters first did our dance (some samoan dance) and then we sat down and the elders did theirs. The elders' dance was funny and everyone really loved it. I guess there's a youtube video of it, but Idk how clear it is. The women running around were spraying perfume on us. Some of it got in my mouth and it was nasty, so I think there's one part where I'm coughing and dying.

Most of the sisters after the Missionary Beat
Ajeltake Branch walking in for our Beat
We took a lunch break and every ward had a tent set up with buckets full of rice, hotdogs, chicken, etc. Annie was wondering how the marshallese feel about non-red koolaid. I actually had orange koolaid a few times in Laura (maybe it's just a laura thing?) and I think I once had green at a funeral (I remember not being able to figure out what flavor it was...probably for the best). But red is the most common.

Ajeltake Beat
Beat lasted the rest of the day. Ajeltake was scheduled to go last at 7 pm. We started at 8:15, which actually isn't bad. I swear jenrok ward took 2 hours. We were pretty tired at that point. Ajeltake's beat was the best, by far. The songs we sang were great. A jimma (grandpa) in our ward wrote them and we've still been singing them all week. Jao, a recent convert, wrote the song for the dance and also came up with the dance. Our dance was lots of fun and everyone was energetic and yelling. Sister Moea'i and I danced in the guys' line, which was way better than the girls' line and it was so much fun. Everyone laughed at the elders in our line because they made up lots of dance moves. Beat was definitely an experience. It was exhausting but fun.

The missionary photo board at the Mission Home
Thanks for all of the photos you send, Annie. I love seeing Linus and Eliot. I especially like the ones in Chicago.

A really cool oven a member built
I'm not sure what's happening for new years yet. I've heard the branch is having a "block party" (they're all about block parties here for new years...I doubt they even know what a "block" is) at the church building, but it's not yet clear. Supposedly our budget is gone because of beat, but we're thinking about just playing some volleyball and basketball, and getting someone to bring music. I've heard everyone is hungover on the 1st and that it's impossible to get any work done, so we might have another P day mid-week.

Did you realize that the Marshall islands is one of the first countries to experience 2014? The international date line is just east of us here.
Coral and Chacos

Walking out on coral at low tide
Sunset at low tide
I miss you. Thanks for the emails and letters. Pretty soon I can say I'll be home this year! I hope you're all enjoying the snow. I got a sunburn on Christmas.

Sister Ellen Butler

December 23, 2013, I am Now the Owner of a Hot Pink Mumu

Greetings from the Marshall Islands,

It's been a fun week preparing for Christmas.  It sure doesn't feel like Christmas here since it's warm and I'm on a tropical island surrounded by coconut trees and ocean, but with all the Christmas activities it seems a little more real than before.

Everyone is getting ready for Beat.  For the mormon folks, everyone meets at the Long Island building (the stake center) on Christmas.  I'm pretty sure it's an all day event.  Each ward performs with a dance and songs and such.  Everyone in the ward participates..the kids and adults.  And best of all, we wear matching outfits.  Yep.  Sister Kiki and I just got our dresses yesterday.  The stake president's wife (they live in Ajeltake) bought them for us for Christmas.  Um.  I am now the owner of a hot pink and yellow mumu (how do you spell that?).  yeah, it's pretty ugly.  it's got puffy sleeves and ugly buttons sewn on it.  So bad.  But it's an experience.  We've been having beat practice every night in Ajeltake the last two weeks, and earlier than that, but I wasn't here yet.  The two church vans would go pick up people every evening and drop them off at the church.  They'd set up the keyboard and microphones and one person plays and another sings.  Then a couple of guys have whistles and help teach the dance and lead us into the chapel.  we all line up outside the chapel (the chapel has folding chairs, so we can practice in there when the chairs are all put away) and they lead us and we form rows inside.  We sing a couple of songs in Marshallese, and then we dance around and form rows for the dance. We then dance in rows and that's about it.  We haven't practiced the walk out yet...not sure how to do that. Jao and Carlos, two recent converts, are teaching beat. Jao actually wrote the song and the lyrics. It's a song about fishing and there's a part in the dance where we're pulling nets in from the ocean.

All of the missionaries are also performing a dance. Last year the dance was from Kiribati, but this year the Samoan elders and sisters planned it. The sisters are all wearing matching lavalavas and flowers in our hair.  we perform a dance and then the elders do some crazy Samoan dance with a lot of yelling and jumping around. It's going to be pretty cool. We've got about 40 elders and 10 sisters on Majuro, so there's a lot of us. We're practicing again today. Some of the sisters bought fabric so we've got to hem our lavalavas today too. The fabric is blue, green, and white...a lot better than hot pink.

I've been wearing my chacos everyday now.  I love them.

Random info:  Gas is 5.60 a gallon, and diesel is 5.00.  So crazy.

I am now a pro at backing out cars. I think I've found my calling in life. Such a fun rule.

School was canceled on Friday because we were supposed to get big tidal waves. I don't think it happened. I think they were supposed to be bigger in the northern marshall islands.  We're okay here though. They said something about 20 ft waves. How the heck do you measure a wave?  Where does the bottom of it start?  And are we talking about low tide or high tide? Idk.

I went to my first keemem on Saturday night. A keemem is a big party for a kid's first birthday.  First birthdays are a big deal here. They basically make a whole lot of food (rice, bbq chicken, pork, cooked pumpkin in coconut "frosting," potato salad-- eggs, potatos, mayo, pwido, and koolaid) and everyone is invited. They set up a couple of tents and chairs, and decorate with balloons and coconut fronds. Someone plays the keyboard and someone sings. They started really late (got to love island time. Everything starts 3 hours late here) so we just got our food and left. We felt bad about just coming to get free food (well, that's kind of why we were there anyway) but it was time to go home. A member invited us, so we didn't feel quite as bad. He's an Alap, which is one step down from an Irooj (translates to lord. Basically a big cheese) so we didn't feel too out of place. Of course he treats us like we're big cheeses, and he got us chairs and sent other people to get our take out boxes of food. The people here really respect missionaries.

All of the missionaries did Christmas caroling at K&K last week. K&K is one of the grocery stores here. We stood in front of the store and sang for an hour. We have it again tonight. It's pretty funny because after 15 minutes most of the elders are sick of singing and they don't know all of the songs because they don't sing these hymns on all the islands.

The sister that got hurt is coming back from Fiji this week. I guess she's good enough to come back. I think I'm going back to Laura again for a few weeks before the next transfer, but then I should definitely be in a new place. Supposedly a whole lot of people are moving around this next transfer. I don't really want to go back to Laura, but it'll be okay.

Tomorrow for Christmas Eve we're all meeting at the mission home for lunch and a gift exchange. The elders are supposed to bring a tie, and we're supposed to bring earrings. Yep.

Everything is good here. I'm doing well. It's nice having a car. It's nice having a church building. Oh, on Saturday morning the whole branch met together and we cleaned the church building and grounds around it. I worked on the windows in the chapel. They're those cool windows with the parallel glass panes that all open up and move 90 degrees. With the fans going and the widows open, we get some nice ocean breezes from off the lagoon (which is about 30 ft away).  

Meri Kirimaj nan aolep!

Sister Ellen Butler

December 16, 2013, Ajeltake is Just Great!


It's been an awesome week in Ajeltake. It went by so quickly. I can already say that I love Ajeltake more than I loved Laura. Maybe that's bad, but Ajeltake is just great. The branch members are all really nice and outgoing. I already feel like I know a lot of people's names in the branch. Our house is awesome. I love our huge kitchen and gas stove, and we have some super comfy couches that we crash on every night when we get home. It's also really nice having a car. We taught a lot of lessons this last week. Sister Moea'i was really happy to work.  Everyone calls Sister Moea'i "Sister Kiki" because her name in Samoan means "eat and sleep" and kiki means "sleep" in Marshallese.

More Island Flowers
Pretty Island Flowers
Ellen by the lagoon in Ajeltake
I forgot to tell you about a store we went to last week. There's an awesome Chinese grocery store in town that some missionaries found, and now it's the place everyone goes on p days. It's called Best Foods and they have real fruit smoothies and bubble tea. The smoothies are $4.50 but they're huge and worth it. I've only tried passion fruit and mango so far, and they're both so good. I also got some gyoza wrappers and green onions and cabbage there, and Kiki and I made gyoza this last week. I also got a bottle of calpico! Or whatever that stuff is called.  There's a lot of japanese and Chinese food that I want to get, but it's all really expensive.

Our House--Yep, It's a Palace
One sad thing about our house is that we don't have a washer, so we have to take our clothes to the long island to do them. It's not bad though. We didn't have electricity on Thursday (I swear it's always Thursdays when it's turned off) so that was a fun no shower day. It was so hot in our house in the morning so we drove down to peace park (a park that has a pretty ugly WWII monument) to do our language study. I'll see if I can upload some photos. These computers at NTA aren't quite as nice as the ones at CMI.

The Ajeltake elders had a baptism on Saturday. A young couple named Jao and Carlos got baptized. It was really nice. I had gotten to know them pretty well this week, so I was glad to be there for the baptism.
Carlos, Elder Sherman, Sister Kiki, Jao, Elder Gappmayer, and Ellen

Thanks for the camera, mom and dad. It's nice to be able to take pictures again. I got some nice sunset ones this week. The sunsets here in Ajeltake are awesome. It's so pretty. In some ways Ajeltake is prettier than Laura because when we drive we can see both the lagoon and the ocean. Laura is wider so you can't see both. I do miss all of the bumpy, dirt back roads in Laura though. There are a few papaya trees here, but they all seem really small.  I don't think any of them are producing fruit. There are bananas, but not as many as in Laura. We got a huge bag of pandanas fruit this week though.

We made lunch for some elders yesterday. A number of them are leaving this week so some were in Ajeltake saying goodbye to people yesterday. I made kuku paka (without a blender, but it worked. And we made fresh coconut milk too. So good.), green lentils (without cilantro), rice, and of course hot dogs. No meal is complete without hotdogs. Oh, and I also made some oven fries because I was worried we wouldn't have enough food.  Big islander elders can eat a lot.
Sister Kiki and two elders returning to Kiribati
We've been trying to find more investigators this week, since the ajeltake sisters didn't have many before.  We've found some. Most are teenagers, but that's good. One thing our mission president has wanted us to do is find all of the 9 yr olds and up that come to church but haven't been baptized yet. We try to teach them and have their parents there in the lessons. Usually the parents are less active and the kids keep coming with other active family members (since extended families all live together here), and so teaching the kids helps reactivate the parents. We've been teaching a kid and we found out his mom is a less active member, so we asked if she also wanted to study with us. It's a really good way to find. Another mom of a teenager we're teaching isn't a member but has studied with missionaries before (like every other person on this island) and so we're starting with her again too. We also try to visit members a lot and get referrals from them. Referrals are hard to get though.

I didn't write much in my planner to talk about this week. I really enjoy working with Sister Kiki. She's really relaxed about things, which is so nice. We understand each other really well. It's nice to have a companion that really knows English.

I love you all. Thanks for the emails and letters. Let me know if you have specific questions about the island. I feel like I say the same stuff in my emails these days, and I've gotten used to a lot of things here, so I don't talk about a lot of things that would probably be interesting to all of you. I have yet to eat turtle or dog, but I hope it happens soon.  I've heard bbq turtle is awesome. Thanks for the work gloves, mom and dad. They've already come into good use.

Sister Ellen Butler

December 9, 2013, Transferred to Ajeltake


Well friends, I'm no longer in Laura.  I got a call from the APs on Saturday morning and Sunday after church I got a ride over to Ajeltake. I really miss Laura and Sister Samuel, but Ajeltake is pretty awesome and everyone that has served there really loves it. I'm so glad I'm still on the beautiful west side of the island.

Ajeltake is the long, skinny part of the atoll and it's beautiful just like Laura. I don't think there are as many banana or papaya trees, but there's plenty of coconuts. I thought I was maybe going to get transferred to town, so I'm really happy to be in Ajeltake. It's a big area (well, for the Marshall Islands....it's small for everywhere else in the world) so we have a car. The car is definitely nice, and it's nice to be out of the Laura van. I do miss my bike though.

My companion is sister Moea'i. She's from Hawaii but she's full Samoan. We were in the MTC together, so we know about the same amount of Marshallese. She's been in Ajeltake her whole time on the mission, so at some point once I know the area she'll probably get transferred. I'll need a companion that can drive though!

It was sad leaving Laura, but I'm glad to be in a new area. There's just a branch in Ajeltake, and the sisters didn't have very many investigators before, so we're going to try to really get to know the members and find people through them. I had met some of the members when I came to Ajeltake for baptisms before, so I already know a few and they are all really excited I'm working here now. They all ask about Sister Samuel, because she came from Ajeltake to work in Laura. I'm still in the same district as before, so that's nice. And holy cow, our house is so fancy. We each have our own bathroom, the house is huge, and we have a huge kitchen. I'll have to take pictures of it sometime.

I'm emailing in town at NTA (the phone and internet provider) so I now have to pay for email. It's about ten dollars for 2 hours or so.

I'm trying to think about what happened this week. Oh, we had a fun experience with our water in Laura. On Saturday night we heard the water pump working but we realized there wasn't any water turned on in the house.  We thought about what it could be, but then we just ignored it/forgot about it. It's not really that loud, so you don't always notice it. Sister Samuel woke me up Sunday morning and told me we were out of water. We figured out our water heater is broken and all rusted, so the pump pulled out all of our water in the night. So we called the Barlows (senior couple that take care of problems with the houses) and then we asked our neighbors if we could have some water. We took about 4 buckets of water from their pontoon for our showers (bucket showers are the best) and we had some soapy water in a basin left over from rinsing laundry that we used for flushing the toilets (or "flashing" the toilets, as my companions called it). We had the Barlows bring over drinking water, since they come to church in Laura with us. Hopefully they have water now! Luckily it's monday so they can fill up the pontoon with water from the pipes (since the water is on once a week).

We've been helping teach seminary at Laura high school the last couple of weeks because their teacher was selected to take a class at USP for the next month or so. The have seminary during lunch time in an elementary school classroom. The high school and elementary school are right next to each other and there's a 2nd grade teacher that teaches it, so they all come over to her classroom. It was a little crazy at first because it was during the elementary school lunch time and there were kids everywhere eating their rice and chicken and running around, so seminary only lasted about half an hour, but it was still good.  We taught in english because most of the high school students know english pretty well. It was hard to know how much they understood, but it got better as we went along. They're studying the book of mormon this year, and it was fun to try to explain some of the stories. I think Samuel and Tafili will take over for a couple of weeks.

I hit my five month mark this week, which is crazy. Time is going so much faster now that I can actually communicate with people and that I like my companions. Sister Moea'i is really relaxed but also wants to work hard, especially since her last companion was injured and they weren't able to work as much as she wanted to. 

I was telling Annie about this, but I haven't told the rest of you. It's actually not that hot here right now. We're in the rainy season in Nov-Jan (or something like that. maybe it's Oct-Dec) and it's definitely cooled down a little.  There are still really hot days, but it seems a little cooler overall. Sadly this is the time that I'm in a car (I would rather have the car when it's super hot) but I'm not complaining. I guess it's because we're still in the northern hemisphere and so the sun isn't quite as direct? I'm not sure how much it matters so close to the equator. I'm not sure why it's the rainy season either.

I'm trying to think about what else happened this week. It was a pretty solid week in Laura. We got a big nice papaya from Tomiko, which was delicious. I love papaya. We also got another big bunch of bananas. On Saturday night we got fed by the Jolets, which was nice. Lots of meat and rice. I did get some awesome pork last night in a really good tomato sauce. The pork was so tender and delicious.

Another funny story from a lesson with a 12 year old boy: We were reviewing for this kid's baptismal interview and we asked him what we're not supposed to do on Sunday. He said "jab wia (don't buy stuff), jab kukure (don't play), and jab raru (don't clean up/rake)" It was super funny because we always say "jab jerbal (don't work)" instead of "jab raru," so we don't really know where he came up with that one. It was super funny too because that's what all the women say when you asked them what they did today. Breadfruit trees drop a million leaves and overripe breadfruit, so the marshallese people are constantly raking and cleaning up their land. You can rake and pick up leaves, and then in the afternoon it looks just like it did before. I don't know if this story will be funny to you, but it was pretty funny to us. I love hearing what the kids come up with.

I think that's pretty much it. I'm not going to get Christmas boxes home until Jan or Feb, sorry about that. I haven't had time to get gifts yet, and then once I send them we'll see how long they take to arrive. No worries about boxes being late. I really don't mind. Thank you for sending me presents!  Let me know if there's anything any of you want.

Sister Moea'i's old companion left a lot of vegemite in the cupboards, so I know what I'm eating this week. haha. I tried some on a cracker a few weeks ago and it actually wasn't bad. Why do they say it's really healthy? I've got to find some uses for it, unless the sister can come back and wants her vegemite.

I miss you all. Thanks for your letters and emails. They really mean a lot to me.


Sister Ellen Butler

December 2, 2013, Church yesterday was awesome! (read why...)


I have a pretty crazy week in Laura.  I had strep throat for the first few days, so we didn't get very much work done, and then Sister Samuel got the flu right when I was getting better.

Since we're working in a trio, it's actually not that bad when one of us gets sick because we just need to find a female member to come be with the sick one so the other too can work.  But of course it's difficult because only some people have phones and very few people have cars or bikes.  On Monday evening we got Carolynn to come over and sit with me.  We told her we'd pay her back for a taxi to come to our house (50 cents), but she ended up getting a ride from a policeman since her dad used to be a policeman in Laura (meaning he sat in a chair in front of the police station or sometimes rode around in a police car).

Tuesday afternoon Mercyla came over after school and I found out a lot more about her family. Tomiko came over Wednesday and normally she's pretty quiet, but she just talked and talked the whole time. I think the members were all happy to come over because they got to enjoy the AC and use the stove (they were all pretty excited to cook using the stove). On Saturday night we asked if Tomiko could come over to sit with Sister Samuel, and she said yes, but then she didn't show up. We got Carolynn to come over, and then a few minutes later Tomiko and another member, Mami, came and they all ended up having a party while we were gone. When Sister Tafili and I came back they had cooked dinner for us and had gone through old clothes that sister missionaries had left in the house. It was nice that members were willing to help us.

On Thursday we all went to Long Island to the mission home to eat Thanksgiving dinner. I guess it was actually lunch. It was nice to see everyone, but every time I go to the mission home I just feel so claustrophobic. I think there are just too many people in the house and it gets so loud. It probably doesn't help that the last couple of times I've been there I've been really congested, so with the noise I can't hear anything anyone is saying. I also think I'm just tired of being with people 24/7.  It's kind of nice being in a trio because I can let the two of them make fun (they're islanders so they're always laughing about something) and talk when we're in the house, and then I don't have to talk. It's nice.  

We had John and Helasha's baptism planned for Saturday night, but then Friday morning we got a call saying the baptism needed to be that evening since there was a program going on in the middle school (where we meet for church) Saturday night. So, much of Friday was spent preparing for the baptism and letting people know about the change. Finding baptismal clothes was an adventure, and so was finding Tomiko and the boys to let them know about the change. Luckily Marshallese people aren't really that busy, so switching the days wasn't a problem. The baptism was really nice. Not very many people showed up, but that's how baptisms go. One of their friends, Helmer, spoke at the baptism, and so did Tomiko.  

On Saturday morning the Relief Society had a picnic at Laura beach for Sister Barlow's birthday. The Barlows are a missionary couple that are assigned to serve in the Laura ward, so they've been coming to this ward since they've been here. They're some of my favorite senior couples. It started a couple of hours late, as usual, so sister Barlow and I walked along the beach and found shells. We then started by singing a bunch of Marshallese birthday songs, and then we did a sort of iakwe iakwe, where everyone sings and walks up to the person of honor and gives them gifts. She was given Marshallese flowers, shoes, earrings, and shells. We then ate a lot of Marshallese food (rice, hotdogs, chicken, bub, bananas, banana and coconut balls, sashimi, coconuts, spaghetti noodles with ketchup (so gross), etc).  

Church yesterday was awesome! The water pump for the bathroom was broken, so we only had sacrament meeting. It was just the right length. I didn't feel completely exhausted afterwards. It was great. Last night we went and visited an old man that doesn't come to church because he can't walk, and we had a good time with him. We shared a short lesson and then sang hymns together. We're happy to start singing Christmas hymns now. It's so weird that it's December and really warm. We're actually in the rainy season right now (Oct to Dec) so that explains why it's been raining so blasted much recently. It also hasn't been quite as hot, which is nice.

I'm trying to think of what else happened this week. I made a quinoa and chick pea salad. I added canned tomatoes (wish i had fresh ones) and steamed carrots and broccoli, and a lot of salt, pepper, Italian spices, olive oil, and a little vinegar. I wish I had lemon juice. It was okay. I think the broccoli was a weird addition. It wasn't bad though. I made more lentil soup. I eat a lot of grilled cheese sandwiches too. I made one for Sister Tafili, which was a bad idea since now she likes them and I've got to share the cheese now haha.

The sister that got injured is going to Fiji a week from today to get her knee looked at. If she's okay, she'll come back...but most of us think she'll go home. So, this may be my last week in Laura. We'll see.  If I have to move, I'd be okay with going to Ajeltake because it's pretty similar to Laura, but I don't really want to leave Laura.  

I miss you all.  Tootles, 

Sister Ellen Butler