Well, I am here.
There is so much to say. We got here safely after one million hours in the air and in airports and on bus rides. After our 14 hour plane ride overseas, we stopped in Taiwan, and our terminal was behind a Hello Kitty store--I thought of Michelle and Main Place Mall. I ate the best won ton soup I have ever had in my life in the Taiwan airport, with rice and mango juice. When we arrived in the Philippines finally, we stopped at MTC Asia to rest. MTC Asia sounds pretty huge right? It's basically 1/8 the size of the Provo MTC. The people were lovely and fed us noodles with chicken, bread, and mga sanging (bananas). The bananas here are small and taste like a cross between a sweet potato and a banana--they are sweet. They also let Sister Pence and I take a shower and put our feet up for two hours (my feet did get swollen. They are still swollen, but are gradually going down. Any chance I get I try to elevate them) We took a ten hour busride from Manila to Cauayan, and the curtains were yellow and reminded me of a flapper dress. I made my first contact on the bus with a 19 year old Filipino girl. Sister Lela and I gave her a Book of Mormon and I testified about how the Book of Mormon has blessed my life.
When we arrived in Cauayan, President and Sister Carlos were there waiting at the stop to greet us. Sister Carlos knew my face and name and homestate and it surprised me. Apparently they had read up on me a little. Sister Carlos baked us bread and sweet rolls and President Carlos made us breakfast rice. They orientated us and I had my first interview with president. He said he prayed and fasted and prayed about who my new companion should be. He said the companion he chose for me is the most diligent in the mission, and in his opinion, the best sister missionary in the mission--truly a testimony to me of how much my God loves me. Her name is Sister De Fiesta. We are opening a new area called Naguilian. It's about 30 minutes from the mission home. We ride tricycles and buses to get places. But mostly we stay in our area and walk. We are trying to strengthen the priesthood in our area--there are mostly just women who come to church, around 30 that show up every Sunday. We've met with and talked to the branch president. He says he will make me teach Sunday school every Sunday so my Tagalog will get better--I'm not sure if he was joking or not...
They burn leaves and garbage here at night and it the smell is like insense--I have a feeling I'm going to miss that smell when I leave. I bathe with a ladel and bucket and sleep with only sheets and a fan blasting from my feet. They call me Sister Port, because they can't pronounce F's. I told Sister DF that some things that make me happy are: flowers, chocolate, and talks with my momma. She said she cant give me talk with my momma, but she picks flowers for me basically every day. We eat rice, noodles, and hot chocolate for breakfast. We drink boiled water, and I am basically dripping in sweat all day long. We only have running water between 4pm and 6am. The living conditions are nothing I have ever experienced, but I am getting used to them, and I am seeing just how beautiful these people are. Before we left the MTC, my teacher told us to just do what our native companions do...we will adjust so much easier. I told Sister DF that I need her to teach me, and she is. :) The people stare and stare at me. The other day we rode in a jeepne with bars and people had their faces up close to the windows. I told Sister DF that it was like we were in a Zoo, and we laughed. Everything is such an adventure, and I am growing to love it.
My first few days here were pretty difficult, I'm not going to lie. In General Conference this weekend (we watched it again here), they sang "Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel." And then I was reminded of all of the blessings I have here and that God loves me so much and he called me here because he knows I can do it. I'm not sure exactly what was said in the conference that touched me so much, but something in me clicked and switched, and I am okay. I am going to work hard here, and forget myself, and remember what president Holland said when he came to the MTC. He said, "Salvation has never been easy. It wasn't easy for the Savior." I am a representative of the Savior. Last night we visited a member, Nanay Rena, and she said, "You will soon be glad that you were called to the Philippines." Nothing prompted it, she just said it. Blessings.
I can understand so much more Tagalog than I thought I'd be able to at this point. Sister De Fiesta said she prayed for a companion like me and that I am "magaling sa Tagalog." She speaks very good English and wants to speak better, so we correct and help each other. The other night though, we were at a member's home and I told Sister DF that I was having a hard time understanding that day for some reason. She turned to me and said, "It's because they're speaking Ilokhano." (Another dialect here.)
We met with a woman the other night in her home made of cauayan and sheets of aluminum, we taught her by candlelight while her children ate rice at the table. I am basically just able to bear my testimony right now, but I am teaching my first lesson about obedience tonight to the young women here. I was reading in Helaman 5 this morning, about Helaman's sons who went on missions. He told them to be obedient and go out and serve missions--I would pull out my scriptures right now to quote it, but I don't have time--and they went out and were diligent. Then they were cast into prison, but they were encircled about by fire. I believe that because of their obedience, they were protected and blessed eternally. I love that chapter. Read it.
We had a beautiful lesson last night with an 80 year old woman named Pascita. We tracted into her grandson(?) earlier, but he was at basketball. She let us in and told us about how she lost her husband a few years ago and felt alone. We taught her about the resurrection and life after this, and she reminded me of a tiny, skinnier, FIlipino version of grandma. When we shook hands after the lesson, we squeezed each others hands, and I felt so much love for her. She listened to everything we said, and we have a return appointment with her.
Today we did laundry by hand, in buckets, and hung our things to dry. Without water on Mondays, it was a difficult task. We had to walk down to the water pump in the neighborhood and pump our own water. Adventures! I truly appreciate and love the people who live here. They are so hardworking, and from what I can see so far, they have their priorities straight. God and family first. I was so humbled last night when a Nanay we met with said that God gives her so many blessings.
I should go. But I am so thankful to you for your letters and support. I couldn't do this without wonderful people behind me, supporting me.
I love love love you momma and poppa. I hope all is well. Keep me in your prayers and I will keep you in mine.
SO much love,