Monday, February 13, 2017

Week 65 - Poetry, Listening, and Sudanese Food

Hello my good friends!
How have all of your weeks been?

It's noticeable,
This week I write in Haikus.

We taught lots this week:
Victor, Renaud, Sonya too..

Saturday we found:
New people to exchange with.

I spent lots of time
Looking for five syllables

And then I realized it wasn't really worth the time and didn't communicate all that much information... despite making feel surprisingly poetic and artsy!

I'm sure the intro saying hello and asking you how the week went gets old pretty quickly! And while the text is robotic and doesn't vary much from week to week, the emotions behind it are most definitely real. I really wish I could just small talk and ask about all of the little details of your life. Why? Because you are somebody pretty cool ๐Ÿ˜Ž All of you.

Our English friend update: the attic now has three walls fewer. We spent an hour or two removing those. The driveway that was once muddy, overgrown tarmac is now 80% free. A French plumber that stopped by was able to communicate thanks to our on the spot translations! He tried to give us an absurd price thinking we wouldn't understand what he was saying though. Which wasn't so cool. So a different plumber that spoke English showed up and gave us a better price.

We spent a lot of time this week in Rennes. All of Tuesday was spent there and then most of the Wednesday following. It is a pretty cool city. I've become quite fond of metros recently.

Missionaries in the Rennes district/zone

 Our Amis are doing quite well actually! We have found a fair number. They are all at very diverse points in their progression, though we have a few that are consistent about coming to church when they can.

M. and his friend who's name starts with an A invited us over for a surprise lunch the other day. They don't actually have any money so the gesture was doubly touching. They had prepared a traditional Sudanese meal. We had some sort of tortilla bread things, and then a dish with a lentil/meat/spiciness/love/onion concoction, not too far from a curry. And they showed us how to eat by pinching off a bit bread and using it like a cloth to soak up the sauce. You eat raw tomatoes and peppers on the side too. Sudan!

I didn't really have any strong feelings on the subject in the past way but lately I've had the feeling that listening is a very underrated and lost art. I remember one time before my mission being brutally shocked when a dear friend of mine who had been slowly moving away told me once that she felt I wasn't really listening to her-- despite the fact I was hearing every word that came out of her mouth and then responding with my own words. And a lot of my own words for the record. Initial shock turned into a general state of confusion. It's much later now and it's a lesson I'm still learning, I have figured out that listening has very little to do with little waves of varying air pressure that ears register as sound, but everything to do with trying to figure out what people mean. Listening isn't about what people say, it's about the things that they aren't able to say. And I don't mean to say there are secret complex emotions behind everything people say, that would make me Freud or an disillusioned English teacher: sometimes "I'm feeling blue" is as simple as it appears. Though when I stop someone on the street and tell them "I have something to share with you that I love", and they seem to hear, "join my church"... or inversely when I'm telling someone about how "believing in God can be motivating", when they are thinking and concerned about their family and how they will feed them which leads them to say "I'm busy"... I don't think anyone is really listening to anyone. Two bad listeners there. Being from a country that battled so hard to have this right to free speech, it doesn't really help if no one knows how to listen to each other. Listening is the active effort to seek to understand others! Not something you can do accidentally. Way back when I had the craziest goofball of an English teacher: Mr. Fields. The roundness of his face was matched by that of his belly and a hearty chortle. He once said, amongst many other quotable things, "speak with the intention of being heard" which is something I've appreciated as time has gone on. I'd add the own counsel of a 21 year old who doesn't know much, "listen with the intention of hearing."

Next week we have a big meeting and interviews with the mission president! So there should be plenty of things to talk about then :)

Make this week better than the last one if you can! If you listen to people better I will give you each 5 dollars the next time we see each other.

Eiffel Tower,

Elder Alex Hacker

This is an old picture of our District from the last change period a few weeks ago

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Week 64 - 2nd Year Legality, Service, and Gratitude

Hello there everyone!

How are you? How was you week? Mine was busy but a lot of fun. Without further ado!

I've decided that train travel is really something very cool! It's not quite as exciting as those public toy train tables in Toys R Us and it's kindred stores made a younger Elder Hacker believe, but it's not bad. It's like hundreds of people sitting in the back of a really long car. Except they are all strangers and a huge portion of them try to sleep or quietly listen to music. Like surly teenagers. And there are always a few people watching movies. The college students frantically doing homework. And the old people who didn't want to drive just patiently sitting. And it's great until everyone shares one toilet.

We spent a lot of time on trains this week. We had a two hour trip to Saint Brieuc on Tuesday, followed by a one hour trip from Saint Brieuc to Rennes the following morning, with another hour back to Vannes. Then a three hour and fifteen minute trip to Paris Wednesday night. And that same return trip the following day! So if my rusty calculus skills serve me well, that makes some 216pi hours. There aren't a lot of things to do on a train so I had some time to reflect and think and even relax! All of which are very important things that you all need to do. Relax sometime this week :)

Why did we go to Paris this week you may ask? To go pick up a card that says I can stay in France up until January 2018! And like the first trip a while back it was an enormous blessing to be able to catch up with some of my dear missionary friends. I was able to see several of the sister missionaries who were in the training center with me, my very first companion here in France, and a few other people I've run into here and there along the way. After line waiting and subway riding we had an hour or so to be essentially a normal tourist for once. So we found a little whole in the wall crรชperie not too far from Notre Dame, and I was able to finally live and understand that a Parisian dream everyone has in mind. Paris isn't actually just a crowded mega city that's kind of dirty. It really could be magical and clean and fun like everyone imagines. It's what you decide to look at. And where you decide to go that makes the difference! And I think that's true for just about any place. And in that little idyllic little cafe made of stone with some very dear friends of mine, everything was wonderful.

We know a lovely man named who just moved here to France. He doesn't have much of a house yet. He bought some property out in the French countryside but hasn't fixed it up to the point where one would call it habitable. So we spent one of our days this week helping him out. And at first he was kind of hesitant, in the humility-filled kind of way, to accept our help. Though in the end he caved and we spent the whole day toiling away tearing down wallpaper and clearing mud covered tarmac. He also asked us if we were staying for tea... I eventually discovered that he was inviting us to eat diner with him. So we sought shelter from the rain in his little camper that he's living out of, heated up some past sauce with chicken in it, and ate that with some bread. And then we took turns talking about services we'd been able to render to others during our lives. There is a special kind of happiness and satisfaction that comes from selflessly giving your time and energy for someone else. And that satisfaction isn't why you do the service... it isn't the reward... it's the side effect. It's the outcome. Like so many things in life the best results aren't even those anticipated! He told us about the life he'd spent helping others and never asking for anything in return and he shared with us his favorite scripture, one I would share with you now: "when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God." And I think that's a lesson I knew, but not one that I was really living. The world is mean enough that it really is mandated and required of us to carry and support one another. I'm very grateful I went to sleep tired on Friday night.

I was also struck by just how grateful this man was. He told us that he couldn't thank us enough. With such a sincerity that I had never heard before. And it was gratitude that turned the humble sharing of bread and pasta sauce into enough. It was gratitude that makes helping others such a delight. It's gratitude that helps us forget any number of bad or bothersome things. I've talked to a lot of people who are going through really hard situations during my mission... and those who come out okay and those who are somehow still happy even when I'm sure I wouldn't be in their place... they are also those who are most grateful. So be grateful this week! Even if you don't have a lot to be grateful for right now, latch on and hold on and cherish those you do. That's enough of a handle or foothold until things get better :)

Have a great week everyone! I really like you guys!

Elder Alex Hacker

Week 62 - Peasantry, Oyster-y, and Bureaucracy (from January 23)

Howdy, (Please read the following in a Wyoming drawl. If a Wyoming drawl a thing?)

I'm sososososo sorry to have been dead for three weeks! That's a bit longer than three days. I hope that this email finds everyone in good health, with resolutions intact, in gyms filled with people, with children back at school, in peace. Mostly that last one. I don't really jphave much justification so I will distract by launching into assorted anecdotes. Autobots, roll out.

I briefly talked to a real peasant today earlier this week! He lived at the foot of a castle and was out in his field assembling a fence of sorts with sticks. He had three goats and some chickens and a nice looking dog. He had a wee little thatched cottage with smoke puffing out. Apart from the prototypical European hygiene and modern clothing he was a straight peasant!

There are lots of little dispersed villages over here in the North East of France. They are speckled a little bit all over the place lost among the pretty wild landscape. The little ones are all quite old and filled with old people; those that exceeded the size threshold needed to draw attention during the wars tend to be much less old though still rife with the elderly. This region of France is by far the most roundabout-y place I've ever been. They are absolutely everywhere! I think there are about 15 actual street lights in the city and everything else is made up of roundabouts. There exists also an inordinate number of speed bumps. Many of which seem to be in the middle of nowhere. I have adjusted to being in a car again. It was surprisingly weird to ride in cars frequently and/or for extended periods. It sort of made me realize just much I relied and used a car back in Wyoming.

So I've already talked about Raclette before. It's a type of cheese you melt and pour on potatoes with meat sometimes. The only Raclette I had eaten until this week involved little mini pans that you cooked cheese in around a heating element. Thought apparently this is the real way to do it. You place a half a wheel of cheese in a clamp and bring it up to the glowing red element. It turns into a bubbling cheese cauldron up there. Then you flip the platform off to the side and in inclines then you scrape the liquid cheese off in a quick motion into the potatoes below.

๐Ÿ˜Ž Cool ๐Ÿ˜Ž

Last Monday we went oyster hunting! Hunting makes it sound more heroic than it really was. A lovely couple drove us out to a rocky beach during low tide and we spent the afternoon scrapping them off of rocks. The wife spent her time collecting small black snails to eat. There are many types of small black snails that look nearly identical, she explained, but only one type was edible. She had filled about half a milk carton with the little guys by the time we had filled three buckets with fat oysters. 30 oysters later we realized we were a little tired of eating oysters and spent the rest of the week trying to give the extras away.

A sizable chunk of this week was spent in meetings. There was a big meeting in Paris on Friday and a smaller meeting in Rennes on Saturday. No one wants to hear the clerical details and the policies and the boring stuff like that. I'm sure some of that will slip out in future emails (If I write them on time that is ๐Ÿ˜) What a lovely experience it was though! I was able to see one of my old companions: Elder Siedow! What a peach he is! Many other missionaries with whom I've really bonded were there. Elder Pande. Elder Currie. Elder Schulthess. Elder Lamothe. Elder Wheeler. Everyone of the district leaders I've ever had were actually present! I think it was especially special to see Elder Wheeler again. Someone who really cared for me at the very start of it all. It all felt weirdly circular. Such a beautiful circle though! Here I am doing the same thing, though surely not as well nor with as much style, as Elder Wheeler did for me when I was there. It was little small gestures here and there that really shifted huge sections of my mission and to an extent my life. Big dramatic events, moments of conversion, changes of opinions, tragedies, etc... life doesn't have to hinge around these things I don't think. Our lives aren't a series of huge formative points with thin meaningless strings connecting them. Defining what we are and what we believe and what we've done by huge points ignores all the beautiful and just as important little thinks linking those together. Measuring and defining ourselves like that is just as silly and inane as trying to measure a kids intelligence on a scale of 1-36 (Stupid ACT!). You don't need to have lived anything amazing, to have surmounted any absurd obstacles, to have done anything extreme to be just as good as telling stories. To be just as happy. To be just as important a person. Effective a missionary. Awesome a parent. Etc... The world's obsession with measuring  and slapping numbers on things sometimes causes harm and feelings of inadequacy. Might we never forget the memories and people behind the numbers. I think this switch to a leadership role and suddenly being the person who is collecting these numbers, and more importantly and interestingly seeing how people feel and react to the numbers they submit sort of prompted that reflection.
At the Mission Council at the start of the year

The Saint Omer District Reunion (except Elder Carson-- he's in America)

Former Caen area missionaries

MTC missionary group reunion of sorts

Things have been busier here in Vannes (That's a good thing!) alas I've been less prone to writing you all. My love for you hasn't changed! Just the frequency with which I express it! I hope everyone has a great week! Until we meet again!

-Elder Alex Hacker