Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Week 2 in Cambodia. I love my beach cruiser.

Hello family,

For me, the week was yet another big adventure. However, I'm starting to settle into the swing of things. I’ve noticed that I don't get overly freaked out when an abnormally large cockroach scrambles over my foot during personal study, or when a big, hairy tarantula is already sitting on the toilet when I get up to use the restroom in the middle of the night. I’m beginning to enjoy the ability to focus my energy on serving the people of Cambodia.

Mom won’t like this story. But, yesterday I went on an exchange with a native Cambodian missionary, named Elder Hem (pronounced heem), He's 26 years old and doesn't speak any English at all. I concluded it was a fun and funny day. We ended one appointment way out in the middle of jungle, nowhere and had to be at another appointment on the other side of the city in 20 minutes. It was the craziest 20 minutes of my life at this point.  That could change by next week though.

 Remember in the Disney movie, Aladdin? In the very beginning, Aladdin was running from guards? and ditching in and out of crowded markets, camels, weird alleys and stuff? That’s exactly what it was like for me today.

We started in the jungle, went on a narrow path through huge rice fields, then through a market that reminded me more of a carnival, then to the main road where it started pouring rain.  I mean pouring when I say pouring. Then, straight through another busy market where we found ourselves in a crazy Cambodian traffic jam.  So, Hem quickly began weaving in and out of traffic (sorry mom), then a short cut through an alley where a little lady was drying clothes, then somehow we were shuffling through a Buddhist temple (where we had to take our helmets off out of respect, then roared through narrow dirt roads with unusually tall fences on either side. More jungle, then calmly arrived at a very small house made out of bamboo sticks.  Needless to say, it was awesome!

This appointment was especially cool because she was preparing for her baptism, most of the meeting was spent asking the pre-baptismal questions and hearing her bear her testimony. Pretty special stuff to hear.

Some great news, we had our first baptism last week! His name is Phiaron, he is a stud, and I'm almost positive he will go on to serve a mission. A cool thing.  The baptismal font is just a random, big, white tank that they fill with water outside the building. It was a highlight to see my first Cambodian baptism. We're hoping for 3 more by the end of the transfer but we will see. 

The sunsets here are absolutely breathtaking, Every night I think, "I know mom would want to paint that."

Also mom, there is water next to some of the rice fields that is your favorite color. It's a really bright blue.  The grass is neon green in some fields. It actually hurts my eyes when I look at it.  Its like what would happen if you "over enhanced" a photo on the computer.  
There is also a wide array of butterflies. I figured out a way to stick my finger out and they will come land on it when I'm riding my bike. Its pretty cool.  

Oh man! I have officially seen every type of motorcycle there is. I could write a cool Doctor Seuss book from of all the bizarre, insane motos I've seen.   

Basic Cambodian knowledge and survival tips gained this week:

-If I do anything out of the ordinary people are just completely amazed. like pop a wheelie or ride my bike with no hands. 

-I haven't seen one plane fly over since I've been here.

-My only interactions with Buddhist monks are stare downs.

-Do not rationalize yourself into thinking its possible to cut straight through a rice paddy on a beach cruiser. We stupidly tried it a few days ago. We got half way through, our wheels started spinning and sinking until we were knee deep in water.  Bummer.
-An annoying, weird looking, over sized chicken, is actually a Peacock.

-Never pay more than 12 cents for a fried banana.

-Cane sugar juice is very delicious.

-Breast feeding is NOT a private matter here... at all.

-Beach Cruisers can handle a lot more than you would originally think.

-But, Beach Cruisers were never meant to "catch air."

-Holding on to a moving Tuk Tuk is easier than peddling, and its free.

-Very Important:  many people here say "God" every time someone else says it. (I was at an appointment where I was bearing my testimony in Cambodian, and I said, “through God’s plan, I know I can have happiness.” In Cambodian the word for God is, “Preahvwobeida.” I said that and then the woman we were teaching immediately said it too.  I of course assumed she was helping me with pronunciation. So then I said it back to her slower and more clear.And then she said it back to me... slower. And so I tried to say it correctly again, slower and more clear, and she said it back slower and more clear. We probably ended up saying it back and forth 20 times. While, I wondered why my native companion was laughing the whole time, I concluded I would never get that word right no matter how hard I try. Hem went on to explain the custom and I felt dumb.) 

-Don't ask what you're eating.

-You can do anything and it will impress Cambodians. At this one house, I do the "move my head/ears trick" and the two little girls try and try and just can't do it. It blows their mind. They are so cute. They're as cute as Julia but a Cambodian version. This family has pretty much adopted me. The wife has me call her mom, and the girls, I consider my little sisters. I can't wait for you all to meet them.

-Apparently whipping your child with a bamboo rod is normal in Cambodia? The kids always start out laughing, then after a while, they realize that its supposed to hurt and they just sit down and are quiet.  I find it sad and strange.

-Always, always bring a camera wherever you go. Pictures coming soon.

It was an eventful week. No time to tell all the stories, but I have some funny journal entries.

My testimony grows each week, and so does my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I feel like I have grown up so much in 2 weeks. I feel more like a man, its weird. All the difficult parts of the mission is outweighed by all the good parts. Any time I teach the gospel no matter where I am, I feel really good. On the one hand, I wish that I could do this my whole life but on the other, I'm still trying to comprehend that I'll be here for 2 years.  It's odd, but I'm getting more and more used to it every day. 

And, yes, Mom, I'm very happy. Any time I sacrifice, whether it's riding my bike through a ridiculous rainstorm, being uncomfortably sweaty when I fall asleep, waking up, still sweating with damp sheets, having my bike break down for the 4th time in a day, in the middle of nowhere, being bitten by who knows what all night or a dangerous thought like, how nice it would be to taste a tootsie roll or any other American candy, or to just talk with someone in English...  I just think to myself, there is no other time in my life I would rather sacrifice to be in the service of my Savior. It's also really nice, not to have to think about myself all the time. I'm loving it here.

I love you all,

Elder Nelson

Thursday, June 23, 2011

First letter from Cambodia

Dear Family

Cambodia has pretty much smacked me in the face. I absolutely CANNOT put into words what I have seen, tasted or felt. Mere words can't do it justice.

Where do I start?

Well, I placed a Cambodian Book of Mormon on the airplane. I thought it was a cool experience. It took a while to say what I wanted to say but I think I ended up getting my point across. When I got to Cambodia I realized it wasn't a huge deal because ANYONE is willing to take a Book of Mormon from you. People weren't kidding when they said that Cambodians are the nicest people.

The moment we left the Phnom Pehn Airport, it was like stepping into a hot humid oven. Not unbearable though. Kind of like a steam room. I sweat until I’m drenched. Literally.  We were all cocky and excited on the bus after the plane ride, meeting the mission president and just taking in the sights just past the airport. The APs were driving and we were chatting with them for a while... and then we got on the real road. Oh, my goodness. There are no traffic laws. I thought we weren't going to make it to the mission home on the crazy roads. I saw things out my window that completely blew my mind! Needless to say, all the new missionaries were pale after a few miles.  Nobody really said anything after that. I was thinking, “What in the heck did I get myself in to?”  One of the APs turned around laughing and said " you ain’t seen nothing yet"

Gulp, he was so right. The Cambodian video game does it little justice.

Our time at the mission home was fun. The Smedleys are awesome. One by one, we got our assignments. I'm assigned to Siem Riep.  Apparently, it’s the place all the missionaries want to go.  It’s very beautiful and located near the ancient temples. We are 8 hours away from the mission home and 4 hours away from the next closest missionaries. There are only 4 of us out here. My companion and I are the only ones over Angkor Wat.  We ride right by the temples on our way to appointments. It costs 20 dollars to go there, but since we're missionaries we get to go for free. Sometimes monkeys come up and run along by our bikes. 

Everything is extremely weird.  But, it’s like the best dream I’ve ever had.

I realize now how much I lucked out on my mission call. But, especially in the area I’ve been sent. It’s the most beautiful place in the whole mission, I've heard. I can't imagine there's anywhere in the world more beautiful than this. 

It’s neat to think we are the only 2 missionaries representing the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ in a major Buddhist hot spot.  In a way, everyday feels like I'm waking up to go off to some kind of war.

Luckily my trainer is a pretty good cook. He's keeping me well fed. Is it sanitary? No. But it tastes good. In fact, it’s ridiculous how unsanitary it is. I just start laughing and eat who knows what. With flies and weird bugs everywhere. I think my body will adjust.

We teach out in the middle of the jungle. One day, we were on a somewhat paved road (if you could call it that) and then all the sudden, my companion takes a hard left into a weird path. And we ride on it for 15 minutes.  Then, all of the sudden we are in the middle of a beautiful rainforest.

There are always big rice fields with  lots of cows. Everywhere. Not like American cows. But scary, skinny, Asian cows with horns.  When my companion and I ride by, he always smacks them. Its very funny, they make odd noises.

Looking around, you will typically see the weird cows, groups of random dogs, chickens and naked babies running around. There’s huge beetles and super sized spiders everywhere. The houses remind me of the ones at the polynesian culture center, on stilts. The water of the rice fields are the most beautiful colors. It’s amazing. We ride through groves of palm trees and over rickety bridges. Its’ a cool adventure anywhere I go.

When we teach, we sit “criss-cross apple sauce” on the floor of a Cambodian hut. I know I feel the spirit very strong whenever we teach.

The culture has both good and bad. Cambodians are very respectful. This is good, especially when teaching the gospel. But somehow, women still get treated horribly. There is a sweet older lady that has horrible bruises every time we meet with her. Yesterday, we went to teach someone nearby and she had a huge black eye. I got the chills and really wanted to whoop on whoever would hurt her. What a punk.

I don't have a lot of time, but there’s one story I'd like to share for sure. We were teaching this older lady in this little hut (no bigger than my room at home) with 6 other people in the middle of the jungle. She's progressing very well as an investigator. I really love her.  Well, a crazy storm comes out of nowhere and rain starts pounding the house. The sun had gone down so it was pitch black. She lit a couple of little candles so we could see each other, so we kept teaching. Then, the roof started leaking. Then the area started flooding because it was raining so hard. Because it was on stilts, it didn’t rush trough the hut. Then, the father comes walking in with a prosthetic leg, having walked through a foot and a half of water. The mosquitoes, ants and numberless, nameless other insects were crawling all around. There were all sorts of weird noises outside.  A couple of men were smoking in the back so it got smelly and musty. I just sat there in disbelief.  

It was hard to believe everything that was happening, was really happening. Here I am, just a spoiled kid from the US in this humble hut of chaos. It was one of many eye opening experiences for me. But, the experience of teaching the gospel to them, was truly awesome. We could barely hear each other because of the rain. But the spirit was speaking loud and clear. Then, as we kneeled to pray, I thought, I may be very different than these people in many ways, but, we pray to the same Heavenly Father. Who, loves us both exactly the same. It was a powerful experience for me.

At night, we ride miles and miles back to our house. Its totally pitch black, except for the swarms of fire flies everywhere. My companion and I have some nice conversations on those rides.

I've got to go. But this place is beautiful. I feel like I'm in an Indiana Jones movie everyday. When I watch the sunsets over the rice fields, I seriously feel like I'm in heaven. But don’t misunderstand me, it’s hard.  Ridiculously hard for me in every way! But, I wouldn't trade it for any other place.  The tender mercies of the Lord feel like they are  all around me.


Elder Nelson (luke)



Questions from us,  and Answers from Luke:


How did you get to Siem Reap?  By car? Or bamboo railway?

Bus ride. 8 hours through the craziest country ever. Us four are 4 hours away from any other missionary or Senior couple. Its a cool feeling to be trusted like this out here

Anything you wish you had?

A clean bed.

Is it raining?

The mornings are nice. But when it rains, it reeeeaaaallllly rains. like unbelievable and when we're teaching, it easily floods in the jungle. We've had to wade through a rice field to get to an appointment already.  

Did you buy a bike?

They gave me a bike. It’s a piece of junk. But considering what it goes through, it's okay.

Are you jet lagged?

Nope. I had a very smart plan on the plane and timed it perfectly. The first day was hard but after that i was good.

What will you do on p day?

We went to the market today. Which is like a food, haunted house.  The meat area is scary. I think I saw a skinned dog. But not sure. We email, and then the mission President lets us watch Disney movies. We will probably just write letters and what not.

What do you eat?  Is it like rice soup?

It seems like I’ve eaten just about everything already. A lot of rice, lots of oatmeal in the morning which is nice. It reminds me of home a little bit. We are told that we can't eat at member’s homes. But when they're sooo poor and offer us food, we kind of have to accept.  One day we were given some kind of beans in coconut milk. It was like what mom got at the Thai restaurant. Actually, pretty good.

Do you have lots of investigators to teach?

Yes!, we have plenty of people to teach.  In fact, we have a baptism this Sunday!  We are also teaching a man with 6 fingers on his right hand.

Do people stare at you?

Yeah. At first it was weird but now I'm used to it. They REALLY stare when you start trying to speak Khmer. It blows their mind to see a big white guy speaking Khmer.

Are there lots of roaming dogs?

Yes, beyond belief! It was tough for me at first, but I’m learning how to defend myself.

Do you get really sweaty?

Sweaty is an understatement.  I sweat so much, my shirt is see through by the end of the day.

 Where exactly are you so we can look it up?

Siem Riep. Its up north in the country.  I don't know the address. just off a dusty road to the side of the market, I guess?

Is there a branch or ward?


Sister Smedley said you spoke on Sunday?  What happened?

The members are nice. I guess my accent is horrible. He told me I was speaking on the spot.  It was real scary but I think I did a pretty good job. Though, when I said one word, the whole branch just about died laughing. I felt like I was in the movie, "The Other Side of Heaven"

Do your companions keep the rules?

To the minute detail. Very good examples.

Will you lose weight?

Without a doubt.

Are Cambodians as nice as everyone said they'd be?

Yes. I guess some people in the "city" are snobby. But in the jungle they're very nice.

Did the teachers prepare you enough?  Were you shocked by anything?

1. No 2. Everything

Can you email some pics?  Maybe from your companion’s camera or something?

I can't right now. Maybe later. But, I should eventually have a picture on Smedley’s blog of me walking to an appt. You'll be shocked where I proselyte. Literally, in the middle of the rainforest jungle!

Do you take two showers a day?

 Morning and night. Now its just night. You sweat so much its pointless to shower in the day. When it rains. I'm completely soaked in about 1 minute. We don't wear rain coats. We just accept being wet. The rain storms are like hurricanes. Absolutely nuts. And everyone runs and hides. But us missionaries just bike through the mud to our next appointment like its nothing. I think it gives us a lot of respect with the investigators.

Do you wear mosquito repellent?

Yes. but not enough I guess? I have soooo many bug bites its insane. I don't think they're mosquitos though. They're weird little ants and other bugs that I've never seen before. I don't know how well mosquito repellent works on the other critters.

Do you sleep under a mosquito net?

I wish. Actually our room is a nice, safe haven from the rest of the house.

Do you wear your fancy new helmet?

Yeah. Its awesome. It probably cost 5 times more than the bike.

Have you seen the orphanage Rick is working with?

Not sure. I seems like orphanges are everywhere. Tell Rick he should come before September 8. I'm currently in the spot that every missionary dreams of going to. There's only 2 out of 70 missionaries from Cambodian here. I'll probably be transfered then but Idk. I might even be transferred after 6 weeks but I highly doubt that./

Can you Proselyte?

Yep. We just ride by and say Loog puu! Ewy! and they invite us in. Its just like any other mission as far as that goes.

Do you have appointments already?

We teach 10 lessons with members present everyday.

How many people in your branch?

About 160 or so, come to church.

Does the mission president ever come out to check on you?

Usually he doesn’t, but his sister’s were up to visit and see the ancient temples.  They actually came and taught with us for 3 lessons. Pretty intimidating. I would think, most missionaries never teach with the president. Maybe, the last time I'll see anyone from the mission home in about 3 months.

Is there a Dr in the area?

Yep, best hospital in the country.

Is food cheap?

Ridiculously cheap. We got a pineapple, 3 tomatoes and 4 huge carrots from the market for under a dollar. They're not exactly clean. But, we put it in a Clorox solution which cleans it pretty well I hope.

Do some Khmer speak English also?

The children can say "hello" and "its nice" but that’s about all I’ve heard.

Seen any elephants?

Not yet. But I will! My trainer says that they're in our area. I can't wait for you all to come and pick me up! You won't believe it.

I can see myself really missing this place when I leave.

I could probably write this much about everyday since I've been here. I just can't keep up. I'm starting to become numb to how weird everything is.

Tell all the family that I love them, and don't take America for granted. There are millions of people that live in horrible situations. We really have no excuse for anything.

Please, please, please don't forget to email me. I can see myself really looking forward to the letters.