Cookie Love

Mormons love cookies. Not only do we love eating them, but they also function as a tool for us. If we want to encourage someone into start coming to church regularly, we bring the person cookies. If you know someone is going through a hard time, you make them cookies. We also have cookies available at activities that no one wants to go to as an incentive for people to show up.

I grew up equating giving cookies with an act of service. If I had a lesson on charity at church I would have deep reflection about who in my life might need cookies. We were taught that not only would bringing goodies to someone give them joy but that act would intrinsically benefit us as well. My mom once told me that when she was little and she was having a bad day, her and her mother would make cookies for someone else. Finally, without cookies and other related snacks, I would have no place to retreat to and look busy when slow dances started playing during church dances.

My Young Single Adult (YSA) activity a few weeks was to bring cookies to people who do not come to church regularly and invite them to our YSA activities. We sorted cookie plates and assigned groups addresses. As my group got into the car our jubilant bishop yelled after us, “I bet I can get more people to come back church than you guys!”

cookie plate

“Challenge accepted!” the keeners in my group yelled back but our first two addresses were failures. As we pulled up to the last address, I saw that to my surprise, we were at my house. We could see my aunt mowing the lawn in the back. However the cookies and invitation were not meant for my aunt or me but instead a girl named Caroline. I assured them that I would be happy to take the cookies on Caroline’s behalf and in return I would come to the next activity. I even told them I that I would share. My suggestions were met with silence from the rest of the car as they sat pondering what to do.

My hopes of eating the cookies were ignored and we started patrolling the neighborhood, trying to spot a house with someone single within our age group (18-30) who we could give the cookies to. After an extended period of house scanning we stopped at a house where according to one of the girls in the car, a group of single men had recently moved in. The other girls in the car became a little giddy and started fussing over so-called imperfections in their hair and make-up. When no one answered the door, the girls contented themselves by leaving a note inviting them to a YSA activity, included their numbers and left the cookies at the doorstep. I saw then where the cookie priorities lay.


“This is the place”: How I Know I Am In (Holladay) Utah.

Over the past two months of being here in Utah several people have asked me how Utah differs from the places that I have lived before. This is list is my attempt at putting my finger on some of those unique Utah things that I have experienced so far. I intend to add to this list as I continue to live and experience Utah. This post will be a lot more fun if everyone contributes their ideas of what should be on the list as well.

–   Looking out the window repeatedly and thinking that I am staring at the moon but then belatedly realizing it is a Burger King sign.

–  Not being able to go 10 minutes while walking to church without random people stopping next to me and offering me a ride. At first I walked to church because I wanted the exercise, now I just go and count down the minutes until someone pulls over.

–  Referring to the giving someone the “finger” as giving someone the “happy sign.” That sure changed the meaning of that personal story during Sunday School!

–  Having nine chapels that I (as someone new to my area) can think of within a five-minute drive.

–   Hearing inaudible grumbles about Obama (it is only inaudible because no one wants to hear my blatant socialist/Canadian retorts) every time the topic of elections or government comes up.

–  Having the mountains so close that they feel protective.

–   Needing a half hour to walk three blocks downtown.

–   Being able to use the word “Sunstone” like a swear word.

–  Places and people named after words unique to the Book of Mormon ie. The national park Zion, the guy down the street named Moroni, and the make out spot on Zarahemla road.

–  Referring to canning as a season.

–  Realizing that I do not know a single non-Mormon here in Utah, which is particularly strange for me because I usually I am the token Mormon.

–  Using the word “flamer” to refer to someone who is gay.  Someone at work told me of her embarrassment when she thought she was using a particular website for research but when she clicked, it turned out to be a website of a flamer. It took me a while to realize she was not talking about an arsonist.

–  Going to a bookstore and seeing over five books about Mitt Romney which are still on the best-seller racks.

–  Seeing that the chivalry, or at least the act of holding doors for women is indeed not dead.

–   Someone’s first response, when telling them about my recent car accident, is to ask what they can do for me.

–  Feeling self-conscious to the point of obsession about your lawn.

–  Having my cashier at the grocery store (who I feel that I have never seen before) tell me she enjoyed my testimony at church.

–  Needing to tailor one’s mini van to accommodate the giant reusable mugs for gas station refills on diet coke.

What have I missed? Comment, comment, comment!



Online? Or, Single in Salt Lake.

During General Conference I optimistically vowed to start going to all my Young Single Adult (YSA) activities. Normally, I am the type of person who only goes to the events when I like the activity, so even back home where I knew people this would prove to be a difficult resolution for me.  As if to challenge my resolve, the first activity that I could attend was a “Country Swing” dance activity. In Victoria or Montreal alike, there is not a living chance in hell I would go to this activity; I hate country and I am a horrible dancer. The idea of travelling by myself in Central America, which I did before I got here, is somehow less frightening to me than being in a gymnasium full of go-getting Mormon singles who I do not know.

I dragged myself to the activity and reluctantly joined the ranks of line dancers. A leader from the sidelines called to me and gestured for me to “turn that frown upside down.” I lasted just under a half hour until I had to leave.

One thing that does feel very familiar to me about my congregation of Mormon singles is the man to woman ratio. A few weeks ago, the men got up during sacrament to sing a song. The girl next to me leaned over and whispered to me that there were thirty-five men singing and just over a hundred girls in the congregation. The notion of having a 30:70 ratio is like a little slice of home, but I am not sure if I should feel comforted or disturbed by it.

Because I am only living in Salt Lake for a short time, I thought that I should take advantage of being Mormonland. One date a month, I told myself! With one month already gone without promise of a date, my friend and I decided to look at the online selection. After all, just the other day one of my cousins was complaining to me that she never sees one of her friends anymore because her friend is constantly going on dates with guys she meets online. Encouraged but still skeptical, I created a fake online profile (my name is Clara Templemon – like what I did with the last name?) so I could lurk other people and get a feel for the choices before I made any real monetary or date commitments. Because I am in Salt Lake, I felt that it would be reasonable for me to arrange my profile so that my match had to be a Mormon. then matched me with Mormons, all of whom professed to love “social drinking.” Social drinking? If I wanted someone who drank I would date a nonMormon. Frustrated I went to an LDS only dating site and plugged in my fake profile but did not get any better results. I am sure that if I gave it sometime that I could find a date on this site but what I saw on the site, from contrived pictures to self descriptions, made me feel incredibly depressed. So much for that dating option.

By the way, I guess the danger of having available pictures online is that people can steal them and make them their fake online dating profile…


Can you see your garbage?

I love Candelaria, it is beautiful. However, unfortunately, Candelaria much like the rest of the developing world has garbage everywhere. Garbage on the streets, on people’s property, the beach, and in the canal. Unlike Canada, none of this garbage is organic waste. Composting programs are not needed because there is an abundance of pigs, dogs, cats, chickens, and cows that are sometimes literally waiting at your table for your scraps. One of my first days in Candelaria, I found that some bananas had gone very bad in my bag (as bananas in bags do). I didn’t want my host family to notice that I didn’t eat my bananas so I sneakily put them near behind my little casa and sure enough the next day they were entirely gone. The visible garbage is mostly pastic; chip bags, water sacs (they have water bags instead of water bottles here), plastic bags etc.. The first week I was in Candelaria I had a fear of giving over my toilet paper scrapings (you don’t flush used toilet paper here, it collects in a bin next to the toilet) because I thought I might see them flying past my window. What a terrifying thought!

I asked Jorge what happened to the garbage here, was it collected? No, when the people want to get rid of their garbage it gets burnt. True, if you have plastic or glass bottles or even metal you can get money for it. In fact, there is even someone who comes by every once and a while to the town trading chicklets for plastic bottles. How cool is that? But more often then not, I see these recyclable things that are absolutely not flammable (like coke bottles, glass, metal cans etc) struggling to burn among the used toilet paper.

One of Jorge’s, the program director of the volunteering project here, ideas for the volunteers was to help teach the kids the importance of respecting the environment. He wanted to organize an activity where the kids helped to clean the street (because there is only one) of Candelaria. As much as I liked this idea, I couldn’t help feeling a little frustrated by it; Jorge’s property was chalk filled with garbage and I felt that ideas of waste management and environmental respect needed to start here first before it went to the school. We talked about how in Candelaria, there was no culture of sustainability. For example he said grudgingly, that when he brought spare bags to the grocery store the people in the streets would laugh at him and call him an old lady (I’m not sure why old women are associated with sustainable pactices but all the power to them!). He explained to me that people here choose grocery stories based on how many individual plastic bags they are given for their vegetables.  I asked Jorge he wanted help cleaning up his property, and he gladly accepted the help and the motivation.
The next day,  I knew we had a big task ahead of us and I was anxious to get going. However, Jorge insisted it would only take an hour and therefore (much to my frustration) we started an hour before sunset. Finally, Jorge, Mira, Kati (two other volunteers that were here for a week), Jose Manual, Alejandra, and I got going on picking up and sorting the garbage. I’m not going to lie, it was a nasty job. Here is a list of some of the things I happened upon:
– several single shoes
– assorted beer cans and rum bottles
– broken glass
– a pile of used toilet paper scraps
– lots of broken tiles
– cds
– copious amounts of plastic bag items
– used diapers (unfortunately lots)
– and other random things such as such as a casing for a motorcycle
It was a dirty job and we worked until the mosquitos descended on us like a cloud of heavy falling rain. Although I was pretty disgusted with the work, I felt equally exhilarated that we were able to fill over six big bags with garbage. I kept imagining how beautiful the property would look if it was filled with gardens.
When I got back to my homestay to take a shower, I told my homestay mother what we had done. She said something approvingly and confirmed that she hated having garbage and littering. My eyes wandered to the garbage lying close to the house and she quickly said that it was her neighbours. Just as she finished telling me this, her 14 year old son finished a bag of chips and threw it on the ground. 
It is true that Canada does not have the same littering problems. We do not see our garbage like Candelaria sees theirs but like Candelaria our garbage stays in our communities. Instead in Canada, the US and many other countries of the like, we use much more but don’t notice it because we hide it.We do not have a visible garbage problem but we have a big problem with overconsumption and waste management. In Candelaria, I became afraid of buying anything with wrapping because it would just turn into litter. Anything wrapped was just future garbage. I found myself choosing to have fresh fruit smoothies instead of drinks that came in bottles, and getting those fruit shakes for there so I did not have to deal with the ‘to go’ cup. I exclusively used my metal water bottle for hydration. Suddenly I was that downer that wanted to give kids fresh fruit instead of candies (don’t get me wrong I am not against sugar by any means!).

As the doom and gloom of the garbage situation became to impede in I found myself thinking of gardening. Last summer for the first time I had a big vegetable garden and started my own vermicompost. My home became a mini ecosystem where I could eat mz own food and the waste and by products from that food went into my compost and the compost went back into the garden where I could grow my own food. It was so satisfying.
The day before I left Jorge and I finally acted on the resolution to do something with our bags of garbage. Together with the children, armed with stuffing sticks, we began to stuff the plastic and styrofoam garbage into the plastic bottles. It was tough work, and again it was pretty nasty. But it was empowering because those we managed to, if you can believe it, stuff 3 big bags of garbage into 5 or 6 big coke bottles. The product of this method of garbage containment has recently become the basis for some NGO’s to use as a building material for houses. Jorge wants to use it to build gardens.

Nightly feasts of ¨white meat¨

Every night at sundown I get swarmed by a ridiculous amount of mosquitos. They are everywhere but somehow, only I seem to be suffering from the interminable itchiness that these mosquitoes have introduces to my body. It could be that the locals are used to it, however, as my host father suggested, it could be because mosquitoes just prefer ¨carne blanco¨ or white meat. Whatever it is, they are sure getting a treat. 
I know that the level of itchiness and the craziness of the situation has gotten to the next level because..

– I dont want to itch my mosquito bites because not only will the get inflamed and last longer but in the short term it just makes them itchier. 

– a good alternative to itching is slapping my mosquito bites. I would do it more often except I think that my host family already thinks I am crazy, so hearing slaping noises from the room won´t really help that perception. 

– I fantasize about removing my mosquito bites with a scalpel. Sometimes however, I would prefer to just chop off my feet entirely. 

– Another alternative to itching is letting the strong waves crash on my feet and indulging myself by digging my feet in the sand. So good…

– My mosquito repellent (the stuff with extra deit) doesn´t work on mosquitos. However, luckily for me it smells so bad it does a pretty good job at repelling people. Unfortunately I am experiencing the same problem with my stop itch product that I bought. 

– I use one hand to eat dinner and the other hand to swat away mosquitoes. It is good practice at multi tasking. 

– Despite 30 degree plus weather with crazy humidity, I walk around at night with jeans, long sleeve shirt, and most beautiful of all .. socks and flip flops. I look like a total crazy person to the locals. 

– I am woken up at night with overwhelmingly strong urges to itch my feet. 


The Myth of The Mormons Who Don´t Dance

Well, chicos there is much to write about and I will write about this and try to write more this weekend.

Yesrterday I told two different groups of people here in Candelaria that I am Mormon and both times their first reaction was a pensive pause and then (no joke) to say, ¨Mormons don´t dance do they?¨ BOTH TIMES! It is funny because usually when I tell people I am Mormon , they usually scrunch up their face and you can tell that they are thinking aren´t Mormons the wierd ones? When I tell people I am Mormon I usually get one of the following responses ¨aren´t Mormon´s polygamists?¨, ¨you must LOVE Romney don´t you?¨ , ¨what kind of underwear are you wearing?¨, I have also gotten ¨Don´t Mormon´s believe in aliens?¨. But never have I heard, AND as the first reaction too, the myth of the Mormons who don´t dance. I wonder what has happened here for people to become so aware of this erroneous stance on dancing. I mean, fair enough, Mormons don´t drink so you probably won´t see too many at the bar dancing but I would be lying if I said I have never gone out dancing.

I assured my host parents (the second group of people I had told that day) that even though I don´t drink alcohol, that I can still dance. And by that I don´t mean to say that I am good at dancing but that I can live out my religiousity and dance without there being any contradiction. I smiled to myself because Mormon dances are a big part of my teenagehood and singe adult life. The Mormon dances in basketball gyms with streamers and balloons. The type of dances were you dance a bible AND Book of Mormon width apart from the boys and with our hands safely on the boys shoulders and the other hand in their hand (and not around their neck). Indeed, Mormons dance albeit in an entirely different culture then the way that most other people our age.

My host parents recently converted from Catholicism to a Evangelical church. We discussed many similarities between Mormonism and their Evangelical church like the three hour meetings on sundays, meetings during the weeks with children and teenages, no drinking of alcohol etc..

¨Except,¨ they said¨definitively, ¨we don´t dance.¨

My ability to remain religious and to still dance remained the single and definitive point of separation between our two faiths. I asked them, since we were in the topic, if Catholics danced.
¨Pshtt of course¨ would´ve been their response if we were speaking in English. Instead they said, ¨There is a discoteca right next to their church!¨


Does anyone know what is like when you are completely and utterly immersed in a different launguage and every communication takes effort? When you spend a whole day trying to learn a language from scrath and you are totally exhausted even though you haven’t done any physical exercise. That is everyday for me right now. Sometimes I am surprised that even though I don’t understand anything that through context, facial, expressions, and hand motions I can still comprehend what is going on. Other times I wonder how with all the studying I am doing, why I can’t understand word. Sometimes someone will say a sentence and it will sound exactly like French or English and I will get it. Other times people might as well be speaking Arabic or Russian.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE where I am staying. Jorge, the program director is very kind and generous with his time, talents, and possessions. I live at his house with his brother’s family. His brother is a fisher and pretty much everyday we have fresh fish for lunch that he has caught only hours ago. There is a tortilla-ria (what a word!) just 30 minutes from the house so every meal is accompanied by a stack of steaming hot tortillas. They buy milk from a cow nextdoor and the milk goes straight from the cow to the bottle, from the bottle to my cereal. Ya baby, everything is fresh and local. By now my co-horts from the greenhouse should be drooling. 

But still there is that age old problem of communication. At least when I was in an immersion program in Chicoutimi, I had a foundation to build on. In Spanish I have no foundation, everything is new. I keep trying to draw on words I may of learned while watching tv (like hermano in Arrested Development), and in songs (like in the song “Pretty Fly for a White Guy” when he sings the numbers up to six). My travels thus far have buffed my Spanish skills so that I know vaguely what I can order on a menu. It is pretty terrifying when your Spanish teacher asks you to make a sentence and you have already exhuasted the words pollo, pescado, and carne. You know your spanish is bad ( and that you are hungry) who someone says something and you hear the word “burrito.” Knowing someFrench has come to my aid during this process. However my havbit of switching to French hasn’t always been helpful. When I first arrived in Central America I couldn’t stop staying “oui” even though I know the Spanish word for yes is “si.” Apparently my brain cannot handle the idea of speaking any other languages besides French and English. 

But happily, it is slowly working; I can botch together a sentence in Spanish! In reality, I am in the perfect enviroment to learn Spanish. Although Jorge can speak a bit of English, he usually doesn’t. There was another volunteer here last week from the US. Her Spanish is much better than mine, meaning she can speak it. Following instructions from Jorge, (and much to my lonely annoyance) she didn’t speak any English at all to me at first. I was annoyed about this because especially on the first day I was desperate to commnicate with someone with ease. I slowly wore down on her though, so that I could get a bit of English out of her. Her name is Madysen with a “y” and she is very muscular. She looks like the Roxy  postergirl just with less makeup. 

Jorge’s brother’s family doesn’t speak to me in English either , because, well, they don’t know any. His two kids (6 and 8) helpfully communicate with me by counting too 10 in english and asking me (in Spanish) to draw them a dog. Tomorrow two other volunteers are coming which means that I have to move host families to Jorge’s sister. 

In summary, I think the best way to learn a language, along with studying, is to scare it into someone. That is how missionaries learn languages – they are put into what would normally be considered at terrifying social situations and asked to speak a different language. Normally I am somewhat of a lazy language learner and I will fall back on English because it is so widely used. Here I speak English only if I want to talk to myself. This means of course that next week my Spanish will increase 10 fold because that is when I start teaching English to kids who speak less English than I do Spanish. Ahhh! Oh and as a bonus apparently they are really badly behaved as well. A few days ago er went to the parent teacher conference and were granted permission (as non-official teachers) to throw naughty kids out of our class. Apparently this was a big step in the right direction and Jorge was happy all day. I, although present, didn’t understand any of this and was only informed hours later when Madysen translated what had happened. 
Wish me luck amigos! 

PS I later found out that when I heard the word “burrito” it was probably the word “aburrido” which means bored.