Monday, December 26, 2011

Turkey on the Bus

Even though we talked to Jared yesterday, he still wrote us a letter!  Here it is!
Me and Elder Seegmiller

It was great Skyping to you guys and all the family :) It's so good to see all of you. It really does seem like these 7 months have passed by really quickly, so it won't be too long until Mother's Day :) It was cool seeing all of Madeline's Christmas gifts, which she proudly displayed :p I think the penguin blanket was my favorite. 
Nice pictures though :) I definitely miss making Christmas cookies a ton. I loved making my weird cookies, but it looks like Madeleine has carried on the tradition just fine :p

So do I seem too different? I was wondering if you were going to ask me to say anything in Armenian :) I wanted to show off my skills, but that's okay :p I'll probably be better by Mother's Day anyways.

Anyways, I told you about the Christmas party with our District, but we also had a mission wide one as well. We did a white elephant game and then we had food, which was shishkabobs (dunno how to spell it in English) and way too many desserts. After that we had a pretty fun talent show in which everyone was involved in some way or another. Since I didn't have my trombone, I just helped out with some skits :p

We went out to a small village again this week and one of our members down there (age 12) and his friend saw us walking by, so we got in a huge snowball fight :p Which ended with me in the snow and Elder Strader trying to save my life.

On the bus ride back we were just sitting down when these three teenagers got on the bus and sat down. We saw that one of them had a bag in his hand. When we looked closer, we saw a turkey sticking out of it, alive, in the middle of the city :p Only in Armenia.

Last Monday we went to the big golden wheat statue, which is apparently a tribute to all the prisoners of war ever taken in battle. It was way neat to see that part of their culture.

Well, I told you most of everything in the videos, but I'm sending some good quality pictures ;) (We told Jared that we loved pictures, at least the ones that did not include burning objects!)

Anyways, love you lots! There will probably be transfers happening real soon, so keep a heads up for that.

Elder Hammer

One of our Senior missionaries teaching the APs how to hula.
Golden Wheat.
The party
Me and ol' Elder Maughan who came down all the way from Vanadzor.
All the Senior missionaries (including the prez) trying to get a cracker from their forehead to their mouth without using their hands. :p

Merry Christmas to US! Jared's First Skype Call

Merry Christmas!  This is one of two times a year we are able to speak with our missionary.  The next time we get to talk to him is on Mother's Day!  Most families just call their missionary.  We are some of the lucky parents who actually get to Skype (video chat) with our missionary.  We were supposed to get a Skype visit at 9:00 p.m. Christmas night.  But 9:00 came and went and there was no word from Jared. We waited over a half hour (that's ages for an excited mama!) and there was still no word.  We were trying to figure out how much it would cost to call the Armenian Mission Office when finally the call came through!  Here's some notes from our conversation with the boy.  We had made a list of questions to ask him and here's how it went!
 We gave Jared a nice lecture about wearing gloves and not letting his knuckles get purple.  He says his knuckles are fine and everyone gets knuckles like this.  RIGHT! 

Dumb question we ask next:  What’s the weather like?  Obvious answer:  Cold!  We encouraged the boy to go buy a warmer coat.  He proceeds to let us know that because people go out of town around this time, the ATM machines are empty—literally.  The banks—out of money.  So he can’t go get one.  There’s got to be a way for him to get a better coat!

We were glad to hear he got the birthday package we sent. He seemed very excited that he had got a package at all.  He hadn’t expected one.

On Christmas, he went to church, gave someone a blessing, had a huge dinner prepared by the sisters in his district (Jared quote:  “Thank goodness for the sisters in the district!”),  watched “It’s a Wonderful Life” and had dessert. 

They have a couple of investigators who all seem to be accepting the gospel.  Violet has been to church every week and Hakov (Jacob)—who is in the hospital.

While he was talking about the investigators, he really looked and sounded like a motivational missionary.  It was neat for me to see!

Carl asked him if he was able to understand people.  He says he can for the most part.  He also says most people can understand him as well, especially if he slows down and has a chance to get the grammar right.  He says he speaks in a simple way and they can understand him. 

He said that the supermarkets in the outlying towns aren’t stocked well, but near Yerevan, it’s much better in the supermarkets.

Madeleine wanted to give Jared a bear hug, like she used to do when we Skyped with Jared while he was at college.  She would hug the computer screen and so would Jared.  It’s actually very sweet. 

Three Kings Day (Armenia’s Christmas) lasts about a week over there, December 31-Jan 6.  It’s a party all week.  The missionaries have to be in by 7 every night, which is longer than what it used to be.  People are drunk. 

Jared and the other elders went and spent some of their own money to buy food and other items for some of the poor people in their ward. For New Years, they’re going to go deliver it and do some service.

The McDaniels (friends of ours) had asked us to ask him what decorations they had in their apartment.  They had 2 strings of lights, 3 yards long, including a string that is around a plant that Elder Strader had. 

Elder Seegmiller walked in at this point.  He said that Jared was a great missionary and speaks the language very well. He says that Jared spoke the language the best out of their MTC group.  (I guess all the sleeping during classes at the MTC didn’t affect him too poorly!  Learning by osmosis I suppose!)

He describes his typical meals.  They sounded pretty American when they cooked for themselves.  Oatmeal, etc.  for breakfast.   (It was funny how he couldn’t come up with the word for Oatmeal—he only knew it in Russian—lots of things are still in Russian apparently.)  Lunch-Spaghetti, noodle-y things, Pot Pies, cheese quesadillas.  They use Lavash—kind of like tortillas.  Now they only have sausage sandwiches in this companionship. 

We threw Jared for a little loop when we joked with Jared that they were extending missions to 3 years.  Kind of funny to see his reaction.  It was like, “Really??  You must be kidding” kind of look.  He sure hoped we were kidding.

For birthdays over there, the Mission President gives the elders one of his ties.  The sisters get a scarf that the mission president’s wife makes for them.

They typically get 1-2 appointments with investigators every day and the rest of the time is walking around, looking for people to talk to.  It sounds like it’s harder right now to meet with people when it’s cold because they’re either inside or they’re trying to get somewhere quickly because it’s so cold outside. It’s not bad in the summers because people are hanging around outside.

They found the YumYum donuts in Yerevan.  They are just like American donuts.

His back is not good.  He only takes Ibuprofen when it gets bad.  Otherwise, he just deals with it.  He says that surprisingly he is doing very well, health-wise, besides the back.  He had one ear infection, sore throat thing.  Everyone else typically has bad stomach issues, at least once a month.  He says he has stayed very healthy.

One of his resolutions for the New Year is to open up more to people he meets.  They’re always adjusting their goals. 

He says that there aren’t typical Church services at the Armenian Church (Really?  Hmmmm…).  He did say that they stumbled upon an Armenian Church baptism once.  They tried to blend in as well as they could.  He described the service.

He says he has been waking up on time.

He said there has been a significant drop off in the number of people in their branch this winter because they weren’t getting money for the winter.  They’re working on reactivating people. They only have 20 people in their branch at the moment.  They have a piano player in the branch so Jared doesn’t play any more.

Jared used to buzz on his trombone mouthpiece everyday at the MTC.  But then he had a feeling that he shouldn’t be doing that everyday and that everything would be okay.  We then asked Jared about the talent show they had, and Carl joked with Jared, “Did you buzz?”  He didn’t know he had told us about the talent show.  It wasn’t a typical talent show, more of a joking around kind of thing.  He was in some skits. No trombone or piano playing.  :(

He said he didn’t need anything.  They just got peanut butter in Armenia.  He said it is ridiculously expensive.  He joked and said that, maybe they’ll buy peanut butter and nothing else and live on peanut butter and water all week. Carl asked about the bread and he says it’s fabulous.  It’s made fresh daily and if they get to the market early enough, it may be warm still.  It’s not pre-sliced.  It’s the best bread he’s ever tasted. Carl said, “So you have something to put the peanut butter on!” 

Maddie shared her Christmas presents with Jared, including an incredible penguin quilt that Grandma Chloe made.  He loved it.  Both Maddie and Jared love penguins.

Grandma and Grandpa Hammer talked for a few minutes.  We fiddled around making sure everyone could be seen.  Jared asked how they were doing.  He asked about their Christmas.

President Carter walked in at that moment.  He wished us a Merry Christmas.  He said that he loved our missionary and that they are trying to take care of him over there.  He wrapped his arm around Jared’s shoulder.  He said thank you for raising a wonderful son. After the president left, Jared said he’s a wonderful mission president. 

Jared has talked to the new mission secretary, who is a cousin of someone in our ward.  She said to say hi back to Brother Johnson. 

He’s jealous of our 70 degrees weather.  He says it’s just freezing over there.  It’s in the negative Celsius weather.  He just went on splits up to Charantsavan, where he had been for a week, and he said it was way cold.  There was frost on the ground in the mornings. Grandpa told him it was going to get colder. Jared asked him if New York was really cold when he was on his mission.  Yeah, it was! 

They haven’t moved into the ‘Little America’ apartment.  He says his apartment is really small, like the size of our apartment living room here in Santa Monica.  He then said that he now knows why I cried when I walked into our very first apartment 21 years ago.  (CRaZy Tiny!) He sleeps in the same room as the kitchen.  The apartment is just one room.

He was pleasantly surprised to learn that his grandma is sending a box of ties that he can either wear or share. He described a typical haircut there.  They do a bowl cut, leave the bangs long and shave the back. He has to adjust his haircut!

Jared took some toy planes with him on his mission.  He brings them out when little kids are around.  He also pulls out this yo-yo that he found.  He described a time last week that he did this.  The kids were totally shocked to see the toys!  (You should have seen Jared imitating these kids.  It was precious!)  Apparently they don’t have yo-yo’s usually.  He said he tried to show them how to use it and they were shocked.  He tried helping them but the 30 times they would try, they would let it drop to the ground each time. When he showed them the plane, the kids used some word he hadn’t heard before.  So he wrote it down.  “Self Fly” is the interpretation of what they call the airplane (The toy?  The actual airplane?  I don’t remember!).  He says it’s interesting how they put words together.

The one time he used his French over there it didn’t turn out well because he mixed it with Armenian.  The more Armenian he learns, the less French he remembers. 

He was really good about keeping the time he talks to us within the time limits.  He then waved goodbye to us. 

We’re glad this worked out!!!  Now, only 5 months to wait until we see him again!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Impressive Armenians

Merry Christmas everyone!  I hope this Christmas season finds you and your families healthy and happy!  On Christmas, Jared will have been out for 7 months!  Can you believe it?  The time is flying by! We're looking forward to Skyping with Jared on Christmas.  We'll let you know how that goes.  If there is anyone who wants to send a message to Jared, let me know through Facebook or leave a message here on the blog as well.  I'll try to pass it on to him when we talk to him. Have a wonderful holiday season!!!

Here are some parts from Jared's letter to me:

The birthday package hasn't arrived yet (we sent him a package at the beginning of December), as far as I know, but it should come soon I'm guessing. Monica sent a small package and it got here in about 3 weeks. I don't know if I told this story, it's actually kind of funny. A sister in my district has received a few packages throughout her mission from her mom. Her mom realized though, that if she put stickers of the cross and the virgin Mary on the package, it would arrive, invarriably, a few months sooner than expected :p

As far as Christmas celebrations among the missionaries goes, the mission will be putting on a mission-wide talent show at the office the day before Christmas. Christmas day we will be caroling to our branch presidencies and then having a small dinner party within our district. So that should be way fun :) We're watching some Christmas movie from the black and white era, but everyone says it's good, so we'll see how that goes :) 

Parts of Carl's Letter:

 This week:

On planning day, a cat happened to get stuck on top of a 7 story building and it kept on meowing and looking over the edge. This continued on for about 2 days. I have to admit, we got a bit distracted watching this cat leap all over the roof looking for a way down. We're not sure what happened to it, but we hope it found a way down. :p

We visited one family this week who's actually from Gyumri. They have a pretty sad story which they related to us. Their father was killed in Gyumri after the earthquake happened, so they all moved to Russia to try to find work. While they were in Russia, the missionaries found them and baptized all three of them: the mother and the brother and sister. After a few months being members in Russia, the Mission Presidency up there asked them to move down here to strengthen the church here. So the church paid for them to come down here to Shengavit and is paying for their apartment until they can find substantial work. They are a really good family and way involved in the church. The brother is preparing to go on a mission and their whole family is waiting a few more months until they can all be sealed in the temple and do the work for their father. Because the teacher for the Gospel Principles class is pretty flakey, we always end up having to teach it. It's been really good though because this family always comes to our class every week and helps us teach it by taking turns.

So we were about to head in when the sisters in Shengavit called us at about 8:30 and told us to come over quickly because Sister Kholer needed a blessing. We jumped on the metro and flew over to Shengavit after calling some people for permission. When we got to their apartment, all the lights were turned off except for a few small ones and Sister Kholer was just lying on the ground, in obvious pain. We never were told about all the details other than she has chronic migranes, but we gave her a blessing and made sure they were alright. The next day we called back to check up on them and Sister Kholer was doing fine. It was good knowing that we can be trusted as Priesthood leaders to be called on such a late notice like that. It was also kind of cool seeing the apartment that we'll be moving into real soon! :D It really is like a mini-America. I'm way excited.

 This week we picked up a family of new investigators who were a referral from the branch president. We made brownies and brought stuff to make pizza (branch president's idea) and then watched the Joseph Smith movie. They were way nice people and seemed totally ready to learn the gospel. The mother is really hospitable and the three sisters seems to look to her for example. Their father is mentally handicapped now, we don't know how, and their brother is in the Army for two years, but they don't let any of that get to them. There is such a love in that house that would be hard to find anywhere else.

So that was my week :)

I love you all! Stay safe :)

Elder Hammer

Did Jared get in a fight?  No.  He's just freezing cold!  Guess who's getting gloves mighty soon???

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Slip Sliding Away and Loving It


Things were a bit different this week because I went on exchanges and a lot of things will be changing soon. 
The Shengavit sisters moved out a while ago because two of our sisters are heading home and they just opened a new area in Artashat. They're going to have to close one more area soon, unless they get a mini missionary until the new sister arrives. But anyways, we were told that we now have Shengavit in addition to Center. We were also told that we'll be moving out of the apartment in Center and moving into the sister's apartment in Shengavit. We're way excited, because their apartment is nicknamed the 'mini-America' so no complaining from us :p It's also right next to a metro stop so we can quickly get back and forth from Center. 

I went on exchanges this week and during exchanges, we actually helped one of our members in Erebuni move his belongings from one house to another. We had to go down to a village called Kharbert which was interesting because it's higher in elevation than Yerevan. It actually ended up snowing right when we left, so it was crazy cold and it snowed a whole ton. When we got up there though, we found some kids sliding along the ice in the road, so we joined in. All five of us slid along the road together, all bumping into each other. :p I think the kids were aiming for us though :p

We heard a pretty spiritual story from one of our member families this week. They told us they were so poor at one point that there was no food or water. They went to church though and said they prayed and had faith, the sacrament bread and water would fill them. They went on this way (all four of them) for several weeks. It's amazing seeing what kind of miracles happen out here based on faith. 

So we're used to the gangsters on the street laughing and trying to mess with us, but now, with the coming of Winter, they are armed with snowballs. So naturally by the time we get home, we're covered in snow from head to foot. :p I do love Winter, though. People here complain about it, but I, growing up as a California beach bum, love waking up in the morning and seeing everything turned to white :)

Anyways, that was my week :) Love you all!
Elder Hammer

And a snippet from my letter:

I'm so excited for this Christmas season, you have no idea. It's going to be so weird because December 25th will pass like no big deal here, but then everyone will go nuts on January 6th. New Years is actually going to be a bigger deal here. It was actually part of the Soviet's plan to destroy religion. They made New Years a week long party from December 31st to January 7th so that Christmas would be covered up. They succeeded in a sense. People here don't focus on Christmas as much because they're too busy partying New Years. But we'll change that :)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bapple Products

So they were skating on thin ice last week, literally.  Now they're skate boarding.  Hello!  Enjoy his letter, especially the part about the Bapple Products!

So after email last week, Elder Strader wanted to go skateboarding. So we went down to the Opera and he actually found a couple locals to skate with. It was way interesting to see their faces when these white boys could speak Armenian. They were even more surprised when they realized that normal boys like them were missionaries and that we knew Jesus was the Christ and were spreading the news that his church was again restored on earth. :P Then it was interesting to see their faces as Elder Strader whipped out moves that had not yet reached this country, still new to the sport of skateboarding.

So an experience you only have in Armenia: We were standing in the street just waiting for a Marshutine to come, when four trucks full of completely armed and armored troops drove by. As they passed, pedestrians waved and cheered. One of the troops even gave me a wave. :p Then just as quickly as they had arrived, they passed and everything returned to normal.
I love Armenia :p

Funny story I remembered. Back when I was with Elder Frye, on one P-day he was looking at a couple phones, one of which was an advertised iPhone. The man behind the counter said "It's a true iPhone, not a fake!" to which Elder Frye said "No, it's definitely a fake." The guy argued and asked why he thought that. Elder Frye then said "First, the screen is way too small and out of proportion. Second, the home button sticks and is about to fall off. Third, it says 'Made in China', and fourth, under the logo it says 'bapple', not 'apple'" :P I thought that was pretty funny. After that, we referred to knock-offs as "bapple" products.

I had to translate for President Carter during Priesthood this Sunday. That was a mess :p I still have much to learn.

We picked up a new investigator this week. He's a Muslim from
Iran and it's way interesting working with him. In scattered English he asks us questions and we try to answer them as simply as we can. It's really interesting for me, though. He doesn't know exactly who Jesus Christ is and we're explaining that he was more than just one of the 5 great prophets. He was, and is, the Redeemer and Savior of our souls. I found myself wanting to explain this great news to him that Christ died and lives for us and takes all of our pains and sins. I had a real big testimony builder this week about Christ and his sacrifice and it made me so happy just to share this news with him. 

Despite all of the people jeering at us, a lady yelling at us on the bus that we knew nothing and that we weren't Christian, and the man telling us that all the Mormons are trash, I'm held up by the knowledge that Jesus knows me and my pains, and nothing after that ever seems so bad. :)

Love you all!

Elder Hammer

Elder Strader skateboarding
They're putting up the Christmas tree in Republic Square :)
One of the trucks full of troops followed by a cop car.