Wednesday, March 27, 2013


                                                                   Travel Itinerary!

Brains and French, and Pink Dresses with Flowers (MTC week 5) night I lay in bed and think about how much I love this, about the things I'll get to do in France, about how I get to spend everyday meeting people and talking to people and helping people and I am overcome with joy and excitement. And so I've decided to quit my mission after the MTC. I'm imagining the day I leave France completely ripping my heart out (it would already be hard enough to leave after just these first six weeks), so I'm gonna opt out of that and just come home before all that happiness happens.

K, just kidding, I'm not coming home. But seriously, I don't know how I'm going to leave this all when the time comes in a year and a half.

On a different note, let's talk about losing one's mind for a moment. So this last week was our week of consecration, right? Where we only speak in French all week long? Yeah, so the first few days? Awesome. I was suprised at how much I could say! The rest of the week? Oh my HARD. I realized that "how much I could say!" of the first few days actually boils down to about four sentences:

I'm so hungry!

Would you like to go to the bathroom with me?

I think so.

I don't think so.

Yep. Let's talk about how the rivulets in my brain that previously held those phrases are now deep ravines for their overuse. Bleh. It's hard to love language and only be able to say four things. So I'm spending a lot of time reading the dictionary. (Not kidding. Me. At my desk. Reading the dictionary.) 

There have been a few unexpected results of this language thing:

1) It takes incredible patience, with yourself and with others, when it takes a good 30 seconds to formulate a sentence. Usually by the end of the sentence, I've forgotten what the first half of it was, and we have to start over again.

2) I have felt a lot of frustration this week...and I didn't realize why, until of course I realized it was because I couldn't communicate freely! So I'm working through the frustration and hoping it's motivating me to learn quicklier.

3) My former English-lady brain is melting into a puddle of goo. This week I spelled traumatic "tramatic" (you non-English people may not be able to understand, but this is a kinda scary...traumatic if you will...mistake for someone who studies/teaches literature to make). I also spelled "being" as "bing", said "study" as "stoody", and when talking to my companion about some Starbursts, said, "I went more of those strawberries...I mean Starbursts. Those were developed!" (WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?!)

We practiced loads of contacting this week. Contacting is where you share our message with strangers--like when missionaries walk around on the city streets and find people who are interested in being taught about Jesus Christ. Some days are really good, some days (like last night) I just for the life of me have no idea what to say to people. We mostly practice with the other missionaries in our class. A few nights ago, one of the sisters in my class was "contacting" with me--I was supposed to be an older lady on the metro--and she walked up to me all happy and says, "Bonjour cette homme!" 

Translation: "Hello this man!"

Hahahaha, these are the funny things of our days. We laughed for a really long time over that--she was so embarrassed, she just kept saying, "Oh, vous etes tres belle! Vous etes tres belle!" to try to make up for it. Oh man next week is going to be CRAZY.

Speaking of which, we have our travel plans! We're flying out (if all goes as planned with visas and such) on Monday morning! (So all those of you who were planning on sending me packages, postcards, curry, and love letters while it still only costs one stamp, you better do it NOW, because if it doesn't get here by Saturday morning, I won't get it. Yeah. Get sending! :)

One little lovely thing I learned this week:

"I am" in French is "Je suis."

"I follow" is "Je suis" also.

One of the missionaries in our class pointed out that it's cool because then to say "I follow Jesus Christ," you're also saying "I am being [as] Jesus Christ." In other words, that to follow him is to be like him, to become like him.

And now, a little list of funnies from the week:

1) my companion and friend dared me to steal fries off a missionary's plate who was sitting behind me. I did it. Just walked right by him, swiped one off his plate like that was a normal thing to do, kept walking. Gotta get my thrills somehow.

2) our class learned Champs-Elysees and performed it flashmob style for the other French-speaking missionaries. Imagine: a large room full of missionaries. Suddenly, someone says, "Hey, where's our teacher?" And then here he comes, waltzing through the door, snapping his fingers singing, "Je me balladais sur l'avenue..." and then one by one we all prance up to the front and join him, clapping hands, singing loud. Yeah. MTC. Welcome.

3) one of my best friends used to always say, "This is a disaster." Jokingly (I think) ...about everything. I told my district that, and now I've got everyone saying it: "Quelle desastre!" Ha. Someday I will compile a list of all the heinous crimes we are doing to the French language with our faulty translations.

4) the photo for this week has a great little story: so someone left this pink flowered dress in our residence hall, and it's been passed down through the classes, and has now fallen to us. As it's our last week, we decided that each of us girls is going to wear it to class one day this week. The dress was previously labeled the dress of shame, and whoever didn't speak enough French that week would have to wear it. We've renamed it the dress of BRAVERY. Mostly because you have to have bravery to wear it (it's a leeeettle excentric: puff sleeves, big pink flower buttons down the front, a hot pink sash that goes with it, that mega-ruffle at the bottom, etc.), and also because we're super brave girls to be speaking this language and moving across the world and stuff like that. :)

Just a little note as well, to all of you that are reading this
email/this old blog still (just fyi: my mom's posting my emails to the blog, I'm not actually doing it): Thank you from my heart for your letters and dearelders and support. At the low points of this week, I went back and read some of the things you've written me, and I took courage and had a renewed sense of self and hope that I can actually do this. So thank you thank you thank you!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

PANIC! at the District (MTC Week 4)

This week, my district (class) realized that we only have two weeks left here at this here missionary training center. The next thing we realized was that we don't speak French yet. Ensue: PANIC.

Our teachers issued a challenge this week: they're calling it the week of consecration. This means we're devoting ourselves all week to speaking only French--all days, all times. We have a phrase for this: toujour, chaque jour "All day, everyday." Pretty sure this is not grammatically correct, but meh what can you do. And this is pretty much the only phrase we know well enough to say consistently. I think I hear it at least fifteen times a day. Everyone's at different comfort levels with the French. I'm at the level where I talk really fast and just say whatever words come to my head and act really excited, like I know exactly what I'm saying. And everytime, I'm totally totally off. Best thing ever.

You should be glad to hear that I learned the word for hot air balloon though. Montgolfiere.

We also practiced introducing ourselves to strangers this week and trying to share the gospel with them. Our class walked one way out the building, and another French class walked the other way, and we met on the other side and pretended like we didn't know each other and tried to carry on conversations. I was really nervous before (imagine walking up to a stranger and trying to tell him/her the most important thing in your life. In a language you don't know. Hard!) But as soon as we started talking to people I was immediately comfortable. I forget sometimes that I actually really like talking to strangers! Ha, this is something I've realized as I've traveled the past few years--people have such cool stories, and all I want to do is talk with them and find out what makes them happy and what they think about things. Surprisingly too, my French came easily and fluidly and I was able to say the things I wanted to say. Afterwards, I couldn't stop thinking about all the people I met in Europe a few years ago: the music editor at the Pompidou Center, the bicyclist on the train to Avignon, the tiny lady on the streets on Bastille day who loved loved loved her country, the police officer at the concert in downtown Paris, the Frenchman at Hyde Park, the honeymooning Russians on the train to Munich, the MIT grad on the Spanish steps, the Belgian teenager in the London hostel, the 60 year old lady in Gimmelwald who sold everything she had so she could travel the world... Meeting and getting to know these people were the best parts of traveling, the happiest parts, the moments I felt the most comfortable, oddly enough. So in other words, I'm pretty thrilled about getting to meet people for the next months and tell them about the things I love.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

The Up and Up (Week 3: MTC)

First off, I had hamburgers three days in a row this week. =happy happy girl.

Second off, I got a little sick this week, because my whole district (aka: the ten people I hang out with [more like study with] all day) were all sick, so in that little tiny classroom, what one person has, the whole persons have. Sometimes that's chocolate chip cookies from home. Sometimes it's a cold. This week it was the latter. But I got over it quickly. Thanks to those three hamburgers and the fact that I've stopped eating crazy food for breakfast and instead found the corner where they keep the English muffins and applesauce, one which reminds me of waking up to the clipclop of horses outside my London flat, and the other of which reminds me of my home where my mother and sister make homemade applesauce and we eat it for breakfast. In short, my health (and my attitude toward the MTC's food) is on the up and up.

Which is good, considering that our teacher told us this week that he believes your attitude towards the MTC food is also the attitude you'll have your whole mission...and your whole LIFE. Those hamburgers came at the right time, because now I'm wide-eyed and happy and grateful for the food instead of sick and whiney, two things I do not want to be for the rest of my life.

Let's talk now about communicating in French. Since my vocabulary is a total of about twenty words (jk, it's 100), the things I say are incredible stripped down, and incredibly simple. Which means that instead of saying flowery things and talking a lot, I have to just really mean what I say and hope my sincerity comes across. When you're teaching about the gospel of Jesus Christ, this can be tricky because you have so much you want to say but can't, and so I just have to hope that the Spirit is conveying all that is in my heart.  And the beautiful thing is that in all those moments of slow speech, in those "empty" spaces that happen when I'm not talking because I don't know the right word, the Holy Ghost is teaching me things--things that sink deep, affirmations of what I believe, affirmations of things I know in my heart but maybe have never given enough silence to to actually let them speak to me.

In other words, my communication, limited though it is, is becoming more sincere, more pure, and more edifying.

One of the things I learned through this slow communication is that the reason I love this Gospel so much, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is that it offers a fresh start every second of your life--that at any moment, you can become a new person, a better person, and happier person. And it's not just the promise of that, but it's coupled with the actual power to bring that change to pass, immediately in your life. And beautifully enough, I'm realizing that that change has less to do with crafting a new you, one different and foreign, and more to do with unburying myself--my native nature and the desires of a spirit long since gone from its heavenly home. I'm finding that my native desires are actually to be good, to do good, to love, to reach outwards and upwards, to commune with God, to obey Him. But that is sometimes so buried in all the habits and ways of thinking and selfishness of 26 years of earth living, that I get discouraged. One beautiful thing about reading the Book of Mormon is that: you learn quickly who you are and what the desires of your heart are. One of the best things to me about being on a mission so far is that for some reason, time slows down a little: I get to look at each moment and decide how to act, instead of moments washing over me before I have the chance to choose, before I have the chance to react well instead of poorly. And so I'm relearning how to be who I want to be.

In other words, I have way more to think about here than I have brain cells for. I find myself constantly filled to overflowing with profound ideas, ones that mean everything to our existence as humans, ones I could think about for days before they really sunk deep deep down. So I'm trying to just soak soak soak.

Finally, a few highlights:

1. My sister who is the bomb sent me curry this week. Best, huh. Except for that the office confiscated the package and apparently disposed of the curry before it got to me (apparently there's a no perishable food package rule.). So in other words, unless you're really crafty, you may abort all plans to send me curry. (Silently sobbing into my cardigan)

2. My companion and I challenge each other to do weird things every day. A few days ago, it was whoever could use the word "tub" the most times in everyday conversation with other people. I won.

3. The highlight of my week (other than getting letters from people--seriously, best moment of every day) is eating an omelet at the cafeteria in the temple every P-day. It's cheesy and hammy and eggy and oh my word I think about it all week. (And yeah, pretty much my daydreams revolve around food. Sorry. But good thing I'm going to France where I can do things like eat crepes and Nutella every second.)

4. Our teacher is teaching us the lyrics to "Champs-Elysees," a classic Paris song. Youtube it, because it's a real delight. And so all week my companion and I have been waltzin around this place singing, "Je me balladais...sur l'avenue..." like real French chanson singers. Woot woot, now all I need is my accordion.

P.S. Don't worry about me getting my Lord of the Rings fill here: It took my district a whole 6 days to decide I was Gandalf...which I quickly corrected (I'm trying to teach these 19 year old boys that making old-person jokes around me is not okay hahahaha) and got them to change it to Arwen. Ka-ching.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Eat the Fruit! (MTC Week 2)

I'm living lifetimes in here. Every day is a thousand years.

Well our entire floor of dorms flooded this morning. Four AM the loudspeaker went on: "MALES IN BUILDING. REPEAT, MALES IN BUILDING." Not exactly what I'd expected to wake up to, but you know. At this point in this place, the sky's the limits in terms of daily adventures.

Apparently they don't sell deodorant in France. This is what all the French-speakers here are telling me. Thanks, every French-missionary I know who didn't bother to tell me this! Ha, thank goodness for the mail system, and for a mom who sends you whatever you need at the drop of a hat.

This week we finished teaching our first investigator. The whole thing was a hilarious experience. His "name" was Nicolas--and he turned out to actually be our instructor, as we later learned. But the last week was spent preparing lessons every day to teach him about God and about God's plan for him. The favorite lesson was when we wanted to teach him about Adam and Eve. We planned to begin by asking, "So you've heard the story of Adam and Ever right?" and then continue by talking about obedience and disobedience to God. So we ask him what he's heard about Adam and Eve. And with a smug look on his face he says, "Nothing...who are Adam and Eve?" Ahem. So my companion and I cleared our throats, laughed for the horrible irony of preparing a whole lesson assuming our teacher would go easy on us and know who Adama and Eve are, and we rolled up our sleeves and tried (with the help of the chalkboard) to explain the story. Please note that while we knew all the words we needed to talk about obedience and disobedience in French, we knew none of the words for the Adam and Eve story. Best part was when I was explaining that Adam and Eve had to leave the garden after eating the fruit: "And God said, "Au revoir!"" Yep. Awesome. I am an awesome teacher. Especially when I know a sum total of 25 words in the language I'm teaching in. The other favorite moment was when I was trying to explain that God told Adam and Eve not to eat the fruit, in very broken French. After looking confused for several minutes, Nicolas said, "Ohhh! I see! God said, "Eat the fruit or the fruit will eat you!"" Yep, that's exactly what happened, Nicolas. Hahahaha, best moments here trying to teach things you know in words you do not. 

In case you're worried about what I'm eating, don't. I'm gettin by with a little help from my salad bar, juice bar, and ice cream freezer. Every meal. Anyone who can figure out how to get me some Massaman curry I will be indebted to for LIFE.

Oh what else to say. There is so much joy serving this mission and I'm just drinking it up and drinking it up. My companion and I took a long walk the other afternoon in the sunshine, and all I could think about was how I never want these days to end. There are rough moments when I'm tired, or feel sick, or feel like French words are dripping out my oozy brain, but I go to sleep every night happy and wake up every morning grateful to be here. I wish I could have a lil conversation with myself 2 or 5 or 10 years ago, the not-sure-about-this-mission-thing-Carolyn, because I'd tell her it is happy and I'd tell her it's right and I'd tell her there is nothing she needs to be afraid of or hesitant about or queasy about. This is an experience for the books, one where every day I have the feeling that I'm inscribing into the tablets of who I am very very important truths.

And a few of those truths are these:

In French, the word for trials is "epreuve" which derives from their word for "to prove." You know what that means don't you--that trials and hard times are just little chances to prove who we are and what we're made of and what we want out of life. 

I think I wrote last week about pheonixes and how they are born new out of the ashes. I remembered this week a beautiful scripture in Luke 15:17. It's about the prodigal son, and it says that after all his dilly-dallying and crazy-making, he "came to himself." And I realized that that is what the pheonix is really about, and what this experience of a mission is really about, and what a relationship with God is about: coming to oneself. Remembering who we really are, and living more true to that.

A note to all you who have written me letters: Merci beaucoup! Seriously though. Getting those in the evening is a little rainbow everyday. (St. Patty's is coming, so I can talk about rainbows.)

Bon chance!

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Of the Pheonix (Week 1, MTC)

They say that as a missionary, you go through four phrases constantly: the honeymoon phase, the hostile phase, the grin and bear it phase, and the endure to the end phase. I think I went through all four in the first 48 hours of my mission. Some moments are really good, really happy, really fulfilling, really hopeful. And others are discouraging and exhausting and terrifying. (I'm learning that the latter are directly proportional to how tired I am.) So I'm being patient with myself and taking it all in. Before I left, my thesis chair said, "Carolyn, you enjoy every second of your mission. Don't spend any time thinking, 'This isn't what I thought my mission would be...' Just love every.single.second." And so far, that's how I've felt.

So here's a few notes from the inside:

Well my bed is an iron bunk bed with a single wool blanket and bleach smelling sheets. I sit in a tiny classroom all day, side by side with ten other missionaries, trying to learn this French thing. We sit all morning, get up and go to lunch, sit all afternoon (with some gym time), go to dinner, then sit some more. And by sit I mean frantically and energetically and wonderfully study our little brains out. I'll look at my schedule every morning and see that the next 3 hours are scheduled for study time, and little fireworks of joy go off inside. I couldn't be happier to be spending every day totally engrossed in this beautiful gospel and this beautiful language.

Every day, we teach lessons about the Gospel to a pretend investigator--Nicolas. We teach him in all French. This is a struggle. Just kidding, it isn't a struggle, it's IMPOSSIBLE! Ha, none of us speak French except for Nicolas, which means what my lessons usually sound like are something like: I know that to pray you will gave God a response. This response it is the most important. Do this thing. Do you want to?" A couple nights ago I was teaching him about faith, and I asked him to read what I thought was the verse in Alma 32 about how faith is like a seed that needs nourishment. He read it, and then I start explaining how faith is like a seed that you can nourish and it will grow to be bigger, until you have a surety of the things your believe in. He looked really confused. Afterwards, I looked up the verse I had him read, but this time in English. Definitely the wrong verse. It was all about how "your ground is barren, and no seeds will grow in it, so you know the seed is bad." Uhmmmmm....

I've seen tonnnnns of my past students here. I think the count is 9. Awesome moment: when they see me, recognize me, smile like "oh hey!" then realize how they know me. This happens the most with the kids I taught in high school. So glad to see so many of them here in this good place doing these good things. And on the subject of me being infinity years old than all these kids, the big gossip now is how old I am. Typical reaction: "Twenty-six?! HOLY CRAPPP!!!" 19 year old boys...not a ton of tact. :) Last week, I was just a-eatin my dinner when I hear, "Sister Carter!" and look up to see the table full of boys in front of me all turned around, eyes full of curious wonder, and one of them goes, "You're 26 huh! Tell these missionaries you're 26! They don't believe me!" So I told them like a BOSS. Hahaha, at first I was like, "Blehhhh stop asking me how old I am." Now I'm like, "Dang right I'm 26. And I have a Masters. And I am awesome." (K, I actually don't say any of that, but I do think being older is kinda the best.)

That I'll lose my personality. Anyone else feel this way when you're thrown into a situation so far beyond your capacities? I feel myself at times almost clinging to what I once knew of myself. The second I started this mission, I felt the cords tying me to what I once was completely severed, which was incredibly liberating--that moment when you realize you're a pheonix and you can be born new! But then I remembered that I kinda liked what I once was, and that to be a pheonix means to send your old self up in flames. This letting go might be hard and scary, this burning. But I pray it will be a more true-to-me me that emerges.

Yesterday me and some other missionaries went to San Francisco to get our visas. Afterwards, we were walking around Pier 39, looking for some lunch, when a man came up and said he wanted to go to our church, but didn't know where to find it. And then he said he wanted to know more about our church. Then he invited us to join him for lunch so we could all talk about the gospel and our beliefs with him. Then he asked for a Book of Mormon. (Uhmm was that real liiiife?! Will that ever happen again on my mission? No, probably not. It was incredible.) At lunch, I had this weird moment where I thought, "Man, we've got to get him in touch with the missionaries! They'll be able to answer all of his questions!" And then I realized it: WE ARE THE REAL MISSIONARIES. Our teacher keeps telling us that God sends prepared people to prepared missionaries. Here's to preparing myself!