29 September 2010


Marno, Nab, me. At the train station to Surabaya last week, where we arrived at the super-swanky hotel with skyscraper views and I fell sick with a sudden, sweeping fever. Spent most of PLD curled up on the floor against my chair, trying to listen to Elder Meek's training but hearing the sentences all backwards. Was sick all through Saturday and half of Sunday, which is why there is really no email to be had today. No news, no news at all. I stayed home with a member while my companions went out. I slept for what might actually be a total of 76 hours. I don't know. I don't remember. I was asleep.

Fashion Show at Sister Kaswat's, which I send you because a) Sister Kaswat makes really awesome clothes and b) then I get to take the cloth scraps and make really awesome scripture covers out of them so that Marno can match her skirt to her Book of Mormon. Brilliant! Also, scratch the leather-bound Indonesian version; I bound my new triple combo in batik and am more than satisfied with the result.

Two via Taxi. A final shot with Marno, who we dropped off at the Base just this afternoon. I am struggling with the absence; I've never been a missionary in Indonesia without her at least in my same house and now suddenly she is . . . not. This might also be a factor in my muse-less writing state today. The truth is I feel small and scared. I will work on feeling big and brave. But mostly I'm just a little butterfly dancer.

Dear Ones,

The carcass count is up to six and I am soooo not feeling any sort of sorry anymore because seriously? SIX? What did they think this is, some sort of veritable smorgasbord, orgasbord, orgasbord? I stopped all the regret after bagging number two and am now just grateful Meek was around to take care of the last and particularly jelly-bellied Templeton. Ick.

All of our appointments have fallen through this week but tonight we're going to try to stop in at Pak Pur's so . . . tally-ho. Sorry for the lack of really much of anything but after last Wednesday I was sick for a few days, went to church, walked a lot, and then pretty much just helped Marno pack for the last 24 hours. So you're not missing anything. Really.

Love you.


22 September 2010

She is a Palindrome.

Family Dearest,

Last night I baited rat poison about the kitchen in a final desperate attempt to quell a rising epidemic, and woke up this morning to find every last little pink pellet licked away. I feel terrible. Horrible. Sick-to-my-insides guilty. It wasn't like they ever did anything to hurt us; I was only getting tired of the morning cleanup. And now . . . murderer. I will never forgive myself.

Though it is entirely possible that such nausea has nothing to do with my mouse massacre but is rather the combination of the many side effects of life's most recent stresses, being, in this order:

1. Mbak Mitin, our best—and only—investigator moving to Surabaya.

2. Marno packing up to pulang kampung in all of only 6 days from tomorrow.


3. Me becoming finally and officially Senior Companion and also, oh, Trainer.

Even with last month's false alarm I was not ready for this call. I mean it makes all sorts of sense, what with Marno's impending release and the inevitable open space in Malang. But when President called late Friday night to inform us we'd need to be at the Air Force Base by noon the next day to pick up the new sister . . . well, maybe we panicked a little. And not just because we were looking forward to having a hotel room all to ourselves this weekend in Surabaya. That was, selfishly, a major factor, but nothing compared to the paralyzing waves of inadequacy (Please see email of 11 Agustus 2010. All emotions still apply.).

Not that there was much we could do about anything at all. We tidied the house a bit, mopped the floors, spilled all our deepest, darkest secrets in a final companionship curhat (this is a good JakSlang term to know; it means to pour out the contents of your heart). We woke up, called a taxi, and sat out to wait along the tarmac with sick stomachs and overactive imaginations. "This is a good sign," Marno insisted. "If we weren't worried, she'd be horrible. But since we kind of feel like throwing up, she'll be awesome."

Which as irrational as it was turned out to be true. Sister Nababan skipped off the plane with a happy hello and hugged me while bringing tidings of great joy from Elder Kershrikshrik in Hong Kong. She's a tall, strong-boned Batak* with an open, fierce sort of beauty and hard eyes. She grew up in Medan, graduated in French from a Bandung University, worked two years speaking Mandarin in Taiwan and the last six speaking English with a Canadian family in Hong Kong. She was in Noah's International Branch, and after looking at me for a long moment said, "You're Slovenian too, aren't you? Your eyes are the same." She is smart, strong-willed, and more culture shocked upon her return to Indonesia than I ever was arriving here in the first place. Occasionally this has made me want to scream but I am trying to be a good and patient trainer, even if this has mostly meant I'm on constant catastrophe control—my already über-sensitive tact meter on overdrive as I try to regulate lessons and contacting with a Batak at my side. Maybe I shouldn't be so anxious? But sheesh, those Sumatrans don't know a compliment from a criticism. Dangerous stuff amidst the fragile souls of Java (and I won't pretend I don't tend to take things all too personally, too).

Notwithstanding, together our trio has had some really—and unexpectedly—good lessons this week. I am learning yet again the promised blessing that when called you are qualified and I have felt an external and eternal strength these last few days as I face a task I feel so utterly unprepared for. The Spirit has been stronger, my vision clearer, even my Indonesian is better and I have to be careful not to fall into the false thinking that all this comes of my own accord. The Lord has really blessed us in His work and through this transition and while I am sure these last two months will be the most difficult of my mission, I'm equally certain they'll be the best.

Monday night Pak Purwitanto prayed out loud for the first time in twenty-plus years. Yesterday Ibu Novi accepted our testimonies of the Book of Mormon and expressed the desire to seek a testimony of her own. Tomorrow we are off to Surabaya to learn how we can better love and serve the people we've been assigned to shepherd here in Malang. It is a soul-stretching and marvelous life to live, and I am grateful to my God who has given me so great an opportunity to live it.

The Church is true, and I love you. December can't come fast enough and yet will, of course, come all too fast. Strange, that.


Sister E.

15 September 2010

Ya Weis.


This email was doomed before the day began; usually I sketch out a few paragraphs or at least draw up a list of all the things I need to tell you the night before I email but last night . . . well, last night I didn't. And I don't even have a good excuse. I just walked home from Sis Lili's, collapsed at the kitchen table for our usual nightly planning, and then didn't get up. Until it was two minutes ‘til ten thirty and I decided that maybe I should at least move to a bed if I was going to sleep.

So. Then I get to the internet cafe, and I have happy emails from my sisters and I want to reply to them, so I do, and then suddenly half my time is up plus also maybe I snuck a small minute in there to help Marno navigate the BYU-Hawaii site (her Real Life is two weeks away and we've been working hard to have her TOEFL ready) so now we're down to seconds—though rather flexible, indefinite seconds*—and I find myself with very little to say in the absence of a first draft.

Plus, Lebaran rolls on so mission news is negligible. A few lessons but nothing news-worthy. Elder Meek has Dengue Fever**. Us Sisters have spent most of the last seven days in Girl Friday mode, at the Elders' beck and call. It has been funny and frustrating and I think in some small way it has opened my eyes to motherhood. I always wondered how mum could be so busy when there seems to be so many hours in a day. Then I had to go from Gadang to Landungsari and back again in one afternoon and I was ready to write odes to the remarkable everything that she is. Terimalah Kasihlah. Today we went out first thing in the morning and went from Blimbing to Alun-Alun to Pasar Besar to Dinoyo all in search of the Elders' orders, ending with us basically dying on their front door step after having their lunches all switched up at the nearest warung***. Following was a somewhat blissful hour of chat in front of their electric fan, and then the long hot walk to the warnet. And here I am. With every thought and energy put into those measly paragraphs above me.

Again. I'm sorry. But some weeks . . . well.

Let's hope next Wednesday's back to normal. Or whatever normal is, when you're serving a mission in Indonesia. Hey! Remember my past? And my future? Weird.

K. Love you.

*in Indonesia they say "jam karet" or, elastic time. Which is why everyone is always and of course late to everything and no one could care less. Nice when you as the missionaries arrive late for an appointment, not so fun when you as the missionaries arrive on time for said appointment and your investigator isn't. Because they could be back in five minutes, or they could be back in an hour. Actually, maybe they don't come back at all. But hey, jam karet. Toeachisown.

**He's okay, for the record. Still sick but getting better. What's sad is Elder Marijanto—-one week into his mission and totally homebound. We like to call their house at random hours to make sure he's using this abundance of downtime in scholarly and scriptural pursuit.

Thought. Marijanto kind of a little bit reminds me of Richard Fetzer. He has the same smile, maybe. Or the same laugh. Something. Haven't quite captured it.

***We asked them what we are getting in return for all of this. Mari promised the Lord will bless us for feeding the needy and caring for the sick. Which I believe. But would also appreciate, say, like a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese. Or a can of real tuna fish. Even some Skippy Peanut Butter would be enough.

I love Indonesia. But while Indo has Quantity down, America definitely does the Quality thing better. Am imagining a Saturday afternoon Costco run, which does the best of both. Oh, Be still my soul.

08 September 2010



Here in Indonesia, which today not only feels miles but entire lifetimes away from home and any sort of reality, we are on the eve of Idul Fitri. If it weren't for the true meaning of Christmas, I think I would have to admit to enjoying the Ramadan month far more than our December celebrations; instead of speeding into over-hyped material messages of goodwill the entire world seems to slow down and I love the wayside warung that insto-presto appear at sunset and the everynight fireworks and the extra long and lyrical calls to prayer. Tomorrow, too, will mark the first official day of school holidays for the event, and so just about everyone and their rice cooker is headed for home. Here this is called Lebaran, and it's tradition to finish off the Fast with family in your hometown, so after today's monstrous traffic jams and people-packed train stations Malang's going to be even more quiet than usual. And so thusly and therefore it follows that it becomes all the more quiet for us Mormon missionaries, too. I love Ramadan. But not when it takes away all our investigators, too.

We're making up for the lack of lessons by making our own sort of Lebaran family and visiting every member we can pencil into our planners. This is two-parts proactive and one-part selfish, seeing as we were already planning on following up our efforts to get the members more involved in missionary work on an individual family level but also because my most favorite moments of my mission have always been with the members so win-win! Last night we went out to the Raharja's, a lovely little family of four and some of the stronger members in our branch. We had Family Home Evening together, teaching a lesson on Small and Simple Things (i.e. what minor changes they could make to their friendships and families to make major differences in their lives with the Gospel) and then eating a sour-salsa-sort of-soup thing while sitting cross-legged on their living room floor. I had, if you'll allow me to be a glitter-glowing teen for a minute, a blast. Sister Lorieta brought out her wedding album and we compared deep thoughts on the Twilight Series and Bianca drew my portrait on her whiteboard with the title "Sister Kanaya" because my Javanese-ish name scares her and little Alex gave the prayer all by himself.

TANGENT: I am a rock star when it comes to Indonesian children, something I can say without pushing my pride limit because I know that you know quite the opposite is true back in the Homeland. I mean, ask yourselves, honestly: Have you ever met a Mormon twenty-something more awkward with kids than moi? Rest my case. One great thing about the second-language barrier is that my vocabulary level is pretty much exactly on par with the 4-7 set and so Alex has in these last five months become my absolutely number one fan. Last night I was counting up to ten all wrong and then speaking Chinese a la gibberish and then hauling him around like a sack of potatoes and the way he was carrying on you would have thought I was all of Disneyland in one person. Very gratifying, especially the big sloppy goodnight kiss. Anyway. I digress.

It was a happiest hour indeed and I have become more and more grateful—plus all the more aware—of just how consistently and tangibly the Gospel blesses families. For all the dark stuff going on in this black world you would think a whole lot more people would be reaching for the light that shines so constantly and clearly from so many good, strong families living as Christ would have them live.

Last week at Leadership Training President introduced a new program of "inspired questions" he would like us to start using in our teaching. Basically we're just trying to put all the focus on the investigators, forgetting statistics or lesson plans or time restrictions and doing all we can to get the people we teach to start thinking for themselves. A lot of the time this means that we just turn their questions right back to them, asking them to answer why they think our Church is different, how they understand Christ's Atonement, what they think would help them get to Sacrament meeting, etc. We also try to learn everything we can about them and direct the conversation to Gospel-centered principles with questions that begin in phrases like "Have you ever thought . . . " or "How do you feel . . . " In just one week of our attempts to apply this tactic in our teaching, it's been a clear-cut 180 as far as the Spirit goes. We've had some really great lessons, especially with the less actives in our branch, and our contacting (though still constrained due to the nature of proselyting in a Muslim country) is on an upward curve. All this, however, comes at a far greater risk of failing, no longer relying on our step-by-step lessons or even our scriptural learning but the investigators themselves. Which has had some hilarious results of its own, most noticeably at yesterday's appointment with a new investigator who was unbelievably adept at switching topics and shutting us down. At one point, pretty much near desperation, Sumarno just point-blank asked the woman if she ever thought about God and after a three-second's hmmmmm she simply answered "No." We managed to walk away quite poised and dignified in the end but immediately lost it once we'd reached the jalan raya outside of the kampung. "Fail," Marno said. "Fail." And you know, it was a pretty incredible crash and burn.

Malang is cold and green and Indonesia's Eden after last week's sweat bath in Solo. Sister Sumarno is now in her final month of the mission and I'm rounding up to three, which both terrifies and excites me in equal proportion. Lately, actually, and more particularly since last Sunday, I have come to the realization that I'd rather not go home, thanks. I miss you, of course, and quite often find myself rolling the opening strains of O Home Beloved around my tongue, but ultimately I am past mortal levels of happiness here and am quite content to stay that way. Indonesia, while a favorite from the very first, has suddenly become . . . real? I think is the word that my heart feels but doesn't come out right. As if . . . as if Indonesia is me, and I am Indonesia. Oh dear, I'm afraid I'm reaching one-with-the-cosmos levels of attempted communication, and that is not what I mean at all. But . . .you know? When suddenly a friend becomes family, house becomes a home? Yes. Like that.

Elder Meek is much the same, only now he can speak Indonesian which is quite the trick. The last time we served together I'm pretty sure the most we could communicate was a Primary-level testimony of the Book of Mormon and maybe even occasionally ask to pass the pepper. So sitting in on a visit with Purwitanto's today was a little trippy. Meek's joined by Marijanto (pronounced Maw-reeyAHN-toe, and yes, apparently it is an Elder's prerequisite to be christened with an M name before serving in Malang), an awkwardly tall, gangly greenie from Semarang who did the dishes for me after I made lunch for the departing Elders on Sunday. He's quiet but charismatic and the two of them make a good team.

We are now off to visit Sister Lili, who has whipped up homemade chicken nuggets just for me as I attempt to bring the LilyRho Nugget Sandwich Special to a whole new level of gourmet. I can't wait for you to meet these people, to know this place. It will be a most epic family reunion.

I love you.

Sister E.

01 September 2010

All Things.

Dear Family Rhondeau,

A few weeks ago I learned a word that I promptly forgot because I never used it. That's how it works for me; if new vocabulary doesn't make it into reality conversation that very day I will learn the same word weeks later as if I've never ever seen it before in the first place. And so that is how it was with the word sepele. Meaning trivial, insignificant, unimportant. If you check the date on my language study journal, I learned that word more than seven weeks ago. But never used it until the moment presented itself, until it was ready to be made live, applied properly, situationally appropriate.

This is that moment. Because all these stories I've saved up, all these ideas and thoughts and jokes and anecdotes, they are sepele. I am in Solo and have been for four days but will go back to Malang tonight. I was Sister Atmi's companion while Sister Sumarno attended Leadership Training. It is hot like a drowning desert and we ride bikes and I am a little bit tan. At night we meet up with the elders for bamboo bowls of coconut-milk rice and tall sweating glasses of es jeruk. Elder Steele pretends he is one of those automated statues on the Pirates of the Carribean ride and we all laugh. Elder Effi tries to make me eat deep friend eel and I say no. In the mornings the sun rises right into the window frame and over onto the bed. I sleep like a cat and feel seven years old. Mostly, between all the girl -talk, electric fans, and pilly sheets, it's a beach vacation. I have been inexplicably happy in that floating kind of happiness, the happiness that lands on the roof of the next house, singing.

That same happiness that disappears when it wants to, like when you lose your favorite pen or your skirt gets caught in the cycle spokes or you open up your inbox to bad news. And so now it is just all . . . sepele. All of the above, though memorable and marvelous to each its own, pales in the knowledge of losing or lost. I am confused about what to say and how to say it.

Though last night, as I returned home from the warnet and knelt to pray—-for peace, for hope, for strength, for something—-a verse came to mind and has not left it. I guess that's just one of the many reasons to read and study and love the Word of God; it has a way of coming around just as you need it and never the way you thought it would. My experience last night was a combination of both those possibilities, since as I was praying about Grandpa the words of Nephi spoke to answer. It was chapter 11, verse 17, when the Spirit asks the young prophet if he knows the condescension of God and Nephi replies: And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

I do not know the meaning of all things. I do not know the meaning of most things. I do not understand why that, if Grandpa has to go, he has to go now. But the solid, living, irrevocable facts are these: that I do know God lives, and I do know that He loves His children. He wants what's best for us and knows what's best for us. Things work out. They always do.

I love you. God loves you.
We are forever.

Sister E.