Sunday, April 25, 2010

Our trip to Concepción

It has been an incredible week.  We left the house on Monday morning, April 19, about 6:10 am.  After a stop at the area office to get flu vaccines and another to get gas, we left Santiago with a friend on our first trip south to where the earthquake hit.  Our friend needed a ride and we needed a guide so it was a great situation. 

The trip down was beautiful.  We drove for 6 hours through beautiful fields of fruit trees, pine trees and vineyards.  This is a huge agricultural area that provides much of the food imported to the U.S.  in the winter as well as many other places in the world.  The homes through this area are very modest—small , square, cement homes often with a corrugated metal roofs.  It was interesting to see the damage from the earthquake.  The metal roofs fared well—the tile roofs did not.   We saw many roof tops with tiles thrown hither and thither.  Adobe walls crumbled easily and many buildings are being used but have parts of walls crumbled badly.  The freeways were a high priority for repairs and they were all open.  However, many, many times we detoured to one side or the other because of fallen bridges or sunken roads.

Once in the city of Concepción we were able to see a lot of damage but it was surprising how well many buildings fared.  The building that houses the Concepción and Concepción Sur Missions is one of the nicest buildings in the city.  It has a lot of small damage—tiles fallen off the walls, cracks in the walls, etc.  The mission couples in both missions were living in the church with many of the missionaries and members for about four weeks while their apartments were being fixed.  Pres. Swenson felt that the camaraderie they felt living together like that helped smooth over the trauma of the quake.  Another church building was taken over by the police and they have no idea if they will ever get possession again.  The police (the Carabineros) in Chile are not corrupt.  The people speak highly of them and trust them.  The soldiers who often act as police do not have the same good reputation. 
We shopped in a grocery store in Concepción which had some damage to one side of the building.  People forced their way into this store and totally gutted it.  It was not set on fire, however, as many were.  The Swensons told us that after Haiti, many Chileans were quite vocal about the looting in Haiti and said that it would never happen in Chile.  They were totally amazed when it happened on at least as grand of a scale. Everything was back to normal except the damage on the side, by the time we were shopping there. 

These are photos taken of a member's home and the work done to replace it.  Many of the homes here are very small as you can see by the photos.

We stayed at the Swenson’s apartment for two nights.  It sits up on a steep hill overlooking the Rio Bio Bio.  This river was the dividing line between the Spanish Chile and the indigenous tribe, the Mapuche, who were never conquered by the Spanish.  The river is a wide, coastal waterway that joins the sea.  It has several large bridges crossing it.  One of these bridges fell like dominoes falling one against another.  It has not been repaired and neither has another large bridge that looks okay from a distance but probably is irreparable.  The Mission Pres. lives on the north side of the river but almost all of his mission is located on the other side.  It has made it very difficult for his missionaries.  Travel time is still very long since only one of the main bridges is open and functioning.  It was especially difficult for Pres. and Sis. Swenson to check on their missionaries as they could not access the other side for several days after the earthquake.  Almost all cell phone communication was down, also. 

Driving around, it is the rule, rather than the exception, to see sunken or raised areas.  Roads dropped several feet or had been raised up several feet from the adjacent ground.  The city of Concepción moved ten feet.  There are multiple tremors every day but they said that at first the ground was in almost constant motion.  Inside the city, the repairs have come much more slowly.  The apartment building that tipped over is still just the same.  There is disruption everywhere in the roads where they have had to make entries to repair infrastructure under the roads or where sections of roads have collapsed.  Life is going on, though, almost as if nothing had happened. 

The Swenson told us of the many rumors that circulated, further frightening the people.  One widely held rumor was that the U.S. had a machine that could cause earthquakes and it had caused both this one and the one in Haiti.  There was a rumor that 2,000 men were on their way to Concepción to destroy the people.  She had a collection of about 20 rumors.  Most of the missionaries were aware of these rumors.  The fear caused by the rumors was at least as bad as the fear of the earthquake.  Sis. Swenson talked in the zone conferences about fear and how it is a tool of Satan.  It pushes out faith and therefore removes us farther from the spirit. 

We taught about the Ten Commandments of Good Health at three different Zone Conferences and had a great experience with this.  We also gave about 160 flu shots and Dave saw about 50 sick missionaries during these conferences.  We traveled with the Swensons and just had the greatest time.  Being with that many missionaries is an amazing experience.  They have had, and continue to have, many opportunities for service.  Frequently they are helping to tear down a house or repair a house and that has been a positive thing for them.  The missionaries in the south all want to be transferred to the north so they can help. 

The last conference was far south in Temuco, which had almost no consequences from the earthquake.  Temuco used to be in the Osorno mission before the Concepción Sur Mission was split off from Concepción, and it is quite chilly there.  I think that the temperature in the church was about 48 or 50.  It is very green and beautiful.  

The trip home from there took us ten hours, driving on freeway the entire time.  Wood is a huge industry there in central Chile.  They grow much pine and eucalyptus.  Huge areas are planted to trees which are in various stages of growth from acres of saplings, to huge trees, to bare ground where trees were harvested.  Large processing plants are frequent.  Because of the economy, the industry was down to about 20% of normal but now it is up and running with gusto. 

We had no time to take photos on the trip but I hope to get some to posted in the next few days.

Life is good!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

El español

          At this point in our mission to Guatemala, about thirty-two months ago, I wrote a piece about our learning Spanish, with some 'tongue-in-cheek' stuff about the Gift of Tongues.  The progress to that point had been slow, and it continued at a sometimes discouraging snail's pace throughout the mission.  I ultimatey came to realize that for most of us the Gift of Tongues is granted gradually, contingent upon our actively working for it.  By daily study, as well as through the 'immersion' we had in Chiquimula, we could understand and speak it somewhat better by the end of our time there.

          We continued our almost-daily study of Spanish during the fourteen months we were at home.  In October-November, 2009, we returned to Chiquimula, Guatemala.  I was practically speechless for the first three days, and then it began to kick in.  For me, that return visit was a wakeup call and I knew then that I had to shift gears with my studying.  Within our first week here in Chile I realized that my Spanish had indeed gone to a higher level.  I still have a long way to go, however.

          Some comparisons:  In Guatemala we were surrounded most of the time by people who spoke no English.  However, much of our talking with them was social chit-chat, or classroom instruction in English, wherein the Spanish didn't have to be precise.  In other words, 'spanglish' and sign language frequently helped out.  Here our socializing is mostly done with other norteamericanos, in English.  A large part of the work, however, is done among Latino elders and hermanas who don't speak English and often have a companion who doesn't either.  The necessity of having a clear understanding, in dealing with their medical problems, demands more accurate use of the language.  That imperative, coupled with the need to do so much of the work over the phone, has a way of greasing the learning curve.  Talking on the phone in Spanish has always been the most difficult challenge for me, but now I have no choice but to become better at listening and understanding.

          I believe that with the effort I made to learn and apply in the past, plus the passage of time, the language's words, phrases, idioms, etc., became somewhat more 'solidified'  in my mind through a subconscious process.  Maybe this happens like 'sleep learning', or maybe it occurs by the memory transferring information from the 'recent' file to the 'long term' one.  What I experienced was that once I needed to use it in earnest again, it flowed more easily; whereas before it had been hard to string sentences together, now it comes more easily.  Now that I am actively retrieving previously-learned Spanish much of each day, I also have at least one dream almost every night in which I am speaking to others in Spanish.  Suzanne says that although ahe doesn't think she dreams in Spanish, she finds herself thinking in Spanish about half of the time.  We both are far from our goal of semi-fluency, but we are encouraged by our progress, having done all of this after retirement.  Is the Gift of Tongues operative in our cases?  I think so.

          Our son-in-law Brock put us onto a couple of articles in Meridian Magazine written by Janice Kapp Perry.  She and her husband served as senior missionaries in Chile a few years back.  For her it was the first time really using Spanish.  Sister Perry tells of some of the struggles and discouragements she experienced in the early part of her mission, despite nine weeks of language training in the MTC followed by assiduous daily study after their arrival in Chile.  She finally realized that progress comes steadily, albeit slowly, and that she wasn't alone with her frustrations in trying to learn a language at a mature age.  Sister Perry quotes Dr. Ted Lyon - retired professor of Spanish and current president of the Santiago Temple - as saying that studies done at BYU showed that it takes four to five times longer for a senior missionary to achieve proficiency in a new language than it does for a nineteen year-old.  She also quotes Elder Richard G. Scott, of the Twelve, as having said that it takes a senior ten years to achieve fluency in a new language.  Suzanne and I are only three years - earnestly - into that quest.

          Another thing that I am retrieving from deep down is my medical vocabulary and the rest of my medical knowledge.  Dealing with patients and their medical problems every day, after eight years away from clinical practice, has required reaching way back into memory.  It is there though, thank goodness.  That medical knowledge took more than seven years to aquire, working at it all day nearly every day.  I remember one day during my third year of medical school, an elevator encounter with a physician who was a fellow in hematology/oncology.  He asked me how school was going and I told him it was great.  He said:  "The daily increment of knowledge is d___ small, though, isn't it?"  I agreed that it was.  Yet, I did master it.  I realize now that this is how learning Spanish is for me.  Day by day it is hard to see much change.  Compared to three years ago, however, there has been major improvement.

          I have a feeling of  accomplishment from gaining on this language.  We've all heard it said that as we age, our brains need to have excercises such as memorization and and calculations in order to keep our mental powers from slipping away too fast.  I think that this serves that purpose for me.  I enjoy improving my Spanish, so that's a plus.

          Since the start of this mission we continue to study our Spanish books each night, read the scriptures in Spanish, pray in Spanish, use a computer language learning program, and take occassional lessons.  We participate in Spanish Sunday and temple services and Suzanne teaches keyboard in Spanish.  I read the medical reference books in Spanish as I try to match up the medicines I am familiar with with their counterparts here.  We don't read the Spanish newspapers or watch Spanish TV, as there isn't any time at all for that.  In another 16 1/2 months I expect to be able to say that we have continued to make slow, but sure, progress.


                               An experience related to learning Spanish:  

          About ten years ago when Suzanne, Micaela and I were preparing for our first CHOICE Humanitarian expedition to Guatemala, I made what was to me a startling discovery.  One night I was watching the news on a Spanish language TV channel.  I turned on the text sub-titles and muted the volume.  As I concentrated on the motions of the speakers' mouths I realized that Spanish speakers move their mouths vertically much less than English speakers do, in sounding their vowels.  Instead, their mouths open and close laterally much more than ours do, and that feature helps to give words the softer vowel sounds that we associate with this language.  To me, that discovery was striking, and it has helped me to speak the language a little more correctly.  I'm sure that everyone who has ever learned Spanish as a second language knows this, but to me it was an epiphany.




Friday, April 9, 2010

Life in the Big City

Coming from Fillmore Utah, life in Santiago is certainly a change,  but we are adapting quite well I think.  The area we are in is called Providencia and is an upscale part of the city full of old  mansions that have mostly become businesses much like South Temple in Salt Lake City.  Providencia was named for a convent that was originally here, called something like  'Our Lady of Providence.'  Many of the older homes here have been removed to build apartments and the skyline is a mass of tall apartments.  Almost every apartment has one or more balconies and many of these are full of plants such as bouganvilla.  It is just beautiful.  There are very few tall businesses and no tall skyscrapers in this part of the city.  However, there are several embassies and small universities. Providencia includes many of the best restaurants and finer retail stores in the city. The streets are all tree-lined, with sidewalks which are about 6-15 feet wide.  The sidewalks are shared by pedestrians and bicycles alike, which at times is a little dangerous.

The main road adjacent to us is paved with what looks like quarried blocks of stone.  We have speculated on their age.  This area was settled in the late 1800's but when the road was put in, we have no idea.  The quaint, cobbled 6-lane road makes for lots of noise from the cars going by.   Most of the roads, however are paved with asphalt and most are one way.

We live in an 8 story apartment building with four apartments on each level.  The lower level is partially enclosed and decorated as an area for entertaining and recreation.  We have a guard on duty at all times (not with a sawed off shotgun)  who lets us in and out of the gate for security.  Crime is not a big problem here but people are very cautious and security is tight everywhere.  This is apparently a cultural thing.
Here are some photos of our apartment from the street, the foyer of the apartment and our spare bedroom while we were trying to unpack and other rooms in our apartment.  We find the place very comfortable.  .

The day I taught my first piano lesson, I found that both the parking lot to the Area Office and to the church parking lot were both closed and locked.  These are just across from our apartment and a convenient way to enter the Temple block which includes  the Temple, chapel, Area office and MTC.  I walked around to the Area Office and a Guard let me in through the big metal gate outside.  From there I went around to the chapel but the gate to it was locked.  I went over to the MTC, which is also the apartment for all the temple missioanries and the Temple President, and all doors were locked.  This was a Sunday afternoon.  I felt like a prisoner and had a tough time figuring out how I was going to solve the problem.  However, I was saved by a piano student's brother who came with a key to the parking lot and the church.   In Fillmore, I seldom lock anything so this is a big adjustment for me.

There is quite a bit of interest in the keyboard program.  I have eight piano students at this time.  I teach two students at a time.  On Sunday I teach in the church and on Wed. I teach in the MTC which has a beautiful meeting room and a very nice piano.  I have been asked to accompany for the ward choir which has about 25 members in it.

We are keeping very busy with the medical aspects of our calling.  How fun it is to interact with the missionaries with their bright smiles and enthusiasm for the work, whether they are sick or not.  I think our Spanish is improving daily and we can put sentences together pretty well.  Now, having said that, understanding the Chilenos is an entirely different thing.  We both still really struggle unless we are fortunate enough to be talking to someone who understands the necessity of speaking slowly and separating their words.  I have found, however, that if I am speaking to someone from Central America, I understand them much better.  Chilean Spanish is quite different from that spoken closer to the US.  Frequently they refer to it here as Castilian rather than Spanish.

We became aware of a husband/wife doctor team who are very active LDS with 7 children.  We made an appointment with them and had a most wonderful visit.

On Tuesday we bought a car, a Mazda wagon,  from a couple from Tucson who were leaving.  They happen to be good friends with Dave's cousin Maren McRae and her husband Burr.  We hated to see them go but we are excited about the car.  Tomorrow we are going to try navigating the roads of this city and go shopping.  Here is a shot of the Jumbo store I took while shopping--with  its. 54 checkout stands.

Life is good.