I don't know when you'll get this letter, if you get it at all. Mail here is that spotty.
I've had an ...extreme introduction to my mission. It isn't at all what I expected. It has been difficult, already the hardest experience I've ever had, by far. But, it has NOT been a bad experience. Vanuatu is completely different from home, in every possible way. I could go on for hours about the differences, but there isn't any space here. First, obviously, is the surroundings. I can't even begin to describe them! There are plants I have never imagined, like the giant Banyan trees. And, there's so much vegetation! The lifestyle is completely different. For missionaries, life at 'home' feels bare. The sun rises around 5:00 am and sets around 6:00 pm, becoming full night by 6:30. The people follow the sun's schedule, so missionaries wake up after everyone is at school and work, and we're the last to go to sleep. Food is extremely bland and has strange textures, and is mostly vegetables I've never heard of like manioc, and taro root.
The people are very different as well, smiling and waving at every person they see, and shaking hands with everyone they meet, every time they meet them. I'm having some trouble with Bislama. I expect that after only two weeks, but my issues are with the language itself. I don't understand how it functions in real use. For example, the words 'to', 'at', 'in', and 'the' in English are all one word in Bislama: 'lo'. Also, while it is technically a written language, there is no set spelling. Everyone just makes up their own spelling.
I've been through a lot as well. The everyday lifestyle was difficult, but I've gotten used to it. I think the hardest part is laundry. I always have my laundry bag full, even after I wash some clothes, and I struggle to find clean clothes to wear every day. I have to do laundry by hand, and it's harder than you would think.
One thing that is fascinating for me is the volcano. It is the world's longest erupting volcano, but the eruption is so small it never leaves the top. Eventually we plan on going to the top and looking in to see the lava. I went on an exchange near that volcano, and living close to it is difficult because the falling ash ruins our white shirts when we proselyte.
Some of the people live far from any drivable roads and we occasionally have to trek through an hour or two (barefoot) of jungle and some of the steepest valleys I've ever seen, just to give one or two 20 minute lessons, then go back. I've only done it once so far, but I think it will happen more. We've stayed overnight in somes villages, meeting the people and helping me learn Bislama. I absolutely love the people. Most are very uneducated, and act like children. Most who are educated are very religious, LDS and otherwise. Everyone wants to hear the gospel, and Elder Tauraa and I have over a hundred investigators. My companion is the district leader of Tanna, and the only one with a car for the district, so we cover 3 of the 5 proselyting areas. I have already led the lesson with two investigators who have already had their baptismal interviews. Teaching the people here is unique. We show them pictures and ask them what is in those pictures, then teach what those pictues show. Many people can't read. I have been on an exchange to an area called Saet Siwi, near the volcano and with the most vegetation, and the most primitive people on Tanna, which is one of the most primitive islands on Tanna.
One of our investigators asked us for a blessing of healing my second day here. She was nine months pregnant. The next day she gave birth. When Elder Tauraa and I heard, we went to visit her and her 'husband' in the hospital. They let Elder Tauraa name the baby. I say 'husband' because by their culture, they are married. Legally they aren't. They along with 4 other couples were going to be married on the 21st of November, but an emergency has postponed the weddings for another week.
Missionaries from Vanuatu are often called to the Vanuatu Port Vila mission, and simply serve on islands they don't live on. The cause of the emergency was one of these missionaries. First of all I want to explain to you that I am fine. I did not know the missionary. He was from Tanna, where I am. He lived in Saet Siwi. he was serving in Santo, one of Vanuatu's northern islands. The missionary in Santo got into a car crash involving 4 other missionaries. 3 are fine. 1 is in the hospital. The Elder from Saet Siwi did not live though. The mission president will be returning to Tanna with the missionary's body the day those couples would have been married.
As I said, these weeks have been exteme. All of this has happened in two weeks. I'm sorry I didn't get to email home last p day. We couldn't get ahold of a computer to use. Please make sure mom know that. Pictures are still a problem. Last time I almost had a way to send them, but the internet is too slow here to upload. I'm going to try making lower quality copies of some pictures and see if those will send. I don't get much time to email home on good days because even then we only have one laptop to share between the whole district in one day, so please don't panic too much if I miss an email here and there while I'm in Tanna.
I've realized that the only time I'll be wearing my long sleeve shirts is when we are baptizing, so the number of white shirts I have is essentially cut in half. If you could send me 2 or 3 short sleeve shirts, that would be incredible, but I can do without if I need to. Bislama is already effecting my spelling, so I may come home illiterate. Most people can't pronounce Van Wagenen. They call me 'Elda Van'
I love you and the family so much!