Tuesday, August 13, 2013

First email, finally

Hello!! It's been a while since I've written, and so much has happened!! My last week in the MTC flew by in a haze of meetings, devotionals, and training. It was sad saying goodbye to all my teachers and the other missionaries, but luckily our whole district is in the same mission so we'll see each other sometimes. Two of the missionaries from my MTC district are in my zone, and one is in my district. Fun times.

My last MTC devotional was pretty cool actually - Jenny Oaks Baker came and played the violin. Not usually my favorite instrument but it was really pretty. At one point her four kids, all under the age of twelve, played "I am a Child of God" on the cello, violin, guitar and piano. Talk about a talented family. While at the devotional, I was sitting next to a girl who had just gotten here from Japan and she was nodding off the whole time, eventually just giving up and sleeping on my shoulder. Complete stranger. I let her because I knew that would be me in a few days.

Jet lag wasn't actually too bad. We took the Frontrunner train, then another TRAX train to the SLC airport - we must have been a funny sight, all 34 of us with millions of suitcases. Sister missionaries do not travel light. On the plane to Japan (like 14 hours I think? 16? 18? Don't remember) I was all set to stay up and study but then they turned all the lights off and I thought it would be rude to keep mine on. So I talked to the Elder next to me and kind of slept on and off for most of the flight - not super comfortable, but I must have passed out at some point because when I woke up I had three pillows and I don't know where they came from. Some people talk in their sleep, others walk; apparently I become a thief.

When we got to the Tokyo airport, after getting photographed and fingerprinted for our "Gaijin" (foreigner) cards that we carry around as ID, we met the Budges. They are so nice, and very on-top-of-it, as I knew they would be. Lazy people can't be international bank CEOs. We rode a bus to the mission home, filled out some paperwork, and slept until the next morning when we had a big breakfast and did training all day. In the evening we got to go over to the Eikaiwa (English class) that was just ending and talk to all the students there. It was really funny to interact with them and try to understand what they were saying. I was feeling pretty confident about my Japanese back in Utah when only Americans spoke to me, but native Japanese people are a different story. Especially the elderly, who speak quietly and don't open their mouths very much as a rule.

The next day, we had a little more training before getting assigned to our new companions and area. I was sent to Oyama! It's this awesome smallish town about two hours away from Tokyo by train. Although apparently if you ride the bullet train it's only 20 minutes... I really want to try that sometime. Anyway, my companion is Sister Kubota, a Nihonjin from Nagoya!! She's 21 and super cheerful and optimistic. And, luckily for me, her English is really good. She went to BYU-Hawaii for a year before coming on her mission.

After packing enough clothes for a few days I went to lunch with Sister Kubota and some of the other sisters before taking the train to Oyama. When we got there we spent a couple of hours doing weekly planning, and she explained a lot to me about the area and the people we're teaching and things like that. It was all extremely overwhelming.

Our apartment is actually really nice - we even have a dryer! It has a 3-hour cycle though, so Sister Kubota says she doesn't even use it. We sleep on futons which we keep in the main room, because it's much cooler than the bedroom. It is SO HOT here. I think yesterday was 37 degrees Celsius (still don't know how to convert that to Fahrenheit), and it's more humid that anywhere I've ever been. Everyone carries around little washcloths with them everywhere that they use to wipe their sweat off, and little paper fans. Those were the first two things I bought when we went shopping on P-day. I used to wonder why Japanese deodorant isn't very strong if it's so humid here, but now I understand - why bother having dry armpits if the rest of you is soaked in sweat? It's truly disgusting. Especially when I wear my bag for a few hours, and my clothes get soaked underneath where the strap was. I don't bother wearing face makeup or using lotion at all. I also figured out why Japanese food is so salty - it's like their version of Gatorade. After a long day of walking outside and sweating, I noticed after it cooled off that there was some white stuff on my dress. Salt. As in salt from my own sweat. We lose electrolytes like crazy, so the copious amounts of sodium in all their soy sauce and rice seasoning is actually beneficial.

Mmm, now I'm thinking about food. It's awesome. I want to try everything I see - I spend probably an hour just standing in our kitchen looking at everything when I first came here. So many desserts, so many funny drinks (there are no drinking fountains so we usually buy 1-2 drinks from the vending machines that are stationed every 2 feet on the streets. I refuse to buy bottled water on principle so I've enjoyed trying all kinds of different ways to re-hydrate). I love love love the food... maybe a little too much. When you Skype me at Christmas time don't be surprised if I've gained a few chins.

Okay, now I have to gripe about bikes for a little bit: Riding a bike in a skirt is not fun at all. My biking skills have dramatically improved in the last few days, but I still have at least one near-death experience every day. It's made me a very prayerful person because the whole time a ride I'm thinking, "oh please Father don't let me die don't let me die don't let me die." OK, maybe that was only the first day. But still, I'm not yet skilled enough to fix my skirt when it flies up while keeping one hand on the handlebar, so I usually just let it do whatever. Sometimes my legs are sweaty enough to hold the skirt down. Trying out the bike was super awkward because I didn't know how to mount it without flashin the sales guy, so I tried to go really fast and my skirt ended up getting stuck. I think he was laughing. Maybe I'll try to wear the bike shorts under my skirt when it gets cooler, but adding another layer of clothing right now is unthinkable. Here's an excerpt from my journal on Saturday:

"Low point of the day I was riding up a steep bridge on a high gear and couldn't shift down no matter how desperately I tried because my hands were too sweaty." I live a glamorous life, I tell ya.

The people here are just as kind as promised, and more. Even when people don't want to talk to us, they're very polite about it. I loved going to church on Sunday and meeting all of the members. We had dinner at the Shimizu family's house, and it was so fun talking to them. I can't wait to get to know everyone more - remembering all of their names is really hard. So that's one of my first goals. About 50 people came to church on Sunday, and I think that's normal, so it's doable!

I definitely notice a lot of people staring at me, but not too much. Everyone always comments on how tall I am and how small my face is - two features considered beautiful here, but that I don't really like, so I'm not sure how I feel about it. Everyone also asks me if I used to be a model or play basketball, or if I'm related to General MacArthur. Apparently he's a bigger deal in Japanese history classes than in American ones.

Ahhh, I have so much more I want to say about the people we're teaching, but no time. I love and miss you all. Yesterday when we were knocking on doors a boy answered who was like an exact replica of Luke, but Japanese. Same glasses and clothes and everything. It made me miss home a little. This week has been one of the hardest of my life, but I've already adjusted so much and it's been wonderful. I'm so excited to see what's in store.

I'm sending a picture of me and Kubota Shimai (we'd just been riding our bikes, so I'm not looking so cute) plus another from the MTC.

Love, Anna

Eugene 3rd Ward Reunion - Elyse Barnes (Ukrane Lviv), Anna and Tori Butler (Japan Sendai) in the MTC

Anna and Kubota Shimai in Oyama, Japan

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