I mentioned in our letter last week that we got to see some of the General Conference – we really enjoyed it. Because of the time difference (we’re 8 hours ahead of SLC), we went at 6:00 pm both Saturday and Sunday evening to get an internet feed of those two sessions. On Sunday morning they showed us the Saturday afternoon session and Sunday afternoon they showed the Priesthood session – so we got to see most of the conference close to when the sessions happened. Monday morning I went to the church web site and listened to a recording of the Tabernacle Choir then listened twice to Elder Holland’s talk – I love to hear him speak. I heard most of the other talks from the Sunday afternoon session but then office work got in the way and I didn’t get it finished. On Tuesday they had the video with the audio so I watched Elder Holland again and this time I could see him holding up the Book of Mormon from which Hyrum had read to the Prophet Joseph before their martyrdom – we and the Elders have watched it over and over this week. Since the BM is such an important part of the missionary work here, his testimony is a powerful motivator to use it even more.
About noon on Monday a tech from Dell Computers came to my office, took apart my desktop computer, replaced the motherboard and put it back together. It seemed pretty apparent that we were on opposite ends of some language spectrum so our only communication was via facial expression and hand signals. He ran several tests then I tested the software I use most of the time and everything seems to be good – I haven’t had a single problem with it since then. That’s good because I had to finish up the reports for September and get things set up for October and having the computer is pretty important to that. Not long after he’d finished the repair work Flo and I left to try a Chinese restaurant that we know of (hadn’t talked to anyone who’d actually been there so we weren’t sure what to expect) to celebrate our wedding anniversary (it’s only a couple of blocks from the office). When we walked in I asked in Spanish if they spoke English – one said ‘no’ and the other said ‘a little bit’ – that was sweet music to our ears. They seated us (we were the only customers in there) near a window at a table with a nice, white tablecloth and cloth napkins and gave us menus in English (more tender mercy, huh?). We’d brought a dictionary in the event we had to order from something we didn’t understand – remember, ‘it’s not so important to know what it is but it’s critical to know what it was’! We chose a couple of chicken based items and asked about rice – not included. So we ordered rice and he asked what we’d like to drink - we said water but Flo had been told that if you drink water you’d have to buy a bottle to get it so we ordered a bottle of water. By then other customers began arriving and soon there were quite a few people there – I guess our mediodía and theirs aren’t necessarily in sync. Our food arrived pretty quickly and was very tasty and well prepared – we both liked it a lot but resolved to order things a little further apart in the food spectrum because ours were very similar. We didn’t know if they have things like to-go boxes so we ate it all and then were too full to be comfortable. He brought the bill, I gave him my plastic and, when he brought it back, there was no place to add a gratuity. So we asked him about the custom and how to handle it and he assured us they don’t expect a tip at all – we wondered if he knew what we were asking. It was our first meal in a restaurant here in Spain and was a very pleasant experience – a little pricey in my frame of reference but we liked it. There are a lot of bar/restaurant combinations here but, based on what we’ve seen, the food looks more like hors d’oeuvres (and there’s something about shrimp eyes staring from a small plate that doesn’t appeal to me nor do stuffed green olives make my mouth water) than substantial food and I am not confident that they know how to handle a non-drinker in these places. Anyway, the combination of language barrier and observations has kept us out of those we pass every day in our activities.
In the late afternoon Flo went with Hna Clegg and the Assistants (delivery men) for the purpose of buying a larger refrigerator for our piso. She called later to report that the sale model they’d planned to buy was out of stock so the store had promised to have it in a week and would deliver it to the piso to compensate for not having it available so we’re still waiting – but with much anticipation now – for refrigerator relief. The one we have now is deceptively small and the small-gauge wire shelves sag with very little weight – for those of you familiar with the term blivet, that’s what comes to mind. Flo opens the door, reaches to get something out and a glass bottle tumbles out and shatters on the floor – it’s caused her to murmur.
On Tuesday we were scheduled to do some things (unknown to us) with Hno Sanchez from Madrid who the church used to finalize residency requirements. He came with an agenda to give Elder Strickland some training (who handles nearly all the preliminary residency stuff for our mission), discuss some things with Pres Clegg and take us to a notary where we needed to sign papers giving Hno Sanchez power-of-attorney for residency matters. When it was our turn for his attention we went to a nice office a couple of short blocks from our office, waited (it’s apparently an expected part of any appointment here – sort of like visiting the doctor), went thru papers, reached some agreements (the matter was complicated by our inability to competently understand Spanish) and were told to return at 5:30. Back at the office, Pres Clegg brought in 5 new missionaries (not all Spaniards but all are residing in Spain) for orientation. The combination of new missionaries, new companions coming to pick them up, orientation, dealing with luggage and the presence of Hno Sanchez made for a hectic afternoon. One of the surprises presented by Hno Sanchez was that, to comply with the laws of Spain, all missionary personnel who drive are going to need Spanish driver licenses. That means hiring a private firm to teach the laws and driving skills with cost running from 800€ to 1200€ and takes 2-4 months to complete. If one fails a test, the process has to start all over. So, especially for our Assistants & office Elders who might drive 4-6 months, it’s not a cost effective thing to do – for either time or money and we’re not sure what we’ll do. I’d seriously consider using buses and trains for our transportation needs rather than go thru the hassle – especially with my current language skills. I’m thinking we might wait for the Lord to provide an answer and hope it’s an easy one. Anyway, when 5:30 came we were standing around waiting for a package to be delivered for which someone had to be at the office. We finally gave up on that at 6:00, returned to the notary’s office and, after our obligatory wait, went to a conference room, I was handed the papers (Spanish only, no English) so I went thru them and got a pretty good idea what they were saying. Hno Sanchez read & explained a few things in English, we signed, they signed, we waited, we paid (about 47€ each) and left. So, the church had prepared all the papers, the notary had to review and sign them and we still had the time burning hassle we experienced. Hno Sanchez says it takes about 10 years of study to qualify as a notary here – I don’t know why.
I got our piso inspection forms into the mail to district leaders who do the inspections, finished vehicle reporting and nearly have wrap-up done for the September baptism stuff (waiting for a final report from SLC) and Flo got boxes & bags ready for the mission president to deliver to missionaries as he tours the mission for interviews. She also received a large order of materials from Germany as part of the monthly order she does and got those put away and/or sent out to missionaries. Elder Anderson had to travel to León to get his residency card renewed (the first one is good only for 1 year and the renewal is good for 3 years) so we had to be available most of the two days he was gone so Elder Anderson wouldn’t be alone. And we’ve made time to take a fairly long, brisk walk in the evenings when we get home from the office. Friday evening we walked out a barrier in the bay that’s been built, I assume, to protect the harbor from high winds – it’s in new territory and quite a ways further than we’ve been before and took us 1.5 hours to do it. We were both tired when we finished. Nearly every evening this week when we’ve gotten into bed, I could hear one or more mosquitoes buzzing somewhere in the bedroom so we’ve had to get up and plug in our mosquito machine to get some peace. These mosquitoes don’t seem to be nearly as aggressive as those at home but, Monday night while she was asleep, one stung Flo on a lower eyelid and it was quite swollen the next day. I guess we’d kind of expected them to be gone by now.
Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast then cleaned the piso and got ready to go per an invitation to a member’s home for dinner. We, along with Elders Anderson & Strickland, rode the Metro toward Bilbao, found the address and walked up the 7 flights of stairs to the piso. We were greeted warmly by the members (former branch president, wife & granddaughter), visited for a few minutes (he has just retired and she plans to retire soon), were seated at the table and they brought out a very large pan of food that consisted of rice, diced chicken, whole shrimp (those eyes detract – that’s all there is to it) and a couple of varieties of shellfish. When she dished up my plate I asked that she by very moderate, I loved the rice & chicken and got thru the shellfish and shrimp – there was plenty but I didn’t ask for seconds. They then brought out a large platter of fried pork loins – we each had two or more of those (we – two; elders – more) and they were excellent. For dessert she served large portions of a flan-like custard with ice cream that was very good. We visited for a while (the elders served as interpreters for us), E Strickland shared a spiritual thought and we left to return to our piso. We had a little time to relax and study then dressed in church clothes, rode the Metro to Bilbao and attended a baptism service there. There really is excellent support for baptisms in that ward – most of the chapel chairs are filled each time – and we met new people who were very kind to us (some love to use their English on us and we don’t mind – we try our Spanish on them) and got home about 9:00 to read our BM together (we still read 1 or 2 chapters/day together).
That about wraps up the report for the week – we’re happy to be here and are enjoying what we’re doing. There are a lot of good people engaged in trying to further the work of the Lord and it’s great to be among those who are doing so here. We love each of you and pray for your happiness and wellbeing and haven’t lost our zeal for receiving letters from home. There are some things that are worrisome to us – just like they’d be cause for worry if we were home – so please keep us informed.
Our love from España,