21 March 2010 Dear family & friends,
I perceive that the time is passing quickly because it seems like only a few days ago that I sat down to write my last letter to you. And from the frequency of responses we receive, it’s apparent that the same swift passage of time affects most of you. Thanks so much to those of you who take time to send us news and thoughts from your world.
As was the case for our last letter, much of our time and focus has been on our project of visiting, cleaning and repairing in each of the pisos in our mission. To date, we’ve been to 26 of the 30 pisos and, overall, the experience has been good. The best part has been to have the opportunity to meet and get acquainted with all the missionaries, some of whom had never been thru the offices in the months we’ve been here so we’d not had an opportunity to meet them let alone get acquainted. The pisos in the coastal cities in the west end of our mission meant trips where we’d drive to one city Sunday afternoon/evening (5 to 6.5 hours of driving), stay in a hotel that night, clean a couple of pisos on Monday, stay in another city Monday night, clean two more pisos Tuesday and drive home – sometimes, about midnight. Virtually all the missionaries have been fun to work with, have been very cooperative in helping and have indicated they didn’t know how much cleaning needed to be done, especially in the kitchens. Pte Clegg has told us the missionaries have been very appreciative and have asked if they could have us live with them to help keep things clean – guess there are a couple of ways that could be taken. For each of the pisos we visit, I call in advance to ask if there are things that need to be fixed so I can try to prepare to make repairs if possible. Some things are beyond both my abilities and willingness to try but we’ve been able to make a lot of toilets work, repair heating system connections and valves, fix some Persianas and repair a lot of stripped out screw holes for door hinges. We’ve made a few electrical repairs but my experience and the tools I have to work with make me rather reluctant to do much with 240V terminating at my fingertips – call the electrician! We’ve seen water damage to both tile & wood floors – both from roof leaks and floods – and quite a bit of damage to walls and ceilings from leaking water. The mystery to me is why the landlords won’t go to the pisos and make repairs in a timely manner to protect their investments. We have some who have been responsive, others who take a very long time to respond and a third group that says they’ll do something but never get it done.
For each of the cleaning adventures we’ve taken one or more of the secretaries from the office and on our trip to Ferrol/La Coruña/Santiago, we took Elder Holmes from Littleton, CO. Elder Holmes drove us to Ferrol and entertained as we went. We’d decided to take the northern route (just because it’s 150KM shorter than the southern route) which parallels the coast line – on the map it looks like freeway almost all the way but there are large sections that were closed so we were on secondary roads. It came up that I’m from Idaho and Elder Holmes had a companion whose family has a large dairy operation someplace in Idaho where they milk cows nearly 24-7. Flo asked him how many times they milked a cow each day and he responded ‘it depends’. I asked what it depended on and he replied that he wasn’t sure, maybe only the females get milked twice a day – I just couldn’t stop laughing (silently, or near so – of course). After a little thought he didn’t want to talk about milking cows anymore. But then we were off on a discussion about genetic altering of corn, what constitutes a corn seed and how corn pollinates - it was a lot of fun. In Santiago we wanted very much to visit the famous cathedral – I’ve described something of the trails the come from near & far to lead people to visit the place named as the site of St. James burial. We didn’t have much time to visit but we were able to take a few pictures and see some of the surroundings before leaving to make the long drive home. I just can’t get over how they were able to build such ornate, intricate yet massive structures in so many of the cities here in Spain without any of the modern day tools we have to work with.
Early this month we were able to make the trip to the Madrid temple with members of our Las Arenas branch and some from Bilbao. On Friday evening we didn’t go to bed – just tried to get ready to start Saturday shortly after midnight. We were ready and left about 12:45 to walk to the bus stop, left about 1:00 for a short drive to Bilbao where we picked up 25 or so from that ward and headed for Madrid. I was sleeping when the bus made a stop somewhere for a half hour break – it was a hostel where there were trucks everywhere we looked. Most of our group got off the bus for the restrooms and snacks but Flo & I just tried to stay warm in the bus – from there it was another 1.5 hours to the temple. There were 2-4” of snow on the ground outside the city and the parked cars had snow covering in town but the snow (which continued to fall) was melting on the ground. We were led to a cafeteria area inside the complex housing the CCM, we ate some of what we’d brought for breakfast, left the rest in a refrigerator and walked the short distance to the temple. We got clothing, went to dressing rooms and, while Flo prepared for the 8:00 session, I accepted a family name from a patron there and someone took me to the initiatory area. They had me dress for initiatory work then discovered the name I had was initiatory complete so they had me spend an hour doing initiatory work. As I waited for the 9:00 session to begin, a young man sat next to me and introduced himself as Elder Chávez – he’d served in our mission and been released in December. I’d only met him as he went thru the offices at his release so I didn’t recognize him but we had a nice quiet conversation as we waited. I used the headset with one ear on and one off so I could hear the Spanish and English – I enjoyed it. But when we finished at 11:00 I had no idea where Flo was or what her plans for the afternoon were. I conveyed greetings from Pte Clegg to temple Pte Garry Moore and from Gary Lines to Sister Moore, talked to others in the waiting area who also wondered where their spouses were (some had been involved with our youth doing baptisms) and shortly after noon Flo appeared – she’d attended two overflow sessions. We had lunch in the cafeteria, attended the 2:00 session (apparently English speaking temple workers weren’t in abundance that day – we did our part in English, they did their part in Spanish) and went about trying to get our food from the refrigerator. On weekends, it takes a key to operate the elevator and we could not find a way to walk stairs or open the right doors to get us there. Finally, Elder Ford (short term temple worker) recognized our plight and used his key to get us where we needed to be to access the refrigerator – the bus left for home at 5:00. We had one stop at Hotel Alisa about 7:00 (we got off the bus to examine the souvenirs), another in Bilbao and were in Las Arenas just after 10:00 – we didn’t dally in getting home and in bed.
There’ve not been many new developments for us in making the transition to the Barcelona Mission at the end of July. (BTW Weezy, how’d you swing this deal?) We’d discussed with Pte Clegg the possibility of using one of the mission cars to help us move our piso content and, in a phone conversation with the vehicle coordinator for Spain, I asked him if that might be possible. He asked me to send an email with the request and the answer came back that Pte Clegg would make that decision – Pte Clegg told us to plan on it. Now we have to figure out how to get a place in Barcelona to move to but we’ve still got over four months to work out something.
Most of the work in the offices has become fairly routine for us and last Saturday we had opportunity to take a little trip to see some sights within an hour’s drive of here. Flo had a meeting until shortly after noon then we packed some lunch and, together with Elders Holmes & Hansen, went into Basque country. We drove thru Bakio to the coastline, parked the car and walked some very steep trails to visit a ‘chapel on the rock’ (San Juan de Gaztelugatxe). A large rock sticks up out of the ocean with a narrow ridge of rock leading from the mainland to the rock. They’ve built road down to the shoreline (but have the road closed to the public) and a rock pathway complete with walls along each side which crosses from shore to rock and climbs up to the chapel. It’s a small chapel with the interior closed to the public (we were told it’s for rent for weddings), has a bell with the rope accessible from the outside and has a small rock shelter nearby. We took a bunch of pictures so I’m sure some will make it to the blog for you to see. We went back down and up to the car – my guess is it’s only about a mile each way but the steepness of the trails makes it a real workout to get there and back. Whoever teaches trail-building to the Spaniards needs to become familiar with the term switchback. We drove to Bermeo and to Mundako - which is supposed to have one of the longest surf curls in the world – where we ate our lunch. The waves weren’t very large or long while we were there but it was interesting to see the wind surfers across the bay from us. We drove from there to Gernika-Lumo where we visited the stump of a famous tree. If I understand the story correctly, during WW-2 there was unrest among the Basques toward Gen. Franco. He secretly invited Hitler to bomb Gernika, the Germans obliged and, in the end, only a single tree was left alive in the town. The tree died in 2005 so there’s only a stump that remains (it’s encircled by pillars now and covered with a roof) but they’ve planted a new tree to keep alive the memory. A museum and city chambers sit at the site and has some exhibits and descriptions, some beautiful stained glass windows and is located next to a convent and well maintained park – it was an interesting visit for us. We drove home and, in just a few short minutes, were able to get all the body parts out of the car and up our piso elevator where we collapsed on the couches.
I’m thinking that’s enough report for this month. We appreciate your love and friendship, wish each of you the very best and wish more of you would send reports to us. Hope all’s well.
Love, E&H Belnap