Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Aug 29: From Utah to Croatia

This is another one year anniversary post. It's longer than the last, and for that I apologize. It's much. much longer. If you just want a super quick spiritual thought, I suggest you skip to the end.


The day started early. So. Early.
Still, we had friends leave at 5.
Check in at the travel office was something like 7am. We took shifts of sitting with luggage and eating breakfast. Who was in the check-in line behind me, but Sis M! A friend of mine from my Lindon homeward. Her travels would be taking her to the Philippines over a period of 2 or 3 days. Joj!

Some of the younger missionaries woke up early just to say good-bye to us. My, how they have grown! It was sweet, it was heartfelt. Some of us will never see each other ever again. We definitely will never have everyone in the same group. It's a sad thought, but we are itching to serve. Missing friends will have to wait.

Finally, we leave. Who else boards our bus but Sis M!
The bus ride was surreal. I have spent my entire life among the streets of Utah. We drove past my schools, work places, and former neighborhoods. I haven't seen any of this for 2 long months, and I was a very different person then. It was as if we were watching my life past by through our windows. I had traveled that path a hundred times. I had taken the trip to the airport to drop off or pick up other missionaries. And now it was my turn. Finally, my turn.
We talked about our missions, how we felt and which countries or towns we wanted to serve in, taking our last guesses.
My district was a little... crazy. Loud, to say the least. And so it wasn't too much of a surprise that a sister in the front of the bus got really excited.
Are you the Adriatic North mission?
Da. Mismo.
I've been looking for you for 2 months!
She found us at the last possible moment. Her brother was serving in our mission and she wanted us to forward a message of a sister's love to him. Funny how that happens.

We got to the airport with out incident and pour out of the bus.
Our luggage!
Where was our luggage?
15 minutes later, the trailer with out luggage showed up. Sis H and I were among first with all our stuff, so as soon as our district had their things, we led the pack! We were anxious to go! I had rehearsed and imagined what I would say to my brother when I called him. Already, he had done a lot to help me and to this day he still doesn't know. But first things first, I would need to call my mom. She would be waiting. A man hailed us inside.
Sisters! Elders! Come this way elders and sister!
He welcomed us warmly. If you're going to be a missionary in an airport, may I suggest the Salt Lake airport? Even the patrons were excited to see us, always asking questions and giving us good wishes.
We got our tickets, checked our luggage, and wrote the Zagreb address, our new address on our luggage tags.

Through security we went, mingled with the Philippine bound missionaries and more excited patrons. It was here that the well traveled become obvious from the not so well-traveled. Sis O and Elder W seemed to sip through at illogical speeds.
As soon as we got past, we went in search of pay phones to call our families. Well, most of us. Some of us (Sis O and myself) hunted down the airport Cafe Rio. We had planned this for at least a couple weeks. I will justify this action by explaining that is was Cafe Rio, and that I was asked to use my card at every airport so my bank could track me.

Again we took shifts, watching the luggage and using the phones. There really are not that many pay phones in airports anymore. I was able to snag one. My mom had indeed been waiting, not sure when I would be calling. My dad wasn't able to get his conference call thing to work on his phone so it was just my mom and I. The conversation was relatively normal. Do you need more underwear? (Mine had turned pink.) How do you feel? How did you sleep? Don't forget this and that. It was as if I hadn't been gone for 2 months at all, but merely two days.
Someone tapped me on the shoulder and explained that we would be boarding soon and that I needed to eat my Cafe Rio. So the phone call was short and hurried.
25 minutes later I was still waiting to board, having only eaten half my salad in my haste. Ugh. Little did I know I would be talking to my mom again, very soon. But I didn't know that then, and I wouldn't have believed it if someone told me. Haters.

We were on our way! There was no turning back now! The flight to Detroit was short and fun. Everyone kept teasing me about how I saw Detroit. I still have no idea what the difference is between the way I say Detroit and the way it's "suppose to be said." Detroit..... Detroit. Detroit. Detroit. Lucky me, I got a window seat. I say I, but really Elder B wanted an aisle seat so we switch. Elder E was in our row with us, too.

It's fitting my mission travels took me to Detroit. I have family that served their missions there. Soon I would fly over the Isle of Wight. The Detroit airport is BIG! So big, there's a monorail inside it. We ran to our next gate, not sure how far away it was. We had just enough time for those who were hungry to go grab a shake. Sis F's family had sent her a cell phone. Bless the family who does so! She was nice enough to share her blessed gift with the rest of us. That is how I finally called my dad. My brother never got his call, sadly.

I hope that whenever I must travel, I travel with a group of friends. Inevitably, games come up. Like who would get to sit next to the nice French priest. (Alas, he was in first class.) Stories from the previous flight, and predictions for upcoming flights. You just can't do that with strangers.
We made friends with the flight attended. A Korean whom learned her english from the Mormon missionaries. Not a member herself, she still refers to all who carry the tag as "her elders". She was funny and very nice.
I was next to Elder B and Elder E again. Ish. We were separated by an aisle. I can't remember who sat on the other side of me, but it wasn't my companion! Luckily, it was still a missionary.

My first international flight.
My first overnight flight.
My first experience with airplane food.
I get the joke now. We were all hungry until we smelled the food. I was curled around the lap desk, trying to ignore the beginnings of jet lag. I think they assumed I was asleep, for they never asked me what I wanted when they came through, but skipped over me. It was best for both of us, since I didn't feel like eating.
Sis H, however, wouldn't have any of that. From her seat, she threw her dinner roll at me, demanding I eat it. She's always looking after me. Haha
I didn't sleep at all. I remember looking up at the flight information and wondering if it would ever end. It said 9 hours left 2 hours ago. Also,I was paranoid from a new game of taking pictures of people while they sleep. They may have a picture of me resting, but not sleeping!

Sis P asked if she could switch seats with me, so she could socialize with those who were still awake. Sure.
That poor lady who woke up next to me! She had started the flight with a brunette, fell asleep next to a blonde, and woke up next to a red head! Needless to say, she was confused. Thankfully, she has a nice sense of humor.
Then! Light!
I've seen this sunrise over a hundred times, she said. Let's switch seats. I prefer the aisle anyways.

I've never seen anything like it.
The French Sunrise.
My first sight of real foreign skies. (Sorry Canada. You don't count.)
To be IN the light.
To be IN sunrise.

Not long after, I had my first glimpse of foreign land.
Red roofs.
Abundant countryside.
Little churches.
Small hamlets.
So quaint.
So... European!

My new travel buddy gave me a crash course on all things French. She's a dual citizen French-American. Her children are American and her husband French. I found out one of her daughters was serving a different kind of mission in Africa. The lady explained she travels between her two homes frequently. She run a foreign exchange program, and depends heavily on Mormon families to take her students in, even though the French families are often trepidatious at the thought. As we all know, Mormons have horns. (<- joke!) She thanked me for watching the sunrise with her. Thank you, nice lady!
Borrowed from AP Mecham: Our first morning in Croatia. Jet lagged and rearing to go!

Charles De Gaulle would have been very confusing if it were not for Sis H and Sis O. Both are fluent in french and one use to live there. Not in the airport, but France. However, according to the not very nice airport lady, Sis H speaks neither French or English. This depressed my dear companion greatly, which I do not take lightly. On the contrary, my security team was very friendly and we even shared some laughs (whoo-hoo for passing college beginning french!). I had forgotten about some bobby pins I stuck on my dress, which they all laugh about. If you asked me, I think we both started the process equally nervous.

We had some time to kill, so we bought pastries and swatch watches, so we could say we bought them in Paris. I bought a quiche which cost my first born child. It wasn't even worth it. We took pictures by billboards, stared at the actual Eiffel Tower, and laughed about the seeing people walk cats on leashes.

We're not even sure what day it is anymore. After taking our first real rest in what seemed like a day, we crammed into a little bus-like thing. It only had about 8 chairs. Some got dressed and cleaned up while waiting.
Our plane was a tiny thing. It had just over a dozen seats, and my entire group was dispersed. I got lucky again. Another window seat in the back, in a row with only two seats. Sis H got seated between two couples, one which spoke French and another that spoke either English, or Croatian, or both. I can't remember. She spent the whole trip translating for the two, which boosted her spirits after the mean ol' airport lady.
I was seated next to a 20 yr old girl from New York. I knew all the missionaries on the plane and she knew everyone else from her father's clubs, bars, and restaurants. We had a wonderful conversation about school and family and what we were doing on the plane. She was visiting her grandmother in a small Croatian village. She gave me a lot of advice on how to make friends and not offend the locals. Number 1: You're an American. People will love you and hate you for this. I found this to be true over and over again.

With her the flight seemed to go by all too quickly. It was time to get off the plane. My groups first time being outdoors in a day. The Zagreb air!
And smell I will never forget.

We get our passports stamped and go to claim our luggage. Mine is easy to spot as well as Sis P's hot pink luggage. We decide to all leave together. No one is waiting for us in the lounge. Did they know we'd here?

Someone waves! It's not our President or his wife, but they have a name tag! The Westergaurds, from Beaver and somewhere in Arizona! And why are those little girls waving at us?

A tap on my shoulder. I turn around. It's the girl from the plane. She gives me a hug and hurry's off with a good bye before I could say anything. I turn back to my group, many of which have looks of severe empathy. "That was so sweet!" "What did you do Sis Farnsworth!" I'm taken a bit off guard.
*The people of the former Yugoslavia have a reputation for being stubborn, rough things. Stubborn they may be, but never did I go a day without them showing some kind of love to me.

There are no customs to go through, as we expected. We leave the baggage claim and are greeted with hugs. We're helped with out things and take them to various cars. President is there with his family, (it was his daughters who we had seen), the APs (assistant to the president), the first counselor and his wife, are all there to take us to the mission home to shower and change. Sis H and I made friends with our taxi driver, getting grammar lessons. She asks President about him, if he's ever shown interest in learning about what the missionaries teach. He says yes. Has he ever been given a Book of Mormon? He says h doesn't think so. When do we start the lessons? she asks. Impressed with her (who wouldn't be, that girl is amazing) he tells her to go grab a Mormonova Knjiga and together they give it to him. Not even half an hour in the city, and Sis H had already placed her book MK. She is a natural missionary.
Proof of Life! President Rowe, Sestra Farnsworth, Sis Rowe

It's all a little fuzzy after that. I went contacting with a random sister in Zagreb for a while, fell asleep during some kind of orientation in the mission office, emailed my family that I made it (You can actually see that email on this blog, under a similar title to this post), and met some other missionaries. We go back to the mission to be greeted by the best meal any of us have had in ages! Sis Rowe's cooking brought us all back to life. One by one, we go into President's office to meet with him.
I can't remember my meeting that well. I believe he asked about me and my goals, what kind of missionary I wanted to be, why I decided to serve a mission and so forth. I remember he said some things which I had been thinking about.

If you get called to Adriatic North Mission, the downstair room is a place of magic. The shower head changes colors, and the mattresses are made of dreams. I've never slept on anything softer and more comfortable. We all slept like logs.

In the morning, we go one by one back into the office. One by one, we are told our first area, our trainer, and some last words of advice. Mine was a sweet and personal moment.
Novi Sad, Serbia.
Out of my entire district, I had spent the most time studying in Serbian. Everyone else concentrated on Croatian. To be honest, I had no particular reason. I just wanted to.
Novi Sad. The "New Now".
My new home.

Sis H is assigned to Sarajevo. She really really really really wanted to go to Sarajevo! We're both so happy for each other and how we ended up in these places! We try not to think of this as our last good bye. It's likely that we would serve together again. We revel in our last moments as companions, laughing about the American music being played in the taxi and soaking in Zagreb.

We meet our new companions in the Zagreb chapel. We've been told stories about this place. That's were the one picture was taken! Remember the story about such and such! Look over there!

There's a small conference held with trainings and plannings. Then it's see you later, take care, and don't make TOO much trouble as we all head our different directions.

Novi Sad.
New Now.

We arrived late. The country is beautiful. So green! So cute and quaint! I didn't believe places like this  really existed.

And that's how that adventure started.


The day started early. 8am. Later than the day before but still early. Especially since I didn't go to bed until early in the morning.

The long awaited doctor's appointment. I have a feeling nothing too special will happen.
"What day is it?" I ask.
Aug 29.
"Travel day." I respond mindlessly.
"That's right! I was waiting for a call at this time. It's been a year. Just one week until you've had these symptoms for a whole year."
The things we celebrate these days.

The pituitary gland is still big. The spinal chord is fine. No causes discovered. Good news, I don't have MS. Bad news, we're about stumped again.

She has me do tests, such as touching my nose (easy, you find your mouth and you nose comes after), pushing against her, walking heel to toe, and so on. I'm sober!
Plans are made for the future. Perhaps 6 months in the future. I don't want to be sick for that long! But then again, I don't have too much of a choice.

When we get home, I am exhausted. I stay up a little longer. Oh happy day! My brother brought me a salad! Now that's love. I slept until almost 4 o'clock. Wowza!

Soon after, I get asked to babysit. Sure. I just took a nap. I'm still exhausted but it could be worse.
When the kiddos come, we make silky soft play dough. We. Made. Play dough. Can you believe it? We are so industrious! And if that isn't the sprinkles to your doughnut, we added food coloring.
That's how we roll.
In messes and dough.

To finish off the fun, I introduce them to Fern Gully. What can I say? It's a classic! And they love fairies.

Here's an excerpt from the evening.
"If you make a mess, I'll skin you alive."
"What did you say?.... Did you say you'll skin me?"
"What does skin mean?"
"What do you think it might mean?"
"That you'll make it so I don't skin?"
"You got it right."
"But that'll hurt."
"Then don't make a mess."
"You wouldn't do that, because... because... because you are our most very very bestest friend."
"You're just saying that so I don't skin you."
*laughter from the kitchen* [Dang it, someone heard me.]
"No! You're our most very very favorite cousin, and you love us."
I'm their aunt, but I don't correct him. His sister is giggling almost as hard as my mom.
Granny: "Is Aubrey your favorite aunt?"
And that is what popcorn and play dough will get you. the love of children you want to keep their skin on their persons.

While they're distracted, I clean up the mess I helped to make. Good thing it's only cornstarch and conditioner.
After they leave, it's time to wind down.

Late at night, in my bedroom, I watch the new mormon messages video, listen to Abraham 4 (because my eyes were killing me), listen to opera (my current exploration), and finally end with a heartfelt prayer of gratitude.

True, not much happened. Nothing exciting or ground breaking shook my world. But I felt a lot of love and hope. And that's enough to make any day feel special.
That feeling still continues today, as I pray and reflect on scriptures and on my personal experiences. I've even had a friend wish me a happy anniversary of the day we met. I did not expect myself to be in a bed, but I didn't expect myself to be headed to Croatia, to live Serbia, 2 years ago.

Every year sees me in a different place than expected, and always for the better. I have no doubt that the pattern still continues, even if I can't see it.

I would like to close this post with the wise words from one of the best movies ever made. Hopefully you can see the connection.
Wherever there is love, it feels like Christmas.

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