Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Missionaries and Tamales

After the double header of Mayan ruins on Saturday, I was looking forward to the fact that the Sabbath is a day of rest. 
We got to sleep in until 8:30 which after the last three days was a real treat.
Our trusty taxi driver and friend Alfonso was waiting to take us into Santa Elena to the church building to watch the morning session of General Conference.
General Conference weekend in April and October are my favorite of the year. For two days we get to sit in the comfort of our homes listening to the Prophet of our church and the 12 apostles. Their talks are always well spoken and profound in my life and I feel recharged by the spirit that washes over me. My home feels more sacred and peaceful and the effects linger for days and days.
This year would be different because I was not home.
But I will remember it as a very special experience.
I had the distinct honor of watching it with a roomful of the most amazing young men, clad in white shirts and ties with black tags on their chest bearing the name of the Savior.

When I first arrived they were a little subdued and quiet but still very polite. Each one would look me in the eye as I introduced myself. I thought about each ones mother and fought the urge to hug them. I wanted to take picture after picture of their warm smiles and the way their faces lit up when they would see each other. They are all in companionships of two in the Peten areas, but on conference weekend they get together from miles around to watch General Conference together. There is a feeling of a special brotherhood that exists between them.
I was worried that Jack would feel different since he was there with his parents so I hung back a little wanting to just be a fly on the wall and observe. The names on their tags were familiar to me. Mothers who I have been communicating online with, sharing any news or photos of "our boys". Mothers who I have grown as close as sisters with and have been a lifeline when I was anxious or sad. Mothers who knew just how I felt the last two years, who understood the sacrifice. Sometimes I would blurt out to the elder standing in front of me, "I know your mother..." The response back was always both sweet and a little puzzled. "That's great", they would say. I think they were patronizing me a bit not really understanding with a 20 year old male brain what it meant to us mothers at home....out connection to each other.

We settled into a long sunlit room to watch the conference together. It was a little odd to be the only female in a room full of priesthood holders. I felt a little like an interloper.

When I pulled out my big bag of candy and started to pass it around one of the elders blurted out,
"American candy! I love you!"
I felt a little less like an outsider, glad to have packed the huge bag. Grateful to have something to offer.

We watched the conference together and I felt the spirit strongly.
Watching the prophet's face filled with light and love I felt like I was not so far away from home anymore.
I wondered if the elders in the room shared a similar feeling.
At any given time during the two hours I saw two sides.
These young men no older than 21 would be joking during the songs or whispering to each other.

But when the prophet or apostles spoke the level of concentration and focus was amazing.
They would sit quietly and intently listening, taking notes and pondering the words.

I felt sheepish that I didn't even have a pen or paper to record my feelings.
After the conference was over I asked them all if I could take a group picture for their mothers.
They all agreed.
Herding them into one place though was like putting worms in a can and I laughed at how quickly they changed from boy to man and back to boy again.
I counted it a great privilege and pleasure to worship with such a wonderful group of young men.

After the conference we headed to the house of Luki and Matias for a very special meal prepared in our honor. When Jack had wrote home he never complained about anything except...
The tamales.
Jack had written home once and described them as full of grisly chicken and as big as your forearm.
They are considered a special occasion food and as a missionary Jack had eaten his fair share of them. 
Todd had made the mistake of saying in his letters that he would like to try one.
Well Jack being Jack made sure that it would be a reality.
Only problem is that being a package deal as husband and wife, it also had to include me.
I was nervous since I had been warned not to eat anything in the members home.
But I knew that no matter what I would have to eat what was placed before me.
When we arrived at Lukis house we were greeted so warmly and with so many smiles that I almost forgot the meal ahead.
 But Luki did not. She and her cook were busy preparing their beautiful plates of tamales wrapped in banana leaves.
 That is Luki laughing in the background because she knew that Jack did not like tamales.

The tamale was everything Jack described in his emails. It was made from a thick white corn paste and in the middle was a piece of chicken. Not pieces of chicken meat cut up but a piece, bones and all, of chicken. I had a hard time recognizing which piece was hidden in mine. I am use to wings and thighs and drumsticks but this was one I had not encountered before. I found that a pinch of salt from the communal salt bowl (they don't use salt shakers and do not have pepper at all) and my glass of Coke helped immensely.  At one point I came to a round dark object inside the tamale. I waited until no one in their family was looking and flipped it on to Jack's plate. I whispered, "What is that?" "It's a prune" he answered as he popped it into his mouth. 
Dang it, I thought. That is something that I would have enjoyed!
Luki's husband Matias finished three tamales while we daintily ate our one.
Luki asked Jack if we wanted another.
She knew that Jack didn't really like them
and I was just a woman, but 
Todd, the tall big man, would probably still be hungry.
We whispered in English finally glad for the language barrier between us and debated whether Todd should eat another one.
"Take one for the team", Jack and I said.
He kindly accepted another tamale on his plate.
What a good man he is....
Dessert was a beautiful Tres Leches cake with fruit swirled in circular patterns.
I was so touched that this family were so giving and loving to share their special feast with us even though our American palates were so unrefined.
We gathered for pictures after the meal.

I thanked Luki through my interpreter Jack for taking such good care of my son.
I fought back tears and hugged her.
I asked them if there was a way that I could send them a copy of the photograph in the mail.
They did not have an address.
They said to just bring a copy with us when we come back.

1 comment:

Leslie said...

Maybe I'll deliver the photo for you when it's our turn to go pick Jordan up! I will FOREVER cherish the photos and your descriptions of you with my boy thousands of miles away. What an experience to be surrounded by all those missionaries! By the way, I've eaten my mom's guatemalan tamales my whole life and they look nothing like the one in your picture. The banana leaf was the only thing that was the same. Only yummy cut pieces of pork in hers with a red pepper/tomato sauce. Delicious! I'll have to take one to Jack when he is at BYU for a taste comparison. Just what he's always wanted....more guatemalan tamales haunting him at home!!