Monday, May 10, 2010

Mundane Redemption

CTM life could definitely be compared to high school in a lot of senses. I imagine it was a lot like boarding school, although 95% of us never had that experience. All of us were miles from our families and stuck with hundreds of others in similar circumstances. The entire facility was barred up with iron fences painted tree bark brown so as to not let people in or out and everyone was tied to someone.

Lindley and GMB

The idea of solitude would soon become a foreign concept (with the exception of say a bathroom stall). For those eight weeks, you were stuck first, with your companion; and second, with your district. It took some adjusting, but Elder Lindley was seldom out of sight and District 37-A seldom didn’t account for the whereabouts of each of its members. Following the meeting in which we were all assembled for the first time, we were guided to the cafeteria by an instructor who reminded us in excellent English with only a slight Brazilian accent, “Wash your hands before every meal. You are welcome to eat as much as you like here, but don’t forget to swipe your card as you come in. Do not forget that Friday is pizza day. It will be a taste from home.”

The Sisters cut in line as they were instructed as the Elders waited. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that being fair,” Elder Laramie whispered to the other Elders. “I’m 6th of 6 kids, and we all had to fight for our food. It didn’t matter if we were guys or girls.” I gave a reserved chuckle. Considering myself a feminist, I was cautious about the implications of the statement.
We all made our way into the lunchroom eventually. It was a somewhat sterile environment akin to a hospital cafeteria with tile floors in neutral grays and blues and Plexiglas windows. Three times a day you’d grab a plastic tray and make your way through walls of stainless steel shelves pulling out the entrees of your choice, rolls that reminded you of sea shells in shape and often in stiffness, fruits, yogurts, juices, and desserts. Later I’d spot many missionaries examining the food as I did that first week as they were arriving and I became one of the more seasoned missionaries.

Everyone I’d asked about Brazil had said to me, “Prepare for beans and rice every day for two years,” and suddenly there were the beans and rice staring me in the face. The combination seemed a bit odd. In a silent pact, all of us took a scoop of steamed white rice and a scoop of brown beans in our bowls to give it a try. We passed each other smirks, amused by the experience we were suddenly sharing with each other—the tie of being a Americans in Brazil that would be lost on many of us in the weeks and years to come, unfortunately.

The ten of us congregated around a string of tables each sitting next to our assigned companions. We’d gathered in our limited discussion the basics on each other—that Koontz had left a girlfriend at BYU, that Laramie had a twin brother in Portugal on a mission there, that Sister Willis had been planning on a mission since she was a little girl. Although we had our missions and our common culture of being born and raised in the church, it was clear (for better or worse) that we would not end up together as a group had we not been assigned—or called—to become friends.

CTM Cafeteria

Reserved, I sat back most of the day and made observations. I didn’t really have anything to share that I found noteworthy. The farthest I’d been from Utah was Montana. I’d spent all of my time in school or with friends. I grew up in a suburb straddling city and country, past and present. Normal, boring, and un-noteworthy. Lindley was his class president and an avid wakeboarder. Carter had siblings adopted from three different continents. Ballenger sounded like she’d miss football games at the U as much or more than her family. Rockefeller played soccer for ten straight years.

The feeling crept up, as I got to know these people, that I was somehow undefined. The reserved one in the corner from high school. Smart and able to write, but undefined because I did not share out of fear or shame for the mistakes that were visible to me. Angry with my quiet nature, with my excess weight, with my lack of confidence entering social situations, I didn’t want to be me at that point in my life.

Collectively, though, the district didn’t have those problems. We balanced each other out in our eccentricities and our backgrounds (similar as they initially seemed). Being “un-noteworthy” became less and less of a reality as time pressed onward. To that point, I never would have thought my life interesting (let alone believe I’d blog about it regularly), but with my fellow missionaries in the CTM, I was to gain (in the smallest degree) an understanding that the difference between the mundane and the exotic—reality and story—was not as rigid or boring as I’d once thought.


Phunk Factor said...

Wow!! It all sounds so yea, beans n rice aren't that it the same as pea and rice?

Cuz we hav that alot in the asian countries! Anyhow, cool to read from u!

Horizon said...

As someone who has eaten in that cafeteria, everything you said is true, though I am constantly amazed with your memory and ability to recall specific details and conversations.

You mentioned that "the difference between the mundane and the exotic—reality and story—was not as rigid or boring as I’d once thought."

I love this sentence. I agree that most of our reality is based upon and shaped by how we frame things in our minds and to others, whether in reality or fictitious prose.

A Gay Mormon Boy said...

@Phunk Factor: I learned to love beans and rice and would love to have them everyday as I used to.

As for peas and rice, I've never really had them. Asia would be amazing, really.

@Horizon: Thank you for reading on a sentence level. That was huge. Now when I talk about my life-- the places I've been and the people I've met, it means a lot more.

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