Dear Mom and Dad,
Life is great. Crazy, very different but Great! I arrived in Abaiang on Dec. 31. To my surprise, when I got off of the plane after a 12 minute flight, there was a crowd of people waiting for me. Seating was random and I just happened to be the 2nd to last one off the plane. They were afraid that I'd missed it again, so when I finally came out they started applauding, then they gave me one of those cool flower head tiara things. Everyone, especially my new comp. was thrilled to see me. It was a sweet welcome.
The next day we started work, and I was introduced to one of our big problems, which is that my comp and I are both 18 year old UT boys and he has only been out one transfer longer than me, so we're still figuring out some culture things. That day it was raining all day long. We biked to Borotiam (Bro-sum). It's about an hour ride and by the end we were soaked to the bone. Water was streaming down our hair and faces. However it is against culture to go into somebody's 'house' wet. We were not able to teach at all that day. We were trying to decide if we were doing the right thing that day. But things like that show how much stronger the culture is here than on Tarawa.
The next day (Friday) I was introduced to our second biggest problem. I was thrown a welcome party. (It was so cool that they applauded when I got off the plane and then threw me a party.) They love parties here and have one almost every week. It was crazy. One member here has 2 massive speakers and if it has been sunny there is enough power in the battery for it to last for hours.
They do a thing that they call the Swiss (probably spelled Tuiti). Basically you go up to someone not dancing and signal that you want to dance with them, then you dance in the same relative region as them, but usually totally separate. It's usually silly American dancing with the occassional relaxed Kiribati dancing. I quickly stole my new companion's thunder for being a 'great' dancer. They do other fun music games, but the Swiss is the most common. The culture here is cool in that you can swiss someone of your own age or a baby or an old lady or a married lady, or a little boy or anyone else that happens to be in the room and it is totally chill.
The dancing in itself is a problem, and then there is the fact that they never want it to end. We started trying to leave at 10 and immediately got death stares from everyone in the room. They ended it 'early' just for us at about 11:30. For some reason it seems to be very against the culture here to obey any sort of rules. They call previous missionaries that obey the rules 'buakaka' which means 'bad' or 'evil'. It's kinda scary.
Now, we really want the ward to like us because then they will help us, give us food referrals and food. They get so mad when we try to leave early or if we don't show up. It's even worse that our house is in a compound with the church. So we do our best to be good and leave at 11, but we just cry inside when they say that there is a game night. Ah well, we struggle together. There is a line that we try to find between culture and us doing what they want to make them happy. I've been reading in Alma where they left their culture and the traditions of their fathers behind to join the truth. Then afterwards they were fully converted and would rather be tortured to death than hold a sword. They were perfectly honest in all things. However, maybe my faith is weak, but I don't know if that will work here. The members, even the strongest ones like the branch president, have shown no inclination to be prepared in that way. (unlike Tiiwini and some others.)
Anyhow, now to a happy note. The starts here are literally the most incredible things I have ever seen. The first night I truly saw them was when we were biking home after a successful day. We went to the airport to see if we'd gotten any letters. The airport is one of the few large cleared fields on the island so there were no trees to block the stars on this perfectly clear night. I was speechless. I was seeing ssoooo many stars that I've never seen before. The milky way was like a glowing highway. There were so many stars that I almost couldn't pick out Orion. So someday when I'm rich and....... probably not famous, I'll make a nice vacation spot with my telescope out here. It is clear almost every night so even with the trees, I get a great view. Most everyone on the island have a small solar panel and battery and usually one single 4 led light square and that's all. So light pollution isn't much of a problem.
Baptisms are my favorite as they always are, but especially here. First of, literally every time there is a baptism, I am surprised by how small it is. Here, usually Elder Miller and I give 5 minute talks, then we go to the ocean and do the baptism, then we go back, change close in prayer and sing and it is done. But also every time, I feel the spirit so strong. Even with the wind blowing and waves crashing against me, I can still feel a tender spirit testifying to me that even though it is small and simple it is of eternal significance.
Ok, the ocean. The island is on a shelf that goes 2-300 years out to sea, then it drops off. At low tide you can walk all 300 yd and the water will only get up to your shins/knees. (We did a service once in finding shell fish, that is how I know.) You can imagine my surprise when for my 1st baptism I walked out 10 feet and the water was already to my waist/chest. Since it is the ocean there is a constant stream of waves, but they aren't powerful. Of all the 3 chapels, the farthest distance to walk is maybe 300 yards to the ocean. Really, you never escape the ocean here. The water is beautiful, clear, and warm. It's very picturesque. Plus, the font is never empty!
In Betio I had 2 sets of parents. One was just a 'mom', Nei Bungintei. The other was a mom and dad, Tebora and Maraki. They are both relatively well off, but the night before I left, Maraki tried to give me a bucket full of good food (spam and noodles and such.) I told him that my suitcase was full to over flowing and I almost couldn't zip it. So I expressed my thanks, but I didn't take it. 2 weeks later some high councilmen from the stake came over on a boat. You can imagine my surprise when a guy gave me a bucket and said "You have a gift from your family!" Oh, it made me so happy. I love them so much. So, I really am taken care of. I have a companion that helps me, and family that supports me from both sides of the globe.
Thank you so much for your prayers, letters and unending support. I love you both so very much and more than you know.