OK, it's not the greatest picture but it is an image of Ben on Skype Christmas Eve. The missionary handbook says they're allowed to call or Skype on Christmas and one other time during the year (usually Mother's Day for Americans). Ben and his companion were able to make arrangements with a member family to use their computer and Skype. The family served them a turkey dinner as well. It is apparently tradition there that the big Christmas dinner is actually on Christmas Eve, and turkey is not unusual for the dinner. Ben bent the rules a bit and went overtime, but none of us minded.
We meant to take notes, but didn't so we'll try to remember some things he talked about. The picture doesn't do him justice, he looked very good and tanned. He says he gained back the weight he lost initially and a little more. The church members feed them lunch, the main meal, daily. For breakfast Ben says he eats lots of fruit which is plentiful and cheap at the outdoor markets. We asked about toast and Ben said it was rare to find sliced bread and sliced bread is rather expensive. He does like the bread though and they eat it frequently. A popular fast food is "compleatos" which are hot dogs with lots of toppings (mayonnaise, ketchup, mustard, onion, avocado, etc.) Ben isn't fond of mayo but he does eat them because they're cheap and filling. There's a place near where he lives that sells a "50 cm compleato" for about $1.00 US. He says the water is safe to drink and he mostly drinks water at home, although he had to get used to the taste. When visiting locals he says they are served soda or juice, never water. He did reference the blood sausage again, and said the taste actually isn't bad, but thinking about what it is makes it unpalatable for him.
Ben held his camera up to the webcam, so we have seen pictures of his house, including the infamous shower. Incidentally Ben reported the shower ran out of gas again that day. The mission office reimburses them for filling the small tanks. His home is a small house, not an apartment. The downstairs has a living room and kitchen and the bedroom is upstairs. The bedroom appeared to be cramped with two bunk beds. Previous to Ben and his companion arriving this place had been home to just two missionaries. There are no closets, but they have requested some shelving from the mission office. The bunk bed that collapsed was apparently ceremoniously burned in the small back yard, something that may not have met the approval of the owner. There was an evidentiary photo. The mission office replaced the bunk bed.
Our Christmas package did arrive but he hadn't opened it yet and he even took off the customs tag, which listed the contents, without looking. There was lots candy included which we told him about and said he could share with his companion and the other companionship. The trainer in the other companionship is from the Dominican Republic and was disowned by his family when he joined the church. He does not get mail from his family and was not expecting anything for Christmas. He did email his family recently but they did not respond. Interestingly, Ben's companion, from Peru, was also not expecting a package but apparently because they don't do that sort of thing. He said his companion was fairly well off and they send him the equivalent of about $150 every month (in addition to his mission funding).
Ben talked about racism in Chile and said it is fairly rampant and visible. We were surprised at that. There are racists against people of African decent, but there is also racism against Caucasians, and against Latinos of other countries. It seems no one is safe.
We did ask him why there were no sister missionaries in his zone. He said there are about 200 missionaries in his mission and only about 20 sisters. The huge influx of missionaries after the recent age change has been about two-thirds sisters, so it is a bit surprising that only about ten percent of his mission is made up of sisters. Ben said sisters are only in the safest areas of the mission, and while Ben's zone is not bad and is far from the least safe, it is apparently not the safest, either.
We asked him about how he gets around, and locally he mostly walks. For meetings at the mission office they take the bus, which is only about a 15 minute ride. They do take taxis sometimes, particularly if all four missionaries are going the same place. If they go to Santiago proper they take a bus then the subway. In larger missions, zone leaders and many times district leaders have cars. Ben said only the two assistants to the president get a car to use there, and they mostly use it to deliver mail. While on that subject, it seems the "pouch mail" system is much slower than we were led to believe. Our letter sent that way have taken upwards of a month, he reported to us he got one dated Nov. 26 that day. We recently began sending them airmail which we assume will be much faster. In my mission days in New Zealand (in the dark ages before electricity, or at least before electronics), airmail took a week to 10 days.
Ben spent some time talking about his daily routine and some of the people they have taught. We asked about finding new people to teach seeing as how the church has been established there for so long. It seemed to us that most people probably would be aware of the church. Everyone in New Zealand knew something about the church, although what they knew wasn't always accurate. Ben said it wasn't that way in there, and that the area was so heavily populated that there were always new people to meet. He did say they still spend a great amount of time visiting the members, many of who are not actively participating in the church. He said on the ward (congregation) list there are about 1,000 members, but there are only about 70 in church on Sunday. He also said that many on the list aren't there any more, some have died, and others don't really want to be associated with the church. When asked if they reported this back to the ward clerk he said they didn't because they didn't really seem to care. In the US, by contrast, the church records are fairly meticulous and most clerks take their assignments seriously.
I'm sure in the amount of time we talked we covered a lot more, but that's all we can recall at the moment.