I Will Praise My Lord: Of German Priests and Open Sewers

The next day started with Beck trying really hard to stick with the program: up by 6:00, two hours of companionship study, and out on the streets knocking doors by 9:30. I was beginning to think that the next 16 months were going to be just like the MTC: long and exhausting with a companion who would rigidly stick by every rule and regulation. I started worrying that maybe I’d stop being myself; maybe I’d become what they seemed to want me to be in the MTC: a gospel-teaching machine.

When we got to lunch, we sat down at the table. The Galarreta kids were watching “Los Beverly Ricos” on the TV. Beck looked at me and let out a long sigh. “The heck with this. I can’t do this anymore.” With that, he called the oldest kid over and said, “Can you go down to the corner tienda and get us a liter of Coke?”

Suddenly, I relaxed. He was human after all, and I was going to be OK. I wasn’t going to become a machine, after all. By evening, I was tired, and my nose was badly sunburned, but Beck and I were starting to become friends. After dinner, we had no appointments, so we sat on a low wall by a concret basketball court at the edge of town, talking as the sun went down over the western range of the Andes. We could see lightning way off in the distance toward the southwest. “It must be raining somewhere in Peru,” Beck said.

We talked about our homes, our families, where we went to school (me to BYU, Beck to Utah), and what we wanted to do when we got home; he told me not to think about that, as I had a lot longer left than he did. After a while we just sat in silence, watching the distant storm reflected in the snowy peaks.

At 8:00 a loudspeaker suddenly squawked, and I nearly jumped out of my skin.

“What was that?” I asked.

“Just wait,” laughed Beck. “You’ll see.”

The local Catholic priest began his Thursday night program, his Spanish delivered in a cheerfully heavy German accent. He gave a few minutes of inspirational message and then began strumming his guitar:

Alabaré, alabaré, alabaré, alabaré, alabaré a mi Señor.

Todos unidos, siempre cantaremos
Glorias y alabanzas al Señor.
Gloria al Padre, gloria al Hijo,
Gloria al Espíritu de Amor

Villa Adela from the air

Somehow his singing and praising God had destroyed the mood. The moon was rising over Illimani as we walked back to the apartment. It was especially cold tonight, and when we got home I finally pulled my down jacket from my suitcase and put it on.

“Where on earth did you get that?” asked Beck, suddenly not so smug in his warm chullu.

“A guy in my German class at BYU told me it was the one thing I should bring. I’d never be sorry I had it.” And I never was. I wore it every day in La Paz. Yes, it was against mission rules, but I figured I was still dressed nicer than most of the people we saw every day. I even had a couple of missionaries offer to buy it from me. Nothing doing. That warm jacket saved me during that cold La Paz winter.

“We’re doing a split today,” announced Beck when I got back from bathing. “I have to do an interview in Rio Seco, so you get to work with Henderson.” Didn’t matter to me, since I had no idea who that was. We got dressed. On the way to the bus, we took a detour to the runway at the airport. As an Eastern Airlines jet took off, Beck did a strange sort of two-handed salute.

“What was that?” I asked.

“It’s tradition. When you see a plane take off, you salute with as many fingers as you have months left. I’m down to three hands, but you’re still on four. You’re never getting out of here,” he laughed.

We took the bus to La Ceja, where we met Henderson and his companion, Wolfgramm, a guy who had been in my “culture class” at the MTC just a few weeks before. Henderson and I got back on the bus. I wasn’t sure what to make of him: shorter than I am (and I’m pretty short), rail thin and sunburned (like everyone else), Henderson looked like he should still be in junior high.

We rode about 5 minutes before he said anything to me. “I hate Bolivians!” he said. “Bunch of cocksuckers, every god-damned one of them.”

I just sat there, staring at him and hoping nobody on the bus spoke English. We had one appointment that morning, so when we got off the bus, we went to a house where Beck and his previous companion had been teaching three teenagers: two girls and their younger brother. They wouldn’t let us in because they didn’t know either one of us, so I said, “I guess we have nothing better to do than knock doors.”

“Screw that,” said Henderson. We ended up going to the corner store and buying a couple of Cokes and some alfajores from Argentina.

At lunch he actually liked the french fry soup and the stew (which Beck had begun calling “dark, filthy, and loathsome stew,” in honor of a well-known passage in the Book of Mormon). It was better than what they were eating, he said. I didn’t think I wanted to know what they were eating.

After lunch we got back on the bus and rode to Henderson’s area. Wolfgramm opened the door and immediately asked, “Do you remember how that guy in culture class said that everyone had running water and electricity and that there were no open sewers? Well, we don’t have running water or electricity. See that bucket over there? That’s our toilet, and every time I use it, I have to take it outside and dump it into the open sewer that runs in front of our house. If I ever see that guy again, I’m going to beat the crap out of him.”

On the bus back to Villa Adela, we met some German tourists. They asked in very broken English if we knew where their friend the priest lived. In my broken German (two semesters’ worth from BYU), I told them how to get to the little chapel with the big loudspeakers. Across the street from the apartment, a movie was playing at a small brick building ironically named “Gran Cine Ross.” All evening the wind battered the windows, though I could hear bits of movie dialogue and laughter when the wind changed direction. They sounded happier than I was. But all in all, I was OK. I was surviving.


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