Sunday, January 18, 2015

Cultural Adventures

January 18, 2015

It has been more than 2 months since we arrived in Virginia and I am just beginning to adjust to some of the cultural differences......and there are quite a few of those such as language, weather, customer service standards, etc.  

One of the cultural differences I thought I noticed early on was more people smoking than I see in Arizona.   I asked Elder Ashton if he had noticed that and he said he had not.  However, when we stopped to get gas on Tuesday morning, I looked up at the front of the mini mart and saw LOTS of advertisements for tobacco.   I don't know if they still grow tobacco back here or if there connection with it stems from long ago.   How many different tobacco adds do you notice on this storefront?

Streets and roads are another difference back here......we have spent quite a bit of time lost and trying to find our way.  On Tuesday I had an oncologist appointment in Norfolk (the town right next to Portsmouth) and although I had been to Norfolk 4 times, I was a little nervous about finding my way there and back.  You see, roads do not run in straight lines back here.....they curve all around and turn into something entirely different.   But, if I am going to be here for another 15 months, I better find my way around, so I squared my shoulders, put the address in my phone and let Siri guide me to the appointment.   We went under the tunnel and over the bridge and around the military circle and ended up right where I needed to be with no wrong turns  - then repeated the process coming back to the office.   That coupled with the doctor telling me everything looks good and I don't need to come back for 6 months made for a GREAT day.....and I found a new best friend back here - her name is Siri:) Actually I met some very nice ladies at the doctors office and had some pleasant conversations with them.   Being a cancer survivor seems to give us an instant bond with each other.   The two ladies I talked to were trying hard not to stare at my missionary badge so I explained to them that I am from Arizona and back here serving as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.   One of them asked me if the church made me come back here and was kind of shocked when I told her we volunteered to serve.   One of them came from London, England 35 years ago and still has a lovely British accent.  I enjoy meeting new people and learning about their cultures!

Another difference is the weather.  I've mentioned before that we get lots of rain and gray skies and that the weather changes quite often.  When we walked out of the apartment on Wednesday morning we were greeted with the remnants of freezing rain.  

If you look closely at the above picture you can see the tiny icicles that formed on our patio railing.

When we got to the truck we were greeted with ice patterns that had formed all over the truck.  I thought it was beautiful, but it was really COLD!   And as I sit here typing this today, I hear the wind howling outside - guess I better dress accordingly before heading out the door for church :)

One of the locals told us that even though they get one or two ice storms every year and even a snow storm or two, the towns and counties are not prepared to deal with it.  Most of the area schools had a two hour start delay on Wednesday and some of the missionaries down in North Carolina had to be confined to their apartments because the driving conditions were too hazardous.   You can't go hardly anywhere here without having to cross a bridge or two and they are treacherous when it is icy.

It was cloudy when I got up this morning and by the time we left for church at 10:45 it was raining in buckets.   I was soaked through on my left side from shoulder to toes and my hair was really wet ---- even though I was carrying an umbrella.   However, by the time we left church 3 hours later the sun had broken through and it has turned out to be a rather pleasant day.   Looking forward to sunshine for the next two days before we have another day of rain on Wednesday if weather predictions are correct.

I am very interested in the different flora back here - some of it is fascinating to me and I can spend lots of time contemplating what makes the specific plant grow like it does.   I really like the look of the trees below....seems like they grow in tiers and sort of remind me of something you might see on the plains of Africa. (They are called longleaf pine).

One of the interesting things about these trees is that they have a very tall, straight trunk before the branches begin when they are mature.   However, when they are babies, they start out to look like grass and as they grow they sort of look like any other pine tree, until they get more mature where you see the longer trunk.   We have what I would call a teen-age tree outside our front window.....the needles are really long and fall off the trees leaving a thick carpet of pine needles.  

This is what it looks like as a baby

This is the end of a branch on our "teen-age" long leaf pine outside our front window.  I think the needles are about 4" long.

Another tree that is quite common around here is this one.   The missionaries told me it is a gum tree.....don't know if that is correct or not.

This was just one of a number of these trees located at the Great Dismal Swamp rest area/visitor's center where we stopped on Saturday morning.

The parking lot was littered with these seed pods from the trees......I wouldn't want to step on that with my bare feet!!!

I try to process rent payments for all the missionary apartments about the middle of the month prior to the rent being due on the 1st of the month.   That was my task for Friday and it took me most of the day to validate that I was paying rent on the right apartments.   We have lost more missionaries than we have gained in the last 2 transfers so we are closing up some of the apartments and moving some missionaries from one apartment to another in the same it has been a little challenging to keep up with all the changes and get those entered in the software.   I spent about an hour conferring with the housing coordinator to make sure I knew what all the changes were, about an hour updating the information in the software and then another 1.5 hours validating that I had made all the changes correctly (I am famous for transposing numbers when I type them so I wanted to make sure I hadn't made any of those mistakes.   Finally, about 2 p.m. on Friday I was ready to process the payment for 94 apartments and pay the utility bills for another 7 apartments that had come in the mail.  I also had to contact our apartment manager who left a note on our door indicating the water bill had not been after I contacted Salt Lake to make sure they had sent the check and that it had been cashed, I called and talked to the manager....he had credited the whole payment they received to the apartment for the other senior couple who lives in this complex but assured me that wouldn't happen again.  Even though it can be frustrating to get calls about unpaid bills, I really do enjoy working to solve the problems and seeing a successful outcome!

Elder Ashton had been busy helping two sets of missionaries who had called to report they had been in accidents and when he got that taken care of he was getting "antsy" so I suggested he leave for awhile and go for a bike ride.   I only had to make the suggestion once and he was headed out the door......said he got a 15 mile ride in and I could tell his stress level was lower - until the phone rang about 15 minutes later and it was another missionary reporting he and his companion had been in an accident and the companion was in the ambulance ready to go to the hospital.   As Elder Ashton tried to talk to the missionary who was reporting the accident, he could tell that the missionary was very confused so Elder Ashton told him he thought he should go to the hospital to be checked out.   Then Elder Ashton had to call the Mission President who was in North Carolina at the southern end of the mission where he had spent the week interviewing missionaries.    My understanding is that the President came home, either that evening or the next morning......Elder Ashton and I went ahead with our plans to feed dinner to the two Elders (missionaries) that work around here.   I fixed sloppy joes and the fixings and gave them home-made chocolate chip cookies for dessert.   They said they liked the food and we had a pleasant visit with them.  BUT, I am such a mom - I didn't sleep very well on Friday night as I kept waking up and worrying about all those missionaries that had been in accidents.  One is a young man from Chile who has only been here a couple of months.   He seems quiet and shy and I kept thinking about him being in a big hospital where he didn't know anyone and his care-givers could not speak his native language.   His leg is broken and both Elders had concussions but it is my understanding they have both been released and the Elder from Chile will see an orthopedic surgeon this week.   Worrying about "my missionaries" is almost as bad as worrying about my own kids/grandkids/great-grandkids :)

When we go on our sight seeing adventures, I sometimes feel like I am a bobble-head with my head going back and forth trying to take in all the sights and yesterday was no exception.  We decided to combine work with play as Elder Ashton needed to deliver a car to a couple of missionaries in Edenton, North Carolina.   Their car needed an inspection for the state of Virginia (because it is licensed here) and through some mix-up didn't get the inspection when they were up here a couple of weeks Elder Ashton got the assignment to deliver the car.  We left mid-morning on Saturday to drive the approximately 70 miles to Edenton.....but it is not like driving the freeways out west.  Most of the freeways here have a speed limit of 55 or 60.....Elder Ashton was really excited when we came to a stretch (about 10 miles) where it was 70 mph!

The first place we stopped was at the Great Dismal Swamp rest area/visitor's center.   We stopped to look at an old "locomotive" that was used to harvest wood from the swamp.

Do you notice the manufacturer's name?

I then started along a short walkway and stopped to read the sign....

I was considering walking the nature trail and thought I could probably make it the entire quarter mile, but when I read the final phrase on the sign, my legs suddenly felt too weak to walk 1/4 mile and I started clearing my throat to make sure I would be able to scream loudly if I came across any snakes! ;-)

The water appeared very murky to me and I was looking intensely to see if I could find any snakes.   Since there was no information about alligators being in this swamp, I decided it must be too cold for them here.   We did learn that the area is heavily populated with black bears, wild cats, and poisonous snakes.

We picked up some literature in the visitor center before heading on down to Edenton (another 25 miles and learned that the area we had just seen is known as the Dismal Swamp Canal.   Originally the Dismal Swamp was believed to cover over 1,000,000 acres.   In 1763 George Washington suggested draining the swamp and digging the canal to open up better transportation on the water (mostly for the harvest of lumber.)  Construction (digging) commenced on the canal in 1793.  The canal is 22 miles long and was totally dug by hand, mostly by slaves.   It connected Edenton, North Carolina (a shipping port) with Chesapeake Bay.  It is the longest operating hand dug canal in the country.  The canal and the swamp it runs through have a storied history - it was strategic in civil war battles and strategy and was also home to several maroon (run-away) slave colonies.   It became a part of the maritime underground railroad for run-away slaves to reach the north.

I also learned that the water is not black as it appears but is called amber water.   Some of the acids that leach out of the cypress and cedar tree bark turn the water an amber color (about like tea) and the water was thought to have healing powers.   Ship captains would take kegs of the water on long voyages because it remained potable for a long period of time.

We left the visitor's center (without seeing any snakes) and went on to Edenton.   Since we arrived a little after noon, we offered to take the Elders to lunch....they got big smiles on their face when we offered to do that.   I was asking them about their service there and they told me there is a branch of the church in Edenton with about 100 members of record but they generally get between 25 and 40 people to church.   They said the economy is quite depressed and there are not many jobs since the peanut plant closed down and with so few active members they don't get very many dinner appointments.  In fact, Elder Garcia said he "cooks" lots of sandwiches but also said he loves being there.   The young people are so enthusiastic about sharing the gospel and working hard - and having a good time while doing it.

We dropped the Elders off so they could go to their 2 p.m. appointment and traded out cars.   Then Elder Ashton and I decided to spend a little more time exploring Edenton......Elder Ashton was having a great time taking pictures of headstones in the small cemeteries around and I was having a great time taking pictures of historic homes and buildings.

Although there have been a few changes made to the courthouse, it is still substantially the same as it was when it was constructed in 1767.   Samuel Johnston who represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress and the Senate and owned a plantation near Edenton, heard cases here and Joseph Hewes, a signer of the Declaration of Independence was one of the original commissioners assigned to raise money for the courthouse.   I didn't get a chance to go in, but we intend to go back on another Saturday and I certainly plan to tour the inside then!  I think it would be very interesting to see such historic halls of justice.

As you can see from the two photos above, the Baptist Parsonage that was built in 1889 has been transformed into a bed and breakfast.  There are a number of the historic homes that have been turned into "Inns" , some are private residences and several are for sale.   Those that have been restored look beautiful from the outside!

I love the detail on the old homes.....and marvel at how they could make them so  beautiful without all of today's power tools, etc.

Many of the homes fly a U.S. flag and have rattan chairs or rocking chairs on the wide porches.

Circa for most of the homes was late 1700's to mid 1800's however one was 1903.

Sign explaining the history of the Edenton lighthouse.

I have been surprised to learn that not all lighthouses are tall circular buildings.   I found the architecture of this one very interesting....and although I did not go inside, Elder Ashton indicated there was two bedrooms upstairs, a kitchen and a parlor downstairs so it must have been constructed expecting that the lighthouse operator would live there.

I laughed when I saw these seagulls perched on the end of the walkway - seemed like they were pretending to look for food in the water while hoping that some tourist would drop food that they could eat instead :)

The same group of seagulls with a motor boat enjoying the day on the sound in the background.

I did not have enough energy left to do any more walking around so we decided to head back to Chesapeake and the apartment.   As we drove north, I looked out the passenger side window and saw more swamp land all along the road.....I could see where they had cut down trees that were growing in the water and had not hauled them away yet, also saw some men hauling off old wood.   I wondered how they could build a smooth 4 lane divided highway across that swampy land (swamp on both sides of the road.....Elder Ashton said they must have hauled in lots of dirt.

We stopped once again at the swamp and walked along a different board walk but didn't see much because they were getting ready to close in 30 minutes.   Elder Ashton and I will be visiting both these areas again - he has some biking paths he wants to ride and some cemeteries he wants to image and I would like to explore the swamp a little more and go inside some of the historic buildings.  

One of the swampy areas as seen from the boardwalk.

I loved this mirror image of the trees in the Dismal Canal.

As I spend time among the people of this region and visit historical places, I am learning to appreciate how easy and blessed my life has been.   Some periods in history must have been extremely difficult and I am blessed to be the recipient of blessings brought about by the sacrifices of many of those who went before me.

And I think I'm on the verge of adopting the language so I encourage "all y'all" to contemplate the blessings you have because of the sacrifices of those who went before you.


  1. Great post, Carol...I've spent quite a bit of time in this part of the country - North Carolina and surrounding areas and I love the architecture the colonial homes and gingerbread trim, the big wide porches. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. I love hearing about your weeks. I feel like I could face the kind of mission you're having. Hope you have better weather and no more rain for a while...especially of the freezing variety!!

  2. Great post Carol. But I have a question: it seems that you feed the missionaries quite regularly. Don't the members feed them? Or is it because there aren't as many members there as there are here so you have to fill in the blank dates?

  3. We feed the missionaries on a somewhat regular basis. We have a set of elders and a set of sisters assigned to our ward and I made a goal to feed each set at least once a month. We have a fairly active ward as far as attendance but it is like many other wards when it comes to projects......I think the saying is that 20% of the people do 80% of the work. I always enjoy having the missionaries but it is kind of hard to find time to cook.....they usually want to eat at 5:30 and many days we don't leave the office until almost 5 so that wouldn't work. I try to plan ahead so I have them on a day that works better with our schedule.