My second companion was Hermana C who had also served in my first area. We both got transferred back to the city of Las Palmas together, to the horrible piso (apartment) I had seen during my first day in the mission. There were two bedrooms, one that was used as a dressing room and shared closet, a tiny kitchen, a living area with a telephone, and a bathroom. The bathroom didn’t have a shower head, and the shower hose didn’t connect to the wall. You just held it up and hosed off with it. There was also no curtain, and no real tub – you stood in a square basin that had tile built up around it, like a very small bathtub. We also had to wash our clothes in this, by hand, because we didn’t have access to a washing machine. Usually I would just put some shampoo in with my clothes and some water and stomp around on them like Lucy’s Italian episode where she is stomping the grapes. Then we would hang our clothes up on a line in the air shaft outside the window, on lines hung in our apartment, or draped over furniture.
The windows opened like shutters into a shared air shaft in the middle of the building. We had no open views in this piso. Large brown cockroaches would occasionally fly in through the open bathroom window and had to be dispatched. Sometimes we would crush them. Other times we would drown them in shampoo. They were sturdy and hard to kill.
The entrance to our piso had a locking gate, presumably for safety, which actually made me feel more unsafe. Right across from this gate was a giant graffiti penis that greeted us every day. It made it easy to remember which entrance was ours. It was definitely the worst place I had ever been in, let alone lived in, up to this point in my life, although I know some of the elders living in the port had worse situations.  We weren’t very far from the mission home which was actually in a very nice neighborhood, but there was clearly no zoning law governing the types of housing. The mission home was near the end of a street with spectacular views of the city and the port, in an area called Las Escaleritas (the Stairs). We sometimes would ascend or descend here if we were heading to the capilla (chapel). There was a shanty town constructed right at the end of the street of expensive homes with families crammed into small ramshackle constructions made out of corrugated metal and boxes pieced together into a community. There were probably 30 families living there in a small block that smelled of urine and feces.
I was nervous about working with Hermana C after our time together in Lanzarote. She was very different from me, very emotional and serious. I didn’t know how to deal with someone who cried a lot. It made me very uncomfortable. She was mostly sweet, though, and I could tell that she loved the people and had a good heart. We developed a few habits like eating a chocolate covered croissant every day for breakfast, bought at a nearby bakery, and putting honey and butter on it. Breakfasts in the Canaries were always an adventure because the milk there is full of preservatives and sold off a shelf (not refrigerated) in a box. When you pour it out, it looks like white paint. They also didn’t have a lot of our familiar American sugary cereals. So I was always trying to come up with non-cereal alternatives. There was a bakery just up the block from our piso. 
When we got there, the exiting sisters (both Spaniards) handed off some investigators they had been working with which was great for us. They sternly warned us not to let things slip with these people they had been teaching. I could tell they didn’t trust us not to screw it up. We did pretty well at adopting their investigators, although we didn’t baptize that month. That, and the fact that I was only with Hermana C for 3 weeks is why I have no pictures of us together. 
In addition to me being in my second month, I quickly discovered that Hermana C had never been trained in Spanish, something that I hadn’t realized when we were in Lanzarote since I never did splits with her. Now it made sense why she was always saying “Puxa vida!” which was a Portuguese phrase, not Spanish. Our mission was newly created, less than a year earlier, and half of it was the Spain-owned Canary Islands, and the other half was the Portugal-owned Azores and Madeira. We also had another island nation, Cape Verde (also Portuguese-speaking). While our missionaries were divided between Spanish-speaking and Portuguese-speaking, Portugal was not as fast and free with approving Visas for missionaries, so most of the Portuguese-trained missionaries had to serve in the Spanish side for at least several months. This was doubtless another reason the Spanish sisters were nervous about turning over their teaching pool to us!
Our area was also very steep and physically demanding, and I was in better shape than she was which made us both very tired by the end of the day , often too tired to look up the words and phrases we couldn’t understand. We were teaching one man who was very kind to us and gave us rides everywhere. He kept saying “No me quiero equivocar” whenever we would push for a commitment. We would assure him “No te vas a equivocar,” and then as soon as we were alone we’d say, “We really need to look up the word equivocarse!” Neither of us knew what he was saying! I thought it was probably like in English, meaning he didn’t want to be wishy-washy, but it really was more about not wanting to make a mistake. We never did get to the bottom of his issues.
I remember that when he would give us a ride downtown (a ruse we would sometimes use as an excuse to talk to him), there was a big billboard we passed every time that was a topless woman with her hands behind her head, looking relaxed. This was one of the most mild forms of ubiquitous nudity. The ports were also full of pornographic post cards, tee shirts, and souvenirs as well as sex shops. While I had a decent poker face, it was a little disconcerting the amount of graphic sex and nudity I saw on a daily basis–and not just the graffiti outside our piso! Nobody local remarked on it, and soon it stopped being very noticeable, although every once in a while it would just be there at an inopportune time. Things are actually much different now that I’ve been back. The shops are more discreet and clean with scenic postcards.
It might have also been a lack of language skills that led to us not realizing that one of our investigators, Mari Carmen, was going to feed us at our appointment. We had stopped in a bar for a pretty big lunch of sandwiches and fries, and then when we got to our appointment, MaCarmen had a full meal spread out. She didn’t have much money, so it was an honor to be fed by her, and I wouldn’t dream of offending her. She was a sometime prostitute with two tween daughters to take care of. She had prepared squid in a brown sauce served over potatoes. It was really good, although we were both already completely full, and I could also tell Hermana C wasn’t too happy about the squid which included leg clusters. I gave her a quick pep talk to just eat it and be polite, which she did. After I drank the glass of milk (milk! on a full stomach!), MaCarmen quickly went to refill it, and I put my hand over the glass and said I was very satisfied and didn’t want any more. She said I should drink it “por tu mami” by which she meant to make my boobs bigger. I laughed at that and said I was OK with my boobs as they were. I had to explain to my companion what she said after we left because she didn’t catch it. My language skills were finally starting to come around!
After we left, we were simply miserable from being so full. We did in fact have another appointment, but it was later. It took us 45 minutes to walk back to our piso even though it normally only took about 10. When we got there I said to Hermana C, “Look, we can’t work like this. We need to go make ourselves throw up or we’re going to miss that appointment.” I got a spoon and went in first. After, she did. We definitely felt better after we threw up, and we did make it to our evening appointment. It was a bonding experience.
The elders would call us every night to check in, which I thought was kind of asinine since we were always fine. Since they didn’t have a phone, they had to call from a pay phone, and we couldn’t call them. It felt like 19 year olds were being asked to babysit us when we were the older ones with more worldly experience. One evening, before they called, she mentioned she wanted to talk to them. When they did call I was in the kitchen and the phone rang and rang, so I finally went back to the hall by the bedroom to get it. The lights were out in the bedroom, and Hermana C was sitting in there on the bed in the dark. I couldn’t see her face, but I asked repeatedly if she wanted to talk to the elders. Finally I said to them, “I guess not,” and I hung up and walked back into the bedroom to go to bed. She was upset with me and yelled out between sobs, “I wanted to talk to them!” I didn’t know what she was upset about, and she didn’t want to say. Eventually we just went to sleep, but I kind of had one eye open after that, unsure what to say or do to deal with her outburst.
We were only together for three weeks. Toward the end, she wanted to write a letter to Elder W from our Lanzarote district to let him know how much he meant to her, and how much he had helped her. She wanted to ask President’s permission to send this letter. I thought that sounded like a terrible idea and couldn’t imagine President would agree to let her send this letter. I figured she should either send it or not, but talking to President was a non-starter. But I also felt a little protective of her. Although I didn’t say this, it seemed to me that Elder W might think it was weird; he was someone I considered, rightly or wrongly, to be out of her league. She said “He needs to know.” I said “No, he doesn’t.” She did talk to the President, and he did deny her request to send the letter. I believe she gave it to him anyway. As it turned out, Elder W was a great guy who simply loved women and would never have judged her harshly for this. My fears for her were unfounded. I think he was even a little bit smitten with her, or at least flattered.
She cried a lot when we were companions and was very easily upset which made me uncomfortable. I tended to think that the cure was always getting back to work, that any time wallowing in the apartment was only going to make things worse. I wasn’t very empathetic about emotional people on the mission, even on the rare occasion when I was one. This ended up driving a wedge into my pen pal relationship with my crush who was serving in the Netherlands where teaching opportunities were scarce and the mission culture was much more difficult than ours was, but that’s a tale for another day. At this point in my mission, things were still mostly rosy at home. I had a great boyfriend waiting for me back at BYU. I had a pen pal crush who gave me pep talks and listened to my complaints, sharing his own stories and wisdom with me and sending me cool keepsakes from northern Europe. And I had plenty of interesting people to teach who were trying to better their lives and needed our help.
- If you served a foreign-speaking mission, when did you really start to pick up the language?
- Were you surprised by your exposure to the unsavory, hidden parts of culture that you see as a missionary–things like prostitution, pornography, unsafe areas, shanty towns, etc.?
- How did you find a way to bond with a companion who was very different from you?
- How did you deal with emotions as a missionary?
 My husband who also served in the same mission was in a piso where they found a dead junkie in the hallway with a needle still in his arm, and their neighbor across the air shaft slit his wife’s throat one day. One of the missionaries mentioned this in a letter home, and was wisely told by President not to alarm his mother. (Sort of like “What happens in the mission stays in the mission.”) However, they did find a new apartment after that.
 From my tracker sheet dated June 5-11, 1989, my food expenses in pesetas (which preceded Euros): .555 (Basico grocery store), .375 (pizza), .125 (fries / fritas), .900 (Basico groceries), .200 (pollo y papas – chicken & potatoes), .300 (yogurt), .485 (cereal), .510 (croissanteria), .150 (bread), .150 (pollo), .120 (bread). US equivalent is roughly one decimal to the right, so the cereal would be about $4.85. Other expenses: .465 (Nivea lotion), .350 (chapa – new name tag), .300 (stamps), .750 (proselyting materials – to make teaching aids). Transportation expenses: .200 (bus / taxi), .100 (bus), .700 (bus tickets), .150 (taxi). Our piso in Schamann cost about half as much in rent as our piso in Lanzarote had, $200 instead of $400 per month.
 From my tracker for the week of June 5-11, 1989, here’s what we accomplished: 6 people in our teaching pool, 5 Books of Mormon given out, three 1st discussions, three 2nd discussions, one 3rd discussion, one 5th discussion. We were busy! By contrast, missionaries in northern Europe sometimes didn’t have any teaching appointments in a week.
 I’m a fast walker, and slowing down to match her lethargic pace made me feel tired and impatient; this was an occasional problem I had with companions. Even now I hate having to walk slowly. In our family we call it the “museum crawl” when you have to shuffle along with a crowd of tourists who are languidly looking at things. It drives me batty. Living in Asia much later (from 2010-2013 as an expat) was tough–people there are used to slow walking in a crowd.