I will be completely honest, when I started pioneering at age 16 I did not really imagine that I would still be pioneering a decade later. It is not so much that I did not want to pioneer that long, but I think I kind of assumed that something would eventually come into my life that would force me to quit. Ten years on and many, many adversities later I am still am blessed to be among the ranks. Despite all of the hard times, there have been far more good times than bad. One of those occurred last year in September 2012 when I was invited to go back to Pioneer School for the second time. Now many months later, I finally have found the time to finish this blog post about my experiences. I do not want to go into great detail here as I have many other blog posts to finish (i.e. Wedding!) so I will just outline a few of the highlights and let you ask me personally for more details. Enjoy!
- Six of us from Buenos Aires English were invited (Carlos, Bobie, and Mariana as first timers, Carmen, Diana and myself as second timers)
- 9 years of pioneering for myself, Carmen and Diana
- Class totally in Spanish!!!
- Had book only in Spanish, but pdf in English.
- the winner for best character in a leading role goes to “a certain sister” returning to class for the second time, who arrived late every day, used her 1970s book from her firs time through to avoid having to study again, told the instructor he was wrong, missed morning sessions because tango lessons the night before ran late, etc.
For me, nothing was more “exciting” than the fact that everything was in Spanish…oh wait, I meant terrifying! You would think after all of these years living in a Spanish speaking country I would be comfortable in Spanish. But this fails to take into account that I never do anything in Spanish. All my meetings, preaching, friends, parties, even my wife all operate in English. I pretty much only use my Spanish when ordering pizza or buying a ticket for the bus…and those moments are usually sufficiently handled by one or two oft-repeated phrases.
After my first day I managed to get a comment or two off in Spanish (about 5 year old level) so I was feeling pretty good about myself. Then it occurred to me that eventually I was going to have to pray in Spanish.
I was relieved when the instructors started going in order of our names for who said prayer. After taking a quick survey of names in class, I felt that with Ds on both my names I would safe until at least day 5, by which time I would have had time to practice….oh how wrong I was.
Come day 2 I am running just a bit late. I come in right as the CO is starting the class for the day. As I walk past Carlos (brother from my hall) he whispers into my ear, “Dude, the CO wants you to say the next prayer.” Seeing as I thought we had already started I thought he was just being nice and giving me a heads up for the after lunch prayer. So I just smile, say “ok, no problema” and then sit down…Then Carlos leans over again and says “No dude, he means now”. With my eyes as wide open as Bambi in front of a spotlight I look up to see Brother Hector motioning with his hand saying, “Bueno, Dominick adelante por favor, esperemos…” 😐 I begin to think of what could possibly serve as my “awkward moment emergency parachute”, but after quickly looking around to see everyone already with head bowed and eyes peeking a look to see what is the hold up, I quickly realize there is no rip cord for me to pull to get me out of this situation…
As to whether or not I succeeded at my Spanish prayer attempt I do not really know. All I can say is that my classmates and instructors tried their hardest afterwards to convince that I had…Good people they be…
The Food Experience
So everyone knows that pioneer school calls for 2 weeks of unabashed piggery when it comes to gorging yourself on the delectable creative competition between the various congregations for the title of “best lunch” of the class. I have experience this first hand during my first trip to pioneer school and needless to say I was looking forward to experiencing this in Argentina more than anything else…Unlike the course material, I was pretty sure I could understand and fully benefit from food in Spanish 🙂 Before I continue, I want to make clear that I believe our brothers and sisters surely loved us dearly…I have no doubt that their love for us was genuine and that they would have done anything for us to help make things better. That being said… Our food was…um…not exactly what I expected. 😐 Let me list for you what we had during the course of the class:
- 3 days of empanadas
- 2 of them only cold ones
- 2 days of pizza
- One day of cold pizza (by this I mean intentionally served cold…think pizza from the grocery store that you made last night and then stored in the fridge over night
- One day of “Chicken salad” (This consisted of 9 parts mayo and 1 part canned chicken and one part frozen peas. At first we all avoided eating it, but then when some of the brothers asked why all of the “American brothers” we not eating, we decided to suck it up and try to eat some. Huge mistake! Me and Bobie ended up with massively aching stomachs all day and part of the next day, Carlos went straight home afterwards and did not return until 2 days later.
It should be noted that these meals did not consist of many things as alternatives, nearly all of them involved only one main course. Others did contain a salad, but this usually was only green lettuce, carrots and no dressing. We did however have some good moments. We had hot empanadas one day, steak sandwiches another, and after a the last week (which was really rough food wise) the brothers from the arabic congregation made us falafel, fresh hummus, and various other Arabic treats for us. While lunch had the above mentioned “difficulties” breakfast was great. Fresh medialunas and fruit everyday along with a large stock of coffee, tea and other goodies all day long. In the end, I guess this is considered normal here, I guess they want you to focus on the learning and not on the food… 🙂
So what we missed in food, the brothers and sisters more than made up for in the generous spirit. A few days before class ended, Mariana (an Argentine sister from our hall) asked if Bobie, Carlos and I (los Americanos) wanted to combine our gifting efforts…”uh…gifts?” Evidently, it is tradition here in Argentina that when you attend pioneer school, you always give gifts to one another and to your instructors at the end of class. A little stunned…we kind of assumed that it would be something a few people did and it would be just a card or something.
It turns out that this “tradition” is to pioneer school in Argentina as drinking alcohol is a “tradition” at a bar. In other words, on the final day when we saw our fellow students walking in with giant bags bursting at the seams with gift-wrapped items…we knew we were in trouble.
After the final prayer to close out our class, before I could even raise my head up I had four dutifully-wrapped items being put into my face with gleeful smiles looking on. After I had more things that could fit in my bag we started thinking pretty terrible about ourselves for not bringing anything. As it was, me and my fellow “extranjeros” were somewhat of a novelty to the others, with our funny accents, massive statures (sorry Carlos, not you) and all around “not-Argentine” vibe…I think everyone was expecting something above and beyond the normal fare. At this point, without even communicating, Bobie and I both called an audible…
The next night, guess who had 30 students and instructors plus another 30 family at their apartment for asado…
Small price to pay to be able to provide so many awesome friends with a nice evening. 🙂
Finally, I leave this one for last…
So the kingdom hall formerly played host to a pharmaceutical company. In the last several decades since then the building has aged quite a bit. One day while we were in class someone complained that the toilets were not working…We thought nothing much of it until later we noticed some brothers working on the pipes in the foyer while we went back to class. It was about 20 min into the afternoon session when an epically-foul stench came and just sucker punched me in the face. The brothers had dug up all the sewer pipes that go out to the street to fix the problem…the problem was they tore open the main sewer line under the build and had to leave it open while they worked. For the next 3 hours we all struggled to keep from passing out. When we finally went to leave, the brothers had a push broom with which they were pushing the cockroaches back into the sewer opening so we wouldn’t step on then as we exited the building…Dare I say that on our way out we had quite a “lovely” time singing “la cucaracha”