This cave on the left is from our hike to Madalena. We'd been invited to go there for a picnic. We'd been there before, but had only ever taken a bus. So imagine our surprise to find out we were actually hiking there! This was tough since it was a difficult hike, Sister Fitches was still recovering from being sick, and it turned out it was much farther than our group was expecting. We hiked hard for a good three hours, then looked at the map and realized we'd only gone 1/4 of the distance! Needless to say we turned around.
Our group consisted of the Maldarizzi kids, the missionaries, and two members of the military that were stationed in Italy. One of them was in our ward.
You're probably looking at the bearded lady picture and wondering what that has to do with my mission. So now I have a bit of a disgusting story to tell. Italian women tend to grow facial hair when they get older, and we're not talking a few chin hairs. We're talking about women with faces covered in hair (I'm sure all the men reading this are really disgusted. Glad I could disturb you today!).
We'd gone to visit one of many Maria's houses (we taught a lot of women named Maria). We started reading the Book of Mormon and doing a discussion with her, but she'd always give us little things to do while we were there, and this day was no exception. We weren't typically able to teach much since she'd always interrupt us by asking us to do things she couldn't do herself. Missionaries are supposed to give at least 4 hours of service a week, so helping her out didn't bother us initially since she was legally blind and struggled to do things like sewing and dying her hair. We'd always been perfectly happy and willing to do service for her, but one day she came out with a pair of tweezers and asked us to pluck her facial hair.
It was a bit embarrassing since I hadn't understood her at first and thought she was simply asking if the hair on her face was noticeable. So at first I said "yes" when she asked if I would pluck her face. Sister Fitches, though, had realized what she was asking, and when she told me I flat out refused. She tried to refuse as well, but Maria kept pressuring her until finally she caved in. I was disgusted! Poor Sister Fitches. I felt conflicted since that especially was something she couldn't do for herself, but it was disgusting to see all that facial hair plucked off one hair at a time. She loved hearing me sing and asked me to sing for her while it was happening. I did and had to suppress my gag reflex. It took a good hour to pluck it all off of her, and we could still feel her whiskers when we hugged her goodbye. She needs to get it waxed!
After we left Sister Fitches told me I owed her big time. I completely agreed and said "I'm taking you to lunch today wherever you want." We had to eat out anyway since we needed to catch a train for zone conference and didn't have time to go home. So we went out for Chinese. It was yummy!
Marcia, a south American member of the Brescia ward, unfortunately ended up getting a huge kidney stone and was in the hospital for a week. Italian tap water is not the cleanest, and we were encouraged by President to drink bottled water instead. Marcia, coming for Equador (I think) hadn't been aware of that. And she learned her lesson the hard way that paying for bottled water is cheaper than paying for a kidney stone. We went to visit her in the hospital and brought her a copy of Harry Potter to read.
We spent one of our preparation days at some of the other islands around Lago di Garda. I'd really wanted to see the castle at Sirmione. It was beautiful but FULL of tourists. We got to take a ferry there, and I loved it! It'd been forever since I'd been out on the water. We also got to see a store called “emy for men” (which, of course, I had to immediately tell my friend Amy about), and we saw a park named after Maria Callas.
Giorgia was a contact who didn't get baptized until a few weeks after I left, but I did get to teach her all 6 discussions. She asked a lot of complicated questions while she studied with us. One was “what's the difference between Christ's body and ours?” I answered her with a pathetic little drawing of a body surrounding a stick figure (those of you who know me know I can't draw to save my life!). I tried to explain that our bodies are separate entities from our spirits and will be forced to separate at death - the spirit ascending to the spirit world while the body goes into the grave. Then I drew another drawing of just one body and explained that Christ's spirit body and his physical body have become one through his resurrection, which is what will ultimately happen to all of us when we are resurrected. I then said that we have a body of bones and a body of spirit whereas Christ just has a spiritual body. Christ's body and spirit are so united and perfected that for me to draw a spirit inside another body would be a mistake. She then got this look of epiphany in her eyes and said "Oh, so it can never die then" and I said "exactly." I asked her at the end if we could do some more discussions with her and some of the church members since they knew all the doctrine I knew and could explain things better in their native language. But she actually said "No, I've asked this question a lot to them and their answers never made sense to me. But I completely understood it from your little drawing." I was happy to know that some good can come from my pathetic attempts at art.
Georgia also had a 7 year old son, and all he wanted when we came over was to play games with Sister Fitches. This was good for Giorgia since it kept him busy and allowed me to talk to her about the gospel, but I felt bad since Sorella Fitches had to be a babysitter and couldn't do any teaching.
Bad translations always made me laugh. My absolute favorite was when we went out for pizza with the Elders and one of our contacts. It was really fun! The Elders had more energy than I'd ever seen, and we laughed all night long. This was a huge part of the reason. The restaurant was a bit busy and asked if they could give us English menus since they were all out of Italian menus. Many Italians drink carbonated water, and the menu had marked fizzy water and natural water as "water with gas" or "water without gas." We about died laughing! We had a hard time explaining to our Italian investigator why that was so funny.
I loved going over to the Gargiulo's house whenever we had the chance. During my last transfer, they found out their 2 year old daughter was allergic to gluten. This was terribly unfortunate since her mom is amazing at making pastas and sweets, and they were trying hard to adjust all of their diets around it. They couldn't just make food for themselves and separate food for their daughter since, at 2 years old, she wasn't able to understand yet that she couldn't eat the yummy foods all around her. We used to make american sweets for them when we'd come to visit (like brownies, cookies, rice crispy treats, etc), but the mom asked us not to bring anything else now that they were dealing with this issue. But we were not to be dissuaded. We surprised them randomly one day by bringing them a kilo of rice flour. They were really happy to see us and we talked and laughed all evening. They were happy also because they'd been buying rice flour at one Euro for a quarter kilo, and we'd found it in a shop only 200 feet away at only 1.20 Euro for half a kilo. Regular, glutinous flour was 25 cents a kilo, so it certainly wasn't a cheap change for them. But at least now they had a closer place to buy rice flour for a cheaper price.
We met an Albanian family while going park tracting, and the mom was an amazing cake maker. Her cakes were always incredibly good and moist, and she'd fill them with the most random things she had in the house. I remember one time she said "I didn't have anything to make a glaze for the top so I thought I'd throw some peaches in the cake instead." We were confused by the relationship between the two, but the cake was good so we didn't care. One day we decided to make something for them and brought over a plate of cookies. We dropped them over but only their 9 year old son was home. We told him "we made these cookies since your mom always makes such yummy cakes for us." He was confused and told his mom that we brought them over for her to put inside her next cake. And that is exactly what she did! She made up the cake and crumbled the cookies into pieces, and they saved it for us until we came by again. It was good and we laughed our heads off at the delicious mix up!
Maria Katia Scala was a wonderful lady I'd met on the train on the way to Milan to drop off Sister Baird when she was transferred (to Collegno of all places). We were in a train car that seated 6, and I started talking to the lady next to me. I hadn't been talking about the gospel, but eventually the topic came up since she saw my tag and asked who we were. As the discussion became more spiritual, Maria piped in saying "but how are you supposed to know which religion is true?" I told her that missionaries would be happy to teach her, and I asked for her phone number and address. Since this train was traveling between Venice and Milan, she could have lived in any of about 20 different districts, so I was expecting to send her referral off to some missionaries in her district. But it turned out she lived in Brescia, actually within walking distance of the church!
It was lovely to teach her since she was what missionaries call a "golden contact." She started off our first discussion telling us that she didn't know how we prayed, but that didn't believe in praying to saints, in spite of her Catholic upbringing. She told us she prayed to her Heavenly Father, she thanked him for all he'd given her, she'd ask for him to bless her, and that she'd close the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ. After she told me that I turned to Sister Fitches and said "well, our work here is done!"
She accepted everything we told her, and before I even mentioned it she said "I need to be baptized, don't I?" We then focused our efforts on helping her get to know the bishop and his wife, and she was baptized by the bishop during my last few weeks.