Monday, October 3, 2016

October 3, 2016

Përshëndetje familja! Jam në Shqipëri!
Well I'm finally here! It's been a crazy couple of days. So sorry if this letter is kind of scattered, a lot happened and I'm just going to try and put it all down. My first thoughts about Albania, it's super pretty but way different from back home. Everyone smokes here. It's not as bad here in Elbasan but back in Tirana it was super strong.  My companion described Albania as kind of the Mexico of Europe which is pretty fitting. We may not get to play video games here on the mission but I figure driving here in Albania is pretty much the closest you can get to Mario Kart so that's pretty fun. There are lines on the road and speed limits but no one follows any of those. Also there is not rule against J-walking so we do a lot of road crossing but luckily the people here are pretty good at not hitting us, we just have to be careful. There are wild dogs everywhere, but they leave us alone so it's not really a problem. Also one of the weirdest things I've seen is that there are just wild horses here that you see every once in a while. The people are way different from back home. First off most people are muslim, or more like "muslim" because most people don't actually practice it they just say that. But there are so many amazing people here, a lot of people have really difficult lives. I've met a lot of the members here but I don't know them all too well because I can't understand anyone except my companion, Xhoni, and sometimes Ersi. Xhoni and Ersi are two of the members here and I'll talk about them more later.
My first day in Tirana we started straight out with street contacting. I really though that I was going to be good at the language but I honestly have no clue what anyone here is saying. We handed out a few passalong cards but other than that I'm not really sure what happened with that. After that we all got dinner at president Weidman's house, we got giant pizzas, like the ones we had in California or at scout camp in Bear Lake. Then we just went over to the hotel they rented for us which was just right across the street and went to sleep. We even got to sleep in a little bit that day which was super awesome! I got a little behind on my journal because I fell asleep writing in it that night and then the two days before just felt like one day but I'm all caught up now. Then after that we had transfer meeting where we got our areas and companions assigned.
So just to start out, you probably know all of this, but I am in Elbasan. I'm being trained by Elder Mero and he's so awesome! We get along great so far, and he's super funny! He's been out here for about a year, he was trained in Kosovo and he knows a ton about our mission. His parents are Albanian but he grew up in Canada so he spoke the language a little bit before he came but not a ton. He's actually a convert which is super cool. He has an amazing testimony and he knows the gospel and how to teach really well.
I'm so glad I got here when I did because things are going great! We have one investigator who is named Lindis and he is amazing! He's been meeting with the missionaries for about a week and a half and before I came he had already been taught the first three lessons. We taught him again the morning after I got here about reading the Book of Mormon and praying about it everyday and that was really cool. He's already at the Isaiah chapters of 2nd Nephi and he's reading and meeting with us everyday. He had already been invited to be baptized before I got here but he said he'd already been baptized and hard a hard time with understanding that he needed to be baptized again. But so on Friday at the end of our lesson Elder Mero invited him to pray about it again and he said he would. Then we taught him again on Saturday morning about the Word of Wisdom and it turns out he was already living it! That was so cool because pretty much everyone here smokes. At the end of that lesson Elder Mero invited him to pray about baptism again and then Lindis said that he didn't have to. He said he prayed about it on Friday and he felt like it was the right thing for him to do! We were so excited! He even came to church again on Sunday, he also went the week before but it was awesome being there with him. We teach him again tonight and probably everyday this week which is so cool. We also have two other investigators but I haven't taught them as much and I don't know them quite as well but their names are Orlando and Xhamali(xh makes a j sound).
The members here are awesome! That picture you saw of us was at Xhoni's house and he's so cool(his name is pronounced like Johnny). So he's a recent convert and he lives about an hour walk from the Qendër(church center) here in Eldbasan. He speaks English fluently and he has an amazing testimony. We taught him my first night here in Elbasan and he already knows so much. Sadly he actually just moved to Dubai yesterday, but the reason he moved to Dubai is to earn money to serve a mission which is so cool! He helped the missionaries here in lessons so much and he'll be an amazing missionary. The other members here are so cool too, I won't go into as much detail with them this week but some of the other members I've met are Ersi, Bajame, president Karanxha, and Paola. They're really awesome and I'm sure I'll tell you all more about them in the coming weeks.
In regards to your other questions, travel was good. The flights were all pretty smooth, but I didn't really sleep on any of them, which may have actually been a good thing because I'm not feeling any jet lag. As I've already said driving is crazy but I've been safe and there seems to be some sort of pattern to the madness. Luckily I don't have to worry about that for a while. It was kind of sad parting with Elder Schneider but at the same time it wasn't that bad. He'll be an awesome missionary and he has a pretty awesome companion too. Elder Mero and I get along great! He's definitely different from Elder Schneider but that's not a bad thing, he's super funny and very experienced. I forgot my camera back at the room so I don't have any pictures for this week but I'll send those all next week, and I'll make sure to get some of my apartment to throw in there. It's not huge but it's definitely not bad, we spend most of our time at the Qendër anyway.
That food we had at Xhonis house is called la cror and I think it's greek but it was super good. The food here is great but it's pretty much all the same thing. We've eaten a lot of pica(pizza spelled the Albanian way) and byrek. I haven't had Souflaqe yet but I'm sure I'll have plenty of that before I leave. Dhall is gross but I'm sure I'll learn to like it before I'm done with my mission. Also we got to eat some sausage thing for lunch that was really good but it's name just means surprise so that was a little unsettling. Luckily we ate at a reasonably trustworthy place.
It's been weird adjusting to the language because I don't understand Albanian very well and there is also a whole different missionary language that my companion uses. For example he uses the word kotë which just means useless a lot. It gets used by missionaries for anything that is against mission rules or for missionaries who don't work. Also the word kismet which just means "maybe but probably not" so that was kind of weird getting used to. The weirdest one was that if he describes a missionary as dead it just means either they've gone home or they've stopped working so that was a bit of a surprise at first. But all in all it's not been a problem and I've having a great time!
I'm loving it here and I hope everyone's doing well back at home!
Love you all! Mirupafshim
Elder Gardiner

Here's a picture of Elder Johnson, Elder Wood, and I at the Vienna airport so hopefully you can actually see this

Just one last note, in the picture you sent of us all at Xhoni's house the other people are Motra Hall and Motra Saldanja (I don't know how her name is normally spelled but that's it in Albanian) and they are our whole district here in Elbasan. Elbasan is one of only two cities in Albania with a church building and there used to be a ward here. Then a whole bunch of people went less active\inactive so it's back to a branch. I think there used to be like 300 members but now we only get like 40 that come to sacrament meeting and then even more don't stay for the last two hours. But the people here are still awesome and I have a lot of hope for them!

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