Marlene and I decided that we’d go to church together. She lives something like a hundred feet from me, and it takes me something like a minute to get to her house. Maybe less. Because she doesn’t know where I live, or at least, she didn’t yet, I walked to her place. I pass her house every time Fahim and I go anywhere – she’s on the way to the main road, which is where Food City, trishaws, and everything else is.
I ring the doorbell at her place, and her live in maid lets me in. She’s in a house with something like five bedrooms, and it’s spacious. Her youngest daughter gave me a tour. They arrived in Sri Lanka mere weeks before I did from Egypt where they lived for four years. Their place is still in somewhat chaos – haven’t finished unpacking and all that yet. I can well understand. My stuff hasn’t even arrived yet.
I’m offered breakfast by the maid and then, a few minutes later, by Marlene as well. We leave by trishaw a few minutes later – Marlene, her two daughters, and myself. The back of the trishaw is somewhat crowded, but we’ve seen other Sri Lankans pack far more people in than we are. Marlene and I gossip the whole way to church. Gossip? Well, not really. Talk and get to know each other better.
During Relief Society, I’m pulled out because President Sunil wants to talk to me. I already have a very good idea what this is about.
Last Sunday, President Sunil spoke briefly about family history and its importance, stressing that each of us should be working on our family histories. I leaned over and asked Sister Boyce, the female counterpart to a missionary couple who are going home in November, if there even was a Family History Centre in Sri Lanka. She said no and asked why. I commented that I was into Family History, and she then immediately says, “Oh, President Sunil needs to know that.” Yeah, it’s not a very hard trail to follow.
I sit down, and President Sunil and I start talking. First things first. President Senil is the District President. Sri Lanka doesn’t have a stake – there are only four branches in the country – 2 in Colombo, 1 in Kandy, and 1 in Negombo. Second thing, Sunil is his first name. Everyone goes by first names here – last names are too long and confusing and everyone butchers them. President Sunil’s last name, as an example, is Arsecularatne. I stuttered at the second syllable. I tried the rest, I butchered it, and badly. It was a disaster. So, in Sri Lanka, everyone is called by their first name, regardless of rank and circumstance.
The calling? District Family History Consultant. I’m not at all surprised. I’ve been involved in Family History for forever, and I like it, and I’m good at it. Dead people don’t talk back. As much.
More explanations for those of you who are not LDS, aka Mormon, long name is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yep, you be gettin’ an edumacashum.
We’re divided into units for sake of ease and organization. Branches are smaller, wards are larger, but they are both a congregation. A Branch will have perhaps 80 or fewer people, a ward will have more, up to a few hundred. When they get bigger than that, they’re divided – keeps the size manageable. It’s a little more technical than that, but that gives you the basic idea.
Each ward or branch is part of a stake or district. Again, district is smaller in terms of LDS population, stake is larger. A stake will have, say, 5000-10000 members, a district will have a lot less. But again, they are roughly equivalent in terms of function.
Callings. In our church, we have no paid ministry. All positions are volunteer. Our bishop or branch president, for example, will still have their regular job, whether it be doctor, lawyer, garbage man, cop, factory line worker, or whatever. They fulfill the position of bishop or branch president on top of whatever other duties and obligations they have to family and community. It’s the same with all other positions. The person in charge of the congregation, the branch president, will extend a calling, which basically means they are asking us to volunteer to do a certain job. When a district or stake president extends a calling, it’s for a calling over the entire stake or district.
So when he’s asking me to be a District Family History Consultant, he wants me to be over all the Branch Family History Consultants, teaching them how to do their job, making sure they’re doing it properly, making sure they have the necessary resources, that sort of thing.
It will likely also involve some travel to the other branches – to Kandy and Negombo. My branch is the only one that’s entirely in English. The others are all in Sinhalese, which I don’t speak, but the others also have some members who are fluent in English. In theory, we won’t have much of a communication problem. In reality, I’ll probably beg Fahim to come with me and aid in translation. Please, dear? Realistically, I don’t want to travel by myself anyway, and it would be more fun if he came along anyway.
I returned to Relief Society, and at the end of the lesson, I asked the Relief Society President, Visaka, for the John Taylor manual, one for me, one for Marlene, which this years lessons are out of.
More edumacashun: Relief Society is the women’s organization. Men go to priesthood. Basically, we have separated classes to help us better learn what we need to know for our roles in life. Yes, you can condemn us for being ancient and backwards, putting feminism behind a hundred years, but you’d be wrong. If you have questions, feel free to ask. We don’t bite. Much. 🙂
She hands them to me, and as a reward, asks me to teach Lesson 18: Service in the Church next Sunday. Oh you have got to be kidding.
Other than a brief stint teaching the Family History Sunday School class in the singles branch in Vancouver, I had otherwise managed to avoid teaching – at all, ever – in the church. That is, up until two or three weeks before I left Canada.
Thank you so much, Jocelyn. Jocelyn was going out of town and asked me to substitute for her. I did.
Okay, in all honesty, it wasn’t all that bad, but it ain’t my most favorite thing in the world.
So, whatever. I said yes.
Next we had Sunday School. At the end, Visaka, who was sitting beside me, says to me that she wanted me for her Second Counsellor in the Relief Society Presidency. That’s the Homemaking Counsellor. I had also avoided Homemaking, or Home Breaking, as we used to jokingly refer to it, for the last ten years. What can I say? I never really felt like I fit in. I was the only single person in the crowd and everyone else talks about kids, diapers, bottles, what do you do about teenage girls, and things like that. What did I have in common?
Aargh. But yeah. I knew it was coming. Knew? Suspected, at any rate. So, yeah. I accepted. It helps that I really like Visaka and Nancy, the 1st Councellor. Really makes it a lot easier. They’re both people I’d like to get to know better, anyway.
At the end of church, while waiting for Marlene and her kids so we could take the trishaw home, I finally, I took pictures of the church.
And a young man approached me and wanted to talk to me. I couldn’t understand what he was saying at first – I’ve always had a hard time with accents, and here is no exception – so I asked him to step outside where it was quieter so I could understand him. Turns out he wants help with his English, and could I help him. Oh. Let me talk to my husband about it and I’ll get back to you. I’m not sure how I feel about it – I don’t know this guy – but if Fahim’s home at the time, which is the only way I’d do this, anyway, then it would be okay.
On the way home, Marlene tells me about a hairdresser just down the road from us that a lot of her colleagues go to, and the hairdresser is supposed to be really good. We get the trishaw driver to drive us past it so we both know where it is. It’s down my street, next street to the left at the end, so about 100 feet from my door. Not far at all. Another colleague of Marlene’s is across the street from the hairdresser. She has a lot of colleagues in our neighborhood, she tells me.