Margaret Blair Young offers a great article on missionaries in Africa and some of the foods they eat at Meridian Magazine: http://www.ldsmag.com/church/article/8427?ac=1
It reminded me of experiences 31 years ago on my own mission in Bolivia. I landed in February 1979 in the Santa Cruz airport with one other elder. The mission president and assistants were an hour late arriving to the airport, so we kind looked stupid looking around wondering what to do next.
My first assignment was Potosi, a city of 90,000 people in south-western Bolivia, about 13,000 feet above sea level. Getting there by bus took several days, with a decent bus taking us to the traditional capitol of Sucre. From there, we 4 missionaries found a small little 15 seater bus to Potosi. I sat on a seat that swung down in the middle of the aisle. Along the way, an elder in front of me chuckled and told me that the kid next to him just got sick. Around midnight, a major bridge was out. Most of it was washed away. We picked up our luggage and walked across the remainder of the bridge to another bus and reloaded. Then onto some of the most dangerous roadways in the world, where a one lane road with a drop off of a thousand feet could mean death if one ran into another vehicle coming the other way.
Potosi’s cuisine was interesting. One of my first meals was chicken soup, with the chicken head inside. Sucking out the eyeballs was not a fun event. The potatoes, called chuño, was a small freeze-dried potato that tasted like sand. When the people invited us to eat, we were obliged to not offend them. Often we would bless the food twice. Once aloud to thank the Lord for it, and a second time pleading silently that we would not pick up any deadly diseases from it. Pork always seem to do me in, as it would only be half cooked. The people would drink a little wine with it, so the alcohol would kill any toxins, but we had to deal with the problems ourselves.
Water had to be boiled for 10-15 minutes, as being so high up in the atmosphere, the boiling point was lower and so germs did not die so easily. One day as my senior companion and I were drinking a bag of milk, he said perhaps we shouldn’t be drinking it, as that is where he got his bout with Typhoid Fever a month before I arrived.
Tripe was one of the more common meats fed us in Potosi. It was a staple along with rice and chuño. Very little fruits and vegetables.
The city itself was interesting. Potosi sits at the base of a bald mountain called, Cerro Rico (Rich Hill), which has been mined for 5 centuries for tin and silver. The river flowing down from Cerro Rico into Potosi was a gray color, filled with metal contaminants. Poor people in the upper portions of the city that lived along this filthy river used it to wash clothing. Some tried to strain the gray out of the water for cooking and drinking, only to slowly poison themselves. Entering into the city, the river went under the streets.
Water was obtained at centuries old fountains in the public squares, where people would go daily and fill bottles and vases for the day’s use.
There were perhaps 4 trees in the entire city, as it was far above the tree line. Homes lined the steep cobble stone streets, all made of adobe brick, each seamlessly connected to the adobe brick homes adjacent to it.
We had two branches of the Church in Potosi in 1979. With 750 members in Potosi, but only 80 in attendance, the “district” was always struggling.
Down the road from Potosi was the small village of Betanzos. We visited it occasionally to see two elders in our district stationed there. They spoke Quechua most of the time. On top of their clothing armoire, the elders had a couple sticks of dynamite someone had obtained from a local miner. One day, we felt it was getting too old and sweaty, and so assisted them in lighting and blowing it up over the nearby river.
The miners in the area believed that Satan’s power held sway in the mines. The miners and their families would sacrifice llamas to “Tio” (Uncle), praying he would keep them safe. It wasn’t easy to convince them that Christ had more power than Satan.
Many were also convinced that American capitalism was destroying Bolivia, while Russian socialism was a good thing. I remember when my companion and I were invited by some young members to go to the university and protest against the Gringos in the country. We reminded them that we also were Gringos, and didn’t want to be involved in an incident that could turn quickly against us.
Shopping often consisted of going to the corner house, where miners’ wives would sell items out of their front door. You could purchase rice, chuño, bread, and blasting caps all in one place.
What was your first missionary area like? And has it changed since then?