When Tony and I lived on BYU campus as newlyweds, we pretty much walked straight out our front door into the Mormon chapel, which was also on campus. Forgot an extra diaper? No problem (please tell me I’m not the only mother who’s ever done this). There was no hassle if one of us needed to be at Church early. And home/visiting teaching was a piece of cake. Tony still loves to tell about his Elder’s Quorum President, who stood up in opening exercises one morning to recount a conversation in which his father (also Elder’s Quorum President in his own ward) begged to know his secret for achieving 100% home teaching. Our Elder’s Quorum President (in all seriousness) launched into an exposition of his plan, which included things like accountability, positive motivation, and setting a good example. I had to laugh. Um, how about the fact that everyone lives next door to each other, and if they go inactive they’ll get kicked out of school, and hence out of the ward?
I don’t think I appreciated living close to the church building enough at the time. Even after we graduated and left campus for the big world, we just hopped into our minivan to drive the few minutes to Church on Sundays. During our adventures abroad, though, we’ve taken all sorts of interesting forms of transportation to Church.
One Sunday in the Philippines we were lost walking to Church, and decided to hire a bicycle-powered conveyance. We squished all three of us onto a seat that had been built onto the side of the bicycle frame. The poor driver. I can’t imagine chugging along carrying three extra people on your bicycle. I don’t think we got there any faster than we would have walking, but at least it was our bicycle rider and not we who ended up tired and sweaty at the church door. On another memorable Sunday there, Tony and I spent the entire hour ride to Church arguing. I don’t remember what the argument was about, but it’s possible that our feelings were aggravated by the fact that we were riding in a motorcycle sidecar, and the attached motorcycle was so loud we couldn’t even hear one another.
In Chiusa Pesio, Italy (before we got a car), getting to Church involved a 30-minute long bus ride, and then a 20-minute walk. I can’t count the times I ran ahead with Dominique to the bus stop at 7:00 in the morning so I could stall the bus driver while Tony came puffing up behind with Axa. We were usually the only ones on the bus, and we liked to sit in the very back seat, because then we could all sit together on the same long row. Once we got on, first we would feed our children the breakfast we had packed, and then pull out their Sunday clothes and dress them too. Pathetic or brilliant? I still haven’t decided.
The bus ride in Florence was shorter, but it was one of those awful city busses with the flexible hinge in the middle. I don’t know about you, but flying through narrow cobblestone streets as the part of the bus you’re on sways dizzily back and forth, about to tip over into the river at any moment, is not my idea of a restful Sabbath activity. It was often cold on those spring mornings in Florence, so I always made cinnamon rolls that rose overnight in the refrigerator and baked on Sunday morning as we got ready for Church. The smell of warm cinnamon rolls still takes me back to that heart-stopping bus ride. Our very first Sunday in Florence, we accidentally rode the bus to the end of the line, not realizing that you had to notify the driver if you wanted him to stop before. We got out and wandered around for an hour looking for the Church building before finally giving up. The next Sunday, it was raining cats and dogs. We managed to get off at the right stop (or near it), but we still weren’t sure how to get to the Church building from the bus stop. (Let’s just say that google maps directions don’t always take into account things like parking lots you’re supposed to cut through, pedestrian walkways not meant for double strollers, the fact that Italian streets have no signs and change names every few blocks, etc.) We ran from doorway to doorway, managing to keep our children, but not ourselves, dry under what we realized were pitifully inadequate umbrellas, and asking directions from quizzical shopkeepers every few minutes. Finally, a passer-by took pity on us, loaded us into his car, and drove us around until we found the Church.
In some ways, Ireland was a welcome relief. There was no bus to Church. Unfortunately, that meant we had to walk 45 minutes to get there. We managed O.K., since we lived there in the summer. It did sometimes still rain on us, but by that time we had wisened up and availed ourselves of the large sturdy umbrellas found in nearly every shop in Ireland. My only disaster was the week I wore a long silk crinkle skirt to Church. By the time we got there after the cloudburst, the bottom of my skirt had dried out, but all the pleats had fallen out too.
And then there is Tunisia. First, we take a taxi to the louage station. It’s pronounced loo-AAHHHJ (with the French “J” without the little “d” before it), and it’s a lovely word to say. It’s a less than lovely conveyance, but not as bad as a jeepney. The Tunisian louage is sort of a cross between a taxi and a bus. Physically, it is a little van that has been fitted with lots of uncomfortable seats. Usually there are grimy curtains on the windows, which my children would love to play with if they could get away with it. Often there is a distinct smell of gasoline coming up from the patched metal floor. There is no regular timetable. They just leave when they’re full. Each louage travels a certain route, but there are no scheduled stops. They are used mostly for inter-city travel. The driver will let you off wherever you want, as long as it’s somewhere on the prescribed route. Most people ride all the way to the louage station in Tunis, which resembles a gigantic, impossibly crowded and chaotic valet parking lot full of dirty white vans and people yelling. They’re not angry, they’re just calling out names of destinations so they can get a tip from the driver when they direct a passenger his way.
Once we get out at the station, we find another taxi, which takes us to our friends’ house in La Marsa, a northern suburb of Tunis. Technically, there is a train that goes to Tunis from Hammamet, which is an alternative way we could explore to get to Church. I usually prefer trains. However, lately there have been some instances of people blocking the rails and then when the train stops asking for money. We haven’t ridden a train here for months, so I’m not sure if it is more like a grand Wild West railway holdup, or just a clever strategy for creating a captive audience for begging. Either way, I think we’ll stick to the louage until the security situation in Tunisia gets a little more straightened out.
And this week our ferry arrives in Palermo, Sicily on Sunday morning, just in time for us to catch some Church meetings. I guess we can say it’s the first time we’ve taken an overnight ferry to get to Church.