International Series: Don’t Drink the Water

This is the first in our International Series here at The Exponent – over the next two weeks, we’ll be showcasing a variety of perspectives and viewpoints about life in the global church.  We are thrilled to feature new voices and new perspectives, many from women who are posting for the first time in English. Their voices have been missing from the conversation about gender and Mormonism, and their posts highlight the diverse experiences of LDS women throughout the global church.

mexico city aerial

An aerial shot of a small portion of Mexico City. It boasts an urban population of over 21 million people.

“Don’t drink the water.  Ever.”

That’s the first thing I remember learning after I stepped off the plane in Mexico City, having newly relocated there with my family at the tender age of twelve.  I was wide-eyed and terrified – I spoke no Spanish, so I couldn’t read any signs or orient myself to this brand new world.  I couldn’t eavesdrop on conversations to figure out where to go or how to get there.  I just clutched my suitcases tightly and followed my parents through an endless maze of people, into a car, and eventually to the house that I would call home for the next six years of my life.

“Remember, don’t drink the water.  Don’t take any taxis that aren’t approved – you can’t guarantee that unauthorized cabs will take you to where you need to go and that they won’t overcharge you or mug you.  If you need directions, ask multiple people – people will tell you directions even if they don’t know what they’re talking about, because it’s rude not to.  If you’re in a market, expect that they will quote you double the price of what they’ll actually sell it for.  Don’t worry about the guards armed with semi-automatic weapons outside the bank/grocery store/McDonald’s – they have to pay for their own bullets, so it’s unlikely that they’ll shoot them unless it’s a real emergency.  And don’t ever, ever, ever trust the police.  They’ll make you pay a bribe (at best) or kidnap you (at worst).  But don’t worry – you’re gonna love it here!”

Over the next six years, I developed a sixth sense for navigating the biggest city in the world as a blonde, blue-eyed, white girl.  I drove a low-profile VolksWagen bug so as to not attract attention from the police or thieves.  In the event that I did get pulled over, I knew to only lower my window enough to talk to the policeman and to hold my license up to the window, and to never – under any circumstances – hand it over.  If things went poorly, I knew to hold up a business card from a friend’s parent who worked at the US Embassy – that was usually enough to make me more trouble for them than it was worth.  I learned Spanish, stopped noticing the armed guards (who never did shoot), and depended on myself (and nobody else) to get me from Point A to Point B.  I learned to walk the fine line between being adventurous and being safe – as an American, I knew I had a certain amount of protection, because most violent criminals didn’t want to possibly deal with the blow-back of the US government.  But I also knew not to be stupid – just because people weren’t going to shoot me didn’t mean that they weren’t going to rob me or assault me.  I developed a strong sense of mistrust in almost everything I did – I knew to expect that any car would cut me off at any time (as they usually did).  I expected that anybody giving me advice or directions was either trying to sell me something or lead me into a compromising situation.  I expected to gather as much information as possible about any given situation, to review it with a healthy dose of skepticism, and then to make the best decision I could.


This sense of suspicion, combined with a large dose of luck, kept me mostly out of harm’s way during my teenage years in Mexico City.  I wasn’t mugged (like many friends were), or kidnapped (like my classmate or family friend), but I did have to pay an occasional bribe and interact with some unsavory members of law enforcement.  This mistrust bled into other areas of my life – I began to question the motivations behind everybody’s actions, large and small.  Do I trust my American teacher in his telling of the Mexican-American war, where we were tearfully admonished to “Remember the Alamo?”  Or do I trust the next year’s Mexican teacher who tells the same story as America’s violent and merciless theft of Texas from a sovereign nation?  If a doctor suggests an expensive medical intervention, is he/she doing it with my best interest in mind, or because he/she stands to make a lot of money from it?  And when I was living in a country where it was common knowledge that the previous president stole millions of dollars, it wasn’t a huge leap for me to think that Bill Clinton actually did “have sexual relations with that woman.”  I found that just because somebody has “power” or “authority,” it doesn’t always make them right.

So when my bishop came into my Young Women class and explained to us that premarital sex is a sin next to murder, I was skeptical, even with his seeming scriptural support.  When he said that the atonement won’t save us when we inevitably get AIDS from being promiscuous, I began to doubt his teachings even more.  And when he said that even though Christ will forgive us, no returned missionary would want to marry “damaged goods,” I was outright incensed.  It definitely helped that when I went home and related the event to my also-generally-resistant-to-authority father, he looked at me and said, point-blank, “Well he’s wrong.  You just can’t believe everything you hear at church.”

I don’t doubt that I would’ve had a subversive streak even if I had grown up in the US, but I know that my inherent suspicion of power and authority was extensively nurtured by growing up outside my native country.  When I went back to the US for college and couldn’t remember the words to “The Pledge of Allegiance” (and when I questioned the USA’s motivations in starting a war in the Middle East), I was called anti-American.  When I attended classes at BYU and scoffed at the conservative political bias of my PoliSci professor to a classmate, I was told that I wasn’t the expert, so I was wrong, and my opinion didn’t matter.  But that’s just it – after six years of navigating a foreign country and questioning every little thing in my life, my opinion DID matter – a LOT.  I had learned to trust my intuition, to listen to that pit in my gut, and to make my own assessments about life instead of being told what I should or should not believe/think/do.  And while I think everybody goes through this stage of questioning authority to some degree or another in life, it felt like my life as an expatriate teenager made me go through it at hyper-speed.  I suppose it’s no wonder that you now find me blogging at a feminist Mormon website!

As my time in Mexico City was drawing to a close, and I was packing my bags to head to college, I remember staring at the sink in my bathroom.  For six longs years, whenever I woke up in the middle of the night, I had to stumble down a long hall, down a flight of stairs, through the dining room and kitchen, and all the way to the water cooler at the far end of the house to get a drink of filtered water.  Never once, no matter how tempted, had I broken the cardinal rule of living in Mexico: don’t drink the water.  And I debated: do I take the chance?  Is it worth the risk?  Should I always just listen to what people tell me to do?  I picked up a cup, filled it, and held it in my hand.

And then I dumped it down the sink.  But it wasn’t out of blind obedience, or without any thought of weighing my options.  It was because I knew it was a bad idea – I had heard enough tales of severe gastrointestinal distress to know that it wasn’t a risk worth taking.  Even as I ultimately followed the advice of those in authority, I made my own decision.  That is what living in Mexico City taught me to do.


I could write volumes on how living internationally shaped me as a person, and especially as an LDS woman.  We experience the church through the lenses we’ve been given, and while many of us have been given the American lens, it’s prudent to recognize that while church headquarters is in Salt Lake City, not everybody in the global church sees through that lens.  I’m eager to read the international perspectives that we have coming up, and we hope that our readers will gain a better appreciation for the diversity of experience that can be found in the international LDS church.

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Visiting Teaching Message September 2014: The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ: Comforter

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français

From the formal message:

Jesus Christ promised, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you” (John 14:18).

baby (2)

“It’ll be like you don’t even have a dog,” promised my husband before I agreed to let him get a puppy. To be true, he did try to do what he could. But since I worked from home, dog care evolved into much of my daily routine. I didn’t mind for the most part. Because I was lonely, I liked the company of the  dog. I soon grew to rely up on him— I firmly believe that there really is nothing like the unconditional love of a dog to teach you about the love of Christ.

Being unintentionally childless, he was my baby. I found sitters for him when I would be gone for more than 3 hours, just as all of the doggy manuals taught. I was picky about his food, and was even fussier about other dogs we had playdates with. As soon as he was “trained” and a little before, he slept by my feet, in the bed shared by my husband and me….and as he grew to adult-dog size, he sometimes crowded me (or hubby) out of bed.

I took him visitDCP02520 (2)ing teaching with me. I ordered him ice cream cones or a  side of bacon at drive-thrus, and instructed the fast-food workers to hand the item directly to him the back seat, where he gently and gratefully received the nosh. A photo of him (being held by the person I wrote about) was among selected images that were published in an academic journal article. He waited at home by the door, or sometimes went with me to four different rounds of  IVF. And when I still came home childless, he licked me, and his fur absorbed my tears. He sat at alert when I was ill, and snuggled me when I was lonely. He comforted me. Greatly. To no end.

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Virtual Oases

“So, what have the Feminists been up to this week?” asks my husband quite regularly. Now I just show him this post and he learns for himself!

Enjoy the weekend reading, everyone!

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Having just returned from a summer in Europe, I find myself reattached to my phone. You see, while traipsing about the continent, my phone lacked internet and calling access. The only time I was able to check my email and respond to texts were early in the morning before I left and later in the evening after I returned from the day’s adventures. For a person whose homepage is CNN and who reads NPR and BBC articles more often than actual books, not being able to follow the world’s events was both freeing and suffocating.

It was freeing in the sense that I could focus solely on the people and events around me. I wasn’t constantly uploading statuses to Facebook or posting photos to Instagram. When I talked with someone, I was fully there. When I participated in something, I gave it all my attention. The world was more…. real and within reach. However, it was suffocating in the sense that I felt I was living in this privileged European bubble. While the horrid events were happening in Ferguson, Missouri, I was visiting castles in Denmark. And I’m sad to say, that’s really the only thing I’m aware of that went on in the States. I didn’t even know what was going on in Europe while I was there. I was too busy eating pastries in Prague and other cities.

And now that I’m home, I’m trying my very best to catch up to everything that’s been happening. I feel like an awful feminist and person as I was posting pictures of Europe while people’s human rights were being violated, both in the US and the Middle East. I am trying to become more fully aware.

But like I said, in a way, it was truly freeing to not feel so involved or invested. I wasn’t “burdened” by the terrible news and was able to enjoy my time abroad without heavy thoughts weighing on my mind.

And as I think about this, I imagine this how some people feel when confronting feminist or tough social topics. So many people are so apathetic about politics to the point that they don’t know where politicians stand. So many people have said to me, “who cares about Ordain Women? I’ve got enough on my mind.” And I’ve heard so many statements along the lines of, “Who cares what’s going on in Gaza or in Missouri? I’m not there. Why should I care or be informed?” These people are disconnected. These people are of the motto, Ignorance is bliss. But it’s not bliss. It’s really not.

Why try to catch up on the terrible news that I missed out on in Europe? So I can better empathize with my fellow men and women. So I can have an informed opinion and speak out on topics that matter to me. Even if I am so far away from what’s going on here or abroad, there are people that are close to it. And they matter so I should be informed about what matters to them.

Being connected is the very embodiment of “mourning with those who mourn.” It means we are trying to feel what they feel.

So now, I am repenting of the ignorant bliss I had while in Europe. I need to become reconnected, not only to the bad, but also to the good. To be disconnected from the world is be disconnected from humanity.

Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.”


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Relief Society Lesson 19: In the World But Not of the World

Click for French Translation/Traduction en français
City Scape by Ham, Myung SuThis lesson guide is based on the Joseph Fielding Smith manual’s lesson, Chapter 19. Fortunately, this topic is also well-covered in an exceptional lesson guide we recently did for Young Women’s. Definitely check it out! (As per usual, my questions to the class are italicized.)

This quote opens the lesson, “While we are in the world, we are not of the world. We are expected to overcome the world and to live as becometh saints.”

Ask the sisters: What does this quote mean to you?
Can we live apart from the world and avoid being condescending towards those who don’t believe as we do or choose the same path that we do?

I worry about the second question quite a bit. As a Mormon who holds political ideologies different from many of the members in my various wards, I have felt judged for voting Democrat…that perhaps, I don’t quite understand the gospel or the Church because I see issues differently.

Rachel Held Evans says in better in her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (have you read it? It’s fantastic!), “We tend to take whatever’s worked in our particular set of circumstances (big family, small family, AP, Ezzo, home school, public school) and project that upon everyone else in the world as the ideal.”

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Meet the Mormons

Apparently the church is releasing a new film on October 10th entitled “Meet the Mormons.”  Per the news release, the “film is an opportunity for people to meet — in a very personal way — members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”  It documents the lives of six different members of the church in different countries, ranging from a (female!) kickboxing champion in Costa Rica, to the head coach of the Naval Academy football team, to a WWII veteran who participated in the Berlin airlift in the 1940′s.

You can watch the trailer below:

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