Armenian French Funeral

Last week I attended the funeral services of Ishmael.  He was the father-in-law to a sweet Armenian friend, Anna, from our church congregation.  She has only lived in France since 2012 and is an immigrant here due to political turmoil in Armenia.  She speaks very little french and no english!  HA!  But, somehow we have been able to communicate with her limited french vocabulary.  I have spent some time with Anna and she is a wonderful lady who has one three year old daughter, Maria.  Her husband, Samuel, is trying to get his paperwork finalized so he can work here in France.  Her husband and late father-in-law are not LDS, they are Orthodox Catholics.  (I still need to research this stem of Catholicism because I know nothing about it!)

So, Ishmael passed away and his services were last Thursday.  I went with another friend, Maria del Carmen, to the services.  We found the church and services were to begin at 2:15pm.  We arrived and not one person was there at the church except for the deceased.  The Church doors were open and the hearse (although it carried the coffin, it looked like a normal van, nothing like the hearses you see in America) was parked right in front of the doors.  Maria and I were the first ones there and then a few people started trickling in.  A couple sweet members of our congregation were there to show support to Anna and her family.

When Samuel finally arrived the services commenced.  But, he did not have Anna with him or his daughter.  We asked where they were and Samuel said she was at home cooking the traditional meal that would be served after the services.  I then looked around at those in attendance of the funeral and noticed they were all men, with no wives or children, and the only women there were from our congregation and Anna’s doctor.  It was so interesting.

Apparently, Ishmael was Orthodox Catholic and there are only two cities in all of France that have a church for that specific stem of the Catholic Church.  This particular priest performing the ceremony was willing to perform the service and have use of their church.

It was a pretty little church, Église Jeanne d’Arc.  Of course, it was all stone and cold, but it was pretty.  I love old churches.  I think they have so much history and beauty, even if I do not agree with their form of worship, I try to appreciate the ambiance and respect their traditions.  When the service began, the robe clad priest came outside accompanied by a street clothed priestess.  He said a few words, turned around and the casket followed him with the funeral party walking behind and then began filling up the few benches.  The service only lasted 20-30 minutes.  It was very foreign to me.  I have only been to a few Catholic services so I was unfamiliar with their traditions.  Thank goodness it was in French.  When we were originally seated, there were copies of scripture printed out in Armenian, so I was curious what language the service would be in.

One thing I found so peaceful about the service was the ringing of the Church bells.  They were rung at different times during the services.  I do not know the meaning behind that, but I loved the sound and the calmness it brought to the service.

After the service was over we went to the cemetery.  This was interesting for me also, because the cemetery was so much different than what I see in America.  It looked similar to this.  Burial plots are bought as a family.  The family members coffins are placed one on top of the other.  In the States, family members are laid to rest next to one another not within the same burial space.  This was different.  Also, the burial sites were heavily decorated.  I asked my friends, the Jerômes, if it was really expensive for the tombs.  They said, yes, very expensive.

Following the cemetery service, we were invited to Samuel’s house.  Maria del Carmen and I thought we could just stop by for a minute and pay our respects and say hello to Anna.  Well, we arrived and their family room was set up for a sit down dinner!  We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.  We came in and saw Anna, who was clearly exhausted from all the cooking that was lavishly placed on the tables.  Again, we commented that the wives or other family members of the men in attendance were not there.  So, it was just those women that I mentioned earlier, Anna and Anna’s friend, who was the wife of Samuel’s best friend, who was their helping Anna prepare for the meal. There was a huge spread of fish, poultry, salads, sauces and bread that filled the tables along with bottles of vodka, champagne and soda.  Each place sitting had a shot glass with another smaller glass.  Maria del Carmen and I looked at each other and laughed! :) We do not drink alcohol. :)  Well, after everyone arrived and were seated, the toasting began. Armenian culture has a traditional meal after burial services where everyone comes together so the family can thank those in attendance for showing their support and also to honor the deceased.  So, throughout the meal, someone would stand up, give a toast while people would fill their shot glasses with hard liquor (vodka), and everyone would drink.  Maria del Carmen filled our little glasses with orange soda and everyone else kind of smiled.  It was such an interesting and neat experience.  I didn’t understand anything that was said because it was all in Armenian.  After about 20 minutes of toasts, there were already a few men getting loud.  I love learning about different cultures and people!!  I soak it up and internalize it to the best of my ability.

After staying for about 30 or 40 minutes, I had to get home.  I had to be back home to pick up my boys and go back to Nîmes so Austin and AJ could attend seminary.  I am so grateful I had this Armenian French Funeral experience!

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Maison Carrée

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The Maison Carrée is another ancient Roman artifact that we see often when we are in Nîmes!  It was built in 16 BC and is one of the most best preserved Roman temples to be found anywhere in the territory of the former Roman Empire.  It is beautiful!  There is currently a little theater inside that shows an informative film of the history of Nîmes. We all had a wonderful day exploring this historical site with Alexis!

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Moment of Silence

Today, the day after the fatal terrorist attack in Paris, everywhere across the country of France, people stopped for a moment of silence at noon.  Alexis and I were in the Carrefour when an announcement was made at 11:56 am, asking everyone to please stop and take a moment of silence.  As noon came upon us, most people stopped in their tracks, the cashiers stopped their service and I even saw a few older men bow their heads.  It was respectful except for the few Arab women in headdress who continued their conversations.  I say that without hesitation.  There is a rapid movement among the Arab world to overtake Europe, specifically France.  This morning I read many articles about the concern of too many Middle Easterners in Europe, specifically France.  I fear the France that I love will no longer be the same in 10 to 20 years.  I read one article that expressed concern about the rise of French Jews emigrating to Israel in fear of the Muslim population in France.  Even in Nîmes, there are neighborhoods where one is not to go if one is not Muslim.  There are large communities in Paris, for instance, that the French police and government do not even enter because the Muslims have taken over.  It is a sad but true reality.  I do know that not all Muslims fall into this extremist category and for that I feel deep sorrow.  Their lives, too, are forever being changed in how they are treated.

Aaron was at Sophie’s school at noon today to pick her up for lunch.  I reminded him before I left the house that I was pretty sure something would be happening at noon at the school.  I came home and he relayed this info to me.

“It was very touching.  The Directeur (principle) and the Mairie (Mayor of Sanilhac) gathered all the children, teachers and parents together outside in the courtyard.  The Directeur then asked everyone to form a large circle.  Each took the persons hand next to them while a moment of silence passed.  The Directeur then said a few heartfelt and tearful words followed by the Mairie giving a few words of encouragement.  I wish I had had a recording device to show you the emotion, sadness, respect and concern that existed in that circle.  It was unifying and very touching.”

The older boys were all able to participate in a moment of silence at their school.  The students were dismissed from their classes a few minutes before noon and were asked to congregate in the courtyard of the school.  There, the Principle, read off the names of the victims and said a few inspiring words and then during the moment of silence everyone in the courtyard raised their hands with pen in hand.  Austin said he felt sorrowful and touched by this.  He said every school in France, students were gathered at the noon hour to pay their respects.  Tristan thought it was a cool experience except for the few Arab boys who were trying to whistle and cough during the Principles message.  He said he was disappointed that they would do something like that.  AJ said it was neat to see the Principle enter each classroom, stand before the students, say a few words and then hang up a Je suis Charlie sign on each chalkboard.

I am grateful our family has had this experience.  And, I, by no means, say that to disrespect the tragic events of yesterday.  It has caused my children to reflect upon issues that aren’t tangible in Utah.  Aaron and I always have discussed world events with our children and this is a very impressionable experience for them.  AJ and Austin were 4 and 1 when 9-11 happened.  So, to have them feel like they are participating in French history (though it is a tragic part of history) is unforgettable!

Le Sapin de Noël

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This is our cute Christmas tree this year in France!  When we moved in July I did pack a few things from our Christmas collection.  Our advent calendar, our Christmas morning bell and our Christmas Eve “Birth of the Savior” story.  I have picked up a few ornaments from Italy and Estonia that hang so nicely on our little tree.  Also, I found a pretty little star to adorn the top of our tree.  I was shocked at how expensive the strand of lights were, about 12 Euros.

Our Christmas this year has already been so simple!  The children know they only will be getting a couple of presents, due to our lack of space and time here in France.  I am finding it interesting that my children’s Christmas Lists are not full of trendy unnecessary gifts this year.  They have not felt the pressure from their peers or classmates to have the “next best thing” or trendy article of clothing.  In fact, my kids have never been worried about that stuff but I do remember the constant “So-and-so has this or that!” They are happy with what they DO have and they are interested in gifts that will help them develop a talent or their area of interest!  I am a happy Mom!  Plus, it helps we really are limiting what we purchase while we are here in France and I realize how many things we have in the States that we do not need!  I hope I can remember this when we go back to the States!

We have Christmas markets and illumination shows to go see this Christmas!  It is all a new experience for all of us.  We are all missing the comfort of what we have been used to around the holidays in the States.  I am really grateful that no matter where we are, our family can celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus Christ.  He is the reason we feel so much joy and love at this time of year.

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He is the Gift

Today is Black Friday!  I have only once ventured out on an early morning Black Friday shopping spree.  It was with my mother-in-law to a tiny smocking/fabric store.  The earlier we got there, the better the percentage off we received.  I came home tired and thinking, “Was it really worth it!”

I woke up this morning with a sweet text from Alexis.  Her and her roommate are going to venture into Honolulu for some Black Friday shopping.  I jokingly said, “Be careful and have fun!”  I then started reflecting upon Christmas and the responsibility parents have in filling stockings and making sure everyone is happy Christmas morning!  I started feeling the anxiety and quickly opened the laptop to search for potential gifts.  Then I was reminded of a short clip the LDS Church was going to be releasing over the holidays and quickly found this clip on youtube.  My anxiety vanished and I remembered, once again, why I even celebrate Christmas.

Please enjoy this sweet reminder of the real Gift of Christmas!

 

Our Church Experience

We have been gone for about 4 weeks now and our church experience has been interesting and fun!  The first Sunday was Fast Sunday, which is a day members of the congregation fast for 2 meals to strength their faith and testimonies of Jesus Christ.  The members of the Nîmes Ward (congregation) were waiting for our arrival and we were warmly welcomed.  Most of the 50 active members knew who we were before we even met them.  It was nice to feel so loved immediately.  We did know a number of people because we had stayed in this area a few times previously.  AJ, Austin and Tristan went together to Priesthood and Young Mens.  Tristan turns 12 in December and the Bishop is making an exception for Tristan to attend Young Mens a few months early because Primary is only 4 children, Joseph (8), Emma (5), Jack (5) and Sophie (3).  Plus, there is a boy, Diego, who just turned 12 who Tristan hit it off with immediately.

That first Sunday, Relief Society consisted of 8 women, plus myself, Julia and Alexis.  French people are very different from Americans.  They do not worry about expressing their opinions and not many get offended easily.  So, it is not uncommon to be in church, in a relief society lesson and 2 or 3 discussions going on at one time.  It is very overwhelming for me because I can not always follow the discussion because someone is trying to make their point above the sound of someone else’s point.  In the end, everyone is still cordial and life goes on to the next “discussion/argument”!  I can see why a lot of Americans think the French are rude.  The French have a very abrupt way of expressing themselves, yet they are not trying to be rude.  It just comes off that way and I know it is not personal.  Most Americans are too worried about not offending someone that they do not express their true feelings.  It has definitely captivated my attention and keeps me on my toes because I have been called on twice to insert my feelings during a discussion.  :(

When I met up with Aaron he said a “heated debate” occurred during the men’s Priesthood meeting.  Every Sunday we have about an hours worth of “debate” discussion between Aaron and I.  We compare notes and either laugh or roll our eyes!

Sacrament service came around and I wanted to conquer my fear of standing before the congregation and speaking French, so I took the plunge and stood to bear my testimony as well as I could in french.  I wanted to show my kids that their Mom can do hard things too.  I gave a very simple testimony of Jesus Christ because my Gospel/Scripture/Church vocabulary is limited.  I think Aaron about fell out of his chair when I stood up to share my thoughts.  People in the congregation where so kind as I attempted to speak their language.  In fact one woman, Claudette, who sits on the front row, was “mouthing” the right verbs to me on a few occasions when she could tell I was looking for the right conjugation.  It was awesome!  I did it!

Of course, our family loves to mingle and visit with others after the 3 hours of services are over.  The children start complaining after about 45 minutes and everyone starts to leave.  It is so unifying and we just love it!  We love the mission field!  It is great seeing the missionaries each week and feeding them!  Whoot! Whoot!

The second Sunday attending the Nîmes Ward, I was asked to give the closing prayer during Sacrament Service.  I was able to prepare in my mind a few simple phrases, but it was nerve racking.  I did it!  Also, the Stake Sunday School President was attending our Ward “scouting” out Aaron.  A few comments were made to Aaron and we prayed that a calling at that level was not in our future.  The Stake in our area is huge!

The third Sunday, Alexis was asked to play the piano for Sacrament Services because no one was there who could.  She did a great job, especially when a little girl went up to the piano, while Alexis was playing, and started playing.  Nathan D. had to go up and pull the little girl away.  Alexis is a great piano player so she wasn’t thrown off by it.  It made us all chuckle! :)

The fourth Sunday, I was asked to teach Relief Society!  I could not believe it!  I told Myriam I was happy to do it, but still very hesitant as I know my french is not ready for a 30 minute lesson!  I was nervous and it came and went and I am so happy that it is over!  There were only 5 ladies, plus Alexis and myself, this sunday.  I asked for all their help and they gladly gave it to me.  We had wonderful comments and personal experiences shared and there were no “discussions/arguments”.  Thank the good Lord above for that!  I did it!

About 2 minutes before Sacrament was to begin a member of the Bishopric came and asked if I could lead the music because the chorister was not there.  I was happy to do it, even after the unfamiliar closing song was sung!  Two of the songs I could not figure out what they were before the pianist started playing.  As soon as she started playing the introduction I was either relieved because I knew it or nervous because I did not know the song.  That happened with one song.  I do not think it is even in the American Hymnal.  Plus, I have to follow the music because I do not know the words in french so I could not look up at the congregation very much because I had to read the words.  I guess I could have just stood there and waved my arm, but that would have been awkward!

Aaron had been asked to give a talk too and he did a great job!  Also, right before Sacrament started Aaron said he had spoken to the Bishop and that he was to receive a calling.  Prayers were answered as it was NOT a stake calling!!!! He was called to serve as the Ward Mission Leader.  He will do a great job working with the less active members and those the missionaries are working with.  Our family is excited for him because we know it means so much to him to serve the people of France again!  Bishop Ribera gave him a very kind and thoughtful setting apart.  There were 15 people in the Bishop’s office showing their support!  It was incredible and a wonderful Spirit was present!  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is real and we feel so grateful we can be apart of sharing it with those in this Nîmes area!

AJ, Austin and Tristan left right after church yesterday to attend a Stake Young Men’s Camping activity.  It is near Toulouse, which is a 3 hour car drive from Nîmes, 3.5 hours from Sanilhac.  Aaron drove our boys plus 3 other boys, Diego, Samuel, and Alexi to the activity, dropped them off and drove home!  No one else had a big enough car to fit all 6 boys so Aaron offered to drive.  He has to go pick them up on Wednesday morning when the activity is over, drive home and drop the other 3 boys off at the church to be picked up by their families.  Aaron said there were about 18 boys total at this Stake Young Mens Activity.  It reminds me of my youth experience when some of my Stake friends lived an hour/hour and a half away.  We haven’t received any phone calls so I guess so far my boys are ok!