Monday, October 28, 2013

Babushka Boots

Hello Everyone,

Let us start with the funny story of the week. In our branch presidency is Brat Andrei (brat means brother, but it's not brat like English it has an ah vowel). I could best describe Brat Andrei as Hagrid's Ukranian doppleganger. He has crazy, shoulder length dark hair, a giant beard, and is like 6'3''. He makes tomb stones for a living. But he's also one of the nicest guys in the branch and is such a boss. We love Brat Andrei. Anyway, last Sunday he spoke in church and was given the topic of revelation. But rather than delivering the nice thoughts on personal revelation that you'd find in a Utah sacrament meeting, he interpreted that as direction to discuss the Book of Revelation in the Bible, which as we all know, is impossible to understand. So basically it was, obviously, the best sacrament meeting talk ever. Now our memebers are all trying to read the Book of Revelations, bless their little Ukranian hearts.

So I'm pretty sure that in general, Ukraine was the best place in the world to be a missionary this week. There have been so many kindnesses shown to us. Every day I am amazed by the kindness I experience. It's not a bumpersticker kindness done because kindness as an idea is important (if that makes sense) or what have you. People are kind because that's just who they are. They don't even think about it, because it's just who they are. There's this awesome Vonnegut quote from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater that I think of all the time here (heads up, there are some naughty words in it): "Hello babies, welcome to earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. There's only one rule I know of, babies: god dammit, you've got to be kind." I think that is actually the Ukranian mentality. You've just got to be kind. This week, especially, I had a few experiences that highlighted that:

We made brownies to take to the babushka who lives next door to us. We introduced ourselves and gave her brownies and talked for just a minute because she had a friend over. And we didn't think much more about it, until the next night, when there was a knock at the door about 10 minutes after we got home. We opened it and there was Baba Vanda. She had our plate, which she was "returning" but had filled with Ukranian crepe/pancake things as well as another plate filled with this apple strudel-y thing she'd made with her friend. We were literally giddy because it was so cute of her to make it. Today we're buying flowers and returning her plate.

Another little story of kindness comes from Cvetlana. She's a member with a daughter our age who's not a member but who we're teaching. After our lesson this week, I worked with her daughter on English homework (She's an English major, too!) while Cec. Clark worked with Cveta on her talk for Sunday. In the course of it all, one of them borrowed a pen from us. We left without remembering to get it, but when Cveta discovered that, she was ran after us for 10 minutes, in her slippers, to get it to us. She finally caught up to us outsider our apartment and gave us the pen. She wasn't even concerened that it had been a pain for her to run after us because she wanted to make sure we hadn't been inconvienienced by the loss of a pen. 

Our last amazing person of the week is Baba Anna. (Sidenote: You put Baba in front of the name of babushka and that's just what they're called). Baba Anna's a member, but she lives like 2 hours away from Zhytomyr in the celo, so we don't get to visit her very often, but this week we did. We got there and she had this enormous meal prepared: borscht (my first in Ukraine) and gretchka (which is buckwheat and actually is awesome) and she'd bought a whole chicken because the missionaries were coming. So that was amazing. After that we went outside to do some service stacking firewood. As we were walking I told Cec. Clark how much I loved Baba Anna's boots - they were these fur-lined super Ukranian work boots. Baba Anna heard and then proceeded to try to give me the shoes off her feet. This is a babushka who doesn't have money to get to church every week, but she was trying to give me her boots. She immediately took them off, showed me how she had other pairs, how nice these ones would look if they were shined, and kept trying to hand them to me. Eventually I convinced her to keep them, but I was simply amazed that she would have given me her shoes without a second thought.

I could write more about the kindnesses I've enountered in this place, but I feel like these 3 little stories are sufficent. Every day, I get to spend time with people who really do fundamentally live by the principle "you've got to be kind." And I am perpetually amazed by them. Sometimes, I feel like a terrible person in comparison. At least once a day I find myself thinking, "Hannah, you've got to be better," because I would never have been as generous or chartible or kind as people are to me every day. I am so grateful I have the opportunity to live here and work with the people here. They teach me so much. I hope that when I grow up, I can be a little more Ukranian.

All the love,

Hannah

Monday, October 21, 2013

Hitchhiking and Chicken Liver

Our theme this week was "Hannah continues on in her adaptation to life in Ukraine."

Have we talked about the Ukranian language? Because there's this thing here where people speak Ukranian. And when I say people, I mean that 3 of the 5 people we are teaching right now only speak Ukranian. They understand Russian/us most of the time, but it is so hard to understand them! Like Cec. Clark has a hard time, and she's been out 6 months/ is really good at Russian. So that's a thing. We also do church in Ukranian. We use the Ukranian hymn books, which is fine, because "Come Thou Fount" is inexplicably in there, so I'm a pretty happy camper. But yeah, there's a lot of Ukranian in my life, right now. 

Sometimes, life in Ukraine gets a little bit sketchy. For example, I was fed chicken liver this week. Now I realize that as someone who is not serving in South America, I really have no right to make any comments on the meat I am fed. But as a former vegetarian of 2 years, I feel fine saying that that was a struggle. I may or may not have made the elders eat it when the members weren't looking. But I'm not owning up to anything. (Sidenote: one my favorite things about the Romans is that they believed the liver was the center of emotions, like how we say the heart is. Isn't that sort of wierd and awesome?). 

Another sketchy thing was that we sort of hitchhiked this week. Us, the elders, and the branch president went to this little село about 90 minutes outside of the city to visit a less-active with Parkinsons. We had a nice little visit, did some service, and then went to catch our 2:15 bus back. But the bus didn't come. And didn't come. Finally we asked someone and it turned out that for whatever reason the bus wasn't coming until 4:30 that day. But we needed to get back sooner because the branch was watching conference (in Ukranian, of course) and the branch president had the DVD! So we hitchhiked. As in stood on a curb and tried to pay someone to take us back. Apparently that's a thing people do here. Anyway, we waited for about an hour before Sister Clark and I got a ride (we got to take the first car to stop because the driver seemed nice enough, and they didn't want to leave us stranded in the село). And the driver was super nice, didn't murder us, and didn't even make us pay when we got back to the city! So that was my fun adventure of the week hitchhiking. I'm pretty sure it was safe because the branch president was there and in charge of it.

In related sketchy news, remember the sketchy hospital lab I talked about in my first email? Two of the people we're teaching work there but live in селоs, so we taught 3 lessons this week in the hospital lab. As in, we were sitting in a room with viles and petrie dishes filled with gelatin-ized (not a word) blood and urine while teaching about the Restoration. It's sort of hilarious and I'm like 90% sure it's safe enough that I won't contract some terrible disease. 

Sometimes, life isn't sketchy, it's just super Ukranian. Like when we were in the село this week and saw like 6 horse-drawn carts. Or, because it's apple season, the way that every time we visit anyone they give us a giant bag for of mostly rotten apples that they just picked up off the ground from under their apple tree (we usually leave them in ambiguous places throughout town where people pick them up). Or there's the giant statue of Lenin in the middle of town. That makes me smile every time. Speaking of Lenin and failed governments, does the US still exist? Because the last thing I heard was that we were supposed to go bankrupt on the 17th. Where's that whole thing at?

Also super Ukranian is the fact that no one here can sing. It's adorable how completely terrible our hymns are every Sunday. It is actually possible that every Ukranian is tone deaf. I think it's because in the US 1) people grow up singing these hymns 2) the hymns haven't been translated so they flow better and 3) we have some element of music in all K-12 education, so people learn the basics. Anyway, the missionaries did a musical number last week and it was a total hit. When I get back, we can talk about how funny it is that I sang in sacrament meeting because I'm a fairly thoroughly terrible singer. But we even got applause from the members (in the middle of sacrament meeting), so that was encouraging (sort of). 

Anyway, life's an adventure right now and I'm loving it. The members are so kind and loving, we're teaching some awesome women, I love my companion, I have hope that someday I'll learn Russian, and things are good. This week, someone posed the question "how are you different since coming on your mission?" I've only been gone 3 months and I'm not sure I have a good answer or that I'm really all that different. I think I have more peace in myself; I'm settling into myself. I'm not all that I want to be yet, not by a long shot, but I'm plugging away and I might get there eventually. 

Until then, all the love,

Hannah

Monday, October 14, 2013

Elevator Rides and Fall Leaves

Hello There,

So my spellcheck on this computer is in Russian. Which means that we're going to find out just how terrible I spell in this email. Please forgive me. And don't tell Swarthmore. I really do still plan on majoring in English, but without spellcheck I might seem illiterate. (Ironically, I'm not even sure how to spell illiterate.)

The most momentous event of the week was my first ride in an elevator. (Okay, technically it was my second because my first one was the way up). Anyway, we were at a member's house with the elders and it was a little late so we hurried out and got in the elevator. It went down for about half a second then there was a very loud noise, a jolt, a moment when we all thought we were going to fall 9 stories to our deaths, and the elevator was broken. (See photo). We spent a good half hour in there while the members tried to get someone to fix it. There was lots of yelling in Russian and a few moments when we were worried the "fix it" guy was going to cut the wrong cord. But eventually they pried the doors open and we climbed out. Like literally climbed out, because the elevator was still half-way descended. Luckily we were in jeans not skirts, since we were there doing something that required pants.

Fall here is just gorgous. Since we're outside of Kyiv, there are huge trees all around in every color of yellow and orange and red. We spent Saturday doing service at a member's "dacha" (basically like a small cabin outside of town that everyone here has) and it was incredible. Afterwards we walked along the river with her and it was some of the most amazing autumn I've ever seen. If I had the space, I'd attatch tons of photos of it, but the one here will have to suffice.

This week I also had my first experience of the "Ukranian direction phenomenon." What is that, you ask? When you ask a Ukranian for directions, they'll more than likely go way out of their way to walk you wherever it is you need to go. I'd been told about it, but this week I was kinda shocked when we asked someone for directions and it actually happened. At first I was super suspicious that she was actually just going to walk us to the hospital. But she did. And then I felt really guilty for coming from a culture when I'm suspicious of too much kindness. Ukranians are awesome.

In other news, Russian is really hard and I'm sort of over not being able to communicate with anyone. But I'm learning! Sigh. My mini-goal of the week is to not say um when I speak Russian (it would be nice to be able to do that in English, but I've only ever met one person who could). Right now, when I teach there are long moments of "ummmmm" while I conjugate and decline words in my head. But one member told me that totally doesn't make sense in Russian, which itself makes since because they don't really have that sound in their language, so anyway I'm working on that. Basically I'm working on everything in Russian right now. Sigh.

The good news is that the work is working. Things for us to do (good, worthwhile things) are continually coming up just when we get to the point of "wellllll, what now?" I love working here, on my unconventional "secret mission" (as President calls it). This week totally flew by! I feel like I was emailing yesterday.

WHICH REMINDS ME. I am putting out a plea for baked goods recipies. We end up baking a fair amount to take to members (since that's mostly what we do) and our single cookie recipe is getting old. So pretty pretty please everyone who reads this send me some recipies. Preferably simple ones (we have no Kitchen-aids in Ukraine) but really anything. Thank you already times a thousand.

On a different note, we had zone conference this week and it included a really good discussion of repentance, but the thing that's really been on my mind all week is a Hugh Nibley quote that someone brought up: the only 2 things worth being good at in this life are repenting and forgiving. I love it because really, they both, at least in part, come down to believing in the goodness of the human heart. Both of them come down to believing that we fundamentally want to be good and in believing it's possible to become better. Isn't that lovely?

Thanks everyone for emails and letters. I'm sorry that every email I send out is a paragraph long and ends with "I'm sorry but I'm out of email time." I really am thoroughly terrible at budgeting it out. Eventually I'll get it down. In the mean time, I really do appreciate hearing from you and love you.

All the love,
Hannah

Monday, October 7, 2013

Sister I Drink Takes Ukraine

Hello world,

So remember how it was funny that my name tag reads "Sister I Drink"? My like first 4 hours in the country I had multiple people (includine my mission president's native-speaker wife) look at it funny and suggest changing it. I haven't decided yet if I'm going to, because it would likely involve creating a more-or-less entierly new last name. We'll see what I decide to do. But for now, this is Sister I Drink reporting from Ukraine.

So my last few days at the MTC were awesome. The best part was that we spent pretty much all day Saturday at the conference center since we were the MTC choir for the RS broadcast. We had a cool little mini-devotional with the General RS presidency, had mountains of blush put on our faces by the MTC RS presidency (there was blush on my forehead! My forehead!) and got to be in the same room as Elder Holland for a little while, which was second-best to him coming to the MTC. The coolest part was that after the meeting, the entire RS general presidency stood and gave every choir member hugs. That kinda blew me away. It's arguably their biggest day of the year, but they wanted to make sure the choir felt loved, too. How cool.

Early Tuesday morning (as in 3:15) we got up and got on a bus and a train and a few planes on our way to Ukraine. The travel was good. My absurdly enormous bag only cost an extra $100, which was good because I was worried it was going to cost closer to $500. Judy sent me a burner cell so I got to call my parents and talk to the family for a little while in the airport, then break the phone in half and throw it in two different trash cans before leaving the country. It was pretty ligit. The flights were good - I had aisle seats on every flight! (We didn't get to pick our seats, so that was actually amazing). And I'm here!

Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we did training with President and Sister Klebingat. It was super intense, but really good. I'm excited to be in their mission. Arguably the hardest part was the jet lag. My body was like "Hannah, why on earth are you up at this hour?" and I was like "I don't know but we've got to stay awake because President's talking about the House of Israel." There is no cushioning of jet-lagged missionaries. You power through it. (Which is actually way better, because if there were cushioning, jet lag would probably go on for months.)

So I'm out in the field! It's a funny story, actually. I'm serving this transfer in Zhytomyr (I think that's how it's spelled in English). It's a nice little city about 150 KM west of Kyiv with this big, beautiful Orthodox church in the middle. Anyway, interesting thing about this area is that it's non-proselyting. A little while ago, they kicked out all the churches except the Orthodox one, so we can be here and can work with the branch, but we aren't allowed to wear tags or go contacting or do regular missionary stuff. It'll definitely be an interesting transfer. Sister Clark is my trainer. She's from Virginia and has red hair and is a sociology major at BYU. She's been here 4.5 months, and she's super awesome. I'm very pleased I get to work with her and excited to become BFFLS in the next 6 weeks. Also, we have such a nice apartment. It's seriously amazing. Way nicer than my dorm at college, so that's a definite perk. 

But our branch is awesome! We're the first sisters here in 5 years and they're so excited to have us. There are like 30ish people who come every Sunday. I was really worried about being in a brach (I'm from Utah after all), but it turned out that it was awesome. The members are all pretty new in the church - baptized in the past 18 months or so - but they love each other so much. It's a little family. Basically, it's the liberal arts college version of a ward and I love that. Yesterday was fast Sunday (general conference hasn't been translated to Russian yet), so naturally the new sisters were invited to speak. I spit out some little testimony (not right, but understandable I think) and sat down. After sacrament meeting I felt a hand on my shoulder and it was one of the members, Natasha, giving me a hug. It was so sweet because it felt just like home. Like I've had people in my home ward do that to me after I talk. It was one of those moments of "oh good, the church still works in Ukraine. I know where I am."

The other awesome thing was that since it was fast Sunday and there were the new sisters we had a feast after church. All the sisters gathered in the kitchen and put together this awesome dinner. We were in there preparing away, but it was so typical Mormon RS gathering, I couldn't help smiling. Granted, we weren't making funeral potatoes, but the principle stands. I felt like I knew where I was. And the dinner was awesome. Seriously so good. Afterwards, the branch president (who is amazing: 23, RM, has 7 other callings in the stake, doesn't even live in our area but takes the bus 2 hours every Sunday to come be our branch president) had us introduce ourselves. They wanted to know how long our families had been in the church and they were so excited to hear that many of my anscestors were pioneers. When you're not in Utah, that's exciting. 

So I love our little branch. Most of our work this transfer is going to be spending time and developing relationships with members and I'm so excited to be able to do that. We taught two lessons already (we're allowed to teach, but only if someone specifically asks to be taught) and teaching is the best. Even though my Russian is barely understandable, I love being able to communicate even a little bit. On Saturday, we visited a member at her work, which happened to be a hospital. Can I just say that I hope I never have to be in a Ukranian hospital? Mission goal number one: stay absurdly healthy. She works in the "lab" and I'm pretty sure I had nicer stuff at Waterford. She was showing us all these petrie dishes of congealed blood growing various infections - I definitely heard the words salmonella and dysintery at one point. It was super intersting, but also kinda super terrifying. 

Anyway, it's been a good, busy, crazy couple of days. I'm so happy to be here though. Yesteday was October 6, which (I'm pretty sure) was the day a year ago when the age change was announced for missionaries. It is amazing to me that one year later, I'm here. On a mission. With a tag (in my bag, since I can't wear it). Hebrews 10:31 has been on my mind a lot this week; it says, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." In my mind, that means that sometimes it's scary to act in faith. That moment before I know it's going to work out when I have to just do it with faith it will be alright is sometimes the scariest part of the journey. I think deciding to go on a mission was much scarier and possibly even more difficult than actually doing it. But every day I am very grateful I did. I still have moments of "woah, I hope I'm going to be able to do this," but as I look at the past year of my life, and what has happened when I've "falled into the hands of the living God," I have faith that it will be okay. I'm so excited about the next year and a half and all the experiences it's going to bring. 

All the love, 
Hannah