Monday, November 18, 2013

Marina the Mini


So this week we had a girl from our branch, Marina, with us Monday - Saturday. It was awesome. Marina is probably my favorite Ukranian. I mean, if I had to pick one and stuff. She's incredible. It was a great experience to work with her and learn from her and teach her a little bit about life as a missionary.

One of the things about Marina being Ukranian is that she only speaks Russian (well, she speaks Ukranian too, but that doesn't help me much, now does it?) So this week, it was Russian all day every day. When the alarm went off at 6:15, I got to roll out of bed and speak Russian to Marina. It was so hard. Every night Sister Clark and I were just slaughtered we were so exhaused. It takes a lot of energy to speak entierly in a foreign language all day. But, it was also incredibly rewarding. I realized how much I am able to do in Russian. Marina and I have a real relationship. Like I will definitely stay in touch with her. And it's entierly in Russian. The fact that I have a sincere, Russian-only friendship is amazing to me. WE HAD GIRL TALK IN RUSSIAN. One night we stayed up until 11:30, talking about the likelihood of she and our branch president getting married after her real mission (papers go in today!). It was so much fun, but Sister Clark and I were both like "wow, it's amazing that we did real girl talk that late in Russian."

The first night, it 10:25, so we were like "c'mon Marina, time for bed" and she was like "wait, what about dinner?" Because she had been living in the real world, and wasn't used to early dinner, early bed, etc. So we fed her a bit and stuff. But really the whole week, she really was not a fan of our American/corrupted Ukranian food. It was kinda adorable, but also a little bit sad because I think she was hungry the whole time she was with us. One night we made tacos, and they were awesome, but she was like "wait these are way too spicy." There was literally nothing spicy on them, just taco seasoning. It was adorable because Ukranians just hate all things with spice. They like sour/vinegar. Someone needs to bring sriracha to Ukraine.

One thing I love about Marina is that she takes charge. She pretty much runs our branch. Like her gender is the only reason she isn't the branch president. She does more work than the branch presidency councelor + the elders quorum president + the RS president. This girl is a fireball. And she totally came into our companionship and pulled her own weight. She made all the phone calls! And planned our way out to a little village to visit a less active member with a new baby (sidenote: the baby was darling and I loved it)! And did the dishes! She was the foce of positivity and energy and goodness in our companioship this week. We were sort of on a post baptism "so what do we do now?" streak. Like ther really wasn't anything planned, no one to meet with, etc. Not because we're lazy, but because we can't proselyte and there just aren't a lot of folks in our lives right now. That combined with the fact that we were sort of exhaused from speaking so much Russian/not getting enough sleep meant that Sister Clark and I were a teensy bit grumpy all week. But Marina was always like "no, lots happened today! I learned a lot today!" Not in an annoying way, but in a sincere way. I actually don't know if we'd have made it though this week without her.

So Marina talked in church yesterday about her mini mission and it was so sweet to hear how much she learned. She said that Sunday morning (first morning back), she woke up on her own to do studies, but then got her week-old-convert father to do them with her. Isn't that touching? I love being a missionary because I get to be part of things like that. Having Marina around, made me realize how much I've become a missionary. I know, duh, right? But it really did stand out. The things that were new to her, that she learned the most from were things like studies and prayers and missionary life things that have become so commonplace to me. It was actually really neat to be like "oh my goodness, I'm a missionary!"

Anyway, hope things are good in those States across the ocean. Isn't it Thanksgiving or something soon? Eat something spicy for me!

All the love,

Attatched is our district picture taken from our next-door-neighbor apartments. Gotta love it.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Our drinking water is not the color it is supposed to be.

Hello there,

Well, we changed our water filter this week. All missionary apartments have filters for drinking water because water in this country is somewhat less than safe. Our filter came out brown/black. Usually they come out slightly tan. Ours was the worst that every missionary we showed has ever seen. But it's cool, Chernobyl is proably far enough away that it's not radioactive things in our drinking water.

Speaking of water, our investegator Жанна got baptized on Saturday. To be completely honest, I was somewhat reluctant to put that in an email. I really don't like the missionary emails that are like "Woooo someone got baptized and now I'm an awesome missionary!" I don't know, it just makes me feel a little bit like a 17th century missionary to Native Americans. Missions are so much more than the quantity of folks that get baptized.

But Жанна did get baptized and it was awesome because of how much she's changed. She comes from literally the most dysfunctional family I've encountered - she grew up in an orphanage because her father was in prision for killing her mother and her brother was in prison for killing her grandmother. When we first started teaching Жанна, she seemed totally disinterested - didn't talk to us much, didn't look at us when we talked, etc. In another area, we probably would have dropped her. But because she was our only investegator, we kept working with her. As we did that, she started to changed. As the gospel really came into her life, Жанна just got happier and more animate. She smiles now, talks to us, calls us like 6 times a day (that's actually sort of annoying, but it helps her so we do it anyway) and always wants us to sit by her at church. I felt like we were watching light come into a life that had been pretty sad and dark. To me, that's what makes this baptism a success. I came on a mission to share something that's changed my little heart with others. I got to do that wih Жанна  and I'm very grateful for that opportunity.

So I spent most of my week doing lessons with Жанна and helping her getting ready for baptism. A few other things happened. We spent lots of time with our investegator, Masha, too. She studies English at the university, is reading Maugham right now, and told me yesterday that she's read Romeo and Juliet in English, so she's a boss and I absolutely adore her. She's my favorite to meet with. I'm probably not supposed to have favorites, but oh well. Sister Clark and I had a splurge meal the other day and got pizza! We also made 4 loaves of banana bread for various folks. It was awesome and such. I don't know, this is sort of a short email. It's been a good week. I'm so grateful to be here, among these people, with my companion. People say "missions are hard" all the time. Maybe I'm doing it wrong, maybe I'm naive, but mine's not. It's challenging every day, but it feels so much more like a privilege than a burden. I end every day feeling grateful. 

All the love,

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Halloween Comes to Житомир (it would have been easier in America)

Why Hello English-speaking World,

First of all, you have perhaps noticed that I am writing this email a day later than usual. I spent all of yesterday in Kyiv doing registration so I can live here legally and what not. By the time that ended, I had 2 hours left of P-day time, which we choose to spend playing in Kyiv. So we're catching up today. But playing in Kyiv was awesome! We ate lunch/dinner (ambigious meal time, not 2 meals) at McDonalds (I felt super American and touristy eating at McDonalds, speaking English and being in Center Kyiv). We also visited Maidan square nand the Lavra, both of which were beautiful. I was kinda like "Oh! Look! I'm back in Europe again!" At the Lavra we went down into the Catacombs and walked by candle light among Orthodox saint corpses in glass boxes. So that was completely fascinating. Someone should google information about the Lavra and tell me what the heck it actually is/why there are catacombs/what they're for. 

When we were here, it was a good little week here in Житомир. I heard it snowed in Utah, and it's yet to snow here, so I'm considering that a major win. Daylight savings time happened last Sunday (fun fact: because Ukraine is sometimes a joke/ghetto, every year they vote to decide if daylight savings will happen), which meant that we got a whole extra hour of sleep (!!!). It also means that the sun starts setting at like 4 and it's pitch dark by 5 PM, but whatevs. It's only mildly depressing. I think I'd like to reitierate that we don't have snow. 

At church on Sunday, the person saying the opening prayer said, "we're thankful to have a temple in Ukraine" and it melted my heart just a teeny bit. I don't think I've ever heard a prayer in Utah (or Pennsylvania, for that matter), that said, "we're thankful to have a temple in our country/state/zipcode." But Ukranians are just darling like that. In other news of darling Ukranians, we started our "English Practice" this week (it's illegal to call it a class). When people were introducing themselves, I made them say their favorite English words. The list included: destination, present, nature, cat, monkey, and umbrella. Language is so cool. My favorite word in Russian right now is "вот" which literally means behold, but people use it colloquially and I love that. I always feel super magnificent saying вот in daily conversations.

So I'm going to spend the rest of my email talking about what happens when Halloween comes to Ukraine, because it pretty much consumed my weekend. Should I ever write an essay about this, it will probably be titled "It Would Have Been Easier in America":

I'm sure you all had a great October 31, seeing Trick-or-Treaters, handing out fun-sized candy, going to parties, etc. Guess what I did with my first Halloween abroad? I spent it at a tombstone factory. I kid you not. We spent the day with one of our members, Katya (she's married to Andrei, from the Book of Revelation talk). We got up early and took a bus way out to the middle of nowhere. She picked us up "in town" in one of those old Soviet cars that have frames the thickness of quarters, but somehow haven't gotten in an accident and crumpled like paper yet. We then drove down a dirt road for 30 minutes to her literally-middle-of-nowhere house. Her house doesn't have gas, so it's heated by fire/smoke/if I'm being honest I don't really understand the whole thing I just know there's a large fire-oven thing in the middle of the living room. Anyway, the area was completely gorgeous. We were just in the Ukranian countryside, and I absolutely loved it.

After feeding us and such, Katya took us to the tombstone factory. We saw how they cut the stones, shine them, and move them with machinery. She showed us where Andrei shapes them into crosses and other fun Ukranian tombstone shapes. She showed us what she does, too. She carves the names and dates and any illustrations onto them. But, because this is Ukraine, the illustration is usually a non-smiling portrait of the deceased individual. It's terribly tacky, but also wonderfully Slavic. I just love that the picture these families choose to have on their progenetors' tombstones are grumpy  faces. We will always remember her frown.

To get home from Katya's, we had to catch a ride with her boss back to "in town," because Katya has no car and it's too middle-of-nowhere for buses to come. So he drove us in, but then no one was really sure when/if the bus we needed was acomin'. So he drove us to another stop, but then when he was driving past and saw no one there, he kept driving. Eventually, we were like "so where are you taking us?" and he was like "oh I decided just to drive you to Житомир." And we were like "you're amazing and so Ukranian." 

So that was Halloween Thursday. Friday, Sister Clark and I were in charge of getting pumpkins at the ринок for our branch party of Saturday. A ринок is sort of like an outdoor market thing, I'm not sure how to explain it. Google it, if you will. Anyway, we needed 10 pumpkins for the party. In America, you could go buy them at the store. Here, you have to wander around the ринок until you find someone who is selling one. Then you tell them you need 10. They look at you like you're crazy. When you promise to pay, they agree to bring 10 pumpkins the next day. So Friday, we went to pick up the fruits of the elders' labors, because the elders were in Kyiv for a music festival. We got there and they weren't like totally 100% pumpkins, but they were close enough. So we paid the lady for 7 25-30 lbs pumpkins. I hope you know where this is going. In America, you put the pumpkins in your grocery cart, wheel it to the car, drive it home, and then unload them in your garage. Here, it's different. I had been smart enough to at least bring my big duffel bag/backpack. So I had 3 in there plus one in my arms for approximately 125 lbs of pumpkin I had to carry back. Sister Clark had 3, but she had to carry them all in her arms. Long story short, the usual 10 minute walk to the apartment took 40, and we couldn't move the next day. 

Saturday night was the party! We started with carving pumpkins. The pumpkins had rotted in a few places since we picked them up, so they smelled kinda funky, but once we got going no one seemed to mind. No one there had ever done this before and it was so funny to watch them figure it out. It was completely adorable. They couldn't quite figure out how to carve but then once they started they completely adored it. The funniest part was that people would cut out a piece, and then eat it. Marina, one of our super darling members who's turning in her mission papers any day now, and I carved one together. We sort of made a cat. Hopefully my camera will work and there will be pictures. After that we did toilet paper mummy contests, which was sort of the highlight. The kids and the adults completely adored it. But at the end, when there were giant piles of papers on the ground we super felt like wasteful Americans. In Ukraine, people just don't waste 10 pumpkins and 10 rolls of toilet paper. We finished with, of course, trick or treat. We did it in different classrooms in the church, but it was so funny, because the kids totally got it and acted just like American kids. They'd knock on the door and when you answered yell, "конфеты!" because "trick or treat" was pretty hard. At the end, each kid had a fairly large supply of candy, and we were good with that, but the adults were all sort of horrified. We'd kinda forgotten that it's only in America that kids get a 6 month supply of candy on Halloween. The Ukranians couldn't figure out why on earth we'd given out that much candy, but I stand by it.

So yes, that was my week. It was sort of crazy and wonderful and Ukranian. Sorry I just wrote a novel instead of an email. I figure you'll forgive me. 

All the love,