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,
Hannah

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