Monday, December 30, 2013

With New Year!

So I bought a Christmas tree this week. It's about three feet tall and is practically straight out of Charlie Brown. It happened like this: we'd had a kinda hard day and were walking to our last lesson of the day. I got off the bus and there was this guy selling Christmas trees on the street. Naturally, I inquired. He said one of the small ones was normally 40 грн but I could have it for 15. That's less than 2 dollars, so of course I said yes and bought it on the spot. I then carried it to our lesson, on the bus home, and into our apartment. Maybe it was a little impulsive and stupid, maybe it makes no sense to buy a Christmas tree after we'd celebrated Christmas, maybe we have nothing to decorate it with, but I love the stupid thing.

In other news, it was so warm this week! It was 8 degrees C, so like 45 F! I don't even feel like I'm living in Ukraine. And I kinda love it. I know that snow will inevitably come, but for now I'm enjoying my global warming December. 

We played "would you rather?" for a family home evening with some of our members this week and it was the funniest thing you've ever seen. At first they didn't like it (Ukrainians are kinda terrible at thinking creatively), but the more we did it the more they got into it. By the end, they were so into it and thought it was the best game ever invented and were so bummed when we ran out of questions. It made my day. Also, our favorite baby has learned here first word - amen. (Except, it's Russian, so it's ah-mean). We had a lesson with her parents this week and she walked around saying it over and over and over. Cutest thing ever.

Ummm that's about it. It was kinda a weird week because like nothing happened. We skyped home and Christmas was awesome. Everyone we tried to meet with was like "after the new year." We ate at McDonalds on Christmas because it was American. My nails are purple not red right now. It's New Years tomorrow and we're not allowed to go outside after 8, because Ukrainians use it as an excuse to literally drink as much as they possibly can (which is a lot, if you're Ukrainian). But I'm actually super excited for the new year, because 2014 will be "that entire year of my life I spent on my mission." I just like that it works so I cleanly have an entire year. Anyway, Happy New Year (Or With New Year if we want to be Russian).

All the love,
Hannah

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Came Anyway

Merry Christmas everyone!
 
There's quite a bit of pressure about being a missionary writing home on Christmas. It's like you're supposed to have some profound insight into "the true meaning of Christmas." I've thought hard and I really don't have that, so instead of writing a Christmas sermon, I'll just tell you about what my Christmas season has been like.
 
As we know from last week's (slightly whiny) email, Ukraine doesn't do Christmas like the States. By which I mean, they don't really do Christmas. Consequently, it's been a rather interesting December. Without the usual external forces pointing towards Christmas, it was more-or-less up to me to make Christmas happen for myself. I was somewhat uncomfortable to realize that, unless I did something, December could come and go without Christmas coming. As it turns out, in and of itself, December doesn't bring a focus on giving, on being kind, on doing service or on Christ any more than any other month does.
 
But, of course, I craved Christmas. I've never even been one to celebrate Christmas especially emphatically, but I suppose I never realized what a nice little place it has in my heart. I missed nativity sets in homes and creches in yards. I missed Christmas songs -  I found myself walking down the street singing songs I learned for Waterford Lower School Christmas concerts (I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing In, anyone?). I missed reading Christmas story books like Auntie Claus and The Grinch and all those lovely Christmas books that always teach the same message "it's better to give than to receive." I missed the slightly tacky news stories about Christmas miracles and displays of kindness around the world. I missed being in church meetings where everything said relates back to Christmas. I missed Christmas lights.
 
So I set about making sure Christmas would come. As it turns out, that's no small task, because it means cultivating that Christmas spirit (which I always thought was a cliche phrase, but now I realize is a real thing) internally and individually. It all started with Handel's Messiah, which is on my absurdly-random-assortment-of-music missionary iPod. I don't know if Christmas's can have themes, but if mine does it'd be the words from Handel's Messiah (and Isaiah), "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given." This Christmas, those are the words that I haven't been able to get rid of and that have invited in my Christmas spirit. The language is so specific and beautiful; it reminds me to be grateful that the Christmas story, and all of Christ's life, was done "unto us." It sounds like a cliche, but as I thought about that, I didn't crave Christmas anymore. Lights and songs and storybooks don't quite matter so much because "unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given."
 
And that is what my Christmas has been about; gratitude for the miracle of Christ. I believe and am grateful to believe that the child was born and the son was given unto us. That means everything to me. I'm grateful that his atonement and gospel and church "work" in my life - make me better, happier, more at peace, more nearer to the person I want to be. I'm grateful for the example he set and that I can strive daily to become more like him. And I am deeply grateful that I have the opportunity to be a missionary, to tell people what I believe, to invite them to find out, too. Being able to share the love and goodness I find through faith in Christ is the greatest privilege and the best part of my Christmas.
 
So yes, Christmas came anyway. And I intend to keep it here a good while yet.
 
All the love,
Hannah

Monday, December 9, 2013

A Snowflake Fell

So I woke up Tuesday morning and decided I hated my hair. It just sort
of hit me that I really didn't like it. The upper layer was way too
short and everything was dry and I just hated it as much as anything.
So I spent the whole day telling Sister Clark that next PDay I was
decidedly getting a haircut. I wasn't sure where, because my trust of
Ukrainian hair cutters wasn't high (have we talked about how the Woman
Mullet is a popular style here?), and I wasn't sure when because Pday
time is always short, but it was going to happen. Finally, at the end
of the day Sister Clark was like, "Do you just want me to cut it?" and
because I didn't know who else would and I didn't know when else I
could, I was like "Yeah! Let's do it! Now!." Sister Clark had never
cut any one's hair before, but we kinda just went for it in the living
room. It was only slightly terrifying. Anyway, now my hair's 3.5
inches shorter and more-or-less even (Okay, so the left side is
actually decidedly longer than the right side, but we're working on
fixing it sometime soon, we've just been too lazy so far). It's an
adventure. But actually, Sister Clark did a great job. It's a good
thing I like her because transfers were this week and we found out
we'll be together 2 more months (until Mid-February!).

In other news, it started snowing Tuesday and hasn't really stopped
since. I mean, it's stopped at times and hasn't snowed really hard,
but it's pretty much consistently snowing whenever we go outside. It's
cold and lovely. I bought 2 new huge-and-super-warm sweaters and I'm
kinda liking this Ukrainian winter thing. One oh-so-Ukrainian thing is
that they don't shovel or salt sidewalks here. So it's kinda like
living on an ice rink! I asked Marina how people don't fall all the
time and she was just like, "Oh, they do. Especially babushkas and
kids." I haven't fallen yet, but I'm sure it's in the works. Am I
considering buying myself a pair of ice skates? It's possible. Merry
Christmas to myself.

Since there's now snow, we had a snowball fight! Guess who started it?
Our 23-year-old branch president. We (4 missionaries, 3 members, and
him) were standing at the bus stop the other night and he just picked
up snow and started himself a snowball fight. It was so funny. It
ended with him tacking the RS president and one of the elders in the
snow. Where else in the world does that get to happen?

I taught another lesson with a kitten on my lap! I didn't try to, but
this time it came up and curled up on my lap during the lesson and I
couldn't kick it off, now could I? Apparently I have become an
individual obsessed with baby animals.

In other news, we're teaching a 79-year old woman. She can't really
remember what we teach her or our names and can't see to read much
anything and is afraid to go in the snow and come to church, but she's
completely darling. It's so fun to teach her because she just loves
having people in her house. The first time we met with her she
started crying and talking about how no one calls and no one visits
and she's just all alone. So now we call her every day and visit her a
few times a week and just try to help her feel like someone in the
world cares about her. It's nice to be able to do that for someone.
Everyone go call your grandma!

Anyway, I feel like I haven't had anything good to say for weeks.
Maybe the longer it's been since I've been in school (much less simply
read a book) the dumber I get. But in the most simple way, I love it
here.

All the love,
Hannah

Monday, December 2, 2013

It got cold this week

Hello,

Well, this was a funny week. There were lots of outliers. For instance, I taught an entire lesson with a kitten on my lap. (She'd curled up and fallen asleep when we were talking and I couldn't just kick her off). Said kitten, for unknown reasons, had no tail. I also had my first moment of intense trunkyness/homesickness - we walked in a library and it smelled exactly like the library at Swat and I just about died because all of a sudden I was like "all I want to do is read a few books and write a paper in McCabe." We also did interviews with our mission president this week. Except he called to say he was coming up from Kyiv after we were already on a bus to a village 2 hours away where we were going to do service and hence wearing sweatshirts and jeans. So we did our interviews the second we got back from the village, wearing sweatshirts and jeans. President said they were his first interviews in 2.5 years with missionaries in such apparel. It also got cold this week. It hovered around 0 and -1 degree Celsius. Which is cold. My body was like "'it's cold and I don't like it! I give up!" and immediately succumbed to sickness. So I was kinda a baby about that, but I'm doing better now!

We, us and the elders, had ourselves a little Ukrainian Thanksgiving this week and it was sort of awesome. The elders bought a 4 lb turkey breast and prepared it all fancy with spices and stuff and we cooked it. They also made mashed potatoes and corn, both of which were super American and awesome. We tried to make stuffing, but they don't have chicken broth in this country and the stuff we ended up making was like 90% salt and unbearable to eat. We also made "cranberries." As in, we bought an ambiguous red berry at the store and followed the cranberry recipe with that. Whatever it was, it was awesome. And we bought rolls at the store, because Ukrainian bread is the best. Plus the elders made "root beer"! They put imported-from-America root beer concentrate in mineral water and it was only sort of disgusting. This country needs dry ice. We had super-Ukrainian kontiks for dessert, which are this cookie/chocolate thing that you soak in milk and it's awesome and every missionary here loves it. So that was our great Ukrainian Thanksgiving experiment.

Anyway, I feel like that's all I have to say. More adventures to come, I'm sure.

All the love,
Hannah