Monday, January 27, 2014

Frozen Everything

Well, it is officially really really cold in Ukraine. I'm feeling unbelievably fortunate that it stayed away for so long, because I am constantly reminded that I am just not tough enough to live in temperatures this cold for too many months of the year. Good time it's a one time thing. There are actually lots of amusing things about Ukrainian winter. For example, the windows on all the buses have sheets of ice on them. Also, buses can't stop at their stops, because there's quite a bit of ice on the road (they don't plow here) so you get to watch the buses break and slide for a few more feet until they come to a halt somewhere around the official stop. Also, my eyelashes freeze sometimes when I go outside. Really, everything freezes when it's outside. But the absolute best part of winter in Ukraine is the people have stopped using strollers. It's impossible to use them since the sidewalks all have several inches of snow-turned-ice on them, since they really don't plow anything in this country. As an alternative to strollers, people literally use sleds. As in, I constantly see people walking down the street pulling their kid on a sled behind them. It is the funniest thing you've ever seen and I just love it. 

I fell under a bus this week? I was going to step onto it and there was just a whole lot of ice hanging out there. Anyway, I lost my balance and all of a sudden I was not standing up any more. But I slid in such a way that I ended up with half of me under the bus. It was slightly terrifying to see the doors start to close, but my trusty companion was like "no, no wait!" So the bus waited while I gathered myself and managed to stand up (not without some trouble) and successfully step onto the bus. I'm glad to report I was not run over. 

Also, I hear there's a revolution going on in Ukraine! Since I can't actually read the news, I've gathered from various people I've talked to that there's all kinds of riots and parties in Kyiv right now. We had a little moment in our city on Friday where everyone gathered in the center of town and stormed our government buildings, but it quickly and peacefully dispersed so that was that. Anyway, besides that the revolution really hasn't affected me all that much. Most of the people I talk to just want it to be over, because they don't like violence and/or their fellow Ukrainians getting murdered. It's really quite sweet. I'm completely safe and life continues on as normal (aside from the fact that every time I pass a newsstand I desperately strain my eyes to catch a glimpse of the headlines). 

There isn't much else new here. My 7-year-old best friend Masha has taken to sitting with me in church. She spent the service yesterday braiding my hair. And then afterwards she taught me a fun handshake Russian game. I casually completely adore that girl. I'm constantly very grateful I get to live and work here in Житомир because I have myself a little Ukrainian family and I love them dearly. And it's not the general "I just love the people here" that you hear from every missionary ever (though I do feel it). I have real relationships and friends and people who I'll slap if I never hear from them and they drop off the face of the earth once I'm home from my mission. Basically, it's a gluttonously abundant amount of the most wonderful people, and I couldn't ask for more.

All the love,

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Birthday Shopping Ukranian Style

Hello World,

The strangest part of this week was when we taught a lesson in English. We found this woman who speaks literally flawless English and she wanted to meet and figure out what two Americans in Ukraine were all about. Anyway, we ended up teaching her in English, because I will never speak Russian as well as she speaks English. The funny thing was how incredibly difficult it was to teach in English. I was significantly more self-conscious of what words were coming out of my mouth and I did not like it at all. In a strange way, teaching in English made me significantly more grateful to be a Russian-speaking missionary. 

Arguably the highlight of my week was going birthday present shopping with Masha, my 7-year-old Ukrainian best friend (I'm allowed to have those). It was her mom's birthday and she wanted to go buy her something, but didn't have anyone to go with, so we went with here. It was the sweetest thing I've ever seen. We got to the street and asked "well Masha, where are we going?" she said we were going to the grocery store so we were a little confused but went along with it. When we got there we asked what we were buying and Masha was like, "oranges, tomatoes, black bread, apples, and tea." That was her list of things she wanted to buy for her mom's birthday. So we of course bought it all and a card and Masha was so thrilled. I just love that that was her list of things to buy for a birthday. People don't necessarily have much here (have we talked about how every single Ukrainian I know is perpetually broke?) but it doesn't seem to actually matter in the least - you can always buy oranges, tomatoes, black bread, apples, and tea for a birthday present.

I spoke in church on Sunday. But not my usual 5ish minute discussion on a vague church-related subject. I gave a real, big kid, 12 minute talk. IN RUSSIAN. (You know how people add "in bed" to the end of fortune cookies to make them funny? I feel the need to add "in Russian" to everything I do, because it makes me feel so much more accomplished. Example: I got a library card IN RUSSIAN. I ordered a taxi IN RUSSIAN. etc). Anyway, it was a good little talk and even though I made about 10,000 grammar errors, it was fun to give a real talk. I really do have this weird soft spot for public speaking. Like I don't necessarily even enjoy giving the talk, but I really enjoy writing it. Maybe I'll bail on law school and become a speech writer.

We had a super wonderful mission conference yesterday with President Lawrence, the area 70/area president/he's the general authority in charge of Eastern Europe. Anyway, the best part was that this morning our mission president had a conference call with all the sisters and said, "I just want you to know that driving home in the car last night, President Lawrence said that in all his years in the church and as a general authority he has never seen such an impressive and strong group of sisters." So it's kinda awesome to be on the receiving end of that compliment. #feminism

Finally, by way of announcement, I've sort of decided to shut down my email. Hear me out here. Right now, I kinda feel like this: 6 days a week I live in Ukraine and on Monday mornings I'm back in Utah. It's a bit like I'm maintaining two lives, and it's turned out to be super hard on me. It's like I get settled into my life here every week and then get thrown for a loop on Monday mornings and then have to spend the rest of the week trying to refocus, only repeat the cycle the following Monday. The frequency and accessibility of the email makes it like I'm maybe just a little bit too much in the loop about that life I used to live in those States across the sea. It's really only even a problem because I have way too many people whom I love dearly and who faithfully write me, so way to go guys. I don't know if that made sense, because sometimes I struggle to take things that I feel and turn them concretely into language, but I hope you get the point. ANYWAY, the take-home message is that I'm turning into an old-school missionary again. Starting next Monday, I'm not going to be using my email account to write or read individual emails. I'll still send out this big "Hi, I am alive and this is what I did this week" email, but that's going to be it. Aside from that, expect mountains of personal letters from me in your mailboxes. And if you can forgive me for this, and still care to write me, you can do so VIA snail mail and I will be so thrilled to read your letters (instructions for that in the PS). Thanks for your patience and love and support and for indulging me in this. I have the best cheering section of all the missionaries in the world. 

All the love,

PS. How to write:

Pouch mail is really fast. Any letters sent from home through the Church Pouch must be a single sheet of copy paper (lined notebook paper is too flimsy) folded in thirds with the open section up where the stamp is. You can only use one sheet of paper. Tape the open end at the top with one or two small pieces of tape. (I attached a nice little visual representation of this). Stamp and address as follows:  
Hannah Pugh
Ukraine Kyiv Mission,  
P.O. Box 30150, Salt Lake City, UT  84130-0150

Or the real address, to send it straight here:
Hannah Pugh
vul. Yabluneva 1
s. Sofiivska Borshahivka
Kyevo-Svyatoshinskiy rayon
Kyivska oblast  08131

Or if you don't want to deal with the post office, of if the US government shuts down again, is a good little option, too.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"Jesus Drank Wine"

Awkward moment of the week was when our landlady had us over for dinner. Our landlady is super nice and completely insane. Anyway, she called us one night and was like "I want you to come over right now for dinner" and we were like "hey, alright!" Things went well until she pulled out a 1.5 liter bottle of wine and was like "drink girls!" And we were like "no really, we can't." And she was like "No it's fine, Jesus drank wine, drink!" Anyway, we sort of convinced her that we really weren't going to drink her wine, but then she drank our shares. So we were like not sure what we're supposed to do, because pretty sure Mormon missionaries aren't supposed to casually hang out while one's landlady gets drunk. In the end, we faked an emergency phone call and she was like "let me pay for your taxi home!" so we got a free taxi ride out of it? Also, she made real Italian spaghetti for dinner, which I haven't had in like forever, so that made it arguably worth it.

In other food-related news, we made borscht this week. It was the easiest thing ever and fed us for days. I've decided I'm a big fan or borscht. I'm going to come home and make it all the time and everyone's going to be like "why do you keep eating pink soup?" and I'm gonna be all "I lived in Ukraine, okay!" I may or may not be determined to create the perfect borscht recipe.

Anyone remember Marina, my Ukrainian best friend? She got her call this week! She's headed to St. Petersburg and she's going to be completely amazing. She leaves on April 1 and I'm already dreading having to say goodbye to her. We got to be there when she opened her call, which was adorable, but it was written in English which was a big disappointment, since she doesn't speak English. She figured it out though. I also did language study with a 7-year old this week. Her name is Masha and she's my other Ukrainian best friend. I adore the kid. She's helping me learn to roll my Rs, because you have to be able to do that to speak Russian. She's missing her 4 front teeth, so she rolls her Rs and I can see what her tongue does! It's weirdly helpful. She also corrected me on pronunciation in general. I'd tell her a story and every time I said a word wrong she hit the piano keyboard. It was adorable. Maybe someday I'll learn to speak Russian without the thickest American accent you've ever heard.

It's been a really good week. I guess nothing especially wonderful for noteworthy happened, but it's just been good. Things are flowing. I'm on one of my self-correction streaks. We know how I do that. I'm in one of my maddeningly enthusiastic "what else can I do better?" modes. It happens sometimes. It actually makes me really happy when it does because it always makes me feel good about myself.

I've now become that super annoying religious girl that talks to you about Jesus on the bus. Actually, I kinda love it. I just talk to people about their lives everywhere I go. People are interesting. One of the things people always ask me is "how do you like Ukraine?" I always answer, "I love it here. The people are so kind." And I totally mean it. Where else in the world would people have patience for some crazy foreigner speaking completely broken language stopping them on the street to talk about religion? I mean, I guess there must be other places, but this one's the best. 

All the love,

Monday, January 6, 2014

Does Sister Pugh have an accent?

So there's a missionary in Житомир who's from Kazakhstan. He went to college in Idaho before his mission and speaks great English, so whenever we have missionary meetings it's all in English. We were planning something this week and I said something and all of a sudden he just looked up and said "Does Sister Pugh have an accent? Like when she speaks in English. Because I understand everyone else perfectly, but with Sister Pugh I only get like 95% of what she says." We all know that I tend to talk really fast and my words all run together and often the end of my words just gets thrown out. Anyway, the poor kid can never understand me so I'm working on speaking like I grew up on the East Coast and learned how to say all my words individually.
We had the funniest lesson this week. We were at this lady's house and she sits down and says "I hope my son is going to come on the lesson. Clark, he really likes you. He wants you for a wife. You're his ideal." She went off on it for like 5 minutes, which doesn't seem that long, but was actually really long. I was dying I was trying so hard to keep a straight face. Sister Clark was just dying. Finally we start the lesson, and the son comes in a few minutes later and sits next to Sister Clark. Then proceeds to stare at her for the entire lesson. Which was funny enough, but then at the end of the lesson his mom was like "it's my turn to pray; let's all hold hands." So Sister Clark holds this guys hand through what must have been the longest prayer we've ever had. I've been telling everyone about it because I'm pretty sure it's the funniest thing I've seen happen on my mission. I guess that's what you get for being a redhead in Ukraine.
Another awesome moment was church yesterday. I think I'm just going to preface this by saying this will only make sense to Mormon readers (sorry everyone else, love you too!). Anyway, church went as normal until the sacrament was over, at which point our branch presidency member (who was conducting, but also the only leader there), stands up and announces the closing prayer and hymn and sits down. We were all like "what?" So our Kazakh missionary goes up to talk to him about it (native speakers are the best). And this guys just like "well, we don't have any speakers scheduled, so we should end." And our missionary was like "actually, it's testimony meeting, so that should happen." So he got up and apologized and (somewhat reluctantly) started testimony meeting. Sometimes awkward things happen when your church leader has only been a member for 8 months.
But New Years was great. On New Years Eve we wrapped up copies of The Book of Mormon and gave them out to people we talked to on the street. It was way fun because everyone loves getting presents. Then we went to bed at 10:30, as usual. But don't worry, I celebrated at 9 AM with Utah! We spent the whole day at various members' houses. They all fed us enormous amounts and we ate more food that was even remotely possible. Have we talked about how Ukrainians favorite thing to eat/cook with is mayonnaise? Because it is. Pretty sure I ate all the mayonnaise I need for the entire year on January 1. But one of the best parts was that one of the houses we went to was a little farm thing in the village. There was a goat and many chickens. I loved it. It confirmed to me again that if this whole college thing doesn't work out, I'm going to be a cowboy when I grow up.
So it was just a great week here in Ukraine. Tomorrow is Christmas round 2, then a week from tomorrow is "Old New Year" (Orthodox New Year which was celebrated until communists were like "um guys, the year starts on January 1st," but which people still celebrate as a fun cultural holiday). And then after that the holidays are officially over. Phew. Since today is January 6th, I have exactly a year left to go. How crazy is that? Right now, it doesn't feel like nearly enough.
All the love,