Monday, February 24, 2014

Spring Break for Missionaries

Well this was an awfully eventful week in Ukraine. For starters, I got a manicure last Monday because I was so over broken and battered nails. Am I high-maintenance as ever? It would appear so. I also saw a black person for the first time in Житомир. I know, I know, I used to think Utah lacked ethnic diversity. We had a couple of Jehovah's Witnesses come trackting to our door "to talk about the theme of God" so it was pretty funny to be on the receiving end of proselyting. I answered the door with my tag on, and it was a little awkward. I met a man wearing a Swarthmore beanie on the street. He said he bought it at a thrift shop, but still, who would have thought Swat Swag would make it's way clear out here? We played uno with Marina's family for hours on Monday night in the dark because the power was out. The best part was when her 6-year-old nephew got down to one card and he goes "uno славу Богу," which means "uno, glory to God" and I pretty much died laughing when he said it. I defrosted our freezer all by myself and I felt pretty tough about that, because it takes a big kid to defrost a freezer and there were literally inches of ice around it so it was no small feat. Oh yeah, and there was a war in Ukraine.

Okay, so it wasn't actually a war, and was definitely just a revolution but all the Ukrainians called it a war because, bless their tender little hearts, if people are dying then it must be a war. 

Tuesday night crazy riots and violence and such started in Kyiv, so Wednesday morning all missionaries received instructions that we were not allowed to leave our apartments. We spent the whole day inside in pajamas reading and writing and learning Russian. It looked like a normal, beautiful day outside and people were out on the park outside our house as usual, so we thought that us staying inside in sleepy Житомир was a little over reactive, but who doesn't like a day off every once in a while? That night I was making tacos when our phone rang and it was the leaders calling to tell us to "kill all the lights on your house." I was like "what? why? I'm making tacos." And they were like "Sister Pugh, go look our your window." So I went and looked out my window and what do you know the revolution had made it's way to Житомир. There was a group of a few hundred people marching and chanting. So we turned off our lights and watched as they marched, threw gas, made trash can fires, and broke every window in the government building that is our next door neighbor. They were literally right outside our apartment building on the front and the back. It was so crazy and we got scared so we evacuated our apartment to go stay with the other sister missionaries for the night. They live in a different part of the city that was not where the revolution was happening.

Thursday we were stuck inside again, but it was a terribly beautiful day, so I did what I do best and sat outside and read. We had good sister missionary bonding time reading, napping, making borscht, playing uno and phase 10, you know, all the things you do when you're on spring break because you're not allowed to leave your apartment because there's a war going on, 

So Thursday night we were still at the other apartment and about 10:45 we were like "well, looks like the revolution's over. We should probably go to bed since tomorrow will likely be a normal day." No sooner had we laid our heads to the pillow than we heard the sounds of the revolution outside our window. We literally ran to the window to see what was going on. Low and behold, there were a few hundred protesters marching towards Lenin. You remember Lenin, right? Leader of a Bolshevik revolution, we have a big statue of him in the center of town. (See below). The other sisters' apartment happens to be literally right across the street from him, so we had a very good view of him. Anyway, they threw homemade fire bomb things and Lenin and he got engulfed in flames. Literally engulfed. Like, the flames cover every foot of the statue. It was insane. But after like 15 minutes, they ran out of cocktail bombs, so the fun ended. And that was when they pulled out the ropes.

I should insert here that it has always been my dream to see a statue of Lenin or Stalin be pulled down. I don't know why, but ever since learning about the fall of communism way back in 6th grade, I've always wanted to see a statue pulled down. So when they pulled out the ropes, I was simply overjoyed. They got a ladder and tied the rope to Lenin's head and pulled with all their might and absolutely nothing happened. They then spend the next hour trying to pull Lenin down by hand. They had 4 ropes going at one point, but still they just weren't strong enough. I'll be honest, my hopes were getting dashed that I would get to see Lenin fall. Until the mail truck drove by. It was like a small semi with two cargo loads. The protesters stopped him. They unhitched his load and made him back up to Lenin. They attached the ropes and had him drive. And the mail trick did what they could not. Lenin shifted a little, then fell head first. Did I cheer with the protesters as he fell? Maybe accidentally. It was only the coolest moment of my life. We stayed up until 1:30 to watch him fall and it may be the greatest epic of my mission. The next morning we ran over to take pictures and get small pieces of Lenin before they took him away.


Friday was the third and final day of being stuck inside and to say we were going stir crazy is a  mild understatement. You really can only spend so much time in an apartment before you lose your mind. Never to worry, I haven't lost mine all the way. Anyway, Friday the government in Kyiv signed some piece of paper with someone else and it sort of ended the revolution? I don't know exactly because I am not allowed to read the news because I am a missionary and I focus on my work. Maybe another time we can talk about how terribly painful it has been for the eternally politically active me to witness a revolution and have no access to news media. At any rate, Friday night it was again safe for missionaries to leave so we're out and about and back to work. There's still a giant barricade at the seat-of-government building here, but we avoid that and they aren't violent anyway. Whenever we walk near it I just die a little bit because it's so funny to see their little barricade of crate boxes and car tires.

So that is the story of how I survived the revolution. It was only a little bit scary and completely amusing and I love the Ukranians' spunk. They tore down Lenin. What more could I ask for? Life has resumed and I'm doing well and we're totally safe, so don't worry.

All the love,

Monday, February 17, 2014

I would never have said that before I learned Russian.

Well, the way I speak English has officially changed. I had a moment this week when I realized "I would never have said that before I learned Russian" and since then I've had them constantly. In Russian, you use adverbs a lot. Like a whole freaking lot. And those adverbs and other grammar things I say 20,000 times a day have worked their way into the English side of my brain. Here are things that I now say in every conversation: honestly, to say in short, understandable, that is difficult, simply, so that, in order to, and whom. It's okay, I don't need to speak perfect English to go back to college or anything. I'm switching my major to math. 

(Not really.)

Anyway, since I was a little melodramatic last week about the whole new companion situation,  I thought you'd all like an update. I actually love Sister Cromwell! We're complete opposites (she told me yesterday she was homeschooled from 4th grade until she got her GED and went to BYU-Idaho to study horticulture), but it's good. I have discovered that I have a great deal of respect for her. As I've been with her, I have realized just how difficult being a missionary is for her. She isn't neccisarily naturally suited for this work. I'm pretty sure that every day of her mission is harder for her than the hardest day of my mission will be for me (unless I get stabbed or something). She goes out every day and fights a literal battle where I engage in thumb wars. She might struggle with lots of the basics of missionary work, and may not be a missionary people look at and say "she's one of the best" judging by external achievements, but she puts forth enormous effort daily and in that regard is one of the most successful missionaries I have ever met. I feel very priviledged to have the chance to work with her, 

Have we ever talked about how everyone in Ukraine is broke? Probably not because it makes me terribly uncomfortable. I have never spent time around people who literally don't have the money for hot water or public transportation or dentistry or food or basic healthcare. "Oh, you don't have any teeth because you've never had money in your life to go to the dentist?" is not something I ever had to say or think when I lived in the US. But that's just how things are here. Among other things, it has made me a much more grateful missionary. When people give me food out of there want, what is there to do but be gracious? And how can I ever complain about anything when my apartment rent is the same as their 4 months income? At the end of the day, it may be cold, but we have a warm apartment where my Ukrainian friends don't even have hot water. In a somewhat twisted way, it's made me a happier missionary, because I can't spend but a moment complaining before my brain reminds me the average income of the people who fed me dinner. I love what I'm doing here and I love there people and I am so grateful to be here.

All the love,

Monday, February 10, 2014

Hitchhiking Round 2

Well, as you can see from the attached photo, I finally got around to taking pictures with our dear Lenin. Sometimes, living in the former USSR is purely entertaining. 

By way of update, we found an apartment for the new missionaries here! We may have signed the contract 10 minutes before they got to the apartment, but what of it? They have a place to live and their window overlooks Lenin, so what more could they want? I've been keeping my apartment absurdly clean, so that's good. Something about college and mission has turned me into the kind of person who organizes all her stuff and cleans up every night. Not sure what happened to Hurricane Hannah, but I'm sure Lorin's glad to know I finally learned how to take care of my stuff. 

I hitchhiked out of a village this week! We were visiting a church member who lives like 2 hours outside of Житомир. We wanted to come back home and waited and waited and waited, but there were not any buses. I was not having any of that, so I flagged down a chocolate truck with a Житомир licence plate and was like "hey, you going to Житомир?" He was like "yeah, I'll be there by 3." I was like "that's good enough. Can we come with you?" He was like "sure, that's cool." So we got ourselves a ride home from him. We paid him a little bit, so it's sort of like a less-classy taxi ride in my book. Anyway, good thing I've always been a little fearless and independent else we would probably still be hanging out in that village. 

I taught RS yesterday. We got to church and the RS President was like "well, no one's prepared a lesson. Pugh, you can teach right?" And I was like "sure, no problem, I can teach RS lesson in my second language on the fly." It actually turned out okay, but I will never again be afraid to teach anything in America, where they give you 12 years warning and you speak the language fluently. After the lesson we had tea and banana bread, so I'm pretty sure that made up for the 12,000 grammar mistakes I made.

We went bowling on Saturday for a youth activity. The best part was that the world's greatest 7-year-old came. (That's Masha, if you're having a hard time keeping track of the characters in my life right now). She was on my team. I got bumpers set up for her and she may or may not have beat me. It was so fun to see her bowl. She's the feistiest little thing and wanted no help from anyone. She even got a strike! But she got it because she threw the ball before the pins were set up, so the ball bounced against the cage and got stuck mid-lane. The worker kicked it back down and what do you know Masha had herself a strike. I also played a lot of uno this week, because Judy sent me a package and Ukrainians inexplicably love uno. Then again, who doesn't love uno? It's always been one of my favorites.

I have myself a new companion. Her name is Sister Cromwell. We are literally exact opposites. She's 25, from Idaho, has a degree in horticulture from BYU-I, came on a mission because she couldn't get married, is fairly dramatic, and is pretty much the complete polar opposite of everything I am. Is it a little tough? I'll be honest, yes it is. But it's good for me. It's kinda what I need right now. I'm sure I'm going to learn a whole lot about patience, which has never been my strong suit. (Pretty sure Lorin has been calling me "impetuous" since I started reading). 

Anyway, Ukraine is still in "revolution" slash "war" slash "catastrophe" (all words I've heard people here use to describe Maidon). It's really quite tragic, because most everyone here is sad about it. Regardless of where they stand politically, the sentiment I most commonly come across is just sadness that people are unhappy, are suffering, are dying. I love the Ukrainian people for that. I love that they care more about human beings than about politics. Maybe that's something I need to pick up on while I'm over here. It'll probably depend on whether Rachel Maddow's still on when I get home. 

All the love,

Monday, February 3, 2014

Changes are coming

Hello World,

Well, the news of the week is that transfers are happening. Don't worry, I still get to stay in the best city in Ukraine, but Sister Clark is headed out and I'm getting myself a new companion. I don't know anything about her really, so I'll keep you posted. After 4.5 months together literally 24 hours a day, I'm definitely sad to be saying goodbye to my dearly beloved companion, but I think there are good things to come. 

With transfers, we're getting another set of sisters here, so we went apartment hunting this week! Now, I've never been apartment hunting, but compared to this week, I'm pretty sure I will never ever complain about going apartment hunting in America. Trying to get an apartment in language you don't speak naively is almost impossible. We literally spent 2 days straight doing nothing but trying to find an apartment. There are all sorts of things you take being able to say for granted - heating, hot water, washing machine, utilities included, fixed rate, etc. Was there occasionally some pointing and gesturing? Yes, there was. It was a party. Finally, our Ukrainian best friend Marina helped us. She is seriously amazing. How many people do you know who are willing to spend an entire day apartment hunting with the silly missionaries who aren't capable of doing it on their own? I only know one. 

I walked into some one's house this week and my skirt was all kinds of funky because I'd had my big coat on and like 3 pairs of tights and I'd walked for like 30 minutes and static was just doing weird things to it. Anyway, the result of this was I took off my coat and she saw my skirt and was like "well that won't do." So she grabbed her can of anti-static spray and lifted up my skirt and just started spraying. I haven't had my personal space invaded in a while, but that was definitely not in my comfort zone. But what are you going to do?

It was all snowy again this week. Ukraine inexplicably has completely gorgeous snowflakes. I mean, it's actually probably explicable, and has to do with science and chemicals and stuff, but to me it is inexplicable. They are tiny and you can see all the intricacies of their patterns. When I wait for buses, my favorite thing to do is look at the snowflakes that are stuck on the fur on my hood and admire how completely beautiful each one of them is. It's my silver lining to winter. 

Marina and I had a snowball fight this week. She hit me in the face. We both died laughing. You know you have a good friendship with someone when they hit you in the face with a snowball and instead of getting mad/slightly vengeful you just laugh together. 

One of the things that I think I've figured out a bit more on my mission is what this church is and what it is not. As I look at what I have seen as "the church" throughout various stages in my life, I've realized that most of the time, I've missed the point. It's really easy to equate the church to things that aren't the church but play a part in it - RS politics, callings, home teaching, the Patriarchal power structure (polygamy), race issues, "every one's judging me," modesty standards, that whole Word of Wisdom thing, etc. We all know I'm no stranger to the apostate side of the chapel and sometimes it's hard to get past all that stuff to what the church really is. But, I've been very fortunate to be in a place where I can learn that all that stuff really is just stuff and is not the church. I work in a branch where we fail at most of those things people consider "the church," and yet, we still have the church. When I think about the reasons I've most frequently heard (and experienced) for leaving the church, none of them hold ground here, because we're not functional enough for the Utah politics to even have a shadow on the way the branch runs. The absence of those things have allowed me to get a greater sense of what the church really is. The church is a place to learn how to practice the simplest "love others" Christianity. It is a place to learn how not to be selfish. It is a place to grow a personal relationship with God. The church is a place to find peace and happiness. To me, at the end of the day, all those other things that people leave the church over are accessories, and maybe I'm not always the biggest fan of them, maybe I struggle with them every day, but I am not willing to give up the beautiful things I've found in the church. I love it here.

All the love,