Monday, March 31, 2014

Hedgehogs and a ukulele

Hello world,

Well, clearly the highlight of this week was the hedgehogs. HEDGEHOGS. They are incidentally very common in this area of Kyiv as I saw three of them. I'd never seen a hedgehog before in my life and I basically die every time I see one. It's so odd because they're wild and stuff, but they'll just stand still while you pet them. They feel kinda like a hairbrush. And have the funniest little noses. They come out at night and run around and I chase them down because it's a hedgehog, obviously. 

I also bought a ukulele this week. It was kinda an impulse buy. I was just like "well, I have no hobbies any more other than learning Ukrainian (because Russian is a job not a hobby). I need a hobby." So I bought a ukulele. And I spent like every night this week learning to play it. So my journal entries are pretty mediocre, but what are you gonna do about it? I was busy playing "Come, Come Ye Saints" over and over and over and over again. I've pretty much got it down! I think my companion might break my ukulele before I learn my next song, but whatever, I'm enjoying it and now I have a hobby!

In other news, I accidentally turned my hands into Frankenstein hands this week. On Tuesday morning we went running and I kinda wiped out on the pavement. And I put out my hands to catch myself and took much of the skin off of my palms. So that's cute. We also have a really really sharp knife that I call the devil knife because it cuts everything it comes in contact with. Including 2 of my fingers, which is why I now refuse to wash it when doing the dishes. Also, a cat scratched me. So my hands are all gross and covered with band aids and people give me funny looks everywhere I go. 

Yesterday was Daylight savings! Saturday night I was like "Satan is stealing an hour of my sleep" but by Sunday night I was okay with it because the sun didn't set until 8! So it's like officially spring and I love that. The trees (what few there are, anyway) are all blossoming and it's just lovely. I love spring. You probably know that because I write it every week. Thanks for humoring me. 

The best part of my week was that I got to spend time with Zoya the Great. Zoya is like Judy's age and is just terribly awesome. She speaks English fluently and translated the Book of Mormon and D&C and hymn book and basically everything into Ukrainian back in the 90s when Ukraine all of a sudden opened up to the church and they had absolutely no materials. She's traveled all over the world and is a teacher and is just terribly kind and amazing. We helped her with her little after-school English class and the whole walk there she taught me about Ukrainian history, which in an of itself was a treat because I certainly don't know enough. Did you know that 1/4 of Kyiv was Jewish before WWII? I didn't. Anyway, I have a cool new friend.

I realized this week that I'm terribly awkward around people my own age. Like I can talk to real grown-ups and kids, but I have abandoned all social skills for relating to normal people. That should make dating and college fun, huh? Maybe I'll run away to a monastery. 

Anyway, that email was basically a list of random on-goings thrown together quickly but so be it. My theme of the week has been "don't believe your gas light." It's from an analogy someone recently told me; your gas light will go on long before you actually run out of gas. Similarly, you get tired and want to quit long before you actually will fall over. So when your gas light is on, go a little further. It made me think of Judy, who will get in the car at our house with only enough gas to get her 0.2 miles away and say, "it's okay, I can coast most of the way to the gas station, anyway." I've been trying to be that kind of person. I don't know if it's necessarily working in any terrific way, but I'm working a little harder and doing a little more and finding myself a little bit happier. I still love my mission and am so grateful for this experience every day.

All the love,

The girls in this fun little clip live in my ward! Granted, Ivanna's now 23, but whatever, I know and love them anyway. And the church building shown is mine. So here's a fun little peak at my world:

Monday, March 24, 2014

Now I'm a city girl?

Well, it is officially summer! More or less. It's fabulously warm and I would go around without tights or a coat or anything, but I'm not allowed to. Apparently there's this thing in Ukrainian/Russian culture where women have to wear tights all spring because if they don't their ovaries freeze? Anyway, the long and short of it is that they're convinced that a women's fertility is closely tied to her wearing tights all spring, and if you take your tights off you're super weird. So, tights are back on for a few more months I suppose. 

Sorry every email I send home pertains to either borscht or the weather. I guess those are the two most important factors in my life right now. (I made borscht today, by the way).

ANYWAY. I left Житомир and it almost killed me just a little bit. I had a few moments when I was just like "No. I'm not leaving. I will not leave these people. End of story." Because we all know I tend to be obstinate and reluctant to regard orders. But, through my protests, I cleaned my apartment, packed my increasingly-full suitcases, said my goodbyes, got on a bus, and made my way to Kyiv. So now I live in Kyiv and it's basically the exact opposite of life as I knew it, and will take some adjusting to, but I'll get used to it. The area of the city where I live is basically the most Soviet thing you've ever seen. It's literally building after building of giant, ugly, old, white apartment buildings. Yet, somehow I love it. I mean, I wouldn't want to live here for the rest of my life, but for a little while it's a fun little "yep I live in the former USSR" culture experience. We're close to the river, which is lovely, because I just like cities that have rivers. So far my favorite thing about the area is the enormous grocery store across the street. That is not to say that there haven't been tons of other fabulous things, because there have been (my apartment has 10,000 windows and so much natural light for one), but I basically have Target across the street and it's been a while, so it's definitely a new privilege. 

OH! A word on Kyiv vs. Kiev. Kiev is the Russian name of the city. Kyiv (the yi makes a sound like y in loudly), is the Ukrainian name. So Americans and pretty much the international community at large say Kiev, since that's what them Soviets named it. But I've never met a Ukrainian who called it Kiev, and so pretty much all the missionaries say Kyiv, because we're soooooo with it.

Sister Welling is my new companion and she's darling. She's blonde and from Utah and used to be Sister Clark's companion! (Did I write that last week? I might have.) Also, she has the most beautiful Russian accent so we're going to try to fix my "hello I just got off the boat" accent. We get along great and things are good. The ward is HUGE. Well, not actually, but it's about a 100 people more than my little Житомир so it's definitely the closest thing to an American ward that I've seen in Ukraine. The ward is actually very impressive; they know how this church thing works. We met some wonderful people on Sunday and I'm excited to be able to meet them for reals this week. I think I'm going to like life in a city. 

All the love,

Monday, March 17, 2014

To Let It Go

Well, I'm being transferred out of Житомир and onto Майдан. Not really, but I am being transferred to Kyiv! My new area is воскресенский or Voskresensky, which means resurrection in Russian, but it's ironically named because it's actually just a concrete jungle. Or so I've heard, I've never actually been there, but I've talked to various missionaries who have and they've described it as such. So it'll definitely be a change, but I'm happy about it. The ward is apparently actually a large, functioning, fabulous, America-esque ward (no more improv RS lessons or 15 people sacrament meetings), which will be really different, but I'm excited. Anyway, my life is getting shaken up, but I think it'll be alright. We'll find out Thursday!
That being said, my heart is only a little bit completely shattered to be leaving Житомир. I've been here 6 months and actually feel totally good about leaving in terms of "yeah, I did all I can do here," but the people I will miss dearly. Since we heard about transfers, the end of one of my favorite poems just keeps coming to mind. I'm not sure I can quote it perfectly, since I don't have the poem with me, but it's pretty close (my apologies to Mary Oliver if I butcher it): "To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and when the time comes to let it go; to let it go."
I think that applies perfectly to a mission. You come into an area and you know you won't be there forever; you know that at some undisclosed time in the future you'll have you leave; you know that this place will not be your home for all that long, that your existence there is mortal. And yet, you love the place and the people will your entire heart. Their lives become your life; their family becomes your family; their home becomes your home. I don't think I've ever loved a group of people as much as I love this little band of battered believers here in Житомир. But, the time comes, as it comes for every missionary, when you have to say goodbye and let it go. It's terrible and it's okay. I feel like a dying parent - I know they'll be alright and I know there will be other people to love them, but I just love these people so deeply and can't ever really believe anyone will love them like I do. To live in this world, you have to learn to deal with transfers.
So I've spent a good part of the past week saying goodbyes and packing and other such activities that involve leaving. (Sidenote: I brought way too much stuff on my mission. Why do I always just have too much stuff? I want to burn all my stuff. Then buy new stuff). I cried at church yesterday. But so did some of the members, so it made it a little less pathetic. The problem was they made me talk yesterday. Which means, I got a call at 9:30 Saturday night to prepare a 15 minute talk in Russian for the next morning. Anyway, I pulled off writing a decent talk in my second language from scratch in 2 hours, which I consider a fairly big accomplishment. But I stood at the pulpit and looked at the branch and how could I not start crying?
Clearly the highlight of this week was that Sister Clark (remember her, my trainer, dearly beloved and trusted companion?) came to Житомир. So I got to spend the whole day with her and it was so awesome. I love that girl. Also, I was in a little marshutka bus the other day that ran into a taxi, so we had to evacuate and get on a new bus. It brought back good times of me driving. I'm pretty sure enough time has elapsed that I now have a clean record at the DMV, so that's definitely one of the perks of going on a mission. There are other, more significant ones, but that's one not to be discounted.
All the love,

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring came!

Well, SPRING CAME. I left my apartment this morning not wearing tights and not wearing boots and in the best mood I've been in for weeks. I love spring. I sometimes convince myself that fall is my favorite season, but it's not. Spring is definitely my favorite. How can you not be happy when spring shows up? The sun comes out, the snow's gone, I'm not wearing tights for the first time in 6 months, what more could I want? Nothing. Okay, maybe I could go for Starbucks on the grass with all my best friends, but not wearing tights is a close second.

We had a baptism this week. On Monday night we were meeting with our investigator, Svetlana, and we were talking about getting baptized and she was like "I'm free this Saturday" and I was like "yeah, I can throw together a baptism in 6 days." So we did just that and had ourselves a baptism on Saturday. It was neat. Svetlana's going to make a great Mormon. She just really likes the church and our branch and the things we've taught her, which I guess is a pretty good attribute in a recent convert. Cool story of how we met her: a couple months ago we were out on the street and had nothing to do and there was this babushka walking home pulling a giant wheelbarrow cart. We were like "babushka, can we help you?" and she was like "sure." So we helped her pull her cart home and she was like "I want you to meet my daughter" so we met her and taught her and she got baptized on Saturday. What do you know.

It was also women's day Saturday! Women's day is like mother's day but for all females! That inherently makes it more fun because it means that everyone gets to celebrate, not just those who have children to call them and make them cards. Ukraine loves women's day, and it's the closest thing to feminism you'll ever find in this country. We had a branch activity of sorts to celebrate and that was great because we all got roses. Who doesn't love getting roses? Ukrainians keep in classy. 
We went to the temple with Marina last week and I forgot to write about it. She was going through for the first time and didn't have anyone to go with, since no one in her family has been baptized for over a year. So we, her trusty missionary best friends, went with her. It was awesome. I just love that girl so much. I was so grateful that I was able to be in the temple with her on that day. She's made me promise to keep up my Russian so we can be friends forever. That crazy old lady speaking Russian with the thickest American accent you've ever heard? That will be me. Maybe I'll even have a gray ponytail. When we got out of the temple, it turned out that all missionaries had been called home due to Crimea stuff, so I called President and he sent us in a private car the 2 hours back to Житомир. It was pretty classy. We may have stopped by McDonalds because Marina was hungry, but I'm not admitting anything.
That was about all that happened this week. (I say that so casually, whatever this week was awesome). The barricade in front of city hall came down, which I guess means that the revolution is winding to a close in this part of the country. We'll just let Crimea and Russia and USA keep doing their own power play thing. I'm going to take all my money out of the bank today while the exchange rate is still high in my favor.

All the love,

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine will never cease to amuse me

Well, there is no way for me to write a more interesting email than I did last week, as this week there were no major statues torn down before my eyes. (A small bust of Marx did mysteriously go missing in the night, but it's nothing to write home about (see what I did there?)) Anyway, since Ukraine's in the news a lot, or so I hear, I thought I'd just write a fun little list of things about this country that never cease to amuse me and that you probably didn't know about it. Unless I've already written about these things, which I might have, but humor me anyway. If this email had a subtitle, it would be "a love letter to Ukraine."

1. You can wear heels in any weather. Ukrainian women have ankles made of steel and literally never cease wearing 5 inch heels everywhere. If you look at the snow and ice on the sidewalks, you'll notice there are more wells made by stilettos than normal person footprints.

2. March 8th, international women's day, is an actually serious holiday here. It's like mother's day but for all women and people go all out. 

3. The babushkas run the country. If you ever need anything done in Ukraine, go find anyone female born during or before the second world war.

4. Making borscht is incredibly good for the soul. When I have stressful days, I make borscht and everything is better. There's something about the peeling, cutting, chopping, frying, and boiling that just makes anything sad or stressful go away.

5. Borscht is best on day 4 or 5. When you first make it, it's like "oh, this is good" but by day 5 in the fridge it's like "what is this fabulous pink soup?" 

6. You can fit infinitely more people on a small marshutka bus than you think you can. There is no limit to the amount of people you can fit on a bus. There is always room for one more.

7. They'll teach you that the letter "г" makes a G sound in the MTC, but you live in Ukraine, so actually it makes a H sound. Angels? No, Anhels.

8. People will call you and immediately hang up the moment you answer. They don'' do this because they're prank calling you, but because they expect you to call them back, because it's only fair that the richer person would pay for the phone call. Obviously. 

9. They care more about each other than politics. Without exception, every person I've talked to about the revolution, regardless of their political stance, expressed first and foremost their sadness that people were suffering and dying. I love them for this.

10. Ukrainians dress by time of the year, not by temperature. It doesn't matter how warm it is outside, if it's February you should still be wearing your Eskimo sleeping bag coat. End of story.

11. Tea must accompany every meal. No questions asked.

12. Sala, or raw pig fat, is good on sandwiches. Yes, you read that right. Raw pig fat. Inches thick. Sometimes, garlic is added. Entire cloves. 

13. When people get sick, they spend weeks or months in the hospital. I cannot explain it, but people just live in the hospital. Ukrainian hospitals are not any place you really want to live, but they do it anyway. Health care in this country could use a little aid. 

14. While very few Ukrainians speak English in a confersable way, their patience for foreigners trying to speak Russian is indelible. 

15. Ukrainians love to hug you and kiss you on the cheek. It's adorable and makes you feel like part of the family. 

Well, that was a fun little list. It really was a good week here. I had a visitor from America, went to the temple in Kyiv with Marina (my Ukrainian BFFL), and read a whole lot in Russian, because I've just discovered that my love for reading can be applied in both languages. So, I'm doing well. Thriving, one might say.

All the love,