Thursday, May 28, 2009

Hot water?

So I'm still waiting for hot water to be turned on in my apartment. For the last couple of days, I have kept thinking--today is the day, I am going to have hot water. Unfortunately, the last two mornings have been like so many that have preceded it. I roll over in bed, just to hear the sound of a bucket of water splashing as it is poured out in the tub. With the sound, my heart sinks a little and my hopes for hot water are slowly chipped away.

Even still, when it comes my turn to shower, I keep thinking that maybe it will turn hot if I just wait a minute. I reach for the hot water knob, and slowly stick my hand out. Freezing cold. I take pans of hot water off the stove, pour two into a bucket, mix them with cold water, and set the third and sometimes fourth to the side. As I empty the first bucket, and pour the other pans in, I reach for the knob a second time, hoping against hope that suddenly hot water will come pouring out. Instead, all I feel is icy liquid pour forth. Tomorrow, I think, tomorrow will bring hot water. This thought is sometimes replaced by: I give up. There will never be hot water again. But I live to face another day and another shower--hoping, simply hoping.

In better news, I bought some new soap, and it smells shower fresh! For the first time, I walked away from the shower feeling like I smelled like something other than Russian water. Refreshing...

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Live Free, Dance Hard

Last night, Acia, Eli, and I decided to watch a movie. Realizing I only had War and Peace or Pride and Prejudice (and of course Indiana Jones) at my place, we decided it would be best to stay here and watch one of the movies Andrey let me borrow--Live Free or Die Hard. We decided to take a walk to get out of the office for a bit, grab some vaffli, ice cream, and chamomile tea. We fixed up our sugary treat, and settled in for the movie. Gotta love Bruce Willis.

The best part was the after-movie party. While the credits rolled to Creedence Clearwater Revival, we danced around the office. I can't even explain this. But it was hilarious, and I secretly hope there is a security camera and that someone rolls that footage back some day!

Saturday movie night

This post courtesy of Eli's blog. This particular entry was entitled "Bore and Peace":

Kimberly met me out there and we explored for a while and also went into an amazing graveyard that has a bunch of important people that apparently weren't good enough to be buried in Red Square because either they ticked off too many people (Khrushchev) or they only had money but not necessarily power. We were pretty exhausted by late afternoon so we decided to go buy a couple of movies and watch one. Thrilled at our opportunity to get more cultured while in the Mother Country, we found Audrey Hepburn's "War and Peace." After fiddling with the DVD player in a typical Soviet apartment with a couple of old Soviets (the people Kimberly lives with) we started the film. Exactly eight minutes later Kimberly, looking at the case, said like she was breaking really bad news, "um, this thing is 208 minutes long. [And I have to add here, I said--should we just throw in Indiana Jones now, or wait until we both give up on it in 30 minutes]--60 goes into 208 a lot of times." As we had absolutely no idea what was going on the movie (mostly because we were busy talking about the Snickers, Wafly and herbal tea we were shoving down our faces like the apocalypse had arrived) we decided that we would only watch the movie 20 minutes at a time every day or two. For the last 12 minutes of the 20 we mostly just watched the clock and waited for our obligatory cultural experience to expire. So much for "War and Peace."

We watched Indian Jones and the Crystal Skull--neither of us had seen it, and both agreed it was weird, but cool that it had Russian in it. We laughed so much--especially when Eli crouched in fear at the corner of the couch because there was a snake in the movie. It was really such a fun night! He took off around 11:30 pm to make his trek home, and I got ready for the night at Bar Hat with the MBA-ers.

Meeting with President Gibbons

As I was heading out to lunch, President Gibbons asked if I was going to be around later so he could talk to me. I told him I could come now, but he said after lunch would be fine. I don't know why, but whenever someone says they need to talk to me, I automatically assume I've done something wrong. I'm so paranoid. haha

So I went to his office when I came back from lunch and told him I would be free whenever he needed me. He told me he'd come by my desk later.

So he came in and asked how I saw the media working out for President Uchtdorf's visit, and what the organization for it would be. We discussed that, decided to have all reviewed articles sent to me, and that I would be in charge of ensuring Salt Lake received them. Phew, I thought, nothing too scary.

"Okay, now there's one more thing I wanted to talk to you about." "Yes?" Again, I wracked my brain to think of what I could have done wrong (I promise, in any other situation I really am an optimist--they tell me that here all the time). "There is a young man that I met with who is interested in the Church. He brought up concerns about the kind of girls there are to date when we were out with the Swifts Sunday for dinner. Now, I don't know, maybe you're engaged. But your name came up, and I was wondering if you would mind if I introduced you to him. He's a really great young man." "Oh, no, I'm definitely not. That would be just fine. I'm always happy to meet new people." "Great, well, that's the background. Like I said, your name came up, so I just wanted to let you know what was going on. I'll introduce you to him Monday at the President Uchtdorf meeting." He's on a business trip to London and returns Sunday.

So, all is well.

Random Thoughts

Random thought #1--I was sitting in a meeting with Pres Pieper, Elder Manzhos, and Andrei earlier last week, when all of the sudden I thought, "Wow, I am sitting in between the President of the Europe East Area, and a member of the Seventy. I work with them!"

Random thought #2--Totally unrelated, hence random: When someone tries to go through at the metro without paying, it plays a melody really loud that I swear is music from Harry Potter! Really, I'm going to walk through it on purpose some day just so I can record it.

Random thought #3--a cup of Greenfield chamomile tea, one half kilo of Vaffli, 2/5 package of vanilla ice cream, plus one large tablespoon of peanut butter=delicious, even if it is not a great idea and will lead to you swearing off sugar for weeks at a time.

Random thought #4--make sure you know the exact address of the place you are trying to go if you are the only sober one in the taxi. Odds are, the person who knows will be passed out by the time you get close enough to need more specific directions, and your one friend who is actually holding their vodka well will probably not speak Russian or know how to get anywhere either.

Random thought #5--if you do overindulge in Vaffli, the best remedy is to dance to Creedence Clearwater Revival in the Area office.

Random thought #6--don't eat in the cafeteria on the second floor of the Rinok--especially after a sugar high. Unless they are serving Borscht.

Random thought #7--you can actually get a hang-over from over-consumption of sugar. Note: This may only occur if you have never had alcohol.

Random thought #8--Simon & Garfunkel are fantastic

Night out MBA-style

So, I apparently chose correctly when I decided to study public diplomacy. I don't think I can keep MBA hours--I got to the club around 12 and didn't leave until 4:00 am!

So the night started out with me swearing I could make it to the club and back before the metro stopped at 1:00 am. That most definitely did not happen. Ryan had called and told me where the club was at, that he was already there, and to call if I needed anything. So I got off the metro, asked a girl standing nearby where Bar-Hat was, and she said she didn't know, but would find out. So she started asking random people on the street, assuring me we would find it. Very sweet of her. Turned out it was right around the corner, so it didn't take long to find. I thanked her and headed off to the club.

After asking a security guy if this the club was up the stairs and finding out that it was, I went to stand behind two Russian girls who were already at the gate waiting to get in. The bouncer motioned to me, opened the gate, and told me to come in. How convenient, I thought. Being so obviously American-looking has its advantages!

Then it came time to go in. I thought I'd press my luck and see if I could get in for free. I did. I walked on passed, only to hear the man taking money say to the guy behind me, "For you and the girl, it'll be..." He replied that he hadn't come with anyone, so the man taking money turned to me and said I needed to pay. "Really? I need to pay? My friends, the ones from Los Angeles, are already inside." "Um, you know, don't worry about it. You can just go in." Then he turned to the girl standing by security and told her to go ahead and give me a bracelet to get in. Sometimes these things just work out.

I went and checked my coat, then headed off to the dance floor/bar to find Ryan and the rest of the students. No where in sight. I tried calling. No answer. Sent a text, and decided if I didn't find them in the next bit I'd just head home and say I tried. About two minutes later, I ran into Ryan. He's about 6'6" and you can tell he served in the army. Not too hard to spot here. He came and gave me a hug, then said they had a VIP table upstairs and that he'd get me a bracelet so I could come up. We tried to find some of the other guys, hoping they could get me in. Nothing was working out, but then they remembered I spoke Russian and had me talk to the guy. I think I could have gotten me in for free, but when the guy said he'd only charge me 1000 rubles instead of 3000, Aziz said he'd pay for it and get a couple of extra bracelets so they could bring people up.

So I went up stairs to find a table already full of bottles. "We're all drunk. We lost the phone," Ryan had told me when I first ran into him. I could see why. Honestly, at this point, they were all holding it well. Four hours later would be a different story...

So I was introduced to the MBA students I didn't know, and got a couple of, "Wow, your English is really good! So you're from Moscow?" "Umm, I'm American..." Surprised look. "I know Ryan--we're from the same apartment building in LA, I go to USC." I totally should have just let them think I was Russian. Next time.

So we ended up dancing quite a bit--sometimes all together, and sometimes just a couple of us would go down. I probably danced the most, as one would ask me down to be followed by another wanting to dance. We even salsa danced a bit!

Upstairs, I got offered more than one shot. "Come on--just one!" "Oh, no, I don't drink. At all." I replied, along with "Do you know what that would do to me?" One who was especially drunk at this point (like I said, the others were mostly fine up until this point) asked me to take his shot--"Really, I've had enough, I'm really drunk." So I took it to give to someone else, only to find three guys there thinking I was in on the next shot. Boy were they surprised to look up from their shots to me holding mine, still full. Ryan leaned forward and said in my ear, "Hey, it's cool--you don't have to drink," and took it from me and set it down. Always nice to have someone back you up :)

I had to laugh when at one point Ryan said, a little out of the blue: "Hey, you're really cute. But I have a girlfriend." "Oh, you're totally fine. That's okay. Thanks. No worries." We agreed I would help keep him in line. I oddly respected that.

So the night went on, and when it was time to go home, I agreed to help round everyone up. As Joe said, "Trying to get 10 MBA students together is like herding cats!" They were pretty wasted, and it took a bit of effort to get them all out the door at the same time. I finally had to go back in for one of them--turned out he had lost his number to get his coat back, so I ran back upstairs and found it so he could get his coat and leave. He being the last one out, we were ready to go get a cab. Mark was the only one who speaks Russian, so he and I worked on getting cabs for everyone. Mark, Joe and I ended up in a cab together. Joe was still doing fine and coherent (in fact, he offered to take the extra cab ride to my place and then back to make sure I was okay--I told him I'd be fine, and he said--really, if you aren't sure you'll be okay, let me know--we're going to get you home safe). Mark, however, who was directing the driver on where to go, passed out. So it was up to me to try and get us there, as Joe didn't know where there hotel was, and Mark kept saying the wrong direction when we finally got him up. Just to let you know how things went, I ran into Mark the next night when Eli and I were at Red Square, and Mark said, "Hey, so were you able to get a cab and go home last night all right?" Odd, I thought, I rode with you. Oh, what a night.

I also received a call from Ryan the next day to see if I had gotten home all right. "I have a picture of you on my camera last night leaving the club, so I know you were with us." I told him it was fine, that I had taken a cab with Joe and Mark. It looks like everyone made it home safe and sound!

So, for my first clubbing experience in Russia, I think I handled it pretty well! I have a feeling I will not be staying out at clubs again until 4 am--fun, but once was probably enough.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Vmeste Film Premier and old friends

Went to the "Premier" of Vmeste--a movie filmed for the Church (none of the actors, nor the director were members, but it was Church commisioned). They had Acia, Eli, and I give out flowers to the actors/director before the preview. Fun to be involved. We hauled the 6 or so boquettes across town on the metro.

I finally got to meet Andrei's wife-Nina, and she is great! So fun to talk to her! I think I am going to have dinner with them Sunday, which would be a lot of fun. She said Andrei told her how much fun we have at work, and that I have a great sense of humor. Probably more like we have the same sense of humor so we laugh all the time!

Also, ran into President Bief, who I knew on my mission when I served in Orenberg. So fun to catch up with him! He and his family live here in Moscow, and he's apparently in the office about once/week, so I'll be seeing a lot of him.

I received a facebook message from my friend, Ryan, from Los Angeles who is in Moscow this week. He is pursuing an MBA at USC, and there is a group of about 15-20 of the students here giving presentations this week. Just got off the phone with him, and it sounds like it's been really busy, but a great experience. I'm going out with a group of them tonight to check out a club. Talk about a cultural experience! Expect a posting come Monday morning!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Farewells

We had a going away party today for the Area Presidency and Elena. The Russians put on amazing programs, and I was happy to be a part of one of them. President Powell, in his beautiful German accent, addressed those leaving one-by-one, and told of memories and why they would be missed. Each was then given a gift. To Presidents Pieper and Gibbons, a beautiful clock, with a picture etched in crystal. President Pieper promised it would always be set to Moscow time.

Oh, heading out...finish up later

Three unique services

I was able to go with Eli to three different Orthodox churches last night. One was for St. Nikolai, the second was the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, and the third was a small church, tucked back behind the Moscow river. We decided that there must have been a special Orthodox holiday, because we caught three services that seemed different than regular services.

It was an amazing opportunity to catch three different services in one night (we only stayed to part of each). Each church was so different, and had something to offer. I described my impressions of the first church, which I loved. As for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, it always amazes me how huge open it is. The priests wore beautiful scarlet robes with golden thread. We even caught the administration of the sacrament. The people lined up to approach the priest. He used a small brush to 'paint' a cross on their foreheads with holy water. They then kissed his right hand and moved forward to partake of the bread.

The third church was the most simple of all, but I loved it. Eli walked in ahead of me, and as I got to the door, I paused. I saw a posting on the door, asking that men and women be dressed modestly before entering in, with the criteria of what was considered modest. "I don't think I can come in," I mouthed to him. I knew that in more conservative churches, you have to be in long sleeves and a skirt, with your head covered (for women). I had my arms covered, and my head, but I was still in my slacks. I stepped up to the door to see if this was the case. As I crossed the threshold, a woman stood. I thought she was going to tell me I couldn't come in, but instead, she went and grabbed a long blue apron for me to tie around my waist. She was so kind and encouraging as I wrapped it around me and tied it in place.

It looked as if the church had been stripped down at one point, and had not quite been replenished with the beautiful icons that the other churches held. It had more simply decorated icons. This was a humble setting--candles were in their places, the clothing worn looked like it had come from a Russian storybook about peasants, and the hall was smaller, darker, having less candles. But I enjoyed this--it seemed more pure somehow, sincere. I am always attracted to more conservative forms of religion. They strike me as more reverent somehow. I love the tradition of it all. On my way out, I handed the woman the skirt with a smile and a "Spasibo." She smiled and nodded her head in acknowledgement. Such a humble, enchanting woman, giving of her time to her God and religion.

Impressions of a holy service

As I approached the church, I dug in my bag for the red scarf I hoped was there. Though it wasn't absolutely necessary, I wanted to cover my head, as is the custom in Russian Orthodox services. I found it and draped it over my hair, debating on tying it behind my neck, as so many with shorter scarves had done, or bringing it in front of shoulders. I settled on letting it fall in front of my shoulders and draping one of the ends across my chest and over my shoulder. As I stepped through the doorway and made my way back towards the main area of the church, I heard the priest chanting the words of the service. As I stepped into the room, a choir joined in. Their beautiful voices filled the cathedral and echoed and arched across the high ceilings. The smell of wax candle pervaded the room. A woman was gathering those that had already burned down until there was almost nothing left of them. She extinguished the flame and tossed them into a small box sitting nearby. She would then replace each one with a newly lit candle. As she finished with one set, she shuffled to the next, only a few feet away in some cases.

I walked passed the masses that had congregated in the back and middle of the hall. I moved forward and to the side, suddenly wishing I had worn a long skirt instead of slacks that day. I saw a woman pass me in much the same clothing and a girl walk passed in jeans, reassuring me my choice of clothing was acceptable.

I looked around me, letting the atmosphere take hold of my senses. In front of me hung several framed icons of Mary, Christ, and Russian Saints. Three small, beautifully decorated lanterns were suspended in front of them. A young girl approached, three fingers pressed together, and gracefully touched her forehead, her chest, her right shoulder, and then her left, differing from the way Catholics cross themselves. She then leaned forward and pressed her lips to the icon. She stepped back and approached the next, bowed her head slightly, and repeated the ritual.

My eyes moved from this girl and drifted towards the ceilings where beautiful depictions of scenes from the Saviors life could be seen. Above the large paintings, in golden lettering, was a decription of the painting, often with a reference to the scripture it came from in the Bible. All were written in an elegant Old Church Slavonic script, from which Russian came. I was grateful for classes where we had studied the script, as it enabled me to read some of the passages. A scene representing Christ with the woman at the well particularly drew my eye, and before leaving the room, I stopped to look once again and ponder on its beauty.

The service was beautiful in the dimly-lit cathedral, with the many candles burning down to small stubs. The natural light coming in through the windows lit the upper half of the room. I turned to go, almost not wanting to leave the place, with its beautiful murals and the sounds of the choir resounding through the hall.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Legislating Morality

I signed up to take a free online course through BYU called The Citizen's Guide to American Politics. It has some great links in the lessons. One I particularly enjoyed is on ThisNation.com answering the question: Do laws that legislate morality violate the separation of church and state? I love the answer that is given here.

A standard dictionary definition sheds some light on these questions. The Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary defines "morality" as: "conduct or attitude judged from a moral standpoint." The word "moral" is, in turn, defined as something "concerned with right and wrong and the distinctions between them." Are laws capable of addressing issues of "right and wrong" in a socially, culturally and religiously diverse society? Clearly they do. Murder, child abuse, robbery, assault and other crimes against persons and property are widely regarded by society as "wrong." There are laws not only in this country but in virtually every country in the world that declare such actions illegal. Punishments, ranging from fines to incarceration to execution, are also attached to such provisions. Such laws are clear and authoritative statements of societal morals. They establish a clear boundary between individual rights and interests and the rights and interests of others in society, both individually and collectively.

When society deems something to be "wrong," it has cast a moral judgment. The political judgment that must then be made is whether such a judgment ought to become a matter of law. It is impossible, however, to create laws that have no moral dimension to them. The very act of coming together as a political society to establish rules of cooperation and societal order is based on fundamentally moral choices and preferences. Legislating morality is unavoidable.

Many people believe that the First Amendment requires a clear "separation of church and state" that prohibits religiously motivated laws. However, the First Amendment makes no mention of such a separation. In fact, it prohibits laws that circumscribe an individual's "free exercise" of his or her religion. The Constitution also forbids "religious oaths" for office holders. Those who are elected to make decisions in the Congress are free to bring with them whatever beliefs they may hold, be they religious, irreligious, secular, ideological or political. The law cannot touch an individual's mind or beliefs. Indeed, Thomas Jefferson, who coined the phrase "wall of separation" between church and state, declared:

The proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right.

Morals and religion are inextricably connected to the law in the United States of America. Every individual has the inalienable right to pursue happiness as he or she sees fit and to bring his or her most fundamental beliefs and opinions into the marketplace of ideas. There will never be complete consensus on even the most simple of public policies. The American system, however, guarantees each citizen--religiously inclined or otherwise--the chance to be a part of shaping them.

Media Point Person

President Pieper just came in and told me I would be in charge of all of the incoming English media related to President Uchtdorf's visit! He asked if I would be willing to be point person in gathering all reports that came in, reviewing, and sending to the First Presidency for review. I am really excited for the new coordinating position! We will go over details tomorrow and have a conference call to Salt Lake on Friday, with everyone from Russia (I actually sent out the requests for conference call today, and now am in on it myself! haha)

I've decided I'm the new grammar girl--I proofread new changes and approve them as different documents are prepared in English. Also sent out a letter to the Editor-in-Chief of Russia Today requesting media coverage. I love this job!

A run-in with shopping and delicious baklava

Acia and I headed off for some shopping after work last night. Eli had a dinner with the legal counsel and couldn't make it. On our way in to the mall, I stepped into the revolving doors, then noticed Acia wasn't behind me. I looked back while still walking forward and saw that she had stopped to throw something away. Thinking I would just meet her inside, I turned back towards the mall, still in the revolving doors, and took a step forward...only to run right into the glass!!! It was classic. Acia and two young gentlemen behind me caught it all. I probably should have taken a bow, but instead mouthed through the glass (I had made it out by this time) "Did you see that?!" laughing while I asked. Acia just nodded her head as she passed through the doors laughing.

Once inside, we headed off for the food court, and I had some amazing baklava with my Lebanese food from Lebanon House. Yumm. Going back for more on our shopping trip tonight!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Laughing in the office

Andrei and I were talking yesterday. He is so funny! We always have such a good time! We started talking about TV shows, and he said he really likes Scrubs. We chuckled about some of the different things in it, then I asked if he had ever seen Arrested Development. He said he hadn't, and I started to describe the episode where Buster's hand gets eaten by a seal and he gets a hook. Then he shows up at a campfire where Maebe is telling a ghost story and scares everyone.

Andrei started laughing hysterically, about like I did when I watched it for the first time up the canyon with Tim! So I started laughing at his reaction, and we just couldn't stop. Later Acia was like, "What were you guys laughing about?! I had asked Lydia if my music was too loud and she said 'what music?' All I hear is laughing from Andrei and Kimberly!'" Then Acia said, "I told you Andrei was fun to work with, didn't I!"

He really is great to work with, and he said he and his wife would like to have me over for FHE sometime. So nice!

Someone as tactful as I am

There was a man in the office yesterday, whom I had never met before. He was talking with Andrei, and I was just going about my work. I wasn't really listening to what he said, but then heard him ask for a pen and paper. I slid a small post-it stack over to him with a pen, and asked in Russian if that would be sufficient. He took it, said yes, then stopped. "Wait. You speak Russian? And here I have been talking like you don't understand a word I'm saying. Oh, what was I thinking. Huh. Well, there I go." So I figured he must have said something about me, but I wasn't paying attention. Then I told him I served in Samara, and he said, "Oh Moscow is much better. Samara mission has such awful cities. They aren't all that great and not very clean" (or something along those lines). I kind of laughed and said that I loved Saratov, and that Andrei was from there. He stopped again. "Oh, I have said something wrong again! Of course you are from there, I knew that, but there I go! I am just saying all the wrong things today!" He was a very nice man, and we all just laughed about it. I thought, well at least I'm not the only one who sometimes just says things without thinking!

Making new friends

I walked into the building yesterday without showing my security pass. I could tell the guard was kind of following me for a few feet, so I stopped and fumbled around to pull it out. The security guard has a look that definitely fits his job--he is quite a bit bigger than me. He said, "You're new here, aren't you." So I took the opportunity to make a new friend--"Yes, I've only been here for a couple of weeks." I smiled, "What's your name?" He told me it was Victor, and I stuck out my hand and said, "Kimberly." He smiled, welcomed me and we told each other to have a nice day.

Later, Acia, Eli, and I went down to grab lunch. As we walked passed Victor, he smiled. "Wait, you're friends with him? He hates the rest of us! How did you do that?" It was way funny--he smiled and winked when I walked back in. Acia was like, "Kim makes friends with everyone. She already knows the entire branch! She even surprised the sister missionaries!" (On Sunday I kept running into people I know, and Sister Brown said, "How do you already know everyone?" I told her I'd already gone the Sunday before, and she just shook her head, laughed, and said, "Hey, that's great. Way to go.") Everyone teases me that I just talk to everyone I meet--even people on the street! haha Not much has changed since coming here.

I see Victor now when I go downstairs, and today asked him how work was and how his day had been. He said good, and asked how many was, then as we (Acia, Eli, and I) were leaving, said, "Come often!"

Always fun talking to new people and finding out their stories and experiences! (I will add here--I am always smart about it, and don't talk to sketchy people after dark when I'm alone :) That's for you, mom hehe)

Talking to the fam

Was able to catch my family online yesterday! So much fun! I set up video chat through gmail, and it was so fun to see them! Their microphone wasn't working, so I would talk, and they would type back. So funny--we're hoping to get it set up and working soon, so we can just talk. Sadly, I missed them this morning because of the meeting, but hopefully tomorrow will work out!

Staying Busy!

There has been lots more to do the last couple of days at work, and it has been great! I started out the morning doing a translation into Russian of an article on the Second International Festival of Classical Music in Kiev that our PA department put on there. Sounds like it was amazing! We had 12 performers (all members) from Russia, China, Bulgaria, and Ukraine. It was very well attended, and everyone loved it. Translation is such good practice for my Russian! I think I'm going to try and do some every day.

As soon as I was done, it was off to a meeting with Elena, Elder Manzhos, and Andrei. I took minutes and wrote up an agenda and memorandum to be sent to the Area Presidency. We got done in time for a late lunch of sausage, tomatoes, and lavash (a flat bread). Eli brough waffli, and Pres Pieper had brought back candies from Kazakhstan.

After lunch, I started in on a new translation for Elena of government officials and their positions. This is to document government officials and journalists who have been invited to Pres Uchtdorf's visit. There is so much to do to wrap up preparations for his trip. There is even talk of flying me to Yekaterinburg to meet with the journalists and guests who will be attending! Some of them are my personal contacts and I would love to be able to go! Waiting for word from the Presidency on that one.

Happy Birthday, Eli!

May 18, 2009

Eli and I had been talking about how we love how Russian some people make things sound--even lists of foods, so for Eli's birthday, I sent him a text saying (in Russian), "I wish to you happiness, love, all the best, apples, pelmeni..." For birthdays and other occassions, Russians always wish something for you--good health, love, etc. Hilarious. We often will just walk up to each other and say, "Yabloka (apples), pelmeni" in a very Russian way.

Acia and I bought him a cake and I wrote out 25 in candles. We got some people from our office and went down to legal and sang him Happy Birthday. Then we all came back for cake. After work, we decided to go walk down old Arbat. Ran into someone I had met the day before at church, who Acia used to date. Kind of funny. We talked to him for awhile, then set off to find a restaurant.

We were walking down the street and I saw a sign that said, "Taras Bulba." And I said something about it--that's one of my Gogol stories I bought. Turned out is was a Ukrainian Restaraunt, so in honor of Eli and his Ukrainian, we decided to eat there. I loved the way it was decorated, and the hostess and waitresses were all dressed in traditional Ukrainian costumes! The Borscht was amazing, as was the bread they brought out. We also ate these little patties made of shredded potatoes and carrots, eggs, flour, and sugar. They were really good!

We then went down to the train station to buy our tickets to St. Petersburg, but decided to wait because we heard they have really cheap plane tickets online. Such a fun day! And we decided we will celebrate my half birthday and Acia's quarter birthday. Mine on May 30, and hers on June 5th when we're in St. Petersburg!

A storybook ending

While we were walking around the park, Eli told me about an experience he had in Ukraine. I didn't realize he had been there during the Orange Revolution!! I wrote a paper on the Orange Revolution--it was what allowed a western-leaning government to take over. Yushchenko had ran against Yanukovich for the presidency, and through a series of dodgy events--including poisoning of Yushchenko and rigged elections--Yanukovich was declared the victor. Luckily, local NGOs had set up poll watchers outside voting areas, and it was shown that the results were faked. What followed was the Orange Revolution, as people rallied around Yushchenko. The election was reheld, and Yushchenko was chosen president.

So all of this was going on and Eli and his companion had gone out wandering around--even making it to the square where the revolution was at. He said that he happened to walk by and older woman who was selling produce on the side of the street. A man was about to buy something from her, and they were talking. Eli and his companion overheard the babushka (grandma) say, as if they were in a scene from a movie, "Ukraine is already dead." And the old man reply, "But we, we shall live on!" Roll credits.

How picturesque is that? By the way, it totally sounds better in Russian.

Kolomenskii Park

Sister Brown gave me the number of Braden in the International Branch, and he and I decided to meet up and go the park to walk around. He has lived in Moscow for about a year and a half teaching English. The park was gorgeous, and it was interesting to get another take on Moscow.

Afterwards, I went to meet up with Eli on Novokuznetskaya stop of the metro. On the way up the escalator to meet him, I noticed that the boy in front of me and behind me were friends, and that I had somehow ended up in the middle. They kept saying, "Ice." Finally, I looked at both of them with a questioning look on my face, and the one behind me in sunglasses said, in Russian, "Do you know what we are saying? We are saying that a beautiful girl is in between us." I laughed and said thanks. We kept going up the escalator, and finally started talking. They asked where I was from, and when I told them America, they got really excited. They tried to say some English words to me, and we were still talking when Eli found us. I introduced him to them. They asked if we were in a rush, I told them, no--we were just out for a walk. So we talked quite a bit more, and I told them that the missionaries gave free English lessons on Wednesdays. They took pictures with us, and asked if I had ICQ--similar to facebook or MSN-a way to connect online. I told them I didn't, but then gave the 15 year-old my number so he could find out about English classes. His mom came up soon after, and we talked with her as well. When it was time to go, Kyrill (the younger one, the other was Vlad) said, "Call me," and put his hand up to his ear like a phone. Eli just laughed. Fun to be a celebrity! haha

We then took off for the park. It is so gorgeous!! We walked through the apple orchard, and down to the river. We then went to a historic church and gateway. The gateway was put up in the 1600s. While in the park, we went to a little kiosk and got these yummy bread things filled with mashed potatoes. Worthy every ruble! Then we got the best Swedish pancakes with jam--perokaj with verenem. So good! By this point it was about 10 pm, but looked like it was 6 pm. It stays so light out now! Which I actually really like because it makes me feel more safe walking home at night.

Definitely going back to the park--I would love to just take a good book and sit on the benches they have scattered throughout the orchard! It as absolutely gorgeous--the blossoms are out on the trees and it smells heavenly! And it's right off my metro line. All I have to do is take about a 30 min ride and I'm there!

Sunday

Always so hard for me to keep up on the weekends! So I woke up late Sunday, which was bad because I had a talk to give at 10 am! I never wake up late--not sure how that happened! But I got there in time, and prepared on the way. My talk was on obedience, and I used a talk from 2005 October Conference from Pres. Eyring. I was grateful to have been assigned the topic, and to have the chance to study it a little more.

I don't know why, but my Russian is always better when I'm doing public speaking. People were very impressed with how I spoke, but I'm afraid I'm just getting their hopes up! Luckily, my Russian has improved since I arrived in Moscow, and I hope that I can continue to work on it.

I met Elena's husband, who will be mission president in Rostov. He is so nice, and it is obvious that he is an amazing member! They are going to make fantastic mission presidents. Elena was in Kazakhstan this last weekend and met a girl who will be serving in Rostov--a really neat experience for both of them.

I've also started singing in the choir that will perform when Pres. Uchtdorf is here. We are singing Abide with Me, tis Eventide. I think it will go really well. Vasya is leading the choir, and he does a great job. He had me sing with altos and sopranos to help them get their parts, but I will end up performing as a soprano. It was fun to be a part of a choir again.

Went to sacrament meeting at the Arbatsky branch after choir for my fourth hour of church--wanted to check it out. One of the sisters bore her testimony. She is from Eastern Russia, and it was so touching to hear her speak. She came and gave me a big hug after--we both had tears in our eyes. So many amazing moments here!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Dancing in the Streets

After the bookstore, we went to a youth activity at the church--Brain Ring--a scripture/Church history competition. I saw Artyom and Edic from Ulyanovsk! They both live in Moscow now. Also ran into Kolya (son of the family I'm staying with) there and then again when some of us went to Grabli for dinner. He is hilarious! He served his mission in England, and was doing the English accent and everything at dinner.

After dinner, a group of us took off for museum night in Moscow--apparently on Saturday nights the museums are free! Everyone else seems to know this unfortunately, and so the line was huge. We decided to pass it up this time and started walking towards red square. These two guys were playing guitars and singing U2, so we stopped to listen and sing along.

After a couple songs, I turned to Eli and asked if he knew how to swing dance. He said he did a little, so I taught him a couple of lifts--so much fun! People were clapping and taking pictures. I love this place! I taught him the piggy back one and the one where you do a flip through their legs. Acia even caught the lessons on camera.

Then it was off to see if we could get in to EuroVision (we couldn't) and wandering around Moscow. We took a lot of pictures. It is so beautiful by Red Square at night! There was a picture of a girl advertising lip stick in one of the stores that everyone decided I look like--I don't see it, but funny nonetheless. The best was them trying to convince me to make a face like hers--didn't quite work out somehow lol

Books, books, books

Acia and I headed off to a huge bookstore, where Eli came and met up with us. I love bookstores!! I think I could spend hours looking at books! I ended up buying a new Russian-English dictionary because I have been missing having mine here. I also bought two short stories by Nikolai Gogol in Russia--I love the Overcoat and The Nose by him, and everyone I've shown it to says they love one of the two short stories, so should be a good read. And a $3 copy of Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo was a must! I've been meaning to read that one! A very successful day at the bookstore.

I also finished reading "The Future of Religious Liberty in Russia: Report on the De Burght Conference on Pending Russian Legislation Restricting Relgious Liberty" by Cole Durham (a brilliant law professor at BYU) and three others. It was very interesting, and more and more convinces me that law school might be an option for me...

I met one of our lawyers down the hall today, and though he didn't attend BYU, he said it would be great for Intl law, especially as far as religious law questions are concerned.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Predestination and Foreordination

I was chatting online with my friend Bo the other day, and we were joking around about something, and somehow started talking about predestination. He believes in Calvanism and asked what Mormons believe about predestiny, and we started to discuss our ideas on the subject. It was really interesting, but we decided it was much to big of a topic for a chat discussion, and that we would have to continue through skype at another time.

I sat down to scripture study this morning (or more accurately, rolled over and pulled my books onto the bed with me), and pulled out a book my mom had bought for me that Bianca had recommended--Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas. It has been really interesting so far! The first chapter just so happens to be called, "Premortal Election and Grace." She had some really great passages that helped increase my understanding of foreordination and grace. I felt like I had a pretty good idea of what I believed about this before, but this has definitely enriched my understanding. I am constantly amazed at how logical, yet spiritually sound the gospel is.

The following passages are her quotations:

It is important to note that foreordination does not imply the Calvinistic notion of predestination, which term acknowledges no necessary worthiness on the part of those predestined to be saved. Fulfillment of premortal foreordinations is based on obedience to eternal law. One foreordained could choose not to obey and could at any point refuse to accept the premortal plan, fall short of his promised glory, and fail to make his premortal calling and eleciton sure.

She then quotes the passage from Romans 8:28-29 which talks about all things working together for them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate [Greek-foreordain]. Thomas comments:

This promise of orchestration of life events must have been among the most compelling for us. It might be restated in this way: a plan with strongly programmed elements would operate for each covenant person, so that each could have the opportunities necessary to save himself or herself through the continually accessible grace of Christ and, in addition, have a saving influence on as many other people as possible.

The most meaningful to me here is the idea of a continually accessible grace. Of course this would have to be the case! So often we worry about if we "missed" a chance to fulfill and prepare for what the Lord would have us do, but through the grace of the Atonement of Christ, we can have consistent access to his love and help. God can have a hand in our lives and allow for us to grow because He built into the plan a way to overcome our shortcomings. The Atonement isn't a three-time use card, but something we are allowed to use as long as we are sincere and willing to commit to follow what the Lord asks of us!

Thomas states further that these programmed elements conatin two main forms of grace: a chosen lineage and the presence of the Lord in our mortal existences. She states:

Not only was the lineage selected, but also the time and place, the family, and the order of birth, so that each spirit would have that unique configuration of experiences necessary for his or her particular divine needs...In connection with this grace of chosen lineage and birth circumstance, God provided yet an additional combination of blessings to give every spirit the greatest possible power to obtain exaltation" (12).

I love that God gives us the maximal opportunity to choose Him! Everyone can be priviliged to enter into His fold.

Thomas talks of fears we might have: "'What if that happens, then such will heappen.' I hear my loved ones projecting fear into the future, and I realize that some of us are either just uninformed concerning our privileges as covenant people, or are spiritually careless with what we do know. So I am advocating an informed faith--not just wishful thinking that hopes that everything will work out okay, but real faith based on an understanding of the express teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ" (12).

With informed and restored faith, we, the covenant people, like Jesus, can rest while the tempest is raging. God will wake us if we need to be wakened; God will bring to our attention that which is necessary for us to know when we need to know it. He may also withhold certain info so as to precipitate a situation wich is pregnant with learning possibilities for us. The right orchestration, the right timing for events, even sad ones, is part of the covenant promise--if we hold up our end of the covenant as best we can. Maybe we can even give up the phrase, 'If I had only known!' (13).

She shares some words of Elder John A Widstoe on chance in a perfectly ordered universe:

In my life's adventure, there has been no chance. Indeed, I doubt if chance has any place in a world supervised by a divine intelligence. Therefore, I have felt that the power from the unseen world has ever been over me and directing my life's course. That faith has removed both fear and dissatisfaction, enemies of mankind. Certainty comes to dwell when chance is removed. It has been easy to approach God in all my work."

Therefore, Thomas says, we can go about our business and not fear that some random event will arrest our forward progress to our spiritual destiny (16).

This was such a reassuring, faith-promoting article for me. Hope you enjoy the parts I have included!

I will have to finish later, as Acia and I are meeting up with Eli at the bookstore on Polyanka. So I leave these thoughts incomplete, just know that the best is yet to come!... I'm back--got most of it down that I wanted to :)

On religion and science

I love the question of how science and religion can co-exist. I honestly feel that they do, and that if we were to truly understand pure religion, and pure science, that we would see that they go hand-in-hand. I sometimes feel it is only the weakness of the human mind that keeps them so far apart, and in seeming contradiction. But I find that the more I learn in science--say physics--the more religion makes sense to me. And the more I learn about religion, the more science makes sense. I would love to study symbolism. I find it so interesting that different peoples and religions have so many of the same beliefs. To me this is just further evidence that there was true religion at one point, that we all worship something higher than ourselves, and that if religions will excercise tolerance towards one another, we will be able to move forward in accomplishing great works--right along with science and civil society.

One book down, so many to go

Finished Resurrection by David Remnick last night, and came in to the office today to get some things and find a new book. There are so many great books here, I can't decide what to read next!! After watching Angels and Demons, I'm dying for another book on symbolism! I loved the last one I read called The Savior and the Serpent by Gaskill. Sad I don't have his Lost Language of Symbolism with me. We do have The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment, but I think they are giving that as a gift to someone. I have been wanting to read some Hugh Nibley works for a while!

Dan Brown's books, or even books like The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova, always get me so excited about learning! They make me want to go back and read about all the great thinkers of previous ages--I've decided I could spend the rest of my life going to school and never get enough of it! I still entertain the thought of going to law school to focus on international law...don't tell my parents haha I sometimes wish I could go back and study psychology, sociology, history, international relations, and philosophy! Luckily, public diplomacy has a mix of these, and for the rest I can just keep on reading!

I thought about reading something in Russian to practice the language (I have forgotten so many words that I used to know!), but there are a lot in English I would like to read. I have Atlas Shrugged at my apartment--it has been on my list for a while. But there is also a 60 page Emory International Law Review booklet called "The Future of Religious Liberty in Russia" that would be interesting, or there is "Bosnia: A Short History," or "History of Russia." Either would be really interesting. And there is a huge textbook style book called "Religious Human Rights in Global Perspective" that's about 600 pages....this is going to be a great summer for reading!! Might as well read the 60 pager on religious liberty in Russia, and go from there...

I really liked this last bit from Remnick (published in 1997):

In trying to analyze the situation in Russia and the Russian prospect, all analysts, myself included, tend to grope for analogies with other countries and other eras. The rise of oligarchy summons Argentina, the vacuum of power evokes Weimar Germany, the dominance of the mafia hints at postwar Italy, the presidential constitution recalls de Gaulle's constitution on 1958. But while Russia's problems alarm the world on occasion, none of these analogies takes into account the country's possibilities...
The most famous of all nineteenth-century visitors to Russia, the Marquis de Custine, ended his trip and his narrative by writing, 'One needs to have lived in that solitude without tranquility, that prison without leisure that is called Russia, to appreciate all the freedom enjoyed in other European countries, no matter what form of government they have chosen....It is always good to know that there exists a society in which no happiness is possible, because, by reason of nature, man cannot be happy unless he is free.' But that has changed. An entirely new ear has begun. Russia has entered the world, and everything, even freedom, even happiness, is now possible.

Night out at the movies--Russian style

Went to Angels and Demons last night at the movie theater with Acia and Eli. This guy behind us in line said to me, "It's in Russian--it doesn't have English subtitles." We had been speaking in English, so I turned to him and in Russian told him thanks, and that we speak Russian. He was really nice, and it turns out he's been to Salt Lake and Los Angeles. So random!

The movie was fun, Eli and I were both glad we'd read the book before to help with the translation! He served in Kiev, Ukraine, Ukranian-speaking, so he only knows a little bit of Russian, I guess. He is living with an American family that is here in Moscow for work. He kind of lives far off of the metro line, and the buses stop going to his apartment after 8 or so, so we were worried about him getting home, but I think he ended up calling the family to know the best way for sure.

We had about an hour or so to kill before the movie, so we wandered around the mall. They helped me pick out a necklace and earrings, and I'm thinking I need to get started now on what to get for Amy and Michelle before I go back home! We then went for some blini--pancakes. This time I got one with raspberry jam, and the other stuffed with apple-cranberry, with condensed milk on top. Yummm I know I talk about food a lot, but I have actually lost weight here--I have never eaten so healthy in my life, and I love it!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Off for the weekend

Fridays in the office are great--we ended the day with some sweets and tea! Acia and I have decided to go to a movie tonight. Angels and Demons just opened yesterday, so we're going to try and catch that.

Had another influence lesson with Andrei today on exchange and reciprocity. He asked if I could give out assignments on our next lesson where they have to do something that involves the influence tactic and come back and report on how it works. Such a great student--asking for homework! :) Marina came to me today to ask if I would mind teaching her as well, so our class is growing!

I really love the people I work with here! They are all so kind, smart, and capable! Three to five of us eat together every day, all contributing something to the meal. It's always delicious and very healthy! I love eating tomatoes, and have had them pretty to mention--our hot water was shut off again...Maybe 3 days out of the last week and a half I have had cold water. I'm really missing hot showers right about now haha

Weekend plans include rollerblading tomorrow with Asya, a youth activity, me giving a talk in church Sunday, cmuch every day since I came! I've also taken to eating seaweed-so yummy! We usually get some kind of meat to round out the meal.

I forgot hoir practice, and going to two branches so I can see everyone :)

Red Square, GUM, Tretyakovskaya...




As we were getting to Red Square yesterday, Dima pointed to a golden circle in the ground and told me this was the place the city was laid out from. I know there is an English word for this, but for the life of me I can’t remember it. Anyway, you stand in the middle of it, and toss a coin over your left shoulder and make a wish, then the beggars come and pick up the loose change. I said something about not being able to think up a good wish, and Dima said, “It’s not going to come true anyway—it’s not like it works.” Healthy dose of realism? Lol

We walked across the square, passed Lenin’s Tomb—we’d both been inside before, so decided to pass. He then pointed out a structure at the far end of the square, across from the Kremlin and told me, “That’s where they would cut off people’s heads. Chop off their heads. What do you call that?” “Beheadings.”

Just passed that is St. Basil’s cathedral that I know you have all seen pictures of. We asked a girl nearby to take our picture in front of a statue that we were both sure had some kind of significance, but neither of us quite knew about what…I’m gonna have to brush up on this before my mom comes in to town! We decided we would be cheap tourists, and decided to skip the tour of the cathedral.

We took off for the GUM, which Dima said stood for the State Universal Store. I was like, “Oh, I was just reading about this in my book (Resurrection)! This was where all of the really rich (usually corrupt) people shopped in the ‘90s—I didn’t know that’s what it stood for!” “I just made that up—but it sounds like it works, doesn’t it?” He told me a joke about the GUM—a man went to a nice store inside the GUM to buy a tie. He couldn’t find a price tag, so he went up to the clerk to ask how much it was. The clerk told him it was written there on a piece of paper on the tie. Oh, the man replied, I thought that was a phone number of some kind. Obviously neither of us ended up buying anything there. It was fun to walk around the different levels, though. It’s gorgeous!

We decided to go to the Tretyakovskaya gallery next where they have famous art. Dima and I had joked at every place that we could have taken a tour that they would say, “It’s 200 rubles, 500 for the American.” Well, here there really was a sign saying 150 rubles for adults, 250 for foreigners. We laughed, and ended up getting in at the student price of 70 rubles. A steal if you ask me!

There was a cute group of school children on a field trip with their teacher. They were discussing a painting of Christ, and Dima and I looked at each other with big eyes—“Is she a member or something,” he asked. “It sounds like the first lesson,” I replied. Crazy to think that this would have been unheard of 20 years ago in Russia, but today school children can openly talk about religion.

After the gallery, we went to McDonald’s (which is better somehow in Russia J). We then tried to go to Angels and Demons (“Are you prepared to watch a whole movie in Russian?” Dima asked), but it was sold out, and the French film started too late. On our way there, we ran into Vasya from Saratov. By this point, I had grown tired of my high heels and was walking barefoot around the city (which is completely absurd to Russians…and maybe everyone else, too, but I just couldn’t take it anymore). I was definitely getting some weird looks, and Vasya (all bundled up—it was a cold day), said it was cold just looking at me (When he called me later that night, he asked if my feet were still frozen haha)!
After the movie was sold out, Dima and I tried to walk to the next movie theater. We were both pretty tired from walking around the city at this point, and decided we would buy his train ticket back to Saratov and call it a night.

Scoping out Moscow

I spent the morning working on an itinerary for President Uchtdorf's visit. There are a few important historical sights that they want to see to get a better feel for Russian culture--both of the people in general, as well as important historical sights for the Church. Thanks to google maps, I was able to put together instructions to each sight from the hotel. Though I have been to most of the sights, I now have two new areas of interest to add to my list of things to see. And it is helping me prepare for my mom's visit to Russia! I am so excited to have her come and see Moscow! I was able to talk to her for a minute on the phone a couple of days ago—so great!

Yesterday, Dima and I visited Red Square, GUM (a huge shopping plaza off of Red Square), and the Tretyakov Gallery. I kept making mental notes of things to show my mom, which excursions we should take, and how to fit everything in to the short time she will be here. Even though I will have been to most of the places I want to take her, I am saving going on tours for when she gets here. So much to see!

President Pieper suggested going to the Lev Tolstoy museum here in the city (where his winter home was), as well as to Yasnaya Polyana, where he lived. He said Yasnaya Polyana was his and his son's favorite place to visit. As he explained it, this was the place you could feel the most light in Russia--that Tolstoy really understood something about spirituality. I am really excited to go and check these places out!

Acia and I just went down and met the new American intern in the legal office—looks like we’ll have a new friend to go see everything with! This weekend we are going to go rollerblading, then next possibly to St. Petersburg or to Yasnaya Polyana. He (Eli) is only here for five weeks, so he’s excited to go see the sights!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Loving Moscow and laughing all the way

Leaving work a bit early to go see some of the city sites with Dima. Turns out he's in town for a couple of more days, and it was my turn to plan the activity, cuz as he said about planning something to do, "That was my turn last time. It's yours this time :)" So, I decided that he could play the tourist with me while he's in town. I was hoping to go and tour the Kremlin, but it turns out the one day it is closed is Thursdays! So we're going to wander around Red Square and see what is still open to go do. It's pretty cold outside, but I think we're going to brave it so we can check out all that Moscow has to offer in the middle of the week on a lazy, overcast day in May.

I had to add this picture to my post. It's one my friend Bond (Andrei) had posted on facebook and it captures exactly how I feel about Moscow--having a great time with a big smile on my face! This particular pictures was of me taking pictures for some guys in a park outside the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. They had been trying to set the timer on their cell phones, throwing shoes at it to get it to take, etc., and it just wasn't working out for them, so I finally offered to take it. They were hilarious--like a couple of girls posing for pictures :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Zhazhda Sveta

Dima invited me to go to a club to watch a band play last night. We agreed to meet on Taganskaya at 7:15 in the middle of the hall off the platform. I sent him a text when I got there because I couldn't find him. I said I was here, but couldn't see him. He said--same with me--where are you? Then I realized I was on the platform off the purple line, and not off the ring, so I went up the stairs to where he was at.

We had been texting throughout the day, and because my cell can't read Cyrillic, we were writing in English. I had no idea how good his English was!! The last I had known, he was in the MTC, and I was interpreting for him because he didn't speak English. He even had the same first counselor as I had had, so I was invited back to hang out with their district so they could finally talk to him (I even got in trouble by security as I was leaving because I walked out with Dima and his comp--but the first counselor wasn't around). But his English now was perfect in the texts!

I greeted him in Russian, and he said at the same time in Russian, "I don't even know what language to speak with you in!" So we continued in English as we set off to find the club. It was so fun to talk with him and catch up on everything!
We went inside, and waited as the band warmed up. Then he said, "Hey, Vasya!" And tried to get one of the guys in the band to look up. All of the sudden I realized it was Vasya that I knew from Saratov!!! My mouth dropped open--I was speechless! He came over and gave us a hug, and both of us were saying we couldn't believe the other was there. So fun!

Then Dima and I switched into English--I was shocked at how good he was! He had close to an American accent, and definitely didn't sound Russian. So crazy! All of this was just from speaking with companions--he served in Romania!! Even his colloquialisms were right on. The phrases he would use in texts even sounded American.

Before the band started playing, in walked Sasha--who I had gone out with Monday afternoon. What are the odds?! Like I said, I don't know how I already have stories...

Anyway, so we sat and listened to the band--they did great! It was really fun, and we took lots of pictures. We decided to stay for the next band, and while they were setting up, Dima and I sang a couple of the American songs that came on. Poison Snake played next--it was hilarious--they played cover songs of 80s bands! Immediately made me think of my friend Val. The lead singer was in leather pants and they were fully equipped with a fan sporting 80s-style-crimped hair and leopard skin pants!

A couple songs in, we decided it was time to take off. Vasya came over for a picture and to walk us out. He is conducting the choir that will be singing for Pres. Uchtdorf's visit and asked if I sang. I said I liked singing, and then he said, "Wait! You sing! You performed for the big musical event in Saratov!" We had done a musical fireside that was probably our most effective event the last week of my mission. So he invited me to choir practice Saturday at 3:00 pm. We both kept saying we couldn't believe we'd ran into each other. We all hugged and then left.
Sasha, Dima, and I took off for the metro. Dima and I were going in the same direction for one stop, so we told Sasha goodbye, and then continued on in English. We talked about how crazy it is that he was going to Utah in less than a month to study, and that I would be here in Russia. My stop came up, and it was time to go. I may see him in Moscow before he leaves, and if not, then we said we'd run into each other in Utah. Such a small world when you're Mormon! :)

Russian Exhibition Center

Monday May 11, 2009

After the band finished up, Anatoly took me to the stop where I had agreed to meet Sasha that afternoon. Sasha and I ended up going to the Russian Exhibition Center where they have buildings for each of the countries of the former Soviet Union with exhibitions on the different cultures. We didn't go inside any of them, but instead walked around outside by a plane and rocket from the Soviet era. We then headed over to the flower gardens to walk around and talk.

I think I had said earlier that I had a hard time understanding some things Sasha said--I ended up asking him if he had a southern accent, and he said, yes, he knew he did a little, and people could always tell it was him on the phone before he picked up. By the end of our four hour excursion, I had already gotten to where I could understand him better, so that was nice.
We ended up walking passed a carnival-like shooting booth. It was so fun! I hit every shot except for my last one, while he missed almost every one. We laughed about that for a while. I even hit this tiny little bell that was hanging up. I had so much fun, and got some really great pictures from it!

He said he had ended up going to church the day before and really liked it. I was sad I hadn't known he was going--I would have gone to that branch. He enjoyed the atmosphere of church when he went--how nice everyone was, how they were able to come together and ask questions about God, and that this was allowed. He also said he liked the all of the different members participate. I told him I am speaking in church Sunday, and he said he wants to come hear me speak. I'm glad he is liking it so far!
He told me his mom is a member of an American religion, but he had decided it wasn't for him when he was younger and had become an atheist. But with time and experience, he said he had come to the point where he just couldn't believe that things were moving on their own--someone had to be there directing it. So, he decided he believes in God. When I asked when he decided that, and why, he said it was really an accumulation of events throughout his life.
It was great to be able to talk to him about those things, and I'm glad he felt comfortable sharing that with me.

The Drunken Piano Man

Monday May 11, 2009

Anatoly, who I met Sunday through Andrei, invited me to his band's practice for the morning. He came and picked me up, and we were off to the club for my new experience! It was a little bit unnerving as I stepped through the doorway, where the heavy metal door had just swung open, and down into the little space that served as a club on weekends. Off to the right was a bar--the band members had started in on the drinks, even though it was only 10:00 am, complete with a round of Vodka.

We then went into a little side room that had been sound-proofed. The door was covered with a thick Russian rug to ensure silence for those outside and upstairs. Practice started and they sounded really good. I spent some of the time searching for new vocab words to improve my Russian. I then decided to step back out into the bar area to write down my list of new words. As I was searching through my dictionary, one of the guys not playing came over to see if he could help. I asked him which words were used in which situations. It soon became clear that this was a fruitless endeavor, however, as he was drunk. The conversation was really strange, and I tried to talk him into laying down on a different couch because he said he didn't feel very good. He kept trying to put his head on my shoulder and hold my hand.

Luckily, Anatoly came out at the moment and I stood up and went over to the piano. I played Fur Elise for those outside the side-studio. The drunk guy came over and asked if I would teach him to play. I tried to teach him the simple part of Heart and Souls, but it wasn't taking well. He kept turning to me and saying, "But, I'm drunk, how am I supposed to learn this? Come on, I'm drunk." Followed by, "But, please teach me, come on, can't you teach me something?" I would try and play a scale slowly to appease him, then I would just start playing on my own, thinking he'd given up, only to hear repeated, "But, I'm drunk, how am I supposed to learn this? Come on, I'm drunk," followed by, "But, please teach me, come on, can't you teach me something?"

And that is the story of how I tried to teach a drunk man to play the piano. Crazy, crazy times with Russian vodka and the effects thereof. Sasha called not long after this and asked if I'd be free later that day--yes, I assured him, I would. I somehow didn't feel bad leaving the club.

Persuasion and Influence

I finished my last final today and turned it in via email~ I have officially finished my first year of grad school!

Andrei came in to congratulate me on finishing my last exam, and when I told him it was for my Influential Communication in the Marketplace, or persuasion, class he got really excited. He asked if I could teach him anything from my class, and I jokingly said we could have an influence tactic of the week. We decided we should do it, and throughout the day he would ask when our class was going to be. When we told others in the office we would do it, and I said weekly, he said, and why not daily? So I said, yes, let's do it daily, after all, I'm not going to be here that long...

So at around 3:45, we took off for the conference room for our first influence class! He called in Acia, and then went and announced to some others who were still around (most of the leadershp had left by this point for various meetings) that class was beginning. We got another recruit in Lydia.

So, I started out with the basis of influence, and I drew a scale for them of different influence tactics, from ones that build relationships, down to those that break relationships, explaining that the first are better for interpersonal, long lasting relationships, and that those at the other end of the scale were more like compliance tactics for impersonal, short term relationships.

Our first tactic was likability. The lesson took about an hour, and I was afraid it was getting a little long by the end, but we finished up everything on the tactic, complete with examples. All three of them were great students, commenting and taking notes. I tried to bring in examples from journalism to politics to office relations to dating. Andrei even made a crack about which tactics he thought his wife used.

Andrei said he really liked the class, especially the examples. He apparently had taken four different seminars on influence, but had hated them--he said they didn't use any examples, and he didn't write down one thing. No notes?! I asked. He said no--it was too boring, and unusable. So I'm glad we found a format that will be usable and interesting to them. And it's great for me--I've always loved teaching, and it helps me to solidify what I learned in class this last semester from Kelton Rhoades.

So, I'll head home tonight and start working on tomorrow's lesson :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Victory Day Comemmoration

May 9, 2009

The branch activity comemmorating the Day of Victory was my favorite part of celebrations. The local branches put on an amazing program for the veterans, complete with a slideshow of pictures from the war and stories from those who had fought, or who had family who had fought in the war. Marina invited me to the activity, so I sat with her. She explained to me as the stories were told, that those who had ended up in concentration camps because they had been captured were put in labor camps in Russia when they returned. She talked about how shameful that was. From what I remember in my Russian classes, Stalin did this out of paranoia. He was afraid that the soldiers had been too exposed to foreign influence and would spread these ideas in Russia, so they were sent to Russian labor camps to be re-Sovietized. Marina said more than once how wrong she felt that was, and that she was so sad that their veterans had been treated so badly by the very people they fought for.

After the slideshow was finished, a musical number was performed by two sisters of Peruvian descent whose parents had moved here before they were born. They sang a beautiful song about a memorial to the Soviet soldiers in Bulgaria. Marina, visibly touched, turned to me and said, "They call this holiday, "with tears in your eyes." A second song was performed with some joining in. Marina had to leave at this point, but wanted to show me something before she left--she took me down the hall where there was a board with pictures of her and her husband's families who had served in the war. Copies of letter were posted, and she took the originals out that she had in her purse. She showed me that one of them was a death notice--the most terrifying letter to receive--notifying family that a soldier had fallen in war. Other documents included letters to families, orders to a different front, and military enrollment papers.

This is a very emotional holiday for Russians. As my friend Maxim told me, "All were affected by this. We all lost someone close to us in the war. This is the most serious of holidays, and the most important to remember."

I then met Marina's husband, and before they left, she took her orange and black ribbon (I had seen many on the street wearing these same ribbons) and pinned it on me. After Marina left, I returned to the program.
Veterans of the area were given flowers, and one stood up to tell stories of her experience. She was quite a character. She told of how she had helped point out where some enemies were shooting from, and how all had considered her so smart and helpful. When the person conducting the program tried to stand up and have her sit down (as her allotted time had long ago expired), the veteran reprimanded her and told her she wasn't finished with her stories, and I'm pretty sure she called her a German, to which the woman feigned shock and sat down. All of us looked at each other and chuckled. She finally did sit down, only to stand back up when a musical number was announced. She grabbed the microphone and said, how about if I sing one of our songs? She started into it just as the other number's background music started up. They turned it off and let her sing. The woman I was now sitting by turned to me and said, "She's quite an active grandma isn't she?" Then the other number was allowed to go on. Everyone joined in with clapping and singing. Some karaoke started up later on with songs from the war.
The activity was great, and ended with some hardy, traditional Russian food--buckwheat, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes.

Catching up

Not being able to connect to the internet put me behind quite a bit with the blog. So much to write! I don't know how it happened, but I have stories already! Just about time for a skype date with Naomi, I think :)

To give you an idea, I came into the office today and Asya said, "You asked about dating in Russia when you first got here. I don't know why you thought you needed advice--you've had a date every day!!" This was an exaggeration, of course, but still.

With that, I'm off--going to watch a band play at a club with my friend Dima, whom I was lucky enough to run into Sunday as I was leaving church. He's a good friend from Saratov I met on my mission. I even interpereted for him in the MTC. He is just up for the weekend, so I'm glad we get to hang out!

Tales on Moscow River--The Holy Fool

While waiting for May 9th celebrations to begin, Simyon, Andrei and I walked along the Moscow River, which seperated us from Red Square. Andrei told us a story of Vasily, the holy fool. In Russian literature, the holy fool is much like those in Shakespeare's plays. He is considered a simpleton by many, and even ridiculous, but often his words are like prophecies, to be fulfilled by the end of the play. Vasiliy was one of these holy fools--he was very kind, but considered stupid by many. Vasily had bought a beautiful fur coat. Two men seeing him walk down the street decided they would trick him into giving it to them. One laid on the ground as if dead, while the other approached Vasily and said that his poor friend had died, and that his body needed to be covered. Couldn't Vasily spare his fur coat for the dead man? Vasily took it off, laid his coat over the man, and said a prayer over the dead man, asking that the angels carry off his spirit, and then left. The man who had played the trick then went over and took the fur coat off his friend. Sure enough, he laid there dead. Thereafter it was said that Vasily could foresee the future.

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior

I woke up and started reading more from Remnick's Resurrection. He wrote a little bit about the history of the Cathedral, and as I had just visited it Saturday, on May 9 for the holiday, I thought I would echo it here. He calls the story of the Cathedral of Christ of the Savior, "perhaps the most telling instance of magical realism, Russian style."

After Napoleon was defeated in 1812, Alexander I signed a manifesto declaring a contest among architects to design a cathedral to commemorate the great victory of the Russian people in gratitude to God for preserving Russia. The cathedral took decades to design and build and was consecrated in 1883. It was one of the most grandiose churches, with five gold domes, the highest as tall as a seventeen-story building. It contained fourteen bells in four seperate belfries, wich a combined weight of 65 tons. The cathedral had 12 doors and 177 marble panels describing the heroic battle with the French. A combination of battle scenes and traditional icons was intended to merge the history of the church and the history of Russia.

In the early 1920s, Lenin's campaign against the Russian Orthodox Church stopped services at the Cathedral, and 95% of churches in the city were destroyed. Priests were jailed, executed or co-opted by the state. Remnick relates that one priest was shot, had his tongue cut out, his eyes scooped from their sockets, and was shot and left to burn in a pile of manure. A tape relating the Cathedral's history stated, "Such was the state's struggle againt the 'opium of the people'" (a famous quote from Lenin). Lenin sent a secret telegram to his lackeys, that said, "Now when there are cannibalism and corpses in the street we must expropriate church valuables. Don't hesitate to kill any resisters. The more reactionary clergy we shoot now, the better: it will mean less resistance for decades thereafter."

The decisiont to destroy the Cathedral of Christ the Savior was made in secret, with the process begining by July 1931. First came the looting, with slabs of marble being wrenched from the walls, bells being cut down, crosses hacked out, and icons hauled off. Protesting priests were executed. Some of the marble ended up in benches in metro stations, or landed in museums like the Antireligious Ar Museum (and, oddly enough, Eleanor Roosevelt acquired the iconostasis and donated it to the Vatican). Nearly one thousand pounds of gold leaf was stripped from the domes, marble sculptures were hauled off with a rope around their necks, and thrown off of high places into the mud, where arms, legs, and wings were broken off. Gold crosses had the cupolas ripped off by tractors. On December 5, 1931, dynamite charges were set off to demolish the building. The first two charges failed to topple the building, with people saying that God had heard their prayers and would preserve the cathedral. The third charge, however, was successful and brought down the building. It took another five months of drilling and 18 months to carry off the 40 million bricks that had made up the cathedral. Protestors were silenced "in the most obvious ways," and demolition workers who had refused to be involved were sent to labor camps.

Stalin meant to replace the Cathedral (an archaic symbol in his eyes) with a monument to Lenin. He wanted it to tower over the Empire State Building and to embody the permanence and genius of the regime. As Alexander I had decreed a competition, so Stalin initiated one for what would be called the Palace of the Soviets. "And as the Terror began, as hillsides and riverbanks and city dumps and village compost heaps became the secret grave sites of countelss thousands of kulaks and 'wreckers' and 'conspirators' and 'enemies of the people,' Stalin identified the gorious shape that would now stand...He selected a design that can only be described as a Tower of Babel with Lenin on top." The design was eight meters higher than the Empire State Building, with a "spiraling confusion of stairs and columns and heights." The Lenin on top would be three times the size of the Statue of Liberty and would be surrounded by "the largest plaza in the world."

But, "Stalin's design to erase the old gods of man and establish bolshevism as the reigning faith--this precise attempt to destroy one temple and erect a new one on the old, holy ground--came to the most pathetic and banal of ends." The workers built a foundation for the Palace of the Soviets in 1938, but the area held dozens of nautral springs, and the foundation turned into a large, stagnant pool. The water delayed construction, which was further put off by the War. The steel of the foundation was stripped and used for railroads. "For years, the Palace of Soviets remained nothing more than that: a reeking pool surrounded by a wooden fence." In 1953, after Stalin's death, Khruschev decided to finish the palace to surpass the US in industrial modernism. The construction of the design, however, was deemed impossible and Khruschev turned in into an outdoor heated swimming pool,"the biggest in the world."

The Cathedral has since been rebuilt, with construction beginning on January 7--Orthodox Christmas--1995. State and private donations have gone toward rebuilding. Some donate because they are eager to have their old symbol back, others because it gives them access to certain privileges. Some call it "historical justice," others, "sacred...We want the fact of reconstruction to be symbolic of Russia's re-creation. We want our society to get together and be reborn as a great nation. The whole idea of rebuilding the Church unites us." Others simply wanted access to newly privatized properties from a grateful mayor...

David Remnick, Resurrection: The Struggle for a New Russia. New York, 1997, 169-174.

May 9~Day of Victory!

May 9th is probably the most important, most loved holiday for Russians. It commemorates veteran's efforts in the Great War (WWII). I was really excited to find out I would be here to celebrate it--as missionaries, we had to be in after 12, because by then celebrations have started, and it was considered unsafe. But this year I would be free to go wherever I wanted to watch celebrations.

In the morning, Sergei, Irina, and I watched from my balcony as different formations of planes flew by on their way to Red Square. After quite a few formations had flown by, nine flying in a tight, triangular formation finished it off.

I then rushed off to the metro to meet up with the youth to pass out cards to veterans, that we had made the night before at a service activity. On the way to the metro, two guys on a bench wished me a happy victory day, and I did them. Then on the metro, I smiled at someone and they actually smiled back! "I love holidays," I thought. Finally someone didn't think it was weird that I was smiling at them. This turned into a kind of uncomfortable situation, though, as he kept looking at me. I would smile, and then try to just stare off like everyone else. I even ended up engrossed in my pocket map of the city and metro to avoid his gaze. He then stood up for his stop, and it seemed as if he nodded his head towards the door. I just half-smiled and looked back down. When he looked up again as he was getting off, he puckered his lips at me in a kissing gesture and left. Maybe smiling on the metro isn't such a good idea after all. So much for holidays...

When I got to the stop, Andrei said he'd waited for the youth for quite a while and hadn't seen anyone, so instead we met up with Simyon. I know him from Ulyanovsk. He told me that Artyom, another friend from Ulyankovsk is also living in Moscow. I am excited to see him when he gets back (he went home for the holiday weekend). We decided to walk down to Red Square, along the Moscow river, and then went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. We took pictures all along the way, and then went into the church to look at the icons. We took some pictures on the lawn outside, and I ended up taking pictures for some Russian boys who had tried to set up a camera phone in the grass--they were hilarious. Andrei bought me a Russian flag, and Simyon bought one as well. I didn't think it was right for Andrei to be without one, so I bought him one as well.

I then left for a local branch activity (as this was my favorite part of May 9th, and really captures what the holiday is about, I am making a seperate entry about it). When I got off the metro to change lines, I ran into Natahsa, a girl I'd met the night before making cards. She invited me to a picnic, and I told her I'd meet up with them after the activity. I went to the activity, and then called her to see where we could meet. She gave me directions and I hopped on the metro and went to meet with them at Tsaritsina Park.

When I first walked in, there was a stage with a youth group singing, dancing, and doing a number with jumpropes. The most impressive was a can-can number in the middle of jump roping! I then went off to the picnic where a fairly large group was either sitting on the grass eating, or up playing volleyball. I saw some of the same people from the activity and ended up meeting more people.

One new friend is Aleksandr--we ended up kicking a soccer ball around, and he thinks I'm pretty good. I think my American-ness had something to do with it, though! He was surprised at how many places I had been in Russia, saying I had possibly seen more of it than he had! His accent is different, thicker somehow, so I don't always understand what he says. I noticed that when we talked about school, going to a movie, things I wanted to see, and places we thought were interesting, though some words were difficult to understand, most things were just fine. But when I would talk about places I had lived, or certain things related to my mission, we never seemed to be on the same page. I thought, "Man, my Russian has really gotten shaky!" (it has), but then when he said that I was the first American he'd met, I said, "You haven't known other missionaries from America?" And he said, no, this was his first time really hanging out with everyone. I asked which branch he was in, and he said that he had just met everyone today, and that he didn't know anything about our Church. It all of the sudden became clear why he didn't understand my references to the mission, and why he was so surprised at the cities I'd visited--not normal American tourist fare! I still have a hard time understanding his accent, but it was nice to know that most of the miscommunication was just from my assuming he was Mormon! In my defense, we were out with a Mormon youth group haha

Ran out of time! More to come...

And here it is. So we all went off to watch the fireworks (salut) down the street from Red Square. I ended up watching with a 14 year old girl, Natasha, who wonders why I'm not married and suggests that I get started on that and the many, many children she thinks I should have!

In between fireworks, a man standing on the street near us yelled,"For the people!" Cheering. Another burst. "For Russia!" "Hoorah!" we replied. After the show was over, a chant went up for "Russia! Russia! Russia!" What a night!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Late night posting

It's 4:00 am in Moscow, and I am up writing my final paper to finish out my first year of grad school! Thought I'd write this blog posting while I am up anyway. I came home from work and picking up groceries (I am still unsure what I will be eating here--those of you who know me well know that I hardly cook in America, and don't see that starting any time soon here! Although I am convincing myself that while I am here I should learn to make some Russian dishes. Maybe I'll have to retract what I said about not cooking...So my grocery stop consisted of buying Camomile tea (this one's the best--it's greenfield and has apple and cinnamon in it yummm!), which I didn't actually mean to buy. I had bought a tea called "Pleasure" only to find out it was black tea, so I had to take it back. I felt bad holding up the line, so I just took the first the girl offered. I had wanted to buy more of a Russian tea, but this one works--it reminds me of my first area in Saratov--the most coveted, though expensive, chai (all tea is chai in Russian)--coming in at a whoping 12 rubles more than the other tea I almost bought (so roughly 35 cents?) The exchange rate is about 32 rubles to the dollar right now. I also picked up a couple of bananas, Johnny Gold apples, a piroshok with potatoes (it's like a roll stuffed with mashed potatoes), four yogurts (called chudo--miracle lol), and a small loaf of bread (I ate the whole loaf last night...so let's say it was really small for my sake).

I only ended up eating half of the potatoe filling in the piroshok, because it had dill in it. No matter how many times I have dill, I still don't like it. It all goes back to my first couple of weeks in Russia...We met with a woman who was not a member and she fed us a summer soup. Now back then I was super picky. But, I had told myself I would eat whatever I was offered and do it happily. This was not the best dish to start being brave with. It had different vegetables that had been cut up and thrown into kefir--a very sour, curdled yogurt/milk drink, or kvas--a drink they make out of fermenting bread in water, I don't remember now which it was (this may make me seem like an unreliable narrator, but believe me, either would have caused the reaction I'm about to describe). I took the first big spoonfull. Not good, but I could do it, I knew it. I got about five bites in, when suddenly I could feel that my stomache had had enough. My gag reflex was setting in. It was almost more than I could take, but I was determined to keep it down and make it look like I was enjoying it. Now, you need to understand that past experience was against me--at this time I didn't even eat cucumbers, so between that and the kefir or kvas, it was kind of a doubly-whammy on my senses. It was also covered in dill. I slowed down, and tried to wait between bites, yet take big ones so I could be done sooner. Apparently I wasn't doing as good of a job as I thought at conrolling my facial expression. The woman looked at me and said, "You don't have to eat it. Really, don't worry." "No, no, it's okay. It's just a new taste--I want to." I think lying is okay in these kind of situations :) I took another bite--didn't go as well as I expected. She said, "Stop. Don't eat any more of that. Give me your bowl." Failure. I had truly, honestly tried my hardest. There was just something about the sourness and the new tastes all mixing together, not to mention a jar that was sitting in front of me with moldy bread floating in water--they were making kvas, which I also don't love, but sometimes try just to see if anything has changed. So there it is, the reason I can't eat dill to this day, or at least not eat and enjoy it. Sorry for the digression, but that story probably needed to be recorded somewhere anyway.

On to better foods...I forgot to mention that I walked into the kitchen to grab some water from the purified water jug (speaking of which, I'm still not sure if I should be drinking the water in my apartment or brushing my teeth with it, so I try to not rinse my mouth out with it, and only drink the water if I heat it up for tea, hoping that kills radiation???...I have not been able to bring myself to ask if I'm allowed to drink the water, it just seems tacky somehow. Which reminds me of another amazing story from my mission [this is the world's longest expanation in a parentheses]. We had just finished up English class, and we were riding home, and this girl asked us why we couldn't drink the water. "Oh, it's because of the radiation," I offered. Her eyes about jumped out of her head when I said this. I usually consider myself very socially aware, but was completely oblivious to the fact that I had said something wrong. Luckily Venita was a little more socially conscious, shot me a "shut up" look and said, "no not radiation, she means...organisms." I caught on at this point, "Yah, organisms. Our bodies aren't used to the ones here, you'd probably get sick at first if you drank our water--you're body needs to get used to different organisms." She seemed somewhat assured with my explanation, though I'm not really sure she bought into the whole I-just-slipped-and-said-the-wrong-word feel I was going for...So to avoid that, I think I'll just ask the Elders when I run into them again if there is a mission rule against drinking tap water here.)

Anyway, so I go to fill up the bottle and Marina and Asya (apparently she spells it Acia, to avoid it looking like Asia, though I think you'll get the pronunciation from the way I wrote it) are in there, and tell me I've come just at the right time. There on the table are these beautiful chocolate cake-like things with very finely shaved cocunut on the outside and a maraschino cherry on top. Delicious! They jokingly said it was their 5 o'clock tea time, though it was about 3:00 in the afternoon :) Now I will be able to take in my tea and join them--I'll have to pick up something good on the way to work. That is, after I go pick up my documents from registration...

Well, I should probably get some sleep. I ended up sitting down at 7:00 pm, thinking I'd finish up my LDS public diplomacy in Russia paper. Instead I decided to take a 15 minute nap that turned into 5 hours. I woke up at 12:00 am and decided to work on my paper then. So I have been, with the exception of this blog posting. It's been pretty fun, because part of it is like a journal to my mission, describing the different community events we did. But, now that it's 4:30 am, I think I'll head off to bed for a couple of hours before I have to start the day. Spokojni Nochi (Good Night--or Peaceful night, really), as I am going to bed, and it is almost night time where you are at.

I did warn you that this would be a stream-of-conscience-style blog, didn't I?...