Sunday, June 28, 2009

Final day in Rostov

So much to catch up on, but as it's my last day in Rostov, I'll have to fill in the details later. I am so happy that I was able to come!! It is beautiful here! Maybe it is how familiar everything feels, maybe it is getting to see Ani and the Harrisons, or it could be that the Sargsyans have been so great to me--whichever it is, I love Rostov!

Ani and I rode public transport to the rinok Saturday morning, and I just couldn't tear my eyes from the window. I was so happy to see Russia again!! I had much the same feeling Friday night as she and I strolled down to one of the main squares. Everything just felt so familiar and so right. So happy to be here!

Having said that, I have missed Moscow and will be excited to get back. I have missed the people there and have definitely missed the cooler weather! It has been really hot while I've been in Rostov, and I'm looking forward to returning to chilly Moscow! Although by now it's probably hot!!! haha

I'll catch up tomorrow on the Friday night stroll, Saturday morning rinok purchases, learning how to make orange rolls at the Parkers, finally getting mistaken for a Russian ;), doing my nails with Ani, going to a huge shopping center with the Sargsyans and buying three pairs of shoes, ice skating, church, visit to the Harrisons, chatting with the Sargsyans, and receiving a new Russian name--I am officially Mashinka now. I somehow started responding when Arman called me this, and it stuck. Later when they jokingly said a different name, I didn't repsond at all, but as soon as Mashinka was said, I responded more quickly than if they'd said Kim! But I'll explain all the fun tomorrow. Off to my last day--a trip to the river bank, more shopping, and a flight back home to Moscow.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Goodbye Harrisons

Ani and I walked into the chapel where the activity was taking place. People were just gathering, and I saw Sister Harrison sitting in the front row. I started making my way over to her. She looked up and realized it was me, and we gave each other a huge hug. She looks great and it sounds like she has grown to love Russia and her mission so much! We chatted for a bit, and then President Harrison came over. So crazy to see them again after all of this time! And in Russia! They invited me over to their home Sunday, and it'll be great to have more time to catch up with them.

The program was really neat. Apparently the Church had donated computers and money to a group for the blind so that they could have brail on the keyboards, so a group of them came and performed for us. It was fantastic--they were dressed up in costumes and sang and danced! A lot of the youth also performed musical numbers and there was a slide show. At the end, Sister Harrison got up and tearfully told everyone how much she would miss them, how grateful she was for the way they strove to develop their talents, and how much she had grown to love Russia.

President Harrison then got up and spoke in Russian! It was so great to hear him speak to the people in their language, express his love, and bear his testimony. It was so obvious how much they would be missed. Everyone kept telling me how great they were, and how sad they were that the Harrisons were leaving. It was amazing to see how well they've served these people.

I was able to interpret for them a bit after as people said their goodbyes. We were able to talk again for a bit, and President Harrison said that just so I know, they open up their home to return missionaries with their dates ;) Sister Harrison had told me she already knew who she wanted to set me up with, which was even better because I actually already know him!

Rostov and Ani

I love Rostov!!! I finally feel like I am back in Russia! It reminds me so much of the cities from my mission. Moscow and St Petersburg are great, but they just aren't quite authentic Russia.

Ani, her brother Arman, and her dad met me at the airport yesterday morning, which was great because I had turned my phone off on the airplane and forgot I needed a pin code to turn it back on. Unfortunately my pin code is in my apartment in Moscow...And Irina and Sergei's phone numbers are in my phone...

When I walked into the airport, Ani saw me and came and gave me a huge hug. Neither of us could believe we were actually together again after three years! It has been so fun to see her--to reminisce about the mission and catch up with everything we've been doing since! I love her so much! I have missed our talks, and am so happy to see her again!

We came back to her house and had lunch before heading off to see some of the city. We took a bus to an area that has a lot of stores to get a family picture developed for them to give to the Harrisons. While we were waiting, we went around to different stores. It was seriously just like a pday on the mission! The stores were totally the same kind she and I used to go to! Ah I love feeling like I'm back in Russia!!! Ani bought me a magnet with Rostov on it so I would always remember my trip here :)

We decided we want to go to the rinok to do some shopping today--I love rinok prices! haha After walking around town for a while, we decided to head home, take a nap, and get ready for the activity for the Harrisons.

After our naps, a quick family dinner, and a shower, we headed off to the branch building.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Because I am leaving for Rostov, today was my last day with Presidents Pieper and Gibbons. So sad! They are really great men whom I admire a lot! It has been such a privilege to work with them! I got pictures with both of them--Pres. Gibbons if we should take the pic by the water cooler, and I said oh, yah, just chatting away! He said it was too bad we hadn't had more game nights--we need to see more competition. I was like, I know! That was so much fun!

Here Sister Hall jumped in and said, Okay--enough you guys, I know we lost, and Elder Hall jumped in there and defended our team. So funny! I'll really miss President and Sister Gibbons!

President Pieper has also been really great. He was excited to hear that I am interested in studying freedom of conscience and law and offered to get me in contact with some people who work with those types of issues, so we'll stay in contact to help me know how I can best pursue becoming involved.

I know the new presidency will be great, but the current presidency will certainly be missed!

Officially creeped out

So I am sitting here in the office with the lights off because everyone else is gone. Just thought I'd finish up a last few things, upload some pics, etc. I was my mom was online, and we started chatting, when all of a sudden I hear this really strange music--a mix between giligans island and chanty, hokey, foreign music. Weird.

So anyway, this music is playing, and I think, well maybe it's just the cleaning people and they've come to do their jobs. The music keeps playing. Then all of the sudden I hear people talking. They are definitely in the office! "Hello," I hear. "Do you think anyone's there?" Okay, officially creeped out at this point. So, like any leading blond in a horror film, I decide I should make my way out into the dark hallway, towards the conference room and kitchen.

I listen for a second, then call out, "hello? hello?" Then I realize it is definitely coming from the conference room. I poke my head in and realize the equipment for conference calls has been left on. The screen is off, so I don't see anybody, but I can tell the microphone is lit up.

Then I hear, "Can you tell me whose office this is? We're trying to reach Frank so and so." I try to tell them that they have the wrong office, but they say, "Sister, can you tell us who we've reached?" I say the area office, they ask which one, then say they can't hear me, which is weird that they would ask which one if they didn't hear me. Finally I hit a button on the microphone, tell them it's the area office in Moscow, Europe East, and then it seems like they hang up. But then the music starts again, and I can hear background conversations. So I tried to turn on the screen and off--but I couldn't see them. Finally gave up and came back to my computer. Apparently they've reached whoever they are trying to call, cuz now instead of ridiculous music I'm in on a conference call...just got started up I guess. Wherever they are it's in English and it's morning. Weird.

Off to Rostov!!

So, not surprisingly, all involved think it will be better if I fly to Rostov rather than make the 16 hour bus ride. Thanks to a concerned and ever-helpful mom and dad, I now have a ticket to leave on a plane at 9:30 am tomorrow! I don't have to make a 16 hour trip, my parents don't have to worry, and no one has to deal with me being tired and cranky after said 16 hour drive. Sounds like win, win, win to me!

I talked to Ani to tell her I'm coming, and I'm so excited to see her!! And as luck would have it, there is a special activity for President and Sister Harrison tomorrow night :) I can't wait to see them!

Background: Ani is my Armenian companion from my mission. We lived together for about 2 months and would occasionally get to see each other at mission conferences. But I haven't seen her since about July 2006. And President Harrison was my first bishop at BYU after moving from the dorms. He and Sister Harrison are so great!! I have missed them and loved getting to know them when I was in the ward. I started putting in my papers [to serve my mission] when I was in President Harrison's ward, but then ended up going back to my home ward to officially submit them.

About four months before I came home, I received a letter from Sister Harrison with all these questions like, where do I get my hair done, what things can I buy in Russia, what do I cook here, and then the news: they had been called as mission presidents to serve in Rostov! We missed each other by about one week, as they came to Russia just as I was leaving. That means it's been about four and a half years since I have seen them--and now I get to meet up with them in Russia, of all places!!! I've been able to talk with President Harrison a couple of times because of public affairs projects I've been working on, and I can't wait to see him and his wife!

Movie and ice cream

Tyler and I decided to hit up a movie last night. He offererd to watch The Proposal and at my request, even sought it out in English. When we realized there were probably not any English theatres showing it, we settled on Russian and went and bought tickets. It actually turned out to be a pretty good dubbing, so it was fun. I generally prefer to watch movies in the language they were made in (I love Life is Beautiful, but I will NEVER watch the English version--that's what subtitles are for), but like I said, this one was still good.

After, we decided his roommate Ryan needed some cheering up, so we took him out for ice cream at Shokolodnitsa and even got a virgin mojito! It was really nice to sit and chat, and we ended up staying for quite a while. Though I've decided mojitos are not for me (at least not this one--too much mint, though the guys liked it), it was still a great night!

Taken...out for orange juice

So have you seen that movie Taken? Remember how that girl is named Kim? Let's just say sometimes even I admit I'm lucky I haven't ended up "taken." You see, sometimes I just go wandering off with random people. Well, Tuesday night after hopping the fence and getting to the metro and safely on my way home, I was standing studying vocab because there weren't any seats left. This guy kept turning and looking at me, and then he finally asked if I knew what the next stop was. I told him I thought Dynamo, but wasn't sure. It wasn't. It was Airport. Which I told him as soon as we got close to the stop. He then gave me his seat, which I thanked him for. A few minutes later he asked if I knew how to get to a bus station by our stop, and I told him sorry I wasn't from here and couldn't tell him.

The conversation would have stopped here had I not said when we were both getting off the metro, "I think you go that way." He decided this meant he should invite me to have a cup of coffee with him and his friend. I really wasn't interested and was really tired, so I tried to politely say no, forgetting that politely saying no is half way to yes here. Finally, I said, sorry, I don't even drink coffee. To which he offered tea, then vodka, then beer. I definitely don't drink those I said. Well, I somehow got talked in to at least walking in the same direction as them. We then found a little Kiosk where they sell candy, food, and drinks. They got me an orange juice and each grabbed a beer. Then Michail said to me, "Wow, you are the first girl I know who would go off with two complete strangers, someone she doesn't even know." Dang it, I thought, I totally could have gotten away with turning down the offer! They expected me to! After talking a bit longer (still right by the metro), I thanked them, and tried to take my leave. "We'll walk you home." "Oh, no, really, no I'm fine. Nice meeting you." They ended up walking me home. Unfortunately, we went a little different way than I was used to going. All of the following took place in a joking manner: they were like, "You don't even know where you live? Or are you just taking us for a walk? (he laughed here) What would you have done if we hadn't come with you? You would have been wandering alone and that's not safe." That's some odd reasoning. I don't really know you. But I knew where I was and just took a turn towards where I live. "No, no, I know where I live, I just had to come a bit different of a way so I didn't recognize it at first." "How would you have found it without us?" "You didn't find my house. I did. Plus, I wouldn't have gone a different way, so I wouldn't have been lost at all." "Oh, so this is our fault?" he laughed again. "I'm just kidding with you," he said.

Finally, I told them I was by my house (there was no way I was walking them to where I actually live), and we said our goodbyes. I wasn't too far from home at this point and made it home quickly.

So everything turned out all right, and they really were nice. If I had had ANY feeling that they were sketchy I would NEVER have put myself in this situation. But even so, I realize this is not the best way to go about making new friends, and have decided to chalk this up to experience--next time I will be prepared with a firm, but kind, no thanks, and be on my way!

Don't worry, mom--I'm being :) And all's well that ends well?

Strolling through Kolomenskii

Somehow, we always end up walking around red square after church activities. It was that way again Monday after FHE, where we said goodbye to the Gregorys and played a little bit of ping pong. The youth decided to go out for a stroll, and after realizing we had yet again gone to red square, we decided to take off in a different direction. Tyler and I were the fastest walkers, and ended up ahead of everyone. We walked off of red square and decided to head for the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. We made a crazy dash across a busy road, passed a little church we'd seen Saturday and went to check it out. Though most people had gotten sick of walking by the time we had taken off in this new direction, we did meet up with some of them at the cathedral.

Then Tuesday, Tyler and I decided we wanted to go see St Nicholai of the weaver's church. After getting in trouble for talking inside, we left for Tolstoy's Moscow home/museum. This was unfortunately closed--I hadn't even thought about the time. Again, 6:30 feels like 3:30. We headed over to the bus station to see how much a ticket to Rostov would be and what time the bus leaves at. Then it was off to some more wandering.

So as we wandered off, I suggested we go to Kolomenskii park. It ended up being really fun. We went and sat on a bench by an overlook of the river. I love parks in Russia--they are so beautiful and there are always a lot of people (until about 11:00 at night we would find out). After talking about how nice it was to see so much grass, we decided we should take advantage of it and go lay down in the grass. I was half tempted to roll down the hill, but restrained myself. We saw some fireworks go off, and then heard the delayed sounds of them being set off. We decided to see if we could count it like you do lightening and thunder to see how far away it was. (Note: this apparently only works with lightening. I'm certain it doesn't with fireworks anyway)

After playing a guessing game of what time it was, and finding ourselves another couple hours off, we decided we should probably head out. I imagine it was about 11:30 pm at this time. We were the only people left in this half the park (we were secretly hoping we were the only ones left, but saw two people sitting on a bench on the way out). We kept joking that we had probably gotten locked in and how funny that would be if we had to hop the fence.

The closer we got, the more I wondered if we would actually be hopping the fence. Sure enough, when we reachedthe gate, it was locked. So we hopped the fence. Okay, so I didn't really hop the fence--I was more lifted over and then down from the fence. Hey, I'm no expert at scaling high fences these days (unless they are chain link fences or little fences, then I'm totally all over that!). Tyler boosted me up, I grabbed the top of the fence, and then sat on it. "Wait, I'm really going to jump off of this?" You'd never know I've gone skydiving before. All the sudden a seven foot fence intimidates me. "Or I can jump it and help you down." "Yah, that sounds good." I'm still not sure how he did it, but he hauled himself up and over the fence, and then gave me a hand down. We stopped for pictures, cuz it's just not every day you get trapped in a park and have to escape.

As we were walking away, we heard a group of people get to the gate and find it locked. We thought it would be great to watch and see what they did. I had to laugh as a girl in a dress tried to squeeze through the bars (I had tried this myself to no avail). But, the scene didn't last long--a guard appeared with a key and let them out. Not nearly as exciting.

Dinner guests

I usually love Sundays, but this one was exceptional! After meeting up with Nastya, Elya, and some of the study abroad students, we went to Nastya's home. Her parents are so great!!! They are some of the most hospitable people I have ever met! The food was delicious, the company delightful, and the games riveting!

We started off our dinner with a choice of soups: borscht or a summer soup made of white kvas. I had a really bad first experience with the white soup, so took advantage of the options and requested borscht. Unfortunately, Carrie, being overwhelmed with her first day in Russia, somehow ended up with the kvas soup. I should have tried to help avoid this, but in this case, it is every man for himself! So I ended up with delicious borscht, and she got a new experience. After this, I tried to pay a little more attention to make sure she knew what was going on. This didn't prevent Nastya's dad from putting lots of food on her plate however, and we all laughed as he said, "Po bolshe!" over and over (more, more). It was especially exciting when Chandler took up the cheer of po bolshe!! every time he went to give her food. We ended up with quite a meal of soup, potatoes, vegetables, different teas and juices, a meat pie type thing, curd/cottage cheese stuff, and some delicious cakes.

Nastya's family was so fun! They were really great to talk to, and even played games with us. We went in the front room, where Tyler started out the entertainment with Fur Elise on the piano, to be followed by a couple of others playing various classical pieces. Then it was on to a great game of cards--something similar to BS. I was the first out (which is good--you try to get rid of all of your cards) and it was hilarious to sit and watch everyone else play.

The two new study abroad students ended up heading out early because Eric didn't have keys yet and needed to be home early. As they were being walked to the metro, the rest of us stayed and some singing of hymns started up. Only four of us left were members, but they had wanted to hear us sing, and Tyler happened to have a hymn book, so we ended up singing from that at their request. We then watched part of a Russian comedy from what looked like the '70s. Totally great. Plus, we had the commentary from Nastya's dad to make it that much better.

Then it was back to the kitchen for a game of loto, which is like bingo. We were having such a good time that we didn't want to leave. We played round after round, using candies for wagers. We finally decided we'd have to head out or chance missing the metro. With happy goodbyes and promises to meet up again, we left. We've decided we are going to have everyone get together for a picnic, and we will make them Mexican food!

Two church meetings.

Sundays are always pretty great, but this one was exceptional! I went to my own branch at 10:00 am and ended up playing piano for relief society, and then again in choir. I sang with sopranos, and then with altos, and then was asked if I could also play while we all sang. It was really fun, and we got out just in time for the next branch to be starting. I ended up staying to their meetings as well. I ended up looking over a woman's shoulder to sing from her hymn book for the opening hymn, and she turned around and complimented me on my voice. I thanked her and didn't really think much else of it. Until she came up to Tyler and me after Sunday school. "What are your plans right now?" she asked him. "Going to priesthood...?" he said. "Would you mind playing the piano in Relief Society? Now, what's your name?" With this last question she turned to me. "Kimberly." "Ah, yes," turning back to Tyler, "will you play in Relief Society for Kimberly? We'd like for the two of you to do a musical number." He and I looked at each other. "Are you okay with that? That works for me," we both said to each other. We told her we'd be more than happy to help out, that we would pick a hymn, and was there any specific number she wanted? No, we could decide. We chose "Be Still my Soul." Just then Ryan walked up (he had refused to sit with us cuz we were on the front row). "Hi," he said to the three of us, and got introduced to the nice sister. "Oh, this is great," she said, "will you bear your testimony for us in Relief Society?" he looked confused (Relief Society is a women's organization). I told him Tyler and I would be singing, and they just wanted us to help out at the beginning. He agreed, and the three of us made our way to Relief Society.

The guys looked a little uncomfortable, making comments that this was the first time they'd been in Relief Society. Ryan bore his testimony, and then we did our musical number. I was nervous (I don't know why), but it was fun. After we finished singing and the announcements were over, the guys took off for priesthood.

We met up after the meetings to go to our friend Nastya's house. That was why I ended up staying to all three meetings. Tyler told me Ryan had gone to change, and we'd leave as soon as he got back. When Ryan came out, he was like, "You're really not going to change?" "No, I'm fine." "It was your idea to bring extra clothes." Turned out he didn't want me to feel bad or overdressed because I was still in my church clothes. But then Ryan decided he would be too casual. So Tyler took off his tie to appear more casual and served as the bridge between our two "extreme" dressing styles. Then we headed off for the metro to meet up with Nastya.

Bike riding and a trek to Ikea

Irina and I decided to ride bikes down to the park where the branch would be having a picnic. I had forgotten how much I love bike riding!!!! It was so pleasant. I am definitely thinking I need to find a way to get my bike down to LA.

When we got there, Sonya and Masha came and gave me a big hug and asked if I would be staying at the picnic for long (Irina was planning on leaving soon). I told them I would definitely be staying, and we sat and chatted. I love those girls! They are so adorable!

I ended up talking with the branch president and some others for a long time. President grew up speaking Russian, Armenian, and Georgian. His mom is half Armenian, half Russian, and they lived in Georgia. He said they would often carry on conversations in all three languages, choosing the langauge that best fit the feel of what they were trying to say. Especially when it came to jokes. As he said, "Certain jokes just sound better in the language native to the joke!" He is really great, and I enjoyed the chance to talk to him more. He told me about a church he had visited around Mount Ararat where the altar Noah constructed after the waters receeded is housed. The holy man working there had sensed that President knows scripture well, and that he was a spiritual person, and invited him to see artifacts that are not open to everyone. It was great to hear of some of his experiences.

I had planned to go to the office to check my email, but it started raining just as we packed up the last left over juice and fruit, so everyone hurried off to their next destinations.

My next destination turned out to be quite the trek. There are many Ikeas in Moscow, but we had somehow chosen the one that is the farthest away from me. I asked Irina how long it would take to get there by metro, and she told me about one hour. So I diligently took off at 5:00 to make it by 6:00 pm. I texted Ashley to make sure I knew where we were meeting. She called and said that plans had changed and that they had ended up getting there at 5:00 (they had just arrived) but to come anyways because they would still be there.

Well, about 6:10 I got off the metro, and went off in search of the bus that was supposed to take me to Ikea for free. I asked a few people until someone could point me in the right direction. I found it and pulled out Atlas Shrugged while I was waiting. I had been there for about 10 minutes, standing on the edge of the sidewalk reading, when all the sudden, I realized I had been pushed back as people swarmed in front of me to get on the free shuttle. Afraid I wasn't going to make it on and be even later, I did my best to hold my own and not get pushed back any further.

So, I jumped onto the crowded bus and read while I stood, grateful I was at the last leg of my journey. Unfortunately, Moscow is about 10 times worse than even LA can be. Pretty sure I rolled in around 7:00 pm. Everyone had just finished eating, so I set off for Ikea to find Ashley. We met up somewhere between kitchen supplies and living room furniture. Then she took me back to where a group of the students had claimed a display room to play cards in. I decided to grab some food while everyone was waiting.

Just as I paid for my meal, I heard "Privet" (hello) behind me. It was Ryan. "Hey, we're gonna head out." "Wait, what? I just got here--you guys aren't going to play?" I said. "Well, we live in the north and it takes a long time to get home." "I know. That's why I just got here. And I live more north than you do. Maybe I'll head out with you guys." So he called up Tyler to tell him I'd made it finally and would be heading out, but had to eat first. So we grabbed a table, and I sat and ate my frikadelki (Swedish meatballs) while four, and then nine people sat and watched me.

Ryan had homework and Chandler had a talk to prepare for the next day, so Tyler and I decided we'd go do something. After all, it was a Saturday night! :) He was nice enough to offer to stay and look around the mall because he knew I had just arrived. So we wandered around a couple of the stores, and then decided to head into the center of Moscow to grab him some food and walk around red square and to the bridge just beyond it. Great view! We ended up chilling at pizza hut for a long time out on the patio while he ate some pizza (I was still too full from my frikadelki to get anything).

It was really fun to sit and talk--we are both thinking of going to BYU law, so we talked about a class he took on economy and the law, about our families, what we like in Russia, and what we miss about home. Then we walked passed some fountains that are also near red square. About this time, we heard yelling from the distance.

"What do you think that is," Tyler asked. "I don't know. It sounds like a riot." "Wanna check it out?" he asked. "Yah, let's do it. If there's ever a riot, you should definitely join in. I'm pretty sure that's right. Either that or at least watch history being made. Something like that," I said.

So we took off in the direction of red square. It turned out to not be a riot after all. Just some drunk military officers taking pictures. We decided they must have had some kind of graduation from the academy and were celebrating. After looking on for a while, we decided it was probably time to head home. Though it looked like 9:30 pm, it was actually midnight. So we took off to make sure we made the metro before it closed at 1:00 am.

Trinity Cathedral

Ashley invited me to go to Sergeyev Pasad where the Trinity Cathedral is. We took a commuter train and set out to meet up with the other study abroad students Friday. We made our way towards the cathedrals and churches, and looked around for an Orthodox ring. I have decided I really want one, so I took this opportunity to scout one out. I went in the little shop on the grounds and tried on a beautiful silver and gold ring. Then, upon finding out that it was about $60, returned it to the nice Orthodox woman behind the counter. At least I found out my ring size :)

While we were looking around for our group, Ashley and I decided to go inside one of the churches. There was a sign on the door saying no access, but we saw a smaller, more intricately designed door off to the side. "Can we go in there?" I said. "I'm not sure." "It kind of looks like a service door--where people participating in administering in the church would go in. She would check it out anyway?" I said as I made my way towards the door. I then looked around and crossed the threshold. Ashley and I kept looking at each other and wondering if we were supposed to be there. We walked down some steps and down a hall. If we run into the holy of holies we're in such big trouble, I thought. When we got into the room the hall had led to, we realized we had walked into some kind of a crypt. We turned around and headed back out. We then found our group, and went into the cathedral to listen to a choir sing and watch the service.

We stepped back outside, and I introduced myself to Tyler--one of the students I hadn't met before. Justin came out and told us they were singing again, but this time it was a men's choir. I followed everyone back into the dimly lit church, but ended up wandering to the left and more towards the front, instead of towards the choir in the back with the rest of the group. All of the sudden, one of the holy men came in front of the mass of people, and everyone went down on their knees. I looked around and realized I was the only one standing in this area. I didn't know what to do. Should I kneel? I threw a glance at Tyler, and we gave each other a look like, what should we do now? Luckily, just about then Chandler appeared by my side so I didn't feel like a total idiot. After everyone stood, Chandler and I made our way back towards the rest of the group.

After leaving the church, we grabbed some food from a little store on the grounds where the churches stood. Tyler said they'd seen one of the churches before we got there, but that he would show us where it was while everyone was just kind of hanging out. As we started walking over, he pulled out a Bon Aqua bottle and asked if I wanted some holy water. "Sure," I said a little flippantly, "I didn't realize Bon Aqua was making holy water these days." He just kind of laughed and then told me he had filled it up with water from a spring on the grounds. "Oh. I love it when I make smart alec comments when I'm wrong. That was awesome," I said a little sheepishly. "I was just afraid you were going to be mad thinking I had just picked up water somewhere that might not be clean," he kindly replied.

The church ended up being closed, so we walked across the courtyard to a different one. We passed the holy spring on the way. "Well that makes a lot more sense. No wonder you filled it up here." I scooped up some of the water in my cupped hand and drank it. We entered into the church and looked around at the different icons and symbols. We talked about symbolism and faith, and about how we could appreciate the differences in Russian Orthodox and our religion and respect what their faith means to them.

After we'd seen all we came to see, we headed back through town to the train. While waiting on the platform, some girls came up to us to ask when the next train was leaving. We told them we didn't know, and they thought that was so funny. They couldn't believe a group of people would stand on a platform, waiting for a train they didn't know about. It made sense to us. We were done, wanted to get back to Moscow, had a ticket for this line, and it comes periodically. Not so crazy, right?

After getting back into Moscow, we decided we wouldn't make it to the discotecha that some of the youth were going to, and instead decided to watch a movie. We couldn't find any good ones at the rinok, so we decided to go back to Ryan and Tyler's and just watch one they already had. We settled on the Count of Monte Cristo in Russian. We started out with 6 people, but by the end of the movie only four of us remained.

Svetlana was upset that no one had escorted Kenzie to the metro, so Tyler decided to avoid another lecture by walking with Ashley and I down there (plus we'd come a different way and weren't sure how to make it back haha). We decided we'd all meet up at Ikea the next day to play cards. "Because, hey, if we get kicked out, that'll make a great story!" So I live my life for stories--nothing wrong with that :)

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Running behind...

So many great stories! I will definitely catch up in the morning on what happened over the weekend, the last couple of days, and what's coming up this weekend! Lots of great things like sight seeing, card playing in Ikea, an awesome Sunday dinner at Nastya's parents, hopping a fence after getting locked in a park (well I more got helped over the fence than hopped haha), more sketchy metro friends, etc! Until tomorrow!

Monday, June 22, 2009


And I don't even want anything! I was hanging out with the study abroad students Friday, and one of the girls asked me what I called my dad growing up. I told her "daddy" and that was at least until I was 17, and that I still call him that sometimes. Tyler jumped in with--"yah, when you want something right?" "Oh, especially then!" I laughed. I told my dad about this conversation and he and I added at the same time,"Or when we're not debating politics." :)

I love my dad so much and was so happy to be able to talk to him this morning!! He has been a great dad, and I have many great memories of him! I remember hearing him come through the front door from work when I was little, and I would run and throw my arms around him, with, "Daddy!!" or "Hi daddy!" I also remember asking him all kinds of crazy questions when I was little, cuz I was sure he knew everything!! I still call him when I need to know something--Especially when it comes to cars, finances, and all of those practical things!! :)

Everyone who knows my dad loves him--from the doctors and nurses at work to the people in our ward! My dad is always quick with a smile and loves meeting new people. I am so lucky to have him for a dad!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Moscow evenings

I went for another run last night in the park next to our aparment building. I love our area--so beautiful! Covered in trees and little paths that cross every which way.

It was so nice out (if a little chilly), so I decided to do some of my reading outside. I went upstairs, grabbed my keys and scriptures, and started out the door. Sergei asked where I was going, and I told him it was so nice that I'd decided to sit and read for awhile. He told me it was too late and would be getting dark, but I told him it still seemed light and I wouldn't be gone for long. It was light for another good hour or so, even though it was 10:00 pm!

As I was sitting reading with my head rested against my hand, I heard a man call something out to me from the sidewalk. I was sitting on the steps of the apartment building next to us, so I was afraid he was going to yell at me for sitting on cold cement (Russians are very superstitious about this--they think you'll go barren). But when I looked up and asked what he'd said, he asked if I was okay. "Yah, I'm just reading." "Oh, I thought maybe someone had offended you, and you were upset. Sorry to bother you." We ended up talking for a few minutes. Very nice man. His name is Vadislav, and he moved to Moscow for work. He is from Central Russia. He asked what I was reading and I told him that it was in English, that is was my scriptures (which is holy writings in Russian). He told me that just that day he had seen some holy book at work and leafed through a few pages. "Damn. I can't remember what it was called. The Lord help me to remember." Which I thought was mildly funny. "The Bible?" "No, something else." "The Qaran?" "No, something about Indians." "The Book of Mormon?" Come on, I had to ask :) "No." "Krishna?" "Yes, yes, that's it!" So we talked a little about sacred writings, and I asked if he was a believer (which usually means Christian). He answered that he "was Russian--so, Orthodox, but Orthodox how? Like the rest." I told him that I loved the Orthodox cathedrals and had been to a few. I showed him a picture of the Salt Lake temple, and told him that was my church's temple in Utah. He told me about a beautiful cathedral from his home town that had stood in Soviet times, but it sounded like it had either been closed up or torn down. After talking a bit, he took off to leave showing me the vodka bottle in his hand, half-concealed up his sleeve and told me he was off for a smoke. "Perhaps I'll run into you again," I said, "Nice meeting and talking with you." "The world is round. Do you have that phrase? Any way it means who knows? We'll see. Again, sorry to have bothered you, I just thought maybe someone had offended you." We said our goodbyes and I decided it was probably about time to head home.

Half way to my door, I heard a guy yelling out if I knew what time it was, kind of following behind me. I turned, showed him I didn't have a watch, and said sorry that I didn't know what time it was. He looked defeated and turned to go. I took a few steps forward, then turned around and said, "It's probably around 10:30, I'd guess." So he took courage at this and started up a conversation. "I wanted to come talk to you, but I was too shy," he said after asking where I was from and introducing himself. "Oh, that's okay." He was very nice, and may come and hang out with some of my friends tonight.

Also, Alexei from Ulyanovsk called to see if I was hanging around where Akuli was playing. Glad to see that's the new cool spot to chill haha

Collated the new mission president training manuals, so got a good half-day in at work. Now it's noon, and I'm taking the rest of the day off to go with the study abroad students to Trinity Cathedral!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Russian headlines

I thought I'd give you an idea of what is being reported on in some of the Russian papers. So here is your news update!

It seems that Russia will be taking advantage of Iran's allegations of the US meddling in Iranian affairs (despite the lack of evidence to back this) to yet again speak out against meddlesome Americans--see Russia Today's, Iran protests: breeding ground for new revolution? :

Apparently the West is "organiz[ing] a green’ revolution similar to color revolutions in former Soviet states...What may have been a mass protest without foreign interference may now be subsidized by people like George Soros. We are talking about yet another themed revolution – in this case, a green revolution.”

Following this are allegations against Obama in an article titled, "Obama's foreign policy is more aggressive than Bush's--expert." I'm not sure who said expert is, but I'm sure glad they named that he is one (someone feel free to enlighten me on why expert is included--it was on quite a few articles, so it may be a legit way of referencing something, and I'm just in the dark on this one. Seriously).

And there has been a so-called "milk war" going on between Belarus and Russia. Russia-Belarus: who is milking who? My favorite quote from the article being, "Was it Moscow or Minsk that hoped for some better outcome which, for whatever reason, did not occur? Or was it much ado about nothing?"

Right next to this article was an interesting poll, asking: Will there be a Russia-Belarus split after the 'milk war'? Possible answers: Yes, the EU can bring Belarus more benefits; Yes, Lukaschenko is an unforgiving type; No, Russia and Belarus are natural allies; and No, it was just a political show.

And don't miss the Russia-China and BRIC summits taking place in Yekaterinburg.

Also, many of you have asked me what the people think of Putin and Medvedev here. There was an unsettling article in Izvestia today, "The President Needs to Have a Brain" about what school-age children in Russia think the ideal president should be like. I constantly find myself hoping that the youth and future generations will make of Russia the strong, beautiful country it has every potential of becoming. This article, however, is not the most encouraging...

Words, words, words

Oh, words, those slippery little things!!

I had just put on lotion when I walked by Acia's desk. "Hmmm...You smell like peeee....eeaches?" She said as she sought around for the right word. "haha I'm glad that's what you settled on!" "Peaches, right?" "Yah, it's peaches--that's my lotion."

And then, we are in the rinok and Acia asks which bread I want. "Oh, just the cheapest, ummm, baguette," I say. As I walk over to her, I realize that not only did I mean baton, but that baguette is actually a French word...

And speaking of French words--I found out that the word suzette actually exists in French! "Crêpe Suzette is a typical French dessert, consisting of a crêpe with a hot sauce of caramelized sugar, orange juice, lightly grated orange peel and liqueur (usually Grand Marnier) on top, which is subsequently flambéed." Thank you once again wikipedia!

Thank goodness I put the h in my suzhette! This is a creative little title I came up with one day chatting with Paul on his front porch, trying to figure out a name so I could start a blog. "I want to call it something like suzhette," I had said. "Well, why don't you? That's perfect." "Oh, is that an English word?" I asked. "No. Just use it." And thus my blog name was born. Tales of a wandering Mormon is also his, folks.

By the way, suzhette is a Russian word that I decided to spell in a French as a way to show that I like all things international! It means a summary or outline of what's going on in the story, the gist, or as Andrey just said--"Suzhette means a story of your life." :) Sounds like I got the title right after all.

Catching up

I had a great chat with Naomi last night--our first real conversation (besides email and chat, of course) since I left for Russia! So fun to talk with her and get caught up on everything! It was fun to be able to hear what is going on with her back in Los Angeles and to update her on some of my crazy stories here! When I got home, I told Irina that I had been talking to one of my friends in LA, and it suddenly struck me how far away LA...isn't. Technology is an amazing thing! Funny how our talk felt like I was just calling as usual from my downtown LA apartment to her West Hollywood one (even though we've both moved since!).

Then this morning I caught Tabby on line and she filled me in on pretty much the passed 2,000 years history of the middle east. She is such a doll! I love talking with her and getting her perspective on things. I was really grateful for her willingness to share her thoughts with me--I have always felt a little bit shaky with my knowledge of current events in the middle east. I am taking a class on news media and foreign policy this fall which focuses heavily on the middle east, so I asked her advice on how to get a good feel for what is going on there. She was so helpful!

So I spent a lot of today reading up on different things on that area of the world, finally watched ALL of Obama's middle east speech in Egypt, and then read up on the freemasons (hey, you find some pretty random stuff doing different searches on wikipedia!)

Syria, Iran, and Ulyanovsk to boot

I went to the rinok to buy some lotion on my way home from work a couple of days ago (there's one right by our building where we go buy fruits, veggies, and meat for lunch every day). The woman was so nice! We ended up talking, and I told her I am from Utah, but live in Los Angeles for school. Turns out she has some relatives in LA. Her name is Maya, and she is from Dagastan, Russia--in the Caucusus Region, bordered by the Chechen Republic of Russia, as well as by Georiga, Azerbaijan, and the Caspian Sea--but the rest of her family lives in Syria. She told me to come again to talk, and I told her I definitely would.

So on my way home last night, I stopped by to buy some conditioner. We talked for a long time, and she told me about a trip she had just made to Damascus, Syria and invited me to come along with her in the end of August! I wish I could, but I won't even be in this part of the world, and USC calls! She showed me some pictures, and it looked amazing.

She ended up asking if I was dating someone--the inevitable question here I've decided--and I told her no. So now she is pretty set on lining me up with her brother, "A handsome blond boy who could have any girl he wants, because they are all chasing him, but he refuses to settle down." She had other pictures of Syria she had shown me, but none of him, so she has promised to bring one for the next time I stop by! Oh, my. What's a girl to do? haha She's so sweet, though so I look forward to dropping in again for another chat.

I also met a wonderful woman from Iran after my meeting with the sisters Tuesday. Her name is Yulia, and though she speaks Russian, it is a little halting. I told her some of my friends back in Los Angeles are from Iran, and we chatted for a bit. Talk soon turned to politics, and she talked about how awful the elections results were. In our broken way, we talked about the demonstrations and how sad it is that lives had been taken from innocent people, who are honestly hoping for their voices to be heard. She was pleased to hear that I knew about what was going on in Iran, and that I was following the news reports. She said she hoped we'd meet up again, and I told her we definitely would. She really is a sweet, wonderful woman!

Shortly after this, as I was walking to the metro at Novokuznetskaya, I saw that my favorite band Akuli was about to play! I decided to stop for a minute and listen, and about one song in, the guy next to me turned and commented on some of the people dancing. "It's funny, isn't it?" So we started talking, and he asked if he could get my number. Then he asked how old I am. I told him 25, and it turns out he's 21. I asked how old he had thought I was, and he said 20. We laughed. Then he introduced me to his cousin and one of his friends. Turns out they are all from Ulyanovsk!! They were really surprised to find out that I not only knew where that was, but that I had lived there!! It was great, cuz when I asked where he was from, he answered, "I was born where Lenin was born." "Oh," I said, "you're from Ulyanovsk?!" He totally didn't think that I would know, so his reaction was great! It was fun to sit and talk with them for a bit while we listened to the band play before I took off for home (of course the mandatory Beatle's songs were featured among the Russian hits--man, I love this country!).

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Scriptures and Sisters!

No, not that kind. The missionary kind! I got a call from Sister Brown yesterday asking if I would mind coming to a lesson with them. I was given my assignment, and we agreed to meet at 6 pm at the church. When I arrived, we chatted for a bit, and then Sister Samsonovich received a call saying that the investigator would not be able to make it. Would I like to have a lesson from them instead, and on a different topic? Sure, I replied.

I don't know why I was expecting the lesson to be in Russian, but that was what language I said the opening prayer in, and then the lesson continued in English. The sisters had prepared a beautiful lesson on how knowing we are sons and daughters of God can help us in our lives, and how we can see what things are of God. It was really fun to talk to them, and they were surprised that I "got all the answers right! You're the first person to ever do this!" I just laughed. I didn't think there were "right" answers to these kinds of questions. It turned out to be a big blessing for me to be able to have my own lesson with them, as it helped me to vocalize and discuss many of these thoughts and decisions I have been making.

I decided I need to be a lot more committed in doing the little things. I have had some amazing scripture studies here in Moscow, but they have been few and far between. Sunday I decided I needed to re-read the Book of Mormon, as I hadn't just sat down and read it straight through in a while (aka years--possibly once since my mission. I usually study by topic and use the Bible, B of M, D&C, etc.).

This last couple of weeks as I have been finishing whole novels in a day, I've thought, why don't I do this with the scriptures? I can sit and consume a whole novel, but how much energy have I put into my scripture study lately? Then Sunday I read a chapter from a book I've referenced in other blogs, Selected Writings of M. Catherine Thomas, which my mom bought for me at Bianca's recommendation. The chapter is called, "Using the Book of Mormon to Face the Tests Ahead." It was a fantastic chapter and made me realize that I need to refocus on the Book of Mormon.

I have always really loved studying the scriptures, particularly the Old Testament (since I learned to read and was taught to study scriptures the Old Testament has been my favorite--I still have my first Bible I received when I was 8 and Genesis is all kinds of marked up because I loved all of it so much!), and find myself reading a chapter of Isaiah during sacrament meeting every week. However, I know it is important to focus on all scripture, so I set a goal to really immerse myself in the Book of Mormon. I set a goal to read the whole thing straight through. I started with good old 1 Nephi, and read all the chapters Sunday. I decided I would read a book from the Book of Mormon every day, and finish it within the next week and a half. It has been so amazing to read it so close together! Different patterns emerge that I hadn't thought about before. The timeline and the stories/familiar verses put in context are so much more enlightening! There are many things that I had known and since forgotten, as well as things that are completely new for me. I love how a text can change as we gain more life experience--especially the scriptures. As I go through different trials and learning opportunities, I look at life in a whole different way. I really want to set a goal to read the Book of Mormon through in a short period of time every year. Then after that, as I study the Old and New Testament, D&C, and the Pearl of Great Price together, it will really strengthen my study.

I have thought of reading the other scriptures straight through like this as well, but we'll see how ambitious I am feeling when I finish this! Plus, I've really been wanting to take the topical guide and study all of the scriptures about Christ (which are many, but I love the way they are topically organized).

When I first moved to Los Angeles, I started the Old Testament from the beginning and really enjoyed that, though I got too busy with school to finish. Perhaps that will be my next project...

Thug Story

K, this was too hilarious to pass up. Taylor Swift is a 19 year old country music singer. Totally reminds me of what a hard-core Mormon video would look like! Insert oh my heck, oh my gosh, and dang girl here!

Conference call interpreting

Just got out of a meeting with the public affairs people in Ukraine. It was way crazy, but fun--I filled the role of interpreter, secretary, and also participated as a public affairs representative!

We have an American missionary couple in Ukraine who were in on the meeting, so I interpreted from Moscow what was being said in my office, as well as what was being said in the Kiev office, to a couple in the Kiev office. Interpreting a conference call to people not in the same room with me was definitely a first. I have done interpreting where I have a headset, and I'm watching a monitor and interpreting into a microphone, but this was totally different. Comments were flying from Kiev and Moscow participants, and I was trying to catch all of them while being heard through the same microphone that was relaying what they were saying. Often in these situations, I interpret by sitting right by the couple so that it can be done simultaneously, but as they were in Kiev, we made do. At one point we considered having me call and talk to the couple on a cell phone, but we got it all worked out and just continued as we started. I even got in a couple of Andrey's side comments, which he just laughed at.

I really love interpreting! It's so fun to take someone else's words and formulate them as we would say them. Many people think that interpreting from language to language is just a manner of substituting words (one tiny example--something as simple as saying I have or at me in Russian would not make very much sense if directly interpreted word for word. I have a headache would be at me is a head hurting. And actually, they don't use is or a so it would really be at me head hurt. Not the most elegant of examples, but you get the point), but it's really an art--different cultures say things in different ways, with different grammar, and an entirely different lexicon at times. You really need to have a command of your own language to be able to convey the right message. You are expected to not only listen to a foreign language and understand what they are saying, but be able to formulate the same idea and express it. It's a matter of speaking and listening in the exact same moment--all must be done simultaneously, and you can feel yourself fall into the rhythm of it. It's almost like your brain seperates speaking and listening and lets both programs run at the same time. So cool!

I do have to mention here one of the mistakes I made--Andrey was talking about the website and how they were two parts--one static and one...something I didn't hear. Because I didn't hear the second, I didn't really have a frame of reference for what he was saying, so what was supposed to be static came to me as statistic. They're almost as close in English as they are in Russian (statika vs. statistika), so you can imagine it is easy to mix the two up. Luckily, we caught it right after I said it and got right back on track. And I learned a new word :) All in a day's work

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I found out that I have a new communist tie (who isn't looking for one of those these days?) My name --Kim, КИМ in Russian--was an abbreviation for Communist Youth International. On our walk Sunday, Tatyana told the other Tatyana, Sonya, and Andrey that they could shorten my name to Kim. Then the other Tatyana told me about the communist meaning...

Marriage diplomacy

After Sunday school, Kolya's aunt Tatyana beckoned to me and told me to come sit with her. I slid over, and she said, "So, how is Kolya to you?" "What do you mean?" I asked hesitantly (she has been trying to convince me to marry a Russian--more specifically, Kolya--since we first met). She asked what I thought of him again, and I said, "Oh, Kolya's great, he's really nice and a good guy." She's nodding and asks, "So, what's going on [aka why are you not dating yet? or possibly, why aren't you married and having kids together yet?]? You don't like him?" Just as I say, "and he's funny." Which she took to mean that's why we weren't dating. I told her it was funny in a good way--he has a good sense of humor, but then to answer her question I say, "You know, he has a girl friend..." "Oh, really? Oh, well, do you have any prospects back home?" I told her I date fairly often, just hadn't found anyone yet that I like that way.

This prompted her to explain how I needed to go about getting married. Really, bare with me on this one. So she says, "Here's the problem. You're thinking of what kind of a husband you want, and about who will make you a wife. What you need to do is think--I want to be a mom. Then you'll realize that's what's important anyways. We're here to have families, right? So just think of it that way, not about what kind of a guy you need. Then you'll get married." Oh, so that's what I'm doing wrong. Here I've been thinking I should marry someone I like being around (Yes, this thought was dripping with sarcasm, even though I was only saying it to myself). I said to her, very diplomatically, "Well, I know it's bad to be too picky,"--a vigorous nod of her head--"but it's also bad to not be picky enough." "You're right, you're so right," she says, "there should be something in the middle."

Just when I think we might be making progress, someone else comes up and wants to talk, sees we're talking and starts to walk away. "You probably want to know what we're talking about," Tatyana calls out to her. "You think it's a secret, but I'll tell you. We were talking about her dating Kolya. But she says he has rejected her." Wow. No need to start rumors (which I didn't write about, but there has already been speculations about this with the young women in the different branches that Kolya and I are something because we talk--horrors!)--"I did not say that," I say. "Okay, he didn't reject her. He's dating someone so it couldn't work out. But don't you think we need to find her a Russian husband and make her stay forever?"

This kind of talk was to continue for the rest of the day. Like when we ran into a cute girl on the way out of the room. This girl somehow didn't think that was a good idea, however, so Tatyana felt the need to say, "Well, those Americans take ours, why don't we take one of theirs?" "Return evil for evil?" the girl said. "Not evil--it's good diplomacy--that's what she's studying, what better diplomatic relations than if she marries one of ours? Keep a good, close connection. For example, my dad's Ukrainian, my mom's Russian, so I can't hate the Ukrainians. It's a good plan!" Not one of the most diplomaticly-stated reasonings I've ever heard, but I guess it's sound. lol I tried to quickly get us out of this conversation and suggested we head off to the last class of the day.

I also have to add that she took this opportunity between classes to tell a prominent guest in front of a group of people that he "has great sons--better than you are," to which he agreed and said that it is every father's wish for his kids to be better, to which she said "And they're good looking. You're just old." I think all of us were so shocked we couldn't say anything. I tried to throw in a "we think you're great," (thinking telling him he was good looking would make us all feel even more awkward as he has a wife) and hustle her out of the room.

I also somehow got strong armed into going for a walk after church, even though Irina (her sister) and Sergei were trying to take me home. "I should really go with them, that would probably be best," and "I'm in high heels, this might not be such a good idea," somehow didn't work. So much for trying to politely decline. So I ended up wandering around the city in my heels. Don't get me wrong, it was very nice of her to invite me, I just was not in the mood to go wandering around. I had kind of been looking forward to a nice relaxing Sunday afternoon.

A family ended up coming with us (the walk had somehow turned into a visiting teaching lesson, and I had to side step some very awkward questions Tatyana asked me that would have been better directed to a bishop or stake president--this hasn't happened in any of my other visiting teaching experiences, so a random first). The family was so cute, though and I am excited to see them at a picnic we're having Saturday! We ended up walking to a couple different cathedrals--one where Putin supposedly goes, and then to the Turgenev library grounds. A beautiful day, so I can't complain too much.

And Kolya lands in the hospital

So I got a call from Irina around 6 pm last night. "Kolya's not coming to family home evening tonight [Latter-day Saints set Monday nights aside to be with their families]. He's in the hospital, so you're more or less free to do whatever you want." "Wait, he's in the hospital?! What happened?"

Turns out that Kolya did not have my same luck in going through the stinging nettle on the campout. While I was able to avoid most of it because I went last and most of it had been trampled, he went first and got the brunt of it (he was in shorts).

I can only imagine what his legs must look like--they were all covered in red on Friday night and apparently got worse every day. There are two different spots where it got me and the skin has bubbled up a little, so his must be quite a sight! The doctor says he should be just fine after a few days in the hospital, and Irina says Kolya's probably happy to have an excuse to take off work and relax. So we went ahead with family dinner with just the three of us, and I gave the spiritual thought.

So all's well that ends well, though I would definitely not suggest taking 40 youth straight through stinging nettle if you can help it!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Russian hiking

Bright and early Friday morning I loaded a backpack with a few things I would need for a camping trip with the young single adults. We met up at the central building (where a couple of the branches meet for church), grabbed a sleeping bag, and threw some food in our bags. It was fun to see a lot of people I knew there. Kolya had decided to come, but said he was only staying for the day and leaving in the evening.

We took the metro to the train station, where we sent one person up to buy tickets. Then it was on to the train for a 1.5 hour ride outside of the city. I played a card game with a couple of the people there called durak or fool. I took second the first time, and first every time after that (the point of the game is to not be the one left with all the cards--the last one with cards is the fool). It was pretty fun, and I can now name all of the suits in Russian :)

We left the train and took off through a small town, hiking along a road. I kept switching who I was talking with, making the rounds haha Kolya and I ended up talking for part of the way, and he said, "You know, we could take a bus out to the trail. I think they are just trying to add on time." And we joked about how we would probably just ended up hiking through cities and pitching our tents against an apartment building. At each little stop, it seemed as if no one really knew where we were going. But we followed anyway.

I walked most of the rest of the time with Ashley, a girl from BYU study abroad who is out here. After walking along a highway, we reached the trail. A bit of the way in, people finally said--two kilometers left! So then we went about that far, and everyone stopped and we were divided into groups. It was never really made clear why we were in these groups. At the beginning, the plan was to be given certain tasks, but only three tasks were given, and there were four groups, and we were told people could do whatever they wanted. But I digress. So at the point where we get split in groups, someone says we have another two kilometers to go. We go maybe .5 km and everyone stops again. "Put jeans on and a jacket!" people say. Well, at this point it's super hot. I decide to forego the jacket and jeans, only to be told, "The next kilometer is covered in stinging nettle." I somehow still decided I was not willing to change into jeans and a jacket, and braved the path in my t-shirt and capris. I actually made it through pretty well, as I decided to go near the end so much of it had been crushed by people walking over it, and I hopped over the bigger plants that were still in the way. Others weren't so lucky and came out covered in red rashes.

We finally got out of this, and after again appearing like no one knew the way, we ended up going up a muddy hill. We got to the top, and found a nice patch of mud and some logs. Ashley turned to me and said, "You up for mud wrestling? Cuz that's what this is going to turn into." We stood there for about 5 minutes, when the call came that we would be going back down the muddy hill. Okay, I thought. Why not? So we went back down the hill.

Then we went up a muddier, steeper hill. After I had gotten up, they threw a rope down to the remaining people to help them up the hill because it was so difficult. But at least at the top of this there was a great spot. Or so it seemed. Someone said they thought we should move the camp because there were some 20-ish year old guys camping nearby. So after relaxing for about 20 min, it was back down the hill.

Our hike ended up being 7 km. We finally made our camp along the river. Just as I was thinking the last place was better b/c the trees blocked the sun and this place was too hot, the clouds covered the sky and it started pouring rain. We had just barely pulled the tents out of their bags, so they weren't up yet. We scrambled to put them together, only to realize they didn't have a bottom. That's not good.

Then the rain suddenly stopped and the sun came back out. We finished setting up camp, and some took off for the river to swim. I helped peel potatoes, which then got made into a soup. Unfortunately, the soup turned out to also have fish, which normally would be fine, but these tasted like dacha fish (dacha fish n. yucky, see also dried fish, sitting out in the sun, rotten, scales in my soup, and other similar entries). blech The macaroni was good though, and I had a couple of cups of tea with some cookies. Not a bad dinner :)

After hanging out, a spiritual thought, walking along the beautiful river, and chatting with some friends, Kolya came and told me he was heading out. I decided to head home with him, and we took off in the direction that some guys camping nearby had told us the road was. This was supposed to be shorter way back, but this also meant that neither of us knew which way we needed to go.

So we set off a little after 8 pm, in the direction we had been pointed towards. After about two minutes, we hit a fork in the road. Left, strait, or right? Kolya and I laughed that we might already be lost. After surveying the tire tracks like pros, we decided to go left. When we got to the top of the road, we saw that it ran into a fence with a solidly locked gate. We tried to open it, peered over the wall (or at least Kolya did, I was too short), and deliberated on how to get out. Finally, I threw my bag under the fence, dropped to my stomach, and army crawled under it, only slightly skinning my elbows. I then took a look at where the fence ended and guided Kolya down to it. Then I started walking to the right along the road. I turned to Kolya, "I actually don't know if we go right here. It could be the other direction." We stopped some boys who tried to tell us a shortcut, though they admitted they weren't locals either. We decided to continue along the road and ask the next person we saw. He directed us where to go.

We took the right where he had told us, and ended up in a little village, again walking along the river. Kolya stopped to drink from one of the wells along the path and for a photo op, and then we continued forward. We came to a church and took a right onto a bridge. I didn't realize it was a suspended bridge, so my first step on made me think that the boards were really weak. As Kolya's weight hit the bridge, I felt it spin out from under me. Gave me quite the start! Kolya pointed out that this was normal, and we set out across it. We made a couple of cracks about Indiana Jones crossing this bridge, and he shook it a couple of times just to keep me on my toes. Definitely the best part of the hike back!

We asked another person how to get to the station, and were directed up a hill to a road. On the way up, I saw a wall with "kim" written in latin letters, so we stopped for another picture. We finally made our way up to a haunted old building (at least we thought it was), and then down the street to buy a drink. Then it was off on the bus (I conveniently had no money, as I thought I would be camping, so Kolya covered the 20 rubles--about 60 cents--with a stern, "You owe me" and a laugh) and then to the train station. We had bought return tickets when we left, so we didn't have to worry about tickets back. We laughed all the way home and congratulated ourselves on being there for the best part of the trip. "We just hit the peak, it can't get any better from here!"

We said goodbye at the metro, and I used a random person's phone to call Eli as mine was out of money. I met up with his family, got a report on the day, and picked up some things he needed to give back to the office. It was fun to see them again and see the great icons they found--the exact same one Eli and I had seen and wanted so badly in St. Petersburg! And they were really cheap. I will be making a trip to grab one once the cathedral has replenished its stock--Eli's family bought them all out lol I left their place at 12:40 am, with enough time to make the metro before it stopped running. I showed up at my apartment to a surprised Irina and Sergei and filled them in on the day's happenings. Not a bad Friday.

Americans in Moscow

So after the spoon exchange, we met up with Eli's family. His uncle-Will, sister-Krishelle, a friend of Will's-Andrea, another friend of the family, and two cousins were in the group. They are so hilarious--never a dull moment with this group! We took them to Pizza Hut by Red Square so they could get some food, helped them through the line, and entertained them at dinner with stories of the banya. It was great to have a new crowd and to be able to have Eli and I tell our stories at the same time! We were rolling--I don't think I've laughed that hard in a while, and that's saying something because we have been doing a lot of laughing in the last month or so! It was really fun to see people's first reactions to Moscow, and we enjoyed walking around with them. Will, Krishelle, and Eli have spontaneously taken off on many different trips--Egypt, Jordan, Israel, and other places to name a few. There is talk of a reunion in Baja later this year :)

Public Confessions

I heard a story today from someone who received a letter from a person in Kazakhstan, telling about how she was teaching a Sunday school class to members and non-members. The lesson was on repentance. She went through the different steps, explaining what repentance was. A man sitting in the front row raised his hand and said, "I killed a man. I buried him alive in the desert. I have never told anyone about this. People looked and looked for him, but never found him. It is time that I confessed." The teacher was quite stunned, and for a minute didn't know what to say. "Well," she finally said, "this is the first step of repentance then I guess."

Wow, all in a day's work. The next time you think things are going crazy with your calling...

And Paul, though this man wasn't a member, apparently we do get spontaneous public confessions. I stand somewhat corrected haha


So Acia and I went down to red square to meet up with Eli. He had just picked his family up from the airport, and we decided that would be the best place to meet. She and I were wandering through the gardens nearby when I smiled at a guy about our age. He smiled and I smiled again. He came over to us and pulled out a keychain that says "Ahmed Tea London" with a picture of Big Ben on it and said, "Let's exchange something." I was sure I had misunderstood. "Huh?" "Do you have anything you can trade me for this key chain?" I laughed, "Seriously? Do you do this often?" "No. This is the first time." I started to dig through my bag, all the time exchanging glances with Acia and laughing.

Suddenly another boy approached us, this one holding a pen. "What will you give me for this pen?" he asked. We all exchanged names, and Acia and I continued to search through our bags to see if we had anything. "I'm afraid I don't have anything interesting," I said. I pulled out a couple of pens, a ticket to the hermitage (which they thought about taking, but were kind enough to refuse saying, "Wait, that was your first time? You have to keep this in memory of St. Petersburg."), an ad I hadn't thrown away yet.

The second boy tried to exchange one of my favorite pens for his less than mediocre pen, which I was not going for. Yes, I'm still cheap here in Russia--my favorite pen is my blue bic pen. A girl's got to have some standards after all! lol He then pulled out a business card that felt really cool. I told him I could give him one of my USC cards, and he took it. Then Acia was like, "Well. Give her the cool business card. She gave you one!" Not a bad deal.

The first guy was still trying to get rid of his key chain, and when we'd almost given up, I reached to the very bottom of a pocket and pulled out...a spoon! I had taken a spoon to eat yogurt with about one month ago that I had forgotten to take out of my bag. In the end, I ended up with a new (to me) key chain, and the guy got a used spoon. I think I came out on top of this deal--Ahmed is "the world's most exclusive tea" after all, or at least that's what the key chain says...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

St. Petersburg

Peter the Great

A beautiful St. Petersburg sunset

A charming little piece of St Petersburg

Kazan Cathedral

I am practically a gymnast after this little number!

The adorable future diplomats--Russian on the left, Italian on the right

The ever-so-sought-after Russian pose, or Gone with the Wind

A day in St Petersburg

The morning started with a call from President Pieper at 7:00 am. We finalized the last details needed for the articles Salt Lake needed, and I was free of work responsibilities for the day.

After a very careful trip to the bathroom--it's really gross, just trust me on this one (on my first train ride as a new missionary, I was given a strict "Don't touch ANYTHING in there!" which has stuck with me ever since--it was back to my bed to try and sleep a bit more before folding up my sheets and rolling the matress back up. Eli and I sat and waited as people filed passed, hoping we'd see Dima. He came passed and said, "Well, let's go!" He took us to the metro, bought us two coins for the ride, then took us to a bookstore where I could buy a map. He pointed in the direction of the Winter Palace, offered to meet up for lunch, and went on his way.

The day started out nice as we set off down the street to (hopefully) find some yummy Russian bread. This was not to be, but we did find a Carl's Jr, which is VERY rare, so we made a mental note to stop back later. The sky was getting cloudy, and we decided a tour of the city on the bus sounded quite nice. We bought two tickets for a bus leaving in one hour, then headed off for Carl's Jr.

The tour was nice, as it saved us from the rain. We saw the ship Avrora and took a lot of pics there, then it was off to a beautiful white church. We found the most beautiful icon, and wanted to buy it, but there was no one there. When we finally did get someone's attention, she took so long that it was too late to buy it, and we went off for the rest of the tour. Still hoping I will find that one again some time!

After the tour was over, we went to the Kazan cathedral--absolutely gorgeous!! And then it was off to the cathedral of the spilt blood. So bright and colorful!

We decided the hermitage would be our next stop, and braved hours in a line to get in. Russians--100 rubles, foreigners--350 rubles...hmmm

There were the most adorable girls in the line behind us--one from Italy, the other Russian. The little Russian girl would ask her mom, "And how do you say ---- in English?" The mom would give the phrase, and the little girl would go over to her friend, repeat the phrase, and the little Italian girl would answer. Then the mom would repeat in Russian her answer. The most adorable thing I have ever seen in my life! Everyone was so entertained by this! After about 10-15 minutes of the back-and-forth, the little girl finally asked how to say "play" in English, and they went off hand-in-hand, navigating around the puddles left by the days storm.

The hermitage is enormous!!!!! I think you could walk through it for a week and not see everything! It was amazing! "No wonder the Russians rebelled against the royalty and wanted to overthrow them," Eli said. Seriously. Most of the rooms were bigger than entire Russian apartments I had been in.

We saw some Russians taking pictures and decided to strike a pose like they do. Absolutely hilarious! They are so serious about it, putting on a face like they are Vivienne Leigh playing Scarlet in Gone with the Wind. I think ours was a worthy immitation ;)

We decided to try and find the white church again (try going to a city and asking where a white church might be some time--it's loads of fun). After much wandering, and realizing how late it had gotten, we gave up the search and went for Swedish pancakes. I got mine with banana, whipped cream, and chocolate syrup. It was pretty much a banana split and as delicious as it sounds!

Then it was off to find a Ukrainian kitchen for dinner--which we did, and it was totally worth it! Ukrainians know their borscht, I'll say that much! And the place was beautifully decorated!

Then we had cheesecake at shokoladnitsa, because when you find cheesecake in Russia, you eat it! haha Divine!

We then went for a one hour boat ride on the river--very pretty, but very cold as it was 10:00 pm by now. Then it was off for hot tea, which turned into hot chocolate with ice cream somehow, at the 5:00 tea time place. I should have sprung for the tea. It was like drinking hot hershey's syrup. blech. Yet we drank the whole thing....

We power-walked to try and ease the guilt of these last few hours of splurging, and opted to walk to the train station instead of taking the metro. The night had suddenly turned warmer (not warm, but not cold) and was quite pleasant. By 1:00 am Wednesday morning, we were back on the train, meeting new Russian friends. Zhenya was on the bunk below me and was very nice. He is an ice skater here in Russia, but his dream is to live in America--he has been there for shows, but has little hope of ending up there, he said.

We again made the beds, this time gracefully climbed in (it's amazing what you can learn in a day--who knows how many talents you will have in the evening that you didn't possess when the sun came up).

After a peaceful sleep on the train, I woke up and chatted with Zhenya and the other guy across from us. They were very nice, and it was so fun to just chat in Russian! They complimented my ability to speak, said I could already live in Russia, and that it was decided--I would be staying! We all laughed.

We finally made it home, completely exhausted, with just enough time to grab a hot shower, clothes, and be off to a meeting with President Pieper.

St Petersburg--why not?

So Eli and I were sitting on the couch during lunch break and talking about how we couldn't believe his 5 weeks was up already! Spur of the moment, I said, "Hey, let's go to Petersburg before your family comes." After realizing that the only time we could really do that was Tuesday, we decided to go buy tickets that night for a late train.

[Eli's take on this: On Monday at lunch the following conversation took place between Kimberly and myself:
Eli: Darn, it's too bad I never made it to St. Petersburg.
Kimberly: Shoot. That is too bad.
Eli: I really want some vafly.
Kimberly: We can't have vafly today because it's not vafly Vednesday yet.
Eli: No!
Kimberly: We should totally go to St. Petersburg tonight.
Eli: Yeah. What? What about our jobs?
Kimberly: ah . . .
Eli: O.k.
Three hours later we were traveling to three very frustrating train stations in a frantic daze to try to buy last minute, reasonably priced tickets.]

After many ridiculous hours in line we realized we wouldn't be able to get tickets for the train we wanted. For some reason, we had to go to a different station to buy them. Even though the train with plenty of seats was listed. Finally, we gave in and went to the other station to buy them. The waiting in lines wasn't a total waste--I met some very nice people in front of me. They asked if I was Norwegian. I'm going to say that's a good thing lol

The woman at the next station was so helpful we could have kissed her! It was so nice after hours of waiting and hassle. Olga voksal, we love you!
So we jumped on a train at 1 am Tuesday morning and headed off to find our seats (the top, which Olga recommended).

Train numbering has no reason for being the way it is as far as I could tell. Our tickets said we were wagon 4. After walking passed 13, 14, and 15, and still being told to keep going, I was sure there was no reason to this rhyme. But low and behold, the number magically jumped to 4, and voila, we had our train! The numbering was only going to get more confusing. We looked for our seats--14 and 16, I believe, and after walking passed 29, 31, 39, we were sure we would never find it. "What is this numbering?!" Two young men heard Eli and me speaking English as we searched for our seat, and straight away pointed out the direction and our beds. As he (Dima was his name), turned to walk away, I couldn't help but ask, "I'm sorry, how did you know this was where our seats were at?" He pointed underneath the bed and showed me the tiny number designating my spot. Why spots 14 and 16 are in the same place as 31, I still don't understand. But, hey, we had found our spots!

Dima came back shortly and said, "Kimberly. This is probably your first time travelling in such a way. I want to tell you to keep your valuables close by you--this is not like a coupe, and people could take them. Also, I will show you how to find the metro and get to the city in the morning." He really was a nice guy. I should explain here that we bought the cheapest seats imaginable, meaning that we were in an open cart--no one had walls and doors--all the beds are just out together.

Now came the exciting part--executing the gymnastics that would haul my butt into bed. The head room for the top bunk is ridculously small, but with the help of a step off to the side, and a bar to my right, I pulled myself forward. Only then did I realize the ceiling was even lower than I thought, and was going to be way too low for a complete execution of this move. I wormed my way forward, trying to pull my knees under me without toppling out of the bed, which would have led to me crashing into a table before I hit the floor. After much struggling, squirming, and giggling, I made it up. Eli and I were dying laughing, as my experience pretty much mirrored his. I had first watched him shimmy in before trying myself, and I give both of us an A for putting on a good show!

Unfortunately, the drunk woman next to me was not entertained by my manuever, as I had left my shoes on. What an offense!! Another woman close by motioned to my shoes politely, and directed me to put them on the floor. After I said Spasibo, the drunk women decided to repeat what I said in a less than kind tone and accent. I have to explain here that I say spasibo as if I were a 5 year old girl. I don't know why, but I say it like that every time. I could fancy that I say it like this in hopes that people find it endearing, but really, that's just how I say it--always have and probably always will. Some do find this to be cute, by the way lol

We pulled our matresses onto the bed and were hoping that sheets would be provided. Just as Eli had given up and decided to lay on his, we saw people going around with sheets.

After quite a bit of laughing and making our beds with the sheets we had obtained by showing our ticket, I was fast asleep, curled up next to my bag to keep all my "valuables" safe in hand!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sunday with the Gibbons

Another fantastic Sunday in Moscow! I went to the International branch to meet up with President and Sister Gibbons and be introduced to their friend, Artyom. He showed up a bit into the meeting, sat down, reached across Sister Gibbons to shake my hand and said, "Hello Kimberly!" After the meeting, and after talking to Dr. Lundberg, I went over to where he and the Gibbons were. President Gibbons asked if we had met each other yet, and as I went to say that we had met briefly, Artyom threw his arm around my waist, pulled me into him and said, "Don't we make a good pair already? She's beautiful! She is taking me to America and getting me a visa!" "Ah, yes, President, didn't I tell you?" I joked. Artyom kept grabbing me and hugging me throughout the day and telling me I was beautiful. I would just kind of laugh.

We had some great lessons in Sunday school and Relief Society--fast Sundays are great! Then it was off to have pancakes at the Gibbons! Artyom was to meet up with us, and as I was the only one who spoke Russian, it was left to me to explain this at the gate. It must have worked, because within 15 minutes Artyom was at the door. And with him--red caviar.

We sat and ate cashews and drank peach juice while we waited to be seated at the dining table. President Gibbons brought us in the delicious pancakes, hot off the grill. I covered my first with maple syrup, bananas and pecans--delicious!!

By pancake #2, it was time to try the caviar. I put a spoonful of it on my pancake and bit into it. The little eggs popped in my mouth as I bit in to them, their salty exteriors filling my mouth. I got the first bite down, just in time to have Artyom turn to me and say, "Well, aren't you going to try any caviar?" "I just did! I just barely ate it." "Well, I didn't see you!" And with that, he heaped two large spoonfuls onto the other half of my pancake. I cut off a piece containing half the caviar, put it up to my mouth, turned to Artyom and said, "Are you watching?" Then I scooped it into my mouth with a loud "YUMMMM" and a laugh. He laughed good naturedly, and I thought okay, I got down two bites, but one more? hmmmm.... So I quickly ate down the next one, and tried to keep my face from showing any sign that I less than loved it. At least I didn't call it "that stuff" as Sister Hall had, which made us all laugh.

After dinner was over, Artyom had to leave to meet with his parents at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior for the Holy Trinity holiday. He said goodbye to all, and kissed me on the cheek. President and Sister Gibbons, Elder and Sister Hall, and I decided to play a game--a tradition in the Gibbons' home. We played 25 words or less. The first time I had played and I loved it!

President Gibbons found out I have a competitive side as he and I went out to bargain for the card and who would play. We were on opposite teams, and it was our team to represent our teams. "I think I can describe these 5 words using 15 clues." "Well, I think I can do it in 14," he replied. Without missing a beat, I sad, "13." "12," he said. "11," I fired back. He paused and deliberated. I thought I had him if he made one more bid. "10," he said. "It's yours." He tried to get me to take it. "Would you want it for 10?" he asked. "Nope, this one's all you." If he couldn't describe the 5 words on the card using 10 words or less, in 1.5 minutes, my team would win the round. We did :)

For a different round, Sister Hall and I were each representing our teams. President Gibbons called out, "Don't let her have it for more than 9 clues!" "Hey, isn't that cheating?" I joked. As Sister Hall and I looked over the card, she said, "I can describe it in 20." "I can in 19." "Okay, do it," she said. When we walked in, I told them I had won the bid for the card. "How much?" President Gibbons asked. "19," I smiled. "You let her take it for 19?!" "Never send Sister Hall into negotiate," Elder Hall said with a chuckle.

Sister Gibbons and Elder Hall made great teammates--I only had to give one and two-word clues for Sister Gibbons to pick up the word! Between the three of us, we played a fairly nice game.

Sister and Elder Gibbons were obviously pros at the game, and it was really fun playing with them! Team Sister Gibbons/Kimberly/Elder Hall almost had a sweep of the game with 4 cards to 1.

President Gibbons gave us a ride home, and we thanked him for the game and food. This morning when I came into the office, President Gibbons said, "You know what I realized? We should have had you over a lot earlier and a lot more often for games." "haha You probably saw a side of me you hadn't really expected." "That's the Kimberly that we like!" he said. President and Sister Gibbons are so amazing! They will really be missed here in the office. They will be leaving at the beginning of July for their new assignment in Salt Lake City. I can tell they will miss it here as well.

I forgot to add that at one point in the kitchen, after Artyom had left, President Gibbons looked me in the eye and said in a fatherly voice, "Now I don't want you going out with him. In fact, I'm telling you not to. You should invite him to activities with Church members. I don't want you dating him until I have known him for a couple more years! He's a great guy, but I don't know him well enough." He's already known him for three years. "Okay, got it. I'm sure my dad will appreciate that. And my mom, too," I said with a smile.

Unexpected Reunions

I am amazed at how many people I have seen here in Moscow. I think this is home base of the world or something. One new years, about three years ago, I went over to my former roommate's house to celebrate. I met her cousin Justin there, and we all karaoked away the night. Well, who of all people would be at the intl branch bbq but Justin! He and his wife are here on a study abroad. Fun to catch up with him.

Then at church yesterday, I turned around during Sacrament meeting, and who did I see? Dr. Grant Lundberg with his wife and kids! We smiled and waved and were able to catch up after the meeting. So fun to see him here. I took his Russ 101 class my freshman year of college (two years before I was called to serve in Samara), and would end up taking more classes from him after my mission, including grammar and linguistic courses, and my capstone seminar.

So add this to running into the MBA students from LA, my friend Jaron from BYU, finding out that I had met President Bennett (the mission president in Samara now) in the MTC (which we discovered as we chatted Friday), and seeing Dima, Vasya, Artyom, and a host of others, and you'll see that Moscow has truly been a place for reunions!