Saturday, November 14, 2009

Putin hangin' with the rappers

Totally amazing--check Putin out. I'm only sad he didn't bust a move! Favorite quotes: "Russian rap carries a unique Russian charm," "Graffiti becomes a real elegant art," and "Break dance is something special." I'll say this much for him--Putin knows where to place himself for good ratings. My new dream is to see him record a rap track with this guy.

Gold, Jerry, Gold--

Hilarious posting I found when the article I searched didn't come up. is now my new favorite Russian news source. This is the happiest I've ever been to have been denied access to research.

Right, there appears to be a problem here.

For some reason, the page you have requested cannot be found.

That's probably because it doesn't exist. There could be a heap of other reasons, of course. It could've decided to jump ship and emigrated to Goa; it could've joined an underground revolutionary organization; or it could've fallen in love with another webpage, eloped and had a heap of pink-cheek, soft-fonted baby webpages.

While you are pondering over these various possibilities, why not try reloading your browser? You never know, you might get lucky this time.

Of course, you can save your luck for later, because apart from the page that you are looking for and this page that you are looking at, RT is packed with other interesting things for you to click through.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bach, Mass in B Minor

I am currently sitting in Bovard auditorium, waiting for the Bach evening to start. I am always so impressed with the quality of performances here at USC. I really need to take advanatage of these events more often--they are free to students and so enriching. More later...

Russian picnic in Associate's Park

I saw a sign for a Russian picnic on my way to Religion and Conflict Wednesday night, so I showed up a little after 2:00 pm to check it out. I saw Tatyana, whose classes I sat in on last semester. It was so fun to catch up with her! She's invited me to her Russian classes next week to come and talk with the students. I am so excited to get to attend her classes again!

I ended up meeting lots of great people at the picnic and getting to speak a lot of Russian. People from Kazakhstan, Moscow, St Petersburg, and Ukraine made up the native speakers. Maya, from Vienna, Austria also had impeccable Russian. So much fun!

The food was great--blini (crepes), borscht, and plov (rice with chicken). I even called Eli on the way to tell him I was going to have borscht, pelmeni, vareniki, to which he added yabloko! (all of this was of course said in our sing-songy Russian voices we use when listing off foods like two old babushkas who have been friends for ages and sit by the road selling sunflower seeds together).

I ended up staying over four hours (when I had originally planned on leaving after one!). Many of us exchanged information, and we are looking forward to many more get togethers. So sad it took this long to find my Russian community! But happy now that it's here. I was even invited to one of the American Russian speaker's tailgates tomorrow for homecoming. He is in the Master of Public Policy program. It was great as we all talked after--two Americans, a guy from Kazakhstan, two Russians, and one Ukrainian girl. It was especially interesting as we talked about cultural differences and politics in Ukraine. Such a fun night!

Muslim fast-a-thon

The Muslim Student Union hosted a fast-a-thon yesterday. The theme was go hungry so someone else won't have to. We had people sign up to fast, and then the MSU went to local businesses and got them to sponsor each person who had signed up to fast, and then donated the money to feed the poor in the community. It was a really amazing opportunity to focus on fasting specifically to help someone else be provided for.

We met at 5 pm, after sundown, to break our fast at the mosque on Exposition and Vermont. We broke our fast with a delicious date, and then went up to observe the muslim prayer. We then went back downstairs for a persian dinner and words from the organizers. I sat with Jim Burklo, dean of religious life and head of the InterFaith Council. I explained to him that we have a fasting tradition as mormons--usually the first Sunday of the month, and that we pay a fast offering (at least the cost of the two meals we don't eat, and we are encouraged to be generous and pay beyond that) that goes to the poor and needy.

After Aaman, the president of the MSU spoke, Jim shared a few words. He did a great job. After his words, I was asked to speak, along with two other non-Muslim students who had fasted.

I shared with those present that as a Latter-day Saint/Mormon, I come from a fasting culture, but that I felt that I had learned two meaningful lessons about Islam from fasting. I shared my experience from one month ago at the mosque in Hawthorne, where the Imam told me that fasting was to learn to control ourselves with things that are permitted, so that we would be able to have more control with things that aren't permitted. I then said that the second lesson I learned that day as I fasted was compassion. I shared that I had reflected on the theme of going hungry so another person wouldn't have to. I remembered being so hungry as I walked home and seeing someone walk by with a tray of sandwiches. I wanted so much to eat one of them, I said, but couldn't because one--I was fasting, and two--it wasn't mine. It made me think about how many people in my own community go without food enough for themselves and their families each day. And it is not because food is not available--it is because they cannot afford it. This simple moment taught me that I must be more compassionate and reach out to serve more in my own community. I thanked them for the opportunity that I had been given to fast with them, and expressed my hope that we would all be more compassionate and reach out to help others in need.

As I walked back to my seat, Jim leaned over and gave me a great compliment. He said, "That was amazing. I would definitely hire you for public affairs." I really respect him and appreciated his words so much! He has been very encouraging and helpful in the things I want to pursue, and has even offered to introduce me to some people at Clairemont should I decide to pursue a PhD in Religious Studies.

I excused myself shortly after I spoke to go to the public diplomacy dinner with Marc Nathanson, who is the new ambassador to the Czech Republic. As I walked down the steps outside, I heard someone approach from behind and say, "Beautiful speech, Kimberly. Thank you for your words." It turned out to be one of the Muslim students from USC. We talked for a few moments and I invited him to interfaith council Tuesday. I have really enjoyed being a part of faith-based diplomacy.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A week in the life...October 22-27

Flipping through my notes to find information on the Russia-Georgia Conflict, and instead found a page called "blog." Seeing as this never made the actual blog, and as I had even mentioned needing to write about it, here's the list:

October 22-27

Thursday, October 22: Turn in my 15 page paper to Seib on the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Naomi and I discussing dating during break--Seib asks if that is what I wrote my paper on. Considering pitching that as my final paper idea ;) Run into Hartley at the gym

Friday, October 23: Fly into Salt Lake City! Interview for a media internship with the welfare department. Really excited about it--sounds perfect! Loved the people I interviewed with. Homecoming spectacular with Tyler--so much fun! Loved the tongue-in-cheek way they mentioned the honor code. All of the performances were amazing, and there was even a mention of USC in there! Bonfire after at one of the roommates' parents' place in Alpine. Oh, how I've missed bonfires!!

Saturday, October 24: Happy Birthday, Wendy! Went to brunch at Kneader's, had a surprise birthday party for Wendy--totally amazing--we did a Casino theme, complete with virgin pina coladas, margaritas, and martinis. Went to the Mt. Timpanogos temple with mom to do initiatories before catching the football game (which Tyler was nice enough to give me his ticket to), then off to yet another party for Wendy at her apartment. Eli ended up coming by, and we talked about plans for next summer, how nothing will quite beat Moscow, and how we're not really sure where life is going to take us.

Sunday, October 25: Went to Cecilie's singles ward. Totally crazy! And kind of making me nervous to return to a single's ward in Utah! But I did run into a few people I know, so that was fun. Caught up with Kim (finally) and Kelsey.

Monday, October 26: Got up at 5am to finish the last 4 pages of my take home exam for religion and conflict. Finish just in time to catch my flight back to Los Angeles (that was leaving at 8:35 am), and Will picked me up just in time to make my 10:00 am institute class on temples. I walked through the door just as they were starting, bags and all (not to mention, in my pajamas). Took Molly to Trader Joe's for her first time--thinking we need to make a tradition of it. I taught the lesson at FHE on Elder Gibbon's talk from the October Ensign. So fun! I loved hearing about how Sister Gibbons responded to their call to serve in Moscow. It really made me miss working with him this summer.

Tuesday, October 27: Did research for Teresa, then a great APDS social (where I met Mark and talked him into coming country dancing with us Friday), and ran on down to Pasadena to meet Krishelle for dinner and catching up. She had me tell the banya story to her friend who was also up for a business trip.

Fun, fun

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall of the Berlin Wall

November 9, 2009 marked twenty years since the fall of the Berlin wall. I was talking with my mom about it yesterday, reminiscing about our trip to Berlin this summer. As I watched news clips and read articles about the commemoration, I pictured standing at the Brandenburg Tur and walking along where the wall once stood, and going to Checkpoint Charlie, where they had set up a wall with panels describing different events and themes from the wall going up to the wall coming down. One of the most heartbreaking displays I remember seeing was one where two women were holding their children up from different sides of the wall so that these cousins could meet each other.

I would have loved to have been there for the festivities Monday. So many historical figures were brought together to remember they symbolism of the wall. AP quoted Chancellor Angela Merkel as saying, "Both [the fall of the Berlin wall and Kristallnacht--night of broken glass, which was also November 9] show that freedom is not self evident. Freedom must be fought for. Freedom must be defended time and again. Freedom is the most valuable commodity in our political and social system." She called the fall "epic" and lauded Mikhail Gorbachev. "We always knew that something had to happen there so that more could change here," she said.
"You made this possible — you courageously let things happen, and that was much more than we could expect."

Sikh temple

The interfaith council was planning a trip to the Sikh temple last Sunday (November 8), and I was trying to decide if I was going to make it. So I texted a friend with my dilemma, and he texted back that it sounded like I really wanted to go and that he was in. So we decided to meet up at the institute building and head up Vermont to the Sikh temple.

We met up with my friend Argad, who is Sikh. When all of the IFC people got there, he explained a little about the faith and how they worship. Everyone was required to cover their heads, so I was given a little bandana to tie around my hair. It reminded me of the babushkas in Russia.

Argad explained the 5 articles of faith that Sikhs should have at all times: Kesh (uncut hair), Kanga (a wooden comb), Kachchhera (undergarment), Kara (a steel bracelet), and a Kirpan (a small dagger). He explained that the undergarment symbolized chastity, and that the bracelet, traditionally worn on the right hand, helped a person remember every time they put forward their hand to do something to ask themselves if the act was worthy of God and to think about what they were about to do with their hand. These five items are for identification and symbolize Sikh values of honesty, equality, fidelity, meditating on God, and never bowing to tyranny (the dagger symoblizes that defense of the oppressed is justified in the eyes of God).

We took off our shoes before entering the worship space. Women were seated on the left, and men on the right. All sat on the floor as texts were chanted/sang in Punjabi. At certain times during the readings, people would stand, and then go back to their knees and touch their foreheads to the floor out of respect.

Argad explained that much of the symbolism has to do with receiving knowledge from God (the word Sikh means disciple) and also about the equality of man. When we had lunch in the kitchen after the recitation, we all sat on the floor to eat. No matter a person's status, profession, or level of education, all sat in this room on the floor. No area was deemed to be better or worse than any other section of the room.

Argad told us a short history of the oppression of Sikhs and of a "holocaust" that took place in 1984. He said that the government really clamped down on the media about it, and that many other countries, including the US, didn't do anything about it because of the growing economic power of India. He sees their democracy as a hypocrisy. Their temple was invaded on a holy day in 1984, when even more worshippers than usual were present, and that Sikhs were killed as they worshipped. This happened because a vocal leader of the Sikh faith was questioning why the Sikhs were not given a land/state of their own.

I am saddened by the amount of hate and intolerance that I am often not even aware of.

Open Mosque Day

I officially found a new recruit to check out other faiths in LA! I had been wantint to go the Open Mosque Day being held in Southern California, and found out the week before that one of my friends was interested in going. We decided we would go to a mosque after church the following week (the open mosque day was held on a Sunday).

So when Sunday, October 18 came around, we decided to jump in our car and find a mosque. Only problem was, there was no address on the flier, and the link online didn't show any locations. So we thought we'd just drop by a mosque and see if we got lucky. We went to the one kitty-corner from USC on Vermont and Jefferson (I think), and a very nice man helped us find an address in Hawthorne.

We set off to meet the close-knit community which reminded me of a ward in a small town (or rather a small branch in Russia--we had helped the members in Ulyanovsk plan and host an open house, or day of open doors as it is called in Russian, to invite people from the local community to come find out more about what Latter-day Saints believe in and what we worship). Everyone was so eager to be of help and answer questions. I was really quite impressed with the way they pulled the event together.

After looking at displays on the 5 pillars of Islam, the Quran, and women in Islam, we went into the main room for a presentation. It started with a beautiful little girl reciting/singing a prayer with two older girls. After a few welcoming words, we watched a DVD on Islam and their beliefs. The floor was then open to questions. A few were quite hostile, but those fielding questions did a great job.

The crowning (read ridiculous) comment came from a man who seemed to be some local government official: What a sad, sad state of affairs that your religion can lead to so much violence. I wish I could remember his direct wording--he said it in such an accusatory way, as if Islam was the only religion that had ever evoked God's name in justifying violence. I remember turning and looking at him and suppressing my desire to say, "Really? Have you ever heard of Christianity? Do you really not know what violent acts have been carried out in the name of God by Christians?" But, I let the moment pass and instead raised my hand, thanked the muslim members for the beautiful, informative presentation, and asked what a day was like in the life of an observant muslim.

They explained the prayers and other obligations. I asked about studying the Quran and if that was supposed to be done daily. No, they assured me, trying to make me not think that is so burdensome as that (not realizing I put in between 30 minutes to 1.5 hours daily for my own scripture study and would definitely not be turned off by this idea).

They also tried to explain how there was a division early in Islam over who should lead--a relative of Muhammad, or if the person should come from the voice of the people. This led to the different practices of Islam. A woman sitting next to me turned to a guy behind her and said, "Well doesn't that sound familiar?" Which made me start--I had just been thinking that! It sounded much like the debate that went on in the LDS Church when Brigham Young became prophet. "Are you LDS?" I wanted to ask, but never quite got the chance. I found out later she was when I was talking to one of the representatives about traditions in Islam. He told me he had just talked to my other LDS friends and would be doing a presentation at our church (I explained we actually hadn't come with them--it was just a coincidence). Kind of funny how we get drawn to one another!

After the presentation, when we were chatting with representatives eager to answer our questions, Curtis and I were approached by people from a cable news station. They asked me to say a few words about the event, so chances are I had a few minutes of fame that I never really saw. After I made my comments, the camera-man asked if I am on camera often. I told him, no, never. He said I answered perfectly, seemed really comfortable, and did a great job. It was really fun--maybe I will strategically place myself around events where I feel journalists will be and see if I can make a profession out of being an official bystander who witnesses events lol

I ended up talking to a man named Azan, and he introduced me to his beautiful daughter Yasmine. He wanted her to tell me about a typical day in her life. She's in the 7th grade. She said, "I wake up. I eat. I go to school, I talk to my friends, I come home and do homework, and then I eat, and go to bed." It was really cute. Just before she had come over, her dad was telling me how it has really been the toughest on his kids. People at school don't understand why she dresses different, and that she is a normal person. They are faced with a lot of questions. Azan was saying that his colleagues all respect him and his family, and see that they are good people who work hard, but they follow this with--but you and your family are the exception. So sad.

Yasmine said that I could call her Jasmine, that is what the other kids call her. When we went to leave I said, "It's Yasmine, right? So nice to meet you." She beamed that I would call her by her real name. I told her I thought it was a beautiful name and that it was very nice talking with her. After dinner we passed her as she was getting in the car with her mom. She waved goodbye with a big smile on her face as they pulled away.

Dinner was great--it was like BBQing at home with my family. We looked around for an open seat and ended up eating at a table with the Imam and one of the members of the board. The four of us had a great conversation, and they were so hospitable. They seemed grateful to have us, and we were grateful for the warm reception. The Imam told us a little more about their religion, the local community, and even dating traditions in Islam. He asked if Curtis and I had any children. Instead of explaining that we weren't married, we just said that no we didn't, but talked about our families. I think they were surprised that I came from a large family, but so did the member of the board, so we had a great time talking about that.

It was really an amazing experience to go and meet sincere people from the wonderful community in Hawthorne. My roommate Fareed may go back with me on a Friday for call to prayer. I would love to see them again.

Detained in Rostov

Apparently I'm not the only one to get detained in the Rostov-on-Don airport. An officer who tried to expose corruption and lawlessness in the police force in Russia said he was detained in Rostov, and when finally let free, found his credit card had been blocked, and he was not able to buy a ticket to get out. I guess things could have gone worse for me...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

President Monson, Obama meet

President Monson, U.S. President Meet
“President Monson, U.S. President Meet,” Ensign, Oct. 2009, 79
In July, President Thomas S. Monson met with United States President Barack Obama, presenting him with five large leather-bound volumes of his family history covering hundreds of years.
President Monson was accompanied by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who is also a member of the Church.
“President Obama’s heritage is rich with examples of leadership, sacrifice, and service,” President Monson said at the event. “We were very pleased to research his family history and are honored to present it to him today.”
President Obama and Elder Oaks, a former justice of the Utah Supreme Court, also had an opportunity to discuss their shared passion for the law.
President Obama said he enjoyed the meeting. “I’m grateful for the genealogical records that they brought with them and am looking forward to reading through the materials with my daughters,” he said. “It’s something our family will treasure for years to come.”
The Church has also presented family histories to other U.S. presidents, including Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton.
President Barack Obama (second from right) meets with (from left) Senator Harry Reid; Joshua DuBois, director of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships; President Thomas S. Monson; and Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the Oval Office.

Temple Square in Forbes Top 25

Read in the Ensign and the Deseret News that Temple Square in Salt Lake City is the 16th most visited site as reported in Forbes with 5 million visitors. It is the only religious site in the top 25.

Catching up...again

K, I'm officially catching up, even if only in name, on my blog! Tons of great things have been going on. I still haven't blogged about my last two trips to Utah, the Open Mosque Day a friend and I attended, visting teaching with Megan, introducing Molly to Trader Joe's, Wendy's amazing 21st shindig, Amy and Wendy coming to LA for Halloween weekend, complete with parties, country dancing, sightseeing, and Paul and I acting like 14 year-olds trying to trick-or-treat in an apartment complex down. Many great stories to come!

Oh, and I can't forget learning Mandarin and thinking my name meant goat, only to find out later it means gold...

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Saturday discoveries

Naomi is convinced I was a liberal hippie Jew from upstate New York in another life. We're always surprised at how alike we are. This revelation comes as we are "studying" in a comfy cafe by her place.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Oh so much to catch up on. I have made two different lists about what I need to blog about and still haven't found the time to sit and write them. So for my return post, I figured I'd put in a conversation I just had about skydiving cuz it made me laugh (and because it is already written). Some of the people from public diplomacy are going skydiving next Saturday, so I was trying to convince Matthew he should come. I don't usually post conversations, but I never blogged about skydiving (probably because I didn't have a blog then lol). So here it is:

Matthew: i need convincing11:25 PM convince me
16 minutes
11:41 PM me: lol i navigated away from the page and got caught up in facebook pics and blogs Matthew: lol11:42 PM me: but, i do think you should come!

There is nothing better than having them reach the point where you are ready to jump and the door opens and you think, omg I am an idiot! They want me to throw myself out that door Matthew: lol me: and it's too late to back out, cuz this guy I'm strapped to is pretty intenet on making this jump hahahahaha11:43 PM

Matthew: hahahaha me: then you are like, ok, this is the worst 10 seconds of my life i can't breathe and my face is being sucked behind me

Matthew: wtf have you done this before?

me: then the chute opens and it is the most amazing feeling except that moment where you pull away from your tandem jumper as the chute violently pulls you back11:44 PM but then you get the most amazing view of your life and the adrenaline rush makes it all the more beautiful

Matthew: have you done this before!?!??!11:45 PM

me: and the second you come down, you're htinking, is the landing going to be tough, are we going to slam in the earth? Then you gently float in and skim across the top of the grass and land. Then you're hoping they will let you go up again. You can't get enough You decide you are going to become a jump instructor so that people pay you to do this it's so amazing and the only thing you dislike is the price11:46 PM and the thought of packing your own chutte cuz then if it doesn't open it's your fault you're dead

Matthew: kimberly degroff me: yes? Matthew: have you done this before?11:47 PM

me: heheh answer to your question: yes I have Matthew: really?!?! me: Don't worry, I saw your question before, i was just about to answer it but thought that maybe something good was going to follow the kimberly degroff post :) yep! The summer before I moved to LA My best friend and I decided we had to do it before I left Matthew: wow11:48 PM me: Last big adventure I guess

Matthew: skydiving mormon girl this is epic

me: love it :)

So, that is my skydiving experience in a nut shell :)