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Showing posts from June, 2008


The wedding nail polish and bug bite scars are almost gone, but I’m not finished yet! My Congo adventures didn’t end with the wedding. My relatives were leaving the next day, but I had a flight out a few days later.

When we were reserving the tickets, I wanted to fly AirFrance because there would just be one stop, in Paris. Flying with another airline would mean having a long layover, possibly overnight, or simply changing planes 3-4 times. I decided that I would rather spend a few extra nights in Kinshasa than spend the night somewhere in Europe by myself.

Now that the wedding was over, however, and my parents were leaving, and my tonsils were becoming more inflamed with every hour, I wasn’t so eager to be stuck in Africa. However, maybe I would have been too sick to fly that first day and it was actually a blessing in disguise.

After my parents had been picked up for their evening flight and I had had dinner with my uncle (leaving the next morning), I tried to boil some water to gargle…

Interpret this

I couldn't fall asleep again. I tried wearing an eyemask, which had helped before, but it felt like there was too much pressure on my nose, and I didn't want to have another nosebleed. I wonder what would happen if I just took a handkerchief and blindfolded myself. Would that be a suffocation hazard?

When I fell asleep, I had a nightmare about a tsunami hitting St.Petersburg (don't laugh!). I was standing near the gulf of Finland and suddenly from the city came this wall of water. I was stuck between a huge wall of water and the gulf; there was nowhere to go; I had to swim. I tried diving into the biggest waves as I was taught, but there was so much water that it felt like it would never end. I left the water tumble over me, and somehow I didn't drown. Then I found myself in an emergency shelter. They had ordered everyone into shelters in case of aftermath from the tsunami, but being Russians, everyone was disobeying and escaping from the shelters. They were calling the…

A trip to the doughnut shop

A few days ago my friend Lida and I were tired and hungry after doing some errands, so we decided to get some doughnuts. So we stopped by one of the ancient shops where they sell "pishki," the fairly greasy, airy doughnuts sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Basically, the only thing on the menu is doughnuts (and beverages). Everyone orders a plate for himself. I remember the first time I went there, while studying abroad. Our professor instructed us to say "5 piyshek" (that's the genitive plural, which you use for quantities from 5-20 and other numbers that don't end in a one).

Lida and I were a little more modest and only ordered 3 each, which went down fast. Here Lida demonstrates how you grasp the doughnut using a scrap of paper to keep your fingers clean (and absorb some of the grease).


Here's our pile of paper afterwards:

And here's what the room looks like. The room used to be full of those tall tables without chairs and there didn't used to …

Six months

Six months until Christmas. And before that, Advent. I say this not to throw anyone into a panic, but because I like to think of ways to celebrate, far in advance when I don't have to actually do any work yet and can just fantasize.

Also, in one month I will be back in the States, and I will want to gather some special Advent materials that I can't get here, like Advent calendars, nativity sets, etc. And I wanted to do a little research so that if I need to make an order I'll have plenty of time for it to be delivered.

Maybe some of you have kids or teach Sunday school and know where these things can be purchased. Or maybe you're a fan of homemade decorations. I am too, but I would like to at least have patterns, instructions, supplies lists, etc. I know that there is a lot on the Internet, but it's so tedious going through it all and downloading what I need. I would much rather have a hard copy of the instructions, if I'm going to make something myself!

Input app…

Always on time

Recently I was riding to the office in the metro. My cell phone was ringing, but I didn't answer it because it's very noisy in the metro and I didn't have good coverage. But I made a note of who had called, and planned to call her back.

I had to change lines, and as I was on the escalator, I thought,
"Should I call her now?" I decided to wait until I was out of the metro and could hear better.

When I got to my destination, I stepped out of the metro car and thought, "I have to call my friend." Just then, she walked right by me, and I called her name. "I called you," she said. "I know," I said. Neither of us had known that the other would be at that particular metro station. "What did you need?" I asked. "I just needed to talk," she said, tears welling up. We could have talked by phone, but it's much better in person!

The city doesn't seem that big to me after all this time, but I still marvel when I meet a fri…

Monday morning

I left later than intended this morning, and when I got to the metro, there were long lines, and I happened to not have any tokens. I thought, what is it about Monday morning that everyone's metro trips have run out?

Then some paramedics shouted "coming through" and walked through carrying a dead body. At least, I think she was dead. I've never seen a dead person up close before, but it looked like what I imagined a dead person to look like. First I saw the legs, which were spotted, and then the face, which was white, with the eyes and mouth open.

When I got to my destination I was walking down the final block and there was a guy passed out on the sidewalk. There was a police car there, but no ambulance. Maybe he was just drunk.

That is how my day began.


I decided to check out different programs for cataloging personal book collections. One site is Librarything. It looks like it has some nice features. You type in the ISBN or other search info and it finds a profile for the book and adds it to your online collection.

Unfortunately, the first few books I checked were a bit non-traditional and I couldn't find them. One was printed by a small Christian publishing house and the other was printed in Russia but translated from an American title. I had the ISBN, but couldn't get any results. When I tried better-known authors like James Dobson, I did get results. But I'm not sure if it's worth the time if half the books aren't in the system.

Any other suggestions?

Kinshasa- Church ceremony

On the morning of my brother's wedding, I woke up and decided to check out my sore throat in the mirror. Since developing a chronic sore throat last summer, I had become familiar with what my throat generally looked like. Before that, I wouldn’t have known where my tonsils were or what color they were supposed to be.

Yikes, my tonsils had gotten huge! Problem! I medicated throughout the day by taking aspirin and gargling. There wasn't much else I could do at that point.

We got to the hotel in the afternoon where the bride and her mother were getting ready. I thought it would be a bunch of chattering women, but it was just the bride getting her hair done and her mother hanging out nearby.

On the floor there were three baskets with flower petals. Who were those for? One was for the flower girl. Two were for the first two bridesmaids. Which meant-me. Ummm, we didn't practice that. I had absolutely no flower-scattering experience, and when practicing the "march" certain…


Yesterday I went to visit Nastia's birth mother in the hospital. The last time I was there was last August.

I brought photos of Nastia's daughter, now one year old.
Lena immediately started calling all her roommates and other friends in so she could show off the photos. Everyone said that Angelica looks more like her Latino father than her Russian mother!

Sveta (left) was blind in both eyes the last time we visited. After having an operation, she can now see out of one eye. She's due to have surgery on the other eye soon, but she has a bad heart, so it's a risky procedure.
Sveta called her "husband" in to take a look. He looked at about two photos and then shut the album and got up to leave. The women were shocked that he didn't want to look at a million photos of this darling little girl!

This is Yulia (left), another friend of ours:
Lena kissing the photo of her grandchild:

She would love to meet her in real life. Hopefully that will happen when Angelica is a…


It’s always interesting comparing Russian and English translations of the Bible. Sometimes one or the other is more accurate. Often both fall short of expressing the full essence of a word, so it can be helpful to add the Russian translation to my understanding of a passage. It enriches the meaning. Of course at times it’s also just confusing, especially since I use the NIV in English and the Russian Synodal Version, which are from two completely different time periods…

My latest encounter with this was in last Sunday’s church sermon about the Holy Spirit. The title for the Holy Spirit being discussed here was Paraclete. The NIV Bible says “counselor” and the Russian Bible says “comforter.”

If I had been familiar with the KJV, I would have known that the word used there is “comforter,” like in the Russian. Or if I had looked into a more modern Russian translation, I would have seen that the word used there is “defender” or “intercessor.” But, I didn’t know that until I got home and look…

Thoughts before sleep

A few nights ago while trying to fall asleep, I began to meditate on the words of the song "Refiner's Fire." I chose it because I wanted to rid my mind of the unneeded baggage of the day and just be ready to start fresh in the morning.

Purify my heart,
let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart,
let me be as gold, pure gold.

Refiner's fire,
my heart's one desire
is to be…holy;
set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be…holy;
set apart for You,
my Master,
ready to do Your will.

Purify my heart,
cleanse me from within
and make me holy.
Purify my heart,
cleanse me from my sin, deep within.

But as I was thinking about the words, I realized that it's not the gentle song that it seems at first. By the melody it's soothing, but I don' t know if going through a refining fire is so easy. Surely it's hard, although the prospect of becoming pure and holy is comforting.

It's like that song, "take me into the Holy of Holies....take the coal, cleanse my lips,…


If you're a guest or haven't been here for awhile, I'm finishing up a series about my recent trip to Kinshasa in the D.R.Congo.

I've added a labels list to the side panel and I'm trying to go back and label some old posts so it's easier to track certain topics.

Civil Ceremony

The civil ceremony wasn’t that unusual for me since they have them in Russia too, but I hadn’t actually witnessed one, so it was interesting to see the mystery solved.

When we got to city hall, we waited around outside for the bride to get there and for my brother to do some negotiations. I found it extremely frustrating that after ordering some kind of service and being promised something, there was still negotiating to be done. My brother had to bring a chair to round out their office furniture and a bottle of wine. As in the airport confusion, it all seemed like a game: collect certain points, pay certain fees, go backwards and forwards...

Photography was part of the game. I really wanted to start taking photos of the scenery and the family members gathered, but there were policemen about and I didn’t want to cause trouble…not until after the wedding, anyway! But Hortense’s brother and cousin started filming, so I joined in.

Finally we were all called to go into the room where the cer…

Still light

It's 10 pm and this is what it looks like outside:


Midnight. I don't think the White Nights will ever cease to amaze me!


Insomnia and nosebleeds

Unfortunately, when Sunday ended at midnight, everything went downhill.

I was once again struck by the insomnia I’ve had since Africa. I don’t know if it’s jet-lag, health problems, stress, or something else.

I lay awake for about an hour. Suddenly my nose felt funny, but I didn’t have a cold, and I couldn’t remember if I had just been crying or not. I didn’t want to get up because then I would probably lose the sleepiness completely. But something felt wrong. I got up and checked and I had a nosebleed. Have I mentioned I’m squeamish?

After it stopped, I gave up on sleeping and went to sit in the kitchen, searching my old journal for entries about sleepless nights. There are plenty of them from high school and college days. I always liked the solitude of being the only one still awake, but I despaired over not getting enough sleep. There was nothing profound to note, other than the fact that I had always made it through the next day.

I went back to bed and tried to arrange the pillows so …

Kinshasa-the work

I can’t write about Congo without mentioning my brother’s work there in micro-finance. I'm not an expert in this, so bear with me if my explanation is less than adequate!

We went with Nate one day to witness a loan distribution. The people receiving loans are trained in groups. There were probably about 30-40 people on this particular day. Some of them had already received a loan, paid it back, and were approved again for a loan. Others were receiving a loan for the first time.

In this picture you can see only women, but there was a group of men off to the side:

At first I felt a little too much like an American tourist being in that room. There we were in our Western clothing with our cameras, watching everything going on. We were introduced as guests of honor, being Nate’s relatives. I didn't particularly feel like I deserved any kind of attention or honor. But I realized that it actually was special for them that we had come a long way to see them, and I also think that they a…

One Sunday

What a day! There were a lot of reasons to celebrate.

First of all, we observed Pentecost today. Our worship service was dedicated to the Holy Spirit and the role that He plays in our lives.

Secondly, we closed the Sunday school season with performances by the kids. There were poetry readings, skits, and dancing.

I just about died from the cuteness when these two little bees made their appearance (the one on the left is asking for the microphone so she can say her poem).

Next, the reason I ended my wedding post with "To be continued" is that today at church we also engagement! Although Lida and Victor hadn't made their relationship public yet, they had both been seeking wise counsel. Before we prayed for them, the pastor encouraged the church to be attentive from now on and offer support. They're not planning a wedding yet, but they wanted to take this step in front of the church.

My next activity wasn't really a reason for celebrating; after church I took …

What day is it?

I was just getting into a regime after Africa when the Russian officials decided to mess with the calendar again.

Last Saturday was a working day because this Thursday (yesterday) is a holiday and they wanted to have Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday be a long weekend. So we worked last Saturday instead of this Friday. Got it? Then today I went to a wedding, which was weird because it was on a Friday.

But I have to admit, I'm glad it's only Friday.

In other news, I brought back some African maracas from the artisan shop we visited in Congo, and gave them to my Russian friends.

We tried them out at worship practice.

Good times.

Weddings around the world

Guess what I did today?

No, that's not me getting married, that's my friends Zhanna and Artyom from church.

Here's my Bible study pictured together with the newlyweds:

Meanwhile, on the same day my brother was getting married in Africa, my old college roommate (and birthday twin) Christine got married as well in the States. Congrats!

To be continued!


My Africa posts are getting rather drawn-out, so I am going to cover a lot in this one.

When we weren't doing wedding-related activities, we were becoming acquainted with various aspects of Nate's life in Kinshasa, as well as the people that are special to him.

Since my mom is interested in children and art, and had left some art supplies there from a previous trip, we hosted a little art class for the children of some of Nate's co-workers.

Once again it reminded me of my short-term trips to Russia, where we had also done art with children. At the beginning we didn't even have an interpreter, so my mom was using her French and I was using mine. I could basically say the names of the colors and ask the kids which paper or ink they wanted.

In the beginning, the kids were shy and hesitant to begin making something. By the end they were enthusiastic and creating chaos! Many different personalities had emerged: some kids were mass-producing small works of art; others were slow …

Kinshasa-Wedding #1

On our first weekend in the Congo, we attended the first of three ceremonies that made up my brother's wedding.

We used to wonder which sibling would get married first and what it would be like for us to be all grown-up, and what our behavior would be like at the wedding. We certainly didn't expect the first wedding to take place in Africa!

When Nate first invited us to travel to Congo for the event, he described this cultural ceremony as my younger brothers carrying in the goats that would be part of the bride-price. That sounded pretty interesting and was not something that I wanted to miss.

I felt fairly calm and relaxed before the cultural ceremony. I knew that the preparations had taken a lot of work, but the hard parts were over. My brother had gotten to know his future in-laws and had made his intentions clear. He had followed their traditions as closely as possible, including going through the engagement ceremony which had consisted of long speeches by representatives of …


It’s hard to believe that a week ago I was in Africa, feeling quite ill and not even able to eat. It reminds me of a time when I had a bad cold and also didn’t feel like eating. I opened up my Bible and it was the place in 1 Kings where Elijah is at the end of his strength and the angel of the Lord tells him to “Get up and eat.” God always gives us that boost to keep us going. A few days ago as I sat down to a meal, I was very thankful to have my appetite and general health restored.

Returning to Russia from the Congo was probably the first time that I entered Russia after being in a place with worse economic conditions (unless you count going from the camp back to the city). Usually I'm coming from the U.S. or some place in Europe, and it's hard to adjust. But now, everything seems so calm and familiar. Even the problems are like old friends: the daily commute, the lines, the dirt and grayness…

I even like the lack of eye contact and interaction on the street-not because it’s p…

Kinshasa-First Impressions

My first impressions of Kinshasa were similar to my first impressions of Russia in 1996. I felt at a similar level of cluelessness regarding language, history, and culture. In an “ignorance is bliss,” sort of way, I had nothing to lose-yet I also had no way in which I could be particularly helpful.

Simple factors like different hours of daylight, hearing a European language being spoken in Africa, and being one of few white people around were pretty disorienting. The trip was short enough that there wasn’t enough time to absorb the local ways in order to “do as in Rome.” Beyond basic greetings and reading some road signs in French, I couldn’t do anything on my own and was dependent on my brother and the mercy of English-speaking locals to help me out.

I compared Kinshasa both to St.Petersburg and to my hometown in the U.S. Some of the aspects that were surprising to other Americans didn’t affect me as much: the noise and air pollution, the crazy driving, the military presence. Many of t…