Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The Good Samaritan in Slavic Culture

(I found this draft from last month that I forgot to post! I'm shocked that the summer went by so fast!)

National identity. I remember feeling self-conscious as an American first living abroad. It wasn't anything negative but just the realization that all eyes were on American brands, movies, public figures, etc. That's in a general context and then of course in church culture Americans had left their mark too, from prosperity preachers to missionaries. Not only was it jarring to see America's role in the world, but also to wonder which aspect of the USA came to mind when people met me personally. 

As a resident of Russia, this country has become part of my identity, too. Russia has contributed much to the world, but sometimes it's like a slur. Let's be honest, the Russian team has become a pariah at the Olympic Games. There is always a scandal or controversy. I was so mad about the last games in Winter 2022. Young promising athletes (not even allowed to fly their country's flag due to doping issues) came under scrutiny and it only worsened Russia's reputation. Instead of focusing on skill and potential, rules and discipline came into the spotlight. I remember a tour guide once saying how Russia is like a family member. You love her even when she has embarrassed you and hurt you. My own experience is that when it comes to your country, family, or a team you're on, you can criticize it yourself, but outside criticism hurts. 

I told my husband that the rumors of "Russiaphobia" were false; a ploy of the Russian State to boost nationalism and isolate itself even more. Surely MY corner of America wouldn't participate in the prejudice. Surely cultured Europeans wouldn't stoop to that level. No, Russian culture is not being canceled. But then again, I can see it happening in subtle ways. Part of the way it works nowadays is that with the help of social media, everyone jumps on a trend, according to their political party. Right now, support for Ukraine is popular in most western societies. Therefore, the opposite is anti-trend and must be shunned. Of course, in some parts of the world, this particular topic might be flipped around, with the "Z" popular to show support for Russia. At any rate, I know that pro-Kremlin shows have been canceled, but that's more an extension of "sanctions." The more subtle part is feeling awkward about writing in Russian, posting scenes of Russia (unharmed vs our neighbor in the war zone), or sharing about celebrations while others can't take part. And that doesn't feel quite right. Tact is important, but censorship hurts. 

Saturday, June 25, 2022

June 2022

So, we are 4 months into what's happening in our part of the world...though, of course, we live pretty far from the border!  


-Lots of western businesses are closing, with Russian ones opening in their place. For example, our favorite Finnish grocery store chain closed, and just reopened in the same place with a Russian chain. As an expat, it's surreal to see everything happening in reverse. I've been traveling to/living in Russia for 25+ plus years, so I've watched globalization happen before my eyes, with lots of brands from different countries becoming prolific. I remember when IKEA opened here! And now one by one, the same companies are leaving. It's not a BIG deal, until you need specific medical supplies...even something like frames for your glasses. Or parts for your foreign-made appliance or electronic device.

-Lots of celebrations are being held as usual. Some of it is more patriotic and some just traditional. There is a sense that everyone is ready to celebrate after being locked up with Covid for so long (I honestly can't remember which celebrations were held last year. I think there were still parades, but we also had family members in the hospital with Covid, so it was still very much a precarious situation) Speaking of patriotism, Russian schools are starting to hang the flag and sing the national hymn each day. Ironically, they probably got the idea from American schools.

-Mobilization is ongoing. Remember my playground friend, Lena? Yesterday after I had held her 4 (?) month old baby, she told me that her husband had joined up. He'll be helping to destroy specific targets. Honestly, I didn't understand the whole explanation, but I'm not sure I want to know. And what could I say to a fellow mother, left at home with an infant and 3 year old? Some might think it is shocking, but the United States also does not have the best reputation in terms of invading other countries. I can think of lots of times when occupation occurred despite protests. And yet, most of those protesting had never been friends with a military family. It's a similar situation here. The point is not to justify anyone's actions, but to ponder our response to those who are culturally different from us due to their involvement in the military. It's one thing to observe from afar, and another situation when you talk to someone in person. 

-Some friends have emigrated, but it's not really openly discussed, so I often find out after the fact. It all feels so final! It's one thing when you still live in the same city and imagine that you might bump into each other. And now everyone is spreading out all over the globe. I think a lot of international workers go through this when they change assignments every few years. But I tend to spend more time with locals than expats, so it is an odd feeling being the one left behind!

I'm out of time, but wanted to give a quick update! I read plenty of news from different sources, but various topics are either too controversial or too sad to write here. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

5 years later

 After my latest weird dream sequence, I found my mind wandering to an alternate scenario where our church never split up.

I did the math and realized that it has been about 5 years since it all started. At the time, Sophia was a baby and I wasn't able to be involved much in the discussions that followed. It was painful to feel cut off at such a crucial time! 

If you read my blog a long time ago, you probably remember that Andrei and I both were involved a lot in our church even before we were married and had kids. And the church played a big role in our courtship and wedding.

I look at the kids now and imagine that in our old church, they would have both been attending Sunday school by now, and I would have probably been involved with music again or been attending a small group.

If we had all stayed in the same church, I had imagined the kids growing up with "church friends," who would possibly become friends for life. The year I had David, 4 other families were expecting babies. They were girls, but still could have been playmates for him.

-One family emigrated to Germany on a heritage visa, after their second child was tragically born at 24 weeks and passed away in the NICU here.

-One family emigrated to Canada, after years stuck in a cycle of poverty here.

-One family went back to the church the wife had attended before they married.

-And the other family started attending a more modern church with an impressive children's program, as that was something important to them.

If the church split had happened 3 years later, the pandemic would have been starting, and church would have been online. The arguments about music and lighting and coffee hour wouldn't have happened. But...maybe we would have argued about masks and whether or not to meet in person. In fact, I'm pretty sure the large group who broke away did in fact keep meeting, and gave each other Covid.

If the church split happened now, 5 years later, the kids would be old enough to entertain themselves as we attended the discussion sessions. I'd probably get too emotionally involved...even more than I was when it actually happened. 

Sadly, the church split probably would have happened over Ukraine if it hadn't happened already by then. I think that there was already some disagreement over the Crimea, not enough to really cause great offense, but I think that it would be hard to worship together while sharing different views on what is happening today.

It's probably good that people went their separate ways, but I always wonder if there's a way to address disagreements in a timely manner so as to prevent church splits. Or is it inevitable that churches eventually have a big conflict? Or should churches do some "pruning" periodically? Or just plan to split into smaller groups once they get to a certain size? For example, outgrow the space? Instead of looking for a new building, just split up?

Do you ever think about how life would be different if something happened in a different year?

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Border Trips in the time of Covid, Part 3 (Armenia)

 I noticed that I often neglect to write about our interesting travels. A certain amount of time passes and then the initial impressions are lost. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting the photos off whichever device...

It's been 6 months and everything has changed again. This started out as a commentary on travel with coronavirus restrictions, and now there are many other restrictions. If Covid math for the past 2 years has involved PCR test processing and validity along with quarantine length, we now have to worry about closed airspace and places where we aren't welcome as a family.

But, back to November 2021 when it was still Covid but pre-conflict. 

...after our night in the hotel in Yerevan, we woke up for a day of tourism before heading to the airport. We enjoyed a full hotel breakfast buffet in the style that I've grown to love. None of that toast and jam here...try some hot porridge of your preferred type, make your own sandwich with a variety of cold cuts, or fix a plate of steamed hot dogs (David's favorite) with your choice of pasta dish or potato casserole. And then come back for more! I will admit that I like Scandinavian breakfasts a tiny bit more because there is usually some yummy smoked or salted fish. But any filling, savory breakfast is fine with me.

After breakfast, we had an hour to "get organized," which for me is always a pretty important/focused chore. I had also planned to map out our itinerary, figure out airport transportation, etc.

Then Andrei was looking at his phone and his bank had been reporting dozens of charges, leaving his balance almost at zero. Neither of us likes to handle these issues, but I also had to focus on packing everything up, so it really wasn't good timing. 

I mentioned in the last post that we were having trouble keeping track of the exchange rate, and as we rushed to make calculations, the numbers seemed way too high for having withdrawn a little cash and eaten dinner. Armenia is fairly cheap, in general. So that didn't make sense. Meanwhile, we got a call from the front desk reminding us of the checkout time, which was fair, but didn't help the overall mood.

Our time was up, so we headed down to check out and get directions into the downtown area. Did I mention Yerevan is rather hilly and the streets are sort of on top of each other? We went the way we were told, down a hill by an abandoned amusement park that we hadn't seen in the dark the previous evening. Then we were supposed to get to town via a pedestrian tunnel. That tunnel....I'm glad we weren't walking through it at night, because we couldn't get out of there fast enough! At first, the end wasn't even in sight. Lots of graffiti, trash, etc. We emerged to see a cluster of dilapidated Soviet buildings. A few steps further and we were at a lovely park with fountains that would have been turned on if it weren't November. But some adorable fuzzy green sculptures made up for that. It reminded me of seeing cow sculptures in Budapest. It was really warm, by the way, probably in the 50s. 

The Good Samaritan in Slavic Culture

(I found this draft from last month that I forgot to post! I'm shocked that the summer went by so fast!) National identity. I remember f...