Thursday, June 28, 2007

Vladimir #3

On day two in Vladimir, we continued our seminar with a tour of the organization's main building, where they have both offices and a drop-in center for orphanage graduates.

Orphanage graduates can come here to receive free services like teeth cleaning and help with paperwork, or just to socialize. The center sponsors fun projects such as crafts and field trips. It would be great to have something like this in St.Petersburg, although we obviously can't do everything all at once.

We also visited one of the sponsored family centers out in the suburbs. They live in one side of a duplex and have a big fruit/vegetable garden out back. Their home seemed really pleasant and natural, in spite of regular monitoring by a psychologist. We liked the garden. :)

At the end of the day, we finally had time to get a bite to eat, and treated our driver and guide (and ourselves) to a nice meal.

In the photo below, we look a little disgruntled because the photo session is interrupting our delicious first course. All the food in front of me is not just mine; we were sharing. :)

That's all for now...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Vladimir #2- Lakinsk

On the first day of our training seminar in Vladimir, we visited the grounds of a former orphanage in the town of Lakinsk. The children have all been moved into either family centers or individual families.

The buildings of the orphanage have been converted into family centers or administrative offices.

The kids were leaving for the summer, but the house parents took time to speak with us.

The orphanage workshops are still open and available for kids who want to come and develop their creative skills.

I had already visited Lakinsk in the fall, but this time they treated us more like ministry partners and gave us the inside tour. We met the orphanage director and other administrators. We had a discussion with one of the psychologists on staff, who explained how they screen foster parents and prepare them and children for the children joining the family. She gave us many documents that they have and a training manual.

We also met with a social worker who takes care of the legal issues. She was able to advise us on getting permission to place children in families and on some of the terminology that is applied to this kind of work. She also mentioned the possibility of trying to locate the child's relatives first to see if they would be capable of fostering the child, before going outside of the family. They were all quite positive about our endeavors, especially as we're so "young and inexperienced." :) But we kept saying, "We are here to learn," thus inviting them to share their knowledge with us.

It was a long day, but we accomplished a lot.

Vladimir #1- birthday

(Most trip photos courtesy of Anna or Marina)

I can't seem to find the time and write down my full analysis of the Vladimir trip, so here's an introduction in the meantime. I actually find people's travel journals a little boring sometimes, so I'll try to make it interesting.

We traveled to Vladimir by overnight train. The day we were arriving was my birthday, and Marina congratulated me from the top bunk.

We arrived at 5 in the morning.

After a full day of touring ministry centers, which I will write about next time, we hit "downtown" Vladimir to get a glimpse of the historical surroundings.

After that we bought some snacks and headed back to the hotel. I sat down to relax, but Anya called me to go out on the balcony and feed the birds. She loves animals and wouldn't even let us kill bugs in the room.

"I don't want to feed the birds," I said, concentrating on my book.

"But Liz, the poor birds are hungry. Let's take our chips and feed them."

"What for? I want to eat the chips myself." (I was tired/hungry)

"But Liz, maybe the birds have young to feed." I was about to kill Anya for being so persistent, but then I remembered that it was my birthday and maybe I needed to leave the room. So we went and hung out on the balcony.

We came back in and Marina had been at work setting up a party. Here I am "blowing out" the candles:

Goodnight! To be continued...

Sunday, June 24, 2007

What time is it?

I read an article recently about how Americans and Russians confuse each other in how they divide up the day into time periods. I remember being very surprised the first time I noticed these differences. I’ll write my own observations here.

Americans determine the time of day by the hour. At midnight a new day begins, and therefore 1:00 is already “morning.” Afternoon or daytime is precisely that, after 12:00. Evening starts around 5 (6?) p.m. Nighttime is sometime after 9 or 10 p.m., but not necessarily when you go to sleep.

American English:

Midnight-Noon= morning
Noon-5:00 p.m.= afternoon
5:00-9:00 p.m.= evening
9:00-midnight= night

Okay, now the Russian system. Night is when you sleep, about midnight-6 a.m. Morning is when you wake up. Daytime is when you’re at work. According to one of my friends, you should say “Good day” even if it’s before noon. Because morning is when you’re still at home, having just woken up. Evening begins around 6 p.m., and lasts until whenever you go to sleep. Someone I asked said that night is after 10 p.m., but you still wouldn’t say “Good night” yet if you weren’t getting ready to go to bed. My previous habit had been to say “Have a good night” anytime in the evening, if I was seeing a person for the last time.


You in your bed sleeping=night
Around 6:00 or whenever you wake up=morning
Whenever you get to work until evening=afternoon (day)
From around 6:00 p.m.until you go to bed=evening

I’m using a.m./p.m. for convenience, but they don’t exist in Russian because a.m. and p.m. revolve around noon as a measuring point, and aren’t relevant in the Russian system.

Russians do use army time more often than Americans, but I won’t get into that.

So to Russians, it’s “6:00 in the morning”, “3:00 in the afternoon,” “9:00 in the evening,” and “2:00 at night.” That last one sounds weird to my ears!

Also notice that night comes first in the line-up, whereas it’s last in the American 24-hr period. I was looking at a weather report that listed in the following order “night of the 21st, morning of the 21st, daytime on the 21st, evening of the 21st.” I’m not sure if that’s standard or not.

I wonder how you factor in all-night shifts?

Now, another confusing aspect is how you refer to certain blocks of time. “This morning” or “last night” in Russian is often stated as “Tonight,” because that’s the first time block of the new day starting with midnight. So if you were talking about a dream you had, you would say “Tonight,” not “last night.” If you want to talk about plans for the upcoming evening, you can say “this evening.”

Okay, I think I’ve confused myself enough for now. Please leave your comments and observations, as I might be in error!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Off to Vladimir

I'm off to Vladimir for a week. Marina, Anna and I are traveling there to visit a Christian organization that has a lot of experience in helping orphans to break free from the cycle of institutionalization. We hope that they will be able to give us some advice in implementing these sorts of programs in St.Petersburg.

What Vladimir looked like the last time I was there, in November:

I'll be back next Friday.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Personal space

It was perhaps, inevitable that I would write about an article about “personal space,” that aspect of human nature that is treated differently across cultures and can thereby cause quite a bit of confusion.

A general observation is that Americans prefer more personal space than Russians. I did a little research and found some writings on the general topic of personal space. Many of the articles contain a lot of interesting cultural observations, but I tried to limit the topic here so as not to get sidetracked.

One article included a chart of different characteristics of several nationalities around the world. I’m not sure exactly where these people got their information, but if it’s true, then personal space needs around the world vary from approximately 5 centimeters to 1 meter. I’ve compiled them here and tried to make the units match, since they didn’t in the original…
U.S.-no closer than 2 ft (.6 meters)
Colombia-no closer than 30 cm
Mexico –no closer than 2 inches (about 5 cm)
Austria-no closer than half a meter
Greece-no further than 50 cm
Italy-closer than 50 cm is okay
Poland-usually no closer than 1 meter, but less if at work
Sweden-no closer than 60 cm
Australia-no closer than 2 ft (.6 meters)
China-no closer than 1 meter
Japan-no closer than 2 ft (.6 meters)
Nigeria-no further than 2 ft (.6 meters)
South Africa –no closer than half a meter
Israel-no closer than half a foot (.15 meters)
Turkey-no farther than one foot (.3 meters)

And here is a first-hand observation from my brother…
Me: “How do Africans relate to personal space?”
Nate (answering for the Democratic Republic of Congo): “It doesn’t exist…”

While most figures have a “no closer than” limit, some nationalities are apparently offended if a person is standing TOO far away. This list unfortunately does not include Russia, which messes up my research. It does portray the U.S. as needing more personal space, although not the maximum amount.

Here is a little more about American expectations, excerpted from an article offering culture advice for international students in the U.S.: “Americans tend to require more personal space than in other cultures. So if you try to get too close to an American during your conversation, he or she will feel that you are "in their face" and will try to back away. Try to be aware of this, so if the person to whom you are speaking backs away a little, don't try to close the gap...Also, try to avoid physical contact while you are speaking, since this may also lead to discomfort. Touching is a bit too intimate for casual acquaintances. So don't put your arm around their shoulder, touch their face, or hold their hand. Shaking hands when you initially meet or part is acceptable, but this is only momentary.”

I also found an informative article about Ukrainian culture, which in my opinion is a fairly close description of Russian culture as well. Disclaimer: definitely written from an American viewpoint!

“Ukrainian culture: On average Ukrainians' personal space is smaller than in Germanic and Anglo-saxon cultures. Some people touch each other quite a bit during conversations if they are standing. Greeting women with a kiss on the cheek is common. On the gesticulation scale Ukrainians are more subdued than southern Europeans but more animate than Scandinavians. Gestures tend to be smaller—no American arm-flapping here!”

I do have one question…what is “American arm-flapping”?

So now that we’ve established that Americans and Russians have different desires for personal space, what effect does this have?

This article pretty much sums it up: ...

“A problem for visiting Americans is that Russian personal distance lies within an American's intimate distance, just as an American's personal distance lies within northern Europeans' intimate space. The result is that Russians seem pushy or over-amorous to northern Europeans, and Europeans seem cold, and unfriendly to Russians. Americans, existing somewhere in the middle, manage to equally offend both parties, for opposite reasons.”

How to deal with this problem? One way is to simply be aware of the differences in advance and therefore prepare oneself for “strange behavior” from foreigners and not take it as a personal attack. I can protect a good mood fairly well if I associate daily unpleasant experiences with culture shock. Obviously this doesn’t work for all conflicts, but if, everytime someone bothers me, I think “it’s okay, just a different culture, they’re not trying to bother me,” I can often avoid being offended. Sometimes it’s obvious that people are actually being rude, but I don't have to pay attention and risk having my mood ruined!

Everyone’s favorite online encyclopedia has some interesting observations on how people deal psychologically with invasions of their personal space.

“In certain circumstances people can accept having their personal space violated. For instance in romantic encounters the stress from allowing closer personal space distances can be reinterpreted into emotional fervour. Another method of dealing with violated personal space, according to psychologist Robert Sommer, is dehumanization. He argues that, for instance on the subway, crowded people imagine those infiltrating their personal space as inanimate.”

So there you have it. I will also share a few tidbits that I found about eye contact, which relates somewhat to the topic at hand.

This is a fairly amusing account written by a native of Chile.
“I now live in California and have been married for over 20 years to a Californian (of Northern European descent). It is sort of funny because my wife now realizes that I need to have eye contact while we talk. If she is reading, she has learned that I stop talking if I don't have eye contact with her. I have had several people tell me, when I stop talking because I no longer have eye contact, "Keep talking, I'm listening." My kids still give me a bad time about the year my mother came to visit and we drove to Yosemite National Park. They were all panicked because I kept looking at my mother as I drove. They felt I was not looking at the road enough and thought we would drive off the mountain. I have a very high need for eye contact.”

I hadn’t really thought about this much. I was generally taught that it is polite to look at the person talking, in order to communicate that you are paying attention. I try to do so. And like the author, I don’t like speaking if the listeners are not looking at me. However, if I feel shy, I avoid eye contact.

Here is an American look at the Russian situation:
“The Russian "neutral" expression is a blank, unsmiling face, which appears forbiddingly angry to Americans. Americans in turn, often appear to be vulgarly laughing at strangers when they automatically smile at people on the subway.

When in 1993 I brought to Russian a group of American students, without exception they wove elaborate paranoid fantasies about harmless Russian strangers "staring at me with this evil expression."

Conversely, they all had a terrible time getting sales clerks to respond at counters when using the standard American method of simply staring at the clerk till she says "Can I help you?" Fact is, around here you can stare for a week and not get service until you politely say "Devooshka?" ("Girl?").”

This is definitely true! If a clerk doesn’t pay attention to me, I assume that he or she is busy, and I can stand there for several minutes worrying about whether or not I will bother him/her if I ask for help.

And here is one last example to illustrate the dynamics of cross-cultural communication: “Toward the end of my three week trip I was invited by my young Russian host and friend Nicolai Vasilevich and his lovely wife Yulya out to dinner. At the end of a wonderful meal Yulya asked if I would like a banana. I politely declined and thanked her, and explained I was most satisfied with the meal. But the whole while my mind was racing: "What do I do? Do I offer her a banana even though they are as close to her as they are to me? What is the polite thing to do?"”

Yes, these agonizing questions often race through my mind as well. It must look comical when I stall upon being asked simple questions like “Would you like another cup of tea?” But isn’t it better to wonder about the right answer than to not wonder at all and simply answer automatically from one’s ingrained cultural preferences?

Monday, June 11, 2007


The secret to getting Seva to practice his English? Make board games together!

(It's a very serious activity)

Today Seva cried because I was pronouncing the name "Tom" like the Russian word meaning "over there," so he thought I was saying "His name is over there." He got mad at me for not changing it to sound more like a Russian name.

We moved on to games. Seva cried because I was making the board game spaces too large. Then he made lots of "go straight to Finish" and "lose a turn" spaces while I filled in assignments such as "name two sports" and "sing a song in English."

He beat me five times (out of six), got his stickers, and was happy. Then I wouldn't let him exchange his "boring" stickers for the new, shiny ones. He sat in his room growling as I left. I guess I'm a pretty mean teacher.

Vince gets a bath

In honor of the school year ending, I've decided to wash Vince, the "English-speaking" Sock Puppet.

He's also going to get a face-lift. Stay tuned for the new Vince!

Friday, June 8, 2007

Journey and arrival

Continuing the story of my ancestors, headed to Hawaii…

Amos and Juliette Cooke were onboard the Mary Frazier from Dec.1836-April 1837. Juliette’s journal and letters tell of their journey in great detail.

The missionaries might have had little time to train before their departure, but the voyage itself provided plenty of time for preparing themselves in many ways. Juliette received much practical experience in homemaking as she learned to be creative in dealing with limited resources onboard the ship.

Mr. C. having lost his cap overboard has been obliged to confine himself to his palm-leaf hat. It occurred to me yesterday that I could make him one from the cape of his old cloak, which he could spare very well. I have succeeded so well that the Captain says that he thinks I shall make the best missionary wife on board. I suppose that he means to make caps, but I hope that I shall have some better qualifications than this, as caps will not be wanted at the Islands. (91, Juliette)

Some more description of their daily activities, which I found somewhat amusing…

Last night some of our company sat up all night to study the Hawaiian language, because the vocabulary is in use every minute of the day. I have been studying today very closely and feel the need of exercise very much, although I have taken at odd intervals our usual skip. I believe that I have never told you about our exercise. Almost every scheme is tried in order to get exercise. The skip, however, is the favorite, being the most violent. Two of us take hold of hands and cross the quarter deck with a step similar to what I used to call Double-the-hop, then turn around & go back the same way. Some have tried whipping each other’s backs after sitting a long time when they did not wish to go on deck. Found this to answer very well. The gentlemen jump rope, go up mast head. This was considered a feat at first, but has become quite common. (96-97, Juliette)

Juliette’s deep revelation:

Yesterday was my birthday. Twenty-five years have I spent in the world and how little have I accomplished. One quarter of a century gone and all my work yet to do. Let me keep this constantly before my mind, and do with my might what my hands find to do the little time I have remaining for the night of death is at hand in which no man can work. Hitherto the Lord has led me on, and He has led me by a way that I knew not. Let me render praise and thanksgiving to His name. (101, Juliette)

After arrival in Honolulu, Juliette describes what is on her heart.

Here, I think, is the place for me to labor. This people is in a deplorable condition-so much of sin, oppression and degradation that they are evidently decreasing very fast. It is estimated that in 30 years they will be no more unless the missionaries can, by enlightening them and endeavoring to do them good, stop them in the ways of vice in which they are so swiftly traveling. Oh, how can American citizens of our own native land come here and sow the seeds of sin? tempt these inhabitants to go into the depths of wickedness? And yet it is even so. My heart bleeds for this people to do them good. (122, Juliette)

It’s interesting to read her straightforward assessment of the natives’ spiritual condition. Although the missionaries might have carried some prejudice with them, it is refreshing to read observations that are free from modern-day political correctness. Juliette does not hesitate to call the sinful behavior anything other than what it is: a vice. Not an “alternative lifestyle” or the “exercise of personal freedom,” but a harmful way of life which leads to death. Yet Juliette does not ignore her own country’s role in leading them down this wicked path, and seeks to “do them good,” not create another stumbling block.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Strange sights

Who needs television when you have the everyday entertainment that comes from living in a foreign country?

Some things I observed today:

-An S.U.V. drives up on the sidewalk and parks without even using a blinker or any other kind of signal.

-An old woman, walking with two canes, takes one of them and, sticking one end into a trashcan, uses it to compact the contents.

-Fashion watch: Old ladies wear huge bows in their hair, and everyone wears socks with sandals.

-I’m walking home and some construction workers are coming through the archway trying to transport some pipes on a backhoe. They’re blocking the way for passengers and motorists. I’m annoyed, but coming through the archway behind them is a little boy grinning away, just delighted to witness this macho work in action!

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

An honest citizen

Today I was riding in the mashrutka and we stopped to pick up two women traveling together. When they were seated, one of them noticed a purse that had been forgotten there earlier in the day. She immediately called the phone number that she found in the documents, and arranged to meet with the owner later to return the purse. The driver was helping too. I was encouraged by what seemed like an act of kindness.

I write about public transportation a lot here. It seems to be where many Russian adventures take place. I will wait for the next one...

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Orphanage graduates

Rather than present the situation with grim statistics, allow me to introduce a few of our friends, who, like all Russian orphans, had to face the day when they left the orphanage behind and went out into the world. For most of us the transition to adulthood is hard enough, but imagine having to do it alone...

This is Nastia. She is a very affectionate young lady and enjoys smiling at you and staring into your eyes intently about 80% of the time. After graduating from technical school, Nastia moved into a room in a communal apartment. Many Russians live in these conditions, but for a young lady alone it is not a very safe situation.

Nastia is faithful at her job and can follow a routine very well, but sometimes makes spontaneous decisions that have dire consequences. She also has been swindled several times and calls me sometimes in a bind....the latest was renting out her room to 10 or so gypsies. She called me as she was signing the papers....Thankfully the tenants have now moved out, after a few months of negotiations. Unfortunately, as many orphans come of age, they are tricked into signing away their rights to an apartment which belongs to them, and it then becomes impossible to find housing.

Vika and Nastia were in the same orphanage. Vika had a child, whose father died. In contrast to many unwed single mothers, Vika has been fighting to keep the child and not put him in an orphanage. Motherhood has perhaps enabled her to mature faster than other orphanage graduates. But she still faces many difficult decisions. Vika has some living relatives, but the wounds run deep and there has been no reconciliation. She and her son are currently living with her late boyfriend's mother, the child's grandmother.

Repair season

They're turning our hot water off until the end of the month. Time for the alternate shower system....

Friday, June 1, 2007

Even further back into history...

Grandchildren, Great-grandchildren and Great-great-grandchildren of Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke: Here they are, your first ancestors in Hawaii, as they revealed themselves in their voluminous letters and journals. What they penned was meant for their contemporaries, but so vividly are their personalities carried across the years by the faded ink on the yellowed paper that their associates cannot have known them much better than we can know them from these writings….(Richards, 20)

So begins the story of Amos and Juliette Cooke, missionaries to Hawaii from 1837. Oddly enough, they were both from New England, where I grew up. They were my great-great-great (...) grandparents.

These are a few excerpts from a book about their lives: "Amos Starr Cooke and Juliette Montague Cooke-Their Autobiographies Gleaned from their Journals and Letters." By their granddaughter, Mary Atherton Richards. First printed in 1941. Reprinted by The Daughters of Hawaii in 1987; Honolulu, Hawaii.

From young Amos Starr Cooke's journal:


The American Tract Society is sending out circulars asking for $30,000 to aid in the distribution of tracts among the different missionary stations. I feel the call of God, ‘Go work in my Vineyard.’ May I reply as did the son who said, ‘ I go, Sir,’ and not like him and break my promise.’ (26)

March 26th

Today I have finished the Gospel of Matt. in Greek. (27) :)

Danbury, Sat, Oct.10th/35

It is just 5 years ago today since I joined the church and partook of the communion. I was then seventeen years old. Tomorrow there is to be a Mr.Ruggles here to preach. He is a returning missionary from the Sandwich Islands. (27)

As Amos prepared to go, he pondered his marital status and asked some others for advice.

I have almost come to the conclusion that it is my duty to go alone. If you know of anyone you can recommend, and think I had better make further effort, I will go and see her. I feel desirous of taking one, if a suitable one can be had…(40)

A recommendation was made, and Amos went to investigate.

Springfield, Mass. Tuesday, Sept.20th

Sunday visited sick persons with Mr.Brown.
Monday morning, soon after prayers, the object of my visit there was made known to Miss Montague, and we were together about two hours. We arranged to correspond upon the all important subject. She is willing to go to the heathen, and it may be she is the one God has designed for me. This morning I said but a few words to her. She appears solemn and will probably be much agitated until she hears from me. I have been very well pleased with her. She appears very, very modest, which is ‘a quality that highly adorns a woman.’ (46-47)

Amos also requested that people acquainted with Juliette give their recommendations regarding her character.

From a letter received Oct. 24th, 1836
In relation to her education, she is in a measure self-taught, but well taught. In my opinion, she has the right kind of an education for a missionary. She is not only an apt but a pleasant teacher. So far as we can judge, she has a sweet natural disposition. Her domestic qualifications are all suited for such a station. She is a good tailoress and dressmaker. She has not been brought up in the Parlour merely, but is acquainted with every part of the house. She is remarkable for the improvement of her time and has a heart to do good. She has a full share of common sense to discover the best way and time to do good to others. She is happy in securing the confidence of others and likewise in retaining that confidence when gained. Her influence on others, I should judge to be good. And lastly, her Christian character stands (so far as I can judge) untarnished. In a word, I think she will make a good missionary for almost any man or Society, and should she be pleased with Mr.Cooke, so as to accept of him as a companion in the field of Missions, I think she will not disgrace the cause. (52)

Juliette's acceptance of the proposal...

Nov.2, 1836
...You said that I might rely on the strength of your affection and I think that you may anticipate from me a return of the same, for you know Young says, ‘Love begets love.’

If I stop to correct this, it will not be in time to go this morning. You will perhaps find some things in me which may not be agreeable, if so, do not hesitate to correct them, I mean tell me of them and I will endeavor to correct them, as it will be my object to render your domestic life pleasant, profitable, and happy.

Forget me not at the throne of grace. Oh, pray that I may not dishonor the cause. Pray that I may have grace in the trying parting hour-and in the hour which may unite our destinies for life.
Yours, Juliette Montague. (50)

They were soon married and prepared to set sail on their missionary endeavors.

Amos writes:

Nov.24th, 1836
At 5 o’clock this afternoon I was formally united in marriage to Miss Juliette Montague. The transaction, though solemn, was cheerfully entered into. ‘What has been done upon earth, do Thou ratify in heaven.’ (56)

To be continued….

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...