Saturday, September 29, 2007

Good news

When we visited our friends at the psychoneurological ward in August, our friend Sveta had lost sight in both eyes. You can see her in this photo, in the yellow shirt.

Recently I heard that an operation to restore the vision in one of Sveta's eyes was successful, and she's up and about and watching tv. :) Praise the Lord!

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I was very amused that my automatic Russian-English dictionary correctly translated the title of this post when my mouse hovered over it. The dictionary is rather incomplete and sometime supplies the wrong contextual definition, or it recognizes only the lexical form and won't translate if word appears in a different form. It had no problem with "queuing," so I suppose the concept must be an important one in the Russian language.

While traveling in foreign countries, I can sometimes be quite good at blending in. But while I can skillfully hide certain American mannerisms, I’m not so willing to take on the customs of the new culture. There are certain Russian customs that I simply ignore and hope that no one will notice.

One of them is the “waiting in line” conversation. If anyone asks me, I try to be accommodating, but I refuse to initiate a discussion about who’s last in line. It’s just too strange. Here’s a typical dialogue:

“Who’s last in line here?”
“I am.”
“Then I’m after you.”

This is a perfectly normal conversation occurring in Russia. The question I have as a foreigner is, why on earth do they have to discuss it? Everyone knows that if you want to stand in line, you simply go to the end, stand behind the last person, and keep standing behind them until it’s your turn. If you step out of line early, because you forgot something, you go back to the end and begin again.

When we learned line etiquette in Russian class, we were all quite shocked. How could there be different sets of rules for standing in line? Isn't it common sense?

Russians use the waiting in line rules to deal with situations like this:let’s say that an elderly person comes in and doesn’t have the strength to stand in line. He/she initiates the “Who’s in line” conversation and then adds, “Tell everyone that I’m after you.” And goes to sit down. Now, another person enters and approaches the person who’s standing at the end of the line.

Person who’s physically last in line: “There’s a woman standing after me.” The elderly woman waves from a bench and the new arrival says, “Well then I’m after her.”

For some reason Russians like to get in line before they are finished shopping. Sometimes one person stands with the cart and one or more members of the party continue to run around the store collecting items. Other times one person stands in line without the cart and his companions bring the cart later.

Aside from saving a spot for their friends, Russians also ask strangers to save their place. Recently I was the last in line and a woman came up behind me. “Say that I’m after you,” she instructed. And left her eyeglasses in the basket behind me to “save” her spot while she ran off to get her groceries. It’s all about ensuring your special place and then getting others to work for you.

It’s the same concept on the bus with getting a seat. Elderly people rush on and hover over two seats at once. Indecisive? No, just saving a seat for their friend. When there isn’t enough of something, you take care of yourself and your own.

From the American point of view, it's immoral to break rules for the sake of your friends. From the Russian point of view, it's immoral to let down your friends for the sake of following the rules.

Monday, September 24, 2007


This is my friend Lida! People always mix up our names. :) Today we were using my computer to look for scientific articles for Lida's dissertation on determining proper glove sizes for women. Something like that. She was looking for information about technology like scanners that can gather a lot of sizing data quickly.

As you can see from the yellow leaves outside the window, fall is here. It's pretty much your typical fall, nothing out of the ordinary. I've been given a lot of apples from people's family gardens. They (the apples) are sour and good for baking. I'll have to make a pie or two. Or ten.

Language Acquisition #1-Alphabet and Phonetics

I’m starting a series on my observations of successes and mistakes when studying a foreign language.

Rule #1: There is always an exception to the rule!

I was going to start out by saying that learning the alphabet is the first step, but I realize that it’s not a complete piece of advice. What need to be addressed first are not only the individual letters, but the phonics, or building blocks of a language.

Now if you’re learning English, I don’t know if any of this advice is actually going to help you. I’m still learning how people learn English. I’m always impressed by non-native speakers who are fluent in English. I have many students come to me and say “I want to read in English. Please help me. Don’t you have any rules?” Sure, there are rules. “I before E, except after C, or when sounding like ei as in neighbor and weigh.” However, the long e represented by “ie” in “piece” can also be spelled e, ee, ea, i, and ei. In addition, the long a sound can be spelled ay, eigh, a, ai, or ea. So you’re stating a rule that compares two sounds that are not constant. When you add examples to clarify, you have to actually know the words that you’re using as examples. Do beginning readers know “neighbor” and “receive”? It comes down to memorizing multiple small groups of words. English has 1,100 different ways to spell its 44 separate sounds, more than any other language...Read more here from: Absolutely Ridiculous English Spelling!

Despite difficulties when a language has many sounds, I think the key to learning to read another language is learning how to read and represent the sounds in the context of that language, not in the context of your own language. If you define a sound as “like the English a in father,” you are probably not going to learn the pronunciation correctly.

I have a confession. I teach ESL, and I don’t know the international phonetic symbols, or whatever they’re called. Terrible, isn’t it? I don’t like reducing a language into phonetics symbols, nor into another language’s symbols. I do recognize that perhaps it is useful when you are plunged into another culture where you don’t have time to learn the alphabet and must make do with transliterated phrases. I’ll address this in my “survival phrases” segment in a later article. We used to come to Russia on short-term trips, and learned several Christian songs using transliteration. Now I realize how far from accurate our pronunciation was. But, we were singing the songs with native speakers who could sing correctly, and hopefully weren’t bothered by our mistakes.

When I was a freshman in university and taking Russian 102, I asked my friends to quiz me before tests. Not knowing Cyrillic, they had a tough time knowing if I was correct or not. Sometimes they could guess by the first letter or the length of the word.

So we sat there and my friend said “okay, the preposition meaning ‘in’ or ‘at.’”
I uttered a barely audible “ffff.”
“Ffff. It looks like an English ‘B,’ but is actually V, but gets softened when mixed in with nouns that start with a consonant.”
“Ohhhh, okay.” But the fact is that it’s not an F or a V, it’s a Russian letter with its own sound, and you have to contort your face differently than when you speak English. Explaining in relative terms is useless.

When we’re writing down new words, my students often ask, “How do you spell it?” And I show them where they already wrote it in English. “But how do you spell it in Russian?” “You don’t, you spell it in English.” “But how do you say it?” I tell them how to pronounce it and they try to write it anyway in Cyrillic. I often encourage drawing a picture rather than writing the translation. Then we end up with creations like this:

So how do you learn the proper pronunciation of a word if you can’t write it down using your native language? Pronunciation needs to be memorized, and memorization comes with repetition…. preferably daily. Kids have good memories though, so they can get away with a few times a week. Living in the culture also helps, of course. You may hear too many words to remember them all, but you will hear the sounds, and that is the beginning.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


By the way, jumping on furniture is fairly common in this orphanage. :)

What really happens in English class!

Today I went back to the orphanage from Monday, having agreed on a time. Accompanying me was another missionary named Elizabeth. The kids were sooooo hyperactive today!

The photo is from the end of the lesson, when the girls decided to continue last year's tradition of stealing all my belongings while I'm getting ready to leave.

I tried to shoot a few videos, and they didn't really understand the concept. They kept freezing in place and making the "peace" sign.

In the first video, the kids are playing (and cheating) with flashcards with names of different foods.

In video #2, I was trying to have each kid introduce him/herself, but they got a little shy and forgot what they were supposed to say. The boy running around is Misha, who starred in my blog last year.

Into the den of lions...or lambs?

I went to the other orphanage to see my favorite kids. We don’t work much with that orphanage due to some disapproval in the community, but I don’t want to give up on the relationships yet. Instead of calling and trying to figure out which counselor was on duty, I decided to just show up. That way, if it didn’t work out to do English lessons, I could at least see the kids.

Before leaving, I asked a few people to pray. When I arrived, I walked up to the building, feeling slightly fearful. I felt the verse “perfect love drives out fear” being impressed on my heart. I couldn’t remember the context, but I thought about how I loved the kids. It would have to be enough.

I knew that they would probably have a different security guard. I walked in and sure enough, there was an unfamiliar granny sitting at the desk. She quickly sat up when I came in and got ready to inquire about my presence. I decided to approach casually and explain who I was, rather than act defensive. As I began to tell her about my English lessons, one of my girls from camp ran over and hugged me. “She’s ours! She’s already been teaching us for the third year!” (it’s actually the fourth). The guard wanted the counselor to come, but we convinced her to let me go up to the group.

When I got upstairs, I entered the office of the counselor for the younger kids. She almost smiled when I entered. She told me what day was best and said it would be great for the lessons to continue. Then the girl who had greeted me dragged me down the hall to have a lesson. I hadn’t even prepared anything, but we played with flashcards.

Next, I went to the teenage boys. I wasn’t sure if they would be around since they graduated certain levels of school last year. I walked down their hallway and was relieved to see that the friendly counselor from last year was on duty. She greeted me and we went into the living room, where a few boys were watching t.v. They said hello and we chatted for awhile. The counselor asked if they still needed English. They shrugged. “Sure, why not?” She promised to call me and let me know their schedule.

I went downstairs to leave. I paused by the security guard to try once more to connect. “I’ll be coming regularly,” I said. “Okay, I’ll remember you next time,” she said. We talked about the kids and their learning problems as well as abilities. “What’s your name?” I asked. She misunderstood and thought I asked “How are things?” “It’s okay, I haven’t been working here for very long. I’m still getting used to it.” I was glad she misheard me and decided to tell me about herself.

I went home feeling calm, and not at all fearful.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Ummm...what? What people are talking about in Russia.

Today I was riding to a lesson and saw by the side of the road a billboard with the national colors and a slogan reading, "Putin's plan-Victory for Russia." My first thought was, "What (or whom) is Russia planning to conquer ?" It left me in a state of confusion. Did I miss something? A few people have blogged about it already. I didn't have my camera with me, so here's a photo on someone's blog:

"Putin's plan" is a political term referring to some projects planned by his party. But used in the context of "victory," it just sounds a little frightening.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Technical difficulties

Does anyone know how to get rid of "Mime-version" in Recent Comments? I don't know where it came from.

Kindergarten Bus

When I was in kindergarten, I rode a special bus to school. We were little and were usually escorted to and from the bus. On the bus, we were monitored carefully. I don't remember any conflicts except for one girl hitting me with the seatbelt once and getting removed from the bus.

Today I was riding the bus to work. I was with adults, but from the conversations, you would have thought we were back in kindergarten.

A woman got on and handed the conductor 100 rubles. One ticket costs 14 rubles. The conductor began to tear off multiple tickets.

Woman passenger: "What are you doing? I just want one ticket!"
Conductor: "You should have told me!"
Passenger: "You were supposed to ask!"
Conductor: "It's your responsibility to say how many tickets you want."
Passenger: "This is your job! You have to ask!"
Conductor: "No I don't."
Passenger: "Yes, you have to."
Conductor: "No I don't."
Passenger: "Yes you do."

The other passengers start laughing.

Conductor: "Just say how many tickets when you give the money!"
Passenger: " Just ask how many when you take the money!"
Conductor: "I don't have to! It's not my problem."
Passenger: "That's your opinion. I have a different one."
Conductor: "Too bad!"

The other passengers start laughing again.

Same Passenger:
Conductor: "Something funny?"
Passenger: "Yes, real funny. Ha!"
Conductor: "Ha!"

Friday, September 14, 2007


I finally have my very own Congolese outfit! Delivered personally by my big brother.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Back to work

Today I returned to one of my regular orphanages for the first time since the school year began. I arrived fairly late, intending to mostly visit with people and decide on a schedule that would be convenient for them.

Before going, I had spoken on the phone with Galya, one of the counselors. I am amazed at how the situation has changed, compared with a year ago. We had not crossed paths before and she didn’t seem interested in cooperating. She would hurry around chasing her kids and shouting bossily. I usually received a raised eyebrow…until the day when it turned out that she had thought I was just a Russian girl who happened to know English, and not an American who came regularly to teach. Not that a Russian expert in English should be worse received! :)

After that she began to take care to make sure her kids were ready when I arrived. She observed how I interacted with them and led lessons, and she seemed to soften. Later she approached me for private lessons, and I agreed to tutor her. I’m always happy to spend time encouraging other people who work with orphans, and English lessons offer a chance to do just that. We met a few times weekly all spring and half of the summer. I think you could even say that we became “friends,” a term not used loosely.

As I rode the metro to the orphanage, I received several missed calls from Galya. I was finally able to call her when I was riding up the escalator. “Come straight to my group when you arrive,” she said. “The children are waiting.” Waiting? That was more than I expected.

When I entered the orphanage, the dog FINALLY did not bark, after 3 years, and the security guard remembered me too, so I didn’t have any “What do you want?” questions to answer. I went to Galya’s group. She gave me a big hug, catching me by surprise. “What is she, your friend now?” one of the girls retorted.

I hadn’t prepared any lessons, but I helped the kids with their English homework for school. One boy seemed to be a little slow, but it was still an improvement that he agreed to sit with me. Last year he had run away whenever I approached. We finished the homework with prompting, and I could see that he could write and memorize words, but had trouble with comprehension and conversation. I wasn’t sure what he was doing writing complete sentences if he couldn’t even manage a “hello,” but perhaps he is simply storing all the information to use when he is ready.

After homework, Galya offered me a cup of tea, and then I was called suddenly to the phone to help a girl talk to her American host parents. I sat nearby chatting with the supervisor on duty, periodically intervening on the girl’s behalf. The supervisor shared that many of the kids have been adopted by members of the same community in the U.S., so they are able to see each other at church and keep in touch. She seemed positive about that. While we were still sitting in the front entranceway, the younger group returned from their outdoor-time on roller-skates. Seeing me, one girl flew through the doorway and straight towards me, but was quickly directed back out the door, still on wheels.

On a nearby couch, the shy boy from earlier was visiting with a relative. She had evidently given him a toy, which he was inspecting. "It's his birthday tomorrow," said the supervisor. A birthday, and his family relations were reduced to a chat in the public hallway. "Is that his mother?" I asked. "No, aunt." Several of the social workers we've spoken with concerning foster care have recommended that we make it a priority to track down living relatives first and help them to renew relationships with the children. Sometimes the family has broken up because of certain circumstances that couldn't be avoided, and they just need a little encouragement to get back together. For example, a childless relative may feel inadequate to raise a cousin's child, but with a little help from a social worker would feel more confident. This would be a great way to help at some point in the future, but for now of course we do want to start with a more narrow focus and do quality work before expanding.

I went back to say goodbye to Galya. She was helping the kids with homework. “Guess what, you’ll be studying English with Leeza this year,” she said bossily (or not?) to the other of the boys who had always run away from me. “I know,” he said in a whisper.

Perhaps this year, no one will be afraid of me. :)

Where I was on 9/11

On Sept. 11, 2001, I arrived at French Drill shortly before 9:00 a.m. It was a Tuesday morning. The TV used for instructional videos was tuned to the news. A plane had hit one of the World Trade Center towers. As we watched, a second plane collided with the other tower. It looked like a video game. Our timid instructor, a graduate student, turned off the TV, and we had class. What else could we do?

After French, I left for Russian class. We were provided with only a 10-minute break, and I had to go all the way across campus. As I hurried, I ran into a girl from a Christian fellowship group. “Are you okay?” she asked in a concerned voice, touching me on the arm. “I’m fine,” I said in surprise. “But haven’t you heard?” I remembered the plane crash and realized it was something serious. “Ohh…yes, it’s terrible. But I’m okay.”

In Russian class, the instructor was in a bit of a shock. She had relatives in New York City. After we had all gathered, she told us to go home. Class was cancelled.

Back in my room, I turned on the news. I finally learned that they were calling it a terrorist attack. Gradually the reality of it hit me. Many questions were, and still are, left unanswered. But I understood the following: This was a premeditated attack, and had taken much meticulous planning, even years, and for some this involved the loss of one’s own life to ensure that others were killed. What hurt so much was not even the loss of the victims, but the fact that the act had been carried out deliberately. I wept a little, not being able to comprehend how such deep hate could exist, and could be directed at the citizens of my homeland. It’s such a strange aspect of the human nature, to be able to hate people whom you have never met.

A few hours later on the way to Art class, I stopped on the lawn where a prayer vigil was being held. I dropped to my knees and prayed for a few minutes. Someone had already put up blank banners where students could write notes with a black pen to express their grief. “Miss you, so-and-so,” “Whoever did this deserves to die,” and “Jesus Saves.” I wasn’t sure how people found comfort in addressing messages to no one.

The art instructor gathered us all together and said, “Go home, find some caring people and spend time with them. Forget about your sketchbooks and just bring them on Thursday.”

I went home, but the day wasn’t over yet. Back in the dormitory, my roommate didn’t want to watch the news. It was too upsetting. I got ready for the evening’s activity, which was an outreach project we had been planning for almost a year. To spread the word, we wore red t-shirts with the date of the event printed on the back: “SEPTEMBER 11TH, 2001.” I still have that t-shirt with the date immortalized. I had lost the desire to attend, but perhaps in the wake of the day’s events, someone would be ready to receive the Gospel that night. We assembled in the basketball stadium and one member of the Christian fellowship shared the Gospel. There weren’t a lot of people there-maybe because of the tragedy, maybe due to other reasons. But the event spurred many subsequent conversations that led people to Christ.

Then I was home at last, to mourn, to get in touch with loved ones, and…to do my homework.

On Wednesday, it didn’t feel right to go to class, but we did. In my second class we sat facing our professor, waiting to begin. “We have to go on with life,” he said. “If we stop, it will mean that they have won.”

And so, we grieved a little bit, and went on. In some way I hoped, amidst the tragedy, that Americans would wake up a little. I hoped that they would stop leaning on their earthly treasures and be shaken into searching for God. But I haven’t seen much evidence of that. I’m not sure what it will take to wake them up. I can only keep praying that God will reveal the work He has for us, and change hearts by His will.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Elisabeth Elliot on Missions

I’ve been in an Elisabeth Elliot phase lately, meaning that I ordered several of her books and have been reading them. I liked this quote from her introduction to “The Savage, My Kinsman.” Here she describes her situation when she was living in the jungle among the Aucas, the people who had killed her husband a few years before.

"The word 'missionary' may call to mind preaching, teaching, church-building (and even this often means merely a physical plant, rather than a spiritual building), medical work, baptizing, catechizing, social improvement-almost any form of philanthropy. I found myself quite unable to undertake any one of these activities. A strange position for one who was called a missionary. I began to search my Guidebook to learn whether my definition had been an accurate one. The word 'missionary' does not occur in the Bible. But the word 'witness' does. I found many passages indicating that I was supposed to be a witness. One in particular arrested me. It stated that to be a witness to God is, above all, to know, believe, and understand Him.* All that He asks us to do is but means to this end. He will go to any lengths to teach us, and His manipulation of the movements of men-Aucas, missionaries, whomever- is never accidental. Those movements may be incidental to the one thing toward which He goads us: the recognition of Christ."

*Isaiah 43:10

Gleaning from familiar passages: 1 Thess. 4:1-12

While reading some familiar verses recently, I tried to pay more attention to the syntax and literary devices instead of skimming. “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.” This phrase “more and more” is also used in verse 10: “And in fact, you do love all the brothers throughout Macedonia. Yet we urge you, brothers, to do so more and more.”

Paul acknowledges that the Christians in the church there have made progress, yet urges them to continue striving for perfection. They must not simply relax now that they’re in a good place. We will not reach perfection in our lifetime, yet we might achieve certain levels of maturity. In these verses there are two examples of how we can keep striving: 1) live to a greater degree in a way that pleases God, and 2) love our brothers to a greater degree. Even the one who does both of these things well has room for improvement!

The passages has a lot of other good points, perhaps even more important...but this time, I found something new.

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!   Currently:...