Sunday, January 31, 2010

Passages that make you think

Sometimes just the NIV section titles alone can fill one with a sense of dread when reading the Prophets.

Take the book of Ezekiel...

Chapter 8: Idolatry in the Temple

Chapter 9: Idolaters Killed

Chapter 10: The Glory Departs From the Temple Yikes! I don’t know if I would have wanted to be around when the glory of God was on the move!

But Chapter 9 turns out to be not only about the idolaters who were killed, but also about the remnant that remained.

In verse 4, the Lord instructs the man with the writing kit to “go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”
Meanwhile, the guards of the city are instructed to kill anyone who doesn’t have a mark, beginning with the elders who were “in front of the temple.”(v.6)
continue/-

The ones with the mark are spared.

How many people read this passage and wonder, “would I have had the mark?” Of course if we are believers we consider ourselves “marked” for Christ. But can my personal witness be compared with “grieving and lamenting” for the condition of the world?

The remnant’s faithfulness was outwardly noticeable. I don’t know how loudly they wept and wailed, but once they had the mark, at least, there were no secrets.

Sometimes it seems like in life there is no time and place to stop and really grieve for the lost. Maybe that’s why we have accepted the “daily quiet time” as a condition of a healthy spiritual life. We have to let out all our cares and worries. But should we also be stopping in the streets and wailing? Should we be standing in our Christian assemblies and denouncing sin? I don’t know what the equivalent is. I just know that we are meant to hate sin.



Saturday, January 30, 2010

Almost done

Part of my continuing series on applying for a Temporary Residency Permit...
 
I have all my documents now; I just have to finish filling out the application and pay the fee at the bank and make sure everything is in order.

On Friday I am supposed to have my document review at the FMS.

I couldn't help but note the irony when they gave me my appointment. After lecturing me about how everything had to be perfect, my "appointment card" was scrawled in cursive on a piece of scrap paper. Hmmmm.



Friday, January 29, 2010

Making an effort

A couple of kids whom I know in one of the orphanages are both expecting to be adopted soon, after having spent some time with American families.There is a light in their eyes now, or maybe a sense of confidence, that they will soon belong to someone.

It's bittersweet, because as teenagers, they are making a huge life decision, and they will be missed here.

They come up to me now chattering in English, eager to hone communication skills.

The other day, I was helping Lena write a letter to her potential family. She wanted to write about the rough plane ride home.

I was dictating the words. "Difficult. D-i-f-f-i-c-u-l-t."

I didn't look at her paper until she was done.

She had written, "Diff I see you lt." :)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Herzen University

I have to admit, it wasn’t the most interesting of lessons. “Conversation” class had turned into an individual lesson on various symbols of Russian culture. The teacher and I were both tired and dragging a little.

Valentina asked me if I liked to sing, and I replied that I did.

“Which folk songs do you know?”

“Ummm…Katiusha?” I couldn’t remember any others.

She left the room and came back with some song sheets. “Go ahead and start. You said you liked to sing.” click to continue reading/-


D’oh! I didn’t really mind, though. We sang a little duet and then she taught me two other songs.

“You can use these with the kids in the orphanage,” she said. “They’ll like it.”

I reflected later on how she was making a deposit in my life. In fact, this is one of the main objectives at Herzen.

The story goes that the pelican was considered to sacrifice its own flesh to feed its young. Out of sacrifice, the young are fed and are able to thrive. This became a symbol not only of Christ, but of the sacrifice that a teacher makes for his/her students.

Herzen University began as a home for orphans, and the pelican became a symbol of the sacrifice made by the tireless charity workers, and later, the teachers who would dedicate their lives to educating the next generation.

 *I haven't found a good English source, but here is a Russian one:
http://absentis.front.ru/abs/holy_blood_suckers4.htm

Run away, run away!

This is a part of my series on applying for temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Summary of this episode:

-the medical evaluations can be done in several clinics throughout St. Petersburg. The FMS has a list which can be found on this page. In the clinics they know what you need for the temporary residency permit...
-if you don’t know Russian well, it’s best to go to an English-speaking facility, as a clinic isn’t always the best place for playing guessing games
-find out what documents you need before you go (I needed my passport, passport translation, and registration)
-allow a few days for the certificate to be prepared

And now for the long version.

I was not thrilled at the thought of entering any sort of medical facility, and my legs literally almost turned and ran the other way a few times as I was walking down the street. But I had already spent the first part of the day being nervous, and I didn’t want to waste another day in that condition...
read more/-

I entered the clinic and waited in line only to find out that I needed to go upstairs. But before going upstairs, of course, I had to hand over my coat to the cloakroom lady and put some plastic covers on my shoes.

On the second floor there were all sorts of people waiting in different lines, I think mainly for an exam related to getting their driver’s license? The diagnostic center did packets of tests like that.

The girl at the desk seemed annoyed at having to serve me and sent me to a window down the hallway. At that window they told me to come around through the door into the room.

I was told to have a seat.

“Passport, passport translation, registration.” It wasn’t a complete sentence, but at least I understood. Thank goodness I had gotten those documents ahead of time AND brought them with me!

She explained everything and I took in most of it. After paying at the front desk (2500 rubles), I went back to her to show the receipt.

The last thing she gave me were the two cups for the ____________ sample. I didn’t know that word, but since I was getting a drug test, I figured it out.

The tests were divided up by room and I had to sort of follow the numbers and go through them all. I spent a lot of time figuring out how to get in line. I’m usually fairly resistant to the Russian queuing rules, and this was no exception. People of all walks of life were standing around in plain view. “Excuse me, are you waiting in line to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases?” No way was I going to utter something like that. Of course you could just say the room number, but everyone knows what happens in each room.

So I ended up waiting in line several times when I didn’t really have to.

Russians have a few different ways to give commands. They either use the regular imperative, or they use the 3rd person plural. “We’re getting in line, we’re being quiet, we’re taking our seats.”

When I went to get my blood drawn, it was, “We’re getting our vein ready.” What does that mean? I was tested for HIV this summer, but I hadn’t paid much attention to the procedure.

“Which arm?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter.” I rolled up my left sleeve.

“We’re getting ready.” What else did one do to get ready? My next step was usually to close my eyes. As soon as the nurse came over, I offered my arm and turned my head away.

“Is it your first time or what?”

“No, I just don’t like needles.”

She grabbed my arm and told me to make a fist or whatever and then let me turn away.

“__________your arm.” What? I kept my fist tight.

“_____________YOUR ARM.”

“I don’t understand.” I said.

“RELAX.” Ohhhhh. Oops.

She gave me a cotton ball and told me to hold it in place for at least 10 minutes or I would have a big bruise. I have barely a mark…

I stopped in to see the narcologist (English word?) and it was almost like a friendly neighborhood visit. She and another woman who shared the office were very interested about my life in Russia. Of course I realized she was simultaneously writing an evaluation, but it was still low-key. I tried to read her notes afterward. Something about eye contact, demeanor, etc.

The last group of tests was called “therapy.” I thought it was going to be some sort of mental evaluation but she ended up asking me about chronic diseases. I said I didn’t have any. Well, that was a little bit of a stretch, but it’s not like I’m bringing anything bad into the country.

After I had made the rounds, I still had to go across the street to get the lung x-ray.

I entered the office and registered, and then had no idea what to do. I bought a pair of the shoe covers, but the cloakroom lady told me not to put them on until I entered the changing area. I wasn’t sure about the x-ray rules and etiquette. What was I supposed to take off/leave on? As I stood in line, I had a panic attack while imagining a communication crisis.

Then an attendant came out and said since it was mostly women in line, we could all enter the dressing room. Whew. We all entered and a mother and daughter immediately removed certain articles of clothing, so I knew what to do.

When it was my turn, I checked in with the (female) technician and explained that I wasn’t quite sure what to do, so she showed me how to stand. Then it was “Don’t breathe…now breathe.” That was easy.

After waiting about 10 minutes for them to print out my x-ray, I headed back across the street to the clinic (coat off, shoe covers on) to hand it to them.

Results on Friday…

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pieces

Consecration means the continual separating of myself to one particular thing. We cannot consecrate once and for all. Am I continually separating myself to consider God every day of my life?

The scripture reference accompanying this Oswald Chambers quote (My Utmost for His Highest, Jan.26th reading) is Matthew 6:30.

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

What is the connection here? What exactly is the continual separation that takes place? Is it our choice to trust? Is it a willingness to be simple? Is it a choice to find God in the world around us? Or all of the above?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Upgrade


Playing around with new Blogger features...

I recently learned that there is a new version of the post editor in Blogger. Just check out the "Basic" page in Settings.

I wanted to check out the new format mainly because I heard that it has a version of the "read more" feature, called "jump break."

I tried it a few times and it didn't seem to work, but then when I clicked "refresh," it showed up after all. It seems not to show up in the Preview, so you have to publish to see what it looks like.

Although I don't really like the look of the new post editor, it will be nice to have a one-click button for expandable post summaries.


Teaching kids: In your pocket

When I took the TESOL course, we talked about having some conversation starters “in your pocket."

While I can improvise with adults, it’s harder to entertain children “on the fly,” especially without visual aids.

I realized lately that some of the challenges that I have with teaching both at church and in the orphanage come with capturing all the kids’ interest at the same time and starting the lesson with everyone together.

The “presentation” part of the lesson is often the most important since everything else builds off of it. If a few kids are late or don’t tune in right away, then the rest of the lesson probably won’t go very well either...

If you only have one attentive student at the beginning of the lesson, and you decide to wait, you may lose your one enthusiastic student. On the other hand, if you use up your introduction material right away, latecomers will be lost.

So I was thinking that I need to have some back-up activities on hand: something that is educational and serves to engage the kids as they gather. A few no-fail games that will always work. Any ideas?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

THE LIST

This is a part of my series on applying for a temporary residency permit in St. Petersburg, Russia. Check out posts labeled "residency" for previous installations.

In case anyone is interested, here is the list of documents that I have to prepare for the FMS for temporary residency:

Note that these could vary across cities in Russia, and are subject to change.

-Passport; notarized translation (sewn together)
-Packet of medical tests
-HIV test (separate)
-Migration card; copy
-Registration; copy
-Copy of visa (they also need the original even though it isn't on the list...I had a copy with me and had to get the original from the university where it was on file)
-Criminal background check from home country (notarized, apostilled)
-Marriage/Divorce certificate, if applicable
-4 photos: 3.5x4.5 cm, matte finish, black and white
-2 copies of the application form
-Proof of having paid the government fee (1000 rubles, just raised from 400)

Friday, January 22, 2010

Culture and communication styles in the classroom

“Okay, that was a dialogue. Now I want you to deliver a monologue.”

What? Hellllp!

Have you ever been in this situation? Being back in classes has once again turned on my sensitivity to learning styles. But I’ve also made some surprising discoveries about culture in the classroom.

Here are the two concepts that I’ve been pondering lately:

1)    The effect of personality type on language learning.

I have touched on this briefly in other posts. It concerns the idea that those who are extroverts or simply more talkative will receive more speaking practice. The teacher must find ways to engage everyone.

On the other hand, those who spend more time listening will take in valuable observations that their peers may miss.

2)    The effect of culture on language learning. continue/-

I will have the same conversation teacher for the rest of January. In class she asked me to retell a text that I had read. I hesitated.

“What exactly do you want me to tell you?” It seemed completely pointless to deliver information that we both knew.

She then prompted me with questions, and we were able to have an interesting discussion.

BUT then she asked me again to retell the whole text, from start to finish, without any help. I just stared at her, then squirmed uncomfortably in my seat, with no idea of how to approach the problem.

A monologue? What’s that?

I realized that, in addition to generally feeling uncomfortable being the only one speaking, it was not a skill that I had been taught in school or university.

I’ve noticed that Russians are very good at giving toasts and speeches, even spontaneously. At birthday parties they often congratulate the guest of honor orally, whereas we prefer to slip a card into the gift pile.

It was perhaps my Russian professors in college who gave us the most practice, teaching us how to string thoughts together with the help of connecting words. But even after that, it doesn’t come naturally. It is one thing to memorize a presentation and another to be able to respond to prompts of “Tell me about…”

Where does the monologue format exist in American culture? It can be found through either a memorized report or through a presentation on a topic that the speaker is familiar with and has a personal stake in.

Russian education has much more emphasis on oral retelling. Many exams are oral. American examinations are not. It takes practice to be able to access information from within and express it orally. In writing we have time to sketch an outline and organize our thoughts; in speech we have to always be one step ahead.

So the question remains:  am I capable of cultivating a skill that is not a part of my upbringing? How can I find the motivation, if the format is one that makes me uncomfortable?


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Psalm for today

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.

Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.

They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.

You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.

Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!

Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.

I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.

I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.

I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you...


Ps.119: 1-11

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Stretching the academic muscles

I started my classes again this week. It’s sort of an inter-term because the new semester doesn’t really start until February. Since I paid for classes in January, I figured I’d better go.

Can you tell I was reluctant? I dragged my feet so much on the first day, but I actually had an enjoyable time.

I arrived at 9:30 and found out that I didn’t actually have class for nearly two hours. I hadn’t been able to find out the schedule ahead of time. However, I had known this was a possibility. I headed to a café next door to have a second breakfast and finalize my question list for the FMS.

When I entered the classroom, there was a stack of books on the table, but no sign of anyone. Finally an elderly woman poked her head in. I recognized her from the back of one of my textbooks. She said hello and then disappeared for a few more minutes. Eventually she returned, bringing with her a priest from Argentina who has been in a few of my classes. He was supposed to have an individual class, but everything was moved around.

There we sat-a Catholic, a Protestant, and a Russian, presumably Orthodox. :)

+/-

The main topic was fairly boring, the ethics of casinos; but we had a fun time together discussing it. The priest from Argentina is less fluent than I am, so sometimes the teacher told me to translate, only the priest doesn’t know English. :) So I tried to make the words sound Spanish. Sometimes he said something in Spanish and I could understand. We also got confused about whether we should use informal or formal address, so we switched back and forth a lot!

I had been reluctant to begin classes again, but I felt more motivated by the end of the day. It’s always interesting to meet new people and learn new things.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Lucky number 13

This is a part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In this post: an initial consultation at Federal Migration Services (under the quota).


After class today, I stopped to get my passport photos done before heading over to the FMS. They had said not to come early, but I didn’t have anything left to do to kill time.

The day was one of the coldest, but the sky had been an amazing color, perhaps a cornflower blue. Now the sun was starting to go down but it was still light. I was so glad to be going at 5pm rather than 5am!

I got there about half an hour early, and there were already a few “customers” standing outside. I recognized a nun who was also studying Russian at my university. continue/-


I inquired about getting in line, and learned that the “keeper of the list” was sitting in one of the cars nearby. Just then he emerged with the list. He was French. I put my name on the list, #13. Emerging from another car was a Polish priest who had studied briefly in my group. He waved at me and came over to ask how I was.

It was a good thing I was early, as they were only going to be open for two hours. My only regret was not having worn a thicker pair of socks. There was nowhere to stand but in the snow, and I could feel it through my boots.

At 5:00, we headed in through the gate. A man came up and asked if I was #13, saying that he was after me. I said something like, “That’s nice, I don’t know whom I’m after.”

“You’d better find out,” he said. I didn’t really care since there were only about 20 of us, but I found out.

At first only the first 10 were let in, but then the rest of us were allowed to come in out of the cold and squeeze into the corridor. The two ladies in front of me suddenly became best buddies and were comparing notes, but I couldn’t find anyone to do likewise. Oh well. A few other people joined the line and the guard kept pretending they weren’t allowed to come in, but then he relented.

When I got up to the check-in counter, she asked to see my visa. Visa? I wasn’t given the original. She let me in, but the visa will absolutely be needed when I present my documents.

I joined some others in a waiting room. Another nun was complaining about some problems with the spelling of her documents. The priest checked on me again to see if I was okay. I think they are all from different countries, but work together in St. Petersburg.

After 10-15 minutes, I had my turn to go over to one of the stations and talk with an officer. The officers were all women, dressed in green uniforms like the ones you see at the border. My officer said she would run down the list of requirements, and asked if I had any documents ready yet for her to check. I had my FBI background check, but it hadn’t been translated yet. I asked her about the date since it’s a few months old, and she said it would be fine. But when looking through it, she said, “Nope, this isn’t the right kind.” Why was I not surprised? The FBI check has been problematic from the beginning.

I assured her that everything was in order. She left for about 5 minutes and came back with a sample U.S. background check. She said it was supposed to look like that, and showed me the page with the fingerprint stamps.

The FBI no longer returns fingerprint cards.

She also didn’t like the way the seal was affixed. Since the FBI does not apostille documents, we had a notary sign an affidavit, which then was apostilled by the secretary of state.

I will have to work on verifying that this is the way it's done.

Next, I made an appointment for submitting my documents. I chose Feb. 5th. I still need to get my medical exams and translate everything. It shouldn’t be a problem, but everything has to be just right!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Getting into the FMS

This is a part of my series on pursuing temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

I had heard about the crazy lines, and read detailed descriptions of success stories, but I still didn't know exactly what it would take to get into the building where the Russian government deals with foreigners seeking temporary and permanent residency.

My first attempt was rather feeble. Then, as I had heard from another American that I would need to get in line early in the morning, I decided to go check out the morning shift and at least see how things were handled.

It wasn't the crack of "dawn," but it was shortly after 8am as I approached the facility. I actually got a bit lost since I was paying more attention to snowbanks and icicles than the street names. more/-


There was definitely action when I arrived. There was a sea of people, mainly men, with darker skin. They were assembled into groups of some sort, with a man in the center holding some papers (a list?). People were sitting in cars to keep warm.

I stood there for a minute or two and then approached the end of a queue. I obviously didn't belong there, but I hadn't gotten up at 6am for nothing.

"Excuse me, what is this line for? Temporary or permanent residency?"

The man who was last in line said he didn't know. Why was he standing there, then?

"Miss, what's your number?" an older gentleman called to me. I walked over to him, answering that I didn't have one. "It's only by number. And today is only Tajikistan."

"Would you happen to know when is the day for the U.S.?" (why would they?)

"No, it's not on the list," he said.

"How can I find out?"

"You can just go in and ask them." Really? I was allowed into the building? I started to go towards the door.

"Miss! It's too early. They open at 10:00." Sigh. I left for home.

Later in the day, I tried to reach the office again by phone. I had tried before and hadn't gotten an answer. Maybe I needed to be more persistent.

To my surprise, someone answered the phone. As I already mentioned, I learned that my time was supposed to be 5-7 pm on Monday.

"At what time does the line start forming?" I asked.

"There is no line," she said. "It's still early, and this week there was hardly anyone."

Could it be true? I guess I will find out tomorrow...

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Giver of Life

While I was tutoring someone in the orphanage, there was a boy lying motionless on the couch nearby. He wasn't sleeping, but he seemed pretty tuned-out.

This boy is younger than the others and was moved from another group-maybe because of learning/behavioral problems, maybe so his older sister can keep an eye on him. I'm not sure. But it seems so rare to see him happy; enjoying something; engaged.

I was thinking about him later in the evening. "Lord, give me a scripture," I prayed.

"I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly." (Jn. 10:10)

Children, I pray that you might have life!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Wanting to help

Sitting at home thinking about Haiti?

Here are a few relief funds that were personally recommended.

1) "Only a Servant Ministries" (in memory of a young missionary who died of cancer)

2) "Heartline Ministries" (recommended by friends who visit Haiti often and are adopting)

A woman from my home church is in Haiti on a medical mission. She arrived just as the quake hit. You can read her thoughts here.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

SCRATCH

I had a bad feeling as the week was beginning. Too many things up in the air, for my taste.

On Monday and Tuesday I was feeling sick and ended up forcing myself to lie down for certain periods of time.

On Monday afternoon I did venture out to the Immigration Office, but that just created more confusion.

Tuesday is a blur.

Meanwhile, I had e-mailed one of my teachers asking about the schedule for this semester. On Wednesday evening, I learned that classes had started on Monday, so I had already skipped 3 days.

Then today I finally got through to the Immigration Office by phone and learned that my window of time is Mondays from 5-7 pm. So if I had just stuck around a little while on Monday, I might already be on my way to getting my residency permit. It will have to wait until next week.

So it's been one of those weeks, a little shaky. It seems like the timing for everything is off...but I'm trying to be prayerful and remember that HIS timing is perfect.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"Avatar" vs. "Hotel Rwanda"

*SPOILER ALERT*

I'm going to skip the special effects and skip to the plot. Avatar's plot was fairly unoriginal, although it had some interesting twists. My mind and emotions felt torn as they struggled to understand the genre. Was I watching a video game? A Disney film? A drama?

I have trouble becoming emotionally invested in a film unless I can identify with the main characters. Here, it is possible to sympathize with the protagonist, yet he does a lot of stupid things. Who cares if he gets eaten by a wild beast or not, while exploring a mystical jungle?

And then the romantic sub-plot begins to develop. Sure, "sex sells," but is it really necessary in this film? It seems like his decision to help the Na'vi arises solely out of his love affair with one woman. If it weren't for romance, where would he be? Still wandering in "Pandora"? +/-

This brings up the question...is a love affair reason enough to do something like leave your countrymen and defend another people group? Is it a worthy enough cause, and will it give you enough motivation to overcome the obstacles which will be in the way? In some ways it seems fleeting, but on the other hand, we become more passionate about our work or mission when we put a "human" face on it. People start to fight for something when it has touched them personally.

Perhaps more interesting than the film itself are viewers' reactions. I felt strangely empty after watching it. I felt like I had been bombarded with problems of humanity and made to feel guilty for a crime I didn't commit...or did I? I suppose a film is most effective when it brings out something in yourself.

I was surprised to read about how many fans were charmed by the world of Pandora and experienced a let-down after leaving the theater.

"When I woke up this morning after watching Avatar for the first time yesterday, the world seemed ... gray. It was like my whole life, everything I've done and worked for, lost its meaning," Hill wrote on the forum. "It just seems so ... meaningless. I still don't really see any reason to keep ... doing things at all. I live in a dying world."
So quotes a recent article on CNN.com. http://www.cnn.com/2010/SHOWBIZ/Movies/01/11/avatar.movie.blues/index.html

I honestly found nothing appealing about Pandora. Perhaps there was some "eye-candy" to it, but I have no desire to run around half-naked in a tropical forest. It didn't seem very Utopian to me.

A few weeks later...

I was home sick and decided to finally watch "Hotel Rwanda." I had been working up the courage for awhile.

I won't attempt to compare the plots of "Avatar" and "Hotel Rwanda," unless you count the instances of genocide, which is a stretch.

But "Hotel Rwanda" made me realize why I dislike films like "Avatar." It's because I realize that I'm getting emotional over a movie while remaining too complacent about the actual problems around me.

If "Avatar" was the fictional Utopia that certain fans didn't want to come back from, then "Hotel Rwanda" is the horrific reality you don't want to believe in.

And yes, "Hotel Rwanda" is inspirational, a story of hope, in some ways. It is a powerful film. But I have to admit that what got me was not the violence, nor the orphaned children. In this case it was the indifference. The whites worried about getting out of there while the Africans are being murdered. Hey, I'd be scared too....I'd want to get out of there. But in the light of everything else it seems so self-centered.

From a dialogue between the main character and an American reporter:
Paul: How can they not do anything? Don't they care?
Jack: I think that when people turn on their TVs and see this footage, they'll say, "Oh my God, that's horrible," and then they'll go back to eating their dinners.
Maybe this line was invented for the movie, but in any case it is a pretty accurate statement.


Monday, January 11, 2010

TRP: Day One

This is part of my series on applying for temporary residency in St. Petersburg, Russia.

In this post: I visit the Office of Federal Migration Services, but don't get inside yet.

January 11th. The government offices are open again.

I woke up this morning feeling like I was coming down with something. So much for conquering the world...I couldn't even manage to get myself dressed until about 2pm.

I grabbed some combination of documents, including my passport, which had been mixed in with materials from my last trip to the orphanage: worksheets, flashcards, and a ton of stickers. continue reading/-


The address of the Federal Migration Services was written down, and I had checked out its location on the map. 3 metro stops. Of course, once I got out of the metro, I was disoriented. I'm one of those people who has to turn the map in order to find my way. I picked a direction and started walking. Within the snatches of conversation, I kept hearing people saying the name of the street I was looking for. "Voronina....Voronina....Voronina...."

A young man approached me with the same request. "Do you know where Voronina is?"

"I'm not sure, but I'm looking for it, too."

"I need building 10."

"Me too." He lumbered off in the direction he thought was right. I took out my map. :)

Now confident of where I was, I started off again, seeing the man lumbering in the snow drifts ahead of me. Eventually we both ended up in the same place...a parking lot outside a small office building that was guarded by a fence.

There were some people of various nationalities standing around. This wasn't the morning shift, where everybody fought for a place in line. This was the afternoon shift, where...we weren't sure exactly what was supposed to be happening.

There was a schedule posted, that we took turns reading. It listed times for citizens of various countries to come and have consultations. But as far as I could tell, there was nothing pertaining to countries outside of the former USSR. And no one European-looking around to ask.

Everyone seemed totally lost. One lady even phoned a friend, "Everyone is just standing here not saying anything. No one knows anything."

Finally a guy emerged from behind the gate, seeming to have some answers. He said that there were different lists for different countries.

"Belarus?"

"The red car," he said, pointing.

"Azerbaijan?"

"The blue SUV."

"Ukraine?"

"Ukraine is done...they already got 30 people. Come back next Monday."

It seemed like the main action took place in the morning and the afternoon was for scheduled appointments. I would have to come back another time...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Tale of Two Christmases

(in photos)

I finally got a photo of one of our window decorations. We ended up with 7-8 different pictures telling the Christmas story. There were a few casualties, but we still had enough to decorate each window.



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On Christmas Eve we had a little service at church. Dec. 25th is a work day, so we just had a short service and then lingered for some refreshments. Also, some ladies from church made handmade gifts for the children, which turned out wonderfully.

The kids made the angels hanging in the background. :)





And finally, January 7th was Russian Christmas. Our Bible study decided to observe the occasion by creating a manger scene out of clay.



We also had a concert on January 9th to wrap up the holiday season. We heard hymns, poems, and other meditations on the meaning of Christmas.

As you can tell, I had a very creative holiday season! What's next? ....Easter?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Of drafts and health procedures (an incomplete research project)

"Is it blowing on you?"

"Is what blowing on me?"

"Is the air blowing on you from the window?"

Was it? I hadn't noticed. And it wouldn't have made a difference. But to some people, it makes a big difference.

I have this association of a stuffy British lady in the 19th century whining "Shut the door! There's a draft!" But in fact keeping track of various air currents is still in practice in Russia, and perhaps in other countries.

This article describes it well: continue/-
"...All of these dangers to your health, however, pale in comparison to The Draft. Not the kind where the army comes to take your sons away, but a current of air in a room coming from a window or colder hallway, сквозняк. «Не сиди на сквозняке - простудишься» (Don't sit where there's a draft, you'll catch a cold). The root of the word seems to be сквозь, the preposition meaning through, as in: the cold air will go through the room and lead you to an early grave."

Also, your back might hurt because you sat near an open window at some point.

I've been told that it's okay to keep the window open as long as you close the door. Somehow that keeps you from getting sick.

It's okay to air out a room so that you have something fresh to breathe. I haven't figured out the rules for that yet. Do you open the door and window at the same time? With or without people in the room?

I'm still learning...

Friday, January 8, 2010

Russian logic

Some stores now have automated lockers for parcels, which is a lot more efficient than waiting in line for a lady to give you a number. The only problem is that the directions are a little confusing...





The top notice says "Do NOT place things in open lockers."

The bottom one says "Place your things only in the locker that was OPENED BY YOU."

Maybe it isn't confusing to native speakers. If the top one had an EXCEPT OPENED BY YOU statement it would be a little more logical, in my opinion.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Past and future adventures

This time last year, I was "exiled" in the U.S. Well, the holidays were over, and I was ready to come back to Russia. ;)

I waited several months for a work visa that never came through. And I made it back to St. Petersburg in the spring.

In the next week or two I should be able to find about this year's quota, determine whether or not I can apply for temporary residency, and learn what the requirements are for me specifically. I am not really looking forward to it, but at least I have the study option for another 5 1/2 months, so I don't have to worry about visas simultaneously.

Oddly enough, the company that had wanted to offer me work in the spring has recently resurfaced.

I think an adventure is coming...

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Holy Vigil

Did you think I had written my last Christmas post? Not so! Today is Christmas Eve in the Orthodox Church.

While Advent is a cheerful and even jolly time in the Western Church, working out the wonder of Christ’s birth, Russian Orthodox believers have been fasting. I don’t know what percentage of them actually follow this fast, but some of them adhere to the church standard, abstaining from certain foods even on New Year’s Eve.

Tonight, they have one more meal with restricted foods, and then have a Christmas feast the next day.

Christmas was widely celebrated in Russia before Communism, and most traditions have been forgotten by now. Here’s one description of how the celebration goes. But there are many variations.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The book written by my twin

"I made lists of languages that I wanted to learn by the time I was fifteen, twenty, twenty-five (the most distant age I could imagine at the time). I dreamt of keeping multilingual diaries so as to confound even the cleverest snoops. I made up my own languages, which I practiced on my cats." (Little, 16)

When I got this book, I turned to the back blurb to find out about the author. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. There went my chances of being published...how can there be another young woman named Elizabeth who wears dark glasses and is a language fanatic?

As far as I can tell, the main task when writing a book like "Biting the Wax Tadpole"* is organization. How to compile all these interesting tidbits about languages of the world? Here, she uses parts of speech. continue/-


Whether or not you've studied linguistics, there is something for everyone in this book. The concept of noun gender alone is mind-boggling to the native English-speaker.

You get a little bit of syntax, some conjugation, and even some examples of how tone and pitch play a role in certain languages. But this isn't a textbook...the range of observations is well-chosen and humorously described.

One caveat: expect a few dirty words, used to illustrate the awkwardness that often results from poor translations.

*=a mistranslation into the Chinese language of "Coca-cola."

Monday, January 4, 2010

Winter recreation

...otherwise known as "how many people does it take to remove an icicle?"



This is the method that I have observed on the streets of St. Petersburg:

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In the photo above, there is one guy on the roof hacking at the icicles with an instrument. There are a few ladies on the street holding caution tape out (you can see one of them in the photo) to make a barrier so people won't walk too closely and get hit by the gigantic icicles. The ladies themselves are wearing no protective gear, unless you count the orange jackets.

It seemed kind of crazy to me at first, but on the other hand it could be quite convenient to just walk with the caution tape instead of having to tie it up and then take it down all the time.

It is funny, yet humbling at the same time. I imagine it's hard work, and probably doesn't pay very well.

Funny translations

Seen in St. Petersburg recently...




(a trash receptacle labeled "self-cleaning area")

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Brrrrrr

Doesn't this picture make you glad to be inside at your computer?


While the temperatures have been bearable, St. Petersburg has broken a 130-yr record for snowfall. A photo essay can be found here.

One of the captions that is telling is this one: "St. Petersburg’s mayor noticed that in Europe residents helped the authorities during extreme snowfalls."

Shoveling! What a great revelation! I have to admit that I don't really know what happens to the snow in places like NYC. But I sort of assumed that property owners would take care of their own sidewalks, which isn't always the case here...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year's in Russia, Part 2

The analysis...

I had only been in Russia once before on New Year’s Eve. On that occasion I had arrived something like Dec. 30th, and with the combination of jet-lag and culture shock felt like I had landed on another planet…

So this year I got ready to “embrace” Russia’s biggest holiday.

I haven’t gotten used to the fact that the same feelings of magic and nostalgia that we associate with Christmas are in Russia associated with New Year’s. Of course the importance of holidays here was shifted due to Communism, but that is beside the point. It is a shock because I always thought all of the warm holiday feelings had something to do with faith. But perhaps it is more about tradition. So what is left of the Christmas season that is faith-related? Just a question I am asking myself...

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At first glance, the “holiday season” feels the same as in the U.S., because the decorations start to go up around the end of November, and people start a flurry of preparations...

But then Dec. 25th comes and goes and everything is still quiet. At this time I would already be feeling that post-Christmas let-down: back to work/school, taking down the decorations, finishing up the stale Christmas cookies. But in Russia everyone is waiting for Dec. 31st…

So here is how the holiday went:
I wasn’t that excited about New Year’s, but I also didn’t want to just ignore it. Well, you can’t really ignore New Year’s, but I suppose I could have stayed home. At any rate, I was waiting to find out what would happen, but it took quite a while before any sort of plan took shape. Of my friends who weren’t going to be out of town, almost all of them live in communal living situations where it would be difficult to cook a meal as well as gather as a group in peace.

Then one family was going out of town, and we ended up with the key to their apartment and permission to meet there. So everything began to fall into place…

On Wednesday, my friend and I did all the shopping. The store was full of people looking for the standard ingredients for classic New Year’s dishes. We chose a few traditional dishes and a few experimental ones. We decided not to do gifts; none of us particularly had the time or motivation and all the food and fellowship seemed like it would be festive enough.

On Thursday I got to my destination early to avoid traffic jams, and I have to admit that it was nice to not have to worry about transportation for 24 hours!

We did a lot of cooking until the other girls arrived after work in the evening. There was no rush because it’s not unusual for Russians to wait until close to midnight to sit down at the table. We managed to wait until about 10pm when everyone had gathered. Everyone sits at one table and they all eat and refill their plates until they’re ready to take a break. We got full and went into the other room to hang out.

A little before midnight, we went back into the kitchen and turned on the TV where there were several New Year’s Eve concerts to choose from. The only difference was that instead of a TV personality coming on the screen for the countdown, the footage suddenly switched to the Kremlin, where Medvedev gave a speech and wished everyone a happy 2010. Then we counted down to midnight and shouted hooray once or twice.

I celebrated with church friends, but we didn’t have any intercessory prayer or anything like that. I always think it’s nice to take communion on New Year’s, but it doesn’t always fit in with the flow of events. I have mixed feelings about how “spiritual” the holiday should be. Of course it is nice to take the opportunity to thank God and dedicate the future to Him. But on the other hand, if we make a big deal out of it, it is like we are agreeing with the world that New Year’s is something special. Maybe it is just like an ordinary day with your friends. I suppose it depends on the individual gathering.

Anyway, we enjoyed several hours of fellowship, and with the apartment to ourselves it was nice not to have to worry about going home late. We even had enough beds for everyone to crash and get several hours of sleep. We went to bed full and woke up still full, but in the morning we still gathered around the table again and hung out a little more before going our separate ways.

I still haven’t returned a lot of the New Year’s greetings I’ve received. In Russia it is customary to wish something to your friends and family members. It’s interesting how in the U.S. we make “resolutions,” making a statement about something we plan to do to improve our own lives. In Russia they wish each other things like happiness, love, financial/career success, health, etc. I’m never really sure how to respond when they wish me something I don’t necessarily want or can say “amen” to. Perhaps someday I will learn.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Year's in Russia, Part 1

I decided that I'm going to do the photo post first, and I'll do analysis later. :)

First we did a lot of cooking...




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Then we did a lot of eating...



We spent plenty of time talking and hanging out, but we made sure to turn on the tv before midnight to catch the president giving his annual New Year's speech.



Then, more eating and talking until we crashed. Happy New Year!