Saturday, June 27, 2015

Daytime Fire

One day recently I decided to take David for a walk while Andrei was cooking dinner. It was actually after 7pm, but pretty much felt like afternoon, with there still being plenty of daylight.

David led me to a playground that had just been rebuilt, featuring a pirate ship, train, and other various climbing structures. He was ecstatic, and enjoyed looking through the "portholes" of the ship as I pretended to be a fish on the other side.

Then I looked up and saw black smoke billowing out of one of the windows on the first floor of the building that overlooked the playground. I couldn't see or hear anything coming from inside; no one seemed to be trying to put it out. Somebody's home was on fire. Several neighbors were on their porch balconies, but no one seemed alarmed. Diagonally to the apartment on fire, a man and woman stood on their second-floor porch, hanging over the railing, smoking. It was as calm a summer evening as ever had been.

I exchanged looks with a few other adults on the playground...was this really happening?

Then I looked to my left and saw two fire engines approaching, just as siren or anything. They silently drove right over and up and onto the edge of the playground, parking right next to the pirate ship play structure. The neighbors kept hanging over their porch railings, and the kids kept playing. I was sort of in shock. I guess I would have expected them to evacuate the building, or something. But I didn't see anyone coming out.

As we all stood there gawking and corralling our children, the firemen climbed off the truck and the air was filled with the sound of axes shattering windows. The hose came out.

Several minutes passed before I realized we weren't getting the whole picture. Of course...we were actually looking at the back of the building, the entrances being around the corner in the other courtyard. I managed to get David to come with me "for a minute" to see if anyone had indeed made it out. My heart sank as we came around the corner and I saw an ambulance parked outside. But maybe it was a good sign that it wasn't rushing away.

I'd seen enough. I grabbed David to say a short prayer before we walked away. He could not be dragged away from the playground, so we stayed awhile longer. I glanced up at The Window and saw a disheveled-looking older man stumble into the charred remains of whatever room it was, pour a beverage, and take a sip. Evidently he hadn't been convinced to go to the hospital. Or...what if he had just lost someone?*

We played some more, and then went home.

*A local news station reported that there had been one person injured, but none perished.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

New Venue

On Sunday I visited our new church location for the first time. The funny thing is that there are only so many Protestant church buildings in the city, and along with the Orthodox ones, they were given some other purpose during Communism (I'll get to that later). Now that the church properties belong to the Church again, we attend a range of events in these few buildings. We got married in one, attended weddings in another, went to a concert in the one further down the street...

The meeting hall we're renting now is the one with the gymnasium floor, up at the top of the stairs, where we once sat to hear a poetry recital, as well as attended a Santa Lucia celebration. That's how I remember it, anyway.  And now I'll spend my Sundays there.

Since so many congregations share the space, no one's really taken ownership...not completely, anyway. I don't know all the details and I'm sure that efforts have been made to fix it up at least a little. But it's pretty run-down. Our conversations have been abuzz with discussion about which repair job is most important. Many wanted to focus on the floor, but the floor doesn't bother me. If you went to my church growing up, you know that the sanctuary always doubled as a gymnasium. Ugly, but familiar! So it made me feel right at home. BUT...I keep needing to be reminded that the gym floor in this case is a symbol of oppression and persecution; of a time when churches (in an architectural sense) were not used for worship. I can understand the need to wipe out that diminish its power, maybe? But at the same time, why not leave it there so that we can cherish freedom all the more? I'm not going to get involved, though. ;)

Can't decide where to embed this,
so I'll just plop it here!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


Summer plan reveal: In honor of my dad's 70th birthday this year, we thought it might be meaningful to gather in Scotland, the home of his grandparents. There's a Wales/England contingent too, but we eventually settled on the St.Andrews/Fife area.

I've been really excited and have been eager to get back to the UK since paying a visit there in my college days and before that as a young teen. Andrei and David have never been!

I'd been thinking it would be a "simple" trip since it's much closer than the U.S. (and fewer time zones) and we can speak English! For once it would be on "our" side of the ocean.

But of course it isn't as close for everyone else, and we all need passports, and the babies all need carseats, and....Andrei needs a VISA.

I guess I sort of knew in the back of my mind that Andrei would need a visa, but I was just thinking of it as something to check off, like when I would get a visa for going to Russia. Then at some point we realized that the UK is not in the Schengen zone. Andrei has gotten visas to Estonia and Finland, and technically could have then entered other Schengen countries on the same visa. But his Finnish visa won't do in this case.

Meanwhile, as it came up in conversation, we were suddenly hearing from Russian friends that a UK visa was HARD to get. That it was harder to prove that one didn't plan to overstay a visa. And I kept wanting to think that didn't apply to us. We're an American family going on vacation, and Andrei just happens to be Russian. But the fact is that our family does have travel limitations, and I have to kind of come to terms with that.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Goodbye to a beloved author

In searching for words to eulogize Elisabeth Elliot, all I want to do is quote her many, many words of wisdom! And of course, the scripture passages that she based her life on. I mention her here and here.

But what to pick? Maybe I will, instead, recall a few episodes from my life in which she played a role.

1) 10 years of "Passion and Purity": I was introduced to this book in college. By then my beliefs and values were pretty much formed, but were beginning to be challenged, so it was comforting to find affirmation among the pages of Passion and Purity. I had some attempts to "convert" friends to this way of thinking, including in Russia later on (see below). After I met Andrei, I had 6 years to wait, but of course I didn't know that at the beginning or even the middle! Even though the situation was a little different, I reached for my copy again and again. And after hearing Andrei's side and reading about Jim Elliot, I still find similarities that I can relate to about that particular period.

2) In Congo: This is more about Elisabeth Elliot's daughter Valerie. Back in my "Africa" entries on this blog, I mention my brother's wedding, which was officiated by Valerie's husband, Walt Shepherd. The whole trip was rather surreal (especially living in Russia at the time), and to gaze upon Val and picture her as the little blond barefooted child in The Savage My Kinsman was also incredible. They were actually just finishing their time in Congo, so with the wedding and everything else, you could feel the winds of change as various people present were in different life transitions. Thoughts and prayers go to Valerie and her family during this time.

3) In Russia: When I moved to Russia, it turned out my good friends had been quite moved by Elisabeth Elliot's writing, and were translating Passion and Purity into the Russian language. I was given a copy when it came out. :) And then passed out copies to friends. Meanwhile, the couple stayed in touch with Elisabeth and her husband, Lars. Once I sent along a letter to Elisabeth with my own "passionate" questions. The answer was, shall we say, in her typical fashion. ;) But I was actually surprised to see that it had in fact been penned by Lars. I wasn't quite sure what to think of that, but then later on, I met them in person! Those same friends in St. Petersburg facilitated Lars and Elisabeth coming for a visit. Some other single girls and I (and a married co-worker) were at the ministry office when they came by for tea. I think we were a little starstruck. Elisabeth must have been in the beginning states of dementia, and I remember looking into her eyes once and thinking...these are the eyes that saw all those things she wrote about. A living testimony. Then she was falling asleep, and Lars was chatting with us. He was quite friendly!

4) Everyday inspiration: The two blog posts I mentioned above are one example, but whenever I pick up one of Elisabeth Elliot's books and just thumb through it for a few minutes, rereading quickly, I am immediately given so much to mull over! I only have 3-4 books of hers, but there is much meaning behind those simple, straightforward words. Certain enough to challenge my thinking for the whole day.

If you have a memory or favorite impression to share, please leave a comment and/or link! :)

Friday, June 12, 2015

Of tea parties and pickpockets

For the past few weeks, my Canadian friend Sabrina had been talking about having a picnic. She had found a good spot and Andrei was going to visit the doctor nearby, so it started to look like it might work out to travel there together. Then the weather got a little windy and Andrei was leaving earlier anyway, so I decided to attempt a field trip to Sabrina's flat with David instead.

Of course it's hard to schedule anything since D's sleep schedule varies. On that particular day, he woke up an hour earlier than usual....which meant we really needed to get out of the house sooner in order to fit in a visit before naptime. Thankfully, that was okay with Sabrina.

It wasn't too hard to get David ready since he was so excited once I told him we were going out for a visit. Andrei had already left, so David and I rode the tram by ourselves, and then headed over to the metro. David was intrigued by the people who stand around handing out advertisements. He figured he should utilize this service. He went right up to a woman with a megaphone advertising a driving school, and was just so tickled that she gave him a flyer! He took care of his flyers very well.

As soon as we were in the metro, I texted both Andrei and Sabrina to let them know we were on our way.

It wasn't a very crowded time to ride the metro, and David sat calmly in his seat for the whole ride while I stood right in front of him. When we were passing through the center of town, I looked at the time to see how long the journey took. Then I put my phone back in my pocket.

And thought: I wonder who just watched me put my phone back in my pocket.

Which is funny, because I ALWAYS keep my phone in my pocket. In the winter I usually have buttoned or zippered pockets, or at the very least I keep my hand in my pocket, curled around my phone. When entering a crowd, I hold everything close. I have never, ever been robbed.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015


Some items from last week, a few from right now, and some plans...

1) David had an eye infection last week. I guess it might have been plain old pink-eye. We used some drops and it got better before we made it to the doctor. But what's weird is that a few days later my friend mentioned that both of her kids had had it, too. David hadn't been in contact with anyone all week, and it's actually school vacation time right now. However, it WAS really windy outside, with lots of debris flying around. I wonder if that is making people get more eye infections? I've been avoiding wearing contacts until it calms down a little.

2) On transplants: a family I know here in St. Petersburg recently went through a test of faith...their baby girl got quite sick, and it was determined that she needed a new liver. And time was of the essence, and it was going to be expensive, and they didn't want to have it done in Russia. So there was a whirlwind of fundraising and travel plans, a connection made with a hospital in Belgium, etc. The father was a match and donated 1/3 of his liver to his daughter, and she took to it well. Now that I'm writing, it sounds like nothing, but seeing it all unfold and the money coming in and all the prayers being answered was quite emotional. Meanwhile, a girl I know in the U.S. (who had lost her own father) saw a notice and ended up being tested and donating part of her liver to a complete stranger! Again...I'm not doing the story justice, but great to hear about good outcomes and people's selfless acts!

3) The neighbor kids: I think of myself as liking children, but it seems that since having my own, I have a little bit of tunnel vision. Or maybe just distracted all the time and not as able to pay attention to other people. Sometimes I can't resist, though. The other day I was going down in the elevator by myself and two sisters from another floor got on, too (it's summer vacation now). So cute! The older girl was clearly in charge and marched off holding the younger by the hand. The younger girl kept stealing a peek at me and I smiled at her, even though Russians don't always smile at children they don't know. There is also a family with a boy around D's age and then a baby girl (I think). I've seen them at the playground but haven't introduced myself. I feel sort of in awe of the mothers wrangling a toddler and a baby in the carriage at the same time. It's like they're on a completely different mothering plane. Sometimes I think that having kids the same age isn't really grounds enough for friendship, but getting to know at least a few families around here would be good. And getting to know the neighbors is sort-of a goal.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Banking, AKA Handwriting Practice

The other day, I had to go do a bank errand that I'd been postponing for quite some time. Our branch closed within a year or so of my opening an account, so I had to switch to another one, two metro stops (and a tram ride) away. Even without being a huge distance away (40 minutes), it wasn't the kind of thing where I would just happen to be in the neighborhood.

Andrei was feeling well enough to stay with David for a few hours, so I finally dragged myself over there.

The bank (in Russia, at least) makes me nervous. I suppose part of it is language and having to speak over a high counter, though at least it isn't through the glass. And not knowing the proper protocol and so on. But it's ten times easier than visiting Immigration, of course! I kept telling myself along the way and throughout the whole process, that no matter how silly I might look, they have to do their job and help me...within reason, of course! And that is true even at Immigration where the officers can be rather intimidating. They must answer your questions and give you the information you need. But the bank is a business and they are normally quite formal and polite. These were all the thoughts I was mulling over in my head.

To get the form I needed, I had to fill out a request...or rather, create one myself. I'm sure I've probably mentioned before how handwritten requests are still favored in Russia. It is considered more formal, and/or less likely to be forged, I guess. There is a specific format to be followed for different types of requests, much like addressing a letter or envelope in American culture. For this specific type, a "zayavleniye," the recipient (dative case) and person writing (genitive case) + passport info are placed in the upper righthand corner, then the word "zayavleniye" is centered, then after a few spaces comes the body of the letter, and then the date/signature have to be positioned a certain way. I think it would come much more automatically in English, but this was somehow counter-intuitive, and the teller was dictating to me and I was sounding it out to spell correctly, and she was composing as she went along, too. But they were quite nice about it and there was no line, so it wasn't too stressful.

The next day I went back to get the forms I had ordered, and waited while they were processing my documents. I heard them discussing what to do in the case of a U.S. citizen, but I liked that they didn't complain about my being an exceptional case. They simply asked me to have a seat while checking with their superiors. And again there was no line, which was nice...though I wonder what that says about the economy.

They suggested starting over with a new balance in a round number, so I was sent to the cashier to get my ten bucks (plus) in change. It came out partly in dollars and partly in rubles. That made me smile. It was such a jolt to see a crisp, new ten dollar bill. When did I last use dollars? I guess it was almost 10 months ago now?

Long time no see, Mr. Hamilton!

One of the hardest parts, though, was signing my name! Don't laugh, but I've just never really gotten the hang of a personal "signature." I don't understand how you are supposed to have all the letters in there, yet with embellishments too, and so that it fits on the line. I usually start out neatly and then get all muddled up and end with a squiggle. When the teller gave me two copies of a certain print-out to sign, I signed the first one okay in English (to match my passport), but on the second one I got my languages mixed up and started making a "y" instead of a "u." Story of my life these days!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Life lessons for mother and child

I felt sort of emotional while out and about with my son today. For one thing, I love seeing him interacting with people, especially when it's successful.

As we walked down the sidewalk, he suddenly dropped to his knees to inspect some ants, right by an older lady who was taking a breather. She was just tickled pink. I didn't want to speak English and kind of interrupt the moment, but I didn't want it to seem like I wasn't engaged, either...the usual dilemma. But I liked seeing her get a chuckle. Then he said "poka" (see ya) to her, and I told him to say "Do svidanya" instead. And he said, "she's somebody's Nina!" He thinks all women around his grandmother Nina's age have the same role in life! :)

Next, the grocery store for some carrots. David is liking a book called "Carrot Soup," and specifically asked to go to the store to buy some. How could I pass up a chance to feed him vegetables?

We usually say hi and bye to the security guards at the store. It's interesting that David chooses them in particular. I wonder if it's anything to do with the security guards usually being migrants themselves, or if D. just sees them as the hosts, like we're coming to visit them. When we were on our way out, he yelled "Do svidanya, Dyadya!" and the security guard was busy with something, so David ran all the way over to say it again and make sure the guy had heard. So funny!

I was talking to a Russian mom friend recently about this age of innocence being threatened. It's so heart-breaking to see children learning how cruel people can be. It's so hard to see them face rejection for the first time. They are still so self-centered at this age, yet at the same time so sincere.

We stopped at the playground and David went up to several children and said hello, and most didn't react. He seems to alternate between being friendly and feeling threatened, and I'm not quite sure what criteria he uses. When he is playing with a toy he often expects that other children will want to take it away, and then he will turn around and offer it to someone to play with. He tried for several minutes to share his toy plane with a younger toddler, and she just looked at him!

(Not quite sure what he's looking at, just enjoying the moment!)

I was feeling lonely and anti-social at the same time. A few mothers (whom I'd seen once or twice before) were yakking about a trip to the pediatrician or something. How the toddler had thrown a fit, and what to do. I didn't want to be talking about that. I was glad to have the freedom to just watch David run around. But at the same time, I wished I had the guts to randomly start talking to the other parents/grandparents. It reminded me a little of my relationships with other ex-pats. A lot of times I'm fine to avoid contact, as we can get to focusing on our common grievances too much, or gossiping. But at the same time the common ground can be a blessing and provide some much-needed fellowship.

Meanwhile, David was fascinated by a little girl a few years older, who was drumming on the guard rail with a stick. And then her mom would clap. He found a stick, ran over and started drumming, and instructed me to clap. Then he tried so hard to impress that girl! He ran after her, and she didn't want him to. She ran to her mother. I tried to explain that she didn't want to play. "But I WANT her!" Then he gave up the chase, and that piqued her interest! "Come chase me!" she called. "Boy!" And he reminded her, "I'm DAVID!" Then she invited him to see-saw with her, and once he understood he said "Yes, of course!" And off they went, and they didn't even need me! Ahhh, young love.

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...