Sunday, October 30, 2011

Who Let the Dogs Out!!

So I don’t think we’ve mentioned this before and if we have it is worth mentioning again.  They have a dog problem in Novosibirsk.  It is kind of funny actually, to observe during the day.  These dogs lie around mostly, sometimes wandering about, in groups of 10 to 20 or so.  If approaching a human these dogs will not look at you and will go out of their way to avoid you.  They are absolutely not aggressive.  At night they are very active – talking to each other all night at the top of their lungs!!!  Did you ever watch the Disney movie 101 Dalmations??  Remember the part where the dogs start a “barking tree” across town to try to find the little puppies??  Well, that was a hushed choir compared to this racket!!  Apparently, this is such a unique phenomenon that Nat Geo did a story on “The Dogs of Novosibirsk” a while back (so we are told).  Anyway, it is an interesting civic problem much less repulsive than a big city rat problem but you do, obviously, have to watch carefully where you walk!
Well, this week has been very busy – mostly with cooking.  We have had a couple of different things to help prepare meals for as well as bake cookies for a couple of other events.  Cooking is really quite an experience in and of itself.  A lot of the things we are used to having are not exactly the same here and of course there is no way you can read the package to tell what it is you are about to open!!  But Sister Webb being the world’s best in the kitchen is quite remarkable at making the necessary, on the spot substitutions, with stuff we are not even quite sure of what it is.  One huge advantage here tho is we don’t have as many pots, pans and utensils so when she works in the kitchen there is a limited number of things for me to clean up – hooray!!
We finally got our first little bit of snow.  Still not super cold yet but the light dusting of snow has made walking a little more treacherous.  So when we went out for choir practice this evening out came the winter coat and the trax for the shoes.
“It's the little things.”  This week has been one of thinking about and being thankful for the little things around us.  I will just mention a few, like riding the bus with one of the young sister missionaries the other day.  The bus was very crowded and asswe got on we got pushed in different directions.  The lady who collects the bus fares came to me first so I just gave her all of my coins.  I didn't know what I had or how much, but I thought it was surely enough.  I couldn't understand what she was saying to me, so I tried to get my friends attention.  Finally she worked her way back to me paid the extra amount I owed.  And we laughed!  I am used to traveling with my husband, and he pays the coins.  I better learn fast!  Then one day when I was with him we were going to ride the metro (subway), he has a metro card that you just swipe when you go through the gate.  He usually swipes it for me and I go through, and then he swipes it for himself and he goes through.  This time, though, he went through first, and then went to swipe it for me and it wouldn't work.  So he handed me the card and I tried it again, then the guard came over, and said to go check and see if there was any money left on the card.  He helped me check and of course I couldn't understand if there was or was not money on the card, so I tried it again, and this time the army guy came over too.  Finally, Elder Webb gave me some money to go get a token.  I was a little perturbed at him because he was sure there was money on the card.    Then coming home one night this week in a downpour, with a strong wind blowing, our umbrella turned itself inside out, and by the time we got to our apartment we were so cold.  But not wet thanks to the great raincoat I brought with me from home, although Elder Webb was quite wet.  And then there was yesterday, when the elevator quit working.  We had some missionaries and members at our apartment and when they went to leave the elevator was not working.  We were going to go out again last night ourselves but changed our plans because we didn't want to walk back up the nine flights of stairs.  This morning, however, the elevator was still not working, so we walked down the flights.  After church we were so thankful to find out that the elevator was fixed and that we didn't have to walk up those flights.  So many little things that make life in Siberia so interesting!  Things I have been thankful for today:
1.      A long, warm raincoat.
2.     A big warm scarf.
3.     Taxis
4.     Sis. Cropper tutoring us again.
5.     Olga helping me with Russian.
6.     Packaged noodle soup for dinner at ten pm.
7.     A helpful husband.
8.     Elevators at the end of the day, even if they smell bad.

Life here is pretty good, all things considered, and the people are becoming more and more a part of our lives each day.  We are making lots of new friends which we know will be hard to leave when that time comes.  We are having some remarkable experiences and some pretty tender moments as we teach and work with the wonderful people of Novosibirsk.  Some of the people we have met live in the most humble of circumstance and we know that all they have is hope for brighter tomorrow.  We just pray that we can bring to them some of that hope as we are able to introduce them to the love our Savior has for them and each of us.  Have a wonderful week – we love you all.

First Snow

WARM !!!

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Week in Review

It all starts off on Monday morning with our weekly shopping trip.  Generally we will leave around 9am and head to the local MERAC store (pronounced may gus).  The Mission driver picks us up and brings us back home so we at least don’t have our groceries and other items to pack home on the Metro.  This week was a little different, it is always fun to do different stuff, even something so routine as grocery shopping is fun when you are going to a different store and you don’t know where anything is and you can’t read what stuff is even when you think you have found it!!  This week was not an exception.  We went to a BIG store, kind of like a Costco only things came in singles and smaller sizes.  You needed a card to get the discount price and our driver had one so it all worked out.  This store was called RN RAHT.  (The N here is written backwards and you pronounce this Ge Gant which appropriately means Giant).  It was quite a place compared to where we have been going.  We were kind of pressured to hurry so didn’t really get to take it all in but we will definitely be going back.  So we finished our shopping came home, put stuff away and headed out to the office.  Tuesday we generally have a staff meeting and a Mission Presidency meeting.  These meetings began at 11am and finish up around 2:30 but this week President Gibbons (the Mission President) was out of town so we spent the day just doing our thing.  New guidelines for missionary travel have just been issued so we spent the day and most of the rest of the week reworking travel plans for the upcoming migration and visa trips.  We have two Ukrainian sisters who have to leave the country briefly, for a visa renewal (migration) and 21 American missionaries who will be gone for a couple of days (visa).  I think we have mentioned that this is something that each missionary has to do every 90 days.  We have been reworking the schedule so that this will happen only once each month but it will involve around 15 to twenty missionaries depending on the rotation.  Sister Webb and I will have our first trip coming up the first of December.  We of course will let you know how that all goes.
We also put together the travel for all of the local leadership to come to Novosibirsk for a leadership meeting on Saturday.  There were 9 men in District leadership and 12 local unit leaders from all over the mission who came.  We had the other 4 Senior Couples who are serving in the mission come as well.  It was great to finally be able to meet them and spend a little time with each of them too. 
This meeting was really a pretty big deal most of these men had not even meet each other and had never all been together in a meeting like this since the Mission was formed.  The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the reorganization of the Mission and the individual units and to lay the groundwork for the formation of a Stake.  For those who are unfamiliar with Church speak - a Stake is an administrative layer of organization comprised of several individual units.  A president is “called” assigned by church leaders from Salt Lake to direct the affairs of the church members and units in a particular geographical area.  In this case it would be all of Siberia and it would be only the 2nd stake in all of Russia and the largest in geographical area in the world.  Needless to say, the excitement level was high and the significance of such a meeting did not go unappreciated by all who attended.  People here who want to attend a Temple must travel to Kiev in Ukraine which is a couple of days journey from here so of course they would like a temple in Novosibirsk where it would be much closer.  One of the administrative requirements for building a temple in any area is that there must be a stake in existence.  This meeting brings that possibility closer to reality for these people as well.  Anyway, it was very exciting for us to be a part of all of that on Saturday.
Sunday we were off to church during the day, company for dinner (the other Senior couple in the city here) and then back to the church for choir practice and a fireside meeting on Family History.  Choir is pretty fun with Sister Webb directing, young missionaries trying to follow her, interpret for the pianist and the other choir members and then having us all trying to sing in the middle of all that activity.  I don’t know how she does it.  I would be pulling my hair out.  I guess she pretty much does that while we are walking home afterwards.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the evening we walked a 3 mile round trip to have dinner? At Carl’s Jr.  We took a young Russian man about (22) who had interpreted for us last week with us for a treat.  He has lived in the city his whole life and had never been to Carl’s.  He thought it was a blast, LOVED the French fries and we so enjoyed being part of someone else’s first cultural experience!!
Well, there it is – our week in review intermingled in all of that is cleaning, washing clothes, baking treats for the missionaries (including Elder Webb) and cooking for the various meetings we attend.  We are having fun, staying busy and are loving the experience of being here and working with the Russian people.  We are learning so much from them and gaining a new appreciation for life and for the comforts of home and family.  We love you all – have a great week.

A different view

The local train Station

Sunday, October 16, 2011

More Lessons to Learn

Well, after lasts weeks adventure cross country this week has seemed a little bland.  It seemed fairly busy though and passed by quite quickly with everything going on.  First of course we all experienced Friday the 13th.  How was yours?  Our Friday passed pretty uneventful the highlight was attending a baptism at noon.  Very moving and uplifting.  A young man approximately 24 or 25.  He is very remarkable.  It was really striking to see him next to the two missionaries who taught him.  He is about 6’4” and they both are no  taller than 5’6”.  It was a great baptism tho and today he was confirmed a member of the church in our Sacrament meeting.
We are getting from place to place a little better.  Everywhere we go we either walk to the Metro, ride the Metro, then get off the Metro and walk some more – or else we just walk period.  We are seeing a lot of the city, finding a few good restaurants, and exploring lots of city parks.   It is sure beautiful here now, mid to high 60’s (68 today), sunny and very nice, absolutely perfect fall weather.
This week on Saturday morning we had to discuss how a temple marriage has blessed our lives.  This in and of itself doesn‘t seem like it should be too hard for an old married couple of 44 years but try doing it in Russian to a group of over 30 singles and things change just a little.  Thank goodness for missionaries who can translate (pretty well) and can help get our message across.  We each did some on our own in Russian tho’ (pretty rough) but we did it.  Everyone, of course, said we did great but I think they would have said that no matter what come out.  We had fun trying though.
Every day the Russian gets a little better.  We are recognizing more words in conversations that we hear, picking up a word or two each day in our vocabulary, studying and reading a little every day and just this week have picked back up with our tutoring from the MTC (Missionary Training Center) two mornings a week for an hour each.  One morning is with our Russian tutor (different from the tutor we had in the beginning – boo hoo) and the other hour is with a language learning specialist, whose job it is to keep us motivated and on track with our study program.  You know if we had the time we would like to have to do all this we could get to where we might actually be able to carry on a semi intelligent conversation.
I ventured out on my own one night this past week to get a haircut at a little shop just around the corner.  She spoke no English and I spoke “chu chu” Russian but some way we managed to get my hair cut in reasonable fashion so I guess we are getting a little more comfortable.  One phrase which we seem to use quite often is of course “Я хочу купить - pronounced  “Ya hochu kupeet” and means “I want to buy”.  When we are together then it becomes “We want to buy” and is мы хотим купить” – pronounced  “Mwe Hoteam Kupeet”.  Well there you have it – your first Russian lesson.  We should mention that we also had to speak in Sacrament Meeting today as well, mostely just to introduce ourselves but nevertheless it was another chance to butcher their language which I think it actually quite a beautiful language.  Sister Webb also has been asked to direct the choir.  Today was her first day and it was pretty interesting.  We just worked on a couple of familiar hymns and all I had to do was sing in the choir and try to pronounce the words.  She, however, had to try to communicate what she wanted us to do -- in Russian.  She was remarkable at getting her thoughts communicated - as you might all well imagine.  Music really is a universal language.   This week we have included a picture of the outside of our apartment house.  We are on the top floor pretty much in the middle.  Our days stay pretty busy working at the mission office and helping the young missionaries with teaching and other things that come up each day.  The time seems to go by quickly. Thanks so much to all of you who have sent your thoughts along in various e-mails.  We just love to get those emails and read them together.  It really is great to get up in the morning and find that someone has written us a note.  We love and miss you all.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Weekend in Kemepobo

Another fantastic week in Siberia!!  It all started out rather much as normal through most of the week but by Friday things really began to happen.  On Friday afternoon our landlady delivered new furniture to our apartment.  We had asked her if it might be possible to get new living room furniture for the apartment and she had agreed to get some for us (we think she might have been a little nervous that we would move) and then on Friday it showed up – a couch and two big chairs.  We then had to pile up all the old furniture to make room for the new and they weren’t coming until the next day to pick up the old furniture.  You should have seen us.  It was a real comedy, kind of a jigsaw puzzle really, moving and stacking furniture.  In the end we got our new couch and two chairs placed and the old 3 piece sectional and chair, a day bed, and one lounger all piled up in our 13 X 16 living room.  That evening was date nite so we went to left bank and had dinner with the other Senior Couple here in the city and watched a movie – DVD.  The next morning about 10am our landlady showed up with a couple of helpers and hauled away all the old furniture – we hardly could recognize the place.  It looks like a whole different apartment.  Anyway, we were very excited to get a make-over.
Later in the afternoon our Mission President, President Gibbons and his wife, picked us up at our apartment and we drove 5 hours east across the Siberia plain to the next city – Kemepobo (kemerova), a city of over 500,000.  We arrived about 7pm checked in to a hotel and then visited with the small branch of the church in the city.  We spoke at a little gathering of the total membership of 8, which included the two young missionaries and then retired for the evening.  Sunday we spoke in church, taught the Sunday School, had dinner with the local visa registrar who is a member of the branch and drove home, arriving at 8pm. It was a great weekend.
The drive across the country was absolutely amazing.  As far as you could see across the horizon there were forests of white birch trees with beautiful cleared farmland interspersed throughout.  There were no fences and no homes that we could see anywhere.  It was beautiful country.  Apparently everyone lives, if not in the cities then just on the outskirts, very close in.  There was an occasional small town off in the distance.  For the entire 5 hour drive there was nothing along the road except 2 gas stations strategically located along the route.  Just outside each city for approximately 3-5 miles (depending on the city) there are little settlements of Dacha’s.  These are very small cabins, some barley large enough to store garden tools, owned by the city folks where they raise their produce on small plots of land.  It reminds one of a conglomerate of community gardens with little cabins on each plot.  Very interesting!!  Another thing we noticed on the drive was that the cemeteries were mingled in among the white birch stands and each individual gravesite was fenced and each was very beautifully decorated with flowers.  All in all a great week.
Hope this finds everyone well, warm and happy.  We love you all.  We pray for God’s choicest blessing to be with you and your families.  

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Just a few fall pictures!

Beautiful Fall Weather in Novosibirsk

Enjoying Evening Walks

Lovely Walking Paths Down the Middle of the Busy Streets!

In Russian this says "Singer" and it definitely looks like one!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Night at the Opera

1 October 2011
Has it really been another week?  Some days it seems like we have been here forever and on others it seems like we just arrived.  This past week has been a little hectic because we have had a VIP here all week.  Elder Neuenschwander a dear friend has been here all week giving Patriarchal blessings.  He has used the Mission Presidents office here at the Mission Office building so we have had a few more people in and out.  We also held a leadership training meeting for all the young missionary leaders for 1 full day and that was a little bit of a logistical fete as well.  Some of these missionary come in on an overnite train and then they need a place to shower, clean up and get a little breakfast before the all day meeting and the train ride back.  We had five young men one morning this week which was rather fun but also a little bit of work to get them all fed and out the door by the start of the meeting.  We also received a call from a young lady who served her mission here and went home about 6 months ago.  She brought her dad out for a visit and a tour of the area where she served and needed a place to crash for the nite.  So we fed them dinner on Thursday, gave them a place to sleep and sent them on their way Friday am around 6:30.  They are from Spokane to it was nice to visit with some “homies”.  They knew many of the people in the church who we knew from the Spokane area and gave us a little update on the mission there.
Our highlight this week tho was Wednesday evening’s trip to the Opera.  They performed a Pushkin Poem “Eugene Onegin” (English pronunciation).  The music was fabulous and the whole opera was amazing.  This opera hall is the largest in Eastern Europe and was built during WW2 which in itself is amazing once you see it.  Construction started in 1933 and was complete in about 1944.  It was another great experience.  We will definitely get back for future performances of  both the symphony and the opera.  This was a great night and we hope to be back here more than just once.  A great way to spend the evening.  We have also had an activity of some kind or another for which we have provided the refreshments so we have been busy in the kitchen in our spare time.  We are having a great time and getting a little more comfortable about trying to talk to people.  It is always nice when someone is patient enough to try and help us say things correctly.  That is provided they can figure out what it is we are trying to say.  The missionaries are very helpful and take good care of us.  They watch out for us and try to make sure we understand what is happening and being said whenever they are around.  Church meetings were today and tomorrow we start another week.  The Russian calendar begins with Monday not Sunday so I am continually getting mixed up with the dates when looking at a calendar