Thursday, July 31, 2008

Happy Birthday Shannon

To the bestest, prettiest, smartest, kindest, wittiest, charmingest, workingest, independentest, compassionest, successfulest 28 year old woman I know. You're the best
Love Dad & Mom

July 25, 2008 At Camp Granada

 At Camp Granada
July 25, 2008

In the previous article, I forgot to mention the couple in our carriage with the 4 month old baby. The lady spoke some English and we found that the older couple on the platform were her parents and the grandmother was spending a lot of time trying to get the baby's attention. Babushkas are the same around the world.

I did not mention the accommodations for the Young Singles traveling with us from Novosibirsk. “Cattle Car” is the shortest, best description. Visualize a carriage (train car) the same size as ours with a table like ours facing short benches, one on either side ours all attached to the left wall of the carriage. Then an isle runs the length of the carriage from door to door. On what’s left of the right side are open (no door) compartments like the booths at the old Black Angus in Sacramento. In each booth is another table attached to the right wall flanked by two benches and two bunks about 4 feet above, making four sleeping perches.

As we walked through the carriage to see our young people we passed a mixture of passengers, male, female, old, & young in various stages of dressed-undressed filling all of the seating/sleeping positions and occupied in various ways from sleeping to eating to playing cards, to reading, to just looking around. Smoking is not allowed in the carriages, but the air was dense with a variety of fragrances. It reminded me of the arrangements in the forward torpedo room of a WWII submarine. The kids seemed to be having a good time, but it didn’t take long for them to filter up the train to our car for a little conversation and some hoped-for goodies.

We arrived at 7 am in Krasnoyarsk and were met by the Zone leaders and another pair of elders who helped us up and down the stairs with our bags; greatly appreciated. We spent the next hour standing around with the 50 or so young people on the plaza in front of the train station waiting for the buses that don’t start running until 8 am.

The town of Krasnoyarsk is actually very pretty in many ways. The traffic is lighter; the streets more narrow, decorations were strung from pole to pole across the streets in the business district and it has numerous squares and fountains. There is a lot of building going on there, but the pace is not fast. One building owned by a Chinese company is said to be under construction for the last 20 years. The orphanage is painted pink with white rococo trim; very attractive.

We cross the river and head up a valley to the west, past several large, abandoned recreation facilities, built during the Soviet era, and one new ski resort. Camp Granada is located on a tributary of the main river that runs through town. Saturday, some of the senior couples took a walk across a rusty footbridge and over to the opposite shore where wildflowers were in profusion.

The camp was probably a very posh resort in the old (Soviet) days, but is showing its age, as are most of post-war Russian buildings. It has a main meeting hall with a 325-seat auditorium, generous foyer and a second floor recreation room with a pool table. There were 8 residence halls that I could see, some with dorm-type rooms and at least one with two bed rooms, probably for the counselors. The cafeteria looked to seat about 300 and served 3 meals a day to us, although we had to help set up the tables at each meal. There was a large play yard with various children’s apparatus and open fields. The resident horse and colt visited us regularly and were quite popular.

We arrived ahead of the “committee” and stood around for an hour before things got organized. Every so often a bus load of attendees arrived all through the morning until most of the 250-some young adults were there by 1 pm. 

The children from the previous week were just checking out and waiting for their buses and were very interested in us. They came over and wanted to practice their English on us and generally hang out. At first I was a little skeptical, but they really were very nice kids.

All of the adults were in building 8, at the end of the road toward the cafeteria. We made that trip numerous times during the weekend. Our room had two single beds, a bathroom with tub-shower, a TV (2 stations in Russian) small refrigerator, and a set of corner windows. It was old and well used, but comfortable and cozy.

The event finally got underway with the opening ceremony at 3 pm with President Mickelsen giving the keynote address and the workshops began at 4 pm. The attendees were divided into 6 groups for the 6 workshops and attended 3 on Thursday and three Friday mornings. We attended several and even sat through a couple of them in Russian. After dinner the day ended with a dance in front of the big hall and ended at 11:45 or there abouts. 

We got the assignment to get one of each of the groups to set the tables for lunch and dinner each day and thought we had to be there to see that it was done. We usually arrived to find the job pretty much done and did very little supervising. We also asked the senior couples to do breakfast each day and they were great too.
The dance was a real surprise. It doesn’t get dark until after 10:30 pm so a dance that starts at 8 pm runs mostly in the daylight. That was no problem to these kids. There was a DJ and lots of music with lots of sound, but the interesting part was that they danced mostly in groups, in a circle. The slow dances were mostly in couples, but even then there were many group partners. The dancing was mainly disco style with some conga-line action, going through the arch, and line dances. It was very unique how easily they mixed and danced with many partners and many groups. It was like they all knew one another from somewhere else. I later found that a large portion of them had been a member of the Church for less than a year and some were still investigators.

I have to say that this was one of the nicest, kindest groups of young people I had ever seen. They were genuinely grateful to be there and appreciated everything offered to them. I saw no rolled-eyes, no bored looking at the ceiling, no caustic or cutting remarks about anything or any one. They were loud, they were funny, they were cute, they were happy, and they were honest. I really enjoyed being with them even though I couldn’t talk to most of them. They were very different from the young people I have seen on the streets and even from the general group at home. These kids paid 1500 rubles to be there and it didn’t come from rich parents because many, if not most, of their families were poor and/or not members. The more I think about it the more impressed I am.
What a country to have such a group.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

 “A Train to Krasnoyarsk”, The Young Single Adult Conference
July 29, 2008
At 5:16 on Wednesday July 25th we left Novosibirsk on the train heading east to the city of Krasnoyarsk for a YSA conference at Camp Granada. Yep, “Hello mudda, hello fadda, here I am at Camp Granada. . .” It is a residence camp for children in the mountains east of the city. When we arrived there on Thursday morning there were 500 school-age children checking out and waiting for buses to return to the city.

The 13 hour train trip was quite an experience and actually quite enjoyable. We had a “coupe” (pronounced koopay) with two 24” wide bench seats that were used for beds, an 18” isle, a 12”x18” table attached to the wall just under the window, and a sliding door for privacy. The compartment was about 6 feet wide and about 7 feet long; snug but not cramped.

Three senior couples traveled together; the Simmons, the Bowdens, and the Hughes. We had coupe 3-4 which was the first of the three in our carriage and closest to the bathroom at our end. There was another at the other end, but that was 7 coupes away. The man in #1-2 was a friend of the “stewardess” who was responsible for our carriage and I think they spent some time together during the trip. She had a small “closet” next to the bathroom.

The boarding process included giving the stewardess our tickets and passports. She examined each in minute detail, looking at our picture and up to our faces and back several times, taking out the first ticket (outbound) and tearing it carefully across the gold decal at the top. When satisfied, she let us board and I loaded our two small suitcases, Cindy’s travel bag and a box full of sacrament trays and mail for the Royers (the Sr. Couple in Krasnoyarsk).

The six of us Sr. Couples were just like a bunch of kids experiencing the train for the first time. We walked up and down the narrow isle, looked out the windows, tried out each other’s seats and generally acted very young. The Gushin’s daughter, Dasha, came home from BYU for the conference and when I saw them out the window I got off the train to take their picture; VERY BAD IDEA. Cindy scolded me for not telling her I was going and gave strict orders not to do THAT again.

When the train finally got rolling, we settled down in our coupe and had the dinner Cindy had brought and read, talked, and looked out the window until about 11 pm and finally prepared to go to bed. That was a little complicated with only a narrow isle between the beds. One had to sit while the other moved, but we finally put the extra suitcase (the one with two, 5 liter bottles of water and towels) under the seat and changed into our “train” sleepers. The Mickelsens had given us two pair of slippers from a hotel that we were to use on the train to keep our feet clean. We were not to wear our street shoes except in the bathroom.

So here we are, me in sweat pants and t-shirt, Cindy in her lounge wear, trying to make our beds at the same time while bumping bums continually. The bench had a sheet on the bench pad and a blanket that served as the “couch” cover. Under the cover there was a pillow case and another sheet doubled and sewn around the edges making a duvet but I could not find the opening so I just put the blanket on top of the sheet. The motion of the train and the hour put me to sleep almost immediately after prayers.
What a trip
What a country

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

7/22/08 Scratchin' In The Kitchen

Scratchin' In The Kitchen

One kind of "scratch" in the kitchen is Cindy's mosquito bites. She has them all over her. She showed me one line of 5 bites that went from right shoulder to left shoulder in almost in a straight line. I have none, nada, zilch, ZERO. I told her that she may have something else biting her besides mosquitoes. Maybe she has something in her clothes. Anyway, she is sure scratchin' in the kitchen.

Kitchen life in Novo is much different than in Sacramento. First, it is S-M-A-L-L. Cindy used to have me sit at the breakfast table to get me out of the way while she cooked. Now if we held hands and stretched out our other hands we could each touch a wall, and she still wants my help in the kitchen. Imagine that!

The second difference in Novo is that very few things you'd cook are pre-mixed or packaged. No Eggo waffles, no cake mix, no Shake-N-Bake, etc. You do everything from SCRATCH. Here she is fixing one of my favorite things; tempura eggplant. She has always made this from scratch, but with a lot more tools. I caught her on camera showing her love for me in the kitchen and wanted to make it public.

First, just to find eggplant here is a success. Second, the preparation is laborious. She slices the eggplant, dips it in beaten egg and then in flower. Finally it is fried in olive oil for that good Italian touch. It could use a little more garlic, as I always day about everything, but you haven't lived until you've dipped a hand fried, battered eggplant slice into 
sauce and eat in one bite. That's livin'.

In the midst of all that effort, she even has the energy to make soup from scratch; boil the chicken, pull the meat, boil the bones, add the seasoning and noodles. She is the queen of soup and the czar of the kitchen.
What a woman.

Monday, July 21, 2008

7/21/08 The Chineek

The Chineek
What's a Chineek? It is an electric teapot that virtually every family owns. It is of course made of sturdy plastic with a round plastic base the diameter of the teapot's base. The entire bottom of the pot itself is a heating element and using 220 volts it starts heating immediately. I can boil 2 liters of water in about 2 1/2 minutes. It is useful for many things, but for us it is primarily a source of hot, filtered water.

Let me back up a step. The tap water in Novosibirsk comes from the river. It is treated in a central plant but still contains things harmful to us westerner who are not used to them. (giardia, coliforms, heavy metals, etc.) The water looks clear, but can be harmful if taken in large quantities untreated. The Missionary Department has instructed that all apartments in our mission, and probably in all of eastern Europe and South America, to have three-stage water filters installed. One of my jobs is to see that we have these filters on hand and to encourage the Zone Leaders to see that their missionaries change them on a schedule.
Last Monday the water flow from our filtered faucet was running at a trickle, so I decided to change the first stage filter, the one for particulates (big pieces of stuff) that is changed monthly. It was a strong orange color and had an odor. I also changed the second stage, a .5 micron filter (for really tiny stuff) that is usually changed quarterly.We now have a good stream of water coming out. The third stage is activated charcoal and is changed annually.

Back to the chineek. When we wash dishes in the dishwasher, it is safe because the heat cycle kills the bugs and the heavy metals are drained in the water during the drying cycle. When we wash by hand we have to rinse the item with filtered water and we usually use the hot, filtered water from the chineek. After a while it becomes second nature.

First you wash with soap in the unfiltered tap water to remove the food. Then you pour the boiling water from the Chineek over the cleaned surfaces and try not to cook your fingers. I've tried to become more efficient with the hot Chineek water by rinsing things above other things needing rinsing and using the water several times before it cools off. This pie pan was a challenge because it gets hot faster than it gets rinsed and that can surprise you. I burned my fingers on this demonstration.

Sanitation is the key to staying healthy. That is sister Mickelsen's job, to keep the missionaries well. It is a challenge because they are always taking short-cuts that can land them in bed or in one of Novosibirsk's premier health care facilities. You don't want to get sick on your mission in Novosibirsk.

What a country

Sunday, July 20, 2008

7/20/08 Who's Liam

Who is Liam?
President Mickelson has instructed us to attend one branch each week. With three branches, we will be rotating through the month at different branches. This week was First Branch which meets at 2pm. Today we went in company of Elder Lunt and Gambardella and arrived an hour early because one of the elders would have to attend the branch presidency meeting before Sacrament Meeting.

About 1:45, while waiting in the Sacrament Hall, I became aware of an orange tee-shirted young man being seated behind me & to my left on the isle by the branch president and elder Gambardella. Hearing a few words of English, I turned around and introduced myself to him. He said his name was Liam (Alexanrov).

Now, Liam is an Irish name and that got my curiosity up so I began to ask a little about him. He is a 4th year university student from Barnaul on a month's "travel around the countryside. This was his time in Novosibirsk. He was studying translation, specializing in Russian/English translation. He had attended the English Club in Barnaul and knew elder MacBride and elder Christiansen there and had been reading the Book of Mormon. I invited him to come and sit between Cindy & I during Sacrament Meeting and asked him to translate for us since the elders were busy in the meeting. I introduced him to Cindy and explained his situation. Not knowing of my request, Cindy also asked him to translate.

As the meeting progressed he began to translate, but it was very haulting and skipped a lot. During the first speaker his translation started to smooth out and as the second speaker began it became fluid and confident. He continued this way through the third speaker and to the end of the meeting.

Both Cindy and I felt impressed to invite the elders to bring him to dinner so that we could have a gospel discussion with him. As it turned out, he had a guitar and a backpack and Cindy told him that I played also. He was quite excited to have me play and to play himself. When we got home he tuned it up and I played and sang a few of my folk songs and he sang & played a few Russian songs . He continued to play while I helped with the dinner.

At dinner, I waited for the elders to open a gospel discussion, but they didn't seem ready for that so I asked him how the elders' Russian skills were. He said that he was sure elder Gambardella was Russian or at least from Ukraine and elder Lunt also spoke very well. He was amazed that they had only studied 3 months before coming to Russia. I jumped on that.

Telling him about the US government wanting to know how we teach the elders so quickly, I related what I'd read about the encounter and what the officials were told. Specifically that the elders learn by the Holy Ghost and the government's program didn't have that element. Then I asked him about his translation in the meeting and how it changed. He looked up and the recognition was in his eyes. He said that suddenly he was calm and the words seemed to flow without effort. That was the Holy Ghost. I confirmed that with him and went on to discuss the Godhead and the job of the Holy Ghost.

Liam was led to us for that very lesson and we, all of us, were ready to teach him. He says that he is searching for religion and had asked the Barnaul elders how to get to church in Novo. The Lord and the Holy Ghost brought it all together and he was ready to hear.

The elders got his phone number and are meeting with him this week for further discussions. He is Golden and one of the Elect that they have been charged to find. They got a little help on this one.

What a country

7/21/08 What is that light?

What is bad light?
Last Wednesday we had a "journal moment" experience in the MEGAS grocery store. President and sister Gushin took us shopping to one of the new "mall" stores near our apartment. We need the help both because we don't know our way around quite yet, but also because of the volume we buy, both from Cindy's mentality that more is better and our need for supplies to feed the missionaries, investigators, and young adults.

As we came into the mall, we stopped at two other stores looking for tongs and a rubber spatula before we got our groceries. Entering the MEGAS store with bags is not allowed, so they seal your bags in a 10 gallon size "seal-a-meal" type bag.

After getting our bags sealed, we got two carts (most shoppers never fill one) and started splitting up to be more efficient when just behind us came a missionary companionship doing their P-day shopping. We stood and talked for two or three minutes and then started to separate again when a nice-looking 50ish man walked up to sister Gushina and began to speak to her. I presumed it was someone she knew and went about gathering my assigned items. When we met up again she related this story.

"I was just about to go help sister Simmons get her items when this man walked up to me and asked who we were. I told him we were missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and was a little concerned at first. No one had ever done that to me. He explained that he noticed the light around us and wanted to know what it was and who we were."

That started a fifteen minute conversation about the church , the English club we have (we can't characterize it as a class because we are not licensed to teach) and the Gospel we preach, and it ended with him giving her his name and telephone number and an interest to learn more. She told him about the English Club and he asked if we preach the Gospel in English, to which she answered that they were separate, but that we did preach the gospel in English.

It is easy for us who live in this light to be unaware of it, but others notice and are at least curious like this man. We gave the name and phone number to the elders and asked them to invite him to English Club. They called and spoke to him, but he said that he had "turned to Christ" 14 years ago and was not interested in our religion. They will continue to invite him to English Club and I expect  that the story is not over yet.

The point of the incident is not that he joined the church with his wife and 10 kids and became the branch president. The point is that he SAW the light and wanted to know what it was, and it is a reminder to me and all of you that your light IS shining and people do notice you. Probably the contrast is more obvious here than where you live, but the light is still attractive to "beings of light" who are here, temporarily absented from the world of light that is their home.

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your father which is in heaven, and when they are curious enough to ask, "What is that light?", your job is to open your mouth. Chance favors the prepared mind. You can do this if you are prepared.

What a country.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

7/19/08 Getting A Temporary Resident Permit

Getting A Temporary Resident Permit
For those who have been in Tahiti for the last year, oh, that's right, some of you ARE GOING to Tahiti; right? Well anyway, for those of you who have been off the planet for the past year, the Russian government has changed its visa requirements and procedures to stay in their country and now requires private visa holders to renew their visas every 90 days. This has become a sever financial burden to the church and they have announced a reassignment of all American and western European missionaries assigned to Russia to other countries. The only new missionaries that we will receive will be those from the Commonwealth of Independent States (the members of the old USSR except Georgia and Turkmenistan who did not join the Commonwealth) where visas are not required.

Our mission president was able to get a Temporary Residence Permit to live in Novosibirsk. The TRP is good for three years, but there are restrictions. From the web site, "A temporarily residing foreign citizen cannot, at his own discretion, change his/her place of residence within the territory of the region where he/she obtained the temporary residence permit, or reside outside the region where he/she obtained the temporary residence permit."

It is a 6 month process, limits the movement of the holder, and requires a lot of documents and medical information, but it will save the church a lot of money. Now he is trying to get this permit for the senior couples because they too are living in only one city for their entire mission and might be eligible for such a permit.

As most families do, our family has this series of one-line "remember when" jokes or movie punchlines that remind us of past events that were funny. "Your papers are not in order" comes from some movie somewhere in our history where a leather-jacketed, shaved-headed, hulking police agent stops the hero on the street, demands to see his "papers" and says that line; "Your papers are not in order. Come with me."

Well, over the last two weeks, the Visa Clerks, Brat Pyotr (brother Peter) and sister Olga, have been encouraging me to get the documents that they need to apply for this Temporary Residence Permit for sister Cindy and I; yep, to get our papers in order. To complicate things a little, Brat Pyotr speaks as much English as I do Russian and Olga is leaving for a two-week vacation starting Monday. Bottom line, she needs us to go and get all of the medical documentation needed now while we are waiting for our "papers" to arrive from the US. Of course, she tells us this on Thursday afternoon and wants our whole day on Friday to go from clinic to clinic around a city of 2 million people to get interviewed, poked, prodded, stuck, X-rayed, and photographed before she leaves.

Since we were feeding a dozen missionaries Friday for their district meeting, we couldn't be gone all day Friday so we said, OK, lets go now. After Olga recovered from her startled state she decided that we could do some of it today, called a cab from the company we contract with, and we were off in the company of elder Lunt (Cindy's elder) because his companion was on splits and he could not be left alone with sister Gushina (50+ years old) who was working in the mail room/library..

One comment on sister Olga. She is a priceless jewel, an angel of patience, courage, and fortitude. She deals with everyone's problems; that's her job. Problems every day; documents, travel, visas, landlords, utility workers, delivery people, moving companies, missionaries, and other employees. I love her. I respect what she goes through for us, and I wish that I could do something for her that would show her how much we all appreciate her. She is our guardian angel.

After reviewing this article, I feel it necessary to insert a note. The following is a description of our two days with the medical clinics where we needed to get tests and clearances. I want to make it clear that I believe the people we saw and the facilities we visited are doing the best they can in a harsh climate, both meteorologically and in every other way. I have just begun to appreciate the tenacity and strength that is necessary to get along here. This is a harsh climate with harsh rules, and most people believe that they have to be harsh to survive. I hope we can show them how to survive with love as well.

Our first clinic was on the left bank (west side of the river) about 30 minutes through traffic and bumpy roads for the AIDS test. We had this test at Kaiser before leaving and brought the lab results report with us to Russia. We, and Olga, were hoping that they would accept this and not have to draw blood for their own test. The Hughes' who came three months before us tried the same thing, but were denied because the test was too long ago. We were hoping for a better decision.

The last half mile was parallel to the "Tram-vye" tracks on the unpaved track roadbed. On that part of the journey another car came parallel to us on the other side of the tracks, worked its way across each of the four tracks, one at a time, and got in the "road" ahead, leaving us
in his dust. The rule here is, if you can physically do it, go ahead until someone stops you. This applies to everything.

I apologize for the lack of pictures, but I know that it is illegal to take pictures of any government building and these clinics qualify under that protection. I did find a few pictures on the internet that will give you an idea of where we went and will try to describe them the best I can. The AIDS clinic was a 5 story (Khrushchev era) concrete structure about 1/2 a block long facing the Tran-vye tracks. The climate here is unthinkably hard on the buildings and they show it. This one was no exception. It had a crumbling set of four stairs (with dirt and concrete debris everywhere) leading to the metal entry door, through the "airlock" chamber that keeps the warm in and the cold out, into a 6' wide hall and up the the 3' wide concrete stairs to the second floor.

The space from exterior wall to interior wall was abut 15' with pre-fab metal offices lining the interior wall like so many cereal boxes, each with a door leading to this hall along the exterior wall. White-smocked people were bustling up and down the corridor from box to box, mostly with hands-full of papers the color of kindergarten writing paper.

We waited against the wall while Olga tried to find the right box. When she did, she gave them our passports and the reports, not entering the box stuffed with two desks and 4-5 ladies in white. After a few minutes, Olga was summoned to the door, given some half-sheet papers with blue stamps on them , and as she turned, you'd think she just won the lottery. She crouched slightly, gave a clinched-fisted jab in the air and whispered, "Yes". They had accepted the report and we were off to the next clinic.

This was to be the TB chest X-Ray place. It was in a rural area of east Novosibirsk. I recognized some of the streets as ones we used going to the MEGA shipping mall last week with the Gushins. The clinic was another 5 story concrete building with the same crumbling stairs into the same steel entry, the airlock cubicle, and the narrow corridor with the pre-fab offices. It looked like a war-zone, but I think it was a renovation project. This seemed to be a working clinic with pajama-clad patients in slippers and white-smocked workers. Immediately to the left of the second entry was a booth with a cashier-type window. Olga asked for directions and went up a flight of concrete stairs much like the entry while we waited in the entry way.

Fifteen or so minutes later she descended, rather disgusted, to tell us that the place for the X-Ray had been changed and we had to go elsewhere. We (Olga, Lunt, Cindy & I) got back into the cab and went about twelve minutes to another clinic on a more rural road behind a 50+ year old rusting wrought-iron fence amid a heavy growth of trees and bushes. We entered the same 5-storied concrete building around the right side, but this one had the remnants of brick and tile work that must have been attractive when it was built. We went up to the "kassa" (cashier), paid the fee of several hundred roubles, and headed for the X-Ray.

The ground floor of this clinic looked like a small train station, with a vaulted ceiling up 2 stories and a wide staircase going to the left. Opposite the entry stood three pre-fab cubicles with the numbers 1, 2, and 3 over the half-windows where clients could speak to the clerk inside. As we passed by I could see inside one cubicle that had pigeon-holes along the left wall that were filled with bundles of the same half-sheet newsprint paper forms that we had received at the first clinic. I don't know if they were coming or going.

At the far right we found the X-Ray room, across that hall from the cubicle that served as a snack bar, Olga stood at the door expectantly. No one came so she knocked. Again, no one came. Waiting by the door, another man came along with blue shoe cover booties on his shoes. He evidently told Olga that we had to have the booties to enter the X-Ray booth. He then opened the door and went inside. Olga was exasperated, apparently having not gotten the word about the booties and said that she needed 5 roubles each for the booties. I gave her the money and she stomped off toward the Kassa and the big staircase.

While she was gone, a white-smocked lady came out of the X-Ray room, locked the door and went into another door just to its right. Ten minutes later Olga arrived with two plastic balls, each containing a pair of blue booties. What had taken so long was that she had to exchange the paper roubles for coins for a vending machine to dispense the booties-in-a-ball for us.

I want you to get the whole picture here. We are in what would have been a beautiful, formerly quite ornate, vaulted ceilinged hospital entry that is now crammed cheek to jowl with these shabby little cubicles that looked like they were repainted in 1966 and cleaned in 1978, standing on a floor that was very dirty wearing hospital booties from the plastic balls that were deemed necessary to enter the X-Ray room.

We are now bootie-clad, standing at the now locked X-Ray door and I said to Olga, "The tech locked the door and went in there", pointing to the adjacent door. She knocked softly on the door and got no reply. A minute later she knocked a little louder. I suggested she open the door and speak to them which she did and got the tech to unlock the X-Ray door and we were admitted.

The third stop was on the second floor of another clinic where we were to be interviewed regarding drug use. We paid our fee at the Kassa and waited in the chairs along the wall. When called in, each of us sat in a chair opposite a white-coated man. When I sat down he asked, "You are an American?" I said yes and he immediately told me that his daughter was in America and was a dentist. He was very proud of that. He stamped my kindergarten paper and wished me good day. I guess I passed.

The last stop of the day was to get our official picture taken for the application. The photographs were taken in a basement studio with a very small digital camera, about the size of my Sony Cyber-Shot that fits in a shirt pocket, on a tripod while the subject sat in a chair under bright spotlights. The pictures were transferred onto a laptop and printed, 4-up, on a half sheet of photo paper.

The final clinic was on Friday morning. The clinic itself wasn't much of a surprise, but the event was unexpected. After paying our fee at the Kassa, we headed upstairs to wait to be seen by the skin doctor, or that was what Olga thought. None of us knew the word for phlebotomy in Russian and so we didn't know this was a drug abuse test, not a skin examination. She also forgot the booties and had to go down stairs for our plastic balls. The irony of sitting in this unswept hall, waiting for a skin examination while looking at a blood-stained cotton ball on the grimy floor lying against the splintered baseboard was entirely lost to me until I stood at the door and watched Cindy get her "skin examination".

The Tech had a bundle of glass pipettes, one of which she connected to a small, green tube with a bulb at the end. She pricked the third finger on the left hand and, creating a suction in the pipette, sucked blood from my finger and squirted it into a glass tube. She repeatedly squeezed the finger for more blood, sucked it into the pipette, and squirted it into the tube until satisfied with the amount. At least she did rub the finger with alcohol before sticking me, I think.

The entire process of medical examinations for both of us cost us less than 3,000 roubles ($125) and several hours, but if it lets us stay in country as residents for our mission period it will be all worth it. Olga is helping us to get our papers in order. What a country!

Friday, July 18, 2008

7/19/08 Changes around us

July 19/2008
When walking to and from the Mission Office, we take one route to and a different route from the office. Our route in the morning goes past the Neighborhood Agency office that's just to the right, east, of our building and across the street. Just past their second driveway we turn left down an unpaved street going north until we hit the street, actually a private drive, that runs long the southern side of our building. There we turn right and head toward Kirova Street, designated as "ul." which is like our "St." designation. At the southeast corner of the building we turn sharply left and left again to enter our office door through the outer, unlocked door and press the button to be let in through the inner security door, held closed by a magnetic lock. When the office is closed for the day, there is a gate that slides across the entry and locks just inside the outer door.

On the walk home we go out the door, turn right and right again at the driveway and go back down the way we came in the morning, but about 1/3 of the way we turn left, go through a narrow walkway that opens on another unpaved, or so badly maintained that it looks unpaved, road that leads past a baby blue government building of some kind on the right and a children's school further on the right, and on to our street for a right turn and on past the Neighborhood Agency and home.

Today, after exiting the office, Cindy said, "Lets go home the other way", so we tooks the morning route home. Every day I have been going to take a picture of the old, pre-WWII wooden house that sits on the corner of the private drive and our unpaved morning road, and every day I forget or don't want to take it with someone watching. (Explanation . . .it is illegal to take pictures of some buildings and I don't know what are protected buildings so I don't take many building pictures while people are watching.) Today I was prepared and was ready to take that picture, but was so nervous that I didn't let the camera focus long enough and it came out all blurry. I'll do better tomarrow. (It's tomorrow and there is the picture)

Anyway, here is a picture of our morning road. In the center of it is a storm-drain utility opening (it used to be a man-hole, but that's not PC anymore) with no cover. (a man-hole with out a man-hole-cover). We have sucesfully navigated this street now for a month and not fallen into the open storm drain. Someone stuck a board into the hole as a warning, but that lasted only a few days. The picture at right is the road as I walked behind Sister Simmons on the way home tonight. I'm so paranoid about doing something illegal, I'm even nervous about taking a pictureof a darn road. What a country!

Here is the picture of the open storm-drain in the middle of the street pictures at right. It's a little fuzzy because I rushed the picture, but you can get the idea. I cannot see the bottom of the shaft, but I'm sure it's not more than 10 feet.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

7/17/08 Serching for the News

First, the weather report: HOT! Film at 11.
Actually, the digital thermometer we inherited in the apartment, glued to the outside of the left window in the living room, says it is 40 c degrees outside and 31 c degrees inside. That translates to 81 f degrees inside and 104 f degrees outside. The inside is probably pretty accurate but the outside is in the sun and I'd guess its about 92 c. The sky is cloudless and the wind is totally still. We get a little cooling late at night (about 12:30 am when Cindy reluctantly agrees to go to bed since I've been standing next to the turned-down bed in my garmies for longer than she knows) from the river as long as there is any air movement. What an interesting place; 90 degree summers and -40 winters.

Now to my subject for today, Searching for the News. Actually we are searching for English television so that we can keep up with world events, the Hilary & Barack show, and the Olympics. We have instructions to stay informed because I am the Mission Executive Secretary and basically in charge of the office when the president is traveling. If anything occurs that impacts the safety of our missionaries in the president's absence, I have to be prepared to act under his direction and according to the emeergency plan.

We started asking about cable TV possibilities shortly after we arrived and had gotten nowhere . We discovered that our tv could get the 8 local channels, including a news program, but it is all in Russian. Here, everything goes through the landlord so we kept asking sister Olga to ask ours about the possibilities and she finally reported last week that, "It is very expensive". THAT'S IT! That was the report, period. By this time we are ready to call the cable company ourselves, but Olga says we cannot because it is the landlord's business. I think that means that it will be in her name and she will pass the charges to us. Quite a system, huh? The landlord is the only one who knows what the actual charges are.

Well, we sent Olga back again for the specifics and she finally reported that the installation would be about 22,000p (roubles or $950) and the monthly would be about 1,200p ($50) a month. I started to look on the internet for alternatives so at least we could see if her numbers were close. However, there are no listings for packages like yo find in the US. They price everything by the piece (dish, responder, descrambler, connector, etc.) and it was impossible.

Here is the insight I want to show you...Cindy was talking to Olga about this search and apologizing for putting her in the middle all the time. As she said, "We americans like choices." Olga looked at her somewhat forlornly and said, "Some of us want choices and can have choices. Some of us want choices and cannot have them." That, my dear friends, is the difference and that causes people to do things they might not do in other circumstances.

Last night we hosted a meeting that Elders Bressler and Hoopes had with an investigator names Serge. He's about 50, 5'2 or 3 and slim. During the discussion he related some experiences during the Soviet period where good people were required to steal and cheat to survive and he said just that; to the effect that good people had to do bad things to survive.

We are still Searching for the News and we will get it. Others will do without if because the cost in time, money, and sacrifices is too great. Thank God every night for your choices and keep your lamp shining to light the world.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

July 6, 2008 Sergey's Baptism

Sergey"s Baptism
Saturday, July 6,2008 
Sergey was baptized in the "left-bank" chapel. It is located past the end of the Metro's last stop on the western end of the city. We left the office in the company of Elders Hoops & Bressler and got on the Metro in front of the mission office headed west. Riding to the end of the line, not hard to figure since everyone got off the train, and headed for open air.

At the exit we crossed a field of dirt and weeds, over the tram tracks and across a 4 lane street at the light. Then left a hundred yards and right about 1/4 mile entering a park at the center gate. We walked the wide path through trees and beside uncut grass to your ankles, turned obliquely left and followed another path through housing units for about 1/2 mile.

An aside. During the Khrushchev period, apartment buildings were build five stories high and of uniform floor plans. They held about 25 units each of two and three rooms (counting bedrooms and livingrooms only) and had a small play yard in front. These were clustered around drives that wandered through these neighborhoods seemingly without thought. The idea was that anyone could climb 5 floors and no elevators were needed in these buildings.

During the Brezhnev era all apartment buildings were built 9 stories high, like ours, containing about 40 units and having an elevator starting on the third floor. I don't know the reason for the change except that the need for housing was growing faster than the buildings and higher units were more efficient than the shorter ones. Prior to the 1950's, people were living in the pre-WWII wooden houses that survived the war like the one above.

After the housing units, we headed due south, crossed a 2 lane street and the tram tracks going east & west and headed through another neighborhood of 1950's housing. Another 1/3 mile we turned right between some buildings, walked further, turned slightly left and saw an '80's era housing unit with a large structure attached to the far south end. This was our goal.

The church had purchased this large attachment to a housing unit that used to be a bank. For the life of me I cannot understand why they would put a bank in a cluster of housing units and that is probably why it was available to purchase.

The first floor houses the baptistry, the second has the chapel, the third is the Seminary/Institute rooms, and the 4th is the Physical Facilities office for the mission.

The font, seen above, is at floor level with the sides built up about 30 inches. With about 2 feet of water in it, the baptizer (Misha, the tall one) has to be careful to get the candidate all the way under. Sergey is a friend of Misha's and has a lot of youhg friends in Second Branch where he will attend.

To promote zone unity, all the missionaries in Novosibirsk city attended the baptism. With the youth and missionaries, it made a good sized congregation. There were talks about baptism and the Holy Ghost that one would expect.

The only unusual part of the service, other than seeing the font's occupants standing in less than knee-deep water was the singing of 7 or 8 hymns just before the actual baptism. I finally figured it out when a young lady came into the room and sat by Misha and said, "Thank you. I love you." This turned out to be Misha's girl friend and friend of Sergey. We were singing songs waiting for her arrival. That's loyalty, I guess.

The refreshments were store-bought cookies and orange soda, neither of which lasted too long. Sergey was surrounded by mostly female members of the two Branches and seemed to enjoy the attention.

As we left, we had our picture taken in front of the entry. I'd hoped to get more of the building in the picture, but at least you can see the storm-entry that will keep the -30 degree air out of the building this winter.

Our trip home was in the company of 6 elders clad in shorts and t-shirts for the sports night that occures every Saturday in the field across from the Mission Office.

We enjoyed our first baptism and have seen Sergey now several times at Branch events. He is a pleasant young man and will surely be an addition to the Branch.

July 6, 2008 Water Day

July 6, 2015
The origin of the tradition of water day in Novosibirsk is very murky. Some say it involves mermaids, others sea monsters, others a water snake. I prefer the legend of the water fairy of Lake Baikal near Irkutsk. It goes like this:

"Local lore has it that there was a fairy of love. Her job was to distribute love among those who needed that in life. She wanted love to prevail the world over. She also protected Baikal's natural surroundings and used to be on the shores of Baikal every night.

One night she met a man who just appeared on the shore of Baikal out of the blue. The man's name too was Baikal: mortal, deprived, lonely, and it looked from his face that he needed some love in life. The fairy saw him and fell head over heals, taking it as a test case. Led over the waves of sympathy and challenge, they instantly crossed all the distances usually not possible in a short time. They together wove hopes for the future.

But their love came to a tragic end. Baikal thought he was no match to the fairy. He was afraid of himself being human. And one day, he disappeared all of a sudden without any explanation, without warning. The fairy kept looking for him, found him and cut off his feet, making him unable to move. Who will decide about this love affair?"

The events of water day involve throwing water on people at every opportunity. It is a city-wide water fight a little like the picture at right, except this was taken elsewhere.

God had gotten into the act several days earlier with a terrific rainstorm in Novosibirsk that dumped several inches of water. At one point the wind was a good 40 mph and the rain came down in sheets. Later on Water day He again joined in the fun again by raining outside. We also participated by having no water inside, literally. Our water was shut off for some reason, but was on by the next morning. Quite a Water Day.

July 15, 2008 Letter to the Mission

Letter to the Mission
July 15, 2008
Progress in the Novosibirsk Mission
The following are excepts from the latest mission report email sent to all missionaries in our mission by the Assistants to the President. They do a great job of keeping the energy high in the mission. The picture to the left shows our zone leaders, Elders McCleary (couch) and Gambardella (seated to his left) getting instructions from the AP's.
The letter states, in part:

Elders and Sisters,
We would like to start off by congratulating everyone for the amazing week. We had a total of 70 new investigators! this past week, and everything else was way above average. It's great to see things really taking off, as we are guiding God's elect into His fold. There are 4 great baptisms planned for this coming week; D... . . from Ulan-Ude, A. . . and V. . . . in Irkutsk, and G. . . in Omsk. Please pray for them to be ready and for the missionaries to help them move forward.

The PMG (Preach My Gospel) quiz and scripture test have been annihilating missionaries around the mission, so get yourselves ready (see picture of the week). Remember what you have learned from the conferences and apply the principles. Be bold, be confident, and be happy. Do it McD style and put a smile on, everybody, come on. Things are looking great in the mission, success and progress is visible in every city. Make sure that you are staying on top of new converts. Elder Bressler tries to recall a scripture and we (Cindy & I ) are on the back row right of the right-hand picture, having even more problems recalling.

We had the AP's for dinner tonight and they are not sure they want to be "blog-stars", but they enjoyed dinner very much. Here they are encouraging sister Simmons in the kitchen before dinner. Actually they came to translate for us with the landlady about the window screens she promised to have installed, her husband supposedly works for a window company, but we were disappointed to find that only the measurer came. So much for communications.
I suspect that there will be more need to talk to her after we had the man measure all of the windows instead of the one in each room that he intended to measure. Nogotiations ahead.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

July 12, 2008 A long answer to Marilyn's Email

A long answer to Marilyn's email
July 12, 2008
Marilyn writes "Not just So CA burning but all over No CA. Hot day in more than one way. And also a bit early for such hot weather. We may be facing the last days sooner than later. Rice has been rationed at Costco and other places. Tomatoes have germs, now they say other things in Salsa are also causing problems and can't be bought. Seems like the times of living on what you produce are coming to be."

Dear Marilyn:
I will use this email to reply to your three recent messages and post this on my blog for good measure. First, I am firmly in the camp of the "These ARE the last days" believers. It is easy to see events after they have happened and more difficult to see the storm while in its eye. All of these and the other natural calamities are all foretold and I think people should give serious attention to that which the prophets have told us to prepare. Gardens are not just NICE. They are the counsel of prophets and for those who cannot physically garden, they need to partner with those who can; money & support from one and labor from the other.

I think the fires, the weather, and the homosexual marriage issue is all part of the same thing. If I were in God's place I'd be pretty disgusted with the leaders in California and the people who elect them. It is now your (our) opportunity to reverse that California Supreme Court decision with the vote that will happen in November about the California Constitutional Amendment defining marriage as between a man and a woman. If the righteous people prove to the Lord that they are willing to get in charge again, in spite of the evil of our governors and courts, maybe He will have compassion on us like He did the people of Nineveh. Anyway, the rain, or the fires, falls on the just and the unjust all the same, and maybe that's cause for the just to say, " This has gone far enough" . . . or maybe they will just sit and burn with the unjust; interesting question.

In any case, I love you and appreciate the update. "We" (notice the ownership) in Russia have our own fires. I'm sure you have read that the Church will no longer send American or European missionaries to Russia for the time being, probably due to the exorbitant costs associated with leaving every three months. Along with that decision, we have been given instructions to concentrate our efforts on 18-24 year old males. These will have to become the missionaries for the future and must be brought into the Church to get trained in the Gospel. That is complicated by the mandatory military service for every 18-26 year old male. These young men need to be prepare spiritually, get their military service out of the way, and then serve 2 years as missionaries. This is going to require tough, dedicated young men with deep, strong testimonies. They are here among the remnants of the tribes of Israel and our current missionaries must find them quickly.

This decision will also cause a sifting of the Russian members as it would in any developing area of the Church. In this case those coming from the Eastern Orthodox faith get a real awakening when they learn that they are expected to work "in the vineyard" and not just stand and admire it. With us it is not enough to go to church on Sunday, or to purchase a candle and recite a prayer written on the wall, or even take the sacrament several times a year on special occasions. As our friend Lydia (a former Temple Square missionary from Novo) said at lunch today, they have come from a tradition of being only observers, and because their new Church requires them to be workers, some will fall away because it's too hard, some because they are afraid of what might be asked of them, some because they were poorly trained in their calling and got discouraged, some for reasons I can't think of, but the Church will be strengthened just like the Kirkland period sifted out the weak and left the church smaller but stronger

These are exciting times and you and I are part of it. Stay close to your fire extinguisher and keep watering your garden. You may need both.
Love ya.
Elder Simmons, Novosibirsk

Friday, July 11, 2008

July 11, 2008 Doing the Laundry

Doing the Laundry
July 11, 2008
It's not that I've run out of things to talk about, but since most of my regular
readers are ladies I thought that I'd give some time to the less glamorous duties of this missionary.

Doing the laundry in our apartment is very different from doing it at home. There you just dump in the clothes, put some soap in the machine and go do something more interesting. In our apartment I am commissar of the laundry while sister Simmons is Czar of the kitchen. (I am also in charge of the
vacuuming, garbage, flying things, world peace, and any sounds in the night.)

First, the machine itself. It is an Ellengerg WM-5520. It is made in Ukraine of sturdy plastic and works with a series of timers and valves on the top that you operate strictly by hand. It is divided into two chambers, the agitating side and the spinning side. Our machine is located in the tub-sink room (the toilet has its own closet) The operation is thus:
  1. Get out the 5 gang plug strip, plug it into the outlet located 5' above the floor on the wall between the tub room and toilet closet next to the two light switches that control the lights to same. Plug the washer into the plug strip because the washer cord is 5" too short
  2. Place the shepherd's crook hose over the rim of the tub so the water goes in the tub and not on the floor. This is the pump discharge emptying the agitation tank or the spinning tank.
  3. Remove the left chamber lid, it is not hinged, and lean it against the tub. Don't step on it or kick it under the tub that stands on 4" legs.
  4. Fill the agitation tub with the batch of clothes and then fill with water from the shower head to the level of the lint filter; about half a tub.
  5. Add soap and bleach if needed.
  6. Replace the lid and turn the agitator timer to 12 minutes for a regular wash.
That whole process takes about 15 minutes to start. I have checked with the local ladies to get ideas on how to get a whiter wash. Olga says to use bleach. Sister Gushina says to use Oxyclean, in the white jar, for whites, and in the pink jar for colors. Lydia says her mother does the wash. They all agree to use fabric softener in the rinse so I'm trying it out. Here is my stock (below) of laundry chemicals.

Well, after the 12 minute agitation the clothes have been wrapped into a tight bundle in the center of the the tub. I untangle them and one by one move the dripping clothes into the spinner, close the lid, and turn the timer to 2 minutes. If the load is not balanced, the machine begins to dance around the small floor area. If that happens I turn off the spinner, open the lid quickly, rearrange the load, and try again. With a little luck the load spins smoothly and the water comes out of the clothes and it pumped into the tub. Meanwhile, I turn the knob that starts the pump to empty the agitation chamber of dirty water. That takes about 7 minutes. Then the process is repeated without soap for the rinse cycle.

The lint filter is sort of interesting. It is a silk bag hung in a frame that clips to a bracket on the side of the agitator tub. As the water sloshes around the tub some flows through the bag, catching some lint. No matter what color the clothes are, the lint is always light blue. How does that happen?

I have been searching for ways to be more efficient and found that I can start emptying the dirty water while moving the washed clothes into the spinner. I've also found that the rinse water is OK for the next wash load. That saves me about 12-15 minutes per load.

With the final rinse and spin I am ready to hang out the clothes on our "dryer". This is a rack with parallel rows of wires over which I drape the damp clothes. The sheets take special care because one will cover the rack and the other has to be hung in the sun-porch on the bungie line we got from a friend before we left.

When Cindy says, "Can you do a load of wash tonight?" that means about 70 minutes of active laundry labor, not nearly what she has to do to cook a meal, but close. I figure that I do 6-8 loads a week plus two loads of sheets. That's about 12 hours of laundry.

I remember watching my mother do the laundry on Mondays in the early 50's and it was very much like what I am doing. She had a "washer" standing next to the laundry tub. She filled it with a hose, added the clothes and soap and started the agitation. after a time, she turned the machine off and ran the clothes through a ringer being careful not to get her clothes or any body parts caught in the rollers. The wrung clothes fell onto a tray set across the rim of the laundry tub. Then she turned a valve, turned on the machine, and pumped the water out of the agitater into the laundry tub.

Next, back into the machine went the clothes for the rinse cycle using the same routine without the soap (just like I do). Finally the "wrung" clothes went into a basket and out to the clothes line. She took a damp cloth and ran down each line to be sure it was clean and then pinned the clothes in place. I AM MY MOTHER. Oh, sorry I have to run. The next load is ready to spin.