Monday, May 9, 2011

Happy Victory Day--С Днем Победы!

May 9: today is Victory Day in Russia. The Soviet Union lost 8,806,453 combat troops and 13,684,692 civilians in WWII. Nobody lost more, and nobody won more in the battle against the Nazi's. So thank you Russia, Ukraine, and all other counties of the Soviet Union for stopping the Nazi Juggernaut with your blood. Celebrate. We celebrate with you!

I have to admit that my friend Alex Newby wrote this quote above, but since I found it so profound and true, I felt the need to share it with you. In the United States we may learn in history classes that the Russians fought hard in WWII, but (at least for me) I was never truly impacted by just how much. I realize that this is a generalization I am about to make, but I feel that often Americans believe that we came into the war and "shortly" thereafter, the Allies won. It is true that American participation in the war was vitally crucial, but we sometimes forget that without the deep, sustained, and determined resistance of Russia, and the other Allied countries, the Germans would have won. The graveyards throughout Moscow and the rest of Russia are jam packed with WWII soldiers. Today--this beautiful May 9, we celebrate the victory over Germany in 1945. This is the largest and most important holiday in Russia and I'd like to show you a few photos I took around town today.

For me, the celebration for this day actually started several days ago. In school on Thursday, my students took a short bus ride into the village of Zaitsevo where they gathered around a WWII memorial, placed flowers there, and honored some of the veterans from the village.

Later that afternoon, quite a number of veterans visited our school and came to each class to tell about their experiences in the war. These two gentlemen visited the 5th grade. I wish I could have understood everything they said. With my limited Russian, I did figure out that the gentleman on the right was a prisoner of war--which was later confirmed by one of my students.

All over the city, the government has been preparing for this big day. Russian flags have been placed everywhere and the white, blue, and red is everywhere.

This morning--May 9--a few friends and I went to Mayakovskaya--a shortish distance from Red Square to watch the military parade go by. We thought it would start at 10am, so we got there around 9 in order to get a good spot to see. The parade didn't start until 11:30:( It was actually a bit chilly, and amazingly enough--it was also cloudy. This was amazing because the government had spent 50 million rubles to seed the clouds with chemicals yesterday so it wouldn't rain. It didn't rain, but there were dark clouds. Anyway--the parade was okay. There was a helicopter fly over with flags that was neat and then lots of tanks drove by. It wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be. Of course there was a lot more to the parade, but it only took place in Red Square--which you could only get into as a VIP or a reporter.

Afterwards we went to a nice American diner called Starlight Diner, where you can get real American burgers and milkshakes. After eating Russian food everyday at school this is a nice change--even on Victory Day:)

Then we went to Park Pobyedi. "Pobyedi" means "Victory", so it is Victory Park. I drive past this park everyday on my way to work, but I had never been there before. It is normally very quiet with not many people there. Today however...there were many many thousands. You come up from the metro into the bright sunlight and your sight is filled with people, fountains, flowers and the towering monument in the distance. People are sporting their orange and black victory ribbons--they are tied to bags, pinned to lapels, and weaved in hair. Everyone is proud to be Russian today; and I am proud to live here among them. You go through security and then weave your way slowly through the crowds taking pictures of flowering monuments and veterans who are being honored by society. All around you see many veterans, their jackets pinned with decorations. And in their arms are many flowers. Someone goes up to them to shake their hands, give them flowers, take a picture, and say "Thank you for bringing us Victory." It is quite special to see.

We walked around to the back of the park by the museum and lay on the grass talking, laughing and eating ice cream. Hundreds of others had the same idea. Eventually we continued to walk and saw some holocaust statues and other memorials. It was a beautiful day and a beautiful park. This evening there will be a big fireworks show at Park Pobyedi, but I decided to come home--to relax, write in my blog, and prepare for school tomorrow.

It is so difficult to think of going back to school after such a nice holiday, but I need to remind myself that this was not just a day off of school. We all need to remember the sacrifices that others have made and to be willing to make the same sacrifices if necessary. This world is not all about me and my desires. One of my favorite verses is John 18:37. "For this end I was born, and for this end came I into the world that I might bear witness to the truth." Let us all remember that true Victory is from the great Victor and through Him, we can bring truth and victory to our world.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Ukranian Pysanki Eggs--I Made My Own!!

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited by a friend to come and make some Ukranian Pysanki eggs. These are the famous painted eggs with incredible detail and design. They are made from real eggs and are not wooden. Let me take you through the process of making them.

1. Take a white egg. Make sure that it is solid and has no cracks and is not weak.

2. Looking at a design or making your own design, draw litely on the egg with pencil. I used a design ready made--which is actually easier than making your own on your first try. I liked the traditional look. I picked something that wasn't too hard, but not too easy. I liked a bit of a challenge. Then you take bee's wax and scoop it into the wide end of this little tool. You get the tool hot in the fire and it melts the wax making it come out the tiny end of the tool. You apply this to part of your design, but not all of it.

3. You put it in the first color of dye. I used Yellow. This means that everything under the wax would be white. It's white because under the wax is the color of the egg.

4. Then apply more wax to the design. This then means that whatever wax you put on at this stage will keep that part of the design yellow. Then set it in more dye. I used orange dye at this stage.

5. Do the process one more time and then set it in the last color of dye--red.

Here are some of the other girls working on their eggs.

6. Now mine is still not finished. I need to remove the black wax. For a short period of time, hold the egg right next to the candle flame. Hold it only until you see the black wax starting to melt and get close to dripping. If you hold it too long, it will scorch the egg. When the wax starts to melt, take a paper towel and wipe the wax off. Continue until all the wax is off.

7. Now we have to get the yolk outside of the egg. Nadja has special tools for this so that you don't have to blow it out and get dye all over your lips. You poke a small hole in the top of the egg with the tool. Then you turn it over and squeeze the tool. It is a suction action and makes all the egg come out from inside.

8. And wa-la! We are done! Final project! I think this looks pretty good for being my first egg ever.

Here is a final look at some of the other eggs done that day.

København, Denmark--Spring Break 2011

A few weeks ago in the middle of March, I went with Kristin and Amber to Copenhagen, Denmark to visit our good friend Oli Jakup Jakobsen. In the fall, Oli Jakup had studied as an exchange student in Moscow and we got to know him through the young adults Bible study we all went to on Tuesdays. In December he moved back to Denmark where he is studying. He will graduate in May and return to his home in the Faroe Islands. Most of you have probably never heard of these islands, but they are situated halfway between Scotland and Iceland. They are part of the Kingdom of Denmark, which is why Oli goes to school there, but the islands are very different from Denmark and he wants to return as soon as he graduates. Anyway, we decided to travel to Denmark to explore it on our spring break. It was great that Oli was still there so we could spend time with him. He was kind enough to let us stay at his flat. We slept on mattresses on the floor and on his couches. It was a very nice set up.

There is so much to tell, so I will just share some of the highlights. It was quite windy and cold while we were there, but we bundled up as best we could and went to see the sights. The first day we walked from his flat to the downtown area--a couple of kilometers away. It was a long but nice walk and we saw a lot. After that we got the Copenhagen Card so we could take the public transportation.

On our walk we searched for the graves of the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and the fairytale writer Hans Christian Andersen.

And we found them!

We walked over the beautiful canals. It is pretty from a distance, but when you look closely at the water, it is unfortunately full of garbage. Sad.

We saw a protest by a bunch of farmers. They had driven their tractors into the city and parked them in the main square. We asked a farmer what it was about and he told us of how they had lots of extra taxes and restrictions and wanted these lessened. This picture is great and I like how it is a good representation of Denmark--an agricultural country in the midst of high culture and long history.

Copenhagen is a city of bikes. There are probably more bikes than cars. They even have their own bike lane that is as big as the car lanes, and watch out for them because they won't stop for you.

We saw Amalienborg Palace, where the royal family lives. And the guards were in amazing uniform.

We walked around the harbor and some of the most scenic areas of Copenhagen. It was beautiful and people were milling about and enjoying themselves.

We went to a zoo and some other nice museums. The zoo was okay--not the best I've been to, but not bad. My favorite day was the day we took the train out of the city to a little village about 40 minutes away. In this quaint, beautiful village is the Frederiksborg Slot. This is a huge castle and it took my breath away. Unfortunately it closed 10 minutes before we got there. Apparently they close early in the winter months because the castle does not have electricity and it gets dark early. So we had to walk around outside, but we had a marvelous time.

Of course we also stopped along the way at a cute cafe and bought another Chai Latte. I think this was maybe chai latte #5. I think we had one each day. We hadn't had them since we moved to Russia since we couldn't find a coffee shop that served them in Moscow. We were obsessed with them.

On one of the last days, Oli drove us about 100km outside of Copenhagen. If you don't know, Denmark is made up of a series of islands and one main peninsula. Copenhagen is on a small island in the north east part of the country. We drove south and crossed a bridge to a different island. Denmark is very flat with very few hills. There is only one part of the country that has a bit of elevation and those are some cliffs called the cliffs of Mun. This is pronounced as "moon." They are a white chalky substance that look a bit like the cliffs of Dover in southern England. There was a very long staircase that took us to the base of the cliffs where we walked along the edge of the sea and enjoyed the scenery.

Of course we also saw The Little Mermaid. This is the iconic statue for Copenhagen, as their most famous author, Hans Christian Andersen, wrote the story of The Little Mermaid. Overall, this was a lovely trip.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Women's Day

Shortly after Maslanitsa is one of the biggest celebrations in Russia--Women's Day on March 8. This holiday is not just for mothers--it's for all women! Like I've said earlier, Russians know how to celebrate. A few days before the actual holiday I began getting boquets of flowers from my students. Then the gifts started pouring in from each class. I left for home two days in a row toting huge and heavy bags of gifts and flowers.

The boys in the classes also give gifts to the girls-not just the teachers. The kids (parents) go in on a gift that is all given to each girl. The boys lined up on Friday morning each carrying a gift bag. Then each boy said something nice about the girls that he appreciated. Then they gave them the gifts. It was some nice lotions, bath wash, etc.

All over the city that weekend, men and women were carrying around big bags of flowers and gifts. I've just never seen anything like it.

I ended up putting all my gifts on the fireplace mantle just to see the amount of it. As you can see by the picture here it is quite overwhelming. Let's see: there are 5 bouquets of flowers, 1 boquet of chocolate, and a basket with coffee, sweets, chocolate, and biscuits; a bottle of wine, a bottle of champaigne, perfume, and makeup; another box of chocolate, a wall hanging, and a couple of gift certificates to grocery stores and makeup stores. All in all, it's almost ridiculous what you get for just being born a girl. Kinda fun too though! I certainly will enjoy it while I am in Russia, because I know that when I leave I will never get this kind of thing again.