Saturday, February 26, 2011

You Know You're in Russia If...

Two of my friends, Megan and Kristin, came up with part of this enlightening list about living in Russia. It is quite entertaining, so even though I am stealing their list and adding about 30 of my own, I thought you might be interested in some of the things I see and go through by living here. Beware: it’s a long list.

 The majority of the calories you consume daily are from chocolate.
 When you are walking outside your eye literally freezes shut.
 You begin thinking that –15 degrees is warm.
 For a week of school you may have 6 out of 32 students.
 Your students may stay home from school if they coughed one time on Saturday. This means they will be ill for a week or more.
 You ice skate everywhere. You’re not actually wearing ice skates but since the sidewalks are one big sheet of ice you just glide along everywhere. (Because we all know if you try to lift your feet the chances of falling have greatly increased).
 If a law changes and you are upset, wait a week and it will change again…or ask someone else and they will give you a different answer.
 On the metro you smile and someone looks at you like you are mentally ill. And if you are reading a book and begin to laugh…you will get lots of weird looks.
 You get body slammed by a 70-year-old woman who was walking on the other side of the street but decided that she wanted to walk exactly where you were.
 You have almost been knocked out by the swinging doors at the entrance and exit of the metro.
 You have been afraid of riding the metro because suicide bombers are in fact real and very prevalent in Moscow.
 One errand a day is an accomplishment. Two is a maybe and a huge feeling of success.
 You have had to put some groceries back because you realized that carrying 6 bags on the metro is quite a challenge.
 Your students correct your spelling of “mom” in class because it is spelled “mum.”
 You drink so much tea that now you think teeth are actually yellow—When we made paper self-portraits I made my teeth white and my students told me “no, teeth are yellow”. I was quick to tell them mine were in fact white. But most of them still cut theirs out of yellow paper.
 You realize that kids really don’t need to drink water if they have tea…right??
 You hear English and get confused, sometimes it still sounds like Russian.
 It takes everything in you not to pet the lady’s coat next to you on the metro.

 You hear the other teachers tell the children that putting tons of butter on a small piece of bread is, in fact, healthy.
 You have to walk in a zig zag pattern on the sidewalks to avoid all the spit.
 Now, sweetened condensed milk is not just an ingredient in a recipe but actually a sauce to be poured on desserts and breakfast items.
 You have become immune to the flavor of dill because it's in almost everything.
 Your kids will eat 2-3 cloves of garlic on their bread at breakfast, and sometimes even make necklaces of garlic, because they believe it will keep them from getting sick.
 You know that in June you will be either taking showers at a friend's flat or taking freezing cold showers, because your hot water WILL be shut off for 2 weeks.
 Piracy doesn't exist. You can get almost anything for free on the internet. Software, movies, music...
 You hear the strangest medical advice: "Don't read and eat at the same time. Your body can't focus on digestion." "Don't eat milk with fish because you will get sick." (And I told them my dad soaks his fish in milk after filleting them and they were shocked.) "Don't put milk in your tea. The chemical reaction will cause you to be sick." (Even though the whole of England drinks tea this way.)
 You get an eye-roll and an exasperated sigh if you come up to a cashier and give her anything but exact change.
 You are tempted to wink at a complete stranger on the extremely long escalator because you know you will never see them again.

 To buy groceries and other items, you are frequently forced to shop at 3 or 4 places until you can find all you need, and even then you tend to never find certain items.
 Celery, Dr. Pepper, Nutmeg, Oreos, Reeces Peanut Butter Cups, and Peanut butter are nearly if not absolutely impossible to find.
 You’ve eaten borscht 2 times this week and you are still craving it.
 The things you love most are the variety of soup, juice and wafers. There is just nothing like them anywhere else.
 You think that paying $8 (250 rubles) is normal for a cup of coffee.
 In restaurants you often buy coke, tea, and sometimes even wine, because it is cheaper than buying a glass of water.
 You hear or experience horror stories surrounding the Russian medical services here. I know a girl who was hit by a car and had a severe concussion. The hospital refused to take her because she was an American, so the ambulance drove around trying to find a place that would take her. They got lost so they pulled over and had a smoking break while she was still in the ambulance.
 You get used to carrying your passport with you EVERYWHERE.
 Contracts don’t really mean anything. They can write something in a contract, but they are not really bound by it, and often pull the “It’s written, but it’s not really in the SPIRIT of the contract” ploy.
 You get used to speaking really quietly and your personal bubble gets significantly smaller as you speak to people very close to their faces.
 You get so used to not understanding anyone and find it easy to zone out. But when you hear some strangers speaking English you want to go up to them and just listen…or to ask them if they are tourists and need help.
 You think that taking an hour to get to church is a good commuting distance…no big deal.
 You realize that to get things done, or have something your way, you must first establish a good relationship with someone. Relationship comes before everything else. And you find you kind of love this and kind of hate this fact.

 And working at Moscow Economic School:
 You are no longer surprised by your 2nd grader who wears a different Armani suit to school every day.
 Crazy vacation stories cease to surprise you…like the 3rd grader who took their private 767 to their private Caribbean island and had a big Christmas party where they invited the Black Eyed Peas to play for them.
 You get used to seeing some nannies, drivers, and bodyguards sit in the atrium ALL DAY as they wait for their little charges to finish school and go home.
 There is practically a birthday party every day. The person with the birthday provides lots of fruit, candy, cakes, and tea for the rest of the school.
 Every time you turn around someone has put chocolate on your desk again.
 Everyone says “Prietneva appetita,” which means, “enjoy your meal” even when you are eating just a piece of chocolate or drinking a cup of tea.
 Your kids speak British English so you have become accustomed to calling erasers “rubbers,” trash “rubbish,” and trash cans “bins.”

 You meet some incredible people from all different backgrounds, races, countries, and experiences. But for a time their lives flow with yours and you are incredibly grateful…even though you know a goodbye is in store at some point.
 You find that even though this list is long and filled with difficult, challenging, and crazy life experiences, that you have somehow, in some way, fallen in love with this country, this city, the people, the food, the culture and the language. And all you can do is say, “Thank you Lord, for bringing me here.”

Friday, February 11, 2011

Thoughts to Ponder

For Christmas my friend Amber was given a book titled: "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy" by Eric Metaxes. I had heard of it recently, so when she was reading it, I asked her if I could read it when she was finished. She gave me the book last week, and I have been pouring through it. It has been rather difficult to put down actually. This is not a dry biography by any means. A number of years ago, my family got a copy of the Focus on the Family Radio Theatre's version of the life of Bonhoeffer. I have listened to it several times and each time it has moved me deeply. Reading his biography now is giving me an even deeper understanding of this amazing man used by God in extraordinary ways. I read a quote by Bonhoeffer that comes from a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law, Rudiger Schleicher. I shall quote it directly as it is very powerful and so true.

"First of all I will confess quite simply--I believe that the Bible alone is the answer to all our questions, and that we need only to ask repeatedly and a little humbly, in order to receive this answer. One cannot simply "read" the Bible, like other books. One must be prepared really to enquire of it. Only thus will it reveal itself. Only if we expect from it the ultimate answer, shall we receive it. That is because in the Bible God speaks to us. And one cannot simply think about God in one's own strength, one has to enquire of him. Only if we seek him, will he answer us.

Of course, it is also possible to read the Bible like any other book, that is to say from the point of view of textual criticism, etc.; there is mothing to be said against that. Only that that is not the method which will reveal to us the heart of the Bible, but only the surface, just as we do not grasp the words of someone we love by taking them to bits, but by simply receiving them, so that for days they go on lingering in our minds, simply because they are the words of a person we love; and just as these words reveal more and more of the person who said them as we go on, like Mary, "pondering them in our heart," so it will be with the words of the Bible. Only if we will venture to enter into the words of the Bible, as though in them this God were speaking to us who loves us and does not will to leave us along with our questions, only so shall we learn to rejoice in the Bible...

If it is I who determine where God is to be found, then I shall always find a God who corresponds to me in some way, who is obliging, who is connected with my own nature. But if God determines where he is to be found, then it will be in a place which is not immediately pleasing to my nature and which is not at all congenial to me. This place is the Cross of Christ. And whoever will find him must go to the foot of the Cross, as the Sermon on the Mount commands. This is not according to our nature at all, it is entirely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only in the New but also in the Old Testament." --Deitrich Bonhoeffer (1936)

I could commentate on what this means to me, but I think I would rather you think about it yourself and what it means to you.

Here is another thing to ponder that Bonhoeffer wrote. "He pointed out that nowadays we often ask ourselves whether we still need the Church, whether we still need God. But this question, he said, is wrong. We are the ones who are questioned. The Church exists and God exists, and we are asked whether we are willing to be of service, for God needs us" (Bonhoeffer, 125).