Sunday, June 27, 2010

Samara Mission Tour

This weekend was awesome. I am sleep-deprived, malnourished, and have no clean laundry, but am so content. Here’s the play-by-play:

We left Friday night at 5:08 PM. We were running late (as usual) because we were at the world sand volleyball championships at Парк Победы. It was pretty cool, we sat right in front of Misty Mays when we watched the American Men’s pair roll up the Germans. It was pretty cool, even if it was freezing and raining. I pulled the tarp out of my backpack and sat on it so I didn’t have to deal with a wet butt. Anyway, we went to lunch and a produkty after that to get stuff for dinner on the train.

We were running to get on the train, it was basically pulling out of the station when we got on the car (or course ours was the very last car on the train). We had dinner, told a lot of stories (well, I mostly listened to stories, the mission nostalgia type), and had a good time. We got ready for bed, made our beds, etc, and then started transformers. We got about half way through when we decided it was time for bed. The next morning we woke up, got into normal clothes after taking a “towel shower” (with water from the train’s holding tank… eeeew) and got off the train in Samara.

The city I had heard so much about was different than what I expected. I have heard since I got to Moscow that Moscow is not really Russia. I didn’t really think too much of it until I got to Samara. The city has a single metro line, but plenty of tramvajs and busses. We met a member at the train station, Jenny went off to Togliatti, and we went over to the member’s house. The whole family are members and good friends of Chris’ so they had a good catch up. We went down to Stalin’s bunker, which was pretty sweet. We took pictures at his desk and Cam even got one on his toilet. Awesome. Afterwards we went down to the Volga, Chris put his feet in the water after all these years, and we гулять-ed for a while, then went back to the Blinkov’s. They had lunch for us, which was great. We took naps/chatted/checked email until about 8, when we went down to MacDac to meet Jenny and Kostya, our ride.

Let me just talk about our ride for a second. Lada was one of the main car manufacturers during the Soviet era and I think may have been the only car available for a long time. There are still a lot of them. Not quite as crappy as Yugos, but up there. Anyway, we had a 2-door. It was AWEFUL. Chris, Cam and I were in the back seat. Chris and I went to Balikovo (4.5 hours away) Cam to Marks (5.5 hours away) and Jenny to Saratov (7 hours away). It was a long night. It was pretty fun, we had some good conversation, even if Kostya did get lost… twice. We finally made it to Balikovo around 2 AM. It was pretty crappy. We got to the hotel, which lost our reservations, and we got one of the only rooms available (which didn’t have the AC we ordered). The hotel was pretty nice, nevertheless. After a long night, we finally fell asleep in Balikovo.

The next day we went to church. Everyone was happy to see Chris, and was really nice to me. I was really impressed with the spirit in the branch there. The building itself was right on the Volga, out in the middle of nowhere, basically. It was pretty nice, though. It was hotter than Hades, but it was nice to see the church is the same no matter where you go. After lots of pictures and reminiscing, We went back to the hotel, ordered a taxi to Saratov through Marks, and set off.

We went through Marks to pick up Cam. Marks consists of about 3 major streets (pretty well paved ones, since they have only in the last 2 years been paved) and a lot of old people. Cam had a blast at church from the sounds of it. That’s all there is to say about Marks. Oh, and the amazing bread Cam bought for us. Delicious. Another side note: our driver took a shower out of a 5 liter bottle while we were waiting for Cam. It was pretty funny. We got to Saratov a little late for the Bennet’s farewell fireside. Apparently in Russia, people give the gifts of their talents (especially when they don’t have money for actual gifts). There were a few really good ones (a hilarious guy and a funny guitar song, a saucy 16 year old playing the accordion) and some really, REALLY bad ones (an old lady singing 25 verses of some old folk song and a really nervous lady singing a Russian tone-deaf version of “Be Still, My Soul”). After the fireside, there were lots and lots of refreshments, lots of conversations, lots of “Where did you serve?” and the like. I finally got to meet the famous Bennets. President Bennet is not the angry yelling super intense guy everyone has made him out to be, but I understand that I’m not a missionary and that 3 years can change a mission president a lot. After the fireside, we went with Mike, an English teacher and one of Chris’ good friends from Мясокоминат (meat factory… or Приволшкий), a suburb of Saratov, to his house for dinner and to spend the night. The bad thing was, his food was awful, his apartment was outrageously hot and stuffy, and there were 1000 mosquitoes. Oh yeah, not to mention the fact that there were 3 cats, and Cam is allergic to them. The missionaries came over for a little while, then they went home and Mike and his wife went over to his parents’ house to spend the night, so we could have the apartment to ourselves. We also happened to be there during the hot water outage, so the only thing we got were FREEZING cold showers. We went to bed around 11 PM. We all rolled around until 2 AM, Cam wheezing, me sweating, and Chris swatting mosquitoes when Chris decided we should get out of the house and get some air (mostly for Cam’s sake). We got dressed (gym shorts and flip flops… very Russian) and wandered the streets of the small town. We saw some characters. Lots of drunks, lots of ребята, and a diskoteka in what appeared to me to be the town hall, but what do I know. We miraculously found a 24-hour produkti and grabbed a huge bottle of water (Mike had none, just sugary cheap sok), some siroki, and a 2 liter of some generic crappy orange soda. We found a bus stop and sat down at the benches. We had become ребята. We sat there drinking and eating our siroki until 4:15 or so, when we went back to Mikes to get ready for the day. The Bennets were driving us back up to Samara and they were leaving at 5 AM. We took freezing cold showers, changed into clean clothes, and got the H out of that apartment. Pardon my French, but I have never had a night where I literally could not sleep from being so uncomfortable. The night in the Florida KOA with Uncle Vince is a close second… but this place took the cake.

The drive was quick (Roman, the mission driver, is amazing) and enjoyable. While waiting for the Bennets at the side of the road, we met a drunk old man who punched me (playfully, of course, with a chuckle). Cam, Jenny and I were in the back, Chris up with Sister Bennet in the 2nd row, Pres up front, and Roman behind the wheel. We got back to Samara by 10 AM (2 hours faster than Kostya did it, PS) and went to the mission home. We were able to take showers in the general authority apartment (aka Elder Storer’s apartment) and a short nap. The Bennets made us PB&J’s and chips and salsa. They’ve stopped buying food, since they’re going home in less than a month. It was delicious, to say the least. Anyway I digress. After that, we had a last lap around Samara and took a bus to Ulyanovsk. We spent 5 hours in the bus, 2 hours in Ulyanovsk, and another 3 hours in a taxi up to Kazanj. We got to the Riviera Kazan, a super swanky hotel (we decided to treat ourselves at the end of the trip since this was the only “vacation” time we had) and got one of the best nights sleep ever. We woke up, had a delicious breakfast, got massages in the spa, and then went into the city to do the tourist thing. We went back to the hotel, and Chris, Cam and I went to the water park connected to the hotel. That was probably 50% of our motivation for going there, by the way. It was so much fun. It was mostly indoor, with a few outdoor areas. It was a blast, maybe ¼ the size of sunsplash, but we made it fun. After that, we took a taxi to the airport and flew back into Moscow. The flight landed at 11:15 PM, we caught the midnight train into the city, got there at 12:45, got on the metro as it was closing, and went home. I finally got home around 1:40AM. I crashed and was late the next day to school. All in all it was a great trip. I had so much fun and learned a lot. I got to see the “real” Russia. Samara mission tour: check.

Elder Perry Awesomeness

Sunday was pretty awesome. This past week a few times we had choir practice for district conference. It was extra special, because elder Perry came. He gave a good talk about what a young persons 4 cornerstones should be:

1. Jesus Christ

2. Testimony of JS and restoration

3. BOM

4. Testimony of living prophets and following their counsel.

It was great, and he also gave a challenge to draw up a plan for reading the book of Mormon over the summer. So there is a goal for me for this summer. Reading the book of Mormon before school starts. That means I have to read at least 3 chapters a day in order to get there. Good luck to me. I think that’s do-able, because I can read 3 chapters in the hour it takes me to get from home to school on the metro. Sweet. I also need to make some language goals, a language study plan or something. I am not using it constantly like a missionary would be, and I am less entitled to the gift of tongues this time around. Joj. Russian is hard. That is all. I need to be memorizing X words a day, reading out loud, and SYLing as much as possible. Chris came home with me after conference (it was at a hotel at ВДНХ so it was just 3 stops from me.) Нина had a guest over, and we had a good gospel discussion with him.

The group has also already formed its own little cliques. Chris, Cam, and myself generally are found together when not at work or school. There some good eggs, those two. We have a lot of fun.

Tonight Elder Perry had a great fireside. The main thing I got out of it was learning to make the best out of any situation in which you find yourself. I think that is very applicable right now, being in the position I am. He talked about Joseph (the Egypt one) and how he made the best out of bad situations. He was sold into slavery, but he made himself the most presentable slave he could. He was sold into the Captain guy’s house and decided to be the best servant he could. He got thrown in jail and decided to be the best prisoner he could, and was eventually made the pharaoh’s servant, became the best servant in the pharaoh’s house and eventually became his right-hand man. He gave us one main challenge: to live with more enthusiasm and spirit. He talked about how those things are a conscious choice. I remember talking to my mission president when I was a young missionary and telling him how in high school I decided to get up in the morning and decide to have a good day. I forget to do that at times, and the last little while I have forgotten more than usual. That talk was just what I needed as a reminder. Thanks, Tom.

I’m still trying to figure out how to load pictures on here, since every time I try it tells me I have an error or something. Boo. For now, check out the Russia album on facebook. That’s all for now.

The Rest of the Week

This week was pretty good, actually. After setting stuff up with the European and American Medical Centers, I called the American center, and got put on hold, then told I would be called back later, and then never got called back. I’ll go in on Monday and drop off my resume. On Friday morning, I went into the EMC and was met by an assistant, instructed to change into scrubs, given plastic slippers, a cap and a mask. We had 3 surgeries. 2 arthroscopic ones in the morning, doing some basic repair stuff on meniscus and acl stuff. The afternoon surgery was sah-weet, though. The champion tae-kwan-do of all of Russia had torn his ACL and PCL, and they did a transplant reconstruction. They took tendons from some small lesser used unimportant muscles in this guys legs, scraped off all of the muscle tissue, took the “new ligaments” and got them the right thickness, length, etc. They then screwed and plugged them into where the old ligaments were. Ta-dah! New knee. Medicine is so cool! Esp. surgery. The guys there were pretty cool, too. They showed me around, and completely overestimated my medical knowledge… and my Russian knowledge. Yikes. I’ll definitely learn a lot while I’m there, though.

Saturday we went to the WWII museum. It was sweet. They had an exhibit on an American soldier who ended up fighting with the soviets during WWII. His son is now the American ambassador to Russia. He was on a video talking about his dad, and I didn’t realize he was American. I want my Russian to be like that some day. PLEASE!?!?!?!

The Most Productive Day of my Moscow-Based Life

Today is Monday. In the earlier years of my long and distinguished life, that meant going back to school after an all-too short weekend, back to 4 hour football practices and AP classes, Mario Andretti-style racing to make it to lunch and back in time, and the ever present feeling that I had one more thing to do. This Monday, I am content. I had the energy to get out of bed early enough to get a quick run in this morning. I had all my homework for the day done last Thursday, so that wasn’t a worry. I went to class till 12:30 and after class the internship coordinator for the Academy told me the internship with the American Medical Center she told me about was impossible. Lame. I was pretty bummed because the only other option was the Russian Childrens Clinical Hospital, where we weren’t even sure if I could do anything medically related or if I would just be fingerpainting with the terminal patients. After that, I got onto the internet (instead of listening to the weekly culture and history lecture) and researched the European Medical Center. After finding the address and memorizing the map that showed where the place was located in relation to the metro stop (which was on the way home, as luck would have it) I set off to go home, take a nap, and do some reading. We got to the stop where the EMC was located, and in a spur of the moment decision, as the doors were closing, I somehow dodged my way through the rush hour mob crowding the metro car I was in and barely made it past the guillotine doors with which each Russian metro car is so charmingly equipped. I got out to the surface, looked around and set off. The big give-away was the Olympic center (two huge stadiums… but I don’t remember there being an Olympiad in Moscow ever… anyone else know for sure?). Once I found that, it was just first alleyway to the right and straight on till morning. Or at least that’s how far it felt. I finally found the place, sweaty and gross in my standard-issue American jeans (read: not skin tight, bedazzled, full of random patches, seams, hems, or designes, etc) and my favorite ASU shirt. I went up to the reception desk and asked if they had any information about internships or volunteer opportunities at their facility. They sent me to the 3rd floor to the European Clinic for Sports Trauma and Orthopedics (translation: pre-med heaven). I talked to the reception desk there, and was asked to take a seat. After about 20 minutes I was led into the office of the Medical Director’s office for the entire clinic. He didn’t really understand what I wanted to do (the system is different in Europe) but in the end agreed, and told me to be there Friday morning at 8:30 AM. What?!?! I came in off the street just looking for information, and ended up setting up a shadowing gig for the whole summer, basically. AWESOME! Then, on my way back to the metro I decided to stop in at Mickey D’s to check email and have a celebratory strawberry milkshake. While surfing, I decided to research the American Medical Center, and ended up talking with the medical director there. He said he might be able to work something out where I could be a nurse’s assistant or something (I think they change diapers in rest homes in the states, but who knows) Also awesome. Мне повезло. It was, needless to say, a very good day.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Week 2

So I’m finally getting into the swing of things. We have class Monday through Thursday from 9 to 12:10. Mondays we have an additional “Culture and History” class Monday afternoon. We have “excursions” every Saturday (which have yet to keep my attention for more than 15 minutes) to interesting places with tours from less than interesting guides (at least thus far). Other than that, we have church on Sundays, and that is it for concrete schedules. I have come to the conclusion, with the help of a wise friend, that there is a decision to be made while here in Moscow. I can either spent 3 months here on an overpriced vacation with a little school on the side, or I can take advantage of the opportunities I have while I am here. Thus far, because of the whole “getting into the swing of things” I have been more on the first side of the fence. I need to get on the ball finding service opportunities or something. It’s also a great time to dive into the scriptures more and do a little self-evaluation and goal setting. Nothing like being in a completely foreign land and culture to help you realize what you really value. Anyway, school is interesting enough. We have a great professor that does a good job of teaching us the ropes of the Russian language and is pretty lenient as far as homework and stuff goes. That being said, I have come to realize that I am not going to learn Russian as well as I want to in these two months unless I put in some extra effort. Ok, a lot of extra effort. I am thinking of going missionary style and writing out a language study plan or something. I have plenty of experience with that stuff, haha, so I shouldn’t have too much trouble. Thursday right after class we ran down to Red Square to the Lenin Mausoleum (which holds outrageously strange and sporadic hours, 10-1, every day except Monday, Friday, weekends, holidays and all throughout May, and you’ll always be wrong no matter what you say!... Sorry, involuntary Brian Regan quote). It was creepy to see a guy who’s been dead for well over half a century. He is kind of plastic looking after all the years of chemicals used to preserve his body. It is also pretty creepy in my opinion to have a dictator and the start of communism on display when Russia is trying so hard to westernize… go figure. I’m learning more and more every day how… different Russians are and their mentality. It’s been fun with my landlady. She likes to talk, cooks pretty well, and is very concerned about my safety. It is a little annoying at times, but all in good fun. Anyway, week two has finished, and week three is here already. Bring it on.