Tuesday, November 3, 2009


After we finished our first quarter at school, we had a week's break. On the last day of school before the break, my friend Christina came home with me. I have found Christina to be a good trustworthy friend who has helped me on many occasions. 

I got to meet her when I first came to Russia when I came to the first day of school for the boys. She tried to talk with me, and unfortunately I could not respond very well. Every time I went to the boys school, I would usually see her, and every time I could speak a little bit better with her. Then when I went to school this May when Mother was gone for a week, we had a chance to hang together and get to know each other better. Now that I go to school again, we can talk and converse on breaks. She is in the 6th grade (the grade I would be in if I were in America) so unfortunately we are not in the same class.

It was Tuesday when she came over, and I had anticipated her going home on Thursday, but it turned out to be a day longer. In Russia people can do way more than a 1 day sleepover. I have gone myself on three-day sleepovers. 

Once we got home, we went to my room and painted each other's nails. Then we had dinner and before bed watched a movie. The next day we lounged around and played hide-and-seek. Since it was raining, we didn't play outside. Later that evening Dad had a man he works with came over who brought his daughter, and we all played together. 

The next day our Russian helper came over on her usual day, and she and Christina got along well. While Tanya ironed clothes, we would talk with her. 

The next night, another girl from my church came over, Anya. Remember her from my birthday party? Together we painted nails and made friendship bracelets. Unfortunately, that was the night Anya declared me to no longer be her best friend, because she had decided to be best friends with the popular group at church and that we were too different to be best friends. 

Christina and I went to bed around 11 and in the morning I took her to the metro to meet her grandmother. After such a long sleepover, I was finally glad to be able to stay in one language - not that I was incapable of speaking Russian for three days straight, but it does make one's tongue a bit tired.

Nonetheless, having a friend like Christina is a blessing because she is the kind of friend who can help me in situations when you need a friend. Compared to other friends, she is a winner at a good friend contest. She is better than a lot of Russians that I have met because she is kind, thoughtful, and caring. She helps me with homework. She doesn't change on a dime like some of the neighborhood girls. That kind cannot be replaced by someone else. God has strengthened our relationship through this long sleepover, and you can pray that this relationship would grow stronger. 

Monday, October 5, 2009

Private school

Recently I have been going to school four days a week. All summer we had been talking about me going to the boys' Russian school for the last few weeks before furlough. Even though I get teased often there, I have learned more than I myself can comprehend.

One thing I get teased for is the fact that I have to go to grammar and reading in the 2nd and 3rd grade. But for most of the time I am in the 5th grade. (note: Russian schools start 1st grade at 7 y.o., so while I am in 5th grade here, I would be in 6th grade in the states.) I used to get teased for my coat. I've learned to be more tolerant of the teasing through these situations. 

I've learned more words and to read a little better. I've learned a lot about Russian mindset, for example, if a teacher is absent and the kids skip that class, they will call the teacher and ask for homework. The teacher can give them the homework, but they might not at all understand it because the teacher wasn't there to teach the lesson.

Every day a different kid in each class is "dezhurny" (daily helper  [compare de jour - Lyle]). She or he will wipe up the blackboard after each lesson, mop the floors at the end of the day, wipe the tables after meals, and take out the trash. I've gotten to be dezhurny two times. 

School can be lots of fun, just so long as I am not late for the morning bell. No outside time for breaks when I am late. I hate that cause I get couped up inside. 

This week the cold has been going around, and our teacher has been gone. Lots of kids in other classes are also missing. On Friday it was only me and two boys in our class, which wasn't very fun being the only girl. It was really lonely.After school all the grades take a walk together -  a time where I can be with other kids who don't tease me. I like hanging out with 2 girls in the 3rd grade and 2 from the 6th grade. We play games together. For example, one person closes her eyes and she has to guess where she is when the others lead her somewhere and stop. 

Friday, May 8, 2009

Fickle Friends

Lyle, standing in for Lydia today. She asked me to write this one, as she's not in the right "spirit" to even talk about it, she says. It's been a hard month. 

We're learning that Russian kids are really tough to bond well with. They (I expect this is mainly girls) have a rule of thumb that you can have one friend at a time. The rest of the time, you are free to betray the trust of the other girls and treat them like dirt. So one day they are your friend and the next they hate you. For a girl like Lydia, it's been especially hard to bear. 

Even the girls at church are tough, in that they are generally quite immature and don't go out of their way to make an outsider feel at home. Lydia had a great overnight recently with some sisters, but they hardly talk with her at church. Another girl comes over to play when I work with her mother in counseling. Lydia is literally a few hours older than her, but this girl gets on better with Kerith because of her emotional maturity.

Diana and I are taking two very different but complementary courses of action. Diana is now on a warpath to find ex-pat friends. They are actually quite hard to find, especially with the diminishing missionary population here. We tried to avoid foreigners to some extend in the beginning, wanted to acculturate as much as possible, but we are now learning from the senior missionaries that no kid successfully makes it without close ex-pat friends. That's a shame, but it's the reality.

I'm a counselor, so Lydia and I have spent a lot of time talking and praying over these things, and she has grown leaps and bounds, though you hate seeing her have to go through what it takes to learn these lessons. She's letting go of her desire to have Russian friends for her own pleasure, and she is learning how to love them unconditionally and care for their souls as objects of God's reconciling love. She could have just pulled away from them, but she has shown tremendous resiliency in re-orienting her affections around God's perspective. It's a gift that I am confident she will reap the fruits of, as will many others, for the rest of her life.

V and Me

V. stands for Valery. Valery is the man who is always drunk in the building next to ours. He is almost always sitting on a bench in our courtyard, smoking and drinking. He's an elder man who often has other men his age sitting with him. Many teenagers and couples walk through and laugh at him like something funny to see on a sight-seeing tour. Many kids tell him to go home. A couple Saturdays ago, he was there again, very drunk. I was out playing nearby climbing a tree when I heard him cry out, and he fell to the ground with a thud. I hurried home and told Dad that he had fallen over, asking that Dad would pick Valery up again. Dad resisted, claiming that the last time he had picked him up, he had just fallen over again. 

I rushed back outside, the brothers following me. I watched Valery crawl like a baby to a nearby gate, pull himself up and stand. Simon, who had been watching beside me, ventured out and stood by Valery. Valery talked to him, and I, concerned for his safety, came over and stood behind Simon. Valery noted Simon's coat, buttoned all the way up, and asked him why his coat was buttoned up. I translated to Simon, since he did not understand drunken words. Simon unbuttoned his coat, but then re-buttoned it. I then told Simon to go get Dad, and he left. I never thought I'd do this, but I picked up his dirty cane that had fallen. I held it as he held on to the gate for support, and he slowly, like a child making his way around a pool, got to the steps to his building. When  he got to the steps, he had nothing to hold on to, so he slowly made his way up the steps. 

When he finished getting up the steps, the patio up to his door was sloped upwards, so it was hard for him to walk up. Steadying himself along the wall, one hand in front of the other, he made his way to the entrance. At one point he mumbled something that I couldn't understand. I finally understood, "Give me your hand." I was paralyzed with fright but realized that God would be with me, so I offered my hand. He took it, and I will never forget holding that hand. His hand was cold and dirty, and even from six feet away you could smell the liquor on him.  He held my hand very tightly and had me pull him up towards the door. When he said I could let go, I was so relieved I almost dropped him. Simon came back and told me Daddy was coming. 

The boys had been watching, and I urged them again to go get Daddy. Valery thought I was scolding them and told me, "Don't scold them." I told him that I wasn't, but kept telling Kerith to go, go. Once he reached the door, Valery started a conversation. "You're American, right? I don't know any American. I studied French for a while." I said that I didn't know any French. Imagine how hard it is to understand a drunk in Russian. 

Two men yelled from across the way that he acted like he was 5 years old. The other said he should be in bed.

Finally Dad arrived on the scene. Valery shook Dad's hands and looked down at the mittens he was wearing, asking about them. Valery said, "Your children...." Daddy finished, "helped you?" Valery retorted, "Wrong word... MORE than helped me."

I left, went home, and washed my hands with lots of hot water. When I came back, Dad told me that Valery had made it inside. I broke down and started crying and crying, telling him about giving my hand and the guys who were making fun of him. Dad told me that I had given Christ's hand, not my own. 

It was a moving experience, and through it God showed me what I'm here for. As shocking as it may sound, God wants me to work with drunks. If He had told me any earlier, I would have rejected it, but I'm now ready to do it.

My last words of encouragement you you: give Christ's hands to anybody's hand. 

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

No kidding, the hospital!

In order to get a new visa, we had to get certain exams done, which included going to the hospital. These came in two trips. I went with Mom and Dad on the first Friday where they had to get their testing done at one hospital and so I could get one of mine done. 

The next Tuesday the kids' turn came. We went to a children's hospital that was in the heart of the city. Going up to it you see fancy little buildings with classical Russian designs on the windows and roofs. The place had a lot of character, but was dirty. Our nanny, Tanya, went with us to be an extra set of hands. The hospital was actually almost falling apart. If you looked up in to the different rooms, you would see paint peeling off, just ready to drop on your head. Everything had to be hand-written. Nothing was done on computer. When we went back on Friday to check our TB tests, the checking was only 15 minutes. We had to wait three hours afterwards just to get the documents that said we didn't have TB. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

God works with friends

As I have mentioned before, I'm having serious friend issues; art school is one of the places where I have these issues. The neighborhood also is a trial sometimes. But what is quite fascinating is that in both places something weird happened. 
Let me back up a little. 
At art school I am most often teased by two girls, Julia and Tanya, and the main reason is because of my accent. The one girl who in particular seems to do it the most is Tanya. Recently she had started to not only 
tease me about it but fake an accent, as if it were very bad. It is not as bad as she acts, but the way she says it is very hurtful and it went so far as me having to tell my dad and my dad having to tell the teachers. It was on Thursday at painting class. On the way there I was with my dad; I told him of the teasing and what was really going on. I was very upset at the way I was being treating, because I hadn't expected to be teased just because of my accent. And he said he would do something. When we got there my dad spoke with the receptionist, who called my teacher, Polina Anatolievna (pictured right). 
The whole point of my dad talking with the teacher was to prevent further teasing by those two girls. 
The teacher caught me on the way to class and asked me to explain what the receptionist had told her, and I explained all the incidents of being teased, and she asked me if it had been going on on Thursdays. I said that it had started on Monday but had gotten on Wed. My teacher went and talked to my dad, and I went to my seat and started drawing what I wanted to paint. When my teacher came back, she went over and scolded Tanya for teasing me, and said that it wasn't good. I could see the reaction on Tanya's face that she wasn't listening, or if she was, that she didn't take it seriously. Afterwards, I caught her whispering things and making gestures towards me with Julia. Julia's expression afterwards I read as, "I'll go with that for now."
(Let me explain my previous relationship I've had with Julia Kim (pictured left). She was the other girl picked with me to go to the art contest. There she had acted best friends with 
me, but back in the classroom she was buddy-buddy with the other kids, especially Tanya. So most of the time she and I hardly talk at all.)

This entire time, Tanya's other best friend Lera (they even did homework together) had been looking at me with an expression that I could not read, having seen the whole thing. During the class I got up to sharpen my pencil. There was a sharpener there, and when I got there, Lera noticed I was having trouble figuring it out, and she showed me how to use it.  When I thanked her for showing me how to use it, she didn't thank me the normal way, which was, "you're welcome,"
 she said it with a truly "you're welcome" voice, as though she really meant it. Later, after class, we were outside waiting for our parents when Tanya and Lera came out. I had already been sledding on my bag of indoor shoes on a hill 3-4 feet high that had lots of ice on it that allowed you to coast a few feet further at the bottom. They came running to sled as well, but what was surprising what that Tanya yelled out, "let's go together!" The both allowed me to be in front, whereas they would normally argue over who would be in the front. But they were very gracious. I was very excited that they would treat me this way. 

The next Thursday, Lera and I sat together. In the middle of the class two other girls were sitting on the same stool, and it looked very funny, for it looked as if they had two heads and four feet sticking out the board on the easel. I poke Lera in the shoulder gently and pointed and said, "Look, a two-headed, four-legged girl." She and I both laughed, which was very surprising, seeing that it's very hard to make things seem funny in a different language. Tanya, sitting nearby, never once teased me. I'm praying for another good day at art school today. 

I'm very grateful to God for starting me off with a new relationship again. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How much has Russia been through?

Yesterday was the 65th anniversary of the lifting of the German blockade against Leningrad. The blockade lasted nearly 900 day4s during WW2. On an average 42 people died every day during that time [Some estimates are much higher - Lyle]. Yesterday I went to hear a lady who lived during that time. She was 11 when it started and 14 when it ended.  

Interesting fact: they only got 125 grams of food a day. The used metal cups to put hot water inside. There was no t
ea or coffee. She said she very much respected these kinds of cups, because they would warm your hand as you drank. There was no electricity, and there were no candles, because they all ate them. She had a window overlooking the place where the city stored their sugar, butter, and flower to be distributed. But she watched it all burn up over a two-week period. There was no oil, but one amazing story she told was about her father, who collapsed on the sidewalk from hunger one day. A worker, dressed in workers clothes, came over, picked up her father, and dropped a drop of oil in his mouth. Her father was a preacher, and he said he believed it was an angel. Anything edible in the city was eaten. 

Last year, when my grandmother was here, I went to the Bread Museum,
 which explains the history of bread in Russia. One part of it was for the blockade. They had a small glass case with a piece of bread in it. It was made of dust specs, the wrong parts of wheat that you grind to make bread, and
 all sorts of yucky types of dust. Also with my grandmother, I went to the Leningrad cemetery. 
It had a small museum there, and we went inside. The most interesting thing about the museum was a little diary, made up of three or four pages, of a little girl's diary. On the first day, it said, "Mother is dead." On the second day, "Father and Uncle died." On the last day, it read, "All are dead; only I am left." No one knows what happened to the little girl, but one sad thing is that she might have died too. 

There were pictures at the Bread Museum of children looking skin and bone, barely any skin. You wonder if they ate the dead. One more thing the lady said: She was once at the train station; she was there with her mother and an older friend, when all of a sudden the Germans were firing upon them. Her older friend threw her into a ditch and covered her so that the Germans would not see her and shoot her. When it was all over, and the Germans had left, her friend got her out of the ditch and covered her eyes so that she would not see all the dead people. When her mother saw that her friend had kept her daughter safe, she knelt down and kissed her friend's feet. 

It hurts me to know that my country has been through so much. It makes me want to go back in time and help fight. But since I can't, all I can do is pray for Russia. My prayer is that Russia would grow to be a strong Christian nation, and that everybody who is depressed now would have hope. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tied up at the moment

Being tied up at the moment doesn't mean up in strings; it can mean other things too. In my case, I'm tied up about home issues. Right now, I want to see my friends, but also I want to stay here longer. I want to be able to be at home sometimes. But I don't have a good home. My home isn't Russia; my home isn't America. So how am I supposed to know which home is mine. I have a sinking suspicion that once I go back to America, that I'm not going to want to leave, and that once I get back to Russian I'm not going to want to go back to America either. The homiest place I feel now is when I am going to bed and when I'm with God. The tied up issue comes in when I don't know which home is mine, so I'm tied up about my home, even as odd as it sounds. You'd think that since I'd been in America longer than Russia, I'd want to be in America more. But no, that isn't the case. I might go so far as to say that I don't know which country I belong to.

At church, two families with kids around my age have come to Russia a few months ago. Now, believe me, I don't hold a grudge against them for coming, and I'm not mad at them for coming. I just feel a little awkward, because you'd expect me to want to hang out with them more than the Russians, but I tend to want to hang out more with the Russians. I sort of sometimes wish that my family was the only Americans there, because it was easier to handle things. Now that there are two new (American) girls in my class, the Russian girls see that I have someone to talk to, so it gets frustrating when the Americans try to be with me, when I want to be with the other girls.

The only problem is that the girls whom I am with at, say, art school, don't accept me as a friend, so I'm often lonely. (Russians have a problem with this, so it's typical, but that's not my point here.) My point is, I'm not recognized as who I want to be. I want to be recognized as a Russian.

Now that it's winter, I don't see the kids who live in my dvor as much as in the summer, except for one girl from the next dvor, Zhenya, who is being over-consistent with me. She will come over any day she doesn't have too much homework. The problem with that is that she has started to consider me her best friend, and told me so, and I don't consider her a best friend because she usually want everything in her control, and everything her way, and if I'm not able to play, then she will beg and beg and beg until my parents give us about a half an hour for play, and then when that time runs out, she will beg and beg and beg for another half an hour. I've been trying to get her to see that I can play with her all the time, but she is sort of not understanding.

Please pray for me in these situations, that I would feel at home in both places and recognized as who I want to be. And pray that I learn perseverance through the trials I have.