Monday, April 23, 2012

Leavings and Comings

I've been thinking a lot lately. I mean, I think anyway, but in this case I'm talking about thinking in a philosophical sense. Maybe I should've used the word "Philosophizing..."

In any case, I've been having these thoughts. See, it's like any time you go overseas you get to this point where you're comfortable with where you are. The unordinary becomes ordinary. You're able to live, survive, continue. You're comfortable and content. There's also this point where you hit the "downhill" of living overseas. Because I have spent a year at a time living in Russia, these two events usually somewhat coincide.

Then you also have this point where you've been gone long enough that big events back home have occurred that might make it slightly strange to return. What's really fun is when this happens at the same time as the previously mentioned events.

The result is a kind of neurotic feeling. Okay, not quite.

Six months.

That's when everything has come together and started falling apart this trip. Six months to get used to the city. Six months to feel comfortable here. Six months for things back home to change. Six months and you're leaving. With six months to go all these thought were triggered by a phone call from my parents, telling me the preacher from my family's church and his family are moving. In July. I won't be home.

Suddenly a deluge of questions pours from you. "What's it going to be like when I go home? What about my life here? Who's going to do the things I'm doing? What about my friends here? What about my friends back home? I only have so much time left, how am I going to make the most of it? Should I come back? Should I do something else? It's going to be so strange back home. How are people going to view me? Will I feel alienated? Isolated? Alone? What about the reverse culture shock?"

And even though you've been through this before. Even though your brain tells you logically "Things change but some things don't. They won't understand but you'll survive. You'll figure out what you need to be doing. It will all work out, it always does." Your emotions get all twisted up and start sucking you into this strange, almost panicky black hole of void within yourself. So you keep yourself busy and decide not to think of it. Sometimes avoiding is the best way to deal with things.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Two Sundays ago, my phone rang in the middle of Bible class. I quickly grabbed my purse and dashed out of the zal, trying to figure out who would be calling me since pretty much everyone I speak to on the phone on a regular basis were sitting in the zal I had just vacated.

When I looked at the caller ID I discovered it was a woman I met when I was doing presentations at the American Corners. I had walked with her a bit and even had a semi-spiritual conversation with her so I was quite pleased to see her name come up.

"Allo?" I answered.
"Abigail? I'm calling to find out where exactly on the 6th line your church building is."
"Ah! It is yellow building. There is written "Church of Christ on Neva." Door at back."
"Do you enter from the courtyard?"
This confused me because we don't have a courtyard like some buildings do.
"Entrance at back."
"So you enter from the courtyard?"
"Yes. Third floor"

A few minutes later I saw her coming and was waiting for her when she came up the stairs. We greeted each other.

"I'm sorry, we change time of starting. Now is 11 not 12."

That didn't seem to bother her. In fact as we began to chat, I became infinitely disappointed that she had not actually come for church, but instead to track me down. She told me that she wanted to work on her English more and asked about an English group. I explained about the group we have on Thursdays at noon.
"That's no good" she said. "I work on Thursdays."
"I do individual study"
"When is convenient for you?"

I then invited her to come to Bible class. She agreed but "only for a few minutes."

We went into the zal and sat in the back where she proceeded with a deluge of questions. I did my best to answer them. They included things about what kind of church this was, who these people were, why were they gathered. She wanted to know if there were other Americans and I pointed out Joel. She then wanted to know if he had Russian citizenship. My favorite question by far though was
"Why bother coming together when you can just read the chapters at home?"
"Well, that is point. We read chapter at home then discuss here because many peoples have ideas and it help to discuss them."

After maybe ten or fifteen minutes in Bible class, she said she needed to go and we made an exit from the zal. She then asked a few more questions about the building and so I took her on a tour, explained about the institute, the kitchen and so on. Even though I knew she was big into English I still was hoping she would come for some of the events we have here.

"We have study of Bible on Monday" I told her.
"Is it in English?"
"No, Russian. We also have discussion group Fridays"
"Is it in English?"
"Why is everything here in Russian."
Mentally I was like "Seriously?" However, I handled myself well.
"Because most peoples in church are Russian. So we are speaking Russian Language."

We chatted for another couple of minutes and then she headed out.

Monday night, Oleg and I were talking about people being interested in English before Bible study. I told him this story and expressed my thoughts on her questions. He then explained to me that some people associate missionaries at churches only with English. He then told me a story about how he was preaching at a church in the 90s and a man stopped him and asked who he was. Oleg repeated his name. The man said "No, I mean are you the interpreter or what?" When Oleg explained that no, he was the preacher the man was astonished. I guess the church had been around for five or six years and in that time, the man had never heard a sermon that wasn't being translated from English.

He also told me about a man who preaches at a Baptist church. His sermons are translated into English for the foreigners in the audience. Yet there are still people who think the translation is going the other way.

It's just kind of interesting. It's an issue you don't see in American churches. I think it also says something about how important it is that there are training programs and such for the leaders of Russian churches. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

See Abigail Sing: A Children's Story

Meet Abigail.
Abigail lives in Russia.
Russia is a big country.
See Abigail sing.
Sing, Abigail, Sing!
Abigail sings alto.
Abigail sings in Russian
Abigail does not know alto.
Do not ask her to sing alto in a song she does not know.
Do not ask her to sing alto for any songs in English.
Abigail does know Russian.
Yay Abigail!

See the choir.
Abigail sings with the choir.
Abigail used to be the only alto who came to choir regularly.
She sang and sang.
See the choir prepare for their performances.
The choir will go to Minsk!
Abigail wanted to go to Minsk.
But she needs a visa.

See Abigail look up consulate information.
See Abigail try to get help with documents
See the time pass.
See the choir try to help Abigail with her visa.
Abigail is tired of thinking about visas in any country.
Some people think Abigail needs a letter of invitation.
Some people think she does not.
Does Abigail need a letter of invitation?
Yes! Yes she does!

Abigail finds this out ten days before the choir leaves.
Abigail decides not to go to Minsk.
But people want Abigail to go to Minsk.
They continue trying to help her get a visa.
Abigail needs stamps in her passport proving she has left Russia.
They do not do stamp passports at the Belorussian border.
Abigail will not go to Minsk.
She will go to Estonia.
She does not need a visa for Estonia.
Abigail is kind of okay with that.

Friday, April 06, 2012

The World Premiere

A month or so ago Luke pulled me aside and asked me if I wanted to sing alto for an ensemble that she and Igor (One of our preachers) were trying to create. Apparently all the other altos they'd talked to were busy or weren't in-shape singing wise. I was quite honored to be asked and so I agreed.

It was a very interesting life choice.

I actually enjoy the ensemble more than I do choir. I'm not sure if it's the music, or the people involved, or the challenge. Let me tell you what, the ensemble has been a challenge. For those of you who don't know, singing as one of four people is completely different than singing with a group. Just saying. If I thought it was hard just being in choir, this is more intense.

Again, not only do I have to memorize songs in Russian, Alto parts, and correct singing posture and breathing, but also some of the songs we sing in ensemble are a lot more complex than what we sing in choir. In addition, (This is partly because we only had a month to prepare for the Easter season) we had to learn the parts quickly and we have to make sure they sound good. In choir if you don't know the part, you can just not sing as loud and it's okay, but in the ensemble, every part counts.

Having said all that, today was a big day for our little quartet. It was our first performance. We were invited to go to a hospice for children with cancer and sing for them. Originally there were supposed to be five children there, but some were away so there were only two. We thought about rescheduling but then decided since we had planned on it, we should go. So we did.

It was worth the trip. At first, it was a little awkward. I think the staff and kids were a little wary of us and I know, I was a little wary of them. I'd been nervous ahead of time because I'm not good with very ill people, hospitals, nursing homes, things of that nature and so I wasn't quite sure what to expect at the hospice. It was a nice place though, a big three story house that felt nothing like any of the above-mentioned places. It was even hard to believe that the kids we met belonged in hospice.

My adrenaline was up as well because of the whole performance thing. There were some places that I messed up, pretty badly. But the important thing was that we were there and we were singing. By the end of it, I was more relaxed and the singing came easier.

We sang for about twenty minutes, then we took pictures and then we had chai. One of the kids who was there today was a 14 year old girl named Sasha. It was really fun to get to talk with her. She seemed interested in the fact that I was American and had some questions for me. I forget that it's kind of an interesting thing to be a foreigner since the people at church have gotten to know me, and I've gotten used to being here so I don't really feel foreign. We took gifts for the kids as well. Little candy bouquets and Easter Chicks that Luka's roommate made, and then we took them each a little craft kit as something fun for them to do.

Our little group was very well pleased with the way things went and we hope we were able to bless the kids and the staff at the hospice. I know being able to sing for them was definitely a blessing and encouragement for me.

We're planning on going back next Friday when hopefully the rest of the kids will be there.  

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

A Trip to Gatchina

Yesterday was kind of rough. I was soooo tired. By soooo tired, I mean a lot more tired than usual. Part of it was because Sunday night I did a really smart thing. I started a book at midnight. You'd think I'd know better by now, not to start books late in the evening because what happens? Well, the night stretches onward and I think "oh I can finish this" and then I stay up until 3:30 in the morning doing just that. Which is what happened Sunday night. This phenomenon is especially bad if it's a shorter, or YA novel. But I digress.

So, I already had that working against me. Then there was the fact that I had to be up early to go out to Luka's for our Monday-Wednesday Bible study. Usually we meet at the church on Mondays, but Luka had a day off yesterday instead of Wednesday and so we met at her apartment. Normally, this wouldn't be a problem for me except that Mondays are the days I have like four back-to-back English studies from 3-7pm. Then Bible Study. Add in the morning metro trip and Bible study and it was like "ugh"

On top of all these factors, I was tired from the weekend as well. On Sunday, our Choir traveled to a town about 40 minutes south of St. Petersburg called Gatchina. There is a congregation there and so we went and sang. It was a good time and I really enjoyed getting to see somewhere new and meeting new people.

Actually, the whole trip to Gatchina was an experience in itself. Originally, Natasha and I were going to leave from the island and meet a group of the girls at the Moskovskaya metro station. From there we planned on taking an hour-long bus ride out to Gatchina. Natasha called me about twenty minutes before we were supposed to meet and asked if I'd rather go by car. I said sure and thus the adventure began.

We traveled with Sergei Y. This is why I love Russia, because even the simplest thing is an adventure.

I get in the car and we start to drive.
Me: "Yay! We're going to Gatchina! This is so exciting!"
Natasha: "Well actually, we're not going to Gatchina yet. First we have to go to the train station, then we have to go to Brad and Lena's then we have to stop at Sergei's. Then we're going to Gatchina."
Me: "Why are we going to Brad and Lena's?"
Natasha: "To drop off Misha and Tanya"
Sergei: "We're picking Misha and Tanya up at the train station."
Me: "oooh... Cool!"

Tanya and Misha are Russian missionaries. As in they are Russian and they are Missionaries. While I had never met them, I had heard of them. They spent the last two years on a ship sailing around Africa distributing Bibles, literature and I'm not sure what else. They finished what they were doing back in February and came to St. Petersburg for the week to visit and take care of some business.

So we went to the train station to meet them which was fun (Again, the whole meeting new people thing), then we drove them to Brad and Lena's where they're staying this week. After that, we went to Sergei's where his wife fed us some amazing borsch and chai. After that we finally left for Gatchina.

All this stopping and whatnot made our arrival at the church later than we were supposed to be, which probably gave Luka some internal stress, but it worked out and we sang and then had church service. On the way back, I gave up my seat in the car to Luka and took the bus. Again, another adventure. I got home around 9 and it was strange but I felt like I'd only just left. But it was a good time.

Oh and another reason I was kind of groggier than usual yesterday is because I was awoken at 8am to the sounds of my landlady and a strange man discussing something very loudly as the stood in my neighbor's room. I found out later she's getting the apartment windows replaced. Which led to me waking up earlier than usual today. But that is a story for another time.