Monday, August 31, 2015

alone time

I may or may not have gotten separated from my companion on the metro. That was stupid. The metro in Kazan is only one line, so it's not like you can get lost or anything, and it's absolutely gorgeous. The two stops in center have huge mosaics all over the walls and ceilings, and some random man we met down there the other week told us that it was the most expensive metro in the world to construct. I'm not sure I believe that, because it's just one track with ten stops, but it is so pretty. There's a mosaic on the ceiling of one stop that's a dragon, and it's sweet. Anyway, we walked into the metro and heard the train coming, so we ran. And then got there and hesitated for half a second, and I jumped on the train and turned around to find closed doors and, through the glass, Sister Wilson's face with eyes as wide as my own. So I rode to our stop and waited for the next couple trains, and then tried to borrow someone's phone (without success... I realized I didn't know how to say "borrow", and I'd left my tiny dictionary at home. And phones don't work too well in the metro anyway), and then I just walked home. I got there about five minutes before my companion showed up. So that was unexpected, but also not all that exciting. Just kind of funny. All in all, not our most productive afternoon. I don't recommend it.

Exchanges were this week! That meant the other two sisters in our zone who live in Tolliatti came up and slept in our living room for three nights,and on Tuesday and Wednesday I was with different companions. That also meant a lot of eating, oh dear. We made so many crepes, and there's a certain practice that involves drinking milk through cookies. And you can't stop. Sister Twede has been out longer than any other sister here, and she is so competent. I learned a lot from her, and we gave out probably four times as many Books of Mormon than we usually do. It was impressive. I also had my first genuine plov, which was so delicious I'm getting hungry thinking about it now. 

More entertaining was spending a day with Sister Hullinger, who was in the MTC with me, so we both don't speak Russian and it's glorious. But people are actually really surprisingly nice, possibly because we're so obviously drowning in the language. We also taught a second lesson to one of our investigators, which was interesting. Not actually all that different from being in the MTC again. So she understood everything we said, but we didn't really know what her questions were exactly. Add that confusion to screaming children, and you have our lesson. That's why it's good that we had a church member there- Liza's 24 and just generally awesome. So we set a baptismal date! At least, I'm pretty sure we did.

We went to the Kremlin last week, and just walked around because we weren't sure what to even do. It's huge and pretty. There are tours and museums and stuff, so we'll have to figure that out. We also spend more time than I ever expected teaching Russians how to play Uno. So only twice, but unexpected. English club attracts an interesting group.

So many cool things happen if you just make a little effort. Also, way cool things happen when people just try to make other people happy. Good stuff. Go do something scary and nice, okay? I love you all, and hope you're eating fewer sweets than I've been lately!

Sister Nielsen

My hours are dying

I have really bad luck with watches and clocks. The watches I brought with me have all met untimely (heh heh) deaths and I accidentally murdered a clock in the branch building with a mop handle the other day. So I don't often know what time it is, either. It's bad.

Behold, the one photo I've taken since coming to Russia. Actually, I didn't even take it. Although we're going to the Kazan Kremlin today so there might be more next week.

I think these letters are going to get progressively shorter the more used I get to Russia. I can't even think right now of what to say. Also this last week went SO fast. Will they all be like that?

It suddenly turned cold in the last week or so, so that means there were about two days that actually were cold, and a lot of days that everyone seemed to think were cold but really weren't. You don't need a coat if it's 65 degrees out and sunny. But when it was actually cold it was enough to make me, the prepared soul who came to Russia without a jacket, need to go to a mall. Malls are the weirdest things as a missionary. Half of you wants to go touch all the clothes and buy things you won't be wearing for 18 months, and the other half of you knows how much time you can waste in there and wants out. Also while we were there we had to go to a store that was basically Russian walmart. Which was cool. But all in all just weird. I just tried not to be distracted by all the scarves and sneakers, for those are my true weakness. We also ended up enlisting the help of two of the young women in our branch, Yana and Luba, who are way cool and, as normal teenage girls, were a valuable resource in knowing where to buy a cheap but still useful jacket. They're 18 and 17 and trying to decide if they should serve missions, and we have good conversations.

Another result of the weather is that we ask pretty much everyone about it. Most people want to tell us about how it's a cold August this year even if they don't want to come to church or read the Book of Mormon, so it works out.

I want to eat everything all the time. I can't tell if that's normal for me or a result of being a missionary. We finally got a "Samara Mission Official Cookbook" for our apartment, I gather that a senior couple a few years ago put it together. I love cookbooks! On a related note, one morning for exercise we made borscht... whoops. It was raining, okay? My inevitable weight gain might as well happen now, right?

Unexpected things happen. We were waiting for a bus, and asked this random girl how often the 44th bus came by that stop. She looks something up in her phone and then tells us she's going to drive us to another bus stop. Okay. So we get in her car. Then she's all "hey, I don't really have anything to do right now" and just drove us straight to our appointment, which took probably 25 or 30 minutes to get to by car. Uh. Thanks! Also it turns out the place we were trying to go was pretty remote (there were actual houses there. Not apartments. What) and I don't think we ever would have found it on our own. Or one day we were trying to get somewhere when an older woman calls out to us. We turn back in slight confusion and she orders us to open her bags and starts shoving apples inside them. I think she'd just gotten back from her dacha. So our bags were pretty heavy that night. It was almost a Snow White moment. Or there's this one girl we ran into four days in a row in random places all over Kazan. What are the odds of that? Actually, maybe probability has nothing to do with it. After the third time I felt about 98% sure we would run into her again, and of course we did.

That is an interesting part of missionary work, and it's been interesting to see what that has to do with unity in our companionship. Like when sister Wilson and I don't know what to do, so we stop and pray, and then we both independently of each other know we're supposed to go left or teach about something specific. It's cool.

But yeah, we talk to a lot of people, and try to teach a lot of people, and actually have people who actually want to talk to or be taught by us, so that's cool. There is so extremely much to learn and simultaneously a lot of time and no time. God knows everything and the best way to do things is through the guidance of the Spirit. There's so much more to that than just saying it, of course. You all are way cool! Do good things!

tons of love,
Sister Nielsen

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

week 2 in russia, or I'm glad I can rely on my overly readable face to help me through the language barrier

I have a problem, and the problem is that I look like I'm about twelve (vaguely related is that the words for "twelve" and "nineteen" sound fairly similar in Russian, especially when I'm trying to follow the conversation and then realize someone just asked how old I am and I think "oh right I have to answer" and then trip over my words. fun). If anyone wants to give me advice on looking older, let me know.

I know I promised photos, but apparently I lied. Sorry about that. We normally email from the branch building, which is extremely convenient, but the internet there wasn't working, so now we're in a very dimly lit internet cafe. I don't know if I even could attach photos on here even if I had taken any, and if I read enough Russian to understand what's up with this computer. P-day is busy, and we still need to go find things like brooms and pillows and dishes.

I'm trying to remember what happened this week so while I'm thinking about that I'll write whatever comes to my head.

I got used to eating things like kasha+salt+mayo really fast, and it's surprisingly good (kasha is I think just wheat that's been broken up that you boil in water until soft). Also kefir or sour cream on everything (shoutout to Annemieke, the only person that I know of in America who eats kefir. You're cool! Also not American, that might explain it). And lots of granola. Also they put hazelnuts in a lot of things, including snickers, which was a good choice. There is a lot of different candy. And we try a lot of it. Which might be to my eventual downfall. Speaking of downfalls, I tripped in the crosswalk of a major street the other morning when we were running, and now kneeling is more painful than usual. I'm a very coordinated person, yes. Also my favorite graffiti is the stuff in English. You have to wonder how they choose it. I saw "skype" written on the side of a bridge the other day. what does it mean? I also still can't say what I want to say half the time, but I now know how to say such things as "in exchange for two" (useful when paying for bus tickets) and something that means something like "no way!" or "you don't say!". I actually have no idea what it means, but we say it to old people when they tell us their age, and they appreciate it.
Also sister Wilson is trying to get me over my fear of talking on the phone. So far it's not working.
I haven't said much about sister Wilson, probably. What do you want to hear? She has a lot of brothers and basically is Rapunzel. It's great.

We've been having problems with men, specifically men who are interested in sister Wilson and not much else. They can be very persistent. Hence why we don't talk to a lot of men. Also we try to pass them off to the elders, but this week they were way busy with upcoming baptisms, so we eventually ended up teaching a lesson to the boy we met the other week, did I mention him? We ran into him contacting early last Sunday morning, invited him to church, and then he actually came. Actually, I probably didn't say, when we first met him, sister Wilson promised him if he'd come to church he'd find a job in the next week, and of course he did. That might have blown his mind a little. But he came to church and we only met him the one time. Does that actually happen? I thought that was a myth. Anyway, it's a good thing he's extremely normal and so far not creepy at all. Mostly he's just extremely interested in what we're about and quite honest with us, which is entertaining. He's trying to get rid of all the addictive/destructive things in his life, which means right now he has no life. So he was quite happy to come to the baptism on Saturday and church again on Sunday. The other people that we regularly meet with have been meeting with missionaries for years and years, and it's really rather frustrating, but in the last couple days we got a bunch of calls from random people we met in the street or from the area book who are interested in meeting with us. So hopefully we'll start doing more things. 

Oh, we had zone conference, and that was all the way in Tolliatti. A couple of six-hour bus rides and staying in the Tolliatti sister's apartment. Which was hot and humid and terrible for sight and sound, but also really fun. One of those sisters is sister Hullinger, who was in the MTC with me, and on the second night we were there we went on splits, and she and I contacted together. It was great. We didn't really understand what people were saying to us, so it was all the more fun. 
"here, take this pamphlet. we just recently moved here!"
"what is this propaganda? I'm Russian Orthodox, I don't need this"
"what a cute grand-daughter, okay bye"
Actually that's how most contacting goes now I think of it, it would be like that whether we knew Russian or not. The biggest difference is that we don't understand when they tell us to go away, so they can't get rid of us. Heh heh.

Anyway zone conference was great, and my cousin elder Hemrick was in fact there, and no I would not have recognized him without a tag. We probably should have taken a photo to show Granny or something, but who does that? People who plan well, that's who.

Wednesday we had English club, with more people than I expected, at least. It was great, though I doubt anyone actually learned anything. That's actually the most awkward thing about not speaking much Russian, is that a lot of them switch into English when I don't understand, and then I still don't understand them. Or actually, I understand the words they say, in both languages, but I have no idea what they're getting at. That's the real problem. Oh well.

And two of the people the elders were teaching were baptized on Saturday, and that was great. There were a lot of people, it was packed, and we provided sandwiches (sausage + cheese + bread. These people are easily satisfied) and the elders said they would bake (that's a beautiful dream) and unsurprisingly went out and bought cookies. Ahhh, it was a good time. 

I'm trying to leaf through my journal to figure out what else we did this week, but it's dark in here and I wrote small.

So yeah. Russia is great. Lots of things to say that I forgot, probably. Oh well. You all are great. It sometimes surprises me more than it should how much God loves us and how well he knows us. He really does have a plan for everything. Wow. Remember Jesus loves you too! Do good things!

I wish you lots of love and fewer mosquito bites than I have,
Sister Nielsen

Monday, August 10, 2015

nothing super groundbreaking

If anyone is interested in the continuing MTC Bat Saga, our last day of classes before we headed out there was one in (on?) the wall outside our classroom so we couldn't go in for a while. The bat refused comment, but the police officer who was preventing us from going any closer said he thought there might be a bat cave under the MTC, so there's your official source on the matter.

Oh yeah, so I'm in Russia. The airport/plane experience was only a little harrowing, the worst was definitely the domestic airport in Moscow. We were all super jet-lagged and had no idea where anything was. I would have gone and asked people for directions, but I caught some virus that was going around the last few days at the MTC that made me lose my voice. On the flight from New York to Moscow I sat next to this cool Moldovan guy who turned out to be the pastor of a Romanian Baptist congregation in Florida. That was interesting. The seven of us arrived in Samara just fine with all our stuff, and most of us slept on the floor of the sisters' flat in the middle of Samara. The next day,Wednesday, we all got together and they told us some stuff, gave us our companions, and sent us off. My companion is sister Wilson, and I definitely creeped on her mission blog before I came out. Heh. She's excellent. She looks a lot like me, actually, only with hair at least twice as long. No, I don't have pictures. My camera's probably floating around somewhere, but I haven't taken any anyway. Next week, I promise.  So that night we just worked around Samara, taught a second lesson to someone, but it got way derailed and honestly I'm not too sure what happened. Also side note there's only 55 missionaries in the mission right now, which was surprising, I was expecting around 70. Weird.

We're in Kazan! It's around 8 hours north of  Samara by car, so we actually left on Thursday afternoon, with the sisters who were heading to Tolliatti. This also meant we stayed another day at an apartment in the other area in Samara, with two other companionships. A little cramped. Russia really didn't look as foreign as I expected, driving through. If I didn't know it was Russia, and minus the billboards in Russian, I could have believed it was Wyoming or somewhere. Except with occasional fields of sunflowers stretching for miles. Kazan is actually gorgeous. I understand it's a popular tourist destination. There's tons of mosques and orthodox temples. People are also really nice. Not that I know yet how not nice Russians usually are to strangers on the street, but people actually seem to want to talk to us and randomly give us fruit on the bus and stuff, and they often have conversations with us even if they are absolutely not interested. And my companion was shocked at the niceness, so that was pretty telling. Only about three people have just told us we're a cult and a sect (what do they mean by that?) and left. That probably means we're not talking to enough people. A lot of people assume we're Jehovah's Witnesses or spies. I actually understand a lot of what's going on, miracle of miracles. I have a very hard time participating in conversations, though. Often I understand all the words people are saying but not what the sentence means, or I get what they're saying but I have no idea what they really said. I'm not sure how that works, actually. I just talk so dang slowly. We're reopening the area here, but there've been elders in the south area the whole time. We actually had a lesson with a member (and two drunk men...) present our first night, so that was a good way to start out.

Surprising things: you actually can get milk in bottles, not bags, and we do. But mayonnaise comes in bags. whoa. That one caught me off guard. Also our apartment is weirdly really nice. And suspiciously many things are covered in a mysteriously sticky film, I don't think anyone's lived there for a while. We have basically no dishes, so we're being creative, but we don't have much time today to go find things. Also we have a large TV which we will never use. We've been trying to figure out how to clean things without really much cleaning supplies, too.

I had my first run-in with the authorities on Saturday. We had to buy tickets to Tolliatti for zone conference, which is tomorrow, so we had to go to the big bus station in center to get the tickets. Turns out we needed our passports out to get the tickets, so afterwards we retreated to an empty corner of the bus station to discreetly (and probably sketchily, I realize now) replace our passports into our clothes, and we turned around to find ourselves confronted by three young officers. They weren't satisfied with just photocopies of our documents, so we had to make some calls and try to argue without arguing with them. So much fun.  They also wanted to take a look at our literature (go for it. read it all. take it home to your families. please.) It was probably less than an hour, though, and we didn't end up being taken anywhere. It's a good thing that sister Wilson is really good at Russian and quite talkative and also a babe, and that the officers all appeared to be in their early twenties or it would have been much worse. So yeah, guess who's taken a selfie with Russian police? Also one of them we sent off with a Book of Mormon, so who knows? Also we actually have to go to Samara, which is way farther away today for complicated boring reasons, so we didn't really need the tickets. Heh.

The branch here is great. There are some girls around our age who are willing to help us do stuff, so that's sweet, and I think I've been adopted by a nine-year-old girl who has someone's missionary tag with her name written on (also no, we don't wear our tags, and I'm actually quite fine with that. But we can wear them in the branch building). I mostly don't know what she's saying because she talks high and fast, but I gather that she loves the sisters. Also, we amazingly had two random people we met on the street in church with us. That's apparently not typical for Russia. One of them is definitely more interested in sister Wilson than anything else, though, and that's typical for Russia. But the other one was a little miraculous and we were kind of thrilled.

The other day we accidentally woke up an hour early and didn't realize until about three and a half hours later. That was a long day. The sun rises early and shines in our windows, okay. Also Kazan is in a different time zone from Samara, so maybe that was it. Still kind of embarrassing. Also at dusk the mosquitoes come out and I am itchy everywhere. But generally it's fun, and people are nice, and the people we work with are really cool. I might have a handle on Russian at some future point. The weather is lovely.

I'm probably leaving so much out, but you can use your imagination. The part of Kazan we're in is like a lot of east coast American cities only more spread out, and more stray cats.

All the love in the world,

Sister Nielsen