Monday, September 21, 2015

I am becoming a weather expert

Ah, the unforeseen benefits of trying to talk to everyone. They call the period of warm weather in early fall бабы лето, or something that sounds vaguely like that- "women's summer", it means. Because back in the day the women would work all summer harvesting potatoes or whatever, and once fall started and their work was done, the weather would turn warm again for a week or two and the women would have their summer. 

It's super weird how all our plans fall through all the time but we still do tons.

This week was normal, no lasting health issues for anyone at all. 

Have I talked about Sveta? Actually, seeing how weird her name looks in English is telling me I definitely haven't. Sveta's cool. About a month ago, we were getting ready for splits, and we like to actually have appointments and things then. So I was flipping through our area book with the phone and decided to call this girl off a former investigator sheet. I did, and I had absolutely no clue what she's saying to me. This is why I hate phone calls, because understanding is about ten times worse. But instead of her getting frustrated and hanging up (reason №2 I don't like phone calls), I hear "It's okay, you can speak English". What? We set up a meeting, which was good, and she's been coming to church since then. She speaks English frighteningly well and has pretty much achieved older-sister status in my head. Also she has a new car, which I have ridden in and it is sweet. We haven't met a ton, though, because she's been way busy with her job, and because in the past she'd made it pretty clear that she didn't want to talk about our church.  But last week at church she said we should call her and meet this week, so on Saturday we met and went for a walk around the Kremlin, which somehow led to her telling us about how she's been seeing God's hand in her life since she started coming to church, and she finally feels like now is when she should be baptized. What? So that's cool, and we did absolutely nothing to make that happen. It's funny how that is. We're a little useless, but we're here, and we try to pop into peoples' lives at the appropriate times for us to help them out.

I went knocking for my first time! I thought it was going to be absolutely terrifying, but it was actually about the same as talking to people outside. 

It's also funny when it takes you way longer than you planned to go find the possible address of someone you're tracking down, because things keep coming up to prevent you from going straight there. And then you finally get there and the person you're looking for isn't there but shows up a minute or so later. It's like "oh, that's why this had to take so long".

This one woman we're teaching always has two kids in tow- her toddler and a disabled girl she looks after. It's super distracting for her on lessons, and it's hard for us to do our job, too. So for one lesson this week I was entrusted with distracting them. This is 380% harder because I'm not allowed to hold children. It might have made more sense to have the member who was at the lesson distract them, but she's starting her mission papers this week and is therefore really more interested in teaching. Well, I know, and many of you know how, disastrously bad I am at dealing with children. By some miracle though I managed to make those kids my minions. Still a mystery to me. I have no idea how the lesson went, though.

Sister Wilson's been trying to have me take the lead on lessons, which is kind of necessary. If I don't, I don't have the speed or the Russian ability to actually say anything at all. It doesn't always happen, though, as in the above paragraph. But we try.

Last week we spent the rest of our P-day with Alsu. That's another name that looks weird in English. Alsu is, in fact, the aunt of the Sveta I just talked about. Although Alsu was baptized last summer, we actually met her after we met Sveta because Alsu doesn't show up for church much. She's 70 years old, and a professor of English. She even corrects our pronunciation of English words. It's pretty funny. She's known a lot of missionaries, and she refers to us all by our first names. For example "I took Connor and Matthew out for lunch not long ago" and it takes us a second to realize she's talking about the elders. So to her, I'm Rosa (or Rosichka), and it's really odd to be addressed such. She showed us around a walking street in Kazan that's based on the architecture of St. Petersburg (fake bridges!), and took us into a tiny fake village that's nestled in between buildings in the middle of the city (real bridges). So that's what my picture is.

I love you all! I hope you are having great weeks and eating good food and making cool friends.

Sister Nielsen

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Kazan is the sports capital of Russia

The FINA (or something. I think. It was big and official) world cup was here this summer, so a lot of people ask us if we're volunteers with the swimming thing, even though it ended almost a month ago. And the FIFA world cup is going to be here in three years, so this city is nice and it's just getting nicer. And I'm so glad it is, because that means it's the most up-to-date city in our mission. Which means it has the best hospitals in our mission. Yeah that's right, you guessed it, we got to spend a night in the hospital. Also there are T-shirts aplenty here that say "Kazan- sports capital of Russia", so if anyone wants one let me know...

Okay, before anyone panics, I am in perfect health. I should probably take Sister Wilson's mom off my email list for this week. All right, done. I just don't want to scare her any more than she probably already is. A little over a week ago my companion woke up in the middle of the night with pain in her chest. She talked to a doctor over the phone and took the medicine he recommended, and tried to ignore it. But it kept getting worse. So on Tuesday we went to a polyclinic in Kazan center, and it was so nice. And weird. Walking into it felt like walking into America. It turns out doctors aren't super patient for people who don't fluently know their language, and with doctors you run into a lot of unusual vocabulary, so we were there for a whole evening, being passed from office to office, it felt like. I tried not to laugh in a nurse's face when she asked me if I could come help my friend because "she understands badly". I just stared and managed to say "I'm worse". That was funny. We had to come back to the clinic on Friday for Sister Wilson to have a camera shoved down her throat. That was unpleasant enough to watch, I can't imagine how it must have felt. I didn't even get any pictures of it, to her disappointment. After that they sat her down and told her she had two ulcers in her esophagus, and one of them was pretty big and it was bleeding. They told us they'd called an ambulance and we were going to the hospital.

The hospital was interesting. They took Sister Wilson and started poking and prodding her, and I had some conversations with people, including a random lady with terrifyingly perfect English. And then they told Sister Wilson that she had to stay in the hospital at least until Monday. The most awkward part was definitely trying to explain to the doctors that I couldn't just go home, that I had to stay at the hospital too. That made absolutely no sense to them. But we got it worked out and they took us up to the ward. The three people already in there were thrilled to see us. They must have been so bored. They laid Sister Wilson down and stuck an IV in her and I busied myself getting acquainted with the woman on my other side. Lutzia is about 85 and and absolute angel- we have an invitation to come over to her house when she gets out of the hospital. I'm so glad we were in there with her. The ward started to fill up as the day wore on, so there were a couple girls in there with appendicitis, and and a few middle-aged women with other stomach problems. I just sat on my bed (I got a bed!) and read my dictionary like a novel. Because we had no idea we were going to the hospital, we weren't super well-equipped. During visiting hours we got an awesome church member to bring us a few things we needed, toothbrushes, dishes, pajamas, etc. We had about the least restful night you can imagine, there was a lot going on in that ward overnight, and in the morning the American mission doctor who lives in Moscow called and told us to get out of there. The nurses and doctors all thought we were crazy for leaving. Maybe we were. I know Sister Wilson missed it when we left.

I probably haven't talked about food enough this letter- Russian hospital food isn't bad! It probably wouldn't fly in America, but that's just because Americans don't like their oatmeal with salt and butter.

So that was the hospital. Both before we stayed there and after we had some days where we stayed inside a lot more than usual, on the orders of our mission president and doctor. So our kitchen is now pristine (it was actually way good that we had time to clean that, after an unfortunate incident involving beet juice), and our area book is looking great, and I am pretty bored. It's hard to find effective things to do! We made two pans of brownies...

Sister Wilson is definitely on the recovery side of things now, though. Which is so good. I think we'll be pretty busy in the coming weeks too, partly because we postponed a bunch of appointments this week. 

Also the other people in the hospital were SO NICE and it got me thinking. Jesus told us to feed his sheep. And I'm definitely a believer that God puts us in places so that we can meet and help specific people. We're around people to help them and build them up! Take care of people! You can all do that. Okay?

I love you all! You are the coolest! (Sorry I didn't take any pictures this week. But I have a goal to improve!)

Sister Nielsen

PS. also I don't know if I told anyone this anywhere but sister wilson and I are staying together in kazan this cycle. and probably next cycle too! so she'll die here, most likely. it's a good place to die

Monday, September 7, 2015

The biggest theme this week was probably baking

I promise we do real work, but other things happen too. The other week at the end of district meeting we asked the elders if there was anything we could do for them. They both hesitate for a second, and then shake their heads no and pretend to busy themselves with packing up their bags. We pry a bit more and it turns out they were hiding a secret desire for pumpkin bread and poppyseed muffins. Okay, we can work with that. So this week we were walking home through the outdoor market we live by and saw an old lady selling pumpkin! Perfect. We spent a dinner one day and some of our time before bed making a mess in the kitchen. It was everything we dreamed except that the only oil we had on hand was sunflower oil, so what we made were more like sunflower chocolate chip muffins. They still smell like pumpkin though so it's weirdly deceptive.

Also old ladies are always trying to give us bags of apples, and Sister Wilson started in talking about caramel apples. What? No. Who has time to make caramel apples? Not us, that's for sure. But she wouldn't let it drop and a couple of meal-times later we ended up with caramel/white chocolate/cinnamon apples. Which are among the most delicious things I've eaten in months. I'm glad she was persistent about it.

But have I told you about the most wonderful thing I've eaten? Friends and colleagues, I reveal to you the...
nutella and sour cream sandwich!
I'm serious. I would never have guessed how well those go together. You can hate, you also have to try it.
I guess I believe in a lot of weird-sounding things that are true.

The other day I was talking to a girl on the street car and when she told me where she lived I actually knew what street it was. I guess that means I'm for real settling in here. Also recently I've been having lot of good conversations on public transportation, which is encouraging. Actually it is possibly because it is so obvious that I can't speak Russian. One question I really enjoy asking is if people have favorite tourist attractions. Not because I'll actually find out any cool ones, because if they tell me the name of a museum I'm not going to be able to repeat it (much less find it), but because the word for "tourist attractions" is eight syllables long and kind of a mouthful. I can say it on a good day, but I usually trip over it and break off in frustration. It makes people about 80% friendlier towards me, for whatever reason. So then I try to give them a Book of Mormon, invite them to church, and send them on their merry way.

A week ago we were outside and I walked up to an older lady. "Hi! Can I give you...(I fumble and nearly drop my Book of Mormon) ...something..." Well, turns out she loves this sort of thing, so we sent her off with all sorts of reading material and we set up a meeting for the same place the next day. And she actually came! When we walked up she started in. First, she wanted to take us into the neighboring elementary school to give a speech to the kids about American culture. That's pretty not-allowed here. Second, she wanted to give us massages, because she knows how stressful our life must be. Third, she wanted to take us to a mosque... and on and on. She's an interesting woman. But she also wants to meet with us and hear all about our church, and she came on Sunday and liked it. We'll see where that goes.

Everyone in all the eastern Europe missions has this schedule where we wake up and run out the door right away to go talk to people on the streets for an hour or two before coming back and eating breakfast and getting ready. At first I was skeptical, but now I have no idea how I would wake up properly without having to pretend to be cheerful in the morning as we distract people on their way to work. It's way great.

We're not supposed to have meal appointments with members, and I can see why. We would never get anything done. Also it takes at least half an hour on the bus to get to most peoples' houses. However, they love to feed us, so when we teach new convert lessons or have investigators at an activity we have to be really careful. The other night we were given a feast before a lesson, and it was explained to me that the food we were eating is normally eaten on birthdays or New Year's. "Oh. Is today a holiday?" I ask. "Well, not really... but, uh, Elder Northrup is going home soon." Okay. They love their food. And I love food too, so it works out. Wow, food comes up a lot in this letter. And our district leader is in fact going home in a week, at transfers. I'll probably stay in Kazan, so it shouldn't be too exciting otherwise.

Actually one holiday that did happen this week was September first, the first day of school. Zillions of kids running around in suits and backpacks holding flowers. I still don't know if the flowers were for the students or for the teachers. Maybe both. We're across the street from a school so we were hearing music booming from there all morning.

There's a lot of good stuff going on. I love you all!

Sister Nielsen