Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Train Ride

Spanning the length of the corridor that all passengers have to walk down to get to their individual compartments is a long narrow rug.  Covering the rug is a long thin piece of cotton material, perhaps meant to keep the higher quality rug underneath clean.   In a few places in the corridor, the rug is askew.   It was not that way when we boarded the train, however after all of the passengers pulled their luggage and belongings across the full length of the rug… it was no longer in its proper position on the floor. 

“Go back to your place!” yells the cranky old conductor.  Who, interestingly enough, reminded me of the Disney villain Ursula from The Little Mermaid.  

“But, I have a question” I calmly respond.

“Go back to your place, I am trying to fix the rug and you are bothering me!” Ursula’s twin looks up and then over my shoulder nodding at me and the gentleman behind me.  She tugged forcefully on the rug that we were standing on to prove the point that she could not complete this task while we were standing there. 


“I also need to ask…” the gentleman politely interjects.

Focused, determined and insistent the cranky conductor interrupts him yelling:

“I already said go back to your places!”  

Reluctantly we turn around and walk back to our compartments.  I feel the villainous eyes of Ursula’s twin boring a hole in the back of my head as I calmly walk all the way to end of the hallway where my compartment is located.  

Laughing, I related the incident to Tom complete with an imitation of the cranky old conductor… just as I finished my story the young happy “how can I help you” conductor knocks on our compartment door, sticks her head in and sheepishly asks:

 “I hear you have a question?”

I ask my question about the entrance form we have to fill out for Ukraine.  She answers with a smile and leaves after making sure we have everything we need. 


Tom and I realized that the cranky old conductor has probably been working on the train longer than the younger one has been alive.   The older gal would have started working during the time when there was no concept whatsoever of customer service as there is now with the younger generation of people in service positions.  From the moment we approached to board the train the younger conductor was earnestly making sure that all passengers had their needs met and questions answered.   The older one works the night shift and had been sleeping when we boarded the train.   She was still in her housedress, with four curlers strategically placed in her hair, when she began working on the rug. She completed her mission with the rug and went to change into her uniform before the passport control officials boarded the train around midnight.

It would be easy to interpret her behavior as rude or callous and therefore assume that all Russians are that way.  But, that would be wrong.  I have seen her type many times over the past four years that we have lived in Russia.   One might see the very same woman in her home or meet her in the company of a mutual friend and experience her as being warm, loving and having an incredible sense of humor.  The public face is often different from the private face.  Even in America one person might smile and laugh with co-workers, greet everyone with a warm and friendly “how are you?!” only to come home and raise hell with everyone who is unfortunate enough to be a part of the family.

It is important for each of us to realize that we see the world through the eyes of our own culture.  I love watching the show Amazing Race.  One episode in particular from several years ago stands out in my mind.  There was a male team, from New Jersey I think, that was frustrated with the people around them not speaking English.  In letting out his frustration one of the pair swore “those #@&% foreigners!”    Always remember when you travel abroad… You are the foreigner!  You are the one who is different.  The culture around you is functioning as it normally does.  You may be frustrated, disappointed or perhaps shocked with what you see, feel or experience but that is part of the process of acclimating to a different culture.  This in turn will serve to broaden your world view and prepare you for further travels.   And if you run into Ursula the cranky conductor along the way… just smile and get off of her rug!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

sisters in Spirit

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These three ladies were in the compartments along the side of the wall near us on the train. Tom helped them with getting their mattresses down from the storage racks. One of the ladies told the other ones to say 'zhank you, sir' and they each followed her advice!

She took the opportunity to practice her English... telling me it had been 20 years since she studied the language in University. My favorite line from her was when she was witnessing to me. She told me that she and her companions were sisters and then clarified how they were sisters... meaning in Christ. She proudly told me "We are Christmas!" then she thought for a second and asked if that was right. I told her the word was Christian. She gave me some literature and told me about the conference they had attended over the weekend.

I truly admired her boldness... she was so intent in her desire to share about her spirituality and what she had experienced over the weekend that she was brave enough to do it in a second language. What an encouragement and model of humility!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Traveling Platskart

The train between Kiev and Krasnodar runs every other day. Because there were no lower berths available in the private compartments we were faced with having to buy two lower berths in a car with open compartments. This is known as the “platskart” section of the train.

Our space had a table in between two long benches...

The mattresses are stored up above when not in use. The pillow is tucked inside the mattress. You are responsible to make up your on bed and then take it all down before you get off the train. You will most likely be asked to give your sheets to the conductor about an hour before your stop.

Our compartment was about in the middle of the train car.

The sleeping berths that run along the side wall of the train look like this... however the little table you see folds down and becomes part of the bench that you can place a mattress on and make into a bed

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

she works hard for the money

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Along the train route you can find just about anything for sale. We were about to run out of bottled water when we stopped at this station and heard a woman calling out to advertise that she had water for sale. Tom was able to join in with some of the other passengers who were leaning out the open door to make purchases.

At this particular stop there were people selling beer, dried fish, cherries and water. Tom passed on everything but the water and it took some convincing to make them understand that he didn't want beer even though it was so hot outside!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

thought for today

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Love is sharing heart shaped ice cream bars!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Surprise Dinner with Spencer's friends!

On our final night in Kiev, just before we had to leave to catch our train, Spencer and his friends treated us to a surprise dinner. We were not expecting to eat with the students that night. We had been told by the director that we were on own for dinner.

We are so grateful for the time we were able to spend with these incredible young men and women. They leave soon for Georgia (the country) and Armenia. Pray for them as they go out and practice the counseling skills they have spent the past three months learning!!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Museum of Folk Architecture

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On Saturday we visited the Ukraine Architectural Museum. We were able to go into this tiny Orthodox Church... I love seeing the inside of old churches. I wish that I could have freely taken photos inside. The view of the ceiling was incredible. The art work is always amazing, inspirational and joy to behold!

Friday, June 19, 2009

not just Tom's son!

Poor Spencer, so often when he meets people he gets asked if he is Tom Sharp's son. Just before we arrived the previous teacher and his wife asked Spencer this question upon introduction.

Well Tom thought it would be a great idea to get t-shirts that would identify us as Spencer's parents. I told him that we didn't have access to make t-shirts but we had name tags!! I got out the badges and Tom got to work making them special!

We got off the train last Sunday wearing badges labeling us as Spencer's Mom and Spencer's Dad with Spencer's photo. On Tom's first day of speaking he passed out badges that said Spencer's Director, Spencer's Classmate, Spencer's Friend... and so on. It has been a blast to joke with him and everyone here this week!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ukrainian playground

It has rained several days in a row since we got here... so these kids have not had much of a chance to play outdoors.

This little playground is across the street from where the boat is anchored. When the weather is nice, we get to hear the joyful sound of kids playing!!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

so far so good!

Tom has two more days of teaching left... then we hope to do a little bit of sight seeing with Spencer before we leave this weekend!!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Made it to Kiev!

I am using Spencer's internet account... Tom taught his first day of class, already did one counseling appointment, we have dinner tonight with some of the female students, and then tomorrow is another long day!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Spiritual Abuse

Tom is going to be teaching at the University of the Nations in Kiev, Ukraine for an Introduction to Biblical Counseling class. His topic for the week is Spiritual Abuse. He has a heavy load of teaching ahead of him... 5 class sessions at 4 hours each.

Spencer will be one of his students...which was preapproved by him (the program director asked Spencer if he would be okay with it) before Tom was asked to come!!

***please keep Tom and I in your prayers as we travel to Ukraine this weekend. We should arrive on Sunday at 3:15 pm. Tom starts teaching Monday morning!

Friday, June 12, 2009

getting closer and closer!!

Our friends are getting closer to bringing home their baby from Ukraine!! You can read more about their journey by clicking here.

We are so excited for them and for the life of this little one who was abandoned at birth because she has Down's Syndrome.

Please take some time to read their story and say a prayer for them and for all of those who are in the process of adopting from Ukraine. It is unsure how long this window of opportunity will remain open as Ukraine is considering a law to stop foreign adoptions.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Armenian Concert

Last night one of my Business English students, Emma, took me along to a concert featuring Armenian Patriotic songs. The featured singer was Sahak Sahakyan. He introduced each song in the Armenian language and sang in Armenian the entire concert.

Poor Emma was stuck between me and three young Armenian girls and spent the entire concert translating for us all!! She started off translating for me in English and then she switched to Russian which was easier for her and worked well for all of us who were dependent on her to know what was going on!!

Most of his songs were dedicated to the Armenian genocide and wars that Armenia has fought in. You can click here to learn more about the genocide.

or you can watch a clip of Sahak Sahakyan here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XPpuutO0ru4

The highlight of the evening for me was the young dance troupe featured from Krasnodar. Their singer was energetic and their dancing and costumes were fantastic!

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I felt fortunate to be included in this evening! Emma was originally asked to bring 20 Armenians to the concert... but, she told me that she didn't know 20 who were not already planning to go!! As the token American I can honestly say that I felt extremely comfortable with the Armenian crowd.
The organizer of the concert, Vavara, personally thanked me for coming and encouraged me to learn more about the history and the problems currently facing Armenians. It was truly a memorable night!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

thought for today

An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.
G. K. Chesterson

Saturday, June 06, 2009

things we do for our kids...

A young mom that I know didn't have any hot water at her house and her kids were complaining about the water in their little outdoor pool being cold. As I was standing there chatting with her, she was warming up water on the stove for the kiddie pool .... A mother's love!!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

How do I cook this??

Yesterday I went to a small market near our home where I buy various frozen products like the Khinkali we enjoy so much. She had just added fresh sausage to her selection of foods. Like a good salesperson she asked me if I would like to try something new. She suggested her favorite sausage.

I decided to be adventurous and give it a try. "How do I prepare this?" I asked. Her face lit up as she gave me her simple recipe. Take the outer wrapper off the sausage and the skin. Slice and brown it. Add chopped cabbage and sprinkle with cheese. I figured I could manage that.

When I got home I announced to Tom that we were going to try something new... he is rarely opposed to such a thing! I didn't have cheese but I did have some tomatoes that needed to be used up. I browned the meat, added the cabbage with diced tomatoes along with a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar for seasoning.

Simple and tasty... that is my kind of lunch. Now I get to go back and share my recipe with her and see what else she has for me to try!!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

thought for today

Life's challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are.
Bernice Johnson Reagon

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

growing young families

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Not long ago there was a another baby dedication at our church. Valentine (pronounced valenteen) and Sveta had their son Vladislav prayed over during the service. Back in 2005 Tom stood in as Valentine's father at their wedding. They also have a daughter, Angelina, who will soon be three.

Our church is filling up with young couples and young families... although Tom and I don't have any grandchildren yet, we sure do have fun practicing when called on to babysit for these little ones!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Rope swinging

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Several of the guys decided to try out the rope swing over the river... can you imagine how cold the water is?!