Well, my dear friends, another month has slipped by, and along with it has come much cooler temperatures. That has not stopped the adventures, though, quite the contrary, actually. There are so many stories, so many joys, so many moments to be thankful for this month. Too many to be written down, so here are some of the highlights.
We started the month out with a thick layer of snow and celebrating our deceased brothers and sisters. Father drove us to the local Cemetery to pray at the graves of a husband and son of our local prison camp survivor, Olga. After trudging through thigh high snow we located the graves, and circled around in prayer and dedicated the rest of our month to all the souls of our deceased.
On Saturday mornings, we have mass and breakfast at the Sisters’ apartment. One Morning, sister decided to inform me of a mistake I had made earlier that week in class. MJ had been out sick, and when my classmates asked where she was I tried my best to tell them <<Она Больна -Ana Bolna>> (She is sick). However, I take after my mother and often talk with my hands. This was where I made my grave mistake. I made a motion with my hand to signal that she was feeling under the weather. My classmates looked at me and started to snicker and turn to each other and then look at me and snicker. APPARENTLY, I told them that she was hungover, not sick. In Russia, drunkenness is conveyed by flicking the neck or hand gesturing by the neck. I had known about the first, but not the second motion. Everyone at the breakfast table, like my classmates, could not stop laughing at my mistake. Lesson #156, You get really good at laughing at yourself when moving to a new country.
Kids’ Club on Saturdays have continued, and they are never a dull experience. Using a tiny bilingual Bible, we share stories with the kids in English and Russian. We play games, color, draw, and listen to music. Working with these kids has brought all of us such joy and is a constant reminder to remain childlike in all our actions.
Our wonderful, incredible roommate, Katya, celebrated her birthday on the 11th. We celebrated by having our apartment blessed by Father Michael, and by throwing a coffee house/ talent show in our apartment with all of our friends. Some recited poetry, others sang songs or played the guitar. MJ and I recited some Russian nursery rhymes we had learned in school.
Our apartment was filled with so much joy that night.
We had spent the days preceding this event preparing all sorts of Russian dishes, my personal favorite was an appetizer that consisted of little circles of Russian black bread, a slice of hard boiled egg, a raw filet of fish called ‘Kilka” (or Sprat in English) with a piece of butter in the center. After spending 30 minutes gutting and filleting these tiny fish, and assembling each one; Katya and I sampled one to which she responded, ‘This would be great with vodka...but we will not be having vodka, only tea.’ I had never felt more stereotypically in Russia as I did then.
The snow continued and we endured one of the first blizzards of the season. I have never seen it snow for so long without ceasing, and with such whipping winds. To my amazement this did not shut down the city. People continued to go to work and school, so we followed suit. When in Rome do as the Romans do… right?
Russian lessons are getting easier, slowly but surely. MJ and I are understanding more and more what our teachers are saying, which has been very promising. MJ is incredible at noticing patterns and grammar rules. We are learning a lot about the different learning styles. I am better at remembering random vocab, but not so much grammar rules and patterns. Put us together and we have a pretty good chance at communicating.
The next Saturday we had an English discussion night. At one point in the evening when I was listening to some friends discussing in Russian. I was pretty confident I knew exactly what they were saying, when one friend, Alexander, pointed to the chair dowel. Suddenly, I realized I had no idea what they were talking about, they looked at me and asked if I understood. I told them what I had thought they were saying before I was snapped back to reality, they laughed saying they were talking about the faults in the system. Go figure.
One school day the weather was really bad, we were having another blizzard. MJ and I sat in class, and she leaned over to me saying, “I am praying that the snow and wind clears up when we have to go grocery shopping.” Lo and behold, it did, a small miracle that made a little mundane task a little easier as we stocked up on Black bread and milk. As soon as we reached our apartment the snow began to fall again. Praise God for the little miracles like these.
Later on that day during our walk to Mass, I managed to get myself lodged in hip deep snow trying to forge a path. One is never wanting for an adventure here.. When we got to the church, we found Father Michael in one of the side rooms surrounded by several bags of Christmas lights, more lights than I think he knew what to do with.. His face was lit up with the twinkling lights and with the joy of Christmas.
(Stay tuned for more Christmas adventures, because here in Russia they don’t typically celebrate ‘Catholic Christmas’ December 25th. Their big holiday of the year is Новый год -Novi Goad, or New Years, as a result of their communist past.)
We celebrated Thanksgiving with our friends on Saturday due to the work week. (This was the first Thanksgiving day that I had attended school, worked, and ate random leftovers for supper, it was very strange). Friday, we located turkeys at the local supermarket, incredibly. Apparently this was the first year they had turkeys in Magadan. We spend the day cooking potatoes, stuffing, carrots, ‘cranberry’ sauce (we used lingonberries, they tasted close enough), and apple pie. A big thank you and shout out to my mom who taught me to cook Thanksgiving dinner a couple of years ago, particularly turkey.
31 of our friends showed up, some brought Russian dishes which was awesome and very much in the spirit of the holiday. For an Ice-breaker, my inner teacher came out and I had everyone write what they were thankful for on a little paper turkey.
We almost did not have enough space, and had just the right amount of food. We tried to describe stuffing, which in theory looks and sounds pretty gross, but some people seemed to like it. The majority of them liked the Turkey, Cranberry sauce and Banana bread (that another American brought). They shared familiar sentiments of being stuffed and incapable of eating more food. We played a short clip from Charlie Brown’s Thanksgiving. This evening was more amazing than I could have ever imagined. I am constantly blown away by all of our friends and how incredible they are. It may be cold here, but they have some of the warmest hearts I have ever encountered.
And here we are. At the end of November. Yesterday, we experienced -25 Celsius for the first time, which was surprisingly bearable and promising as we embark towards winter. It is incredible how fast time flies, and how many adventures there are in such a short period of time. When you give your life to Christ, you will never be bored and will be constantly amazed at all the blessings and places he will take you.
I want to leave you with a quote that I came across today that is a great ending to the month of November (the month dedicated to all souls and all saints) and a great reminder on how we are called to live life:
“Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.”
(**You should check her out, she is a hardcore woman worth reading about**)
(Thanksgiving with our Friends, 31 incredible people came out to celebrate with us, and eat their very first bite of Turkey (индейка - Indeyka; not to be confused with the Russian word for Native American, which is индийская -Indiskaya.)
A brief series of poems to highlight various everyday events and happenings.
None written very seriously, and should be read in good humor.
The bread is cut
and so is my finger
The guest will soon arrive
What a day to be alive!
From a Wintery October
Fall has frozen
Frost follows fellows
from the tips of toes
To the tops of noses
Falling from the sky
are flakes, freely and freshly
Friends, faces full of joy
Roaming through the Gorod
Following on the road
Bathing in the sun above
In whom we delight
Never leave our side
Ka- Ko- Ku- AK
Phonetics fulfill every sphere
One has to develop an ear
With a great deal of cheer
To learn a language within a year
(chai, chai, vudu-chai: “Tea, Tea, help me!” - A phrase used by many Magadan children this summer)
After several miles of travel, and tons of tea, we are now settled in our new abode in Magadan. The past month has been incredible. We have made new friends, spent time with old ones and have gotten the opportunity to explore our new home.
One of the first few days here we experienced yet, again another aspect of Russian hospitality when two merchant women dropped everything they were doing to help “the Americans.” The excitement and joy they shared with us was infectious.
One of my friends, Оксана, took me to the local museum and showed me the history, culture, and natural history of the Magadan region. It was incredible being able to spend time with her; as well as to learn about her history, her home and her culture (as well as more russian words).
Later that week, some of our friends from the summer, took us on a hike up a mountain to a place in Magadan hailed as, “the Dragons.” These Dragons that guard the city of Magadan, are actually old Soviet radio towers. We marked our summit by photos and berry picking. Afterwards, we stopped into an old, derelict house (a vocab word very impressively used by one of our Russian friends) and our friends whipped out a Russian spread of black bread, salmon, apples, and of course, чай. MJ and I pulled out our American hiking snacks, granola bars and spicy trail mix (petty compared to the Russian hiking feast). After our short meal, we began our descent into the valley, sans flashlights, but full of laughter. Our journey down was just as amazing as the ascent as we beheld the twinkling city below.
A few days later we decided to kick off the year with a bonfire and s’mores. We hiked all over the city to find the perfect spot on the sea to toast our marshmallows and share stories. We finally settled in the rocks by the great Mammoth statue (commemorating the archaeological discovery of the baby mammoth remains in the area). We set up camp, made a makeshift fire pit on the rocky shores and roasted under the radiant rays of the moon. Our friends were briefly fascinated by the s’mores, but turned to roasting sausages promptly.
In addition to all the fun, classes began, and let me just say, learning a language in another language is extremely humbling. MJ and I have been sitting in on college level Russian Literature, Poetry and Journalism Classes. Slowly, but surely, we are learning. We can now successfully pick out several words that our professors use. By the grace of God, several of our friends have been helping us as we struggle to communicate.
As the winter weather approaches, we find ourselves bundling up and consuming a lot more tea, and so the adventure continues. Praise God, Слава Бого, for all the blessings thus far, and for those to come.
God Bless Magadan and all those who call this city, home.
Why Russia? Why Magadan? That is the question. The golden question. There is no doubt in my mind that I am supposed to be anywhere else but Magadan this year. This alteration of plans all started a few weeks before graduation. I was praying after mass, when I heard the words:
“I want you to stay in Russia.”
. . . .
Until this point, I had never considered staying longer than the two months I had committed to, for the summer. People had joked about me staying, but I always brushed it off. I was going to art school., not Russia. I was finally going to art school to become an Art Teacher, my childhood dream. I was beyond excited to attend, so when I heard this call, my inner inhibitions said, ‘That’s a nice idea, but I am going to art school.”
Even still, I felt the tug to spend a year in Russia. I left the chapel questioning my future. I walked to the bookstore to purchase my cap and gown and ran into my Russian teacher. She smiled at me and said “I didn’t realize you were graduating! What are your plans?” An unstartlingly large grin spread across her face. I told her my plans and she shook her head.
“You’re staying in Russia. I knew it from the moment I met you.”
Within 30 minutes my future plans were suddenly up in the air. I left the bookstore with my graduation garb and many questions on my mind.
Is God really calling me to stay in Russia?
I emailed Father Michael Shields that afternoon. He advised me to pray more, saying that the answer would become clear within the first week of arriving in Magadan.
Sure enough, I fell in love; with the people, the russian language, and the call to stay. Father confirmed a vision I had about my decision being like the sea. My soul was the seafloor, and my emotions and fears were the choppy seas above. As long as I had that deep ocean floor peace, the call was right.
By the end of the week Father had bought my ticket back to Russia for the end of August. All the preparations began; finding a home, enrolling in the local university to study the russian language and culture, applying for a new visa, establishing relationships and connections. The summer was an incredible experience of community, friendship, growing, learning, loving, serving, and creating. Each day I steadily grew more and more excited for the year ahead of me.
This year I will not just be studying a language and culture that I am fascinated by; I will be serving the people of the community through hospitality, hosting events and inviting people to my home, helping around the Church, volunteering at the local art school to minister and work with the artists, as well as other various tasks around the city.
I am so excited for what is instore for this year; developing deeper relationships with my friends from this summer, learning russian so I can speak with them more, working with Father Michael Shields, Katya and MJ (my future roommates), developing my art skills, working with Russian artists, and living in a new culture and a new environment (I have been reminded time and again by my Russian friends that Siberian winters begin at the end of September and continue until May with temperatures that reach roughly -40 below zero). . .
Art school is still on my heart and still in the plans, but for right now my call is to Magadan, and I could not be more happy.
Please keep MJ, Katya and myself in your prayers, and feel free to send us any prayer intentions you may have that we can keep this year!
"It is in choosing to serve God, to do his will, that man achieves his highest and fullest freedom."
-Fr. Walter Cizeck
Author of With God in Russia