Friday, August 31, 2007

A Great Deal

Well, I must admit that I am feeling quite proud of myself today (and excited about what God has provided). Since Isaiah’s infection we haven’t taken him out much, which meant that most of the shopping was done by Thomas since he can understand and speak Russian better. This arrangement however was beginning to give me a case of cabin fever. Today Thomas stayed home with Isaiah while I went and did some shopping at one of the stores he told you about in a previous post, Okea (pronounced OK). My list wasn’t long, so after I had found the items that I needed I decided to look around a little bit and see what was available. The store was pretty crowded since school starts here very soon. There were tons of children there with one parent or the other looking for school supplies and school uniforms; I had the unexplainable urge to buy pencils or something.

Anyway. Okea sells some children’s clothing, so I headed in that direction since Isaiah needs a winter coat. I maneuvered my way through the mamichkas with their children who were also on the hunt for a good jacket or coat. Most of the coats were too big for Isaiah and cost beyond what I wanted to spend. Then a shorter sleeve caught my eye, and I pulled down the hanger to take a closer look. To my great surprise it had a tag inside that told the European size, the French size and the American size! “This coat should fit Isaiah!” I excitedly thought to myself. To my even greater surprise, the coat was on sale for only 399 rubles (about $16)! I could not believe that price. I checked all the zippers and pockets and snaps to be sure that nothing was wrong. Then I tried to find any other coats to make sure that I was really getting a good deal. Every other coat was at least 1200 rubles (about $48), and most of them cost more than 1200 rubles. Being careful not to smile too big or show too much excitement with so many people around, I called Thomas to double check the deal that I thought I had found. Upon hearing the price, before I could even describe the great features of the coat, he said, “Buy it!”

This might seem like a small thing, but I was concerned about getting the right coat for Isaiah. I thought we would have to spend a great deal more money than we actually spent. I forgot to mention that this was the only coat that was on sale. This wasn’t just the only STYLE of coat that was on sale, this was the ONLY coat that was on sale. There were no other coats of this style on the rack.

I love how God uses experiences like this one to remind us that He will take care of us. He wants our family in St. Petersburg, and He is going to provide everything that we need to do His work here. Isaiah will be warm all winter!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Feeling Russian, sort of

Well, I have now completed 3 language lessons (15 hours). Thomas and Isaiah accompanied me to my first lesson so that I wouldn't get lost. My teacher lives about an hour away from us. I travel by metro and then by tramvai (sort of like a cable car).

Monday I headed off on my own for my second lesson. I had done all my homework and tried to memorize as many vocab words as possible. I was nervous about traveling by myself, but I felt very Russian with shopping bag in hand carrying my books. Cultural note--most people carry things in shopping bags here. I felt like I blended in a bit better with my nice bag that formerly carried my jeans (see previous post).

My language lesson went very well, which means that my brain was completely oatmeal by the time the lesson was over.
One of our friends described learning Russian in the beginning as making baby sounds, and well, it's true. My teacher had me make sounds over and over and over again before I graduated to real words. She was very patient and encouraging. My favorite sounds were goola, goola, goola, goo. She told me to practice this with Isaiah. :) (yes I understood her instructions in Russian!)

On my way home, I stopped by a store and bought a few things and even talked to the lady checking me out, sort of.

At the metro a man asked me for directions, I think, and as I tried to tell him what I thought he wanted to know, he looked more and more befuddled, before I finally pulled out the old trusty "I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian well", which earned me a laugh and kind smile.

Wednesday I got to learn tons of verbs, which will keep me very busy until my next lesson on Monday. I'm thankful that God is tuning my ears, so to speak to this language. He has provided for our learning in so many ways, and I pray that I will honor Him in my learning.

For those of you interested in what the rest of our flat looks like, I have finally posted the rest of the pictures. I hope that you enjoy your "visit". We would love to have any of you come and really visit!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

So What's Been Happening

There's never a dull moment here in the Slawson household these days. The past few weeks have been quite a whirlwind of events as you can imagine. Tomorrow marks four weeks since we have arrived. For those first two weeks about 90% of our energy was devoted to just figuring out how to live. Week three was down to about 50%. Now, as we have just about completed our fourth week here in SP we are starting to establish a routine and a way of life for ourselves.

Language Lessons

Our language lessons are in full swing now. Both of us are taking 6 hours of one-on-one Russian lessons per week. Mine are on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. My teacher Galina, comes here to our apartment. Cristy's lessons are on Mondays and Wednesdays, but for longer periods of time. The reason for this is because Cristy has to travel about an hour one way to go to her teacher, Ludmilla's, house. When we're not taking lessons, we're studying and doing our homework for the next lessons and taking, care of Isaiah and living. So far both of us have really enjoyed our lessons, and feel like the Lord is granting us real progress in our Russian.

Forming Relationships

Our friendship with Luda continues to grow, especially between Cristy and Luda. Yesterday Cristy had the opportunity to spend the day with Luda. They visited at Luda's apartment. Luda and Cristy read some sermons and discussed them together. It was a very profitable time.

Church Associations

We have been attending Light of Christ Reformed Church here in SP. The pastor, Mikhail, has welcomed us into the congregation. Right now, it being summer, a number of members of the congregation are out, and so an average Sunday attendance is anywhere from 10 to 20 people. When everyone is present there are over 40 people. The church meets in the sanctuary of the historic Lutheran church downtown. Since the Lutheran congregation meets in the morning our service does not take place till 3PM on Sundays.

The whole service is in Russian, of course, so we don't understand everything. But each week, especially after starting our language lessons, we understand more and more. I am meeting this Friday afternoon with Pastor Mikhail to discuss ways in which I can help with some pastor's conferences he wants to conduct here in SP. He's also stated that as my language develops further that he looks forward to me teaching some.

So that's the big news for now. We love and miss you all.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Shopping in Tongues Part II

So by now you've learned about the little "ask the lady behind the counter for what you want" shops here in Russia covered in Part I, now on to the other types of shops here in Saint Petersburg. These other stores are very much like markets on planet America only they come in many shapes and sizes. There are two big chains here. One is called Lenta, which interestingly enough means "tape" in Russian (haven't figured that one out yet), and a store called Okay, which translates "Okay." Both of these stores have sluffed off the cozy idea of piling into a tiny little shop and waiting in line while the tzarina of the establishment gets each person's items one at a time. No, these "shops" are quite different. We passed a Lenta on our way into town when we arrived three weeks ago. Our driver, Planton who had been to America several years ago pointed to the store and said Eto kak Wal-Mart. I'm not even going to translate that because it should be obvious.

Yes, Lenta and Okay are not "supermarkets." They're geepermarketi, which translates "hypermarkets." And, no, they're not called that because everyone inside is excited all of the time. They're called that because they sell a bunch of "stuff." Yes, Russia too has entered the realm of cheaply made goodies produced somewhere in the orient. I'm not kidding. I bought something at Okay last week that was made in Japan that must have had instructions in close to 40 languages, with the English instructions being so outrageous one would assume that some comic genius wrote them. But I digress.

Anyway, at Lenta, Okay and other lesser but similar shops, one does not ask anyone for anything with the exception of the butcher's counter. The layout is very similar to big stores on planet America, but with just a few differences. First, there's the process of checking one's bags. So many people use public transportation over here that it's very common for one to have bags from other shops on his person when he enters the store. To remedy the hassle of one having to carry his bags through the store (and to thwart the temptation to steal), there are lockers setup that have keys in them, free to use. One simply puts his bags into the locker, locks the locker and takes the key with him. Don't worry, the key can only be removed from the locker when it is locked, so no one can steal the key. The other major difference that one would notice is the shopping carts. While they look the same they don't operate exactly the same. On Russian shopping carts all four wheels turn 360 degrees, not just the front ones. This is in some ways handy, and in some ways annoying. It's handy in that if one has to get out of someone else's way, he just slides his cart left or right without convoluted maneuvering that's often more difficult than docking an aircraft carrier. But it's annoying in that unless all four wheels are perfectly aligned (and they never are) the thing wonders all over the place. I can't begin to tell you how many people I've crashed into with my cart.

Upon entering the shopping area things are pretty much the same with one minor exception; almost everything is in Russia. I say almost everything, because there are a number of western products available, and quite often major companies are not interested in contextualizing their logos. So there are bags of potato chips that have Lays written on the top, however all of the ingredients are in Russian. There are boxes of Cocoa Puffs, but again with Russian ingredients.

In some ways this kind of shopping is easier, but in some ways it's more confusing. It's nice to be able to take my time and examine the various products. But sometimes the choices are so many that I'm not sure what to choose. The little shop on the corner has 3 different types of bread. Okay had over 50. But then there's also the problem of still not knowing what everything is even when I'm looking at it. Trust me, "stuffed capers" is not one of the first words one learns in Russian when he studies the language.

Enough already, let me fast forward a bit.

So I did my shopping, loaded up the basket and headed for the checkout stand. Just like home, a line forms behind a moving conveyor belt with various trinkets to the left and to the right. There's candy, lighters, flashlights, etc. There were packages of dried squid, which I thought was really nifty. I thought before I ever went that checking out was going to be the easy part. After suffering under the tyranny of the dragon lady at the corner shop I thought this experience would be pain free. "What could possibly go wrong?" I asked myself. "She'll just ring up the items, tell me the total, I'll pay and be on my way." Not exactly.

Like I would in America, I unloaded my cart onto the moving belt. Immediately the lady asked me a question, which I didn't understand. I was perplexed. "Why is she asking me a question?" I thought. "There's no need for all of that. Just ring up my stuff and I'll pay you." Well, she kept asking me the same question, and I had no idea (nor do I to this day) what she was asking me. I had already presented her with my lovely shoppers card. I had already told her that I needed three bags (In Russia you have to pay for your plastic bags). Frustrated she began ringing up my items, and I began bagging them. Total time rolled around, 585 roubles, about $23. I handed the lady a 1000 rouble bill. She immediately showed a look of consternation on her face and asked me if I had any smaller bills, which I didn't. For some reason over here the ATM machines always give out 500 and 1000 rouble bills, and people who run shops always get mad when people try to spend them. Banks don't like to exchange larger bills for smaller bills for people because there's no profit in it for them, and a store certainly won't do it for free. So my cashier friend wearily had to take out four 100 rouble bills along with a 10 and a 5 rouble coin. I felt so sorry for the extra stress of counting I had to put upon her. Thus ended my shopping I thought.

I've failed to mention one little detail. Remember, we don't own a car over here. We take public transportation everywhere we go. Normally when I've stopped by the corner shop on the way home I'm ever mindful of the fact that I'm traveling via foot and only need to get what I can carry. Also, standing at the front of a line of tired, hot and frustrated Russians as I jabber away in some kind of Tarzan tongue to Mrs. Hitler behind the counter is also a great way to keep from buying too much. But at places like Lenta and Okay it's easy to get lost in the moment. There's just so much stuff, and there's a shopping cart just waiting to be filled. As it turned out I had filled my cart a wee bit too much and now had three rather filled bags along with the bag that I had brought into the store in my locker. I now had to carry all of those bags to the metro station, ride four stops and then walk home from the metro near our apartment. I learned my lesson quickly.

So shopping this way has it's pluses and minuses. Recently we've discovered a good store close to our apartment that I think will become our new main grocery shop. It's a "pick your own items yourself" kind of store, but it's much much smaller than the mega marts. While it's a couple of roubles cheaper on some items, it's, in most cases, not worth the time and the cost of the metro ride to travel to Okay.

So there's shopping life in St. Petersburg. There's so much more that could be said, but I won't bore you.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Time with Friends, and a Sneak Peek

We are really getting settled in now to our new home. Our friend Will has been such a big help. We were very sad to see him go. Before he left though, we were able to have our first dinner guest! Sunday night after church (which is at 3pm our time) our friend Luda came over for supper. Thomas cooked up some stir fry, so Americans and Russians were eating Japanese food with Ukrainian decorations. We all got a good laugh about those circumstances.

Monday Thomas and I were able to take Isaiah to the
American Medical Clinic in St. Petersburg. The clinic maintains western standards of treatment. We were very pleased with the care that we received. The doctor spoke enough English and Thomas spoke enough Russian for us to be able to communicate what we needed. She was able to help us get some medicine for Isaiah (that he takes regularly, nothing was wrong), and she referred us to two possible physical therapists.

Monday night we had a farewell dinner with Will. We already miss him very much and look forward to seeing him again very soon, Lord willing!

Thomas has had two language lessons as of today (Thursday). I hope to have my first lesson tomorrow. I've had several "experiences" lately that have increased my desire to learn Russian. Thomas, Isaiah and I went to Mega (the equivalent of an American shopping mall, but add Lowe's and Wal-Mart in the same building). I was on the hunt for some jeans, and I really wanted to be able to find them without leaning on T
homas for translation. Now, jeans shopping in the States can be a challenge at times, but that's nothing compared to what I experienced.

First, I had to figure out the European sizing
(I'm going to keep my size to myself, just in case you're wondering), which uses much larger numbers. For instance, imagine once being an 8 (for example purposes only) and suddenly you're a 30. If not prepared for such changes, it can be a real blow to the female ego. Add to this trying to communicate to the sales clerk that you don't know your size while you don't know any of those words in Russian. Thankfully the sales clerk that was trying so graciously to help me was indeed gracious. She quickly picked up on the fact that I am "americanski" and helped me narrow down the size options. Once my size was discovered, I tried to say that I didn't want jeans with designs on them and that I wanted a higher waist. Jeans without design would not be a problem, but a higher waist?! What was I thinking?! Apparently jeans in Russia come one way--low, low waist. For you ladies out there in America, I hope you understand my dilemma. Modesty over here is not a top priority, not even close. So I continued my search, and finally found one pair of jeans that was in my price range, had no design and was at least a little bit higher in the waist than anything else that I had seen. Whew! I was exhausted!

So besides jean shopping and a few other things, I have also been trying to get our flat to look like our flat. One great thing about Russian flats is that many
of them come furnished. One down side to that is that landlords often use the flat to store some of their stuff. Our flat is very nicely furnished, by the way, but almost any space that could be used as storage is being used for storage. I've enjoyed the challenge though of finding a place for our things. I'm still working on where to put the extra suitcases, but I'm sure that something will work out. I've posted some pictures, but just to whet your appetite, here is a picture of our kitchen; complete with adorable little man:

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Shopping In Tongues Part 1 1/2

It's now Sunday night here in St. Petersburg. Sorry for the delay in giving you the exciting sequel to the previous story, but things have been quite busy. We moved into our new apartment this past week and somehow writing witty bits about shopping didn't make it to the top of the list.

But permit me to whet your appetite for more juicy tidbits to come with this humorous antidote. Tonight we had our friend Luda over for dinner. Luda speaks impeccable English and is fast becoming a good friend of our family. She has also been a great help when we have language questions and are searching for cultural insight.

Anyway, the subject of learning language came up tonight after dinner and we began to share our funny stories of making complete idiots of ourselves. Just down the road from our new apartment is a store like I described in Shopping in Tongues Part 1 only a good bit larger. I've already been in there a number of times, and each time I go in all of the ladies behind the counter get a "Mona Lisa grin" on their faces. I'm fast becoming a celebrity there I imagine. I can just here them every time they see me coming, "Hey, Lena, here comes that crazy American who always points and mispronounces things, isn't he just the cutest thing?"

I was regaling Luda with my tales of idiocy there tonight when I described to her a situation that had confused me a couple days ago. I was at this little store ordering some juice. I asked for orange juice (appelsinyi), then I asked for some apple juice (yablochni), which caught me some interesting looks and an immediate correction. Well, when I told Luda what I had called the apple juice she nearly had a conniption fit. As it turns out yablochni, putting the emphasis on the emboldened syllable, sounds dangerously close to a very very very bad word in Russian. Luda immediately corrected me informing me that the proper way to say the word is yablochni.

I assume, given all of the other crazy mispronunciations that I've said, that I'll be forgiven for this...ahem...little social error that I made. But these past two weeks have been a profound learning and humbling experience for me thus far. It is frustrating not being able to say what I want to say, and when I do think I'm saying the right thing wind up either nearly cussing out a shop clerk or providing dinner table antidotes when they go home at night.

Well, that's all for now. Part II will be on its way soon. I promise.