Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas excursion, adventure and the like

A few weeks ago, after church Sam and I decided to go to Mega to grab some lunch and do a little shopping. Mega is a nice mall with a food court, a huge grocery store - Ashan, and IKEA. Getting there requires a trip on the Metro to the 5th stop, then taking a free bus from there to Mega. Sounds easy. But it's a much bigger adventure than one might think - especially this time of year - as we discovered. When we arrived at Prospekt Brosvechenya - the stop where the free bus picks up - there was already a MASSIVE crowd waiting for the bus. When i say massive, i mean several hundred people. Now, when it comes to queing in Russia, there are some rules. However...there are different rules for different sorts of queues. For example, let's say you arrive at a bank lobby and want to see a cashier. All cashiers are busy with one person standing there at their desk. There are a number of other people in the lobby, some sitting some standing randomly about the lobby, but you see no one in queue. One might assume that these other people have already been helped or are waiting for someone else who is currently being served and you should so stand behind the person being served. But, if you did this, you would be be comitting a big social faux-pas and you would most likely get reamed out. What you are supposed to do in this sitation is this: When you arrive in the lobby, you are supposed to ask, "Who is last?" The person who is last will identify themselves and then you can sit or stand wherever you want while you just keep an eye on who is being helped. When the person ahead of you gets helped you know you are next. Now, this is the rule for banks. But buying Metro coins is a different story. At the Metro cashier there are strict queues and you have to stand very close to the person in ahead of you so no one else steps in front of you. Now...Getting INTO the Metro or a bus is another story altogether. At this point, it is every man for himself. Which brings us back to the massive crowd at Prospekt Brosvechenya. The crowd had gathered by the sign for the free bus, stretching about the length of three busses and as it grew, the width spilled out into the street, blocking one lane of traffic. The logic here is, the closer you are to the door the more likely you will get in, so people basically put themselves in the path of the bus, trying to be first, even if it means having the bus nearly hit them when it pulls up. The traffic was particularly jammed and so it took the bus about 15 minutes before it pulled up, even though we could see it approaching (very slowly) for about half of that time. Once the bus crossed the intersection and aimed itself at the pack of people, the wave began. (This is where people begin anticipating the bus arrival, and begin pushing from the back and it feels pretty much like it feels when you are in the ocean caught in the current.) The first bus arrived and stopped very far to our right, so we knew we would never make it in that one. Half of the crowd swarmed that way the other half repositioned themselves as we did, waiting for the next one we could see coming up. Sam and I jockeyed to position ourselves in the crowd. Being in the front of the pack is never ideal, as you have to worry about being hit by the bus, especially considering the crowd pushes so much and you could get pinned up against the side of the bus. Being in the middle can be good because you'll probably get in, but you end up having no control and just getting pushed around by whatever the back is doing. being in the back is the safest because you have control, but you have to really push people and you may not even get in. We usually end up in the middle. As the bus stopped, the crowd surged toward the three door-openings in the side of the bus. This is where having played sports comes in handy. Ever hear of "boxing out" in basketball? this is pretty much the technique one needs to adopt to get in. You start pushing forward, "boxing out" and as soon as you can stick a body part in the door, you throw you body forward or grab on and pull yourself in. sam and I just made it in the door. he was half on the step and half on the floor of the bus. You might think that at this point the bus was full, seeing as we were already pressed aginst people on all sides, but you might be surprised to know that 4 more people pushed themselves in after us. After about 10-15 minutes of riding like this we finally arrived at Mega, where the doors screetched open and everyone poured out. We had a lovely afternoon - treated ourselves to Subway for lunch, strolled through IKEA, and bought a plant!

Christmas excursion

Christmas excursion



Then it was time to do it all over again - the bus ride. If you can imagine it, it was even worse on the way back. Sam and I had to split up - i aimed to get in one door and he aimed for another. we both managed to get insde, but just barely. the only reason i made it inside, is because i got my leg in the door, my foot on the step, and grabbed the doorframe to pull myself in. Luckily for me, the door is a sliding one, not an unfolding one like some busses, therefore didn't crowd me out when it shut. so, i ended up wedged between a handle, the door and a 4 ft. Christmas tree. This picture does not do justice to the actual situation. Just on the other side of the handle is a raised area over some mechanical bus stuff i presume(where this little girl is sitting) so it looks spacious, but isn't. and the little girl is blocking the veiw of all the people jam-packed in. but I didn't have room to move and so couldn't get a much better veiw. the arrows depict the door to the left, the handle in front, and the tree to the right. so this is what the ride looked like for me:

Then some genious behind me decided that this would be a good time to rearrange her bags. (there is literally barely enough room to stand, i have people pressing on me from behind, a handlebar pressing into my front and the door, the tree, pressing on either side, and here she is half bent over rearranging things, pushing people tighter and tighter together! argh!) the ride back was even longer due to bad traffic. the one positive of being next to the door was that it was slightly cooler there. (Remember: everyone is layered with coats, hats and scarves with no room to take them off because of the sardine-tin effect) because of being smack against the cold glass, i have a little relief. the downside to being wedged against the door became apparent upon our arrival when the door had to slide open...into the space i was occupying. my foot received the brunt of the force before i could push myself back against the people behind me enough to get out of the way and shove my way outside. SIGH. Relief. Thus, our Christmas Excursion, Adventure and the Like.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Monday, December 17, 2007

Photo time...

Deepthi's Birthday

Date with Sam to St. Peter and Paul's Fortress here in St. Petersburg
(Click on the slideshow, then put your cursor over the pictures to read the captions)

Random Bits of Life

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Schmap for Schmanda

Ok. So...i got an email about a week ago from the Managing Editor of Schmap Guides. For those of you who aren't familiar with Schmap (as I wasn't) Schmap is the publisher of free digital travel guides for destinations throughout Europe, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The company’s travel guides are available for download at Here's the email:

Hi Amanda,

I am writing to let you know that one of your photos has
been short-listed for inclusion in the fourth edition of
our Schmap Helsinki Guide, to be published mid-December

It went on to tell me how I could see which photo was up for possible inclusion in the guide and how to agree or decline inclusion of it in the running. The photo was one I took at the Helsinki Vantaa Airport a few months ago, and it was discovered on my Flickr, since I have Geo-tagged all my photos. So I figured what the heck, and agreed that they could include it if it was chosen. Well, I just got another email and they chose it. Its one of the pictures included in the "public transportation" section of the Helsinki guide.

I was going to include the Schmap widgett along the side here, but i'm not having success with it at the moment. For some reason the window that is supposed to show the map and photos keeps coming up blank. If I get it figured out, I will post it later. But for now, I'll just have to be content posting the pic they chose. If you saw my Helsinki Photos you've already seen this. It's the one of the sculpture inside the airport. Here it is:

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why I hate going to the grocery store

Don't get me wrong, its not everywhere that i hate grocery shopping. I seem to have acquired this dislike here in Russia. You might think its because everything is written in Russian, or that the cashier people inevitably ask some question or yell something I dont understand and I feel completely stupid, blankly standing there, or because we have to load our backpacks to the breaking point then carry these monstrously heavy things back on the Metro hoping that maybe, just maybe, I can actually get inside quick enough and find a seat before all the sitting space is gone, then trudge home through the sloppy, coldness for 20 minutes to finally arrive at our building and walk up two flights of stairs before collapsing in exhaustion and throwing the backpack down loathing the day when I'll have to put it back on again for the next trip. You may think this, but you'd be wrong. The reason I hate going to the grocery store here is that no matter what day it is, no matter what time it is, the place always seems to jam-packed with tons of people, crowding every aisle with carts, which because of the ultra-slick floors always seem to be impossible to control, and slide every which way except of course the way you want them to go. Just walking in to the place makes every muscle in my body tense up. Its enough to give even the most socially resiliant people social anxiety disorder. I used to enjoy crowds, big celebrations and large gatherings, but this has indeed waned over the years. Combine that with living for a year and a half in the wide open spaciousness and relaxed, slow-paced environment of Namibia and you can see why this type of situation puts me near overload. Pair me up with Sam, who loathes social situations and is a self-proclaimed introvert who would be perfectly content to stay in his room and not see anyone for weeks, and its like throwing 2 cats into a river. Sometimes we work together and cling to each other to make it out alive. Other times we have ended up trying to stay afloat by using the other as our personal life-ring. And the life-ring unfortunately didn't fare too well. But thank God for self-revelation. It doesn't make grocery-shopping any more enjoyable...but I think it does make our marriage more enjoyable. I still dislike grocery shopping here. But at least Sam and I don't end up disliking each other through the experience. Knowing our weaknesses may not make us less weak, but like the great philosopher G.I. Joe says, "Knowing is half the battle."

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Thanksgiving and such

As a follow up to my previous post, Thank you to those who voted. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough and Loving Vs. Virginia didn’t make it into the top 6. Sadness.

I haven’t posted in a while, I know. Not much has been going on I guess. It has snowed more. Yesterday in particular. We have several inches on the ground now. And since the temps don’t really get above freezing anymore, it pretty much just sticks around on the ground indefinitely. Sam is nearing the home stretch of classes for the semester. He’s getting antsy. Ready to have a reprieve. December 25th is not a holiday here, so Sam will be in classes that day. Most Russians don’t make much of Christmas, but rather celebrate New Years. For those who do celebrate Christmas, it is celebrated by the Orthodox calendar – January 7th. So, the first week in January will be a holiday week , and then exams begin. How quickly Sam clears his exams will determine how much of a break he has between semesters.

Sam and I did celebrate Thanksgiving. We invited a few good friends to come share dinner with us. I cooked, and had a great time baking things and being able to play host. I baked chicken in a homemade honey-mustard sauce (no turkey available and if there was, probably way too expensive) mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, baked pineapple, deviled eggs, and apple pie (couldn’t find the spices needed for pumpkin pie!) For dinner there were 5 of us – Sam and myself, Deepthi and Mokshaa from India, and Faisal (Sam’s roommate from his 1st and 2nd year) who is from Jordan. Everybody was kind of tentative at first. Mokshaa told me, “You have to go first to show us what to do. We don’t know how to eat Thanksgiving food.” Sam laughed and said, “We use forks.” Everyone laughed a lot at that. (For those of you who aren’t familiar with Indian food and eating, Indians typically use their hand to mash together their rice and curry or whatever sauce and eat by hand.) The “Thanksgiving food” was of a different variety than most of our guests we accustomed to. Faisal, when putting food on his plate, took the tiniest portions of food and went to sit down at the table. I looked at him and said, “You want to make sure you like it first, don’t you?” He laughed and admitted, “Yes!” Well, thankfully it went over well, and very quickly he was back at the serving table filling up the plate. Everyone filled up and in typical Thanksgiving fashion was very full by the end of the meal. Since Thanksgiving is an American holiday, I was asked to share the story of holiday and its history. It was a very enjoyable evening and I had a great time sharing my favorite holiday with my few friends here.

You can see pics from our Thanksgiving celebration to the right in the slideshow, or you can check them out by following the "My Photos" link to my Flickr site.

I hope you are staying warm! Or to those of you in the southern hempisphere...i hope YOU are staying cool!

Monday, November 26, 2007

With A Little Help From My Friends

Are you singing? you should be.

Ok, so maybe you have noticed my newly acquired addiction to BBC World. if you haven't, you're probably not paying attention. Anyway, right now BBC World is doing this "Best of the Year" thing where you can vote for your favorite documentary that ran this year and they will replay the 6 documentaries that get the highest percentage of votes. As I said, I'm new to this wonderful channel and so therefore I've missed anything that ran before September. In checking out my options on their webpage I came across the episode of Our World entitled "Loving Vs. Virginia". I REALLY want this to be one of the winners because I really want to see it!

Here's the description -

Our World: Loving Vs Virginia
Our World shows BBC journalism at its best, as it exposes and evaluates global issues. It's just 40 years since the United States overturned the ban on interracial marriage following the landmark civil rights case Loving v. Virginia. Sean Fletcher goes on a very personal journey to the United States to look at that historic Supreme Court ruling and the mixed race couple who fought to change history.

Please vote for it so it gets into the top 6 picks! Go HERE to vote.

Voting ends December 2nd...that's next SUNDAY. So please vote for it and ask your friends to vote too!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Punishing the Victim…

"…According to the Arab News newspaper, the 19-year-old woman was gang-raped 14 times in an attack in Qatif in the eastern province a year-and-a-half ago.

Seven men were found guilty of the rape and sentenced to prison terms ranging from just under a year to five years.

The rape victim was punished for violating Saudi Arabia's laws on segregation that forbid unrelated men and women from associating with each other. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man.

On appeal, the Arab News reported that the punishment was not reduced but increased to 200 lashes and a six-month prison sentence."

Read the full story.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Amber, I don’t believe it…



What I was doing 10 years ago:
It was my 3rd year as a Theater major at Wright State. I had a belly-button ring, shoulder-length straight hair and wore lots of thrift-store clothing. I was living off-campus with two other girls whose lives revolved around their boyfriends and whom would eventually become great friends with each other and leave me feeling alienated. I went through a time of serious loneliness and illness that drew me closer to God than I had ever been. I began to journal. I met some new friends whose passion for Jesus woke me to knowing Him in completely new way. I became good friends with Meg and spent most of my time at her place on campus, avoiding my housemates, and having lots of crazy adventures. I was really into swing dancing.

What I was doing 5 years ago:
I had recently bought my first house and was living there on Creighton Ave with Kristi and Shannon. I now had long, curly hair and was at the end of my 2nd year of working as a case manager at Eastway Behavioral Health, but I was starting to think about looking for a new job. I was writing music; starting to play the guitar. I think we had started Grace Among Thieves, the most laid-back band I’ve ever known.
(May she rest in Peace…CD release/reunion tour…who knows)

One year ago:
I had super short hair and was preparing to have my first Namibian Thanksgiving…wearing flip flops and baking pumpkin pies. I had recently moved into my second house in Okahandja – the one nearby Spar. I was emailing Sam a lot and having G-chat dates 3 days a week. We had talked about marriage and had pretty much decided that the following summer was the time. I had just begun writing in a new journal – a gift from Amber. I was spending a lot of time with Maveja and Buddy – our regular movie-nights with Mexican food or homemade pizza. Maveja told me she wanted to be baptized. We were making plans for going to the village for the December holiday. I was reading “The Barbarian Way” by Erwin McManus. We were just beginning to go through the book of Acts in the Woodcarvers bible study. There were LOTS of Hairy Hairdressers in my house.

Hmmmm….I change my hair a lot.

Yesterday (Sunday - Because I started writing this on Monday)
We slept in, Sam started the washing then I hung the clothes to dry and folded them. I made porridge oats and coffee while Sam shaved his head (the weekly ritual). We watched BBC World News and a feature about the Brittish soldiers in Afghanistan. Sam went upstairs to keep an eye on the washing machine (its been tripping the power lately) and study with Faisal in his old room. I wrote emails and did some reading. Before dinner Sam and I played checkers and then started cooking. We made a spicy chicken stew with potatoes, onions, tomatoes and peas and poured it over Pap! Yes! Russia has this stuff that’s exactly like Pap (African milliemeal.) So sometimes we get to pretend we’re in Namibia. After dinner and dishes, Sam studied more and I read. Around 11pm, we got some helpers together to help us move the heavy, ugly couch from our room to a friend’s room upstairs. Then I swept and mopped the floor (and Sam studied still more) and then we rearranged the room because we finally have space! Sam crashed around 1am and I finished putting things away in new places. I finally tried sleeping around 2:30, but found it quite difficult seeing as our neighbor like to watch his tv at decibels louder than anyone should…ever – especially at 2am.

(Oh, and my hair is shoulder-length and straight again)

5 snacks I enjoy:
yellow kiwis, chips and salsa, Oshikandela, fresh mangos, pretzels

5 things I would do if I had $100 million:
become a photojournalist and travel the world as part of a medical mission or relief organization with Sam - traveling, taking pictures and helping people.

5 places I would run away to:
The Maldives, Egypt, India, New Zealand, the Amazon Rainforest

5 TV shows I like:
House M.D., CSI, Friends, BBC World News, Man vs. Wild

5 things I hate doing:
Leaving good friends in faraway places, lying awake at night unable to sleep, cleaning up after our neighbors, interrupting Sam when he’s studying, having cold feet and being unable to warm them up

5 biggest joys in the moment:
Introducing Thanksgiving (my favorite holiday) to my international friends, learning Russian, finally getting rid of the couch so we had space to rearrange our room, emails from Amber, spending quality time with Sam!

Your turn:
Husband-of-mine, Dad, Fellow Former Climber

Saturday, November 10, 2007

World Challenge 2007

A show I've really been enjoying on BBCWorld. Check out these creative projects designed to give back their communities around the world. Vote for your favorite finalist HERE.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Random Smatterings

Some things I have seen, found, learned or done this week:

No kidding. Who knew there was Pappa Johns in St. Petersburg? Sam and I got together with his groupmates on friday and went for take out! MMM...
Chicken Bacon RANCH!
No Kidding.

Spending time with Sam's groupmates, Ollie-Pekka (Finland), Mortada (Syria) and Branka (Macedonia)
This Week

Found LIFEHACKER. Random bits of info. Ever wondered why ice cubes at restaraunts are clear and the ones you freeze at home are cloudy? Or, interested in how to get a First Class airline ticket for a Coach Class price? Interesting.

Yes, that's snow.

An early Christmas gift from my parents has allowed me to start learning THIS. I love it! Try the free online demo and see how you do.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Just beautiful...

This is a photo taken by one of my Flickr contacts, not me. I wish I had taken it though! Stunning, isn't it?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Fall in St. Petersburg

A collection of photos I've taken while walking around St. petersburg this season...

Friday, October 26, 2007

Pictures from Finland

So, I thought the site could use a new look...and I was inspired by Kristi's new Fall motif.

here are some of my pics from my latest trip to Finland. This time I was there for 5 days and and again spent the time at the home of Jukka and Saara. Saara was in portugal this time around though, so Jukka played host. and he did a great job, although he repeatedly stated, 'i'm not a cook". We had some fun times including mushroom-picking in the forest with his daughter and son-in-law and biking to church, biking around the lake and biking to meet up with Kyle (who somehow arranged for me to stay there the first time around even though none of us had ever met - Praise God). In all, we biked about 35 km on Sunday and I must say that old Finnish man put me to shame. I was beat!

Jukka, at the start of our mushroom-hunting adventure
Helsinki - October

Helsinki - October

Mushrooms - Close up
Helsinki - October

Mushrooms - What they look like when you're trying to find them!
Helsinki - October

Helsinki - October

Lunch break
Helsinki - October

The Scenery


My yeild
Helsinki - October

Helsinki - October

Helsinki - October

Jukka - "I'm not a cook"
Helsinki - October

I discovered that men are pretty much the same all over the world - they like their grills. This is Jukka's grill. And I must say, would put most American men's grills to shame. I wish I had a better picture of it, but let's just say that it's made out of brick, tile, and CONCRETE and it took 3 men to lift the sides into place...and it is freaking HUGE. So, the "non-cook" and i grilled sausages over the open flame.

Central railway Station - Helsinki, Finland
Central Railway Station

Center City
Helsinki - October

Things I have learned since moving to Russia:

* If you don’t walk FAST, you’ll get run over.

* NEVER cross the street unless the cross walk light is signaling “GO”, because again, you get run over.

* If you can’t understand Russian, people yell as if that will make you understand.

* Getting on the Metro at rush hour requires you to give up all personal space. You will have strangers pressing in on you from all sides and if you don’t push your way in (or out), you won’t get in (or out).

* Russians love to give flowers. No matter when it is, or where you are, you will inevitably see several people carrying large bouquets of flowers.

*If you are white, 95% of all people on the street and Metro will ignore you and act as if they don’t see you. If you are with someone who is black, 95% of all the people will stare at you.

* Sushi is easy to find. Mexican food is not.

* Count yourself lucky if you see the sun once per week for a few seconds.

* There is a coffeehouse on every block, and in most cases, more than one.

* At 9:00am it is DARK. And it about to get darker…(we turn the clocks back next week!)

* Plastic bags from the grocery stores are not free, so take you own bags to pack your groceries in.

* It's amazing how much you can understand by intuition and context.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


This week I used the metro by myself for the first time…
Believe me, it’s not quite so easy a task. People rushing past, crowding into already over-crowded metro cars, a labyrinth of tunnels deep, deep under ground (the deepest in the world, actually…many actually run UNDERNEATH the rivers), and of course, everything is in Russian…

On the way DOWN....

st petersburg

Two of the stations:

Plosched Vostania

st petersburg


st petersburg

Some more pics from around "my island" - Petrogradskya...

st petersburg

st petersburg

st petersburg

The path to the Hostel

st petersburg

The Hostel

st petersburg

our balcony is in the second row from the bottom, the 4th from the left.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

In other news....

Lisa Jackson bought Sam a desk! In some email I wrote her I had mentioned that Sam was having a hard time with studying because his desk that he had used in his old room was not sturdy enough to survive the trip from upstairs to our new room – due to being held together by lots of screws and just barely hanging on. And because we couldn’t afford to get a desk, he was trying to study at our little table or with his books on the bed and he was really struggling because he needs that structured study area. And she wrote back and told us she wanted to get us a desk. We ended up finding one on sale for $999Rubles – and even with having to pay to have it delivered, it ended up being very reasonable. it’s a very nice desk too. I have seen God provide already in ways I have never seen before. Mostly I think because I never opened myself up to being so subject to NEEDING Him to provide. I’ve often had a back-up plan. Now, there IS no back-up plan. God will provide, or we won’t make it. We have a really strict budget set up for our year. And all the purchases we had to make this first month necessities like a bed, stuff to clean the place, dishes and utensils, and all the things that go along with getting set up for the year of living here just were not well, in the budget. And we ended up spending just over $500 I think. And then there was this week about 2 weeks ago – it was the week Lisa told us she was sending $ for the desk – that week we learned that I had recived $95 (the money from selling my couch and tv). Also, a check for the mattress I sold in Ohio - $300. and also came a check for the old trunk. I had written apex about the money still left in my overage account and they put that in my account – along with some money that came in from 2 supporters who were still sending money in for me. we learned of all this in one week, different days…and at the end of the week I started thinking about all the different mentions of money coming in we had heard of and I started writing them down and I totaled them up. $679!!! God covered our set-up expenses and then some, in one week. I was humbled and realized how blessed I am to be in a position where I have to trust Him this way, because otherwise, I might have missed it.

I bought a winter coat, hat, and scarf in Finland. I think I look very Finnish now. (better to look Finnish in Russia than to look American, though I think.) It’s a black wool coat with a hood, sort of like a pea coat, but not exactly. I’m sure you’ll probably see me in it a lot in the future as it gets colder and colder. I still need to find boots soon. No snow yet, but lots of cold rain. I just need to find warm, practical boots…which could be harder than you’d think here in Russia. It seems to me that the standard footwear for Russian women is leather boots up to the knee with stiletto heels. Not exactly what I have in mind. There is an outdoor market on the weekends just a few metro stops away and there’s quite a lot to go through, and tons of boots, so I hope to find something there.

Sam’s desk: (thanks, Lisa!!)


Me, in my new coat:

My new coat!

Finland and Back

Ok, I’m still alive. The internet connection at the hostel has been pretty much non-existent. Its been down so much that its almost not even worth making the trip upstairs to try to get online at all because every time I do, it just is disappointing.

So….I went to Finland. And now I’m back. Finland was nice. The people were friendly and all very helpful and it is just a very different feeling than in St. Petersburg. Finland feels more like any of the other European cities I’ve been in, and so it was a nice breath of fresh air.

check out my pics at

About a week or so before I was to leave for Helsinki, I got an email asking if I needed a place to stay in Finland, because Jimmy D has relatives there and there might be a way of finding me a place to stay with someone. I hadn’t booked a hostel yet or anything so I said sure, go for it. Well, jimmy D wrote me and said that there was a Cedarville graduate who was leaving that same week for Helsinki as a missionary with Greater Europe Mission. He got me in touch with this guy, Kyle, who was going to arrange a place for me. So, it was about 5 days before I was to leave and I finally connected with Kyle through email and he said that he had just arrived and he was still figuring things out but that if I could trust him, he was pretty sure he could line up something for me by the time I arrived. I decided to trust him, (more so trust that God would use Kyle to find me a place in time). So I was leaving on Tuesday, and by Sunday I still hadn’t heard anything from him, and I had not been able to get online, he didn’t even have my arrival info or anything, just that I was coming on Tuesday. So, finally on Monday afternoon I was able to get online and I saw an email from him that said that his pastor (at the church in Finland) had a couple that I could stay with in Esboo (a town just outside of Helsinki). That was all the info I got. No contact info, nothing. So, I still decided that I was trusting God. So that afternoon, I met with a lady who is working on getting me a cultural visa, and as I was coming home from that meeting, I got a text message from Kyle, giving me the names and phone number of the people I was to stay with. I finally got in touch with them via text message late Monday night. I was to meet them at the train station and they told me the name of which station to come to, and what color car they would be driving. And I left for Finland the next morning. So I arrived at the airport, and asked how I could get to the train station. From the airport, I took a bus to the central railway station. And then from there I caught a train to the station they had told me about. I had just enough airtime on my phone left to send a message to Saara, (the wife of this couple) that I was on the train and arriving soon. (because I was roaming, the text messages cost A LOT and used up my time really fast). So I arrived at the station and had no idea where to go from there. I didn’t see the car yet and there was a big mall type place at this station, so I wasn’t sure if I was to meet them inside or outside or what. I had no more airtime and I just kind of walked around for a while thinking and praying about what to do next. I found a cell phone store and decided that maybe I could see if I could add airtime to my phone there (not sure because my server is in a different country if they have the same or not), and as I was waiting, I got a message from Saara saying that she was outside at the platform. PRAISE GOD. Saara and Jukka are probably a few years older than my parents. They have 3 adult daughters. I am the same age as their middle daughter. Sam kept telling me, “Remember there are Finnish people, so they’re going to be cold, not all warm and welcoming, ok?” But they have been wonderful. They have been so accommodation and hospitable. They have a huge, beautiful house in the woods. I had my own room, we ate dinner together, they told me how to get the embassy and which busses to use, Saara looked at my wedding pictures and showed me pics of their youngest daughter’s wedding (she got married this summer also) and Jukka even let me use his cell phone to call Sam to tell him I made it here safely, since I was out of airtime. Jukka (the husband) went out of town yesterday for a seminar overnight a few hours away, so last night I was introduced to the Finnish tradition of Sauna. Apparently its pretty common in Finland to have a sauna in your house, as Jukka and Saara do. The other night they were telling me all about the tradition and how it began and they asked if I had been in sauna and I said, “well, a couple times in nice hotels” and Jukka was like, “a couple times in your life??” =) ha. Yes. So he said, “Well, now its settled, tomorrow night you and Saara will have Sauna.” They have a wood-burning sauna, and so it takes an hour to heat up. After dinner Saara started the fire and then an hour later we began. Lets just say, it was very…European. Ha. It was seriously hotter than any sauna I have been in in America. It was over 80degrees Celsius….which in case you are Celsius to Fahrenheit illiterate as I mostly am…is over 200 degrees Fahrenheit. When I breathed in (which was hard to do in such heat) it felt like my nose and lips were burning. I’m also very sick right now (Sam gave me a terrible cold…ah, the joys of marriage right?) so the breathing thing I think was even more difficult. But the sweating was probably good, get all the bad toxins out….hopefully. Jukka says that when he has been sick and gone into the sauna it usually makes a decision….either he starts to get better or it gets worse, I don’t exactly know which decision has been made for me, but I started antibiotics today, so perhaps the sauna didn’t really do any wonders, and if it did, maybe I’ll never know if it was the sauna….or just the meds!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007



Yes, we went to IKEA. We moved into our room and the bed that was in there was….GROSS. And the springs in the mattress were so old that they groaned and creaked so loud every time one moved that it would wake TWO up! So we got a bed. Actually, we found a couch/bed/futon-like thing that is actually quite comfortable. We did really well, finding pretty much everything we got on sale, the bed included. We also got plates and bowls, mugs, kitchen knives, a frying pan, utensils, spatula, peeler, and bedding. I had never been to IKEA in the States, so I have nothing to compare it to, but I can say one thing, the place is HUGE. To get to the complex that IKEA is in, we go 5 metro stops away from the school, go out from the metro station, cross the street and catch the free bus to MEGA, which is about a 5-10 minute ride to where the mall complex where IKEA is. The mall is very western and, as Sam remarked the other day, “If you lived near there, you’d never even know you’re in Russia…well, until people starting talking and you didn’t understand anything.” It is a nice mall; complete with a food court with an indoor ice-skating rink, McDonalds, Subway, and a huge store called Azhan (which isn’t spelled that way at all, but I don’t have a Russian-alphabet keyboard), so that’s how you pronounce it. It looks very new, and Sam and I just discovered it because I wanted to check it out and see what the prices were like, and we now refer to it as “Russian Wal-Mart”. It was awesome. We also went to the market this weekend. It was enormous. Street after street of vendors and shops. We went to find material so I can make curtains for our room. Prior to this we did the ghetto thing and taped newspaper over the windows, so I’m very happy to actually have curtains.


I’m still feeling a little like a prisoner because, even though I could go out if I wanted, I’m not very confident because I don’t know any Russian and even though I could probably find my way around ok, say, getting groceries on my own or something, I don’t know what I would do if I ran into a situation buying something at a shop or something. Although after a few more days of being trapped inside I may just develop the confidence and brave it anyway, just to get out. I have at least figured out that when you go through a till at a store, they ask #1 if you have a card for that store, #2 if you are buying a plastic bag, #3 if you have the exact change or close to it. And Russians aren’t much for small talk, so if a clerk did say something to me, chances are it would be one of these things and I could fake my way through it.

On a random note: We have been able to watch a little of the Rugby World Cup. I like rugby. Its so much more interesting to watch than American football. But its not exactly widely televised in the USA. So, for those of you that get those obscure ESPN channels, I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

RUSSIA – the story continues…

The first 3 days we stayed in Deepthi’s room (friend of Sam’s who hadn’t returned to school yet). When she came back, we spent 3 nights in Sam’s old room (his roommate stayed in someone else’s room for those nights) because we hadn’t worked out things for our room yet. Finally we ended up giving the commandant of the hostel $100USD so she won’t bother us about me staying here for now, because technically unless you are registered at the school I guess you’re not allowed to stay in the hostel, although there are a number of people with significant others, families, etc, who live here…and although we are trying and trying to go about things the honest way, and go through all the right channels, it seems that people just want bribes in order to do their jobs, and/or help out another human being.

We moved into our own room on the third floor. It was nasty dirty. We spent the better part of 3 days cleaning. We basically bleached it from top to bottom. (and that’s not to mention the bathroom). Sam went in full force there…gloves, mask, everything. It was impressive. I didn’t take “before” shots, but you’ll probably be thankful for that, because it was really gross, and you probably wouldn’t want to look at that. The “after” is quite nice though, (you can surmise then, if I feel the “after” is quite nice, how the “before” must have been). I feel like we have some semblance of “home” with a somewhat live able bathroom. (the ones on the 6th floor, and 7th floor, where we stayed before moving in our room were unbelievably hideous.) Think of the ickiest gas station bathroom smell you have ever smelled and multiply. The one here is non-smelly and I am ever grateful. Up till 2 days ago we thought we had our very own stall to ourselves, but then the Indian guy next door told us that he had been using the middle one. See, the way they do the bathrooms here is that there are 3 stalls. And 3 rooms on each side. 6 total. When we moved in the two side stalls both had locks – signifying that people from other rooms had chosen that one and split up keys accordingly. The middle was NASTY. No seat. Brownish black gook staining the bowl….GROSS, and it was Unlocked. That and the decrepit-lookingness signaled to us that more than likely no one was actually using this one. The guy who lived in our room before said that we could ask to get a key for one of the other stalls with the other rooms, or we could fix up the middle one since it seemed no one was using it. We chose the latter. So once it was all nice and clean and fixed up, we put on our own lock and it was just ours. Yay! That is, until this guy comes and says he had been using the middle one. Seriously? ICK. So we gave him a key and now we have to share with him. Sam put a lot of work into that though, so if this guy isn’t clean, we’re changing the lock!

Sam started classes today. We don’t have internet in our room yet, but we can usually just go up to the 6th floor to Sam’s old room and use the net there – his roommate from last year, Faisal, is still staying there and has told us we can just keep his key and come and go as we want.

People here go to sleep really late and wake up late. Which is perfectly fine for me usually, but has been hard to get adjusted to, since for so long I have been trying to get out of that habit and recently finally succeeded, only to have to switch again! Things are still in limbo, still working on visa stuff, still putting our room together. We have this huge couch and two big chairs that came with the room that are fine and all, but they are really BIG and taking up way too much space and I can’t wait to get rid of them. We know someone who wants the couch, but we can’t really afford to buy new stuff for sitting on, so we have to keep at least the chairs for now I guess. Once we get rid of those things we can finally put the room the way I really would like to have it, and we can fit a desk in for Sam, which with the couch plus two chairs would be very difficult. So hopefully we can move out the hefty thing soon. Until then we’re kind of halfway there. It’s ok though. Starting to finally look like a home, rather than a dorm room. For which I am thankful.

Today I made tortillas and we had faijitas for dinner. It was an all afternoon process – walking back and forth from our room to the kitchen. Actually, when I first went to the kitchen today there was a bird inside. Yes, and that’s actually not too uncommon. People leave lots of trash in the kitchen and then leave the windows wide open, so birds just fly in and hang out. Yes. Thankfully there was only one bird, ( I walked past a kitchen on another floor a few days ago that had 3 birds in it!) and thankfully when he saw me he made a quick effort to get out, and after only a few attempts of running into the ceiling and window, he made it. I was glad to not have to cook with a bird eyeing me.

I’ve been learning the Metro. I’m getting the hang of it, although at the beginning I thought I’d never get it. Its all in Russian, so it’s not exactly tourist-friendly. But once you ride it enough, you figure it out. And you learn how many stops to go and which line to get on. No one talks or smiles, people crowd as many as possible into metro cars and busses, and EVERYBODY STARES AT US.

I like Sam’s friends from the hostel. We have been going to his fellowship group which meets here at the hostel in Deepthi’s room. (Sam lived below her last year). the hostel is like a labyrinth of hodge-podge cultures. Indians, Arabs, Chinese, Vietnamese, Africans. Very….interesting. Oh, here’s one for the “pro” list, Lisa Jackson: all the Indian food I get to eat, from real Indians….Mmmm. =) We had Chapatti and vegetables the other night. And before that we had a night where a bunch of people brought different things and it was really good. There was something that the Indians called “cutlet” that was very tasty.

It’s fall weather here now. No changing leaves yet. But I am looking forward to getting to experience that this year! It is getting cold though. I am going to need to buy a coat soon. I don’t have one. Hopefully I can find a warm one that isn’t too expensive. In a week I have to leave to go to Helsinki to apply for another tourist visa. God totally provided a place for me to stay there! I am so happy and we are so thankful that we get to save like $100 that we would have had to spend on lodging. Jimmy D hooked me up with contact info for this Cedarville guy who just left to become a missionary in Helsinki with Greater Europe Mission. And he said he can hook me up with a place to stay. Very exciting. Especially since I will have to go there a total of 3 times by the time this is all over. Sigh. So maybe I can stay there a few times if it is ok with them. We’ll see how it works out. I’ll just be glad when all this moving about is over with. It’s very unsettling. I love to travel. But this is so much more WORK than travel. And it’s costly, which sucks. But, hopefully I can get everything arranged quickly for my second tourist visa and can relax a little to enjoy Helsinki a bit while I’m there. I’ll have the camera, so look forward to Finland pics. I'm having issues with uploading all the pics i want right now, so you'll have to look forward to more. Here are a few for now:

JFK Airport

Welcome to Russia

Thank God for pictures on products!