We attended a cultural event on Saturday night with all of the missionaries in the district as well as some branch members and investigators. It was a chorale concert in the Philharmonic Hall entitled "Ave Maria." We listened to 12 or so different renderings of Ave Maria, the melody we're most familiar with in both Schubert and Bach arrangements and several other renditions that were completely unfamiliar, quiet, and slow! The group of 6 men and 6 women also performed "The Prayer," and although it wasn't Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli, it was still pleasant to hear a more contemporary song with some English lyrics! One thing that was particularly interesting was that the audience applauds all together in rhythm at the end of each song like you would at a hoe down or something. Maybe that is common in many countries but the first time we had experienced it. Another interesting thing was that at the end of a soloist's performance, people would come up out of the audience to give them flowers instead of waiting until the end of the entire production like we are more accustomed to. One of our Russian friends told us that formerly choral performances were allowed but only singing, not any instrumental accompaniment. This performance had piano accompaniment, as well as taped music for a couple of the numbers.
We spent some time with President Zolotov and his family. They are so warm and welcoming of us. We had some things to discuss for an upcoming District meeting, so they invited us to their home to talk and cook Russian Borsch! This is the second time we have eaten in their home; the first time President cooked us Plov, a rice and chicken dish, and it was delicious. He also cooked the borsch with the help of Elder Peterson. Sister Zolotov and I looked at pictures of her trip to America to visit her sister who lives in Seattle. When we were called into the kitchen for soup, we sat and enjoyed a delicious meal. As soon as we were done with the Borsch, on came the next course of mashed potatoes, meatballs, and a cabbage salad very similar to coleslaw. I had no idea they were making all that food. They always serve from the stove, and I had to repeatedly ask for smaller portions. It was all very delicious; they just eat large portions, and I was completely satisfied after the soup! Sister Zolotov and their daughter Soosha speak English so they are very helpful to translate.
Yesterday was our first "solo" meetings without interpreters! That was interesting! We understand some of what people say, but we seem to be able to communicate somewhat between our limited Russian and their incredible patience. We show pictures of our family and they show us pictures of theirs. Ken is a good map reader and has been able to find our way around town. I don't have a clue so I just follow. Tonight we weren't so lucky with our meetings. We went to meet some missionaries in New City, and when we all showed up for our scheduled meeting, we discovered it was an Amway presentation--hilarious!! So we just left and went out on the street to find a bus to our next destination. However, the bus number we needed wasn't coming so after waiting for 15 minutes in -15C temperatures, we called it a night and came home. That's the first time we have been cold. Our toes were numb, our fingers were cold, and our noses were running! But at least we were able to get onto a warm bus to ride home, unlike the proselyting missionaries who would be out in it the rest of the night.
We splurged and went to McDonald's this week. We each had a burger, drink, and shared some fries for $13. Unfortunately, they don't have a value menu, but it was good for a change. McDonald's isn't our favorite anywhere, but, hey, it was American!
We had some interesting marshutka rides last week. Marshutkas are the 12-passenger vans that we use to transport from one city to another. The first one we got on, a gentleman asked us if we spoke English. It didn't take long to discover he was quite drunk. We tried to ignore him, but he kept tapping us and wanting to talk. He said he'd get off the bus with us and we could go together. We kept saying "NYET," but he persisted. When we got off the bus, we had to walk quickly to lose him. I don't think he would have hurt us or anything; it's just obviously better to avoid those kind of people. Later that day, we were on another marshutka with the elders in the city, and a rather loud and rude drunk passenger spoke very harshly at the one elder to tell him to be quiet and leave people alone. Elder Peterson was looking for something to use to knock the guy with just in case things got ugly, but they didn't. Then on the way home that night a bunch of drunk teenagers got on the bus. I don't know what was up with that day! We generally haven't had any problems with the people; we must have been abundantly lucky that day!
We have been in the mission field for one full cycle (6 weeks) already! It's hard to believe! We are definitely finding our way around on the busses and discovering where the cheaper places to buy certain things are. Our vocabulary is increasing somewhat, but we still don't understand much of what people are saying. We serve with 8 other missionaries in this geographical area of which four were transferred this week to different areas. So half of our district is new. We are looking forward to meeting and serving with these new missionaries. Both of the missionaries in our specific town are new and are already so helpful. They are proficient Russian speakers, one of them having his college degree in Russian and Eastern Europe Studies. They are helping us with the language which is so great. We also have a couple of Russian girls from the church who help us. They came over on Monday, and we learned words around the house. So now we have green post-it notes stuck all over the house to help us learn the words. We also Skype with our MTC tutors daily. Geez, you'd think we'd be starting to learn something!! We just need to be patient and continue to work harder than ever. The missionaries say it took them several months before they started to grasp the language and they have young minds! Us old fogies are going to take a long time!
The sun has been shining all week which is such a blessing with temperatures at -15C or -20C. It is starting to stay light longer, probably similar to where many of you are. It still doesn't get light in the morning until close to 9 though. On our walk to the store today we were noticing the two-foot ice layers that we're walking on. Some areas have been cleared, and so you can see how thick the ice is. I don't know if I'm looking forward to the thaw or not; it will be messy!