Friday, January 29, 2010

The Story of Our House, Part Three - “Our New ‘Mir’ ”

“Mir” is a wonderful Russian word.  It means “peace” and “world.”   
We say “Miry mir”  or “Peace to the world.”

“Mir” is also the old word for a Russian village government.  The government that the peasants actually organized and ran - not the one imposed on them by the Czar and his bureaucracy.  
I recently read one academic put all the “mir’s” together and say it something like this:  The village “mir” was the peasants’ whole world.  They worked together to make this world a peaceful one for all.” 

A part of the “mir” was the Village Assembly, known as the “skhod.”  Every household was represented in the “skhod” and they elected a “Village Elder” as their leader.  This representative body made all the decisions in/for the village.  
Our New “Mir” - Selifonova
Anton was introduced to our new “mir” almost immediately.  On one of his early trips to the new land, he met our “Village Elder” and they discussed life in the village.  The discussion soon came around to a problem that would effect all the households of the village - we needed to get connected to the village gas line. 
Our “Village Elder” told Anton that he would set up a meeting of the “Village Assembly,”  they would meet Anton, listen to his request to be connect to the gas line, and then, vote.  They would decide if we would get gas.
Not long after, the “Elder” called us and said that the meeting date was set and asked Anton, as the head of our household, to attend.
Ok, now get this picture in your head:
Anton is running late.  He pulls up to the village, races up the dirt road, and stops.  The dusts settles as he opens the car door and looks out.  
There, standing in the central crossroads of Selifonova, waiting for the new young guy is our “Village Assembly.” Thirty or so Babushkas (Grandmothers) in colorful head scarves, woolen skirts, and black rubber garden boots;  a sprinkling of work-worn Dedushkas (Grandfathers); and the only other young man - all quietly stare.  My husband awkwardly trots toward them asking their pardon with each broad step.
“Sorry, sorry, sorry!  I’m so sorry!” 
Anton stops next to our “Elder,” who leans toward the nervous new guy and says, “Don’t let that happen again.”  
The meeting starts with some general village business and then, they get to the gas question.  Our “Elder” introduces Anton and tells them about our need to be connected to the village gas line.  There is some discussion about how much we should pay each household for the privilege.  Then, after Anton is told the cost, they vote, and we are accepted!  
Now, the question of who will be in charge of collecting the money from us and distributing it among the households.  The Assembly seems to be in some disagreement about who can be trusted.  They do finally vote on one person, but, in the end, the Elder tells Anton to bring the money to him.  
After the meeting, several people come up to Anton and offer support and give advice.  One of these was the only other young person in the Assembly.  He turned out to be our neighbor, Sergey, who is also building a house in the village.  He has proven to be a good friend, providing lots of helpful information about paperwork and area officials.
Slowly, the group disbanded. 
All the heads went back to their households.  

Anton climbed back into our car and, with as little dust-blowing as possible, left our “mir.”
and the story continues . . . 

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Never Give Up!

She did it!
Sophi worked this puzzle all by herself . . . for 2 hours . . . 
She would stop every now and then and look at me and say, “Mom, I’m not giving up!  I’m gonna keep working!”  
And, I would give her a couple of encouraging words, 
“You’re doing great!  Keep on going!”  
Every time, amazed at how much she had accomplished in the last 10 min.
This was the same puzzle I had just told her a week ago was too “old” for her.  She would have to wait until she was 4 to try it.  
“Silly Mama!”
I should have known she would be able to do it . . . she has always been a trooper, a “work til I get it” kind of girl.
I remember when she was learning to hit the little toys on her mobile.  
She would lay on her back for stretches of time and I would cheer her on. 

“Hit it, Sophi!  Kick!  You can do it!”  
And, she would stretch out that little leg and KICK . . . stretch out that arm and PUNCH . . . until she could do it every time. 

I still remember her look of concentration.

Then, when she was learning to walk . . . 
she would pull up, walk a little ways,fall, get right back up and keep going . . . determined.  
She breezed past crawling straight to walking. 
She would work so hard on saying words when it was time to speak.
Language came and still comes easily for my little bilingual girl.
Sometimes I have to beg her to give me a little quiet.
And, now, another victory:

A “big girl” puzzle - and she did it absolutely by herself!
I am amazed and humbled and challenged by my little girl!
“Never give up, Mommy!”

Friday, January 22, 2010

Life, When There Is No Cold Water

It is a fairly common hardship here - to be without either cold or hot water - or without water at all.  “They” turn it off for a couple of hours, days, and in the summer, for a couple of months.  “They” are some abstract Ministry of Water or maybe just some guy in a camouflage winter jacket and dirty boots.  “They” seem to care-less about who has a family to feed, children to bath, clothes to wash.
We learn to deal with it.  
Last week we were without cold running water for 5 days.
“How does the lack of cold running water in your home effect your everyday life, D’Anna?”  you might ask.
Well, let me tell you.
There is the water that is needed for drinking, cooking, and brushing teeth.

This water has to be bought.  We can’t use cooled hot water because our hot water is filled with red particles (not sure if it is just dirt or minerals).  In short, the hot water is just plain dirty and tastes terrible.  No one should ever have to drink the stuff! 

There is the taking of a bath.  
This can be accomplished with some forethought and creativity.
First, you fill a large bucket with the hot (depending on the time of day, this can actually be scalding hot) water.
Next, wait half an hour or so until it cools.
Get your body ready to bathe.
Squat down in the tub - DON’T SIT- unless you have prepared the tub with efficient amounts of the scalding water.
Grab your favorite water scoop
Poor the warm water over yourself.
Take a “scrubby” with lots of soap and soap yourself down really good.
With the same scoop, rinse yourself well.

If you don’t rinse your scoop or your body correctly (like stand over the big tub as you rinse so that the soapy water actually enters the rinse water) you will end up rinsing with soapy water and will find yourself a little soapy as you exit the tub. 
“Real “ Shower Option
There is another option that I just recently discovered.   If you want to take a “real” shower with only warm water, you can do it!  Pay close attention to when your neighbors are home and take showers.  (You can do this by listening to the pipes.)  Most are at work during the day  . . . so, if you plan to shower at around 11- Noon, you might be able!  Here’s the secret:  Get in, turn on the water and spray yourself down.  Turn off the water.  Soap your body, shampoo your hair.  Turn on the water again and rinse everything off.
WHOO HOO!  I did this last week a couple of times and had just enough warm water to take a 3-4 min shower! 
Then, of course, there is the going to the “loo. “
Did you know that your toilet will flush only if you have the cold water turned on in your house?  
If you had asked me this question about 12 yrs. ago, I’m not sure I could have answered it!  I had no idea about where what water went and why.  But, now I know! 
When the cold water is off - you must keep a bucket of hot water next to the toilet.  There will be no flushing from the tank - you have to pour the water yourself into the bowl.  
This keeps your bowl semi-clean (unless your are relentless and go back for more and more buckets of water . . . which I have been known to do on more than one occasion.)

The washing of the clothes - Nope, this doesn’t work without cold water either.

So, you can count on this basket's business growing and over-flowing to unbelievable and un-manageable proportions.

That, my dear friends, is life without cold water. 

I am praying for our Haitian friends . . . and wondering if they have water at all. . . 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Story of Our House, Part Two - “The Land Auction”

God gave us the money - now, we asked God to show us the land!  
Where should we build?
We visited many areas around Smolensk, looking for just the right spot.  
Anton and one of his bike buddies, Dima, agreed to start looking together.  Dima came upon a village, not far from Smolensk, that was going to be auctioning off some good-sized plots.  We went to look at what we thought were the plots and were elated - they were set up on a hill, with a magnificent view of Smolensk in the distance.  We fell in love and decided to pursue the plots.
After some research, we discovered that those were not the actual plots to be auctioned.  The plots were not far from where we looked - but instead of the excellent view of Smolensk, they had an excellent view of the graveyard across the road!  
Still there were lots of pluses for these plots:
1 - There were 4 plots to be auctioned off together.  They were all on the same village “road” and there were no other houses around this area.  We would all be living on the same “new” street.  Dima wanted to buy 2 plots, Dima’s brother wanted a plot, and we would have one.  We would be living near friends.
2 - The village was only about a 10 min drive by car from the city.  It was located right off the main loop around Smolensk.  It was not far from the interstate to Moscow.
3 - The plots were only about a 3 min walk from a bus stop.  Buses stopped there daily going to and from Smolensk.
4 - There was a nice “feeling” about the land.  And, even though we would be living across from a cemetery, the view was peaceful - and no one would ever build large, ugly concrete buildings over there!
5 - The village had electricity, water and gas!  BIG PLUSES!
6 - The people we met on our frequent visits were very nice and helpful.
7 - Directly across the village road from our plots was a large pond.  It would be nice to fix it up someday as a place to walk, sit, fish, rest.  And, no one would ever build a house there!
So, with all the pluses, we decided to register for the land auction.

The very thought of an auction scared us.  We pictured a large room, lots of potential buyers sitting on the edges of their velvet chairs, holding paddles in the ready position . . . intense bidding and counter-bidding  . . . until prices were astronomical and way out of our range.  
We had a concrete sum of money that God had given us.  We could not survive any bidding war.
Anton and Dima went to register for the auction - only to find out that the auction had just taken place!  No warning, no advertising . . . 
BUT, no one had shown up (DUH, wonder WHY!?) so, in a month, the auction would be held again.
They also found out that the starting price was EXACTLY the amount we had.
“Ok, ok, this could be good - and bad,”  we told ourselves. 

Good - because no one showed up at the last one, so maybe no one else is interested and we’ll get it for the asking price.  But, why is no one else interested?  Is there something we don’t know about this land/village? (oh, wait, I’m still in the “good” paragraph - let’s move on to the “bad”)
Bad - because, well, there is time now for others to find out about the auction and come to bid.  One bid over us and we’re out, that’s it.  Also, what is with all the secrecy?  Do they have an “inside guy” that wants the land and they are helping him by keeping it quiet?  
Again, absolutely helpless to do anything else, we went to God.
“Father, You see and You know.  All that You gave us we are willing to spend and we don’t have a kopeck more.  If it is your will, please keep anyone else from coming and starting a bidding war.  If this is the land you have for us, please give it to us.”
And, so, on Dec 11, 2009, Anton and Dima went to the Land Auction.  I wish I could have been there to see . . . 
They entered the room with their auction tickets.  There was a large table with 3 or 4 people sitting behind it - all land officials - behind their heads was a large photo of the President of Russia.  Anton and Dima were the only other people in the room.  The officials waited a bit and, then, started the auction.
When it came time to bid for the plot we wanted, Anton bid - SOLD!  
Then, Dima bid on the rest - SOLD!
And, that my dear friends, was that.
God gave us a piece of land in Selifonova, Russia!  
And, He gave it to us exactly on our 3rd wedding anniversary.
God gives the BEST gifts!  
So, here, we’ll place

and the story continues . . . 

Monday, January 18, 2010

The Story of Our House, Part One - “Land”

Remember when the children of Israel were just entering the land God gave them?  Do you remember one of the first things God had them do?
Here Is Their Story:
God’s People miraculously crossed the River Jordan. It was amazing . . . God had the river dry up for them so they could walk across!  And when they got to the other side - when they were actually standing in the land, God had the people put up gigantic “Memorial Stones” in the very spot of the miracle.  (I always picture huge Stonehenge-like rocks.)  There they stood (and maybe still stand) on the boundary of their Promised Land, a huge physical reminder of God’s Love for them.  
The battles weren’t over, there would be really hard times ahead and God knew that His People would need a reminder . . . a BIG one . . . 
for the times 
when they doubted themselves, 
when they doubted HIm, 
when they thought, “Maybe we got all this all wrong . . . “   
Standing Stones to remind them that this was 
God’s Doing, 
His Promise, 
His Love.
You can read more about these stones here.
Our Story
This re-telling of our family story is a putting up of Standing Stones.   Here is our reminder of all God has done and a hope of all He will finish!
Our First Stone:
Anton and I have felt for 5 years that God wanted us to give a family to some of the children without families here in Russia.  When we married, we lived in the huge city of Moscow.  Sophia was born and we soon discovered that Moscow is not the best place for family life. We left Moscow and moved back to Smolensk because we believed Smolensk would be a better place to raise children, to be a family.  
Our dream of adopting and/or being foster parents was still alive.  We found out that in the Russian social system, you must be the owner of an apartment or house to be eligible to adopt.  We began to think and pray . . .  
We were renting an apartment - and had always lived in apartments.  Most Russians work to own their own apartment.  Maybe we should start saving for an apartment.
The more we thought and prayed, the more our hearts turned toward a house, with land -  lots of space for growing food and playing outside!  How wonderful it would be to have a place where others could come and visit and experience the Russian country life and “have a rest.”  Maybe we could even have a transitional home for orphans getting ready to leave the orphanage.  A place where they could learn home-life skills - and see how a family works - and become part of a family.  Maybe we could have a business where orphans could learn job-skills. 
Our dreams were growing . . . 
But, our bank account wasn’t . . . we didn’t even have a back account . . . or a bank.
We were living month-to-month - hoping to make it to the end of each month with enough to buy food that last week  . . . 
We began to pray, “Lord, You know our hearts and our dream of land and a house.  You know that we want to share all that you have and will give us with children who have no one.  You know that this dream is absolutely not possible for us - WE cannot do it.  If it is Your WIll, will you provide everything we need?  Thank You!”  
And, we waited.
While I was in the States last Fall (2008), I was asked to speak about Russia in a woman’s group.  I shared about Smolensk, about our family, and about our dreams.
After the meeting was over, one of the ladies pulled me aside.  She said that she wasn’t a regular member of the group and had just decided to come to the meeting with a friend at the last minute.  This sweet lady said that God touched her while she listened to our story and she gave me a check for $5,000!  
I almost fell over!  
Could it be?  Could it really be that God was answering our prayer?
It certainly seemed so.
And the story continued . . . 

The Question Has Changed

Not too long ago, when my baby looked like this:

Her favorite question to me was, 
“Why, Mama?”
That, “Why?”  just about drove me insane!  
She asked “Why?” about everything  . . . and then, when I would answer, 
she asked “Why?” about the answer!  
It was constant and consistent and sincere - she wanted to understand everything.
Now, my baby looks just like this:

And, I’ve noticed her question has changed.  
No more, “Why?”  
She doesn’t need “Why?”   
She knows exactly how so many things work now.

For goodness sake, she’s a DOCTOR and all of her patients get better - - even if she has to use her “doctor knife” to take out all the bad parts in their hearts!

She can ride the tram like all the big girls, in her own seat.  She knows how to pay the conductor, take the ticket and then hold it tight and not drop it, in case the conductor asks to see it again.  She even knows how to sit quietly, straight-faced like a real Russian and think and watch people...

She knows that sometimes guys won’t answer your questions, even if you ask them over and over.  But, if you sit down and cry, sometimes guys will come over and ask you what is wrong and listen.  (We’ll work on this one, but, heavens, SHE told ME this! at 3, almost 4, yrs old!)
So, the question has changed.
Now, she THINKS, 
makes a statement of fact, 
and then asks,
“Right, Mom?”

          And. . .  
                            most of the time. . . 
                                                               she’s right!

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