Dear Friends and Family,
We stayed home from church today, recovering from bad head and chest colds. The last two Sundays, though, there was a delightful young couple there from Sakhalin Island which is north of here. They were here visiting her family with their 10 month old baby girl. She actually let me hold her for a few seconds. It has been so long since I have held a child. They came to our apartment last week before they left town to load some things onto Jim’s I-Touch that our daughter sent him and to do some work on our computer. He works for an international oil company (he didn’t say but it is probably Exxon) on Sakhalin and is their computer whiz. I mention them because it was so wonderful to get to know a family that has a mother and father, who are thrilled to have found the Gospel, and who are happy to be in Russia, Nearly everyone else we meet wants out. They want to go to New Zealand, or Australia, or the United States, almost anywhere but here and I can’t say that I blame them.
Again we had a large crowd for Family Home Evening. I invited a few from English Club who wanted to try some American foods. I made some deviled eggs with the wonderful spices I got from home. I set the plate on the table and when I turned around again they were all gone. I made some vegetables and dip with the Hidden Valley Ranch mix from home and it also disappeared in a flash. I made an angel food cake in loaf pans because I didn’t have a regular pan and it also was a big hit.
We made three humanitarian visits this week. First we visited what our translator called an infectious or abcess hospital. It was a very sad place. We saw shriveled bodies with sores on them and amputees. Everyone wants beds. I told our translator that we will be known as the bed missionaries. The places we have seen have old plywood beds or army cots with only a thin mat on them. We have not seen a real hospital bed with a crank that lifts the feet or the head. Now, of course, these are electric in the States but they would be happy here with the old crank up kind. Jim went in a room to take a picture after he asked permission and there were some nurses out in the hallway who lit into our tranlsator and told her that she should not be bringing Americans to this place because they woud get a bad impression. Our dear translator held her own and told them that if we only went to the nice places we would never be able to help the poor and the needy which is what we are here to do. She won them over as they followed us down the hall and began to add to the list of things they might like to add to their request.
We walked about a half hour from that place to a children’s hospital. I was sweating so profusely when I got there that I am sure I didn’t make a very good impression. The director offered me some tea, which I politely declined. This place was in much better shape from what we could see of the administrator’s office. And this appointment was made by our friend Kate and not by our translator who knows all the forgotten places. They want some expensive medical equipment. Our Area President who has to approve all such requests is a former American emergency room doctor , so he has the ability to determine what is really necessary and useful. They are not only a children’s hospital and outpatient clinic but keep abandoned babies there until they are 3 years old. We didn’t get to see any of the facilities. It was near the end of her work day so the director had us ride home in an old Soviet era ambulance. The driver dropped her off at her apartment building and then took us to ours. Doctors here have no special status as far as I can tell and certainly no special income. They live in the same shabby apartments buildings as everyone else.
On Thursday we went to the apartment of one of our little old ladies in the church. Tamara is only a year older than me but seems so much older. We never know how hard a life has been and few people over 40 here have many teeth or else a mouth full of gold. She insisted that she had to teach me how to make borsct because she had already “taught half of America”. I had to forget everything I knew about proper sanitation as I helped and watched her. I figured it was all going to get boiled anyway. It is good and It is something Russian that I like. I drew the line, though, when she tried to get me to take a spoonful of the brine from a large mushroom that she had in a jar on her counter. You couldn’t tell that it was a mushroom and I have no idea how long it had been sitting there in a sugar and water solution. She kept insisting that it was good for you and “all natural”. I said that opium and marijuana are all natural as well, but I don’t want them either. It was just as well that she didn’t understand what I said. Russians here are very into folk medicine. I guess they have to be because the state of medicine in hospitals is not good. They also believe that a draft is very bad for you and her apartment and little kitchen were stifling. You can be on a steamy bus but don’t dare open a window because someone will glare at you or just close it. They also have a million superstitions that they live by.
It could be drafts that have made us sick, who knows? We sleep with a fan blowing over us but we are just as wet and sticky from perspiration when we wake up as we were when we went to bed and we never feel cold. Oh, what a humid place!
On Friday morning we made our third humanitrian visit to a village quite a ways out of town. It is fun to travel with our new translator because she has written two books on Nakhodka and the local history. She made the taxi driver stop at what remained of a small Ukranian village. She said they were among the first settlers here and took our picture in fromt of a brick school they built in 1905. There was a church next door also but it did not survive the Soviet era. We visited a hospice in the village of Yujno-morski (trying to spell it in English). She said this village was a large town when Nakhodka was just getting started. It was full of Chinese who ran a large fishing fleet and cannery. The Soviets expelled almost all of the Chinese and Koreans who first lived in this area. This hospice used to be a hospital but now people are transported into the city of Nakhodka. It was very sad, indeed: an old, dark, smelly, run-down building with none of the amenities you would normally associate with any kind of medical facility. Can you imagine, dear friends, a hospital in America with a laundry facility down a path, almost a block away? It has a large old, Soviet era washer that leaks water all over the broken concrete floor. There is no hot water from April to October when the central hot water is turned off. They dry clothes on a line and I know how much it has rained this summer. It was sprinkling the day we were there. I tried to imagine trudging down the path to the laundry through the snow. There is so much need here. They also want beds. They gave us a ride home in an old Dodge ambulance that was so dirty inside that I was afraid to touch anything. It wasn’t equipped but had a guerney with a dirty blanket on it.
I was so utterly miserable with a chest and head cold on Saturday that all I could think of was being home. But two thoughts drew me back. One was the memory of that place we had visited and the thought that if we weren’t here to help them who would? The other was the memory of the horrible experience I had flying from Moscow in May with a head cold. I thought my head would burst and I lost my hearing for two days. This is definitely not a place to be if you ever had to go to a hospital or get medical treatment.
I know that this is getting long but I have to tell you that on Thursday evening at Englsh Club I think we had a spy – an older man named Yuri who acted rather strangely and then asked if we would teach him about the past perfect tense in English. His English wasn’t that good but I explained through one of the Elders that we do not teach English we can only carry on conversation and practice. We have had a wonderful young man the last couple of weeks from Vladivostok who just graduated from medical school as a neurosurgeon. He and I have had great discussions about a common interest, cooking and food. He jumped right in almost before I could answer and said “They don’t teach English!” I could have kissed him. Our translator says that she worked for the American Peace Corps here right after the fall of communism in 1991 and she was always being questioned by the authorities about whether the Peace Corps workers were spies or not.
Our new translator’s name is Galina, just like the old one. but she is older. She asked if I would proof read and try to make corrections and suggestions for an article that she wrote in English about Russian history in the 20th Century. It was delightful to read and realize that she recognizes and acknowledges the evils of communism and the old Soviet regime. She grew up in Nakhodka and saw many of the prison/death camps that were around here. She admits that things are not a lot better but still they do not have that anymore. We have had some interesting political discussions as I tell her that I am sad to see my country following in those Socialist footsteps.
Well, that is quite enough for one week. We are on the mend and feeling better. The Elders came over after English Club last night and gave me a blessing and Kate brought some “good Russian medicine”. Our love to all of you! Elder and Sister