Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Sunday, July 12, 2009
So her daughter “Noreen” came over on Thursday morning for our first session. I discovered she can read English fluently and understands about 80-90%, but finds it difficult to form her own sentences to answer questions. (That’s because they don’t actually speak English in English class, they just learn how to read and write it.) I think it will be pretty easy just to talk with her about various topics to improve her fluency, and I’ll choose topics that hopefully will lead to deeper conversations. We only had time for about 20 minutes of Russian at the end of that first class, and so I was pleasantly surprised when she said, “Do you have time tonight?” When I said yes, she offered to come back that night after Will was in bed. We spent over an hour working just on Russian; she had brought a list of pronouns for me to copy and an idea for a dialogue to help me answer common questions, which showed a good degree of initiative and also proved that she’s interested in actually helping me learn Russian and not just speaking English with me—a good sign. We had a great time together, too—she has a very sweet, intelligent, apt personality and I think she’ll be a great summer tutor. So that’s a real answer to prayer. Please pray for her and for her parents and younger brother; they live about 3 houses down from us, and hopefully will become good friends.
In other news, we’ve been invited to our first big “toi” or celebration this Friday night. Our neighbor is turning 50, and she’s inviting 150 people to a café in a neighboring town to celebrate. Where we used to live people hardly even knew what day was their own birthday; apparently birthdays are a much bigger deal over here. According to our teammates, the party doesn’t usually get underway until around 9 or 10pm, and it kicks off with dancing and lots of vodka and toasts. The main meal isn’t served until around midnight or so, and after that the dancing and drinking carries on until 1 or 2am. The locals here of all ethnicities either drink to get drunk, or don’t drink at all (a very small minority)—there’s no such thing as having one or two beers. So of course when our neighbor invited us, she asked if we drink. When I said no, she looked a bit crestfallen (I think she was imagining the added entertainment of a couple of drunk foreigners!), but said we should come anyway because everyone would be so delighted that we speak the local language. “You don’t have to make a toast,” she says, “but if you do people will be so amazed that you can speak local!” (Gotta get her entertainment out of us somehow.) “And plus, you have a car, so you can bring the neighbors!” Oh, goody. A car loaded with drunk, slaphappy locals. We’ll be sure to let you know how it goes… !
Friday, July 3, 2009
So today, Aynora, the younger sister, shows up at my door about 5:30. Her manner was a bit sheepish, like she had something up her sleeve, and for some reason I didn’t feel the need to offer her tea or sit down with her in the kitchen, I just invited her into the study where Will and I were watching Sesame Street. She said she’d just come from work, and I found it odd that she wasn’t going home to cook dinner for her husband and daughter. We were only having leftovers, so I couldn’t really ask her to stay for dinner (plus we’d entertained lunch guests and afternoon tea guests already!). We sat down together, chatting a bit, and I just continued mending my garden glove, wondering what was up.
About 10-15 minutes went by, and then she said, “I came without drinking,” meaning, “Why don’t you offer me a drink?” So we went into the kitchen and I poured her some juice, and then it came out.
“Can you give me 1000 T (about $10)? We don’t get paid until next Friday and my little girl doesn’t have milk to drink and I don’t have anything in the house.”
Immediately I was on my guard, and I felt the Holy Spirit telling me not to give her any cash, but to share our food with her instead. I went to the fridge and got out our last carton of milk and began pouring some of it into a plastic container for her to take home, saying all the while, “What else do you need? I have everything here—vegetables? Meat?”
She said she didn’t know what she was going to cook for dinner (by now it’s approaching 6:00), so I pulled out a packet of ground beef and some vegetables and added them to the bag. I asked if she had flour to make dough and she said no, so I pulled out my flour canister and began pouring some into another bag, making sure she had enough to make noodles for 3 people. While I’m doing this, she’s quiet, like she’s thinking.
Then I said, “We’re busy this weekend, but on Monday we can go to the bazaar together and I’ll buy you a weeks’ worth of vegetables and you can pay me back on Friday when you get paid.” Meanwhile, I’m adding a few nectarines for her little girl and asking if she has salt in her house for the dough (she did have that).
Finally, we get down to it.
“Does your husband smoke?” she asks, out of the blue.
“No,” I say.
“Well, could you still give me 1000 T?” The bulging bag of food is in front of her on the table. “My husband smokes and he wanted me to come and ask you for 1000 T to get him through this week, or else how can he cope at work, he said.”
“Absolutely not!” I felt free to say. “Tell him not to be angry, but smoking is a dirty habit and causes cancer! He has a little daughter—what if he dies of lung cancer before 40? I’m happy to give you food and anything else you need, but not money for smoking.”
Not letting it drop, “Well, do you have 1000 T?”
Genuinely not knowing how much I had in my wallet, and thinking it was probably less than 1000, I said, “No, I don’t think so. I’m sorry.” (As it turns out, I did actually have the money, but didn’t know it at the time.)
A bit sheepish, but actually looking slightly relieved that I said no (I’m not sure she enjoys her husband’s habit), she took her leave with her bag of food, and I repeated my offer to take her to the bazaar early next week. She didn’t say yes or no, just wandered out the gate.
I was left feeling quite proud of myself for not giving in to her, and also for being prepared enough to be able to give her every specific item she mentioned, plus extra. I feel so strongly that we need to be known as generous people here, but there are so many dirty vices (smoking and drinking being the biggest) that giving cash is just not a good thing to do. The thing that surprised me the most, even though I was half expecting one of the sisters to try something like this at some point, was how quickly she had come asking for money. We’ve only spent that one morning together. I couldn’t believe she actually had the cheek to try me that fast. I think it was partly urging by her husband (“Hey, go ask your foreign friend, they’ve got lots of money, I’m sure they won’t mind”) and partly immaturity that convinced her to try. I also wonder why she didn’t ask her relatives for money – maybe she was embarrassed.
My heart really does go out to her. She was telling me the other day all about how “altun” (gold) her older sister’s husband’s character was, never mentioning the character of her own husband (her sister didn’t say anything either). I wonder if she’s a bit wistful and perhaps a bit caught in the middle. Ironically, she and her husband both have jobs at the wine factory in town, and they’re the ones asking for money. The older sister and her husband are both out of work, but seem more mature and definitely too polite to stoop that low, at least not yet. Time will tell…
Our goal by God’s grace is to build a reputation of being people willing to help anyone in need to the furthest extent of our ability, but who don’t encourage evil, sinful habits and who don’t lend money without a very, very good reason. Next time this happens I want to say, “I follow Jesus, and He gave generously to everyone who asked Him, so I’m giving you this in His name.”
Thursday, July 2, 2009
I can’t believe it’s already been two weeks since we moved into our new house in this little town called “Red East”. I wanted to blog sooner, but the dial-up connection we have to use is painfully slow, so uploading anything takes a year and a day. We’ve been having lots of adventures buying things for our house, meeting our neighbors and getting to know our new town. Among the more interesting stories are the high chair saga I’ve posted below, and the story of my day yesterday which I’ll tell you now.
So, our teammates who’ve been living here for 8 years keep asking us if we’ve had any visitors yet. Up until yesterday, the answer was no. Yesterday at 10am, there was a knock at our gate, and in walk two sisters, one of whom we met with her family while out on a walk a few evenings ago. She had brought along her older sister for moral support and they came to “show me around town”. While they were at my kitchen table talking and eating snacks, there was another knock at the gate. It was a woman I’d met briefly at the shops, who needed me to translate the directions for her ready-made Tiramisu kit!! Of all things. While we were standing in my gate doing that, 2 more ladies walked by, and one of them has been asking me to come to her house to see her curtains (presumably so I can get ideas for mine), and they stopped and chatted and examined the Tiramisu kit, etc, etc… Grand central station. My visitors have finally arrived.
Back to my first guests… Aynora, the younger sister, is 23, married with a 2-year-old, and her older sister Salima is 25, with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. So my first thought was, “Oh yay, more young moms with kids, just like I’ve been wanting to find!” As the day went on, however, I began to realize I still need to be on my guard. While walking from my house to Aynora’s house to Salima’s house and back to my house, our conversation ranged from what we were doing here, to what was in my fridge (they had never seen cauliflower before, and it caused a big stir—they wanted to taste it, said it tasted like cabbage, and after asking how to cook it they decided to take some home with them to try it themselves. I thought Salima would just break off a little piece—she took three big chunks!), how to stay thin, where and how we get our money, music in all its various forms (including an impromptu performance by me which they found highly amusing (I’m not sure why), to the character of our respective husbands, and how Salima’s husband needs a job and whether or not my husband would be willing to employ him (we returned to that subject several times). By the end of the morning, I was feeling a bit dizzy, and was glad to come home to make lunch for James.
They showed up again in the afternoon at 3:00 on the dot, which was when I told them I’d be up from my nap—I wasn’t, actually, and they woke me up by banging on my gate and calling my name loudly for 10 minutes, which is what you do here when you want someone. They sat for another hour drinking tea and eating snacks, and examining everything in my house (that I would let them handle)… I began to feel a bit invaded, and was glad when they finally left to go to the bazaar. Please ask that I would be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove… these two girls will be great relationships in the sense of spending time with other young moms and possibly doing a music class with them and their kids, but they do seem needy and a bit too curious, and we’re always wary of people here wanting to get as much out of the “rich” foreigners as they can.
Praise God we're settled in our new home and feeling so blessed to be living in this peaceful little town! There are 26 different nationalities living here (in a pop. of 4000!), which makes things very harmonious and multi-cultural. Please ask for open doors into homes and hearts, and a few solid healthy relationships before we head back to NZ in September.