Friday, January 29, 2010

Eleven Years in Russia: Help Me Celebrate!

This morning I'm remembering January 29, 1999 and arriving in Moscow's international airport, Sheremetevo-2. And oh, what an adventure these years have been. Let me reminisce a moment about the travel dramas of Day One. And then there are prizes - yes, genuine Russian souvenirs to give away. So sit back and enjoy this vicariously.

Approaching Red Square. Photos: March 2006. (Click to enlarge)

Adventure One was getting through airport customs. Thing is, I had enough gear along to outfit a small army: five pieces of checked baggage, which included 3 duffel bags and 2 suitcases, and that was back when the limit was - what - 70 pounds a bag? And in those bags were weights, yes, honest-to-goodness weights. See, I wanted develop some muscles here in Russia and emailed a contact here in Rostov as to whether weights were available in Russia. She said No, if you want weights you'll need to bring your own. (So, so untrue!) But I considered that advise reliable so I did. Shall I admit this: In those bags was a pair of 12-pound free weights, a set of 8 pounders and a 5-pound set. That was just for upper body. And then there were leg weights too. So you get the picture: My luggage was heavy.

Red Square: St Basils Cathedral, left, and Kremlin tower and walls, right.

Oh! And I was carrying cash. Lots of cash: $6k in brand-new, 100-dollar bills. Nowadays, there's no need to do that and I do not (attention potential pickpockets), but back then most people traveled with serious cash. Besides that, I declared all that on my customs declaration - silly, silly me. Well, going through customs, the inspector folks there told me with straight faces about a mysterious new law that limits the total kilograms a person can bring into the country. I had brought too much in and the fine would be $2,000 as I recall. Now at that stage, I had already been up maybe 36 hours and I was simply numb. So I decided to act disinterested, a skill I highly recommend for such encounters, by the way, and wandered over to some seats while my Moscow contact, a dear brother named Israel, managed to get the fine down to $500. I saw the inspector girl put all that directly into her pocket. I expect it went into her savings for a new mink coat. Since I paid the money there rather than to an official cashier and since there was no receipt issued, I have reason to believe that those funds were for someones personal use. That was the first adventure of Day One.

Emerging then from Sheremetevo-2 airport with my wallet considerably lighter, Israel and I stashed my luggage in the long-term baggage storage at Sheremetevo-1, the regional airport I was scheduled to fly out of that evening. Baggage storage rooms tend to be located in the airport basement and that means dragging the baggage down stairs. (An elevator or escalator? Whahahaha. . .) So we stashed the bags and then went to see Red Square. Oh, and eat at the big Moscow McDonald's, which was the world's largest when it opened in 1990.

During our touristy trekking around the city, a blizzard blew into northwest Moscow and snow came fast and furious that afternoon and evening as we headed back to Sheremetevo-1 to catch my 9:40-ish flight to Rostov. After we had gotten the bags lugged up steps, hauled across the waiting area (Luggage carts? Oh, if only. . .) and checked in, the flight was changed because of the blizzard and rerouted to Domodedova, a regional airport located near southeast Moscow where there was less snow. So Israel and his crew got me and the luggage out into the parking lot in the fresh snow, onto the transfer bus and the two of us stood up the whole hour-plus across town. By then, I had been up way too many hours without sleep. But were so many tender mercies along the way. For one thing, Israel was so calm and kept saying, God is in control. God is in control. My flight eventually arrived here in Rostov around 5:00 am, as I recall. But that day, January 29th, 1999, was just the start of quite an adventure in missions.

And I must say that the good Lord has held me in the palms of his hands each step of the way. And I have learned a lot. A whooooole lot! For one thing, that a 12-pound weight makes an excellent doorstop.

And so dear blog readers, it's time to celebrate! I have three little prizes. These will go to three lucky people who comment here on this blog post between now and Sunday evening midnight Moscow time (GMT +3). These souvenirs were made in Tomsk, Siberia from white birch, a tree common in the vast northern forests. As you see, there's a square box and a round box and the little birch shoes. The vendor was telling me about the good fortune the shoes are said to bring: On January 7th, which is Orthodox Christmas day, if the mother or sister of a single girl drapes the shoes over the young lady's shoulder, it is guaranteed that she will marry sometime that year. (Don't think I'll be needing them, myself. . . )

So in your comment, please include your name or nickname and indicate which prize you want. Also please share briefly why you would like to visit Russia. I'll plan to have a drawing on Monday and notify winners here. And of course if there are three respondents, everybody gets a prize! Well, good luck my dear komrades. And thank you so much for helping me celebrate this special day!


B. said...

I couldn't NOT comment (which in Russian is completely OK grammar, right?), seeing that I would be the first to do so. I'm not pulling for the prizes, but I commend you on polling your readers with such a temptation! If you do insist on sending the hinged box to me [ ;) ] the shipping may be much less expensive to Ukraine. God bless you Eileen, we're praying for the move and for God to work BIG there with you all.

Karen said...

This post is an example of why I admire you so much -- I can't imagine pulling up my (comfortable!) roots in America and going halfway around the world to a very different & cold environment. However, I also see the attraction of working with the churches and people there, and knowing it would be a tremendous, faith-building life. Your pictures are a good example of why I'd like to visit -- seeing the fabulous architecture but also seeing the country and meeting the people of a country we were so afraid of for many years. Thanks for sharing your adventures and ministry in Russia - great stuff! - Karen C.

SOwnbey said...

I'm sitting up in bed with my laptop on a cold Friday (for Stillwater, OK) morning, so enjoying reading your stories of arrival in Russia in 1999. (My university is closed today due to inclement weather - ice storm yesterday.) Those photos memorize me (of the tops of buildings; the colors are amazing) so I've always thought I might like to see Russia one day. Your "From Russia with Love" info has been very interesting to me. I can't overlook those beautiful little birch shoes. How lovely! Congratulations on your 11th anniversary there! Shiretta

Erin said...

Reminds me of our own adventures trying to get to Rostov for Christian Conference. Missed plane, Israel put us on train...saying whatever you do DON'T get off...however the guards in flack jackets and submachine guns in Ukraine had other ideas...detention..back on train to Russia...detention again..10 hour Taxi ride through the wilderness of Russia to Rostov! One stop, an outhouse with a hole in the ground! You HAVE to love travel in Russia

Sandra McG said...

Eileen! You are amazing! I remember meeting you in Australia when I was probably 11 or 12 and you were on a missions trip there (we were living there as missionaries at the time). You were so kind and warm, and it's obvious you've only grown more so over the years. :) I have been enjoying reading "back issues" of your blog when time permits, and getting more of a feel of what life in Russia must be like in many ways. Congratulations on 11 years (!) living and thriving there and helping to build His Kingdom! I admire you so much - as your friend Karen said, I can't imagine us leaving our (all-too) comfortable life here in the US to make our home in a freezing foreign land with a new language to navigate to boot. I have to laugh here because my dear husband is originally from Canada, which is another freezing foreign land, LOL - but at least it's primarily English-speaking. :)
I pray that God blesses you and keeps you safe, healthy and content in your work there - and in whatever else He may call you to in the future. (PS If you do want to send me a memento, I'd be happy with anything, but if you don't that's okay too! :) Keep up the great work!)

Damara said...

Congratulations on 10 years of mission work! I LOVE reading your blog! Rostov is near and dear to my heart as we adopted a little boy from there last February and are beginning to think of returning to find a sibling for him!

Susan and Mark said...

I also love reading your blog. We adopted our little boy in August from baby home #4 in Rostov, and each Friday evening I now read your blog to him. He is only three so he doesnt completely understand everything I am reading, but he looks at the pictures you post and understands this is where he was born. I tell him one day we will go back to see the places that you are writing about, and to visit Dr Olga and the wonderful people of Rostov. It really was a magical place, and we will never forget the kindness of the people we met while we were there. I would love to be the recipient of the round box in the picture, so we could use it to store pictures of our trip to meet and pick him up. May God continue to bless you and please keep on blogging! Susan NY

mica and charlie said...

My wife and I have fallen in love with your Blog. You have a gift for story telling. We are in the process of adopting, and our agency works in Rostov. I have been trying to research the city, geography, and people. Your writings have pulled me in. God bless the work you are doing there.

Rostov Mom said...

Hi, Eileen:

I learned of your blog from a Rostov adoptive parent listserve and have been enjoying your witty reflections on Rostov, Russian life and God's plans for all of us. The snowy photos remind me of my time in Rostov exactly two years ago when I adopted my little angel from Baby Home #2. It has been a pleasure to keep in touch with the city of her birth through you. Your birch momentos are lovely and if I am lucky enough to win one,I will treasure it always!

Congratulations on your 11 years in Rostov and I appreciate the opportunity to help with the Pampers project!


Katie (and Tony) said...

Thank you so much Eileen, for the work you do...and blogging to tell about it. Reading your day one travel experience reminds me so much of our trips btw airports in May 2006...flying into one and then out of the other to Chelyabinsk where we adopted our then 20 month old son. He is now 5 and an absolute blessing. We can't imagine having a child any other way! We are so thankful for the Spirit of Adoption! We talk to him about Russia, show him pictures, etc. But nothing will compare to a return trip one day. We plan to return once he gets a bit older and understands better. We have fond memories of living in Chely for 6 weeks-with no hot water! sigh...not so funny at the time. If we should be chosen to receive an item, the square box would be so nice to give to our son.

I enjoy reading your blog! God Bless you...

Ponte Vedra Beach, FL
Mommy to Jack from Chelyabinsk, Russia and Grace from Cestahowah, Poland

John from Kansas said...

Happy Anniversary Eileen. I always enjoy tagging along on your travels, whether down to the market or around the world. Your photography is first rate.

Eileen said...

Attention *JOHN from Kansas!* I need your mailing address please and thank you. So I can mail to you your Big 1st place Prize! Or shall I just address it to "John from Kansas?" ;) Just send it to me at Thank you!

Eileen said...

Dear FRIENDS, I have to say a big THANK YOU SO MUCH for stopping to say HELLO and help me celebrate 11 years in Russia. Thank you so much for your kind words. This has been great fun...and betcha we'll be doing prizes again someday. Thanks again for sharing your own stories!