Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Our Turn Now

Beth and I with Nadya, Anya, and Yulya

Tomorrow, something very exciting will be happening in the city of Atlanta. Three very good friends from Moscow will be visiting. for a little under a week. In between trips to NYC and LA, they will make their stop here where we will show them around town and make the long drive to Indiana for another good friend's wedding.

I may have talked about this a little before, but this is something we've been excited about for a while. For many reasons.

While Beth and I were in Moscow, it would be an understatement to say we were spoiled by all of our friends. One of the reasons we became so comfortable so quickly in such an overwhelming city is because of all the help of our friends. From helping us find places, to helping us with the language, to even helping us get Liam's birth certificate (no easy feat in Moscow, especially if you're language skills are lacking), we were so fortunate to have friends that were there for you whenever you needed.

Now it's our turn.

We're so excited to now be able to share our city with some of our best friends. On the weekend we'll head up to the wedding in Indiana, but between then we'll be showing them all that we can in Atlanta.

Our dear friend Andrea is getting married!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

A Year Ago Today

It's hard to believe it's been a year since Liam's birth.

Months ago Beth posted about her experience, but I decided to also post it here for the occasion. It's long but I hope you enjoy it.

We went in for a check up on Tuesday the 8th.  The doctor said that there were still no signs that the baby was going to come in to the world on his own and she wanted to start the induction process.  She sent us to the first floor to check into labor and delivery.  As soon as I got there I was surrounded by a troop of Russian nurses, each with a job.  They took my blood pressure, felt my stomach, measured me, weighed me, felt my ankles, asked millions of questions, took my clothes, showered me, and dressed me in a gown and robe.  I felt like I was in a whirlwind and didn’t understand anything going on.  But finally I was ready and they admitted me to the hospital and took me to my room. The induction process my doctor wanted to use was a slow process.  She started Tuesday evening with a preparatory procedure…I was then supposed to sleep through the night and then they would start medication in the morning.  Tim and my mom stayed with me until about 11 that night and then they had to go home.

 I slept like a baby until the nurse woke me up the next morning. About nine o’clock Wednesday morning they gave medication to start labor.  Tim and my mom arrived five minutes after this and contractions began soon after.  By 11 o’clock they were rolling me to the delivery room.  Tim had to go downstairs to get scrubbed in and suited up.  I was in the delivery room for about 30 minutes waiting for him…getting a little desperate…I was so glad when he finally arrived.  I sent him right out to ask the nurse when I could get my epidural.  By noon the anesthesiologist was in my room giving me my epidural and I couldn’t wait!  He told me, “five minutes and no more pain.”  However, fifteen minutes later one of my legs felt a little tingly…but not quite the pain relief I was expecting.  I told the nurse and the anesthesiologist came back and upped my dose.  My other leg felt a little tingly…but my pain was increasing by a lot!  I told the nurse again that I was still feeling pain.  The anesthesiologist returned and after chatting with the nurse for a moment…decided to redo my epidural.  He pulled the first one out of my back and put a new one in a few vertebras higher.  Then he gave me twice the dose.  Five minutes later I was feeling nothing…my lips were even numb.  I guess due to the fact I couldn’t feel anything I stopped breathing as well as I should, and the baby’s heart rate started dropping.  A small army of nurses came into my room and yelled at me to breathe.  I had to really focus and breathe…but his heart rate stabilized.  This was about 2 o’clock in the afternoon. 

I napped for a while and Tim and I talked.  I was thinking that this labor thing wasn’t so bad.  We were incredibly surprised when around five o’clock my doctor came in and told us it was time to turn the epidural off. I told her no…and asked why!  She told me they must because I had to be able to feel to push.  I was confused because I know a lot of women in America who have not felt anything and been perfectly able to push.  For about the next two hours…I got the full natural birth experience.  I really thought I might die.  I also glared at my doctor constantly.  Only the fact that I needed her then kept me from telling her exactly how I felt about her.  If you have spent any time in Moscow you know that Russians are crazy about their cell phones and answer them whenever they ring.  You can always hear stories about teachers answering calls during a lecture, bank tellers in the middle of your transaction, or waiters while you are ordering.  This cultural trend is also true for doctors while you are in labor.  At least six times during the final part of my labor, my doctor’s phone rang and she would leave the room.  One time she told me that the next contraction we would push…however, right as the contraction started she got a call and left.  I told Tim I was going to push anyway…but he talked me out of it.  Finally at 6:53 William Soren Rhodes was born.  They washed him right there and wrapped him up and Tim was able to spend the next hour or so walking with him and talking to him.

  I was not so lucky.  The doctor needed to fix me up…so they called the anesthesiologist back.  He gave me what he called a super epidural…he said I wouldn’t be able to feel my legs at all or be able to walk for at least 2 hours.  However, when the doctor came back in a few minutes later I quickly informed her that I could feel everything and wiggled my toes for her.  She promptly took a needle and poked me with it.  I yelled and told her that it hurt…she asked if it was pain or pressure.  I informed her it felt like she just poked me with a needle.  The anesthesiologist came back and gave me something else.  An hour later I started coming to.  Tim kept talking to me…but I couldn’t really understand or respond to him.  I could just look at him and our son.  It didn’t matter what I was feeling…seeing them together was pure joy.  About 2 hours after Liam was born we were able to go to our room.  My mom and our friend Andrea joined us in the room and we ate dinner.  I couldn’t stop looking at Liam.  He was perfect and it started to sink in that I was his mother. 

Friday, June 3, 2011

Between a Sacrifice and Vacation

Upon telling family, friends, and co-workers about our upcoming work in Moscow, we had mostly two basic responses:

WOW! What a sacrifice!
Have fun on your vacation!

In reality, of course, it was neither of those things.

Beth and I could never really think of it as a sacrifice. Because, honestly, we wouldn't have done it if we didn't think we would have enjoyed it. We both fell in love with the city years before, and were elated that we would be living there.

And, although this goes without saying, life in Moscow certainly wasn't a vacation. Anyone who has been to Moscow for more than a couple weeks will know this. Moscow is definitely more European than most of the rest of the country, and pretty international, but getting around and getting by can be difficult at times.

You see, if you're on a short term trip to possibly anywhere (meaning you're only there for a week or two), there's a strong likelihood you're going to get the special treatment. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, just not a good barometer for actually living there. Many times people who host groups in the countries or cities they live in, they tend to go easy on them -- for the most part. They naturally want you to like and enjoy the place. And even if you have difficult work to do, you probably knew what you were getting in to

I digress. Sorry about that. I'm just trying to say that living anywhere that isn't your home culture is probably going to be pretty hard at times. There will be days where it's a blast and you think it couldn't be better, and there will be days where you collapse in the snow and want to give up (there will probably be more of these days, by the way). Either way, as long as you shake off your American sense of entitlement, have an adventurous attitude, and have the long term in mind, every day will be worth it.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Last House Church

Sunday, January 22, was our last house church before Beth and I left for the states.  It was a night of pancakes (both banana and chocolate chip), fellowship, and sadness for Beth and myself.

This group of friends were some of the closest people we know while living in Moscow, so this night only made it all the more apparent what we were going to be losing by moving back to the US.

The evening was a great time to share about the previous 6+ months together, and to also look to the future. To our excitement, several people in the group brought up future meetings and were making plans to meet once we left. It was so great to hear people talking about how they wanted to be involved in the future meetings--those who were ambivalent or uninterested when the group began. There were a few who were downright uncomfortable when we first started. But week after week it was encouraging to see the growth in each person. Our friends felt welcome--safe, even-- to disagree, to share different viewpoints, to pray.

Although Beth and I had a desire to start a group like this, selfishly we needed something like this, for our well-being. We needed this kind of community to keep us sane and to keep us going. And it's something we miss the most about our time in Moscow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lots of Love in Istanbul

Beth and I loved Istanbul. We were very fortunate to have friends there to not only give us a place to stay, but also take time out of their busy schedule to show us around. We were able to see so much.

But as much as we loved Istanbul, it didn't even come close to the love Liam was receiving all the time. ALL THE TIME.

People there love babies. Maybe it was the whole blonde-hair/blue-eyes combination, but he was just adored. I can't even count the times random people would come up to take a picture of him with their cell phones, or ask to hold him, or try to feed him things. In Starbucks, a mother and her teenage daughter played with him, took pictures, video, and held him. And even after all of that, the daughter didn't take her eyes off him until we left the place. I'm not exaggerating. She just stared at him.

Now this wasn't just women or girls. One time after taking the ferry, Beth felt an odd presence behind her while holding Liam. She turned around to see a young 20-something couple and the guy was holding Liam's hand and smiling. And not that creepy smile or sarcastic smile, but one of those infatuated smiles.

It was definitely strange. But as parents who already think our kid is the best thing since sliced bread, we ate it up. As odd as everything was, we never turned anybody down. Frankly, it didn't even seem that odd. Why wouldn't total strangers want to take a picture of our child to have on their phone forever even though they have no clue who this kid is??


Like Rome, Florence, St. Petersburg, and other cities we've visited, Istanbul was another on our list of places to see. But just saying that, the way that sounds, like it's just another city to scratch off our notepad, just doesn't honor it the way a place like this should. I know this goes without saying, but each city we've visited carries an immense depth historically and culturally that we couldn't wait to experience. Istanbul is a truly amazing city.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

kcohS erutluC

Reverse Culture Shock is something you hear about (and almost prepare for) while living overseas. It's the basic idea that the difficulty you had adjusting to a new culture (in our case, Moscow) will be somewhat similar when returning and re-acclimating to your native culture.

Surprisingly, we didn't have as much difficulty as we were worried about. It took less than a day to get used to driving again (we didn't have or drive a car the entire duration of our time in Moscow). In fact, things didn't seem that foreign at all. Most of our reverse culture shock experiences could be summed into one-sentence shouts of exclamation:

"This washing machine is HUGE!"

"Wait, you can get another drink with the same cup -- FOR FREE??"

"There's a whole aisle for cereal at the grocery store?!"

"Wait, I can wash my clothes and wear them again in the same day??"

I could go on.

But there is definitely another side to reverse culture shock. It's this feeling of displacement. Not only have we left this incredible group of friends and colleagues back in Moscow, but we are entering back into life in America as if it were two years ago. People have moved on. It's that tightrope feeling that probably feels the strangest. Not belonging to either world.

I know that sounds pretty pathetic, but I don't mean it that way at all. It's life. It happens. The tension will go away eventually.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Lost in Tra[i]nslation

About a year ago, Beth had to return to the states to renew her visa. She was gone about three weeks, and during that time I was pretty busy. But for one of those weeks I was able to make a trip to our friends the Friersons and Wilhelms in Izhevsk.

You probably remember posts previously about trips to visit them-- it's a lengthy 18-hour train ride from Moscow. And this particular time I was a little nervous. Not only would I be riding alone, but I purchased the cheapest tickets available, the плацкарт (platskart) -- in which the rooms are open and beds are everywhere.

Here's an image as an example:

I'm not so nervous because of the space issue-- Russia helped me get over my personal bubble a long time ago. I was simply nervous about the language aspect of it and not really having anyone else with me to chat with that I knew.

At the same time I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to really put my language to the test-- we had been living in Moscow for right at a year. Although my skills were far from where I wanted them to be, I figured this would help give me a better picture as to how I was doing.

I'm sure I've mentioned on previous blogs before, but I have this desire-- maybe it's normal, maybe odd-- whenever I'm in another country (in this case of course, living in Moscow), I want to blend in as much as possible. I don't want to appear foreign or American. I don't want anybody to notice me. I am still not sure why I have this strange aspiration.

Finally the day comes. I arrive at the train station and find my bunk. I find myself in a little compartment with a kind elderly couple and a larger man in his 30s. We all greet each other, prepare our beds and change as needed, and the train takes off. It's the moment of no return.

The first 2 hours seemed to go perfect. I was getting pretty impressed with myself. Like most conversations between complete strangers, everything began small. My strong suit. We talked about where we were going, the train, the weather, and so on. Everything appeared completely normal. I could not believe how well things were going.

Finally the elderly lady asked if she lay down on the bed she and I were sitting on. I graciously moved over and crammed on the other side with the man and younger guy. He begins to talk to me, one on one. We were close, and everything was very deliberate. Slowly but surely I was unable to understand a word here, a phrase there. Finally he asked me something, and I have no idea what he said. At all.

I had finally hit that point. I wasn't looking forward to it, but I knew I had to admit to him my true identity. I told him in Russian "I'm sorry, I didn't understand you. I don't speak Russian very well [and then I always say this even though it's completely and utterly unnecessary except to make me seem better] but I am studying the language in Moscow."

The man looked at me as if something had finally clicked in his brain.

He said to me, in Russian and laughing, "It all makes sense now! This whole time I thought you were just stupid!"

And those thoughts of self-satisfaction and success were all gone. This entire time I thought I was mastering the Russian language, I just sounded mentally ill to those that actually spoke it.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Liam Around the World

A couple days ago, Liam turned 9 months old. It got me thinking about previous months, and it dawned on me that he's been in completely different places for most of his month birthdays.

Nine months - Snellville, GA

Eight months - West Palm Shores, Florida

Seven months - Istanbul, Turkey

Six months - Florence and Pisa, Italy

Five months - Izhevsk, Russia

Four months - Moscow, Russia

Three months - Moscow, Russia

Two months - St. Petersburg, Russia

One month - Moscow, Russia

I wonder where we'll be in a month!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winter Camp

Right after our New Year celebration, Beth and I spent the next week out at a Winter Camp hosted by the English Exchange.

The Winter Camps have a totally different feel from the Summer Camps (temperature and weather aside)-- the pace is much more relaxed, and although it was a few weeks since Christmas had come and gone, the time was spent singing Christmas carols, decorating gingerbread houses, and other festivities as if Christmas was right around the corner.

We all played several holiday-themed games.

Vasya and Zhenya reenacting pouting and crying (from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town).  But I think they are also a little disappointed they lost their respective games.

We decorated gingerbread cookies and houses.

One very special aspect of this camp was the theme-- it was a going away camp for Beth and Liam and I. One of the evening was spent with each team performing a Christmas themed skit (Home Alone, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, and a Christmas Carol) but adding in the three of us somehow. The performances were hilarious and moving.

Here is a video of one of the skits (there's one moment that's my favorite. If you see it you'll know it):

Later that evening we all had coffee and our gingerbread cookies together.

Hook and Vika (or their band name: Hook and Snow White) performed together.

Life in Moscow was difficult at times. But there were many more times of incredible joy and value. Times where we never want to leave. This week was one of those times.