February 10, 2014
Things have really turned around this week. It began last Monday after I left the internet club for email. There is a non-member, A, who comes to English practice and has been asking me for the last few weeks to join him for lunch at a steakhouse which his friend owns. So Elder B and I made plans to meet up with him on our P-day. While at the restaurant, we sat down with A and the owner. The owner took me back to the kitchen to see how the steaks are prepared, because A told him that I enjoy cooking. So he went off in Russian talking about the science behind how the meat relaxes and much other stuff that I did not have the vocabulary to understand. But the owner was enjoying himself, so I just kept nodding my head and saying “Oh of course” or “Yes” every couple of sentences.
The way he prepared the steak was very well thought out. He put some rosemary into oil that sits for a couple of days and then when the flavor is strong enough, they baste the meat while cooking over charcoal. The only problem with it has to do with the fact that it is meat from Ukraine. Bread and fruit here are leagues better than what I typically found in the U.S., but they have no idea how to raise their cattle. I ordered a porterhouse, which in America would be a very large cut of beef, However, in Ukraine the cows do now get as large, so it was relatively small. I can work with smaller portions. The real shame of it all was the lack of marbling. There was no fat going throughout the meat. It was just way too lean and had very little flavoring. The only thing that redeemed it was that they used a good amount of the rosemary oil to boost the flavor. It is just too bad that they don’t know how to raise good cattle. The soil here would be great for some good grazing fields, and they could do a great job if they had the knowledge and desire. Waste of a good opportunity…
But the real reason for spending so much focus on this meal comes from what happened toward the end. A’s friend walked in as I was finishing and sat down with us. He spoke very good English and was interested in what we do as missionaries. We talked about our work and the conversation eventually led to him wanting to know more about the church. I used this as an opportunity to teach him the first lesson and both Andrea and the owner listened as well. His name is Y and he was more than happy to listen to what we had to say. He said that he wants to meet again, so we did later in the week.
On the second lesson, we talked about the Book of Mormon and gave him a copy. He gladly accepted it and said that the “Mormon” sounds nice to him. After reading some and thinking about it, he might join. It was just nice to finally find someone to teach since D’s baptism. This whole time we have been contacting and meeting with members, but not a single first lesson was taught until last Monday.
On Tuesday we wanted to do something nice for the T family, who have been more than willing to invite us over and be present for lessons. So we decided to make dinner for them. I told L, the mom, that we would be making macaroni and cheese. She said that she was well aware of this dish and makes it for her kids all the time. This made me second guess what I should do, but I decided to go with it anyway, because all of her five children are under the age of seven, and what kid doesn’t like M&C? When we arrived, I started by making a roux on the stove and L just looked at me with a puzzled expression on her face. She told me what her recipe typically calls for which was just boiling noodles and adding shredded cheese over the top. This did not sound great for me. So we spent the next little bit talking while I taught her to make it a different way. Just start with the roux, add milk and then gradually add cheese while constantly stirring. It kind of blew her away. She said that it was very good and was happy to have a new way of cooking. We taught a quick lesson and then were on our way to a different member’s home.
This week was also our transfer week which taught me a valuable lesson about taking taxies from major transportation hubs. Elder B is being transferred to Odessa so we took a bus to the train station in order to check in his bags. That way he wouldn’t have to carry them around all day and could just pick them up before he leaves. We decided to take a taxi from the station to the mission office where everyone meets to find their new companion. I walked out the front doors and asked the first driver I say. He said his taxi works on a meter, so without thinking about it, I said okay and we were off. Two things I did wrong here. The first one: never ever take a metered taxi in Ukraine. The second is integral to the first: always agree on a price before you get in the taxi. So he ended up taking a longer route to the office from the station. What should have been a twenty minute ride was actually thirty. The biggest thing though was that he charged me a rate for foreigners. It ended up costing 500 hryvnia (grivna) – about $60, which was way overpriced. I couldn’t argue it with him because that is what the meter read. Begrudgingly, I handed over my money and vowed to never take one of those again. The most I have had to pay for a taxi between the office and station was two hundred. But that was for a bus to transport four people and bags. This was just a small sedan. Live and learn, though.
The last highlight of emphasize was on Friday. The Elders Quorum in Billa held a Ping-Pong tournament to which they invited all of the missionaries. We came together at the church building and turned the cultural room and sacrament hall into two separate rooms in which to hold games. We had a board with everyone’s names and the first, second, and third place prizes were pineapples descending in size, corresponding to each honor.
I was paired up to play against the ward mission leader, B for the first round. This was a disappointment to me because he has developed some notable skill at the game over the years. It was a close match, but ultimately B won and I was taken off the board after the first game. It ended up being for the best though, because A and Y came to watch, so I spent the rest of the time talking to them about American music and culture. It was a very fun evening and did good work on better strengthening the bond between the members and missionaries.
I am now companions with Elder D. He is from Utah, as are most missionaries, and will be a great person with whom to work for the next couple of weeks. I am excited to see what happens.
Ping Pong Tournament