February 9, 2015
President Packer this last week conducted interviews with all of the missionaries serving in and around Kiev. My companion’s and my turn fell on Thursday. Much to my surprise, the travel from one corner to another of the city would turn out to be one of my most eventful.
Ukraine has been graced with very warm weather over the past several weeks. Even to the point that I have been walking around the streets without a hat. It has made the hours of contacting enjoyable and it seemed as though there was no end to the bliss. Fate had other plans as things turned out, and we were blessed with a large snowfall Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
All of the other missionary areas in Kiev have very easy access to the Metro. Ours however, requires a half hour ride in very crowded buses to the nearest station. This proved to be a problem from the get go. Due to the snow fall and poor civil engineering, the roads leading to the Metro stations were filled with cars. At one point on the bus, I looked up the road and saw no sight to the end of traffic. I motioned to Elder W and we walked off to make part of the trip by foot.
As it turned out, walking rather than riding this section of road proved to be a much quicker way of travel. I felt pretty accomplished looking at people crammed together on buses while we waded through snow past them. It only required us to walk some distance before we got ahead of everyone and then just picked up the next bus that came by.
Because of how difficult it was to travel on the roads, everyone including us, decided it best to take the Metro. Never before have I been in such a crowded train car. So much so that I did not even need to hold onto anything. The pressure of everyone around held me comfortably in place. I could even relax my body and my position would be maintained.
The kicker is that as soon as we boarded, I felt the hand of the person next to me go into my pocket. Fortunately, it was that of my coat and had nothing but business cards, but it still irked me to know that the person to my right had it in mind to snatch my wallet or phone. I told Elder W to watch out, and we rode for twenty minutes while holding our hands closely to our possessions. The man understood that I knew what he was doing, and quickly gave up.
The crowning event of the journey, though, came upon leaving the exit from the Metro station to another bus stop. I was too preoccupied to pay any attention to my surroundings as I was looking for our bus, but Elder W had me drop everything as soon as he said, “Is that a dead guy?” I turned around and looked down and sure enough, lying on the ground just two feet from me was a dead person.
Someone had put up some caution tape around him, and a tarp so that people did not accidentally walk over him, but beyond that, he was just lying there. Right outside of a very busy station. No police were standing around, and everyone seemed to be going about their business. I am not to the point that it really did not surprise me, though seeing a cadaver so naturally positioned in a high foot traffic area is a first. When we boarded the bus, I decided that it would be not too out of taste to snap a photo. We then traveled down the road, disembarked and walked through the snow, making it to the mission president’s house with only one minute to spare.
For whatever reason, the world does not want me to have a good pair of tan colored pants. I’ve spent a lot of time on P-days in Chernigov digging through piles of used clothes in search for such a pair, and during my time there was able to find three. The fates, though, would lead all three pairs to utter destruction.
The first two were lost before I came to Voskresensky, but the third gave me hope. Of the three, they fit the best and were going to last the rest of my mission. With the new snow fall though, all of the sidewalks turned into sheets of ice, making it very difficult to walk at times. While wearing the prized pair of khakis, I slipped and brought both legs into the air as my body traveled quickly to the ground, all resulting in a loud rip upon landing. I knew immediately what had happened, and Elder Wimmer and I walked home so that I could change. We thought that it was not bad and would be easily fixed with a needle. Upon arriving home, we took off our coats and saw just how bad it actually turned out. Starting from the crotch all the way up to the belt line. This was a low moment. Of all my articles of clothing, those pants were prized the highest, and God sought to take them away.
During our interview, President Packer reminded me about a bit of advice from Preach My Gospel that I have forgotten over the past while. One challenge with which Elder W and I have been faced is finding new investigators. During the past two transfers there have only been two. It was not due to a lack of effort. We approach every single person by whom we pass, and are always looking for someone.
What we forgot to do those is always ask people for referrals. President Packer brought this up and noted that missionaries who are always asking people for referrals generally have people to teach. We applied this well over the past four days and have tried to ask everyone who they know that would be interested in meeting. In this short amount of time, we have been able to find two new people who seem to have real promise in accepting our message.
A big thing that I still have trouble grasping about Ukraine is how people here are so superstitious. My favorite is their extreme fear of drafts, called here a squazniak. The idea goes that if any kind of draft touches the back of your neck, you will get sick. Many people believe that a gentle, constant blowing of air is actually a living organism. They take it so seriously that even it if is in the summer and their child is dying of exhaustion inside of a bus, they will not open a window. People who I consider to be very well educated live to this standard even.
This week I heard a conversation between a member and nonmember about squazniaks. The member said to the other that Americans don’t think that the squazniak even exists. The nonmember looked like he was going to die at this news. He had an expression on his face as though we thought the world is flat. The member then continued on by saying that Americans seem to have some kind of invulnerability to it, as he has seen on many occasions some missionary sitting next to an open window and nothing happened. What got me about the whole thing was that they were completely serious about everything they were saying. My companion and I were in complete shock.
Attached is a photo of us making butter.