Sunday, November 30, 2008

Opera House in Riga

The mission office

Each person in the office has a computer and the Church programs are amazing and very user-friendly. The first couple of days I just assisted Sister Gubler in whatever things needed to be done. On Friday afternoon, President Dance gave me a couple of assignments for which I will be responsible.

The office is very spacious and has hardwood floors throughout. There is a nice kitchen, a conference room, a study room where the missionaries can bring investigators to teach them. President Dance has his office in his home so we don't see him every day.

Sister Harper and I share a large office and each of us have our own desk and computer, and our own responsibilities.

Living in a foreign land

Even though I knew that I would be coming to a land where English was not commonly spoken, it's still a new experience for me to not be able to understand anything that anyone is saying around me.

I am feeling a little more comfortable about speaking the very limited Latvian words I know. I say "Labrit" (good morning) as I pass people on the street and "Paldies" (thanks or thank you) when appropriate. I can introduce myself as Masa (Sister) Klundta (they add a vowel to everyone's name). There are people who speak English for which I am very thankful. The young missionaries interpret or translate for Sister Harper and me at Church. I'm amazed at their language skills.

Tomorrow I will have to begin the process of obtaining a visa. I understand it's quite a complex procedure, beginning with a chest x-ray. I will have to travel to the Latvian embassy in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. That seems rather silly to me, but that's the way it is.

We have gone to a small grocery store and to a large "hypermarket" which I suspect is a poor translation of American "Supermarket." It's difficult to go shopping for food when you can't read labels. Yesterday we bought some cranberries. I was so excited. When we opened the package they were raw cranberries alright, but they were coated with sugar. The label said that, but we couldn't read it. I will take my dictionary with me next time we go.

The hypermarket doesn't come even close to our supermarkets. The selection of breads is great but with other things there is not much selection. They don't use preservatives in their breads so they dry out and don't last very long, but they taste good.

Translating cost from Lattes to dollars is another challenge, as is figuring out how many kilograms in a pound.

One of the saddest things I've noticed is that the people don't every make eye contact and always look sad or depressed, or just unfriendly. I wonder how much is because of their environment. Everyone in the city lives in apartment buildings that are very old. The sky is always grey. In 4+ days I haven't seen the sun at all. It seems to be a safe place. People walk everywhere.

Another thing I've been very surprised at is the amount of graffiti--all over the buildings and fences. It doesn't seem to be painted over anywhere.

Smoking is another thing I'm seeing everywhere. I have lived in a protective bubble the past 19 years. It isn't allowed on the public transportation nor in the public buildings, I believe, but is on the streets everywhere.

Old Town in Riga, on Thanksgiving evening

The office couple, another couple who are here with Church Education, President and Sister Dance, Sister Harper and I celebrated Thanksgiving evening at a Mongolian BBQ for dinner, then walked to a little bakery for dessert. We walked through Old Town which is quaint, with cobblestone streets and very old buildings with wonderful architecture. The streets weave in and out of buildings and cars drive through where it looks impossible for them to go.

We had tickets to the opera, a Christmas gift from the Gublers, so walked to the opera house. What a magnificent old building. If you have ever seen a movie with a scene in an old opera house, that's what this looks like. The ceiling has intricate paintings, with gold leaf throughout. The seats and curtain are rich red velvet. Really beautiful. I'm told they have an opera every night and the seats are filled each night.

The seats we had were on the top level to the side and cost 5 Lats, which is about equivalent to $10. We had a very good view of stage left and the center, but couldn't see stage right. The singers were outstanding--every one of them. The staging was simple and clever. The opera was Handel's "Alcina." It was sung in Italian and there was Latvian translation on the reader board above the stage. So we couldn't understand any of it, but we had a program that had a summary in English.

Life in Riga

The apartment Sister Harper and I share is spacious and comfortable. There is a large bedroom with a double bed and a single bed. Sister Harper insisted that I take the double bed. There is sufficient closet and drawer space. The living room is large, and has a couch, two straight chairs, a coffee table, two end tables, and an entertainment center. The kitchen is small but adequate and is well stocked. The bathroom is small but has a bathtub with with a good shower.

The bedroom, living room and kitchen each have large, vinyl clad windows. The apartment and office are both heated with hot water radiators. Both are kept very comfortable. The heat in the apartment is turned on October 15 and turned off April 15, no matter what the weather is.

We walk up 4 flights of concrete steps to our apartment--good exercise. We also walk to the office--about 10-15 minutes, and walk to bus or train stops to go to Church or to the big market, called a hypermarket. I wonder if that's their translation of "supermarket" from America.

The public transportation is very good. There are buses, trains and trolleys. I've now ridden on each. We take a train to Church. The Church has built a very nice new building, which stands out in a city of very, very old buildings.

The city has trees everywhere so Spring should be beautiful. At this time, however, the skies are grey everyday. It is light about the same length of time as in Utah right now--just no sunshine.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I arrived in Riga!!!

Well, I wasn't successful in adding photos to my blog and received an e-mail from Kevin this morning that I left my flash drive on my key chain. I do have them in my camera so hopefully will still get them downloaded.

On Tuesday morning Kevin and I drove to the airport and had a very nice ticket agent come and help us with my luggage. I was thrilled to learn that my luggage would be checked through to Riga and that Delta honors the rules of the carrier who flies over the water. In other words, I only had to pay $50 for my overweight suitcase, rather than the $150 Delta charges.

On the plane I was in the aisle seat and a nice young man went to the window seat. As he sat down he said that he will soon have a badge of his own. He is a student at BYU, going home to Virginia for Thanksgiving, but plans to serve a mission in the Spring.

The flight to Dulles Airport in Washington DC was uneventful but once we landed, the fun began. I had deplaned at gate 75 and learned that I needed to check in with Austrian Air at Gate 26. There were no luggage carts or "golf carts" to be seen anywhere. I had plenty of time and wouldn't have minded the walk, but for the 10+ lbs of books in my carry-on. Next time I will be sure to have a carry-on with wheels.

I arrived at the Austrian Airlines gate and the agent asked for my baggage claim checks, so they could transfer my bags to their plane. Inasmuch as I have never had to use baggage claim checks (at least not for several years), I hadn't even paid attention to the fact that the agent in SLC had stapled them to my boarding pass. I couldn't find them and couldn't remember even receiving them. The agent said I would have to go back to the Delta gate and talk to them. So, back I went. The Delta agent was busy finishing up with a flight so I sat down and went through my purse, without success. Then it occurred to me that the claim checks were on the boarding pass, which I located in the pocket of my carry-on!

Back to Austrian Airlines Gate 26 I trudged. A line had formed there but fortunately I was able to go to the same agent as earlier and she quickly printed off my boarding pass. I had not had lunch and had about 40 minutes until boarding time, so I walked back to the nearest eating place, a little cafe. I ordered a Oriental chicken salad, ate it, and back to board the plane.

As I sat waiting to be called to board, another passenger stood up, flung her bags over her shoulder and I thought one of the bags dropped. There was a woman sitting right across from her and I thought she would say something and when she didn't, I thought perhaps I hadn't seen correctly. After a minute I decided I needed to tell the woman I thought she had dropped a bag. I caught up to her just as she passed the boarding agent. I told her I thought she had dropped a bag. She looked at her things for a moment and said she hadn't. A minute or so later, she came back and thanked me--she had dropped it.

As I waited in line to board, a young man asked me if I was going to be in Vienna on Sunday. I told him I would be in Latvia. It turns out he had served a mission in Poland, is now a professor in Lawrence, Kansas, and was traveling to Vienna to present a paper. He planned to be in Vienna for Church on Sunday. We chatted until I found my seat on the plane.

The plane was a Boeing 747 (I think) with 3 seats in the middle and 2 on either side. My seat was in the middle of the 3 middle seats. As I was getting seated, a nice gentleman asked if he could help me with something. I told him I needed to be my coat in the overhead, and he did it for me. He then sat down to my right. Shortly thereafter, a German-speaking woman sat down in the seat to my left.

I was impressed with the service on Austrian Air. They must have had at least 6 women and 1 man stewards and they were very efficient and friendly. There were 3 young mothers each with a baby less than a year old. The front seats of the section in which I was seated were for mothers with babies. One mother and baby were in the 3 seats in front of me, and a mother and baby in the two seats on either side. The stewards brought out beds for the babies which attached to the wall in front of them. I imagine those mothers paid premium prices but what nice service for them.

I was also impressed with the food served on the plane. For dinner we had a choice of chicken with rice and veggies or a pasta dish. I chose the chicken and it was actually quite tasty. It had a tomatoe sauce of some kind and I didn't quite get the first piece of chicken securely on the fork before I brought it to my mouth. It fell off, on to my shirt and then, fortunately, on to the napkin in my lap. I tried to wipe the stain off with water, but may have ruined it.

I was able to sleep off and on all through the night. It wasn't terribly comfortable in that middle seat, but I did move my legs and feet around. At one point the man on my right got up to go to the bathroom, and I got up and walked around a bit.

For breakfast, they served meat and cheeses (Julie, I tried the brie because you had mentioned that you liked it, and it was good. Must have been a bad batch I ate in Connecticut), and some yogurt and orange juice. Oh, they also passed around a basket of wonderful, warm, hard rolls at each meal.

Another challenge once I arrived in Vienna. I found the departure board quickly and headed for Gate C56. On the way, I spotted a W/C sign and remembered the story of the W/C I read many years ago. But for that story I might not have realized what the W/C is. Anyway, after using that facility I came to a service desk. The clerk there told me that my gate had been changed to A2, which was where I had deplaned.

I went back to A2 and was told I needed to get in the line to the service desk there, which I did. The line wasn't too long, but those in front of me, and those who joined the line behind me, were all going to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia. The women had their heads covered and were in somewhat traditional clothing. Some of the men were also dressed in traditional clothing. Right in front of me in line were two middle-aged men, a black man and a French-speaking man. The French man was very friendly. I noticed he looked at my missionary badge and then struck up a conversation. I think he thought I was affiliated with the Catholic Church as he told me that a friend of his wife's was a Nun and was over the finances at the Vatican. We had a pleasant conversation. The line was slow-moving and I was almost to the desk when a clerk who was off to the side of the others asked if there was anyone in line not going to Jeddah. I was the only one and I went to her. She checked my papers, made a phone call, and then told me I had to go to gate C56. She said I needed to go down the hall, down some stairs, to the passport desk, and then upstairs to the gate. Remember, I'm still having to lug my 10+ lb. bag and time was running out.

I got to the passport clerk and she said I had to go to A2. I explained that I had just been there and was told to go to C56. She stamped the passport and let me through. I found C56 and the passengers were loading their things to go through Security, but I still didn't have a boarding pass. I stopped two Austrian Airline agents who happened to be walking by at the time and one of them kindly checked things out and told me I could get the boarding pass after I go through Security. I placed my bags on the belt and the screener found something she couldn't identify, so back through the machine, and she still couldn't identify it. So, another agent looked through my purse and found a metal hair pick, which the screener checked and determined it wasn't a weapon. I hurried to the desk just as they began boarding, received my boarding pass and boarded the plane for Riga.

I was thankful to see President and Sister Dance waiting for me inside the terminal in Riga. They greeted me warmly and we got to the car and drove to the mission office where I met my companion, Sister Harper, and the office couple, Elder and Sister Gubler. All three greeted me warmly and Sister Harper and I were driven to our apartment by the Dances.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

tuesday is the day!

It's almost here! After two wonderful weeks in the MTC, I will board a Delta airplane on Tuesday morning. I met such wonderful people at the MTC I'm excited and anxious to arrive in Latvia and begin this great adventure.

I'm going to try to attach some pictures from the MTC. I've never done it so we'll see how successful I am. I wasn't successful!

Monday, November 17, 2008

What a great week! With things being as they are in the world, it was wonderful to be "out of the world" for the week. We were kept very busy, from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. (with a break for lunch and breaks every hour or so to walk or visit, etc. We didn't hear any news of the world and were in an environment of peace.

Week two at the MTC

The first week at the Provo Missionary Training Center was phenomenal!!! It was a spiritual feast and we met so many great people, couples and senior sisters. My companion is Sister Kingsley, from Kentucky. She's almost young enough to be my daughter but we've hit it off really well.

There are couples from many different places, going to a variety of places. One couple left last Friday, going to serve in Trinidad. Another couple also left last Friday, called to serve among the Navajo people in northern Arizona.

Sister Kingsley is going to Indianapolis, Indiana, also to serve in the office so this week we are learning the computer programs we will be using in the mission. This morning was great. Technology continues to amaze me.

Elder F. Enzio Busche and his wife spoke at our devotional last Tuesday evening. We sang in the choir that evening, a beautiful hymn about the Savior: "Behold the Wounds in Jesus' Hands." I'm so thankful for my Savior and Redeemer.