Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sister Humphrey survived YW camp

Sister Humphrey returned late yesterday afternoon, after 4 days of camp in a beautiful, but rustic setting. There was a single outhouse. She cooked over a campfire (something she had never done before). She found that most of the girls could speak some English and she learned from them how to play "And It Came to Pass." A local family had brought it from America.

There were large mosquitoes and horse flies, and frogs. She had taken OFF and it worked well. Herb and fruit teas are very popular here--a Latvian and Russian tradition, so she had to keep the fire going all the time, so they could have their teas for snack and meals.

She wasn't able to go on the hikes or do much of what the others did (because of the need to guard the camp and keep the fire going) but did have an opportunity a couple of times to interact with a couple of the young women as a leader and she enjoyed that.

She is 5'4" and that's how long her tent was. It rained all one day and the next day, she found some plastic to put over the tent. Her sleeping bag dried out before she had to roll it up and bring it back.

She had a great attitude about it all and made the most of every situation. We've assured her that when she has the opportunity to go to YW camp in America, it will not much resemble what this camp was like.

The leaders here are young and new in the Church and don't fully understand all the purposes of camp. The YW weren't given assignments to help with the cooking, collecting firewood, or getting water from the spring. There are only 7 YW in the District, from 5 Branches. So, they have challenges with their peers who being smoking and drinking at very young ages. But they seem to be strong and things like camp and youth conferences where they can gather together, are helpful.

We discovered a new Tirgus!

Tirgus means open market and there are lots of them. We noticed a week or so ago, on our way to Church, that there was one near our apartment. This afternoon (Saturday) we decided to take a look.

A little background: In downtown Riga there are lots of old buildings along the street. In between every two or three buildings, is an opening (with an iron gate) which leads to buildings behind the ones in front.

This Tirgus looked like it was just a few booths through one of these openings (it doesn't have an iron gate) but we found it takes up perhaps half a city block. There is stall after stall, all selling pretty much the same thing--fresh fruits and vegetables. They also have some that sell clothing items, and there were a couple of little kafenicia (small cafes). We bought some tomatoes, lettuce, cukes, raspberries and beets. TThe beets still had the greens on them, so we took them home, chlorinated everything (but the beets) and had a wonderful lunch. I cooked the beets and the beet greens. Sister Humphrey had never heard of eating beet greens, but really enjoyed them.

It was so wonderful to find fresh produce. Oh, and by the way, the blueberries I wrote about are actually black currants. Which explains their size. I knew they looked different than blueberries, but couldn't think what else they would be.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Our English-speaking Sunday School class

One of the benefits of moving our apartment is that we now attend the Riga Center Branch where there are enough Americans to have our own Sunday School class. We have members who work at the American Embassy, a man who is over the construction of the secured section of the new American Embassy being built in Riga, and the 4 of us who serve in the office. There have been others who have recently moved from Latvia. The members of the class take turns teaching the Gospel Doctrine lessons. I took my first turn two weeks ago and Sister Humphrey taught her very first Church lesson last Sunday. She prepared for two weeks and, as is always the case, learned more than anyone else about the subject.

A German brother with two sons, ages 16 and 18, were visiting last Sunday and added greatly to the discussion. I visited with him afterwards and learned that he knows Elder F. Enzio Busche, for whom I worked for 2 years, very well. In fact, his father and Elder Busche served together in Germany many years ago. It's a small world in the Church.

It is such a blessing to be able to discuss the Gospel with others who speak English, and to actually be able to participate. We are dependent upon the missionaries for translation in Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society, and grateful for their ability and willingness to do so, but it's wonderful to be able to understand one another and discuss together.

Fresh berries!!!

Having spent most of my life in Oregon and Washington, I am used to having fresh berries--many varieties, and I love them--fresh, on cereal or ice cream or cottage cheese, in pies or other desserts, etc. I have really missed having fresh berries this summer. So you can imagine my joy when I discovered raspberry bushes located outside of our office. The office is a two-story building and the daughter of the owner, and her husband and 2 young children, occupy the top floor. They are in America for the month of July (she's from New Jersey), so the berries would have just dried up if I hadn't found them. So, I've been "forced" to go out and pick them every couple of days. We in the office are enjoying them!

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, one of the sisters from the Russian Branch in Imanta brought in a container of blueberries she had picked. They are the size of BBs, or smaller, but very tasty, and very much appreciated.

We did finally find some good strawberries in the store--for about a week, and we really savored them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Another wonderful concert

We attended another wonderful (and free) concert at St. Peter's Cathedral in Olde Towne, a week ago. Elder Gubler, our office finance secretary, is always on the lookout for good concerts and shares his information. The 4 of us went together. This was the Czech Republic 60-piece orchestra. They played Bizet, Brahms, Dvorak, Khachaturian, and music from The Lord of the Rings.

The music was wonderful! The accoustics were wonderful in the old cathedral (which was bombed in the war and now rebuilt). The drummer and cymbal player (is that what he's called?) were very entertaining, especially during one of the numbers. They moved with the music, including little jumps when the music "jumped." It was obvious they were enjoying the music--and so was I.

There was a lit candlebra up front--apparently no fire codes in Riga buildings.

Not your usual 4th of July

The program began just shortly after we arrived at the wooded park and I thrilled to see the stars and stripes. As they played the Star Spangled Banner, I placed my hand over my heart and, with tears in my eyes, sang. I expected to be joined in the singing, but was not! I didn't hear another voice. After the band finished playing (it was the Latvian Military Band), I realized that all the voices around me (and throughout the park) were speaking Latvian. I talked with the wife of one of the employees (they are members of the Church) who told me that Embassy employees (60 are Latvian) and their families, as well as Embassy contacts and other invited guests were there.
So, it was not the celebration I had looked forward to. The Marines (there were only 4) were the flag bearers and then they sold T-shirts for 15LS ($30 USD). There were tents throughout the area, with free food at each: McDonald's hamburgers, pizza (Latvian-style), hot dogs, bags of caramel corn, slices of watermelon and water and beer (several tents serving beer).
The Latvian Military Band played a lot of American music, but not patriotic songs. I had hoped for patriotic music, and the opportunity to visit with Americans--tourists, employees working in Latvia, etc.
We were given an American flag toward the end and I am thankful for that. Elder and Sister Carson had driven us to the park and when they dropped us off outside of our apartment, I was holding the flag and a young adult-aged man said "American"--I smiled--and he added an obscenity. I wished I had had presence of mind enough to ask him what he knows about America or something. It caught me so off-guard that I just walked on by, sad that someone felt the need to say something disparaging about America--and to an old woman, yet!
I did find out why the celebration/picnic was held on the 5th, rather than the 4th. Some years ago in Riga, on July 4, a terrible massacre of Jews occurred. They were hiding in the basement of a church and it was set on fire. On the 4th of July in Riga each year, the Latvian flag is flown with a black ribbon tied at the top of the pole. The Embassy respects that, therefore, celebrates the 4th on the 5th.
Latvia has had so many tragedies and they observe anniversaries by flying the flag, with a black ribbon tied to the pole.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Riga is a clean city

The cities hire people, mostly middle-aged and older, mostly female, to sweep the streets, walks, and parking strips. These people are out early in the morning with broom and long-handled dustpan (so they don't have to bend over, of course), sweeping the streets at the curbs and the sidewalks. At our former apartment complex, the sweepers also had home-fashioned carts in which to dump the refuse, including empty alcohol bottles. Their brooms are very functional, but different than what we see at home. Many are made from twigs, tied and fastened to a handle. They work very well, especially when sweeping leaves, etc. from the grass/dirt areas. We're now also seeing more "American-looking" brooms.

Flowers, flowers, everywhere

I have noticed ever since coming here that there are flower stands everywhere and people getting off and on bus and tramvalj with bouquets: sometimes a single flower, sometimes a large bouquet. Given the economy here, I've been curious that people have money to buy flowers--and that so many flower stands and shops can afford to stay open. This week I learned the reason behind it. During the Russian occupation, flowers were forbidden. Now, I don't know why anyone would think to impose such a law, nor how it could be enforced, but that's how it was. So, since the Latvian people have regained their independence, they are flower-buying people. The members bring them to baptisms so that each person being baptized (male or female) receives single flowers or small bouquets. It's customary to take flowers when visiting a friend or family member.

It's a lovely tradition and the flower stands are full of very beautiful flowers. This was true in the dead of winter when I arrived, as well as now. The people put fresh flowers on the graves of family members so there are flower stands (plural) at each cemetery.

Off-street parking

I was on the bus coming to work yesterday and thought about how narrow the streets are and how the cars zip out and around the busses and I'm sure there are going to be head-on crashes. (Actually I haven't even seen an accident of any kind here.) It occurred to me that there are no parking spaces on most of the streets, and then I remember wondering why cars just park on the sidewalks in town. Duh! There's no other place to park. There are no signs indicating it's alright (or not) to park on the sidewalk, but people just do it.

Elder and Sister Carson, the CES missionaries, have a car but opt to ride public transportation often because there are no places to park. There are a lot of cars on the streets and I have seen a few parking "towers" like we have, but as far as just parking in front of a store to run in, or in front of a business for an appointment, public transportation is more convenient.

YW Camp in Latvia

Sister Humphrey received a phone call a couple of weeks ago from President Dance, letting her know that he had volunteered her to help out at Girls' Camp in mid-July. The District YW leader is a 20-year old, married to the President of the Russian Branch. She does speak English very well, but doesn't seem to be prepared or organized anything like at home.

Yesterday, Sister Seriha brought Sister Humphrey the menu for the 4 days and told her she will be the cook--over an open fire. The menu is European--not enough food for the 4 days to feed our YW for a day or two. Chicken soup with pasta and carrots the first night; taco soup the 2nd night, boiled potatoes and canned meat the 3rd night. Salad will be served with each dinner--cukes, tomatoes, peppers, with olive oil. Fruit teas are very big here so the girls will have fruit, tea and cookies for snacks. No chips of any kind, no crackers, and the only bread is for sandwiches for lunch.

The only running water is a spring some 100 feet from the site. She's been told there is 1 toilette (I suspect that's a fancy name for an outhouse). She doesn't know if she will have a tent or be sleeping under the stars. She does have a sleeping bag, courtesy of the mission home.

There is no refrigeration, so trips will be made into a town each day to buy fresh produce/meat/yogurt.

The camp is less than 2 weeks away and poor Sister Humphrey has a multitude of questions. And she, being a member of only 2 years, didn't even know there was such a thing as YW camp and has no idea (other than what we've been telling her) what goes on.

Just another example of working with members when the Church is so new and young and so few members. But, in time they will learn and grow, and Sister Humphrey will make the most of the situation. I told her this is in preparation for when she will be called to work in the YW program back home.

When she returns, I will share her experience. Right now, I'm just thankful President Dance volunteered her and not me.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

The 4th of July in Latvia

This is my first 4th of July outside of America. On Monday, in District Meeting, we sang our American patriotic songs and it felt and sounded so good.

On Sunday, July 5 (which will be July 4 in America), the U.S. Embassy is hosting a celebration for 2 hours, with free hamburgers. President Dance has given permission for those serving in Riga (including the office) who do not have Church during the 1-3 p.m. time of the celebration, to attend. I'm looking forward to (I hope) hearing wonderful patriotic music and mingling with American citizens. We have to have our passports to attend.

They are building a new U.S. Embassy building on a much larger piece of property than they now have for the building. The current building doesn't meet the required security guidelines.

And shoes!!!

Besides loving to have their hair died red, they love their shoes. I've never seen so many different styles of shoes and so many different colors. The 18-40 year old women wear very high heels--with skirts/dresses/jeans/slacks/shorts/whatever. Given the uneven streets (cobblestones and other) and sidewalks (lots of cobblestone/bricks/uneven(patched) blacktop) I marvel how well they walk. I can't help but wonder if they will pay a dear price with foot problems when they get to be my age.

A Country of redheads

I was sitting on the bus the other day and three women, of various ages, got on. Each one had red hair, each of a different shade. Red hair is definitely the most popular color here. And I'm not sure I've seen very many natural redheads. They come in colors from orange to auburn to burgundy and every shade in between. And it doesn't matter what age they are. I actually saw a middle-aged woman get on the bus the other day with hair about the length of mine and the bottom layer was black, the middle layer was red and the top layer was bleached platinum.

They women do like to have colors streaked in their hair. It's not the same as the highlighting popular at home, but just streaks of color here and there in their hair.