Sunday, May 25, 2008

Mother Russia and Becky Meet

First Impressions
I am in Russia now...yes, it's true! So much has happened since my plane hit the runway; I feel I've learned so much, seen so much, met so many wonderful people, and well, used the metro so much! Later on, I'll include a picture of a metro map because it is something you have to see! The buildings here have become one of my obsessions :). These first two pictures are of buildings outside my building, in a really nice part of southern Moscow. As I include other buildings that are less new and nice, realize that those represent the majority of Russian apartment buildings...very worn down, cement blocks, with all apartments looking the same though different. Each has a set of run down elevators, walls that look live they've seen better days, sometimes with stairs that are falling apart, and then in front of most individual apartments, a fancy door with multiple locks acts as the entry way into the Russian's homes. I can't get enough of the buildings. Many whisper of days when the country was run by communism. The history begs me to become educated and everywhere I go, I ask Scott to ask people about how it was "then" and how they feel about Russia "now." It has been fascinating listening to Russians' opinions and stories. Somehow, I seem to love them already.

Who is Scott? This strapping young man is a student at BYU, studying Exercise Science. We met last fall as we both wrote our ORCA Grant proposals, and ever since we've gotten along great and he's been a wonderful help. He is hilarious, a member of BYU's Divine Comedy group, a returned missionary from the Moscow Mission and therefore speaks terrific Russian :). When I first met Scott, I also met Justin, who is it just happens, is awesome too and is assisting in our research here. The two guys are roommates at BYU and served in one of the same areas on their missions. They have been so good to me and have also introduced some of the best people to me. It has been really neat to see how much they love and care about the Russian people. Being around them has made me laugh a ton! - and it has also really made me want to be better in so many ways. The picture above shows Justin on the left, his lady love Ksenia in the middle, and Scott looking at something really important on the right.


That first day that I arrived, I met my first friends, Ksenia (Russian) and Anya (Ukranian), who served with Scott and Justin, and we had my first meal in this lovely Russian restaurant. During my first week, I was also able to visit my very kind and loving Uncle Craig McCune. Uncle Craig and Aunt Lorna are missionaries in the Moscow/all of Russia Mission because Uncle Craig is one of two medical missionaries called to meet the needs of the missionaries in Russia and nearby countries. He invited Scott and I over for good times with pizza and icecream and a touch of swing music on the side.


The Research
After getting used to the schedule a little, I was able to meet with the research organization (Levada Center) who Justin and I have been communicating with in Moscow to contract with them the addition of my survey questions to their already existing Nationwide survey. Our meeting was long but successful and we have most things ironed out. The survey will be conducted face to face, among 1600 people in Russia. Levada Center is one of the more respected organizations in Moscow's research world. Alexei (pronounced Alexay in English), the man we are working with, reminds me a lot of an older history or chemistry professor who is always working and researching. He is tall, has lots of fun hair, big glasses, and is fortunately very kind. Now, I wait until the results come back to analyze the data. In the meantime, I have a couple of side projects; video tapping Scott or Justin asking random people on the streets questions about both cultural and alcohol/tobacco industry questions. Doing this in Tver was both fun and surprising. The people usually knew all the answers to our Russian cultural questions and more were stumped on the tobacco and alcohol brand questions.


Scott's projects have to do with alcohol advertising, pricing and the availability to purchase alcohol on the streets within one kilometer measurements. I've helped him with that and have also documenting the number of Kiosks in the kilometer that sell cigarettes, noting the cheapest priced cigarettes and the hours these are available. Its alarming how cheap you can buy 20 smokes for in Russia...and just as terrible is the cheap alcohol that is so readily available for anyone to buy. I can't tell you how many people I've already run into who are drunk on the side of the street at all hours of the day or evening, those that nearly walk into me drunk (don't worry mom, Justin and Scott have warned me so I move out of the way:), and how many look like they don't have much left in them to keep going as they hold their bottle and sit on the cement stairs that lead to some market. Yes, I'm well aware that this exists all over the world - but I'm not anywhere but here in Russia, and so that's what I'm talking about. These folks smell strongly of cigarette smoke - but I guess that isn't saying much since all my clothes now smell like that too because people have been smoking almost everywhere I've been. I want to give these people I see on the street a warm bath, lots of bread and soup, and help them figure out how to get out of the terrible cycle they find themselves in - going pretty much no where. It is much more complicated than that - and this reality saddens me while it also strengthens my determination to see if I can find and be some small part of the answer for improvement.


Tver
After the first several days, Justin, Scott and I headed to Tver with some of their friends. Tver was founded in the 1100s and is about 2-3 hours north of Moscow on train. While there, we visited friends, made new friends, researched and enjoyed
videothe city. At night, Justin, Scott and I would laugh for hours - mostly because they are both so darn funny and had the greatest stories to tell. It often feels like I'm with my brothers when I'm with them, and that has made this trip so awesome for me.


Since much of this experience in Russia is visiting Scott's and Justin's mission, I have been blessed to meet a few of those they taught and worked with. Doing so has humbled me because of their great sincerity. Their committed faith inspires me and I feel increased desire to live better and to be a more pure disciple of the Lord. Here is a pictures of Mickel and his family who Scott really loves. They were wonderful and fed us the meal in the picture. Mickel is super poor (four of them living in one very narrow room) but somehow is so committed to the gospel...and not in some flimsy sort of way. It was beautiful to spend time with them.



While Scott, Justin and I were interviewing people, we met these two guys (Andray and Roman) who were about 20 years old. They were awesome to spend time with and turned out to be great tour guides. Here they are with us infront of a statue. There are soooo many statues and memorials here in Russia - pretty much on every block - honoring Russia's triump in the Great Patriotic War (World War II) or great poets, writers or others in Russia's recent history. As Scott and I scoped kilometer stretches on the road, we past by this church and went inside. Russian Orthodox priests were chanting and a choir above our heads were singing beautiful lines in response to the priests. It must of been a service hour because there were many baabushkas (older women), other men and younger Russians who were, with heads covered, bowing at times and crossing themselves several times. It all still doesn't make sense to me...as far as the substance in their faith and religion. But it was neat to witness and since then, I've talked with Russians to better understand that faith better. The churches are beautiful here in Russia - its just interesting how things are run and attending that service let me in a bit into the Russian's Our last day in Tver, not much made me want to leave. The place felt interestly like my first area on the mission I served in Thailand and I'll admit, I fell in love with the city, the people, the cars (they look like there from the 80's), the churches, the buildings, etc. :)

Back in Moscow
During the past few days, we were able to see a concert of professional musicians who are also members of the church in this area, perform beautiful piano, violin and other peices. I did my first souvenior shopping Saturday at a huge beautiful market. There were so many wonderful things, it was hard to decide on anything! Not that should surprise anyone who knows me :). Needless to say, I'll be back.

It was a rather rainy, cold Saturday, as it has been most days :), and so Scott, our friend Anya, and I went and saw Prince Caspian in Russian! Seeing it in Russian with them was so cool...except that the movie was pretty much one big fight..but besides that it was sweet and Scott was good enough to translate for me. After that, we walked around and met this man playing his lovely instrument on the street. It was sooo fun listening to him that I'm posting this for you to enjoy ...and mostly for my brother Seth since he loves and plays this instrument too! (Be prepared for low quality videoing - still learning how to hold a camera :)

video


Red Square was the grand finale, and as Scott and I turned the corner and saw the lighten building and beautiful structures we were both quite impressed! Pictures don't do it justice but I'll include them at any rate because it was all so beautiful. In my mind, I kept invisioning soldiers and people filling the square with Stalin or Lenin address the croud. It just felt like the spirits of the people who had fulfilled whatever duty in that spot, were somehow still quite close. Well, one individual was definitely still there...Lenin. His body lies in a large fort-like shiny structure next to the Kremlin. I'm definitely coming back during the day to take a looksee inside all of the buildings on Red Square. I was most definitely amazed by it. As we headed into the metro area, Scott pointed out a man sitting playing a saw with a violin bow! I couldn't believe it! How awesome - one of his selections was Strangers in the Night...and it sounded just like it! This post is mainly for Rach since I knew she'd love it so much!

video

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Let's celebrate by graduating!

Yes, Becky Castleton...otherwise known as Rebecca Castleton, BS in Public Health...finally did that one thing called graduating from college, April 24-25, 2008! It definitely took a unique amount of time :), but the time was exactly what I needed. A couple of years ago, I made the decision to change my major, yet another time, and further my undergraduate experience, jumping into the world of Public Health at BYU. There really is not another major I can image that suites me better. Studying health really made me excited, caused me to reflect on my own personal health practices, and educated me in the basics of so many subjects that I completely love and feel passionately about...for example: women's health, chronic disease, infectious disease, reproductive health, international health, sexuality education, mind and body health, and various methods to plan and implement health change.

The professors I was able to learn from gave me an invaluable education in more than their lessons and lectures. I owe each of then an incredible dept and will endever to follow their examples in a number of ways. The friends I gained from my studies in Public Health remain as great examples, friends I respect a great deal, and people I know I can turn to for a variety of reasons.

My parents supported me through all of this, encouraging me as my path continued to turn this way and that. I still remember mom's words the day I called to consult with her and pops about changing my major one more time. She said, "sometimes you have to make several turns until you find the right path, the one you were looking for. You wouldn't have found it without taking all those previous turns." I thank my family and close friends for all their help getting me to the spot I am at today - it truly has been a joint effort!

Thank you.