Thursday, August 19, 2010

Medical Exams - Russian Style

Right now we're in the process of transferring out visas over to official work permits. It's a lengthy and convoluted legal process that I have no hope of understanding. Praise God for Keith Beyar, Sergei Volkov and some of the others who are dealing with all this.

However, I do have a part to play. In order to get a work permit, I need to be medically certified as healthy and able to work by the Russian government. That makes sense. They don't want me spreading crazy diseases through their work force. The fun part comes in actually acquiring said medical permissions. Here's a little run down of what we've had to do (by “we” I mean everyone on the team except the wives who don't actually get permits but “accompanying spouse visas”):

Day 1: We came into the country (from Ukraine) on a pre-work permit visa and get it registered with our organization. Then go and start the medical stuff in the afternoon. We didn't realize that the part of the medical office we needed closes at 4pm. Oh well, try again tomorrow.

Day 2: We gave blood to test for AIDs and probably other stuff too. The ladies were really kind. I don't mean that they just smiled, they were more like kindergarten teacher kind. Used to dealing with foreigners she spoke to me like I was a two-year-old. “Now, you go and sit over there” -pointing to a chair- “go on, right over there,” her voice lilting as if she were talking to a favorite cat. I didn't mind, I'm over being offended at condescension. I feel like a toddler in this culture sometimes so I don't mind getting treated like one every once in a while.

Day 3: A couple days after giving blood we go and pick up the results (I don't have AIDs!) and find the next building about a 20-minute walk away. Why they can't be in the same place I have no idea. The next test is a drug test, but with a twist: It's an interview.

“Where are you coming from looking so handsome?” says the grey haired, portly, and smiling nurse.

“Um...” I respond intelligently. Is this just more condescension or am I looking especially good today? “Colorado” I've decided that I am, in fact, looking pretty good today.

“Do you like the heat in Moscow?” She asks, still smiling.

I'm feeling pretty good about myself now so I try to dazzle with my language ability. “Heat ok, but heat and smoke together no good.”

“Have you every done drugs?”

“No.” Ok, perhaps she was just catching me off guard with the banter to get the real answer out of me.

The interview ended. The piece of paper got it's stamp in another office and we were done with this step.

Day 4: We had to be there (a completely different office) at 8am and we left early to go find some urine analysis containers. All the pharmacies were closed and we showed up without the required jars and much apprehension.

The first step was a finger prick blood test. Knowing that the urine test was next I asked the lady taking blood where I could find some urine analysis containers.

“Cross the street,” she said “and buy a small bottle of water. Drink the water, go in the bottle, and turn it in to urine analysis.”

So we did. Bon Aqua I think. Then we gave them the the nice lady at urine analysis.

“Good job!” she cooed at us as she unscrewed the tops of the bottles “very well done!”

If you have a problem with self-esteem, but are still able to pee in a water bottle, getting a Russian work permit just might be the thing you need.

Tuberculosis x-rays finished our day of fun. Now we go back Friday to get the results, take it to yet another building and get our official certificate.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Up in Smoke.

Hopefully the brunt of the national emergency has passed and life, as we knew it, has returned to normal. Yesterday, Dan and I watched perhaps the most spectacular downpour outside our windows for over 45 minutes. This thunderstorm was not particularly special, but simply came as a sign of relief from the intense smoke and heat plaguing the city this past week. Moscow's been affectionately titled "The Cauldron of Hell" by reporters sent to cover the record-setting summer here and we were affectionately beginning to agree. We've never seen rain with more grateful eyes.

Moscow has been shrouded in smoke from forest fires raging all over Russia due to combustible peat moss igniting during the hottest summer Russia's seen in hundreds of years. This smoke seeped into the city somewhat imperceptibly. I remember waking up early one morning a few weeks ago convinced something in the apartment had caught on fire. After a quick walk-through and closer examination of our outlets and appliances, I figured the incredibly pungent smell must be coming from outside and went back to bed. Days later, thick clouds of this smoke began to accumulate over the city. Due to wind direction and the sheer size of the fires spreading in all directions around Moscow, the smog settled over the city for days on end. It has been reported that one day while 230 fires were extinguished outside Moscow, 250 new fires were discovered; the problem escalated faster than help could be administered. And the effects of such were quickly and poignantly apprehended by all Moscow residents.

Medvedev made various statements during this time, first calling attention to the State of Emergency, urging Moscovites to travel away from the city if possible, to cease all and any unnecessary work, and to stay indoors as much as possible, seeking refuge in shelters or even shopping malls throughout the city. Typically locking down at home would not be a difficult thing to do, our water was running, we had plenty of food and other supplies, but with temperatures well above 100 degrees outside and no access to any kind of cool or fresh air, the temperature of our apartment never dropped below 90 degrees that entire week. We even realized the futility of our one oscillating fan as the air simply got warmer. A general sense of weariness, nausea, headache, sinus pain, dehydration, shortness of breath, and body ache seemed to be related either to the influence of the smoke or the lack of relief from the heat, perhaps both. The necessity to constantly drink more fluids seemed obvious as every place you sit is wet from sweat after just minutes. We felt like we were losing water as quickly as we consumed it - now imagine how our apartment began to smell after the first 24 hours! Reminiscent of high school cross country practice in the wrestling gym... not a pretty picture :) I'd like to give you a glimpse into our lives during those days as we lived through an unexpected but accurately titled "State Emergency."

10:00 pm - Begin filling the bath tub with cold water for the pre-bed soak. Dan and I each took a long cold bath before bed. The unnerving thing about this practice involved getting out of the tub and feeling the heat of the objects surrounding you. The floor is hot on your feet. Your towel is hot. The books you touch are warm, each page is hot to turn. Of course this is not because these particular objects are that hot to the touch, but your body temperature has been significantly lowered. The cold bath became an essential part of our sleeping routine, it gave us a good 2-3 hours of cool with which we could fall asleep.

1:00 am - Head to bed. The apartment is just slightly cooler, perhaps 90 rather than 95, in the night hours, so we adjusted our schedule to head to bed later in order to maximize our time in "cooler" temperatures. We'd soak two towels with cold water and lay them over us, positioning the fan to blow directly on us all night. The cold towels worked incredibly well. I think we got that idea from my dear and amazingly traveled cousin, Molly, who told me about sleeping techniques in India during her time there in the hot summer. Wow, things you think you'll never need to know when moving to Russia!

4:00 am - Wake up sweltering! At this point, the towels are already completely dry and your body has been working overtime to warm itself after the cold bath and towels. It's hot and stuffy, perhaps even a bit claustrophobic. At this point in the night we'd re-soak the towels and try to go back to sleep. Typically, though, sleep wouldn't come easily so we'd either opt for a cold shower, or depending on the look of the smog that morning, don our masks and walk outside for no more than 10 minutes to try to cool down. Waiting for sleep to come again felt a little like the "Zombie Phase." You feel like you're always only half there, just hoping to fall back asleep, but physically unable to do so. Lots of iced water and books were consumed during these restless hours. However... how much of those things we remember might be a more appropriate sign of our level of consciousness.

6:00 am - Back to sleep for a few more hours.

8:00 am - Wake up to ice coffee in the fridge and smoothies with frozen strawberries and bananas, yogurt and orange juice. Nothing like a chilly morning treat to begin the day. I got a blender for my birthday in July and we've made daily use of it ever since. Thanks, Dan, great gift!

9:00 am - Depending on the plan for the day, this might be the appropriate time for a morning cold bath.

10:00 am - Out the door! Taking Medvedev's advice, we switched into survival mode. We would put on our "Anti-Smog Masks," available for sale, even given out at almost any store in Moscow, and every day we ventured somewhere new in search of the coolest and cheapest places available to us in the city. Staying at home for another 100+ degree day with no relief from the stuffiness and congestion of the air was not an option! We're so thankful for the Beyar family here in Moscow who took us in two days in a row to their air conditioned apartment just ten minutes away. We packed books, games, and even exercise gear for our day-trips there. At one point there were over 18 people in their apartment seeking refuge at the hospitable and generous hands of the Beyar family. Not only did they allow us entry, but Lori had baked ziti waiting for us and snacks to last the day. From their view on the 13th floor, we marveled that the massive sky-scrapers surrounding us were completely blanketed and invisible through the smoke. I'd never seen anything like it before - and no end in sight. We stayed at the Beyars until we felt like the warning of Proverbs 25 begin to take effect: "Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house - too much of you, and he will hate you." We wouldn't want to wear out our welcome so quickly during a national emergency with no immediate end in sight!

We similarly ventured to malls around the city, or places we knew we could find free seating in cooler conditions. Typically we would stay until the mall or facility closed. We certainly were not shopping for pleasure, but simply looking for relief. I'm not really sure how effective the "Anti-Smog Masks" actually are in this kind of smoke, but we did laugh at ourselves and the people around us embracing, as best we could, the encouragement we received to wear them. We saw this kind of thing fairly frequently - I guess some are more particular than others about the kind of smoke one should ingest...

10:00 pm (or thereabouts) - Arrive back home again and immediately start filling the tub with cold water

Needless to say, it was not an experience I ever expected to have in Moscow, Russia. As we are currently enjoying day 2 of relief from the smoke due to wind change and the storm which passed through last night, we are earnestly praying that the smoke will not return. Sadly, many have not been as fortunate as to enjoy the cool homes of generous friends, or cannot travel easily through the city, and this "State of Emergency" has brought a tragic and abrupt end to many lives. Several homes and lives have been lost in the fires raging outside the city and it's at this point difficult to ascertain the economic aftermath of this kind of devastation. Please join us in praying for Russia, for rain, for relief, for restoration.


Sunday, August 1, 2010

Top 10 Ways to Survive the Moscow Heat Wave!

Moscow hasn't seen the likes of temperatures like these is over 130 years! July 2010 has just become the hottest month on record for the city, EVER! So how do we beat the heat? In short, we don't. The heat is currently winning the battle, but we'd like to share some of our tactics in living in the midst of it!

10. Orange juice popsicles! Just like when we were young, we fill our ice cube tray with orange juice, yogurt, or any other tasty liquid we can get our hands on and just hours later enjoy a moment of cool, sweet, frozen goodness. It's a great treat to help pass the long afternoon hours.

9. An ice bath! Filling the bath tub with cold water and taking a dip for as long as I can bear has become a new favorite past-time. Usually I set up my computer to play an episode of the Cosby show and I'll simply settle into the cool waters for a few peaceful minutes of brisk refreshment. I've found it best to actually not dry off afterwards - this prolongs the feeling of cool an extra hour, maybe hour and a half.

8. Wait for the Oscillating Fan to come your way. Those few seconds of cool air are bliss.

7. Research the USA's new climate weapon!

6. Embrace the night life! While typically Dan and I are fast asleep by 10 pm, we've recently discovered the rest of the city at that time just begins to come to life. Who knew? Staying up later, venturing to parks, walking around the neighborhood, going on a quick ice cream run, we've not only enjoyed cooler evening temperatures, but met a lot of fun people!

5. Hang laundry to dry! While in the winter laundry took 3-4 days to dry on our balcony, it seems like a mere 3-4 minutes with these warmer temperatures. If you can wash it, it's hanging on our balcony to dry right now.

4. Think wintery thoughts. Dan and I walk through a bit of a wind tunnel on our way to the metro simply because of where the buildings are positioned. We were walking that way the other day and remembering the scarves, the hats, the hoods we'd don just to pass through that area. Back then, it seemed near impossible that that particular location in Moscow could ever be warm. Reminiscing about the cold seemed to briefly help us feel slightly cooler.

3. Develop an intricate system of opening and closing windows and blinds at different times of the day depending on where the sun is located and what side of the apartment it's currently hitting and also just how much and how cool of a breeze might be blowing by that day. Sadly, I don't know if it makes that much of a difference, but it's nice to think so!

2. Bike rides in the forest! Just breaking away from the black asphalt streets, running engines, and hot exhaust can reduce the temperature by 5-10 degrees very quickly. The forest is a lovely place to be!

1. Find air conditioning! An extended trip to an air conditioned coffee shop, a shopping center on the other side of the city, or even blatantly self-serving visits to our only dear friends with a/c have become a little more frequent than normal: "Hi, Lori, do you need me to come read a book in your living room today for a few hours while the a/c's running? Maybe you could make cookies or something. I'm definitely willing to help you in that way if need be!"

It's hard to believe that at one point in time there were 5 feet of snow piled outside our apartment window. Ah, winter, come back soon. We miss you!