Thursday, February 28, 2013

Wednesday, Feb 27th



                                         Us with the boys in the gym class at the school.
                          One of the rare moments when the kitchen was empty... the food was being prepared
                                                         One of the translators! Never stray far without one.


 Mom and me with the Borsch soup! the color was more vivid and delicious looking than this picture allows.
 Ah, here is the full kitchen. Not to worry, we squeezed a few more in as needed later. I believe we had elbow room in this pic, which was not always the case :)


                                                                      Learning crafts
one of the translators braided my hair. it.looked. awesome!

              The absolutely beautiful crafts done. everything in this picture is homemade. Including the strips of fabric making up the table. They are squares that can be stuffed and made into pillows.



Breakfast, with tea and sugar cubes. No pics though since some authorities were sitting at the table next to us. rule one: avoid drawing attention to self.
Then back to the room for a short  impromptu nap before leaving for the day. It was not planned. I made the mistake of sitting down. Oops.

Back at the center, we had a light lunch or homemade Borsch soup!!! It was delicious. I had two bowls!! Dessert was this dense marshmallow type cream puff, only with 10x the amount of sugar. This kind was half vanilla half strawberry. Each sugary sweet bite melted in your mouth. Perfect with black tea.
                Before the kids started coming in, one of the directors showed us her craft room. The things she stitched and sewed were absolutely beautiful. Flowers on pillows. Stuffed animals. Patterns on pillows. Then these little petaled flowers and roses that were made of ribbon and sewed together. She took us into the other room with some supplies and showed us how to make these!!!! It was so fun. She would say something and then show us this complicated little bit. Then the translators would translate and we would scuffle around trying to do it too. Together though we made the 21 petals needed and then two of us stitched together a yellow and a pink rose. It is so pretty! While we were doing that she showed the others how to make little flower petals in some crazy way with pearl beads in the center. This woman is so creative! It’s amazing what she can make. Putting creativity and beauty into a mix with functionality.  We thanked her for her time. She was the one that made the borsh too! She is like everybody’s grandmother, everyone’s at the same time. She takes a bus into Ivanavo from over a couple hours away (each way) two days a week to come and teach crafts and sewing to the girls. This week she came in every day. She was previously at the orphanage…and abruptly was no longer permitted. I get the impression that it was very difficult. She does a lot more than just sewing here at the center that’s for sure. This country may not express much in the way of verbal assurance, but she shows it in her time and sharing of her gifts and talents.
Today I gave a talk on healthy lifestyles. I had maybe 10. Some boys and mothers mixed together. I started out talking a bit about nutrition and proper ways to eat. Reviewing a bit that I had brushed on previously, esp when a translator had told me that a lot of this information is new. That went well, I targeted girls who want to lose weight and boys who want to gain. Proportion and frequency was stressed too.
                Then after that, per request of the directors, I talked about the health problems of smoking and drinking.  The first half went well, then the arguing began. It began with jokes about how they feel just fine, can run just fine, and workout just fine. I maintained some control and forged ahead.  Pausing frequently for my translator to repeat what I said. I brought a few pictures along too, a couple scary looking lungs, then a couple about brain/body activity level.  As I continued talking the questions became, what if they don’t quit? Why should they? They look fine and healthy and young now. I tried responding, but ended up skipping the whole carbon monoxide is a poison and causes more wrinkles and so forth and instead barely got a “For now” translated in response before they launched on. It started crumbling a little when a couple more Americans and translators came into help. A rumor/thought was that second hand smoke is worse for you, so if your going to get exposed to these things anyways, why not smoke? We did our best to dispel this through explaining. Judy also reminded them (via translator) that this is not me judging them or being upset. I was asked to come here and present what I was educated on). I ended, emphasizing not to smoke around their kids or while pregnant (same with drinking) and that it is their choice, I just want them to know what’s going on.
                Then I went and hid with a cup of tea in the other room. Phew. Dealing with these issues AND translations is tough! I understood why they were upset. Their frustration was due to the nature of the discussion, hopefully not towards me.

                After all of this, mom did not have time for any activity and we had dinner. Hot dogs, rice, and veggies again. Thank goodness for the veggies. I am ashamed to say that I was just so darn full that I snuck the last third of the hot dog type (the size of 3 of one in the US) into my empty yogurt container. I know, not the best thing to do. If one of the directors had been at the table, you can bet I would have found room in my stomach though.
                We ended the evening with all the staff sitting around a table, sipping tea and talking between the team and the staff about what they do. Just hearing about the programs they run and the general role they play. It was very interesting, they have a small staff that does more than what they say. Two directors that are there the most, with the lady who does crafts, a computer lady that comes in twice a week, child psychologist (I think), a social worker/case worker (not there constantly) , the gym teacher (who only works with the guys and comes in 2x a week) (he is a gruff man but good hearted, he wants to just give the boys something that will keep them off the street). P and W (two guys on the team) had demonstrated GoRuck, talking about the muscle strength and endurance as well as the mental, and the emphasis it puts on team building. They did this at the tech school and it really (really) impressed the gym teacher. I thought that was pretty awesome how they got this manly stuff talked about too.
                Home to the tourist hotel ( still frequented with police. I didn’t mention the communications truck parked outside this morning.) We still walked to the mall to visit with the kids who come by to talk with us if we are there. A few of these I remember from last time when I was here at the orphanage. It was kind of awesome to see how well some of them are doing, these three at least. I long for more translators, even though this was overtime.
There is never enough time though. 

Tues, February 26th


Slow morning. Lots of tea. Then some more tea. I tried the coffee here…and then had some more tea.
                Before going to the center we went to one of the Tech schools here. The tech schools are most common for those pursuing education. They are around 16yrs old when they go, and have at least a 4th grade education to qualify. These teach them trades: like carpentry, brick laying, or mechanics for boys. Available for the  girls is sewing and hairdressing. They don’t pick, they are told what they will do.
                We were taken to the gymnasium,  about a half of Seneca’s full sized gym. Maybe less. It was filled all along the edges with equipment. Only one or two machines/benches. But the rest were bars (like monkey bars, but with a place to walk next to them ), a ramp, a gymnastics high bar, punching bag, climbing rope attached to the ceiling, only not thick and knotted, but thin, smaller than my wrist.  We spent the next 45 minutes watching an exhibition of the skills the gym teacher builds up in these boys. The gym teacher also comes into the center to teach the guys there twice a week. He specifically trains them so that they will succeed in the military. That is their whole goal and focus at this point. Every man must serve for at least a year here. He said (this older, rough man  while one of the cute petite translators stood next to him repeating in English all that he said) that he trains them physically, and mentally. The example of physical strength was various types of pull-ups, laying on a bed of nails, walking across broken glass, and team exercises with a large heavy log that he had attached handles to (in order to give resistance training to  7 at a time with curls, rows and sit ups done together). The psychological training? One boy stood above another who lay down and flexed his abs while the one standing dropped 3 sharp knives one at a time, sharp side pointed down, onto the boy’s stomach. I actually flinched. All the while laughing to myself, picturing ANY of these done somewhere like the Y. hah.  People would throw a fit! Not even with the knives, just the way they push themselves.
   when the boy lay on the bed of nails, they drew an American from the audience. When a translator was mistaken for one, she ratted me out and i was drawn forward. despite my best attempts to look far too heavy. She pecked me on the cheek and said that she owes me. Then, to my complete shock, this big, old, gruff gym teacher's whiskers ticked my cheek while he followed suit. i would have laughed but i was too surprised. I thought he didn't believe in girls :p haha just kidding. Then (and I am not joking) the held my arms to help me up, and i stepped onto this kids chest and stomach while he still lay on the nails! I nearly died of concern that this poor kid would bleed due to the demonstration.  I felt the nails. they. were.sharp! I was guided off and dove back to the safety of the sidelines. 
                Following that, Lise and Peter played violin and viola as a concert for the school. They played a variety, all lovely and beautiful.  A favorite was a song, Ashokan Farewel, they played while one of the translators read the Sullivan Ballou letter. I’m glad that I had read it before and that the words being spoken with the song were in Russian or I would have been tearing up hard core. Many in the audience were, a couple of the boys left. The military is a very big focus for some you see. This letter is from the civil war and is a goodbye love letter to his wife that the soldier wrote the day before he was killed. Afterwards we chatted and got pictures with everyone (per request! That’s something notable).
                Back at the ministry center we ate lunch and prepared for the students. Again they trickled in slowly. I started the class late, waiting for the last few to arrive. We got started and again I talked about some healthy lifestyles and then focused on weights and exercises. This time…I got a group that talked. Well, they didn’t talk, they asked questions. Actually they argued. Not too much, but it increased at the end. My poor translator! She did so well. She didn’t know if she was to answer or to translate. And often they didn’t get the chance, talking right over her. They had some valid concerns. How do we do these exercises while taking care of our kids? How do we eat right on long work days? But often I wasn’t given an opportunity to respond (again, esp at the end). We offered to talk to the director, that if they were actually interested in coming to work out, she would reserve a time that the boys couldn’t come in for the girls to work. They argued with that too. So part of that arguing was valid, and part of it is just excuses. If you want to make excuses, they are easy to make. See? A similarity between America and Russia. The girls want to feel pretty and look pretty and healthy/trim without any work. I hear that all the time. Too bad I couldn’t stay more to show them, so they could do more if they actually wanted to.
                Dinner served 60 tonight.
Once that was finished we again visited the mall to hang out with any kids that may show up. I bought most of my souvenirs while we were there too. My priorities are in order I think, Tea and Chocolate! (oh, and some vodka too! Since this trip is not the bar hopping kind).
Mom forgot her passport in the hotel, and one of the three guys on the team walked her back to pick it up. On the way back he said he stopped counting policemen once it exceeded 15. Among the police were the immigration officials. They kept quite until she once again had her passport around her neck. So add that to the list of tight moments God has gotten us through here. Mom walked (sans passport) safely through police infested waters at a place that does not need many a thought or reason to inquire for official papers. We laughed afterwards.
                Made it back to the overheated hotel room, and zonked out. Sleeping in far away places may give me odd dreams, but after the long days, I hardly linger on those in-between places of lucid drea

monday, Feb 25th -The Beginning of the Shortest Week of the Year


Breakfast at the hotel. Did I mention the buck wheat porridge ? rather tasty actually. Especially when a sugar cube is melted in it, or jam stirred in as well. There are also pancakes, that are very much like plain crepes. And besides jelly, I cannot figure out what else one can add to it that is sweet. Also, the other kind of pancakes are small little round thick pancakes, three of them, smaller than the palm of my hand. Served with sour cream I think? Though I slather them with jelly too, which makes them very good. Also optional are hard boiled eggs or a slice of bread with slices of cheese or salami. And countless cups of tea! So many because the cups are rather small, in my very biased opinion at least.
                Grocery shopping before going to the center. For lunch and the dinner that we will prepare. Lunch was the same as before, with sliced bread, cheese and salami. Then chocolate and cookies (the cookies which were almost like thick crackers). And tea a-plenty!
                A brief lull before people began trickling in. Mom had her lesson prepped, based off of Max Lucado’s children stories. She summarized and shortened them since those in her activity were single gals with children. Ages 2-4. So the attention span was limited. She then had a craft set up to go along with the activity. Powdered paint had water added and the colors were set up on the tables for us to help them with. Three translators short for the whole team kept everybody hopping.
                Then I gave my talk. A brief discussion of nutrition and healthy weight loss, focusing on not skipping meals and working out instead. Then talked about the benefits of exercising. Reasons for the cardio, and explanations/examples of cardio exercise. Ditto for weights. Then I took the girls (which started as four and ended up with around 10 I think) into the little cramped, little, weight room. The whole time they were silent and attentive, which I beleive counts as interest. No questions or comments. Participation mirrored this approach as well. (meaning there was none). I showed them how to work the machines and a couple simple at home exercises. All the while I put a lot of emphasis on the fact that I will be here for the rest of the week, so please feel free to come in, and I will go in with them into the weight room (aka: The Boy’s Room) and go over things with them.  This is all very new to them, so simply introducing the concepts was a good step J or so I’m told.
By the end of the day, dinner was prepared by the directors (who thought that salad and hot dogs and bread was not enough and sent us out for buckwheat).  26 people were served this first day.  Look for a posting of the small kitchen, and realize the organization this feat took.
                Upon returning to the hotel, we walked to the mall just two parking lots over (treacherous in the dark and on the uneven ice that had permanent ruts from cars carving into it with the tires, along with other drop offs and slopes. I compared it to what walking on the moon would feel like). There were some of the kids from the center there, who heard we would be coming so they stopped by and hung around.
                Group meeting at the hotel, and was asleep before I hit the bed. Luckily, indoors here are very well heated, so being cold was not a problem in the slightest. (although I came prepared. Quick learner this one.). 

Feb 25.13 assorted pics from the week

(Pictures from the first day) most pics are spread throughout the team, because whoever has the camera takes the pic. so...there may not be many, and they will be out of order (with lots at the end once Im home)

Buildings near the Izmailova Market, just outside the city of Moscow


                                                LUNCH! ate salmon at the shishkabob place :)
                                                              Mom and me :)
*puts goggles on and thumbs up* adventure is out there!
 tilt your head sideways! i don't know how to adjust this, and the internet is so slow...I don't care to find out.
Mom doing her program for young mothers with their kids. educational/developmental games :)
 hanging out in the hallway!

 snapped from the car. check out that orthodox church! it's new since most were torn down...
When there are not enough weights/machines...take a log, add handles, and do the exercises together as a group. Tada. the more brutal the exercise the more they advertised it. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Sunday, February 24th


Church this morning at the Russian Orthodox church. There is a priest our team leader has befriended in previous visits. He had sent us the Liturgy to be able to follow along during the 2 hours plus long service that was spoken in old Russian. I understood none of it, but it was beautiful .  It is a language that does not have curses and swearing in it.
                When we walked in, the women in the group (four of the seven) pulled our scarves over heads. I cannot remember why, but women are not as high up as men. Women are not allowed behind the alter, since we are unclean. I wanted to ask why we were so dirty and awful when we were MADE this way? I’m just pointing it out. I realize this is rooted in Jewish tradition as well. However, being un- educated in this perspective, I have a difficult time understanding the amount of separation and exclusion women have in these traditional settings.
                The scarves though, did not bother me. It’s  a way of showing respect and humlility. Similar to the way your head is covered as a  Jew. Along with our heads being covered, we also wore long skirts.
We came into the church basement. The upper church is not heated in the winter. So they have the basement set up. While it is a bit faded on the edges, exposed ceiling and stained walls, the room is set up to be a downstairs church. Everyone was standing (no chairs or pews, except a few unused benches along the wall) then the alter in the front, which  was separated, with a wall that had a few closed doors on the sides and one in the center that could either be open, halfway closed, or completely blocked off when the priest drew the red curtain across the top.
                The priest is a huge figure in the Orthodox church. He symbolizes a connection with God I think? While in the Presbyterian church we are all about a relationship with God, and consider Jesus a friend. To see Jesus like this is, to the Orthodox,  demeaning Him, and lowering Him to  our level. They focus on the great and mystical ways of God. 
                A service, which is held every day, is an event of worship. The words , actions, and environment is all conducive to worship.  Walking in, there is gold decorating the many paintings and pictures hung. Now it is simply gold foil, but it is carefully put up by the alter to show the importance. There are stands of candles, bought and lit as an offering, that stand in the front, or by a couple of the paintings. When someone lights a candle, they often kiss the edge of the painting. 
                There were many paintings hung about the room. During the long service I tried to remember my one glorious art history class during college (in Roma). Were these Mary and Jesus paintings byzantine? No, it was the simplistic, but similarly flat l like appearance that followed…16th century? Darn I should remember this. Anyways, the point is that many think the Orthodox church is into  the worship of Icons. The priest (who had studied in America and has talked with our previous groups) said that they use the paintings, and like anything that is used for good, it can become bad by people’s focus and perspective. So no, they do not view it as a use of icons, that is simply people taking the paintings and such too far and morphing perspective of what they were originally intended for.
                The priest wore a large red and gold piece of fabric, that folds over his shoulders and then falls to the floor. A large cross lays over top in the front. A large, box like, black hat sat on his head, and the fabric continued over halfway down his back, flaring out like the rest of his robe, but shorter. He had a large beard, and direct, alert brown eyes.
                To the left of the alter was a man who would read the response, echoed or supported by a few women in the choir type area who would chant/sing along. It was more lovely than chanting, but did not contain a wide ranging melody. It was a part of the service that filled the intermittence of the priests liturgy with praise and prayer.
                Everyone standing would cross themselves and bowing, sometimes touching the floor with a hand.  This happened throughout the service, sometimes with a higher frequency than at other times.
                I really did not understand what it meant, but with the exception of the realization that my back does actually really really hurt a lot in some areas, that’s about all that I gained in the absolute sense.
Being able to be at the service, silently watching in the back, without crossing my arms or legs (as I was informed is NOT allowed AT ALL) was very educational. Just watching showed a lot in the mannerisms and traditional structure of the Liturgy. All were long, but for a reason and a purpose. My attitude was not this appreciative of the experience at the time, especially when the priest and choir came out into the area with the rest of the worshipers/parishioners and continued with a supplemental service after the main one. My observations of detail were out of desperation to remain attentive and survive the event, while my brain meandered around my thoughts without reason or direction.
However, with a good recline, I can very assuredly say it was a wonderful thing to experience.
                Many think that the Russian Orthodox church has been corrupted from communism. It is true, there was compromise and the communist party shut down  a lot of churches, using them as nothing more than storage for food. And priests had to allow some concession in order to be allowed to continue the church.
                While I do not think compromise is good; perhaps it is sometime better to be quiet and endure in order to continue on, then to pick a losing fight that would certainly result in the church being shut down/destroyed/unavailable to anyone.

                                --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Meeting our Translators
                We met the girls who would be translating for us. Many are in college, or recently graduated. This is their job, in a professional way. But they chattered excitedly and began opening up. These things take time here. (the opening up part).  We had lunch (for us )and tea time after  meeting them and coming into the Ministry center.
       They have recently had to downsize the center. Like cut in half. I did not see it before, but it was cramped. We discussed it with the director there and she expressed that for the day to day activities, it is enough room and not too bad. But when there is an event (like us being here). Then it becomes cramped.
                Dinner, we took out the Young Families Group. Families who sign up to participate in this program attend events and receive a small amount of funding. Dinner was a lovely spread, starting with a Greek salad. The Greek salad consisted of the cabbage, tomatoes, cucumbers and onions with pieces of that soft cheese again and a light olive oil on top. The other food was American… so non-commentable However, there was a fruit platter with fruit designed and sliced all pretty and arranged on the plate. We sat alternating between translators, Americans and the families.
                Usually I consider myself a decent conversationalist. But when the girls sat next to me with their two kids, questions were answered with short words. Smiles are not returned or even shared. I forgot what an adjustment communication itself is when in other places. I am so very American. Verbal. And a smile almost always on my face. I keep being mistaken as Russian by the other translators, they say, if I didn’t smile as much the image would be complete :p I guess it’s not too problematic of a cultural habit to carry. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Arrival in Moscow Sat 2.23.13


Saturday, Feb 23
11am our plane landed in Moscow. We are 9hours ahead of the home in US. We passed through customs, seeking the open doors and our translators on the other side. We met with George with all of our luggage there and immediately got into a large van we had chartered to take us out of the city. I wish I could have seen more of the city, but as of now, what I observed through the window will have to do. There was quite a mix of models of car. Many small, no trucks, lots of VW, and even Ford and Chevy! Possibly more than is seen in the US.
Snow is stacked up along the sides of the road and sidewalk at varying heights (from knee high to above the small cars), and blackened on the edges from the passing traffic’s dirt.
We made a brief stop at an open air market, outside the arena where they had held the Olympic games back in…what year? The year the U.S. had boycotted the games.  We passed the large hotels that had been built to accommodate everyone.
The Market was overlooked by beautiful, colorful buildings with onion shaped tops. Dr. Szabo’s lecture came back into mind about byzantine influence. My own harpings came to mind on my lack of understanding of the history and cultures that had passed through here.
The market was a bit overwhelming. Especially because the sleep on the flight seemed  inadequate to function on at what my body claimed to be around 4am home time.
I helped mom select gifts to thank people back home who have helped her and assisted her along the way. It was hard to narrow down the list. My own is so long that I knew there was no way I could pick for everyone. How do you find someone small and packable that nods to both beauty and culture? And is perhaps functional and affordable as well.
We passed the furry Russian hats, cheap knockoffs, and expensive fox colored a hue of blue.
There were the eggs that looked like that which the Czar would have…the half eggs that open partway and are embellished with sparkles and designs. Handmade wooden boxes were often seen, carved with delicate designs on the lids, all around the sides, and even on the inside bottom. Linens were frequent (specific to this region?) handmade and decorated. Amber..which is also common for this area, in large pieces for necklaces, or in small pretty silver settings. Polish painted places and bowls. Also colorful scarves! Crisp ones, wool ones, crocheted  ones.  If you wanted to select anything, sometimes they would describe the item in Russian, then I would smile or say something and sometimes the person would know pieces or phrases of English. Or else they would show the price in USD on the calculator. Bartering was not needed, though good deals were sometime given…which brought the price closer to it’s value.
Time did not permit us to linger over everything.
We hurried back to the meeting shishkabob place close to the front. Hurrying over the walkway that was made of un-even ice. There was just enough dirt and grit on top to provide some traction. But needless to say, the majority of this market that I saw consisted of me staring down where my footing would be and focusing on not falling.
We walked above the area where all the grills were fired up and the men were behind them cooking the chicken, pork, or salmon that we had selected. Upstairs we entered the area we were to sit, smoky from the cooking and the cigarettes combined. It was much warmer, though outside was 14 degrees F. warm for them. And this winter has prepared me to be more accepting of that sort of temp. accepting but not enjoying.
Central heating involves pipes that run around a room, emitting the heat from the hot water steaming through it. (I think?) anways, I has rather happy that my backside was squished against one of these said warm pipes.
The food, was absolutely delicious! Crispy fresh salmon. (and only a few  bones to pick out) and a salad made of mostly onions, but still tasted good. Tea afterwards. The good kind of tea. Hot,with sugar and a slice of lemon.

Back onto the van for the next jaunt. We dropped off George and his daughter in Vladimir, about 3 hours east of Moscow.
Dinner was at Globle, a supersized type walmart that has a cafeteria on the side. With the one translator we picked out food. I found a bottle of juice of carrots and mixed berries. It was thick and sweet and nutritious tasting. I got a greek salad that consisted of cucumbers, onions, a little cabbage, tomatoes, and soft possibly feta or goat cheese. A plate of mashed potatoes, and chicken something gravy. And dessert of frozen strawberries with heavy, but real, whipped cream ontop and a sprig of mint. Mom tried a piece of cake, a dry, somewhat soft graham crackers alternated with a custard and covered in a light layer of dark chocolate.
We exchanged our money here also..or what half of it they would take. Creases were frowned upon. And ANY ink mark, smudge, or hint of color on any corner was rejected. And these are the bills we had gone to the bank and selected. Ah  well, so it goes.
Back on the van for the last couple hours.
We arrived at our Hotel in Ivanavo a little after 10. Crammed into the tiny elevator to our rooms.  after a scalding hot, relaxing bath in a short but useful, tub. I stretched out on that wonderful, narrow, sagging bed and conked out.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Febuary 22 2013-departure from Pit

PIT->JFK->MOSCOW

Traveling to a  area just east of Moscow Russia. This time with a company of 7! (nearly as good as the Fellowship of the Ring’s company of 9). What makes this group even better is that my mother is among the group! I have grown up my entire life hearing stories of my mother’s travels around the world, her miracles and the things she has seen. I have been blessed to continue and add my own stories to her, able to not quite follow her path, but at least crisscross it a little.
Finally, we get to go on a journey together! J
We have yet to get on the plane and already God is making this trip something big. Even as just a demonstration of how very important faith really is…because so far faith in His plan (not ours. That’s for sure)  has carried the last details of the trip to come together at the last minute (despite careful planning) .
It started with the team. This team of seven has been deliberately hand picked for this trip.  We began as 9, and I was  on the fence, wobbling precariously on my decision to go. Within a week, the last week before mailing out our passports, four members had nonnegotiable situations come up that prevented them from being able to go (though their hearts were willing). I was suddenly really needed, and that was enough of a calling for me to feel God intended me to be there. He’s opened all the doors and windows leading me forward since.
We gained two more people, one of whom was sitting in church two weeks later and suddenly felt that, perhaps, she should go to Russia with this group sometime. Casually, she mentioned  this to Lise in an unexpected bump in, that she had this little nudge to sometime (not now, really) to go.
The next day, her paperwork was being processed along with the rest of ours, which had not been processed yet and was sitting on the director’s desk out west. The other fellow that joined is the tall, calm type. A wonderful ballast.
Beyond that, the Visas alone have been an out of control experience. Our team leader’s visa did not have a page to be put on in her passport. The extra mailing and transversing across the country created a delay, that took some seriously hounding, and tracking, and pestering of people at desks.  With everything rushed and express mail sent. It would get her passport there the morning we were to depart (that would be this morning). 
The rest of the team’s visas were delayed on someone’s desk, then not marked to be priority mail. while intended to be in our hands the beginning of LAST week, we did not receive them until YESTERDAY (the 21st) at 4 in the afternoon.  Our team leader got her’s yesterday morning.
Way before the morning of departure. We did not have to wait on the delivery van before leaving for the airport.
The director of the organization is bringing our funding to pay for our car rentals/hotels/meals etc. to meet us at the airport in JFK. However, he is flying standby. We found out this morning that his flight was 25 people overbooked.  Anyone who understand flying standby knows that this is a very very bad thing.
However we got the text once through security that both him and his daughter had gotten on the plane and are on the way.
The weather driving to the airport was supposed to be icy, sleeting, freezing disaster.
It was drizzly and safe roads the whole way, no delays in sight for departure.
The amount of people praying is astounding. And it has all come together perfectly.