Saturday, November 20, 2010

Moscow in November

This is Bob again:

I'm sorry it's been so long since I've posted anything. The past couple of months have been a little crazy. After our trip to Madrid in September, KLynn flew to the U.S. to visit some of our children and I returned to Moscow for a week to work. After that I joined KLynn in Utah, where we helped to host a group of Ukrainian judges who were visiting with the "Open World" program, and I worked at a spare office in the Church Office Building in Salt Lake. Fortunately, while I was in Salt Lake I was able to meet with a young man from Turkey (a former professional basketball player) who was visiting there for a week or so. He has agreed to work as translator for me in dealing with a Turkish attorney we have just retained to help with some pending matters. He is a huge help. After a few days in Salt Lake we attended the J. Reuben Clark Law Society Leadership Conference at Aspen Grove, and following that we went to Provo for the annual symposium of the BYU International Center for Law and Religious Studies. That was intense. I then had a day of training with the other ALC's (Area Legal Counsels) in Salt Lake, spent a few days in Phoenix visiting our son, Rick, and his family, and then I returned to Moscow. KLynn stayed in the U.S. for another ten days visiting more children and then finally returned to Moscow as well.

It was nice to visit family and friends while we were in Utah, but at the same time it felt strange. When I'm in Moscow, Utah seems like a haze, but while I was in Utah Moscow seemed equally hazy. It's like we're trying to live with one foot on either side of the Atlantic.

Shortly after KLynn's return to Moscow we traveled to Kyiv for a day, where I gave a brief report on legal matters as part of the annual Area Mission Presidents' Seminar. We enjoyed getting acquainted with the fourteen mission presidents and their wives. They are uniformly wonderful people. We were also able to attend a performance of the "Swan Lake" ballet at the Kyiv Opera House, which was beautiful beyond words. KLynn and I have attended a couple of ballets in Moscow, and it is quickly becoming one of our favorite art forms. It has the advantage of not requiring an understanding of the language, and the beauty of the dancing is nothing short of magnificent.

Unfortunately, KLynn hadn't been in Moscow for two weeks when we learned that our daughter, Cindy, was experiencing pregnancy complications, and so KLynn returned to Pittsburgh for nearly three weeks to care for Cindy and her three children. KLynn returned yesterday (and there was much rejoicing). Cindy's condition is now stabilized, and our two daughters who live in Northern Virginia are going to help care for her for the next while, so I think she is out of the woods.

As a consequence of all this, KLynn and I have been separated over the last couple of months more than at any other time in our marriage. It's good to have her back now and return to something like normalcy.

It didn't take long after KLynn's return yesterday for us to be back in the thick of things. I got a phone call last evening from a young man in our LDS branch from Tanzania. He has been studying civil engineering here in Moscow by day for the last two years and working at night. The grueling schedule was threatening his health, and so he decided to ask the university for a leave of absence to give him a chance to work and save money. What he didn't count on was that the school would require him to leave his university student hostel where he has been living. Last night he found himself literally on the street with nowhere to go and no money. He hadn't eaten anything all day, and he was in a very bad situation emotionally as well as physically. He came to our house and KLynn fixed him a hot meal. We were able to contact our branch president, Henry Kozak, an outstanding man from Germany who is the Church Education System Coordinator for Eastern Europe. By that time it was ten o'clock at night. Henry had just walked in the door of his house following a business trip, but he dropped everything and came to our house to help our young Tanzanian friend. The Tanzanian fellow taught high school math and physics before coming to Moscow, and supported his mother and five sisters after their father abandoned the family. He is very bright, ambitious, and hard-working, but he has only limited understanding of the Russian language, which has made it extremely difficult for him to study here. I would like to find a way to help him get to the United States so he can complete his education in English. He spent the rest of the night with the branch president, and I think starting tonight we'll find a place for him with one of the other African branch members. Moscow is not a safe place for Africans, especially at night. KLynn and I feel quite protective of our young Tanzanian friend. He is small in stature, shy, and very vulnerable.

This Wednesday KLynn and I are planning to go to Kyiv again. I am delivering a very modest paper at a legal conference at Taras Shevchenko University on the U.S. Federal Rules of Evidence. (They must have been really desperate for English speaking participants.) I am told that legal scholars from Ukraine, Poland and Russia will be at the conference, and I think this will be a good opportunity to build some good-will for the Church. We've been invited to have Thanksgiving dinner Thursday afternoon with David and Chelom Leavitt, who run the Leavitt Institute that KLynn and I participated in last spring, teaching Ukrainian law students the fundamentals of jury trial practice. Chelom is working this year on a Fulbright Scholarship studying the effects of Communism on Ukrainian family life. They are very nice and interesting people. I'll also do some Church-related work while we're in Kyiv with Robert Kempton, the new Associate Area Legal Counsel there. Robert is a retired attorney from Phoenix who previously did an OGC (Office of General Counsel) mission in South Africa. Robert is a former stake president, and he is doing a great job handling most of the Church's legal affairs in Ukraine. He and Jim Tadje, the Associate Area Legal Counsel in Moscow, are extremely valuable members of the legal team here. I don't know how I would survive without them.

Work continues to be interesting and demanding. There is a never-ending stream of legal issues arising in Russia and Ukraine, and I'm also working on active matters in Turkey, Belarus and Kazakhstan. The Area Presidency continue to be an inspiration. They, like KLynn, make me want to be a better person.

I've been meeting recently with real estate attorneys at some of the large international law firms here. I met the other day with a group of attorneys from the Moscow office of White & Case, a New York based firm where I clerked after my second year of law school. I had an offer to join them after graduation, which would have led to a very different life. It's like I've now come full circle. We use White & Case for some matters in Turkey. It still seems a little strange to be a law firm client instead of a partner.

I hope this blog finds all of you well and happy.