Feeling Safe

Drošība un Miers

28.9.17

Safety and Peace…

I wanted to write a quick follow-up to my post yesterday about the vacation being over. I want to make sure that no one misunderstands my collection of mishaps and woes as a general reflection of my mood.

Yes, there are ups and downs, as there always are in life, but my general mood is mostly more peaceful and relaxed that it was while I was living in Omaha. I do not say this as a shadow on any relationships that I still hold very dear with all the people in my life, but I say it as a personal examination of my own view on life.

It took me some time to realize what I am feeling, and this view will also evolve and transform as I continue to become accustomed to this Latvian life, but what dawned on me was that I am not scared or afraid on a daily basis. Like a fish living in water does not understand what water is (until she leaves), I did not know about this constant anxiety that was a part of my American life until I left it behind.

What caused this anxiety? It is hard to say. Perhaps it was the mere idea that at any given time, a gunshot from someone could end my life. That is not a fear here. I have not heard of any shootings in the time I have been here. I saw just today that there was another tragic shooting death in Omaha. Or it could be that I have not watched any television since I have been here, so I am not bombarded by advertisements or loud people shouting at me about the things I should care about 24/7. But I think the anxiety in America is more pervasive than even these deeply rooted icons of our civilization. There is something about being in America that drives us. There is this constant push to do more, be better, catch up to your neighbors. I was chatting with a friend whose child is currently in two sports and constantly busy with both. Yes, Latvians are busy, always working to get by, but it isn’t about getting ahead or worrying about the future as much as it is just living and the daily chore of survival. They aren’t trying to keep up with some impossible phantom somewhere ahead in the distance. They aren’t obsessing about their children being one step ahead of all the other children. As a teacher, this manifests in not worrying that overprotective parents are going to sue me because I have their child a bad grade. Somehow, I think this tendency to not be in constant competition and future-focused lends itself to a more peaceful existence.

I am having a conversation with two colleagues right now, and one of them said, “My medicine is my garden.” They could not believe that so many American seek therapy, counseling, and take prescription drugs. I think that the word to describe American life is “obsessive.” We latch on to so many different things to worry about from the recent NFL thing, to the daily dose of Trumpisms, to war, and so on and so forth. They are not worried about all those things, especially things that are out of their immediate control. It is the mindfulness movement, but without all the work!

I do not want to over-romanticize this journey, but I wanted to touch on the deeper level of happiness that I think is inside of me despite all the small obstacles that I encounter in my daily life. Again, this feeling will evolve and change, surely, but now that I am aware of the water, I am not sure what it will be like to jump back in!

 

Side Note:

Today I had the joy and honor of having my first substitute teacher gig. They needed someone to cover one class. The rest of the school is on an Excursion. They take one day in September to go somewhere together. Each homeroom chooses a destination and goes. This year, it was a bike trip to a nearby town. Isn’t that a wonderful idea?

So I asked this group of 12th graders why they weren’t on the excursion, and it was punishment for some offense they committed last year. I thought as much. it reminded me so much of my high school days that I had to tell them the story of how we weren’t allowed to go to the zoo, and our senior trip was cut down from two days to one. We were the baddies. (90, 90, 90 90 90!)

Peace!

 

 

The Vacation is Over

Nav Brīvdienas

26.9.17

Yes, it is true. This is not a vacation. This is not a trip. This is real life!

After three weeks of being a Latvian worker, doing the daily commute, and getting my ducks in a row, I am exhausted and content at the same time. From my blog posts, one might get the impression that every day is a cup of tea, piece of cake, or easy as pie, but I assure you, it is not.

My general rule is to expect something that would take one try in my old life to take three tries, and, perhaps, take at least three times as long to complete. A simple example was the process to have my teaching certification recognized in Latvia so I can legally teach here. In order to get recognition, I needed documents to prove that I was qualified. I had transcripts from undergrad and grad, I had my graduate diploma from UNL, and my teaching certificate. I couldn’t for the life of me find my Midland College diploma, but I had a letter from the college certifying that I graduated there with a degree. I had to translate everything into Latvian (thank you Rita!) which was a painstaking process. And after all of that, it wasn’t enough. The man wanted the diploma! My UNL diploma wasn’t good enough because it didn’t show that I had a teaching degree. Master’s of English Education < Bachelor of Arts. Just so you know. So I finally got a copy of the diploma sent to me, but even then he wanted the original… and I just want to sit down with these bureaucrats and have a rational, calm conversation about WHY all of this is necessary? Does a sheepskin diploma really carry more weight than a signed piece of paper from a college administrator? Ultimately, he accepted the papers and gave me a bill for 200 Euro. Half a month’s salary to get certified to teach…

So that is one example. Now imagine that same scenario multiplied by every interaction and transaction I have made over the past month or so. It equals exhaustion. But today, it was just kind of funny.

The Hazing, There and Back Again

by Džefrijs Grīnvalds

Bridge to Ķipsala

Jeff held in his hand a piece of A4 paper, slightly longer than he was used to, and on it were words in Latvian which he could not speak or understand. But he was given a task, a mission, a quest. “Go seek the person who can sign this paper. You must complete your training (on workplace safety).” The Master’s name was Janis or Ziemelis.

Jeff had an address scrawled on a yellow sticky note, and a phone number. He first called Janis to set up an appointment, and to find out where he was to go for his training. A thickly accented and clearly frustrated man on the other end simply muttered “Divpasmit, divpasmit..”

Jeff said, “12? Noon?”

“Ja, noon…” the frustrated voice of Janis muttered.

“But I have a class.. I’ll be teaching at that…” the other side went dead, and Jeff knew that his message had neither been heard nor understood. Janis would be expecting him at noon.

So he talked to his mentor who said they would watch his class while he completed his training. How long would it take? “Not long,” they said. Where is it? “One stop.” Just one stop to the mystical island of Ķipsala.

Not a Confusing Address…

Jeff found the address on his phone, a building on the college campus somewhere among other buildings. He was prepared for his quest the next day, and he would willingly complete hit training, no matter what it took. The signature would be his.

He woke early the next day, and took the tram to work, thinking that it would be faster to take public transportation than to ride his bike, he would likely be wrong. With hat, etalon card, and keys in hand, he left his home, perhaps never to return.

The time for his journey came, almost noon, he thought, looking at his watch. Almost noon.

He walked to the bus stop and boarded the next bus that would take him over the bridge to the island where he would meet either Janis or Ziemelis to capture a signature. He could not fail. Jeff would not fail.

Once he reached the island, he gathered sustenance in the form of a spinach roll, and began his long trek toward the building he had seen on the map. The little yellow note with the actual office number had vanished, likely stolen by trolls or something, but he had to press on.

The building rose before him like an angry giant, towering over the horizon, window like eyes. Young people poured out from the doors, and he wondered if they were friend or foe. The sidewalk was painted with words, perhaps marking the way, “miers, dzīve, neļauns” [peace, life, not bad].

Inside, Jeff searched for someone who spoke the common tongue, but he felt lost in a sea of people. They smiled, but could not help him until one man, Sam, said in a lovely accent, “I speak a little English.” This large, middle-aged man in a suit with a leather bag offered to read Jeff’s letters. He made a phone call, contacting others to help find where Jeff was supposed to go. He was patient, unhurried, and above all Kind. “Room 105,” Sam said, “Come with me.”

He showed Jeff how buildings were connected by corridors, and they wandered through the endless tunnels of RTU, in search of door 105. In one hallway, the numbers seemed to go backward. Was it some trick? Perhaps a riddle? Jeff loved riddles. 103, 102, 104, 106. Where was 105? Maybe a secret door? Some magic words?

Ne. It was not to be found in this building. Sam asked another kind-hearted human for assistance, and she pointed to a building they could see through the window. Perhaps they could reach it by noon. If only there were a door they could walk through! Oh, miracles do happen sometimes, for Sam took hold of the nearest door which Jeff though surely would be locked or barred, but it opened, and they were again outside. Together, the walked quickly toward another building, smaller and hidden in the shadows of trees, it stood menacingly.

Sam pulled on the door, but it was locked, so he tried another door, and it was open! Again, a miracle. He guided Jeff to room 105, knocked, and opened the door to reveal the master, Zeimelis, sitting in his chair, waiting. Sam bid Jeff a kind farewell, and Jeff felt as if there was nothing he could to to repay him.

Jeff was intimidated. The old master sat at his desk surrounded by curious and quaint tools of technology. Ancient looking, but somehow powerful in their archaic truth. Could Jeff possibly survive the training? What would he have to endure?!

Zeimelis greeted Jeff with a smile, his aged but energetic voice put him at ease for the first time in a long time. He stood up and shook hands and then pointed to the magical book that would help Jeff complete his training. How long would it take to read? How much time would he spend with Master Zeimelis learning the cryptic ways of Safety Training in Latvia? Surely it would take hours if not days.

Zeimelis opened the book, and lo, it was in English! Jeff started to read, but Zeimelis said, “Ne! Pārtraukt lasīšanu!” He commanded Jeff to stop. He turned to another page, pointed and grunted, “Huh? Ja?” Then another page, another, and another, pausing only at a picture of an exit sign. He flipped through all the pages and then asked Jeff for his papers.

“That’s it?” thought Jeff. My training is complete?

Zeimelis took the pages, signed them, stamped them and had Jeff do the same. The training was over. Zeimelis confirmed with a rubber stamp and a personal copy for Jeff to take back with him.

“Paldies,” Jeff said. They shook hands, and Jeff left, happy and feeling accomplished.

Little did he know that the longest, most arduous part of his journey was to come! For the bus ride across the bridge would take him longer than all of his other quests combined!

The End

Or is it?

Epilogue

I don’t know—I just know that Valdis Zeimelis was and is one of my favorite Latvians. After he made copies, I struggled with Latvian to ask how long he had worked there. He said he had been at RTU for over 50 years! He then showed me a book that he wrote called “Elektrodrošība” He literally wrote the book on Electric Safety! He truly was and is the Master.

I still cannot figure out why I had to go to this tiny office to get this training from a book. They could easily just have that book where I was hired and get someone to sign off on it there. I have a feeling that they just want to keep Zeimelis busy, give him a job, give him purpose. I kind of get choked up thinking about it. You think selfishly about how inconvenient it was and it can make you angry and all that, but on a 30 minute (1 kilometer) bus ride, you get to thinking about things a bit more deeply. Here is this guy who taught at the university for years. He has been a part of the institution forever. Let him keep that little office where he shows people a book now and then and signs papers. It was worth my time for him to be there as long as he wants to be there!

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Sometimes, though, I just feel like I am being hazed. Someone in Latvia is just laughing about how they are making this American do all this stuff.

Sidenote

On the way home, I saw this girl on the tram. She kept looking at me and smiling… I thought she was one of our neighbors I had seen on the way to school in the morning, but you know Latvians, they all look alike to me. Anyway, I thought it was a nice bookend to see Zeimelis at his advanced age still trucking, and then this girl, no more than 7 or 8, riding solo on the tram across town and just full of confidence and energy. There are so many things that make me happy.

 

My Commute and a Language Thing

My goal today was just to post a bunch of photos of my daily commute via bicycle to Gymnasium 2 and RTU. I just want to remain thankful and humble each time I leave in the morning to go to work.

I am lucky enough to live right along the river, and it is easy enough to get to the promenade which has underpasses all the way from my house to work. I have one treacherous street to cross, but it is mostly smooth sailing. I know it isn’t winter yet, and I may be singing a different tune in a month or so, but right now, I have to relish in this ride each day.

The best thing, and I have mentioned this before, is that there are no hills. I know that one day I will long for beautiful rolling hills, like the ones I grew up surrounded by in Nebraska, but for now, I will take a nice easy bike ride on a flat road!

The day ended with rain, because Latvia. So my pleasant morning commute became a forced ride through the rain. It wasn’t that bad, but I was soaked by the time I got home. Enjoy the photo show and then I will write a little bit about language.

I put these in kind of an order from the start to finish, and then back again in the rain.

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Language

I found this topic interesting, but maybe not worth a whole post. I just need to write it down before I forget it. In the Latvian alphabet, there are palatal letters including ģ, ķ, ļ, ņ . You can hear how they are pronounced by clicking on the attached link.

I have struggled more with these sounds than any others. I was talking to some students about it, and one girl said you have to sound angry to speak Latvian properly because of the harsh “r” sounds (they are all rolled) and the mouth has to move a lot to make the sounds properly. I think she is right. I have a lazy, fat, American mouth.

So I have to work on the island of Ķipsala, and I used to live near Ķekava. No matter how hard I try, I just cannot get these right. And as I was listening to two students try to teach me how to pronounce these sounds, I realized that my brain just doesn’t hear the sounds correctly. I think that I automatically process the sounds and try to match them to sounds I already know. It is impossible for me to actually hear what they are saying because my brain is tricking me into thinking it is a sounds I have heard before. It freaked me out a little bit. It is like an auditory illusion!

I know this is a true thing because I have tested Latvians with the “v” and “w” sound. Many cannot hear a difference in the sounds because they have no “w” in their language. “th” is similar, but many have learned that in their English studies.

I know this might be old hat to many of my linguistic friends out there, but it is really making me rethink my whole understanding of reality. If my brain can overpower my ears and sense of hearing to Jedi mind trick me into thinking I am hearing something that I am not… then what else is it doing to me? What other senses are being fooled all the time because of a lack of experience or conditioning?

I know, old-school philosophy. And I know in theory that this has always been a thing… sensory perception is flawed, but to truly experience it in a practical way and be unable to overcome it when you know it is happening? Freaky.

For those of you still paying attention, the sound that they were making with the “Ķ”ipsala sounded like a /t/ but then it would morph to something else, and ļoti still sounds like a /y/ to me. But when I imitate the sound they are making with my substituted sound, they tell me it isn’t right. So it is going to take some brain retraining to truly hear these sounds and reproduce them properly.

Here is a giant olu for your amusement.

Professor Grīnvalds

With only a Master’s degree in English from the lovely and wonderful University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I have landed myself a job as a lecturer at Riga Technical University (RTU). The Mighty Flying Letts of RTU are a traditional powerhouse of the Big Baltic Conference. They are dominant in such sports as Ice Fishing, Feline Trapping, and Wind Sailing.

I am kidding. Life here doesn’t work like that. Students actually go to school to study and learn. It is the craziest thing you’ve ever seen!

Seriously, I am teaching a load of four classes with 12 hours of lectures a week on such subjects ranging from the English Language (with a focus on architecture) to Presentation Practice and Beginning Grammar. These are brilliant students who are ready to become the frontier of Latvian engineering and science, and they are turning to me for some of their English training. I wish them all the best!

So now I am both a high school teacher (again) and a college “professor”. I use that term loosely because I do not have a Ph.D. But I think the students would feel more comfortable calling me “professor” than “mister” although one young lady already referred to me as “sir.” That was a bit unsettling.

RTU has several campuses in Riga, with the main one located about a block away from Gymnasium 2, so that is really convenient. Another campus at which I am teaching is on the island of Ķipsala on the Daugava River, where King Arthur reportedly floated to just before passing into the next realm of existence. On my walk to my first class on Friday, I took a photo of the building I am teaching at, and a selfie to cherish the memory. I was nervous because I didn’t have a class roster or really any credentials. I had to convince the guard that I was a teacher, and then find the room, and then wait for students to show (they were late which added to my nervousness).

Sometimes, I feel like I am in a video game. Talking to the guard was one of those little moments in the game that I had to complete to move onto the next stage. I think I moved up a level after finishing the class. I hope this doesn’t make me sound weird… or any weirder than you already think I might be. I look at lots of daily challenges like video game scenarios. It makes life more interesting than just pretending you are in a movie. Video games have challenges and bosses to beat. Who is your boss? What level are you? What is your power-up? Keep these things to yourself, but you should know!

I am excited to start this new career! This week is going to be packed with lessons and worries, so do not expect too much from me. I just wanted to update everyone to let you know what is going on in the world other than the Nebraska Cornhusker’s complete and utter decline as a football program.

 

Time is Different in Latvia

16.9.17

I think I have mentioned this before, but one big difference that I have felt but been unable to express is that Time is different here. I was talking with a colleague this morning, trying to explain what I meant, but it is so hard to describe in rational terms because we all know that time is relative. Time for you is different than time for me. Time here or there, however, should be constant, shouldn’t it?

But I continually find myself in time warps. Right now, for example, I am sitting at my desk in the classroom during our lunch break. The lunch break is only forty minutes long. I went downstairs, bought a piece of pizza bread and juice, came back upstairs, ate it in another room. Then I walked back to my classroom expecting the bell to ring soon. NO! I still have 15 minutes left, and this is after sitting at my desk preparing my lessons for the next two classes. It is like there are these bubbles of time in Latvia, and you find yourself floating, like Glinda, in your own magical bubble as the world goes on around you.

This is not the first time I have felt this way. I remember now, writing about how time is different. Mornings seem to last forever, and this is also true. Maybe there is some compression theory when you go from a country that is so large and has so many people to a much smaller place, there is some kind of actual mental compression that happens to you. You idea of time and social structures is out of balance because you are not bombarded by 350 million thoughts in the same general space. Okay, so this idea is going to get a bit wacky, but what if that is true? What if we are affected and impacted by our collective thoughts. I am no longer in the hive of the United States of America, but in a new hive with far fewer bees. So what if this allows me to slow down, reform my thoughts, to process less and to feel like there is more time to do everything?

Maybe it is like Superman. He came from a planet with a red sun, and now the yellow sun gives him these super powers. It could be true, couldn’t it? I am not saying I have super powers or anything, but it does feel like everything is different. Rice cooks faster. My tomato sauce is ready almost instantly. I can ride my bike from one end of Riga to the other in no time at all. It takes me five minutes to commute by bike from my flat to school. The same commute in Omaha left me sweaty, breathless, and took at least 30 minutes. I am not making this up.

Time is so strange, that I started writing this post a few days ago, and it feels like it has only been a few minutes. So much happens, and yet, the compression effect can seem to work both ways. Did it take me three hours to make coffee this morning? I think it did. But it is all relative, I think.

Today, I rode my bike home from the Depo. I found this shortcut under the bridge and followed this punk rock dude. I caught up to him and asked if he liked punk rock. He replied, “I don’t like it, I am it.” He didn’t like any of the bands I like, but faster, more thrasher/metal punk. We talked for about six seconds, and suddenly I looked around and asked, “Where am I?” I swear, I some how rode about 10 blocks out of my way in the time it took to ask him two questions. I looked at my map and had no idea which way I was going. Distortion. Time. Distance. All of it loses meaning when you are here.

I think I have said all I need to say, and I do not have any photos to show time other than a screenshot of a map and some other photos I took today as the rain pelted me.

Be free in your thinking. Allow yourself to wander and wonder. Consider all possibilities.

Side note: The same word is used in Latvia for time and weather… “Laiks.” Go figure. What does it mean? I don’t know. I just know I got rained on today.

 

Random photos!

 

 

 

Indian Summer

Atvasara

September 10, 2017

Atvasara is the Latvian word for a day like today. It was cold all this week. I even wore gloves, a coat, and hat while riding to school. Then, suddenly, it warmed up to a balmy (for Latvia) 23 degrees Celsius, which turns out to be just 73 American degrees. So after a productive day of fixing this and that and the other thing, I wanted to ride my bike.

Let me preface this ride by pointing out that my bike has been my mode of transportation since moving to Riga. It has not been a pleasurable way to spend the day, but instead, a grinding commute through Riga with boxes, bags, and heavy house-fixing equipment in tow. There was no rain today, and I avoided traffic by simply crossing Krasta iela to the river trail that follows the Daugava up and down through Riga.

I want to take just a moment to say that Riga citizens are spoiled. I told my students how much I enjoyed cycling through Riga on a nice day, and they rolled their eyes and suggested that the infrastructure for biking wasn’t very good. Yesterday, Rita and I rode across town to a glass shop (to order a new mirror to replace the one I broke while carrying it on my bike the other day), and it was fine. I pointed out that most of the sidewalks are wide enough to ride on, and some of the main streets have designated bike lanes. Latvia has very few hills, and in Riga, the streets are almost perfectly flat. It has not been very windy at all since I have been here (not even close to the blistering blast furnace of a Nebraska summer. There are paths through parks and cemeteries, and today’s ride on the Daugava sealed it for me—Riga is a cycling city.

In spite of the gnats that seemed to feel like little rocks just hanging in the September air, this was one of the most glorious days that I have had since I have moved. It was overcast, but the sun could be seen peeking through the thing layer of clouds. Everyone was outside walking or riding or skating on the path. Energy and enthusiasm filled the Latvian air, and best of all, I felt no pain in my hip, back or knee. I was riding free and full of life! I felt, again, like I was in a movie.

As I rode along the lovely river, I listened to Cake. I was going to measure my ride in Cake songs instead of miles, but I realized that I started skipping a few songs, so that didn’t work. But I was just totally jamming to “Meanwhile, Rick James” on the path, arms stretched like a bird, just feeling the air flowing around me and my bike. I’m sure the people I passed enjoyed the show… singing and dancing on my bike through pedestrians and passed the other cyclists on my journey.

I used the Television Tower that we can see from our apartment window as my azimuth, pointing the way toward Krasta iela.

The ride started off as pretty normal. I rode along the busy highway as the trail left the river promenade and took me past a supermarket, Hesburger, and McDonalds. Then, I turned under the bridge and found myself in a familiar neighborhood on a familiar path. When I presented at L.A.T.E. (Latvian Association of Teachers of English), our conference was right on the river, and I thought then that this was a wonderful path for cycling. It did not prove me wrong.

Once I hit this shady stretch along the river, I saw so many beautiful people doing their beautiful things. Parents were walking with their children, old men on roller skates; one woman was roller blading with her friend in an electric wheelchair, and I was just touched by all the beauty around me. I came around the bend, past a row of benches and some wonderful graffitied walls and saw a spit jutting into the river with groups of people feeding swans. I was overcome with such a feeling of perfect joy that I literally started to cry. I thought about how lucky I am to be alive, in this place, right now. How lucky all of us are to have this gift of life. I know, it is cheesy and a bit sentimental, but when the Truth hits you on a Latvian summer’s day, there isn’t much else to do but embrace it.

So I rode on with a new sense of wonder and joy. I came a small lookout tower on the river, an I climbed with my mentor, Doctor Robert Brooke, in mind who has a fear of heights, and every fall at Platte River State Park, he comes face to face with that fear as he ponders at the towers. I climbed the three flights of stairs, and as I did, I realized that for the first time in months, my hip didn’t hurt. I felt so good, I jumped up and down at the top like a madman.

Then I continued down the path along the river and came to some ancient ruins. I wasn’t sure what they were at the time, and the only sign I could see was one that said, “No climbing” (but in Latvian). As I stood there and rode around the stones jutting up from the ground, I just kept thinking, “I would never see something like this in Nebraska.” I know, it’s a snobbish thing to say, but it was honestly what I was thinking. How incredible is it to just wander upon some structure built centuries ago, and it’s so common here that no one really cares that much to even put a sign on it. It turns out that it’s Mazjumprava Manor. There is a Vikipedia page about it (and no, that is not a typo).

The next interesting feature was a string of gardens and houses that Rita called “Dārziņi” or “little gardens” where people grow food and sometimes even live year round. Along with the gardens and huts were these strange tunnels with grass growing on top. I have no idea what they are, and if you can identify them, please let me know. I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this guy burning some debris, the smell of the smoke was piny and wonderful.

 

The trail came to an abrupt end with no sort of connection. On one side was the river, and the other side, a steep bank leading literally to nothing and nowhere except for this wonderful cat. Riga is full of stray cats. We keep thinking about adopting one, and we likely will once we are settled. For now, I consider this cat my reward for riding to the end of the trail and climbing up the hill to see what I could see. He posed for a few photos and then ran away. But he let me pet him and was playful and another reminder of the beauty that surrounds us, even if it is hidden in shadows.

The ride home was uneventful, but extremely pleasant. I reflected on everything that I had seen, and saw the future unfold before me as I listened to Latvian folksongs and watched Gaismas Pils and other Riga landmarks appear. The familiar television tower was once again behind me, as it should be, and everything was in its proper place.

 

 

 

 

 

Photos:

 

Side Note: As I rode, there was some dude flying around on his ultralight aircraft. I have always wanted one of those, and I get the feeling that here in Latvia, they do not really care if you have one. In the United States, I’m sure there are all sorts of rules and regulations and lawsuits and such. But here, I bet they let you fly one, and if you die, it is your own stupid fault. I appreciate a bit of that old-school mentality. Too many lawsuits makes you soft!

 

New Home: Jauna Māja

It has been awhile since the Spanish Incident; in fact, it seems like forever ago. Today is my first day off after a very busy week and weekend. I am recovering from some kind of sinus infection that has been the source of a three-day headache, but I have some time, and the story is calling to me.

New Home

Jauns Dzīvoklis

5 September 2015

When I moved to Latvia, I had an intention to live with Ansis and Monta for a few months while I settled in, learned the language and the lay of the land, and then, eventually, move to Riga. Somehow, that plan has been greatly accelerated. It began during the last weekend of August when I suggested to Rita that maybe we could start looking for a place to live together. I was thinking in a practical way because she and her daughter have been thinking of finding a bigger place for years, and now, with a job in Riga, it would make sense for me to live here.

So, she sent a few emails, made a few phone calls, and suddenly we were looking at flats in Riga. I say “flat” because that’s what people call them in English. In Latvian they are “Dzīvoklis.” In America, we would say “apartment.” Anyway, her daughter, Anna, was also in on the search.

We first visited a pretty awful flat that was being rented for a good price for its size. I had three rules for a place: 1) It cannot smell, 2) It must not be more than 2-3 floors up 3) I can’t remember what the third rule was. This place violated rule 1, so it was obviously not going to be on our list.

The photo makes it look okay, but the rooms were all strange, the kitchen was unfinished, and the bathroom was just a little bit awful. The floor was covered in this terrible laminate that squeaked and moved with every step. Edgars, the guy who was showing us the house, was likable and courteous, but it was clear that this was a place for young, college-aged students wanting to just crash with boxes of pizza and beer. If I were 21 and single, sure, but this place was not for us.

Rita and I left knowing that this wasn’t going to be our new place. I was happy to have seen it because this is what I kind of figured most of the flats in our price range would look like. It was both discouraging and encouraging. Know your enemy, right?

The next place was on Krasta Iela. Krasta means “coast” and the street is named that because it follows the Daugava river on the right bank all the way through Riga into Old Town and beyond. The flat we were looking at was just outside of old town, but a stone’s throw from the Central Market. It was a nice location, especially for Rita who works right across the river, and me with a short commute to Gymnasium 2. This particular flat was found by Anna. I have to give credit where credit is due!

We arrived at the building, which houses a used appliance store called “Big Ben” downstairs. I waited for Sanita, our landlady, to arrive by exploring the used toaster ovens and microwaves. The shop is interesting because many of the appliances come from Great Britain, and the shop is decorated with some British flare like one of those guards with the big puffy hats.

Sanita arrived and showed us into the flat. It was on the third floor, my upper limit. Rita’s main concern was that the entry way had to be nice and well-maintained. This one passed her test. There was also no distinguishable smell on the landing. A good sign.

View of the Daugava

When we entered, we were all immediately in love with the place. It has huge windows that look out over the river on one side, and into a private courtyard on the other. The floors are all wood, refinished from the original “old-school” planks. The living room is a parquet design, and both bedrooms are spacious and clean. The kitchen is very nice with new appliances, and there is even a storage room. My only complaint is that the bathroom is a bit small, and it does not have a mirror or any towel racks, but we can add those if we like, or so Sanita told us. The final selling point is that there is a room on the ground floor to store bikes, so no clambering up and down the steps with our bikes? SOLD!

We had one more appointment to keep that evening to look at one more flat which was in the City Center, closer to Anna’s school, and a bit less expensive than this one. We went, and we looked, but it was nothing compared to the Krasta iela location. It was cramped, and had a weird layout. Once you’ve seen heaven, nothing else looks quite as nice. Right?

So that very night, we had a long discussion about what it would mean to live together. We considered the pros and cons of the new space, and ultimately decided to go for it! There was some nervousness about the final contract. We had some help from Ansis who read it and gave us some advice. Then we had to wait to get a final copy and close.

Everything happened on Friday, September 1. School started for Anna and me, we closed on the apartment, and I officially moved to Riga. We celebrated with a dinner at an Indian restaurant where I had to ask them to make vindaloo because it wasn’t on the menu. Too spicy for Latvians, we found out. I thought it was delicious! Anna and I sort of bonded over spicy food. She bought a tabasco plant so we can have our own peppers growing in the window.

Taco Night

It has been extremely busy since then with school, and moving and all of that, but we did have a nice little party at Monta and Ansis’s house. I made tacos for the family, we had wine, champagne and beer. Ansis’ taxi driver gave us all a ride back to Riga, and we stayed in the Krasta iela flat together for the first night.

Oh, and my crate showed up! I finally got it out of customs, and because I am a repatriot (officially), I did not have to pay customs on all of my stuff. Martins, the Latvian Shipping Guy, was super helpful, delivering the crate to the new flat and even helping unpack it! Everything I now own is at the new flat, kind of in a cluttered mess, but it will soon have a place.

I has been a week of adventures in trying to find some furniture and get everything in the flat up to speed. We had to have a water meter installed which was a bit of a drama and a mess. I made a delicious stir fry dinner and pizza. I am enjoying cooking again. It is always nice to have a place to call “home”, especially in the wonderful city of Riga, Latvia!

Photos

Side note: I had planned to keep the crate as a possible future storage solution or something, and Ansis loaned me his van because I measured it and the crate would just exactly fit in the back without the seats. However, in my uncareful measuring, I did not take into account that the crate company had added a 4″ pallet to the bottom of the 36″x”48″x36″ crate, thereby rendering it two inches too tall to fit. #sad So Martins, the friendly shipping guy, came and picked up his free crate. Maybe it was karma. I hope he puts it to good use! Meanwhile, let’s just take a moment to remember the crate and all it went through!

The Crate

 

September 1: First Day of School

Okay, America, let’s get this right! Latvia makes the first day of school a national celebration. Every public school in the country starts on the same day every year—September 1. And on this day, students walk to school with flowers in hand to give to their teachers.

I was excited to see this spectacle, so I put on my suit jacket and walked from the MTS bus station to Gymnasium 2 taking photos as I went to document this beautiful day. The spectacle was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. (because Latvia is merciful to people and their sleep schedules) and last for all of 40 minutes (because, yes, it’s the first day of school).

 

 

Photos

Guntis

When I arrived at the school, there was energy in the air. Students were dressed up and ready to start school. All the teachers were wearing their best dresses and suits. Guntis, the headmaster, was waiting right at the entry way greeting teachers and students alike.

After some initial questions and answers for my peers, we went outside to the back courtyard which has a basketball court and some open space, to watch the choir perform and people give opening day speeches. I wish I could tell you what they said in the speeches, but my grasp of Latvian got as far as “jaunu gadu” (New Year) and lots of “labis” (good). Not sure of much else.

The music was truly lovely, especially “Saule, Pērkons, Daugava” (Sun, Thunder, Daugava) which is the school’s official anthem and the new anthem of Catalonia! How cool is that?

 

The piano was too loud, and overall, the sound system was a real problem. Students complained that they really couldn’t hear anything, but the spirit of the day was achieved! I saw a host of former graduates returning for the day, which is inspiring. I met several other teachers which is great!

I had my photo opportunity at the front of the school with the staff, and I even got flowers for being a new teacher at the school. For the after party, they gave teachers wine and cake. It was absolutely delightful.

I left early, however, because I had important business to attend to. Next up… Moving out!

More Photos

More Videos

 

Why I Can’t Have Nice Things

New Bicycle!

If anyone could follow me and record my exploits for a day, you might not believe it. I think when they made up the phrase, “And that’s why we can’t have nice things,” they were thinking of me.

 
Today, my goal was to go to the ministry of foreign documentation to get started on having them recognize my teaching qualifications… yes, something I should have done a long time ago. I just needed to unpack my printer, so I could print my translated transcripts (Thanks Rita Treija)!
 
When I plugged the printer in, it didn’t work. I thought it was the printer. Turns out, the printer didn’t like the voltage and blew out the power to the house. We have two sets of breakers. One in the flat and one on the stairs. Robert Brase could have helped us today.
 
So I went in search of a 230-115 voltage converter because those things you buy at the airport only convert the connector…. not the voltage. I learned that the hard way when I tried to use my rice cooker, and it got so hot, the rice cooked in five minutes and most of it just burned to the bottom of the pan.
 
No luck at any of the nearby electronic stores… Depot, Euronics, RD… so I asked the keymaker (the one thing I got done today), and he suggested Argus. Miles away. Before I went there, I called, and Martins needed to know how many watts I was going to be converting. Who knew? I swear I had a dream about this whole thing once.
 
So I rode my bike to Argus for a 1000W converter, which we figured would power my computer and printer and a few other incidentals as needed.
 
As I rode, my bike started to fall apart. It was making this whistling noise, and clinking and clanking. Those cool-looking, yellow plastic shields were submitting to the rough streets of Riga, and I had to tear them off. It was a sad day, but sometimes you just have to let go of ornaments. Move on with your life.
 
Finally, I found Argus which was a challenge because the signage is pretty not easy to read, and nothing is just in a place where it says it is on the map. It’s all an adventure.
Martins spoke excellent English and helped me find the right converter. I paid him a bunch of fake money (they call them ‘Euros’), and he boxed it up. “Will it fit in your bag?” he asked, looking at this big box and my little bag. “Probably not, but I can put it on the back of my bike. I have a rack.” I said as Latvia completed their domination of Russia in basketball.
The box fit perfectly on the rack, and the built-in elastic straps seemed to be made for the job. They divided into two, so they could wrap around the corners of the box. It seemed like a match made in heaven. But bumpity bump bump, and the box was gone! Or so I thought. I turned around, and it wasn’t on the rack, but upon further inspection, it had slipped to the side.
I carefully restrapped it and merrily rode, but I could tell the box was not happy on the rack. For some reason, it just wanted to slide to the right and try to fall off. I hate gravity… have I mentioned that lately? Everything falls. Everything I own just falls down all the time. Pants, glasses, hearing aid batteries… (don’t even get me started on those)… everything.
So I got to the bike lane on Barons street, and I stopped to start seriously strapping this thing down. I planned to use my lock to force the straps together so they could not possibly come undone. As I was carefully manipulating the universe to bend to my will, I heard a honk… the nice blond lady in the car I was blocking wanted to get out of her parking spot. No problem, universe. I will not be thwarted by a horn!
I moved to the sidewalk and carefully secured the cables and cords and chain and lock… snap. The deed was done. The box was secure. It would not move. I could not fail.
Then I rode on another trek to find this used Swedish furniture shop because I have no furniture… and it was the hardest place to find. I won’t go into detail, but Riga, seriously… signs. Get some signs. Street signs. Signs for your businesses. It will really help make life better for everyone. Unless it’s all a big secret. Maybe that’s your game, Riga. I don’t know. I will figure it out.
The furniture shop was a bust. The guy, who spoke almost no English, just pointed up the stairs. I looked around and found some things I wanted, but he never came to help. I even called out, “Help? Help!” but he wouldn’t help. Another lesson from American retail, “Can I help you?” You’ll get way more business if you ask me. I swear.
I followed my GPS back to Krasta Iela where I now live (the post about this is coming soon… I swear!), and stopped at a little store for some ice cream and Coke. Today calls for some junk food. It might be the only thing keeping me alive right now. The hope that I have some junk food waiting for me once I finish this post.
Oh, the box. So the box made it almost all the way home, but somewhere on the cobblestones of Maskavas iela (probably crossing the tram tracks), it once again slipped to the side of my bike, and I just let it stay there until I got home. I was too exhausted to fight. If it wanted to fall, screw it. Fall. FALL YOU STUPID BOX!!!
It did not fall. I made it home, and fired up the voltage converter, and I am the proud parent of my iMac once again!

Side note: This youtube video won’t play right. I had to go back and reedit the post to add spaces between paragraphs because it was adding spaces to each paragraph every time I hit the Return button. What is wrong with my life? I do not know. Nothing works.