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
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.
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.
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!
Or is it?
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!
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.
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.