This post is dedicated to Stephany Kecy who always seems to have my back on social media! (fixed the misspelled name)
She asked me whether I had made my decision—was I coming back to Westside or not? I thought I had posted about it, but I haven’t written any sort of thoughtful explanation or reflection. Today seems like a good day to do so.
In March, I officially gave my notice to Westside that I would not be coming back for the 2018-2019 school year. From a financial point of view, I think many people would look at me like I am crazy to give up such a great teaching position. And, honestly, I have never been much of a financially-minded person. I sometimes wonder what will happen with my retirement, social security, and other stuff as a dual citizen, but I also think it will all work itself out (as most things in life seem to do).
The most important thing in life is… I hesitate to finish that statement. Is it love? A sense of purpose? Fulfillment? Happiness? Choose any of these, and I think Latvia and my current path brings more contentment to my soul than any other option. When I made my original decision to come to Latvia, I kept thinking about how living in Nebraska was never really a conscious choice that I had made. I visited friends living in other parts of the United States, and I thought about how it would be nice to live somewhere else. But when I came to Latvia, it really felt like home even though it is very foreign and different in so many ways.
Last night, Rita and I decided to go for a bike ride at 8:30 p.m. We rode to a nearby island with the television tower I can see through my window. The island is mostly deserted and has paths threading across from one shore of the Daugava to the other. In just ten minutes, we were surrounded by nature, listening to birds, washing our hands in the river, and picking flowers. This is just one tangible expression of the amazing world that I have found here in Riga.
But it isn’t just about location and all of the cultural experiences I have been exposed to. Last year, when I visited in the winter, I met a German man who had chose to relocate to Latvia. He had lived all over the world, but he picked Latvia, and when I asked him why, he said, “Freedom.” I have been keeping that idea in my mind ever since.
For instance, we rode our bikes to Meža Parks and I rode on a free, little zip line on a playground. It was such a simple thing, but something that would not be allowed in America because of liability, capitalism, etc. etc. The only experience I have had with a police officer in the Baltics was in Lithuania. He politely told me that I should turn my lights on when driving even during the day. No flashing lights. No intimidation. He didn’t even ask for my papers.
I haven’t seen any crime beyond littering, speeding, and lots of graffitti.
It isn’t paradise. There are lots of regulations that I do not understand, and navigating any of the bureaucracies is a bit of a nightmare for a non-Latvian speaker. I am struggling to learn the language, but that is mostly my fault. It is hard to learn, but I have found it almost effortless to just speak English to people, so the incentive is not as strong as it could be. I even found a group of Dungeons and Dragons players who were looking for someone who spoke English to DM!
After only a few months here, I have a few regular places that I go. I stop at the Beer House in Old Town, and the bartender and a couple of the servers recognize me, shake my hand and ask me how I am doing. After 10 years in Omaha, I don’t think I ever had that happen. I walk into the Spiikiizi coffee shop, and I get a handshake, a “How are you?” and a short conversation about learning the language. The owner even asked for my information to pass it along to someone trying to learn English.
I have met people from Russia, Belarus, Kosovo, Slovenia, China, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, and many more. I watched an Italian prodigy play piano and listened to a four-piece orchestra playing Beethoven and Schubert, attended an experimental Estonian play, and stood on the shore of the Baltic Sea. I eat meals at local restaurants that feel like gourmet experiences on almost a weekly basis. And living here during the Centenary of Latvia is truly a special experience. It seems like there are celebrations and a mood of optimism that is tangible permeating daily life.
But ultimately, isn’t it love that makes the world go round? Love that clouds all the other senses and gives us hope and helps us believe? I know that Rita may not enjoy reading about herself in this public space, but I would be remiss not to mention her as the main reason that I am staying in Latvia. We have been together, officially now, since September. We have made a home in our little flat on the Daugava, and I cannot imagine a more amazing partner to explore this great big world with!
I have seen the seasons change from summer, to autumn, winter and now spring. Each season is reflected in the city itself. I watched in the winter as the streets were deserted in Old Town, and everyone was exhausted from a lack of proper sunlight. And then, suddenly, everything is green and flowering. The streets are full of people, and Old Town blooms with tourists and sidewalk cafes. The light never seems to end as evening lingers on until after 10 p.m. I know I will get used to the differences, but right now, everything amazes me.
What do I miss? I miss my family more than anything. I miss Kyle and Maija terribly—my father, nephews, nieces, cousins, and especially my incredible siblings who have made this move more tolerable by keeping me up to date via every form of social media available. I miss my friends in Omaha, and especially my cribbage partners. I miss my colleagues and my intellectual partners who constantly challenged and pushed my professional world. I miss the Nebraska Writing Project and everything to do with that. I miss Twizzlers. I miss Mexican restaurants. I really miss driving and my Honda Civic Si. I know that anyone I don’t mention here who reads this might feel like I have forgotten them, but for the sake of word count, I am going to leave this right here.
So, I hope this post captures a sort of 9 months in review as well as covers the fact that I will be in Latvia for at least one more year, and that the future, as Tom Petty once sang, is “Wide open!” Thank you for your support and kind words! I appreciate all of my readers more than you can know.
Some more photos of my adventure!
Here are some photos of the chestnut tree outside of our flat. I apologize for the trash bin, but enjoy the changing seasons.