My Time in Latvia (Part 3)

I made my way back to the hotel and waited for someone I knew to walk to the beach with.  Not knowing the language in a country that does not speak English is not safe, I learned the hard way.  I walked to the main street of the town through the woods and walked to the post office.  I wanted to buy stamps to send some letters home.  I paid for the stamps with American money and was followed by a man.  My only way back to the hotel was through the woods.  I did not know how to speak the language yet and could not ask anyone for help.  The phone booth took a card, which I did not know where to buy nor could I ask anyone.  I finally saw another Peace Corps volunteer.  He continued to follow us for a while and then gave up.  However no one speaking English forced us all to learn the language as quickly as possible.  I could speak fairly well within one month in country.

We stayed in Jurmala a week or two and then some left for Lithuania and Estonia.  Those serving in Latvia went to Ventspils for our training.  In Ventspils I was sent to live with a single woman about my age who lived above a knitting shop.  There was a small grocery store across the street and I could walk to the school where our training was held.  At first my host was frustrated that we could not communicate very well.  She spoke no English and my Latvian was not good.  I used a dictionary to point to words and gestures at first.  She brought over a friend Elmars who spoke fluent English if she had something important to tell me.  After  a few weeks we could speak to each other which made things much easier.  I taught her some English and she taught me a lot about Latvian culture and traditions.

June 21st is the biggest holiday of the year in Latvia, which is summer solstice or Janis (pronounced yawnee).  Indra took me to gather oak branches which we made into wreaths to be worn on our heads.  On the wreaths we put flowers from a garden.  On the evening of Janis we sat outside all wearing wreaths on our heads eating meat and cheese and drinking beer.  This traditionally is an all night event and young men jump over large bon fires.  People get two days off of work to celebrate.

Flowers are very important in Latvian culture.  I bought Indra some flowers from a farmer’s market and suddenly a news crew was following me all over town.


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I am a freelance writer and artist living in southern California.

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