On the 4th of July a group of Peace Corps volunteers boarded a bus to head to the
Ambassador’s party. We arrived at a large estate in the woods just outside of Riga. The
festivities were held outside on the grounds of the estate. Large groups of people were gathered and one could hear both English and Latvian being spoken. I ran into the Ambassador’s wife whom I had met a couple of times before. She volunteered at a British organization in downtown Riga where I often went to borrow novels in English for my advanced students. At that time I had them reading John Steinbeck.
A lot of American corporations were trying to get their foot in the door as Latvia was learning how to be a capitalist country. The fourth of July party was being sponsored by 3M and they were giving out swag, which turned out to be helpful as paper products were not always easy to come by. The food was American style which was definitely a treat. I never thought I would be homesick for American food, but we all enjoyed something that was American in the middle of everything that was so foreign.
Across from my apartment in Valmiera was a small grocery store. Every day I went in to buy something to eat and every day I would smile and in Latvian I would say good afternoon. He would just look at me and say nothing. I was not sure why. I did not know if he was just quiet or being rude. I continued this routine the entire time I lived in Valmiera. I was moving to Ugale on the other side of the country to begin my job as a high school English teacher. On my last day in Valmiera I walked into the store and to my surprise the owner greeted me with, “good afternoon,” and a smile. I smiled a huge grin and said the same.
With all of my belongings in hand I boarded a train and headed to Ugale, a town of about 200 people on the western side of the country not too far from the port of Ventspils. My host family greeted me at the train station and drove me a short way to their home. I was surprised they had a car as at that time a car was quite a luxury. We sat down to the table for dinner. They had invited the other English teacher from the school where I would be teaching to sit with us for the meal. The meal consisted of meat, potatoes, carrots and a salad with creme. My host family’s youngest boy came up to me after dinner. He could not speak English and took me by the hand and led me into the kitchen. He wanted to show me what we had eaten for dinner. On the floor was an animal skin.