Monday, 30 March 2009

Grumble, grumble moan moan!!

Well they did it - Wednesday the threatened cut off happened, no heat on Wednesday night and this was the forecast for the following 3 days. As you can see it was pretty cold at night -13C and -10C, but judging by the temperatures it would have been switched off around Tuesday anyway, brrrrr! It is now rather irksome to see the chimney stoked up and knowing that the school and boarding house are getting heat but we aren't, so if you have a spare 3500 LVLs and wish to pay off the apartment's debt there will be some grateful people.

Just thought I would share something of Thursdays preparations to start on some revision. Of course there were the layers of clothes, although our flat is still quite warm despite no heat in the radiators it is not so warm when you sit around, and then there is the sunhat - sounds pretty stupid but unless I block out the sun that is shining through the windows I can't see the computer screen and if I close the curtains I am blocking out a source of heat, hence the sunhat - now I can see the screen and keep the heat flowing into the flat. You maybe relieved to know that we went and bought a second heater and that is making things much better after the duller days we had where we did not benefit from the rays of sunshine heating our flat. Just one problem with it though is we have to be careful where we plug the heaters in, they cannot both go on on the same ring as each ring only carries 16A (3.7KW max), neither can they both go on and then switch on something else like the kettle (we have resorted back to one you put on the gas hob) or the toaster, or the water heater as the flat total is only 20A or 4.6 KW with our voltage. For those of you who find that is completely meaningless, the average in England is 30A per ring main - usually that will be for each floor of a house, all heavy duty appliances have a separate circuit and the total for the house is 50A and that will give you 12 KW for the whole house or 4/5 heaters all going full whack. In other words we don't have as much power coming into our house without tripping fuses for much heavy duty appliances. 

I got the results for my assignment back and this time was not so good 54%, it was still a pass but I obviously struggled with the what was expected from an essay for this course. Fortunately I think I get the idea of where they would have wanted me to go, which is encouraging for the exam, but still got a lot to learn. Mind you one of the things I have been learning a lot about is the importance of the media and publication of the "statement of the obvious type publications". I am not talking about the gutter type press or the obsessed with celebrity type press but good reporting of the way things actually are, (not guesses about what they think they should be which we seem to be getting a lot of at the moment). Without good reporting you have an undemocratic unquestioning society. For instance last year there was a report by the Children's Society about childhood (a Church of England body not part of the Government like some thought at the time) and what was important for a good childhood, and for the most part it was absolutely obvious in its conclusions like "parents should love their children, each other and establish boundaries for children". Obvious isn't it? Well hopefully it is but it does make us go back to basics and say "Do I actually agree with that? and maybe even "Why do I agree?" It also included a lot of recommendations for the Government and maybe we would agree with them and maybe not but at least it starts a debate as to what is important and what can be done or shouldn't be done. We can blog away, or talk to others, or write comments to newspapers - an active citizenship, without it we are doomed - doomed to the kind of Government we deserve, dictatorial or unresponsive.

I told you last week that I had my first bites of the year, and this week I have more of them this week. I think I have worked out where the critters are coming from so next time I shall go armed and ready but for now I have found the wonder treatment................... toothpaste!!!! I wonder if it works a little bit like calamine lotion (that pink liquid stuff we used when we were kids), and it also has an anti-bacterial action which might help. I don't really care why it works or that my clothes are getting covered in white stuff because it is stopping the itching and I don't have to keep taking anti-histamines and anti-inflammatories just to try unsuccessfully to stop the itch.  

This week the flags were at half mast or flying but with black ribbons on top, this was to remember the Enforced deportations by Stalin when he sent 43,000 or 2.28 % of Latvians to Siberia and this included women and children who were deported and a quarter of them never returned. It is hard to imagine the upheavals that occurred at the time, the horror of the month when people disappeared. It is good to remember these things, especially when the security of a job, home and heat were guaranteed under the Soviet system but at the cost of freedom of speech and subject to the whims of dictators. 

One of the saddest things I saw this week was a description on one of the social networks sites describing where someone lives as the "Land of dying dreams". I mentioned that I seemed to have had a lot of dreams since coming to Latvia but they seemed to finish and they finished with dreams of death round about the time of the Spring solstice. I put the dreams of death down to spiritual forces unleashed by the worship of pagan deities and prayed for protection and for the power of God. But now I think it is also connected with the death of dreams in peoples hearts, the Latvians were so expectant, so hopeful that independence would bring great benefits and freedom but freedom and capitalism can be a hard task master and they lost all support from the Soviet state leaving them vulnerable and impoverished. They then joined the European Union with great hope that would help and sure the money started pouring in, major road projects were undertaken to turn the primarily dirt roads to tarmac, and improve the potholed main roads, many was handed out like sweets and the Latvians bought into the capitalist dreams, how cruel it must seem now. Where is all the praise now for the growth? For following the capitalist agenda, and the economic gurus? I have to agree that now more than ever Latvia needs to be shown that others care. "We need to provide our partner States with security that the EU cares about their fate," an MP from Poland said this week and although he was talking about connecting the Baltic states electrical supplies to the rest of Europe I think what he had to say should resonate through all of the EU. Right now Latvia needs support, yes they got into a mess, but they need help not derision."

Well here is proof that Spring is on its way, we can see some very sorry looking grass at last, which the deer are finding irresistible even in the very early evening, the hungrier they are the bolder they are becoming. We are also beginning to see the return of the migrant birds - Ian thinks these are storks but I am not convinced,..... but then again they could be .... hmmmm!

Monday, 23 March 2009

Just for Mark

Well Mark, I know you are waiting with eager anticipation for this so I thought I had better get on with the blog, so here it is, along with a picture of some very hungry deer. There were four deer in the garden one night all feeding off apples which had fallen from the tree last year.

A question that I often want to ask is what is it about Ian that makes him oblivious to the laws of evaporation? You would think that being a scientist that this fact would not escape him! It leads to a certain kind of logic when drying clothes, the more you spread them out the faster they dry, the more you turn them the more of the damp surface area is exposed to the drier air, simple. It is funny where our blind spots occur, like my habits of putting things down and not knowing where I put them, so Ian patiently explains that if I put them back in the same place I would find them - yeah I know that! But it doesn't help I forget! Good job we can still laugh about it.

Something I forgot to mention about Cyprus was a strange experience of nearly finding ourselves in Turkish Cyprus. The last time I was there the main street through Nicosia had a wall running across the main street with a museum at the bottom telling the stories of the missing from the time that the Turkish invaded the island, and it had a place where you could look through to see No Mans Land between the Turkish side and Greek Cypriot side. We wandered around Nicosia meandering through the streets and had a cup of tea in what used to be Woolworths and is now a Debenhams (always seems odd to see British High Street stores in the middle of Nicosia) as from there you get a good view of Nicosia from the tall tower. After the tea we walked down the main street and came to a place where there was tape running down the street as if it was to funnel people somewhere but there were no queues and no one really seemed to be there so we carried on walking down, but something didn't look quite right, the walls were covered with the sort of stuff that they use to cover over a building being renovated and at the far end was a turkish flag, we stopped and looked around and tried to get our bearings and it slowly dawned on us we were actually standing in the spot we had only been able to gaze at 10 years ago and we could just walk straight through. There was a temptation just to walk right on through but we didn't have passports on us, only our Latvian drivers licenses and yet we don't speak Latvian so we took the sensible option and walked back to the Greek Cypriot side. I hadn't realised that there was a permanent pathway through the wall built up by hate that we had prayed by 10 years ago and I really wished we had been able to go through and we probably could have done with no bother - just not a risk worth taking at that point. (The picture is taken from the tower at the top of Debenhams showing the Turkish flag etched onto the Turkish side of Cyprus in full view of the Greek side.)

One of the joys I have to endure every summer is my reaction to insect bites. First of all the insects love me and seek to attack me whenever they get the merest opportunity and then the bites get big and swell up quite alarmingly. I seem to spend most of my summer on anti-histamines and try all sorts of remedies. Well the season has begun early this year as I have been bitten four times whilst sat out in the garden in Cyprus (see photo) and three times by some unidentified beasties from goodness only knows where when I got back to Latvia - certainly not sat out in the garden that is for sure we still have snow on the ground and it is still way to cold for insects outside. Feels like it might be a long summer if this keeps up!

We have had some snow start to melt now there is a bit of heat in the sun but this has lead to some enormous potholes, deep enough for cars to bottom out in because the ice is so thick or because the tarmac has broken up on the roads. We even had a grader come down the back of our apartment block to help shift some of the ice and it was supposed to have got rid of about 6 inches of ice but there is still a lot more to go yet.

One thing that came to me a while ago was I would love to help out at the local orphanage but I realised the language would be a bit of a problem so I was delighted to find out that a friend of ours was going to the orphanage to teach English and wanted some help. I have been there twice now and the children ranging from about 8 - 15 years old voluntarily come to the lessons in order to improve their English and they are great fun. They weren't very sure of me the first time but the second time they gave me hugs at the end so I think we are getting along fine. I also in return learnt some Latvian words too, so I am really pleased about that. So for the next few months I will be going every Thursday to help out with the lessons and get to know some of these kids and hopefully share some love.

I am well into revision now on my course as I handed in my last assignment a couple of weeks ago before heading off to Cyprus, my exam is April 21st in Riga. My course does contain a lot of statistics which I fortunately do not have to learn off by heart but do have to grasp the significance which can be a bit dry at times until another student posted a link to a Hans Rowling lecture, if you think statistics are boring try this link here and here, statistics won't look quite the same again.

Unfortunately statistics are not all entertaining even if Hans Rowling is lecturing and some sad statistics came out this week about Latvian earnings. 61% of people earn (after tax) between 200 and 499 LVLs a month (£264-£659 or $385-$961) and when our heating was 115 LVLs this month and one of households in our apartment block are down to one wage earner it is no wonder they cannot afford the heating bill. Our whole apartment block of 18 households owes 3500 LVLs to the local heating company, I have no idea who hasn't been paying but that is an awfully big bill so now the winter is nearly over but not quite we are being threatened with having all our heating cut off because they cannot isolate one house, so one off all off. So next week is looking pretty chilly if they go ahead with their threats.

On a different note I am beginning to wonder if journalists are now competing to see who can write the worst case scenario. Of course things are difficult and I am beginning to see that journalism is very necessary in democratic societies in order to uncover malpractice or highlight where things are not working. Through my course on Development Management I have found out that it is often the press who are instrumental in India in making sure that no incidence of famine occurs, although malnutrition is rife and harvests fail the press has a role to play in flagging up any failure of Government to address a potential famine, no Government would survive if a famine was to occur in India through the vigilance of the press. So journalism has a proper role to play but fiction writing? Since when did it become a profession to find the most obscure prophets of the world and give them prominence for their hopeless thinking? Why aren't they seeking out those who might actually have an answer, why aren't they publishing some of the good things that are coming out? Well I have to admit there are occasional articles but they are few and far between amongst all the gloom and doom. The World is changing and so it should, it is going to rattle and creak for quite a while while the shaky foundations of greed are uncovered but there is a God in Heaven who is in control, he is asking us to be less greedy, more thoughtful, more loving, reaching out to those around in need as best we can and also maybe reaching out to those far away as they are going to suffer most from our failures in promoting justice in trade.

I finally got some embroidery done. I started the piece below while in Cyprus but wasn't happy with my backing fabric so I frayed the edges, stuck it to a canvas and painted over it. The centre piece is shown in more detail and has lots of French knots on it which I love doing. So if anyone would like to give this piece a good home, I'm open to offers, it's even signed but don't let that put you off.

Well that wraps up this week and after a fine meal due to having some good company with which to share it with (nothing to do with my food although the scones were good even if I do say so myself ) I shall wrap up this blog, so sorry it was a bit late Mark but I am trying my best. 

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Home again.

As I said we are now back home and I feel fat, the food is just too wonderful. We are getting straight after our time away though, it is rather nice to not to have to get straight back into the routine but to ease back in (what routine I hear you ask? Good question actually, haha). The last time I went to Cyprus with Ian and the kids, Ian had had to sleep for a couple of hours and then do a 24 hour shift, not easy, this time we had a lie in. It is funny that the last time we returned from Cyprus we returned to snow in England and today it has been gently snowing all day here in Latvia and the forecast is for more of the same tomorrow. I had thought the snow might have disappeared by the time we got back as we had heard it had got fairly mushy, no chance we strike again! If you look back to last years blogs you will see that we brought the snow with us to Latvia, they hadn't had much snow last year until we arrived.

It has been an interesting week in Cyprus, we went out for a Cypriot meze meal on the Wednesday with some of the doctors from a charity foundation and they were busy trying to convince Ian and I on the joys of living in Cyprus, they would love him to move across and it certainly is tempting when you see the oranges on the trees and squeezing the juice of freshly picked lemons from the gardens onto your food. We do not however feel our time in Latvia is over though but we do wonder if we might spend some time in Cyprus as it would be invaluable for Ian to practice in the labs and to be able to develop tests as well as train up the next lab technicians, the experience would be useful here in Latvia that is for sure - well if the funding could be found that is. Later on in the week there was a an interview on the internet with the new finance minister for Latvia and interestingly enough he thought that medical services had good growth potential. Maybe just maybe!

I was supposed to be revising for my exam this last week but I am afraid not much got done - well kind of. I am doing a course in Development Management so spending an afternoon talking about NGO's (non-governmental organisations which are organisations who either help others such as Christian Aid, Oxfam etc or campaign such as Greenpeace, that kind of thing just in case you didn't know and always wondered. Mind you that is only a small snippet of the range of NGO's ) and their relationship to the UN with a friend who has experience of that kind of thing is very useful for increasing my knowledge for my course. I also chatted a lot to our friend's maid who comes from the Phillipines and found out a lot about the country and the people who live there also very useful. We also spent many hours sat around the table chatting about Cyprus and finding out about life there as well. Well those are my excuses and I am sticking to it - mind you I have a lot of revising to do this next week to catch up. 

One of the things that was interesting this week was chatting about faith with others who are not necessarily on the same wavelength as us. The verse 1 Peter 3:15 is very useful

“But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,”

In some ways we were challenged (not that I think they were aware of the challenge but I was) as to what we believe. I know there is a lot of commonality with many religions regarding family matters, morality in a general sense etc but there is not a commonality regarding who Jesus is and therefore it can be hard when agreeing on many things to be able to speak into the situation with gentleness and respect when they seem to be in error. Part of my prayer during the week was "Please Jesus don't let me forget who you are!" I called out for fresh revelation of Jesus and what he has done for me so I didn't get sucked into the 'we can all live together happily if we just accept each other as we are and the whole world will be put to right' - we can't because we are fallen, we all foul up no matter how hard we try and we need the redeeming, cleansing power of the Holy Spirit to transform us and the world around us.
 We can be salt and light and you don't need a lot of salt and light to transform the world thank goodness but how to convey that message with gentleness and respect when so much that can come from the perceived Christian community is anything but gentleness and respect. The experience of those we chatted to was of dominating elitist thinking coming from the "church". Oh Lord! How misrepresented you are at times. Yes you are the only way to the Father but how wonderful you are at lifting those who are downtrodden and unloved. Well I hope we managed to convey the specialness of having a relationship with you and not just knowing about you.  

Photos from Cyprus:-
Wild Cyclamen
House in the middle of a field of mustard
The hot baths of Kourian ruins near Limasos
A Byzantine mosaic
Tree near the ruins

Monday, 16 March 2009

Zzzzzzzzzz

Zzzzzzzz kind of tired, just got back from Cyprus and not awake enough zzzzzzzzzzzz to write a blog so will be catching up a day late. Didn't want you to worry though.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Cyprus again.

Well I am afraid this is going to be a short blog today (phew say some :p). We had a great holiday in a really nice hotel and the owner took the time to say hello despite being quite a big place it was a family run thing, in fact it was amazing how many of the guests looked like they could be family too. One of the surprising things about Cyprus as we were travelling about besides the twisty roads was how different each valley was. In some valleys the rock was white, in some more beige, some were green and others red which changed the way a valley looked even without the vegetation. There are lots of terraces with vines of course and olive trees but the combinations were never the same in a relatively short space of time. Unfortunately I did catch a cold last week so travelling round the mountains with blocked ears was rather quiet at times and today my stomach is not 100%, hence the short blog but I have posted some pictures for you to peruse in the meantime. As you can see the skies were a little overcast but that is good as the Cypriots have endured a drought for the last couple of years and had to resort to buying water from Greece, hopefully this year they won't. By the way I don't think that the illnesses has anything to do with Cyprus being unhealthy or anything - just one of those things. Oh well!

Monday, 2 March 2009

Anniversaries

We arrived in Cyprus in the early hours of Saturday morning and got to the hotel in Larnaca near the airport around 3am and checked in. We were really glad to get some sleep and just settled down when Ian’s phone chirped twice - two messages welcoming him to the Cyprus network. Grrr! I had been asleep about an hour when our neighbours in the next room turned up, I thought they were being rude, inconsiderate and loud - Brits abroad! Ian thought they were just chatting and it was the thin walls that were the problem - I guess I wasn’t feeling very gracious at that time in the morning. Finally got back to sleep then the phone rang, Ian scrabbled around thinking it was his mobile phone but it was the hotel room phone, “Is this room 611? This is your morning call” Arrggghhhh! We hadn’t booked a morning call, especially around 6am in the morning.

At least we got to meet up with our friend Toulla, who I had last seen almost 10 years to the day and I was really pleased to be taken to a fish restaurant, I was looking forward to some fresh mediterranean fish. We had the Greek style sort of meal where they bring lots of different sorts of dishes out, so there was octopus, deep fried crabs, some small fish - a bit fiddly to eat but delicious anyway, squid (calamari), prawns, mussels with rice, and lots of salad and just when I didn’t think I could eat any more they brought out the best fish - I nearly rolled out of there. They had brought down a nice hire car from Nicosia for us and helped us to purchase a map and sent us on the way to a hotel up in the mountains. Gulp! It is 11 months since we have driven on the left hand side of the road so it was a bit scary to be let loose, at least the road signs are in Greek and English and amazingly we actually turned up on the right road for the hotel, more by luck than good judgement. All we knew was that the hotel was in a place called Platres but weren’t exactly sure whereabouts in Platres it actually was. As you can see Platres is rather steep and the roads were very twisty, some of the houses look like they are just barely perching on the rocks, wouldn’t fancy being in one of those in a storm.

Not sure if God is trying to tell us something or if it was just an amazing coincidence but when we checked in to the new hotel we were booked into room 611. So if anyone has any revelations about what it could mean I would be very interested to hear. At least we didn’t have any random early morning phone calls this time.

This weekend is the start of Lent for the Greek Orthodox church so lots of kids were dressed up in costumes, and we saw fairies, tigers and spidermen on the streets and in the hotel. There was also some traditional dancing on a stage on the beach which looked like Morris dancing to the wrong beat from where we were stood on the hotel balcony. On the Monday they call it Green Monday it is traditional to eat a fish buffet with salad, so more octopus, squid and little fish and lots of green vegetables (hence Green Monday), it was a bit pricey but delicious. (Sorry no photos yet, will wait until we have a longer connection time)

March for Ian and I is a month of anniversaries
March 1986 Ian started work in the Northern General Hospital which was a good job as our daughter was due in the May and we needed someone to be working in the family. (Do you remember the days when even graduates were finding it hard to get jobs? Somethings don't change much)
March 2003 We left the UK to go to Denmark
March 2006 We left Denmark to go to the US
March 2008 We left the US to come here to Latvia

It is strange how some things seem to work out like that. 

I have been very encouraged just lately. On my course there is a student cafĂ© online and I join in a few of the groups, one of them is the Christian Fellowship forum. Someone was feeling rather down about a situation so I posted a picture of an angel standing behind a quaking little fella which I drew ages ago and she found it very encouraging, a few others also wrote in and said how encouraged they were by it which was rather nice. Then one lady was having prayer at her local church and they could see Gideon's angel standing behind her while she was a quivering heap so told them about the picture and then sent it to them. One lady downloaded it and took it to a man who has a brain tumour and is really sick at the moment and can't communicate well but she told me how the picture had really touched him. I just feel so incredibly blessed that the picture has been really useful to so many folks and been used to encourage them. 

There are some headlines that make me want to scream and the headline that Latvia's debt has been given junk status was one of those. It just seems that there is no good news coming out of Latvia at all, and I didn't want people to think that Latvia is junk. On reflection I thought maybe this is not so bad, the debt indeed was junk when it was given in many cases and that is where it should be consigned to, the junk. But how to climb out of the mess? God has got something in the pipeline of that I am certain but what. Come on Latvia, come together! Latvia is a country with a big heart, how do I know that? Because it is a nation that sings and you need a big heart for songs to arise from and I call now for the song to arise from the Baltic nation, sing in harmony, sing for the world to hear! 

I wrote the above earlier in the week and here I am on Friday with a burden to share. 20 years ago on 23rd August a third of the population of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia stood side by side, hand in hand, in a peaceful and nonviolent protest against the occupation by the Soviet Union. A human chain that spanned 600km called the Baltic Road. I believe that this year the people of the Baltic States should come together to stand with each other, hand in hand, as a commitment to help each other through the tough times. I also believe that this time people from other nations should also come and stand with the Baltic peoples, in solidarity. So many waves of people have come into dominate politically and economically and now we should stand with the oppressed and say "No more!" 

When we came into Latvia about a year ago a prophecy was spoken over us 

"There have been many voices that have come to you and these voices have said why? How do you know? And your crazy, and God just speaks to you that your not crazy, but that you are on track for the very purposes of God. God says that even the joining of hands that was spoken of tonight is something that will be important to you, because the Lord says that he is placing you where he is placing you because there is a divine strategy and you are part of a strategy for a nation."

So I believe that now is the time to call for a joining together of hands across this nation of Latvia that stretches out to the other Baltic States on the 23rd August 2009. A crazy idea? Perhaps! Possible? Who knows! But God is the God of the impossible!