Monday, 29 June 2009

Ponderings and musings

Ian and I have been doing completely different research this week I have been checking up on Corncrake management and Ian is still investigating tractors. I swear he is living and breathing tractors at the moment, no longer do we get a run down of the make of car we get tractor identification and there are plenty of them around here. So while Ian has been looking up suitable tractors to buy I have been looking at how he uses that tractor so that he doesn't mash the poor little Corncrakes in the process. Modern farming techniques don't help the Corncrakes at all, firstly they cut silage earlier than hay which means that they cut during the breeding season, the new tractors run too fast for the little birds to outrun it, especially the chicks and lastly the tractors work from the outside in whilst cutting hay/silage and since Corncrakes are reluctant to break cover they are gradually moved into the centre (assuming they miss the tractors in the first place) until they are caught up in the final cut of hay - yeuchh! We really want to work with the land and its various inhabitants rather than exterminating all for the sake of productivity and that will take quite a bit of research and just getting to know the land. Interestingly enough the piece of land is called Corncrake in Latvian, Griezītes, and it was named by a previous owner because she remembered the call of the bird over than piece of land.

Our garden is beginning to produce more than spring greens now as we have had a few radishes and lettuces as well as herbs but joy of joys the strawberries that we only planted in Spring of this year are already producing strawberries and ....they.... are .... good. Yum! We also found a patch of wild strawberries on the land which are quite different in taste, almost scented. Pity we are going to England this week as otherwise we would be getting a chance to taste our first courgettes and peas, hope our friends manage to enjoy them instead.

I read an article this week of the fears of one reporter on Jamaica taking an IMF loan and he has harsh words for the process "The contemptible hypocrisy of the developed countries pursuing massive Keynesian deficit-spending programmes while imposing draconian neoliberal austerity on poorer and smaller countries is plain for all to see" which basically means that it is complete hypocrisy that the IMF has been encouraging certain states to flood their economies with stimulus programmes (Keynesian economics) while overseeing the bloodletting of state provision in those requiring loans (neoliberal or ultra-conservative economics). Double standards big time. I have also been mulling over the IMF as an institution, their influence had been diminished recently due to the long run of increasing prosperity but it would seem they are back with a vengeance. I really do feel uneasy with their seemingly insensitive approach to economics with no concept of reality at a human level. I am sorry but I find economics without compassion is evil, and I can't really think of it any other way. I don't agree with idea that no pain is too great in order to get finances in order and I am not so sure that is in God's plans either. Inflicting the consequences of greed of bankers on the poor and vulnerable doesn't figure in God's economics as far as I am aware. I believe that help should be available to adjust over a greater period of time and there is a real need to bring people on board to work together to come up with creative solutions not butcher whatever self-esteem they ever had - don't forget it is a country that has only been free for 18 years (I know I said that recently but don't these organisations get it?) and it takes time to learn to operate under a different set of circumstances to communism. There has been a whole generation that has grown up being told what to do, and another generation since who have grown up with little direction and guidance, certainly not decades of freedom if not decades some have had hundreds of years to work it out. I agree with the reporter that Jamaica needs to be wary of the IMF proposals in light of the Latvian experience.

On a lighter note in another blog I read about the desire of some artists for an artistic community, now that is an exciting prospect. I could forsee a nomadic community that came together for a period to encourage each other and bring different perspectives to art and I would love to see a gathering here in Latvia. One day - maybe! Meanwhile a friend and I were plotting and planning over a post meal chat about art that we could do over the summer, I do hope we can organise it as that would be so much fun, especially such things as paper making which is great on hot sunny days as it is a wet messy activity. Maybe making some felt too dyeing the wool first with natural dyes and maybe.......and..... ooohhh! Better stop there or I am going to get carried away.

The photos this week are yet another misty sunset at the back of our home (can you tell I love sunsets), a little visitor to our washing line on our balcony on the 2nd floor (3rd floor American) - what is he doing all the way up there?, and the view from my desk where I work on my course notes.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Corncrakes and apologies

Ian has continued to be busy this week creating crop circles, as someone referred to them, with his strimmer (weedwhacker), getting rid of the pesky weed, Ground Elder, but at least he did finish. Only problem is that it is a bit like the forth bridge (well used to be until they got a special new paint for it) now he has finished strimming it is growing back again. So now he is dreaming tractors! He had to strim it by hand first time around as there are quite a few rocks so we didn't dare borrow a tractor to cut the stuff down as we would have broken the machine and we didn't think that would go down to well with the owners. The piece of land though does look rather peculiar with its rather odd haircut. Stones weren't the only things that Ian found, he also found a Corncrake's nest. Corncrakes are relatively rare in England due to the low numbers of meadows and the different way hay is cut these days but in the nest Ian found about 10 eggs, fortunately Mum came back to the nest later. So if we want to encourage the bird to flourish we will have to bear it in mind when we cut the hay next year. As well as a Corncrake Ian also saw Eagles flying around, it will be interesting to see what else inhabits the piece of land over the year and what else we will be sharing it with.

A good piece of news is that I passed the first unit of my course, Development: Context and Practice. I did quite well on some questions and abysmally on one in my exam so overall I got a Pass, which is better than a fail anyway. As I mentioned a few weeks ago there is a potential for my course to start costing me more than I had planned so I have been hunting around and comparing prices and course contents. This has lead to some interesting discussions with one of the tutors from the University of Highlands and Islands and I have decided to make the switch from the Open University but still continue towards a Masters. Instead of a Masters in Development Management though I shall be aiming to get a Masters in Managing Sustainable Rural Development (just rolls of the tongue doesn't it?). This course is a bit more scientific which will suit me better than the more theoretical stuff. I have really enjoyed doing the theory and it has been very thought provoking but it will be nice to be able to include something a little more practical for our situation like Water Management (and there has been lot of it to manage) and Biodiversity as well as Developing Communities.

The wind and the rain this past month has just added to the doom and gloom that was hanging over Latvia but on the way back from somewhere this week (Now where was it? I can't remember) I looked up and something about the sky made me think that something had shifted in the Heavens. At the time I had no idea what it meant or what had happened but when we did make it home and I was browsing through the Latvian news I came across and article where the Prime Minister and the President of Latvia were apologising to the Latvian nation for the pain they are having to put them through. The Prime Minister, a youngster in political terms being only 37 years old, is caught between a rock and hard place, trying to adjust the economy to comply with the direction required by the IMF and amending the wrong choices made in previous years and that is not going to come without massive pain in the country. I think there is a humbleness coming from the leadership in apologising for that which I found encouraging.

It would be easy to think well it is alright for him as he is earning good money, well he is and he isn't. I wrote last week about the wages earned by Latvians which is not particularly high, well this week there was announcement that the Latvian Prime Minister would be having a cut in salary from 2385 LVLs (£2894, $4730) to 1908 LVLs (£2315, $3784) per month before tax. Not a huge sum for the head of a European country and there maybe more cuts ahead depending on how things go.

One thing I have learnt moving around is that it takes a long time to actually leave a country entirely. One of the last things to be dealt with is usually the tax and if you leave towards the beginning of the tax year it can be a long time before that gets sorted out. Well we finally reached another milestone of leaving America as we got our overpaid tax back from 2008 so the last thing to do is to wind up our American bank account and then that will close the final page on that era of our life.

Well I shall wind up this blog with one final quirky happening this week. Ian had been strimming our garden (yes there is a lot of strimming to do!) and he came up to me as I was doing some planting out and said "Have you been planting in the dung heap without telling me? Because I nearly strimmed some plants." I went to have a look and there in the heap are about four very healthy looking plants which could be something like pumpkins, or melons or courgettes (zucchini). One thing for sure is I haven't put them there and they seemed to be too regular to be dropped seeds, so has someone planted them? Are they a gift? Or has someone just taken advantage of our spare dung heap? Who knows! And we will have to wait to find out what they are.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Wonderful Latvia

Ian spotted a rather lovely news story about Latvia this week, makes a change from the usual doom and gloom. It was a story of hope, of Latvians smiling and looking on the bright side. Seems rather fitting after finding the flowering twigs last week, by the way one of them is still flowering.

For those who like statistics and just to see what the actual wages are for those who live here in Latvia here is a link. If you thought that the wages were high here before the crash it helps you to see what little the Latvians were living on beforehand. It does seem strange to see folks who are travelling around in brand new cars when they earn so little but some of it has been borrowed against houses that were inflated in price due to the easy money or against land returned after the Soviet Union collapsed. This article by New Europe actually shows what a difficult position the new Prime Minister of Latvia is in as he explains how it is the conditions imposed on the country by the donors that is setting the depths of the cuts and finally it seems that a journalist has noticed that the Swedish Finance Minister is preaching at Latvia when really he is only concerned with Swedish bank investments. You may have noticed how little respect I have got for this guy, and for all those who talk about Latvia and forget it is only a young country with a poor population who have had to learn some tough lessons in the last 18 years. It has got its faults but it is learning fast, unfortunately I have also heard that many Latvians just wish someone would take them over again and tell them what to do. Come on Latvia! You can do it! You have come such a long way in 18 years and you have some bright inspiring people don't give up now.

On a different note (excuse the pun- cheesy link alert!) I read the following on a blog recently.
Consider the analogy of a father who has seven children. One Christmas day, he gives his oldest son a trumpet. He gives his youngest son a trombone. For his oldest daughter, he gives a violin. He gives another child a drum kit. Another he gives a bass. Another he gives a flute. And another he gives a piano.Each child learns to play their instrument. The years pass, and each loves playing their individual instruments. It’s a joy to them.

One day the father sits down with all of his children and says, “I am so happy you have mastered your instruments. Each instrument was given to you as a free gift. And I’m glad that you have come to enjoy and treasure your gifts. But I didn’t give you these instruments to enjoy by yourselves. I’m creating an orchestra that will produce music that this world has never before heard. And I’ve invited you to be part of it. That is why I gave you these gifts.

It is amazing how we can get so wrapped up in our giftings and our ministries and our place in life that we forget we are supposed to be part of a body, or an orchestra or whatever other illustration we care to use. God uses some pretty strange instruments in his orchestras and sometimes it is hard to see how they could possibly work together but if he brought the orchestra together he is going to make it work but he does need our co-operation. Challenging!

Favourite song of the week must surely be
I'm Strimming in the rain
Just strimming in the rain
what a glorious feeling
I'm happy again!

I'm sure Ian must have been singing away as he tackled the ground elder on the land that is running rampant. I know I did pray for rain here in Latvia as we had a very dry Spring so I must own up but errr I think that is enough now, could you please put the sprinkler away God now that the potatoes have got a good start as they do need some sunshine now. There are times that getting what you pray for isn't such a good idea. I do honestly pray though for good weather over this summer both sunshine and rain as many of the Latvians are going to be relying on their plots of land to produce their food to sustain them in the difficult months ahead when the employment money runs out.

This next week I have to write an assignment the title is "Compare and contrast the challenges to development managers identified by Chambers (2005), Hirschmann (1999) and Wallace and Mordaunt (2007). To what extent do these authors suggest feasible ways of improving practice of development agencies in response to these challenges?" There I knew you would find it riveting and I have to manage all that in 1000 words about a page and a half, which is concise to say the least, not much good if you are wordsmith then! I also get my results back for the last unit of my course I finished in April, I do hope I have passed.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Better late than never!

Last year I mentioned that there were several really weird unexpected things that happened from cardboard cutout angels, emails totally out of the blue, tax demands from Denmark (we haven't lived there for over three years), shooting stars (I personally have only seen one before), our youngest winning a competition that he was not strictly eligible to enter and a stork spotted long after most storks have sensibly flown South for the winter. Well things had gone pretty quiet on that front until this week that is. Firstly I have found out that I was enrolled for a course that I strictly shouldn't have been enrolled for, unfortunately it could mean a hike in fees for me or a change of course which is really annoying as I only found out by chance. The other unexpected happening was a far nicer discovery, flowering twigs - not very amazing you may think but these twigs were cut from the tree last year before all the snow, they are also apple tree twigs, not the sort that readily root as far as I was aware. I had used the twigs to mark the rows for my seeds and as I was weeding the garden one morning I was trying to work out where the apple blossom had flown in from and how it had got stuck on the twig until I realised that it was actually flowering. The significance of this did not strike me for quite a while - the rain must soaked my brain as well as the ground I was weeding - then I realised that what I was actually seeing was what should have been a dead twig flowering. If the twigs had been cut recently I wouldn't have been surprised but to last all winter and still come back to life is amazing and not just once but twice as two twigs are flowering. This fills me with hope as at the moment things are pretty dire in Latvia so seeing something that should be dead flowering raises my faith levels that something is going to start flowering here even though the economy seems just about dead and we are surrounded by hopelessness. 

I was struck by this phrase in one of the readings I had to do with my course this week "Failure is disguised or hidden because of the need for future funding" This phrase could be talking about any number of things, honesty is rare in many fields. It reminds me of much of what happens on the mission field where "success" has to be measured in numbers and not in lives or communities transformed, that takes too long and isn't as sexy to report to congregations. There is just as much of a problem in the Development field where numbers talk, success has to be measurable, which in some ways is true but change takes a lifetime and we expect too much too quickly - we want results for our money or at least the donors do. Much needs to come to the surface to be transformed and whole systems do need transforming but we do ourselves and the communities we live in a disfavour in trying to go for the quick fix. I find this verse encouraging as there is an appointed time and we are better waiting for the Lord coming into the situation than trying to sought it out ourselves.

1 Corinthians 4:5 (New International Version)
Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men's hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.

We had a great weekend away firstly visiting our youngest at his end of year art exhibition where we met up with his girlfriend and her parents again. I understand that he has a great career ahead in car design but should he have problems getting into that field he can always double up in cake decorating (only joking, honest Matthew it was a very good car design really)
 We also had a good bonding time as we sat and ate fish and chips in the car in the pouring rain. We also then travelled to see our other son and his fiancé and we stayed at her Mum's house. It is kind of strange meeting people who are going to become our son's future family and I was a bit startled when someone mentioned "our future daughter-in-law", I hadn't adjusted to that and now it is only just striking me as I write this that I am the future mother-in-law - scary! I know it is obvious but it does take time to process so bear with me. 

We arrived back in Latvia to much rain but it was an interesting journey home nonetheless because it was late at night and there was plenty of wildlife roaming about, we managed to avoid the deer that decided to wait to walk in front of our car, and we also saw a fox and the usual number of cats but most interestingly of all we saw three wild boar. We have seen plenty of evidence of wild boar on the land we are working on but never actually seen any in the flesh here in Latvia and certainly never seen any on the loose on the road before; just glad I was in the car when I saw them as they don't have a particularly friendly nature so I am told and no desire to test it out.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Performances and parades

One of the joys of selling our house in England in April and making some profit is being able to give some of it away. We went to the local orphanage to meet with the director to discuss what kinds of things she could use for the children this year and as we are heading into summer she asked for some sports equipment. One of the requests was for four bikes for different ages and we had great fun while we were in Riga choosing them. Since our storage space is so small we decided to take them to the orphanage the following day, I forgot to take my camera so no pictures yet of the children enjoying their bikes. Our friend Chris who interpreted for us said it was great for the kids as they usually only get second hand things not brand new ones. We had wondered if the boys would be upset at getting "girls" bikes as they were the only ones with gears that couldn't be knocked off so are better for a large group of kids to share, as it turned out they were just as delighted and I was so blessed to see the kids riding round on the bikes and taking turns.

It did make me realise though that donating things is sometimes a bit of a performance. It is right that children say "thank you", I didn't really need to hear that as their faces were thank you enough but they need to be able to say it so they don't take things for granted, that I do understand. There was an expectation though of a bit of speech and everybody was assembled in order to hear it, but we hadn't got anything planned to say, we were just thinking of taking the first opportunity to get the bikes across to the orphanage so they weren't clogging up our basement, otherwise we wouldn't be able to get any of our gardening equipment out and we wanted the children to be enjoying them. I hope they weren't disappointed at the lack of drama over the giving. 

Our car was getting close to 20K on the odometer this month so needed to go in for a service. The car has certainly been a good buy for the area we live in and it has certainly stood up to the wear and tear that these dirt roads give it. 
Perhaps not very environmentally friendly but then neither are the roads to a car. The tyres don't stand up to nails though - they are not that rugged (maybe a tank would be but not car tyres) and this last couple of months we have had two punctures with rather large nails but it gives Ian a chance to practice his sign language at the local tyre shop. One big disadvantage though of living this far out is that we have to drive all the way into Riga to get our car serviced which takes around 2 hours and that is why we took the opportunity to get the bikes at the same time, no point in wasting a trip. Fortunately the garage also had a replacement window saving us yet another trip into Riga. Mind you Ian got them to save his rather creative back window just in case the same problem occurs again.

This weekend Ian and I decided to make the boundaries of the land we are going to be 
working on clearer. Ian was doing his he-man act with a machete, hacking his way through undergrowth while I played the glamorous assistant as a reference point - okay perhaps not quite the glamorous, I mean how glamorous can you look whilst dressed in a pair of wellies (rubber boots), a shirt designed to keep the mosquitos off, the obligatory jeans for protection and my Russian peasant look of anti-mosquito headscarf? (Still got bitten though, those little blighters get everywhere). One plant that seems to have survived the winter rather well including on the land  is Ground Elder. If you are a gardener you will be aware that this stuff swamps the grass and everything else in its path and although you can eat the young leaves like spinach it would not be advisable to eat all the plants that are growing as it can be a laxative in large quantities. Unfortunately the Ground Elder seems to be making a bid for a takeover of the land which we don't want so Ian has started strimming large patches of it, this did entail a visit to our nearest large town to buy a new strimmer (bush whacker) of course, the one he has is over 10 years old (I think!) and has done honourable service but would have died at the sight of all that Ground Elder and nettles. The only problem is that there is rather a large area to clear, 1 hectare (2.5 acres) down only another 5 (12.5 acres) to go! Only joking as not absolutely everywhere has ground elder in it, just seems like it. Should keep him out of mischief though. (The photo is from the land looking much nicer with its green coat on than it did in April after the snow had gone)

This verse was on the Open University Christian Fellowship forum this week and is such a gem of a verse that I wanted to share it.

Lam 3:21-23 Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing: the LORD's unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. 

I love mornings, especially summer mornings when they are fresh and before they get too warm or with too many of the biting things out to spoil the day so I can really relate to this verse.

Our kitchen has now made it onto Victors website to add to his collection of impressive furniture. I do hope and pray his company survives though; of course many people are being cautious about big expenditures when there own jobs are at risk and so although his order book is full few want to proceed at the moment. Oh the complications of this crisis!

So at this time of crisis what do Latvians do? Well quite a few of them get drunk, unfortunately quite a few do that anyway but with more reason at the moment, and many get depressed and even without a crisis Latvia has a high suicide rate, so it was with amusement that I noticed on the online news sites that there was a parade of blondes in Riga on Sunday. There aim was to seek to cheer up the nation - what a noble cause! Wouldn't it be nice if the church thought the same way? So church let's wake up to the new morning with its new mercies and celebrate our wonderful God and spread some cheer.

Photos this week besides the one from the land are all from around the area near our apartment. In order they are Lilac bush, apple trees, our garden complete with teepees (for windbreaks of course), the land, the next allotment to ours with a row of tulips and the last picture was taken at 10:50pm and we still have another three weeks to go before midsummer night!!!!! One last thing, next Monday's blog maybe a little late as we will be in the process of travelling back from our short visit to England, wouldn't want to worry anyone now.