Monday, 18 February 2013

Major milestones

Tartu ice sculpture
Well the first one has to be that this is my 300th post, okay some of the posts are apologies for being late but at least I got this far. I really never thought that when a friend of mine in America asked me to start a blog about life in Latvia that I would still be managing to write it almost 5 years later. The milestone of having been in Latvia 5 years is itself only a few weeks away.

The Estonian University of Life Sciences -
well one of the blocks!
The other milestone is starting my doctoral studies at the Estonian University of Life Sciences in Tartu. I really felt like a fish out of water, as I had no map to follow when I arrived. That is partly because I have started mid-academic year which is never a good thing really, but heh I rarely do anything the simple way. I had to ask people for directions and follow the crowds a little. It was all rather strange as I couldn't read a word of the signs, my knowledge of Estonian is zilch! I know though that I will just have to take it one step at a time and I know it will get better, although not easy. I have been here before, landing in a country that I had only visited once before and no knowledge of the language; that happened when we moved to Denmark nearly 10 years ago. It was very bewildering at first, but eventually a routine was established and I got to know all the important words - usually anything to do with food. I also had a couple of angels to help me on my first day, one appeared to get me down to the statistics practical and another to get me out of the warren of a building before it was locked up for the night, she also took me to the supermarket afterwards. I must admit, it was very exciting discussing the actual project I will be doing. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I will be travelling to conferences and doing work with some Masters students as a supervisor, oooh and lots of other exciting things that were bandied about to think about. You'll just have to see what comes out in the wash though on those.

Another of my routines is to navigate this
steep cobbled road, Fun in the ice
My routine for the next six weeks or thereabouts is to travel up to Estonia every week and this is proving to be a bit of a headache. I have a four hour statistics practical late on Tuesday afternoons (yes I did say four hours - I hope you are sending up prayers for me at this very minute) and a two hour statistics lecture on Wednesday morning, which if everything would connect up transport wise would mean being away for two days most weeks, except on the weeks where I also have a morning lecture of academic writing. I say "if" though because it doesn't. There are not enough buses and trains that I can find the information for, to connect up and take me home in a reasonable time frame and so I have to travel up on Monday afternoon and come back Thursdays - maybe! I am going to do some more hunting and see if I can find an alternative as I inadvertently discovered an alternative tonight.

A family oriented place I guess
Oh yes! I managed to make a bit of a hash getting up to Tartu tonight. Last week I took the St.Petersburg bus from North Latvia, but it is an overnight bus from Riga to arrive in St.Petersburg in the morning and so is a tad late for me to get into Tartu at 11pm. Tartu is a safe city but I'm not a late night person. That meant I was very tired the next day, which is not a good start and by the time it came around to the statistics I was well and truly flagging. I did get a lift back though with someone travelling to Latvia, so that worked. In chatting with the driver I did find out there was a train, but for some unknown reason the train goes from Tartu to a place on the border called Valga stops and then connects with a Latvian train which goes to Riga, stopping at every little station on the way. Unfortunately the trains that connect of course only go once a day!!!!!! Well getting to Valga was fine, I bought my ticket at the train station, but I needed another ticket to get to Tartu. I got off the Latvian train and tried to find out what to do about the ticket, but by the time I found out and rushed out of the station back to the train, it closed the doors on me and left. I was stuck in Valga with no cash and not much of an idea what to do. I tried a friend who had friends in the area but couldn't get hold of him, so next I tried to work out if there was a bus. Success! There was! Next I found a cash machine, which of course only dispensed a €50 note, which I didn't think the bus driver would be happy with, since I knew the train was only €3.63 and so I had to then buy something from a supermarket. Absolute bliss! I managed to get back just in time to get the bus. So I wasn't stranded in Valga overnight then. I was also welcomed to my accommodation with a lovely bowl of soup - just what I needed after a bit of a fright.
An Estonian house
I think my walk to the uni will be a little
different in Spring
A cheery fellow to greet me back to my

Finally! We have electric
That wasn't all the milestones this last week, the other one was to get the electricity connected up to the greenhouse. Ian can now plug the electrics in on the caravan, he can have a heater out there and just as exciting a toaster. Now that might not seem so interesting to you, but when he is working out in the snow at below freezing temperatures then a heater and a toaster are very exciting, It has been rather a long time from getting the cable laid to actually getting the meter installed, but thankfully it is mainly done and working. The barn wasn't connected up as that is going to have to wait until Spring when Ian can dig a hole in the ground, it was bad enough digging the metre into the greenhouse - well dig is perhaps not quite the right word, chippped through the solid ice would be more appropriate and then the frozen ground.
A blessing for Ian
"I'm not walking in the snow!" They are funny they want to
come for a walk but end up having to jump between
footprints or end up nearly buried in the stuff
This isn't a milestone but it could well be in the future and the thoughts I am working through at the moment. When I think of the possibilities that are available these days via the internet and technology, they are mind boggling. There will be things that our children can do that we can't even conceive of, some of course are not so great like the ability of being able to abuse each other online, but somewhere along the lines we have to trust the next generation, we have to encourage them to be the best they can be, to do all they can for the good with the technology they have. Let's not just shut down the possibilities, let's pass on what we can, which is a discernment, as they move forward. At some point whether we like it or not we are going to have to make way for the next generation to take the reins, we may as well do it willingly and with encouragement and support or we will have the reins wrenched from our hands.

"Would you have been eating the snow by any chance?"
"Who me?"
A different kind of milestone over the last few weeks is the revelation of horse meat in products labelled as beef. That has been a real eye opener for some and the cause of much embarrassment for corporate businesses. Mike Small on the Fife diet website (an organisation that seeks to help people to eat more locally) has called a complete restructure of the food supply chain and he says the last thing we need is for the corporate businesses to regain trust and then to continue with business as usual. It is a very well written article and I have to say I agree with what he has to say. While I don't advocate a collapse of the supply chain, that would be chaos, but a radical overhaul will help us get back to some better connections with our food.
A little deep in places

The view from our other apartment. There are greenhouses
in there, somewhere. I don't think there will be any growing
going in there any time soon


Mavis said...

Congratulations on all the milestones this week! I must say you are a very brave lady going every week to Estonia without knowing the language and managing to overcome all those travel hitches. And a big 'Thank you Lord!' for the electricity at last on the land - poor Ian at least now he can have some hot toast sitting beside the heater in the caravan. I must say you have come an awful long way in 5 years. Well done!

Joanna said...

Thank you Mavis. I hadn't really realised how far we had come till you mentioned it, but you're right we do seem to have achieved quite a bit in the last five years. As for being brave, not so sure about that, I didn't feel so brave yesterday but I know it will be fine, it is not like going somewhere where no one speaks English as well, now that would be scary.

ju-north said...

Congrats on rising to all these challenges! I know I wouldn't attempt them! I studied in Germany for a year but I did at least know the language! Well done you (keep bumping into angels!)

Joanna said...

Thanks Ju. I like that idea of keep bumping into angels. I'll look out for them :)

Liz Eph said...

At last, you're alight, and awarmed and atoastered :-)

Joanna said...

Lol, like it Liz. Ian did enjoy his toast and a bit of heat