Monday, 2 February 2015

The important things in life!

The snowshoes are out! Ian wore his today for the first time
this winter
My brain is a bit fogged up today, so excuse me if I don't make sense at times or lapse into academic speak, or whatever mess I make of this week's blog. I have been transcribing interviews all day or at least as long as my brain can take it. The interviews were done in Latvian and there is a translation after each bit, so I have been listening to Latvian and then madly typing up all the bits that were translated into English. It is good practice to hear the Latvian, but tiring. My fingers have that tingly feeling from tapping away on the computer for hours. Don't worry I did get up in between and take plenty of cups of tea to keep me going.
So the snow clearing has continued. It is deep in places
because the wind was quite strong, but not as deep as it
could have been due to the partial melts in between
snow showers. The snow blower has had rather too much
use for Ian's liking this year.
The hay run track. Ian has had to cut a track from the small
hay store behind the boys shelter to the girl's shelter
so he is able to get the feed up to them.

This was the church we visited. It didn't look
like this when I went as it was night time
and snowing
The interviews were done in Dagda, a place I have never been to before, way over by the Belarus border. Apparently it is set in a beautiful area with lots of lakes. I say apparently because it was a rather white landscape when I went, where even the lakes were white and so it was difficult to know where they were or whether it is just a rather flat field. There were clues along the way that there were lots of lakes, firstly there might be a group of cars parked near the road in the middle of nowhere and then across the vast whiteness that could be a field or a lake would be sat a little figure huddled over - obviously an ice fisherman. People do not sit motionless in the middle of fields at this time of year.
I didn't get to see this, but it is on the website
for the area. I would have liked to have done
some visiting but we just didn't have time
unfortunately and so will have to save that for
another time

I had a whole room to myself. The beds were on the hard
side, but that is because I'm soft. I've known hotels to have
harder beds, so this wasn't too bad.
I had a great time in Dagda. We stayed in the boarding part of the local school, as that was the only accommodation in the town/village/city. It does amuse me that the designation of places as towns, villages and cities varies so much between countries and is all relative and very fluid. It was a main administrative centre and so has a city hall/town hall/council office. Again it depends on where you come from as to what you would call the large imposing building, similar to many such buildings over the whole of Latvia. We had just one contact in the area, the mother of the sister-in-law of the lady conducting the interviews. She worked in the boarding part of the school and was a star, she helped to organise quite a few of the interviews and suggested we go to the local library for more. Within 48 hours we managed to do 14 interviews with 15 interviewees in total, which is pretty amazing in such a short time. It was also lovely to meet so many wonderful people who are soldiering on in a small rural place that is lacking funding and desperately needs some sort of intervention to stem the flow of people to the cities or even abroad.

I don't think the boys are that bothered by the snow, but
they have been getting through a lot of hay just lately.
I came away with a deep appreciation for the way families are so fundamental to keeping people connected in out of the way places. It also gave me much to ponder on, such as the merits or otherwise of offering jobs to local people who are known to those doing the offering. It keeps people there and if people know each other well, is there a need to look elsewhere, if you know the person can work well? Of course that is also a system open to abuse and exclusion. I am under no illusions, we couldn't conduct a thorough review of the area in that time, that wasn't the point, it was looking for pointers for further research or to generate ideas for others to work in the area. It was an initial foray into the area and to get a flavour of the place that can be compared to other areas. People seemed surprisingly open to be interviewed and seemed happy to talk about the place they live in. There were one or two who seemed a bit reticent at first but they opened up and that can only be accredited to the young lady who conducted the interviews. She did a good job of helping people to relax and made good eye contact with them to show interest in what they had to say. I must admit though, this kind of interviewing is my favourite part of the research and it is just a bit sad I have to mainly rely on others to do the work this time around, further interviews in small places in Latvia will be done without me.

In between snow showers, Ian has been clearing out trees
from a section next to our oak hill. This shouldn't really
have trees on it, but at least now the sheep should be able
to get in amongst it and start keeping the shrubbery down
Following on from all things studious, this week the university I am studying with (The Estonian University of Life Sciences) made the top 1% of most cited research facilities in the world. Just in case you think I now talking gobbledygook, what that means is that the papers that researchers publish in academic journals have been quoted from or at least referenced by other researchers in their papers. This is for two reasons, either the paper is of sufficient merit that others think it worth referencing when building up an argument for their own work, or it is sufficiently controversial to need debunking. Usually the first reason is the most valid. This piece of news was for the work done in the environment and ecology.
According to the Rector of the Estonian University of Life Sciences, belonging to the top 1% is a great achievement, because competition is made up of thousands of universities. „It is an acknowledgement showing that the research being done here in our small country and our small university is on par with the best universities in the world,“ he said.

A rather large stack of wood and small branches for
chipping. Ian would have liked to have got it cleared
away, but it is not to be just yet.
I have been doing a lot of pondering this week due to some comments made on facebook. It set me thinking about "The Other" - who are the other ones? I get cross when we start to define what "the other" would do, be or say. It is not fair when they cannot answer for themselves and it dehumanises them, be they Muslim, atheists, gays or whoever we choose to define in a disparaging way. It is sometimes used to justify atrocious acts done in "our" name. We have to stop thinking of people as "the other" but as people, with their own experiences, both good and bad, we have to start listening to how they see the world to understand what they are seeing. We have to acknowledge we too have violent tendencies, even if that tendency is "only" encouraging the violence to be done on our behalf, such as when we are complicit to the idea that drones are good because they get "the enemy". Hatred of any kind is not going to bring healing, violence at any time is not going to bring healing. We have to do better than this to see our societies heading in the right direction where peace is an expectation, where the human right to a decent job is part of the scene and we don't ship out our waste or our greed to others who cannot defend themselves.

Veronica is usually quite a laid back old lady, but this week
she got quite stroppy with Estelle. It might have been due
to a change in routine, we are not sure. But she was back to her
regal, slightly aloof self today.
A winter wasteland
I often think our Western societies display the same sort of arrogance that the upper classes of the Victorian society displayed to the poor - out of sight, out of mind. They didn't have to go far to see the harsh realities of the poor in their towns if they had really wanted to know what was going on. We also don't have to go far, we have the internet to see the reality beamed into our own homes, if we choose to see, whether that is in the local social housing estate or some far flung village in Bangladesh. We tend to think that the poor are to be blamed for the mess they are in and we fail to see how our lifestyles often contribute to their plight. Such as when we buy a cheap t-shirt or coffee not from fair traded sources when we have the option. I have to admit to not often buying fair trade coffee, but that is because I do most of my buying in a local shop and I don't travel to the large supermarkets on a regular basis where they might have the option of fair trade products. This limits what I can buy, but it also puts some money back into the local economy - a trade off, but one I have thought about. It is hard to take a truly sustainable and ethical route, but I think we need to put some effort into going as far as we possibly can. The world will be better for it.


  1. OK, so you had more snow than us but I bet it didn't cause the same chaos.....four hours from Blackburn to Preston return in the car last Thursday, yes it's true. Ten miles each way....go figure. We panic, we are never prepared and add to that the closure of the M65 with resulting traffic on local roads and it works out, kind of.

    1. Oh dear! Deep joy, we set off to the UK tomorrow :( and it is your neck of the woods. Am I looking forward to how the UK handles a bit of snow? Not really! :D

  2. Well said Joanna. And too often in our culture we don't follow sustainable and ethical paths even where they're even hard, just inconvenient or unfamiliar. Awareness is the beginning of change.

    1. It is indeed Bill and I love what you are trying to do over there in the States

  3. Still plodding along here (not wanting to miss anything)! Though, going backwards is interesting. I like some of our local movements such as buying as much as possible locally. I belong to a farmer's co-op where we pay the farmer up front for 7 months of divine veggies. We take our chances along with the farmer as to what sort of crop the weather will produce. I also try to buy most food items grown locally and in season. Not only helping the local small farmers, but getting the best of the deal with fresh and delicious edibles.

    1. They are a good way of helping local farmers if you can do it. It is more difficult for people here unfortunately, as they do not have enough cash up front for that kind of thing. Also out here in the sticks, most people grow their own anyway :D

  4. I so understand the difference in circumstances. It's just my way of attempting to lessen the impact of imported stuff. Besides, I'm a miserable failure at growing things, nor do I have much room for such.

    1. It is a good way indeed. I do wonder if there is a way for people who help the farmers more, especially in the busy times? There was a time when school holidays revolved around the agricultural calendar. Nowadays you wouldn't want so many children around, but that is only because they would probably have no clue or were not fit enough to do the jobs. I wonder if we have lost something in that though.


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