Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Poland and back

I don't have any pictures of Krakow, but I do of the
wonderful Polish countryside.
The conference was good and there was no real drama apart from trying to finish my presentation in the session before I was due to present. I wasn't the only one but it is not something I like to do. At least the presentation went fine and that is what counts. I also asked lots of questions in the presentations by others and that is always a plus. I made some good contacts but whether anything comes out of that is always debatable, but I do come away with some lovely friends and that is something I enjoy about this particular conference.

A traditional haycock on the steep hillside. We still see these
in Latvia too, especially on the wetter summers like this year
One thing they did differently was to have a Belgium actor, Lucas De Man, present his play "We, Pig Country". It turned out to be a very powerful 40 minutes of his 70 minute play about a Pig Farmer. In the play he first played a son who had travelled for 12 years and then returned to the farm when one of his parents died. The second part is his brother telling him about what happened to the farm during the 12 years he was away. He spoke about the pressures this farmer was under and what life was like on the farm. At one point he said something along the lines of "do you know what it is like to be bone tired and still have to keep getting up in the morning because work has to be done, really bone tired" and I was thinking yes! I know that feeling and also I am sure that was what Ian would have been thinking as he was left to bale and stack hay. I helped shift 46 with our friend, just under a hundred with Ian the following day and Ian was left to shift another two hundred after I had gone.

Old agricultural implements
One of the other things about the play that really came across, is that despite the fact that the animals were raised to die, the farmer does care for his animals and it is something that is put under pressure by the hurdles they have to face with finances and bureaucratic details. It was hard to believe that this young chap was not a farmer's son and was a city boy who used to be a vegetarian. He had obviously done his research and the farmer's who contributed to it were wise communicators. When he asked if he could interview the farmer about his life, he agreed but insisted that he must first come and spend a week with him shadowing his life. He got up when the farmer got up and went to bed when the farmer went to bed. It was good training.

Horses at an educational farm
What was really interesting is the fact he was able to communicate the life of this farmer and many other farmers so well. Far more powerful than yet another academic article. The research the articles contain can be very valuable but they do not always communicate well to others, especially outside of academia. This play, however, was able to communicate so powerfully that when a tv programme used it to create a debate between farmers and some vegans or animal activists (I can't remember which now) they were able to have a civilised discussion at the end of it - I don't think this is what the tv programmers intended though.

Horse riding lessons for children at a
Of course there were the field trips too which were interesting and meant we got to see some of rural Poland. It did highlight that sometimes things get lost in translation though. What our group understood by a social cooperative and what the Polish understand by this are two different things and this lead to quite a bit of confusion on our first visit. Still it was nice to see how the municipality and a local volunteer fire brigade can get together to employ cooks and cleaners who would have lost their jobs and create a bit of extra business at the same time to enhance their wages. It was innovative anyway, even if it wasn't quite what we understood by a social cooperative, since the cleaners and cooks were not involved in the running of the cooperative. The cooperation only described the relationship between the two institutions that set the organisation up.

A hearty soup and spinach cake. It looked amazing and tasted
The next stop was to an educational farm. Well farm would be a loose kind of word. More a horse riding centre with a small mini zoo. The children have a lot of fun though and learn about herbs they can find in the fields and baking bread in a brick oven. The food was absolutely amazing. The ten minute coffee break stretched to much longer as people were more interested in the food than anything else. The presentation was good humoredly listened to and then we all decamped back to the kitchen for more of that delicious food with a hearty soup added for our evening meal. I think we had the best trip of all - foodwise anyway.
Wouldn't mind an outdoor kitchen like this one

Being greeted for dinner
We had the dinner on the last night and I got the first bus back to our conference venue at 10pm afterwards. I had an early start the next day as my flight was 5am, so I ordered a taxi for 3:50am in the morning. When I tried to leave the hostel the next morning the doors were locked, but eventually someone let me out. I stood there for a while but no taxi! I then had to rattle on the doors to let me back in and ask about the taxi. It is a good job that "taxi" is an international word and the gentleman on the desk was able to tell me the taxi would be another 7 minutes. There was a mild sense of panic but not too much as it was only a small airport and I didn't have baggage to check in. I got there in plenty of time, so much so that nothing was really open until shortly after my arrival and there was time enough for a cup of coffee. I saved breakfast until my stopover in Warsaw.

Of course we had to have traditional Polish dancing. It is
much more "Yee-hah!" than Latvian dancing
I was in Riga mid-morning and caught the bus to the bus station. I was quite chuffed with myself at being able to buy tickets at the kiosks at the airport and the bus station using Latvian. I even remembered the word for "next" when the lady asked me which bus I wanted. There was no switching to English, which normally happens to me in Riga. The bus journey home, however, was a a sad and frustrating trip home, not because of the bus trip itself but because of what was happening at home.

Poor Aggie looking weary. She has been more pleasant since
the birth and keeps coming up giving me snuffly kisses while
I'm trying to put cream on the other alpacas. Well I say kisses,
she is just being her nosy self.
Ian text me while I was in Warsaw to say Aggie was in labour and then again when I landed in Riga. I only picked both up in Riga though. There were several texts and phone calls about the progress, or rather lack of it and then the one to say he had had to call the vet. It was frustrating being on the bus because if I had been at home we could have both worked to see if we could help Aggie. Unfortunately the vet had to use ropes to pull the baby out and it didn't survive. She was not really sure that the baby was alive when she arrived though. It seemed that during the birthing process the baby had got itself tied up in knots, as legs were everywhere except where they should be. This was so frustrating when Aggie had waited so long and had such an active baby. All lost in the last few hours. It was also a girl, a beautiful dark brown colour.

Frederiks having a snuffly kiss from his mum, Chanel
A couple of days later Aggie was sheared so that she could get some relief from the heat. It was not that hot really but it is when you are wearing a fur coat I guess. We were sad and frustrated of course, but I think more resigned than we've been in the past. We have learnt so much more than we really wanted to know at times, but we will keep going forwards. That's all we can do at the moment. We skipped the local festival and just mooched around at home or the caravan we call home in the summer.

And an alpaca hug
Having lots of appreciative visitors over the past week has helped. One family came to visit and then rang their friends and told them they must go and visit, which they dutifully did the very same day they were told about us. She enjoyed the visit as much as her friends thought she would. One lady today was thrilled with the "natural" environment we have here. It is looking better just lately with lots of planted and wild flowers, as well as cute crias and chicks. It struck me again this evening how nice it is to create something that Latvians appreciate and I hope in the process helps them to appreciate their own country more. We love it here and are quite happy to stay here too.


  1. Lovely to read about Poland but sad to read about Aggie's calf. It must be hard to deal with.

    1. I must admit the loss of Aggie's baby didn't affect us as much this time around, thank goodness but we are still of course really sad. We are just pleased that Aggie is fine and up and about. We will try again for a cria (baby alpaca) next year


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