Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Frustrations galore

Well sorry for the delay and it is good to see that blogger seems to be behaving itself this morning.

Several incidents just lately have had us and our friends asking "What does it mean to be an adult? "What  difference does it make to how someone should act?" and "How can we encourage folks to grow up?" It is hard when dealing with people from dysfunctional families or embroiled in relationships with those from dysfunctional families. Many people here in Latvia have an alcoholic in their family or amongst their close friends and encouraging responsible behaviour in that environment can be tough sometimes . It is always heart breaking to say "Enough's enough! You've gone too far!" Tough, but necessary sometimes. It has been a steep learning curve for all involved to realise that allowing behaviour to slide is not always in some folk's best interests. Yes there is unconditional love, but love also looks for the best for the person and sometimes that is far from comfortable. Well hopefully we have all learnt something in these processes that we can use to help others where necessary. Rapper/actor  Ashley Walters came from such a dysfunctional family as his dad went to prison 17 times and left Ashley an angry young man. After a spell in prison he came out to see his young son and realised where his mistakes were leading and said in a BBC interview  "I don't see any point in that. If I have already had the bad experience, I should be able to steer him away from that. That's the whole point in being a Dad and being an adult." Well said I think and I hope that many won't get to that stage before they realise their mistakes. Before you get the wrong impression though there are lots of very responsible folks here despite the difficulties, some holding down 2 or even 3 jobs just to make ends meet or working away from family just to make sure there is some income coming in, bringing with it a new set of problems, life is sure not easy for some. 

It hasn't been all angst this week though, how can you when Spring is on its way? It is not a pretty time of the year really, with the snow melting leaving soggy messes everywhere but there is a sense of urgency and a softness in the air that suggests just a little longer and things will be different. Magpies are zooming backwards and forwards making nests (I didn't realise how widespread those birds are until we have moved around and I can confirm they are in Denmark, America and Latvia as well as England), other birds are singing their hearts out and of course the storks are back. Ian was literally just telling me that the storks were back as the first sightings had been made in Latvia according to our Swedish friend, when on cue, one flies past our house. How's that for timing? A stork flies for 35 days from its winter nesting ground and times his arrival with our discussion about storks! Amazing coincidence! We have also spotted a couple of butterflies which is odd as there are only snowdrops flowering at the moment, goodness only knows what they will be feeding on.

The melting snow of course brings flooding because the ground is still frozen and the water has nowhere to go, so it tries to head for the rivers. The rivers in turn are still solid chunks of ice as well and so the water backs up. I didn't realise how thick the ice was until the nearby river started breaking up and there were chunks of ice over 30 cm thick protruding upwards in places. In Jelgava they have already had floods and so the army have been sent in to break up the ice on the Daugava river with explosives so that the water can drain away and it certainly needed some hefty explosives to break it up.

As to be expected, our land is rather soggy, and once again it is deserving of its nickname, the Everglades. And guess what with all this soggy mess we are still waiting for our polytunnel to be completed! We were told last week that the wood would be ready to finish the frame and they would start on Monday, which we were led to believe  meant last Monday but no. No one thought to ring to say what was happening and poor Ian is getting a bit fed up chasing folks around (do they want a job or not?).  Anyway someone did turn up this Monday to have a look, only a week late, and there is a real problem with the amount of water that is literally pouring through the channels that Ian has dug, but heh! that is not our problem we did suggest it be done sooner while the ground was still frozen, so they will need to be creative to get it finished and not covered in mud.

I said the ground was frozen still and so I watched in amazement as a lorry went by with a pipe laying machine on the back. It is quite amazing they are starting back to work now on laying water pipes because the frozen ground is like concrete and I know the pipes have to be laid below the permafrost layer, but they have to get to it first. It will be like digging through a metre thick concrete slab. Incredible! Rather them than me! Having said that the moles seem to have managed all right to dig through the frozen ground, judging by the number of mole hills up the garden - maybe that is what they use, an army of moles?

It is amazing how travelling about makes you think about your own heritage more and also the heritage of others (or maybe it's just me) so it was interesting to read on the Timber Butte blog about Tri Robinson and his heritage as an American, and descendant of pioneers. I have to say American's often have a greater knowledge of their own heritage than those of us from Europe but I guess it is all that moving about that makes you search for your roots. Seeing just a little of the vastness that is America in our two years of living there helped me to understand some of the American culture, to think that today's folks are the descendants of those who had to keep going to reach a place to settle, who had to lose things along the way that weighed them down, who had to be fixed on the goal or perish. All this makes sense of sense of thinking they know best, the determination to carry on in the face of opposition, and the courage to get up even after a fall. Those characteristics are admirable sometimes but they do have a flip side which is not so good but understanding where it comes from has meant I am more tolerant when I meet it - well sometimes and no doubt I have my own cultural foibles that are hard to understood by the good folks here.

So what about my heritage? My grandparents are all from different towns of England which is unusual for my grandparents era as people were not so mobile then. My Grandfather though on my mother's side wanted to start a new life in Australia but my Nan would not move away. So my heritage is one of those who wanted to go and those who wanted to stay, those with a sense of adventure which was never fulfilled and those too frightened to step out. It is odd that our daughter, her great-granddaughter has finally made it there to Australia. It sort of echoes how Abraham's father set out to go to Canaan but never made it, he settled for the comfort of Haran instead (Genesis11:31) and it was Abraham who made it to Canaan after a little encouragement to get up and go from God. Of course if my Grandparents had moved I wouldn't be here writing this blog or having these adventures as my parents would not have met. Sobering thought! But what is more sobering to me is the fact that Terah never made it to his destination, he settled too soon. I never want to be someone who settles for less than the goal of God's life for me, I never want to settle too soon. That does not mean it is time to leave Latvia, there are other goals to pursue than just places to go to but I just don't want to settle down yet, I haven't finished my journey through life yet, God has a purpose and a plan for me and I don't want to settle for anything less. That helps to spur me on with my studies despite the set back I had this last week. Up to now on my new course I had been getting distinctions but for the assignment for this new unit, one I thought I should have had no problem with I got what they called a marginal fail (not sure what that means yet) and I felt rather down about it, I suppose it knocked me off my pedestal a bit. It is a set back but not I presume an insurmountable one and so I shall determine to carry on and reach my goal. At least for now I have two weeks off my studies so I can relax and rest my brain.

You can see a big difference between this week's photos and last week's.
Photo 1 our rustic workshop still under construction, but the banks of snow at the side of the path are fast disappearing
Photo 2 but the snow is still deep in places, Ian had to take a photo first before he would help me out.
Photo 3 Ian digging drainage channels in the polytunnel
Photo 4 The polytunnel - not a pretty sight
Photo 5 The destructive effects of the melting snow on a road. The land to the left up to 3/4 of the way up the hill is ours too, and used to be a ski hill.
Photo 6 The children's playground and if you look back you can see how the snow was pretty much up to the swings and the top of the bin.
Photo 7 Our reappearing garden.

Monday, 29 March 2010


I have my blog already to post but for some reason blogger is having problems with pictures tonight and I don't like posting without some pictures for you to look at, so I will try again in the morning.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Spring, the warrior princess

It must be the road to the big town that brings out the poet in me, or maybe just the chance to be sitting watching the enfolding scene. Anyway this one was started off in my head and then finished off in the dentists while waiting for Ian.

Spring, the warrior princess, shrugs her shoulders
and a blush of new growth
steals across the land.
Weary Winter, like an old dog,
snaps back
but senses defeat in its weary bones.
The snow reluctantly skulks away
to its summer home
and rivers freed from icy prisons
banish the hush of winter
as they chortle and gurgle their way
to the seas and the lakes.
Sleepy vegetation exposed
absorbs the warmth
and stretches its arms to the sun
a green wave creeps across the land,
a promise of warmer times to come.

Spring has sprung

It came as no surprise this week when our neighbours at our other flat asked if they could buy the stove off us we lent them after their catastrophe. It is in and working well - I don't think they had the problems we had with smoke on lighting as they haven't got quite the convoluted pipe work that we did - and to move it out and put another in must seem like a lot of hassle for nothing. We had hoped to use the stove in the polytunnel to extend the growing season but I think their need of heat is greater than our need for extending the growing season, having said that I did have a brain wave just before we got the request and thought about building a brick oven on site, it would be great for barbequeing as well. Hmm! Veg straight off the vine and onto the bbq. Nice!

Finally went to the dentists this week, something we have been putting off for ages. One very large filling fell out before Christmas and I had a tooth which disintegrated at the front but there was no pain fortunately, so there was no need to rush. We got to hear of a dentist in the nearby large town who actually speaks English and not German (not terribly helpful for us) and so we decided we really ought to go. The week before we had actually duped a friend into going as he was in a lot of pain but doesn't like dentists either so we said we would go together, the reality was that there was only one appointment and he had priority, but we didn't tell him that. I understand totally though, the thought of going to a dentist who messes about or is unpleasant is not my idea of fun, I want someone I can trust to do a good job without trying to do a whole lot of unnecessary work. That was one of the reasons for me not going to the dentist in America, as I didn't think they would like my teeth, not being of the pearly white perfect sort, and would want to start doing major megabucks work and I really couldn't be bothered with the hassle. Well while we were at the dentists with our friend we sorted out our appointments for this week, since she seemed so nice and spoke good English, very reassuring. It is a good job really as I haven't been to a dentist since Denmark, four years ago and Ian hasn't been since he left England and so that was over 7 years ago. Ian was, however, pleasantly surprised that he hadn't got any new holes, just needed old fillings replaced.

English Mother's day came a bit late for me as I finally got  a lovely card from one of my children - one to treasure I think, it is actually rather sweet instead of cheeky like some of them I have had in the past (when I got one that is, love you really kids and to be honest I am not really bothered). Even more surprising was to get a gift too, a Pat and Mat DVD. If you remember a couple of weeks ago I commented that the Czech airlines played a hilarious cartoon that I had never seen before, it is even more hilarious because we live in a country with a similar Soviet history, so I could imagine some of the antics happening here too. We sat through five short episodes the other night and roared with laughter, only another 30 to go. One of the classic scenes was one of the guys (not sure which is Pat and which is Mat but heh!, does it matter?) whose tap kept moving around so that it poured water on the floor, so the guy drags his sink over to where the tap was - easy eh! Oh yes forgot about the pipe connections didn't he. Next moment a puddle is fast appearing on the floor, so what does he do? Pulls out his drill and drills a hole in the floor of course. Slight problem he lives in a flat (apartment) and so it goes on. Great fun!

Spring suddenly decided to make an appearance this week and over 20-30cm of snow disappeared within two days, great patches of winter weary grass started to appear as if by magic and then it started to rain. I love Spring when the bulbs start to push up their heads to greet the gentle warmth of the sun, but this part of Spring when the snow is melting and the ground is turning to mush and the days can be dismal is not something I enjoy. It almost feels like when you go for an operation, or to the dentist, you know it is something you have to go through and something good will come out of it but you would rather it was just over and done with. We went to have a look at the polytunnel and it is in the same state as last year when they couldn't work on it because it was too wet which is so annoying because we warned the guy there would be a problem if he delayed any further (we only had to look at the weather forecasts to see that), but we need that plastic up or we are not going to be able to get a good start for the new planting season so something has to be done.

On a slightly lighter note I thought I would list some of the things which herald the Spring here in Latvia:-
We rediscover which roads have tarmac and which ones are dirt roads
The pothole challenge - the roads are in a desperate state until the tarmac lorries get out and until then it takes nerves of steel and a quick response time to avoid them
Ice breakers - teams of folks out chipping away at the ice
Green grass where the heating pipe travels from the boiler at the top of the hill to our apartment
Reappearing features - bins (trash cans, outdoor seating)
The fly swatters out - I got four this morning but then again they were sluggish.

One thing I discovered which I wasn't so happy about in Latvia is to do with the interest rates. Interest rates on deposits seem to have gone down rather a lot just lately and I was wondering if by any chance my bank had reduced the interest rates on loans (which would be good for many folks here, something I could accept) and I was absolutely gobsmacked to find there was no information on the amount of interest paid, I can find out how much a loan will cost per month but not the interest charged. Interest rates in the UK have to be clearly stated, and rightly so, but I thought this may have been in line with EU law, if it is not then it is no wonder that people here in Latvia have been duped for so long - how can you take out a loan and not know how much it will actually cost you in real terms? I decided to do a little comparison of some of the banks and found that Nordea, DnB Nord and Swedbank do not advertise their interest rates on Latvian sites but they do on Swedish sites.  Now that it is downright criminal, why do these banks (and I don't think they are the only ones) not practice "best practice" and make sure the customer has all the information they need to make an informed choice? You would think that Scandinavian banks would practice the utmost transparency in all their dealings and maybe they do in Sweden but there doesn't seem to be much evidence of that in Latvia.

Politically things are a little jittery here as one party pulled out of the Latvian Government, meaning the coalition parties in Government are in the minority and the question is will it fall? Not likely I think! Who would want to take on governing this nation at this minute, who would take the poisoned chalice? No! Let the Government get so far and hopefully by October, when an election is due, everything will be looking better then and so another party could take over and take the credit. Oh yes! And if it doesn't go to plan then the previous Government could of course be blamed anyway.

I was doing some research for my studies and came across and astounding fact that 90% of all soybeans in the US contain the Monsanto gene, that is a huge monopoly of the market and makes me wonder how it has taken the US authorities so long to investigate this as they are now doing. It would seem that today crops are not about feeding the world but about the world domination of the markets by no more than four seed companies. There is also inappropriate development that only serves the seed companies, ie developing seeds that resist their own herbicides rather than developing what the farmers need. In fact more food is lost due to poor storage than through loss to pests and diseases and so tackling that is a low cost, low technological solution which would improve this world's ability to feed its citizens. Improving agricultural techniques such as crop rotation and more appropriate crops for a region will do far more than tying farmers to a seed company, which is what happens when GM crops are used. I don't often pass on details about online petitions but the Avaaz organisation appears to have a better way of organising them than passing on through emails, which to be frank is a waste of time, and if you disagree with GM crops being introduced into Europe then this is the link to register your disagreement, you do need a European address to sign it though.

Photo 1: Reappearing seats and bins (trash cans), you can compare this picture to last weeks where the bin was only barely visible
Photo 2: Reappearing manure heaps - lovely
Photo 3 & 4 Pat or is it Mar?
Photo 5: Little one enjoying walking on grass again, it was so funny to watch him walking up and down it and jumping the ditch at the bottom
Photo 6 & 7 More disappearing snow which you can compare to previous pictures.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Still loads of snow

Forgot to mention last week that we had an emergency phone call on the Sunday afternoon. A neighbour of ours at the other flat had had a catastrophe with their woodburning stove, the boiler had burst spilling water everywhere and the temperatures were still below zero, they also had a sick child, not a good combination. They had to phone a friend of ours because they don't speak any English and of course we still don't speak enough Latvian but they wanted to know if we still had the other stove that we removed last year. Well we do, it is or was, sat out in the woodshed awaiting the polytunnel to be finished so we can have some heating in it (no that is still not finished either). Obviously their need was greater than ours and our old stove is now sat upstairs in their home. While they were waiting for the stove to be fitted we lent them our oil-fired radiators, they were really very grateful which is lovely as we were glad we could help. Even better for us it gave us a chance to get to know the neighbours a little better and they have been as helpful as they could be in the past so it was nice to be able to return the favour.

Later on in the week I went up to the other flat to light our fire since no one has been it and we don't want things to freeze. While I was there I watched a guy shovelling snow into his greenhouse and it really puzzled me at first wondering what on earth he was doing until I realised he was watering the soil in the greenhouse in preparation for the coming Spring - neat idea. In many of the blogs I read there is talk of the signs of Spring and many people are in full swing getting the ground prepared outside for vegetables, we on the other hand still have a lot of snow outside but the sun is beginning to melt it, so now it is worth shovelling it into the greenhouse to moisten the soil. In our case, however, it would be worth getting the plastic on the greenhouse so it can start to warm up, all we need to do is track down the guy and get some dates out of him, easier said than done. Well this is Latvia isn't it! Although many folks are longing for Spring as it has been a very cold winter we wouldn't want it to warm up too quickly or places would get flooded, so a long slow thaw with the snow topping up underground wells will be perfect. It hasn't been the coldest winter as far as absolute temperatures goes, but it has been the coldest in duration and as one mum said it has meant the children haven't really had the chance to get out and make snowmen as it has just been much too cold to play out in until now. There have been conflicting reports that it has been the coldest winter for 50 or 70 years depending on who you talk to. We are blessed though by long days in the summer to compensate for our rather short season but hopefully we can extend the season somewhat with the polytunnel this year err if it gets finished.

I went with Ian into Riga to the hospital again this week so that he had a navigator, fortunately the route looks really easy so next time he goes in he can take himself. He had a contract sent to him but wasn't really sure what the hospital department were expecting of him or what the contract was for but turns out it was a contract that would be signed for every visit. So we can now say that Ian has agreed to act as a consultant one day a month helping with the leukaemia diagnosis on a machine called a flow cytometer. His responsibilities are to ensure the machine is working properly, doing what it should be doing and to help train the staff in anyway he can. After that confusion was sorted out he got down to some work while I sat and read, well kind of as well as observing the chaos of a doctor running a clinic and a lab at the same time, she was chasing her tail poor woman. Ian had a good time and was able to sort out one problem they were having which restricted the testing they could do to two colours and now they can use four, if you want to know what that means you can ask Ian but it does help with diagnosing leukaemias to see as many colours as possible (some research labs even use 8, 9 and more). Just as a side note we often wonder why it is that research gets all the funding while hospital labs languish, why is it that the research department has an up to date machine and yet the hospital which aims to save lives has a very old machine - this is not just Latvia, this is many countries.

The IMF have been requesting that the Latvian authorities start taxing property at a higher rate to raise revenue and this might seem fair normally, but not here. If you come from England or the US, on the whole if you have a lot of property it is because you are rich or because you have inherited it or both.  Sounds good doesn't it? Fair even, the more you own the more you pay, but it is not fair. If you managed to regain lands when the country achieved independence then you may indeed have a place out in the country where you can spend a cheap holiday over the summer, but it probably does not or cannot provide any income and you can only afford to get out there once or perhaps twice a year but its yours. So sell it then, maybe your reply! Who to? Other Latvians who are in the same boat? The rich ogliarchs who have made their money through dubious means? Or the rich foreigners next year when the rules change? Now that does not seem fair to me, that will just drive the Latvians off their homelands and into the hands of foreigners, neo-colonialism. Some Latvians have quite extensive land but do not have the capital to do anything with it at the moment and many may indeed have to sacrifice their land if the tax comes into being, which would be a shame after all they have gone through to get the land in the first place. Making land pay is an issue that has being increasingly talked about for a while now and how to ensure farmers get a fair wage from the work they do on the land etc. but until those issues are addressed then people cannot afford to live out there and it doesn't seem right they have to give up fresh air and sunshine in the summer months in the meantime while the powers that be decide what is right and act on it and help people to make a living in the rural areas.

Well after that depressing thought I thought I would end with something a little more lighthearted. Here in Latvia as soon as the lakes freeze over there are men out fishing on them and it looks really strange to see guys walking around with large borers carried over their shoulders, at least we now know that they are heading to or from the lake. This strange sight carries on until there is barely enough ice to stand on which always seem ridiculous to me and I gather is really dangerous anyway, so it comes as no surprise to find that the Latvians have actually come third in the world ice fishing championships, or maybe it is strange that they only came third, does that mean there are places even more addicted to spending hours sat in freezing conditions waiting for fish to bite? Not my idea of fun.

Photos this week
Photo 1 The land beautiful under such a blue sky
Photo 2 Snowtank on "Tank Hill" - many years ago during Soviet times a real tank sat on top of that concrete mound. I am not sure if it was in celebration of winning a battle or the reminder that they were under domination.
Photo 3 The plasticless polytunnel, all cleared and still waiting to be finished
Photo 4 The rustic workshop still waiting to be finished (do you see a theme here?)
Photo 5 You may have to enlarge this picture but there is really green grass there, only a blade or two but after months of snow that is a sign that all is not dead underneath.
Photo 6 Beautiful snow patterns
Photo 7 Some idea of the depth of snow on the land, it measures at 60cm
Photo 8 The path Ian had to make to get some big pieces of wood for a project - again some idea of how much snow we still have
Photo 9 that is a picnic table - still a while before we will be able to have picnics
Photo 10. I know we have had a long cold winter but I still love the beauty, the stillness and the peace that comes with the snow and this photo shows the otherworldliness of a forest in the winter.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Sunshine rules! Ok!

Well it was 7 years this week since we left England and it is amazing how far we have travelled in the meantime. It is so hard to believe where we started and what we have done. I was a housewife with three kids at home 7 years ago, now I am a student again with no children at home. One child is now in Australia, another planning his wedding and another at Uni. Ian and I have moved three times internationally and visited many more countries as well. When I think of all God has accomplished in those 7 years, it makes me excited for the next 7 years; I'm up for a challenge!

So the start of the next 7 years saw us in Cyprus again. I said Ian had had a call to help out on a Friday and on Monday we had booked the tickets to travel, by Sunday we were in Cyprus where we spent a good week, Ian working hard in a lab and me studying hard sat outside in the garden (hard life isn't it?). In the Bible it talks about a Jubilee year as a time when you don't reap or sow but live off what grows naturally from the land, well we sort of did that in our first year of being in Latvia by living off our savings, the year after Jubilee is a time to sow and the third year is the time to reap what you sowed the year before. Last year new relationships were formed by Ian and old ones re-established meaning he spent two weeks working in Cyprus last year, this year has been the fruit of that. I also needed the sunshine and the fresh vegetables to boost my immune system, I finally shook off the cough I had had for weeks so worth the trip out there for me. Don't get too jealous though, we arrived back to even more snow than when we left even though we expected it to have been melting while we were away.

In travelling backwards and forwards to Cyprus we have discovered a really good airline, Czech airlines. The food is not bad for an airline, they even have metal cutlery, they describe one meal as a light snack but it is a whole baguette with ham, cream cheese and roasted red pepper which is included in the price, a rarity these days and their main meals are pretty edible too. It is just a very pleasant experience and would be even more so if the times of flights from Prague to Cyprus leg weren't so awful, we arrived at 2:30am and left at 3:15am. One of the best parts is the discovery of a brilliant animation Pat and Mat which is made in the Czech republic but it is classic slapstick stuff, we always look forward to seeing them on the in flight entertainment and you don't need to know Czech to understand it. Talking of food and airlines, I had to laugh at one bit of news out from United Airlines (an American airline) that they are going to introduce an organic option to their snack box range, does this mean that finally there is something in the box that is more edible than the box itself? Believe me their snack boxes are awful normally, so hopefully this is a step in the right direction.

I was spitting feathers at one particular news story about IMF's Mark Allen called out of retirement to come and sort Latvia out, the sense of smugness he has about the job he has done and the sense of rightness that the guy has left me astounded. The fact is that if he has been operating for the last 40 years he has not been doing a very good job. His experience is useless and is still putting the pain of adjustments onto the poorest segments of the population something the Icelandic people decided was not something they were willing to do in their nation judging by their referendum this week. If the IMF did proper assessments of the job they do across the whole of society and found their systems work then I would acquiesce to their knowledge but the only criteria they have is that the country pays back their debts and they believe the pain that is inflicted is fine because the poor will benefit in the end, something that is not borne out by experience, the poor suffer and continue to suffer even after the economy is supposed to be on an even footing. The pain is also only worth it when you are sat in your ivory tower and don't have to watch your child dying through lack of medical help or food because your suddenly expected to pay for it. At least in Latvia people are not dying for want of medical help (well not that I know of) but they do end up with big bills as one of our neighbours has and without the means to pay it.

Not sure if I am happy about the fact that the World Bank has agreed a loan for providing a social security net in Latvia. I agree with the fact that the poor do need additional support and there are plenty around judging by the numbers there are clearing paths in our village. Clearing paths is a job creation scheme for those without work, helpful when it has been very snowy but sad that there are so many needing the money. The problem is that a loan is a debt that needs repaying at the end of the day and is only necessary because of the bad debts that Latvia has got into and the stupidity of bankers greed in lending the money in the first place, the children of this nation have been mortgaged to the hilt now and it will be a long time before they will be free of it.

On a lighter note I was quite entertained by an article on a citizen's initiative in Naples. Claudio Agrelli set up an online community whose citizens never jump red lights, and they always use the pedestrian crossings in other words they always follow the rules, not something that Naples or Italy is renowned for. He is seeking to establish a community where people respect rules and actively participate in discussions on those things they believe would be good for the community which is brilliant really, anything that moves people to becoming active citizens with an interest in other people is to be applauded. Good citizens of the world unite

Photo 1 My spot by the pool under the palm trees
Photo 2 A lemon tree in the garden of course, not many of those in the UK or Latvia
Photo 3, 4 and 5 my more sheltered spot for windy moments
Photo 6 It wasn't warm all the time so nothing better than a seat by the fire to carry on doing some reading.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Would you believe it!

Well here I am sitting in the shade of a palm tree by the side of a pool with the sun shining and listening to the birds tweeting, not like the half metre of snow we left in Latvia. They have had heavy rain here in Cyprus which is good for a drought stricken land but I am pleased that the forecast is pleasantly warm enough to sit outside in some sun for the next few days, something I wouldn't be able to do for at least another month in Latvia. In fact the day before we left we had to rescue a friend twice from the wet slushy snow (yes it had started to warm up), being from the South of England he was quite amazed at the techniques we used to get him out when we couldn't actually tow him, from sacks under the wheels, to bits of twigs and fir tree when they didn't work. Hope he got out from the camp where he was staying though as we weren't around to help him the next day as we were on the way to the airport.

Talking of snow in Latvia, Riga has seen the most snow in any winter for the last 100 years. What an awful time for that to happen though as it was also the time when they had the least money to clear the roads. Riga didn't come to a standstill though and the population muddled on through it all.

Latvia hasn't been in the main news because of the snow but because of a hacker who has hacked into the State Revenue service and stole quite a few details of people's tax returns. He or she has been dubbed the Robin Hood hacker because they have been revealing how some of the rich have been less than truthful with the Latvian public, from bankers and public servants who haven't taken the cuts that they said they would to those who have been given bonuses despite the fact they have turned to the Latvian Government for aid. Despite the illegality of what they have done they are being hailed as heroes for brining to the attention of the public the less than transparent dealings of the rich, who continue to benefit despite the terrible problems the public have been having. Does make you wonder who the real villains are? Still on the subject of Latvian state services I came across this one during my internet trawl - The Latvian State Agency of Intangible Cultural Heritage (Nemateriālā kultūras mantojuma valsts aģentura), what a fantastic name, not entirely sure what it means but I think it is something to do with things like language, ie the cultural identity of a nation that is not made of bricks and mortar but I could be wrong.

The World bank is in a spot of bother too. Apparently they have not been checking up on whether their policies actually do work, something they agreed to do a few years ago. Another interesting fact to come out of a recent report is that the World bank still relies heavily on consultants from the North to advise poorer countries which consumes an awful lot of dosh, rather than building up the poorer countries capacity to take action themselves. In other words the North are paying themselves a lot of money for bad advice and that is classed as "aid." Think there maybe a need to change there then.

Well I know this is short but I had better get back to lounging errr I mean studying in the sun, but just so you know what I have had to put up with here are some photos from last week in the snow.

Most of these photos you will have seen before but this will be probably as deep as it gets for this winter.
Photo 1: That door is actually way off the ground and is never used, and so it is not snow on the steps.
Photo 2: The seats finally disappeared again this year, like last year (The rural East of Latvia usually gets more snow than Riga but this year I don't think so. The bin ever so nearly disappeared too but not quite.
Photo 3: The ice roads we navigate for at least 3 months of the year and makes you realise why winter tyres are compulsory in Latvia from the beginning of November to the end of March.