What You Risk Reveals What You Value #7: Liepaja II – Liepaja, Latvia

7: Liepaja II
It’s 8:00am and I had a great night’s sleep. I could lay there some more but I can hear the clanking of china. Lana is making coffee. So, I get up, take a shower and join her for breakfast. Blueberry porridge. It’s actually oatmeal which I like so, Lana and I enjoy our porridge and coffee.

Today Lana has two Russian students who she gives private English lessons to, so she will have be home for them. I need to pick up my laundry, go to an internet cafe, and hangout at the beach. So, we devised a plan. It’s not a very good one, but because I didn’t want to discuss it too much, I agreed.

We left the house and picked up my laundry. $1.50 latis. No problem. I was willing to pay but Lana is discussing something with the lady at the cleaners. I think she is saying that they are charging me too much. I see her rewrite the total on my receipt. $1.40. No no, not necessary, I thought. Please, I thought, let’s just go. But they saw that I had a fleece sweater to be washed, so when I finally asked, “How much?” they said, $1.50. Ok great. I paid.

The laundry smelled wonderful! Perfect to put in my suitcase. It will make everything smell great. From the laundry place, we looked for an internet cafe. This would be good time to catch up on emails while she was giving her private lessons. We found one close to her house.

By this time, it was close to her first lesson. She asked if I could stay and talk to each other for about five minutes so that they can practice their English. I said, sure. I initially proposed that I come in for the first five minutes of her first lesson, leave and then come back during the last five minutes of her second lesson. This way, I’m not having to come back and forth from town. Well, this didn’t really work well because when I left at 11:05, thinking I’ll back back at 12:55, she yelled, “See you at 12:00.” I agreed.

Back at the internet cafe, I came back three times. The lady, I’m sure is wondering why I had to keep leaving, but you know, you just make it work.

So, I meet Pavil. He is a handsome young man who is studying English so that he can work on a cruise line as a bartender. His father is an sailor but he worked with heavy machinery. Pavil wants to be around people, so bartender would be a good job for him.

I talk to him for a while and he is very good. He still gets his expressions mixed up and it makes me smile, but it is endearing to see him try hard. I know that it will only be a matter of time and he will be very good.

Karina is the next student, much more reserved. It seems it’s a little tougher for her to speak English. I try talking to her but even I am running out of questions to ask because she couldn’t understand half the questions I was asking her. These were the same questions I asked Pavil. So, I had to adjust. Thank goodness I was dismissed by Lana. Back to the computer.

I meet Lana at about 1:00pm and we go to the Market so that I can shop for lunch. I’m going to prepare stir fry vegetables over rice. Help me!

We go the market and we’re picking fresh vegetables. There were plums, the kind I see in the US but there were also red plums. As we were passing them by, she would say, “Do you like plums?” and I would say, “I like the purple ones. Do the purple and red taste the same?” She answers, “Yes, you can taste them.” oh…she didn’t understand me. That was how some of our conversations went. But otherwise, it was fine. We picked up some watermelon, squash, peppers, mushrooms and then we came home and started to prepare them.

The rice was tough to make because I’m not too good at cooking rice on a regular pot. We had a rice cooker, but I remember in the Philippines how it was done. With some assistance from Lana, we made it happen. She had to relight the stove probably five times because each time I would lower the flame, it would just die.

Then I stir fried the vegetables, and Lana watched with interest. She’s never had vegetables prepared this way before. I felt like a chef on TV, explaining what I’m doing as I go along, “…so I put a little bit of soy sauce, a little bit of salt….” etc, etc.

When it was done, we sat, ate and had wine. Lana gave it a thumbs up. It looked like she enjoyed it. I enjoyed it myself. It reminded me of home and immediately put me at ease. Something familiar.

We get ready to go to the beach. It’s about 4:30pm. Perfect she says. Earlier, it was too hot. It’s bad for you, she says. “What’s the fun in that?” I thought. But it’s 4:30pm and it’s still warm so, I was okay with that.

We set up by the bushes and we lay down. Ahh…very nice. The sand felt good. The sun felt good and it was nice just to lay there and relax and not have to talk. I looked around and I can’t help but keep thinking about Lana. I thought about her life here in Latvia. She wants to go to North America. She thinks life there will be better. I don’t think she likes the way Latvians treat Russians. She’s lived there all her life, born and raised, yet she feels unwelcome. I feel like taking her home with me to the US. She’s so na�ve. She lives such a simple life here in Latvia. Isn’t that what it’s supposed to be? Live a simple life? We have too much in America, too much, sometimes, I think. We forget the simple things. The last couple of days, I have enjoyed the simple things with Lana.

After a couple of hours, it got a bit too windy and cold for me, so we packed up and headed back home. I was getting hungry and she said she was going to prepare dinner. We get home, I take a quick shower and Lana prepares dinner. Zucchini and cheese casserole. Yummy! Nothing like homemade food. It was really good. We ate dinner and had coffee. Lana and I discussed a lot of things and I started asking her to translate certain words in Russian. I jokingly accused her that the Russian language is a way to confuse the English speaking people. She didn’t think that was too funny and said, “If things were different, Russian would be the most spoken language now.” She started talking about the Russian Revolution and asked if I remembered it? I reluctantly said no. Reluctantly because I seem to have been ignorant about a lot of things Russian that she’s been talking about. Finally she was annoyed and said, “My son know about US History, why don’t you know about Russian history?”

Looking back, I shouldn’t have gone there but I felt I had to. I immediately defended the Americans, telling her that I’m not a good representation of an American. I told her that most Americans are probably good with history but I’m not. My interests lie in business and information systems. I told her that I am interested in history and have been talking to people about it, especially old people because I feel that I can relate better to stories. I told her that I didn’t do great in history in school. I assured her that American schools probably taught Russian history (I can’t remember!). So, I finished my speech by just telling her that now that I’m older, I am more eager to learn about history and that’s why I ask a lot of questions. I paused to take a sip of my coffee and to get feedback from her. She looks at me and says, “Okay” and stands up. Great, I thought. She hates me. There was that uncomfortable pause and then we started clearing the table. She insisted that I don’t lift a finger so I just stayed out the way.

After she was done clearing the table, she asked me to come to her room so that we can look at a map. From there, she showed me Russia and basically gave me a brief history on Russia. We talked about Russian intellects and the different writers. AGAIN, I haven’t read any books by Russian writers and this disturbs her. Finally I used my trump card. Patrick, my husband, is a fan of Russian literature. One of his favorite books was Anna Karenina. I started naming as many books and Russian writers that my memory would allow me to recall under pressure and this eases Lana a bit. I again assured her that Americans ARE interested in Russian literature, I just didn’t happen to be one of them.

We talked a bit more about geography and history and finally she says, “What else do you want to know?” In a very nice way. I can tell that she was trying to teach me now. She likes me again, I thought.

We shifted the subject back to North America and we talked about Canada, where her son lives and how life is there and how I wish she would go and visit. Next year, she says. I promised to go and see her when she does. I do hope that she does.

We get ready for bed and say goodnight. I leave tomorrow morning for Vilnius. I will miss Lana.