Affected by the GFC, our friends have rented out one of the rooms in their apartment to a German student on some kind of university exchange program - to make ends meet in the short-term. They befriended the student on Facebook, and were amused by his first status update after arriving here: "Latvia is just like Africa, only colder". ..... What the fuck?! I am intrigued about the parallels this young German sees between Latvia and Africa. I am the first to admit that people here don't have the earning capacity they do in the West, but besides that... I'm stumped. I'm wondering if our relatives currently living in Africa, who have also lived in Latvia have to say - any ideas? Mara, Joel??? I'm guessing the "poverty" in Latvia has been a challenge for Hans (not his real name), and yes, obviously there are some drawbacks to living here instead of the "West" - but there are also so many perks!
One of the perks I have been considering lately, is that in comparison to living in Australia, we get to travel internationally when living in Latvia. I mean, a lot. A month doesn't go by without Jem or I having to get in a plane to go somewhere for a work meeting or what have you. Family travel happens less frequently, of course, because we are the ones who are paying - but we still do get to see different corners of the world with our kids occasionally. Mind you, travelling for work is not all it's cracked up to be, as many of you would know. Most of the time you work from the moment you arrive until the moment you leave, except for the free hour or two you spend frantically trying to find a toy-shop to buy some kind of Chinese import that you can take back as presents for the kids. That and the fleeting city tour you get out of the cab window on the way back to the airport.
I remember when I was little we travelled internationally with my parents a bit - because dad was an academic and tended to get sabbaticals in other universities. From this experience I was well and truly bitten by the travel bug, and I remember having "career" conversations with my parents, something along the lines of.... Them: "What do you want to be when you grow up?" Me: "I don't care, as long as I can travel overseas lots". Them: "You do realize that with most jobs you don't get to travel overseas. Most people in Australia live in one place, and work in one place, you have been lucky to travel this much but you can't sustain that in adulthood". This, of course, was in the day when there were no budget airlines, and the internet wasn't invented yet. There was no such thing as working prolonged periods from home, or easily booking hotels (because you had to do it by phone, with no internet hotel listings to refer to...). I was distraught at the prospect of no more jetting overseas! Luckily for me, lots of things changed.
Latvia is positioned in such a way that you can easily fly to Western Europe, but the interesting East is right there as well. And my singing group Saucejas has taken full advantage of this, singing in concerts all over the place. This Sunday we are flying to Moscow to sing at a Latvian embassy do, and I'm not sure if I'm excited or trepidatious or both. I can't say Moscow has ever been on my list of "places to see" - St Petersburg was lovely a few years ago, but the lure of Red Square hasn't quite overcome my squeamishness around the cyrillic alphabet. Mind you, when I found out we were invited I had a moment of "got to see Lenin in his glass coffin before the put him underground"! But now that I am actually faced with standing in line outdoors in sub-zero temps, to see the mummified corpse of a man whose ideas wreaked so much havoc on my country and family, I'm kinda losing my enthusiasm. Dunno. I guess I'll see how I feel when I get there.
So that's the first trip of the year, with quite a few more before midsummer. One of these will be a special trip - meeting Jem's parents SOMEWHERE to celebrate Jem's big FOUR-OH in early June. We were thinking Marrakesh, but watching the news in the last week is making us wonder if it's such a good idea! Wherever it will be, though, we are grateful for the proximity of so many amazing places to where we currently live. Even if where we live IS like Africa, only colder.
PS. Pic above is from getting on the plane after a daytrip to Helsinki with a friend in August last year