Well, I haven't written anything for about a month now... we've been so busy, and thinking of something vaguely inspired is a chore. But finally I decided that I'd write about what's been on our minds lately... in fact, what's been on every Latvian's mind lately.... or is that just EVERYONE's mind? That is, this darn economic crisis. I am not going to reflect on the politics or the financial systems, God knows I know very little about it - but what I CAN talk about is what this crisis fells like at street level here in Riga.
I assume the crisis is hitting everywhere to some degree. But as I can understand from international news reports, things are looking pretty dire here in Latvia particularly. I first really started thinking about the possibility of a crisis was when Mara visited us from Oz in October (or was it November?) last year. We spent a few days in Venice, and much of Mara's conversation was about architect friends losing jobs in Australia, about how the crisis is affecting Brisbane. And I was interested (and a bit bemused), because back then, there was very little sign of the crisis on an every day level in Latvia. I wondered to myself if we were not going to feel the crisis as severely, the same way Latvia had not felt the fear of terrorist stuff that seems to have been going on in Australia, Germany, the UK, the USA in the last few years - that we were just too small and insignificant in the grand scheme of things to be included.
Oh, how naive.... then suddenly, around Christmas, things started to go crazy. Or was that after the new year? I can't remember, but in the last two months, the economic downturn is the topic of every conversation, every news report, every daily errand. And although Jem and I have still got jobs (which we count ourselves very lucky for - starting brand new, supposedly stable jobs just before the crisis hit), many of our friends have completely lost their jobs, or parts of them, and the ones who still have their jobs have been forced to take significant pay cuts. Property prices and rent has dropped dramatically, which is not great for us as part of our income is made up of renting out a flat we own in the old town - and our current tenant has just given notice. Our extra freelance work has completely dried up.
A number of our expat friends have already moved back to Australia - hoping that job prospects and social security are better than here. Most of those who haven't already moved back are talking about it. We are helping one friend organise an Austrlian visa for his Latvian wife and their children. We recently attended a going away party and spent the time talking about who will be next, about how each of us is holding up. I get asked daily why I am continuing living in Latvia if I have the option to go back to Australia by doctors, shopkeepers, people I meet on the street.
The crisis has also become obvious in a day-to-day way - apart from the increase in GST, which means that EVERYTHING in the shops is now more expensive than it was last December, all sorts of services are being cut. The airport buses from the hotel up the road have stopped running. The choices of magazine in the local newsagent have halved - they are no longer importing what they used to. Even our old favourite restaraunt Lido (if you've been to Latvia, you'll know it) has less choices on offer, less customers, and weigh the portions so that they don't give you a bit extra. The bowling centre up the road was pretty much empty when we went there last Sunday afternoon. Every fourth shop on the streets around our place has closed down and has a big "for lease" sign in the window.
As a result of all this, eventhough we have managed so far to retain a majority our own personal income and security, there is a pretty heavy dose of foreboding and pessimism - an all-pervasive anxiety in the air. The situation is "psyching us out" - and its precisely that - a psychological beat-up. I find myself getting anxious about financial issues, worried for friends, wondering what will happen next, hoping that we keep our jobs, imagining how we will get by if we don't. I'm sure all the hype doesn't help, and in reality we're doing ok, but the fear factor is rising for everyone here, as well as a feeling of sadness that Latvia seems to have taken a step back by a number of years.
On the upside, though, if we can get a bank loan (and everyone's saying we haven't got a hope), prices for building work have also plummeted.... so I suppose if we can scratch up the cash, we actually may be able to get this house renovated while its affordable. If we're willing to take the risk!
I keep telling myself that we just have to hang in there and work and cut costs where we can, and that in a few years things will start looking up again. I can't see us picking up and moving back to Oz - because I get the feeling it mightn't be that easy getting a job there either - and we are committed to staying here and making a go of it unless it becomes no longer feasible. We are doing ok - better than ok in fact, because Jem is enjoying this new job and the challenges it brings, and I am also going ahead in my museum job in leaps and bounds - so things are all good. I just have to tell my frazzled nerves this on a regular basis!
So I am interested... what's the weather report in the rest of the world? Is it as dramatic for Oz/the UK/Indo/Angola/wherever as it is here?

I realise I haven't posted anything for a while now - so as a filler here is one of my favourite pics at the moment. Matiss' and Mikus' kindergarten on an excursion to a local gallery. The kindergarten Mikus and Tiss go to is very small, only one group of around 20 kids aged from three to six. It's a very home-like environment with very loving and groovy teachers/carers, who have a great deal of respect for each child and their individual personalities. Both the boys love going to Bērnu Māja (literally Children's House - Maria Montessori's own title), and although Mikus took a few days to get used to it, he now loves it there. This picture was taken on one of Mikus' first days by himself at kindergarten, and he was still a little unsure (you can see him on the far right edge). The exhibition was a series of portraits painted by the artist mum of a boy who goes to kindy. One of the portraits is of Mārtiņš, one of the teachers at Bērnu Māja (can you see Mārtiņš and his painted double?). The fact that Bērnu Māja is so much like another "home" is a comfort at the moment because the boys have started to spend more time there lately - because of our new work arrangments, they stay for two full days every week. So while I am running around thinking all things museum, I can concentrate knowing that the boys are in a kind environment, which is creative, personal, cosy and interesting...


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