The new blog is here.
This month past has been…well, you watch the news. Sometimes silence is better.
Things were quiet here in The Village. The scabby, sickly-looking black cat and another cat kept hovering around the cars parked outside our block of flats, sometimes sitting underneath them (it’s their favourite pastime), while the local young hoodlums kept flocking to a giant tree by the side of the road. They always hang out by that tree. There were more of them when it was cold: then we’d see them out there eating crisps, their mates occasionally riding by on motorcycles. At night, they all gather at the garages down the road.
Winter hasn’t given up yet. The snow melts, you think that the first real signs of spring have arrived because the water on the road keeps reflecting the bright sunshine. Under the covers of snow are all the bogs and the fields but you can’t tell, because the snow keeps coming back. Two days of near-spring and then: snow. Repeat.
I have been waiting for this bloody snow to disappear since February, it had that near-melted look about it then. But all hope is not gone: The First Day of Sunglass-donning has already been and gone – that is how the approach of spring is measured. That, and drunks gathering on park benches, bottles in hand, are, as we all know, sure signs. Perhaps also that neighbour A had us come over to her place to look for the bird she thought was stuck in the ventilation shaft behind their kitchen fan, or maybe inside the fan itself.
Either way. As things stand, it seems we have found a buyer for our flat. If everything goes according to plan and they don’t turn around and change their minds (fingers crossed!), we’ll have all the official paperwork done in a couple of weeks which means we only have a month and a bit to go in this country.
Thus, this blog has seen its last post. There is a new blog on the way, but I won’t be posting the link to it until we have left Estonia.
Take care, dear readers. I wish you all the best.
E-mail from flat association:
In case some of you don’t know, our street now has a new name. And number.
Edited for clarity: Our block of flats had a number before. Our street didn’t really have a name though; that is, there was a name but it was more along the lines of ‘School nr 25′, or ‘House nr 53′.
If you let us continue, everything will be alright. But what if things change? Then everything will go down the drain… Let’s continue on this road; if the economy is in good and strong hands, your life will be better too! was the message in both these absolutely class ads from the Estonian Reform Party:
No I don’t understand Estonian politics. Even less now. The election and the parties involved made me think of a nice Estonian I know, a young woman who is very sharp and down to earth but doesn’t think she has anything to contribute or any right to speak up at all. ‘Oh but you know, I am not like those clever people, what I believe doesn’t carry any weight’. This is largely what I have come across with so many Estonians – they think that they are too simple, not worthy of being listened to. Better leave it to the clever ones. Those who do run things and do a lot of talking here are usually the ones who shouldn’t be; the ones who positioned themselves at the money taps at the right time and made sure they would be alright no matter what political costume they wore. Meanwhile, she’ll be serving coffee around the office and be pretty, grateful and happy to be employed, and her husband will be putting up Gyproc abroad.
Twenty years of independence regained, and what has been built up makes those with a nostalgic bent yearn for the ‘good old times’ while the elite is positioned at the money taps. That is what breaks my heart.
Many people want the good old times back, never mind the deportations that no one remembers anyway because that generation is all but gone now, and what happened back then can conveniently be forgotten because deportations were like broken eggs to an omelette. Many people, like my friend, evidently also think that it’s best to leave things the way they are and let the clever people decide, even though what we have after twenty years of independence regained is a country which in its economic liberalism is slowly being drained of its population, where the bitterness and prejudice between Russians and Estonians at times is so dense it can be cut with a knife, where young people think that a good future equals skivvying abroad, all while the culture fosters a general sense of ‘patriotism’ that in my view seems to lead to a sense of self-contentment with own culture and worse, ignorance and downright hostility of others. Is it possible to be Estonian and like the Estonian culture without being defensive about it, meaning, without that panicked underlying fear of being eradicated by horrible foreigners? I’d like to think it is possible, but that might be wishful thinking. Is it possible to be Estonian without sharp-elbowed dog-eat-dog individualism and nightmare capitalism? I’d like to think it’s possible, but I am becoming increasingly pessimistic. I don’t see any change to any of the above in any of the Estonian political parties. It’s as if any notion of a country where what is important is the people is but a faint dream; we put our hope in economic growth, in getting foreign investments (West or East…ahem), but not in the people.
You can judge a society by how it looks after its weakest members. The poor, those who can’t ‘contribute’ to growth, the ‘useless’, because it tells you what being human means.
As a rule, Estonians only have one first name. Neither of my paternal grandparents had any middle names and I don’t think any siblings or relatives of theirs had any either.
Among the younger generations you sometimes come across double names. One of A’s workmates claimed that multiple names are becoming increasingly popular which I found strange and contradictory to experience until I realised that she actually meant double names like Siim-Sven or Ülle-Urve, not middle names. The concept of middle names not being part of some strange triple given name to be spat out at all at once like Signe Aliide Mare but rather one name for use and others for, well, not much use at all, creates utter confusion.
I worked at a museum in Tartu for a short while and had to have my work contract altered because I hadn’t told them that I in fact had more than one first name – why didn’t I tell them so? I on the other hand was just bewildered: why would any employer need to know any middle name/s of mine and why did they think it so important to have this in print? Our neighbour A expressed that she didn’t really understand why anyone would need those other names if they weren’t to be used, and she has a point. It’s interesting to see how different name traditions work, but confusing to get stuck in between.
It was my friend S’s birthday two days ago. She is a dear friend whom I miss very much. We first met on our very first day of school, an autumn day in 1989. I hope you threw or will throw a good party, S.
Getting older doesn’t frighten me so much in actual numbers as it does time, if that makes any sense. I look back at things that to me only seem to have happened a couple of years ago, and realise that what seems like a couple of years actually is four or some other awfully high number like twelve or something. You know you are getting older when the years seem to fly by…
I read my foster-brother’s blog the other day and felt old and grumpy about the general sloth and uselessness of today’s youth (he’s 20; then again, haven’t I felt like that since I was 18?). Then I thought about my foster-family. We haven’t been in touch much lately. I still hear from them every now and then but we didn’t visit each other very much at the end there before we moved. I used to feel very strange compared to other people because my family was (is) so messy, in the sense of me having spent some years in fostercare and at the same time retained contact with my father, and later my mother. Now it doesn’t bother me so much. I realise this might sound strange, but if my parents hadn’t been abusing alcohol and prescription drugs and life hadn’t been as shitty as it was complete with a flat in general state of misery when I grew up, it wouldn’t have been my life and I wouldn’t be me. But my support (later foster-) family was important; the funny thing is that they evidently had their shit together much more back then than they do now when one of their sons gets himself all bogged down.
I spoke to neighbour A about fostercare in Estonia and it seems that the system is different here, Estonia has more orphanages and less foster-families. Perhaps also more grandmothers, I think many people would have a hard time without their grandmothers. If things had have turned out just a little bit different back in 1994 when my support family that I saw once every couple of weekends to get an inkling of family life became my foster family, I might well have ended up in an orphanage for a while, or so I was told. For many, fostercare was a disaster so I guess we can say that I was one of the lucky ones.
So many people who were placed in fostercare in Sweden had terrible experiences and I really think that their stories, which often contain a not small amount of testimony of ignorance or even malice on behalf of different authorities, are part of a history of Sweden that isn’t much known, certainly not abroad. The one thing I think I got from home that was very useful was a distrust of social services. I understand now that this was something I was taught in order to keep social workers away from our home (this is before I was placed in fostercare), but through personal experience I got to catch a glimpse of a Sweden where governmental authorities such as social services and their preconceptions of right and wrong were very strong and often went unquestioned. I think this is closely tied to the strong demand for conformity that runs through Swedish society and has its darkest sides converge in certain not very flattering parts of Swedish history like the forced sterilisations.
Now, I was a really bookish kid and probably very annoying, particularly in my punk years which was my entire teens, but I tell ye: no sane country anywhere should be training social workers to prefer what looks like giant wooden chess pawns in red and blue to communicate with a twelve-year old. It is true, it happened to me. I was asked by a social worker to describe how I felt about different family members by placing these giant pawns on a table, to which I replied that you know, it is alright for you to ask me questions straight out if you want to know how I feel. That didn’t work, so I made a joke of it instead. But I haven’t forgotten just how difficult it was for social workers to think outside the box, let alone talk to people.
Anyway. It seems even old ties to places die hard. I am thrilled that we are moving back – not thrilled about returning to that very conformist Swedish society, but hopefully in the end back to the city I grew up in and have a documented love/hate relationship with, and where above all there’s people we know. S and P are renovating a houseboat and might already be living on it when we do make it there, but if not, S will be one of the few of our old bunch of friends that hasn’t packed up and left for the capital, or so it feels. Some people seemed surprised that we would choose to go back to an industrial city (pre- massive unemployment and crisis it was an industrial city) next to Stockholm, but that’s just it: old ties to places die hard. When we sell and go over we will be staying in the capital for a while until we find a rental in Södertälje, but I truly don’t harbour any wish to live in Stockholm for any longer period of time. It is an interesting city that I hope to photograph a lot once we get over, but not stay in for more than a few months if I can help it.