I Don't Even Have a Title for This...

So, I have been a bad blogger and have failed to update for the past week or so... I am really much too lazy right now to do a day-by-day, so I'll just write about what I can remember.

On Sunday, I volunteered at the Valmiera Marathon with 5 other girls from my class. We were working from 8 am to 5 pm, but, like with any job, most of the time was spent waiting. With the exception of skiing, it was the longest time I had spent outside in extremely cold weather - and it wasn't even officially autumn yet. What do Valmiera Marathon volunteers do, you ask? We register runners; make the medals; hand out bags that contain coupons, candy bars, vitamins, a banana, and a loaf of bread; drink ten cups of free tea; "test" the bouncy house; work at the bag check (I know all my Latvian numbers!); eat the free sandwiches; chase Bread People; eat the free candy; make sure no one steals from the Asics shop; re-test the bouncy house; go to Hesburger for fries/stalking the Valmiera basketball team; another hour of bag check madness; and, finally, load purse with free candy and leave.
The Bread People!

The best part? They gave us participation certificates and medals (the classy engraved medals, by the way, not the ones that we made) - neither of which distinguish that we were volunteers rather than participants. I have taken to telling people (like my mother) that I ran a marathon, and I have a certificate and medal to prove it! (She didn't buy it, by the way... I suppose a 17 year history of hating physical activity cannot be surpassed by a piece of paper and a hunk of metal on ribbon, however official both may be.)

Monday I had to miss school in order to go to Riga to sort out my visa. Katrin (a German AFSer who also goes to VVG) and I took the bus together at 9:45 am. We had planned on meeting at 9:30; Katrin,  being German and extremely punctual, was there at 9:20. Allie, being Allie, left the house at 9:29. At 9:35 I was almost at the bus station when I realized I had forgotten my papers and passport. So I went back home, got the documents, and speed-walked to the bus station... and then I ran as I saw it pulling away. Yes, I chased down a bus. (In case you were worried, it stopped.) We met Jordan, Jan, and Lisa in Riga (Jan and Lisa being other Germans), and took the tram to the Immigration Centre (I don't know what it's actually called, but it was in a very large, intimidating, and bureaucratic looking building; it was some sort of immigration center, so I decided to make myself look informed and write it with capital letters and the British/Jack's college's spelling.) The Germans were missing copies of their TB x-rays, but they were able to get their residence permits due to being in the EU. Jordan and I, however, had less luck. While we both had all the documents we needed from our side, AFS for some reason didn't have one of the forms needed. From what I could understand of the long-and-fast Latvian conversation, there was never a document that specifically said "(My name) is an exchange student." There were forms that said AFS was an exchange program, etc., but none that specifically stated I was an exchange student.

Wherever there's a bouncy house...
Ultimately, after a lengthy discussion and sitting in an uncomfortable chair for a couple hours, we left - Jordan and I without our residence permits. We had to leave our passports with AFS so that later they could go back with the new forms and obtain the visas in our names. While I trust AFS completely, I hate the feeling of being without a passport. I keep flashing back to the documentary I saw on Eastern European girls being trafficked into white slavery - it's always a charming guy with an "exchange program" or "work abroad program" who convinces you that you need to give him your passport for either safekeeping or to get a visa, and then he won't give it back and you can't escape and you're forced into prostitution... Okay, now I'm just rambling. I need to stop watching documentaries.

Anyway, after a rather sour start to the day, we decided to walk to the pankukas restaurant. It was cold, raining, and we were following Jordan in circles. Then we met Jordan's classmates, and it was awkward, and then Jordan left for reasons unstated, and it was just... awkward. Jan, Katrin and I had to get back to the train station, so two of his classmates walked us back. It was slightly less awkward, but, yeah... They took us through Little Moscow (the "dangerous and scary" part of Riga where no Latvians dare go) in an attempt to scare us, but they ended up scaring themselves. Us exchange students really have no fear of Russians, so...

Oh, yes, and someone hacked into my card and has been withdrawing large sums from my bank account. Also, the remaining 13 lats of cash that were to hold me over until I'm able to set up a new account in the US have mysteriously vanished. So, yeah, being broke in a foreign country is great. The worst part about the credit card thing is how easy it would be to commit fraud in Latvia. In the US, you have to enter a pin code not only when you want to withdraw from an ATM, but when you want to buy something at a store. Here, you don't even have to enter a pin! So essentially, you could take anyone's card, go to Origo, buy yourself a brand new computer and maybe a shiny red bicycle, and use their card without any hacker skills required. It's ridiculous. Yes, the hacker was somehow able to get my PIN, so this point is kind of irrelevant, but it's making me paranoid. Do you see the irony with PINs here, though? Cell phones require PINs, but credit cards don't.

Okay, rant over. I'm going to get ready for a(n allegedly giant) party now. It starts in 30 minutes, but all the cool kids (aka we're getting there) at 10 or 11. My plan for tonight? Do hair. Put on face. Get dressed. Sit on couch with tea and bread and watch some dubbed MTV. Go to party. Come home. Sleep.  Then tomorrow our school is celebrating its 90th year, and there's a giant alumni celebration and a choir concert, etc. I'm volunteering (since when did I get so charitable?) and will be directing alumni to their designated rooms by year graduated - more Latvian number practice, yay!

Oh, and one more thing! On Tuesday or Wednesday our Latvian teacher had us take a dictation, and I tried my best to keep up with the quick pace and included a lot of question marks and ellipses. Today in class, our teacher had everyone applaud me - literally - for my wonderful dictation. Of course, it had way more red marks on it than anyone else's, and I'm pretty sure I invented some new words, but apparently it impressed her! She passed it around to everyone in the class, and had 12A and 12B read it as well. She wrote on my paper that by spring I'd be writing with no mistakes, and while I doubt that, it made me rather proud of myself. An unnamed classmate said that I'd soon be better than him... but then another classmate told me that it's not too difficult to be better than him.

Speaking of the 12's, here's the picture our class took on the first day of school. Ignore the awkward pasty child in the back.


So, this post has been horribly disorganized. As a passport-less, visa-less, money-less child, I feel somewhat justified to not bother with editing this for structure. Or punctuation. Or at all. Or even coming up with a good conclusion, for that matter.

A Day in the Life of a Valmierite

This post is really no big deal. There's no tale of the Big City, journey to a farm, etc. It is simply Allie and her average life. The fact that this post seems dull is, in fact, a milestone: I have been here for almost a month, and my "Latvian life" is now normal. It's no longer my "Latvian life" - it's just my life. I have my routines, I know my way around; everything I see is no longer exciting and new - it's just the way things are.

Actually, that's not true. This post contains a wonderfully stereotypical Eastern European image: the sketchy electronics store.
iDeal. We investigated... Yeah, definitely not legal. The best part?
It's in the middle of Riga. Has no Apple employee and/or lawyer
stumbled across this? Oh, Latvia...

And now for the rest... here's a Day in the Life of Allie:

7:00 - Wake up to my alarm, which is still "We Are the People" and needs to change.
7:10 - I finally get out of bed and get dressed. Open my giant window and put on my makeup. Note: In California I wear no foundation other than a sheer powder, but here I wear a tinted pressed powder every day. Otherwise, I feel completely underdressed, and very, very pale. For a country that gets no sun, the tans here rival that of CA. And there are also many Snookies.
7:30 - I tiptoe into the kitchen, trying (and usually failing) to be quiet as to not disturb Gatis and Artis, who are sprawled on their beds in their underwear. For breakfast, I have two pieces of wheat bread with biezpiens and jam or krejums (sour cream, but different) and jam, often with sliced cucumber on top. Depending on how fast I got dressed, I may or may not make tea.
7:40 - I go back to my room and load the notebooks I need in my purse. I have a cute normal sized backback, but in a Latvian school it would be considered huge and bulky. So I use my little purse. It's a tiny purse by my standards, but it fits every single thing I need for school. The notebooks and textbooks are so small and lightweight - it is quite adorable, and convenient. Anyway, in order to see which books I need, I check my schedule, which I have glued (glued! like I'm in kindergarten again!) into the back of my planner, just like all Latvian girls.
7:45 - I brush my teeth, run around doing anything I've forgotten, put on my coat, and leave the house.
7:50 - I arrive at school as the bell rings, and head straight to the basement. The basement is like a wine cellar, with low vaulted brick ceilings. Every class has its own mud room with cubbies, a mirror, and hooks for coats. I put my jacket there, usually run into my classmates, and we walk to first period.
8:00 - Russian. For the past few lessons, we've been going over verbs I've known for a year. It's good to have a class in which I actually follow everything, though. Russian is my only class that's not only students from 12C - all the students in the 12th grade who learn Russian are in this period (except for 12B, because they're strange like that.)
8:50 - English. We go over workbook exercises the whole time, and the teacher often stares into space and starts confusing herself, and asks me for my opinion. On every. Single. Question.
9:40 - Music. Our teacher is a typical nerdy music teacher, combover and all. We sit in a giant (and cold) choir room, take notes on vocal range, and then sing some popular Latvian song. The chorus is "I love you / Do you love me?" and with the Latvian "o", the song is quite entertaining. We actually sound wonderful singing... but I can't even hit the high notes. That's when my lipsyncing skills come into play. Oh, and our teacher told us this story: "There once was a very talented Latvian tenor who moved to Italy to sing in the opera and got very rich. Then he lost all his money and got syphilis." (That was the word for word translation.)
10:30 - We're supposed to have Philosophy, but our History/Philosophy/Politics teacher has been sick/absent since last Thursday (or was it Wednesday?) Instead, Science was moved to this period. We went over the differences between plants and animals (Dogs eat flowers. Flowers do not eat dogs.) and filled out worksheets. It's actually a fun class; we're allowed to talk. Or more like I'm allowed to talk with my "translator," and when we have communication difficulties (smoking fish), it's quite entertaining.
11:20 - Free period! We use our free periods as lunch, because there's no designated lunch hour. We went down to the cafeteria and ate. I had potatoes and rice, which was a huge shock to everyone, including the lady serving the food. Everyone was looking at my plate - "Potatoes and rice? Together?!" "Wow, I never knew Americans ate such strange food..." You get the picture. Who knew? After we finished eating, we went back up to the second floor and sat in the main hall until the next period. (Note on sitting in the halls: The smaller halls are tiny and cramped, but the main hall has giant windows, high ceilings, and is extremely wide. On one side are classrooms, and on the other there are the windows and large tables. Around each table are four giant armchairs. They're old and torn in some places, but it still reminds me of Harry Potter.
12:10 - We had geography, which we spent copying a list of inventions and advancements in technology from the 17th century to the present day. Did you know that the zipper was invented because a fat man had difficulty tying his shoes? Neither did I.
12:50 - Finished with school! I went home and ate lunch (the same as breakfast, but with yogurt).
1:30 - Gatis and I walked to Depo (the Latvian version of Home Depot, with some Target thrown in there, and chinchillas and parrots...), as I was searching for a particular unnamed object that I wish to purchase for my mother's birthday. (They didn't have the one I wanted.) We returned, and Laura was home. We looked through Facebook and Draugiem.lv (Latvian Facebook) profiles of hot guys (sisterly bonding). Then Gatis decided to take out my ukulele. I went to the kitchen to make my specialty drink (Nesquick, instant coffee, and sugar) and when I returned, my ukulele was horribly out of tune and being mauled by Gatis's clumsy fingers. I probably spent three hours giving instructions and demonstrations, and now he knows three chords (gasp!) and is learning (key word: learning) a basic strumming pattern.

I stop checking the time after school is out, so now I have no idea where we are. At one point I went to Maxima to buy more Nesquick; at one point Mama Zane came home and we talked in the kitchen for a bit over tea; at one point I read more of the book from the Occupation Museum (over halfway done now); at one point I got on the computer and wrote this. Now Artis is going to go on and talk to girls on Skype... And that's a day in my life. Fascinating, no?

And because everyone hates a giant block of text with only one picture, here's Jordan and I in our matching yellow shirts on the plane to Copenhagen, almost a month ago...

Riga and Buses, Pankūkas and PINs

Today I ventured outside of my comfort zone of no-buses-or-trains-required Valmiera... Yes, I went to the Big City. Yes, Riga only has about 710,000 residents, but compared to Valmiera it is a giant metropolis. Slight Anecdotal Detour: When the bus pulled into the first stop in Riga, I put my jacket on and prepared to exit. 15 minutes later, still in Riga and not yet at my station, I was frustrated and shocked - "15 minutes and we're not even in the center yet!" Then I remembered that in San Jose, you can drive for probably 40 minutes and still not be at the other side... Mini-reverse-culture-shock, perhaps? But back to the beginning...
The crepe cafe (pankūkas kafejnica)


Friday night I was texting Jordan (the other American AFSer in Latvia), who lives in Kalngale (a 30 minute drive from Riga.) It's strange, the bond one makes with other exchangers. We met each other the first day of orientation and then spent two days traveling together, and by the end of the journey it felt as though we'd known each other for years. We text each other all the time, and once a week or so we'll talk on the phone for about an hour and spend all of our O!Karte credit. Last night it dawned on me that there are countless buses from Valmiera to Riga, that the buses are only 3 lats ($6), and that I had no plans for Saturday. And so I checked the time table, wrote down the bus numbers and times, and asked Mama Zane if I could meet Jordan in Riga. After some hushed debate in Latvian, it was decided that I could go. Of course, Gatis gave me the safety lecture, as well as a talk on how to get on and off a bus (quite literally - "Before your stop, you must stand up, but carefully, so you do not fall..."). 

On Saturday, I woke up at around 10:20, had a leisurely breakfast of rye bread, biezpiens, and jam with some "Teja Jauniešiem" (Teenager Tea, which I bought at a place in the country - more on that later), and then realized I was late and hurriedly got my things together and speedwalked to the bus station. There were only eight or so people on the bus, and it was surprisingly pleasant. When I think of buses, I tend to think of a sketchy moving vehicle with a tendency to crash and/or smell like pee. But this bus was just... nice. There was a large big digital clock, which actually was a brilliant feature, the seats were adjustable, there were footrests, etc. The most surprising aspect? It was pristinely clean, and lacked any sort of smell.
Wedding photos...
and some guy carrying a kayak in the middle of Riga.
As I only had two battery bars left, I turned off my phone. I spent most of the ride listening to my iPod and looking out the window, which was not nearly as pathetic/boring as it sounds. We passed farm land, villages that seem to be straight out of a fairy tale, rows and rows of Soviet-era apartment blocks, small lakes, and miles of forest. Certain parts of the forest(s, as we passed many different ones) were filled with people mushroom picking. It was quite adorable, actually. As we neared Riga, I turned on my phone to clarify details with Jordan. The night prior I had told him that I would be arriving at 1:45 at Rigas SAO, but we hadn't spoken that day. So you can imagine my panic when I turned on my phone and it asked for a PIN. A PIN! Who has a PIN for their phone?! I do, apparently! Later I learned that every Latvian sim card has a PIN - when I asked Gatis why, he just said, "For security, obviously." - and that it's written in the little packet your sim card comes in. (Remember, we buy our sim cards from convenience stores like drug dealers on The Wire.) Well, this was the first time I'd ever heard of my phone having a PIN. I desperately tried to figure it out - I tried the usual 1234, 0000, 1111, etc. combinations, but none of them worked. And that is how I officially locked myself out of my phone.
Cupcake mural outside the Laima chocolate factory.

Usually, this wouldn't be a big deal. There are always those ancient relics called pay phones, and there are always kind strangers with cell phones. It turns into a big deal when you suddenly realize that you know no numbers. None. Not your home phone, not your host parents' phones, not your host siblings' phones, not even Jordan's phone. It is a big deal when you are stranded without a phone - even worse, without any contacts. I panicked. There were 20 minutes left until we would arrive at Rigas SAO, and those 20 minutes were so stressful they probably slightly reduced my life span.

Dancing people sculptures near the music store
And then I was saved by social networking (aka, I remembered that Jordan had sent my his number via Facebook.) All I had to do was get to a computer. I began writing drafts of scripts in Latvian - I hypothetically explained my situation in detail to a sympathetic stranger and then begged for the use of a smart phone or computer. When I realized it probably wasn't a good idea to advertise the fact that I was alone and without any contacts in Riga, I boiled it down to "Do you know where the closest internet cafe is?" Ultimately, I didn't need to ask - inside the bus terminal, there are little internet kiosks. For 1,20 lats you can have an hour of internet time. In my panic, I dropped in an entire lat ($2) instead of 10 centimi.  Despite the fact that I wasted a lat, I was quite literally overjoyed. I logged onto Facebook, found Jordan's number, sent an email to Gatis with Jordan's number and an explanation, wrote Jordan's number on my hand, and ran to the nearest payphone.
The river in the park... it's actually not brown.

Jordan answered on the second ring, and I breathlessly explained my predicament. A 20-something-year-old punk walking by giggled/smirked (he was totally eavesdropping), but I could have cared less. I don't think anyone understands just how stressed I was... I was about to call the American Embassy. Yes, I could have just taken a bus back to Valmiera. But then I would have left Jordan sad and lonely, and I would have wasted 4 hours and 6 lats, and I would have felt like a failure. Anyway, Jordan answered, I talked for about a minute while constantly shoving coins into the payphone, and then I asked him where he was. He said he was inside the terminal, and we played a game of "Can you see the red sign? No, not that one, the other red sign. Can you see the guy with dreads? Move to your right... can you see him now?" When I finally saw him, I literally dropped the phone (don't worry, the bungy cord caught it) and ran Hollywood-style to squeeze the living daylight out of him in an "I-was-about-to-call-the-embassy!" hug.
Newlyweds' locks on the bridge
I needed to calm myself after such an adrenaline rush, and so we walked to Old Riga. Jordan goes to school in a modern orange and grey building in Old Riga, right in the center of everything. We walked there and then decided to eat at this amazing kafejnica (it's like a cafeteria/buffet/cafe in one) he knows. All they have is crepes. Crepes with mushrooms, crepes with biezpiens, crepes with Nutella... crepes galore. I had a biezpiens crepe and a cherry crepe... so fantastic. Afterwards we walked through Old Riga, looking at the sites and just talking. When we came across the Occupation Museum, I really wanted to go in, but Jordan was being lame and and said that all his Latvian friends had said it was boring. So we compromised and decided to go to the gift shop (the best part of any museum, as everyone knows.) I bought a book, "Unpunished Crimes," about the Nazi and Soviet occupations of Latvia, which I have been reading for most of today. 
Year-round Christmas tree (the Occupation Museum
is on the right.)

After the museum, we walked over to the main park and sat on castle ruins and watched a couple take wedding pictures. There's a tradition in Latvia (and I think Russia too) where newlywed couples put a symbolic lock on a bridge. One small bridge in the park is covered in locks, and Jordan and I spent about fifteen minutes inspecting them. Some people had Chinese characters, others had a simple lock that was from a hardware store, and some (Konstantin and Tatyana in particular) had engraved golden locks.

From there we wandered over to Jordan's favorite music store in Riga. Despite the sketchy alleyway entrance and the fact that it is in a dimly lit basement, it was actually one of the coolest places I've been in Riga. It wasn't that exciting of a store - there were two cheaply built and overpriced ukuleles and a bunch of guitars and some basses - but there was a playing room where you can try out the guitars and amps. We watched two guys jam on electrics for a while, and they were incredible. Then Jordan played "his" $1000 bass (which he apparently visits weekly). Needless to say, I was blown away again. I had no idea such melodic sounds could come out of a bass... That kid is genius, I tell you.

Jordan in the music shop

It was already closing time at the music shop, so we reluctantly left after about half an hour. We started wandering, and eventually we realized we were lost. The Art Nouveau buildings stopped and old wooden buildings began cropping up, as did the Laima chocolate factory. That made getting lost better - it smelled like chocolate for blocks. I brought out my map of Riga after Jordan finally decided to admit we were lost, and we found our way back to the head street. From there we followed the Freedom Monument to get back to Old Riga. (Jordan's comment, in response to their monument celebrating freedom and liberty: "Ours is bigger.") 

Back in Old Riga, we decided to have another meal. We ate some pretty good pizza at an Italian restaurant in a prime people-watching spot... all I'm going to say is that there was quite the crowd. For dessert, I decided to go for a banana split, which I hadn't had in years but was suddenly craving. At first Jordan refused to eat any. Then he decided to take a "little taste," using a mint leaf as a spoon. Then he brought out the fork and stole all the strawberry ice cream. (That's okay, because I don't like strawberry ice cream anyway.) At this point, it was almost time for me to head home. My bus left at 19:20, and it took us longer than we thought to walk there... and it's a big terminal.... Yes, we were those people running through the terminal to catch a bus. I made it with about a minute to spare, bid adieu to Jordan, and secured my seat on this bus. This time, it was pretty full, but I managed to wrangle two seats (one with my conveniently placed purse.) On the ride back, I listened to Bob Dylan and read my new book from the Occupation Museum. I arrived home in Valmiera at 9:30, and sat with Mama Zane in the kitchen for a while and was successfully able to describe my day completely in Latvian - no Russian or English needed! After some more Teenager Tea (next post, it's a long story), I went to the computer, typed this, and went to bed. (Now it's Sunday, and I am planning on having a lazy day in my pajamas reading the museum book. And of course, more Teenager Tea.)

In the middle of Old Riga: a knockoff Obama poster, Twilight, and Michael Jackson.
Remember what I said about American pop culture being big in Latvia? Here's the proof.

First Few Days of Latvian School

1) We have this weird Jeopardy-music-as-club-music played between classes as a bell. It's strange.
2) We go to every class together... the same 25 people in each class. It's actually pretty fun.
3) People are friendly. Shy, but friendly. Maybe it's due to the small class size, but I already feel really comfortable with my classmates. The downside of having such a small class and not changing with each period is that I only know about 25 (okay, maybe 30) people in the entire school... but I've not had to face the trouble of eating lunch alone, or wandering lost between classes, or anything like that. Everyone's been so helpful. (Sidenote: On the first full day of school, Gatis called me at lunch to see how school was and make sure I was making friends. Still don't know how he knew when I had lunch, but anyway...)
4) We have an open campus, which means that on days like today when I have a free period right before lunch, I get to go home at 11:10 and don't have to be back at school until 1. Today Marta came home with me during free period. We bought some pastries and biezpiens at Maxima and then sat in my kitchen and talked until it was time to leave. Laura was also home for the first time in a few days... she was packing her things and calling a taxi. Apparently she's moving in with a friend. She said she was coming back tonight to tell Mama Zane, and she was wearing my scarf and cardigan, so I hope she'll actually return tonight, becuase I kind of need those back...
5) While I have 10 classes (Russian, Latvian, English, Music, Philosophy, Science, Geography, Math, History, Literature, Business/Econ, and Psychology), most tend to be pretty... relaxed.
Science was hysterical today. It was my second science lesson; the first was last Friday, and it was spent watching some movie about cavemen. Today we were classifying living things, which was much more entertaining than it sounds. So, there's an entire class of mammals called "homos" in Latvian... not homosapiens. Just homos. And I managed to successfully complete a worksheet in Latvian classifying a whale. One of the questions (which I understood without help!) was, "Why is a whale like a fish?" My answer: "Valim arī patīk veldēt." (Whale also likes to swim.)
Literature on Friday was also, er, intersting. We wrote down the names of modern Latvian authors and the titles of their books, and our teacher explained the themes. The only words I really understood were "incest," "gays," "lesbians," and "pedophilia." All in one book!
Geography is actually my favorite subject, although I've only had once lesson. I learned a bunch of new vocabulary related to economic sectors. Interesting fact: Latvia is 53% third sector, 35% second sector, and 18% first sector. Our teacher talked about how before the occupation, Denmark and Latvia were economically on the same level, and predicted that had the Soviets not invaded, Latvia would be as prosperous as Denmark. Interestingly, she did not use the word Soviets - she always said "Russia." Estonia had a higher percentage of third sector, and Lithuania's was much lower. So while I required a translator for much of Georgraphy, it's one of my most interesting classes. It is not, in fact, staring at maps.
6) Cultural Note: Latvians love maps. Latvians love finding Latvia on a map, and Valmierans (?) love finding Valmiera on a map. Latvians also love giving driving directions to hypothetical vacation spots on maps, and they love for you to show where you live on a map, and where your grandma lives, and where your second cousin was born, and where your second cousin's wife was born, etc. Latvians also love photo albums, physical and virtual. In the US, when a new friend comes over it's not really common to be like, "Hey, want to see my Facebook pictures?" But here, it's just another way to get to know someone and... invite them into your life, so to speak. I actually really like all the map-reading and photo sharing. I'm going to come back to the US for college and be that weird girl walking around with a map and a photo album. "Want to see my map? Want to see my etchings?" (Just kidding about the etchings...)

My dienasgrāmata!
7) Speaking of maps, my dienasgrāmata (planner, literally "day book") is so cute. Every Latvian girl has an adorable planner. They all appear to be made by the same company. The inside front cover is a map of Latvia taking up two pages, and on the back there's a map of Europe (with flags!) In the back, there's a description of street signs, list of useful telephone numbers, Greek letters, geometry, periodic table of elements, solar system facts, paragraphs on the different regions of Latvia, the national anthem, the national bird/flower/tree/insect of Latvia (with pictures!), facts on every member of the EU, and a Celcius-Fahrenheit chart (which is my life.) And all this in a tiny lightweight planner! (Did I really just spend a paragraph talking about my planner? Oh well. It's not just me... all the girls in my class are obsessed with their planners too.)

Part 2: First Night Out in Latvia

5:20 AM Posted by Allie 0 comments
Continuing where we left off... We walked from Maxima to the conert venue, the "Unfinished Skyscraper." The Unfinished Skyscraper is an unfinished and abandoned apartment building in the middle of a field. Skyscraper? Not exactly; it's about three or four stories tall. There's no roof, no glass in the windows, etc. Most of the internal walls are graffitied, some sparsely and others full on painted murals. We paid our 2 lats entry and made our way up some treacherous stairs to the main concert room... I really don't know what to call it, but it was on the second level. The walls and ceiling were sounproofed with some drab and faded mustard colored fabric over padding, which gave the whole thing a strange feel. It was fairly well lit, actually. The first band was some frightening screamo group... I really thought the lead singer was having a seizure. He basically ran around in a circle screaming into the mic. It was highly amusing once I got over my shock. After a while we left to another part of the building, a dark room with a saggy naked lady graffiti-mural, and sat there for a while, talking. Everyone spoke in English for my benefit, which was very kind of them, but I sort of feel like I won't be able to learn any Latvian this way. When someone said something in Latvian and I responded without the need for a translator, everyone was pleasantly shocked. I was rather proud of myself.

We went back and listened to part of the second band, and then went downstairs to the courtyard. The building was designed as a square with a courtyard in the middle, and now there's couches, benches, blankets, and a fire pit there. It's a fairly big space and a lot of people were just hanging out there, despite the 7 degree weather. As I am terrified of fleas and disease, I passed on the couches and blankets and instead took a seat on a bench. Again, we just sat there and talked, and it was surprisingly fun. Then a drunk Latvian came over and got really excited when he found out I was from the US. He told me about everything from how he teaches children to ski (demonstrating his technique) and about his plans to move to California and buy a hippie bus.

Cultural Observation Detour: I've noticed that when Latvians go out in groups, they tend to be gender segregated. Groups of 3 girls will meet somewhere and then meet up with another group of 4 girls and then a group of 10 girls will be going somewhere together - and it appears that guys do the same - but there are rarely mixed gender groups. Sometimes I will see one girl with her boyfriend and his friends, but I haven't actually seen a group of friends of both sexes - at least in public. Also, in the cafeteria, I've noticed guys' tables and girls' tables. Unless they're romantically involved, it seems that guys and girls don't really hang much together. At the concert, our group of 10 or so girls was sitting together, and behind us there was a group of 10 or so guys. We never interacted with them, and it was just normal.

Anyway... after the final band, who were Canadian and actually very good, it was already around 2 am. We walked maybe 10 or 15 minutes to the Hesburger in the mall. Hesburger is happening at 2 am in Valmiera. Every seat was taken inside. I had some greasy fries (good old American food... although Hesburger is actually a Finnish chain) and ice cream. We stayed at Hesburger for a bit and then walked a couple blocks to this club called Tinta, where I just walked in through the back door. We only stayed for about fifteen minutes due to the weird 70's not-quite-disco-but-close music that was spastic enough to prevent any dancing. On our way back from Tinta we ran into an acquaintance who talked to me about California and the US (I really don't know what he was going on about... I think he may also have wanted a hippie bus...) By the time he finished talking I was exhausted and there were only three of us left, so the two other girls walked me home. I surprisingly did not wake anyone up with my 3:30 am return. And that, my friends, was my first night out in Latvia.

Also, to continue the theme of this blog being hunks of text followed by a picture of Allie making a face:

According to this medal, I placed third in the Latvian BMX Championships. And I totally didn't steal this from Gatis...

Part 1: First Night Out in Latvia

Latvia is small. Valmiera may be one of the biggest cities in Latvia, but it is small. Two results of this: 


1) Everyone knows everyone. Everyone knows my host siblings, my host siblings know who my classmates are, and it seems that most of the youth of Valmiera recognize the other youth of Valmiera, even if they don't know them personally. Given that I am a) new, b) from America, and c) a Californian, I am quite the novelty. Apparently it's known that there's an exchange student from America, and when I meet people there's a bunch of "Oh, so you're the American!", and occasional, "Oh, so Gatis is your brother?" Also, I've gotten about five Katy Perry comparisons - "You look exactly like Katy Perry - and you're a California Girl!" Everyone also finds the fact that I speak Spanish highly entertaining, and I often field requests to "Say something in Spanish!" or "Say something in French!" (even though I'm really only conversational in French.) I have also had to say "kaķitis" (kitty) about 20 times because my accent "is so cute when [I] say that!"


2) You get anywhere in Valmiera by foot within fifteen minutes, which means kids are more independent and from a younger age. There's no need to ask parents for a ride or permission to go somewhere. Kids just announce that they're heading out, say where they're going - to the center, or to a friend's, or for a walk - and that's it. When Mama Zane returned from work on Friday, I asked her if I could go with to a concert with three of my classmates. She said "Of course! Where is it?" She actually seemed shocked that I was requesting permission. When I asked her what time I had to be home, she shrugged and said, "Whenever you want to come home. If you're the last one up, just remember to lock the door." After further discussion in a mix of Latvian and Russian, I found out that - like most Latvian teenagers - if it's not a school night, I have no curfew. 


Gatis actually is the strictest "parent" in the house. He has taken my safety as his personal mission for the year. Yesterday (unbeknownst to me) he contacted a BMX friend who is in my class to get the numbers of all the people I was going out with.  Then he gave me multiple talks about safety and informed me that if I run into trouble, I should call him and he'll be there "like that" (insert 'vroom-vroom' motion and sound effects.) After the safety talk last night, we watched a couple episodes of Nitro Circus on my laptop, and at 9 I went to meet three classmates in front of Maxima (a Latvian CVS, but with more food items... outside of Maxima is kind of like the SPL.)


I just wrote a lengthy description of the entire night (all 6 hours of it - I returned home at 3:30), but I accidentally deleted it and am now kicking myself. Consider that saved for part 2. I know the suspense is killing you.


(Oh, and good news: my arm wound finally stopped oozing. Until today it was constantly oozing through every layer of bandage. Gnarly.)


...

Biking with Gatis and without glasses is a horrible idea.
Scrapes like that on knee, ankle, elbow,  and hip. Plus bruised head.

Pirmdiena: First day of school

2:25 AM Posted by Allie 0 comments
Exiting the stage (so you can all appreciate
my first-day-of-school outfit, and the fact that
I braved 7 degree C. weather in a tiny cardigan.
I have big feet. Size 10 American, 42 European. Apparently shoes in Latvia don't fit my big American feet. Almost every exchange student says they brought too many formal clothes and fancy shoes and not enough sneakers and casual wear. Well, they didn't go to Latvia. Heels are casual footwear here. I only brought flip flops, Converse, Doc Martens, and a pair of silver Nike ballet flats that are more sporty than they are dressy. I desperately ran around Valleta (Valmiera's shopping mall, always affectionately called by its proper name) and found no shoes in my size. Apparently a few stores do stock 42s, but they usually only get one or two pairs that sell out immediately. So on August 31 I found myself without a pair of formal shoes.
Yesterday I tried on a run-through of my outfit (a blouse, black miniskirt, and black tights) and decided to wear the Converse since I had nothing else. Plus, Converse with skirts and tights are adorable. Then Gatis walked in the room. His jaw literally dropped. "Vat are you vearing on your feets?!" We had a long conversation/argument about whether or not it was acceptable to wear informal shoes with a formal outfit. I said that the contrast was fashionable; he said that "while it may be okay in the US, in Latvia it will be the death of your social life! People only wear those shoes for sports, and rarely walk on the street in them - not to mention with a skirt!"  I replied that if I wore a miniskirt and heels I'd look like a hooker. His reply? "No, you'll look like a Latvian girl!" Priceless.
Waiting awkwardly onstage

Ultimately, Mama Zane dug up an old pair of basic black kitten heels that were too big for her, and I wore those despite the fact that they were too small for my right foot and too big for my left foot. (My feet are deformed, apparently.) So, the first day of school... my school started the earliest of anyone's (at 8:30). Mama Zane made Gatis babysit me - he walked me to my classroom where I met my teacher, and then we followed her to the front lawn where the assembly was. I found the other exchange student at the school, Katrin from Germany, and we stood together and were both mutually baffled by the proceedings. Some highlights: the band (they wear neon yellow pants) playing Down by the Riverside, the horse-drawn carriage that took the band director for a ride and then returned to pick up the elementary school's director forty minutes later, the gifting of the umbrella to my teacher for her success in "sport dance" (can anyone tell me what that is?), and another umbrella gifting to Kristaps or Kristobal (that's Spanish...) or Kristofer Something, who won the European BMX championships and went to the BMX world champs in South Africa. (I call him umbrella boy because I can't remember his name.)
If you look closely, you will see a horse and carriage.
Yes, this is my school.
Then they announced that they had two exchange students, and called Katrin and I to the stage. We stood there awkwardly and then had to make brief speeches. I'd prepared one in Latvian, but the director wanted me to speak in English... so I did. The director then handed Katrin and I plastic shopping bags that say "Valmiera" with a map of Valmiera inside, and a picture of the school. We left the stage, there were more songs, and then it was over.
Gatis left to talk to someone from the school about my science classes and whether I can take them in 11th class (I'll be taking Chemistry and Bio - I need both to graduate), and I went back to the classroom with my classmates. The teacher selected a girl who spoke good English to show me around, and I sat next to her.  I talked some to her, and also the the girl sitting on the other side of me. The poor girl had a really bad cold but was very nice and helpful, etc. Our teacher gave us our schedules and ice cream, we sat there for a while, we went outside and took a class picture, and then we were finished. The two girls (Maja and Marta) walked me home. It was actually a really fun first day, probably because it only lasted about two hours. My feet are killing me from the shoes... I can't wait to wear Converse and jeans tomorrow. What a lazy American I am.

Anyway, here's my schedule:
Period 1: 8 - 8:40
Period 2: 8:50 - 9:30
Period 3: 9:40 - 10:20
Period 4: 10:30 - 11:10
Period 5: 11:20 - 12:00
Period 6 (Lunch): 12:10 - 12:50
Period 7: 13 - 13:40
Period 8: 13:50 - 14:30
Period 9: 14:35 - 15:15
Period 10: 15:20 - 16:00

Tuesdays and Wednesdays I don't have to go to school until 8:50, and Wednesdays and Thursdays I finish at 3:15. All other days, I go to school from 8 to 4.  Somewhere in the bolded periods I'll have Chemistry and Bio... or maybe subbed for an English class... who knows. I'm still waiting to here back from the director, but here's my preliminary schedule. We go to most of the classes except for optional ones (Russian, Ethics, etc.) with the same 25 people... I think there's only five boys in our class, sadly.

Edit: Because my daily schedule isn't that interesting, I will instead list the classes I am taking. Some are 6 times a week, some only once. All in all, there are 14 different subjects. Intense.

Russian
English
Music
Philosophy
Psychology
Math
Chemistry
Biology
Latvian and World History
Latvian
Literature
Politics
Business Economics
Ethics
Geography