Riga-mortis ...

Trip Start Jun 04, 2010
Trip End Feb 08, 2011

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Flag of Latvia  , Rīga,
Tuesday, August 31, 2010

With the last of the English lessons given to my amazing students in Valdemārpils, we set off for the Capital: Riga.
Our first day there was spent taking a look around the sights of this history-filled city with our fantastically outgoing Dutch friends, Corina and Petra. First point of destination was what were four massive Russian zeppelin-hangers during the WW1 - and now the incredible location for the daily local market. Fascinating.
Old Town was a captivating place to explore: there were many architecturally wonderful old buildings, intricately designed churches, and the place was perfectly punctuated by many public open spaces (although the same can not be said for some of the grim Soviet-era dormitory suburbs). Some are formal parks, whereas others are tree lined esplanades along features such as the City canal, but all are beautifully maintained and well used by the local inhabitants.
We had a huge amounts of fun together - between the down-pours of rain and sudden drop in temperature - venturing around the sights of Old Town and also growing a whole lot more in our understanding of the turbulent history, county and people of Latvia.
We wandered into several museums, each of them a moving tribute to the oppression that the Latvians have endured under successive waves of invasion and occupation throughout the 20th century. The sheer statistics on the percentage of the population that were killed by the Germans, and particularly the Russians, are terrifying. It is chilling to see warrants of execution issued where the crime 'committed' is listed as no more than "being Latvian". Each exhibit served in giving light and perspective on a very sorry period of history that is accessible even to those with little or no knowledge of Soviet or Baltic politics. For me, the most sobering exhibit was a reconstruction of the interior of a barrack in an internment camp under Soviet occupation, which on every level served to further dehumanize an opposed people. Depressing stuff. And makes one so truly grateful for our own blessed state.

Maskachka is one of the most crime-filled and poorest neighborhoods in Riga, and thus for obvious reasons, one of the less popular areas for living in the capital. The name "Maskachka" pretty much means Moscow Suburb - and Maskavas Iela (Moscow Street), which goes through the whole hood, is the road that connects Riga to Moscow. Another popular name for this district is Ghetto, as it was the only area in Riga where the Jews were allowed to live during WWII, when Riga was occupied by German Nazis. Today it is a fairly undeveloped area with prewar buildings that still wear a lot of scars from the past and narrow cobblestone streets where junkies, bums and poor people make here the highest crime rate in Riga.

So it is here that our incredibly wonderful 'Aussie' host takes up residence - and here that we were helping to run Day Camps for the children in the area.

Elise's arty apartment is on the 6th floor (no elevators...that is a lot of steps to climb if you forget your handbag...about 125 if I remember rightly) and is located in what was part of the "Inner Ghetto" - the ghetto within the ghetto - and comes with a whole baggage load of it's own sickening history.
Elise, leader of YWAM Riga, was joining with one of the local Churches in running a series of Day Camps just a skip around the corner from her place for the children living around the area. It was a great few days of songs, games, activities and sharing the love and gospel of Jesus to all those precious kids. Each day grew bigger and bigger with word getting out around the neighborhood...so we were kept very busy at the art table we were helping to organize: paints, pencils, window paints, clay and colours galore! We had a great deal of fun bringing joy to the kids and getting our hands a little messy ourselves. The whole event turned out to be a huge success, which they now plan to do more regularly.

Those 4 days with Elise were such a time of blessing and refreshment! We shared so many laughs, enjoying the same down-under humor and appreciation of good food...and we were thoroughly inspired and encouraged by her. Samuel was able to do a few things around the house for her (things along the lines of fixing and installing.... as well as a little housework) and I had a lot of fun with her in the kitchen teaching her to make fresh pasta and cooking up a storm together.
Mmmm, spoiled to be sure.

We spent our last night in Jūrmala with Cheryl (National Leader) before returning to the Valdemārpils base for some meetings that were to be held there. Again - a super encouraging time had...and a great opportunity to catch up on some much-needed rest and enjoy a bit more of a look around this hot-spot for the wealthy (particularly Russian) and largest Resort City in the Baltic States.

We were invited to join in Latvia's National Meeting for YWAM - and anyone associated with. It was great to catch a little more of the vision here and the scope of the work being done in this  country...and to meet many more of the staff involved.
They began by introducing the new 'workers' (and included us in that) then had a time praying for each of us. Priceless. We were given several words of encouragement that were so uplifting - and so inspiring.

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Zigrida on

Dear Rachael
I have been following your blog entries and thank you for taking the time to write about my dear country of birth. I was about six when my parents and I had to leave Latvia because of communism. I was planning to spend my golden years there but unfortunately those plan did not materialize.
Again thank you for helping a people that are still suffering from the forced russification of the Baltic States.

Wish you the best
Alatvian from the Jersey coast USA

samuel.rachael on

Thank you for writing!
We loved our time in Latvia and were blessed to be able to get to know the people and history in more depth. It was a real privilege to be able to help in the small way that we were able.

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