a bad week, followed by a good one

The past few weeks have been really busy.  and annoying.  and busy.

I got back from Paris on a Sunday, went out the next Monday, and then my week exploded.  We went out to Snekutis for some celebratory “I am home!” beers.  We talked nonsense, made jokes, and generally had a good time for a few hours.  There were some skinheads boneheads in the bar, and they were staring us down (keep in mind, here I am generally seen as a “fucking foreigner”), but we were ignoring them for the most part, even when they were approaching the table like they wanted to say something.  They didn’t say anything, so we assumed that everything was fine.  We were wrong.  When we left the bar, they were waiting for us in the street and they immediately attacked my two male roommates.  I tried to get in between the person that was attacking R. in front of me, but found myself thrown on the ground behind them instead.  After a few minutes of screaming and trying to get the bar owner to help us (he ignored the entire situation, getting skinheads drunk must make him a lot of money) while watching helplessly as R. was being kicked on the ground, it ended.

We called the police and they picked us up.  In the car we learned that Snekutis is a common place for skinheads to gather (it would have been nice to have been told this ahead of time) and the police did all they could to get us to just go home and not press charges.  This included making us wait for an interpreter for two hours, telling us that we could write our statements, but we might as well be writing poetry for all it would matter, telling us that the officers needed to deal with a robbery, making us drink out of the tap because they “don’t have any cups”, ignoring us some more, and refusing to give a copy of the statement that was written by a person who claimed he didn’t speak any English without the benefit of the translator’s assistance.

During the whole thing, I was on and off the phone with the US Embassy, and I can say that in that moment I was truly happy to be American.  The Duty Officer was helpful and kind, and he made me feel like my statement and my well-being mattered.  Then next morning, I met with a Consul and he was truly helpful, to the point that he volunteered to go to the police station with me, bringing a translator, and they stayed well past when they should have gone home to help me with the investigator.  It is only because of them that I was taken seriously at all, and even though I believe that the police will not investigate this situation, I appreciate the help that the Embassy provided during the interview process and their efforts to make sure that the crime would be investigated.

One positive thing that came out of this experience was my ability to practice my Russian in real-life situations.  My favorite was when I was asked to come in to identify pictures and the translator was not available.  The woman asked me if I spoke Italian or Spanish, and since I don’t we were forced to rely upon gestures and my very, very limited Lithuanian to communicate.  There was a man next to me that was writing a complaint or something with the officer at the next desk.  The office was tiny, so we were both pretty  much sitting in each other’s laps; it was hard not to pay attention to what the other person was doing.  About halfway through, after I was done trying to explain “she’s thinner now, and has different hair”, he started talking half in Lithuanian and half in Russian about how stupid it is to come to a country where you don’t speak the language, blahblahblah.  I let him talk, because still no one had asked me if I speak Russian, so I thought it best that he get it out of his system.  At the end, the officer that he was speaking to came over to try to verify the rest of my statement because she had (very) limited English and my officer had none.  Seeing that it was going to take a while, I decided to just speak Russian.  I wish I could have had a camera to capture the look on the guy’s face when he realized that I had understood at least half of the shit he was talking.  He suddenly realized that he knew a little English, and tried to translate what she was saying (“call 112 if you see them again”), but even my crappy, stupid American Russian was up to the task without his help, which would have been a lot more useful hours before when he was listening to me stumble through Lithuanian and then responding with his bullshit.

I can say that I breathed a lot easier when that week was over, and when I made close friends with a can of pepper spray.  There was point when I wanted more than anything to leave, to say fuck it and give back their country, but I am glad now that I waited it out.  I have met so many good people in my time here, I don’t want to give up on the entire country because of a few fascist idiots who could as easily be from backwoods Idaho as here.

That was last week, and this week has been awesome, almost as if the universe wants to reward me for being obstinate.  I went to the Kasiuko Muge (St. Casimir’s fair) with Monika, which is a huge event (biggest of the year, I think), with tons of handmade goods for sale lining the streets of Old Town.  I bought some really cool handmade goods at the alternative markets, and some smoked cheese from one of the vendors in the square.  Mostly, I just wandered around looking at all of the things people have for sale, and enjoyed the sunny weather and the festive atmosphere.

Classes started this week for me, and I am really enjoying them so far.  I am taking two political science classes: Deconstructing the Soviet System and American Way of War.  These are fascinating, because they are calling into question some of my basic assumptions about the way the world works and how I am making assumptions based on my culture.  I am also taking a Lithuanian culture class, where we discuss our experiences in the country, and how we interpret them as “fucking foreigners”.  Because of these classes, and my recent experiences,  I feel like I am going through culture shock again, but in a much deeper way.  I feel comfortable here, and it is giving me the ability to really begin to look at the differences between this world and the one I carry with me in a much deeper way.

Finally, as of yesterday, I am a volunteer language editor with a local newspaper.  It is really gratifying to be able to use my skills in a constructive way, and to have something to do in my free time, while learning a little more about current events in Lithuania.

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5 Responses to a bad week, followed by a good one

  1. Mildaber says:

    OMG 😮

    I’m so sorry that you had to meet probably the worst kind of people… For some reason skinheads are very active recently, according to what I notice in the various comments around the Lithuanian Internet. Also, Baltic Pride (the first ever homosexual peoples’ parade in Lithuania) is coming, what makes them even more aggressive. The good news is, that the skinhead girl who attacked Berneen (black girl from showbiz) got caught, arrested and punished. So if those two guys will be caught, they will most likely get some time in jail 🙂 there are several surveillance cameras in the old town so those guys most likely have been caught on tape before or after the crime.

    Just don’t give up, this time you’re really lucky to be American – your country won’t let this go away easily.

  2. Mildaber says:

    Also, there’s a chance that you might spot them in this video: http://www.delfi.lt/news/daily/lithuania/tautinio-jaunimo-eitynese–sukiai-lietuva-lietuviams.d?id=29915957

    Again, I’m so sorry that you had to experience this 😦

    • charissa says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

      Lithuania and Lithuanians have been really good to me so far, so I am trying really hard not to let this experience color how I feel about the country. Seeing the television coverage of that march made me a little sick to my stomach, but I know that having to listen to ultra-nationalists is just part of the package when you allow people to speak freely. (something I am very much in support of)

      Lietuva visiems!

  3. mollysydney says:

    I’m unclear why so much Russian is still spoken. Why weren’t the police speaking Lituanian?

    • charissa says:

      Oh, I should have been more clear. Amongst themselves, they were speaking Russian, but with others they will generally speak Lithuanian. The older generations here are almost universally bilingual due to the Soviet occupation.
      In the area of town that the police station is in, and where my house is, there is a significant majority of people that are ethnically Russian, so you hear Russian a lot more over here. On the other side of town (where I used to live) you were a lot more likely to hear Polish or Lithuanian than Russian.
      I think Vilnius’s international history shows a great deal in the languages spoken here.

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