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Estonian Journal Summaries

Members Jeremy and Myra Stokes have been serving in Estonia with the U.S. Peace Corps. They share their experiences with us here in their Journal Summaries. .

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*** June 2000 Journal Summary - No. 1

It was one of the more significant moves Myra and I had made, so you would
think that we that we would have been well prepared and packed in time to
catch our flight. However, keeping with our tradition, we didn't get
serious about packing till late the night before our departure. It was now
Wednesday, May 31, 2000, around 6:00 a.m., and we were still making
decisions about what to bring and what to leave. Our flight that would take
us to two and half years of working in Estonia with the U.S. Peace Corps
(PC) was scheduled to leave at 6:30 a.m. With a final, frantic effort, we
closed the bags and suitcases to rush to the airport. But through a
combination of simply being late and initially going to the wrong terminal,
we missed the flight. Standing in the early morning airport, we took a
breath and with not-quite-clear heads wondered why this morning seemed to be
working against us. Surely God hadn't changed his mind about us going to
Estonia? The months of preparation leading up to this morning had God's
signature all over them as events and arrangements fell into place.
Everything from my education being integrated into the PC service to
finances working out had been a constant miracle. It's amazing what no
sleep and a little stress will do to our thoughts.

With a phone call to the PC office, we arranged to take the next flight, and
arrived in Chicago, which was the staging area where we would meet up with
all the other PC trainees (we are all trainees during the three-month
training period until the swearing-in when we become volunteers) headed for
the three Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. We were late
enough to miss all the scheduled meetings we were to attend, but stormy
weather had delayed nearly all flights into Chicago, so we appreciated the
company of the other late-comers, since this way it wasn't so apparent that
we had missed our flight out of sunny San Jose.

The next morning, we got up early enough to make sure we were packed well
ahead of time - we didn't want to miss this next flight. We were headed to
Riga, Latvia, via Frankfurt. All the PC trainees were seated together on
the plane, so we had fourteen hours to get to know everyone.

After arriving in Riga, we took a short bus trip to Jurmala, a small town on
the coast that would be our home for the five days of Initial Orientation
(IO). The purpose of IO was primarily to acquaint us with the PC - its
"culture," guidelines, procedures, paperwork, and all its acronyms! But we
also learned a little about life in the Baltics. There are three influences
common in the three countries. First are cultures that date back over a
thousand years, long before some of the other European cultures. Second, is
the Soviet rule of nearly fifty years that has left its effect on the
landscape, the economies, the mentalities, and the impressions the rest of
the world has of the Baltics. Few things are more frustrating for Baltic
peoples than being associated with Russians or the Russian culture. The
third influence is a result of the less than ten years of independence.
It's a desire to establish their individuality and place in the world,
discover what western life has to offer, and to find out what the rest of
the world thinks of them. A Baltic person can ask you what you think their
country can do to get ahead, what it's like to live in America, and what you
think of their country, all in one short conversation.

IO was now over, and on June 6 the Estonia group of trainees headed for
Tartu, Estonia, which would be the site of our Pre-Service Training (PST)
for the next three months. Tartu is a university town of about 100,000 in
the southern part of Estonia. It's a beautiful town - with history and
architecture from over a thousand years ago. It also still has reminders of
Soviet occupation with the large "block" housing complexes that were built
when the Soviets forced urbanization upon the Estonian people. And on the
outskirts of the city you can still see the watch towers that used to be
manned by Soviet guards. But Estonians are very optimistic about their
country's future - and the younger generation doesn't even seem to remember
anything different than the western-world opportunities that now fill their
lives.

With our arrival in Tartu, PST began. The host family stay also began. The
evening we arrived in Tartu, we met Aide Torim, who would be our "host
mother" for the next three months. She was a short, stocky lady who didn't
seem to speak any English as we met, but smiled the whole time. Our
Estonian consisted of "nice to meet you - vaga meeldiv," so not much
communication took place beyond that. However, we did know that this was
our host, so off we went. Once at her home, we sat down with tea and
several Estonian-English dictionaries and word-by-word, began communicating
about our families back home, what Aide know about America from relatives
who had traveled, and her most pressing question, which was what she should
feed us. We were able to convince her that Americans were quite capable of
eating what Estonians ate, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, etc. We were also
able to learn a little about her. She is a retiree, or "pensioner" as they
say here, who used to be a land surveyor. Though she has no children of her
own, she and her husband have unofficially adopted and cared for numerous
children over the years. She also has an insatiable appetite for being busy
and has done much of the remodeling of her home by herself.

PST consisted of five to six days a week of intensive language training,
cultural studies, medical sessions, PC program-specific training, and
technical training that was related to our technical areas. Myra and I,
whose technical areas were Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) development
and Small Enterprise Development (SED), studied Estonian business practices,
economic environment, and government issues. The PST trainers, who were
primarily Estonian, promised us PST would wear us out, and proved it in the
first couple of weeks. The language studies in particular were taxing.

However, we did receive a couple short breaks during the month. One weekend
was designated as the Survival Weekend. But it wasn't as intimidating as it
sounds. They sent each of the trainees out to a different part of Estonia
where we were to find lodging, interact with the locals, etc. I was sent to
Mammaste, which is south of Tartu, and very near Põlva. On the map it
appeared to be a town, but in reality it consisted of a bus stop sign, a
campground with cabins, where I stayed, and about a half dozen houses.
Several of the houses seemed to be uninhabited, so I didn't get much
interaction with the locals. But I was able to appreciate what Estonians
seem to value more than most people, and that is solitude. In this area can
be seen the more traditional Estonian residences before the forced
urbanization of the Soviet era. It consists of a farm with the house placed
as far from the road and other houses as possible. And if the owner has a
large piece of land, you probably won't see the house at all.

Here's what Myra has to say about her Survival Weekend:

"I was sent to a more populated area, Otepää, an area southwest of Tartu
known for its skiing. It is also rich in Estonian culture related to
nature. An example is the "energy pole" I saw which is a wooden log driven
into the ground decorated with metallic images of bears. Estonians have a
very "spiritual" connection with nature and these areas where energy poles
are located are where people can receive energy from the land. This is an
influence from ancient Nordic mythology. I was also able to visit
Puhajärve, which means "Holy Lake" as it was blessed by the Dali Lama. I
also ate at Punanetäht, "Red Star" Restaurant, which was uniquely decorated
in Soviet paraphernalia, where the waitress dressed in a communistic uniform
and on the walls were pictures of Stalin, Russian money, guns, and the
soviet flag. It was actually a bit uncomfortable for me to eat there at
first because when I walked in I wasn't sure if this was a place that would
welcome a Westerner. Were they paying homage to a once great era that they
wish they still had or was it all satirical? It became apparent though
after a while that it was just a great place to eat and the soviet flags
with the hammer and sickle were actually drawn with a hammer and fork!
"On the 24th of June we also had the opportunity to celebrate Midsummer's
Day or "Jaanipäev". For many Estonian, this is there most popular holiday,
and it is often accompanied by a "jaanituli" or a bonfire. This was a big
cooking day for me as I cooked fried rice and chicken adobo for our host
family. It was just a small dinner party of 9 people, but it was so funny
as Aide called her friends to come over to look at the Americans."

Later in the month we had our Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) visit. The
purpose is to see first-hand what life is like as a volunteer. So we spent
a few days visiting John, a current PCV in Paide, a cute little town in the
center of Estonia. It's one of the more quaint towns of Estonia, complete
with castle, lake, and small parks scattered throughout.

All in all our first month has been very tiring, but rewarding. During IO
we were also able to meet with some other PCT's who are Christians and come
together for prayer meetings. It was also very nice to find a WCG
congregation in Tartu, which we attended for Pentecost services with three
other of our PCT friends. It is a small congregation of about 15 members.
We hope to become more involved there when PST ends. Right now we have
training classes Monday through Saturday.

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New: January 2001 | February 2001 | March 2001 | April 2001 | May 2001 | June 2001

*** July 2000 Journal Summary - No. 2

For some, the beginning of July was highly anticipated. July 3 was the date
for the site assignments. This is where we find out where we'll be living
and what Estonian organization we will be working with for the next two
years. The Peace Corps training staff got creative for the occasion.
Towards the end of the day after all the regular training sessions, we all
assembled in an auditorium. The training staff had drawn a large map of
Estonia on the auditorium floor, marked of with all the possible site
locations. As our name and site was called off, we went to stand on the map
at our location. It was neat to visually see where everyone would be.

Myra and I were assigned to stay in Tartu, where all of us were currently
for training. Myra would be working for two organizations, MTÜ Iseseisev
Elu (NGO Independent Life), an organization that helps the mentally ill
reintegrate into society, and MTÜ Hea Algus (NGO Step by Step), an
organization that deals with early childhood and primary education reform.
I would be working with Tartu Ärinõuandla, a business advisory center. We
were both pretty happy with our assignments.

It was difficult to say whether knowing what our site and organizations
would be made the remaining two months of training easier or more difficult.
On one hand, we were now able focus our training on topics that related to
what we would be doing. Yet, the anticipation of starting our jobs seemed
to make training drag by so slowly. This was the turning point for a lot of
trainees. No longer did the intense schedule create energy, now it seemed
to wear at us. Moods began to change and people began to get tired.

But - there's nothing like a July 4th party to cheer everyone up. Even
though it wasn't on the 4th - we had it on the 8th to work around the
training schedule - we tried to make it as American as possible. After a
little searching we were able to improvise hamburgers, hotdogs, etc. We
invited all our host families to the event to share a little American
culture. We even had games outside such as bobbing for apples, wheelbarrow
races, etc.

The second week of July was devoted to us getting to know the organizations
we would be working for. For the first couple of days, we went to visit
organization, met our future co-workers, talked about what we would be
working on, etc. The rest of the week was a conference where along with our
co-workers we got to know each other, talked about cross-cultural issues,
shared expectations, and took care of paperwork such as work visas.

A large part of this month was spent preparing for a seminar that our
SED/NGO group would put on as part of our training. Our group consists of
four NGO volunteers, Myra, Brenda, Elizabeth, and Heather, and two SED
volunteers, Serena and myself. All six of us have been working very closely
to plan a seminar on Networking and Strategic Partnerships that we will
present to Estonian businesses, government and NGO leaders. It has been a
great experience, not only because we are learning more about each other as
we work together, but we are also learning a lot about Estonians - such as -
Estonians are much more reserved than Americans, so for the interactive
portions of the seminar, we have to have strategies for handling little or
no response to questions. And Estonians are rarely late, but they're not
early either. They have a tendency to show up all at the same time to
events such as this. So we will have to make sure that we can get them
registered quickly at the door if they all show up at once.

We were also able to give our first two English lessons to high school
students during Model School week when the TEFL (Teaching English as a
Foreign Language) PCVs practice their skills. They invite our SED/NGO team
to teach classes as well, knowing that many of us may also teach English.

We were also able to participate more in Estonian culture. Myra experienced
her first Estonian sauna this month and here's her account:

"Most Estonian homes have wood fired saunas in the basement. It's really
quite a family event and who can blame them for doing sauna at least every
week if not more with the cold weather they have here. Many Estonians will
tell you how healthy it is, but I sure didn't feel that it was as my upper
lip was burning and my lungs struggled to breath. Thankfully I'm not a man,
where they generally like to get the sauna going up to 100 degrees Celsius
(212 degrees Fahrenheit). I can only handle the 70s and 80s myself. I also
prepared a special Jaanipäev dinner for our host family and other Estonian
guests. Jaanipäev is a special day in Estonia, celebrating the summer
solstice. It's usually celebrated with jumping over a bonfire. Our host
family isn't quite into celebrating it in the traditional sense so I made an
Asian dinner with chicken adobo and fried rice. It was quite a treat for
them as they had never tried chicken adobo before. Our host mom called her
friends, inviting them saying "you have to come over and meet the Americans
and one is Japanese/Filipino - so exotic!" I would soon get used to that -
being "exotic". I think I can honestly say I'm the only one in Estonia with
the ethnicity that I am out of the 1.5 million people that live here."

One of our fellow PCTs was approached the other day on the street by a lady
and invited to a church meeting (they don't use the word services here
because it has a negative connotation that comes from when under communist
rule they were forced to attend various "services"). Several of us went the
next Sunday. It was a fairly contemporary worship meeting and we were made
to feel very welcome. We have yet to learn what religious group they are
affiliated with and what their beliefs are. The religious situation in
Estonia is rather interesting. Church attendance certainly isn't
widespread, but a number of church groups have come into Estonia recently
and built new church buildings and recruited members. The result, just as
anywhere else, has been both good and not-so-good. A lot of positive things
have been accomplished, but Estonians are naturally skeptical and overly
aggressive missionaries have created a negative impression.

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*** August 2000 Journal Summary - No. 3

Well, the big event that started this month off was our SED/NGO seminar on
the 4th. We had spent the last couple of months preparing for it,
especially July. We were very happy with how it came off. The seminar went
extremely well with no significant mishaps, and we got very positive
evaluations of it, especially considering the fact that Estonians very
rarely give positive feedback. But perhaps the most learning came from just
working with the members of our SED/NGO team. We have definitely got to
know more about each other's work styles, strengths, etc.

With the seminar now over, there is such a feeling of relief that we almost
don't know what to do with ourselves. There's still several weeks left of
PST, but everyone feels that we've learned all the language and culture that
we can in a three month period - it's that saturation/exhaustion point. I
think our main wish is for this month to be over.

The most memorable events of this month were those that didn't require much
brain activity, such as a tour of the Tartu Botanical Gardens. They were
more impressive than I expected. And in a green house nearly four stories
high they have palm trees! They're the first palm trees I've seen since we
left California, and probably the last for awhile. Summer is turning into
fall and the temperatures are reminding us that Estonia's closer to the
arctic circle than every U.S. state except Alaska. We walk past the same
houses everyday and outside of each of them are piles of firewood that grow
each day. And several houses are receiving additional layers of insulation.

But back to events not requiring brain activity, we also went to the last
outdoor theater production of the summer with one of Myra's future
co-workers, Maire and her boyfriend. The production was "ÖÖ Venetsias," or
"A Night in Venice," an outdoor musical. Since all the dialog was in
Estonian, I felt much like a child who doesn't understand what's going on in
the story, but enjoys the sights and sounds just the same. Maire then took
us out to go dancing - a favorite pastime for Estonians only second to
singing.

We were also able to enjoy a bit of Estonian nature, of which the Estonians
are very proud by the way. After the last training session of the week,
Fred Jussi, an Estonian naturalist, came and showed a slide show of his
photos he has taken over the years, as well as giving us much of his
philosophy on life. It was a more interesting experience than it sounds.
Right after that, a small group of us volunteers loaded into a van and
headed out of Tartu for Taevaskoja, which translates into "heaven's home."
It's a beautiful area in southeast Estonia with wooded hills, a river, lake,
grassy meadows, and rock formations. For Estonians, this is probably the
most treasured spot in their little country, and for some, it even has
spiritual significance. Many Estonians believe in the spiritual energy we
receive from the land, and Taevaskoja especially. We spent the weekend
camping there and smoking vorst over the fire. Vorst is an Estonian staple
that few people here go a day without eating. It is most similar to the
German bratwurst, though with considerably more fat and "additional items."

Though this month did give us a chance to relax a little, there were a
couple small projects to finish up still. Serena, the other SED volunteer,
and I were doing some consulting for a small organization in Tartu, EVEA.
It's essentially a support organization for small businesses, but has been
facing some pretty tough challenges recently. As with many Estonian
businesses and organizations, the biggest challenge is learning how to
informally network, build relationships, and market oneself, something that
is important for organizations like this to remain competitive. During
communist rule, the "system" managed everything and disseminated the
information it felt each person needed, so these practices were never
necessary, or even allowed in many cases. But as Estonia joins Europe and a
western-style business environment, the organizations that cannot adapt to
these new practices are being left behind.

Myra was working with Beth and Heather at MTÜ Kristlik Kodu (NGO Christian
Home) for her consultancy project. They decided to work with Kristlik Kodu
as Anne Schoter, the Executive Director is also a member of WCG in Tartu and
they had met at service during Pentecost. It is a Christian home or
"shelter" that provides a holistic and nurturing environment for at-risk
Estonian youth. Sustainability of NGOs is always an issue for the third
sector as it must fill the gap for a government that no longer provides for
everyone, and it tries to this with little funding or people-power. So we
designed a brochure and letter to begin the development of a
"sponsor-a-child" program and did a mailing to North-American organizations
for financial support of their work.

August 23 was finally here! This was the day of the swearing-in ceremony,
which was where we would officially be sworn-in as Peace Corps Volunteers.
I believe that all of us were very anxious to start our assignments, but to
be honest, I think we were also glad that training was over. The ceremony
was very nicely done - the training staff arranged it all and even sang a
song for us. We also had to memorize and sing both the Estonian and
American national anthems, and Myra presented a speech in Estonian and
English to the audience. The actual oath was given by Melissa Wells, the
U.S. Ambassador to Estonia.

We then packed our belongings and said good-bye to our host family to move
to a place of our own. Our host mom gave us a couple of mugs and an
Estonian Bible for a gift. The Bible was such a wonderful gift! She had
gotten used to use requesting that we pray and hold hands before meals that
it soon became habit and she just stuck her hands out before we even had the
chance to.

The end of August marked the beginning of our actual PC service, which will
last two years. So I will take a moment to give a little background to the
PC program in the Baltics, why we are here, and what we'll be doing. The PC
has a wide range of programs, from agricultural development to information
technology development. Shortly after Estonia gained independence from the
U.S.S.R. in 1991, the Estonian government invited the Peace Corps to run two
of its programs for a period of ten years. The two programs requested were
Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) and Small Enterprise
Development (SED). PC added Non-governmental Organization Development (NGO)
as a sub-part of the SED program. Both Myra and I are working in the
SED/NGO program. The goals of the SED/NGO program are first, to increase
the number of business and organization leaders skilled in basic business
practices, second, to help small and medium sized enterprises develop
buyer/supplier and marketing partnerships abroad, third, to increase the
number of small and medium sized enterprises trained in business
capitalization skills, and fourth, to increase the number of NGO leaders
with management and development skills.

Much of Myra's work will be organizational development, that is, she will be
working within her two organizations to increase their capabilities. This
will include providing training to the members of the organization on skills
that will be necessary as they go through change and growth as well as
extensive consulting with the executive directors and boards of the two
organizations. She will also be managing various developmental projects,
writing grants, and assisting with strategic development, such as setting up
and revamping boards.

Because I will be working for a service organization, I will not be as
focused on organizational development. The organization provides services
and consulting for small and medium sized businesses, so the majority of my
work will be consulting with these businesses. I will also be working on
projects separate from the organization, such as seminars and needs
assessment projects.

Our first day at work at our site was the 28th, and for me the first task
was just getting there. I ended up taking several busses, several of which
were the wrong ones before I made it to the office. I'm sure the bus route
system here follows some sort of logic, I just haven't figured it out yet.

The remainder of August was spent identifying the most important projects to
work on and getting to know my co-workers at the business center. Jaanus is
the director, and what many would call a result of the communist past. He's
a very intelligent man, but reluctant to accept new ideas, and distrustful
of outsiders. It's definitely going to be a challenge to communicate and
work with him. My other co-worker, Rita, works as the bookkeeper. At first
meeting, she comes across as very formal and reserved - a typical Estonian
personality. But as I've gotten to know her over the last couple of days,
I've learned that she is actually a very warm person who likes to have fun -
even in the workplace.

Jaanus's biggest priority is e-commerce. He has spoken of nothing else as
we've discussed what the center needs help with. So, we've agreed that this
will be the primary project that I'll focus on. The e-commerce situation in
Estonia differs from the U.S. in two main areas. Like the rest of Europe,
online banking is much more prevalent in Estonia than in the U.S. Nearly
all Estonians do their banking online. On the other hand, Estonian
consumers have been less receptive of online shopping than U.S. consumers.
They are very much into touching and feeling before they buy. This is the
challenge that Estonian e-commerce companies face right now - understanding
consumer preferences and finding ways to overcome the obstacles.

Myra's first day of work was very interesting! Here's her account:

"I arrived a bit early - 7:45 - as I wasn't sure what time the buses would
arrive and like Jer had troubling finding where the office was as the
building numbers are not in order here. Maire, my co-worker, then arrived
and we chatted a bit, finishing the questions that we started during the
partner conference, such as "what is your favorite drink, time of year...?"
She tried to explain a bit of what was to occur during the day. I
understood that there was to be a meeting and got Saksakeelt (German
Language) out of it. So we were a little late to the first meeting that had
16 people in it and 3 more came later for a total of 19. Wow! Talk about
jumping in and meeting a lot of people your first day. I thought it was a
meeting with all the director heads of the organizations in the building
giving a monthly update of what was going on in their programs. I later
understood it was a meeting for visitors from the Estonian Island of
Saaramaa who work in mental health care. Then from that meeting we went
into a large hall where there were about 60 students from Norway touring
various health facilities in the Baltics. Maire with a few other gave a
presentation and then broke the group into three smaller ones. Lo and
behold I was designated to be a translater for Maire as she only speaks
Estonian, Russian and German and the only common language for our group was
English so I had to translate what she said. Bizarre!! I've only had 3
months of training in the language!! Soooo completely overwhelming, but I
tried and the students were sympathetic. It was just amazing to be in the
situation with me having to translate Estonian and them some of them having
to translate my English to Norweign for those that didn't know English. You
can imagine how watered down the knowlege we were sharing must have been.

"And to top it off because my co-worker is so cool we listen to techno music
while we work. She actually plays it a lot louder than I would care to but
hey I don't mind mixing a little fun with work. So I get to hear "b-boys
fly girls, throw your hands in the air, oh yeah like you just don't care" as
I'm working on strategic planning ha-ha!! At Hea Algus, my other work
place, they had a nice little candle light lunch for me and gave me mittens
and the biggest, thickest pair of socks I've ever seen and owned! Then I
was put to work on assisting Ivar with a business plan that was due in two
weeks for a presentation in Kazakhstan - yikes!"

The whole transition from PST to work was just overwhelming. We were both
just exhausted. Not ever physically, like running a marathon, but the brain
energy that it takes to sit in meetings with another culture and language
everyday just wears you out - and this was just the first week!

The other big job this month was moving into our apartment, not that moving
in was a lot of work (we didn't have much to begin with), rather, there's a
lot of work ahead us to clean the apartment. We feel very blessed to have
found this apartment - not all volunteers have it as easy as we did - but
the person who lived here before wasn't much inclined to clean. So it'll
take us awhile to clean.

We had also continued going to WCG services on Saturday when we could, but
as our training was Monday-Saturday we also were attending the church that
other Estonians had invited us to attend, which we later learned to be the
International Church of Christ. Beth, another PCV who is also a Christian
and soon to be stationed in Kiviõli was also a great source of friendship
and spiritual support for us as we also met on a couple of occasions to pray
for our futures' in Estonia.

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*** September 2000 Journal Summary - No. 4

I would call this the "settling-in" month. Myra and I spent a lot of time
making our apartment more livable, as well as getting used to Tartu -
finding the best places to buy groceries (which happens to be an open-air
market where a few farmers come to sell tomatoes, carrots, cucumbers, etc.,
and thousands of them - so it seems - come to sell potatoes and cabbage),
discovering where to pay our phone bill, etc.

Speaking of paying the phone bill, doing so resulted in an experience that
is very illustrative of the state of customer service in Estonia. Eesti
Telefon is the phone company in Estonia. It is a monopoly at present,
though deregulation is scheduled for the near future. I went there to ask a
question regarding telephone charges. It is a very professional looking
office and has an advanced queuing system that allows you to take a queue
number from a wide selection of categories. The numbers that are being
served and which desk they are being served at is displayed on an electronic
sign. It seemed to promise good customer service. I took a number from the
category that I felt was the best match. And then I began to wait. After
awhile I noticed that people who received a number after I did were already
being served, but my number was still not being called. Then I realized
that not all the staff was there and apparently the person who dealt with my
category wasn't there. So I selected a number from a different category and
did some more waiting, but I was still being passed up by other people. I
eventually gave up.

The staff seemed to be focused on doing a good job, but only as it applied
to their specific tasks. They would serve the numbers that came to their
queue, but that's it. They were not focused on serving whatever needs the
customers standing in their lobby may have had, only on accomplishing their
assigned task. Many Estonian businesses still have a job focus as opposed
to a customer focus. What this means is that they focus on doing very well
at their job, as opposed to focusing on serving the customer's needs to the
best of their ability. This is a carry-over from the communist era when
everyone was assigned a job, and deviation from the assigned job resulted in
punishment. You can see it changing in some of the newer, more progressive
businesses, but very slowly.

On Saturday the 9th, Myra and I had the opportunity to go to a bog/marsh.
My co-worker Rita has a cousin named Edgar who is a biologist. He is
currently studying the various phenomena caused by methane gas that exists
under bogs. So we went with Rita and her son and a couple of her friends to
Endla Looduskaitseala, (Endla Nature Reserve) which has a bog that covers
several hundred square kilometers. We spent the entire day with Edgar
navigating us around the bog, showing us various experiments and studies
that were being conducted, and explaining what was happening biologically in
the bog. The bog is essentially a huge community of plants, bacteria,
animals, and gasses floating on a body of water. Never before have I felt
so much that I was standing on a living organism that stretches out in all
directions as far as I can see. The bog just by itself is beautiful, but
the trip was even more fascinating with a biologist pointing out and
explaining things we never would have noticed or understood. However,
having a biologist along the way did not prevent Myra from falling into a
soft part of the bog up to mid-thigh of both legs! Many parts of the bog
are covered with edible wild berries - much like wild blueberries that grow
close to the ground. They're quite tart, but make good jam, so Rita and her
friends were collecting them as we went along. The amount they collected
would, once cooked down, probably only make a few ounces of jam, but they
explained that though Estonians love nature and spending time in it, they
wouldn't want to admit that they had spent a whole day walking around a bog.
So this way they can tell their friends that they spent the day gathering
berries in a bog without losing their industrious reputation.

Work this month has basically been more research of e-commerce in Estonia.
Unfortunately for me, data is in short supply here. With only ten years of
independence behind it, Estonia has not conducted much basic research and
data collection. The upside is that with only 1.5 million people, the study
population isn't extremely large. And I have found some help. There are
several foreign organizations working to promote e-commerce in Estonia and I
have been able to cooperate with them on various projects.

I had an opportunity to teach a class at a high school here in Tartu. There
is another PCV in Tartu, Christina, who is a TEFL - English teacher, that
teaches at one of the high schools. She asked me to come and do a class
about marketing. It was actually kind of fun. They were a fun group of
kids and were quite talkative for Estonians. But their questions were
typical Estonian, "what was good about marketing in Estonia," "what was bad
about marketing in Estonia," "how does Estonia compare to the U.S.," etc.

For Myra, September 1 marks the beginning of the school year, which is very
important to Hea Algus as it works in education reform, so the organization
went out and had a wonderful dinner together in town center. Myra's
account:

"I was also able to take a couple of my co-workers to a Project Design and
Management seminar in Tallinn. At this time I was also putting a lot of
effort at HA into writing a grant proposal to the European Union Commission
on Democracy and Human Rights. At Iseseisev Elu, I was still trying to
learn more about mental health care reform in Estonia. I was able to visit
some businesses that hire those with disabilities with other foreign
visitors from Germany and Slovakia, and attend the Baltic Mental Health Care
Forum. This Forum was excellent in giving an overview of the policies and
people involved in designing the nation's development in this area as well
as introducing funders, NGOs, and government leaders to each other. I was
able to co-present a presentation with Maire there, reading her speech in
English that she had prepared. This was also the first time I had
experienced simultaneous translation services.

"I have actually been making a lot of chocolate chip cookies as Estonians
don't make them the way we do. I've had many requests for the recipe so
I've worked on a translation of it to give to Estonians who just love them!
Jer is also becoming an excellent maker of applesauce and plum jam as the
backyard to our flat/apartment has several fruit trees that the owners can't
seem to use all of. Settling into life here has also meant the search for
physical activity that can be done during the winter. We are going to a
local gym where they actual have decent facilities for weight training and
aerobics. It's a bit expensive, but worth it for us since the fall and
coming winter are very cold.

"A cultural story is when we had gone to church services at ICC, we could
have had someone translate the service to us in English, but we thought we'd
try and listen and see how much of it we could understand with our growing
vocabulary. We were also using the Estonian Bible and I hadn't heard the
scripture in the Bible that they were referring to so I asked the person
sitting next to me, but couldn't understand so then he took my Bible from my
hands and turned to it for me. Maybe it's my independent American culture
or my independent personality, but I was frustrated, shocked, and a little
offended. I even cried about this (I think it was just building up over the
weeks anyways). I was looking for a scripture in the book of James, but in
Estonian it is translated as Jaakobuse kiri. I didn't make the connection
because it looked like Jacob to me, but I was just upset that this man took
my Bible and did this. Some would say, well this person was just trying to
help, don't have a bad attitude. I hear you, and have repented of this, but
the point that I'm trying to make is the frustration I felt in living in
another culture. It really was just a language barrier and I understand
that. It's difficult to explain - if you've ever tried to communicate
yourself, but couldn't, it's just so FRUSTRATING! It goes both ways - us to
them and them to us, but sometimes it looks like a lack of knowledge, or a
lack of understanding, or incompetence, but it just isn't so. This is an
example at church, but it happens at work and in social settings. A lesson
in working cross-culturally is to have patience - to enable people, not to
just take things into your own hands.

"We have been attending ICC pretty regularly for church services and even
mid-week bible studies and prayer. They had invited us to be a part of a
prison ministry to the Pärnu Prison for criminals that can't be put in with
other prisoners as they are cops, politicians, military and business
individuals that have gone astray, which may cause other prisoners to not
"respect" them. The church performed a concert and gave a message where Jer
and I were also able to share about our work and Christian background to
about 40 prisoners. Some of the prisoners were learning or knew English so
we were able to fellowship later with them.

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*** October 2000 Journal Summary - No. 5

Well, we became a family this month. No, Myra's not pregnant, but we did
get a kitten - and an Estonian one at that. This one doesn't look much
different than American cats, but we have noticed a definite characteristic
in other Estonian cats - they all seem to have rather large noses. I really
don't know why, they just do. We got her from Alvar and Maie, a couple
friends of ours here in Tartu. We actually had her for a couple of days
before we could decide what to name her. We asked around and discovered
that Kisu and Misu are the two most common Estonian cat names. Kisu is
their word for "kitty" and Misu is just a name. We liked both, so we
decided on Kisu Misu, as her name. But then Misu reminded us of misu soup
(Japanese), so we named her Kisu Misu Supp ("supp" is Estonian for "soup").

I've started playing basketball with a group of Estonians a couple of times
a week. It's one of those activities where the language barrier isn't a
very big issue. However, Estonians do seem to have a different idea of what
constitutes a foul. As far as I can tell, as long as the other player's arm
or leg is not ripped off, it's not a foul. I haven't been seriously injured
yet, although one guy did leave with a dislocated shoulder and another
stopped coming a couple of weeks ago after his leg was treated not so
kindly.

Myra has also found a place to play volleyball at Tartu University. Here's
her account:

"The level of play is actually quite decent, but the rules are a bit
different as well since they play according to EU standards. For example,
one difference is they play rally point and play up to 25. The girls there,
as most Estonians, aren't "out-going"' in the sense you wouldn't feel
necessarily welcome being there as no one comes up to you to ask your name
or how you're doing... It's usually me having to do this. It's a part of
their culture (Estonians learned long ago to not trust strangers and be
involved. The younger generation is better, but....) and there is also
hesitancy due to the language barrier. It's different from a typical
American approach and even if you're playing on a team, sometimes it really
doesn't feel like it.

"Peace Corps also had all the women (although I think the men should have
been required as well) to participate in a self-defense training. We were
able to stay at the FBI attaché's home, which actually was quite fun as the
US government gives them quite posh living arrangements."

Birthdays are a big deal here. It seems as though we're at someone's
birthday party every other week. Presents aren't always an ingredient, but
flowers, sweats, and alcohol certainly are. Flowers are the standard item
to bring wherever you go in Estonia. Whatever the occasion, and whoever
you're meeting, you always bring flowers. Cake and candies are always
present. And nothing can be done in Estonia without vodka. One other
characteristic of birthdays here is that the birthday person is the one to
arrange the party, invite everyone, and even pay for everything. So in
Estonia, if it's your own birthday you have make sure you remember!

The Olympics are just rapping up as well. We didn't get to see any of it as
we only get one Estonian TV channel, but when Erki Noll won the decathlon
Gold - Estonia's first Gold medal as an independent country, the nation went
berserk. Eesti Mobile Telephone sent text messages on everyone's mobile
phones and we celebrated in our work places. Imagine having a bottle of
champaign at 8:00 in the morning. Estonians also enjoy their alcohol with a
cup of coffee and tea at the same time too.

Work is getting a little more interesting for me now - primarily because
I've found a few good companies to work with. I've been consulting with
Evikon, a company that manufacturers electronic monitoring equipment. We're
working on getting them ready to start marketing their products
internationally. There's also an e-commerce company, Iavenue
(www.iavenue.ee) that I'm helping to develop a marketing business model and
seek investors. Probably one of the most interesting companies I'm working
with is Muomeetria. They have invented and developed a medical device that
measures the condition (elasticity and tone) of muscles and tendons
non-invasively (it doesn't puncture the skin). It is the only non-invasive
device in the world that is capable of this kind of measurement. I'm
helping them license out this technology to U.S. companies.

A few projects Myra is working on are presenting a Marketing workshop to the
Viljandi Culture University's administrators, and promoting the idea to use
volunteers to do projects for HA like editing and designing the layout for a
newsletter. The use of volunteers as we use them in the states is very new.
Myra called Tartu University's Journalism Department to post an
announcement of our need and the University contact said that he didn't know
if it would work as no one has asked to do this sort of thing before.

October 27 was an important day. It was on this day that it really hit me -
it is now getting cold! The locals are starting to warn us about how the
winter will be - but I think the fall is pretty cold too! Although for
Myra, she has already been wearing at least two layers of clothing
underneath her outfits to stay at an okay, but not normal temperature. And
as the cold temperatures come, the light goes away. The days are getting
shorter and will continue to do so until February, when the sun will rise
around 9:30 a.m. and go down around 3:30 p.m. The darker days also cause an
Estonian law to apply which requires everyone to wear a reflector when
they're walking after dark. So now everyone has reflectors dangling all
over the place. It kind of surprised me because Estonians generally are not
all that concerned about safety issues. It's rare to find a fire
extinguisher that is fully charged and public buss maintenance is not
considered extremely necessary. One PCV was knocked unconscious while
riding a bus when the roof vent fell on her head. She was OK though - there
was an elderly Estonian man who was ready with the national panacea - vodka.
She regained consciousness and realized this elderly man was pouring vodka
all over her head.

We were also able to attend the Last Great Day in Tallinn where there were
about 50 members in attendance (including two from southern CA).

We were now at the point were we needed to make a decision about our
participation in ICC. The church seemed such a wonderful source of
fellowship for new disciples, especially for the young. This is an amazing
feat since most churches in Estonia don't have any youth. Seeing that we
were becoming more involved we felt that God had lead us to serve here as
well. We began to look more into their doctrinal beliefs, and with prayer,
discussions with the pastor and other research we were doing we decided that
the Lord had not meant for us to serve here after all, but it was wonderful
time for us to search our beliefs and to ensure that they were in align with
God's word. This was a very confusing and trying time for us in trying to
do what the Lord wanted us to do here. There were some scriptural and
discipleship practices that we could not agree with. At this point though,
it was such a difficult decision to make as we had begun to develop ties
with them. God is certainly with them in ways that fit his greater plan and
outside our understanding, but He has made it known that we are to direct
our efforts elsewhere.

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*** November 2000 Journal Summary - No. 6

There's not much to write about this month because we really just focused on
work, most of which is not very interesting to read about. About the only
other thing of note is that I finally found someone to tutor me in Estonian
a couple times a week. During Pre-Service Training, we had Estonian lessons
everyday, but since then my Estonian has become progressively worse. But I
really need to start working on it again. Myra and I have found different
teachers as our language needs and work fields are different.

Myra's work is focused on developing a Board of Directors and preparing for
a 3-day seminar on strategic planning for Viljandi Culture University. It
was a tough crowd to present to, but a valuable experience, not necessarily
enjoyable, but valuable. Many organizations, including this one, are in
very difficult situations. They've never had to change or write strategic
plans before, especially not with deadlines from the government. Some
people have a difficult time with accepting change and many also try to
prevent it.

We have begun hosting "community dinners" - just inviting Estonians or other
expatriates over to share experiences and culture. We are planning to do
this about once every other month. We were also able to vote as overseas
residents in an election we didn't know would engage the whole world in
analyzing our political system. It was extremely embarrassing for American
expatriates. The U.S. has always positioned itself as the example to follow
for other countries setting up democracies. So when, from the world's
perspective, the entire representative system is undermined by ineffective
counting systems and legal battles, the U.S.'s credibility as a promoter of
democracy took a serious hit.

During the last week of November we went to Jurmala, Latvia for a conference
for all the PCV's in the Baltics. It was a typical Peace Corps conference -
some very helpful sessions, some not so helpful sessions, and always a
packed schedule that wears you out. At the end of the conference they put
on a Thanksgiving dinner.

Myra talks about SAD:

"The days are becoming shorter with the "sun" or some form of light (as we
don't really get to see the sun any more) coming up around 9:00am and going
down at 3:30pm. SAD, Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder is real. Our physical
bodies do gain nutrients and mental balance with sunlight. During PST we
had several medical sessions on this topic. I literally wanted to
hibernate. My body just wanted to sleep at least 12 hours a day, and a lack
of motivation to get up to the cold mornings takes great will power to
combat. Thank God I could negotiate my work hours, because I haven't been
able to rise, take the bus and arrive at the office at 7:45am (or even close
to it) as I did on the first day of work during the summer month of August.

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*** December 2000 Journal Summary - No. 7

This will be another very short journal entry. The first few weeks of
December were very busy - primarily due to work. There was a lot to wrap up
before the holidays. Myra's IE work place was moving to a new office, and
here's her account:

"It used to have a room in the Vaimse Tervese Hoolde Keskus, VTHK, Mental
Health Care Center, but needed to have it's own facilities. VTHK also is
called by some the "hullumaja" or crazy house. Ivar my HA co-worker told me
a story about the VTHK one day. He mentioned that he used to do things
there. I asked him if it was for research or his university practicum as
he has a Masters in Psychology. He said, "No, I was a patient there." This
was a bit of a surprise, but he continued to say that it was a quite common
practice to get out of service from the Red Army to get a medical form
signed saying that you were unable to serve. Being a university student at
the time when he was being drafted, and also a father, he went to the
university nurse and mentioned the situation to her and his lack of desire
to serve in the army. She said nothing, but granted him the slip of paper
that needed his rehabilitation of a few weeks in the care of the VTHK, where
there were other very "sane" people like himself who ended up just having a
fun time in rehab doing art projects and such.... And had to take medication
as he called some kind of "brain pills", but all was well and he was able to
bypass the Red Army. He still is friends with many that were in his same
ward. He mentioned it in a humorous way, but he did mention that there were
risks to being discovered and also for your future career as having this on
your record that one was served in a psychiatric facility.

"This was my first time to wake up to snow and live in it in my life. My
co-workers knew I wasn't ready for the winter so for my birthday (it's in
November, but we were in Latvia at the time) they gave me a used, thick gray
leather trench coat with a nice thick inner lining. Perfect!!"

The last week of December was filled with Christmas and New Year's parties.
Most of the PCV's in Estonia got together in Põltsamaa, a small town in
central Estonia, for the 24th and 25th. Two PCVs, Heather and Stephanie,
live there and hosted a Christmas party. Then mid-week we went up to
Tallinn for a party with Myra's co-workers from Hea Algus, one of the
organizations she works with. For New Year's, we went to Saaremaa, an
island on the west coast. Another PCV, Alie, lives there and hosted a New
Years party for everyone. They had a fire-works display, though it was a
little different from what you would expect in the U.S. They don't have the
fire or safety regulations we do, so there were a lot of rockets, etc.,
coming within a few feet of spectators. A few other misguided rockets hit
the sides of buildings putting small holes in the plaster. Overall, it was
a fun week, but by January 1, we were holidayed out.

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*** January 2001 Journal Summary - No. 8

The year started out with a very busy January. There have been a lot of projects at work as well as a few learning experiences this month. I'll briefly summarize what I've been doing at work. I'm still working with a medical technology company (www.myoton.ee) helping them license their technology to overseas partners. I've also been consulting a Science/Technology Park on long-term planning and developing partnerships with foreign science parks. And there is an Estonian glass manufacturer that I have been working with. I've been helping them develop more strategic partnerships with their suppliers. There have been a number of successes with this project. They have begun sharing some technology and we're working on a joint project to develop a new product line. There have also been a couple rather unusual projects. I helped one small business find direct sellers of rice paper and unsuccessfully tried to convince another small business that trying to produce bio-diesel in Estonia wasn't such a good idea. Everyone treats their own idea as their baby, including me. But it's especially difficult in Estonia where there is a strong perception that the only ingredient necessary for success in business is a clever idea. It doesn't matter that they didn't know anything about producing bio-diesel except that it's possible, or that none of the crops that can be turned into bio-diesel can grow in Estonia, or that the only companies in the world making any progress in mass-producing bio-diesel are a couple large multi-national firms backed by large budgets and years of research and engineering experience. An Estonian entrepreneur still thinks he can make it work if he can just find someone to invest in him. Anyway, they didn't agree with my recommendation to do some market research and find a different product idea - they're still looking for someone to invest in their bio-diesel venture.

Another challenge facing Estonian business is a job focus as opposed to a customer focus. What this means is that they focus on doing very well at their job, as opposed to focusing on serving the customer's needs to the best of their ability. For example, I went to Eesti Telefon (Estonian Telephone) to ask a question regarding telephone charges. It is a very professional looking office and has a queuing system that allows you to take a queue number from a wide selection of categories and then on a digital board it displays which numbers are being served, where they're being routed to, and which numbers are next in line to be served. I took a number from the category that I felt was the best match. And then I began to wait. After awhile I noticed that people who received a number after I did were already being served, but my number was still not being called. Then I realized that not all the staff was there and apparently the person who dealt with my category wasn't there. So I selected a number from a different category and did some more waiting, but I was still being passed up by other people. I eventually gave up. The staff seemed to be focused on doing a good job, but only as it applied to their specific tasks. They were not focused on serving whatever needs the customers standing in their lobby may have had, only on accomplishing their assigned task.

For the most part we feel safe living here in Estonia. But just like anywhere else, you have to exercise caution. This month a couple of other Peace Corps volunteers (PCVs) came to visit us and go site seeing in Tartu. We stopped at a small pub and since this was the first week of January during school break there were quite a few young people there. We hadn't been there long when a group of guys and girls came in and overheard us speaking English. One of the guys came over and in broken English tried to communicate something along the lines that he wanted us to be his friends so he could practice his English. Our efforts to find out exactly what kind of friends he wanted us to be weren't very effective. He just kept repeating himself with increasing energy. At first it seemed mildly cute, if a little strange, but as we realized he was drunk, it became more obnoxious. By now his other friends had come over to our table as well. For the most part we were ignoring the situation, hoping it would go away. But another guy from the group became upset and began yelling at us in Russian. We realized it was getting serious when he put his hand on Jen's (one of the PCVs with us) head. Then he pulled out a knife. He struck at the back of Jen's chair, though the knife did not touch her. Fortunately, at this point his friends realized it was out of hand and began pulling him towards the door, with him still swinging his knife. We breathed a sigh of relief, a little disturbed, but glad no one was hurt. An interesting cultural note that was made to us during our training really hit home that night. No one will help you if you are in trouble! The restaurant staff and customers who were there and watching did nothing in this situation but watch and ignore it. Naturally, this incident put a damper on the evening tour of Tartu, so we just went back to the apartment and went to bed early!

Myra has been working on conducting a SWOT analysis for her two organizations so has been conducting many interviews in Tartu and Tallinn. She has her Estonian language tutor help translate the responses, which is a very long, time-consuming process. Her tutor made an interesting comment though that confirmed an impression that Myra had about the interviewees. Especially when working with the older participants, there were few, if any comments on problems or weaknesses they saw about their organization. Her tutor said this was because during the Soviet occupation, no one talked about 'problems' openly because if you said there was a problem or something needed to be improved, you were saying there was something wrong with the Soviet System. This was not conforming to the system and one could face consequences. So, Myra's tutor thought it was a good thing that she was asking for their thoughts and opinions about their organizations, as it would help them to see that it was a normal and good thing and that people should confront problems.

On a lighter note, we've realized that really the only outdoor activity possible at this time of year in Estonia is skiing. So even though neither one of us has skied much, we got some skis, and now we can practically go out our front door and start skiing. Skiing is a pretty integral part of Estonian life at this time of year - snow usually covers Estonia five months out of the year. It's neat to go to just about any park or open area in Tartu and see people of all ages skiing.

A good way to interact with a new culture and learn more about it is to visit different churches. It's one of the few places where you can go join a group of people uninvited. One of the churches we visited was a Baptist church. While there we met a Canadian/American family who are working as independent missionaries. I'll briefly tell their story because it's interesting and also it gives some background on the "Estonian Diaspora." The husband is Canadian, but of Estonian descent. His grandfather was living in Estonia before WWII started. Before WWII started, Estonia had been independent for about 20 years (before that, Estonia had been occupied by Russia and various other countries). However, once the war started, Germany and Russia signed a pact that placed Estonia within Russia's "sphere of influence." With the pact, the Soviets re-occupied Estonia in 1940. However, Germany did not honor the pact very long and in 1941 invaded Estonia pushing the Red Army out. When Germany occupied Estonia, Estonians viewed it as liberation from Soviet rule and tens of thousands of Estonians joined the German military forces. But by 1944 the war wasn't going so well for Germany and the Red Army returned to the Estonian borders and began an invasion. The Soviets forced Estonians to join their forces as they progressed. What this soon meant is that Estonians were soon fighting Estonians - family and friends forced to be on opposite sides of the war. To avoid this chaotic time in Estonia's history, many fled with their families to Canada, the US, and Australia. And this is how the "Estonia Diaspora" came about. So back to the missionary couple, the husband's parents had fled Estonia to Canada. The husband always knew that he wanted to do something to help in Estonia, he just wasn't sure what. But the feeling kept getting stronger until he finally just told his wife and four kids that they should go to Estonia. So without any agreements with any church or organization or any idea what they'd do when they got there, they sold everything and went to Estonia. When they arrived they simply put their kids into the school system without any prior Estonian language - so they had to sink or swim and learn the language by immersion. They started attending the local Baptist church and soon began taking the role of missionaries/pastors for the church. They've been here several years now and are now a very appreciated and loved part of the church fellowship. They are definitely a good example of responding to a call on blind faith.

They also invited us over to their home for dinner and sauna. It was a wonderful time of fellowship and the first time we had the chance to eat broccoli in seven months! We couldn't even remember what it was called and had to ask someone what it was called in English! As you can tell, and if you ask our families, our English language abilities are deteriorating quite rapidly as we learn Estonian. We also took time to visit an Estonian Catholic Church one weekend.

Myra also sprained her ankle while playing volleyball at Tartu University. This was quite disappointing and does not go well with the cold and dark days. We also had made plans to come home in early Spring to visit family in the states and help out with her grandparents as they are in a period of transition.

We are also attending the WCG congregation here in Tartu. There are about 12 members that meet every other week. One of things that this congregation really appreciates is any contact with other WCG people. The congregation consists of older members and most of them can read only Estonian. So there are a couple of members from a WCG congregation in Switzerland that come to visit a couple times a year. As you can imagine, this is always an exciting event for the Estonians. One of the people that come is Andreas Fischer. He has just finished doing research for, translating into English, and editing a book written by a fellow Swiss entitled The Righteous of Switzerland. It's a very well researched account of Swiss citizens who took great risks to help Jews during the Holocaust and received Israel's Yad Vashem "Righteous Among the Nations" medal. He loaned us a copy to read - it's a fascinating book that offers a perspective not often heard about this part of the war. If anyone would like to know more about the book or Andreas Fischer's work in this area, let me know and I can forward his contact info. The book can also be found on Amazon.com.

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*** February 2001 Journal Summary - No. 9

February was very focused on work for both of us. An interesting company I've been consulting this month is "I Avenue" (www.iavenue.ee). They are a couple of very ambitious guys who have taken on the challenge of introducing concepts that are very new to Estonia such as online-delivery of services, franchise marketing systems, etc.

We also attended ESC (Peace Corp's Early Service Conference) in Tallinn, where we had lunch with the US Ambassador to Estonia and sat in presentations from a member of Parliament and the Ministry of the Interior.

Myra, I, and a couple of other SED/NGO PCVs went up to Jõhvi, a town in the northeast of Estonia, to present a seminar on Developing Strategic Partnerships. The seminar was mostly made up of NGO directors and local government officials. The town of Jõhvi is a good example of Soviet-style planning and building. All the buildings are Soviet-style block housing which on average are 10-12 stories high, made of drab concrete, and all look the same. These block housing buildings are built very close together and stretch out as far as you can see. It reminded me of being in the middle of a massive prison complex. It gives you an uncomfortable, intimidated feeling.

For the seminar, we stayed the weekend in the neighboring town of Kiviõli, where we got to hike up 'ash mountain', a man made mountain of oil shale which rivals Estonia's highest peaks. (Keep in mind though that Estonia has more what you would call hills rather than mountains.) It is quite disgusting and smells terrible, but how often can you say you climbed an oil shale mountain of waste? Ha-ha! We then had to take a bus back home to Tartu via Kohtla-Jarva, but as this was our first time in the area we managed to get ourselves lost. We are proficient enough in Estonian so that taking care of basic necessities and traveling are not confusing or difficult, but the northeast of Estonia has a rather large Russian population that does not speak any Estonian. This is a big issue for the country as a whole and 'integration' or acceptance of the two cultures is a hot topic for the country. Estonians are usually surprised if you can speak only a few words let alone converse in their language. It's a language that most of the world doesn't even know exists and Russians who have lived in Estonia for fifty years have never bothered to learn. Anyway, it was a frustrating experience of being lost simply because no one spoke Estonia. So we ended up paying for a taxi to take us to the bus station, which ended up being literally around the block! The driver must have had a great laugh!

We took the time to visit another church in Tartu, New Apostolic Church. Myra also read 'The Red Tent', which is a fictional account of the life of Dinah from the Old Testament. It is quite fascinating to read from the historical context, but it doesn't quite match the Biblical account.

This winter we have been making good use of our 'ahi.' There is no real equivalent in the states to explain it, but it's their heating system, burns wood, and is a cross between a stove and fire place, but is built into the walls of the house. We also celebrated Jer's 27th birthday at the Gunpowder Cellar Restaurant in town center. It is a fabulous place to visit if you come to Tartu. It is over 100 years old and was originally built to store gunpowder and munitions. For protection, it was built inside a small hill, so to enter it, you literally walk into the side a hill. It's really neat inside with a massive vaulted ceiling made of brick.

It was also time to celebrate Vastlapäev / National Sledding Day. Myra went with her co-workers from Independent Life to go sledding for the first time in her life! They had the traditional toddy-warm alcohol, soolad/beans, vorst, and vastlakukkel, a special dessert they only make at this time of year. Maire, Independent Life's Executive Director and her children, Kaur and Kadri also invited us to go to Kuremaa where they have a public swimming pool. Afterwards, we went to her home in Melliste to learn more about the Estonian culture and build friendships. Lots of fun!

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*** March 2001 Journal Summary - No. 10

This was another very busy month for work. Here's what Myra's been doing:

"I have been preparing and going over stakeholder and network analysis for Hea Algus and Independent Life (IL). It was very exciting as we also received money from a funder to buy some sewing machines so more of the mentally ill and disabled could be employed by IL. I attended a conference "Psüühilise erivajadusega inimeste hoolekandeteenuste süsteemi technoloogilised innovatsioonid". Pretty complicated title! It translates into something like 'A Technological Innovative Care Service System for People with Psychiatric Special Needs.' For the second day of the conference I was there at nine in the morning and then went to an IL general assembly meeting that didn't finish till nine in the evening. Let's just say I was tired!! Keep in mind this was all in Estonian too and I was trying to give comments! I also visited a couple of day centers and schools for the mentally ill and disabled during the month. One of the kids who attended this special school happened to look up at me, pointing and said "teletubby". Ha-ha! I do look different from the average person living in Estonia and happened to be wearing a red sweater that must have reminded her of Poe, the red dressed teletubby.

"I also taught a private Intermediate English Language class with my student Linda, an Estonian who just absolutely adores Americans. She was just so amazingly appreciative of the opportunity to talk together and remembering the past hardships under the Soviet Union she was completely honest in her expression and cried which took me completely by surprise. I wanted to understand more, but sometimes the tears are enough to communicate a depth of feeling that she couldn't express in words.

"I mentioned one day to one of my best Estonian friends Virge that I would write a letter of recommendation for her if she ever needed one. She has been a great aid to me teaching me Estonian and being an interpreter at one of my seminars. She was so surprised and said, "Do you trust me that much to write a recommendation letter for me?" To me, this wasn't a big deal and something I think is normal for Americans to do and offer for others, but she was really shocked that I would offer such an opportunity. It's not so much a matter of trust but believing in the quality of work and character I have in her, although I do trust her. Estonians are not used to this practice though with such a small country and cultural norms, things are done by 'who you know'. So for employment, letters of recommendation are unheard of. It's not unless someone wants to work abroad does it come into to play for them. Unemployment is high here and it's unfortunate, as the best people are usually not given the chance to fill positions due to the practice of filling positions through this informal network.

"One day I went over to another friend's, Ivi's, work place so she could help me translate some of my work. We couldn't stay at my office as the power was out. I've come to live with power outages as a common course of life here. We met at 3:00pm and worked till 6:30. We were ready to leave and we couldn't get the door to budge. We were trapped! On two separate occasions, people came to help us, but couldn't get the door open and left. It wasn't until three hours later around 9:30pm that we could be rescued by a group of 7 people on the other side of the door! It was so hilarious that it took that many people to figure it out!! To any degree, I was glad to be out and on my way home!

"I have been going to aerobics class and I pulled a hamstring muscle. From September, which is about 6 months, it makes a total of 3 pulled muscles (outer glut, neck, and hamstring) and 2 sprains (pinky finger and right ankle). What is up with this country and me! The cold weather here keeps my muscles tight and contracted so much that I've been so much more prone to injury than I ever was in the states. Ice on the uneven sidewalks and steps aren't helpful either.

"Around mid-March the snow began melting, which has made an incredibly noticeable difference in my ability to walk without having to slip on any ice. I'm actually beginning to wake up earlier again as well. Goodbye S.A.D. (Seasonal Affectiveness Disorder)!

"Our cat, Kiisu Miisu Supp has also been on a rampage. Since she came into our lives, she has broken 2 mirrors, 3 vases, 1 candle holder, 1 pencil holder, and her own food dish! When will she grow out of this terror phase!"

The London Gospel Choir came to visit Estonia and performed in Tartu. We went to go see it and about 5 minutes into the performance I realized that there was something unusual about these people. Then it suddenly hit me - they were so expressive - smiles, facial expressions, etc. After living in Estonia for almost a year, I did not realize how conditioned I had become. Estonians are not very expressive - they rarely smile and they are not very expressive when they speak or even perform. Not only have I become used to this, but I've become less expressive myself. So it was neat to once again see such openly expressive people!

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*** April 2001 Journal Summary - No. 11

This month I went to Lithuania to present seminars at a couple business incubators. The Lithuanian government has been very aggressive in developing business incubators and some of them have developed into some very impressive organizations. I presented a seminar on Equity Financing at two of these incubators and then met with several companies from the incubators for some one-on-one consulting. I enjoy working with Lithuanians. Even though they are more reserved than Americans, they're not quite as reserved as Estonians, so it's a nice change of pace. I also got to experience some good Lithuanian cuisine. One of the most common dishes is Zeppelini - yes, it's called that because it's shaped just like a Zeppelin. They take potatoes and beat them to a pulp. Then they form it in the shape of a Zeppelin and then put the filling inside. Now the filling is the interesting part. I wasn't extremely adventurous at the time and had the Zeppelin filled with kohupiim - which is essentially milk curds with a very thick consistency. It's really quite good. But if you're more adventurous, they also come filled with sheep lung, pork brain, etc.

Myra and I had the opportunity to speak to an English language class at a high school here in Tartu. We were asked to speak on what it's like to live and work in a foreign culture, but then we opened it up to questions. The students asked all the usual questions, but also some very insightful ones as well. The discussion even got deep enough to explore the effect religion has had on American culture and values.

We had a surprise in mid-April with more snow falling! We thought spring was here, but I guess we still have to wait! Winter really is a six-month affair here.

Myra had an interesting encounter while walking home one day:

"I thought I would try and be 'myself', as if I was back in the states and walk with my head up, making eye contact with others and smiling. Estonians aren't likely to do this and it has been rubbing off on me not to look at and notice people. Well, I saw someone walking towards me, who looked a bit different - not the typical Estonian features so I thought I'd give her the smile, eye contact, and warmth that is lacking in this country. I thought this would be especially nice since people who look different usually get strange and disgusted looks from people. So as we passed she returned my eye contact and asked me for the time in a few different languages until we could understand each other. I showed her my watch and as it was still cold I had to pull back my coat sleeve and mitten so she could see. She then proceeded to say a lot of things, which I couldn't even understand. I picked up a few words here and there - long life, bad mark on my forehead and something about God. I began to feel very uncomfortable at this point and began to say that I didn't understand anything. I thanked her and left to get home as quickly as I could and looked up a word that she kept on saying. She was telling me that she was a fortune teller!! Ha-ha! Well, that was my first encounter with the Gypsies living here in Tartu. It was a good thing that I still had my mittens on or her ploy to read my palm and get me to pay for my fortune would have been too easy. I told the story to an Estonian friend and she said, something to the regard that yeah you shouldn't look at people as it just invites trouble and makes you an easy target.

"I also had a site visit with my Peace Corps program manager. These are regular visits where she comes to see how things are going for work, health and safety. One of the topics we talked about was the situation in Tartu with skinheads. There was a recent newspaper article about this in Tartu and she wanted to make sure I felt safe. Last summer there was some African American Army personnel serving in Tartu and they were attacked by skinheads with knives. Several of the Army personnel were seriously injured. Safety has never been a real issue for me living here, but since our January incident and the combination of the dark days playing on my emotions and spiritual challenges, I think I was a bit paranoid about this. I think these were my most difficult months.

"I was able to observe Passover and the Night to be Much Observed with Church members. Something that I truly miss is being able to share my relationship with God and discuss spiritual things like I did with friends back home before I left. It's not that I can't or don't have other Christian friends, but there is a difference, which has challenged me.

"Towards the end of April we left Estonia for a short stay back in San José, California to visit family and take care of a few things. But along the way we were able to visit Helsinki, Finland. All I can say about Helsinki is that it is the cleanest, most well-kept city I've ever been in. The streets, the buildings, the harbor, everything is immaculate. It was also nice to be there and celebrate our 3-year anniversary with a unique dinner of moose and reindeer.

"After touring Helsinki, we flew to San José where we spent several weeks. It wasn't all vacation as we had to still work on some seminar materials that we had to prepare and send to the translator to be ready for the event that would happen a few days after our return to Estonia. We were able to visit family in Oregon, which was wonderful and help family renovate my grandfather's house in San Jose. We also gave a short presentation on our stay thus far in Estonia to the local congregation. I can tell you there is nothing like worshiping with other believers that has never touched me so deeply as it does now."

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*** May 2001 Journal Summary - No. 12

For the first week of May we were still in San José, California visiting family and friends. It was a neat experience coming back to Estonia because when we left the weather was still winter-like, cold, wet, and with snow on the ground. But when we returned it was suddenly spring! The sun was shining, it was getting warm, and you could even notice a difference in people's moods. During winter, the weather has a negative affect on people's attitude and interaction with each other. It's primarily the lack of light that does it. There's about six hours of daylight during the winter, and "winter daylight" is really just a light-gray look. But once the sun returns, smiles aren't rare, people are friendlier - well, OK, not friendly, but at least more civil.

We also came back to Estonia being the winner of the Eurovision contest. This is a European wide music contest, and has the second largest number of TV viewers in the world after the Olympics. This was a very BIG deal to Estonia, so like all news of Estonia being noticed on the world scene, everyone was text messaging each other and there were celebrations of champagne in work offices. It's been great though to see Estonia become better known in the world through events like these and the Olympics.

We presented another seminar on Developing Strategic Partnerships here in Tartu this month. We are now trying to incorporate Estonian presenters into our seminars. This is because one of objectives is that our work will develop sustainable solutions - that is, it won't stop when we leave. So in order for us to accomplish that, we have started having Estonians work alongside us as we do these trainings and seminars.

A couple other things we've been up to: The Tartu Marathon happened this month - it's a bicycle race that not only attracts cyclists from all over Estonia, but a few other European countries as well. We also discovered that there is a small group of Estonians who practice Tai Chi here, so one evening we went to watch them.

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*** June 2001 Journal Summary - No. 13

Everyone is starting to look forward to summer coming. Now activities at work mainly focus on wrapping up projects before everyone goes on vacation in July and August. Yes, this is Europe, the land of two-month vacations. Most of my work is now is just focusing on research that I didn't have time to do before.

Myra's comments:

"One thing that I have had to adjust to in working in Eastern-Europe/European culture is the work ethic which is different from America's. There are many articles written on the subject and it really takes getting used to if you are big on efficiency of time and productivity. So many hours are spent on birthday parties, social events and vacation! Some of this I can get used to. But at the same time I really like to work, so the challenge is being able to get things done on the Estonian timetable. Alcohol in the work place was something else I've had to get used to. Alcohol and the amounts of it is something you have to get used to in general working and living with Nordic, Eastern-Europeans and Russians as it is so much a part of their cultures.

"I was able to watch my co-workers daughter graduate from high school. This is pretty much the same as a US graduation ceremony except Estonia is way more into flower giving - its more like Hawaii in that regard and everyone is just jam packed as tightly as possible into a small, run-down gymnasium. The part that I thought was nice was they also give flowers and blow trumpets for the parents of the youth who have done well in school. They receive a certificate and applause for doing a good job with their kids.

"Jer and I also met and had lunch with Victor Kubik as he assists with some non-governmental organization, charity, and church work in Estonia. I'm also reading a book right now called "Revolution in World Missions" that has been challenging my thoughts and approach to missions work. We also had some of the WCG church members and 2 other Christian missionaries from another fellowship come over to our place for lunch and to play Bible pictionary. Jer and I came up with the words and had them in both languages so everyone could play. None of the Estonians have played this game so it was a fun new experience for them and we learned more about Estonian culture and how they interact in these kinds of situations.

"We took some time to go over to Aide's, our Estonian host mom, as she loves it when we make soup for her. It's great as she makes such wonderful fresh bread and we get to chat about life. It's so funny as each time we come over for a meal, she automatically sticks her hands out to pray as she remembers how we always prayed before eating when we lived with her for 3 months."

This is also the time of year for song festivals. Song festivals are an important part of Estonian culture and one of the few long-standing traditions that are still surviving. One of the key ingredients to song festivals is the town lauluväljak - it's a large open-air amphitheater that exists in every town. Large towns have large ones and even very small villages will have a small one that consists of a depression in the ground with logs arranged in semi-circles for people to sit on. The next ingredient is Estonians, who love to sing when the occasion is appropriate. Tartu had a song festival this month and went to experience it. It didn't start at the lauluväljak, but rather a parade of people, singers, and musicians began in town center and with singing and music made their way to the lauluväljak. There were school bands and choirs, fraternity groups, retired people who used to be in fraternity groups, community groups, companies who formed choirs or bands, etc. The parade to the lauluväljak is just as much an event as the performances at the lauluväljak. Once at the lauluväljak, men's and boy's choirs performed Estonian folk songs, the mayor spoke, and there were some comedy acts that we didn't get because we couldn't follow the Estonian. One of the most interesting parts was towards the end when T. Mägi, a singer who was a large part of the revolution that helped regain Estonia's independence came to sing. The different choir groups whipped out their Estonian flags and waved them in the air and the whole audience stood and sang together. It was very moving to see the national pride that was there at that moment. 10 years is not too long ago to forget the struggle for independence these people faced. Singing actually played a major part of the revolution, which is often called the 'singing revolution,' which broke the Soviet hold on the people.

We had another occasion to return to the lauluväljak later in the month, and that was for Jannipäev. Jannipäev is one of the few true Estonian holidays. It takes place on the summer solstice (longest day of the year) and was traditionally celebrated by going out to the forest and building large bonfires. With the bonfires burning to keep the evil spirits away, they would dance and drink until the sun came up. Some still celebrate it this way, but times have changed this holiday and now many simply go to Jannipäev concerts and city-sponsored celebrations. That's what we did - there was a Jannipäev concert at the lauluväljak and they even had a fire burning in a large metal holder. It wasn't quite the dancing around the bonfire in the forest experience, but it was neat nevertheless.

Myra was able to play in a sand volleyball tournament and here's her account:

"I was able to play in a volleyball tournament with Brenda, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer in Viimsi, a beach town near Tallinn, the capital city. We played 3 matches, for a total of 6 games. We played two Estonian teams and one team from Latvia. It was fairly international with us representing the US and a Russian team being there as well. We didn't leave as winners, but at least we got a major sunburn. I didn't know it was possible in the Baltics! Many of the spectators thought we had come all the way from the US just to play in the tournament, which we thought was funny, as we wouldn't have come all this way to lose! We drew attention and the TV channel 3 news interviewed us so we got to speak Estonian on national TV. Not bad for my first beach volleyball tournament experience overall!

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