Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Traveling to the Countryside

We have traveled out of the city of Riga into the country these last two days. On New Years’ Day, we were invited by Gita and Juris to join them at his cousin’s house for the day. They live on a farm WAAAYYYYYY out in the middle of nowhere about an hour’s drive from Riga. The countryside is so beautiful and untouched with fields and pine trees. Houses and buildings are miles apart from each other. Towns are very small and have unusual names that I cannot even pronounce. Traffic is very light on the highway, unlike the U.S. To get to Juris’ cousin’s farm, we traveled on a dirt road for about 5 miles. Since it has been rainy and cold here, there is no snow, only MUD. I was afraid the car was going to get stuck in the mud! When we got to the farm, we were greeted by Elga and her husband Aris, and their three daughters, Dace, Aija, Eva, and then little Betty Anne, who is Eva’s daughter. Betty Anne is two years old and is the life of the party. She was so cute! Aija’s husband, Vasili, was also there. (I know I’m not spelling these names right but am trying to write them the way they sound.)

I felt right at home because it reminded me of being at my Grandma Royer’s farm with the front porch and mud room and the wood stove in the kitchen. We all sat down very closely around a table and had a delicious meal made with meat and vegetables raised on the farm. We had sauerkraut, pork patties, chicken, potatoes, carrots, fresh squeezed apple juice and orange juice. Aija spoke English well so she sat between us to translate for us. Gita also included us in the conversation as well. We had a delightful time and there was some more gift giving with songs and poems. Little Betty Anne got a kitchen set and played with it on the stairs and we all had to play “pretend” with her. It is humbling to go to homes like these because they are so family oriented and don’t have much in the way of material things. After we toasted the New Year with champagne, we had tea, coffee, and dessert. Elga made the most delicious waffle cone type dessert and there were gingerbread cookies and some kind of torte. We left just before dark and got back to our hotel around 7 p.m. There is a Double Coffee just down the street, which is like a Starbucks, so we go there to get on the Internet and have a cup of tea.

Today, Gita picked us up at 9 a.m. and we drove to Leipa, Cesis, and Straupe. Again, this was a long drive out to the country. Gita has a project dear to her heart called the Hope Center, which is a safe place created by the church for young, unwed pregnant girls and mothers. These girls come from dysfunctional homes or have been abused and they have no place to go. Their stories are heartbreaking. Some are as young as 14 years old. These girls and their babies are loved on and are taught how to be mothers and are given a place to stay until they can support themselves. They are expected to do chores and take care of their babies. There is a new Hope Center being built in Leipa and Gita wanted us to see it. We also went to Straupe, where we met three young girls (younger than our own daughter, Marissa) and their babies. We also met Rigonda, the manager of the Straupe Hope Center, the two housemothers who rotate and stay with the girls, the psychologist that came for the day, and Dzintra, who helps run the center. (Dzintra was also the same gal we spent New Year’s Eve with.) While we were visiting in their big room, we were served tea and coffee. Next thing we knew, the table was being set and they served us lunch! We had chicken, rice, gravy, and a tomato/cucumber salad. The oldest girl prepared the meal herself for us! The center is almost finished but the Center was having problems with their heating system. It was either too hot or too cold so Gita was trying to help solve the problem while we were there. It was comical to hear four or five women all talking at once! Aside from that, I got to meet little Veronica, who is almost two, and held two babies less than two months old. One mother had just had a baby and was in the hospital so we didn’t get to see her. Pray for these girls and for the Hope Center ministry. Their stories are heartbreaking. You can see their pictures and read their stories here and here. . .

Gita, Steve and I stopped at a little café on the way home for hot chocolate. It was dark again by the time we got back to the hotel and was time for dinner. Steve and I walked a couple blocks to the Steiku Haoss for dinner. We both ordered beef stroganoff, which was very good. Then we went back to the Double Coffee to check emails and get ready for the next few days.

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