I like to think of myself as a “citizen of the world”: birthplace England, heritage Estonian, passport Canadian. I’ve lived and studied in the U.S. during grad school and have made friends from all over the world. My travels have been fairly extensive, including some rather more exotic locations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Yet alongside these global and multicultural advantages I never lost my sense of Estonian identity. I went to kindergarten speaking only Estonian and picked up English without any effort. I had two bilingual dogs with an extensive understanding of Estonian conversation. To this day I take pride in speaking the language fluently and virtually accent-free, although I’d be the first to admit that my vocabulary could be increased significantly.
As far as my participation in Estonian society, I paid my dues by attending summer camp, scout camp, Estonian school, folk dancing, etc. Admittedly I was dragged kicking and screaming to some of these, but my memories now are mostly nostalgic. Later I willingly took part in activities such as Metsaülikool (university in the forest) and the Edmonton Estonian Society. On the surface I was a reasonably good Estonian, but one key element was missing: I’d never actually been to Estonia! For years my mother suggested I take a trip, but I was always putting it off for one reason or another.
The decision to finally visit happened because of the momentous news that I have a half brother living in Sweden. Hans and I share the same biological father (long deceased) and I was eager to visit him in Sweden and in his summer home at Saaremaa. We met for the first time last year here in Canada. I had a standing invitation to visit Hans in Sweden and Estonia and so my journey of discovery began.
My overseas trip was going to be very family oriented. I would be meeting several relatives for the first time. I would travel with my mom and we would stop in England to visit my aunt. From there I would travel to Sweden to visit Hans and later would meet up with mom in Estonia where we would make the rounds with even more relatives. Hours were spent at my computer researching the cheapest possible flights between Canada, London, Stockholm, and Tallinn. The logistics of finding suitable connections for both me and my mother, being on slightly separate itineraries, was a real headache, especially when I discovered that correcting a simple spelling mistake in your booking can result in hefty penalties. I did, however, discover some good deals and my research paid off with some substantial savings.
So this past summer mom and I boarded our flight to London and made our initial stop at her sister’s place. My first meeting with a new “relative” was with that of the canine variety: My aunt Lia had recently lost a faithful four-legged companion to old age and soon after adopted a beautiful and gentle rescued greyhound picked up by the British Dogs Trust. Duffy and I bonded instantly.
A few days later I took a flight to Stockholm while mom flew directly to Tallinn.
After being picked up at the airport by Hans and his wife, Rose-Marie, I had the opportunity to experience Sweden for a few days. Back when I was a teenager I had briefly visited Stockholm and now I noticed how much more multicultural the city had become. But one trait remained: there were almost as many people on bicycles as in cars. I was amazed to see entire families riding their bikes in busy traffic – even the little ones on their pint sized wheels. The cars seemed to treat them with care however. No wonder that the Swedes are considered some of the healthiest people on the planet.
The most exciting part of being in Sweden was meeting two of Hans’ children and their families; after all, these are my late father’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren. After a week of connecting with these newly discovered relatives, Hans, his wife, and I boarded the “Tallink” ferry for Estonia.
The ferry boat ride was an overnight trip. I barely slept a wink, in a few hours I would finally be stepping on Estonian soil. My first glimpse of Tallinn was not particularly dramatic; we climbed into the car, drove out of the ferry cargo hold, and sped off to Reval Hotel to pick up my mom. Our first destination was not Tallinn: Hans zipped us out of town briskly in order not to miss our booking on the ferry to Saaremaa. Hans and his wife have a summer home which lies in a tiny hamlet called Muratsi, next door to Kuressaare.
(To be continued.)
Discovering Eesti (8)