Apr 27, 2010

Where Is Zach?

I am ashamed to say that my son has been on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints for a year and I have done hardly any research on where he is. Whenever I mention to someone that he is on a mission for two years the next question to naturally follow is, "Where is he?" When I reply, "Estonia" most people politely say "wow" but are at a loss as to what to ask next. I totally understand that. Not many of us know much about Estonia.

Well on Monday nights Joe has Math tutoring at the library so I get a glorious hour and a half in the library to do whatever I want. This is like heaven for me. I have a continual list in my head of things I want to look for. Last night while I was browsing I came across a book about Estonia and knew I had to have it. Actually let me clarify...I don't know if there are many books about Estonia all by itself the books I have seen are about Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia all together. They are usually a package deal. And when you talk about them all together you are talking about what is called the Baltic Countries that's why the official name of Zach's mission is the Baltic Mission.

I came right home from the library and started reading my book about the Baltic States at the dinner table while my family was arguing about something. I finished the 132 page book before I went to bed. And now I can not get what I learned off of my mind. The history of the Baltic Countries is so sad.

I guess I better first tell you where Estonia is because that plays a huge part in why it has such a troubled past and present. If you are looking at a map you should look for Russia and then you should look to the left of Russia and find Estonia. Finland is above Estonia and Latvia is below it.

When I was a kid I loved reading about the world, my parents had an amazing National Geographic Atlas. It was huge. It had information on every country. It was colorful. I loved it. In case my parents are wondering where that Atlas is.....I have it. The pages are falling out of it but this book has a ton of memories for me. I brought it out the other day because Tatiana and Natalie were trying to get a long with just one atlas and it was not working out so well. I tried to find Estonia in this atlas and it was not there, I was a little confused, but then I found it...inside Russia. When I was a kid there was no independent and free Estonia. The U.S.S.R was the boss. That has always been the story of the Baltic countries. Other countries were always taking them over. Poland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark and the worst was Russia. Some other country was always telling them what language to speak, what traditions to have and exploiting their land.

The Baltic Countries have a long coastline and level plains and these facts have always made them vulnerable to invasion. Someone was always dividing up their lands or wanting access to the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Finland. Having access to a body of water that did not freeze in the winter was something Ivan the Terrible desperately wanted.

Most of the Baltic countries did not have a country to call their own until 1991. Up until then the people of the Baltic's nearly disappeared, the Soviets...bless their hearts...tried to extinguish their culture in every way.

It made me think about things I have never thought about before:

How it must be to always know you had a job in a state run factory and because little was asked of you you just become used to working passively, doing just enough to get by and then all of a sudden to have to learn how to work with pride and efficency.

To have inherited mile upon mile of polluted land and water from the Soviet Union who took no care of your land while they were in charge. And to now be too poor to fix it.

To finally be able to sing your national anthem, display your flag and speak you native language freely. I totally take it for granted that I can do this in America.

To have to be able to forgive Russia and move on.

The more I read the more involved I became. I felt for these people who have hardly anything. It is so strange to think that on August 23 of 1989, just two months before Zach was born, 2 million people linked hands between the capital of Estonia which is Tallinn and Vilnius, Lithuania in a giant human chain, the linking of hands became a, "dramatic symbol of the Baltic Countries desire for freedom."

Zach was born in October of 1989 and 19 years later he would go on a mission to a country that has only been free of Soviet rule for 16 years. So I guess you know the Mormon church is very young in Estonia. I can not imagine trying to teach these people who have been through so much about God. Their country was free from 1920-1939 but after that they were not allowed religion or any other freedom until they became independent in August of 1991.

As of last week Zach has been on his mission for a year. He is loving every minute of it. I think he misses peanut butter and I try to send it when I can. His winter was long and cold but he never complained about it just mentioned casually that he was wearing his pajamas under his suit:) He said the sun would come up just a little ways in the sky at about 9 in the morning and by 4:00 it would be dark. But from what I hear in Northern Estonia the summer months can bring 19 hours of daylight so he should be able to re-charge :)

Estonia is amazing. Zach is currently in Tallinn the capital of Estonia. If you look on the map Tallin is right on the Gulf of Finland. The country is the same size as New Hampshire and Vermont combined and there are about 1.6 million people living there. I learned that Estonians love to sing and it is a very important part of their culture. The summer months are devoted to song festivals, huge choirs of between 10,000 and 30,000 appear in the capitals of the Baltic Countries.

Thanks for letting me share what I learned about Estonia. It continually amazes me how big the world is and how little I know of what is going on out there.


Kay said...

Thanks for this, Jennifer. Wish I could have gone there to visit when Megan came home. At least Howard and Janae had the chance to visit this beautiful country. Megan so loves the people there.

Ackerman/Mejias Family said...

I was one of those people who didn't know where Estonia was. I thought it was near Europe, but not sure.
Thanks for the rapid history course on that amazing country.
I can't believe a year has gone by already...

C Tam said...

My comparitive politics teacher in high school had a special place in his heart for Estonia b/c one of his best friends was from there--er, exiled from there. And I just remembered he talked about them doing a nationalistic concert of folk music or something like that, to protest some Soviet something or other. But after my whole unit on Estonia that semester, I did not feel the hurting heart that I do now after reading just a few paragraphs of your synopsis. You have a gift with your writing, able to bring alive the small and great stuff alike. Thank you for enriching me today.

Pam Mueller said...

I was on the edge of my seat as you took me on a brief tour of Estonia. It is heart breaking what the people have gone through. Thank you for sharing your findings!