Thursday, October 20, 2011

EVS life in Palūšė

Festivals, part of volunteering life over summer
The other day, my mentor Linas told me : « In your blog, you desbribe lots of events. But there’s really something missing. There’s nothing about your everyday life in the Park, with the staff, your life as EVS volunteer »… And he is right ! So I’ll try to correct that now with this post.

Sharing family life with our colleague Edmundas

First, being a volunteer is not all about work. We surely helped a lot over summer with the visitors. We were arranging accomodation for them, giving them advices about what to see, what to do in the Park, selling maps and postcards, and sometimes showing them around Paluse. Other jobs were for instance putting up signs in the campsites and sites of interest all over the Park for better information, picking up rabbish left behind by unrespectful people, helping to clean up the campground and the tourism center in Paluse, improving the visibility of painted symbols on trees, showing the way to follow on the botanical trail. And the translation of the Park’s website into french is still an important ongoing job.

Our everyday walk or cycle work/home

But being a volunteer is about discovering as well. Culture, traditions, language… I believe some of the traditions are already a bit described in all the events we’ve attended and written about. Culture is a large concept. It encompasses people’s daily routine, way of life, way of thinking, beside others. Far from being a culture shock, Lithuania still offers us a different view over people’s behaviours, and opens up our minds to the diversity of Europe.
We enjoyed our gardening results all summer
One of the firsts

The first weeks, I was a bit disoriented, not knowing what to think about people who would hardly open their mouths or show any emotion whatsoever. Are they all shy ? Why don’t they smile ? Why don’t they reply when we expect at least some kind of reaction while daring speaking up our firsts « Laba diena » ? But then we understood. The soviet period is not that far away still, and people were not so communicative then, because they had to take care about everything they would say, and not to tell anything to anybody, cause such an attitude would cause them soon some big big trouble. So communication remains, for many people here, something that they don’t excell in. But actually, we started to find more and more really nice people to talk to, and locals started to be flubbergasted when hearing our timidly spoken lithuanian. Only a few words and they would already be like : « Oh you speak such a good lithuanian ! » Funny !

Like Columbo
Our colleague Roma and us

With the staff members, we became more and more able to communicate in lithuanian. Especially Florence. Following the opinion of all other volunteers and EVS trainers, I think she’s probably the best starting from zero word lithuanian-speaker volunteer of all time. Sometimes, it almost seems like she is more at ease with lithuanian than with english ! I feel like crap compared to her. The reason for that is very clear : I didn’t put as much energy as her in learning this challenging language. I felt I could follow her for the first few weeks, but then, I was just left behind. She is like Columbo, always having some kind of piece of paper with her to write any new word she would hear. Then, at the end of the day, with the greatest seriousness of all, she would copy all these words again on her little self-made dictionnary. And learn them. She is definitely the only Park volunteer doing that. And we can only have admiration for such a great involvment, passion and motivation. It is explainable. She loves this country so much that she wants to stay here. Forever ? Well, maybe, so she says...

Having a good connexion with our colleagues at work is definitely part of our EVS, and with her lithuanian skills and her capabilities to speak about nothing and everything with anyone, Florence is managing it really well! So well that from time to time, she now spends some nights in Ignalina, the closest little city, hosted by Irena or Asta.

I am probably much more shy in that sense, and don’t dare talking to my colleagues that often, by lack of confidence and frustration of not being able to share what I’d like to.

I don’t feel as much attachment with Lithuania as Florence does, maybe because I always tend to compare with my uncomparable previous travelling experiences, especially New Zealand. But I honestly like this country. Some really great people, especially the staff members we spend much time with. A very interesting culture, with this odd mixture of paganistic and religious influences – Lithuania was the last european country to become christian, that was only in the XVth century ! Some beautiful landscapes, with a such a rich and fantastic nature. And we can’t complain with the place we live in !
With another colleague...
Neighbouring the forest, we’ve been able to go quite often mushroom picking and berry picking (I was really amazed at the amount of blueberries you can find here over summer, they form like a gigantic carpet covering the whole forest, picking options are unlimited!), and to get some vegetables from our lovely home-made garden. For volunteers keen on fishing, our place is fantastic as well, with this little “pier” we have just down the stairs.

Interactive nature exhibition
With our bicycles, named “Ugnis” (Fire) and “Mėlynės” (Blue), we’ve been enjoying some nice chilling out rides throughout the Park. We actually used them a lot, to go to work everyday (a lovely ride along lake Lušiai) and to go to Ignalina, 4 kms away.

The delicious and typical cold beetroot soup
And the less typical snails (but we're french!)

We go shopping there, and for about three months, and an average of twice a week, we went to visit the greatest teacher of all, Astra. We got very lucky having her as our lithuanian teacher, for many reasons :
-          Her full time job is teacher, which is not the case for most other volunteers’ teachers.
-          She did not only teach us the language itself, but shared with us her great knowledge about lithuanian culture and history she is very proud of.
-          She was very flexible and generous concerning the lenght of the lessons, supposed to last for 1h30 but usually lasting for at least one more hour of pleasure!
-          We shall not forget she is a very good cook, and she would almost always prepare us a yummy dish or some cake to try out. Only once or twice, she did not manage because of a lack of time (she is a very active woman!), and was apologizing so much about it that it became really funny.

Only one and a half month before our volunteering project comes to an end. Time flew so fast! But we’ll make most of our time left. We are currently doing Park exchange, all eight volunteers hosting for two weeks and visiting for two other weeks. A good opportunity to see how it works in other regional or national Parks, what sort of activities our fellow volunteers are doing in their projects. Some more teaching and learning experiences up to come.

The interactive nature exhibition I organise in Palūšė this upcoming Saturday will surely be one of them. All Park volunteers will gather for this event they will run altogether, with plenty of workshops about recycling, making your own paper, your own natural paint, building up a compost toilet, making your own juggling balls, before trying them out of course, etc. The idea is to get local people involved, and to learn from them as well as to try to teach them some of our skills.
Lithuanians are shy... but not always!
This post might have been a bit long, thanks if you managed to read it till the end! :-)

One of the main issues : mosquitoes