I could try to be all artistic and come up with some wordy/vague/inspirational quote to describe how I feel, but I think that would just embarrass the both of us :) Truth is, I don't even know how I feel right now. I thought I was halfway torn between my life in America and Vilnius, up until this morning when I was riding the bus through Old Town, and realized I never wanted to leave. Strange how that works, isn't it? Something you originally dread happening is often the same thing you dread leaving behind - this seems to happen even more when you allow the Lord to guide your life :) I wish there was some way I could package up a little handful of Lithuania, and bring it home with me - that way, I can explain to others why I would ever come to love a little reject country no one's ever heard of that smells like cigarette smoke and Soviet cement. I know that the past 4 months of been spent documenting the daily scene, but my life here has been so much more than that. Here, let me try to explain:
One thing I love about Lithuania is the older generation. Since basically anyone over 50 knew nothing but Russian occupations for the first 4 decades of their life, there's definitely a certain amount of "oomph" gone from these people. Many go through their lives with a mundane spirit, just trying to make it through one more day. Every once in a while though, you'll see a little bit of fire left in them, and you recognize the spirit of the Lithuanian people that allowed them to rise up and break away from the Soviet's.
To explain this, let me tell you about my friend Viva - a couple of days ago, I was walking back from Norfa with Areil when I walked past an older lady on the sidewalk. She looked kind of distressed, but there's nothing I can ever do without being able to speak the language, so I compromised by simply calling out "Laba diena" from where I stood. She perked up when I said hello, and responded by calling out to me in Lithuanian. I apologized in English, explaining that I didn't speak Lithuanian, and continued walking. I didn't make it very far before she called back in perfect English "Oh, that's okay. I asked if you would kindly help me up this hill". I was startled that she spoke so perfectly, since I'd never heard an older Lithuanian speak English in all the time I've been here. Of course I agreed, and began to help her up the hill, making conversation on the way. Turns out, her name is Viva, and she simply taught herself English while living in Lithuania. She was born here, and is determined that she will die here as well. After we got to the top of the hill, she stopped on a bench to rest, and thanked me for my help. I walked away, amazed at the life and spirit that was still left in Viva.
Another time, I was in a wonderful mood, and simply walking around Justiniškės street, nearby where I lived. While walking, I was being a completely obnoxious American, breaking the invisible "bubble" all Lithuanians seem content to live in, and greeting the strangers on the sidewalk. As I walked past one such older woman, she was bent near in half with a hump on her back, and hobbling along with a crane while dragging a bag behind her. As I approached, I cheerfully called out "Laba Diena" to her, without thinking much of it. She on the other hand, looked up stunned at me, and immediately broke out in one of the biggest smiles I've seen. I actually stopped walking just to look at her, because that smile was the most genuine joy I've seen while being here in Lithuania. She then put down her bag, reached over to touch my hand, and said "Laba Diena" back to me before picking up her cane and walking away. I watched her hobble away, wondering if she was one of the hundreds of widowed people in Lithuania, and when the last time was someone had really given her a real greeting.
This is part of the reason why I love Lithuania so - because no matter how dirty, smelly, lonely or introverted this country is, there are occasions like that which make me realize I can never give up on these people.
I think I'll always remember Lithuania in the rain - not only does it happen about 4 days a week, but that's when it seems most like home.
I'll even miss getting blinded by those strange reflector bands everyone wears on their purses (men included, m-urse and all) since it gets so dark here in the winter.
I remember when I first got here to Lithuania, and finding the "wishing stone" outside Vilnius Cathedral. As a nervous American out of her country for the first time, I remember spinning on it three times and wishing that I could do a good job teaching and enjoy my time in Lithuania. I walked past it again today, and smiled at myself 4 months ago, wondering how I could have ever doubted how much I'd come to love this place.