Friday, March 29, 2013

Hiiumaa America Days

So I thought I would tell you a bit more about our visit to Hiiumaa for America Days.

The event lasted from Monday, March 25, until Thursday, March 29.

We sent several teams to the island, each team staying one night.

Our first team arrived on Monday, which was also the 64th anniversary of the mass deportation of Estonians during Soviet times. Over the course of four days, as many as 20,000 Estonians were deported to Siberia or Central Asia. As many as half died. Millions were deported all total between 1941 and 1949, and you would be hard pressed to find an Estonian who didn't have a personal connection to someone who was deported. As a descendant of someone who died on the trail of tears, I think I get this in a way many Americans don't.

On Hiiumaa, in the town of Kardla, there is a new memorial for those who were deported, and our team, comprised of our RSO, a local staff member from my section, and an officer from Riga who our embassy there kindly allowed to come help me out for this event (because my APAO is out for a while) participated in the candle lighting there. They also spoke to schools and screened the film, Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

I headed out on Tuesday with my team and the Ambassador. The ferry ride to the island takes an hour and a half to go just 22 km, the slowness owing to the shallowness of the water. That shallowness was compounded by the ice (the whole area is frozen) and winds blowing from the mainland. Lots of the ferries were canceled, especially the bigger ones, so we were lucky to make to the island at all!

We stopped first for lunch with the mayor of Kardla at a restaurant on the beach, then we headed to the marina the town is having built. The mayor hopes to eventually have a 10-story spa built adjacent to the marina. The town could definitely use more hotels (though the one we stayed in, the Padu Hotel, was very cute and quaint).

Our next stop was town hall, where the Kardla Uhisgumnasium performed for us while the Ambassador opened up the Picturing America exhibit. This is a great poster show that we have definitely made maximum use of. We have had it displayed throughout the country, and as the exhibit is now being retired, we have been instructed to find a place to donate it. But we have definitely gotten our money's worth out of it!

For America Days, we sponsored a dance performance on the island by one of our Fulbrighters and some of her students. One of the pieces she used in the work was written by someone who just happened to be in the audience! Everyone seemed genuinely touched. And while we were there, the Ambassador met an American citizen who was born on the island, escaped during Soviet times first to Sweden and then to the U.S., and has now returned to Hiiumaa.

After the dance, we went to see a ship building facility...the program there is part history, part job training. Unemployed work there to built a replica of a firewood ship, the likes of which used to carry firewood to the mainland for sale. Then on to dinner at Lest ja Lammas, one of the top ten restaurants in Estonia. The food was excellent and the attached hotel was super nice.

Throughout the day, the Ambassador kept careful notes for a "Day in the Life" article he was writing for Postimees. It should run in this weekend's supplement. That, combined with articles about the trip before and after in Hiiu Leht and television coverage of the opening ceremony left me pleased with the media attention we drew to the events.

On Wednesday, the Ambassador stopped by the Hiiumaa hospital, the smallest in Estonia. The hospital had been in terrible disrepair, but a grant from the our Office of Defense Cooperation enabled them not only to renovate their surgical ward, but to secure financing for renovating the rest of the hospital as well. The place looks great, and I would be perfectly comfortable being reated there.

Next the Ambassador spoke to students at Lauka School, and they served us a wonderful organic lunch. They started a program of providing only local foods for the students, and the result was healthy and tasty! Of course, it was so good and the conversation with school officials so great that the Ambassador had to dash off quickly to make his ferry.

Fortunately for me, I was taking a later ferry, so we got to visit the music school and meet up with our next team before heading out. Then we went to the museum for the textile factory that had been in Kardla (run by the Unger-Stenberg family that I told you I might be related to). I was able to buy a clock from the museum gift store like one in our DCM's office. It is shaped like the island and I have been coveting it for a year.

The seal below is also at the museum, though has nothing to do with the factory as far as I can tell. I just liked it.

Plus I got to take some pictures of old churches. Some of you know that is my thing. And I got to take pictures of the Unger-Stenberg house...some of you also know that genealogy is my even bigger thing.

The final team was going to do some more school talks before they headed back to Tallinn yesterday. In all, I think the event was extremely successful. We got to meet lots of new people and share America with some of the 8,500 people who live there. In fact, the Ambassador asked the kids at Lauka School if they had ever met an American. None had.

Now they know several.

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