A Day in the Life of Amy Maraney in Estonia
- Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Estonia
"Don't walk alone after dark." This Peace Corps advice is easy enough to heed during the Estonian summer. At summer's peak, the sun begins rising at 2 a.m., sets around 11 p.m., and it's never exactly dark in between. I have considered hauling an inflatable dummy around with me in the winter. How can I not walk alone in the dark? In the middle of winter daylight saunters in sometime during second period at school (8:55–9:40) and excuses itself at 4 p.m. or slightly earlier. The sun rarely appears at all.
Despite the long hours of winter darkness, ice, and cold, winter is manageable if you keep an upbeat attitude. Maybe the Volunteer who told us during training that she took long, hot baths after work every day and then hopped around her apartment in her sleeping bag for the rest of the evening was trying to frighten us. Or maybe she was from the Sun Belt.
After the first snow, sleds replace baby buggies (strollers are rare here). Parents tow their kids everywhere until the final slush disappears. Only main roads are plowed consistently and sidewalks are never shoveled. Hint: High heels give extra traction on ice. Really!
Besides the difference in daylight, my life in Narva differs from my life in the United States in a few major ways and a myriad of smaller, subtler ways. For example, people here walk much more than they drive. The question, "Is it far away?" refers to time walking, not driving. A place 30 minutes away is not too far away. I walk to work, just like most people. The school where I work is five minutes from my apartment and the college is 25 minutes away. I confess that every so often in the winter I give in to the cold and take a bus.
I have observed that most people in Narva live in five- or nine-story apartment buildings. Only nine-story buildings have elevators. Some people on the outskirts of town live in single-family houses, and we have a small village of three such streets near my school. I live on the fourth floor of a five-story building. This is the first time in my life that I have ever lived in an apartment.
I always begin work at 8 a.m. but finish at a different time each day. I might finish at lunchtime or not until 7:30 p.m.! If I have to work late, I usually have a few free hours sometime during the day.
I have reliable heat, water, and electricity. Granted, the town turns the heat on too late (mid-October) and turns if off too early (mid-April), but at least my apartment is lukewarm during the coldest months. To my relief, I always have water except for one or two days a month when they work on the pipes. Additionally, I lose my hot water for two weeks during the summer while the pipes are cleaned and repaired.
I bathe in the water but do not drink it. The water in northeast Estonia has a lot of heavy metals from mining. I clean my drinking water in a two-step process. First, I distill it. This takes almost five hours. My distiller is a great heater during the winter! Then I filter the distilled water. This is my drinking water and what I use to wash fruit and vegetables.
Since Narva is quite large, there is an array of goods and services offered here. There is a handful of restaurants and cafes, several larger grocery stores, many smaller shops, and two open-air markets. When I want convenience I go to one of the larger grocery stores. When I want language practice and a cultural experience I head for one of the markets. No matter where I go, however, I grab a few bags. People here bring their own or buy them from the cashier.
Language ranks with walking and water as one of the noticeable differences in my life. The Russian alphabet and especially the grammar rules make Russian quite challenging. In fact, my Russian tutor has confessed that she doubts she would choose to study Russian if it were not her native language. Fortunately, I have many friends in Narva who speak little or no English, so I get lots of practice! While there are things that are different about living in Estonia, none of them is unbearable and some of them, such as walking and speaking Russian, are really quite enjoyable.