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Published: December 8th 2011
From the moment the plane skittered on the airstrip I realised these ex soviet citizens stood for no nonsense. The presence each person held clearly demanded awe and reverence. The women immaculately dressed. The men were solid and serious.
I was visiting Matas in his home city. I was nervous as I was to be meeting his family and friends for the first time. As soon as I was inline for immigration I frantically threw my bag down, rummaged for the 'top up' essentials, deodorant, comb, gloss, perfume, mints... all in a feeble attempt to look effortlessly fresh and gorgeous.
Matas collected us both (not noticing my effortless freshness I might add) and we headed to his family apartment.
The inner suburbs... looked... old. Its really the only was I can describe it. Picture a cliché film shot of ghetto American city back streets, and you will be close. The cars were outdated; the roads in need of attention, the buildings, residential and business seemed decrepit. Every building was brown, or beige. There was an electric bus connected to a trolly car like cable. It was fascinating.
His apartment building had me hesitate before going inside,
Andy and I gave each other a look which could only read - not only have you set yourself up for black kidney harvesting, but you have also bought along your sister to join your fate. Nice - The small foyer was all raw cement, a block of metal post boxes sat to one side of the wall, most with the doors off or hanging loosely, a draft ran along the ground floor and I waited for the lift doors to open.
The lift its self was terrifying, it was no bigger than a cupboard and would squeeze no more than 5 adults, it smelt of urine and shuddered from side to side. There was no indicator to which floor you were passing, and should the door open at any floor, you knew which one you were on by the crude number spray painted on the opposite wall.
The apartment was on the top floor. And I did not question the reasoning for the thick bullet proof front door, which then opened to another heavy door.
This is where are similarities ended. And where I want to use this fabulous example of not judging the outside, but
what is on the inside. Once the (second) door was opened, there was a beautiful, modest, family home.
Everything about Lithuania was like this, it seems rough, almost desolate, but underneath there was a warmth that shadowed everything else. Matas assures me that Lithuania is still a country of corruption and violence, though I was lucky enough to see through to the fierce beauty.
The main city streets of Lithuania had recently been upgraded to accommodate the thousands of Euro Basket fans, which Lithuania was hosting. It was strange to see such a cosmopolitan strand, though if you happened to look above first story you would have noticed that only the fist floors had been renovated, from the 2nd
floor upwards the businesses were covered in spray paint and smashed windows. It was a simple disguise which I doubt was noticed by many.
My favourite part of the city was the old quarter, narrow streets, uneven coble stone paths, modest buildings. It was gorgeous. Here everyone huddled outside bars with beers and blankets watching basketball. The atmosphere within the city was infectious and amusing to see different nationalities singing anthems with vigour and pride, and others hanging
their heads and consoling each other with ‘maybe next year’…
I was disappointed that I did not have the opportunity to explore other parts outside of Kaunas, we were restricted to never be too far from a bar in the evening to ensure we could watch each game.
Although I only saw a limited part of the city and managed a glimpse of Matas childhood, I really enjoyed what I saw and those I met. This trip really gave me a strong appreciation of all I had enjoyed in my own youth. Matas has told me many stories about his own, and in no way did he not have an excellent upbringing, but there are so many differences, so many simple, safe aspects of my own life that I took for granted. I really have a deep curiosity into his psyche, he is such an emotionally reserved person who has this incredible ability to close himself of from others, as the polar opposite, emotionally flamboyant, I find this difficult to deal with.
Can you imagine living though a fight for independence? Entering a country illegally in hope to escape poverty? How about the simplicity of a kettle,
and the introduction of this standard house hold appliance being the hit of the mid 90’s. Can you imagine?
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