This is neither any kind of déjà vu that you might be experiencing, nor it is horrible forgetfulness on my part. I have already written about a youth exchange project that took place in Estonia and…the super brief description of these upcoming entries could be exactly the same.
However, this time its topic changed from eco-lifestyle to creative reading and writing (and media in general), and the scenery of a cement factory was replaced by a gorgeous lake and seemingly impenetrable forests. Since people from my previous exchange know how bad the organisation and the location were, I hope they will take no offence now when I say that my time in Nelijärve was like Estonia 2.0.
I was debating in my head on how many entries I should have and what about exactly. I will begin with the least relevant one. For the ones who were sincerely hoping to find out something informative about this exchange project – sorry, it will be coming soon. Well, informative to an extent…
Before I go to some ridiculous events and observations that occurred during the exchange time, let me briefly tell you about how our trip started.
It started, my friends, with a dose of linguistic creativity.
My team was still in Tallinn, looking for a tram stop to reach the train station, and so we decided that asking someone about it would be the quickest way to go. My friend and I came up to an elderly Estonian lady, asked her whether she spoke Russian, and after hearing a positive answer, started our question.
The question that, for anyone who has studied any language for some years, shouldn’t appear that complicated. ‘Where is the train station?’ – a question that any language book includes, and which you then have to inevitably include in some boring dialogue in your class. So my friend and I started asking this question in Russian and then immediately realised one thing: if anything, the worst word not to know in this sentence is definitely ‘a train’.
‘Excuse me, can you tell us where the…where the…aa…” – oh shit! A pause followed. No, ‘pause’ doesn’t quite convey the panic we suddenly felt. Let me use ‘a deadly silence’ instead.
My friend’s and my eyes met, and the expressions we had on our faces were something between “what the hell???” and “c’mon! Think!”
After some seconds – that seemed like hours to us and, likely, to that lady, too – of looking for the right word in our heads, I bravely took up the challenge. Due to the fact that it was by no means the first time I would be describing some word by running the risk appearing a complete imbecile, I decided to act. Thus I uttered one of the most absurd phrases that I’ve ever said to anyone (and, dear lord, that would be an extensive list):
“a bus – no, but an iron…” (не автобус, о железный…)
My friend giggled, the lady immediately said the damn word in Russian and then quickly showed us the way. I myself could hardly control my face after having pronounced such a nonsense, but, hey – I swear to you, I was one step away from strangely spinning my arm imitating the train “wheels”, and shyly saying ‘choo-choo.’
But so let me move to what happened during the exchange itself in a sweet resort of Nelijärve. I will keep the event for the very last part of this entry, and quickly tell you now that one of the evenings in this place was simply crammed with laugher. Why? Coz it was crammed with some older Estonian men drinking quite heavily. As we joked about it with some friends, they must have been playing a drinking game entitled “drink till you pass out”. Awww, what a sweet game: everyone wins!
So that evening – in a matter of several hours – I saw some intriguing spectacles. First, there were two men trying to descend the stairs close to the lake, hugging – in a way that only two drunk men can hug – and, instead of successfully walking down those stairs, successfully (and in a beautifully synchronised manner!) falling into the bushes together. A loud “oi!” followed and then – a burst of laughter. Second, my friend and I were approached by a seriously concerned guy. His gaze was blurry, we could barely stand – walking in a straight line could have been subjected to a fun bet – and the first thing he said to us was one of the weirdest confessions, when I think about it. He said: ‘I…I…don’t know where I live.’ Finally, an absolutely wasted man stumbled into the hotel, fell onto the ground, lied there for half a minute not being able to stand up, then finally put himself on his feet and quickly ran out of the lobby, in a way as if gravity began to attract him to his side and not downwards. Maybe there was a bottle of huge mass somewhere close.
Apart from these irrelevant occurrences, one was – hands down – the funniest. Or, as I said, even if the whole project had sucked, it would have been worth it to be there just to see this.
So. I was sitting by the lake with two other participants of our exchange during a lovely (coffee?) break (well, a beer break it was for us), we were having a thought-provoking chat about politics – as you do while chilling by the lake, surely – when all of a sudden our attention switched from freedom of speech to something way more interesting.
We all stood up, I – naturally yet seemingly theatrically – even put my hand above my eyes to see everything more clearly, and what I saw, I think, I will never forget.
‘Wait… What is happening with the paddle boat there? Is it…is it…flipping over?!’
It was! The front of the thing was going up, and a couple of people sort of rolled into the water gently. One guy, though, made this view even more cinematographic; it was so absurd, I shed a tear. He stepped on the very front of the sinking vehicle, looked around (OK, the looking around part I might have added in my head), and bravely jumped into the lake. “Abandon ship, abandon ship!” rang in my mind. Ironically (or…logically) we had a pirate-themed party soon after that.
“So, apparently, one can sink a paddle boat!” a friend commented, and that is one of the coolest irrelevant discoveries I’ve made during this exchange.
When I reflect on it, this particular situation has not one, but even two layers of absurdity. The first one, obviously, was the dramatic sinking itself and then the effort of my new friends to slowly take it to the shore. Ah, yes, I forgot to mention: the mere reason why this flipping a paddle boat accident did not turn into a tragedy was that when they finally took it ashore, a can of beer was still inside it. They bravely saved what is important.
The second layer was our reaction. Instead of trying to help them in some way, we were standing by the lake, with our beers, bursting of laughter. Another guy even ran for his laptop, took it outside, and put the Titanic song on.
You can talk about how interesting and useful it is to get to know different cultures, to celebrate the differences between us and learn from them. Maaan, even if you agree with this clichéd saying, it’s also nice to once again see how similar we all are: who wouldn’t laugh at the troubles of others?