The singing revolution

Singing is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of revolution. Revolutions are usually marked by bloodshed, hate, hungerstrikes and other gruesome images. Yet for the Estonians, in their fight against the soviet occupation that began in the 1940’s, singing became a choice weapon that marked the events taking place in the late 80’s, early 90’s, when Estonia, along with Latvia and Lithuania, won back their freedom.

Estonia has a long held tradition of singing with thousands of estonians gathering in the capital’s festival ground every five years for the song festival, with lots of smaller festivals in between. It is a mark of ‘estonianness’. During the years of occupation the festivals continued but the traditional estonian songs were replaced by songs about Marx, Lenin and Communism. On the 100th anniversary of the festival in 1969, the official soviet programme ended but the choir refused to leave the stage and spontaneously started to sing traditional estonian songs, including the most beautiful of all, ‘Land of my fathers, land that I love’. It was a mark of protest, a stating of their identity. Of course the soviets were not impressed. What do you do when a choir of 20,000 voices start singing the most forbidden song and won’t stop!? The soviets told the brass band to drown them out, but they couldn’t and the people just kept singing. Those who were there recount it with tears in their eyes as it was such a heartfelt moment of defiance.

In the 80’s, with Gorbachev in power allowing greater freedom of speech, the move towards freedom gathered pace with protests being held by different political groups. One summer festival in the centre of Tallinn erupted and resulted in 100,000 estonians gathering at the song ground singing their forbidden national songs. These gatherings grew in numbers and frequencey until 300,000 estonians gathered and….sang! Of course there were many other things happening besides singing but it is this one aspect that makes the estonian revolution different to the other revolutions happening at the same time, hence why it was dubbed ‘the singing revolution’. It is interesting that Estonia, with it’s non confrontational attitude, was the only country that avoided bloodshed during the four years of revolution, unlike the neigbouring baltic states. At the bottom of the page you can find the link to the trailer from the movie that depicts these times, with original video footage.

Thinking about the singing revolution has prompted me to think about the role of singing in our own lives. There is something about singing that is the expression of a soul, more than even the playing of an instrument. The Estonians expressed their identity through song. Football and rugby fans express their identity and hopes, encouraging their team to victory whilst belting out the simplest of tunes. What is my song? What are the words of that song that I identify with and sing with all my soul? What is my weapon against outside forces that weigh in on my life? Do I have a song that defies them?

Well. Yes I do. I think singing is one of the most powerful weapons when you feel down. As a follower of Jesus I can choose to look up and sing a song of thankfulness and faith in the midst of trouble and find myself empowered to go forward rather than downwards. ‘My lips shall praise You!’

For those of you, who like me have been to many many churches and are involved in leadership; don’t you think it would make a change if for once, in church, we made the band take second place to the congregation and let the people sing…really sing, choosing songs that are actually singable with words that are full of truth. The estonians displayed courage, defiance and hope when the people sang as one voice, not just one person on a microphone with a big band and everyone listening in as though it didn’t involve them. Praise and worship cannot be and never will be something passive. It can and should be a means of stirring faith in the heart and setting people free.

The singing revolution trailer

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…

Well it’s that time of year again. The apple trees are heavy laden with fruit and the beets are ready to be boiled, roasted, pickled and anything else you can think of. It’s all hands on deck, especially with the apple juicing…apples have to be washed, crushed and pressed until the liquid pours out, ready to be pasteurised and put in sterile jars. It’s a lot of work but the results are worth it, a years supply of 100% organic apple juice…

This is just the beginning…

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UK health and safety would have a fit with this equipment! Only safe to be touched using a wooden stick, prodded intermitently and willed to work using a few encouraging words!

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Press until the juices start to flow….

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Pasteurise and then enjoy…pure liquid nectar!

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Only three more trees to go!

There’s no place like home…

People often ask, ‘where would you rather live, Britain or Estonia? Or, ‘where do you most feel at home?’. I am honestly not sure I know anymore. I find myself feeling at home in both places while at the same time feeling entirely foreign!

We recently ‘went home’ to spend 5 1/2 weeks in the UK, and have to say that we enjoyed the great pleaure of being able to communicate in our native language. No matter how long you live in another country and do life in that language you cannot find the same liberty and freedom of expression that you do in your mother tongue. It is something emotionally very deep and fundamental to your identity and a background pressure when you aren’t able to use it.

The other great joy was seeing family and friends who have known you for years and who share the same cultural background to their thinking. You have no idea how british you are until you leave the country and discover that nobody else sees the world the way you do…except other brits!

Then there were the pleaures of eating familiar family favourites like fish and chips smothered in malt vinegar, prawn cocktail crisps, melton mowberry pork pies and of course haggis! There is an over abundance of absolutely everything in the shops at ridiculously good prices and as for the customer service, it is a joy to actually have some! People smile at you in the streets and say hello and will have a bit of banter while standing in a queue. And then the greatest higlight of all…ASDA!!!

On the other hand there is the feeling of rising stress levels the moment you get off the plane and have to face the British roads, traffic jams and car fumes. Our kids walked in bewilderment through the bustling streets of London and gripped our hands in the confusion of the underground. You get pulled, here, there and everywhere and can feel overcome with an attack of sensory overload…oh for the peace and tranquility of Estonia where everyone moves around in a state of subdued quietness!

Towards the end of our stay I was gripped with the feeling of, ‘I want to go home,’ back to the comfort of our own space in a sleepy little town in Estonia where nothing was likely to have happened in the space of time we had been gone. The apple trees would be heavy with fruit and the crickets would be chirping happily with only the sound of the odd lawn mower to disturb the peace. Then we arrived….yes, the feeling of home was definitely there in our own house and garden, but oh, how eastern european everything seemed; I hadn’t seen it like that for years! How slow the pace of life and how enigmatic the expressions of the people. It was a disorienting feeling just walking to the shops and back! It only lasted a few days though and then we felt submerged once again in the culture of a remarkably different people to the brits and amongst whom we have found good friends.

So which place is home to me? I guess both in a measure. And yet no matter how many times I get a pang of home sickness in either country, a visit to the other never seems to fully satisfy, although it feels good for a time. And that is when I realise that the need for ‘home’ is something so much deeper than a geographical location or the presence of certain people. It’s a place where the soul can truly find rest and be satisfied regardless of where it is.

It just so happened as I was writing this that I came across a poem by an an unknow author that expressed the essence of what I have come to know so clearly in my own journey as a follower of Jesus. It’s quoted in part.

“And now “my home is God,” and sheltered there,
God meets the trials of my earthly life,
God compasses me round from storm and strife,
God takes the burden of my daily care.
O Wondrous Place! O home divinely fair!…

My soul may evermore and only see
My God in everything and everywhere;
My Home is God.”

The great thing is, I can take this ‘home’ with me everywhere and bloom wherever I am planted. There is truly no place like this home. You can make it yours too…

An Estonian Childhood

One of the most common questions I get asked by folks back in the UK is, “what’s it like bringing your kids up in Estonia?”. My answer is always a very positive one as I think there is a lot going for this country. We have three children, two boys and one girl aged, 10, 8 and 6. Our first born was ten months old when we moved here and the other two were born in the Viljandi hospital shown below,

20130414-081304.jpg It’s a rather austere, soviet looking building but actually a very happy and peaceful place to enter this world. Having been born here, our kids have never really known anything other than life in Estonia except for extended trips to the UK during the rather long three month school summer holidays. Belonging to two countries definitely adds a bit of extra flavour to their lives!
Neither my husband or myself are native estonian speakers, so we’ve had to, ‘learn on the job’ as it were, while our children have been thrown in at the deep end by entering the estonian kindergarten system at three years old and learning the language while playing along side their friends. There is no question about it, children take to language learning much more easily than adults. They are like little sponges who just absorb all the information; while us adults struggle to get our heads round grammar rules, they just use it! Not fair!
So two of our children have graduated from kindergarten and taken the huge leap of 40 meters across the road to the local school. Both buildings can be seen in this picture, the kindergarten being the large building at the back left and the school on the right where they stay until they are sixteen years old

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Not a very large existence to grow up in but a secure one. We live in a town where everybody, knows everybody and you still find unattended babies sleeping outside shops in their prams!

I like the estonian education system. Starting pre-school at 6 and real school at 7 makes much more sense to me, allowing younger kids to learn through play and just be ‘young’! The school day is short, allowing time for other activities like craft and music school which is really big in Estonia. And guess what, even with this low key approach, Estonia does really well in the international statistics for education! So a good system all round I say! And where else would our kids learn to cross country ski from seven years old…

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Having said that, five months of snow is way too much for anyone and the kids get fed up being cooped up for so long during the coldest months and long for spring and warmer weather. There are only so many snow men that one can be bothered to build…I rather liked this one, though not our own!

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But summer does come in the end and the long days and three month summer holiday lend themselves to happy family camping holidays in unspoilt nature, bike rides along quiet roads and time to swim in the lakes…..bliss!

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The flag

The Estonians love their flag which is flown proudly on the many official flag days during the year, be it independence day, midsummer, mothers day, estonian language day or simply ‘just because’….! Who can blame them when during the long, hard years of Soviet rule the Estonian flag was forbidden. Many Estonians kept their flags hidden under floorboards or in attics for many years until the unforgettable occasion during the ‘singing revolution’ when one bold soul rode by the crowds at the festival ground on his motorbike carrying the flag for everyone to see. This was the cue that everyone was waiting for and suddenly thousands of estonian flags appeared throughout the crowd flown for the first time in 50 years…what a moment that must have been for those who had waited so long!

I can’t say I have ever been so patriotic, be it because of my mixed blood, or simply because our generation hasn’t had to fight for it’s freedom in quite the same way. There was one occasion when my husband did fly the english flag from our apartment window which aroused a lot of interest amongst the locals who assumed it must be an important day on the English national calendar, only to be told that it was in fact England’s turn to play in the European cup!

Estonians love nature and even their flag is taken from the colours of the surrounding countryside. During the winter months the crisp blue sky, black trees and swathes of bright white, untouched snow that enfolds the country, all contribute to the colours of the Estonian tricolor. Beautiful.

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I love this little token to the flag on a snow pole…

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