Dear God, I wanted to live

By the time I was 15, I was beginning to get interested in my roots, I was always asking my relatives and friends about Latvia, “How does it look?” and “ Why thousands of Latvians left the country years ago?” One day my grandmother turned over her belongings,  presented me with a book that could be interesting to me, because it was a book with historical details of Latvia.

I confess that I was never a “book lover”, but that one had awakened in me a will to read. My grandmother said the book was short, which she would have read in a afternoon.

Book’s cover in Portuguese Language

I was presented with the book “Dear God, I wanted to live” in Latvian, “Vēl tā gribejas dzīvot”, a manuscript translated by Yolanda Mirdza Krievin and published by the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Community of Brazil in 1982.

The book tells the history of Ruta Ūpe, a 14-year-old Latvian girl, forcibly taken with other thousands of people to the labor camps, subjected to torture and humiliation in the confines of Siberia.

Ruta describes in her memories the moments of the sad loss of her freedom and life, the inhuman and exhausting slavery conditions, facing the Siberian cold, the lack of decent housing and medical care, the struggle for daily bread and the loss of family members in the course of time. Through notes in a Diary, Ruta could remain strong and mentally healthy, recording all the horrors she passed, along with relatives and friends.

After a few years, I had the opportunity to visit Latvia for the first time, and there, I visited museums that gave me the explanations of my doubts: “Why did all that happen in Ruta’s life?” “What had she or her family done to deserve that?”

I discovered that not only in Latvia, but the three Baltic states (including Estonia and Lithuania), when dominated by the Soviets, the Socialist ideology was meant to be applied without much disturbance to the opponents, those who had academic knowledge, who did not agree with the practices of the system, and who did not want to give up their private possessions, constituted that great congregation of innocent sufferers; some with wounds that never healed.

Itinerary followed by Latvians from Riga to labour camps in Novosirbirisky, Siberia.
Children inside the deportation wagon

Today, older and with a more mature mind, I reread the book, and I was able to pay attention to information that made me shiver, and sometimes cry, because I went through places in Latvia where Ruta was.

Obi river passing trough Novosibirsky city, place where Ruta reports in her book
Bauska town, where Ruta lived after her return to Latvia.

The book “Dear God, I wanted to live” is a valuable work comparable to the famous “The Diary of Anne Frank”, a work rich in information about how those people suffered the consequences of a totalitarian and unfair regime. The deportations of the population of the Baltic countries to Siberia is a recent event, and in 2018 it will complete only 77 years.

The publication of this book was one of the last wishes of Ruta, before leaving this world, because she wanted it as a revenge against the communists, showing the world that the innocent blood of the Latvian dead cries also for revenge. This book should be for us the living memory of all the events of the past that must never be forgotten, even our free world trying to hide and forget.

Ruta concludes her memories with Poet Skalbe’s words: “Many were your martyrs, my little homeland.”

“One more life that joined the shadows of the martyrs who died, a life that had to tread the long path of the others and then die, even though her will to live was so great.”

Bauska Castle

Walking through the Latvian town Bauska, which is 66 kilometers from the capital, Riga, is like entering a book of memories: the city still preserves wooden houses built centuries ago and constructions of the soviet period. I was going to the Castle of Bauska (Bauskas Pils), built in the 15th century by the Germans of the Livonian Order, a branch of the medieval military Teutonic Order. On the way I passed through a park filled with flowers and a memorial honoring the victims of the soviet regime.

Restored part of the castle

As I was walking I could see on my right the beautiful view of where the rivers Mūsa and Mēmele form the river Lielupe. I kept walking until finally could see the recently restored palace of the castle on top of the green hill: beautiful and sober. It was painted with different tones of beige. Behind, the ruins of the old castle form a magnificent contrast. In ancient times, there was an ancient Semigallian fortress on the top of the same hill. Bauska Pils was built between 1443 and 1456. The construction continued until the end of the 16th century.

Lielupe river that runs through the hill

I was carrying a cup of coffee that got cold due to the excitement I felt. The walls of the non-restored part were collapsed; they were certainly hit hard. I could see the holes from where the defenders could shoot arrows. The castle and city suffered heavily in the 17th and 18th centuries, under attack in the Polish-Swedish War and in the Great Northern War. A big watch tower, thick walls, a prison, narrow stairs… It is all there forming a disheveled beauty that can make a history lover shake with excitement! After a long climb, I spent a lot of time at the tower breathing the cold air and having a full view of the castle and its complex below. I was under a Latvian flag shaking in the wind. I pictured armies all around that hill.

Hill of the Old Castle
Courtyard of the Old Castle

When I finally left, as I walked backwards to have the last sights of the ruins, the sunset was over me and I could feel the smell of trampled grass under my feet. The last image remains in my mind: now, 457 years since the end of the Livonian Order, the national flag of Latvia trembles on top of the tower, a heartwarming sign of freedom.

Old Castle

Author: Maria Fernanda Stinghen Gottardi

Happy as a hobbit

Rainy Monday of August in Vecsaule, a village in Bauska, Latvia. I woke up early because the excitement didn´t let me sleep more: we were going to pick up mushrooms in the forest that day, an experience totally new for me.

After breakfast we prepared ourselves for the quest: rain boots and coats, rubber gloves, one knife for each, camera, some plastic bags and a bucket – those two last items revealed themselves very insufficient later. We were looking like two hobbits in our hoods and cloaks of dark blue, green and brown.

In our way we met a very satisfied Latvian man with a basket full of fresh mushrooms. When inside the forest, a weak and constant rain started, but it was very pleasant to walk; the tops of the big trees restrained the water. We walked stepping in old leaves from the past seasons and in a green carpet of moss. The Latvian forests have a imposing atmosphere, but at the same time, kind, like they were old and mysterious but graceful and regardful. If you come with good thoughts and good intentions, then you are welcome. Peace and quietness were all around. The only sounds were the soft and intermittent whistles of hidden birds and the breaking of dry leaves and fallen twigs by our feet.

We found only a few mushrooms, mostly Bērzu baravika or Boletus betulicola. I am crazy about edible mushrooms, but in my country, Brazil, the mushroom passion is not the same as in Latvia. We don´t enter in the forest to search for them because in Brazil there is a large number of poisonous mushrooms (some can really kill) that look exactly like edible species, so people get afraid to confusing them. Most of the mushrooms we have available to buy at markets are cultivated and imported, therefore, very expensive. Recently the production of mushrooms in Brazil has increased, but it is still rare to find something beyond the champignon (Agaricus bisporus), native from Europe and North America, and oriental Shimeji and Shiitake.

 

I was delighted to see that in Latvia you can not only buy fresh mushrooms in any market very cheap, but you can also go and pick up them yourself. In The Lord of the Rings book, Tolkien writes that Hobbits have “a passion for mushrooms, surpassing even the greediest likings of Big People”. So are Latvians compared to the other nationalities. In the cities I´ve visited it was easy to see people carrying baskets of fresh mushrooms carefully, like it was a treasure, with happy faces.

After two hours and one plastic bag half full, we decided to go away, but I went I a bit further just to give a last look. I glanced to my right, nothing; I glanced to my front, nothing; I glanced to my left and there they were: two huge mushrooms! One was fresh, the other was starting to rot. I came closer to them and suddenly I started to see mushrooms everywhere in that direction. Small, medium, large… They were beautiful! It was the Mushroom Paradise, as we joked about it. I felt so happy with the discovery – like a thrilled Hobbit – that I somehow lost the gloves that were in my pocket.

The mushrooms we found there were mostly Parastā apšubeka or Red-capped Scaber Stalk (Leccinum aurantiacum), a very delicious type. We stayed in that location for at least two hours more. Our bucket and all plastic bags were totally full; we had to leave a lot behind us, for another mushroom lover to find.

Later when we returned home, I learned how to clean and prepare them with a latvian lady. We made a lot of jars with mushrooms preserves with vinegar and spices and the rest we ate fried, pure, with spices, with vegetables, in soup, in bread… Delicious!

There is a latvian proverb that says: “Kas nestrādā, tam nebūs ēst” (He that will not work, shall not eat). The meal tastes different and better when you strive to have it and prepare it yourself. That is why this was one of the most fascinating and rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. To be able to see all those mushrooms and to pick them up with nature around me made me feel even more respect for the nature that provides us those delicious gifts. With the rush of everyday life and the facilities of the modern world, the contact with nature is priceless. I am really happy to know that in Latvia this is still very much alive.