Before I begin the main body of my journal for today, I want to address a subject that I know many people have been concerned about. Yes, the situation in Ukraine has grown even more unstable. The citizens won in the disputes against the government that have been occurring over the past couple months, but it looks like Russia is taking advantage of Ukraine’s vulnerable political position. Russia now has troops occupying Crimea and there are rumors of impending war, however, no shots have been fired by either side. For those of you who do not know, I will be traveling in Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg) next week. With the tension and threats between Ukraine and Russia, there is concern that it may not be safe for us in Russia. Our Study Abroad Directors are currently in communication with the US Embassies both in Lithuania and Russia. They are staying up to date on the situation and will do everything they can to keep us safe, even if that means changing our travel plans. They have already started looking for options should it become dangerous while we are there. For now, no one needs to worry about us. In fact, no one ever needs to worry about us…this whole globe is in our God’s hands. But, please send up your prayers on behalf of this side of the sphere. Some specifics would be: peace in Ukraine and Russia, safety for the entire study abroad group as we travel, and a peaceful resolution to the situation.
This past weekend I traveled down to Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, for the Užgavėnės festival. This is Lithuania’s way of kicking winter to the curb and beckoning spring to come. The actual holiday is “Shrove Tuesday”, the day before Lent begins, but Užgavėnės always takes place the weekend before. Most communities in Lithuania hold their own weekend celebration, just like communities in the US hold fireworks shows for the Fourth of July. Vilnius, being the capital, hosted a very large festival over the course of Saturday and Sunday. I took a bus to Vilnius on Friday evening, along with several other SA girls, and stayed in a hostel for the weekend. We spent all of Saturday enjoying the traditional singing, dancing, eating, and shopping on Gedimino Street. Vendors work all year preparing handicrafts to sell at their tents that line the street. Many people don traditional Lithuanian dress and take part in their customary dances. Children dress up in costumes and go door-to-door asking for pancakes or money. Several small parades of people in scary animal masks and other silly costumes march up and down the street periodically throught the day. As the sun begins to set, a procession of people forms and walks to the witch burning site. As the tradition goes, an ugly woman (or witch) is constructed for the purpose of being burned at Užgavėnės. This is to symbolize Lithuania telling winter that she is not welcome anymore.
I had a blast at the festival! It was an incredible experience of cultural immersion. I tried a traditional Lithuanian potato dish called “Cepelinai”, joined one of the dances in the square, chanted along at the witch burning, and enjoyed every ounce of the weekend. We laughed a lot, ate too much, walked it all off, took tons of pictures, and got reduced prices on handmade socks thanks to our indecision. I don’t think I will ever forget this farewell to winter. ... And I’m thinking maybe the US needs to give Užgavėnės a try this year. ;)
This is a word we heard a lot on Saturday: šokame! (It means, “We dance!”)
Hi, I'm Katie... just a girl, living this adventure for the glory of God. Thanks for reading!