reede, juuli 12, 2013

about mission estonia

Here's something I wrote about my new book. An Estonian version of this text previously appeared here.

Estonia is blessed with expatriate writers. Abdul Turay, Vello Vikerkaar, João Lopes Marques... Sometimes it seems we landed our gigs as columnists on the basis of our foreignness alone. Our editors tell us to write about the foreign experience in Estonia because Estonians want to know what we think of them. At the same time, I believe we feel compelled as emissaries who have come from Western lands to make suggestions on how Estonia can transform even more positively than it has ever transformed before.

This is our position in this society: the missionary position. Like Jesuits of old, we have arrived by sea, and air and land to Estonia so that we can point out the locals' flaws, save their souls, and guide them all the way to the promised land.

We missionaries come not only as writers. In any facet of daily life, you will find travelers from Western lands spreading their lifestyles. A Californian friend now teaches transcendental meditation in Tartu. In recent years, American and Australian friends of mine in Comedy Estonia together with Estonian collaborators have introduced stand up comedy to this country. From these tiny foreign seeds, we all believe, many Estonian flowers will blossom.

For years, I trudged along in my capacity as a missionary, writing columns and books for the Estonian audience. But something changed in my heart, recently, and I can only attribute this about face to living in this land and living in Viljandi.

It's easy to play the role of the preacher in Tallinn and Tartu, where a foreigner can still feel as if he is at the center of life. It's easier to believe you can make a difference when the parliament or the country's most prestigious university is just a quick walk away. It's harder when you are standing behind the local alcoholics at the bottle return in Viljandi.

In these desperate moments I have come to embrace a new reality, that the best I can do to change Estonia is paint my house, plant my garden, mow my lawn, and make sure my children's teeth are brushed. From this new-found fatalism is born these columns in this new book. I write to you now not only as a foreigner, but as one of you, just an average guy from Viljandi.

A significant chunk of this material has appeared in abbreviated form in the magazines Anne ja Stiil and Eesti Naine. Other columns are based on posts I have written on my blog, Itching for Eestimaa. But a lot of the material is new. When I first held the book in my hands, I couldn't believe how much I had written, and it happened almost effortlessly, just for the fun of it.

My hope in all of these endeavors has been to write honestly, to the point of embarrassing myself and, let's face it, a lot of this material will make you blush. But you've got to embarrass yourself if you want anybody to listen to you, to really listen to you, to take you into their hearts.

In these moments, I think of those ancient missionaries with their silly robes and crucifixes, looking like a bunch of girly boys, fanning out into the wilderness in the name of faith. A missionary's life has never been easy. And the only way to manage with it, I believe, is to actually believe in what you do.

So consider this book, Mission Estonia, as a chronicle of all the embarrassments and hardships I've faced along my way. I still have faith that things will change for the better. I still believe in Estonia.

30 kommentaari:

LPR ütles ...

It arrived to my door yesterday. Will read it this weekend!


Thank you, G!

Martasmimi ütles ...


The sound of me puking at the use of the term expat.

Martasmimi ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Eppppp ütles ...

When you read around, it is a very commonly used term. Look


Martasmimi ütles ...

Sorry but the term reeks of rejection of ones homeland.

Martasmimi ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Marko ütles ...

I'm with Martasmimi on this one. In Western world the term immigrant is used. Expat is like agnostic, or little bit gays or one of those weird terms. No idea why Americans abroad cling on to the term, instead of plain migrant. Brits have no problem with that, why do the Americans have such a weird view on this? As if using a different word would mellow things out!??!

Marko ütles ...

It's as if some gay guys in some more homophobic countries, like Scotland or Russia, describe themselves as being 'bisexual', as if that would make them socially more acceptable or more hip. It's sad. My grandfather was an immigrant to Estonia, from Finland. My partner is British immigrant living in Estonia. There's nothing wrong with that. Why overcomplicate things?

Troels-Peter ütles ...

I actually thought that an expat was someone living abroad temporarily whereas an emigrant/immigrant had left for good. So I'm surprised to learn that it smacks of homeland rejection. I would have thought the opposite.

Well, a good day is when you learn a new word or a new meaning of a word in one language or another...

Martasmimi ütles ...

I'm with Marko

It's like being a little bit

pregnant or a little bit gay...

Americans have a weird view of it

because they want the option of

being able to come home.

LPR ütles ...

I prefer "alien". Most acurate methinks. A little bit is fine too.

I feel I have always been a little bit alien ... regardless where I find myself geographically located as I journey through the time-space continuum.

Use Fabreeze to get rid of that smell.

Marko ütles ...

It's not necessarily what one prefers but how people speak. Lived in England for many years and not once heard it being used. It doesn't matter if you're a CEO of Skype, Oxford graduate or a chimney sweeper - if you're foreign, you're an immigrant. I mean one could call themself whatever they fancy but you would only overcomplicate things for yourself. Be proud who you are and where you come from, people will respect that, hiding behind blurry and snobbish labels, not too sure about that.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Marko: Here in a my multi-cultural town 58 miles from Manhattan no one ever refers to anyone from another country as an expat. If an Asian person comes into my open house (Realtor) I might ask "where are you from?"
Socially someone here might ask me what nationality I am and I was born here in the USA.
Answer: Mostly Italian and Irish although I come up 21% Scandinavian. Probably a very way back old grandmother made her way to Scotland via some now Nordic country
In Europe if I'm asked where I'm from,(sneakers make that pretty obvious) I will say New York. It never occurs to me to say USA (probably because of those sneakers).
The expat thing is I think a hangover from the 50's "Beat" generation and saying "expat" for some conjures up some Steinbeck/Hemingway-esc identity that suites some who seem to enjoy that edgy non committal identity .

LPR ütles ...

Ahh. These sneakers!

Here's what I say:

America could be the greatest country on Earth ... only if women here would stop wearing sneakers when they are not exercsising!

Sneakers under business dress ... puke ...

All these years, and it still makes me turn away when I see that.

LPR ütles ...


Here's what "immigrant" means in US context:

"Expat" has class and cache. Let's not mess with it.

Or, hop on a hobo train and call yourself an immigrant. It's a free contry.

I am an expat here. Not an immigrant. LOL

Martasmimi ütles ...

Yes ... I try to avoid the sneakers but all day walking in Europe requires comfort. It's the men with shorts and high socks with sneakers that I find really disturbing.

"Expat" is not classy unless you are Johnny Depp.

LPR ütles ...

In Estonian context Justin is clearly in Johnny Depp category when it comes to being an expat ...

He is a classy guy! I assume...

Unless ... he has acquired the proclivity to wear these high socks with flip flops or
tiny speedos with wife beater shirt ... now that would be a legitimate fashion crime!

In its severity it equals to wearing low riding baggy pants and bling-bling.

That would immediately strip him of his expat status and make him just ... local.

So perhaps he should cut back on his desire to blend in and fit in?

To keep it classy.

Just a thought...


Marko ütles ...

Lol! Class has everything to do with confidence and very little with wardrobe.

Justin is a printer and I'm pretty sure there are thousands of migrant printers in America too. I doubt it very much that they would be referred to as 'classy expats'. Lol.

But this is not the point. There are nearly 400,000 'expats' in this country, out of total population just over a million. Among these you find some exceptionally bright minds, some of whom have dedicated all their lives to make this country a better place for us all to live in. And not just this country. Some Russian intellectuals who live here have put themselves in great danger in order to sort out some of the stuff that mentally still up to a point keeps us in the Prison of Nations. These guys put themselves last and everyone else first. And we hardly know them.

And then there's Mr G and his clicky gang of 'freedom writers'. An American expat! And poor thing gets so upset, because he saw a drunk the other day on the streets of Viljandi, that he even starts to doubt if he wants to continue living here!

Sorry, just had to say it out. You're alright, actually. :) Dwelling on the petty stuff gets to me sometimes.

LPR ütles ...

So you are saying ... wear these socks high and these Speedos tight! Be confident.

I get it.



Marko ütles ...


It's disgusting how men dress around here. And not just the middle aged ones. Even teens are picking up on the socks&sandals thingy. It's scary, really. In the 80s it could have been explained through poverty, but now - there's no excuse.

I actually met this guy over the weekend at a beach camping site, near Pärnu. And he really aggressively drilled me as why do I wear high tops as apparently in Estonia flip flops are something that men wear. I was gobsmacked by his brutal nativity but even more by my own inability to just walk away - I was receiving fashion tips from former Soviet collective farm worker! I mean what the hell! Didn't want to come across as being rude, so I just listened and nodded and said it's okay to dress the way he did but it's not for me, unfortunately. I mean how do you even deal with situations like that?

LPR ütles ...

Just be nice, I guess. Compliment his socks and his wife beater shirt.

Knowing how violent these ossies can be, I'd be careful to enrage him somehow.

Read a recent news story how people were beaten up on the beach on a wholesale basis.

If I were to believe the news accounts.

Martasmimi ütles ...

I'll take the old American tourist with his sneakers and high socks ,over the Russian or Euro guy with the tiny Speedo, and huge belly with the cigarette hanging out of his mouth.
Just Say'in !

Martasmimi ütles ...

LPR ütles ...


Will you let us know when the everyday life in Estonia is starting to get to you in a bad way?


Marko ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
LPR ütles ...

Ummm ... I can't muster enough enthusiasm here to back you on that. You could have said you are sorry. It really depends whether you have a charming smile and a demeanor or not ... I guess. :-)

Maybe you don't. I dont know. I usually get women do my bidding in short interations like that.

It's when I get involved with them ... then they usually win ... and strip me of property and children ... as a result.

but, in this case ...

wtf!? ... how smokes nowadays anyway ... besides Keith Richards on stage for the badass effect or ... bums under the bridge?!



Marko ütles ...

Lol! I'm not proud about it but not ashamed either. People smoke secretly nowadays, it's all hush hush. To give you an idea, for example - Pink, Robert Pattinson, Aston Kutcher, Robbie Williams - all puffing it away. I know there's lots of people out there, like my neighbour or Martasmimi who would rather see us all, the smokers, shipped to Siberia or Alastair, but never mind.

I find it that the Yanks and Estos both are very uptight about it. In Britain it's like if you'd be a coffee drinker - not many do it, but people don't genuinely mind.

Mind you, I'm one of those on and off smokers - I can go years without one but then I just start again. And no one in my family smokes, so that's another weird thing about it.

Marko ütles ...

Oh, forgot the most famous smoker among us all - Johnny Depp, what a 'mats', eh?


Martasmimi ütles ...

I don't know how we got on to smoking...
Mostly it was the fat Russian Speedo guy I was referring to.

I actually thought he wasn't a bad dancer considering his size.

LPR ütles ...

Size does not matter, as they say.

(snicker, snicker)