(Welcome to a special series on GrowingUpAustin.com, A Lithuanian Story – All the Way From Texas. I am traveling to Lithuania this summer to teach storytelling at A.P.P.L.E., an education conference that I first taught at almost twenty years ago. The new conference is fully of mystery and adventure. The first conference gave me stories I have been telling ever since. So, I decided to write about the trips here. If you have just joined, here is a summary of the posts. I’ll return to writing about hiking, live music and art for Austin kids when I get back in July. Information is always available at AustinKidsHike.com (hiking), AustinKidsDance.com (live music) and AustinKidsDraw.com (art).)
That is me on the left and Zina on the right. It was 1995 in Lithuania. She told me her story.
At the end of WWII, her father knew. He knew the Russians were not bringing communism back to Lithuania so everyone could share everything. He knew the Russians would keep everything for themselves. He was a teacher. He was educated. He knew.
She, her father, mother and sister were deported to Siberia. They were lucky to arrive before the deep winter because her father was able to dig a hole in the ground, before the ground froze. The hole was their new home. They slept and ate and lived in a hole in the ground.
She and her sister went to school. She hated the Russian language, but if they did poorly in their lessons, they would be beaten. So they learned Russian.
A few years later, her father died in the work camp. Then her mother planned their risky escape.
They walked out of the camp during the night. They didn’t stop walking. They snuck onto a train without tickets or papers, most likely to be caught, sent back and punished severely.
They made it to Lithuania. Her mother bought fake papers several times, of better quality each time, whenever she could save enough money.
Lithuania was still occupied by the Russians. The Russians learned that she could speak Russian and they assigned her a life-long job as an interpreter of the Lithuanian and Russian languages.
I met her fifty years later, five years after the Russian occupation ended. She was my interpreter, when I taught at an education conference in Lithuania that teaches western methods of education that promote democracy. She was interpreting English and Lithuanian this time, but now and then someone would bring her something in Russian to interpret for them, and she would.
She still hated the Russian language. But her heart was still kind. She had survived.
I’m teaching at the same conference, the American Professional Partnership for Lithuanian Education (A.P.P.L.E.), this summer, almost twenty years later. I’m teaching storytelling and hosting storytelling performances. I want to hear about Lithuania’s young democracy most of all because I imagine that establishing a new democracy is a messy and difficult business.
There isn’t a script or blueprint for how the classes and performances are supposed to work. I’m not even sure if I know what I’m doing. But I’m going to do it anyway.
It feels like a full circle, because Zina’s story was my first STORY. It was the moment I knew that stories were important and I shouldn’t ever think I really know history or science or language or anything else until I also listen to individual, personal stories, so I can feel a deeper truth. This is why I do storytelling now, even though my stories are far less historical, they are still individual, personal stories that share a deeper truth, hopefully.
I’m not sure the blog will make sense between now and then, when I’m preparing for the conference. I might post about Lithuania in a random way that doesn’t seem related to hiking, art and music in Austin. But who says it needs to make sense all the time?
So, let me know. Do you want to hear more? What do you want to know?