My feelings about Lithuania, my country of birth, are very much mixed. My mother immigrated to England when I was seven, and I was looked after by my father and grandparents until I joined her a year later. Based in England for more than half of my life, I feel in many ways more English than Lithuanian or Russian (my parents are both Russian). I’m certainly much more fluent in the English language than I am in Lithuanian or Russian, I apologise when someone bumps into me, and my passport says I’m ‘British’. Nevertheless, visiting Lithuania always feels like a homecoming. Every year, it surprises me how connected I feel to this small nation. The streets feel familiar, and it shocks me how well I can navigate my way around my home city, even though I’m sure I haven’t been to many of the places since my early childhood.
I’m enormously grateful for all the experiences and opportunities life in England has allowed me, but I do miss some aspects of life in Lithuania. I find the lack of snow and ‘proper’ cold in English winters unsatisfying, compared to Lithuania’s white winters (although these lose their appeal, when white becomes brown). Lithuania also tends to be sunnier and warmer than England in the summer, and I spend much of my summer visits here either lounging around on a beach or wishing my father’s flat had air-con. Other than the climate, I always look forward to filling up on stodgy potato-based food and, most of all, to seeing my family.
The mixed feelings come in when I see how different the quality of life is for the average person in Lithuania, when compared to the average person in England. From what I’ve seen, people have to work a lot harder just to get by, and I find this aspect of my visits fairly saddening. When I was younger, I used to say that if I won the lottery or became very rich, then I would spend my money on rebuilding the drab, grey Soviet apartment blocks. Now, I understand that this is the least of the problems, and there’s a lot to be done in terms of healthcare, education, corruption etc. before the aesthetics become a priority.
My family connections in Lithuania mean that I will always have a strong attachment to the country and an incentive to visit, but, even without the family connections, being in Lithuania brings back too many fond memories to stop visiting. However, at least for now, I can’t imagine my visits becoming any more than just that. After three weeks in Lithuania, I feel more English than ever, and ready to come home.
Here’s a restrained selection of some of my favourite sights in Lithuania…