A special conversation
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Sǟnag and Vaid are so close together that they are almost one town. Walking from Sǟnag I saw this sign pointing the way to Poulīn’s home — Ozolnieki. The name is derived from the Latvian word ozols, or oak.
My first view of Poulīn’s home. Over the years Poulīn had turned her home into a museum of Livonian culture and history. The previous year she had donated its contents to a different museum in Latvia. But I didn’t care, she was still there, and that’s all that mattered to me. After years of searching and trying to contact people from thousands of miles away, I would finally meet her. A person whose first language, the language of her innermost thoughts and dreams, was Livonian. A language that had played upon my own mind and whose whisper I had heard in my dreams for years.
Poulīn remembered a time when her language could still be heard in the coast towns. But in meeting her, I found an individual who was much more than just a collection of memories to be recorded on audio tape. Pleasant, funny, and even a little mischievous, it seemed the Livonians could count themselves lucky having her as a representative of their community, a speaker of their language. She told us stories for hours and never tired of repeating them for the tape recorder. I asked how it was that she never got sick of retelling the same stories, helping strangers learn even just a tiny bit about her language and her people. Poulīn answered by telling me another story. She remembered that during her childhood, linguists were already visiting the coast, and her mother would often agree to speak about her native language with interested students from Helsinki, Tartu, Riga, and other cities. As a young woman, Poulīn had asked her mother the same question I now posed to her. Her mother had answered that in life, if a person asks you for bread, you must never refuse them. Bread is what sustains us all, and for these many people who came to visit her, she said, the knowledge she had of her unique language, was their bread. How could she deny them. Poulīn passed away the following year. I felt lucky having met her.
The sun setting into a cloud bank over the sea. Taken a short walk from Ozolnieki, on a hike through the coast towns, several weeks after first meeting Poulīn.
Walking to Kūolka the wind was especially strong. I turned for a moment to face it. Luckily, it was at our backs that day.