Upon our second visit to Estonia since Audrey concluded her Peace Corps stint in 2000, we wondered what we would find.
On our first day in Tallinn, Estonia's capital, we enjoyed views such as the one above. Though reconstruction and the emergence of hip cafes, restaurants and boutiques continues, Tallinn's medieval Hanseatic-style old town still feels surprisingly relaxed and does not yet appear to be over-renovated.
Later that day, we hopped on a train to Tapa, a former Soviet military airfield and training base. Guided by persistent impressions of the town as a barren military outpost, our Estonian friends wondered why we would subject ourselves to a visit there.
It just so happens that one of Audrey’s fellow Peace Corps friends, Kevin Hogan, returned to Tapa two years ago to teach English at the Tapa Gumnaasium (the local school which serves about 700 kids from 1st to 12th grades).
During our visit yesterday, we spoke to students (in 6th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grades) about our experiences traveling through Asia; we shared stories, photos and videos.
Our discussions yielded some interesting perspectives on poverty and stereotypes. “They are poor, but they look happy,” one student revealed after we played a video of people in the Cambodian countryside. This sentiment was echoed in several classes.
The 12th graders, our final class of the day, actually stayed past the bell to ask questions.
Like many of its small-town counterparts, Tapa doesn’t deserve the bad reputation that lingers in the minds of most Estonians. You can still hear gunfire at the military base these days, but it comes from the guns of Estonian NATO troops rather than Soviet ones.
Aside from this, Tapa is a typical small Estonian town whose 7000 inhabitants live in single family homes and Soviet-era block apartment buildings scattered amongst fruit trees, gardens, a Lutheran church, a Russian Orthodox church and a pizzeria named Vesuvio.
And with one-bedroom apartments renting for around $60 per month including high-speed internet and cable, we might just return one day to write our book.
Not to mention that we could enjoy fresh baked goods from this woman every day.