3×3 in Rucava: A personal perspective

Our family just attended our first 3×3 camp in Latvia. We had already had a great introduction to the way 3×3 works back in January 2000 when we braved the Australian summer heat and headed off to the camp in Falls Creek, Victoria, for what proved to be an exhilarating experience that we wanted to repeat in the near future.

At the time we were rather exhausted as we had ventured to the camp with an active four-year-old and a (barely) one-year-old toddler. Our children are now slightly older and as we have already started to forget our “trials” in 2000, we felt ready for something on a grander scale.

The 3×3 camp in Rucava was to take place July 15-22 in the southwestern Latvian town close to the Lithuanian border. We had been informed that we would be transported to the camp from Rīga by bus on the morning of the 15th. So we headed off to Dailes teātris at 10 a.m. The first bus drove off without a hitch. But tragedy had struck the second bus—the one we were waiting for—on its way from Rucava to Rīga. We were deeply shocked to learn the driver and his young son died when the bus collided with a train at the Kalvene railway crossing and rolled over. Even more astounding was the news that the Rucava 3×3 camp leader, Dace Jurka, had originally planned to be on the bus but had changed her mind at the last minute.

Such an eerie introduction to the camp left many wondering about fate, God and the powers that be.

This was the 22nd Latvian 3×3 camp held in Latvia. Many of the people in charge looked like they already knew each other well and greeted each other with warm hugs and smiling faces. Seeing as we were true newcomers (as were most of the other camp participants), we entered the Rucava school grounds with a touch of apprehension but a strong feeling that we would very soon feel at home here.

We had chosen to board with one of the locals. We were immediately whisked away to the other side of Rucava (a two-minute drive away!) and introduced to our “landlady” for the week: a homely, smiling rucavniece who showed us to our quarters. We had stayed with friends and relatives in the countryside before so we were not surprised at all by our accommodations. Our main criteria for a pleasant stay is hospitality and a smiling face from the host. We immediately felt this warmth from our host, so we were certain we had been put together with the right person.

The walk back to the camp at a brisk pace would take 20 minutes. But with our two dawdlers in tow—who had to inspect every cow, dog, chicken and cat on the way—the walk took a bit longer. Our motto: the more fresh country air we breathe, the better!

We knew a few people—all “Westerners”—but in no time at all we had chatted to strangers with smiling faces and warm hearts, keen to meet this Latvian family from “down under.” It did not take too long to feel like part of a big family. A great way to meet people was at mealtimes. I don’t think we ever ended up sitting next to the same camp participant twice. I hope the reason for this was not our active children who scared mealtime “neighbors” away! Every mealtime proved to be an introduction to another soul, some keen to chat, others more reserved. The 3×3 organizers actively promoted this by encouraging everyone to greet each other using the personal pronoun “tu” instead of “Jus” in conversation, to wear our name tags at all times and to deliberately find a new person to sit next to each mealtime.

Some statistics may be worth mentioning at this point. There were 426 people in the Rucava 3×3 camp, including all the participants, organizers, cooks, cleaners and local rucavnieki who attended. Of these, 102 participants were locals while the remainder came from all four corners of the earth, some from the United States, Canada, Magadan (in far eastern Russia) and Australia, but most from within Latvian borders.

The first evening was spent in the Rucava open-air amphitheater, enjoying the talents of the locals, both young and old. Particularly impressive were the elderly Rucava ladies (our host was among them) singing ancient local songs in their national costumes. The festivities came to a premature halt when nature took over. A freak storm—a sudden wind followed by a full thunder and lightning extravaganza—put on a grand show that was later described by camp organizers as consistent with the theme of the camp, which was “fire.” We all later marvelled at the pine trees that had been struck by lightning only a couple of metres from the camp buildings.

The next six days of this camp raced by like a whirlwind. All I remember is that at a constantly hurried pace I was forever either handing my children over to the camp kindergarten (for three- to six-year-olds), racing to an ievirze (as the camp activities are called), being transported somewhere by one of the camp’s buses, eating yet another delicious meal or falling exhausted into bed after a full day’s activities (after killing an army of vicious mosquitoes that had taken us hostage in our bedroom).

The ievirzes at this 3×3 camp, about 30 in all, were many and varied: floristry, jewelry making, felt toy making, the art of ancient Latvian weaponmaking, theatre, discussions about Latvian politics, the Latvian oral history project (mutvārdu vēsture), a seminar focusing on family issues led by Māra Tupese and Līga Ruperte, Latvian cooking, literature, various folklore topics and many, many more activities. It would have been a hard task not to find at least one activity that sounded interesting!

In addition to all these ievirzes, on offer were excursions to a list of interesting sights in the Rucava region: the Latvian brumbies (savvaļas zirgi), the local “holy spring” (svētavots), Pape beach for regular swims, and a half-day excursion to Lithuania, including the dolphin show near Klaipeda and the amber museum in Palanga. However, the most interesting of these excursions was the trip to Nida beach where the organizers had planned such a varied program that it was impossible for anyone to complain about boredom: a sports carnival, a folkloric performance by Liepaja theatre actors, the opportunity to join local fishermen when they hauled in their day’s catch, and a feast of fish soup and rye bread. The most moving of this afternoon’s activities was a theatrical yet deeply symbolic “uguns daudzinājums”—fire worship—as a climax to the theme of this year’s 3×3 camp.

Most of all I enjoyed the chance to exchange ideas about any topic under the sun with other participants young and old. Our children had a great time as well, playing with Latvian kids in Latvian, not English, as they are used to doing in their home country of Australia. It was also interesting to chat to Latvian teenagers (there were about 50 of them at the camp) and catch a glimpse of their world view.

Overall the whole family found this week to be a hectic yet extremely positive experience, one we would certainly want to repeat sometime in the near future!

Daina Gross is editor of Latvians Online. An Australian-Latvian she is also a migration researcher at the University of Latvia, PhD from the University of Sussex, formerly a member of the board of the World Federation of Free Latvians, author and translator/ editor/ proofreader from Latvian into English of an eclectic mix of publications of different genres.

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