Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Cost of Health

For me, around $49.

After a fruitless search in several pharmacies for information on inhalers (some places were out of stock, some had the disk, not the aerosol, some didn't have them at all), I decided to suck it up and make an appointment at a clinic to get a prescription. I phoned a clinic that was supposed to be on the intersecting street of where my office is, and was scheduled for a same-day in the afternoon.

I personally think that's amazing. Same-day appointment, on a Friday no less. True, there are probably enough clinics in the city for each resident to have four appointments in one day, but I was still surprised. And the clinic was literally around the corner, not 3 blocks down like I had initially thought.

I went to the clinic for my visit, talked to a physician/"therapist" about getting a replacement inhaler, was told how many of the women working at pharmacies are weird and unnecessarily haughty, was given a prescription and was sent on my way. The doctor's visit cost me 22 LVL (around $45) upfront, since my U.S. insurance wasn't accepted (but they gave me a stamped receipt so I could see if the U.S. insurance would pay the $45 back). The inhaler, which I picked up after work, cost me 2.42 LVL. As in $5. For a prescription, fast-acting inhaler. FIVE DOLLARS. In the States, we'd pay $15 for three inhalers because we had insurance + copay. I don't know what they cost without - maybe $45 a piece? So here, in Riga, I paid a sum of money for an inhaler and a doctor's visit equal to the cost of one inhaler in the States, sans insurance and not including the visit to the doc. And now that I know the inhaler won't cause any side-effects, I can stroll into the pharmacy and pick up another one when this one runs out. And pay the 2.45 LVL.


Ah yes -- I was finally able to get a hold of someone at the humane society in Zasulauks (from where I got the cat) and ask them what a cat bite gone bad would look like and if I should worry at all. The woman, after hearing that the cat initially came from them and that he had all of his shots said there was nothing at all to worry about, adding "I don't know what else to tell you - we get bitten all the time and we're all fine." Me: "And all of you have all 10 fingers?" Woman: "Yes, yes, all fingers and all limbs, we're all fine."

The swelling on my finger also went down finally and there is less pain in general.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Cat

For those of you who thought I was joking about having a cat, I wasn't. Why would I take such a fantastic picture of a cat if the animal wasn't mine?

The cat went missing somewhere between Friday late evening and Saturday morning: I went to the Sigur Rós concert Friday and stayed at a friend's in Riga. When I got home Saturday the cat was nowhere to be seen and there was no conclusive evidence to explain what had happened to him.

Today, on the way home, I found my cat in the carpark across the street from the train station, but on the same side of the street as our apartment. The cat recognized me and seemed thoroughly freaked out, but I was able to get him to follow me to almost our apartment entryway, where he promptly freaked out again when I picked him up and tried to get him in the door one-handed.

To cut to the end of the story, I got my cat back into the apartment, but not without a heaping helping of this. Though I had a decent amount of cat spit and hair on my clothes and in my hand wounds (not shown), I can safely say that the cat has a good amount of my blood on its fur. I now also have more scars to worry about and will have to wear long sleeves for the next month. At least it's almost fall.

And, of course, as barbaric as the cat acted on the street, as soon as he was back in the apartment he was rubbing against my and my flatmate's boyfriend's legs (he helped keep the stray cats at bay while i coaxed my monster out from under a car. Apparently I looked a lot like an auto mechanic with my body half under a Mercedes) in an attitude that said "Gosh, was that ever intense! What's for dinner?"

Dinner was wet Kit-e-cat food from a pouch.

Now he's sprawled out on the couch next to me purring away like nothing has ever changed.
Hurrah hurrah, I didn't have to go wild-goose-chasing. Flatmate's boyfriend asked, "Don't you want to give him a bath? You can bathe cats, right? I sure wouldn't let him sleep next to me like that..." I pointed to the blood seeping from the scratches and said "You think he's dirty? You wash him." The cat isn't that dirty, anyway. I sprayed him with the water bottle for a good 5 minutes which will have him licking his fur dry all night. Problem solved.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Addictive Food Items

Salsa nuts - you can buy them at grocery stores. Look for little green bags. They remind me a bit of those Boston Baked Beans/Nuts, that have that red, candied shell. But these peanuts have a tasty "salsa" flavoured shell that, although it may not be that incredible upon first taste, make you want to keep eating them. 2 points out of 5 on a scale of EVIL.

Randomly shaped Ritz-like crackers
- I've only found them at Rimi, haven't checked Stockman, but know that Nelda does not carry them. These crackers come in all kinds of shapes, have the right amount of salt, and for 0.35 LVL a bag are not something you should think twice about buying. 4 EVIL points. (Note: stay away from the goldfish-shaped crackers if you don't like deceitful foods. The "goldfish" are sweetened crackers with no salt and little to no fun-factor.)

Sweet cottage cheese sticks (Saldie biezpiena stienisi) - a snack I just discovered, made and sold by Index Cafe. Baked, little stick-treats that seem to be nothing more than a more-baked, little stick-treat version of "Latvian cheesecake". They cost 0.85 LVL a pack and go great with coffee. Another reason to love Index Cafe, if more were ever needed. 2 out of 5 EVIL points.

Cheese balls (Siera bumbinas) - Can be found in any grocery store; just make sure you buy the Latvian-made Adazi brand. They're the best. Even better than North American Cheetos. For real. Do not buy these if you have food-guilt issues. If I let loose, I can clear one medium bag by myself over the course of an evening - I now buy them very rarely (once a month tops), because I am aware of the dangers. 5 out of 5 EVIL points.

Dried hibiscus - slightly scary looking, but with a very mild taste. The first time I had one of these was at a relative's house. The next time I saw them was at the Riga Central Market, among the counters of other dried goods. Dried hibiscus is tasty, unobtrusive in flavour, and probably has some kind of health benefit. They also keep forever (at least mine have). And yes, I had to add these to balance out the preceding list of junk-type-foods. 3 out of 5 EVIL points.

This list will be continued as necessary.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

23 and in the Back of a Police Van

Because Sunday was my birthday and since Monday (and the job) comes after Sunday, my friend Ilze graciously offered the use of her house in Jurmala for a pre-birthday dinner/party. There were only four of us there total (other people were out of town or otherwise already engaged), but after a simple dinner we still had several hours to kill before we could officially open the champagne. We played some boggle, made up plenty of words, and, around 11 P.M., decided to head down to the beach, taking the champagne with us.

At the beach we walked around then dutifully attacked one of the most messed-up playgrounds I have ever seen. After a good 20 minutes of spinning around in awkward metal frames and trying to make a huge, tilted plastic ring go around in circles by heave-ho-ing movements (it worked once before, but seemed to fail this time), we sat down to chat and wait for the wonderful 00:00.

A good-sized group of people our age were also hanging around the area; some of them ended up at the playground on the swings. Two of them bummed cigarettes from Davids; a bit later one of them sat down on the benches behind us and eventually joined us in conversation. He was quite drunk and tried to mostly communicate with us in Russian and sometimes English, though he also spoke Latvian. But when someone is drunk to the point where he asks you twice in 30 seconds where you're from and then forgets that he's told you his name, consequently thinking it's some kind of magic you know it already, I'm not surprised. Everything was fine and dandy until we decided it was getting a bit awkward and we wanted to head back home. The guy had invited all of us to come with him and hang out with his friends and drink, but we passed, saying it was late, maybe we'd meet with them tomorrow, etc. Then he got angry as we were quickly walking away and started to follow after us, shouting at us in Russian first in general and then using some choice words. Everyone else from his group had already moved on down the beach in the opposite direction, except one of his friends who seemed to be there just to make sure the guy didn't do anything too stupid. Apparently and unfortunately, repeatedly grabbing onto women and aggressively shouting and following a group of people doesn't fall under the category of "stupid". I personally kept thinking "Okay, after this bout he's going to stop, after the next 10 ft he's going to give up", but no. The two of them followed us all the way from the beach, up the cobblestone/cement path leading to the beach, past a very large group of people (who did nothing, by the way, to try and help us), all the way down one of the main roads until we approached a hotel, at which time they gave up, but not without Mr. Drunk and Belligerent shouting some final words in our direction. I think we were more shocked than anything; we didn't run, we didn't fight them. But it was definitely rough not knowing exactly what they were saying to each other. The non-belligerent friend kept trying to tell one of our group that if he just gave Mr. D and B 70 santims for a beer, he'd stop following us. We were basically chased at a snail's pace.

As soon as we got up the stairs of the hotel and into the lobby, the Davids looked down at his watch and let out a half-strained "Happy birthday!" Kristine and Ilze joined in, I was congratulated, and we were thrilled that we weren't bleeding on the street or dead, happy birthday.

After a quick consultation with the man at Reception I was handed the hotel phone and put through to the Jurmala Municipal Police, who, apparently, would pick us up and escort us back home. I had asked if there was hotel security that could do that or if we could be called a cab (even though none of us had our wallets with us), but it turns out that the Municipal Police are required provide escort in such situations. Or maybe any situation, I'm not sure. So I explained to the woman on the other end what had happened and that we just lived a few blocks away, but didn't know what to expect and weren't comfortable walking back through the streets. She said we'd be picked up soon.

About 15 minutes later, a tall and rather attractive policeman walked into the hotel. My opinion was backed up by the sudden silence from Ilze and Kristine. (Note: After we had gotten home the three of us seriously contemplated running back into the night and causing trouble just so we'd be picked up again.)

Me: *walks toward policeman* You're the one then, yeah?
Policeman: Then you're the one who called?
Me: Yes.
Pm: Alright, let's roll.
*The group follows the policeman outside*
Pm: So, what happened, exactly?
Me: *tells the short version of the story*
Pm: *referring to Davids* Couldn't he have done anything?
*to Davids* What, haven't you ever learned to box?
Me: *laughs like it's the funniest thing anyone has ever said*
Davids: Huh? What?
Me: *careful not to say that Ilze, Kristine and myself could have done just as well physically defending ourselves and that I have a bottle of Riga champagne in my bag that would be worth at least two blows* Well you never know what the other person is capable of - and it would be two against one.
Pm: Yeah - I was just joking.
Me: *super quick to agree* I know I know.

The four of us got into the back of the police van and I doubt that we appeared to be as frazzled about the whole thing as we really were (we spent the remainder of the night back at Ilze's discussing the what-ifs): Ilze started to giggle semi-without reason, Davids started to joke-dance to the rock music the policeman turned on, and Kristine leaned forward between the driver and other policeman, elbows on the backs of their seats like we were on a road trip.

In hindsight, despite the situation, we made it through the best way we could AND we got to ride in the back of a police van. On my birthday morning :) I felt a bit bad about having to be driven back to Ilze's house, but in all honesty, it was the middle of the weekend and the policemen seemed bored out of their minds. Despite that, they were not at all rude and had senses of humour. So if you've heard bad things about Latvian policemen, know that the statement isn't bulletproof.

After sleeping in Sunday and having a late breakfast of grilled-cheese and tomatoes, courtesy of Davids, we headed out and spent the remainder of the day at the Riga Zoo. After dinner we went out to Krastmala (Riverbank) to watch eight fireworks teams compete for the chance to organize the New Year's Eve fireworks show. I took over 550 photos that day - if I ever catch up on my sleep this week and have a night where I don't take any work home, I'll post them and all of those other promised photos at the page. I SWEAR.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What it Feels Like... be a working adult. Some of you may remember my "being an adult sucks" post. Though I'm sure this post won't be as negatively geared as that one, I am just WAITING for the weekend. I am, however, surprised at how fast the week went by, especially during the day and the hours of 10.00 and 15.00. I am close to burnt-out, have been going to sleep no earlier than 01.00 every evening/morning and have been at work by 8 almost every day.

This weekend I went on my first field trip with the office. The trip went from early Saturday morning to Sunday afternoon. Uh-huh; not only was it my first field trip with the office, it was an overnight trip. The itinerary was simple (raft down the Gauja river) and the weekend was, quite literally (and, it seemed, sometimes painfully so), a lazy couple of days. We were driven by a mini-charter bus to somewhere near Cesis, where we unloaded our overnight gear, were piled into another couple of vans and brought somewhere else up-river where the epitome of a "white-trash" water vehicle was waiting for us. The raft consisted of several sheets of ply-wood belted together over huge plastic water bottles. The icing on the backwoods cake: a full-size should-be-in-a-camp-site-and-not-floating-down-a-rive picnic table in the centre of it all. Add a makeshift roof made of cylindrical posts, blue tarp and bungee cords, and throw in a grill and you've got yourself eight hours of slow-moving, barbecuing fun.

The raft turned out to be much safer than it looked and felt and the fear of dying at .0005 mph quickly melted away. Although I gave up on going to the Prata Vetra concert in Mezaparks to go on the work trip, and for all of the cynical comments I have on the material situation of the trip, I really had a great time. There were maybe 13 of us total and it gave me a chance to talk a bit more to some of my project managers and to get to know them outside of the office. The trip also re-lit the canoe bug within me, so I'm getting antsy and hoping that the opportunity to go canoe some weekend will present itself before it gets cold(er).

When we finally, fiiiiinally made it to the end point, Cirulisi, we were all more than happy to get off the raft and start something else. Luckily the Gauja is shallow along the shore for much of the part we rafted down, so some of the guys on the trip would take those chances to jump out and push the raft along to speed things up. We set up tents (I had bought a sleeping bag the day before [a good brand, proper temp. range for summer and on sale, no less!], but don't have a tent, so I had to tent-mooch) and then waited for round 2.5 of barbecuing to be completed. I played some volleyball with a two of the other women from the office and some random (and somewhat to very drunk) guys until food was ready. After food there was a card game called "Vilkaci" ("Werewolves"), which I won't even attempt to explain in type. I can remember how to play now and can relay the rules and process verbally, though. Eventually it got dark and to the point where the flickering of the citronella candles made me feel like my brain was bleeding, so I went and used my Minnesota suburb survival skills and hunkered down for the night. The next morning after taking down the tents and eating breakfast (more barbecue!) we basically waited anxiously for 12 o'clock to roll around when we would be picked up and taken back to Riga.

I'd do it all again any time :)

Monday night I went to the Riga Zoo for a get-together/party that was organised as a thank-you to those people who helped in the process of putting together this book. I wasn't much of a party-accessory, unfortunately, because my brain was completely fried as of Sunday night. After getting back from the trip I went to work on a few projects that were due Monday, and sorely underestimated the type and amount of work it would be. Then Monday was just a very long day, worse than normal Mondays. So at this party I more or less sat with a glass of bubbly and stared blankly out at Kisezers, which the zoo sits right next to. But Monday was another nice night because I got to see some of the other people who helped out with the book as well, talked more with the main brains behind the whole project, and just unwind a bit. I also got to leave with a little hot-pink button that reads HELPER! - it is pinned proudly on my purse :)

And by a bit I really do mean just a bit. When I got back home that night I went right back to work on some more projects. Tuesday was, work wise, a repeat of Monday. It wasn't until Wednesday that I was able to take a deep breath and move on a little. Today was better and tomorrow should be a blast.

My mood has been improving rapidly as well - it may partly be due to the fact that, in the process of going over one project today I learned that 2009 is the year of the ox - my year. I took it as an indicator that 2009 will be an overall positive experience. I've got my residential permit, I've got a job, a convenient apartment, and even a cat. I feel bad for not making that public sooner, but when the cat was first "acquired" I was unsure at the time of where I would be in the months following and didn't want it to be a big deal. The cat was something that I felt was personally necessary and, although I feel like I'm more often annoyed with the cat than not, I also lucked out in picking a compassionate animal; in addition, I supported the local humane society. Besides, if I was renting in a private home I would have gotten a dog. The way I see it, worst-case-scenario, the cat is at least friendly, disease-free, neutered, etc., so if a/the situation arises that the cat can't go somewhere with me, he will be good for someone else, too.

Another thing I not only realised while on the rafting trip, but also made a point to say on the trip, was that I was really happy with where I work. I'm happy with the location, the people, etc. I have honestly lucked out.

Ooooh yes and I bought my ticket to the Sigur Ros concert :))) August 22nd and I am very excited to see how things go down. They're a band that normally and, as a standard, performs outdoors; the Riga concert is going to be in the Arena. But it should be a good concert - I've heard good things, and their new album is very relaxed, so it will be another great night for me to unwind. Amongst thousands of other people, of course.