Saturday, August 15, 2015

Lithuania Second Chance

J and L have recently invited certain explorers and researchers to share their stories to give a more broad appeal to those visiting this adventurous blog. The concept of exploring and researching was the reason this venue was begun in the first place and continues to be the focus point of every writing produced.

A relative of John’s once stated: “We had a trip of a lifetime when we went to Alaska.”

His response, as once discussed was – “Every trip is a trip of a lifetime – not one should be dismissed over another one.”

So, in regards to this we welcome the first blog written by our good friend and often videographer – Paul Bakas.

Home – Lithuania Second Chance by Paul K. Bakas

Homeward bound!
When my brother Bob suggested a summer excursion to our native land of Lithuania, I didn't hesitate this time around. In 1992 I was offered a trip to Lithuania, but with four kids under four, it never materialized for me. With my father being born there and my mother's parents immigrating from Lithuania, it was time to go home! Bob, now on his tenth trip, I needed to make this my first trip, and I had the further joy of traveling not only with Bob but another brother Dave, my sister Marija along with my in-laws Julie, Joann, Barry and my wonderful niece Courtney.

Paul (on the right) and the rest of the Bakas Team

As I left my wife Erin behind as she needed to attend to her aging parents the eight of us boarded a Lufthansa Airliner and headed for Germany and then the flight to Lithuania.

Of course, flying across the United States from LAX to Germany and then to our final stop in Lithuania didn't feel like a short flight but together we laughed and shared some fond memories thirty plus thousand feet above the earth.

One of the major attractions that has eluded me was a place called the Hill of Crosses which is just north of the city of Siauliai. Seeing pictures and hearing stories about this remarkable place made it a must see on my long lists of must sees.

It was where the people of a dominated country stood up and told the dominating country to go to hell.

And they did it with crosses!

A lot of sadness but solid Lithuanian pride

In the late 18th century Lithuania became a vassal state of the Russian Empire which did not sit well with the citizens and they protested loudly and regularly but carefully because back then a rebel was stabbed or shot and buried secretly if at all. So between roughly 1830 and 1860 crosses were erected near Siauliai for those soldiers (rebels) whose graves could not be found. The locals would place crosses on the hill in honor of those killed during the years of the rebellion.

This tradition continued through the decades against often tyrannical and brutal governments but got particular attention during the Soviet Union occupation when the dominating force would bulldoze down the hill of crosses in defiance of the citizens of Lithuania.

Remember – Christian symbols are not liked by communist societies but symbols of rebellion against overzealous authoritative regimes really go against what the communists believe in.

The Socialist agenda – “We’re all alike unless you disagree with the power in control!”

Anyway, politics aside I wanted to see the Hill of Crosses for myself and to understand the magnitude of what the local people of not only Siauliai but all of Lithuania did in rebellion against the Soviet Union.

Three times from 1963 to 1972 the Soviets actually bulldozed the hill removing all signs of the crosses but what happened next – you got it – the people put up more and more in honor of those Lithuanians who gave their lives for an independent nation.

People around the world visit this memorial to human sacrifice
The Soviets stopped and in 1993 Pope John Paul II visited this Holy Site and declared it a piece of land that represents peace, love and sacrifice.

Pope Paul praying for peace on the Hill of Crosses - 1993
So, I finally made it home to where my family roots are firmly planted and I saw one historical treasure in a country full of them with my family.

 What a great experience and I will always be in debt to my brother Bob who started this whole idea of a family reunion in Lithuania.

Paul and his brother Bob Bakas at the Hill of Crosses
There are more stories to tell and I am sure J and L will have no problem if I start typing again.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Haunts of Slavery

Chesire Hall Plantation - Welcomes you - really?
One of the worst things humans have ever done to other humans is to own them. The entire concept of actually believing a person can be ‘owned’ goes against everything decent and just in a civilized world.

Of course, those people with such perverted thoughts that to keep someone in chains (in reality or symbolically) is fine and dandy will not like this blog and that’s okay by J and L.

According to the United Nations (2013) there are approximately 30 million slaves today! These slaves can be forced factory workers, child prostitutes, house workers, hard labor workers, and the list goes on and on.

One example is the country of Mauritania – this West African nation is believed to have one out of every four people in slavery currently. The country has tried to rid the concept of slavery by outlawing but it has not seemed to do much but find it harder to locate the slaves.

Top country dealing with slavery today
Research clearly shows that slavery is more prevalent in poorer countries than they are in more economically sound countries such as the United States. If people have the power to increase their worth economically then they do not need to hold the ultimate power of slavery over others.

Sad – criminally sad.

Plantation cannon to protect owners and slaves
Professor Louis Henry Gates researched (we like that term) and wrote that during the terrible slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries nearly 12.7 million people were placed into slavery and transported from Africa to various ports around the world. Over a million people died in the transport itself but of the remaining 10 or so million poor souls the majority found their harsh life in South America and the Islands throughout the Caribbean. According to Professor Gates' studies (and this man knows his stuff) America and later the United States only received approximately 450,000 slaves from Africa.

A small percentage right but one slave is way too many!

While in the Turks and Caicos recently, J and L had a chance to visit Cheshire Hall – a former 5,000 acre cotton plantation on the main island of Providenciales. Though the current size of this historical site is just short of 4 acres, it did give an idea of what life must have been like to be a slave during the time this plantation.

Not comfortable -
A reconstructed slave dwelling - small and hot

John showing how truly small the cabin was

The plantation was the brain child of Wade Stubbs who convinced his brother Thomas to leave England in the late 18th century and come to the Turks and Caicos to start the plantation. In its heyday, the cotton and farmland would encompass 5,000 acres and be home (prison) to hundreds of slaves. It was supposed to have grown the most profitable and appealing cotton in the world - who knows - maybe or maybe not but certainly this plantation built in the Blue Hills area of TCI was well known and respected.

Some remaining cotton plants from hundreds of years ago
Unfortunately or fortunately Thomas was hit by financially hard times around 1810 and sold the plantation and all its holdings to Wade who later found the battle against boll weevils, soil degradation and hurricanes were too much to put up with. So, a few decades of cotton growing ceased.

Turks and Caicos Islands which encompasses 40 islands but only eight are inhabited are low lying (156 feet being the highest hill among them), little rainfall with an average of 26 inches per year, and hot with averages between 80 and 90 degrees year round.

That is not a great area to grow anything and being there a few times J and L have to agree. The beaches are beyond beautiful and the water so clear that seeing dozens of feet down to the coral reefs is not difficult. But beyond the beaches the islands are mostly scraggly shrubs and small trees struggling to grow out of rocky soil. The idea of growing anything of value would take a lot of work, energy, innovation and prayer.

What remains of the Great House

So, Chesire Hall Plantation fell into disuse after the cotton industry in TCI fell apart and the many decades following have been very unkind to the once thriving industry and home of the Stubbs. Today only a few crumbling stone walls depicting where the great house, cotton gins, water well, and other small buildings remain. The government allowed construction to invade the lands of Cheshire and it was only recently that it became a historical site - otherwise there may have been a high rise hotel charging lots of money for views of the British West Indies.

Looking toward the ocean from atop Chesire Hall Plantation

A small toy boat carved out of rock

History - no matter how painful needs to be preserved so the bad history reminds all of us not to repeat it.