Tarzier Memoirs

Part III Two Decades of Freedom



The summer of 1924 was spent in preparation for our trip. The Mission would provide for our living expenses in England, but we needed passports and visas, not to mention the passage from Riga to London. Our tickets would cost several hundred lats, a fortune for the four of us who were living at starvation level. Out of our brainstorming sessions we came up with an plan: we would go out on speaking and singing engagements, sort of a farewell tour, and ask for donations in exchange for a good photo of the quartet. Musically speaking, we were fortunate that one of us had a good bass voice, so now we were a real barbershop quartet.

So we got to work procuring a photographer, posing for pictures, and then making approximately a thousand copies of ourselves as the departing ministry students. Our tour met with enthusiasm and financial cooperation. People took our photo cards and gave back generous donations which financed our tickets to London.

Departure arrived on a glorious autumn day. The Riga-Berlin train waited at the upper level station, where throngs of well-wishers came to bid us Godspeed, including many good-looking girls. Our passion for Kuze chocolate was famous, and our compartment could not hold all the boxes they gave us. With a plaintive whistle, our train slowly inched out of the station, gaining speed as it went. We crossed the Daugava River, then Tornkalns and then empty fields. As the steeples of Riga disappeared in the distance, we attacked the boxes of Kuze. Between bites of chocolate we watched the scenery: Jelgava, 40 km southwest of Riga, then Meitene on the Lithuanian border. After a passport check by Lithuanian officers, we headed for Kovno, the capital. We then headed west toward the German frontier, which we reached the next day, and where we changed to the Berlin train. While waiting, we met a travel agent who could supplement our rudimentary German with his passable Latvian. He was friends with the station controller, and while our passports were being stamped he bypassed customs and got us, baggage and all, on the right train. As thanks for his help, we gave him our remaining Kuze. We were sick of chocolate by then.
As dawn broke, we found ourselves in Berlin. What a different world from Riga—trains coming and going every minute, it seemed. The one headed for Holland did not leave till the afternoon, so we saw a bit of Berlin in the meantime. A passerby spoke to us in Latvian. He turned out to be a Russian living in Berlin. He helped get us to the right train at the right time.

Osvald Blumit was almost left behind. He went in search of something to eat besides Kuze chocolate. Running down to the street, he bought a huge pickled cucumber for 25 pfennings at a fruit stand. However, back at the train station, he could not find his way back to the right platform. A German policeman, seeing him wander about, ran in pursuit, but Blumit managed to outrun him, waving his cucumber like a flag and shouting, Ich bin ein Auslander, Ich bin ein Auslander! (I am a foreigner!). The train had already begun to move when, totally winded, he managed to hop aboard, cucumber and all.

We now had a long stretch to the Holland border, some 800 km to the west. We settled down to eat the cucumber, watch the scenery, and sleep. It was evening on the next day when we finally arrived in Holland, where we transferred our belongings to the one car that was allowed to cross the border. From the harbor of Hastings we boarded a steamboat to cross the channel, then a train to the Charing Cross Station near the famous Elephant and Castle streets in downtown London.

A representative from the Russian Missionary Society greeted us and took us to headquarters. We were surprised to see a familiar face—Nelly Fetler of the snot-nosed boyfriend. It turned out that she had left Latvia some time earlier and was now working in the Missions Office in London. She acted as our interpreter. Next day Grikmans and I enrolled at the All Nations’ Bible School. We now had to deal with a foreign culture, new people, and a language we barely understood.


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