My family and I spent the last 4.5 months in Tallinn, Estonia and man has it been an adventure. While we had many wonderful experiences in Tallinn, the unforgettable journey has left a bit of a scar in our memory book. The country itself was absolutely beautiful, with a gorgeous, green Summer/Fall and a magical, white Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed being introduced to new designers and brands that I would not have found otherwise–I was impressed with the fashion world and designers based in Estonia. We also developed several friendships that will last a lifetime, and met some wonderful individuals who touched our lives and will forever be a part of our great memories and overall experience But then there is the question that we always get asked when we get home…”Would you go back?”
The answer is a big fat NO!! The negative far outweighed the positive in our overall experience. I will start by saying that we grew much closer as a family and learned more than I could have ever imagined. However, unless you are white and from Estonia I wouldn’t recommend an extended stay in the country. If you are taking a trip on one of the Baltic cruises and stopping off in Tallinn, you will probably enjoy the stop. There are great photo ops, beautiful scenery, nice cafes and restaurants, and some pleasant individuals. BUT (and that is a big giant BUT), if you do not blend in with the bizarre clone-like population, you could feel a bit uncomfortable and out of place. I like to refer to it as a “Twilight Zone” experience. My husband is African American, I am Caucasian and our girls (obviously) are mulatto. This did not bode well in the Eastern European country of Estonia, where ignorance is no stranger.
We have lived in several countries where there is very little diversity, however we have never felt the way we did in Estonia. My husband is 7 feet tall and we are used to getting stares when we walk in a room, we are accustomed to curiosity when we are living as Americans (not to mention the fact that we are an interracial couple) in a foreign country–this is to be expected. And while at times it gets a bit annoying, we know that the stares are often more out of curiosity than disgust or hatred. Until we moved to Estonia and were introduced to a new beast. Extreme ignorance (AKA Racism). For the first time these stares were not out of curiosity, and they were not friendly. They made us feel uncomfortable and out of place, to the point that we stopped going to certain places.
We were followed by security in every mall, shopping center, or grocery store we entered. And not just followed. The security guards would literally circle our aisle if we were looking at something for an extended period of time, or they would have no shame at all and just plant themselves right next to us. One day my husband thought he would do a test to see if it was a coincidence that we were being “followed.” So he went up the escalator and immediately went back down on the other side. It took two rounds of ups and downs for the security guard to realize he was being toyed with–but he did in fact continue to follow him. While this sounds mild, it took an ugly turn when my daughter experienced the wrath at her International Kindergarten. You would think that an International Kindergarten would have a bit more diversity, but in my daughters class she was the only child with darker skin. It was absolutely heartbreaking when she came home one day and told me that she didn’t want to go to school anymore. This is coming from a child who LOVES school. When I asked her why I couldn’t imagine that what she said was true. The class was asked to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they grew up–she drew a picture of herself as a Veterinarian . Now, are you ready for this? Her classmate laughed at her picture and told her she looks like a Monkey. The kids then began to chime in that she looks like a Chimp with her brown skin. Huh? Are you kidding me? Four, five and six yearolds calling my daughter a monkey because of her skin color? Where were the teachers?My daughter then told me they had been singing songs about her “the brown girl” and her “brown skin” and her “poopy nose.” How could these children be so cruel? What were they learning, or more importantly, NOT learning in their culture? Isn’t this 2011?
The next morning we went to school and I had a chat with the director. She told me my daughter was making it up. That there was no way that could have happened, it couldn’t be true. She said she would ask the teachers to listen for the comments, but I was not satisfied with her response. Did she just tell me that my daughter was making that up? Why would my daughter make something like that up? Up to this point she knew she looked different, but never felt inferior. Needless to say, she didn’t attend that school anymore. If I could change one thing about our time in Estonia, I would erase my daughter’s experience.
As adults it is easier for us to cope with things like this, but how can we expect a 6 year old to understand? Just last week she drew a picture and wanted to color her skin brown but stopped. She said “Mommy, how can I draw my picture the right way without looking like a monkey? I can’t help it that I am brown…” A mixture of anger and hurt filled my heart, she will never forget the way she was treated, and for that I am sorry. For that, I will never return to Estonia. For that, I will never encourage someone else to visit Estonia. For that, I will never look back on our time in Tallinn, Estonia without some regret. Yes, we met wonderful friends, and yes there were plenty of wonderful people born and raised in Estonia who are wonderful individuals–but that doesn’t change our overall experience. Thank you to all of our wonderful new friends who added positive and happy memories during our stay Tallinn, for you we are grateful!