Grace on Pace

Tag - Lithuania

Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration

Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration

Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration

I eat breakfast in a small café at my temporary duty location in Vilnius, Lithuania, when I come to the shaky conclusion that something important is happening today.  I hear reverberations coming from the main road, but the celebration is already under way when I arrive.  A curious little girl with long pigtails and eager eyes stares at me from her spot next to the stage.  The smell of smoke lingers thick and heavy in the air, reminiscent of barbecues in the Vermont summertime.  To my alarm I notice devils, witches, reapers, goats, and Gypsies flanking the crowd. I eye them a bit warily but nobody else seems too bothered.

I buy a sausage from one of the young boys selling in the roadside stalls. As always, they practice their English on me and I learn that today is the Lithuanian Užgavėnės Celebration or Shrove Tuesday – a festival which escorts winter.  The celebration embodies the battle between what’s left of winter and the approaching spring. Two characters stage a battle between each other – Kanapinis (“hempen man”) is wiry, hardworking and prepares for summer where Lašininis (“poker”) is fatty, sluggish and personifies winter. “When they are fighting with each other, Kanapinis always has to win, because the winter has to go,” he says.  As for the characters in devil, bear, and witch costumes, they play pranks, act, sing, and try to snatch something before demanding payment in pancakes or money. Užgavėnės traditions like this unify elements of culture and Christianity, as it’s understood that you must eat 12 times on this final day before the fast of Lent.

People of all ages sing and dance in a growing circle overflowing onto the streets past the soviet era buildings and stalls selling handmade jewelry. Traditional drums, fiddles, and accordions play, a rhythmic “jig” sound and stir a sense to skip along.  I am immediately welcomed into the procession by a woman carrying her baby on her back. She takes my hand in hers; the child is fast asleep despite all the noise.

The ordeal seems a bit crazy with the whole city alive as we march together under the lukewarm sun.  Then again who’s to judge coming from a place that celebrates a fat guy coming into our house in the middle of the night.  Kanapinis looks to have the upper hand – at least for today.

Foreign Service European Bureau

Foreign Service Construction Engineer – European Bureau

My first three months working in the Foreign Service European Bureau as a Foreign Service Construction Engineer have been a whirlwind of on the job training and travel.  As a Construction Executive within the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations in DC, I focus on supporting Project Director’s in the field and representing the Construction Management division as part of the Core Project Team during design. A large part of my job is contract management, working with the Contracting Officers that issue and modify contracts. Whether it be a request to add work to the contract or an equitable adjustment to the contractor, we are responsible for all the technical requirements for the modification.  All of our projects revolve around supporting U.S. interests in the following European countries:


Although we are not currently working in every country, the seven year average life span from design to accreditation has us working in many of them.  Most of the lime light goes to the large scale embassy’s and consulate’s under construction in our region pictured below, but the smaller projects tend to be just as much contract management work.

Oddly, my first trip as a diplomat did not take place in the European Bureau, but rather the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. As part of our on the job training, a colleague and I were sent to Suriname for a week to shadow a Project Director on a New Embassy Campus being constructed in Paramaribo. It was a great to finally see a project underway and experience what 400 workers can do in a day. Also, as an added bonus, our trip overlapped a milestone achievement and the corresponding topping out ceremony. To be honest though, one of the best parts of the trip was our layover in Aruba. Seven hours gave us just enough time to stash our bags and take a dip.

For my first real work trip, I traveled to Lithuania for a project I inherited from a colleague leaving for his first overseas post. The three-phased project is being implemented on an existing 10-acre site in central Vilnius, where site work of the major rehabilitation project included in Phase I was completed in 2010. Phase II, designed by Kling Stubbins of Washington, DC, includes the expansion of the Post Communications Center (PCC); heating, ventilation, air conditioning (HVAC), and sprinkler system upgrades; and egress. Since it was going to be a long trip, I decided to book Jennilou and Esmei a ticket to follow along. Despite working six days a week for most of the time, we did manage a few evening strolls around old town.

The highlight of the trip was a weekend getaway for Jennilou’s first Mother’s day. After renting a car in Vilnius, we headed north to Latvia, with stops at Trakai Island Castle, the Hill of Crosses in Siauliai, and Rundale to visit its opulent palace – the Baltic’s version of Versailles, built by the architect responsible for St Petersburg’s Winter Palace.

After a morning spent exploring the dizzying array of of decorated facades in Riga, we skipped east to take in the crumbling castles in Sigulda before making our way back to Vilnius.

Capture 10

Despite the small sample size, as far as I can tell, I’ve found my dream job.  My colleagues keep telling me the only downside was the administration work while living in DC during their first tour. If this is the worst part, I can’t wait to see what’s next.