Girl Gone International: Wait, I Have Roots in Lithuania!?
Updated: Mar 3
Well, well, well. I've got some very interesting news for y'all: this week, I found out that I actually have roots in Lithuania. I know, I know - I'm an Ashkenazi Jew with roots across Eastern Europe. It was bound to happen, right? Sure, maybe somewhere else, but I had no idea it'd be so close to home. I initially thought the pinpoint was Kaunas (yeah, that Kaunas!), but some distant relatives have since confirmed my ancestor was from Panevėžys. Yep, I have roots in Lithuania! My eyes got as wide as plates:
A little back story on this confounding information: I had asked my mom for more information on her side of the family tree, because I mean, come on - I'm in Eastern Europe! She came back with some real treats: roots in Moldova, Romania, and Lithuania, to pair up with my Polish and Ukrainian roots on my dad's side - and I'm sure the list goes on. Real talk: I had to look up Moldova on a map (it's beautiful!?), but I genuinely thought I was seeing things when I saw the word "Kaunas" next to my great great great grandfather's name. Turns out: he was from a town that, at the time, was in Kaunas Gubernija, like a county. My eyes squinted as if to say, "this can't be right?!" Mind absolutely blown. So, what does this mean for me?
Well, I could barely sleep that night, since a new element - a new layer - had just been added to my Full Circle experience of being here, of living here. I could almost feel my cells recalibrating and rearranging to take in this new information. To quote my friend Ora, "the universe has been weaving this within you the whole time." Yes, and now it's coming to the light so that I, too, can experience it. It's more of an emotional shift than anything else: the next day, I looked around with fresh and more grounded eyes. Here. A part of me is from here. My own words from My Ancestors' Wildest Dreams:
How can I create myself anew and reclaim this homeland for myself, for the ancestors inside of me? How can I transform a pain story into one of liberation? Is this possible? Can I even understand what it must have been like as a Litvak (Lithuanian Jew)?
This story just became more real. Yes, yes, I can understand now. Yes, I am liberated. I am exactly where I'm meant to be.
And in fact, today I just happened into the opportunity to drive through Panevėžys, my ancestor's birthplace and hometown. I'm still processing and I'm sure another post will follow in full, but I did want to share one photo from this surreal day. This, my friends, is an old shul (synagogue) in a city center square:
Yeah... that just happened. I am my ancestors' wildest dreams.
I didn't set out to write about this moment in my journey, but I'm so proud of this new puzzle piece that I had to share it with all of you. I'll keep y'all updated as I research and get more information. As the title would suggest, I came here because I actually wanted to share an inspiring community with you all: Girl Gone International. Before our big move, I was in charge of making sure we had friends on the other side. (I know - what a job!)
I found a few expat communities here in Vilnius, but one in particular stuck out to me: a group of women based in the city. They were just one chapter of a volunteer-powered expat network that has a global community (73 countries!) and local chapters. I inched my way in and introduced myself, sensing how welcoming everyone was. This Vilnius chapter is full of expats, yes - but also Lithuanians who have lived internationally and came back home. (To be honest, these Lithuanians have been some of my favorite!) You can find coffee meetups, book clubs, aerial yoga or rock climbing classes, or just meet up with people for a drink.
A Ukrainian, an Italian, an American, and two Lithuanians doing what we do best: brunch
It's a gorgeous way to branch out and meet community, right? I'm immensely grateful for the Vilnius chapter, but I'm always so curious about the global community of women. These are people who, just like me, have picked up and moved somewhere completely new - and the shared experiences gives everything a sense of ground. For instance, I recently participated in a worldwide Galentine's Day event put on by GGI, and I was able to speak with other women about things I think about often: "What do you look for in a friend?" "What would you say to your younger self about friendship?" Whew, those are big topics! In my groups, people shared a lot about open-mindedness (a natural answer for adventurers!), trust, and shared values. And in that moment, it kind of clicked for me: these women do share my values because we are all familiar with stepping out of our comfort zones and embarking on a new adventure. So, whether I'm in an international co-working session or responding to someone's questions about tips for a big move, this community is life-enriching. They do important work. If you're in the process of friend dating or looking to foster a new community, I'd recommend seeing if there's a group near you - or, you could start one!
I guess the moral of my story is this: you never know what's on the next page of your life, but if you stay open to going deeper and getting out of your comfort zone, you might find some life-changing information or humans. Have you ever stumbled upon full circle lineage puzzle pieces or met up with beautiful strangers who end up being your Girl Scout Cookie provider? (No, just me?) Message me here or at @intotheforestsigo on Instagram if you'd like to share any stories - and feel free to subscribe to my blog to receive bi-weekly emails that seem to just flow out of my fingertips. Such is the life of a writer.
And with that, I'm off! I'll see y'all next week - viso gero!