Why you should care

Because sometimes it’s OK to talk to strangers.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Nick Aubin
Vilnius, Lithuania

It’s cold here. I got up about 7 a.m. and I felt the crispness. I looked outside and saw there was a little bit of snow. Then I had breakfast and hopped on my bike. I go to work by bike even though it’s sub-zero temperatures. It’s about a 6 1/2 kilometer ride. I teach English as a second language and sports, gym.

My wife, Lidija, and I moved from Canada to Lithuania in 2007. Both of our boys were born here. Lidija got a job in Luxembourg doing what she studied: being a translator. I’m a teacher, so I can’t leave Lithuania until the end of the school year. We decided that Lidija would take the kids and I would stay here. I visit every two weeks and every holiday I get to plant myself in Luxembourg with the family and be a dad again. Honestly, I thought it would get easier. But every time I go, my kids have grown, and I missed seeing that. My wife and I talk every night, but it’s not the same. It’s playing like a yo-yo with my emotions.

I’m happy, I guess, that this is my last year here. We’re ready to move on. For our kids to be in a more multicultural environment — that’s the biggest factor. At least now that my kids are in Luxembourg, they’re not the only ones with a darker complexion. The other week, my oldest boy was happy to tell me that one of his other friends, who is also biracial, looks like him. He said it with pride: “Dad, he looks like me.”

But here, I can wear a hoodie, and no one would even look at me.

 

There are wonderful Lithuanians — my wife, her family, her friends — who have welcomed me with open arms, and color has never been an issue. As a black male, walking the streets of Lithuania, it’s freedom. Not that I ever worried in Canada. I don’t think that way — I don’t see evil. I try to stay as positive as possible. But here, I can wear a hoodie, and no one would even look at me.

But I’ve had my share of sour experiences. I play hockey here, and after the game, we always shake hands. There’s a player in my league. After a game, as it was his turn to shake my hand, he went right around me, and went to the person behind me. And so I turned around and the first thing I did was make a joke. I said, “I guess he doesn’t like shaking hands with superstars.”

I didn’t think much of it, to be honest. My wife’s like, “Nick, you need to tell the guy who runs your team.” She suspected it was racial.

This guy’s a Lithuanian nationalist and he’s not happy with me being here, so he refuses to shake my hand. There was a meeting with him and his coach and our coach, and he decided that he would not play the games against my team. He will not play against me. He will sit those games out just so he doesn’t have to shake my hand.

I feel very confused by this hatred, to be honest. I dress nicely, I’m smiling. I work. I pay taxes. For whatever reason, he doesn’t accept me on the basis of my skin. I’ve done nothing wrong to this guy. We’re playing hockey. We’re playing a game we both enjoy.

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OZYTrue Story

Good stories from around the globe. Essays and immersion, into the harrowing, the sweet, the surprising -- the human.