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The Keele Ring group now meets twice a month via Zoom. Photo: Linnea Bartling


San Francisco Bay Area Estonians have been sheltering in place, by a six county ordinance, since March 16. We are trying to make the best of it, leaning in to family and friends, learning to use new online tools, while still giving Estonian community activities an important place in our lives.

Our community is diverse, and includes people working in frontline medical response, people in high tech able to work from home, and people running impacted small businesses.

Without downplaying the individual challenges and struggles, I want to say we are a resilient group. In some cases, we’ve seen opportunities in the changes. We are at the same time finding and using new connections and resources from even further away. We are less limited by geography even when stuck at home.



Community Activities Over Zoom

The Keele Ring group now meets twice a month via Zoom. Since the group has managed to meet for over 8 years, not even a pandemic can stand in the way. Holding sessions on Zoom has some unexpected benefits. There is a participant from New Jersey, and special drop-in guests from Estonia.


And numbers now occasionally soar to 15 or 17 participants, since no one has to brave the heavy local traffic to participate. Teacher Leelo Kask adeptly uses Zoom to facilitate the class, and what a joy to see all the friendly faces.

The San Francisco Estonian Community Choir, which participated in last summer’s Üldlaulupidu, has worked to figure out how best to use Zoom for its practices.


The online sessions have made it possible to collaborate with the Redwood Chamber Choir, which also performs Estonian music. The combined group, under the direction of Crista Berryessa, is rehearsing Veljo Tormis’ Autumn Suite, in the hopes that by autumn – fingers crossed – it will at least perform for family and friends in an outdoor setting.

Of course, large gatherings like the annual Baltic Picnic in June, will not happen this year. But Eesti Selts members are already offering their suggestions for how fall and holiday events might take new forms.



Personal Stories and Greetings from San Francisco Estonian Community Members


From Kristi Ellensweig (choir member) – Closeness in Nature and at Home

At this unusual time, my husband and I are trying to make the most of the extra family time with our kids (ages 6 and 8) and enjoy the slower pace of life in general.


We usually get outside to enjoy nature early in the mornings, when the nearby trails and paths aren’t busy. While we’re out, we often collect fallen leaves and petals that we press in our flower press and later use to craft bookmarks and cards to send to family and friends.


We start each morning of homeschool by listening to the anthem from either the U.S., Canada or Estonia. Inspired by the beautiful knitting I saw in Estonia last summer, I have taken this time to learn to knit socks – something I had always wanted to do.


I have also taught my kids to knit and they keep busy working on their scarf projects. We have planted a vegetable garden and have enjoyed cooking and baking together as a family. We had plans to travel to Finland and Estonia in the summer, but unfortunately those plans are on hold at the moment.


From Lisa Trei (choir member) – Online College and Work Worries

My two collegeaged daughters, Alise and Kaia Maripuu, are at home and trying to do college online. They're managing more or less, but they miss their friends and college life.


They were ready to fly from the nest after high school, so coming back home was nice for a while, but now they want to move on with their own lives.

I'm working full time, and grateful that I have a job although everyone at Stanford is worried about inevitable cuts that are coming. I use Zoom all the time for work, so I really don't want to be online much for fun. I'd rather call friends and family by phone than do video chats.


However, I do use Zoom for Estonian choir practice, a memoir writing group, and book club. I'm also working with a friend in Estonia on translating a book from Estonian into English called "Kõik emad on head."

I'm in touch with my old friends in Estonia and have also checked in with my ex-mother-in-law, who lives in Saaremaa. She is okay, fortunately, and was not swept up by the pandemic on the island. Our family in America, however, has been directly hit.


My Estonian cousin, Alfred Anderson, was killed by the virus on Long Island. He was 79. In California, my mother lives in a nursing home where 11 people have died from the virus, so she's been in lockdown for almost two months. That's been very difficult for everyone.


From Kalev Golubjatnikov (keele ring member) – Caring for COVID patients

I work as an ambulatory care nursing director for a large health care provider in Northern California. During the pandemic, the work of our team has shifted dramatically.


We drastically reduced the number of in-person appointments and have switched almost entirely to telephone and video visits. We also put into place protocols to regularly outreach hundreds of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.


We perform an initial and serial assessments to insure their symptoms are resolving, as well as provide information as to what to do, should their condition worsen and self-quarantine instructions.


For most patients, their symptoms resolve over the course of two weeks, however, for a minority of patients their symptoms may quickly worsen and require emergency treatment or hospitalization.


We are doing everything we can to keep them safe. I have been going into the office every day. We have strict protocols in place including masking according to county requirements, hand washing stations and temperature taking at single points of entry to every building.


Ambassadors greet staff and guests to make sure they are free of symptoms before they are allowed entry.


This has become the new routine. We will now need to consider how to resume preventive health services, and non-urgent or elective procedures and surgeries.

Personally, I am doing fine. I am very proud of my team of nurses, pharmacists, physicians, social workers and support staff. I believe our organization is doing its best to make decisions based upon scientific evidence. During my free time, I have enjoyed connecting with some old friends, albeit virtually.


From Carolyn Van Spyk (choir member) – Work Demands and Introspection.


I spend a lot of time working. I am a Site Reliability Engineer for Google Meet, Hangouts and Google Voice in a small team. Since January, we saw an incredible increase of Meet’s usage, starting from Asia and spreading to Europe and throughout the world.


This means we had to increase our capacity to support 30 times more meetings and 100 million daily users as people shifted to working and studying from home. On top of that, Google decided to make Meet available for consumers as well, so that is going to be another big increase of traffic on top of that.

Given all of this, in my free time I try to spend as much time as possible reading. The electronic library in Estonia is a great asset, as are the local public electronic libraries. Another activity I enjoy is watching Estonian TV and especially the news from Aktuaalne Kaamera.


It keeps me up to date with the situation around the world, while conveying the facts without too much emotion mixed in, something that is difficult to find in local news. It’s also comforting to see video clips from places that are familiar and to hear the Estonian language.

Even though these are trying times for everybody, I’m glad the world got a moment to slow down, take a pause for introspection - what are the things that really matter, what to focus on, how to live our lives sustainably.


It’s exciting to see bees in this area again and for the first time, the tree outside the window has cherries on it - so far I thought it was just a decorative tree.


The adjustments to our lifestyle may be difficult, but they seem to be having a very positive impact on nature.


From Mati Meriloo (choir and Vironia member) – Retiree Experiences

As a retiree, my life has not changed very much. I stay at home, go for walks and have my son and some friends bring us food. I ran out of wine and beer, and was forced to drink Cognac.


The only life changing event was the discovery of Zoom, just like everyone else. I am now on 4 regular Zoom meetings, 3 of them Estonian. Tervitades!


From Mati Otsmaa (Vironia member, longtime Selts member) – Dreams delayed and coping strategies

The Otsmaa family (Silvi, Mikk, Kai and myself) live united in Orinda. Kai‘s semester abroad in St.Gallen, Switzerland was canceled by her university (USC) and she had to return home. A similar situation occurred to her cousin, Helena Laan, studying in Italy.


It was quite difficult to arrange flights back to San Francisco because of all of the cancelations and restrictions, but we got her back safe and sound. (Helena got back safely to LA to be with Mati, Milvi and Kristian Laan).


Mikk was going to move to northern Italy to work for a biotech company in March, but that was obviously postponed. Instead he wound up staying in Orinda and working close by. Silvi and I are elated that everyone is home but saddened that Kai’s and Mikk’s experiences were interrupted.

Our big daily activities include Silvi and Kai sewing masks for our friends and family. While Kai runs, the rest of us walk through the hills of Orinda.


For me, besides my everyday work, it is disheartening to see the real effects of the pandemic – the paranoia that has been created as I walk down the streets and see businesses shuttered. People in public are afraid to say hello.


When speaking to relatives in Räpina, I hear similar fear and anguish – though it is a different story with several of the businesses that I am associated with in Eesti.

One way we cope is with Zoom and Google conference call get-togethers (Happy Hour) with family and Estonian friends throughout the U.S. Silvi has her own groups – I have mine. Our favorite is the weekly “book club” featuring wine tastings with our fellow Estos Andres Ruetman, Tiina Piirsoo and Milvi & Mati Laan.


A favorite of mine is the weekly Korp! Vironia Lääneranniku Friday night “õlleõhtu.” Not only do we “get-together” with our local members, we get to see those from Portland, Arizona, Texas, DC and Toronto.


I believe this is something we will keep on doing in the future. We hope everyone is staying safe and healthy.


The Estonian Society of San Francisco sends warm wishes to all. We wish you good health!



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