When mother tongue is no longer a native language

As I work on the Estonian translation for the upcoming epilogue in my otherwise old book, I keep looking at the sentences and thinking, I don't know how to say this stuff in Estonian any more.

"I spent two months near Kaikoura planting broccoli plants. The farmland extended almost all the way onto the ocean beach. When lucky, I could see pods of dolphins travel the length of the coast and, sometimes, orcas. The farmhouse itself was situated directly on the beachfront, so out of my bedroom window I watched magnificent sunrises over the Pacific Ocean and thankfully praised the universe for giving me a life to live, healthy and happy. After having saved enough money to move on again, I then bought a pair of sturdy hiking boots and headed towards the mountain trails. (New Zealand has a spectacular variety of publicly-available backcountry huts!) What a magnificent opportunity it was, I thought, to be able to live like that: work honest, hard labour on a farm near the mountains and then just go, for as long as the money lasted and the soul wished. Muddy boots, hair pulled back in a ponytail and the backpack containing an entire year’s wardrobe and equipment on the shoulders. There was dignity to this existence, trying to occupy not a large space in the world, but a spot just big enough to house the most basic needs and then some, and to think it was enough."

Do you remember that time? Sunrises out of the bedroom window.

Life on the beachfront.

Neat rows of vegetables to what felt like horizon?

Epp, my publisher, has done most of the translating for me, but still I am working on the sentences and thinking, I just can't figure out how to say this stuff in Estonian any more. I just can't.

"The people in New Zealand were, I started to realise, vastly different to one another. On top of the racial and cultural diversity which was to be expected because of how endemic it was to most Western societies, New Zealand had an added variety-factor: its terrain. At Fox Glacier there were still men who earned the bulk of their living trapping animals in the mountain ranges of the national parks and selling fur to clothing fibre manufacturers. Further down the coast there was a family with two kids living a two-day walk from the nearest road, and surrounded by mountainous bush. Martins Bay holiday cottages were even further, a four day walk. In a lot of Western countries, such distances of remoteness were simply not possible, geographically speaking."

"I wandered the streets of Ahipara where many wooden houses were lined up in a state of absolute disrepair and drunken men were sitting on the berm at three o’clock on a Wednesday - but it was one of New Zealand’s poorest regions, after all. Yet, there was still beauty to be had, every day. The beaches of the North Island were some of the most welcoming I had ever come across and with their consistent wave patterns, it provided a delightful opportunity for giving surfing a go - that is, when I wasn’t on the farm planting watermelons instead."

It reminds me what a good time it's been.


  1. I love the way you live life Maria. I miss you. So much. I wish I could read Estonian so I could read your books.

  2. Ära muretse. Ma õppisin 1999-2002 keskoolis Rootsi keelt. Ammu ununenud ja nüüd olen paar tiiru aasta alguses Rootsis käinud. Ja see on kummaline, kuidas rootsi keel aju kaugest sopist välja roomab ennast raputab ja sa äkki tead, mida miski tähendab. Ilmselt on eesti keel ka sul, kuskil seal olemas...