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An emigrant returns

Last update - Thursday, May 21, 2009, 14:11 By Catherine Reilly

In the western Lithuanian city of KlaipÄ—da, emigrant Tadas Narkevičius returns for the first time in a decade. He tells CATHERINE REILLY his story  


For homebodies and frequent fliers alike, imagining a decade without seeing one’s native town or city is difficult. But Tadas Narkevičius – a blue-eyed, blonde-haired Baltic boy with a Cockney twist – doesn’t have to imagine. He is walking around KlaipÄ—da – Lithuania’s third biggest city, and his hometown – for the first time in 10 years. 

New faces, new places. New clubs too, and plenty of them. There’s much to catch Narkevičius’ eye, though not all is to his liking, and he wonders if the financial crisis has profoundly affected the mood.

Narkevičius owns a small sandwich bar in London’s Hackney, having emigrated to the UK in 1999. The business-minded 30-year-old originally travelled to Leeds as part of a visiting amateur football team and outstayed his visa. Until 2004, when Lithuania joined the EU, this meant a somewhat precarious existence – picking potatoes and working on building sites  – and an inability to visit his birthland without jeopardising his return.

But in recent years, Narkevičius has had a free hand with which to develop his life in England, opening his business and settling in Edmonton in north London. Yet being his own boss has meant little spare time – or holidays.

“It’s always been ‘next year, next year’,” he says, of returning to visit KlaipÄ—da, a neat and compact port city famous for being a gateway to the Curonian Spit.

What seems to have struck him most about Klaipėda is how empty it seems in the evenings. Sipping a coffee in the central Klaipėda Hotel, it is late evening; Narkevičius looks outside and wonders where all the cars and people are.

He had a similar feeling when he walked around the area he grew up, six miles away. “It’s empty as well. There used to be kids playing outside, full of them. Now, I don’t know, why are they not coming out to play? Something’s changed.”

People in general are “less open”, he feels, and again he wonders if the financial crisis is behind this.

He hasn’t run into old friends yet, either, though his best friend lives in London too. “It’s just a new city for me now, I’m walking around and don’t know nobody. I know mum, and you now, and that’s it.”

Some friends may also have emigrated, while others could live in another part of the city now, he speculates.

Reuniting with his mother and other relatives has been one of the highlights of Narkevičius’ return. “We talk on the phone so we’re not behind. After a couple of hours, it’s like everything is the same. She says ‘Oh, go look there’ and I say ‘Where? I don’t know nothing!’”

What he is particularly looking forward to is spending some time on the Curonian Spit, specifically the fishing village of Nida, and he is enjoying the general peace and quiet. His phone, minus London SIM card, seldom rings.

“How good is that?” says Narkevičius smiling. “Nowhere to rush, nobody calling. Wake up, wash my face, okay – nowhere to rush!”

Back in Lithuania at a time when the country soon goes to the polls to vote for president, Narkevičius isn’t interested in the contest, and seems more inclined to comment on UK politics. But he does sometimes follow the ups and downs of Lithuania’s political scene on satellite TV, and says he’s displeased at the levels of corruption and slowness to act in government.

“When you watch the government in the UK and in Lithuania, it is like a university and a nursery. If someone from the UK government understands the Lithuanian language and watches what’s going on in government, I’ve no words to say... it’s a shame. It’s nursery, completely nursery.”

Asked if he considers himself a Londoner, Narkevičius says “probably, yeah” and wonders how he’ll describe himself in another 10 years.

“Now I say ‘I’m from Lithuania but live in London’ but in 10 years I’ll probably say ‘I’m from London.’ How can I say ‘I’m from Lithuania’ when I haven’t lived here for 20 years?”

And yet, one factor could bring Narkevičius a bit closer to his birthland again. He has identified an exciting opportunity in the Lithuanian retail market, and is biding his time – alongside his business partner and best friend – for the right moment to launch this idea.

“Dreams, ideas, just ideas. If it’s going to happen or not, I hope so. So then maybe I’m going to have more possibility to come here even more times.”


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