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Josh Akognon's basket-Baltic adventure

They couldn't find it.

"Ya'll going somewhere that ain't on the map," Josh's mother, Alfreda, exclaimed, shaking her head. "Oh Lord, help us."

Eventually, however, the Akognons found their spot: Estonia, northernmost of the Baltic states, nestled between Russia and the Gulf of Finland. The family's advice: Dress warmly.

Turns out, that was a wise suggestion. Tallinn, the Estonian capital Josh and Ariana currently call home, is farther north than Stockholm, Sweden, or Juneau, Alaska.

"I think yesterday it was negative-10," Josh Akognon said by phone recently, skirting the 10-hour time difference. "The doors are actually freezing shut, to the point where you have to yank on them to open 'em. There's ice inside the car, so you gotta scrape your windshield outside and inside the car. I couldn't get my back trunk open for a month, because it was just frozen shut. Finally it gave a little sun here for about two or three days, and that defrosted my lock."

Culture shock

Kalev/Cramo, Akognon's basketball club for the past three-plus months, has set up the couple in a comfortable apartment, Internet and utilities paid for, and has loaned them a new-model car. But there have been challenges that go beyond the cold. The electrical outlets are different in Europe, so Akognon had to buy converters for the recreational trappings of the young American — Xbox, Wii, etc. Then there was the Christmas tradition of blood sausages.

"The minute you cut into it, everything disgusting comes out," Akognon said. "It's blood and cream. So I actually ate a little bit of that. It was definitely awful."

Ariana Akognon, who played point guard at Washington State (when her last name was Scales) and actually filled in for a team in Estonia, finds it hard to read the Estonians.

"The thing about here is that the sun hardly ever comes out so people always look so gloomy or depressed," she wrote via e-mail. "There is never any type of emotion on their faces. Like at home when you walk past someone they give you a head nod or a smile, here they just stare and keep walking."


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