Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Grocery Story

While we were away, our car was parked in the Bay Area.  The Bay Area around San Francisco can be a very very nice place, and it can be dodgy.  I don't think my sister parked the car in a dodgy area, but some punk took the time to scrape the tags off of my car.  It is clearly vandalism.  Anyone can see that they have been scraped away, and clearly I am not the person who would sabotage myself (okay, sometimes I do, but not deliberately).  I need to fix the problem before the authorities see it, and with me, they always do.

I need to take the time to go to the DMV and tell them the story, and probably pay some fine.  I also will have to endure the inhumane treatment that we all have become accustomed to at the DMV (with rare exception).

That's the setup.  I really want to tell you something that you may not know about the Czech Republic.  It isn't some scandal about a pen stealing leader (see the video below), or an old ghost story from a tower in a castle, but about the grocery.

When you stay in a country for 5 weeks you have to eat, and I went to all kinds of groceries: big city groceries, mall groceries, airport groceries, closet groceries, green groceries, bio groceries, super markets, and small village shops.  In the Czech Republic, there are groceries EVERYWHERE!! The big Czech secret is that the workers from the DMV in the United States, and the grocery clerks in Czech Republic must be genetically linked.

At first I thought it might be a language barrier problem, and after staying a while, I realized they just hate their jobs.  They look down, they mumble numbers (which doesn't help in a foreign language) and they certainly don't smile.  They also are sitting down, which only adds to the pathetic ambiance.  I attempted to give my 'American Smile', as that is all I can do without knowing how to speak Czech, but I only tried twice.  It made me feel even more foolish.  The astonishing part of the 'checker attitude', is that it is my experience that nearly every Czech person is as friendly and fabulous as you could meet, even if all you can say is 'hello'.

I asked around to see if this was usual, and it is.  No one thinks that the lady ringing them up might smile, or look at them, or ask about their kid.  I almost felt like I was in trouble buying cheese and bread.  Is this the wrong kind of cheese?  The only place I ever feel that way, is the place I need to go.  I'm already feeling guilty and ashamed that someone else defaced my licensee plate, and I haven't set foot in the numbered line yet.  At least I don't have to go there very often.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

I Don't Speak Czech

Flier for our English courses.
Morning sessions for children and evening sessions for adults.   I could tell you what this flier says,
but I don't speak Czech.
My beginner students.
The board in the background is a chalk board.  Remember those?  The other class had a smart board, luckies!  

English teacher and helpers.
You can't tell by photo how much I love these folks.

I love blogging and writing.  I haven't posted in a long time, because all my creative energy and all my time has been used up these past two weeks.  I used up the time on people, so it wasn't a waste of time.

I taught for a week in Jablonne, Czech Republic.  It was amazing.  It was grueling.  It was amazing.  I'm only repeating myself for emphasis, and because I am still delirious from jet lag.

It was an opportunity that I did not take for granted.  In the morning I taught three sessions of English for beginners.  The challenge for me with them was the language barrier, and that I am not used to classroom management for such small people.  It is hard to manage 7 energetic students when you can not talk to them.  I did have a helper, and she, I think, was mostly teaching the class.  I really just sat in the corner and watched (okay, no I didn't, but Simka was a life-saver).

I also went class to class to talk and sing to the other sections of English.  Then, we would eat, go home for 2 hours, or to the lake or for a run, and then back to school.  In the evening we taught 2 sessions of adults.  Two of those evenings we had presentations and music provided by me.  I had never ever taught anything to adults, and it turns out to be FUN!!!!

I felt on display in this small town all week.  I am not that person, though I am putting it out there by blogging, I get that.  If you are reading this, you probably won't make me a cake, or take my photo, or ask me about the economy, geography of the United States or for some music.  By the end of the week, the hours of teaching and conversation had used me up.  It used me up in a good way, just in time to get on a train, get to Prague to get to an airplane and sit with my squirrelly kids for 11 hours in the air and watch 3 bad movies.  Boy was I beat.

I'm back.  The kids are in school.  My mind is clearing from the fog.  I am nearly happily un-busy.  I am reluctantly unpacking.

Thursday, August 11, 2011


The labyrinth from the center overlook.

We visited a labyrinth last week as for a day trip.   Labyrinths are confusing with a purpose.  Labyrinths are known to have a spiritual, physical and mental purpose. This place helped me make sense and be accountable for myself for all three, while we are in the Czech Republic (and beyond).  

It is fun here, for sure.  It has been an amazing experience to stay in a place so long.  Also, it has been challenging.  Not too challenging, but there are many things that I am sure are unknowingly confounding me.   There are cultural differences, language barriers, sleep deprivation, transportation issues, and personal preferences that contribute to the culture shock for me.  Though it is not the driving factor while we are here, it is something we have to work with.  It is like this Labyrinth.  It has been a mental, physical and spiritual challenge for me.

When we navigated this labyrinth at Brandys nad Orlici, we did it together.  We gave ourselves time, and we asked for help from people who have managed to get to the center before us.  When we arrived at the center, we were able to climb some steps to be able to see over the whole of the maze, and yet not give away our position to the others, still wandering.

I can not look over our entire experience here yet, as I have not arrived at the center, and climbed the steps.  I am sure that will come with some time at home.  I'm heading to bed, and ready to round a hedge more tomorrow.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Hard to Say Goodbye

It is hard to say goodbye.  I am just terrible at it.  I was watching a TED talk about the power of being vulnerable and the strength you have in following your impulse (there is more to it than that, so check it out below).  It was a light in a dark part of my heart.    The woman's talk made me realize why I hate saying good bye.  I hate it because it exposes me.  It is saying, I love you, I'll miss you, you have a place in my heart that can only be filled by you.  

My usual mechanism when saying goodbye, is to skip it.  It turns out, that is quite rude, and points out what a chicken I am.  I have been trying to skip out on goodbyes for ages.  This year visiting the Czech Republic, I have been trying to say goodbye, without fear.  Even though it is hard.  I spent the morning saying goodbye.  I said goodbye to many folks who, years ago, I thought I might never see again.  Now they are a part of my life.  I had to say goodbye to my husband.  The whole time, I was telling myself, if I could just keep it up for a count of five, I could keep it up.  It is like a sporting event, if you just keep running, you can keep running.

Saying goodbye is important. It reminds me how much I love my friends, and that I want them in my life.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Hobu Hunting

Yesterday I went gathering wild mushrooms. Okay, Valerie found them, and I carried the basket. I didn't find one good one, Valerie found them all. It's okay I got skunked, as the setting was enchanting, the conversation was superb, and I had a new experience.
I usually am quite competitive with myself to get it right the first time and succeed. I am trying to have more patience with myself doing new or difficult things, and just enjoy participating.
I didn't have a choice but to enjoy gathering mushrooms, though I didn't find any myself. One reason is that if you get a bad mushroom, just to get one, you might poison yourself. Rushing is actually dangerous. Also, the good mushrooms are not the flashy ones. They are harder to find. I had to let my eyes relax, and look for the mushrooms that were blending in. Val has been hunting them 48 years longer than I have. I can't really be hard on myself that I was no good at it. Valerie didn't mind, and even made them for dinner for me, though I was not a mushroom contributer. She really is a teacher and a friend.

So there are some life lessons from hobu hunting. I would also like to add an addendum, which is, do not try this at home. I know most of you in drier climates don't have the option, but for those of you who have mushrooms in the forest near your house, you should take my Czech friend Val with you, just to be safe. We ate all the mushrooms last night for dinner, and no one died or hallucinated.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Safety First

Silas and Martin have a beer in the middle of the busy street at night!

This is my fifth visit the Czech Republic.  Every time I am here I learn more about myself and about this culture and my own.  Now that I have been here several weeks I am learning about safety.  

At the giant grocery store, like a Wal-Mart, called Tesco, they have some very unsafe kiosks.  The one I am thinking of is the bread slicer, in the bread section.  Could you imagine being able to slice your own bread at the grocery?  The first idea I had, was to put a small dachshund into the machine, then I imagined putting my hand into it, then I imagined my kids doing that.  I am now thankful that you have to pass your bread over the counter for the lady in the bakery section to cut.  If she gets cut, she is covered by her union dues.  Here I am covered by no one, yet if I get hurt I can afford medical care.  Scout hurt her leg, and had x-rays, and a cast in the emergency room for $60.

There are many liabilities that I see here.  One I have noticed is railings and walkways.  Right now, I could walk right onto the train tracks, or right off of the balcony, or right into the river.  At the zoo I could have been very injured by the paths, as they were difficult to maneuver, if I were in a wheel chair.

Here you can walk around with open containers of alcohol, and people do.  Silas did it last night.  He waited with our friend Harry, until the road was clear, and then sipped a beer for the photo.  I'm sure he felt rebellious, or maybe he didn't.  Maybe he just felt like a person (who could be hit by a car any moment in the dark).

For the most part, I am all for rules that keep people safe.  What I am realizing is that we are only as strong as our weakest members.  Some folks will put their hands in a bread slicer,  let their kid tumble off a train platforms, or drink beer in glass containers while walking home in the street.  Those people must have troubles.  Here is the Czech Republic, those troubles are your own.  In the US, those troubles are everyones!

I'm going to talk on the phone while I drive.