Monday, October 18, 2010

Slipping into normal

Hello again friends! I'm not sure why, but I sometimes view this blog as an e-mail or note to a friend. Just catching up on what's going on. Sometimes it feels mundane, but mostly it feels exciting. I've been here now just about 6 weeks! Crazy how time flies!

This past weekend I went to the Jizera mountains (north of Prague) near the town of Liberec to hike and pick up trash in the mountains. It was a gorgeous/rainy/foggy day with good friends, great food (wonderful meal at a lodge in the mountains) and several hot wine stops. :) Not a bad way to spend a Saturday!

Other than that adventure, I haven't been up to too many new adventures. I got a haircut last week, which was actually very easy. I found an American hair stylist who gives hair cuts out of her house. It's a great cut and I didn't have to stress about mis-communicating my hair wishes!

I have also been taking time in between my classes to explore the areas of my schools. I visit places of Prague few tourists ever venture into, so it's a neat opportunity to see real life. Not that I don't see this each day in my own neighborhood, but its still cool to see other parts of the city. I absolutely love watching people and seeing how they interact (or don't).

Recently there were elections for the Prague mayor and district representatives. It was a huge deal and there have been campaigning efforts since I got to town (and I'm sure before). There have been people all over the city campaigning for the candidates. I think they learned their campaigning tactics from a college campus as you had to literally dodge them to stay safe!

I'm getting into the swing of things and my classes are starting to feel like "my classes." They are fun and challenging and rewarding to say the least! It's a true joy to see some of my younger kids knowing their colors and to know they didn't know them at all just a few weeks ago! The smiles on their faces when they get it or their endless desire for a high-five is pretty amazing.

Some days actually feel mundane. I don't mean that in a bad way, but in a way where things are finally feeling normal. I walk down the street and still think -damn, I live in this amazing place! But I also know I am here and not rushing off to some other fabulous location like I would on a typical trip. I don't feel this pressure or rush to see everything immediately. I have loved getting a lay of the land and I look forward to going into more things now and truly learning more about this city and this country. I'm learning the best places to buy certain things and my favorite spots to get fruit or groceries. There are lots of specialty shops here so grocery shopping is not just a one stop shopping experience. It's pretty cool to go to the fruit/vegetable store or the bakery every few days to get more fresh items. I haven't dared the cheese or meat store, but I will soon!

I'm going to exchange English lessons for Czech lessons with someone starting next week. I'm not sure I'll ever be fluent in this language, but I would like to read menus/signs and speak to order or buy cheese/meat that isn't pre-packaged!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

It is what it is

Do you ever have moments or days where everything seems to take 10 times as long as it should? Where no one seems to understand you? I seem to have them a lot here. I would say that its all very understandable and normal, but it's frustrating as all hell too! Before I left and even since I have been here, people have learned of what I was about to do (or am doing) and have said, "Wow, that's so cool/adventurous/wild/gutsy/brave/daring/wonderful/crazy." I sometimes feel like I have a lot to live up to. I mostly put many expectations upon myself, but I also know there are expectations (either said or understood) of others. I mentioned in a previous post that part of me thought I'd be heading home by now. And that is true. But a bigger part of me needs to prove to myself (and maybe others) that I have the guts to stick this out.

I am here 100% on my own. Yes, I have met some amazing friends here, so I am not completely alone, but when it comes down to it - I am here on my own. It is scary. It has been frustrating. It's beautiful. It;s been inspiring. It has been indescribable.

I can tell you the day to day activities of my new life here in Prague, but I struggle to tell you anything more than that. How do I feel about living thousands of miles away from the people I care most about? I feel sad. The beauty and excitement of a new place are both wonderful things - but they cannot replace the joy of spending time with good friends and family.

How do I feel that I am actually doing this - living my life in a new country? I feel proud and excited and giddy. Its such a huge range of emotions to be feeling pretty much all the time. Add those emotions to the general feelings of trying to do my best with my work and getting out to see everything, yet taking care of myself and taking the time to myself that I need to rest and rejuvenate. Its a lot to handle.

Compound all of those things with being surrounded by nothing familiar and rarely overhearing a conversation I can understand. Its nice to lose yourself in the ignorance of the written and spoken word around you at times. But its also isolating.

Things are becoming more familiar and less isolating. But the fact of the matter is this - I still don't speak or understand the language here. Going to the grocery store is a stressful adventure because I'm not always sure what I'm buying or what the cashier is going to ask me or yell at me when I check out. She's probably upset that I don't have exact change or that I'm not bagging my groceries fast enough. Who knows, maybe she's not yelling, but because I cannot understand her, I assume she is.

Maybe this frustration and anxiety is similar to what my students experience in my classes. When they try and try to communicate with me, and I cannot understand their simple requests. Sure, we are working through those challenges and finding ways to communicate. I understand their frustration.

And maybe its because of this interesting situation of not understanding much of what's around me that has put me in this mindset and frame of mind that makes it difficult to express what I think and feel. Am I losing this ability or just have such a rare chance to express it that I'm forgetting how to do so?

I'm a pretty emotional person, so I'm certain I'm not losing my ability to be emotional. After all, this blog is simply my way of expressing myself. So the irony of writing here about my challenges with expressing myself is highly humorous and ironic to me!

Life is interesting and strange and wonderful and beautiful. I find myself thinking about frustrating things and then instantly turning them around to find the positive. I'm finding my own self annoying right now with that. Granted, I don't want to spend all day everyday feeling sorry for myself - but why can't I just let myself feel sad/frustrated/whatever? I'm a perpetual optimist it seems. And I'm not saying I want to change that, because I do think its one of my finer strengths. However, it can be exhausting. So, for all the wonderful things that I am experiencing here - and I truly am grateful for each and every moment - today I'm a little sad, a little homesick, and a little frustrated by not understanding most of the world around me. I know in time things will change - but in the spirit of truly trying to live in the moment - it is what it is today. No apologies and no trying to fix it - just experiencing the moment.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Praha photos

I have posted the first batch of photos of my time here. It's mostly from wandering around the city (my true favorite passtime). I'll be going into more things so there will be more pictures to come, but this will give you a great look at the amazing city of Prague! Some pictures I had posted before, but I have gone through and captioned most everything and added a lot more pictures. Enjoy!

Summer adventures - Photos

I posted pictures from my summer adventures in CA, WY, CO, WI, and IA. I can't believe it's taken this long to get them up!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

There's a feeling in the air

Have you ever done something and didn't really know how it was going to pan out? I feel that way right now. I had no idea how this would truly go. Some moments I thought it would be blissful and amazing and incredible (which it has been). Some other moments I thought I'd be packing by bags and heading home by now. I've been here 5 weeks. I cannot believe it!

The fall colors are starting to change here in Prague and each day new color bursts explode around the city! A walk I've taken several times before becomes a new adventure. It's not a bad state of being really. Shouldn't life always be this way? I have found myself previously getting into routines and just ignoring everything around me. In Prague, I feel like that's almost impossible. There's just too much to see! Will I ever see it all?

This morning I went for a run on the other side of Prague. It took me 45 minutes by tram to get there, but was completely worth it! Everywhere I have lived for the past 6 or so years, I've had a place that I can go and just be. Today, I found two such places. The first is this wonderful park with paths on the west side of Prague. The other is an area called Vyšehrad. The Vyšehrad area is home to a 10th century castle which includes a basillica, cemetary, and other interesting spots. It's a huge park area now as they converted this walled castle grounds into a park. It sits up on a hill next to the river and has a spectacular view of the city. It is truly an enchanting area. On this incredible fall day, it was full of locals and visitors alike simply strolling down the paths and enjoying the breathtaking views of this incredible city!

I met a couple from Alabama this morning on the tram. I asked how they liked Prague and they said they didn't really like it. The woman said, "Disney would be proud. It's obvious they have spent the last 20 years cleaning up the city and making it perfect and easy for tourists. Everything here is catered to tourists." I smiled and didn't say much, because I had NEVER heard anyone speak of this incredible city in this way. It threw me off guard to say the least. The couple had come from Budapest and loved it. It was clear to me they had only experienced the center of Prague and hadn't seen the true gems of this city. I have never heard of anyone complaining that a major metropolitan city was too clean and too perfect! Those are some of the things I love most of this place! Anyway - to each her own!

As I enjoyed the sunny, warm, fall day, I got to thinking about transitions. Fall is always an interesting time of transition. As I think about transitions, I have thought more about how I personally handle transitions. There have been a wide range of reactions to transition in my life, but I am noticing a difference in this transition. For the first time that I can remember, it is not causing me major stress. Now, let's be honest - there has been stress indeed. But for the most part, I have been able to bounce back from that stress relatively easy. I'm proud of this change, and I can see how this leap of faith has turned into a truly eye-opening and soul-searching experience. There was a part of me before I left that wasn't sure how long I'd make it here. Now that I'm here, and I realize it's still early, I can see myself being here for a bit. I'm not making any major commitments. I still have a contract through June and will see what will happen next. For now, I'm so happy I'm here. I'm so grateful for this opportunity. And I'm proud of myself for doing it. I feel like I'm truly living my life and making the most of each day. This experience is a precious gift - one that I've allowed myself to take - and I still pinch myself almost every day because I cannot believe I am here.

This Time of Year by Better Than Ezra has been one of my favorite songs for 10 years now. It always makes me think of transitions and fall, so I'm including the lyrics below.

"This Time Of Year"

Well, there's a feeling in the air
Just like a Friday afternoon.
Yeah, you can go there if you want
Though it fades too soon.

So go on, let it be.
If there's a feeling coming over me,
Seems like it's always understood this time of year.

[To Chorus:]
Well, I know there's a reason to change.
Well, I know there's a time for us.
You think about the good times
And you live with all the bad.
You can feel it in the air,
Feeling right this time of year.

Well, there's a football in the air,
Across a leaf blown field.
Yeah, and there's your first car on the road,
And the girl you'd steal.

So go on with yourself
If there's a feeling that there's something else.
Seems like it's always understood
This time of year.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Common courtesy - like sense - is NOT common!

Well, the trip back to the foreign police just adds to this wonderful tale of living and working in another country. So, I got up at 4:30 am and was out the door by 5:10 in an effort to get in line at the foreign police. They open at 7:30 and I was told that getting there early (say 6 am) helps. So, I got there at 6 am to find a long line of at least 80 people already outside! So, I got in line and waited in the dark. It was quite chilly - and I was grateful I brought my hat, scarf, and gloves! It was probably in the low 40s. Not horrible, but not ideal just standing around weather.

Anyway, as I was watching people, it became clear that many had been there most of the night. I later talked to a guy I had seen there the last couple of times to find out he got there at midnight! Dang! At about 7 am, families with little kids started arriving and going to the front of the line. I quickly realized having a kid made it possible to cut the line and I was trying to figure out how to have a kid quickly, but alas, no luck. The first few families seemed to get little reaction from the crowd. However, as it became 7:30 and later, I could tell another family was approaching from behind me by the disgusted and angered faces of those in line in front of me. The line was L-shaped, so it was easy to see their faces and observe. At 7:30, they let the families in. It took until about 9:30 until we were let in the building! This was new and different from Thursday, and I still have no idea why they didn't let us in sooner. It was darn cold and highly frustrating! They wouldn't even let you in to use the bathroom or get a coffee/snack. So, finally we make our way in and get to the bench area so we can at least sit for a bit (About an hour). Once the floodgates opened (aka the front door) people just went nuts! They were pushing and shoving and screaming. It was madness! Most of the people there were Russian, so I learned a few words (though many I probably should never repeat) today! It was chaos! I almost got trampled - good thing I didn't fall down! Also, it became evident that no one cared what time you got there or what the original order was that you were in outside. All bets were off! I ended up moving back in the line about 8 people. I was annoyed, but I just couldn't be that person that was so irritated and pushy (literally).

So, I met my new line neighbors who spoke English which was interesting. One guy was a film student from Philly and the other a Pakistani doctoral student in economics. We chatted throughout the day and held spaces in line when someone went to get a drink or use the restroom. At one point, I attempted to use the restroom. It was located in the worst spot ever - about two feet from the main office we were all trying to get to. So, there was a wall of people in front of the door. I tried to go and got yelled at in Russian and then English. They told me to go to the other side. Jeez! People are nuts! On Thursday things were much more civil and slightly more organized. So, I went to the EU side of the building where everyone was sitting and sipping coffee and just relaxing while waiting to see their foreign police officer. What a difference compared to our mass chaos, wall-to-wall people, hot, smelly space we were sharing!

As the line progressed, the anger and frustration mounted. And I get it - really, I get it after today. But I was truly saddened and frustrated by the lack of care and concern anyone had for anyone but themselves. It was absolutely disgusting. I couldn't be that way, and thus got pushed back in line a bit, but I don't care! A few times I pushed back (not hard) and held my ground. Well, I mostly held my ground, but I never pushed anyone out of the way! Words cannot truly describe my frustration, hurt, despair, and just plain shock at the entire situation and the way people treat each other. It was a sad experience to say the least.

Ok, finally we make it to the front of the line! I have this image in my head of getting my ticket (remember we're just standing in line to get a number to see one of the foreign police officers) and singing the "I've got the golden ticket" song from Charlie and the Chocolate factory while singing and dancing with everyone in the waiting room. I'm getting excited, but trying to stay realistic and not get too excited! Needless to say, there was no singing or dancing. I got to the front of the line. I showed my passport, green card and paperwork to the officer and kindly asked if he spoke English. He said "No. Done." And he walked away. Ok, at this point I had been standing in line for 8 hours (ok, i sat for one, but who's counting) and the guy says 2 words to me and walks away??? I didn't know what to do! I stood there, because there was no way I was leaving! I asked again and he just said no. So, my Pakistani friend (also registering his address) came and tried to ask too. Again, the guy said no. A nice guy came up to the front to help us. He speaks Czech and English and explained that they had run out of tickets for registering your address for the day and we had to try again tomorrow.

At this point, my new friend and I are livid! He too was there on Thursday. So, we go to the lobby and this guy explains that you have to get there by 3 am to get a ticket for the day. He said many people pay people to stand in line for them and he'd be willing to do it for us for 2000 krowns (US$100 roughly) each. Of course he would! Remember those people I was pretty sure had camped out - well, they had and they had done it to hold a space for someone.

So, I call my office to tell them what happened and they said they'd work on it. Long story short - they are working on a way to get me a number without me standing in line to get it. I'm not sure I want to know how that's being accomplished, but we shall see. All I know is that I don't have to get up at 4:30 tomorrow morning and I get to teach. I never thought I'd be so excited to see my wild kindergarten class as I am for tomorrow!

I shall never forget this experience - and truly encourage you all to think about how you treat others on a day to day basis. Life is too short to push and shove!