Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Can life get better in 2009?

So, here's the second grouping of my new year thoughts...

2008 wasn't too shabby! I say that as an understatement and without irony. 2008 really was pretty good. It's not that often we look backwards to make an assessment. That, and I think it's easier to see other people's progress than acknowledge our own, so be warned, this post is all about the ego-stroke... Me -  awesome. The kid - rocks like a wild woman.

Me 2008

Two biggies here - first, what was initiated in 2007 through a visit to The Bridge was more fully realized in 2008. I can't, in all honesty, say that pain is not and never will be a part of my life again, but I can, again in all honesty, say that it is no longer a predominate aspect of my ongoing experience. I am no longer existing in a world of hurt but living my life on terms of my own choosing. My head is clear and my body free. I cannot convey what this means. If you have not existed in a world ruled by chronic pain it is beyond comprehension - and if you are in existing in a state dictated by chronic pain you are also incapable of truly comprehending what it is to be free... you may think you know but the effects of pain - the mental and emotional way more than the physical - so fully permeate life that the little insight and thoughts and desires for a life with pain in manageable role, the desire for normalcy, the idea of a pain-free existence, the thoughts you may have can't fully comprehend what it is to feel free... to be yourself again... because you have to discover who you are all over again. You get to start anew. Who you are isn't who you were, but can be so much more.

The second, obviously, I moved. I tried to take advantage of my life's opportunities, the chance to live again, and fully live. On the other side of the world. And it's going well. Really well. I am in a beautiful, exciting part of the world and living a life full of potential - both realized potential, and potential still in existence - the opportunity to create and discover so much more.

So, what 2008 represents to me is a lot of personal accomplishment. Not the kind measured by societal standards, but the kind that matters.

The kid 2008

If you've seen my kid recently then any words I may have are insufficient to describe her. If you haven't seen her (or met her) well, your life is lacking for it. She seriously rocks. And rolls. She doesn't iron though. In all honesty, this has been a year of continued growth and recovery for her... the concussion stuff is pretty much in the past and her overseas invasion has helped her to become this awesome, aware, international intellectual, and insanely cool creature. Creature being a term of endearment of the highest order. She not just a teen, and girl is so diminutive for who she is, and I doubt she'd appreciate the term young woman or young lady in the sense in which I would offer it, so creature shall suffice. For now. She's awesome.

Happy New Year!!!

So this will be a little scattered, so much so that I may to break my thoughts in to a few posts here - for your benefit... my brain is a little swirly trying to put my thoughts in order. It's 6:40 am here, New Year's Day.

First - Happy New Year - thanks for reading, thanks for being a party of my life, sorry I'm not with you to tell you I appreciate you and how much you matter to me.

Second - New Year's here is CRAZY!!! I left California on the 30th and arrived here in Prague around 5:20, via Heathrow (side note - my flight actually landed early - from Heathrow!!!) I had a driver scheduled to pick me up, and we talked non-stop during the 30 minute drive to my place. He's American, raised in Southern CA, he moved to Prague 15 years ago from San Francisco. He started by giving me fair warning to keep the heck out of Wenceslas Square.... too dangerous! No, not rioting or looting or drunken debauchery, the darn fireworks. I wasn't quite sure what he was talking about and then as he was loading my suitcases he moved a large box in his trunk - a case of huge Disneyland style fireworks. In his trunk. For his family.

Apparently right now you can buy them on the street. Like they sell kelbasas and hot wine, they're selling giant bottle rockets. It's seasonal, but you can do it. And then we started driving. It wasn't even 6 pm and all over the city there were fireworks everywhere!!! Private fireworks, backyard, in the street family stuff. He told me to stay out of Wenceslaus Square cause it's packed solid, people are stumbling drunk, and still trying to set off their fireworks there - which results in numerous injuries each year - dropped fireworks, thrown fireworks, knocked over fireworks, still holding fireworks, sideways fireworks.... you get the picture.

Anyway, I had plans for the night - actually a few options but had settled on one that would give me a few hours to eat, shower, nap, and recover a bit - and was looking forward to it. Then I made it to my apartment and realized sitting on a plane for 12 hours with crying infants and not sleeping had sort of impacted my body... and I was starving and really wanting something healthy - so I set out to eat first and went for a freezing cold walk (-7 Celsius, I believe) and found every restaurant and grocery store in my area closed... and then realized just didn't have the energy to take a shower and sort threw my luggage and head back out in to the cold - and a quick nap wasn't going to work any miracles, so I sat down and looked out the window and had the most incredible view of the city and fireworks going off all over... and never left.

I started to feel a little sad, sitting in my empty apartment, video-chatting with Coral and my Mom and brother back in CA, wondering why I came back when I did (good reasons that I fully rationally understand) feeling like my friends were still out of town, knowing I had things to do, but not feeling connected to them - and then my phone started exploding - and I had to delete messages to make room for the incoming texts, and then my email came alive.... and I felt better. I forgot I knew so many people here who I truly appreciate and enjoy - not just communal language friends, good to hang out with for a drink or a laugh, but people who I would seek out, at home, to spend time with... For a moment in my my overtired crabby state I had forgotten how comfortable I am here. (Coral being in CA and my being here will be another post... best rest assured it's truly a temporary situation!)

Back to the fireworks - I was really tired and dozed but I can confidently state the fireworks went off throughout the city on a non-stop basis from at least 6:00, when I stepped outside, to well after 1:00, when I finally fell asleep for the night.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

I want to wish each and every one of you, my worldly readers, a blessed day, filled with an abundance of love and joy, warm hearts, laughing souls, and a genuine appreciation of the gifts of this life. Thank you for your presence in mine.

Merry Christmas.

Sense of Security

This past week I had to go to San Francisco for some paperwork for the visa issue. The State building is located on Golden Gate Ave - for those of you unfamiliar with the area it's not a nice one. It's sorta verging on the Tenderloin which is exactly the kind of area you want to not walk through, ever.

Anyway, I wasn't crazy about the drive and then the parking was a hassle, but when I realized where I was I was even less thrilled. I finally, after much circling, found a space to park - right at an intersection that had four police cars within a block's radius - two on each street.

In the few minutes it took for me to park, cross the street to the donut shop for change - twice - and cross the street to my car again I was more uncomfortable than I I have been the entire time I've been in Prague. Think of it like this - I am more comfortable walking by myself through a strange city with well over a million inhabitants at 2 am, in a country where I don't speak the language than I am walking three blocks in San Francisco, an area I am quite familiar with, in the middle of the day with a visible police presence. (OK, the police were already occupied, on each block, with large problems... just reinforcing my discomfort.)

My sense of security has changed. I can expect pick pockets in Prague but I am not face to face with the threatening crazed drug addicts you find on the streets here - the potential for violent crime is much much higher over here. Unlike Coca-Cola this is one instance where the new is a definitive improvement of the old.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cultural Season Indicators

Can't remember if I've written about this yet, so here it goes (again?)...

Shortly after arriving we went shoe shopping. There was an adorable pair of boots that I really, really liked. They were white. I wanted to get them, yet in the back of my mind I heard both my Grandmother and my Mom saying you don't wear white shoes after labor day. And I thought, jeez, labor days in a just about 2 days, maybe I should get something else.

NEWS FLASH!!!

One - I'm not in the US - THERE IS NO LABOR DAY
Two - I'm in the Czech Republic, you can wear whatever you want whenever you want!

The, there was a complete lack of Halloween decorations. It felt like it went from summer to fall for 2 weeks to Christmas. We skipped both Halloween and Thanksgiving, two things which happen prior to entering the Christmas season

Well, Halloween is very western and not really acknowledged here.

And Thanksgiving - yeah, same as the white shoes - wrong country.

Christmas is an interesting time. Rather the month of December is quite interesting. Here I am in the land of St. Wenceslas, and celebrating St. Nicholus - or rather, St, Mikulas - in a country without a concept of Santa Claus. There is no Santa Claus here.

Last week was St. Mikulas's time to travel with the angel and the devil and either allow the good children to receive treats and presents or the bad children to be swept off to hell. In another two weeks it will be Christmas. Children learn about Christmas in their public schools. Every classroom comes equipped with the old fashion advent wreaths. Christmas is when Baby Jesus comes over while you're eating dinner = the giant carp that's been living in the bathtub - on Christmas Eve and leaves presents for you to open during dessert.

No Santa, no jingle bells, no reindeer, not much shopping, no stockings, no Rudolph or Frosty. Charlie Brown doesn't need a tree. No Red Rider BB Gun. No Jimmy Stewart. No kidding.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A Communistic Comparision

I was overwhelmed by all the religious based activity in pre-school this week, and had a conversation relayed to the Czech teacher through the other multi-lingual teacher I work with.

I was telling them about some of the big differences - we wouldn't have major celebrations in our public schools focused in Saints, wouldn't be teaching them about Baby Jesus, or building a creche, or dancing with devils, or any other number of things we've done recently. I explained how the separation of religion from government does not allow religious elements to enter in to our classrooms - and she laughed and responded in such a way that the translation wasn't necessary, however for your benefit:

That sounds just like communism!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Devil Day and the overwhelming religious aspects of an aetheist pre-school

If I tell you the full story you're going to say I partook in a Satanic ritual. Seriously. Anyone with any sort of Christian background would be horrified - Christian in the larger sense of any religion that holds Jesus to be God's son and not Christian in the sense of a singular and exclusive fundamentalist or evangelic religion.

All week long I've been working with kids on the projects assigned to me. This week was different - my words weren't apple, ten, cucumber, or blue but rather angel, devil, St. Miklaus, Baby Jesus.... and the projects were either a clay nativity scene OR devils, angels, or pope-like St. Miklaus - St. Nicholaus to you westerns... you know - Jolly Old St. Nicholaus....

The devil here is 'the devil' (but in czech) or Lucifer. He speaks a lot - and says "Blitter-lidder-lidder-lidder" but over and over and over again and really really fast!!!

Friday was the culmination of everything we'd been working on for the week - and the day I learned the devil speaks... and the day I joined in song with about 25 little devils, holding hands, dancing and singing around the fires of hell.

I kid you not.

More details when I'm more awake.

Transitory Connections - Further Adaptation Required

Something I was not expecting, and now I've got to learn how to incorporate this new dynamic in to my future relationships...

People here leave.

They do.

They come and they go, and that is, apparently, the nature of the english-speakers in a foreign land.

You think - tourists, they're tourists, of course you doofus!! No. I mean my friends.

I've made some cool connections with some people and now a number of them are leaving. My closest friend, Jane, is heading back to Canada before taking a South American vacation and then continuing on and relocating to Scotland. I am going to truly miss her. She rocks!!

And Dom - the single syllable of the name doesn't do justice to the charismatic and outrageous guy he is. Over the top in every way, I adore him as well. He just moved here a few months ago - newer than me in fact - and has since been transfered to another country. With 24 hour notice. Job well done! (too well, apparently - now he's been promoted and is revamping another location, just one without the culture, clubs, or english-language community that exists here).

And there are others... many others. There's a hole community of people I've tied in to who are couch-surfers - the come and go, gracing us for just a few days... And my local friends - mainly contract people, many of whom will be returning to England once their contract expires... within the next few months.

There are a few I've met who will be here for a while... Those who've married a Czech or are firmly entrenched in their company with no desire to change - a few of whom love it here so much they've established their lives here and have changed company to company, advancing their careers, and living as Praguers, not as English in Prague.

I didn't expect to make friends and then have to say goodbye. I've just said goodbye to all of you. This transitory stuff is rather hard - who do you reach out to? Who do you confide in? How much longer will they be around? Who will I have dinner with next weekend? New Year's Eve? Coffee? Share a joke - how can you create a history with people you've just met who won't be here for more than a few months?

Obviously I miss my friends right now. Those here and you back there. Pretty soon they'll be the same thing - those here will be back there, wherever their back there is.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

You know you're....

I just found this online about my school... and it's fairly relevant, as far as I can tell, which made me laugh.
____________________________________________________

You know you went to AAC when:

1.)You’ve witnessed the smoking garden location changed at least 3 times, and you don’t care, cuz you still smoke in front of the building.
2.)Teachers have offered to take the class out for beer instead of finishing class on time.
3.)You have come to the realization that most of Dix’s classes are essentially the same class.
4.)You have a favorite couch somewhere in the building, and have labeled it “the meeting couch”.
5.)You have gone out for drinks with people from class, and Ozuna came along.
6.)School parties combined with UNYP usually cause some sort of rivalry and gossip.
7.)You can make it from the tram to the school in under 2 minutes, despite the tourists, cuz you know how to dodge them.
8.)Coming to class an hour late doesn’t give you a bad grade, it makes you the “alpha male”.
9.)Waiting in the computer lab for 45 minutes for people to filter out or the computers to function is a normal occurrence.
10.)You didn’t know we had a student council until John started weekly announcements in his classes.
11.)You can run up and down 90 flights of stairs a day and not even think about it.
12.)A 3 hour class is no big deal.
13.)You know from experience that room 100 is too cold for most forms of human life.
14.)You aren’t quite sure who the president of the school is now…
15.)Getting wine at DobrĂ¡ Trafika before class is a pretty normal occurrence.
16.)You remember the cave, and wish it was still there.
17.)Meeting someone who has 4 mother languages is really not that uncommon.
18.) Half the people in your afternoon class stink of alcohol.
19.) You're not surprised when Dr. Dix asks the American guys who among them is circumcised.
20.) When you have studied Kant, Weber, and Marx in EVERY class.
21.) When you don't eat before Turnau's class because you know he'll perform last rites and then give everyone unlimited cookies.

Monday, December 1, 2008

another monday

I really coulda taken a pass this Monday. Class hasn't started yet but I'm ready to go home and head back to bed.

I made a point of washing my hair last night - Monday's are always the hardest day for timing for us. I don't have to work really early and Coral has the same schedule every day so we're usually both trying to use the bathroom at the same time. This way we can avoid that.

I thought ahead, had everything ready to go, and made it out of the house in time to meet my bus. The 224. It never showed up. I was there on time, yet 15 minutes after it was due it still hadn't arrived. So I had to take an alternate. The 188. And for some reason the 8 minute bus ride was closer to 30 minutes. And everyone who had been waiting for the 224, and there should have been 2 in that time frame, was now boarding the 188. Which meant we were overcrowded.

I was smashed against the pole, a woman's chair, and other humans so closely that we weren't just standing shoulder to shoulder but buttcheek to buttcheek and calf to calf. I also kept getting my head slammed in to the ticket stamping machine. And people kept trying to board well after maximum capacity.

Finally we made it to the metro, which is when I called the school to let them know I would be late. I boarded the metro and promptly zoned out, like everyone else on the train. You just listen for the name of your stops and get off when you hear it called.

Well at one point in the journey I thought we were running pretty slow - it felt like we'd made more stops than the recording indicate. But then I zoned out again and got off when my stop was called.


Unfortunately I'd been right. The recording was off, which was discovered when everyone who departed the train reached the top of the escalators... and found we were all one stop beyond where the recording indicated. So, back down the escalator and in to the next return train and then out at the next stop and then a rush to catch the tram and a short walk and here I am sitting in a freezing cold room with a slow computer, empty except for me, and the speakers don't work so I can neither watch nor listen to anything I was planning on watching and listening to today.

Bleck. There's my indulgent self-pity. Now, I'm over it.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

I am done

with everyone urinating on the sidewalk here. It's quite common for people to simply urinate into a bush or onto a building, especially at night. However, I did see something that was kind of uncommon. 

I was on my way to school, when the man in front of me (who I think was homeless, but I'm not entirely sure) suddenly stopped and began urinating in the middle of sidewalk. It was pretty surprising. Usually, people have the courtesy (well, I guess it could be called courtesy) to go out of the way, in an alley, bush, or against a building. But no, he just stopped and then started. Disgusted, I simply hurried past him to school.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Along the river... a tram stop at night

I am struck by the beauty surrounding me every day. This week I decided to get off the tram and take a few photos. So far this is my favorite fountain in Prague - my camera doesn't do it justice.




All these photos are from the same stop - this one below is across the street from the fountain, looking back across the Vlatva towards the castle and my school.



All the little white dots along the pilings are seagulls - this man and his daughter were standing there, feeding them... she was having a blast, but it felt a little like THE BIRDS... I had to keep dodging birds, and at certain points they sort of swarmed everyone!!


Standing in the same spot, this is a restaurant and bar along the river, just up the sidewalk from the tram stop. Haven't been there yet but I love looking at it at night.

Monday evening pics - National Student Day/Velvet Revolution

My walk back to the metro after a nice evening out with Liam and Petra. Dinner at Red Hot Blues and drinks at George & the Dragon... and American Tex-Mex restaurant run by the Kid's best friend's Mom and an English bar. Both were enjoyable... the restaurant tops the bar though!




Monday was actually a very important day in Czech history. It's the day the students stood up to the Nazis, back in the 30's - and they were promtply destroyed, and the day, 19 years ago, the students again took a stand and brought about the fall of communism.

This year there were some memorials celebrations and stuff, as well as a protest. They seem to have a monthly protest in Prague against the impending construction of the US radar. Here someone was kind enough to leave some instructions in case things got out of hand:

It's truly a water closet!!

There is a bathroom for adults in the pre-school. The teacher's bathroom. To enter you have to open the door and turn sideways in order to fit through the doorway and past the sink. Then you are immediately faced with another door. Step into the second doorway in order to shut the outer door.

Keep that second door open, turn around and lock the outer door. Now, with the door leading to the toilet open take off your jacket and find a place for your belongings. Step towards the toilet, but turn around before you enter the closet with the toilet in it (it is smaller than a hall closet - and much narrower too).

There is very limited room as next to the toilet is a radiator. They keep the radiator running and the roll of toilet paper sits on top of the hot radiator... which gives you hot toilet paper.

Now, I suggest you leave that middle door open or you will have to sit down again when you're ready to leave in order to open the door. Take a little step out of the closet and you're back at the sink.

BE CAREFUL HERE!! Do not back up even a half step!! Hidden on the wall is a shower head and faucet handle. A very sensitive faucet handle! If you back in to it ever so gently you will turn on the shower head behind you and soak your back, your jacket hanging on the wall, and all of your belongings. Additionally this shower head is not fixed to the wall but is rather on a flexible hose. If you reach for the nozzle you are quite likely to knock it off the wall and then soak your pants and socks (or shoes if you're still wearing them).

This happens frequently. There is a drain in the middle of the floor - and the floor is quite often wet. (I know this because you don't wear shoes inside the school and so I go to the bathroom in my socks. My socks are usually wet before I get in to the toilet closet.)

Now you've washed your hands, drenched your back, soaked your socks, and doused your jacket - you're ready to begin your search for a non-existent towel before you head back out in to literally freezing cold weather for a 10 minute walk to an unheated bus.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

From Plastic to Porcelain

I think I may have mentioned the restaurant across the courtyard from the computer lab. When I first got here I'd get their salads every now and then and bring them up to the lab. After a while the tourists peaked again and they couldn't always make me a to-go salad so I sought out other options.

Well, today I went back for a salad. I wanted something healthy and didn't have time to go to Subway for my usual veggie sandwich. I went in, ordered, let them know I'd be right back as I needed to go across the courtyard, and then came back five minutes later as instructed.

Previously I've been handed a paper bag with a plastic container with my salad, a fork, a napkin, and maybe some delicious bread if I'm lucky (that's if I'm doubly lucky as the only person who gives me the delicious bread is this charming, age appropriate, friendly, and quite handsome man).

Today I got bread.

I was also handed a real bowl, actual silverware, and a napkin. Both the bread and the bowl were wrapped in foil. It made me feel so good! How silly, I know, but that bowl and silverware were sort of an inclusion - and acknowledgement that I'm part of their realm... they recognized I belong.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

I've got the Czech Blues

I was out the other night and caught a metro home shortly after eleven, giving me enough time to catch a bus home before they close down at midnight.

The typical morning metro experience is very cold and impersonal - people are tightly contained within themselves, no eye contact, no laughing, no smiling - no conversation even. Business suits and rigid bodies - impeccable posture and and air of the solitary... not a truly inviting experience unless you really like to be left alone in the a.m - rather cold. But it's warm... I haven't seen a heater yet, but inside of the train it's warm.

The night metro ride is totally different - first the smell of alcohol is probably the strongest sensory experience of the journey. The laughter, sprawling bodies, an air of giddiness, the noise of 50 conversations in just as many languages... people dressed up to go clubbing, bar hopping, the theater, or the symphony... it's tourists and locals after a long day of work or a walking followed by more than a few beers. Smiles across the aisles, and somteimes strangers even speak - totally un-czech!! The night metro ride can be almost fun.

So, the other night I caught a metro home by myself. The platform had a fair amount of people trying to get home, like me, before the buses stop running. I got into the nearest least crowded car I could find - and the doors shut behind me as I slid into an empty seat - and the noises started... at first laughter and then melodic undertone - until I realized there was a group of men with a guitar or two standing a short section away from me, leading a rather raucous rendition of the Blues - the majority of the car joined in... in czech.

We carried on through a few stops like this, with the newcomers joining in, until the men reached their stop and departed to a huge round of applause... and the car fell back in to the familiar nighttime cacophony of conversation.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I am a sicko

I got sick. I know, it doesn't sound too incredibly drastic or devastating, or any other doomi-ish words starting with D, but I'm not too thrilled about it. Especially since I can't really talk. I can only growl and screech.


Thankfully, they have amazing cold medicine here, which hasn't really kicked in today. But it's amazing. Completely dries out your sinuses, gives you back your voice, all of your symptoms magically disappear for 12 hours. I love it. Hopefully, it will kick in soon. That'd be nice. :)

Visa issues!

There is a problem with the kid's visa... which requires me to take a trip to the Foreign Police. I've been avoiding them. The consulate had told me I didn't need to register with them as my paperwork was issued and in order - now the story has changed.

The Foreign Police is a misnomer - it's like immigration... but worse. The people assigned to work there only speak Czech - there is no foreign language fluency requirement to work for the Foreign Police. They do not anticipate and cater to the foreigners who will be coming through the door... and come through the door they do!

It is suggested to show up between 2 and 4 am. The doors open at 7:00 - if you're not there by 4:30 you may not be seen... and being seen does not necessarily mean being helped.

I'm really dreading this, going there, - and am quite nervous about the visa issues too! The problems arose in September but nobody told me there were issues - now it's been 2 months and they may deny the visa just because I haven't given them any of the information they decided they wanted... Which is actually information they already have, they just don't want it in the format I've provided. It's really frustrating as for the past few months I've called, emailed, and sent in letters and additional information - but noone bothered to tell me there was an issue - I just got, oh, there's a bit of a delay, a backlog, don't worry!

Here's a taste of what I will be experiencing. Please watch this video in it's totality - and listen for the screams...

Friday, November 14, 2008

the boys are here... the girls are here....

I was out tonight with a tablefull of expats - this time I was not the sole American. There were a ton of people and one other woman is from CA - but a long term CR resident. The guys were either British or Indian, maybe an Irish one too - and one Canadian girl as well.

How we all arrived in CR came up as a topic of conversation - here are the responses:

For each and every man:

I came here with a girlfriend, this is where she's from (for one or two, the girlfriend was Slovakian and this is the biggest, nearest city that still feels like home - well it was part of their homeland not too long ago).

For each and every woman:

I came here on my own, alone.(As in, not with a significant other - I have Coral, but that's not the sense that "alone" refers to.)

My thoughts - does that mean the female expats are a little more daring and adventuresome than the men?


Almost every guy I've met only came cause the girl he was with wanted to return here - not one came of his own motivation - the very few (one, maybe two)who arrived here as single men have been transferred here for work. Many - all - of the women I've met here showed up as a single woman and have done it on their own. Is that because we're more daring, more adventursome, more confident? Because I've not met one expat woman here who isn't a personal success...

I'm just saying...

Women ROCK!!

oh boy.... too much to title it!

My schedule this week -

Monday - work at 9 until class starts - which ends around 5, then get to B. School by 6:45 and teach until about 9 - during my AAU class my incredibly in-depth and esoteric mid-term was due - finish the mid-term during work hours and then stay up late working on presentation for Wednesday - get to sleep around midnight

Tuesday - work at 8, transfer to the other school, work until 4, and then called in to cover an english class for brand new beginners at B School.... a real struggle as I don't speak or understand czech and they don' t yet understand english... work until about 8 and then work on my presentation - up till well after midnight - in between the second preschool and B School meet with Brian about Prague Playhouse and take on the position (non-paying)

Wednesday - school at 11 - but I had to stay up late and then get up at 6:30 to continue working in my presentation - give the presentation and then go to work at school till 6 when I rush over to B School till 9, talk to family- antsy and can't sleep

Thursday - work at 8, switch to second preschool and work till 4, get called in to cover another beginner class at B. School and then go meet friends for dinner/drinks before I go home - the kidl joins us and the two of us get home shortly after 10, some homework,talk to family, get to sleep around 1...

Friday - today, work at 8, stay at the main pre-school and work till 3, stop at the brand new mall at the metro on my way home, get home, clean a bit, fall asleep, meet friends at 8 when I should have been there at 7, get home at 12:30, write, go to sleep and get ready for tomorrow ( I missed meeting up with 2 other friends but I made new friends where I was)

Saturday - work at 8:30 - at school - until 6, meet a new expat guy at 7 (anticipated schedule, details unknown)

Sunday - as it stands right now I should be meeting a friend for coffee maybe (anticipated schedule)

Monday - bank holiday, I plan on running laundry, grocery shopping, and thoroughly cleaning - after I sleep in! (anticipated schedule) Additionally we will be going to both the Velvet Revolution commemoration ceremony and to the anti-radar rally... then sleeping.

Throughout the week the kid has had a miserable cold - the cold isn't really all that bad, but she's pretty miserable!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

RECIPE REQUEST - URGENT!! Apple Pie!

To those of you who know me well it may sound odd, but I am in urgent need of a really good apple pie recipe.

One of my students - the one who gives me a ride home after the night class - was kind enough to find, translate, and then illustrate a bramboly recipe for me. Bramboly are some of my favorite czech food. It's sort of a potato pancake type thing. Once I can scan it I"ll send out a copy... if I can copy and send it to someone to scan for me then I"ll do that now as it'll be at least another month before I have access to a scanner.

Anyway - this super cool incredibly nice student has asked me for an apple pie recipe... and yes, I need to illustrate it for him too. I don't want to find something online and provide him with an untested recipe... what if it's lousy? He may never give me a ride home again!

So, as I've never baked an apple pie before - partially because I cannot make a decent pie crust - please help me out! Please send me your favorite apple pie recipes ASAP!!! I have class again Monday night, 7:15 my time.... I'm 9 hours ahead of the West Coast..

Thanks every so much!!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

first day

this week is the first time pain has raised it's ugly head. i didn't recognize it at first and thought that a kid had poked me in the back with something sharp, but i was wrong. right now it's raining, and my body hurts. really hurts. not just discomfort, which i distinguish from pain - discomfort has been a companion here for a while. along with pain the funky nerve stuff is affecting an eye, and my sensations are off. this is a big bummer for me. but at least this time, this year, i know what i'm dealing with, and so hopefully will be better equipped to handle it. more rest. regular sleep and healthy meals. downtime - which i don't have enough of right now. relaxing - again there's a bit of a shortage there too. peace.

Obama Hangover... Hope

It's Friday night here, scratch that, it's now early Saturday morning... this week has been full of thrills, giddiness, hope, and exhuastion. I've been up and out twice this week past 6 am and other nights have been so tense or excited I couldn't sleep before midnight. I didn't have students this afternoon so I snuck home and slept for a few hours before heading to a birthday dinner and a movie (James Bond, english language, czech subtitles).

I know I've mentioned repeatedly I'm the only american amongst my various social circles - this week has been interesting. Starting prior to election day I've been asked and challenged about my vote - not necessarily a confrontational challenge, that's only been from other Americans, but more, explain your reasoning, basis, and belief system and what you expect... not really easy when you're dealing with the language barrier but I think I managed ok.

Then the election - and at school, both pre-schools, and the adult school, at dinner with friends, coffee with friends, and over beer with friends I have been asked time and time again - how did you vote, what do you think, do you expect real change and how - as well as, who is this guy, anyway?

It's been interesting. While people may not know who he is they perceive him as being the most powerful man in the world right now, and hope he views his obligations on the global scale. I do too.

Hope. That's the biggest thing right now. I've been reminded of one my favorite Heath Ledger movies - A Knight's Tale - and a quote about love and hope - "Hope guides me. It is what gets me through the day and especially the night." Right now I have a lot of hope. More than anything else, I think, I have hope.

Hope. It may seem that with hope there's not much else to have, but I have faith too - hope and faith are great companions. Today, right now, this week, I have never been prouder to be an American. I have hope and faith that my country is on the path worthy of the accolades directed our way.

Side note - when the heck is blogger/google going to fix it so Obama is not longer marked as a misspelling???

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Obama

it is 6:10 am, and I am so tired I am seeing spots. We have spent the last 10 hours moving from bar to pub to bookstore trying to stay abreast of the election results. The lack of sleep, caffeine overload, greasy food, and smoke so thick the place had to be regularly aired out all helped create a certain level of nausea . Or maybe that was the anxiety. Whatever it was, it was shared amongst the three of us - me, thd kie, and her schoolmate Cate.

The girls played cards, talked, thumb-wrestled, ate, drank, and were bored. We did an awful lot of walking in the dead of night through a town that is literally freezing cold.

It was worth it.

We ended up at The Globe - were we probably should have started off. They only had one screen, but it was big, and the crowd as all Obama... The lead up was tense, the anxiety, giddiness, drunken messes, and exhausted contributed to a strained party atmosphere. The girls found seats on the stairs for a while, and I stood. Eventually some long term squatters gave up and the girls stole a few chairs in the back. I followed, still standing.

The cheers, the shouts, screams, whistles, sheer elation lifted the room - not just the spirits, but the room itself, and filled me with a peace, a relief, and gratitude I wasn't expecting. The CNN headline Barack Obama Elected President was expected yet truly surreal.

There were tears, ongoing shouts, clapping, dancing, champagne, and people collapsed where they were. I have never experienced anything like it.

And lest you think this was all American, let me assure you that while the majority of the people in attendance were US citizens concerned about our future there is an equally strong contingent of world citizens who are just as concerned about their future and who acknowledge our President impacts the direction of the world... they campaigned and pushed and waited with bated breath as well.

This wasn't a win for just you or me or the Democrats, this was a win the world was waiting for.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

School Retreat






So, I went on a retreat with my school last week on Friday to Monday evening. I was really looking forward to it, but was kind of stressed, because I was going to be with a group of serious Christians 24/7 ( Okay, maybe not 7) and I didn't want to offend anyone accidently by saying something in all that time or anything like that. Also, I was kind of stressed about Saturday, because I've heard them talking about Sabbath earlier, and I didn't know if they recognized that and did that or not. Fortunately, they didn't. The only thing that was really Christian is when we sang and heard a talk by a student twice a day. Which wasn't really as big of a deal as it sounds. Mellow. 

The place that it was at (Cerna Hora) is owned by a couple of students at my school, and is about 5 hours by bus away from Prague. It's kind of secluded in the woods, and is absolutely gorgeous. I was kind of expecting a place that was falling apart, and was lame, but this was perfect.

It was awesome. I had tons of fun, didn't offend anything, and it was perfectly normal. I mean, I was playing poker and B.S. and it was all fun. I thought that they wouldn't like poker or anything because of gambling. 

We played tons of games, and went in the woods, and had a campfire, which we cooked hotdogs and marshmellows over. I had five girls in my room with me, who were all people I was friendly with, and there weren't any arguments or anything. AND there was excellent food that was all homemade. :) 

It was absolutely gorgeous there too. I brought my camera with me, and was able to take a lot of pictures, but they were mostly of the trees. :) Unfortunately, my battery died pretty early, on Saturday.

It was really nice, because we got to play soccer a lot (which I've been missing) and we had about 2 or 3 hours of free time after lunch ( not including other times, that was just the longest break) and we would go and play soccer for the entire time, and it only seemed like 20 minutes. 

On Sunday, it was the funniest soccer game I've ever played. We had just had birthday cake, because it was someone's birthday, and so we were all pretty hyper, and funny things just kept on happening. People were literally rolling on the ground, cracking up. And two kids, Josh and Alex, started a vendetta against each other, so whenever one of them got the ball, the other would full on charge and tackle them. They'd stand next to each other, far away from everyone else, and ask the goalie to give the other one the ball so they'd have an excuse to tackle each other. It was all good natured though. I don't think that anyone there is ever mean to each other, which is really refreshing. 

We had showers in the dorm area, but the hot water ran out pretty quickly, which was a bummer. I usually woke up pretty early so I could still get some, but the last day I forgot. That wasn't fun. 

When we went on a walk in the woods, we played my new favorite game, Bomb. It's where one person is it, and they will randomly call out BOMB with a megaphone. They close their eyes and count to ten while everyone else runs and hides. The it-person opens their eyes after ten seconds, and pivots on one foot to find anyone they can. They have to say something like "I see Coral behind THAT tree" and point, and if it's the wrong person, then they don't have to come out. When they can't find anyone else, they call out SAFE and set off this alarm on the megaphone and then everyone else can come back out. We all ended up diving into ditches and laying on hillsides, and covering ourselves with leaves, and then struggling to get back out after its safe. Tuns of fun, I'm not kidding.

Another game we played was called Assassins, which we played at night. There was a building in the area that they didn't use anymore, though it wasn't in disrepair or anything, so we played the game in there. In this game, there's only one room in the building with the lights on, so it's pitch black everywhere else. 2+ are Assassins, and hide, while everyone else waits in the light room. The Assassins get a rolled up paper to tag people. After about 5 minutes everyone leaves the light room and walks around the building, trying to find the Assassins. The point of the game is to tag the Assassins before they can tag you. If all of the Assassins are caught, the game is over, and everyone but them wins. When an Assassin tags you, you have to go to the light room without telling anyone where they are. Then, you wait for the game to end. The Assassins are trying to get everyone out. THAT game was really funny, because a couple of people who were Assassins just ran out into the hallway near the light room (where you can see stuff because of the window in the door) and tagged as many people as they could before someone got them. One guy, Josh, got like 15 people before he got caught. It might be kind of hard to understand the game in writing, but hey, I tried.

So, to put it simply, it was excellent. I kind of wish that we were going to have another one, but unfortunately, we aren't. I was thinking about not going on the Ski trip later, but I think I will now, though I haven't snowboarded and skiied all too much, and most of the people at my school grew up in the snow. Oh well. The students are some of the least judgmental people I know.
:)

England, Ireland, Wales... The Pub

Somehow I manage to find the UK in the CR. Last night I went out with a large group of people - a few people I've met within the past few weeks and a number of newbies. I was seated and surrounded by 2 Welsh men, 2 Irish women, and 4 English guys - we were later joined by another English couple from Liverpool. At one point there was a Canadian too.

We were in the largest Irish pub in Prague (while it was great fun I doubt I'll return as it's a seriously overpriced tourist trap - beers were between 60 and 100 kc where in my neighborhood place a full sized beer is between 22 and 30 kc - right now it's about 19 kc to the dollar).

I have never been to areas these people were from and so have never experienced their pub culture - therefore I will tell you that the night was like something out of the movies.

It was November 1st, and while Halloween isn't really a big deal over here there were a number of people coming through in costume - which lent a rather festive air to the evening. And the music was blaring - you truly had to be sitting next to the person to have any hope of trying to make out what they were saying... even sitting next to my conversational partner I was at a disadvantage as I am NOT at all familiar with the variety of accents at the table - or the political tensions.

Turns out the Welsh feel oppressed by the English - and the guys were teaching me how to tell off the English if I ever felt they were a bit bossy - they were teaching me in Welsh. Obviously the Irish have a few issues too - not a big deal during the night though... and Liverpudlians have a terrible reputation - that's the 'cultural' region of England, but to the English it's better known as the most violent region - and the people as unintelligible, which I now have to agree with. I needed the other English to translate for me... and they couldn't always do it! I was only able to make out a fifth of what the girl from Liverpool was trying to tell me... The Irish girls I could understand at the beginning of the night, but their accents increased in direction proportion to the beer consumed.

The night was a little over the top - the costumes, the crowd, the range of accents, the excitement, the cold, the tourist-y party vibe... and as the night went on the music got louder and the real singing started... everyone knew the songs - a great dj mix for any party, any country apparently - the crowds started singing, and then singing turned into dancing and the floor was taken over and chairs moved, so those singers started standing on benches and tables and the costumes got more outrageous and the songs better and better and finally everyone in the bar was singing along! It was a little surreal - strangers with their arms linked and beers sloshing and belting out Grease songs and Oh Delilah and some Sinatra and Elvis and U2 and ABBA and, oh, so much more...

It was a blast.

We stayed till closing and then moved on to another bar - which was too crowded and so crossed over to the Harley Bar (as in Harley Davidson Motorcycle Bar) which was pretty cool, too.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Czech gentlemen

So, in my post, immediately below, I made reference to czech gentlemen - and how that's supposed to be something of an anomaly. Cultural differences definitely play a role here, but listening to my co-worker, a woman in her late 50s, early 60s maybe, speak with despair on the loss of the idea of gentlemanly behavior has sort of brought it up in my head.

Her thoughts - that communism was so isolating, people were living such individualistic lives, distrust and despair were all consuming, that manners took such a side road during that era they've been lost - and now the generations raised without those concepts are raising their own children without those ideas even floating around in the atmosphere and the idea of a czech gentleman is now a part of the czech mythology.

I wouldn't take it quite that far.

I will comment on the fact that people here do not understand waiting in lines or taking turns. On a crowded bus, while seats will be offered to the elderly, it's not uncommon for people to stand in the middle of the aisle blocking oncoming passengers from additional standing room and empty seats - or to set their bags on the empty chairs and block the aisle and take up lots of the available space... room can be so scarce that the bus leaves people standing on the street!

However, there are a few cultural differences that I was initially confused by - the only one I can think of at this exact moment:

Men go first - through a door, in to a room, entering a bar or restaurant - it's the man! I had noticed this, and just chalked it up to rudeness or lack of awareness, but it's actually the opposite. The man enters in order to 'scope out' the room and make sure any unruly customers are aware that the woman following is with him, under his protection, and shouldn't be leared or commented at... old school gentleman stuff!

Wow, that's almost like knight in shining arm type chivalry!

Apples, apples everywhere...

I am something of a teacher over here - english exposure for little kids, conversational english for adults.

One my of my younger adult students, he's 18, in his final year of gymnazium, is one of the few gentlemen I've encountered so far - some of this may have to do with our different cultural perceptions of what constitutes a gentlemen, but some of it, not so much... even the czech women don't really think that a czech gentleman exists. I'm going to tell you otherwise...

Mark (a totally anglicized and butchered american corruption of his name) is my youngest adult student. He always comes early, sits and talks during our breaks, and after the first class noticed I take the tram. He then asked if he could travel with me, and so after class he waits for me to finish locking up, and then stands at the tram stop with me. We board together, he gets off at my stop with me, he waits for my bus, and after I leave he walks around the corner and gets in a car that's waiting for him - he doesn't know I know that last bit, but I've watched it happen from inside the bus.

After a few lessons, and pleasant conversation during our transit, he mentioned he has apple trees. He's started bringing me huge bags of apples and nuts each week - HUGE bags!! If you walked in to Safeway and grabbed a pre-packaged bag of apples that would be maybe a third of the size of the bags he brings me. He carries them in his backpack, and then carries them for me on the tram, on up until I board my bus. This last week he even brought me homemade apple juice - I've never had anything that tastes like it, the tangy tartness and the sweet thick wholeness you get in the best apple juices... Coral and I both love it!

In the meantime I am overloaded with apples, so if you have any fantastic apple recipes, please pass them on. We've only made applesauce and a version of apple crisp so far.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My super duper cold

I've been sick with a head cold for weeks now. It's been driving me bonkers, but I've been muddling through (seriously, muddling is the most appropriate word I can think of right now) hoping it would go away.

It hasn't. I've tried 4 different kinds of cold medicine hoping for some sort of relief. Anything to stop the runny, sneezy nose and sore throat, and give me a clear head. Nothing until Monday night. A friend brought me back some Nyquil from Canada and I found some Cold-RX which at least stops the sniffles. Which is good because it was Sunday night that I gave up hope.

You see, Sunday night I went out with some new friends. And I obviously had a cold - I mentioned it's lasting for EVER, and the guy (he's been here 9 years) said, 'yeah, most people get it, and it's your body adjusting to the new germs here.' He had it when he first came, and it lasted for 3 years. My boss at the adult school has had it for 2 years - and I've already mentioned that it seems like everyone here is sick all the time. I guess I've joined them, rank and file.

Which is not the way I wanted to be included, thank you very much. I would have preferred to be embraced by one and all rather than have everyone avoid me as I'm the newest victim of the plague.

And the kid is fine.

It's supposed to snow on Thursday. And it's raining today.

P.S. - Mom - I got your package Monday - thank you so much for the chicken noodle soup (and everything else)! I was going to say you have no idea how timely it is, but if you're reading this far down my post I assume you do! I love you!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

7:30 on a Sunday morning??? How did I manage to do all this already???

This weekend the kid went on retreat with her school - I'm assuming she's having a great time, but haven't heard a word from her (that may be because she ran out of phone credit right before they left and wasn't able to top off, but there are other phones available to her out there).

Knowing there was a retreat scheduled from Friday through Monday I thought I had a weekend to myself - and so when asked if I could work the Sunday shift at school I agreed. It's a holiday week at school, the Czechoslovak Republic Independence Day - dating back to 1918... and so the regular staff is gone.

I went to a birthday party last night and had a great time. I got home early and went to bed knowing I had to get up early and work this am. My alarm went off shortly after 6 and another half hour or so later I was in the tub. Dressed and out the door about 7:45 as I need at least that long to get to school with the super slow Sunday transit.

At some point I noticed the clock on the computer said 5:50 while my phone and kitchen clock said 6:50. I thought about it for half a second and then attributed it to my computer acting up and doing crazy things - which it currently it.

So, I made my way down to the bus station bright and early in the thick, freezing morning fog, hopped on the first bus and met the metro. Got off the metro and went to stand for the tram - where there's another clock, reading 7:25, while my phone says 8:25... on and off the tram and I'm out in Mala Strana square - which was boarded up and deserted. I started walking towards school and then decided to stop for a cup of coffee. In McDonalds - they're different over here, and have decent coffee, and it was the only place open.

There was another customer who came in just after me, and the time discrepancy was starting to bother me. I asked him, the man with an Irish accent, the time, and he told me just about 7:30 and I know I looked confused - he smiled, and I said, oh, thanks... he kept smiling and said - yeah, the clocks changed during the night.

I was at work at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.

So I sat down with my coffee and read in the McDonalds - which started to fill up. Closer to 8, a little after, actually, I went in and opened up my school. I sat down at the computer and tried to log on.

The system wouldn't let me. I tried over and over with variations of my username and password, the reception username and various passwords around the desk, and nothing worked. It still wasn't 8:30 yet so I didn't want to bother the regular people who are all out on vacation, but after I while I texted, asking for the reception password. I got it!

And by that time I'd tried too many times and have now locked myself - and the regular Monday morning crew - out of the system! The administrator has to come back and fix it.

So, I've borrowed one of the faculty laptops from the storage unit I'm presently in charge of, and am sitting here writing this. It's now nearly 10 am and people are starting to show up...

Somehow I've managed to really mess up the course of the morning and the school computer system before it was even 9... which I'm taking to mean I've gotten out all my bad luck for the day and am looking forward to the rest of it being fantastic! Which is awesome cause I have a lot of reading and writing over the next few hours, followed by a meet-up with some of my new-found friends... more on them later!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bummer!! Delayed, but not denied - that's a plus, right?

So, my friend, Elisabeth, was supposed to arrive today. She's been in Italy for a bit, after attending a wedding there. She got to the airport, checked in, checked her luggage, and then, when she got to the gate prior to the scheduled closing time, and well before take off, not only was it closed, all the counters were deserted too!!

It appears that her luggage may have made it here, but she sure didn't! She's stuck in Rome, without a flight here at this exact moment... and no recourse either - at least not tonight.

Hopefully she'll be given another ticket over, and if not then she'll be buying one for tomorrow (fingers crossed) and will reconnect with her clothes, and us, in the evening.

Bummer!!

On the plus side - she missed a drizzly dreary day that would have involved lugging her stuff all over historic Prague trying to locate me at work... it was lousy! And my new shoes, the ones I got at home, which I love, are NOT meant to be worn when traversing wet or slick walkways... I slid in the metro, on the escalator, in the tram, and slid and fell when approaching an intersection - that one was a little scary but fortunately I didn't fall in front of a car - but I did hit someone with a full water bottle when it flew out of my hand on the way down!

And one more plus - apparently she is the answer to every Italian male's dream and has enjoyed the attention and overtures - the Czech men are as emotive as a blank cement well. The people my age and up do not initiate conversation and rarely make eye contact unless and until you interact with each other quite a few times on some sort of regular and semi-intimate basis ( a clerk at the coffee stand is not enough, a student's parent, after a few weeks, will smile - or at least acknowledge you without a furrowed brow). It is a major cultural difference. Even younger Czechs will frequently admonish the American students with what appears to me to be innocuous questions, saying "That's rather personal" and then shutting down the conversation.

I hope the difference isn't too drastic, but after spending a few weeks with attractive successful men loudly proclaiming their interest and affection she may feel an acutely bitter chill in the air. Which, combined with the rain will make for a lovely and heartwarming reception! Oh boy!!!

A journalist's review

Here's a link to an article on this year's Forum 2000. I happened to attend every panel the journalist was at (and think I shared an after lunch beer with her as well - provided by the Forum) and met and/or listened to every individual she interviewed or photographed... and if I didn't mention it before, I have a new found respect for chess players - Gary Kasparov rocks!! He's incredibly intelligent, personable, in touch with his emotions (moved to tears at one point during the day), and really funny! I always thought a chess grandmaster would be really dry and analytical, like an accountant or an engineer, or something.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Monday evening

I had my adult english class Monday night - it was great! I had another new student, and everyone laughed and talked and it was lovely. At the end of the class one of my students offered to give me a ride home - fantastic! I'd spent my day at the forum and hadn't had time to run home and get my coat so was stuck wearing a light weight jacket and thin top - totally insufficient for the weather! I was so excited, until he asked me -

Where do you live?

And I opened my mouth to answer and said - I don't know. EVERYONE started laughing!

One woman offered, well you live in Prague 10, right? And I said yes, but I don't know how to get there! Everyone laughed again!

I explained, I only know the bus routes and I don't drive, and haven't really been here that long - and I don't really know where we are, either. So, they started asking me questions and finally the group figured out where I live and then Karel gave me a ride home, and it was a great end to an incredible day!

Another famous singer!

It turns out not only do I teach the kid of the famous singer who's a bit older than me, but there is another celebrity parent at my school, too. Which is really funny cause I'd sort of pegged him as someone who was of the avant garde - he manner of dress was rather distinctive, funky like, and his super thin t-shirt was so holey around the back and shoulders that a business man guy would never considering wearing it... but he was funky and floppy and comfortable so I figured artist or musician... and it was musician. Again, didn't catch the name of the band, but he's my age and they're famous and supposed to be really really good. I'll have to check them out as well!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Vicente Fox rocks!

So does Ondrej Liska, Robert Menard, Gary Kasparov, Alyaksandar Milinkevich, Don McKinnon, Irshad Manji, Tomas Etzler, Wladuslaw Bartoszewski, Anastaisa Crickley, Andre Glucksman, and Vaclav Havel!!!

These were some of the people I'm sure you've not really heard of - Vicente Fox, the former President of Mexico, and Gary Kapsarov, a chess Grandmaster and opposition leader in Russia being the possible exceptions - who I was fortunate to hear speak today. They were awesome. Some of you may remember Irshad Manji from a few years back. She wrote a book targeted at her fellow Muslim youth that drew cries of outrage and death threats from the more fundamental Muslim community... she's awesome!! One of the more animated speakers today, and, like everyone else I had the privilege to listen to was incredibly knowledgeable and informative! I will be checking out her book soon - by her request I'll get it at the library - if you're able to read arabic she's had it translated and posted on her website for free so that the Muslims youth who read only arabic would be able to download and disseminate it amongst their peers. She's about spreading and informing and not too interested in the profit aspect - also she's a professor at NYU if you happen to have a kid considering colleges...

This forum held it's 12th conference. It was founded by Vaclav Havel, the last Czechoslovakian President and the first Czech Republic President, he is credited with bringing about the Velvet Revolution and freeing the Czechs from the grips of communism, along with Yohei Sasakawa, a Japanese philanthropist, and Elie Weisel, the author, Holocaust survivor, and activist. There were a number of Holocaust survivors on the panels I attended, and other survivors from nations whose governments either practice or tolerate ethnic cleansing - currently practice or tolerate ethnic cleansing.

It was amazing. Words are insufficient. Journalists, sociologists, ambassadors, religious leaders, spiritual leaders, world leaders, opposition leaders, philosophers, former Presidents and Prime Ministers, and in the audience were the same.... and representatives from the UN, governmental delegates, activists, and, like me, observers.

There were tremendous meals and the opportunity to meet and speak with those you were most interested in talking to. The setting was ideal, the day idyllic - in a gorgeous palace on a lush island in the Vlatva with a surprisingly beautiful blue sky and warm sun. The event was catered to the nines with drinks and snacks and a three course lunch - for free.

The entire thing was free.

It was spectacular. One of the more moving events I've ever attended. I can't wait for next year!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Single/Singer

Apparently one of the 2 boys in my Tuesday/Thursday afternoon pre-school class is the son of a very famous Czech musician. I don't have a clue who he is, but the other teacher was trying to tell me, and what I've gotten out of it - he's a bit older than me and d one of the more famous rock stars in the country.

We got there after a long delay - here's why:

The kid is really sweet and adorable - quite engaged and eager to play. He makes an effort and is active in the class. I enjoy having him around. The teacher made some comment which I heard to be, "His papa is single."

And I started laughing pretty hard, thinking that she was trying to set me up with a parent. And she kept saying, "No, really he's single, famous, single."

She was trying to tell me he's a singer. A famous singer. A happily married famous singer.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Some Serious Nuns

Prague is a religious hotspot! Not that anything great in the christian church's history happened here (at least not that I'm aware of) but because after so many year under so many restrictions with the freedom of religion they now have it's like the last heretical frontier in the developed world!!

I see the Watchtower people at every major metro station - and there are Mormons everywhere!!! The cross section of fundamental missionaries tied to CISP is over whelming - and it goes on and on...

However the funniest ones - the ones that bring a smile to my face every time I catch a glimpse are the nuns.

The nuns here wear a full habit - the long black dresses, the crosses hanging low on their breasts, the white wings on their cap with the flowing black cloth covering their hair, the practical black coats... and combat boots. Sturdy, practical, utilitarian. Combat boots.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Alternative plans for Monday

This is where I will be next Monday. Yes, I am planning on cutting class, but in the furtherance of my education - sounds oxymoronic but it isn't.

Some of the socioligists and various theorists we've been studying, some of the few still living that is, will be appearing at Forum 2000 which only lasts a few days. I was able to get a spot at all the panels I requested and am really looking forward to the experience. To see what I'm talking about you can click here. And don't worry, if it pops up in czech you can select the english option in the upper right hand corner.

To get an idea of the people who will be there you can click right here. Although the Dali Lama is confirmed and listed I understand he is ill and so don't expect him to be there.

I'll be attending panels on Faiths and Fanaticisms, The Powerful and the Powerless, and Modernity without Democracy which will be featuring Vicente Fox, former President of Mexico, the former PM of Russia, a few Secretaries of State, a couple of opposition leaders (I know Burma and Zimbabwe and can't remember where else), and a number of other people. It should be really interesting.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Plagued by the poopers in Prague Part 2: Pre-school

I started my afternoon pre-school job today - way different part of town, very different school... the kids are much younger and have virtually no exposure to english and I was left alone with them for about 45 minutes without a czech teacher or any other supervision... crazy! The physical set up of the school is totally different too.

Fortunately there are a lot less students in this program - my main school can have 20 kids show up easily, and this school I only had 5 to deal with... or maybe make that 4 as one boy removed himself and refused to participate in anything.

I thought we weren't communicating for obvious reasons - I speak and understand only english and he speaks and understands only czech. When the other teacher showed up she let me know I was wrong.

Apparently he doesn't really speak czech either. It's his native language but he doesn't speak, as in form sentences to communicate, he does a kind of babyish babble still. And apparently he's not potty trained either. He pooped.

We had to call his Mom to come get him.

Throughout the afternoon he refused to engage in conversation with me or the other children. He wouldn't participate in the games or activities and wouldn't ask either of us for what he wanted but would rather grab a finger and grunt and pull and point at whatever it was. I'd reach for what I though he wanted and he'd grunt at me some more to let me know that wasn't what he wanted... and this was before he knew I didn't speak czech.

I felt rather bad for the little boy. He was obviously too young to be in preschool - size and age he was in line with the other children but his maturity and development levels just don't match. When his mother showed up she changed him and cleaned him up and then explained to the head teacher that he won't use the toilets there as he only likes to use his little potty chair at home. The teacher reviewed the school rules as they'd not yet had a chance to do so and they went on their way.

Afterwards the teacher let me know they would take him for up to one month (provided there wasn't a repeat of today, which would end in an earlier termination) and then explain to the Mom that he's not ready for the school. She was ready and wanted to tell her that today but thought the Mom might think it was just because he pooped his pants. While that definitely contributed to her frustration that's not the reason.

Even though it was his first day it seems pretty clear that if the child is not yet at a level where he can put together sentences or at least effectively communicate he's not ready to be in a classroom focused on verbal interaction and group activities as a means of learning. Unfortunately that class is focused on heavy verbal interaction, group games and play, and following directions.

This school only has an afternoon english program, so the kids who attend either come over from another school where they attend in the morning or they come from home. The other school, my main preschool, is an all day program and much more flexible with younger children who don't really follow along - they have more instructors and more activities... more options in general and we're able to break them down in to groups of different abilities and maturity.

The school today has a very clear agenda and guidelines - each child should be able to communciate with set phrases in a question and response setting by the end of the week. For this week they need to be able to properly identify red, yellow, blue, and green in english, as well as respond to the question - What is your name? Next week is actually scheduled to be the same topic, with more colors added, as the students are still joining (school only opened yesterday).

Monday, October 6, 2008

Thoughts on the financial crisis

I have a thought and am interested in what the greater impact would be – so if you’re an economist type person get back to me please…

The banks are failing. People are facing a financial crisis unseen since the Great Depression. Our government is funding a recovery plan for banking organizations with the hope the effect will trickle down to the mainstream citizens. How about this:

The average American has about $9,200 in credit card debt. The drop in market prices has led to people paying more than half their income to cover their mortgage on homes that have been seriously devalued.

With the governmental subsidies, and keeping in mind the high rate of forclosures and debt default, the bank can afford to cut some slack in order to allow the average citizen to get a firm footing in our volatile economy and alleviate fears of financial disaster.

First – for homeowners, those who are the midst of a bankruptcy they should immediately be allowed to reduce the value of their mortgage which was intended to be secure and is held by any banking institution receiving governmental aid or intervention to the actual value of the property.

Second – any homeowner who has a mortgage held by any banking institution benefiting from governmental aid or intervention should be able, upon their petition to the lender, have their mortgage adjusted to reflect the value of their property, and it should be open to readjustment should the property value increase over the next 5 years, not to exceed the amount of the original mortgage.

Third – any banking institution benefiting from governmental aid or intervention should immediately reduce any unsecured credit account according to their market share proportion for the first $9,200 of credit held by any individual customer.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Oh my God - you're like...!!!

Re-visiting some more boys in the computer lab, but later in the evening...

Somehow some sort of conversation started amongst the undergrads in the room of which I was marginally a participant - I was also watching comedy central on-line, so not really focused on their talk.

I don't really remember what they were talking about, but at some point I made a reference to my kid, and the guys were surprised I had a kid. I made some off the cuff remark about, yeah, she's not that much younger than you - and they all laughed, and one guy turned to me and said - "What - are you like 35?"

Not, 'What are you - like 35?' with 35 being the number of his actual guess, but much rather, 'What - (insert little laugh) are you like 35?' with 35 being just a ridiculous number.

Well, I am 35, so I said, "Yeah, I am."

And he didn't believe me. He thought I was joking too. And he and the other American questioned me again - and again I answered truthfully - to which I got

"Oh my God - you're like a dinosaur!"

Joking of course, but now joking aside, despite the few antiquities jokes that followed it was rather nice to have developed a dynamic with the frequent lab attendees where the're comfortable enough to joke around, knowing I can take it.

That, and I totally appreciated that they followed it up with - I thought she was 25 at the most!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Forum 2000 - hanging with the Dali Lama

More details later - but it's the weekend after this... and I'm planning on being there. So is the Dali Lama and a number of other concerned world activists and social theorists and great thinkers of this age...

(One of these things is not like the other.... wish I could say I belong, but I'll be observing. )

The forum is free. Talks on urgent and incredibly important world issues.

Boys are so lame!

I taught my first adult english class last night, and it went very well.

I had my second day of pre-school today and that was great as well.

Tonight I worked in the university computer lab - and it was super lame! Two guys, men by age and appearance, boys in all other respects, had a conflict today - they're friendly and so were sitting next to each other, but ended up arguing. Unfortunately, from my perspective, it was a huge misunderstanding - or rather mis-interpretation due to cultural differences.

They both agreed not to talk to each other but kept arguing about who was still talking - and ended up taking it outside. Which to me and the other American in the room meant they were going to fight - and to the Brit involved too, I believe. But to the Czech it was a chance for him to speak freely and verbally resolve the situation - in his version of freely and verbal resolutaion which meant more that he was trying to force his views on the Brit whose behavior he found so offensive.

There was still a lot of tension and it got heated so some of the other guys in the lab got up to make sure they didn't start fighting - one because they shouldn't, and two because they were standing on a small walkway with a very low railing, and it would be a horrid place for a physical confrontation.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yes. No. Eat!

I had my first day as a pre-school teacher yesterday. It went pretty well. I like the kids, most of them are very well behaved. One little girl was sick and one little girl had a birthday. It's pretty interesting - discipline is SO VERY DIFFERENT! I'll get in to that with more detail when I have a firmer grasp on it.

They serve the kids snack, lunch, and an afternoon snack. Some of the kids don't like the food. Yuko, the other english speaking instructor helped me out a bit - she had done something I was doing...

The little kids would say something like "Me no like" or some of them "I don't like this" or some of them would mumble something knowing I don't understand czech. I would respond along the lines " You don't like it? Yes, ok, you can get up then" and smile. And they wouldn't move and wouldn't look very happy. So I would say, "Yes, you can get up now." And then wait but the wouldn't move, so I figured they didn't know what I was saying, and would scoot their chair for them and repeat, "You can get up now".

There was a little boy who wasn't behaving. He kept hitting another boy and when I would ask him to stop he would point his fingers in my face and shoot me. I would take his hand and hold it and say, "No, I really don't like it when you do that, please stop." And he'd shoot me over and over and over again. It was rather annoying, and I would repeat myself, "No, you need to stop that. I don't like it when you shoot me." But to no avail.

Here's what I forgot - there is a word in czech that sounds like NO. That word is YES. (The word for yes is actually ano, which sounds like 'uh, no', but is often just shortened to 'no'.) So I was actually telling him, yes everytime he'd hit or shoot me.

And YES is actually a word too (there is where Yuko clued me in). It is the command form of EAT, it's the form you would only use with a child or a dog and not an adult. So all those children who were asking me to be excused were being told EAT! and then you can get up.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Some kooky KIddo Castle pics

We went to the castle this weekend and it was tremendous. It happened to be St. Wenceslas's day which is also a national holiday - that meant admission to the Church was free (I didn't know that). We still bought tickets as there are a lot of other exhibits, a few art galleries, and some fascinating tours. We didn't get to see even half of it. I really recommend coming early in the day with comfy shoes, a light sweater, bottled water, camera, extra batteries, and either getting an english tour guide or renting the audio machine for the english guided walks.

The tour guide is probably better, but definitely more expensive. We didn't do either - we just wandered around and listened to different guides when we happened to meet up with them. I know there will be plenty of other times we'll take the tours - and complete the tour of the castle complex - and most likely within a year or so I will be able to offer a tour to my houseguests - but there's so much information right now that I couldn't possibly retain it.

The main Church does not have any english inside - you will see tremendous historical information, creations of such beauty, and truly awe inspiring works of art - and not have a clue exactly what it is you're looking at. Some of the other buildings do have information in english as well as czech.

They have pottery fragments from 5000+ BC and intact pottery from 2500 BC - from the area. There are burial robes from various saints and kings, and chain mail, and daggers over a thousand years old. It was fascinating. This is the second time we've been up there, and the second time we had to leave due to exhaustion and sensory overload. You can really spend a few days just touring the castle complex.

Our camera died way too early. We'll be back up there soon and take more pictures then...

(Right now the pics won't load so I'll get them up another time)

A few tasty food items

The picture of the caesar salad prompted me to take a few more pics of the foods we eat here... so here are some gyros -the kidl's new favorite food - and the goulash she had at the castle. I tried to take pic of my potato- bake (we'd call it a casserole) thingy from the castle, too - it tasted like smoked potatoes with ham and spongy melted cheese which sounds horrid but was deliciously good - but the batteries died as I took the goulash photo.

We were super amused by this particular gyro stand - they gave us forks, as most of them do, but look at the size!!!



My computer lab workspace

Here are some pics from my computer lab job - there are two looking out the window/door to the courtyard on the left - those are the ones with the cars. In the one with the railing on the left side, the restaurant I get the caesar salad from is on the ground floor, in the pic with the railing on the upper right side, under the arch is where the entrance is, and the school library.

In the pic with a door, that is the entrance to the Knights of Malta Church - I don't know the official name, but that's what it is. A lot of tourists come in and out throughout the day. In that courtyard there is an art gallery and an antique shop as well.

The pic with the computers - that's the computer lab. Duh.




Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dog Poo, People Poo

Two things I'm not sure I mentioned:

One - there is dog poo everywhere. People will say, oh, just like Paris - NO nothing like Paris - the stench is unreal, and I do mean everywhere. Not so much in our district as the downtown area - it's horrible, you really have to watch the sidewalk or you'll step in it.

Two - We've had an occurence with our neighbor across the hall when he was, well, inebriated. His Mom kicked him out - literally, physically, he was put in a headlock and shoved out of the apartment. He then spent hours and hours hollering and buzzing at the door for them to let him in... we managed to fall asleep that weeknight, but only after midnight.

How did these two totally unconnected things happen to be raised, as if they had some importance?

Well, the neighbor, or maybe the neighbor's friend, showed up just before noon today, buzzing us, buzzing them, and finally gaining admittance to the building - and then buzzing the door across the hall. He went in and out and was trying to get back in and calling and talking and hollering, and we were in our apartment preparing to leave for the day.

I had to check through our peep hole a few times as our door was buzzed and it sounded like someone was knocking, but he was just drunk and stumbling and knocking in to things.

Not thrilled.

Unfortunately, not the worst of it either.

At some point in time he had an accident. That's the nice way of putting it, and as I know family reads this I'm letting you know to skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid a more graphic description. Skip down now... The guy shit himself and then walked around the hall, stumbling, grinding it in to the carpet and our doormat.

For the family version... He went #2 in the hallway and didn't clean it up.

We were leaving and opened the door as the door across the hall was opening to the drunk - and there was an instant recoil on my part as the smell hit me. We had to regroup and plan our exit strategy and then we made it out - we spent hours and hours up at Prague Castle today - photos and more details later - and then started dreading coming home.

Apparently, with good reason.

Six hours later and they've not cleaned up. Not at all.

Gross stuff again so skip to the next paragraph if you want to avoid it....NOW... fortunately it's dried a little so the smell isn't so immediately nausea inducing.

I am at a loss and frustrated. And disgusted.

Just this morning the kid had mentioned how much she loved our apartment and we were discussing how much we loved being here, and had no desire to move.

The yuckiness must stop.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Life is on the mend.

Well, I haven't broken any more doors - although I seem to have acquired a klutziness factor - I keep knocking things over, which didn't make me to many friends in the market... and electronics are spluttering at me... but no permanent harm!

We still don't have enough keys to the apartment, but we can get in and out so that's good.

Tonight I am going to my first MEETinPRAGUE event. I tried to get a little dressed up for it this morning when I was getting ready for work. I think I look nice, I hope I look nice, and if the evening is a success I will have someone take a picture with me in it (I brought my camera)and will post it later, attached to this specific post.

I have been trying to figure out how to get to the meeting place, and while I think I'm pretty sure how to get there, after my experience the other day of buses and trams not being where they should I'm just a little hesitant going anyplace new.

So, if I get lost tonight here's a link to where you should send a search party Riegrovy Sady Beer Garden. The link is actually another blog, written by an American, I presume, who writes the food reviews for one the English language papers in town.

I think I'm meeting up with a few of the people I've met so far - but I'm not positive. Some of them are apparently very particular and not happy it's an outdoor event since it's been so cold lately - even though it's just about gorgeous out right now!

I'll get back with a review of the evening after it's over.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Did I somehow jinx myself???

It is 11:38 am as I sit down to write this.

In the past 36 hours we've had problems with the doors, the kid has caught a cold, and I lived through this morning. As the day is not yet half way over I wish I could just take a long nap and sleep through the rest of whatever it is fate has in store for me.

I got up at 6:15 today in order to make my 8:00 am appointment at the pre-school. I carefully plotted out my route last night, on-line, and confirmed it this morning before I left. I gave myself half an hour to make a 15 minutes two bus trip to the metro station we were to meet at.

I started off right.

The world did not cooperate.

I got on and off my bus at the appropriate stops. When I went to catch the second bus there was a problem. It wasn't there. The bus did not go to the bus stop I was at, the bus stop the transit site told me to get off at. So I tried to find other bus stops in the immediate area - there were quite a few. I got on the bus and then realized and then when it stopped and everyone had to get out I figured out I had got on the wrong bus. I couldn't see the next bus stop right away, but I found one and walked over to read the route - I had found bus the right bus but it was going the wrong direction.

There was quite a crowd waiting and I could not see the correct bus stop anywhere - I asked a woman for help, in czech, 'excuse me please, where ' and that's all I got out before she looked at me and sort of spit out ' I don't know, I don't know' and turned away. Everyone else turned away too. So far from helpful, but her refusal to even let me finish my question really made me mad and rubbed in how helpless I was feeling at that moment.

I walked around trying to find the right bus stop and I found one - and then I got on the wrong bus - on purpose this time. Instead of going to the metro station I wanted it was going to a different metro - I got off on that metro as it was only one stop away from the station I needed to be, and it was the fastest way for me to get where I needed to be.

AND THEN - I got on the metro going the wrong direction. So I got off that metro at the next stop and got back on the correct direction and got off and met my boss and another new teacher in the middle of the metro station.

I spent a few hours at school, observing and playing with the kids, and then I left - with a mission.

When the man replaced the lock yesterday he only gave me one key - obviously we need another as the kid needs to be able to come and go at will. I took the red line metro, transferred to another line, the green line which is our home line, and went past out stop to the next in order to get to the one place I know of where they make keys. I got off the metro and walked to Tesco through the mud - yes, it's still raining today - and went upstairs to get some copies made.

Apparently when I went to buy the kid cold medicine last night, I took my dictionary and phrase book out of my purse - which I realized when I went to request new keys. We managed to get through that and he understood how many copies I wanted. He took the key and started grinding a new one.

And then he stopped after just one key (I wanted extras). It seems that he doesn't have the right size keys for my housekey and so wasn't able to make a copy after all.

I don't know of any other key makes, can't find my book, and am tired after having had a stressful morning - and hoping I wasn't about to get fired for being so late to the metro. The kid texted me, which I didn't get until a moment ago - she can't find her housekeys. While she doesn't have a key to get in the apartment she does have a key to get in the building... but not right now as they're lost.

I'm tired and now I have to get ready to go to work. And I have to find a new key guy too.