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.


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


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.