I’m a bit more than a bit delayed in posting this. My sincere apologies; we’ll blame it on jet lag?
It hit me somewhere over Greenland. All of a sudden, I looked out the window and I started to cry. Honestly, I’m a little surprised the crying didn’t start as soon as the plane took off in Prague, but it could just be that I fell asleep.
It hit me that I was leaving. No, that I was gone.
That everything that has happened for the last nine months was over. That the family I had been living with was no longer my family, and that the kids I watched grow up every single day would keep growing up. That next time I see them, it will be in one, two, five, ten, who knows how many years, and they will be completely different.
That they will come home tonight (well, I suppose they’ve already gotten home, at this point) and they will realize that I’m not there. Because even though we explained to them, and I think Emma understood, I know Jachym had no idea. He saw my bags, but I’ve packed before. I went to France, and I went to Turkey, and I went to Italy, and every time I had a bag. Every time he watched me throw clothes all over my room and fold them and pack them and unpack them and refold them and repack them. And all of that happened again. Sure, this was the first time everything was getting packed, but what does that really mean to a four year old? I dropped him off at preschool today.
It will be the last time I ever do that.
I braided Emma’s hair this morning, and it’ll be the last time I ever do that. By the time I get back, she’ll have grown out of the desire to have someone do her hair every morning, or maybe she’ll have learned how to French braid her own hair.
I said goodbye to Filip yesterday like I do every morning, just a simple “Ahoj!” as I headed out the door. I didn’t know he was going on another business trip to Moscow, or that I wouldn’t see him again before I hopped on a plane. At least I got to say a proper goodbye to Anna. But how do you say a proper goodbye to someone who opened her home and her kitchen to you for nine months? How can you possibly thank her properly.
And I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone at CIEE. I didn’t even see Veronika, who was the most stable, most helpful person I met over the entire nine months. She saw every single one of my breakdowns while I was in Prague – she is the only person who saw any of my breakdowns while I was in Prague. She may, in fact, have seen as many of my breakdowns as my mother has in my whole life. (Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration – I’ve had more than a couple breakdowns with my mom.)
But Veronika also went out for beer with me and went to the theater with me and is front and center of all my favorite lunches in Prague. She was the one I sent postcards when I went on vacation from my vacation, and she was the one I came to see when I got back. Needless to say, Veronika was a big part of my time in Prague and I didn’t even get to give her a hug goodbye.
Nor did I get to say goodbye to Martina. My very best Czech friend, even though she’s actually Slovak. We went our separate ways on Friday, with the expectation of hanging out Saturday night. But life intervened, and here I am. On a plane over Greenland, and I never said goodbye.
I tried telling Holly that it doesn’t matter. That you don’t have to say goodbye to everyone that mattered to you. If they were important to you over the time you were in Prague, then they know that. You’ll stay in touch, and that last goodbye won’t make or break the relationship you remember, or the relationship you’ll have in the future. And even if I think that’s true (and I don’t necessarily think that’s true), it doesn’t change the fact that it sucks to leave without saying goodbye.
At least I got to say goodbye to the city. I got to take a last wander through the streets, to smile at the tourists lost or drunk or simply confused by the mazes, to take a final walk along the river with my camera, to take a few final pictures of the castle I saw at least twice a day on my way to and from school.
I liked living in a city with a castle. That hit me somewhere over Greenland too.
On April 15, 2013, two Chechen men – boys, really – planted a backpack with a bomb in it at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Today, April 21, 2014, is Marathon Monday again. I wasn’t at the Marathon last year, but it threw me all the same. I was supposed to be there, and I had friends running the Marathon. I had friends nearing the finish line when the bomb went off, who didn’t get to finish the race they’d been training all year for. But at the same time, I had friends who were just a little off their expected pace and as a result, my friends survived.
No-one I knew was one of the three people tragically killed last year, although they did number among the 264 injured. People I knew posted online to volunteer spots on the floors of their houses for runners who couldn’t get home because of the transportation shut downs. People I knew went to donate blood, and some of my close friends were the first to start the social media actions among Tufts students to make sure all our classmates were safe and sound. People I knew were part of the movement that proved just how true the saying Boston Strong really is.
I’m not going to pretend I know what it was like to be on the finish line that day, and I’m not going to say I can identify with the people that saw that tragedy first hand. But it is impossible to be someone who was in Boston that day and to be unaffected by it. To be someone who woke up multiple times to notices from Tufts Police telling us not to leave our dorms, or to be someone who sat side by side with her friends glued to the TV screen, watching and waiting to see if the terror was moving closer to us. Everyone in the greater Boston area was affected by that horror. But all of us are moving on.
I told myself that very day that I was going to run the Boston Marathon because of the bombing. Because the bombing was a terrorism act intended to fill the city with fear. There is no way to know why the bombs were set, or what was intended to come as a result, but I know that I’m not one to cower in fear. So I said I would run the Marathon. And dozens of other people said the same thing.
This year, the Marathon has the second largest number of runners in its 118-year history – 36,000 runners. And though I can’t run with them, I’m with them in spirit. I’m rooting especially for the Tufts Marathon Team, and all the other Jumbos that are running the Marathon for the second time this year, and who are actually going to get the satisfaction of crossing the finish line.
I’m rooting for everyone that ran last year and then ran on to donate blood. I’m rooting for everyone running this year because of last year’s tragedy, and I’m rooting for everyone running in spite of it. If I was in Boston, I’d be running it too (and that says a lot coming from a self-proclaimed anti-runner. Although I ran again this morning, so…)
As horrible and frightening as the bombing was, it proved the strength of the Boston community. It proved that the Boston community has spread all around the world, literally. Boston Strong made it all the way to Prague, and made it back this year. The greater Boston region, the United States, and the world as a whole have united around the runners of this Marathon and every marathon, and the runners are staying Strong. Today and for years to come.
I have exactly one month between today and my day of departure. One month to do all the things I still want to do in Prague before I head out. One month to write all my papers (yikes!), one month to make as much progress as I possibly can in my Czech, one month to finish my time with my new friends.
It is crazy to think that I’ve already been in Prague for almost eight months, or to think that I’m almost done with my time here. It is crazy to think that my year of romping around Europe is soon to come to a close. It is crazy to think that in the next 30 days, I’m taking a 4 day trip to Italy and a 4 day trip to Malta and a weekend trip to grandma’s house. Which means that, though I have 4 full weeks left, 4 full weekends left, I only have one weekend left in Prague.
At the same time, I look back on what I’ve already done in Prague and I am amazed. The people I’ve met, the places I’ve been, and the things I’ve done and learned over the last (almost) eight months is truly incredible. I don’t want to write a super-sappy “my study abroad was awesome” post, because I’ll write that one month from now. But I do think that it is important to note that I have only one month left of this amazing experience, and to remind myself to make the most of the opportunities I’ve got left.
I just read an interesting article about the use of “dumbphones” in my generation. A generation so intent on advanced technology and constantly being connected and the internet and … oh my god. Sometimes, I get tired of it.
I made the decision, seven months ago when I came to Prague, to leave my iPhone at home. Part of my decision was that I assumed my parents would give it to my brother (it is technically their phone, after all…) Part of my decision was because my phone wasn’t unlocked, didn’t have an externally accessible SIM card, and I’m not about to pay the roaming fees. Part of my decision, if I’m being honest, was because I wanted to know if I could survive without a smartphone.
I’m always that person that looks stuff up. I LOVE googling stuff. Literally any time a conversation back in the States included a question, I’d whip out my phone and look it up. I like facts, I like statistics, I like having all the information to influence my opinions and conversations. Even here, when I’m on or near my computer, I google stuff. Just today, in the ten minutes before my class started, I looked up the budget of Radio Free Europe (approx. 90 million USD), Radio Free Asia, the history of NPR’s finances (in the 70’s, it was entirely government funded, by the 80’s it was being weaned off, today it is fully funded by local stations and their listeners), and the horrendous acronyms we use in our daily life (think the USA PATRIOT act…). But when I’m out and about in the city, I can’t look stuff up.
I can’t search the history of a particular church I’m walking by or the hours of my favorite cafe. In a lot of ways, I miss that. I miss being able to pull out my phone and search for a fact, or look up directions, or double check that my friends aren’t running late.
But in just as many ways, I am glad that I’ve done it. Since I don’t have my phone to save me when I’m lost, I wander. I find new spots in the city that I never would have found if I hadn’t been completely turned around. The first month or so of the year, I carried my map around with me. If I got lost, I whipped it out, found a street name, figured out where I was, where I was going, and how to get there. And then, once I felt confident enough in my ability to understand directions in Czech (or at least, the first one!), I started leaving the map at home and asking for directions if I needed them. I still carried my tram map around for months, but now I don’t even need that. Since I don’t have my phone to tell me where I need to go, I figure it out for myself. I use the old-fashioned paper map, or the even more old-fashioned technique of talking to people. Unlike my friends, I can tell you which trams stop in Wenceslas Square, how to walk from JZP to Namesti Miru to IP Pavlova, and how to walk from point A to point B without staring at a little electronic screen.
If I’m running late, I feel bad and I apologize profusely when I arrive. If I am on time and my friend is late, I spend my time people watching. Or reading. (I’ve taken to bringing a book with me wherever I go, and I’ve read a lot of books this semester.) Or just staring into space. Or listening to people’s conversations and practicing my Czech. When I’m running late, I can’t get out of the consequences by sending a quick facebook message on my way and calling it an excuse. (I also can’t send a text message, since most of my friends are so dependent on their wi-fi messaging services – facebook, viber, whatever-it-is – that they don’t have phone credit and can’t read a text message even if I was to send it.) When someone else is running late, somehow the time passes faster when I’ve got nothing to do. I occupy myself with the world around me as I wait for them, and it seems like less than the five or ten minutes. If I was scrolling through my facebook wall for five to ten minutes, I would be so bored and so over it and that short amount of time would seem honestly insurmountable.
If there is something I really want to know – like, really want to know – I write it down to look it up later. Or I ask a teacher, a friend, a stranger. I go into that bookstore across the street and see if they have a book about it. Or I duck into the library and check it out (I know a lot of libraries in this city by now.)
I love the fact that there is nothing to distract me when I’m at dinner with my friends. Even if there is wifi in the restaurant, I don’t have a device to pull out of my pocket. I don’t have a device to use as a barrier between me and the people around me. I went to dinner a few weeks ago with four other people. Within five minutes of sitting down at the table, they all had their phones out, they were all on facebook or texting or merely searching instragram. I brought it up. I asked them about it, about why they were on their phones with some friends when they’re also sitting at the table with different friends. One said, “I don’t want to stop interacting with my friends, just because I’m not with them.” I bit my tongue, and didn’t make the retort I wanted to make: that he was choosing virtual interaction with friends kilometers away, instead of real interaction with friends sitting by his side.
I’ve enjoyed my seven months without my smartphone, but I also miss it. I miss being able to look up the quickest of the possible routes I know – and knowing how long it will actually take. I miss the fact that I can’t access my email on the go – not because I want to instantaneously respond to my emails, but because I often want to reference an email and I can’t get to it. It makes me sad that I’m missing out on the pervasive snapchat culture in the students in Prague.
A few times, I’ve wondered if I even want my smartphone back when I get back to the States. As much as I love looking stuff up, I could survive without that. But I can’t survive without being able to access my friends on the go and, more importantly, for my friends to access me. Yeah, okay. They could just call me. But sometimes emails or facebook messages are really the better, more effective, and more fun way to contact each other. And I can’t escape the reality of being a Silicon Valley girl. People joke that San Francisco natives have the most apps on their phones, and that might be true. My iPhone has apps for transportation, restaurants, random games I’ve been asked to beta test, and pretty much everything under the sun.
So, once I’m home, I’ll have my trusty iPhone again, with the multitude of apps I learned to love and miss dearly. But it will be a bit less pervasive in my daily life. I think my phone is going to live in my bag, not in my pocket. I’ll still use google to look up the answer to whatever question might be burning a hole in my head, but when I’m at dinner, it will definitely not be in my hand, or even on the table.
This story starts about a week ago, with this picture:
Actually, it’s a picture of a picture. My dad emailed it to me, with a request that I go find the grave and see what it looks like today. In a city filled with cemeteries, he was kind enough to give me a plot number and the cemetery I’d find it in: Olšansky Hřibitov. A quick google search took me to a Wikipedia page, which told me I’d find approximately 65,000 graves there. Good thing I had a plot number. So I found a map of the cemetery online, looked for the spot I’d find my ancestors, and came up empty. Well, not empty, actually. I found three possibilities, each a ½ mile apart. In addition, I found a “find-the-grave-site” site, claiming my family could be found at a completely different plot number. So was it 20-4-18 or 2ob-16-82oh? I now had four possibilities and a headache. But I was done with classes, and it was only mid-afternoon, so I prepared for my 45 minute metro journey, stopping to buy flowers on the way.
When I said this story started a week ago, I lied. It actually started 6 years ago, when my grandparents brought us all on a family trip to Prague. (Okay, it actually started 100-ish years ago when my relatives died, but we’re talking about my part in this story.)
There are only a handful of moments I really remember from that trip. I mean remember – smells, sounds, everything. Our trip to the cemetery was one of them. I remembered the gravel paths and the ivy-covered headstones and the ornamental gate. I remember that we showed up too late in the day to get in, but Babi and Deda convinced them to let us in anyway. Not a big picture, to be sure, but enough details to know that where I was was wrong:
Sure, the paths could have been paved in the last half decade, and certainly things change everyday, even in a cemetery. But Olšansky hřibitov was too colorful, too big, and felt too new. Nonetheless, I wandered through for hours, checking off one possible spot after the next. With no luck. No Voticky. No ivy. Nope.
I came out the other side of the cemetery, unsure of what to do. I didn’t want to disappoint my dad and send him the email, “I couldn’t find it.” But more than that, I didn’t want to lose that spot. Deda isn’t going to be telling us where to find it – Babi is too old to get back to Prague. A big reason I came to Prague was to preserve, at least for one more generation, my family’s history. Something unspoken pulled me to Prague this year, and the same thing told me to keep looking. I didn’t know where I was going until I got there. The New Jewish Cemetery, just across the street from Olšansky, had the ornamental gate I remember and, even more promisingly, it was closed. When I looked through the gate, and saw the trees covered in ivy, the grounds covered in ivy, the graves covered in ivy, I knew it was the right spot.
Actually, that’s not how it happened at all. As soon as I rounded the corner, I saw the metro stop Želivského. I recognized it right away. Like a puzzle piece I didn’t know what missing, that image fit right in. All of a sudden, I remembered being 14 years old, coming out of that metro station, looking around, and being absolutely convinced the long trip had not been worth it. (To my 14-year-old self, this turned out to be true. To my 20-year-old self, not true.) Then, I looked through the gate, saw the gravel path and the ivy covered stones, and knew I’d found the right place. Of course, at this point, I was a little cold, a lot hungry, and tired of carrying those damn tulips around. Plus, the gates were shut, the lady locking them as I showed up. I know enough Czech to know she told me “the cemetery is closed.” But I don’t speak enough Czech to beg her to let us in. All I could do was look at the flowers in my hand, at the watch on my wrist, and at the back of her head as she walked away. It was like déjà vu, but with a different ending. So I went home.
This story ends today. Or at least, that’s what happens for now. I don’t have classes on Thursdays, so I left the house this morning and went back across town, once again stopping for flowers on the way. This time, I knew where I was going, it would be a cinch. The cemetery was open; I found the section easily. But the rows? Where did they start? Which one was one? And which plot in each row was the first? I quickly realized that, once again, I had 4 options. So I walked up and down, reading name after name, feeling more disheartened each moment. I was ready to give up, and then I realized, I remembered.
I said earlier that this moment was one of the few I really remembered. So I let my memory tell me where to go. I retraced the steps we had taken oh, so long ago, with Babi leaning on my arm, Deda leading the way. I followed my memory to the end of the section, followed us as we turned left up the rows. I stopped, as we had once stopped, about halfway up. I walked down the row, looking to my right. The grave wasn’t far in, that I knew. And there it is. Success.
Unsurprisingly, the grave has withstood the test of time.
They tend to do that.
As I sit here, having laid my rock and flowers before my ancestors, I think I’ve found my favorite place in Prague. Years ago, Mom told me her favorite study spot was a cemetery near her apartment, and I thought she was crazy. But sitting her, I kind of understand. It’s quiet. I hear the birds in the trees and the crunching of leaves whenever I take a step. If I try, I can hear the distinctive squeal of the trams as they round the corner – the same corner I walked around when I knew where I was. I can hear other people; there aren’t many. But Franz Kafka’s grave is just over there, and Arnost Lustig, who died only two years ago, is buried here too. There is something incredible about the way things work in here. Most of these graves were first dug about 100 years ago, as Jewish soldiers died in WWI. Some, of course, are much older. But almost every one has the extra names of family members killed during the Holocaust. Just names, no dates. But the ivy and the trees don’t care. They grow over every plot: new, old, and in between. The test of time knocks some headstones over, but most survive. The living come here to pay their respects, but the real life in a place like this is what we can’t see. Except in time. The plants that prosper, the memories that survive, the ghosts that I hear in the whisper of the wind. Today is a cloudy day, dreary. But sitting here, with the family I never met, I feel like the clouds are just there. There is nothing ominous about the white sky I look up at. Somehow it seems that blue sky wouldn’t really fit the day – today is all about greens and greys.
(It may surprise some readers that there is nothing in this post about the names on the bottom of this stone. I couldn’t possibly write about all that again, especially since I’m going back to Terezin tomorrow. If you want to read about it, check out my post about my last trip to Terezin here.)
Before I start, let me note that I am not, and never was, in any danger as a result of this story. The ambush thing is just an appropriate name. (Ambush: a surprise attack by people lying in wait in a concealed position.)
I’ve been in the Czech Republic for 6 months and, as of a week ago, I had never had my tram/metro/bus ticket checked. And then, it happened. The dreaded. The horrible. The surprising.
Okay, in reality, it wasn’t all that exciting. I have a long-term pass, so there isn’t ever anything to be worried about. But it was an interesting experience. The actual ticket-checking itself wasn’t, but what happened in the immediately preceding moments was.
Holly and I were on a night tram, somewhat curious about the two policemen just chilling in the back. We assumed they had something to do with the high numbers of homeless people that use the trams as a refuge of warmth during the winter months. They weren’t bothering us, and we weren’t bothering them, so it was whatever.
But then, about two stops from where we were getting off, just as the doors were closing and the tram began to pull away, the tram jumped to life. All of a sudden, four people were on their feet, showing their badges and asking for tickets. There were literally four transportation officials in addition to the two policemen in the back. There were only five other people left on the tram, myself and Holly were two of those.
Within three seconds, the tram transformed (tramsformed?) from a sleepy conglomeration of people on their way home to a mish-mash of conversation. Normal-looking people pulled little red badges out of their pockets and simultaneously were speaking to every single other person on the tram. There were some people who didn’t have their tickets, and wanted to get off the tram at the next stop, clearly in an attempt to avoid a ticket. Hence the cops. It literally took longer for Holly and I to pull out our tram tickets than it did for the transportation people to corner everyone, but it was never a particularly stressful ambush.
In reality, it was a bit funny. Holly, who rides the metro everyday, where the ticket checks are more frequent, didn’t find anything particularly exciting about the ticket-checking process, but she was the one that coined the term as we were leaving the tram: “We just survived an ambush!”
One thing that is seriously great about this weekend being the first weekend that everyone else in the program is in Prague is that everyone wants to explore. For the most part, people are hitting the clubs hard at night and sleeping in late during the day, but there are a few who want to see the city by day too. Since this is how I like the city best (you know, visible…), these are the people I spend my time with.
The problem with this being everyone’s first weekend in Prague is that they want to see the things I’ve already visited. For the most part, multiple times.
Fortunately, though, I found a friend today who wanted to see the city unlike a normal tourist; Ashten and I met before dawn this morning to walk across the Charles Bridge when there weren’t any people (except the occasional photographer), and then walked around all day. Even though we visited places I’ve already been, we always took the direction less traveled. So, even when we were going from Prague Castle to Charles Bridge, we took a path I’ve never taken, which included skinny staircases and abandoned alleyways, one of which was guarded by Winston Churchill.
But it also included the Church of St. Nicholas, which is really famous but I’ve never visited before, and the original Senate hall at Valdštejn Palace, which is also really famous but I’ve also never visited before (and today it was free!). And the reality of walking out of a “sketchy” passageway to find the only statue of a Rabbi that exists.
Our path to the Lennon Wall took us via the lock bridge (normal) and a garden with peacocks (less normal). I brought my camera with me, with my new zoom lens, so I took a lot of pictures. But it has been a REALLY long time since I posted pictures on this here blog, so enjoy!