September 2009


From the book Culture Shock: Czech  Republic, regarding the stages of being an expat in Prague: “euphoria in the first month or two, to a rather sudden low period during the third month or so, to a gradual reawakening to your new country, with a strong sense of confidence and energy.”

Having been here for exactly 12 weeks as of today, I can confirm, as a member of the three-month category, that I am experiencing a “rather sudden low period,” as you might have guessed from my previous post about how much I miss London (and Chicago.)  I’m frustrated by so many things, very few of which I can do anything about.  Although I finally submitted all the paperwork for my visa, I have not heard anything back about it, not even an e-mail confirming that the embassy received the paperwork.  I’ve been sick for almost two weeks now, and when I’m sick in a new place, it always makes me want to go home.  I accidentally locked the SIM card on my phone, and when I went to get it fixed today, I found out that since my phone is through my office, I need to get the “password” that allows T-Mobile to just unlock it.  It’s been a series of unfortunate events, all of which are small, but combine to something that seems to loom much larger over my time in Prague at the moment.

There are certainly things to be grateful for–I am very glad not to be sitting at home, unemployed.  (I know my mother is happy with this as well.)  I’m lucky that I didn’t take the job in Manila, which is currently under 4 feet of tropical rainwater.   And I know, poor little girl living in Europe for a year.  But none of that changes the fact that I desperately miss going to the drugstore and knowing what the boxes of medicine say.  I miss going to the animal shelter, which I have tried my best to do here, only to be told that volunteers are “liabilities”.  I want to see my friends and my family and my dogs. My job is boring and routine, and does nothing to give me a sense of purpose.  I debated whether or not to post about this, because I don’t know that anyone really wants to hear my complaints about living here, but I decided that part of the reason for keeping this blog was to tell about my experiences, and right now, this is it.  The experience at the moment is not ideal.

I’m working on moving on to the “gradual reawakening” period.  I found a film theory class that I can take, and I’m so relieved to have something like that, something that I can develop and look forward to and get something out of, that I can’t even express it properly.  I think the biggest adjustment I’ve had to make since graduating is not having something I care about to structure my time around; at least now I can feel like I’m working toward something, even though I’m just going to be auditing.

To compensate for all the whining I’ve done here, here is a picture of my friends Holly and Joao’s puppy, Lucky.  Because Lucky is still so small, they often carry him in a messenger bag, with just his head poking out.

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Why did I ever leave London?  I never should have gotten on that plane home two years ago, and I definitely shouldn’t have gotten on it last week after I went to collect my short-term visa (thank god–I can now stay in the country for at least the next 90 days.  After that, we’ll see…)  I should have just stayed there and hidden–there HPIM2197must be illegal immigrants in London, right?  Because if I had stayed there, I could have worked toward my eventual dream of owning this house in Notting Hill.

Did I mention that I miss London?  There are so many things about it that I love.  I love walking on the South Bank when it’s windy and gray and you have to wonder why there are so many people that aren’t at work, and instead are strolling or jogging by the river.  I love the vintage stores and restaurants in Notting Hill, and all of the beautiful, colorful houses along the quiet streets there.  And I love the Hummingbird Bakery, where I had a coffee-walnut cupcake.  Even though Books for Cooks was closed, spending a few hours in Notting Hill was like a shot in the arm, and I remembered why I love big cities so much.

I like Prague, but being in London and having the luxury of eavesdropping on other people’s conversations is something I didn’t even realize that I missed until it suddenly confronted me again.  I stopped wearing my headphones just so that I could hear what was going on around me.  I spent part of the morning in the Tate Modern, something that I didn’t appreciate nearly enough when I was living there.  Free museums–not such a common thing in Prague.  Actually, museums period aren’t such a common thing here, except for the Museum of Torture Instruments that I pass every morning on my way to work.  HPIM2195

London also has my favorite graffiti, including this new gem.  For anyone who is having a hard time reading this, it says: “Darling Hugh Laurie, if you are reading this–Tayler loves you.”  This was found, by the way, written on the door of a bathroom stall in the Tate Modern.  I think it was Amanda who said last year, when we were discussing House, “Who doesn’t love Hugh Laurie?”  I don’t know, certainly not me, and obviously not Tayler either.

I’m enjoying my time here, and I appreciate it and value it and know that I would have regretted not coming, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a part of me that looks forward to understanding what goes on around me again, and misses the opportunities that a larger city brings.  What’s strange, though, is that I never (well, almost never) felt this in Grinnell.  I guess it’s a good thing I’m coming home for Christmas–it gives me a way to break up the solid wall of Czech (which I’m still not any better at, unfortunately.  Although I did learn “dobry pes”–good dog.)

There are all sorts of challenges to living in a new country.  The language barrier, the grocery store, streets not laid out on a grid system.  But all of these things pale in comparison to the visa process.  I know that the U.S. has one of the most ridiculous, difficult visa processes around, but that doesn’t stop me from whining about the Czech process.  Believe me, if it was up to me, both versions would be much simpler.

To get a Czech visa, you have to apply for it outside of the country, and you have to go somewhere with a Czech embassy.  That’s how I ended up in London, which I don’t mind at all.  Going to the embassy isn’t the awful part.  It’s just everything else.

I’m living in my apartment under a sub-lease contract, which means my roommate, the main tenant, has the actual lease contract.  To get a visa, you need proof of your accommodation for your entire stay in the Czech Republic.  Not a problem right?  If only.  Our lease only officially runs through the end of this December, and my roommate has not decided yet if she wants to renew it.  This was not brought to my attention until I mailed my lease contract (which is in Czech) to the embassy, and they informed me that I only have an apartment for the next three months.  Now, not only do I not know if I will have to find somewhere else to live in January, but I do not have the correct document for the embassy.

I don’t know what to do.  I don’t want to pressure her into signing a new contract, but I really, really need that document.  If I don’t get it, I don’t get a visa, and it’s that simple.  I don’t want to have to go through the process of finding a new apartment just so that I can get a new contract, but I’m worried I’m going to have to.  I like my apartment, and I like my neighborhood.  I don’t want to leave, but I don’t want to not have a visa more.

I feel that pretty often here, my life is more of the same.  I go to work, I cook dinner, I go running, I watch movies.  I almost feel bad writing this blog, because I worry that my everyday life in Prague is not particularly interesting.  Maybe I’m not putting myself out there enough, but I don’t really know what that would entail.  I’ve gone out to lunch with a few of my co-workers, so I’ve kind of made some Czech friends.  Does that count?

This past weekend, I went with my friend Christina to something called EthnoFest 2009.  Christina is only here for two months; she’s a grad student in Switzerland who is doing an internship for an NGO called The Advocacy Project.  The group works to improve relations between the Roma (better known as gypsies) and the Czech people.  The Roma are the largest minority in the Czech Republic, and probably the most reviled.  Almost every Czech person I have encountered who has mentioned the subject HPIM2181rolls their eyes and says something nasty.  Christina has been working in direct contact with Roma communities all over the Czech Republic this summer, and her blog is much more interesting and meaningful than mine.

At EthnoFest, we had a chance to see some traditional Roma music and dancing, which is extremely similar to Spanish flamenco, as flamenco has its origins in the Roma/gypsy community.  There was a fairly large crowd, and it was nice to see a show of support for something that is normally so despised.  I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the way the Roma are treated borders on (if it isn’t flat-out) racism.  Everyone only talks about how they steal, how they’re all in gangs, how they have too many children.  As Christina points out, that is a result of circumstances, not ethnicity.  As a poor, marginalized group, they don’t have access to the same resources as “regular” Czech people, and thus the entire cycle perpetuates itself.  Having spent the day with Christina and meeting her Roma friends, I can’t say that I found them to be any different than the Czechs I have met.

HPIM2170This is the world’s tiniest, cutest flamenco dancer.