Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Volkswagen Autostadt

He straightened his green and navy tie as he waited in line to receive his assignment for the day. His mother was so proud of him. Her thirty year old son, fresh out of university, and already he has a good suit-and-tie job at Volkswagen.

He picked up his assignment from the employee entrance front desk. “So what did you get, Fritz?”

“I’m assisting Herr Schmidt again today. We should be finishing the model for the new prototype today. What do you have, Michael?”

He opened his envelope. It couldn’t be! “Oh, heh heh, you know, the same ol’ same o’. Hey, I’ll see you later, okay?”

Michael tried to retain as much composure as he could. What had happened? Why was he being punished? He headed for the men’s room and splashed cold water on his face. He then looked in the mirror at the young professional who was assigned to monitor a kindergarten class from Adelheidsdorf all day. Why me? But then he remembered the company party that weekend. He had drunk a little too much schnapps. He vaguely recalled flirting with the boss’s wife. Oh no.

So there he was, dressed for success in the company uniform, holding blond-headed 5 year olds by the hand. At lunch he ushered them through the line as they made their own hotdog, corn, carrot, and peas pizzas. While they sat at their little table he stood at the end armed with a bottle of apple juice prepared to refill the cups of these little brats. He rolled his eyes when they asked him to take them to the bathroom. Yes, wouldn’t mother be proud?!

Michael is only one of many young professionals with university degrees who work at the Volkswagen plant. There’s Diar who has been assigned to man the swing set allowing only 4 children to be on at a time. And Karl and Fernando who stand outside at the gate welcoming visitors. The entire time they’re wondering how Pieter lucked out and got assigned to be the instructor at the Tuareg test drive course.

Pieter was wondering that himself as he flirted with the young American woman. While she concentrated on driving up a flight of stairs, down a 45 degree decline, through a river bed and sand pit, over a see saw bridge, over logs, etc., he was pestering her with questions like what kind of music she likes, does she like parties, does she like Germany, blah blah blah. The entire time she was wondering what kind of maniac flirts with a girl when her parents are sitting in the backseat?!

Sunday, June 26, 2005

those lying Australians

My pastor says that you can only believe 25% of what an Australian says. He also says that Australia is nothing more than a pretty desert, whereas New Zealand is where people who go to heaven live. I would think that he’s biased but I met an Australian who backed up his claim.

When I got on the train in Prague to go home, I found an empty seat in a compartment occupied by an Australian family. As we shared stories of our travels, I commented on how four weeks ago I had gone back to Hannover when I realized that I didn’t have my passport with me in Berlin. I expressed how I wished that I hadn’t discovered the loss till I reached the border. What a great story that would be!

“Well, if you were Australian, you would just lie about it,” said the father.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

you’re really brave

“I’m not so sure that ‘brave’ is the right word for it.”

“Well, call it what you like. I couldn’t do it. Is it just personal conviction or is it religious?”

“I suppose it’s both.”

“Tell me this then, what did Jesus do with the water at the wedding?”

“He turned it into wine.”

“What did He drink with His disciples?”

“And why ...”

“Um, excuse me. I don’t think anyone’s actually arguing with you. What point are you trying to make?”

The past four weeks I had been the only one who didn’t drink alcohol and one of the few who didn’t cuss. And that was considered brave? I suppose when that is the only lifestyle you’ve known since college and everyone else you knew had the same lifestyle ... well, it might actually be brave of someone to shake the system up and order a glass of black currant juice while some of the others order beer and belch out curse words as they celebrate the acquisition of their TEFL certificates.

I was thankful, however, for my small group of friends (the “normal ones” as Jesse put it). I was thoroughly exhausted from long days and nights but I knew this would be the last time I saw some of these people. So there I was, in the basement of Tulip Cafe, a favorite hangout for English teachers in Prague.

Autumn, the Presbyterian from Alabama, would be staying in Prague hoping to get a job at James Cook Language Institute. I made sure to give her directions to Kava Kava Kava near my metro station. Not only did they have great spinach quiche, internet, and their specialty Kava (coffee), but they also had two of the most handsome, tall, blond, blue-eyed Czech waiters in the city who spoke excellent English.

Anie, the adorable little girl from Lebanon, was being forced to fly back to Cyprus because she couldn’t get her visa renewed. “That’s an adorable dress, Annie. Did you get it here?” “No, my sister sent it to me from the United States. Do you know a store called Walmart?” Do I know Walmart?!

Tami and Christie, the two Wheaton girls, were on their way to Rome the next morning. I tried to give them tips like carry around big bottles of peach tea, don’t buy water from the trailers near the Colosseum, and be sure to try a melon gelatto while you sit under the pillars of the Pantheon.

And last, but definitely not least, Jennifer, my Czech-American tour guide and dinner companion. She and her fiancé would be remaining in the city for the rest of the summer.

I imagine I’ll see the Jennifer, Tami, and Christie again since all three live in Chicago, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to visit that city for quite some time. But the others ... I can only hope.

Friday, June 24, 2005

it doesn’t work if he speaks German too

It was 9:30. The night was warm and balmy as I stood across the street from the National Theater waiting for my tram home. People were still pouring out of the theater. Sweethearts were kissing each other goodnight as they parted ways.

“Do you know if this tram stops at --- Nahmesti?”

I looked down to see a mediterranean man looking up at me. Sigh. I really didn’t feel like talking to anyone at the moment. I had just said goodbye to my Czech student who had invited me to see the modern ballet “The Butterfly Effect” with her. It had been a beautiful portrait of three different stages of a butterfly’s life, and I wanted to remember it in silence.

“Aih dohn’t knohw.” There I went again. Pretending to be German. It gave me an excuse to use short sentences due to a lack of vocabulary.

“You don’t know?”

“Noh, yuh muhst loohk on zhe sign.”

“I need to look on the sign?”

Sigh. Just look at the timetable already! I gave him a curt nod and went back to my revelry.

“Is this a theater?”

Sigh. “Yehs, zhe National Teahter.”

“Was there a play tonight?”

Why did he insist on talking to me?! “Noh, a ballet.”

“Oh?! The Nutcracker?”

“Zhe Buhtterfly Effekt.”

“I’ve never heard of it.”

“Iht’s modehrn”

Then he said something entirely indecipherable through his foreign accent. I stared at him.


He said it again.

Still no clue.

“Aren’t you Czech?”


“Where do you come from?”


“Ah, eine Deutsche Frau. Aus welcher Stadt kommen Sie?”

Gasp! The game was up! He spoke German too!! “Eh, Ich komme aus Hannover.”

“Ach, ja, eine schoener Stadt. Studieren Sie hier in Prag?”

At that moment, my tram arrived and I pressed forward till I reached the back of the tram getting as far from the little mediterranean man as I could.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

dijon baked chicken stuffed with banana

I was overcome with curiosity ... “Dijon Baked Chicken Stuffed with Banana,” read the chalked menu board outside the restaurant of Hotel Constance, a quaint little inn tucked away in one of Prague’s many secret passageways around the castle and Old Town. I had discovered it one afternoon as I was searching for the U.S. Embassy.

“What do you think Dijon Baked Chicken Stuffed with Banana tastes like?” I asked one morning during a break in between classes to anyone who was listening.

Some faces screwed up, some raised their eyebrows, and some combined the two. But the general consensus was that no one could imagine what it could possibly taste like.

“Let’s try it,” said Jennifer.

I find that’s how I get involved in most things. I will be sitting there, and a thought will slip through my lips making itself public. Soon after, the thought blows up into an all out event. “I think I’ll go see Phantom of the Opera movie this weekend,” soon becomes ten people sharing a row in the theater and then everyone heading to Bennigan’s later to grab a bite to eat.

So Jennifer and I decided that today would be the day. We had been let out of class earlier than usual, so we hopped a tram across the river to Hotel Constance. Our tastebuds were working themselves into a tizzy of anticipation. Just imagine ... our sense of taste was going to experience something entirely new. It was like a shepherd from the hills of Kazakhstan seeing the color florescent pink for the first time. Or a couch potato in Madison, Wisconsin watching a National Geographic special hearing the click-grunt language of an African tribesman for the first time ... It’s sensory overload.

If I were a food critic for the Prague Post, my review of the dish might read,

... entirely unexpected and altogether pleasing ...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

greenbean soup for dessert

“No, I don’t think I can make it to the Tulip tonight. My roommate is making an authentic Chinese dinner for me tonight.”

Anna and I hadn’t been in the same room longer than fifteen minutes since I arrived. I leave each morning at 9 a.m. and rarely get back home before 10 or 11 at night. So I promised her when she asked if she could cook for me that tonight I would come home early.

When I walked in the door at 8:15, I was pleasantly surprised that company was joining us. It was a girl from the States who had been trained to sing opera in Montreal, Quebec. She had been teaching English the past six months in Brno, the second largest city (or village) in the Czech Republic. Together she, Anna, and I sat down to a feast of spicy transparent noodles and a fried beef, mushroom, and lettuce mixture (was that a hint of peanut butter I tasted in the sauce?).

“Would you like dessert now, Christine?”

There’s dessert, too?

Anna went over to the fridge and pulled out a watery substance in a large clear bowl.

“Mmmm, what is it?”

“Greenbean Soup. I think it needs sugar.” She took a bag of sugar and began to pour a good 3/4 cup of sugar into the soup. As she put away the sugar, I took the ladle and served the soup into three bowls. As the ladle disturbed the soup’s contents I recognized barley and tiny green peas floating around.

It tastes just as you would imagine cold greenbean soup would taste like. Although I never would have picked it off a dessert menu, I must admit that I found it rather refreshing, a nice complement to a hot summer evening.

Monday, June 20, 2005

i speak Welsh

“My wife and I speak Welsh,” said the older gentlemen as he stood in the middle of the congregation at the International Baptist Church in Prague during the introduction of visitors. “My name’s Scott. I’m visiting Prague for the weekend from Scotland.” “This is Lenka. She’s Czech.” Then seven or six others introduced themselves all claiming Richmond, Virginia, as their home.

I looked down from the balcony at the church’s small (yet sincere) choir and was thrilled by the number of nationalities represented there. Wasn’t nine what the pastor said last week? Around me the balcony was filled with young people like myself, some teachers at the International Christian School, some teachers of English, and other young professionals.

Downstairs sat a family from Columbia, students from Ethiopia and Ghana, a team of American Presbyterian missionaries starting a Czech church here in Prague, and at the piano sat an excellent musician from Japan.

It all seemed to be a foreshadowing of the worshipping of nations at the throne of God in the New Jerusalem.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

irish breakfast, castle guards, and crazed authors

It was the second time it had happened today. I had hailed the waitress and she came and took my order but ignored my two girlfriends. Perhaps my mind has become infected by the crazed writings of one famous Czech author, Franz Kafka (after whom this particular cafe was named). Were these two girls merely figments of my imagination? Were they invisible to the rest of mankind? No, it couldn’t be that. I haven’t even read Kafka. So why were my friends being ignored?

I can only assume that it is a cultural thing. When a group goes out to eat, perhaps it is customary for one person to order for the entire group. Whatever the case, Christy and Tami eventually got their goulash and dumplings.

The Franz Kafka Cafe off of Old Town Square was our last stop of the day. The three of us had met on my side of Charles Bridge and headed toward the U.S. Embassy to enjoy a hearty breakfast at the Irish Pub just down the street (This was the first location where a waitress ignored my friends.). It all seemed so cliché. There we were sitting at a table on a cobblestoned sidewalk in a European city. Warm sunshine poured on us as we ate breakfast outside, listening to opera music floating out of an open window across the street.

Afterwards we climbed the hill, zigzagging through quiet medieval alleys till we reached the gates of the Prague Castle. Before us stood a massive crowd of spectators. Trumpets blew and over the heads of the crowd I saw the flash of metal. We looked at our watches. Noon. It was the ceremonial changing of the guard. Normally I scoff at normal tourist activity but I found myself rushing forward, holding my camera over my head, snapping away at uniformed youths who pretended to protect the contents of the castle from the republic’s foes.

When the commotion died down, the mob ushered us through the gates till we found ourselves standing in a line awaiting entrance into the castle’s cathedral. The only think I could think of was that I wanted to get as many pictures as I could to one day use in my Art History class (crazy teacher that I am). Perhaps for the first time I appreciated one of Europe’s thousands of Gothic Cathedrals. I marveled at Mucha’s stained glass window. I became excited as I photographed a gorgeous mosaic adorning one of the church’s entrances. And then there was the flying buttresses. I was a zealous fashion photographer determined to capture her model from all sides. My excitement only escalated when we rounded the corner and there stood a prime example of Romanesque architecture.

Call us cheap but we opted for the “free” option as we toured the castle. If a building required us purchase a ticket to be admitted, we turned our noses up at it and turned towards areas where we
were appreciated for more than our American dollar ... which basically limited us to the castle’s garden along the wall. I did, however, defy the system and walked straight up to the gate of Golden Lane, stuck my arm through the bars, aimed my camera so that it pointed down the lane, and took a picture ... imagine paying to walk down a street--the audacity! As if ...! I decided instead to settle for the thousand words of a picture over contributing even more to the weariness of my blistered feet.

From the castle, the Old Town was our next destination to join the masses of tourists in their quest for the perfect souvenir. Surprisingly, I didn’t have the stomach for it. Perhaps it was the heat, or maybe the sight of walls of magnets and T-shirts, shelves of Russian stacking dolls, and rows of sparkling bohemian crystal glasses (that were actually made in Hong Kong) doesn’t impress me as it once did. So I strayed from the stalls of the profit-hungry and approached my old acquaintance, the goose, John Hus, the forerunner of Martin Luther. There he stood memorialized in bronze turned green over the years standing in defiance against a corrupt church. The man who translated the Scriptures into the people’s tongue, forever solidifying the Czech language. This brave martyr more than deserved a few snaps of my camera’s shutter.

As I returned to my souvenir-hunting friends, I passed by the waiting horses and carriages, briefly noticing a bucket that was being filled to quench the thirst of these poor animals of burden. Moments later, I turned around to see a geyser of water rivaling Old Faithful shooting into the air. Horses and carriages moved out of the way, and tourists gathered around to witness one of Adam’s descendants tame this fury of water. Applause erupted as a drenched carriage driver replaced the rod that had been knocked loose from the water’s source. The gusher subsided and the tourists went back to their shopping.

It is here that Christy, Tami, and I sought deliverance for our weary, sunburned bodies under the canopy of the Franz Kafka Cafe.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

and then there were ten ...

Once again it was a weekend night and there I sat in the Imperial Cafe, books lodged securely under the table not to be opened all weekend. In walked Christy and Tami, the Wheaton girls. “Late as usual,” said Tami as she pulled up her chair next to me. Just as they were sitting down Jennifer walked in.

“It’s okay. It’s not as if you’ve missed anything. They’re only just now setting up.”

It was a different Dixie Swing band tonight. They were older, all in their 60s and 70s. The banjo player was over by the ancient upright tuning his instrument. The bearded drummer was screwing on his cymbals. And the man with thick spectacles was removing his huge bass from its case. The three other fellows sat on the raised platform on the corner by the window, holding their respective musical instruments: a trumpet, a clarinet, and a trombone. They may have not been much to look at but when the music began ... well, it’s called Swing for a reason. Each gray-haired gentleman was a true master of his instrument. Never had I been in the presence of such fantastic musical talent. Later we learned that the band had been playing together these 40 years.

As the evening wore on, Autumn, Samantha, and Annie joined our small gathering followed by Courtney, Molly, and Julie. The good fun we had that night enjoying the music and the company rivaled any “good time” those awful, annoying British stag parties could produce. One of our number, Samantha, had met the coach of Prague’s rugby team on the metro the day before. He had given her his number promising her and anyone else who cared to join her a spot on the team’s bus the next day as they went to go play their next game.

I declined the invitation to tag along, since my early experiences with the sport were not pleasant ... He said all I had to do was hold the ball ...

Thursday, June 16, 2005

sumo wrestling vs. ballet

“This is how the game goes. Go up to a person. Read one of the statements on the sheet of paper and ask if it applies to them. If it does write their name next to the statement. For example ...”

Paul, one of the TEFL trainers, came up to me, “Hmm, okay, let’s see ... Do you have a birthday during the course?”

I was shocked. Of all people he came up and asked me as an example!

“Um, well, Yes, as a matter of fact ...” I stuttered.

“Really?! When?!”

“June 15th. Ha! I guess everyone can put my name down next to that statement. Christine. That’s spelled C ... H ... R ... I ...”

As the big day drew near, my classmates asked me how I was planning to celebrate. I was hesitant to answer, certain that if I mentioned attending a ballet that the others would scoff at my love affair with the arts.

Surprisingly, however, many of the girls in the course appeared more envious than amused. “You wouldn’t want to go with me, would you?”

“Are you serious?! You don’t mind?! How much are the tickets?”

When it was spread around that tickets to see The Swan Lake at Prague’s National Theater cost a mere 50 crowns ($2), I had four girls signed up to join me.

Sadly I waited till the day of to go to the box office. The kind lady conveyed to me in broken English that they were sold out for that night’s performance.


I dodged drizzle and headed for the theater near the Mustek Metro stop in the vicinity of Wenceslas Square. I hoped that perhaps the girls and I could substitute ballet for drama.

“Dobry den. Prosim vas. Nemluvim dobrzha Cesky. Lovita Anglicsky?”

“Ano. A little.”

“Oh, good. Is there a performance here tonight?”

“Skola summinsumminsummin ... but it’s not good for you. It’s only in Czech. You will not understand.”

“Oh, that’s okay. My friends and I will follow the acting instead.”

But the woman at the box office insisted that there were too many characters and too much chaos on the stage. We wouldn’t be able to follow it. With shoulders slumped, I turned to walk out. On my way out, I noted that night’s performance’s poster. “Skola ...” Hmm, School of somethingorother, by Richard Brinsley Sheridan.

As I thought about it on the way back to the National Theater, I realized that she was right. In college I had designed a fine arts poster for the college’s performance of Sheridan’s The Rivals. The memory of characters like Mrs. Malaprop brought back memories of the confusions of words and actions on stage. If I had difficulty grasping everything in English, imagine the complexity of it in Czech!

I approached the National Theater’s box office again. “Do you have any seats available for tomorrow night’s The Swan Lake?”

“How many do you need?”


“Yes, but they are not together.”

“That’s fine. I’ll take them.”

It didn’t occur to me then that I wouldn’t be able to go tomorrow. I was teaching the odd Thursday evening class. I was more concerned that I didn’t disappoint the girls. All day they couldn’t stop talking about how excited they were about the ballet.

So there I stood, waiting for them to arrive at 6:30. It was drizzling. I had blisters on my feet from walking to and from the theaters in the rain. And by this time I realized the mistake I had made. I would miss the ballet altogether because of my stupid procrastination!

Jennifer was the first to arrive. “Well, were you able to get them?”

Sigh. “No. They were completely sold out. I just got these ones for tomorrow instead.”

“I won’t be able to go tomorrow. I have my one-on-one lesson.”

“I can’t either. I’m teaching the upper-intermediate in the evening.”

“On my way to meet you, I saw a man by one of the theater doors scalping tickets. What do you think?”

“How much is he asking?”

I sent her over to ask him, while I waited for the others.

We ended up paying 200 crowns (a 333% markup from the ticket’s original price) each for lovely balcony seats. Sure, we were on the back row of the balcony, but wasn’t a single column obstructing our view. We may not have been able to see the scenery, but the dancing was in plain view. All in all, we were quite pleased with ourselves for having bought scalped tickets to Swan Lake.

The following day I was able to fork out the unused tickets for that night to some of my classmates. I was more than happy to promote the city’s finer entertainment to the uncultured masses who had been to see sumo wrestling the weekend before.

(Note from the editor: The above sentence is a literary ploy to make it seem the author is above being a spectator of this honored traditional Japanese sport. However, in the presence of two witness, she admitted that had she been among more familiar acquaintances she would have poked her head in to see what it was all about.)

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

ode to a black currant

Ode to a Black Currant
by Christine K. Hnat

Oh, gastronomical bliss,
That once I enjoyed only during the Eucharist.
You cause me to ponder, oh Dark Berry.
Should your roots have embraced promised land,
Your flowers bloomed in the gardens of prophets,
Had your juice been squeezed to quench the thirst of disciples,
Perhaps then, as we drink and remember,
That divine juice would be of thine
And not the vine.

Monday, June 13, 2005

i've seen you before

“I’ve seen you before,” said the Italian.

“You have?”

“Yes, in my dreams.”

Ha! He stole the words from my mouth.

But I ask you, honestly, how is a girl really supposed to respond to such a statement?! What do men expect to accomplish with such absurdities? (Luke Keller knows that he’d receive a slap to the face should he attempt his ... “Is this seat taken?” as he stands next to a girl with his hand in her back pocket.) And what of the fellow sitting in the corner by the window stirring his coffee, tapping his cigarette, staring at me? What does he really think is going to come of it? Life is not a French movie. I’m not going to return the look, motion for him to come and join my friend and I at our table, let him buy me a coffee, and then go dancing with him. What’s going through their heads?!!

Bleh! No, thank you.

Perhaps I should switch my purity ring to my left hand when I’m in public. I only moved it to my right hand when my mother admonished me a few years ago. She was convinced that I would never get married as long as I displayed my silver band on my left ring finger.

“But, Mama ... I don’t want someone to just want me at first sight. He must get to know the real me, and once he does he’ll know that I’m not married.”

“Yes, but a good man will see the ring and out of respect for the man he thinks you belong to, he will stay away, then what?”

I saw her point, but the ring stayed put. ... until ...

One day I was walking past the student mailboxes at college and I overheard two guys talking. “No way, man. Don’t you see the ring? She’s married.”

I didn’t see who the guys were, nor did I care. But as I left the building I whipped the ring off my left hand and planted it on my right hand’s ring finger.

The move, however, has done little to affect my single status. This I’m convinced is part of God’s sovereign plan. No, no, hear me out. I’m seriously convinced that I’m not called to ...

... date.

Does that seem odd to you? It seems quite natural to me. I’m not certain how to explain it. But I’ve never exactly been in an environment where dating was common place. For goodness sakes, I was homeschooled in Germany throughout high school. And in college ... none of the art crowd really dated, we all just hung out.

Is it possible to just get married, then? Forego dating entirely? I think so. I’ve even jokingly given my parents permission to arrange my marriage. Out of all people I think they know me best and I trust their judgment. This caused a 15 year-old from my church to become quite upset. Never had he heard of such a thing! He was really quite concerned for my well-being. I began to point out all the benefits of arranged marriages, and I believe that in the end I really had him quite enamored with the idea. But I was just joking ... or was I?

Oh, I’m not exactly sure how it’s all going to come about. Perhaps we’ll be serving in a ministry together somewhere in Croatia and decide that our partnership should last “as long as we both shall live.” Whatever the case, of this I’m certain ... It will be a great story to tell the kids.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

cowering behind a pillar

I suspected something when they all walked in and sat at different tables, loud and obnoxious, each ordering a pint of beer. The hair on the back of my neck began to raise. Then I saw it ... a sugarcoated, jelly-filled donut went sailing across the room.

I was in the middle of a donut fight at Imperial Cafe. As a glass crashed behind me, I grabbed my things and dashed for cover. Cowering behind a pillar, I wished I had my camera with me.

Meanwhile, fifteen middle-aged blokes from England made a war zone of the cafe turning over tables and warding each other off like lion tamers with their chairs.

At one point a fellow dodging a sugary missile stumbled to the ground next to me. He looked up and saw me clutching my laptop and books behind the pillar. From the floor he reached out his pastry-clutching hand to me. “You want to throw one, luv?”

I stood there wide-eyed, actually considering his offer. Had I been among friends, there’s no doubt that I would be right there in the heat of the battle, but instead I opted for a different course. I don’t know where it came from, nor do I understand the exact logic behind my reasoning. All I know is that out of my mouth came, “Noh, zhank yoo.”

What was I doing? Why was I pretending to be German? I don’t know. Perhaps the same reason I put on the proverbial “blond wig” and played the role of a ditz when Jeremy the helicopter pilot told me that he was at the point in his life that he was ready to get married and have kids. Role-playing is my defense mechanism, I think. I decided to see where this role would take me.

As other fellows left the fray of battle and found me behind my pillar, I continued my facade of stilted English and shy manner, hoping they would leave me alone. However, when the war of day-old pastries had died down, I felt a tap on my elbow.

“C’mon, dear. The battle’s finished. Give it a shot. See that fella over there in the striped shirt. Give this donut a good toss and peg him.”

“Noh, noh! I cahn’t.”

“No, it’s okay. It’s all over ... finished.”

“Noh, I cum ouoot and evrybuddy zhrow aht me!”

“Look, I’ll go with you. You just walk up to him and peg him.”

It was tempting. How could I live with myself knowing I had been in the middle of a donut fight in one of the finest cafes in Prague and hadn’t thrown a single donut myself. So I emerged from my pillar, approached the group of “warriors,” took a donut from one of their hands, pointed at the fellow with the striped shirt.

“Zhis vohn?” I asked the fellow who had told me to throw it. At his nod, I chucked the thing point blank at the surprised stripe-shirted Tommy.

I turned to go back to my belongings and WHAM! I got nailed in the back by one of the pastries. Upon inspection of my things I noticed that they hadn’t quite gone unscathed. Jam speckled my books and jacket ... not to mention my pants.

So while the band played on, there I sat finishing off my tea while the cafe’s staff cleaned up.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

running through stinging nettle

With the willpower of a Native American who can endure an hour of sitting on top of a hill of fire ants, I resisted the urge to bend down and scratch off the top layer of skin on my foot. I was running late this morning. In order to catch the 9:04 bus in time I would have to run through the short cut. Forgetting that my feet were clad in mere flip-flops I ran the gauntlet through the path in the woods bordered on each side with stinging nettle ... or “sting weed” as we called it when I was young. Having rained the night before the weeds were bent over in the path, thus allowing their poisonous venom to seep into my skin. But with a clenched jaw I endured the irritations and repeated over and over again, “Mind over matter ... Mind over matter.”

So, classes are great. Each morning we have four and a half hours of training and the afternoons are devoted to actual teaching. This week I’ve been team teaching an elementary level course (just after beginner and just before pre-intermediate). Occasionally one of the trainers will pop in, take notes, and then critique your lesson. Both Terry and Paul are marvelous teachers. They make learning so much fun. And when they critique, one actually leaves feeling pretty good about oneself. But maybe that isn’t such a great thing afterall.

Today Lucie, a teacher’s teacher in training, sat in on our lessons. When it came to my portion of the lesson I had to think on my feet. The girl before me had ended her lesson much earlier than she was supposed to. Thus I didn’t have time during the usual break to go downstairs and grab my audio disk from the resource library. Thinking on my feet, I determined that my students would have to suffer through listening to the lovely voice of their teacher rather than narrator on the audio disk.

Plus, I completely threw out the warmer activity since the teacher before me had done something almost identical. Instead of playing pictionary using occupations as the terms, I turned on some music and sat down and asked them what kind of music they liked. It was just a normal, lighthearted conversation. Did they listen to music on the metro when they were going to work or school? What time do you leave for school in the morning? What time did they usually get home in the evening? ... This all led into my story about the man with 13 jobs who lived on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland, population 120. The article was all about his daily schedule. The students thought that they were just chilling out with their teacher, and then all of a sudden they realized that it was actually part of the lesson. Pretty sneaky, huh?

I even changed the production activity from the original idea in my lesson plan. On the spur of the moment I decided to shake things up a bit and placed my student in pairs and had them fill out a daily timetable for their partner, instead of doing one on their own. This made them have to practice asking questions like, “What do you do at 8 in the morning?” And answering, “I make breakfast at 8 in the morning.” I thought it was pretty ingenious if you ask me.

After the lessons Lucie really laid out in detail each thing we were doing wrong ... in detail. I could tell the other two girls I was teaching with were not accustomed to such criticism. I, on the other hand, was yearning for a tough hand. I knew that there was plenty that I could have improved upon, I just needed someone to point it out to me. Lucie was exactly what I needed.

Afterwards she and I sat around and talked a bit. According to her, there is a need for English teachers in New Zealand ... what do you say we all get our TEFL certificates and head to New Zealand and teach English?! I’m not joking ... let’s do it.

Careful to avoid the sting weed on the way home, I thought about future lessons. Hmm, how can I use the Phantom of the Opera in a lesson? I’ll figure out a way ... maybe with my private student, Hana. She just went to see an opera this Wednesday at the State Opera House.

Friday, June 10, 2005


While waiting for my private student to arrive at the school earlier this week, I found myself flipping through the TEFL Job Location notebook. I’ve discovered that I actually have a bit of a knack for teaching English ...

what if ... ah, here was a small village in Italy that needed an English teacher. I began to daydream. Ah, the golden sun of Italy, the taste of fruits and vegetables beyond what I have ever experienced, hospitable mamas taking on the task of fattening me up.

What about Germany? It would be nice to have the option of visiting with my family on the weekends.

... but ... was I adventurous enough for ... oh, I don’t know ... Slovakia? a place I know nothing about, completely unfamiliar with the terrain, culture, people ... “If God is for us, who can be against us?!!” If God were to direct my path to this new frontier ... well then ...

BRING IT, Bratislava!

Monday, June 06, 2005

strolling through abandoned streets at midnight

If I’m here and the castle’s there ... surely it can’t be that far of a walk.

Armed with my trusty map of Prague, I left my apartment and looked out towards the city. Just down the hill, off a ways in the distance, stood Hrad Chany ... Prague’s impressive castle. It should be simple enough ... just walk down.

Barely bothering to glance at the map, I set my legs in motion and headed toward medieval Prague. As I approached the quaint alleys of the ancient town I made a mental note to one day return to that restaurant boasting baked chicken with melted cheese on top stuffed with ... banana. hmm, curious. I walked further on and to my right I stumbled upon a building in which I could one day have an office: the Czech Republic’s United State’s Embassy. ... maybe ... one day.

I glanced at my watch, hmph, only 30 minutes from my place to Charles Bridge. I can’t say that I’d want to make the trip back up the hill, but the trip down was actually quite nice. I’ll take the bus back.

I wandered about the city avoiding those boasting a germanic language (i.e. Americans, British, and Germans). My goodness! They were so obnoxious. So loud! Obviously they’ve never heard of “practicing good OpSec.” Roaming Charles Bridge felt like Scotty had transported me to Disney World--groups of loud American teenagers, Japanese tourists, and venders peddling their artistic wares. Are there no Czech’s here?! I have a feeling they tend to avoid the popular tourist attraction.

Ironically I decided to go to Bohemian Bagel for lunch. Obviously this is the hub of expatriate activity. I walked in and saw one of my classmates, later two others came in to check their email. Behind us was a booth of American college students roaming Europe for nine weeks. To my right was a mother and her 13 year-old son plotting out the next destination for their vacation.

Later, I sat outside a cafe enjoying a lovely dish of pasta just watching people walk by. Americans ... British ... American ... Germans ... LEBANON? I saw another one of my classmates, Annie from Lebanon she had been taking advantage of all the lovely shopping there is to do here.

At 6:30 I strolled up Wenceslas Square to the National Museum where I was to meet Jennifer. The elongated square was crammed to the gills with the results of free enterprise: Currency Exchange kiosks, cafes, restaurants, McDonalds, department stores, bookstores, hotels, shoe stores, Nike. I peeked into one of the open pubs to see what all the yelling was about ... In the upper right corner of the pub was a medium sized television screen. Below it, scores of kilt clad “football” enthusiasts were moshing and chanting and just downright yelling. Certain that this was no place for a lady, I continued trudging up the hill.

This night was special. All of Prague’s museums were opened for free from 7 p.m. till 1 a.m. Jennifer and I had decided to meet together and take advantage of the opportunity. While the National Museum is a jewel to look at, its contents are not quite as spectacular. Oh sure there was the newly revealed stuffed polar bear or the skeleton of a whale, but I have little interest in gazing at display after display of minerals and plankton.

Desperate to escape this crowded facility, Jennifer and I headed to the bus that would shuttle us to our next destination ... the Charles University Museum of Man. So we crammed ourselves into this moving sardine can and we were off to wait in a massive line to get into the museum. Once inside, we were astounded at the collection of skulls and skeletons and molds of men and women’s faces. In 1900, a Czech scientist was determined to study the difference between the races. There were molds of Australian aborigines, Eskimos, African Americans, Chinese, Native Americans, and so on. In another room there was a chart showing similarity between species at the embryo stage. Some may attribute the similarity to evolution, however, the first thought that entered my mind was ... Wow! what wonderful proof of a common Creator!

After the fascinating science lesson, we headed toward the river to climb the tower of Charles Bridge to gaze at the Castle all aglow in the night. Spectacular. We were fortunate to be there at midnight when fireworks were shot over the river.

Strolling across the bridge at night is a much more enjoyable experience that in the daytime. Here and there Bohemian musicians shared their craft with those passing by. Ah, this was the authentic experience I was looking for.

At the end of the bridge Jennifer and I parted ways--she to the metro and I to my climb up the hill (my bus stopped running at 11:55). It was a beautifully cool night as I made my way briskly up the side of the hill. Streets once crowded were now empty. It was just me, the moon, and the streets where history was made.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

dodging donuts

Should I return to this fair city and bring you with me, I shall insist upon taking you to the Imperial Cafe. Imagine entering a dazzling room filled with the ghosts and memories of 1900. Your eye is drawn up the mosaic studded wall to the tile embellished 20 foot ceiling. As your eye returns to earth it falls upon the bar at the far end of the room. The countertop is filled with mounds of ... donuts. Coffee and tea drinkers are scattered here and there. Outside the wall of towering windows trams rumble passed and tourists peer inside.

Along the wall there are black and white pictures. Upon closer inspection you notice that these are not records of bygone eras ... perhaps some of these were captured only yesterday. You recognize the setting of the photographs for you are standing right there in it. But chairs and tables are pushed back along the walls. The patrons of the cafe are ducking and dodging as ... as ...

... donuts fly through the air!

Should a generous customer feel the desire to give the cafe the equivalent of one hundred dollars, that customer has the privilege of having purchased all the donuts on the counter. Not only that, but he may do whatever he likes with them ... even throw them at anyone he pleases!

What do you say, should we try it sometime?!

Having settled into our seats, I’ll order a English Ice Coffee and you’ll order a nice pot of tea and a donut. As we rest our feet from a day of my dragging you from place to place, a band begins to set up in the corner by the windows. What a treat! The Dixie Swing Band soon begins to strum out familiar tunes of yesteryear. Your hand pats your knee to the rhythm while my foot bobs in time. Perhaps ... if we’re brave enough ... we might even attempt a few moves on the open floor in front of the band.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

sunsets and castles

The sun has begun its decent upon another year of my life. Here I sit, in a cafe along the river gazing out the window at the magnificent Charles Bridge and the backdrop of an ancient town crowned with a splendid castle. This is one of the few moments when I can honestly say, “I want to be here.” I’m not dreaming of another distant country or longing for unknown adventures. At this moment I just want to be ... be here.

Many of my classmates are experiencing culture shock. I’m not sure I’ve ever been harangued by such anxiety and am not exactly sure how to help my friends with their ailment. um ... lighten up?! Instead of exploring the quaint cobblestone alleys of Prague, they booze their personalities away in an attempt to escape from the reality of now. So, here we sit, Jennifer and I, the daughter of Czech parents and a girl who calls Germany her home, enjoying the reality of the sun setting behind the castle.

This is how I would have wanted to end my 24th year. Living a dream. Living in the land of my heritage. Did you know that it is this corner of the world that once my ancestors called home? Out of curiosity I looked my last name up in the Czech-English dictionary.

hnat = drive

What a wonderful meaning! Christine (believer in Christ) Hnat (drive). It’s so fitting. I am driven, motivated, by Christ. This discovery allows me to look at my life experiences in a whole new light.

Imagine how amused I was, however, when I looked at a Czech word just above “hnat.”


Do you know what hmat means? I chuckle at the irony even now. Hmat means “touch.” Those who know me well will catch the irony of it.

Well, as the sun sets, I look forward to the sunrise. June. It’s so full of wonderful unknown possibilities.