I like coffee and I like vodka, but I don’t like beer or…. um… insects, I said shyly.
That’s fantastic! exclaimed Jana and her husband, excitedly. Say something else!
I should probably explain that I said the sentence in Czech, and that the enthusiasm of my co-teacher was more about my grammar and pronunciation than the deeply profound nature of my statement.
It was Friday night, and I had forced myself to accept an invitation to the home of my co-teacher from the big school I was telling you about, where I teach every Thursday. It’s not that I don’t like her, it’s just that actually getting dressed, stepping outside, making my way somewhere, and engaging in conversation has been something of a mammoth task lately. However, I made myself do it as part of my current “baby steps to happiness” plan, and found myself in something of a madhouse, surrounded by platters of Czech food and wine glasses that magically refilled themselves thanks to Jana’s husband and an actual Wine Fridge.
In doing so, I finally remembered why it is that I do what I do, and what I’ve been missing by locking myself away in my room. I met a couple who had so many stories to tell that I sat there, enthralled, for the first half of the evening. I listened to their tales of life in a communist country, retelling events I’d learned about in history class from their own personal experiences. It was the seemingly little details that made life hard, said Jana at one point, seeing my interest. I mean, no, you couldn’t speak out against the government, and you couldn’t trust anyone – walls had ears, and all that. But forget about that for a second – I remember we once went months without any toilet paper.
I sort of laughed. Not a great, unsympathetic guffaw, but an uncertain laugh – the type you give when you’re not really sure how to react. Obviously a shortage of toilet paper couldn’t be equal with the fear of being arrested for talking to your neighbour… but Jana shook her head with a smile. No, it seems insignificant – but can you really imagine your family going for weeks on end without toilet paper? No paper towels, no tissues… and for girls, no ‘feminine products’?
I listened in a mixture of awe and horror to their stories, and then with some envy to her husband’s tales of being part of the Velvet Revolution. We was all out the street, he said, his English uncertain but his face alive with memories and passion. And we sang.
And then out came his guitar, and the night descended into a delightful blend of traditional Czech songs and traditional Hayley karaoke songs, and me attempting to hold conversations in my beginner-level Czech, and teaching them Northern Irish slang, until I fought them to let me go home sometime after 2am and trundled home sleepily on the night tram – cold from the chilly November air, but glowing from the wine; tired from my 6am start, but buzzing from the evening.
This is why I travel. I just forgot it for a while. :)