Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here Comes Mikulaš (aka Santa Claus)!

Well folks, it’s been a long time coming. It has been quite a while since the last time I wrote. For a while, I deluded myself, trying to justify my inattention by stating that “nothing has really happened lately”. However, the more I look over the past few weeks, the more I notice a severe need to update my blog – and to let you all in on my most recent adventures.

Firstly, and certainly the most important difference in my life is my development into the status of teta, or Aunt, in my own language. My host sister Míša gave birth nearly three weeks ago to my “host-nephew”, Oskar. He is Míša’s first child, and he is absolutely perfect. Míša and her husband Petr spend much of their time in my home now, and I certainly can’t complain; I’m quite taken with Oskar. I’ve never had the chance to be an aunt before, and I relish this opportunity. I have been blessed beyond measure – how lucky I am to become fully integrated part of my family in this manner! It is better than words can express.

Now, on to slightly less prominent factors in my life. :)

The Christmas season has started here in Czech Republic. Since we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving here (of course), there is no holiday to separate Halloween and Christmas, so the decorations have been out since October. The stores are full of Christmas merchandise, and have been all through November. The Christmas rush is in full swing, and will continue right up until the twenty-fourth, I believe. Although St. Nicolas could be found in chocolate form nearly everywhere in early November, Czech people in general prefer to leave their shopping until the last moment. Some things are the same no matter where you go.

There are a few differences between the way Christmas is celebrated here and the way I am accustomed to celebrating in the US. On December 5, for example, there is a special celebration in honor of St. Mikulaš (the Czech version of St. Nicolas, pronounced “Miculash”). On the night of the fifth, families with small children are usually visited by three people – Old St. Nick, an angel, and a demon. I’m not sure what purpose the devil serves, aside from possibly scaring children into behaving. It’s a tradition – it doesn’t need any real reason.

This celebration is also taken advantage of in schools; on December 5 my class was visited by an unruly group of demons (my fellow schoolmates dressed in dark clothes with faces painted black, horns on their heads, and chains draped around their shoulders), some angels (also schoolmates dressed up in white and gold – most of them were the perfect Czech examples of womanhood as I have described in my last blog post), and Mikulaš (another schoolmate who happened to be hung over, or so I heard from my friends). The devils ran around the classroom (the Chemistry room, to be exact), slapping the tops of desks with bundles of sticks and generally making a racket. Then the angels (one of whom was a cardboard cutout of a woman taken from a bank somewhere in České Budějovice and dressed in a white sheet, toga-style) made their way through the rows of desks, putting handfuls of candy on each table. Finally, St. Nick said something in Czech (that no one listened to, since he slurred a little). His short speech was followed by more running and howling and desk-beating by the demons.

I laughed my way through this presentation with the rest of the class, enjoying a break in the all-too-tedious subject known as Chemistry (it should be called Chem-mystery, as far as I’m concerned). Then the fun took an unexpected turn. A burlap sack was put over my head, and I was told that I had to go with the devils. ‘Surprised’ isn’t a strong enough word for my feelings at that moment. I knew that my schoolmates wouldn’t let anything happen to me, but I left reluctantly, all the same, not knowing what to expect once I was in the hall.

Making my way out of the room was a chore in itself. I was seated in the very back of the classroom, which is arranged in tiers – each row of desks is higher that the row in front of it, with a tall stair linking the two levels. The door is at the front of the classroom, naturally. I had to get from my desk in the back to the door at the front. With a sack over my head. And stairs that I could definitely sprain my ankles on if I made one tiny misstep. I laughed, allowing myself to be led from the room.

Out in the hall, the demons went about their noise-making routine, and I stood there for a bit with a couple of my classmates. Black stuff was put on my face, and I was given a bit more candy by the angels. Not too bad. Then I was sent back into the Chemistry room with my friends. The room was silent until I entered; then laughter filled the air. Apparently it was quite amusing for my Czech counterparts to see the only American in the school get smudged. I thought it was pretty funny too, so I laughed along.

That night, there was a big celebration in the main square in České Budějovice. An ‘angel’ (otherwise known as a fireman) ‘flew’ from Black Tower on a cable (extremely slowly), tossing glitter over the crowd. Then a huge angel came out and walked around the square, operated by many people. It was quite spectacular. Like the giant puppets you might see in a parade on Dia de los Muertos in Mexico. It was also the first time that I have seen so many people in town after 9:00 pm. There were small fireworks, said to continue every night until the middle of January! I greatly enjoyed myself, observing the festivities with my fellow exchange students Kayla and Wade, and my friend Vašek from school. We then went to dinner (at McDonalds, since the other two Americans and I were seriously craving some American cuisine, even if it wasn’t something that we would have wanted at home), then a cafe. I stayed with Kayla that night, and we had a wonderful time.

Christmas is coming in quickly, and unlike the majority of the people around me, I have been Christmas shopping for quite some time now. I had to think about my gifts far in advance, since I have somewhere around 75 people to consider, including all of the Rotarians in my host club and all of my classmates.

Along with the holiday season come holiday concerts. I’ve been singing with the school choir, Mendík, since the beginning of school, an activity that ties me to my life in Prosser. Every Friday morning at 5:45 I wake up, wishing violently that I hadn’t made the commitment to stick with this choir (because the practices are from 6:45-8:15). And every Friday during practice, I am glad that I force myself to get out of bed at such an unreasonable hour, because singing with that choir links me to all of the years I spent singing with my church choir – forcing myself to get up at what seemed like a highly unreasonable hour each Sunday morning and being glad for it, nonetheless.

Anyway, in the next few weeks, I will sing in two concerts with my school choir, one in Prague and one in Germany. I’m exceedingly thrilled, though nervous at the same time. I don’t have all of the songs memorized, and I’m not sure if that has to be done before the concerts take place. I don’t want to look like a fool. I’ll figure it out.

A couple of Rotary events have taken place since the last time I wrote, aside from the regular Wednesday-night meetings. My Rotary Exchange family was able to gather twice in November, once for a “Thanksgiving” meeting (which was definitely NOT Thanksgiving by my standards, nor by any of the other exchangers’, but was appreciated all the same), and two weekends ago in Praha for an early Christmas meeting. We exchanged Secret Santa gifts and generally enjoyed each others’ company from Friday to Sunday, and then caught trains home.

I love my fellow Rotary Exchange Students very, very much, but being without my family around this time of year is taking its toll on me. I miss my mum and my papa and my little brother and my puppy, that much cannot be denied. However, I have been blessed so far with a wonderful family and great friends, and though I miss my home and my family and my traditions, I would not call myself homesick. It is true, I miss my home, but not so much that I cannot enjoy being here. I still love Czech Republic, and I think that I always will. There may come a time when I want nothing more than to be at home with my family, and I can only hope that the feeling lasts a very short time. But for now, I am happy. It is not a bittersweet happiness; it is genuine and intense, and an incredible blessing.

When I look back on the last three months (which have simply flown by, I might tell you), I can hardly believe that I’ve been here long enough to experience all that I have. Day after day, I am offered opportunities, from traveling to Germany with my choir to simply going grocery shopping with Pavel, my host daddy. Every chance I take here brings me closer to the people around me, and I am discovering that my relationships are really what this year is all about. Each time I talk to someone in my class, I am greatly rewarded by their reception and eagerness to have a conversation.

If there’s one thing that I have learned about the people here, it’s that I, as the foreigner have to offer the hand of friendship first. Every time I stick my neck out and overcome my shy tendencies, I am greeted with an enthusiasm that makes me yearn to further build my relationships. That welcoming nature, and the feeling that my acquaintances are pleased to speak with me, whether it be in Czech or English, is something that truly draws me in to these people and this country. I appreciate these quiet Czechs more each day, and could not be more pleased to have landed in this country more than three months ago.

Na shledanou!


Linda MacTravel said...

Karm: How great to read your new post and be honored to be the first to comment! Again, you paint such a vivid picture of your experiences that I feel as if I were right there with you! I know what it's like to be in a foreign country away from family & friends at Christmastime, but I didn't have the luxury of 'blogger' or 'facebook' when I was so far away from home! I also know that this is a time in your life that you will never forget! I pray that God will embrace you and give you such wonderful blessings with your Czech family and friends...we miss you, too! Veselé vánoce! (I hope that is correct!!) LOVE YOU :-)

Quirckyduck said...

I'm so happy you finally posted. And so glad you're settling into your temporary home so nicely! I knew you would! You're such a wonderful woman and everyone should feel lucky to know you! I know I'm very happy to call you my "daughter". You had so many wonderful stories in this post that I don't know where to start. If you're an aunt does that make me a grandma? lol. Jk jk. got candy. Candy is always good.....and there's fireworks!!! Who doesn't love fireworks?!?!? Well my darling, I love you and I miss you but I'm so glad you're feeling happy and wonderful! I always want you to be happy!


Tyler G. said...

I'm so glad that you are having fun over there even if you miss your home. One thing I have learned in my travles is that you need to enjoy all that happens even if it dousn't seem very fun at the time, even if it is boring later you will find yourself looking back and enjoying the memorys of even the most boring times. God bless. Hope you write soon