Totally Czeched In!

Friday, March 30, 2007


I check this blog every so often, and I am surprised to see that people are still reading it!! Happily surprised! ( BUT WHERE ARE THE COMMENTS, PEOPLE??) So I thought the least I could do is go back and fix the typos that had gone undetected--or just plain uncorrected. So I think I have done that now. I hope I didn't miss any.

As it turns out, my Czech story is not quite over yet. I am going back to CZ in June. It was quite unexpected, even by me. I hadn't planned on going anywhere this summer, and had no plans to return to CZ for AT LEAST two years at the very earliest--and that was a vague plan at most.

Anyway, I guess I have learned that NONE of us really knows what the future holds or what changes await us around every corner. And I must say, THAT is often what makes life interesting and exciting. Anyway, I may possibly start blogging here again when I am back in CZ.

In the mean time, if you are interested, you can check out my new West Coast blog at:

And please, make comments! =)


Sunday, September 03, 2006

Goodbye to CZ--Homeward Bound

So...the exchange is over.

Big thanks to Ondra K., Alena B., Irena B., Andrea S., Irena Harajdova, and Jurai Harajda for all your care and help. What would I have done without you? =) In your own special way, each of you helped me to survive there.

Even though I am already home and have been for some time now (more than 2 months), I don't really know quite what to say to end this blog and close the door on the year I spent in CZ.

What I know is that the experience was difficult on me in personal ways I never would have imagined--and will probably NEVER duplicate in my life. Yet in some ways it was very easy as well. I knew I would not be homesick--and I was not. It was very easy for me to be away from home, but I gained an even greater appreciation for my home country, state, and city all at the same time! Weird, isn't it? I could have stayed away even longer (I would have moved to Spain or Italy in a heartbeat), but I was more and more deeply aware of, and grateful for, all the things that make The Americas, The US, and California so special and so spectacular.

I also know that even though the year is over, my experience of that year will be with me for a long time to come. Who knows how long I will be contemplating the events of the year and their significance for me? Probably a long time. I have been through a lot. While reflecting on the past is valuable, what is most important is to LEARN from the past, put what you have learned into action, and let it move you forward in life. I am probably not exactly the same person I was before I left home, and those are the things I will be discovering, thinking about, and acting on for a long time to come.

I am the kind of person who is always thinking--WHAT'S NEXT??? That part of me hasn't changed. =) I know now, from experience, that I can be away from home a long time and be well, and I may do something like this again. I am already thinking of a summer program in Vietnam for next year!

I know that, although I love my friends and family, there is no better person to rely on than myself. I am the only one who can make my life just what I want it to be. I am the only one who knows what will truly make me happy. I will always do what I have to to make my life what I want it to be--not what well-meaming others want me to want, but what I truly want. If I let other people make LIFE decisions for me, I would be half-living. I want to LIVE--100%. Whatever people may say about me, they will never say that I didn't go after life--and what I wanted in life--with everything I had in me.


". . .the source of man's rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man's nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational."

["This Is John Galt Speaking," Atlas Shrugged, 976.]

"Man's rights can be violated only by the use of physical force. It is only by means of physical force that one man can deprive another of his life, or enslave him, or rob him, or prevent him from pursuing his own goals, or compel him to act against his own rational judgment."
["The Nature of Government," The Virtue of Selfishness, 126.]



Krakow--a lovely and quiet little town. I found it charming, and after a day of walking around death camps, charming was just what the doctor ordered. Jirka had never been to Poland in all his years, so he was glad to escort me when he found out I really wanted to go there before I headed home to America.
Now, we didn't read up on anything here in Krakow, so we don't know why, but the dragon is a big deal around here. This statue actually breathes fire on occasion, and every knick-knack stand around sells various dragon items.
Krakow Castle--from another view.
Bend in the river. I imagine it as a nice place for outdoor concerts if they could set it up technically.


Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum at Krakow Castle. In case you haven't noticed, ALL of the pictures so far are taken around the area of the castle. =)
Now, this is NOT the castle. This is the main square.
I couldn't resist the Jewish Ghetto. These two are of the cemetery--very different from the one in Prague!

Many people donated money to commemorate Holocaust Victims with plaques that hang in the entry to the Old Jewish Cemetery in Krakow. Some sad stories there.

Jirka enjoyed our trip to Poland and is thinking of making it again with his mother, so he can show her what we saw here. Interesting.



After visiting Terezin and feeling the air of heaviness there, I was worried about what it would be like at Auschwitz. The first thing we noticed here was that it was so NOT depressing-looking at all. So, at first, we thought we were in the wrong place, despite the big Museum Auschwitz sign out front.

Work makes you free. Yeah, I guess the Nazis were nothing if not consistent.

This is Auschwitz 1, and it looks very much like what it was before the Germans invaded Poland--an army barracks. This was one of the reasons Jirka and I didn't find it that grim-looking. It was the KNOWING what happened here (and there was plenty posted material to inform us) that makes it a heavy place, not the look of the place itself.

Auschwitz II was a different story entirely.

This may sound crazy, but part of the reason this place was so horrific (much more so than Auschwitz I) was that it was not converted, but BUILT, CREATED to serve as a place of extermination of people. The layout, design, size and sheer efficiency of this place all contribute to the sense of dreadfulness here. It is all the things (and brings up all the feelings) that you would expect when viewing a Death Camp.

This is a distant view of what was called The Gate of Death (or Death Gate?).I remember seeing the train scenes in movies like Schindler's List. People were brought through in droves and most people were executed immediately after arrival. Four huge gas chambers and crematoriums were set up for this purpose. The few "lucky" ones were sent to work (and starve and be tortured and catch diseases) in the buildings erected to house prisoners.

Most of the buildings that were here were destroyed (by retreating Nazis). Chimneys and foundations remain.
One of the original buildings. About 45 of 300 still remain.

Ruin of a dynamited crematorium and gas chamber. The Nazis seemed to really think they'd be able to hide what they had done here.


Nectiny and Pilsen


Jirka and I did so much more than just exchange jobs for the year. We really exchanged lives.

Would we have gone so in-depth with different exchange partners? Hard to say.

Was it FATE that put US together? WHO can say?

But in keeping with the rest of the year, Jirka felt the need to show me some parts of his pre-exchange life that I had yet to see. This beautiful castle is where he has his summer English camp. He had hoped that I would stick around and teach English at the camp this year, but I had to go home before the camp started, so he drove me up to have a look at it. It is one of--if not THE number one-- his favorite places. I think anyone can see why. =)


We took a little hike around the grounds, and ended up on a hill overlooking the castle. The hill was the site of the original castle back-in-the-day, before the "new" one was built.


That same day, Jiri took me to Pilsen so I could see where he went to University and honed his MAD English skills. =) He seemed to be disappointed with Pilsen and said something about it not being as nice as he remembered it, but I thought it was fine--even though he really thinks I didn't like it. We didn't stay long though. He seemed ready to move on, so we did.



I had heard a lot about Terezin when I took a tour of the Jewish Quarter in Prague. Supposedly, it was the Nazis' PR camp, and it had better conditions than the other camps. There were arts and theater programs, and perhaps a little more food.
But when I walked through these gates and saw the place, the cells, the crematorium, the execution sites, I found it to be very depressing. If this was among the best they could offer, I could not imagine what it would be like when I visited one of the more horrifying camps, which I planned to do before I left Europe.

The lie posted in every camp: "Work makes you free."



THE TRUTH... The site of mass graves.
Site of the firing squad.



NO PHOTOS PLEASE. I believe I can say with authority that Jirka felt pretty depressed here too.

Bodies recovered form the mass gravesite were reburied here with a little more dignity.

Back to CZ--Maurice and Alicia

Maurice and Me

The day after Jiri and I returned to CZ from New York, my very good friend, Maurice, came to visit from London. The day after that, Alicia, a new teacher at Birmingham and friend of Jirka's came to visit also. Although Alicia worked at my LA school, I had never met her because she started with Jirka during the year I was away.

It was like another kind of magic the way we all got along so well and such a great time together. Jirka and I spent four days touring around CZ with Maurice and Alicia, and we had a great time. Because Maurice and Alicia's days were staggered, we ended up making it to Prague, Karlovy Vary, and Marianske Lazne only, but we got a LOT out of the visits! We all had a FANTASTIC time together.

Jiri and Alicia

Here, we were in a very expensive pizzeria in Karlovy Vary.


Jirka was pretty disappointed with the weather on this day, but the rest of us considered it part of the adventure. Clouds and rain COULD NOT obscure the beauty of the town, Jirka, so no worries. We all got it!

Tasting the waters...and chewing the fat. =)

Nice building. I didn't see this area the last time I was here.

Fortunately, the weather in Prague was much nicer on the day we went there.
Art in Prague--Just as there were displays of sculpture last summer when I visited Prague, there are displays this year as well--and equally...creative too. =)

Prague IS Art--Beautiful buildings abound in this city.

Male bonding.

All of us at Prague Castle. Lovely day overall.