Showing posts with label Karlovy Vary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Karlovy Vary. Show all posts

Saturday, April 10, 2010

In Karlovy Vary, Pact With Russians Raises Old Specters

The Streets of Karlovy Vary
in Western Bohemia, Czech Republic. 
It's a spa town so popular with Russians
there are direct flights.

Old memories die hard.  The New York Times asked the citizens of Karlovy Vary what they thought of the treaty signing in Prague and the building friendship between America and Russia.  It was an inspired choice since there are no communities in the Czech Republic who have more interaction with Russians on a daily basis.  Click on my title to read the article.

Friday, May 2, 2008

My History with Czechs (part one)

It's very hard to know or remember now, just how forbidden and mysterious everything was behind the Iron Curtain before it fell. Americans didn't know much about the people and places involved. All the news that seemed to come from there was always produced with a "minder" in tow, so therefore suspect.

It's also hard to remember just how completely mind-blowing it was when the Berlin Wall fell. It turned out nobody in those countries believed anything their governments were spouting. I never thought I would see the fall of the Berlin Wall, never even dreamed it was possible, and when one country after another demanded change, it was incredibly moving.

No people's story was more moving than the Czechs. I remember how they would gather in Wenceslas Square and demand their freedom. Their ability to achieve all of that, with deliberate and collective non-violence was simply awe-inspiring to me. It still is. I believe 500 years from now, 1,000 years from now, future Czechs will savor that moment of themselves at their finest.

The Velvet Revolution made me want to get to know these mysterious people, and as corny as it sounds, reach out my hand in friendship. Welcome to the world! I signed up for a pen pal exchange started by a Minnesotan who was equally inspired by the new freedoms to connect. I began a correspondence with a woman in Plzen named Hana and a woman in a small town near Karlovy Vary named Lenka. We dubbed the woman near Karlovy Vary "Big Lenka" to not confuse her with Hana's daughter.

It was deeply interesting to hear about their lives and all the changes they were going through. Instantly, entrepreneurial tendencies surfaced. During communism, the lady in Pilzen's husband had worked at the giant Skoda Works. It sounded like the sort of place that would be featured prominently in a May Day poster celebrating labor -- communist heavy industry and dreary beyond belief.

Big Lenka's husband began his own business as a truck driver. He was ripped off by a business partner and it made me sad that their first experience with capitalism was one of the pitfalls. But both couples persevered. I enjoyed being the "entrepreneur cheerleader."

We invited the oldest daughter of the couple from Pilzen to come live with us for a summer to experience American life and enjoy our daughters. I truly believe we changed her life. She came to America speaking hardly any English and learned mostly from my children. At that time, Little Lenka was 15 years old.

What I think Little Lenka enjoyed learning most, and what changed her life forever, was the American idea of delaying marriage until one had first invested in oneself with college and independent single life. She asked questions about this idea constantly. All of her friends back home would be married with babies on the way by age twenty. She decided the American way of delaying marriage was better.

Talk about entrepreneurial! Little Lenka immediately sought and received a scholarship to attend an American school when she got back home. Then she sought and received scholarships from generous Czech Americans to attend university in the United States. She went to Rotary clubs all over the American Midwest to talk about the evils of communism and how great America was. No pay involved. Just gratitude. She then married an American. I'm embarrassed to say that I have lost touch with her and her family. Nonetheless, I'm proud of the role we played in changing this young woman's life.
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